Published on Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Biodiverse ecological agriculture in women’s hands is a solution not just to the malnutrition crisis, but also the climate crisis.
by Vandana Shiva
‘Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition throughout history,’ writes Dr. Vandana Shiva, ‘but today, food is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities controlled by global corporations.’ (Photos: Georgina Smith/CIAT)
The two great ecological challenges of our times are biodiversity erosion and climate change. And both are interconnected, in their causes and their solutions.
Industrial agriculture is the biggest contributor to biodiversity erosion as well as to climate change. According to the United Nations, 93% of all plant variety has disappeared over the last 80 years.
Monocultures based on chemical inputs do not merely destroy plant biodiversity, they have destroyed soil biodiversity, which leads to the emergence of pathogens, new diseases, and more chemical use.
Our study of soils in the Bt cotton regions of Vidharba showed a dramatic decline in beneficial soil organisms. In many regions with intensive use of pesticides and GMOs, bees and butterflies are disappearing. There are no pollinators on Bt cotton plants, whereas the population of pollinators in Navdanya’s biodiversity conservation farm in Doon Valley is six times more than in the neighboring forest. The UNEP has calculated the contribution of pollinators to be $200 billion annually. Industrial agriculture also kills aquatic and marine life by creating dead zones due to fertilizer run off. Pesticides are also killing or damaging aquatic life .
“Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles.”
Besides the harm to biodiversity and the climate, industrial agriculture actually undermines food and nutrition security. Firstly, industrial agriculture grows commodities for profits of the agrichemical (now also Biotech) and agribusiness corporations. Only 10 percent of the annual GMO corn and soya crop goes to feed people. The rest goes to animal feed and biofuel. This is clearly not a food system that feeds the world.
Secondly, monocultures undermine nutrition by displacing the biodiversity that provides nourishment and the diversity of nutrients our body needs. Herbicides like Roundup do not just kill the milkweed on which the monarch Butterfly larvae feed, they kill sources of nutrition for humans – the amaranth, the “bathua,” and the mixed cropping that produces more “Nutrition per Acre” than industrial monocultures (see Navdanya’s report on Health per Acre).
Having destroyed our sources of nutrition by destroying biodiversity—and creating vitamin A, iron and other deficiencies—the same companies who created the crisis are promising a miracle solution: GMOs. Genetically engineered Golden Rice and GMO Bananas are being proposed by corporations hiding behind the cloak of academia as a solution to hunger and malnutrition in the Global South. But these are false miracles.
Indigenous biodiverse varieties of food grown by women provide far more nutrition than the commodities produced by industrial agriculture. Since 1985 the false miracle of Golden Rice is being offered as a solution to vitamin A deficiency. But Golden rice is still under development. Billions of dollars have been wasted on a hoax.
On 20th of April, the White house gave an award to Syngenta which had tried to pirate India’s rice diversity, and owns most of the 80 patents related to Golden Rice. This is reminiscient of the Emperor who had no clothes. Golden Rice is 350% less efficient in providing vitanim A than the biodiversity alternatives that women grow. GMO ‘iron-rich’ Bananas have 3000% less iron than turmeric and 2000% less iron than amchur (mango powder). Apart from being nutritionally empty, GMOs are part of an industrial system of agriculture that is destroying the planet, depleting our water sources, increasing green houses gases, and driving farmers into debt and suicide through a greater dependence on chemical inputs. Moreover, these corporate-led industrial monocultures are destroying biodiversity, and we are losing access to the food systems that have sustained us throughout time. Biodiverse ecological agriculture in women’s hands is a solution not just to the malnutrition crisis, but also the climate crisis.
Apart from being nutritionally empty, GMOs are part of an industrial system of agriculture that is destroying the planet, depleting our water sources, increasing green houses gases, and driving farmers into debt and suicide.
Women have been the primary growers of food and nutrition throughout history, but today, food is being taken out of our hands and substituted for toxic commodities controlled by global corporations. Monoculture industrial farming has taken the quality, taste and nutrition out of our food.
