Innovation rush aims to help farmers, rich and poor, beat climate change

Image result for farming with drones

LONDON, July 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – In decades to come, African farmers may pool their money to buy small robot vehicles to weed their fields or drones that can hover to squirt a few drops of pesticide only where needed.

Smartphones already allow farmers in remote areas to snap photos of sick plants, upload them and get a quick diagnosis, plus advice on treatment.

Researchers also are trying to train crops like maize and wheat to produce their own nitrogen fertilizer from the air – a trick soybeans and other legumes use – and exploring how to make wheat and rice better at photosynthesis in very hot conditions.

Image result for photosynthesis wheatA gene that helps plants to remain healthy during times of stress has been identified by researchers at Oxford University.

As warmer, wilder weather linked to climate change brings growing challenges for farmers across the globe – and as they try to curb their own heat-trapping emissions – a rush of innovation aimed at helping both rich and poor farmers is now converging in ways that could benefit them all, scientists say.

In a hotter world, farmers share “the same problems, the same issues,” said Svend Christensen, head of plant and environmental sciences at the University of Copenhagen.

Agricultural researchers, who have teamed up to boost harvests and fight the major blight of wheat rust are now forming an international consortium in a bid to make wheat stand up to worsening heat and drought.

“There was a real shift in terms of the intensity of what we do together when we became aware of climate change,” said Hans-Joachim Braun, who heads the global wheat program for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), based in Mexico.

For each 1 degree Celsius global temperatures rise above pre-industrial times, wheat harvests drop 5-8%, he said.

That means the world will likely see a 10% drop in harvests even if governments hold global warming to “well below” 2C, as they have agreed, he said – and that drop would come even as the world’s population grows and demand for food rises.

Finding ways to breed wheat that can cope better with heat could help farmers from Australia to India and China, as well as the people who depend on their grain, he said.

“It doesn’t matter where you use this trait – it will have an impact,” Braun said.


One idea scientists are working on is to fundamentally reshape how crops such as wheat and rice carry out photosynthesis, to make them better able to continue producing in hot weather, especially if less water is available.

The process – like efforts to help wheat and maize start making their own fertilizer – is hugely complex and will likely require decades of work, scientists say.

“It would be a mega-breakthrough. Many people think it’s dreaming a little bit because it’s so difficult,” said Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

But early tests to improve photosynthesis in tobacco have shown a 40% boost in production – and the technique is now being tested with crops from cassava to maize, said Kathy Kahn, a crop research expert with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Nick Austin, who directs agricultural development for the foundation, said such changes “are going to benefit the poor and rich worlds together” – and could play a key role in keeping food prices affordable.

“These technologies… are going to be globally relevant,” he predicted. MORE

The Democrats Finally Debated the Green New Deal

There were 12 minutes of climate discussion Tuesday night.

CNN, Zuma

The Democratic candidates sounded the alarm on climate change in the first presidential debates, but the discussion in June was so limited that they never really got into the details of how they’d solve the crisis.

It was a different story this time around. It took more than an hour to get there Tuesday night, but during the 12 minutes of discussion of global warming policy, two of the frontrunners—Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders—became the first candidates to substantively embrace versions of a Green New Deal in the debates. The concept of a Green New Deal—pushed by lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—has become a favorite idea for progressives. It outlines a vision for economic, infrastructure, and clean energy investment while aggressively ramping down to net-zero emissions as soon as possible.

Elizabeth Warren didn’t actually use the words “Green Neal Deal” or tout AOC’s specific resolution Tuesday night, but she did capture its ethos by touting her plan for investing $2 trillion over 10 years in green manufacturing. “The climate crisis is the existential crisis for our world,” she said. “I have a plan for a green industrial policy that takes advantage of the fact that we do what we do best, and that is innovate and create.” She promised that her plan would produce roughly 1.2 million manufacturing jobs. “This could revitalize huge cities across this country,” she added.

Bernie Sanders also embraced the Green New Deal on stage, albeit briefly. “The Green New Deal is a bold idea,” he said. “We can create millions of good paying jobs. We can rebuild communities in rural America that have been devastated.”

