Urban Food Forestry & Heritage Fruit Trees: From The Ark of Taste to Accessible Edible Landscapes

On this evening, Slow Food Southern Arizona will join with other local sponsors and Gary Paul Nabhan, local food pioneer and author, as Moderator for a unique event focused on the exploration of accessible edible landscapes and heritage fruit trees through the lens of experience.  The program also features a special focus and update on the Slow Food Ark of Taste.  What is it?  Why is it?   How can you use it?

 

Presentations will feature visiting activists in urban and heritage forestry projects: Megan Larmer, from Slow Food Chicago and Chicago Rarities Orchard project, and Tara Hui from Guerilla Grafters in the Bay Area.

 

Megan will also provide insights on the updated guidelines and regionalization of the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste. As Manager of Biodiversity Programs, she recently served as interim leader of the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste restructuring project.

 

Co-sponsors for this unique program are Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture, Edible Baja Arizona, Farm Education Resource Network, Local Food Concepts, Native Seed/SEARCH, Plant-Based Nation, Sleeping Frog Farms, Sustainable Tucson, Tucson Oasis Initiative, and Walking J Farm.

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Gary Nabhan Quote in July 21, 2013 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times:

“… the farm bill should include funds from the Strikeforce Initiative of the Department of Agriculture to help farmers transition to forms of perennial agriculture — initially focusing on edible tree crops and perennial grass pastures — rather than providing more subsidies to biofuel production from annual crops. Perennial crops not only keep 7.5 to 9.4 times more carbon in the soil than annual crops, but their production also reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to till the soil every year.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/our-coming-food-crisis.html?_r=0

 

 

LOCATION:            Sentinel Building,  Community Resource Center,   310 N. Commerce Park Loop

 

 

A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis

A Radical Approach to the Climate Crisis

by Christian Parenti, July 19, 2013

Several strands of green thinking maintain that capitalism is incapable of a sustainable relationship with non-human nature because, as an economic system, capitalism has a growth imperative while the earth is finite. One finds versions of this argument in the literature of eco-socialism, deep ecology, eco-anarchism, and even among many mainstream greens who, though typically declining to actually name the economic system, are fixated on the dangers of “growth.”

All this may be true. Capitalism, a system in which privately owned firms must continuously out-produce and out-sell their competitors, may be incapable of accommodating itself to the limits of the natural world. However, that is not the same question as whether capitalism can solve the more immediate climate crisis.

Because of its magnitude, the climate crisis can appear as the sum total of all environmental problems—deforestation, over-fishing, freshwater depletion, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, chemical contamination. But halting greenhouse gas emissions is a much more specific problem, the most pressing subset of the larger apocalyptic panorama.

And the very bad news is, time has run out. As I write this, news arrives of an ice-free arctic summer by 2050. Scientists once assumed that would not happen for hundreds of years.

Dealing with climate change by first achieving radical social transformation—be it a socialist or anarchist or deep-ecological/neo-primitive revolution, or a nostalgia-based localistaconversion back to a mythical small-town capitalism—would be a very long and drawn-out, maybe even multigenerational, struggle. It would be marked by years of mass education and organizing of a scale and intensity not seen in most core capitalist states since the 1960s or even the 1930s.

Nor is there any guarantee that the new system would not also degrade the soil, lay waste to the forests, despoil bodies of water, and find itself still addicted to coal and oil. Look at the history of “actually existing socialism” before its collapse in 1991. To put it mildly, the economy was not at peace with nature. Or consider the vexing complexities facing the left social democracies of Latin America. Bolivia, and Ecuador, states run by socialists who are beholden to very powerful, autonomous grassroots movements, are still very dependent on petroleum revenue.

A more radical approach to the crisis of climate change begins not with a long-term vision of an alternate society but with an honest engagement with the very compressed timeframe that current climate science implies. In the age of climate change, these are the real parameters of politics.

Hard Facts

The scientific consensus, expressed in peer-reviewed and professionally vetted and published scientific literature, runs as follows: For the last 650,000 years atmospheric levels of CO2—the primary heat-trapping gas—have hovered at around 280 parts per million (ppm). At no point in the preindustrial era did CO2 concentrations go above 300 ppm. By 1959, they had reached 316 ppm and are now over 400 ppm. And the rate of emissions is accelerating.Since 2000, the world has pumped almost 100 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere—about a quarter of all CO2 emissions since 1750. At current rates, CO2 levels will double by mid-century.

Climate scientists believe that any increase in average global temperatures beyond 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels will lead to dangerous climate change, causing large-scale desertification, crop failure, inundation of coastal cities, mass migration to higher and cooler ground, widespread extinctions of flora and fauna, proliferating disease, and possible social collapse. Furthermore, scientists now understand that the earth’s climate system has not evolved in a smooth linear fashion. Paleoclimatology has uncovered evidence of sudden shifts in the earth’s climate regimes. Ice ages have stopped and started not in a matter of centuries, but decades. Sea levels (which are actually uneven across the globe) have risen and fallen more rapidly than was once believed.

 

Throughout the climate system, there exist dangerous positive-feedback loops and tipping points. A positive-feedback loop is a dynamic in which effects compound, accelerate, or amplify the original cause. Tipping points in the climate system reflect the fact that causes can build up while effects lag. Then, when the effects kick in, they do so all at once, causing the relatively sudden shift from one climate regime to another.

