EcoNews
Newsletter #222 - March 2012
Promoting the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver Island
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Contact EcoNews

Guy Dauncey, Editor
395 Conway Road, Victoria, BC
CANADA V9E 2B9
Tel (250) 881-1304
www.earthfuture.com

Executive director
The Solutions Project

Editorial

NATURE’S SOLUTIONS

Mar. 1st, 2012

So here’s the carbon problem, in an organic walnut shell. Every year, we add 10 billion tonnes (10 gigatonnes, 10 Gt) of carbon to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, making cement and cutting down the Earth’s ancient forests.

This is mostly carbon that’s been stored underground for hundreds of millions of years, that we are releasing in a single splurge of industrial euphoria.

In the atmosphere, it is additional to the natural carbon cycle, which has been recirculating the carbon from plants, forests and ocean organisms for as long as they have been on Earth.

 Before we started our industrial age adventure the atmosphere contained 560 Gt of carbon. Today, it has over 800 Gt, increasing by 5 Gt a year. The other 5 Gt of carbon are being absorbed by the ocean, causing it to grow more acidic every year, with ominous consequences for the coral reefs and other marine life.

 We need to tackle the problem from both ends. We need to stop the flow of carbon from below by building a global civilization that can do whatever it needs without requiring any coal, oil or gas. That’s completely possible - we just need to get on with it.

 And from above, we need to suck 400 Gt of excess carbon out of the atmosphere and bring it back to the soil and trees where it belongs.

 There have been various complicated proposals to do this, ranging from seeding the ocean with iron dust (which would make it even more acidic) to building synthetic trees that would convert the carbon into sodium carbonate, to be stored away underground in old oil wells.

 Nature has been recirculating carbon for hundreds of millions of years, however, so it already has the solutions we need. We need to listen to the soil experts, not the oil experts.

 In the forests, the older a forest, the greater is its capacity to store carbon. Best is to protect as much as possible as wilderness and parks, but where we do need to harvest timber, the longer the harvest rotation, the more carbon can be stored. In the Pacific Northwest, a 160-year rotation will store 590 tonnes per hectare, compared to 363 tonnes in a 40-year cycle. Compared to clear-cutting, variable retention silviculture in old-growth zones stores 111 more tons of carbon per acre. (All references are in my book The Climate Challenge: 101 Solutions to Global Warming, see www.theclimatechallenge.ca).

Globally, if nations could adopt a Forests Solutions Treaty designed to maximize carbon storage, the British climate scientists Tim Lenton and Naomi Vaughan found that the Earth’s forests could draw down 50 to 100 Gt of carbon by 2100.

Next, there is farming. The Rodale Institute has found that organic farming stores 2 tonnes more carbon per hectare than conventional farming, because organic farmers pay so much more attention to building the soil. If there was a global Organic Farming Solutions Treaty by which all farmers agreed to go organic on 1.5 billion hectares of cropland, this could draw down up to 30 Gt of carbon a year, or 200 Gt by 2100.

As a side benefit, they would increase their yields, eliminate the danger from pesticides and GM crops, grow much healthier food, restore wildlife and biodiversity, and earn more money. Not bad for a solution to one of the world’s biggest problems.

So finally, we turn to the Earth’s grasslands, which have been storing carbon for as long as animals have been grazing on them. Here the story is fascinating, for the real guardian of the grasslands carbon is the wolf.

When wolves are around, grazing animals cluster together for safety. In so doing, they heavily impact the soil and fertilize it with their manure, creating the perfect environment for seeds to take root – and the roots of prairie perennial grasses can go seven metres deep, storing carbon all the way.

When the wolves are killed, as farmers have done all over the planet, the grazers turn into picky delicatessen eaters, and never impact the soil – they just scratch and scuff the surface. The native grass seeds fail to take root, and the carbon is lost.