As he often does, Sanders pledged to fight back against the fossil fuel industry, noting that it continues to receive tax breaks and subsidies adding up to hundreds of billions of dollars globally. “I get a little bit tired of Democrats afraid of big ideas. Republicans are not afraid of big ideas,” he said.  “Please don’t tell me that we cannot take on the fossil fuel industry.” MORE


Harris, Ocasio-Cortez unveil first step of Green New Deal

BP and Shell planning for catastrophic 5°C global warming despite publicly backing Paris climate agreement

Companies are trying to ‘have their oil and drink it’ by committing to 2°C in public while planning for much higher temperature rises, says shareholder campaign group, ShareAction

Neither company sets targets to reduce emissions and BP’s total investment in renewable and clean technologies has actually shrunk since 2005, the report said
Neither company sets targets to reduce emissions and BP’s total investment in renewable and clean technologies has actually shrunk since 2005, the report said ( Getty Images )

Oil giants Shell and BP are planning for global temperatures to rise as much as 5°C by the middle of the century. The level is more than double the upper limit committed to by most countries in the world under the Paris Climate Agreement, which both companies publicly support.

The discrepancy demonstrates that the companies are keeping shareholders in the dark about the risks posed to their businesses by climate change, according to two new reports published by investment campaign group Share Action. Many climate scientists say that a temperature rise of 5°C would be catastrophic for the planet.

ShareAction claims that the companies’ actions put the value of millions of people’s pensions at risk. Two years after BP and Shell shareholders voted resoundingly in favour of forcing the companies to make detailed disclosures about climate risks, the companies have made unconvincing steps forward, according to the reports.

ShareAction said that Shell and BP are meeting their legal requirements, but are putting shareholders’ capital at risk because of numerous failings in their plans for the future.

Neither company sets targets to reduce emissions and BP’s total investment in renewable and clean technologies has actually shrunk since 2005, the reports said. That’s despite the company’s public-facing image of being “beyond petroleum”.

BP invests just 1.3 per cent of its total capital expenditure in low-carbon projects while Shell has pledged to invest 3 per cent of its annual spend on low-carbon by 2020.

Both companies assess the resilience of their businesses against climate models in which temperatures warm by between 3°C and 5°C.  MORE


Fossil fuel burning leaps to new record, crushing clean energy and climate efforts


The Socialist Case for Automating Our Jobs Away

Let robots do the drudge work. Give workers a basic income.

Credit: imaginima/E+/Getty

For decades, you’ve been told to fear automation. Robots are stealing factory jobs; self-checkouts are gutting the service sector; artificial intelligence will replace even the most skilled laborers with whip-smart algorithms. The economy will grow, but you’ll be out of work.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez thinks it doesn’t have to be that way. “We should be excited about automation,” Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Socialist and one of the sponsors of the Green New Deal, told an audience at the South by Southwest conference in March. “The reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.

Ocasio-Cortez represents a growing number of socialists bucking the conventional wisdom — crystallized in a bevy of new books predicting a robot takeover — that automation should be feared. For these thinkers, sometimes united under the slogan “Fully Automated Luxury Communism,” automation need not kick workers to the curb. In a world where people do not need to work to live, mechanization could actually prove a boon to workers, relieving them from toil, and freeing them up for more satisfying tasks.

But for automation to live up to such promises, it must accompany a transition away from the current model of waged work — a model that squeezes workers out of well-paying jobs, makes work precarious, and condemns the unemployed to poverty, anxiety, and death.

Enter socialism.

Socialist proposals, including a Universal Basic Income (UBI), ultimately aim at replacing the wage system with a more humane economic arrangement geared towards maximizing social well-being instead of profit. Such an arrangement would enlist machines to produce the goods people need, while guaranteeing those without work the means to live decently.

Utopian? Perhaps. But not new. Writing in the 19th century, Karl Marx observed that employers tend to replace laborers with machines that work faster and for less. When British manufacturers installed power looms in their factories, workers lost their jobs, and the unemployed masses, desperate for work, dragged down wages for everyone. Those who remained, produced more in less time, earning greater profits for their bosses even as wages slipped. Mechanization simply meant workers spent a greater fraction of their day producing value for someone else. While technology has made U.S. factories safer and produced some extremely useful things (like MRI devices and iPhones, say), bolting machines to the factory floor has often been a bid to juice profits.