 

Thus, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says rich countries like the United States must cut emissions 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020—only seven years away—and thereafter make precipitous cuts to 90 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This would require global targets of 10 percent reductions in emissions per annum, starting now. Those sorts of emissions reductions have only occurred during economic depressions. Russia’s near total economic collapse in the early 1990s saw a 37 percent decrease in CO2 emissions from 1990 to 1995, under conditions that nobody wants to experience.

 

The political implications of all this are mind-bending. As daunting as it may sound, it means that it is this society and these institutions that must cut emissions. That means, in the short-term, realistic climate politics are reformist politics, even if they are conceived of as part of a longer-term anti-capitalist project of totally economic re-organization.

 

Dreaming the Rational

Of course, successful reformism often involves radical means and revolutionary demands. What other sort of political pressure would force the transnational ruling classes to see the scientific truth of the situation? But let us assume for a second that political elites faced enough pressure to force them to act. What would be the rational first steps to stave off climate chaos?

 

The watchwords of the climate discussion are mitigation and adaptation—that is, we must mitigate the causes of climate change while adapting to its effects. Mitigation means drastically cutting our production of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons, that prevent the sun’s heat from radiating back out to space.

 

Mitigation means moving toward clean energy sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal kinetic power. It means closing coal-fired power plants, weaning our economy off fossil fuels, building a smart electrical grid, and making massive investments in carbon-capture and -sequestration technologies. (That last bit of techno-intervention would have to be used not as a justification to keep burning coal, as is its current function, but to strip out atmospheric CO2 rapidly and get back to 350 ppm and away from the dangerous tipping points.)

 

Adaptation, on the other hand, means preparing to live with the effects of climatic changes, some of which are already underway and some of which are inevitable. Adaptation is both a technical and a political challenge.

 

Technical adaptation means transforming our relationship to non-human nature as nature transforms. Examples include building seawalls around vulnerable coastal cities, giving land back to mangroves and everglades so they can act to break tidal surges during giant storms, opening wildlife migration corridors so species can move away from the equator as the climate warms, and developing sustainable forms of agriculture that can function on an industrial scale even as weather patterns gyrate wildly.

 

Political adaptation, on the other hand, means transforming social relations: devising new ways to contain, avoid, and deescalate the violence that climate change is fueling and will continue to fuel. That will require progressive economic redistribution and more sustainable forms of development. It will also require a new diplomacy of peace building.

 

Unfortunately, another type of political adaptation is already under way—that of the armed lifeboat. This adaptation responds to climate change by arming, excluding, forgetting, repressing, policing, and killing. The question then becomes how to conceive of adaptation and mitigation as a project of radical reform—reforms that achieve qualitative change in the balance of power between the classes.

 

The core problem in the international effort to cut emissions is fundamentally the intransigence of the United States: it failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and has played an obstructionist role at subsequent negotiations. Domestically, progress has been just as frustratingly slow. We have no carbon tax, nor any program of robust investment in clean technology. Even the minimal production tax credit for clean energy generated by solar, wind, and hydro power has not been locked in as a long-term commitment. This creates uncertainty about prices, and, as a result, private investment in clean tech is stalling.

 

China, on the other hand, though now the world’s second-largest economy and largest greenhouse gas polluter, is moving ahead with a fast-growing clean-tech industry—that is to say, with mitigation. The Chinese wind sector has grown steadily since 2001. “According to new statistics from the China Electricity Council,” reported American Progress senior fellow Joseph Romm, “China’s wind power production actually increased more than coal power production for the first time ever in 2012.” This growth is the result, in part, of robust government support: China has invested $200.8 billion in stimulus funding for clean tech. Estimates of U.S. stimulus funding for clean technology range from $50 to $80 billion.

 

The European Union is also moving forward to create a €1 trillion regional supergrid. Germany and Portugal in particular are moving aggressively to expand their already quite large clean-tech sectors. Action in the core industrial economies is essential because only they have the infrastructure that can propel the clean-tech revolution and transform the world economy.

 

A De Facto Carbon Tax

Environmental economists tend to agree that the single most important thing the United States could do to accelerate the shift to clean energy would be to impose a carbon tax. Despite our political sclerosis and fossil fuel fundamentalism, the means to do that already exist.

 

First and foremost, there is the Environmental Protection Agency, which could achieve significant and immediate emissions reductions using nothing more than existing laws and current technologies. According to Kassie Siegel at the Center for Biological Diversity, “The Clean Air Act can achieve everything we need: a 40 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels by 2020.”

 

Rather boring in tone and dense with legalistic detail, the ongoing fight over EPA rulemaking is probably the most important environmental battle in a generation. Since 2007, thanks to the pressure and lawsuits of green activists, the EPA has had enormous—but under-utilized—power. That was the year when the Supreme Court ruled, in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, that the agency should determine whether greenhouse gases threaten human health. In December 2010, the EPA published a science-based “endangerment finding,” which found that CO2 and five other greenhouse gases are, in fact, dangerous to human life because they cause global warming.

 

Once the EPA issues an endangerment finding, it is legally bound to promulgate regulations to address the problem. The first of these post–Massachusetts v. EPA “tailoring rules” were for “mobile sources.” Between 2011 and 2012, regulations for cars and for trucks went into effect. Then the EPA set strict limits for new power plants in 2012. But other major sources of greenhouse gas pollution—like existing electric power plants (which pump out roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total GHG emissions), oil refineries, cement plants, steel mills, and shipping—have yet to be properly regulated pursuant to Massachusetts v. EPA.

