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A roundup of news, views and ideas from the main stream press and the blogosphere.  Click on the headline link to see the full article.

A Record Year For Renewable Energy

Robert Rapier, Forbes
This week the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report (GSR) was released by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). REN21 is a global renewable energy network that connects governments, nongovernmental organizations, research and academic institutions, international organizations and industry to share information and advance renewable energy. REN21 assists policy makers by providing high quality information and catalyzes discussion and debate on renewable energy policy.

I believe that the GSR is the most comprehensive report available when it comes to the global renewable energy picture, but I may be somewhat biased as I have been a contributor to and reviewer of the report for the past seven years. Each year when it is released, I like to provide an overview article, with follow-up articles delving into particular sectors…

Energy companies are cheaper and cleaner when run by the council

Michael Jacobs, The Guardian
Sadiq Khan’s pledge to establish a municipal energy company, Energy for Londoners, is one of his most striking mayoral election commitments. London will not be the first authority to set up such a not-for-profit company – Nottingham and Bristol got there first – but it will be the largest, and potentially the most ambitious.

The energy market is notoriously uncompetitive, dominated by the big six utility companies, whose pricing practices have led them to be investigated and criticised by the competition watchdog. Most consumers have little trust in these companies, but are reluctant to switch suppliers for a better deal…

The Monsanto Years: Neil Young rocking for a greener world

Pat Thomas, The Ecologist
Celebrities have a unique ability to engage people in environmental campaigns, writes Pat Thomas. Neil Young is a case in point: his latest album, The Monsanto Years, conveys an eloquent message of the dangers of GMOs and corporate power, and his upcoming European tour offers green campaigners a unique opportunity to engage a broader public in the fight for a green future…

5 big takeaways from the most thorough review of GMOs yet

Brad Plumer, Vox
This week, the National Academies of Sciences released the most thorough review yet of genetically modified crops — a hulking 420-page report. It’s an independent look at all the research on GMOs to date, vetted for conflicts of interest. I’ll start with a quick, crude summary and then dive into the nuances of what the expert committee found.

The crude summary goes like so: Despite all the controversy, the GM crops available to date — mostly a few crops engineered to be resistant to herbicides or to pests — are considered just as safe to eat as conventional crops. These crops have proved an economic boon to many farmers, although they haven’t led to a huge surge in yields. Current GM crops seem mostly fine for the environment, with insect-resistant varieties allowing farmers to use fewer chemical pesticides. That said, there’s a danger that over-spraying of herbicide-resistant crops has given rise to herbicide-resistant weeds.

If you just want a bite-size assessment of present-day GM crops, that will likely do. But if you plunge deeper into the report, you’ll find a whole bunch of asterisks and caveats to all the sentences above…

Organic farmers are not anti-science – we leave that to the genetic engineers

Elizabeth Henderson, The Ecologist
Those opposed to the mass release of GM crops and foods inadequately tested for health and ecological safety are routinely accused of being anti-science, writes Elizabeth Henderson. But it’s the GM corporations and their academic allies that are suppressing scientific research, and organic farmers that are building alliances with independent scientists for a future of safe, healthy food.

The Future of the Food Justice Movement

Rory Smith, Truthout
The food justice movement — a loose but expansive conglomeration of organizations working to create a more just food system in the United States — has accomplished a great deal over the last 30 years. But can it manage to converge in its diversity and create a countermovement potent enough to transform the current food regime? Or is it too shallow and too spread, destined to disappear in its disjointedness.

Things may seem a little out of sorts when one in six Americans — residents of the most affluent country on the planet — don’t have enough to eat, and when the percentage of hungry people in the United States has gone up 57 percent since the late 1990s. Sprinkle in that little detail about how Black and Latino neighborhoods are often left practically devoid of fresh produce but flooded with fast food restaurants (something that contributes to high rates of obesity, diabetes and thyroid disease), and you might start to question one or two things.

Toss in the fact that many of the 2 million farm laborers who produce US consumers’ fruits and vegetables are not only subjected to brutal labor conditions but also can’t afford to consume the very same food they pick, and you might really start to wonder. And when you top off this gallimaufry with one more slight detail — that there are 1 billion people around the world suffering from malnourishment, a number that hasn’t changed significantly since the 1970s — the inequity of the current food regime becomes pretty clear. It was the food justice movement that first recognized this reality, and it has spent the last 30 years challenging and redressing these inequalities…

How Soil Microbes Fight Climate Change

Esther Ngumbi, Scientific American
Around the globe, 2016 has been a dusty year. Just this month, massive dust storms enveloped Guazhou County in China, engulfing five-story buildings. Dust storms in Kuwait suspended oil exports, while another storm engulfed the Texas Panhandle. In January, red clouds of dust swept across Free State, South Africa, while scientists warned that the erosion of nutrient-rich topsoil threatened food security.

