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Solutions and Sustainability

A farmers market is feeding the poor
Local growers offer healthy, cheap alternatives to fast food

Jocelyn Wiener, Sacramento Bee

From a sun-baked plot of land in Del Paso Heights, Bay Vue is hoping to coax a nutritional revolution. This summer, in addition to raising nine children, working full time at a linen service and volunteering at local schools, Vue, 45, is endeavoring to help feed Del Paso Heights.

“Right now, in Del Paso Heights, we are very low-income,” Vue said. “We go shopping in the supermarket, but the price too high for us. We are thinking together to open the market for everybody to shop, because we need vegetable for health.”

Every Saturday through October, Vue and other local gardeners – most of them Hmong – are carting their produce to the parking lot in front of Robertson Community Center. Their community has gone long enough without a farmers market, they say. They’re ready to change that. The growers and their clients say affordable fresh produce is scarce at best in their community. Obesity, diabetes and hypertension run rampant. The nearest supermarket is five to eight miles away. Local markets often charge high prices for limited offerings.

“We want everybody healthy right now,” Vue said. “Right now, Del Paso Heights has fat people and high blood pressure and diabetes. We hope the market will change it.”

On Saturday, at 8 a.m., shoppers began to trickle in for the market’s official grand opening. Some used canes, others clutched the hands of wobbly toddlers. Strings of rainbow-colored plastic flags waved overhead. Signs affixed to folding tables announced: “Everything, $1.00 per bag.”

A bunch of 15 carrots went for $1, as did the same number of tomatoes. Three Hmong cucumbers, each the size of a young man’s biceps, also cost $1. Refuse from the culinary mainstream dotted a vacant lot on the other side of the fence – empty cases of Bud Light, a discarded container of Arby’s french fries, a greasy bag of Lays.

“There’s a lot of fast food around here, and not that many places we can buy fresh produce,” said 18-year-old Nancy Mercado, who was helping 17-year-old Caroline Thao at Grant High School’s Environmental Organization stand. They were selling homemade spicy peach salsa for $3, and bunches of strawflowers, zinnias and sunflowers for $4.

The organizers of the new market – a collaboration between growers and several nonprofit groups – say it has several distinguishing characteristics. Unlike most farmers markets, the farmers live in the community, growing their string beans and potatoes and basil on small plots of borrowed land. They accept food stamps, the only local farmers market to do so.
(24 July 2005)

Couple does its part to avoid guzzling resources
Fear of U.S. reliance on limited world oil prompts lifestyle decisions

Leanne Josephson, Daily Astorian (Oregon)

Astorians Caren Black and Christopher Paddon have hundreds of ways to describe peak oil, but they all lead to the same conclusion: Life is going to change dramatically as a result of oil depletion, and that change is happening now.

…Black and Paddon’s research over the last decade has led them to establish a nonprofit organization to provide information about peak oil and to discuss its ramifications. The Lifeboat Academy is affiliated with the larger Post Carbon Institute, which explores what culture might look like without the use of hydrocarbons. The husband-and-wife team are also working on converting their 1970s home and their own lifestyle to sustainability. They hope their home will serve as a demonstration and resource center where people can learn about sustainability and alternative and pre-petroleum technologies.

“We hope to help build a counter-culture that is sustainable, so when the other one goes down you can have the information,” Black says, sitting at a table covered by books published on peak oil. Above her, a single energy-efficient light shines down.
(22 July 2005)

How To Do Decentralized Energy

Jamais Cascio, Worldchanging

[Greenpeace]has just released a massive (~75 page) report entitled Decentralising Power: An Energy Revolution For The 21st Century, looking at what it would take to move the UK aggressively towards a distributed power network.

The capsule argument, from the report, touches on arguments familiar to WorldChanging readers:

In a decentralised energy (DE) system, electricity would be generated close to or at the point of use. Buildings, instead of being passive consumers of energy, would become power stations, constituent parts of local energy networks. They would have solar photovoltaic panels, solar water heaters, micro wind turbines, heat pumps for extracting energy from the earth. They might also be linked to commercial or domestic operated combined heat and power systems. The massive expansion in renewable capacity that this would represent, and the fact that when fossil fuels were burnt the heat would be captured and used, would lead to dramatic reductions in overall carbon emissions – at least half of all emissions from the power sector, or 15% of total UK emissions.

