Bold New Campaign Highlights How ‘Nature Can Save Us’ From Climate and Ecological Breakdown

“The protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”

Erie National Wildlife Refuge
A new campaign launched Wednesday calls for “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.” (Photo: Nicholas Tonelli/Flickr/cc)

A group of activists, experts, and writers on Wednesday launched a bold new campaign calling for the “thrilling but neglected approach” of embracing nature’s awesome restorative powers to battle the existential crises of climate and ecological breakdown.

Averting catastrophic global warming and devastating declines in biodiversity, scientists warn, requires not only overhauling human activities that generate planet-heating emissions—like phasing out fossil fuels—but also cutting down on the carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

In a letter to governments, NGOs, the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Natural Climate Solutions campaign calls for tackling these crises by not only rapidly decarbonizing economies, but also by “drawing carbon dioxide out of the air by protecting and restoring ecosystems.”


Along with stopping fossil fuel emissions, we badly need to restore natural systems. Important new effort spearheaded by


“By defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds, and other crucial ecosystems, very large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored,” the letter says. “At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimize a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster.”


The video notes that “exotic and often dangerous schemes have been proposed” to reduce atmospheric carbon—referencing controversial geoengineering suggestions favored by some politicians and scientists—”but there’s a better and simpler way: let nature do it for us.” MORE

Who cleans up? No requirements to fix environmental impacts from mining, auditor says

Disrupting the Single-Use Plastic Economy

An innovative business model could remedy a pervasive environmental harm

Disrupting the Single-Use Plastic Economy
Credit: Getty Images

It’s becoming common to see an irate customer admonishing employees at a food establishment for not having an alternative to plastic to-go containers. These passionate reactions stem from an awareness of the damage of single-use plastic. In the food and beverage industries, single-use plastic containers are the standard across the United States and much of the world. While the American consumer usually isn’t charged extra for the convenience of single-use plastic, others end up paying a price.

According to a study published in Science Advances, humanity has created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, “most of it now resid[ing] in landfills or the natural environment.” To put that into perspective, plastics are in third place, just behind steel and concrete. The World Economic Forum, hosted every January in the posh Swiss town of Davos, forecasts that the amount of plastic dumped in landfills is expected to grow to 12 billion metric tons annually by 2050 if nothing new is done.

From a purely commercial standpoint, single-use plastics, or SUPs, are a blockbuster innovation. Because they are cheap, durable and light, they have found global dissemination, particularly in the storage of food and beverage. Not having always been the case, they have become so cheap in the past decade that many of us use them routinely for only one usage and then discard them. Consequently, bottled water and food container manufacturers have responded by making them even thinner and cheaper, which causes more single usage in a vicious cycle.

Machine learning is making pesto even more delicious

Researchers at MIT have used AI to improve the flavor of basil. It’s part of a trend that is seeing artificial intelligence revolutionize farming.

What makes basil so good? In some cases, it’s AI.

Machine learning has been used to create basil plants that are extra-delicious. While we sadly cannot report firsthand on the herb’s taste, the effort reflects a broader trend that involves using data science and machine learning to improve agriculture.

The researchers behind the AI-optimized basil used machine learning to determine the growing conditions that would maximize the concentration of the volatile compounds responsible for basil’s flavor. The study appears in the journal PLOS One today.

The basil was grown in hydroponic units within modified shipping containers in Middleton, Massachusetts. Temperature, light, humidity, and other environmental factors inside the containers could be controlled automatically. The researchers tested the taste of the plants by looking for certain compounds using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. And they fed the resulting data into machine-learning algorithms developed at MIT and a company called Cognizant.

The idea of using machine learning to optimize plant yield and properties is rapidly taking off in agriculture. Last year, Wageningen University in the Netherlands organized an “Autonomous Greenhouse” contest, in which different teams competed to develop algorithms that increased the yield of cucumber plants while minimizing the resources required. They worked with greenhouses where a variety of factors are controlled by computer systems.

Similar technology is already being applied in some commercial farms, says Naveen Singla, who leads a data science team focused on crops at Bayer, a German multinational that acquired Monsanto last year. “Flavor is one of the areas where we are heavily using machine learning—to understand the flavor of different vegetables,” he says.  MORE

Bill McKibben likens climate change to Second World War

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben calls climate change the most important issue facing the world today and likens the struggle against it to the Second World War.