But the loss of soil also presents a less obvious challenge: it robs us of a key ally in fighting climate change. That ally is soil microbes…

A Boon for Soil, and for the Environment

Beth Gardiner, New York Times
When Gabe Brown and his wife bought their farm near Bismarck, North Dakota, from her parents in 1991, testing found the soil badly depleted, its carbon down to just a quarter of levels once considered natural in the area.

Today the Brown farm and ranch is home to a diverse and thriving mix of plants and animals. And carbon, the building block of the rich humus that gives soil its density and nutrients, has more than tripled. That is a boon not just for the farm’s productivity and its bottom line, but also for the global climate.

Agriculture is often cast as an environmental villain, its pesticides tainting water, its hunger for land driving deforestation. Worldwide, it is responsible for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, though, a growing number of experts, environmentalists and farmers themselves see their fields as a powerful weapon in the fight to slow climate change, their very soil a potentially vast repository for the carbon that is warming the atmosphere. Critically for an industry that must produce an ever-larger bounty to feed a growing global population, restoring lost carbon to the soil also increases its ability to support crops and withstand drought…

U.S. uranium production is near historic low as imports continue to fuel U.S. reactors


Most of the uranium loaded into U.S. nuclear power reactors is imported. During 2015, owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power reactors purchased 57 million pounds of uranium. Nearly half of these purchases originated from two countries, Canada and Kazakhstan, providing 17 million pounds and 11 million pounds of uranium, respectively.

U.S. uranium concentrate production, which started in 1949 and peaked in 1980, has recently been near historic lows. Uranium production was 0.63 million pounds of uranium (U3O8) in the first quarter 2016. At that rate, total 2016 production may be about 2.5 million pounds, only slightly higher than the low of 2.0 million pounds produced in 2003…

Can Miami Beach Survive Global Warming?

David Kamp, Vanity Fair
In the summer of 2013, one of the leading candidates in Miami Beach’s mayoral race, a businessman named Philip Levine, released a TV commercial that showed him kayaking his way home through traffic in a Paddington hat and a plastic poncho, accompanied by his boxer, Earl, who was kitted out in a life jacket. “In some parts of the world,” Levine said in the spot, “going around the city by boat is pretty cool. Like Venice. But in Miami Beach, when it rains, it floods. That’s got to stop. Because I’m just not sure how much more of this Earl and I can take.”

Miami Beach does indeed have serious water issues. In the hundred years since it was incorporated as a city, it has repeatedly been pummeled by major storms, one of which, the Great Hurricane of 1926, wiped out buildings, tossed ships ashore, and remains, in adjusted dollars, the costliest hurricane in American history. Essentially a long, narrow barrier island, Miami Beach is surrounded by and infused with water. Biscayne Bay (which separates the city from its larger neighbor, Miami) lies to the west, the Atlantic to the east, and a large waterway, Indian Creek, cuts through the city for much of its length…

Universal basic income to be trialled in Oakland

Samuel Osborne, The independent
Oakland, California, will host what may be the first universal basic income experiment in the United States.

Around 100 families will be given a minimum wage as part of a pilot experiment by startup accelerator Y Combinator.

They will be given between $1,000 and $2,000 each month to see how the basic income affects their happiness, well-being and how they spend their time.

Oakland was chosen for its social and economic diversity and the fact it has areas of concentrated wealth and considerable inequality. Participants were selected randomly across the economic spectrum and include both the employed and jobless…

Pilot schemes for a basic income are being considered by the governments of Finland and Canada, while Switzerland will hold a referendum on 5 June to determine whether to give each adult 2,500 Swiss francs (£1,800) each month…

Yes, Paris Is Banning Cars Built Before 1997

Feargus O’Sullivan, Citylab
If your car was built before 1997, don’t even think about driving it into Paris after this month. From July 1, the French capital will ban vehicles older than 19 years from driving in the city on workdays. Motorcycles will face yet tighter restrictions, with a driving ban on all two-wheeled motor vehicles made before 2000. Anyone caught driving an older vehicle will face a fine whose potential severity ranges from modest (€35) to biting (€450). While these vehicles will still be allowed on the roads before 8 a.m. and after 8 p.m., and without restriction on weekends, the new rules represent some of the toughest restrictions on drivers yet introduced by a European city. ..


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