 

If the EPA were to use the Clean Air Act—and do so “with extreme prejudice”—it could impose a de facto carbon tax. Industries would still be free to burn dirty fossil fuels, but they would have to use very expensive, and in some cases nonexistent, new technology to meet emission standards. Or they would have to pay very steep and mounting fines for their emissions. Such penalties could reach thousands of dollars per day, per violation. Thus, a de facto carbon tax. Then cheap fossil fuel energy would become expensive, driving investment toward carbon-neutral forms of clean energy like wind and solar. For extra measure we could end fossil fuel subsidies. Before long, it would be more profitable to invest in clean energy sources than dangerous and filthy ones.

 

Big Green Buy and U.S. “Shadow Socialism”

According to clean-tech experts, innovation is now less important than rapid, large-scale implementation. In other words, developing a clean-energy economy is not about new gadgets but about new policies. Most of the energy technologies we need already exist. You know what they are: wind farms, concentrated solar power plants, geothermal and tidal power, all feeding an efficient smart grid that, in turn, powers electric vehicles and radically more energy-efficient buildings.

 

But leading clean technologies remain slightly more expensive than the old dirty-tech alternatives. This “price gap” is holding back the mass application of clean technology. The simple fact is that capitalist economies will not switch to clean energy until it is cheaper than fossil fuel. The fastest way to close the price gap is to build large clean-tech markets that allow for economies of scale. But what is the fastest way to build those markets? More research grants? More tax credits? More clumsy pilot programs?

 

No. The fastest, simplest way to do it is to reorient government procurement away from fossil fuel energy and toward clean energy and technology—to use the government’s vast spending power to create a market for green energy. Elsewhere, I have called this the Big Green Buy. Consider this: federal, state, and local government constitute more than 38 percent of our GDP. In more concrete terms, Uncle Sam owns or leases more than 430,000 buildings (mostly large office buildings) and 650,000 vehicles. (Add state and local government activity, and all those numbers grow by about a third again.) The federal government is the world’s largest consumer of energy and vehicles, and the nation’s largest greenhouse gas emitter.

 

Government procurement is one of the hidden tools of American capitalism’s “shadow socialism.” By shadow socialism I refer to the massively important but often overlooked role of government planning, investment, subsidy, procurement, and ownership in the economic development of American capitalism. A detailed account of that history is offered in Michael Lind’s book Land of Promise. From railroads, to telecommunications, and aviation and all the attendant sub-industries of these sectors, government has provided the capital and conditions for fledging industries to grow large. For example, government didn’t just fund the invention of the microprocessor; it was also the first major consumer of the device. Throughout the 1950s, more than half of IBM’s revenue came from government contracts. Along with money, these contracts provided a guaranteed market and stability for IBM and its suppliers, and thus attracted private investment—all of which helped create the modern computer industry.

 

Now consider the scale of the problem: our asphalt transportation arteries are clogged with 250 million gasoline-powered vehicles sucking down an annual $200 to $300 billion worth of fuel from more than 121,000 filling stations. Add to that the cost of heating and cooling buildings, jet travel, shipping, powering industry, and the energy-gobbling servers and mainframes that are the Internet, and the U.S. energy economy reaches a spectacular annual tab of 1.2 trillion dollars.

 

A redirection of government purchasing would create massive markets for clean power, electric vehicles, and efficient buildings, as well as for more sustainably produced furniture, paper, cleaning supplies, uniforms, food, and services. If government bought green, it would drive down marketplace prices sufficiently that the momentum toward green tech would become self-reinforcing and spread to the private sector.

 

Executive Order 13514, which Obama signed in 2009, directed all federal agencies to increase energy efficiency; measure, report, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from direct and indirect activities; conserve and protect water resources through efficiency, reuse, and storm water management; eliminate waste, recycle, and prevent pollution; leverage agency acquisitions to foster markets for sustainable technologies and environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; design, construct, maintain, and operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations.

 

The executive order also stipulates that federal agencies immediately start purchasing 95 percent through green-certified programs and achieve a 28 percent greenhouse gas reduction by 2020. But it has not been robustly implemented.

 

Government has tremendous latitude to leverage green procurement because it requires no new taxes, programs, or spending, nor is it hostage to the holy grail of sixty votes in the Senate. It is simply a matter of changing how the government buys its energy, vehicles, and services. Yes, in many cases clean tech costs more up front, but in most cases, savings arrive soon afterward. And government—because of its size—is a market mover that can leverage money-saving deals if it wishes to.

 

Protest and the “Relative Autonomy” of the State

Why would the capitalist state move to euthanize the fossil fuel industry, that most powerful fraction of the capitalist class? Or put another way, how can the state regain some of its “relative autonomy” from capital? History indicates that massive, crisis-producing protest is one of the most common reasons a modern state will act against the interests of specific entrenched elites and for the “general interest” of society. When the crisis of protest is bad enough, entrenched elites are forced to take a loss as the state imposes ameliorative action for the greater good of society.