In addition to destroying biodiversity, industrial agriculture is the biggest contributor of greenhouse gases (GHGs) which are leading to climate change and climate chaos. As I have written in my book, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, 40% of all GHGs—including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and methane—come from industrialised globalized agriculture. And chemical monocultures are also more vulnerable to climate change as we have witnessed in the unseasonal rains at harvest time in 2015.
On the other hand, organic farming reduces emissions, and also makes agriculture more resilient to climate change. Because organic farming is based on returning organic matter to the soil, it is the most effective means to remove excess carbon in the air, where it does not belong, and putting it in the soil, where it belongs. Navdanya’s research has shown that organic farming has increased carbon absorption by 55%. International studies show that with 2 tons of Soil Organic Matter (SOM) per hectare, we can remove 10 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can reduce the atmospheric concentration of carbon back down to pre-industrial levels of 350 ppm.
In addition, organic matter in the soil also increases water-holding capacity of the soil, reducing the impact of floods and droughts. Just 1% increase in Soil Organic Matter can raise the water-holding capacity of soil by 100,000 liters per hectare. And an increase of 5% can raise it to 800,000 liters. This is our insurance against climate change, both when there is drought and too little rain, and when there are floods and excess rain. On the other hand, cement and concrete increases runoff of water, aggravating floods and drought. We witnessed this in the Uttarakhand disaster in 2013 and in the Kashmir disaster in 2014.
At harvest time of spring 2015 India had unseasonal rains which destroyed the crops. More than a 100 farmers committed suicide. The unseasonal rains due to climate instability added to the burden of debt the farmers are already carrying due to rising costs of production and falling prices. Both the crisis of debt leading to climate change and the climate crisis have a common solution – a shift to biodiverse ecological agriculture which is free of high cost chemical inputs and dependence on corporate seeds, hence of debt, and also has climate resilience built into it through biodiversity and organic soils.
4000 years ago our ancient Vedas had guided us, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”
# # #
Published on Thursday, May 14, 2015
In order to respond adequately, first we may need to mourn
by Per Espen Stoknes
‘To cope with losing our world,’ writes Stoknes, ‘requires us to descend through the anger into mourning and sadness, not speedily bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference.’ (Photo: Nikola Jones/flickr/cc)
Climate scientists overwhelmingly say that we will face unprecedented warming in the coming decades. Those same scientists, just like you or I, struggle with the emotions that are evoked by these facts and dire projections. My children—who are now 12 and 16—may live in a world warmer than at any time in the previous 3 million years, and may face challenges that we are only just beginning to contemplate, and in many ways may be deprived of the rich, diverse world we grew up in. How do we relate to – and live – with this sad knowledge?
Across different populations, psychological researchers have documented a long list of mental health consequences of climate change: trauma, shock, stress, anxiety, depression, complicated grief, strains on social relationships, substance abuse, sense of hopelessness, fatalism, resignation, loss of autonomy and sense of control, as well as a loss of personal and occupational identity.
This more-than-personal sadness is what I call the “Great Grief”—a feeling that rises in us as if from the Earth itself. Perhaps bears and dolphins, clear-cut forests, fouled rivers, and the acidifying, plastic-laden oceans bear grief inside them, too, just as we do. Every piece of climate news increasingly comes with a sense of dread: is it too late to turn around? The notion that our individual grief and emotional loss can actually be a reaction to the decline of our air, water, and ecology rarely appears in conversation or the media. It may crop up as fears about what kind of world our sons or daughters will face. But where do we bring it? Some bring it privately to a therapist. It is as if this topic is not supposed to be publicly discussed.
This Great Grief recently re-surfaced for me upon reading news about the corals on the brink of death due to warming oceans as well as overfishing of Patagonian toothfish in plastic laden oceans. Is this a surging wave of grief arriving from the deep seas, from the ruthlessness and sadness of the ongoing destruction? Or is it just a personal whim? As a psychologist I’ve learned not to scoff at such reactions, or movements in the soul, but to honor them.
