River Pollution Puts 323m at Risk from Life-Threatening Diseases, Says UN

Author: Arthur Neslen | Published on: September 22, 2016

Waste water, pesticide run-off and pollution threatens people across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Regulation, data and business action are needed.

A week before Russia’s Daldykan river was turned red by a leak from a metals plant, the UN issued a warning as chilling as it was overlooked: 323 million people are at risk from life-threatening diseases caused by the pollution of rivers and lakes.

Cholera, typhoid and other deadly pathogens are increasing in more than half of the rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to a UN environment programme (Unep) report. Salinity levels have also risen in nearly a third of waterways.

Asia has been worst hit, with up to 50% of all rivers now affected by severe pathogen pollution caused by a cocktail of untreated waste water disposal, agricultural pesticides run-off and industrial pollution.

In a telling footnote to the Russian Norilsk disaster, Nasa released satellite images on 15 September showing that far from being a one-off, the Daldykan river had turned red on multiple occasions in the past 20 years.


Climate Change Is Here: Inside the Summer of Hell and High Water

Author: Tom Dickinson | Published on: September 22, 2016

With a catastrophic season of wildfires, megafloods and major hurricanes, the climate-change siege is fully upon us.

Southern California was ready to burn. El Niño rains that topped off reservoirs in the north of the state barely drizzled down south, leaving the region in a worst-in-centuries drought. By June, tree die-off in state forests, accelerated by bark beetles feasting on dry pines, had more than doubled from 2015, topping 66 million. Record heat – 122 degrees in Palm Springs – pushed the extreme fire conditions typical of September and October into midsummer. So when sparks hit the ground in August, fires across the state literally exploded. “It’s almost like the mountains are just doused in gasoline,” said one fire captain.

In the mountains above San Bernardino, the Blue Cut Fire consumed 30,000 acres in a single day, jumping an eight-lane interstate, spawning fire tornadoes and erecting a wall of flame nearly 90 feet tall. “It moved with an intensity and a ferocity that veteran firefighters haven’t seen before,” said San Bernardino County fire chief Mark Hartwig. The inferno forced the evacuation of 82,000 residents in less than 12 hours, many riding out on fire engines. Before a merciful break in the winds allowed firefighters to gain the upper hand, the Blue Cut destroyed more than 300 homes and buildings. Up the coast, firefighters battled the 46,000-acre Chimney Fire, narrowly saving the Hearst Castle – the extravagant mansion that inspired Xanadu in Citizen Kane.

As California was gripped by fire, the hottest August in recorded history unleashed extreme weather events in every corner of the United States. Hawaii braced for an unprecedented “double hurricane,” back-to-back systems that barreled down on the Big Island before passing just offshore. Then Hermine, the first hurricane to hit the Florida capital of Tallahassee since 1985, sent tropical-storm warnings north into New England.


Four Areas of Agriculture That Can Help Solve Many Environmental Problems and Improve Human Health


Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published on: September 10, 2016

Agriculture has a significant impact on life on Earth. It provides food, sure, but it’s also an integral part of the ecosystem as a whole. Done correctly, it supports and nourishes all life.

When abused — as it’s been done since the “green revolution” in the 1930s — agriculture contaminates and destroys soil, air and water, reducing biodiversity and threatening wildlife and humans alike, thanks to toxic chemicals and destructive farming methods.

The featured short film, “Unbroken Ground,” explores four areas of agriculture, featuring pioneers in each field, that can help solve many of the environmental crises’ currently facing us:

Reinventing Food

As noted in the film, there’s a growing movement toward more sustainable agriculture; a shift so great that it’s almost like we’re reinventing the food system all over again.

However, rather than focusing on more and newer technologies, this shift involves a return to basics — a going backward, if you will — which is really the only way to make progress at this point.

Continuing to destroy the soil, air and water we need to sustain life simply isn’t a viable option anymore. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard says:

“I’ve always thought of my company, Patagonia, a clothing company, as an experiment; making decisions based on quality and responsibility. And I can tell you, it’s not an experiment anymore.

I’ve proven to myself, it works! Applying that to food — this is another experiment. But I think it’s the most important experiment we’ve ever tried.”

The Land Institute — Regenerative Farming

According to Wes Jackson, Ph.D., founder of the Land Institute, grains account for about 70 percent of our daily calories, and grains are grown on about 70 percent of acreage worldwide.

The continuous replanting of grain crops each year leads to soil degradation, as land is tilled and sprayed each year, disrupting the balance of microbes in the soil. Top soil is also lost each year, which means that eventually, our current modes of operation simply will no longer work.

We will not have any usable topsoil left, and this may actually occur far sooner than most people realize. Soil erosion and degradation rates suggest we have less than 60 remaining years of topsoil.1

Forty percent of the world’s agricultural soil is now classified as either degraded or seriously degraded; the latter means that 70 percent of the topsoil is gone.

Agriculture also accounts for 70 percent of our fresh water use. When the soil is unfit, water is wasted. It simply washes right through the soil and past the plant’s root system.

We already have a global water shortage that’s projected to worsen over the coming two or three decades, so this is the last thing we need to compound it.