 

Clearly, we need to build a well-organized, broadly supported, yet tactically and strategically radical movement to demand proper climate policy. For such a movement to be effective it must use myriad tactics, from lawsuits and lobbying to direct action such as tree-sits, road blockades, and occupations aimed at the infrastructure of the fossil fuel industry. Only by disrupting the working of the political and economic system as a whole can we forge a consensus that ending the fossil fuel sector is essential. (The work of Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward is, in my opinion, still among the best in tracing the dynamic of this process of rebellion and reform.)

 

At question, then, is not just the state’s capacity to evolve, but the capacity of the American people to organize and mobilize on a massive scale. Far be it from me to say exactly how such movements could or should be built, other than the way they always have been: by trial and error and with good leadership. Movement building is a mass and organic process.

 

The Rebellion of Nature

Along with protest, a more organic source of crisis is already underway and may also help scare political elites into confronting big carbon. Climate change is a “rebellion of nature,” by which I mean the disruption caused by ecological breakdown. The history of environmental regulation in the West is, in many ways, the story of protest and advocacy combining with the rebellion of nature at the local (urban) scale. Together, they have forced rudimentary regulation in the name of health and sanitation.

 

By the 1830s, America’s industrial cities had become perfect incubators of epidemic disease, particularly cholera and yellow fever. Like climate change today, these diseases hit the poor hardest, but they also sickened and killed the wealthy. Class privilege offered some protection, but it was not a guarantee of safety. And so it was that middle-class “goo-goos” and “mugwumps” began a series of reforms that contained and eventually defeated the urban epidemics.

 

First, garbage-eating hogs were banned from city streets, then public sanitation programs of refuse collection began, sewers were built, safe public water provided, and housing codes were developed and enforced. Eventually, the epidemics of cholera stopped. Soon other infectious diseases, such as pulmonary tuberculosis, typhus, and typhoid, were largely eliminated. At the scale of the urban, capitalist society solved an environmental crisis through planning and public investment.

 

Climate change is a problem of an entirely different order of magnitude, but these past solutions to smaller environmental crises offer lessons. Ultimately, solving the climate crisis—like the nineteenth-century victory over urban squalor and epidemic contagions—will require a re-legitimation of the state’s role in the economy.

 

The modern story of local air pollution offers another example of the “rebellion of nature.” As Jim McNeil outlines in Something New Under The Sun, smog inundations in industrial cities of the United States and Europe used to kill many people. In 1879–1880 smog killed 3,000 Londoners, and in Glasgow a 1909 inversion—where cold air filled with smoke from burning coal was trapped near the ground—killed 1,063. As late as 1952, a pattern of cold and still air killed 4,000 people in London, according to McNeil, and even more according to others. By 1956, the Britons had passed a clean air act that drove coal out of the major cities. In the United States there was a similar process. In 1953, smog in New York killed between 170 and 260 people, and as late as 1966 a smog inversion killed 169 New Yorkers. All of this helped generate pressure for the Clean Air Act of 1970.

 

Today, a similar process is underway in China. Local air quality is so bad that it is forcing changes to Chinese energy policy. A major World Bank study has estimated that “the combined health and non-health cost of outdoor air and water pollution for China’s economy comes to around $US 100 billion a year (or about 5.8% of the country’s GDP).” People across China are protesting pollution. Foreign executives are turning down positions in Beijing because of the toxic atmospheric stew that western visitors have taken to calling “airpocalypse.” The film director Chen Kaige, who won the Palme d’Or for his 1993 filmFarewell My Concubine, told the world he couldn’t think or make films because of the Chinese capital’s appallingly bad air.

 

These local pressures are a large part of what is driving Chinese investment in renewable energy. Last year China added more energy capacity from wind than from the coal sector.

 

Capitalism vs. Nature?

Some of the first thinkers to note a conflict between capitalism and non-human nature were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They came to their ecology through examining the local problem of relations between town and country—expressed simultaneously as urban pollution and rural soil depletion. In exploring this question they relied on the pioneering work of soil chemist Justus von Liebig. And from this small-scale problem, they developed the idea of capitalism creating a rift in the metabolism of natural processes.

 

Here is how Marx explained the dilemma:

 

Capitalist production collects the population together in great centers, and causes the urban population to achieve an ever-growing preponderance. This has two results. On the one hand it concentrates the historical motive force of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the metabolic interaction between man and the earth, i.e., it prevents the return to the soil of its constituent elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; hence it hinders the operation of the eternal natural condition for the lasting fertility of the soil….All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil.

 

And as with “soil robbing,” so too concentrations of atmospheric CO2: the natural systems are out of sync; their elements are being rearranged and redistributed, ending up as garbage and pollution.

 

It may well be true that capitalism is incapable of accommodating itself to the limits of the natural world. But that is not the same question as whether or not capitalism can solve the climate crisis. Climate mitigation and adaptation are merely an effort to buy time to address the other larger set of problems that is the whole ecological crisis.

 

This is both a pessimistic and an optimistic view. Although capitalism has not overcome the fundamental conflict between its infinite growth potential and the finite parameters of the planet’s pollution sinks, it has, in the past, addressed specific environmental crises.

 

Anyone who thinks the existing economic system must be totally transformed before we can deal with the impending climate crisis is delusional or in willful denial of the very clear findings of climate science. If the climate system unravels, all bets are off. The many progressive visions born of the Enlightenment will be swallowed and forgotten by the rising seas or smashed to pieces by the wrathful storms of climate chaos.