A growing body of research has brought evidence from focus groups and interviews with people affected by droughts, floods, and coastal erosion. When elicited, participants express deep distress over losses that climate disruptions are bringing. It is also aggravated by what they perceive as inadequate and fragmented local, national and global responses. In a study by researcher Susanne Moser on coastal communities, one typical participant reports: “And it really sets in, the reality of what we’re trying to hold back here. And it does seem almost futile, with all the government agencies that get in the way, the sheer cost of doing something like that – it seems hopeless. And that’s kind of depressing, because I love this area.” In another study by sociologist Kari Norgaard, one participant living by a river exclaims: “It’s like, you want to be a proud person and if you draw your identity from the river and when the river is degraded, that reflects on you.” Another informant experiencing extended drought explained to professor Glenn Albrecht’s team that even if “you’ve got a pool there – but you don’t really want to go outside, it’s really yucky outside, you don’t want to go out.”
A recent climate survey by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication had this startling statistic: “Most Americans (74%) say they only ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ discuss global warming with family and friends, a number that has grown substantially since 2008 (60%).” Emphasis mine.
These quotes and statistics underscore the reality that many prefer to avoid or not dwell in—this Mordor-esque land of eco-anxiety, anger, despair, and depression. One of denial’s essential life-enhancing functions is to keep us more comfortable by blotting out this inner, wintry darkness.
The climate survey, however, also has this encouraging finding: “Americans are nine times more likely to lean toward the view that it is people’s responsibility to care for the Earth and its resources (62%) than toward the belief that it is our right to use the Earth and its resources for our own benefit (7%).”
So, what if instead of continuing to avoid this hurt and grief and despair, or only blaming them—the corporations, politicians, agrobusinesses, loggers, or corrupt bureaucrats—for it, we could try to lean into, and accept such feelings. We could acknowledge them for what they are rather than dismissing them as wrong, as a personal weakness or somebody else’s fault. It seems, somehow, important to persist and get in touch with the despair itself, as it arises from the degradation of the natural world. As a culture we may uncover some truths hinted at by feelings we tend to discredit as depressive. These truths include that they accurately reflect the state of ecology in our world. More than half of all animals gone in the last forty years, according to the Living Planet Index. Most ecosystems are being degraded or used unsustainably, according to Millennium Assessment Report. We’re living inside a mass extinction event, says many biologists, but without hardly consciously noticing.
In order to respond adequately, we may need to mourn these losses. Insufficient mourning keeps us numb or stuck in anger at them, which only feeds the cultural polarization. But for this to happen, the presence of supportive voices and models are needed. It is far harder to get acceptance of our difficulty and despair, and to mourn without someone else’s explicit affirmation and empathy.
Contact with the pain of the world, however, does not only bring grief but can also open the heart to reach out to all things still living. It holds the potential to break open the psychic numbing. Maybe there is also community to be found among like-hearted people, among those who also can admit they’ve been touched by this “Great Grief,” feeling the Earth’s sorrow, each in their own way. Not just individual mourning is needed, but a shared process that leads onwards to public re-engagement in cultural solutions. Working out our own answers as honestly as we can, as individuals and as communities, is rapidly becoming a requirement for psychological health.
To cope with losing our world requires us to descend through the anger into mourning and sadness, not speedily bypass them to jump onto the optimism bandwagon or escape into indifference. And with this deepening, an extended caring and gratitude may open us to what is still here, and finally, to acting accordingly.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Per Espen Stoknes is a psychologist, an economist, and an entrepreneur who has cofounded clean-energy companies. He spearheads the BI Norwegian Business School’s executive program on green growth. He has written three books, including What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming. He lives in Oslo, Norway.
Published on Friday, May 15, 2015 by Common Dreams
In African nations like Ghana, new laws backed by western governments and large agrobusiness would undermine the ability of small-scale farmers to share seeds
by Heidi Chow
Patricia Dianon, president of the for Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana. (Photo: Courtesy Global Justice Now)
“My mother gave me some seeds to plant. And I’m also giving those seeds to my children to plant. So that is ongoing, every time we transfer to our children. And that is how all the women are doing it. We don’t buy, we produce it ourselves.” Sitting together in the heat of the Ghanaian sun, Esther Boakye Yiadom explained to me the importance of seeds in her family and the transfer of knowledge between the different generations of women.
