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Morocco Plants Millions of Trees Along Roads to Fight Climate Change

Author: Justin Catanoso | Published on: November 17, 2016

MARRAKESH, Morocco – On the new highway that runs southeast from Marrakesh and ascends toward the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the roadside shows evidence of climate-change progress. Recently planted trees at least ten feet tall with trunks some four inches in diameter stand in short intervals for miles and miles.

Morocco lost about 5 percent of its remaining dense tree cover between 2001 and 2014, according to data from the University of Maryland.  But the data, visualized on the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch, also show large areas of tree cover gain during the same period, indicating reforestation and afforestation — the planting of trees where they didn’t originally occur.

In hosting the 22nd United Nations Climate Conference, representatives from the Moroccan government are eager speak out and demonstrate that they are serious about tackling climate change and providing a model for other African nations to follow.

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Eco Architect William McDonough Unveils New Language to End the War on Carbon

Author: Tafline Laylin | Published: November 20, 2016

The first way to end the war on carbon, according to the co-author of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, is to stop calling it a war. Architect and designer William McDonough, who recently unveiled plans for the ‘Silicon Valley of Agriculture’ in Denmark, has established a new language for carbon that acknowledges the way the element can be used “safely, productively and profitably.”“Climate change is the result of breakdowns in the carbon cycle caused by us: it is a design failure,” McDonough said in a press release. “Anthropogenic greenhouse gases in the atmosphere make airborne carbon a material in the wrong place, at the wrong dose and wrong duration. It is we who have made carbon a toxin—like lead in our drinking water. In the right place, carbon is a resource and tool.”

In the same way that the Cradle-to-Cradle movement taught movers and shakers in the sustainability sphere to rethink the way we make things to reduce, or even obliterate waste, McDonough’s new carbon language is designed to help us model human designs on the “life-giving carbon cycle, and to perceive “closed-loop flows of carbon nutrients” as an asset, rather than something to demonize.

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How Can Agriculture Address the Growing Economic and Environmental Pressures of Climate Change?

Published on: November 18, 2016

The devastating consequences of climate change threaten our natural resources, food security, and the productivity and economic viability of farming operations. Agriculture has an important role to play in helping us mitigate and adapt to climate change, and as we approach a major administrative transition and early discussions around the 2018 Farm Bill, the connection between agriculture and climate change will need to be further explored. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and our members believe that by giving farmers the tools to invest in their soil and become an active part of climate change mitigation, we can develop effective strategies that work for farmers, the environment, and the economy.

The Economic Impact of Climate Change

A new report released by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) warns that the impacts of climate change will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. The report, “Climate Change: The Fiscal Risks Facing the Federal Government,” provides analysis showing that the fiscal impact of climate change is already very real. According to the report, those risks will only continue to grow over the next century unless we take ambitious action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and adapt to a changing climate.

The report lists several significant economic threats facing the nation as a result of climate change, including increases in: the need for disaster relief and flood insurance to address the heightened frequency of storms; investments to protect, repair, and relocate federal facilities impacted by rising sea levels and heavy rain events; health care costs as a results of degraded water quality, air quality, and unpredictable weather conditions; costs for fire suppression as a result of an increased frequency and intensity of wildfires across the country; and risk management for the nation’s farmers and ranchers who most directly feel the impacts of changing weather patterns and increased storm intensity. On this last point, OMB estimates there will be a 50 percent increase in the cost of the federal crop insurance subsidy program due to a changing climate in the coming decades.

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Can Radical Transparency Fix Global Supply Chains and Slow Climate Change?

Author: Steve Zwick | Published: December 3, 2016

Kevin Rabinovitch stands straight and speaks in clear, clipped tones – more like a naval officer than a corporate quant – as, on the screen behind him, a daunting mass of threads and whorls illustrates the global flows of Brazilian soybeans from thousands of individual municipalities across Brazil, through specific exporters and importers, to countries around the world.

“We buy a lot of soy from Brazil,” he says. “But we also buy things that eat soy in Brazil before we buy them,” he continues, referring to the chickens and cows that end up in pet food manufactured by food giant Mars Inc, where he’s Global Director of Sustainability.

Known for its ubiquitous Mars and Milky Way candy bars, privately-held Mars, Inc also makes Whiskas cat food, Wrigley’s chewing gum, and dozens of other products that require tens of thousands of tons of cattle, soy, and palm oil – all of which are packaged in products derived from pulp & paper.

These are the “big four” commodities responsible for most of the world’s deforestation, and they achieved that status because thousands of companies buy them from hundreds of thousands of farmers around the world, and many of those farmers chop forests to make way for plantations.

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How to Rehab Our Soil for a Changing Climate

Author: Wanqing Zhou | Published on: December 13, 2016

“Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.”

This year’s message from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization for World Food Day is timely as the planet emerges from yet another summer of record heat. With changing climates and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, the world is facing real challenges with food production, exacerbated by the declining capacity of soils to hold water, buffer temperature shocks and supply nutrients to food crops.