Restoring the wolves would be ideal, but when farmers and herders graze their cattle in a way that replicates their original behavior, keeping them clustered tightly through rotational management intensive grazing, the old patterns are restored and the carbon returns. Australian farmers call it carbon farming, and they’ve discovered that it also stores more water in the soil, making it a useful response to drought.

Globally, if the world’s grasslands farmers all did this on the world’s 3.4 billion hectares of grasslands, storing an additional tonne of carbon per hectare per year, they could draw down 350 Gt of carbon by 2100.

Taken together, these three methods could in theory draw down 600 Gt of carbon by 2100, which is much more than we need – and in practice, there is a limit to the soil’s biological ability to store carbon.

But it’s there, staring us in the face. We just need to pay heed to Nature’s solutions, and respect her wisdom.

- Guy Dauncey

THE ECO-PERSONALS

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Eco-Stories

DUTCH KIDS BIKE THEIR BUS

It’s a bus, pedaled by eight children aged 4 to 12 and one adult, designed to get to school or go on a trip together. Top speed 15 kph, sound system, electric drive for the hills, and a canvas awning for rainy days. Yea, Holland! Built by Thomas Tolkamp, who has sold 25 of the bus-bikes so far, though none outside Europe. Cost $15,000. This shows what’s possible when you’ve got a safe network of off-road bike lanes. But it might work on a Gulf Island? Just think of the impact, to have one of these here in BC.

www.tolkampmetaalspecials.nl

DUTCH CYCLING TOURS

In Holland, 40% of primary school and 75% of secondary school kids bike to school, some as far as 20 km each way, because their parents know it’s safe. In Assen, 41% of all journeys are by bike – in Groningen, it’s 60% of all trips. Groningen’s main railway station has bike parking for – get this – ten thousand bicycles. Back in 1964, Groningen was a normal car-dominated city. In 1972, a new local council changed the planning emphasis, making the city centre the ‘living room’, and integrating town planning with transport policy. Today, 40 years later, 78% of the residents and 90% of employees live within 3km of the city centre.

The average speed for cycling is 14.2 kph, while for cars it is 9.6 kph.

For every Euro invested in cycling, they get better health, less congestion, fewer serious accidents and an improved economy. In Greater Victoria, only 6% of commuters bike to work, but we should be planning for 50%. To learn more about Dutch cycling first hand, you can join a Cycling Study Tour on May 8th to 10th. Including B&B, it costs 425 Euros. See www.hembrowcyclingholidays.com.



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GALIANO SUCCESS STORY

How to Change the World 101! Form a group. See a beautiful vision. Get determined. Do your homework. Go out and make it happen. The Galiano Conservancy Association has just purchased 76 hectares of a rare red-listed ecological community on the island’s western shore that will enable them to realize their vision of offering multi-day adventures to urban children who often have had no exposure to a wild environment. One day on the island with the Restorative Learning Centre excites their love of learning and discovery – now they will be able to stay longer, as the Centre will be able to build a learning centre with overnight accommodation and camping.

Since 2000, over 5,200 kids aged 4-18 have participated in their Forest to Sea Education Program, and 23,000 have benefited from programs at the Nature House. As one teacher said "This educational opportunity is truly unique since many have never ventured far out of the immediate neighbourhood, let alone traveled on a ferry or visited an island. Many of our students have expanded goals and career options because of this experience." The fundraising success has been due to many people on Galiaono, and also to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Mountain Equipment coop, and assistance from Vancity. Yea, Galiano! See www.galianoconservancy.ca



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BPA IN CASH RECEIPTS

Now to news from the Dumb Planet side of the ledger. Last month we reported how the chemical Bisphenol A acts as an obesogen, causing more precursor cells than normal to become fat cells in babies who are exposed to BPA in the womb. BPA also poses a risk to the brain, behavior, and the prostate gland, and may increase cancer risks. The European Union and Canada have banned the use of BPA in children’s feeding bottles, and stores such as Wal-Mart have removed it from food containers, water and baby bottles, and pacifiers.