 

Resilience.org is a program of Post Carbon Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the world transition away from fossil fuels and build sustainable, resilient communities.

Source URL: http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-07-19/a-radical-approach-to-the-climate-crisis

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of Dissent Magazine and is reproduced at Resilience.org with the permission of the author.

Original article: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/a-radical-approach-to-the-climate-crisis by Christian Parenti

Content on this site is subject to our fair use notice.

 

 

Arctic Methane Release Due To Climate Change Could Cost Global Economy $60 Trillion, Study Reports

Arctic Methane Release Due To Climate Change Could Cost Global Economy $60 Trillion, Study Reports

By Nina Chestney

LONDON, July 24 (Reuters) – A release of methane in the Arctic could speed the melting of sea ice and climate change with a cost to the global economy of up to $60 trillion over coming decades, according to a paper published in the journal Nature.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge and Erasmus University in the Netherlands used economic modelling to calculate the consequences of a release of a 50-gigatonne reservoir of methane from thawing permafrost under the East Siberian Sea.

They examined a scenario in which there is a release of methane over a decade as global temperatures rise at their current pace.

They also looked at lower and slower releases, yet all produced “steep” economic costs stemming from physical changes to the Arctic.

“The global impact of a warming Arctic is an economic time-bomb,” said Gail Whiteman, an author of the report and professor of sustainability, management and climate change at the Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University.

“In the absence of climate-change mitigation measures, the model calculates that it would increase mean global climate impacts by $60 trillion,” said Chris Hope, a reader in policy modelling at the Cambridge Judge Business School, part of the University of Cambridge.

That approaches the value of the global economy, which was around $70 trillion last year.

The costs could be even greater if other factors such as ocean acidification were included, the study said, or reduced to some $37 trillion if action is taken to lower emissions.

As much as 80 percent of the costs would likely be borne by developing countries experiencing more extreme weather, flooding, droughts and poorer health as the Arctic melt affects the global climate, the paper said.

Methane is a greenhouse gas usually trapped as methane hydrate in sediment beneath the seabed. As temperatures rise, the hydrate breaks down and methane is released from the seabed, mostly dissolving into the seawater.

But if trapped methane were to break the sea surface and escape into the atmosphere, it could “speed up sea-ice retreat, reduce the reflection of solar energy and accelerate the melting of the Greenland ice sheet,” the study said.

It said that could bring forward the date at which the global mean temperature rise exceeds 2 degrees Celsius by between 15 and 35 years – to 2035 if no action is taken to curb emissions and to 2040 if enough action is taken to have a 50 percent chance of keeping the rise below 2 degrees.

Scientists have said the rise in global average temperatures this century needs to stay below 2 degrees Celsius to prevent devastating climate effects such as crop failure and melting glaciers.

However, the International Energy Agency warned last month that the world is on course for a rise of 3.6 to 5.3 degrees Celsius citing record high global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year.

The Arctic has oil and gas reserves which Lloyd’s of London has estimated could draw investment of up to $100 billion within a decade. Environmentalists warn Arctic drilling is too risky and could have devastating consequences for the region. (Editing by Jason Neely)

Link to article:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/24/arctic-methane-climate-change_n_3643917.html

Our Coming Food Crisis by Gary Paul Nabhan

Our Coming Food Crisis

By Gary Paul Nabhan,  Published by the New York Times: July 21, 2013

 

TUCSON, Ariz. — THIS summer the tiny town of Furnace Creek, Calif., may once again grace the nation’s front pages. Situated in Death Valley, it last made news in 1913, when it set the record for the world’s hottest recorded temperature, at 134 degrees. With the heat wave currently blanketing the Western states, and given that the mercury there has already reached 130 degrees, the news media is awash in speculation that Furnace Creek could soon break its own mark.

 

Such speculation, though, misses the real concern posed by the heat wave, which covers an area larger than New England. The problem isn’t spiking temperatures, but a new reality in which long stretches of triple-digit days are common — threatening not only the lives of the millions of people who live there, but also a cornerstone of the American food supply.

 

People living outside the region seldom recognize its immense contribution to American agriculture: roughly 40 percent of the net farm income for the country normally comes from the 17 Western states; cattle and sheep production make up a significant part of that, as do salad greens, dry beans, onions, melons, hops, barley, wheat and citrus fruits. The current heat wave will undeniably diminish both the quality and quantity of these foods.

 

The most vulnerable crops are those that were already in flower and fruit when temperatures surged, from apricots and barley to wheat and zucchini. Idaho farmers have documented how their potato yields have been knocked back because their heat-stressed plants are not developing their normal number of tubers. Across much of the region, temperatures on the surface of food and forage crops hit 105 degrees, at least 10 degrees higher than the threshold for most temperate-zone crops.

 

What’s more, when food and forage crops, as well as livestock, have had to endure temperatures 10 to 20 degrees higher than the long-term averages, they require far more water than usual. The Western drought, which has persisted for the last few years, has already diminished both surface water and groundwater supplies and increased energy costs, because of all the water that has to be pumped in from elsewhere.

 

If these costs are passed on to consumers, we can again expect food prices, especially for beef and lamb, to rise, just as they did in 2012, the hottest year in American history. So extensive was last year’s drought that more than 1,500 counties — about half of all the counties in the country — were declared national drought disaster areas, and 90 percent of those were hit by heat waves as well.