Esther continues to explain the role of the community in sharing and preserving seeds: “I am having tomatoes and I don’t have okro. And another woman has okro. I’ll go to her and then beg for some of her okro seeds to plant. And then if another person also needs tomatoes from me and I have it, I’ll have to give to the person. Because you know every season changes, because maybe mine will not do well. But that person’s will do well. So next season we can get to plant. That’s why we [ex]change them.”
The ability to save and exchange seeds, after each growing season is an age-old practice that ensures that small scale farmers have seeds to sow the following year. The seeds are free for the farmer and they have the knowledge of what seed is required, for what conditions and the different tastes that complement the food they cook. Where they do not have a particular seed, they can ask other farmers in the community to share seeds.
This ‘freedom’ is essential for sustainable livelihoods as well as ensuring communities have access to nutritious and culturally relevant food. But this is all under threat by a proposed bill – dubbed the ‘Monsanto Law’ – in Ghana that would bolster the power of multinational seed companies whilst restrict the rights of small farmers to keep and swap their seeds.
This attack on the way of life to so many farmers in Ghana is one of the commitments that the Ghanaian government has made to be part of the G7’s New Alliance. At the end of last year we exposed the role of the UK government in the New Alliance and their complicity in this attack which led to a series of questions in our parliament as well as a parliamentary petition (Early Day Motion).
As I travelled around Ghana this last couple of weeks, I met many farmers and communities who echoed Esther’s sentiments around seeds and the paramount role that seeds play for farmers and their communities.
When I met Patricia Dianon, president of the for Rural Women’s Farmers Association of Ghana, she also articulated some of the spiritual and cultural aspects of seeds: “We use them when we have funerals, we put the seeds around the funeral sites, that is the last respect for the dead”. She explained to me how you send off your loved ones with seeds so that they have them for the afterlife – underscoring the importance of seeds being the source of sustenance.
Yet the corporate agenda for seeds, as pushed through by the New Alliance, is one where farmers are treated as passive consumers of corporate-controlled seed. Ignoring the cultural importance of seeds and the economic impact on small rural farmers who have to spend money on purchasing seeds year after year and instead of enjoying a wide variety of seeds free of charge, becoming dependent on big seed companies.
This agenda is being challenged in Ghana and on my trip I also met different civil society groups, unions and farmers networks that are actively fighting to protect the rights to their own seeds and the freedom to protect their way of life. Their relentless organising, protesting and petitions led to a halt on the legislation. But it’s not over yet and any day the bill could come back on the agenda of the Ghanaian parliament, so the movement remains vigilant. We will continue to stand in solidarity with the food sovereignty movement in Ghana and challenge the complicity of the UK government.
Today the NGO communitty in Brussels published a position paper on the circular economy. Text is below. To download the 6 pages paper (with footnotes) click here.
WALKING THE CIRCLE
The Circular Economy could bring significant environmental, social and economic benefits to the European Union. In order to deliver resource efficiency, job creation, low-carbon prosperity, a healthy environment, clean production and sustainable consumption, it is necessary to take a holistic approach by working across a number of policy areas. Failure to address every aspect of the issue by developing only partial solutions will prevent the EU from enjoying the overarching benefits the circular economy can provide. This paper highlights four key areas the undersigned NGOs believe must be addressed by the EU institutions to ensure a fully functioning circular economy, and some of the often overlooked benefits that can result.
