Jul 31, 2017

The Killing Fields: photo essay.

In Sri Lanka's North Central province, a land of crumbling Buddhist temples and gently swaying palms, farmers have cultivated rice for millennia. Until the 1960s, they relied on oxen, not tractors, to plow their fields. But the introduction of mechanized and chemical methods has rendered such time honored techniques extinct. An island nation that once boasted nearly 3,000 ancient rice varieties now produces a handful of modern strains in fields routinely drenched with herbicides and synthetic fertilizers.

As a result, Sri Lankan rice yields have increased by 60 percent since 1979. Unfortunately, a burgeoning public health disaster has arisen alongside this “progress.” Today, a mysterious kidney disease afflicts an estimated 400,000 people in the province, representing about a third of its population.

First-world renal disorders typically accompany obesity, diabetes, or high blood pressure, all rare risk factors in rural Southeast Asia. Baffled epidemiologists refer to the illness ravaging Sri Lanka as “chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology,” or CKDu, which results in a slow, torturous death. Sufferers are unable to pass urine, so their limbs swell with toxic fluid, causing constant pain.

Jul 29, 2017

Saving Britain’s food supply: a manifesto to keep food on the table

By Jay Rayner
During the early 1990s Britain’s self-sufficiency in food reached its highest in modern times. We were producing just over 70% of all the food we were eating. Since then the story has been one only of decline. We now produce 60%, but because of exports only about 50% of the food we eat is actually produced here. There are a number of reasons for this, but key among them is the dominance of the supermarkets.
In the late 80s and early 90s a series of changes to the planning laws allowed for the building of large out-of-town hypermarkets on greenfield sites, which in turn encouraged the boom in the supermarket sector. That created the food retail landscape we have today in which fewer than a dozen companies control more than 90% of the food retail market.
The supermarkets used that dominance to drive prices ever lower, and with drastic results. This is no knee-jerk negative response to the concept of supermarkets. They have their positives. They have kept pace with social change, shortening the length of time it takes people to get the shopping done, thus enabling the two-job households now required to keep pace with the cost of living. They have been a prime driver of food culture in the UK, providing a ready source of the ingredients consumers have been introduced to via the media. They have enabled huge economies of scale.

Jul 24, 2017

Dreaded weather event twice as common within 35 years: CSIRO

RELATED: Warming whacks wheat yield ; Tougher times for marginal cropping country
DRY, damaging extreme El Niño weather events will be twice as common in a warming world.
Australia is set to suffer at least twice as many extreme El Niño weather events by 2050, even if international efforts to limiting the rise in global mean temperature to 1.5° Celsius are successful.
That’s the unhappy news from new CSIRO research, published today in Nature Climate Change, which projected the the number of extreme El Niño events would grow from four every 100 years to 10 events every 100 years.
The 2015 Paris climate agreement set a warming reduction target for 195 United Nations signatory countries (except the US, which withdrew this year). It aimed to curb carbon emissions to a level where the rise in mean global temperature are restricted to 1.5°C.
But even if efforts to stabilise warming are successful, and the temperature is stabilised at 1.5°C above the current average, extreme El Niños will continue to grow in frequency, reaching 14 every 100 years by 2150.

Jul 23, 2017

Indonesian cattle cruelty exhibited at class action trial

DAY three of the Indonesian live cattle ban class action trial was dominated by the defence presenting extensive and intimate details of animal cruelty practices that underpinned the government’s sudden decision to cut off trade.
Lights in the court room were dimmed as Defence Senior Counsel Neil Williams showed selected extracts from the controversial ABC Four Corners episode of May 30, 2011 “A Bloody Business” which was also introduced into trial evidence.
Graphic images of cattle mistreatment ignited the public uproar that applied intense pressure on the former Labor government and a few days after the ABC broadcast the then Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig eventually suspended the entire market for up to six months.
The Federal Court case is being held in Sydney and seeking to prove misfeasance by the commonwealth - claiming about $600 million in damages - in Mr Ludwig’s signing of the second control order that shut trade, to try and address animal welfare standards in Indonesian abattoirs.
On day three, the plaintiff’s Senior Counsel Noel Hutley spent the day presenting his argument and allowed several Four Corners extracts to be shown to the court room.

Read more....

Jul 21, 2017

Hot, Dry and Deadly

A new climate change report has made some dire forecasts for the survival of threatened species and the future of farming in central and southern New South Wales.
The Hot, Dry and Deadly report by the state's peak environmental organisation, the Nature Conservation Council, is based on peer-reviewed scientific data on the impact of global warming.
It predicts that by 2090 the Southern Tablelands will face temperature increases of nearly four degrees, combined with an almost 50 per cent reduction in annual rainfall. -- ABC Report

We have so much to lose

Climate change will have profoundly negative impacts on nature in NSW if we do not urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. NSW has a stunning variety of species and ecosystems, with outstanding rainforests, eucalypt forests and woodlands, grasslands, wetlands, coastal heaths, alpine habitats and arid shrub lands. These ecosystems are home to more than 900 animal species, almost 4,700 plants species, and countless insect and fungi species. Since European settlement, native ecosystems and species in NSW have declined significantly. Almost 40% of native vegetation has been cleared, and what’s left is highly degraded. Only 9% is in good condition.
More than 100 species have become extinct since 1788, and over 1000, including 60% of all mammal species, are now threatened with extinction. Key threats are land clearing, habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and changed fire regimes. Human-induced climate change has now been added as a potent part of the mix.

Jul 19, 2017

Interview: Author Judith Schwartz Examines Water Management

When writer Judith Schwartz learned that soil carbon is a buffer for climate change, her focus as a journalist took a major turn. She was covering the Slow Money National Gathering in 2010 when Gardener’s Supply founder Will Raap stated that over time more CO2 has gone into the atmosphere from the soil than has been released from burning fossil fuels. She says her first reaction was “Why don’t I know this?” Then she thought, “If this is true, can carbon be brought back to the soil?” In the quest that followed, she made the acquaintance of luminaries like Allan Savory, Christine Jones and Gabe Brown and traveled to several continents to see the new soil carbon paradigm in action. Schwartz has the gift of making difficult concepts accessible and appealing to lay readers, and that’s exactly what she does in Cows Save the Planet And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, which Elizabeth Kolbert called “a surprising, informative, and ultimately hopeful book.”
For her most recent project, Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World, Schwartz delves into the little-known role the water cycle plays in planetary health, which she illustrates with vivid, empowering stories from around the world. While we might not be able to change the rate of precipitation, as land managers we can directly affect the speed that water flows off our land and the amount of water that the soil is able to absorb. Trees and other vegetation are more than passive bystanders at the mercy of temperature extremes — they can also be powerful influences in regulating the climate.  
The week after this interview was recorded, Schwartz travelled to Washington, D.C., to take part in a congressional briefing on soil health and climate change organized by Regeneration International. As a public speaker, educator, researcher and networker, she has become deeply engaged in the broad movement to build soil carbon and restore ecosystems.

Read more....