 

The answer so far has been to help affected farmers with payouts from crop insurance plans. But while we can all sympathize with affected farmers, such assistance is merely a temporary response to a long-term problem.

 

Fortunately, there are dozens of time-tested strategies that our best farmers and ranchers have begun to use. The problem is that several agribusiness advocacy organizations have done their best to block any federal effort to promote them, including leaving them out of the current farm bill, or of climate change legislation at all.

 

One strategy would be to promote the use of locally produced compost to increase the moisture-holding capacity of fields, orchards and vineyards. In addition to locking carbon in the soil, composting buffers crop roots from heat and drought while increasing forage and food-crop yields. By simply increasing organic matter in their fields from 1 percent to 5 percent, farmers can increase water storage in the root zones from 33 pounds per cubic meter to 195 pounds.

 

And we have a great source of compostable waste: cities. Since much of the green waste in this country is now simply generating methane emissions from landfills, cities should be mandated to transition to green-waste sorting and composting, which could then be distributed to nearby farms.

 

Second, we need to reduce the bureaucratic hurdles to using small- and medium-scale rainwater harvesting and gray water (that is, waste water excluding toilet water) on private lands, rather than funneling all runoff to huge, costly and vulnerable reservoirs behind downstream dams. Both urban and rural food production can be greatly enhanced through proven techniques of harvesting rain and biologically filtering gray water for irrigation. However, many state and local laws restrict what farmers can do with such water.

 

Moreover, the farm bill should include funds from the Strikeforce Initiative of the Department of Agriculture to help farmers transition to forms of perennial agriculture — initially focusing on edible tree crops and perennial grass pastures — rather than providing more subsidies to biofuel production from annual crops. Perennial crops not only keep 7.5 to 9.4 times more carbon in the soil than annual crops, but their production also reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed to till the soil every year.

 

We also need to address the looming seed crisis. Because of recent episodes of drought, fire and floods, we are facing the largest shortfall in the availability of native grass, forage legume, tree and shrub seeds in American history. Yet current budget-cutting proposals threaten to significantly reduce the number of federal plant material centers, which promote conservation best practices.

 

If our rangelands, forests and farms are to recover from the devastating heat, drought and wildfires of the last three years, they need to be seeded with appropriate native forage and ground-cover species to heal from the wounds of climatic catastrophes. To that end, the farm bill should direct more money to the underfinanced seed collection and distribution programs.

 

Finally, the National Plant Germplasm System, the Department of Agriculture’s national reserve of crop seeds, should be charged with evaluating hundreds of thousands of seed collections for drought and heat tolerance, as well as other climatic adaptations — and given the financing to do so. Thousands of heirloom vegetables and heritage grains already in federal and state collections could be rapidly screened and then used by farmers for a fraction of what it costs a biotech firm to develop, patent and market a single “climate-friendly” crop.

 

Investing in climate-change adaptation will be far more cost-effective than doling out $11.6 billion in crop insurance payments, as the government did last year, for farmers hit with diminished yields or all-out crop failures.

 

Unfortunately, some agribusiness organizations fear that if they admit that accelerating climate change is already affecting farmers, it will shackle them with more regulations. But those organizations are hardly serving their member farmers and ranchers if they keep them at risk of further suffering from heat extremes and extended drought.

 

And no one can reasonably argue that the current system offers farmers any long-term protection. Last year some farmers made more from insurance payments than from selling their products, meaning we are dangerously close to subsidizing farmers for not adapting to changing climate conditions.

 

It’s now up to our political and business leaders to get their heads out of the hot sand and do something tangible to implement climate change policy and practices before farmers, ranchers and consumers are further affected. Climate adaptation is the game every food producer and eater must now play. A little investment coming too late will not help us adapt in time to this new reality.

 

Gary Paul Nabhan is a research scientist at the Southwest Center at the University of Arizona and the author of “Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons From Desert Farmers in Adapting to Climate Uncertainty.”

 

Link to original article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/opinion/our-coming-food-crisis.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

 

Desert Climate Composting Workshop – Aug 16/17

Community garden at 901 East 12th Street, Tucson AZ

Saturday – rain date or overflow second workshop

 

Composting workshop specifically designed for dry deserts

Specifically designed for dry deserts, this workshop focuses on
• Low water use, conserving water for hot composting rather than dry slow
• Cold method
• Easy on your back
• Low maintenance saves you water and time.
• Bin rehab and modification for desert conditions.

Plus
• Garden tips for kinked hoses, plant and tool hangers.
• Raised movable beds designed for gardeners who need work from a siting position.
• Lots of ideas using materials you probably have sitting around.

$5.-$10 sliding scale.
Workshop limited to 25 participants.
E-mail Mudnjoy(at)aol.com to register.

Composting Coach to Your Rescue

DESPITE YOUR BEST INTENTIONS is your garden compost a big solid dry hard lump, a soggy dense smelly mess, or just stalled? Are your dreams of producing your own rich earth not realized? You deserve rich fertile earth. I’ve rehabbed several old unusable compost piles into rich fertile earth!