Resource Efficiency and Zero Waste: the basis of a true circular economy Although we live in a planet of finite resources, global extraction of resources has been rapidly increasing1. The European Union is a net importer of natural resources2; from precious metals to the water or land necessary to produce every product we consume. At the same time, our linear economic model results in 50% of Europe’s municipal waste being landfilled or incinerated, generating considerable carbon emissions3. Our mismanagement of natural resources causes many environmental problems: climate change, depletion of resources, the release of toxics pollutants and marine litter, to name a few. It is estimated that fully implementing the EU’s waste laws could save up to €72 billion4. A true circular economy would reduce both inputs in the form of resources, and outputs, in the form of waste and emissions. The EU circular economy should aim to achieve high resource efficiency, zero waste and zero emissions. The transition to a circular economy therefore requires fundamental changes across the entire economy based on the following interdependent pillars: Material management from extraction to waste Europe needs to radically increase the efficiency with which it manages its material resources, as measured by a continuing reduction in resource use per capita. This can be done by progressively closing the loop with effective product and waste policies. To tackle Europe’s resource dependency, the EU needs to measure and reduce its material, water, land and carbon footprints. The material footprint (based on Raw Material Consumption, already measured by Eurostat) should be included as an indicator in the European Semester. Product design is fundamental to reach the goals of the circular economy. Good design can improve product and process performance, phase out hazardous materials, enable and incentivise the repair and reuse of products, and can also ensure the use of recycled and recyclable materials. Product design-related requirements should be set by the EU in four ways: (1) through the full implementation of the Ecodesign Directive, and also its extension and adaptation to non- energy related products; (2) through the Waste Framework and Packaging and Packaging Waste Directives; (3) through existing tools such as Ecolabel, Green Public Procurement and Energy labelling and (4) through certification and standardisation tools. A credible long-term zero waste policy is not only crucial in eliminating waste but also in creating a feedback mechanism at the end of life-cycle that allows products to be redesigned and to re-enter the economy, thus preventing them from becoming waste. Therefore, an enforceable waste hierarchy that guides activities towards prevention, reuse and recycle with ambitious targets, while promoting zero landfill and zero incineration is an absolute necessity. In addition, it is necessary to have harmonised definitions and a single measurement methodology to allow Member States to monitor the progress of each of these activities towards the common goal of zero waste. Toxics, chemicals and health A circular economy cannot work without clean production. Toxic substances should be avoided at the design stage to allow products and materials to circulate in a closed loop without endangering the quality of materials and the health of citizens, workers and the environment. This requires changing our approach to toxic substances so that in a circular economy, hazardous substances will not hinder the processes of reuse, repair and recycling. This requires stronger application of REACH, and potentially more product-specific requirements, with the example of the ROHS directive; restricting substances used in new electronic equipment, as a potential model. Stronger regulations are needed to trace and minimise hazardous chemicals in products which endanger the capacity of the product or material to circulate repeatedly in the loop. When a temporary exemption or authorisation has been granted to enable the continued presence of hazardous substances in products made from recycled material, the material should be labelled and associated with a specific marking.
Energy efficiency The circular economy can contribute a great deal to Europe’s energy efficiency drive. There is a huge potential in preserving the energy embedded in products and materials and preventing them from becoming waste; far more than can be generated by burning or landfilling them. New methodologies must be developed to account for, and reward, the preservation of energy embedded in products or materials. Premiums for energy from waste incineration distort markets. Therefore they should not be considered unless there is a level playing field with embedded energy conservation, including taking into account the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from prevention, reuse or recycling during comparison. This new approach to energy management should be included in the new Energy Union strategy and be incorporated in the renewable energy and climate policies through the clean development mechanism. Although this already exists, it is currently channeling public money to finance infrastructure developments that contradict the very concept of the circular economy. Instruments: economic incentives Maximising resource efficiency and keeping materials circulating in the economy should be cheaper and simpler than consuming virgin resources. To facilitate this, the EU needs to change the current economic incentives that drive our linear consumption pattern. A circular economy will require policies to make it legally and economically viable to sell services instead of goods, to sell durable goods that are repairable, reusable and upgradable, to promote shared or leased ownership, and to have a return or reuse programme. Wasteful practices should be made more expensive than these efficient ones. To further encourage resource efficiency and zero waste, resource consumption should be made more expensive in comparison with product service, maintenance and repair operations, which should become cheaper. This would mean taxation shifting from labour to resources, especially virgin resources, as this will help to increase employment in Europe and decrease resource use while incentivising businesses to move towards circular production and consumption patterns. Reduced taxes or tax allowances for repair, reuse and refurbishment businesses, and increased taxes on single-use and hard-to-recycle materials are a way to implement this. In addition, the European Commission should explore the effects, impacts and options of extending minimum legal product warranties. This would oblige manufacturers to bear full responsibility for any product failure during a legally determined period after purchase. Economic instruments such as incineration and landfill taxes are needed in order to move up the waste hierarchy. Burning and landfilling recyclable or compostable materials should be banned. Public funding, including public procurement and the €300bn Juncker investment plan should be used to fund prevention, reuse and recycling infrastructure as a priority. Deposit and refund schemes are useful for educating citizens on the value of recycling, as well as ensuring the collection of commonly littered items such as beverage bottles, and can be integrated within extended producer responsibility schemes. Overarching benefits of working on the four pillars.