That’s the vision, at least, and the report does a good job of making the vision seem achievable and, perhaps more importantly, desirable.
(24 July 2005)
See the original article for links to the documents. I had trouble downloading the summary PDF from Greenpeace. -BA

Lending a Hand to Argentina’s Protesters
Foreign Volunteers Glean Perspective On Globalization

Monte Reel, Washington Post

LA MATANZA, Argentina — It’s not the usual sort of vacation destination, hidden away among crumbling brick bungalows on a rutted mud road. Accommodation is a bunk in an unheated room. Days are spent working without pay in a neighborhood bakery, or marching in street protests.

But for hundreds of young American and European activists, the new way to spend summer break is living and working among Argentina’s piqueteros, or picketers — the protest marchers who have filled the streets of many cities and towns since the country’s massive economic collapse in 2001.

In this ragged neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, the college-age visitors say, globalization is more than a vague concept to be criticized from abroad. Here, they say, it has caused real problems and sparked creative solutions.

“In the U.S., you might have a big protest of 200,000 people in Washington, and then everything just goes away,” said Tessa Lee, 20, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But I heard that here in Argentina, they were getting things done. That’s why I came.”

Since the 2001 crisis, which many activists here blame on Washington-led economic policies, some of the piquetero groups have branched out from protesting and set up networks of small, neighborhood cooperatives that deliver social services to the poor and jobless.

One such organization in La Matanza, the Unemployed Workers’ Movement, has launched a “receptive tourism” program that invites foreign visitors to volunteer at its bakery, preschool, sewing workshop and flea market, all located in a crowded, 16-block neighborhood.
(25 July 2005)
Some Peak Oil activists, such as myself, say that Argentina’s economic implosion is a foreshadowing of what may happen in other countries with the advent of Peak Oil. The neighborhood cooperatives of the Argentine piqueteros represent one positive response that we can learn from. -BA

The Green Machine That Could Be Detroit

Daniel Akst, NY Times

…What if a major automaker decided to reinvent itself as the world’s first and only green car company, producing only hybrid, clean-diesel and other high-efficiency vehicles? Not Birkenstocks on wheels, mind you, but enjoyable, functional cars that get great mileage.

Consider the advantages. Such a company could drive down the cost of producing hybrids by attaining economies of scale. It would be ready – nay, eager – to comply with stringent clean-air rules wherever they were imposed. It would be positioned to exploit the federal mandate for low-sulfur diesel fuel, which will open the door next year to cleaner-burning diesel engines. And it would no longer have to compete as much on price, because consumers have shown a willingness to pay more for more efficient cars.
(24 July 2005)

Academics propose teaching organic farming

Julia Silverman, Associated Press via KATU

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) – James Cassidy knows perfectly well that in some circles, organic produce, meats and dairy are dismissed as the latest boutique-y trend, a fad that too shall pass.

To counter that, Cassidy, who oversees a student-run organic farm a few miles from the campus of Oregon State University, cites some cold, hard numbers.

“One of the only places to make money in agriculture these days is in this specialized market,” said Cassidy, who is also a research assistant and instructor in the university’s soil physics laboratory.

And so Cassidy, and others who share his beliefs across the country, are arguing that it is time for the Schools of Agriculture at the country’s land-grant universities to leap whole-hog into teaching organics.
(24 July 2005)

Report gives Nova Scotia a reality check, proposes new energy strategy

Staff, The Canadian Press via National Post

Nova Scotia needs a new energy strategy now that assumptions of plentiful natural gas are proving vastly over-optimistic, says a report prepared by a Halifax-based think-tank.
The study, released late Monday, notes that gas-reserve estimates off Sable Island have been reduced by almost 60 per cent in recent years. …

With evidence that natural gas has been “oversold,” the report says the province should move ahead more quickly on energy conservation programs. …
(July 2005)
The report is available as a .pdf (295 Kb) here.


More and Dumber People – Hot and Hotter Planet

Commentary by Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society via Guerilla News Network

Finally, finally, and at long last, George W. Bush, (the environmental idiot from Texas who happens to astoundingly also be the leader of the “free” world) has discovered that global warming is real. After years of denial, after years of attempting to suppress the science, the facts, the critics, and the environmental movement, the Shrub now admits that greenhouse gases are the cause of rising temperature and climatic change.

It took him long enough. Hurricanes are assaulting the southeastern coast with relentless rapid fire intensity. Caribbean island nations can’t even recover from one hurricane before being pummeled by another and then another.

The government of the United States has contributed greatly to the unleashing of Thermageddon on the world. …

The “world-will-be-saved-by-technology” crowd is already preaching wondrous sci-fi remedies like 600,000 square mile deflector shields in space to filter ultra violet rays from the sun, gargantuan pumping stations to send carbon dioxide down into the ground into aquifers, and have even suggested that the CO2 will actually be able to force more oil reserves to the surface for extraction. If they have their way, we will be drinking Perrier from our taps and building more Hummers.