INVEST IN YOUR OWN ON-SITE COMPOST instead of commercial fertilizers, soil conditioners, sterile (worthless) potting soil. Have better soil, be more GREEN! We can cheaply modify that old bin that dries out too often into a
workable unit that doesn’t require frequent watering. SAVE WATER and time. You can use a large open compost bins as a winter compost-heated green house. I can help you design your garden to harvest rainwater or use gray water.

Joy Holdread is the self proclaimed composting queen of the universe. No degree in earth science, just a green thumb, personal success, references, a commitment to garden using practical simple, resourceful, creative and sustainable options. I’ll work hard right beside you and we’ll have fun making your garden grow. Flexible schedule. Glowing testimonials. Email Mudnjoy(at)aol.com

Climate Smart Southwest: Ready or Hot? – National climate change conference in Tucson – Sep 20-21

Free lecture Friday evening at the TEP Unisource Building, 88 East Broadway, Tucson AZ

Saturday conference at the Tucson Convention Center (details below)

Tucson will be hosting a climate change conference focused on public health and climate adaptation in September, sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility and 35 other local and national organizations. The following guest article by Susan Waites has more details.

Climate Smart Southwest: Ready or Hot?

article by Susan Waites

We have all been hearing lots about climate change. Have you ever wondered if climate change will affect us here in the Southwest? Have you ever wondered if climate change will affect you and members of your family personally? Here’s an opportunity to find out. You can attend this conference focused on public health and climate adaptation coming up Friday and Saturday September 20th and 21st. The conference is being sponsored by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and 35 other local and national organizations.

To kick off this community event there will be a free talk by Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology at New York University and the author of the bestselling book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, about the July 1995 week-long triple-digit heat wave that took over 700 lives. Dr. Klinenberg will give his talk Friday September 20 from 7 to 8pm at the TEP Unisource Building Conference Room, 88 E. Broadway in Tucson. While this event is free and open to the public, you are asked to RSVP as space is limited. You can do so by going to the conference website www.psr.org/azclimate

On Saturday September 21 the conference itself will take place from 7:30am to 5:30pm at the Tucson Convention Center. The cost is just $35 ($15 for current students) which includes a free buffet lunch and free on-site parking at the TCC. The morning of the conference will be dedicated to hearing nationally and internationally known speakers present information about climate change and emerging health problems, food security, mental health, and about how we can educate our children, build neighborhood resilience, and address cross cultural issues as we adapt to climate change. In the afternoon conference attendees will have the opportunity to participate in workshops to prepare and respond to the challenges posed by climate change. To register for Saturday’s events go to www.psr.org/azclimate

The Climate Smart Southwest Conference will be a unique opportunity to learn how climate change will affect you and your family. Best of all, you’ll learn what you can do be prepared and help yourself and your loved ones meet the challenges we will face with a changing climate. For more information, go to www.psr.org/azclimate. If you need more information, please contact Dr. Barbara Warren at bwarre01(at)gmail.com

The One Thing You Need to Know about the President’s Plan to Address Climate Change

The One Thing You Need to Know about the President’s Plan to Address Climate Change

by Kurt Cobb,    June 30, 2013

 

The one thing you need to know about President Obama’s plan to address climate change is that the most it will accomplish is slowing very slightly the pace at which the world is currently hurtling toward catastrophic climate change. Having said this, his plan is nonetheless a brave and even historic move in a country whose political campaigns and public discourse have been utterly poisoned by the science-free propaganda of the fossil fuel industry.

 

I would be more enthusiastic about the president’s baby steps if the devastating droughts and floods and swiftly melting ice in the polar regions and mountain glaciers weren’t telling us that drastic action is necessary right now. Nature doesn’t really care about the timetables of politicians or about what is politically feasible. Nature doesn’t negotiate, and it doesn’t compromise. The laws of physics and chemistry cannot be repealed or altered by the Obama administration, the United States Congress or any other body. And, these physical laws are deaf to complaints about the negative economic consequences of addressing climate change–consequences that will be far worse if we do nothing about climate change.

 

But let me return to the goal announced by the president and put his plan into perspective. Using existing executive powers–mostly through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which the Supreme Court affirmed in 2007 has the power to regulate greenhouse gases–the Obama Administration will endeavor to reduce the RATE of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States to 17 percent below the RATE in 2005 and do this by 2020. It’s a relatively easy target because half the reduction has already taken place. In recent years electric utilities have been changing from coal to cheaper and cleaner-burning natural gas to fuel their plants, and drivers, stung by unemployment and high gasoline prices, have reduced their driving.

 

I’ve put the word “RATE” in all capitals above because this one word gets to the heart of the matter. The plan does NOT propose to reduce the absolute concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the major greenhouse gas which recently topped 400 parts per million (ppm). Instead, that concentration would continue to rise–even though it is increasingly evident that we must now reduce that concentration (some say to below 350 ppm) in order to avoid the worst.

 

The proposed decline in the rate of U.S. emissions would only reduce the overall rate of world emissions by just 1.6 percent based on 2011 emissions figures (using carbon dioxide as a proxy for all greenhouse gas emissions). Of course, other countries will have to do their part if we are to succeed as a species in addressing climate change. But it is worth noting that while the United States is home to just 4.5 percent of the world’s population, it currently produces 16.8 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. (The 2011 emissions were 5.49 billion tons for the United States and 32.58 billion tons for the world.)