Soil degradation is projected to cause 30 percent loss in food production over the next 20 to 50 years. Meanwhile, our global food demands are expected to increase by 50 percent over this span of time.

“Regenerative agriculture actually BUILDS topsoil,” Chouinard says. “Wes is doing the most important thing in agriculture in the last 10,000 years.”


Kenya to Restore Denmark-Sized Area of Degraded Land

Author: Hayden Higgins and Aaron Minnick | Published: September 13, 2016

Kenya announced on September 8th that it will restore 5.1 million hectares (12.6 million acres) of degraded land, an area roughly the size of Denmark, to more productive use. The move is poised to improve livelihoods, curb climate change, safeguard biodiversity and more.

Sizing the Problem—and the Opportunity

As a result of poor land use, including overcultivation and overgrazing, Kenya has been quickly losing land to desertification. The drylands that make up much of the country are particularly susceptible.

Kenya’s restoration plan is not only notable because it will reverse some of this degradation, but because of how the country set its international target.

WRI participated in a technical working group that used a novel research approach to map Kenya’s different land areas. That group found 38.8 million hectares (96 million acres)—more than 65 percent of Kenya’s total land area—suitable for restoration. The goal announced last Thursday represents more than 13 percent of the total restorable land area.


Moving the Giants – An Inspiring Film

When David Milarch of Archangel Ancient Tree Archive came back to life, he embarked on a spiritual mission. Enjoy Moving the Giants, this award-winning short film about his mission.

Moving the Giants: An Urgent Plan to Save the Planet tells the story of arborist David Milarch, as he helps California coast redwoods migrate northward to survive climate changes that threaten their current habitat. His is one path to promote “treequestration,” a mass movement to use one of nature’s most prolific methods to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce the amount of future climate change.


Moving up the Mountain: Coffee Farmers Fight Against Climate Change

This story is part of a campaign called Living on the Edge of Climate Change, showing how the changing environment is affecting the world’s most vulnerable.

It’s only 10 a.m. on a Thursday, but no one here is lingering over a last morning cup of coffee.

No, in the community of Nuevo Eden in the department of San Marcos in Guatemala, these people are growing your coffee. It’s hard work that gets more difficult by the year.

Person after person—man, woman and child—pass with a quick “buenos días” and a smile, but they don’t linger. They have a long, dusty mountain road ahead of them as they carry huge sacks of coffee cherries on their backs. These cherries will eventually become cups of steaming coffee. But to these farmers that’s not their immediate concern. Just getting the beans to this point has been an uphill battle: a battle against circumstance, a battle against the climate, a battle against poverty. And it’s a fight that is still not won, especially against climate change.

This part of Guatemala is known for its quality coffee, and for its beauty. The mountains provide both a gorgeous landscape and a good location for growing the valuable beans. But these tall peaks also serve as symbols of struggle. This has not been a smooth road, and these farmers are definitely not rich. In fact, they are some of the most vulnerable people in our world. And we want you to meet them.


How Urban Farming Is Revolutionizing Our Cities and Food System

Author: Dr. David Suzuki | Published on: August 30, 2016

Urban agriculture won’t resolve all food production and distribution problems, but it could take pressure off rural land while providing other advantages.

Humans are fast becoming city dwellers. According to the United Nations, “The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014.”

Sixty-six percent of us will likely live in urban environments by 2050. The number of mega-cities (more than 10 million inhabitants) is also skyrocketing, from 10 in 1990 to 28 in 2014—home to more than 453 million people—and is expected to grow to 41 by 2030.

Along with concerns about climate change and the distances much of our food travels from farm to plate, that’s spurred a renewed interest in producing food where people live. Urban agriculture won’t resolve all food production and distribution problems, but it could help take pressure off rural land while providing other advantages. From balcony, backyard, rooftop, indoor and community gardens to city beehives and chicken coops to larger urban farms and farmers markets, growing and distributing local food in or near cities is a healthy way to help the environment.


Carrying Capacity of U.S. Agricultural Land: Ten Diet Scenarios

Authors: Research Article by Christian J. Peters, Jamie Picardy, Amelia F Darrouzet-Nardi, Jennifer L. Wilkins, Timothy S. Griffin, Gary W. Fick

Strategies for environmental sustainability and global food security must account for dietary change. Using a biophysical simulation model we calculated human carrying capacity under ten diet scenarios. The scenarios included two reference diets based on actual consumption and eight “Healthy Diet” scenarios that complied with nutritional recommendations but varied in the level of meat content. We considered the U.S. agricultural land base and accounted for losses, processing conversions, livestock feed needs, suitability of land for crops or grazing, and land productivity. Annual per capita land requirements ranged from 0.13 to 1.08 ha person-1 year-1 across the ten diet scenarios. Carrying capacity varied from 402 to 807 million persons; 1.3 to 2.6 times the 2010 U.S. population. Carrying capacity was generally higher for scenarios with less meat and highest for the lacto-vegetarian diet. However, the carrying capacity of the vegan diet was lower than two of the healthy omnivore diet scenarios. Sensitivity analysis showed that carrying capacity estimates were highly influenced by starting assumptions about the proportion of cropland available for cultivated cropping. Population level dietary change can contribute substantially to meeting future food needs, though ongoing agricultural research and sustainable management practices are still needed to assure sufficient production levels.