I’m surprised that George Bush does not simply say that God will solve the problem by transporting all the “good” people to his harp-strumming heaven. If only the rapture were real, this Earth could be saved – but, alas, it ain’t gonna happen. …

Some environmentalists say don’t worry, just plant a tree. Consider that one average household in the western world annually creates 28,350 pounds of greenhouse gases. To offset this by planting trees would require growing 34 hardwood trees which are much more efficient CO2 converters than softwoods. It would take 25 years for these 34 trees to reach peak efficiency to absorb the full 28,350 pounds which means that CO2 production would greatly exceed CO2 absorption.

In the bigger picture, it would require fifty million acres of hardwood trees planted annually to manage the fossil fuel use of the United States alone. But instead of planting trees, we are cutting them down. …

Being ecologically dumb made this world hot and becoming ecologically dumber will make it much hotter yet.
(22 July 2005)

Climate change inevitable: Minister

Staff, The Australian

AUSTRALIANS should expect higher temperatures, more droughts, severe cyclones and storm surges as a result of inevitable climate change, a new study has found.

The Climate Change, Risk and Vulnerability report findings could be considered alarming but the changes would take place over time, Environment Minister Ian Campbell said.

Even if greenhouse gas emissions could be miraculously halted tomorrow, there would still be climate change because of gases already in the environment, the government-commissioned report reveals.

With expected higher temperatures, more droughts, severe cyclones and storm surges, the agricultural sector would have to look to new crops and livestock that could handle the environment, Senator Campbell said.

And it was becoming obvious human-induced climate change was occurring through greenhouse gas emissions. …
(26 July 2005)

Rainbow Warrior interrupts Newcastle’s coal operations

Staff, ABC Online (Au)

Greenpeace protest ship Rainbow Warrior is blocking the main shipping channel in Newcastle Harbour in New South Wales this morning preventing access by coal ships. …

Police have already boarded the Rainbow Warrior but Greenpeace says the conversation with officers was cordial and so far no action has been taken to move the vessel. …

Greenpeace Energy campaigner Mark Wakeham says it is part of protest action to end the nation’s economic reliance on coal.

“We’re here because Newcastle is the world’s largest coal export port and every tonne of coal that leaves Australia returns to us as climate change, our nation’s greatest threat,” he said. …
(27 July 2005)

Farms spew out nitrogen oxides

Mark Peplow, Nature

A satellite survey has revealed that farmlands may have a bigger impact on air pollution and ground-level ozone than previously thought.

Lyatt Jaeglé from the University of Washington in Seattle and her colleagues measured the amounts of nitrogen dioxide rising from the Earth’s surface in 2000. Nitrogen dioxide is known to produce ozone in the lower atmosphere, which can cause respiratory problems and helps to create photochemical smog.

The data were collected from the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) on the European Space Agency’s satellite ERS-2. The researchers distinguished emissions of agricultural origin from industrial ones by simply looking at the type of land from which the gas emanated.

The team found that soil contributed 8.9 million tonnes of nitrogen in the form of nitrogen oxides, equivalent to 22% of the Earth’s total surface emissions. That is about two-thirds greater than previous estimates. …
(22 July 2005)

Methane May Pack Double the Climate Punch of Earlier Estimates

Staff, Environmental News Service

NEW YORK, New York, July 19, 2005 (ENS) – The impacts of the greenhouse gas methane on climate warming may be double the standard amount attributed to the gas by most scientists today.

Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is said by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to account for 16 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities.

New calculations by a NASA scientist Drew Shindell show that methane emissions may account for a much greater percentage, up to a third of all climate warming between the 1750s and today. …
(19 July 2005)

Planet of the Plants

Glenn Scherer, Grist Magazine

Humanity is on the threshold of a century of extraordinary bounty, courtesy of global climate change. That’s the opinion of Robert Balling, former scientific adviser to the Greening Earth Society, a lobbying arm of the power industry founded by the Western Fuels Association. In a world where atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar from the burning of fossil fuels, he says, “crops will grow faster, larger, more water-use efficient, and more resistant to stress.” Quoting study after study, he invokes visions of massive melon yields, heftier potatoes, and “pumped-up pastureland.” Bumper crops of wheat and rice, he says, will benefit the world’s farmers and the hungry.