In response, labor has mostly raged against the machines. Two centuries ago, Luddites destroyed mechanical looms to protest automation in the textile industry, fighting to return to factories William Blake called “Satanic mills.” And through the 1970s, unions in the U.S., fearing layoffs and deskilling, made controlling automation a key feature of collective bargaining agreements.

Marx thought automation could be good for workers, but only if laborers were able to take the extra time they were working for bosses and spend it working for themselves. While automation tends to increase exploitation, Marx wrote, “this tendency creates the conditions for labor emancipation by opening the possibility of increased leisure time.”

In a world where people do not need to work to live, mechanization could prove a boon to workers, relieving them from toil, and freeing them up for more satisfying tasks.

Some Marxists now see “the possibility of increased leisure time” as the great promise of automation, and the best case for socialism in the U.S. Kathi Weeks argues in The Problem with Work that automation creates the conditions for a “post-work society” where machines produce basic goods, and anyone whose labor isn’t needed receives a “sufficient, unconditional, and continuous” basic income that frees them up for more fulfilling activities. For Aaron Bastani, and other proponents of “fully automated luxury communism,” the post-work society is already here. Even when official unemployment is low, the number of people in low-wage, Uber-type jobs remains persistently high (a third of U.S. college grads are underemployed). Let machines do the drudge work, Bastani proposes, and give workers a UBI.

Beyond giving cash to workers, UBI has another advantage: It decouples income from work, limiting bosses’ power to compel people to labor for a wage. The less workers depend on employers to live, the more they can bargain over pay, conditions, and hours. While not “revolutionary,” robust welfare policies, like UBI and universal healthcare, are steps toward socialized production, where people, empowered to work on their own terms, can redirect the economy towards new goals: promoting human health and well-being, building rich social and cultural lives, and guaranteeing environmental sustainability. MORE

It’s ‘just the beginning’ of justice for Heiltsuk Nation after a company was fined $2.9-million for oil spill

Yím̓ás (hereditary chief) Wígvíɫba-Wákas (left) and Yím̓ás Nác̓i Gary Housty (right) stand beside Heiltsuk tribal councillor Yáláƛí Megan Humchitt at the hearing on July 16 in Bella Bella. Photo provided by Megan Humchitt

The company responsible for devastating an indispensable food harvesting site for the Heiltsuk community in Bella Bella, on the northwest coast of British Columbia, has been charged almost $3 million for violating three different acts. The penalty will be directed towards a government fund. Despite the judge’s decision Tuesday, Heiltsuk leadership and community members say no amount of money can change the devastation that has taken place.

In October 2016, the second mate operating a U.S.-owned tugboat fell asleep. The tug and barge ran aground, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel fuel, lubricants, heavy oils and pollutants into the water, contaminating the community’s breadbasket, a sacred site that sustained abalone, black cod, clams, cockles, crab, halibut, herring, salmon and more.

“It has been an emotional rollercoaster for our community,” elected Chief Councilor Marilyn Slett told National Observer over the phone. “We all were impacted by the event, and it was triggered again today … The hearing brought us back to that moment, when we found out the Gale Pass had been contaminated.”

Gale Pass is one of many food harvesting sites off the coast of Bella Bella, a community of around 1,400 people. The coastal nation, which has one grocery store in town, has always relied on a healthy ocean for sustenance into the future. When news broke out about the tug running aground, it was a moment of terror, an experience no outsider could fully grasp.

The Nathan E. Stewart tug and barge sinks in the Seaforth Channel, spilling tens of thousands of litres of contaminants intotraditional Heiltsuk territory on Oct. 22, 2016. Photo by Tavish Campbell

The Heiltsuk Nation is a self-governing nation that has occupied their traditional territories since time immemorial. They have always exercised their inherent and constitutionally protected rights, including rights to steward and harvest resources. Heiltsuk has never surrendered its ancient rights to the lands and marine areas of their traditional territories.

The trauma of the incident has lived on. But if it’s true that trauma can activate a flight or fight response, Heiltsuk fought.