Economic Savings: The circular economy will help reduce costs related to extracting and transporting virgin resources. This will also reduce business resource costs; for example, the EU manufacturing sector could save up to $630 billion per year by 2025 thanks to resource-efficiency measures. The full implementation of existing EU waste legislation would save €72 billion a year by 2020, and the waste package presented in July 2014 has the potential to increase these numbers significantly.
Job creation: Full implementation of existing EU waste legislation would create over 400,000 jobs. The waste package presented by the European Commission in July 2014 was estimated to create an additional 180,000 direct non-delocalizable jobs by 2030.8 The thorough implementation of the other three pillars discussed here could increase these numbers significantly. A shift from taxing labour to taxing resources will lead to reduced labour costs for the employer and/or higher take-home pay for the employee.The significant investments necessary for creating incineration infrastructure could instead be redirected to developing re-use centres and networks, recycling infrastructure and renewable energy, all of which require more, better quality jobs than incineration and landfilling.
Energy Savings: The circular economy will reduce the energy required for extraction of virgin materials and production. Processes that use secondary raw materials consume considerably less energy than manufacturing from virgin materials. For example, remanufacturing typically uses 85% less energy than manufacturing does.9 More durable and reusable products and materials will result in longer life-cycles and better retention of the embedded energy of products. Further, this will reduce the need to extract and produce new materials and products, resulting in radical energy savings in extraction and production. As a result, the EU will save energy, increase resource efficiency and will reduce its import dependence on energy from third countries.
Resource Savings: Reuse of products and materials saves a considerable proportion of the resources needed to manufacture goods from virgin materials. For example, UK analysis suggests that remanufacturing saves at least 70% of materials compared to manufacturing new goods.10 Climate Change Mitigation The Circular Economy will represent a significant step towards a low-carbon, resource- efficient economy, advancing towards the EU’s objective for 2050.The waste package presented by the European Commission in July 2014 was estimated to have the potential to reduce emissions by 443 million tonnes of greenhouse gas between 2014 and 2030, without taking into account the further changes discussed here.
Health & Well-being: Reducing hazardous chemicals in production and in products will consequently reduce the impact on human health caused by close daily contact, or from indirect exposure from emissions into the environment.Eliminating wherever possible toxic materials at the design stage will make it easier to safely and efficiently reuse, repair and recycle those products. Europeans will benefit from avoiding emissions caused by burning and burying waste. A reduction in crop loss, respiratory and skin diseases, infertility, certain cancers, metabolic diseases and neurological/mental health issues will result. A recent study of the health costs of certain toxic chemicals estimated an annual cost to the European Union of approximately €157 billion per year and noted that this was an underestimate as only some chemicals and some diseases were included.
Reduction in marine litter: 80% of marine litter results from land-based activities and is a consequence of unsustainable production patterns and poor waste management. Marine litter also represents a threat to human and ecosystem health, as plastic particles are known to bioaccumulate up the food chain, and carry dangerous pathogens across oceans to new areas. Turning our economy into a circular economy is the ultimate solution to this problem. A significant reduction in marine litter will bring about a multitude of benefits. The annual costs from marine litter in Europe have been estimated at between €259 to 694.7 million for the fisheries, tourism and recreation sectors, as well as clean-up costs for coastal municipalities. Less waste in the sea means less marine animals and birds suffering entanglement or ingestion of litter, representing savings of around €12 billion each year.14 The costs to the marine environment from marine litter cannot be fully quantified, but considering waste has been found in the bodies of hundreds of species, and the remotest corners of the marine environment, urgent action must be taken to prevent the problem from getting worse.
