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It's Easier Being Green at the Local Level
Jim Carlton, Wall Street Journal
Stymied in Washington, Environmentalists Cultivate Republican Allies on the Farm
...Environmentalists are discovering that green politics, like other politics, is local. In pushing a national agenda, environmental groups have gained little traction under a White House and Congress dominated by Republicans who have opposed them on most green issues. But locally, across the country, green groups are joining with traditional adversaries on local issues and making some inroads.
...The Sierra Club, based in San Francisco, has more than doubled the number of its local community organizers nationwide to about 100 from 40 over the past four years, while keeping its lobbying presence in Washington flat over the same time.
The local politicians are proving easier for environmentalists to work with than national politicians, in part because many also oppose some White House environmental policies. For example, 132 mayors in May 2005 joined a bipartisan coalition that individually plan to honor the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, despite President Bush's refusal to abide by the 1997 international agreement that mandates a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions.
Critics say the locally focused environmentalists are more interested in fund raising, litigation and promoting partisan political agendas than in helping people with local problems -- charges the green groups deny. "They likely believe that local lobbying will create pressure on Washington," says Bill Holbrook, who until recently served as spokesman for the Republican Party-controlled Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
(17 May 2006)
Global Food Supply Near the Breaking Point
Stephen Leahy, InterPress Service via Common Dreams
BROOKLIN, Canada - The world is now eating more food than farmers grow, pushing global grain stocks to their lowest level in 30 years. Rising population, water shortages, climate change, and the growing costs of fossil fuel-based fertilisers point to a calamitous shortfall in the world's grain supplies in the near future, according to Canada's National Farmers Union (NFU).
Thirty years ago, the oceans were teeming with fish, but today more people rely on farmers to produce their food than ever before, says Stewart Wells, NFU's president.
In five of the last six years, global population ate significantly more grains than farmers produced.
And with the world's farmers unable to increase food production, policymakers must address the "massive challenges to the ability of humanity to continue to feed its growing numbers", Wells said in a statement.
There isn't much land left on the planet that can be converted into new food-producing areas, notes Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation. And what is left is of generally poor quality or likely to turn into dust bowls if heavily exploited, Brown told IPS.
..."There's not nearly enough discussion about how people will be fed 20 years from now," he said.
(18 May 2006)
Lure of the Urban Veggie Garden
Bryan Zandberg, The Tyee
For Wally Satzewich, the kick of urban gardening is making fat money and sticking it to the Man. Thing is, he's doing it growing leafy greens in people's back yards.
He's one of many urbanites who like to get dirty. Which is ironic, because for generations, waves of migrants left the ragged toil of the country behind to slip into the tidy cubicles of the Information Age. And yet city slickers of all stripes are now down in the soil, sowing veggies like their country forebears did. Besides some kind of West Coast leguminous nirvana, you have to ask what compels them. In Vancouver at least, it seems they're greening up the city for everything from money, to posh ingredients, to urban renewal, to muscle tone.
Satzewich's brand of urban gardening is called SPIN -- "small-plot intensive farming" -- and it means renting the back forty from residential homeowners, ploughing their lawns under and then turning tens of thousands of dollars in profits selling the high-end produce cultivated by hand.
Satzewich and his wife Gail Vandersteen have always been city dwellers who wanted to grow their own grub -- so they took what they imagined was the logical step of getting 20 acres of land about 40 minutes north of Saskatoon.
But from day one, their dream withered on the vine. They couldn't afford the high start-up costs, and they couldn't compete with the industrial-scale operations around them. No sooner did their crops appear, than they were mauled by voracious deer and life-sucking bugs. The two were well on their way to becoming dirt farmers when they realized their little plots back in Saskatoon proper were faring surprisingly well. Their urban harvests were picked even before the farmer's market opened, which meant they could deliver the crispest produce.
So they started sowing niche-market crops -- spinach, radishes, lettuce, carrots -- in yards ranging from 500 to 3000 thousand square feet. After paying rents ranging from $100 to $200 per yard per summer, the two were able to make up to a few thousand dollars per plot. In their first year, Satzewich and Vandersteen stopped telling the homeowners just how much they were making off their property.
(19 May 2006)
Last chance to save LA's South Central Farm
Cindy, Boing Boing
The South Central Farm, which is believed to be the largest urban community garden in the United States, will disappear shortly unless members of the public lend a helping hand. Created by the City of Los Angeles after the 1992 Rodney King uprising, the 14-acre farm in South Central Los Angeles, offers plots of land that 350 low-income families use to grow their own food. The City of Los Angeles sold the land it to a developer in a backroom deal.
The farmers held off bulldozers by legal action, but the developer recently received approval from the court to evict them. The Trust for Public Land, a national, nonprofit, land conservation organization that is working to save the farm, has until Monday, May 22, 2006, to raise approximately $10 million to purchase the land. They are part of the way there, but need several million more.
(19 May 2006)
More coverage at Gristmill.
Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
We need to learn how to get the lives we want while using a fraction of the energy we use now. The British government is taking some steps in that direction by promoting the widespread adoption of "smart meters":
Advocates of so-called "smart meters" say the information provided by the devices can revolutionise the way households consume energy, and can reduce demand by up to 10%.
The domestic sector in the UK is responsible for about one-third of the nation's carbon emissions, and the government has become increasingly focused on the need for greater energy efficiency in the nation's homes. Tony Blair on Tuesday ... said the twin aims of cutting harmful emissions and improving security of supplies meant that "a step-change in energy efficiency" was "back on the agenda with a vengeance". ...[S]mart meters are vital if these goals are to be realised.
We talk a lot about "smart" energy meters, but we talk even more about the principles -- design-for-awareness approaches, feedback-triggered change, ambient technologies, visible consumption and -- which help make visible the invisible.
I'd go so far as to say it is a principle of bright green design that revealed flows, properly handled, are beautiful, and that being un-aware of one's effects on the world is crass and ugly. But beyond the aesthetics, there are good reasons for revealing the hidden. By knowing what we use and where it's going, we can eliminate much of the waste which currently defines the Global Northern lifestyle (by, for instance, ridding the home of vampire power losses. Even more importantly, while abstract moral exhortations to conserve often have limited effect show people their energy use, and they use less. If we are going to be as efficient a society as sustainability demands, smart meters are just the first step.
It'd be even better if the meters themselves were designed to allow net metering and microgrids and thus facilitated distributed energy, helping to encourage not only conservation but citizen efforts to generate renewable power at home.
(19 May 2006)
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