Heiltsuk laws breached

The nation held healing ceremonies for members, launched an investigation report on the incident, joined partnerships advocating for adequate marine response technologies and filed a claim against the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Kirby Corporation, which operated the ship.

A committee was established to review the investigation report and determine whether Heiltsuk traditional laws, Ǧviḷás, were breached in the event. The committee determined that their Ǧviḷás were indeed breached by the Kirby Corporation and the government, which they documented in an adjudication report. The 68-page report, outlines Heiltsuk jurisdiction as one of the most complex maritime Indigenous societies in the world. Rich in Heiltsuk culture, geography and history, the report identifies the spill as an assault on Heiltsuk antiquity. MORE


The Indigenous nation exposing the lie of Canada’s “world class” oil spill response

The Canadian state seems like an immovable object. But Indigenous women are an unstoppable force.

Tiny House Warriors install solar panels. Photo via Tiny House Warriors’ Facebook page.

It’s Monday in the colonial state; Canada enters its 152nd year.

It’s been barely two weeks since the federal government released Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.The chief commissioner has said that the homicides, disappearances, and violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are the result of a “persistent and deliberate pattern of systemic racial and gendered human and Indigenous-rights violations and abuses, perpetuated historically and maintained today by the Canadian state, designed to displace Indigenous people from their lands, social structures and governments, and to eradicate their existence as nations, communities, families and individuals.” She named it Canada’s genocide. And yet, amid an admission of genocide, the colonial project continues apace; its existence met with celebration for another year.

Survivors of violence and family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women have put together a deeply researched report with a tangible set of actions. Activists, media, and communities must now insist upon the implementation of the report’s 231 Calls for Justice – supporting survivors, family members, and Indigenous peoples in overcoming the disinterest and dismissal of the Canadian public.

And yet, amid an admission of genocide, the colonial project continues apace; its existence met with celebration for another year.

I have come to realize that ignorance and apathy amongst Canadians should be expected, but not tolerated. Settler colonialism relies on indifference, reinforced by myths that protect the settler state from critical examination. When critical examination is undertaken, like in Reclaiming Power and Place, the true nature of the state is revealed. Canada is a project with the deliberate aim of destroying Indigenous nations in order to assert control over Indigenous lands, waters, and peoples. Poor health outcomes, criminalization, and violence that exist in Indigenous communities are not the symptoms of peoples who have failed to modernize, nor can they be dismissed as the inevitable consequence of competing ways of life.

With this in mind, it becomes clearer why settler governments are willing to include Indigenous women in decision-making in some areas, but not others.

Federal, provincial, and territorial governments have been willing to cede control – financial responsibility and liability – over the design and delivery of services through legislation that does not include a statutory requirement for funding. These services, which include language restoration and child welfare, are crucial components to ending violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. They address multi-generational issues that vary from family to family based on those families’ particular experiences and interactions with structural racism and settler colonialism. Overcoming these issues requires a multi-year effort, if not a lifelong commitment. These programs are costly to administer and critically important to the survival of Indigenous peoples. As a result, communities who assert their jurisdiction in these areas take on massive amounts of liability and financial burden, alleviating the Crown of that responsibility.

What you are not likely to see is policy-making that cedes decision-making and financial control to Indigenous women in areas where it would impact the accumulation of capital from Indigenous lands – like in the decision to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline. (I know you’re thinking about the few chiefs – mostly men – who, without clear community support, suggest their communities may want to share ownership and profit of the project. To that, I say: I said what I said.)

This includes the right to survival, to say no, and to determine for ourselves and our communities the best way to protect waters, lands, and children.

But having Indigenous women at the table is not enough. We have seen how damaging it can be when colonial oppression is internalized and perpetuated, through lateral violence and toxicity,by Indigenous women themselves. Each of us, including Indigenous people, must critically examine our own role in upholding a status quo that tolerates indifference to the basic human dignity of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. We must question what makes our society unwilling to hear the needs and aspirations of Indigenous women, unwilling to do the critical work required to empower us, and what barriers exist to our political mobilization.