In global climate negotiations and agreements, agriculture is listed primarily as a victim of adverse climate impacts.

While this is true, it is equally important to recognize that food production is also a major contributor to climate change. The silver lining? Recognizing that food production is a major emitter of greenhouse gases could open a new range of solutions to climate change.

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Vital Changes to Farming Practices Remain a Tough Sell

Author: Lisa Nikolau | Published on: December 9, 2016

Environmentalists have long been pushing for the use of regenerative agriculture, an alternative approach to farming they say can help the world’s poorest farmers and fight global food insecurity. Some experts say the biggest limitation of the approach may be just convincing enough of the world to adopt it.

Proponents of regenerative farming say the root of the world’s food insecurity problem is the way we grow food. According to the the U.N.’s 2013 Trade and Environment Review, the most widely used farming system is responsible for 43 percent to 57 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions and results in the loss of 50 percent to 75 percent of cultivated soils’ natural carbon content.

The loss of vital nutrients in soil is due in part to overuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The additives can also reduce resilience to flood and drought by removing the protective barrier provided by organic carbon.

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The New Water Alchemists

Author: Judith D. Schwartz | Published on: November 29, 2016

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent, and a nation cursed by headline-grabbing weather extremes. In 2013, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology famously added dark purple to its weather maps to denote over-the-top heat waves, the no-longer-rare days when air temperatures breach 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). Australia’s history since European settlement has been riddled with droughts and floods so dire they’re etched in the books as significant natural disasters. The millennium drought, known colloquially as the “Big Dry,” persisted for 15 years until finally doused by epic rains and floods that lasted from late 2010 into early 2011.

As for wildfires, the most devastating since 1851 have names, including Black Christmas and Black Tuesday. Most recently and most deadly were the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009 in the southeastern state of Victoria, which killed 173 people. The sheer extent of Australia that goes up in smoke is mind-boggling. An estimated 60,000 bushfires, many of them extensive, flame through Australia each year. (Between one-third and one-half of these are attributed to arson.) According to several tallies, between 130 and 220 million hectares (or 321 to 543 million acres) are burnt each year by either wildfires or intentional controlled burns. That’s a patch of earth somewhat bigger than the nation of Liberia. The carbon emitted from these conflagrations dwarfs the amount spewed by fossil fuels.

“I think of this as solar real estate. And I look at myself as a capitalist,” says Chris Henggeler, referring to his land in a hot, desolate corner of Australia. And his cattle? That’s “middle management,” he says. “They’re our plumbers and electricians.”

KEEP READING ON CRAFTSMANSHIP QUARTERLY

Climate Risk, Loss and Damage in North Carolina

Initial damage estimates from Hurricane Matthew in North Carolina are in the billions of dollars. A portion of that damage will be from waterways polluted by dead animals and animal waste from large-scale hog and poultry operations. Many of those operations were located on flood plains, and nearly all were contracted to produce for agribusiness giants like Smithfield and Perdue. Should these companies have seen this coming?

Climate models tell us that the number and severity of climate-related extreme weather events like Hurricane Matthew will increase. As a result, corporations are entering into a new era of climate risk that requires a re-evaluation of business models, production methods and supply chains. Governments are struggling to find the resources to pay for clean-up and re-building when disasters strike. These emerging climate challenges are particularly relevant for agribusiness companies.

The big hog and poultry operations in North Carolina fit almost any definition of climate risk. North Carolina is the second largest hog producing state in the country, with much of the production concentrated in largely African American counties (a legal petition is pending with the EPA’s office of civil rights arguing that the poor regulation of CAFOs in North Carolina discriminates against people of color in rural areas). The proliferation of hog farms and associated manure lagoons prompted a moratorium on new hog operations in the state, passed initially in 1997, but operations that were already in place have been allowed to expand, and the hog moratorium did not extend to poultry. Environmental groups have mapped more than 6,500 CAFOs – a mixture of hog and cattle operations, and an additional 3,900 poultry operations – all in North Carolina.

KEEP READING ON FOOD TANK

How the Active Many Can Overcome the Ruthless Few

Author: Bill Mckibben | Published: November 30, 2016

 I know what you want from me—what we all want—which is some small solace after the events of Election Day. My wife Sue Halpern and I have been talking nonstop for days, trying to cope with the emotions. I fear I may not be able to provide that balm, but I do offer these remarks in the spirit of resistance to that which we know is coming. We need to figure out how to keep the lights on, literally and figuratively, and all kinds of darkness at bay.

I am grateful to all those who asked me to deliver this inaugural Jonathan Schell Lecture—grateful most of all because it gave me an excuse for extended and happy recollection of one of the most generous friendships of my early adulthood. I arrived at The New Yorker at the age of 21, two weeks out of college, alone in New York City for the first time. The New Yorker was wonderfully quirky, of course, but one of its less wonderful quirks was that most people didn’t talk to each other very much, and especially to newcomers 50 years their junior. There were exceptions, of course, and the foremost exception was Jonathan. He loved to talk, and we had long colloquies nearly every day, mostly about politics.