Stability of supply: Improvement of resource efficiency, by measuring and reducing our material, land, water and carbon footprints will result in member states being less dependent on imports. The EU could also benefit from improved trade balance due to reduced imports. The Waste and Resources Action Plan estimates them as €110 billion.15 Greater security in resource supply, and reduced land and water consumption outside our borders, can lead to improved geopolitical relations across the world.
Agriculture: Closing the nutrients loop would allow vital components such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to return to the soil in the form of compost, effectively capturing carbon and improving crop resilience, along with increasing the water retention capacity of the soil.Pesticide-free agriculture would allow for job creation, energy savings and potential health benefits.
Conclusion: Taking ambitious steps towards a circular economy would reduce Europe’s use of materials and energy, decrease the amount of hazardous chemicals entering our environment, and ensure a multitude of economic benefits while creating locally-based, stable employment for thousands of Europeans. A circular economy in which we not only use resources and energy more efficiently, but also consume less in total, will benefit the environment and reduce the European Union’s import dependency along with the likely threat of price shocks in the future. Many of these ambitious steps are achievable in the short-term, and the sooner they are implemented, the greater the benefits will be. Any of these benefits would be enough on their own to commend a policy, but the positive, cumulative effects of each of these changes will be multiplied. Improving our material management will lead to greater energy efficiency, as well as economic, environmental and social benefits for European communities. The EU must not hesitate to spearhead the transition to a circular economy, for the benefit of both people and planet. ###
Posted: 05/07/2015 1:16 pm EDT Updated: 05/07/2015 2:59 pm EDT
A spate of recent developments suggests s momentum is building to address climate change –including some truly unexpected and inspiring signs in the United States and around the world. Of course, huge obstacles remain: Florida Governor Rick Scott would allegedly like to censor any official mention of the subject. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe still seems to think that carrying a snowball onto the floor of the Senate offers some kind of “evidence” that global warming is hoax.
And more worrisome, fossil fuel interests including the Koch brothers and Shell Oil are still spending millions trying to repeal renewable energy standards in states around the country through the work of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other front groups. But consider the following and see if you don’t agree that, when it comes to climate change, dramatic changes are afoot.
1. California Breaks New Ground on Renewables
Last week, Governor Jerry Brown set aggressive new global warming emissions targets for California that put the nation and the world on notice. His plan calls for California to reduce emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. That’s a timetable for steep emissions reductions almost unthinkable just a few years ago. And considering that California is the world’s eighth largest economy, the state’s actions make a big difference. Equally impressive, virtually all the evidence shows that California has profited mightily from its green energy economy so far, attracting an estimated $27 billion of venture capital into California clean tech companies since 2006.
2. Record-Breaking Coal Retirements
In a report issued last month, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast “the largest wave of coal retirements in U.S. history.” This is good news for air pollution and the carbon emissions that drive global warming. According to the Bloomberg report, fully 7 percent of U.S. coal energy generation is expected to shut down in 2015, spurred by the onset of a key mercury emissions rule and also by tougher economic competition from other energy sources. The upshot, according to this hard-nosed energy forecast: a “fundamental reduction in coal’s share of the U.S. power mix” and a significant step toward reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.
3. Red States Among Wind and Solar Leaders
Despite a lot of partisan talk in Washington, renewables are ramping up in many unexpected places. Consider, for example that, aside from California, North Carolina installed more solar photovoltaic systems last year than any other state in the country, with enough solar installations now to meet the needs of close to 100,000 homes. And Texas -a state practically synonymous with fossil fuel production–installed more wind turbines than any other state in 2014. Employing forward-thinking policy and investment, Texas nearly doubled its wind energy generation between 2009 and 2014 to now generate nearly 10 percent of its electricity from wind power.