Indigenous women have collective and individual rights that include “the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights.” These rights are inherent, affirmed by human rights conventions and declarations like Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This includes the right to survival, to say no, and to determine for ourselves and our communities the best way to protect waters, lands, and children. When it comes to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Kanahus Manuel, a leader with the Tiny House Warriorsand member of the Secwepemc Women Warriors has said, “We’re reclaiming our ancestral village and bringing our traditions back to life. If Trudeau wants to build this pipeline, he will need to empty this village a second time; in doing so, he would make continued colonization and cultural genocide part of his legacy of so-called reconciliation. Trudeau may have agreed to purchase this pipeline to make sure it gets built, but we’re here to make sure that it doesn’t. This pipeline is unfundable and unbuildable. It’s time Trudeau and all potential financial backers of this pipeline realized that we will never allow it to destroy our home.”  MORE


‘The world should have stopped’: An Indigenous woman responds to Canada’s admission of genocide

Power to Change: A New Deal for Climate Action and Good Jobs

Image result for NDP: Power to Change A New Deal for Climate Action and Good Jobs

A clean economy that works better for people

Our plan to fight climate change will create at least 300,000 new jobs, save families money, and take on big polluters. The time for delay and denial is over – it’s time to act.
It’s time to fight climate change like we actually want to win. But we also know that a plan that leaves workers or communities behind is no plan at all.

Our plan lays out a path that will make life more affordable, create good jobs, and ensure our environment is protected for our kids and grandkids.

We’ll create at least 300,000 good jobs in communities across the country, and provide training and supports for workers as our economy changes.

We’ll improve the buildings where we live, go to work, and go to school with retrofits that reduce energy demand – while cutting down energy bills for families.

We’ll make it easier to own a zero-emission vehicle, and make sure those cars are made in Canada. We’ll move to 100% electric transit, help communities work towards free transit, and improve access to affordable bus and rail service in rural and remote communities.

And instead of giving billions in subsidies to huge oil and gas companies, we’ll invest in a future where Canadians have good jobs, clean air and water, and can afford to live a good life.

And we’ll do it with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis as our full and equal partners.

The time to act is now. Together, we have the power to change. SOURCE

Canada’s ‘Green New Deal’ could change the game ahead of the elections

Jagmeet Singh in Toronto on Sept. 7, 2018. (Brian de Rivera Simon/Getty Images for eOne)

The Green New Deal, a plan to decarbonize the economy while ushering in a greater level of social and economic justice, has become a key policy debate in the United States, with major segments of the Democratic Party, including some presidential candidates, endorsing the plan to varying degrees. The goal of the plan isn’t just to cut fossil fuel consumption but also to do so while investing in jobs, education, infrastructure, health care and a wide array of programs designed to challenge the status quo.

In Canada, the GND has sparked great interest among progressives, who are looking for a plan that will help avoid climate catastrophe while not leaving behind the working class and marginalized populations. A few years ago, a document called the Leap Manifesto was drafted by a group of Canadian environmentalists. Though it had some of the elements of current progressive plans, it failed to capture the national imagination and was viewed as insufficiently concerned with reforms beyond decarbonization.

But things are different now. Today, the youth, both around the world and in Canada, have made climate justice a prevailing issue. Climate science, too, has made it ever clearer just how short a window we have to reduce our carbon footprint. And, crucially, the GND has offered Canadians framing and language that are more acceptable than those of the Leap.

Canada’s political outlook is also different than it was a couple years ago. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — who ran on an aura of progressivism — have left many environmental activists disappointed by missing emission targets and buying a multibillion-dollar pipeline. In part because of this, the Green Party is polling at unprecedented numbers and recently won a second seat in the House of Commons for the first time in party history, with projections giving them a few more in October’s general election. In this context, it is clear that green issues are motivating voters like never before.

This is where Jagmeet Singh and his New Democratic Party come in. Canada’s party of the social democratic left is polling below its 2015 election results and, while still poised to finish with the third-most seats in Parliament, is seeing the Greens polling closer than ever before. Not to be outdone, the NDP has released a bold plan that would act as a GND for Canada.

Not only does it commit to green objectives such ending fossil fuel subsidies, setting emissions targets, banning single-use plastics and incentivizing electric vehicles, but it also commits to a national retrofitting program that will affect all housing stock in Canada by 2050 and will help create an estimated 300,000 jobs. The plan also includes working with municipalities to build free electric public transit by 2030.  MORE