Ideas—not abstract ideas, but ideas drawn from the world as it wound around him—fascinated him. He always wanted to dig a layer or two deeper; there was never anything superficial or trendy about his analysis. I understood better what he was up to when I came, at the age of 27, to write The End of Nature. It owes more than a small debt to The Fate of the Earth, which let me feel it was possible and permitted to write about the largest questions in the largest ways.

However, for the moment, we have not exploded nuclear weapons, notwithstanding Trump’s recent query about what good they are if we don’t use them. Our minds can compass the specter of a few mushroom clouds obliterating all that we know and love; those images have fueled a fitful but real effort to contain the problem, resulting most recently in the agreement with Iran. We have not been able to imagine that the billion tiny explosions of a billion pistons in a billion cylinders every second of every day could wreak the same damage, and hence we’ve done very little to ward off climate change.

We are destroying the earth every bit as thoroughly as Jonathan imagined in the famous first chapter of The Fate of the Earth, just a little more slowly. By burning coal and oil and gas and hence injecting carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, we have materially changed its heat-trapping properties; indeed, those man-made greenhouse gases trap the daily heat equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions. That’s enough extra heat that, in the space of a few decades, we have melted most of the summer sea ice in the Arctic—millennia old, meters thick, across a continent-size stretch of ocean that now, in summer, is blue water. (Blue water that absorbs the sun’s incoming rays instead of bouncing them back to space like the white ice it replaced, thus exacerbating the problem even further.) That’s enough heat to warm the tropical oceans to the point where Sue and I watched with our colleagues in the South Pacific as a wave of record-breaking warm water swept across the region this past spring, killing in a matter of weeks vast swaths of coral that had been there since before the beginning of the human experiment. That’s enough heat to seriously disrupt the planet’s hydrological cycles: Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, we’ve seen steady increases in drought in arid areas (and with it calamities like wildfire) and steady, even shocking, increases in downpour and flood in wet areas. It’s been enough to raise the levels of the ocean—and the extra carbon in the atmosphere has also changed the chemistry of that seawater, making it more acidic and beginning to threaten the base of the marine food chain. We are, it bears remembering, an ocean planet, and the world’s oceanographers warn that we are very rapidly turning the seven seas “hot, sour, and breathless.” To the “republic of insects and grass” that Jonathan imagined in the opening of The Fate of the Earth, we can add a new vision: a hypoxic undersea kingdom of jellyfish.

This is not what will happen if something goes wrong, if some maniac pushes the nuclear button, if some officer turns a key in a silo. This is what has already happened, because all of us normal people have turned the keys to our cars and the thermostat dials on our walls. And we’re still in the relatively early days of climate change, having increased the planet’s temperature not much more than 1 degree Celsius. We’re on a trajectory, even after the conclusion of the Paris climate talks last year, to raise Earth’s temperature by 3.5 degrees Celsius—or more, if the feedback loops we are triggering take full hold. If we do that, then we will not be able to maintain a civilization anything like the one we’ve inherited. Our great cities will be underwater; our fields will not produce the food our bodies require; those bodies will not be able to venture outside in many places to do the work of the world. Already, the World Health Organization estimates, increased heat and humidity have cut the labor a human can perform by 10 percent, a number that will approach 30 percent by midcentury. This July and August were the hottest months in the history of human civilization measured globally; in southern Iraq, very near where scholars situate the Garden of Eden, the mercury in cities like Basra hit 129 degrees—among the highest reliably recorded temperatures in history, temperatures so high that human survival becomes difficult.

KEEP READING ON THE NATION

This Kansas Farmer Fought a Government Program to Keep His Farm Sustainable

Author: Kristin Ohlson | Published on: December 5, 2016

Editor’s note: This story was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, a non-profit investigative news organization.

In 2012, Gail Fuller’s 2,000-acre farm was at ground zero for the drought that decimated corn production throughout the Midwest. His corn and soybeans had barely squeaked through the previous dry summer, even as many of his neighbors in Lyon County, Kansas, saw their crops desiccate and fail in the unrelenting sun. But when the drought persisted into 2012, Fuller joined the ranks of farmers who told the companies that administered their federally funded crop insurance they needed compensation for ruined acres.

On a hot day in early August, the company’s adjuster and his boss arrived to inspect Fuller’s land. Fuller and the adjuster greeted each other warmly — they had gone to high school together and the adjuster used to work for Fuller, spraying pesticides on his land. But Fuller grew uneasy when he saw the two men lingering over remnants of turnips and other brassicas he had grown to keep the soil healthy in between regular crops. Fuller had tried to kill off these cover crops before planting his market crop, as crop insurance rules require, but high winds interfered with the herbicide application and some of them survived. He feared the insurance company might not honor his claim because of restrictions the federal crop insurance program places on the use of cover crops.

Sure enough, the insurance company withheld a six-figure payout and canceled coverage on some of his fields. Stunned and panicked, Fuller called his partner, Lynette Miller, and blurted, “I’ve lost my insurance!”

KEEP READING ON ENSIA