McKibben told a packed house at the University of British Columbia’s Chan Centre for the Performing Arts that they should consider it an honour and a privilege to be part of the battle.

“Not very many people in any given moment of history get to say they are doing the most important thing they could be doing right now in the world,” said McKibben, who is the author of 12 books including 1989’s The End of Nature. He’s also the founder of 350.org, an organization that campaigns against new coal, oil and gas projects and supports building 100 per cent clean energy solutions. His newest book, Falter, will be released on April 16.

McKibben appeared with Canadian Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who is also Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf-Islands.

May said if people get depressed about climate change, they should “shake it off and keep working. If the people who understand the problem start to despair, it’s just as bad as apathy,” May said.

McKibben encouraged everyone in the audience to get involved, specifically mentioning protests against the Trans Mountain pipeline as one way to change the world by keeping millions of barrels of oil in the ground.

“It has been so powerful and beautiful to watch people fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline coming across British Columbia,” McKibben said. “That pipeline, like everything else coming out of the tar sands is a global warming machine.” MORE

Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

Image result for Indigenous march vancouver downtown eastsideIndigenous women march in Vancouver, Downtown Eastside Photo Rebecca Blissett

“We need to keep families together. Colonization and missing and murdered Indigenous women has broken families. The children left behind by missing and murdered Indigenous women are mostly in foster care and then when they age out they end up on the street. The violence against missing and murdered Indigenous women continues with their children who are also violated and made vulnerable.”

On April 3, 2019, The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre (DEWC) released Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside based on the lived experience, leadership, and expertise of Indigenous survivors. This comprehensive report is the culmination of a participatory process with 113 Indigenous women and 15 non-Indigenous women regarding the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Violence against Indigenous women, girls, trans and two-spirit people is one of the most pressing human rights issue in Canada today. We know that the over-representation in statistics on homicides, poverty, homelessness, child apprehensions, police street checks, incarceration, and overdose fatalities is not a coincidence; it is part of an infrastructure of gendered colonial violence. Colonial state practices target women for removal from Indigenous lands, tear children from their families, enforce impoverishment, and manufacture the conditions for dehumanization.

Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is an extraordinary report with Indigenous women survivors at the center; rather than as a secondary reference. Indigenous women in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)—a neighbourhood known as ground zero for violence against Indigenous women—are not silent victims, statistics, or stereotypes. This unprecedented work shares their powerful first-hand realities of violence, residential schools, colonization, land, resource extraction, family trauma, poverty, labour, housing, child welfare, being two-spirit, police, prisons, legal system, opioid crisis, healthcare, and more.

View report online
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Sloughing off the costs of environmental damage


Alberta Premier Rachel Notley on Parliament Hill, April 15, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

In Alberta and other jurisdictions where fossil fuels are produced, there is a whole lot of externalizing going on.

Oil and gas companies really don’t want to take on the costs of climate change created by the people who buy their product. The externalizing of such costs is a longstanding, basic operating principle. But now governments are seriously starting to regulate carbon at the user level and other entities understand they are affected by climate change. There are lawsuits like one against Exxon Mobil for not disclosing the financial risk to shareholders of carbon taxes and other regulatory measures to fight climate change. U.S. fisherman are suing Encana for damage to their business from greenhouse gas emissions. Some of those externalized costs may be coming back to some corporations.

Environmental liabilities in the energy sector are so overwhelming that no government, regulator or politician can admit to them because it’s unacceptable to the public, writes @RossBelot #climate #energy #CanPoli #Alberta

Externalized costs also include emissions that are not measured because the regulator does not require a measurement. Oil and gas methane leaks are an example.

Recent studies in Alberta show this is a serious issue; leaks are much larger than reported. While there are commitments to reduce fugitive methane in Alberta, it is from the baseline of data that has been reported, not from the actual emission level, because no one is required to measure that. The scope of those unreported leaks is similar in the United States. For the corporations and governments involved, it is like those leaks never happened, externalized to the world at large and currently not included in greenhouse gas emissions reported to the United Nations. MORE

 

Cities and states are modeling what a Green New Deal could look like

Smaller-scale efforts show local governments are prepared to act on climate change.