A small but growing body of research is finding that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while increasing crop yield, decrease the nutritional value of plants. More than a hundred studies, for example, have found that when CO2 from fossil-fuel burning builds up in plant tissues, nitrogen (essential for making protein) declines. A smaller number of studies hint at another troubling impact: As atmospheric CO2 levels go up, trace elements in plants (such as zinc and iron, which are vital to animal and human life) go down, potentially malnourishing all those that subsist on the plants.

This preliminary research has given scientists reason to worry about bigger unknowns: Virtually no studies have been done on the effects of elevated CO2 on other essential trace elements, such as selenium, an important antioxidant, or chromium, which is believed to regulate blood-sugar levels.
(25 July 2005)

Mayor calls for action to fight global warming

David Glass, Santa Rose Press Democrat (opinion)

I was honored to have been one of 46 mayors to have attended the first annual conference on global warming at the Sundance Summit recently. After attending 16 hours of meetings hearing global experts on the subject, these are my thoughts:

The challenges facing our world were made clear by scientists, doctors, energy consultants and political experts. Former Vice President Al Gore gave a passionate presentation about the science and facts regarding global warming. He interjected humor and ultimately encouraged the mayors to take leadership and advocate for a national policy.

…I would hope every community in Sonoma County and California would make it a priority to develop a global warming strategy. In Schwarzenegger’s words: “The debate is over. We know the science, we see the threat, and the time for action is now.”

Americans have always been able to rise to the occasion when they understand the objective, the urgency and the consequences of inaction.

It is much better to take action now rather than wait and be proved wrong. The final analysis of the conference was the realization that there is sufficient information to act now. I hope every reader will join me, the other 45 mayors at the conference, our governor, the United Nations and the other seven countries in the Group of Eight. One lesson I have learned is if the people lead, the leaders will follow. Together we can make the difference.
(22 July 2005)

Congress Told Hydrogen Fuel Decades from Being Practical

Michael Bowman, Voice of America

gasoline prices and a growing desire for energy independence have sparked renewed interest in the U.S. Congress for alternative ways to power vehicles that do not rely on fossil fuels. One of the options is the hydrogen fuel cell. Such technology is in its infancy, and significant hurdles must be overcome before cars can be powered with hydrogen.

At a recent congressional hearing, lawmakers were eager to hear if there is some innovative solution to America’s energy needs on the near horizon. Representative Bob Inglis of South Carolina, who sits on the House Science Committee, seized upon hydrogen fuel cells as one possibility.

…Researcher George Crabtree of Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago says the most common means of generating hydrogen today involves the burning of natural gas, hardly an ideal solution.

“This production route simply exchanges a dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on foreign gas. And it does not reduce the production of environmental pollutants or greenhouse gases,” he said.

The challenges do not end there. There is also the question of how to store hydrogen, a highly-combustible element blamed for the 1937 Hindenburg blimp disaster, safely and compactly in vehicles.
(25 July 2005)
A fairly balanced summary of the prospects for hydrogen.

With a Push From the U.N., Water Reveals Its Secrets

William J. Broad, NY Times

VIENNA – The forecast, courtesy of the United Nations, is grim.

Today, more than a billion people lack access to safe drinking water. Polluted water contributes, each year, to the death of about 15 million children under age 5. By midcentury, between two billion and seven billion people will face water shortages.

“No region will be spared from the impact of this crisis,” Koichiro Matsuura, director general of Unesco, recently warned. “Water supplies are falling while the demand is dramatically growing.”

He estimated that in the next two decades the average amount of water available per person on the planet will shrink by a third.

But the United Nations is also working hard on solutions, helping poor countries learn a subtle art that lets them better manage their water resources to avoid tragedy.

The method is known as isotope hydrology. Cheap and reliable, it takes advantage of the fact that water molecules carry unique fingerprints, based in part on differing proportions of the oxygen and hydrogen isotopes that constitute all water. Isotopes are forms of the same element that have variable numbers of neutrons in their nuclei.

Using the tools of isotope hydrology, scientists can discover the age, origins, size, flow and fate of a water source. And that information, in turn, can guide sound water-use policy, letting water engineers better map underground aquifers, conserve supplies and control pollution.
(26 July 2005)

Power plants worried as heat wave warms Great Lakes

Staff, CBC News

Ontario’s electricity supply may be in jeopardy because a weeks-long heat wave has warmed waters in the Great Lakes and lowered the levels of northern rivers, a provincial power utility is warning.

Although temperatures and humidity haven’t been as extreme during the past two days, the warmer waters may force some coal and nuclear generating stations to cut their power production, according to Ontario Power Generation.

The water at Toronto’s Cherry Beach, which is on Lake Ontario, is about four degrees warmer than it was last summer, for example. …
(20 Jul 2005)