4. Seismic Shift in Global Business Community
In a notable development, the G20 powers recently launched a joint probe into the global financial risks posed by the potential for fossil fuel companies’ so-called “stranded assets”–investments in costly ventures that may never be viable in light of emerging international climate agreements. G20 nations have asked for an independent assessment of whether fossil fuel companies’ $6 trillion of investment into oil, gas, and coal development since 2007 might be based on false assumptions about demand that could risk the bursting of a so-called “carbon bubble.” Equally notable in the new zeitgeist, Newsweek recently reported that HSBC–the world’s third largest bank–wrote a private note to its clients advising them to divest from fossil fuel companies because of increasing risks they will become “economically non-viable.” Considering that 5 of the top 6 Fortune 100 companies are still in the oil refining business, if that doesn’t mark a sea change in thinking, I don’t know what does.
5. Tea Party Loyalists are Revolting to Back Solar Solutions
Much to the chagrin of the Koch brothers who helped launch the Tea Party in 2009, a growing number of Tea Party activists are turning on their pro-fossil fuel backers to support solar energy. Last year, Debbie Dooley, one of the Tea Party’s original founding members, went head-to-head with the Koch-backed branch of the Tea Party to successfully persuade Georgia’s utility commission to require Georgia Power to buy more of its energy from solar sources. Now, in Florida, some 85 Tea Party groups are joining a broad bipartisan coalition called Floridians for Solar Choice to support a popular ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to allow individuals and businesses with solar panels to sell the power they generate directly to their tenants or neighbors.
6. Regional Emissions Reduction Plans are Exceeding Expectations
A new report from the nine states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) highlights the continuing success of the nation’s longest-running carbon market, showing that it really is possible to tackle our climate and energy challenges while delivering huge benefits to consumers. According to the report, RGGI states have successfully cut emissions by 40 percent since 2005 while their economies have grown by 8 percent. Meanwhile, the $1.4 billion in proceeds from their auctions of emissions credits have been invested in energy efficiency projects that will return more than $2.9 billion in lifetime energy savings to millions of households and businesses. In the year to come, look for other states to wake up to these figures–either by asking to join RGGI or by forging regional carbon trading plans of their own.
7. The Pope is Getting Involved
Pope Francis is laying the foundation for a substantive campaign to combat global warming and environmental degradation, with an imminent Vatican summit meeting and plans for a potentially influential encyclical on the subject this summer. The development shouldn’t be underestimated as a catalyst for change. As Timothy E. Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation recently told the New York Times: “We’ve never seen a pope do anything like this. No single individual has a much global sway as he does. What he is doing will resonate in the government of any country that has a leading Catholic constituency.” In particular, the Pope’s exhortations on the subject are expected to speed climate action in some Latin American countries that have resisted getting involved up to now.
8. China is Beating its Own Ambitious Pledge
In an agreement with the United States at the end of last year, China pledged to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 and increase its share of non-fossil fuels to around 20 percent in the same time period. While China has yet to publish the details of its plan, it appears to be moving even faster than its pledge would require. According to the latest figures, China burned less coal in 2014 than it did the previous year, the first such decline in decades. At the same time, as my colleague Michael Klare has noted, China increased its spending on renewable energy by an impressive 33 percent in 2014, investing a total of $83.3 billion. That’s the most a country has ever spent on renewables in a single year.
9. Other Nations are Making Notable Strides
While China is a pace setter, it is not alone. All told, global green energy investment jumped nearly 17 percent in 2014 from the previous year, topping an unprecedented$270 billion according to a UN-backed report. Examples of this investment abound. Oil-rich Dubai just announced a $3 billion solar project expansion. Mexico made alarger-than-anticipated pledge in 2014, to cap its carbon emissions by 2026 and to achieve a 22 percent reduction in global warming emissions by 2030. And other nations continue to break new ground in the race for a low-carbon future. In March, for instance, Costa Rica announced that its state-run electricity company had powered the country exclusively with renewable resources (including hydropower) for a record-breaking 75 consecutive days.
Our world is still powered predominantly by burning fossil fuels and the imminent threats posed by climate impacts continue to grow. But make no mistake: with a growing catalog of developments like these, a cleaner and greener future is seeming more achievable than ever before.
Seth Shulman is the editorial director at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a veteran science journalist whose work has appeared in Nature, The Atlantic, Discover, Technology Review, Parade and many other publications.
Green Mission News Archives