 

I often refer to climate change as a rate problem. By this I mean that the rate at which we are dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere exceeds the rate at which the planet can remove them. Because the rate of emissions has consistently exceeded the rate of absorption by the Earth since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the absolute concentration of greenhouse gases has steadily risen. (The oceans, the forests, and the weathering of rocks are responsible for almost all of the carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. Were it not for these, the atmospheric concentration of carbon would be about twice what it is today, and we would long ago have have passed into a planetary emergency.)

 

Now, logic tells us that the only way we are ever going to get the absolute concentration down is to make it so that the rate of emissions falls below the rate of absorption by the Earth. And, that would require a drastic cut in the rate of emissions by more than 50 percent. But if we are to avert catastrophe, we must go much further so that the concentration can be brought down before a permanent new climate regime gets established. In other words, human survival depends on avoiding the tipping point in climate change that would render any human action ineffectual.

 

(Keep in mind that time is of the essence because climate change lags by 25 to 50 years the emissions that cause that change. We are only now experiencing climate change caused by greenhouse gases emissions between the early 1960s and the late 1980s. Even if all emissions ceased today, we would be in for another generation or two of warming.)

 

The oft-used phrase “tipping point” in this case refers to self-reinforcing loops in Earth processes that once started cannot be stopped by human action. Perhaps the most troubling example is the release of carbon dioxide and methane in the Arctic from the permafrost. The permafrost is now melting at an alarming rate and releasing greenhouse gases from the decay of dead plants formerly immune to such decay because they were frozen. The amount of carbon contained in the permafrost is nothing short of stupendous, twice as much as is currently in the atmosphere. The methane portion of any release is at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet .

 

Once this vicious cycle gets going, it will be unstoppable as warming temperatures melt more permafrost which then releases more greenhouse gases which then increase the temperature which means further melting and so on until the globe reaches a new stable climate that is much, much hotter than our current one.

 

But this isn’t the only self-reinforcing loop that imperils us. Another is the declining albedo or reflectivity of the Earth at the poles as snow and ice disappear more frequently from larger and larger land and water surfaces as a result of rising temperatures. Snow and ice have high reflectivity and return much of the Sun’s light to outer space. But land and water absorb much more of the light and turn it into heat which then melts adjacent snow and ice which creates ever larger areas of heat-absorbing open ocean and exposed land surface.

 

It’s no wonder then that many scientists are calling for an 80 to 90 percent reduction in the rate of emissions by 2050. It’s not simply about slowing warming. It’s about stopping and possibly reversing it so as to stay away from climate destabilizing tipping points.

 

I haven’t even touched on a subject which seems almost taboo, even among policymakers who are eager to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from utilities, factories, homes and vehicles. Meat production is so energy intensive that it is estimated to contribute about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions each year. Telling people to reduce their meat intake, however, could prove to be even more unpopular than telling them to drive less or to lower their thermostats in winter.

 

And, deforestation–primarily in the world’s rainforests–contributes nearly as much as meat production each year to climate change, about 15 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions. Felled forests cease to absorb carbon dioxide and instead emit it as the waste wood and other dead biomass left behind decays.

 

The application of nitrogen fertilizers, essential to the so-called green revolution around the world, releases copious amounts of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Today’s large human population would not have been possible without nitrogen fertilizers which played a leading role in raising crop yields. It is thus going to be difficult to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use.

 

Then, there are several industrial gases. These compounds are extremely long-lived in the atmosphere–one lasting up to 50,000 years–and they are very potent, three of them exceeding the warming potential of carbon dioxide by more than 10,000 times. Some have been banned. Others are still in use. While their small concentrations in the atmosphere means that their contribution to climate change remains small, they are nevertheless worth addressing.

 

So, any credible climate change response must also address these other sources of emissions as well. The president’s plan does touch on deforestation, but only briefly. The word “meat,” however, does not appear anywhere in the report. In fairness, the president of the United States does not control world forests, nor can he change American farm policy–let alone American eating habits–single-handedly. While hydrofluorocarbons–used to replace now banned ozone-layer killing chlorofluorocarbons as refrigerants–are mentioned, nitrous oxide, a major greenhouse gas, is omitted. Yes, agricultural practices are mentioned, but use of nitrogen is THE major agricultural practice alongside meat production that generates climate warming gases.

 

The public needs to understand that the sources of greenhouse gas emissions are far more varied than most realize. And, the public also needs to understand that declines in the rate of emissions–unless very steep–are likely to be too little, too late. That’s because it is the absolute concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that largely determines the climate. And, this concentration needs to start falling soon if we are to make certain that we avoid a climate catastrophe.

 

To read this story with original links, go to:

http://www.resilience.org/stories/2013-06-30/the-one-thing-you-need-to-know-about-the-president-s-plan-to-address-climate-change

Sustainable Tucson July Film Night!

Monday, July 8th, 5:30 – 8:00, Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone, Downtown (free lower level parking off Alameda St)

Sustainable Tucson will show a variety of films at our July general meeting. Included among the short and medium length topics are greening the desert, climate change in the arctic, how the people of Cuba adapted to the loss of oil and fertilizer after the Soviet Union collapsed, a Tucson documentary of a community strawbale homebuilding project, and the multifold challenges of sustainability.

Doors will open at 5:30 and films will start showing immediately. Regular monthly announcements will take place at 6:00 during a brief intermission.

Come enjoy film viewing with us at the cool Downtown Main Library lower meeting room