CREDIT: DIANA OFOSU

Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have spent the past two months engaged in a war of words over the Green New Deal resolution. Many argue its ambitious goals aren’t feasible within the short timeframe it lays out. Others say there’s simply no alternative.

While they’ve been sparring, however, cities and states across the country have been moving forward with their own ambitious plans, showing how elements of the radical proposal could take shape at a local level.

“I think at the state and local level, we’ve got the capacity to do it,” Alan Webber, mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico, told ThinkProgress.

Webber’s city has been moving swiftly on climate action over the past few years. Part of that is necessity: New Mexico already suffers from water shortages, something the 2018 National Climate Assessment (NCA) warns will only grow worse in the Southwest as climate change intensifies droughts. With no time to waste, Santa Fe is jumping in head first.

“We are on land that belongs to the Pueblo,” Webber said, noting that indigenous communities in the area have paved the way for the “sustainable life” Santa Fe is now pursuing. MORE

Trudeau’s Dumb Expulsions and Strange Compulsions

JWR and Philpott are gone. So are any illusions about the PM’s allegiance to corporate masters.

Jody Wilson-RaybouldNone of this needed to happen. Jody Wilson-Raybould was kicked out of the Liberal Party of Canada caucus on April 2. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick, Canadian Press.

They got Jody Wilson-Raybould, and Jane Philpott too, but this is just the beginning.

You know you are in trouble in politics when your damage control is more damaging than what made it necessary.

…What should bother Canadians about the PM’s …stand on SNC-Lavalin is not just a one-off. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was the first federal leader to argue that Trudeau is not the champion of the middle class he claims to be, but rather a consistent corporate cheerleader. He talks the talk for the environment, Indigenous rights, and human rights; but for Big Business, he walks the walk.

Canadians saw Trudeau the corporate cheerleader in Houston, where he told a group of Texas oilmen that no country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave it there.

They saw the same thing when the PM dismissed the solid opposition of coastal British Columbians to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, and instead paid the Texas oil company $4.3 billion for this leaky relic and vowed to get the expansion to tidewater.

They saw it again on Canada’s East Coast, where Trudeau denied that Ottawa had environmental jurisdiction over a project that plans to dump toxic pollutants from a kraft pulp mill owned by Northern Pulp into prime fishing grounds in the Northumberland Strait.

And now, they see it once more with the PM and his minions interfering in an active criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin. That violates the heart of the judicial system: the complete independence of the prosecution service under the law.

If, as Singh has argued, the SNC-Lavalin scandal outs the prime minister as a corporate enabler, and not the champion of the middle class he claims to be, it has also sunk the Liberal caucus to a new low. MORE

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A new constitution for the UK needs ‘rights of nature’ at its heart

Human rights are well established in constitutional and international law. But in the face of dangerous climate change and ecosystem collapse, do we need ‘rights of nature’?

The Ecuadorian constitution protects the rights of natureThe Ecuadorian constitution protects the rights of nature PXhere/CC0

Brexit has triggered a near complete breakdown in parliamentary government as discord and chaos reign within and between parties, as well as between executive (government) and legislature (House of Commons). It has brought the legislative work of Parliament to a halt and exposed the abject failure of our uncodified constitution to protect our rights, challenge an over powerful executive, and give clear guidance in the face of political deadlock. The celebrated flexibility of our ‘unwritten constitution’where we “make up the rules as we go along” has led us up a blind alley, with seemingly no way back.

Brexit is a full blown constitutional crisis. But there is a convergence with another seemingly unrelated but greater crisis bearing down on us: dangerous climate breakdown. Climate change has moved from an abstraction presented in graphs and bar charts to the visible, anxious face of schoolchildren demanding why their parents’ generation and politicians have done nothing to protect their future and that of the planet. The School Strike for Climate and Extinction Rebellion movement have joined a well-established movement of climate change activism; and their message has been given added force by the most recent U.N. report which has warned us that we have only 12 years to avert climate catastrophe.

It is the intersection between these two crises which demands whole scale system change, not merely a change of government or incremental democratic reform. In short, a rapid transfer to a zero carbon economy must be accompanied by a constitutional revolution that entrenches ‘rights of nature’ at its heart. Is this possible?

Yes. Take Ecuador, for example. Its constitution states the following: MORE

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