Some are calling it a project that will transform global agriculture as we know it. Others are calling it a utopian dream. One thing is for sure, however: When the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAAST) releases the final draft of its report on April 15, sparks will still be flying. Instigated in 2005 by the United Nations and the World Bank, among others, the IAAST was supposed to be an IPCC for agriculture. (Indeed, the project's leader, Robert Watson, was former chair of the IPCC.) Its goals were impressive: How can we reduce hunger and poverty, improve rural livelihoods, and facilitate equitable, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development through the generation, access to, and use of agricultural knowledge, science, and technology? With such lofty aims, the participants necessarily included not only farmers and policy makers, but also academics, industry scientists, social justice NGOs, environmental advocacy groups (Greenpeace, to name one), and agribusiness representatives. As you might imagine, this motley crew had plenty to fight about, and in October, Syngenta and Monsanto walked out of the talks.
Admittedly, this is more of a link dump than a true blog post, but sometimes the green goodness is too good to pass up ... As Sarah and David have mentioned, the May edition of Vanity Fair is their third annual green issue. Featuring, ironically, the material girl on the cover, it's crammed with features that will enlighten, illuminate, and ... disturb.
There wasn't much to be happy about on today's media spectrum. So I thought I'd share one heartwarming story about one Kansas town's efforts to pick up the pieces after a devastating tornado: Townhomes are beginning to rise from the ragged tree trunks, weeds and ruins off Main Street. They mark a radical departure from traditional low-income housing, according to Duncan Trahl, who is from Pennsylvania and on contract with the National Renewable Energy Labs.The townhomes are "LEED gold certified," Trahl said. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The rating is based on a system which rewards energy savings. Trahl said gold certification means these places will be almost twice as efficient as they used to be.Building to this standard for working-class families is unusual, Trahl said."A lot of what's happening in Greensburg is some of the first in the country," Trahl said. Leveraging environmentalism to rebuild a community. It's an idea that's helping revive New Orleans and now a small town in the Midwest. To be sure, the disaster that struck Pakistan yesterday morning is one of a very different nature, but I wish them speed and strength in recovery. I also look forward to the day when "stability" in the Middle East is the norm so that things like "sustainability" can be the new goal. At moments like this, that time seems painfully far away.
I recently wrote a short piece for Seed about the Law of the Sea -- a piece of legislation that has been held up in the US Senate for the past 25 years, and which, if ratified, could have a major impact on ocean health. The treaty -- which was given a thumbs-up in October by the US Foreign Relations Committee and now awaits ratification in the Senate -- declares most of earth's vast ocean floor to be the "common heritage of mankind," placing it under UN aegis "for the benefit of mankind as a whole." That language has some people running scared. The treaty recently earned some scathing critique in the Wall Street Journal:
In yesterday's New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan writes, "Two stories in the news this year, stories that on their faces would seem to have nothing to do with each other let alone with agriculture, may point to an imminent breakdown in the way we're growing food today." Can you guess what they are? Answer here.
For Christmas last year, I received an iPod Nano (through which I now get my weekly fix of podcasts from NPR Environment, PRI Living on Earth, and of course, Grist). That the Nano weighs a mere 1.74 oz. and is so slim it easily gets lost in an overstuffed pocket is pretty impressive. Nearly as impressive, however, is that I walked out of the store toting this pygmie player inside an slick, white, matte, double-ply plastic behemoth of a bag, with sturdy woven cords that cinched the neck; it could have easily fit 100 Nanos with room several real apples to spare. I've been using it as a gym bag ever since. Apparently, that's exactly what Apple had in mind:
For this enviro, Christmas is shaping up pretty nicely this year. Today, as post-Kyoto discussions commence in Bali, Australia has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, sweeping aside decades of Howard's curmudgeonly climate skepticism. Another unexpected gift came last month, when a group of 80 experts convened in France to mull over the future of biodiversity. Their consensus? That we need to establish a new intergovernmental panel -- akin to the IPCC -- to begin aggressively addressing the biodiversity crisis. In words that would surely make E.O. Wilson proud, the committee said: "It is not enough to draw up a list of threatened or extinct species. Biodiversity needs to be seen as a whole, in terms of management but also of environmental services rendered, for instance from the point of view of adaptation to climate change." They hope to have a structure in place by 2008. Keep 'em rollin' in, Santa!
So while the U.S. Farm Bill is out to pasture until 2008, it looks like most commodity subsidies will remain untouched. Agricultural price supports may be the law of the land here, but it's certainly not what we've been advocating abroad. A bittersweet story on page one of today's NY Times documents how Malawians are pulling back from the brink, largely because -- going against the wishes of the World Bank -- they've begun to reinstitute government crop subsidies:
A few months ago, I reported on the decade-long drought that's bedeviling Australia. In it I predicted -- with the help of experts such as Tim Flannery -- that climate skeptic John Howard would lose his seat to the Labor Party leader, Kevin Rudd, in this October's national elections. Rudd is running on a platform that includes $50 million for geothermal energy, $50 million for an Australian Solar Institute, and a 60 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. And according to Flannery, the election will in large part be a referendum on climate change.