1. Introduction

1.1 Relationships between diet and sustainability
One of the most perplexing questions in sustainability science is, “What should we eat?” Within the food and agriculture literature, a strong case has been presented that dietary change is essential for meeting future human food needs (McMichael et al., 2007; Pelletier and Tyedmers, 2010; Godfray et al., 2010; Foley et al., 2011; Smith et al., 2013). By “dietary change,” these authors refer to eating patterns that stabilize, or decrease, livestock production, keep food system environmental impacts within ecosystem limits, and more equitably distribute food to meet global nutritional goals.

This line of thinking is not new. The equation I=PAT, conceived in the 1970s, proposes that environmental impact is a function of population, affluence, and technology (Parris and Kates, 2003). Calls for considering the environmental impacts of food consumption through changes in diet were made decades ago both in popular (Lappé, 1971) and academic literature (Gussow and Clancy, 1986). However, for most of the 20th Century the predominant agricultural science paradigm focused on increasing yield and production efficiency, expanding in the 1980s and 1990s to include ecological impacts of farming but not focusing on food systems (Welch and Graham, 1999). Likewise, nutritional sciences and dietary advice over most of the past century have been guided almost exclusively by evidence on the relationships among nutrients, foods, diets and human health (King, 2007). If strategies for sustainability must address both food consumption and production, then analyses that link agriculture and nutrition are needed.

1.2 Land as a fundamental resource
The food system exerts a broad range of ecological impacts. Biodiversity loss, climate-forcing emissions, nutrient cycle disruption, and competition for land, water, and energy are all cited as reasons to contain agriculture’s environmental impact (Godfray et al., 2010; Foley et al., 2011). Among these impacts, land use is central. Sparing land from conversion to agriculture may be important for protecting biodiversity (Balmford et al., 2005; Lambin and Meyfroidt, 2011). In addition, as highlighted in debates about the merits of biofuels, conversion of native grassland or forest to agriculture causes carbon emissions (Fargione et al., 2008; Searchinger et al., 2008). Both issues provide persuasive arguments against expanding land under cultivation. Yet agricultural yields are not on track to meet projected global increases in food demand (Ray et al., 2013). Potential (and probable) increased demand for bioenergy or carbon sequestration further confounds the land conversion question (Smith et al., 2013). Given all the challenges, understanding the impact of dietary patterns on land use is critically important.


Four Important Lessons from Cuba’s Urban Food Survival Strategy

Author: Aurel Keller

Cuba has come a long way since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the loss of imports crucial for the island nation’s industrial agriculture system—such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers—left Cuba with a severe food crisis in the 1990s. Today, Cuba has become a regional leader in sustainable agricultural research. Within its practices and institutions lies a model for localized and small-scale urban agriculture.

With the loss of the Soviet market, which had imported sugar at subsidized prices, and the fall of global sugar prices in the late 1980s, sugar monoculture production in Cuba collapsed. Out of necessity, Cuba underwent a social, scientific, and economic push toward self-sufficiency. This shift required radical change for the authoritarian communist state as desperation and cooperation drove innovation in sustainable agriculture and urban farming. Although Cuba’s successes relied on country-specific policy adoptions and favorable geographic conditions, the country’s scientific frameworks and practices are widely applicable in other regions.

Reforms Propelled by the Government

Cuba’s success hinged on the adoption of Article 27 of the constitution in 1992, which recognized the state’s innate duty to ensure the sustainable use of resources and to protect the nation’s environment and people. The Cuban state and the Ministry of Agriculture instituted austerity measures, re-adjusting priorities and resources into support roles. State companies in many sectors became employee-owned co-ops, and small-farm distribution programs were greatly expanded. Realizing the need to meet the population’s basic food needs with limited resources, funding for agricultural research infrastructure was expanded to optimize low-input, small-scale farming. The government stepped back from direct management and worked with grassroots organizations and co-ops to provide support through extensive research partnerships to optimize and spread beneficial practices.

Grassroots Organizations and Co-ops Were Key

Grassroots organizations—representing small-scale farmers, animal producers, and agricultural and forest technicians—became essential in forming cooperatives and spreading services and education in Cuba. The small farmer organization, ANAP, has been active since the 1980s, working with farmers and the government to teach beneficial practices and create farmer’s cooperatives—groups of farmers who combine their resources and create employee-owned businesses that provide production, credit, and service assistance. Initially slow, the spread of farm co-ops grew once President Fidel Castro recognized their benefits, with official support commencing in 1987, and picked up speed as land-distribution and support programs expanded. Working with agricultural research outposts and universities, ANAP was instrumental in facilitating the extensive spread of research extension programs through its network, as well as propagating resulting improvements. Many peasant farmers were members of ANAP and participated in co-ops, successful to the point of producing 60 percent of produce on 25 percent of worked land in 2003.