But now we find that thermal cash register receipts contain 250 to 1,000 times more BPA than other sources such as baby bottles. As an endocrine disruptor, even the tiniest amounts are potentially harmful. Furthermore, it is ‘free’ BPA that is easily transferred to hand and mouth. An EWG analysis of data from retail workers found that they had 30% more BPA in their bodies than other adults. Another study in the US, Japan, Korea and Vietnam found that 94% of thermal paper receipts contained BPA.

One good source of BPA-free receipts is Appleton Papers, in Wisconsin. If you work in the retail sector, and handle receipts, you are at risk. Please write to Canada’s Minister of Health, Hon Leona Aglukkaq, House of Commons, Ontario
 K1A0A6 613-992-2848 Leona.Aglukkaq@parl.gc.ca



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FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES

As our civilization continues merrily down the path to its rendezvous with a huge civilizational and ecological mash-up, it is important that those of us who are working with everything we’ve got to lever it onto a new green track that can lead us instead towards sustainability and all things beautiful and green know our numbers. (Yea, for long sentences!) One set of numbers that we need to be familiar with is the extent to which governments are using public funds to subsidize the very fossil fuels that will be the death of us all if we don’t stop them in their tracks. Globally, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD, based in Winnipeg) estimates that the total annual subsidy to fossil fuels is in the order of $600 billion a year, of which $100 billion goes to producers, and $500 million to consumers, through subsidized fuel prices.

In Canada, the federal and provincial governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland used $2.84 billion of our money to support oil production in 2008, so the figure may be over $3 billion today. Why pour public money into the most profitable sector of the economy? In Alberta, the provincial economy will grow by an additional 0.16% because of the subsidies. Big friggin’ deal! Thanks to the subsidies, oil production will be 5% higher by 2020, and greenhouse gas emissions will be 2% higher. When it comes to the oil sands, the IISD finds that production will be 6-7 % higher and emissions 12% higher. So the next time you’re speaking to a conservative MP or supporter, ask them why they support this use of public funds. See Global Subsidies Initiative www.iisd.org/gsi



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300,000 AGAINST MONSANTO

The agrichemical giant Monsanto is always picking on the farmers – between 1997 and 2010 they filed 144 lawsuits against farmers for patent infringement, and they investigate more than 500 farmers every year. And because of the risk of crop contamination with GM seeds or pollen, organic farmers in the US are having to not grow any soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets or canola to protect themselves from Monsanto suing them for potential contamination.

So it’s good that the tables are finally being turned in a lawsuit by 83 plaintiffs, representing 300,000 organic farmers, organic seed growers and organic seed businesses. The lawsuit addresses the issue of Monsanto harassing and threatening organic farmers with lawsuits of “patent infringement” if any organic farmer ends up with a trace amount of GM seeds on their land. The Public Patent Foundation is representing the rights of American organic farmers against Monsanto. After hearing the arguments, Judge Buckwald will hand down her decision on March 31st as to whether the lawsuit will move to trial. www.osgata.org



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TRANSPORTATION - NO OIL

The January and February issues of EcoNews spelt out the kind of solution that can enable us to travel and transport our goods without oil. In February, I gave a BCSEA webinar on Transportation without Oil – 23 Steps to a Sustainable Future, with 116 slides full of great photos. You can view the whole webinar at vimeo.com/37205696, and see the slides at www.slideshare.net/GuyDauncey. I do encourage you to do so, since it’s really important that we spend far more time talking about the solutions, and not just go on about the problems. We need all to be seen as practical problem solvers and visionaries, not just as complainers.



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WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?

It is a much-used word, but what does it really mean? Is ‘sustainable development’ an oxymoron? A few years ago I crafted this definition to meet the various objections, and I think it has stood the test of time, since now I’ve got people around the world wondering where it came from. So I am happy to repeat it here….

Sustainability is a condition of existence that enables the present generation of humans and other species to enjoy social wellbeing, a vibrant economy and a healthy environment without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy the same.” - Guy Dauncey



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GENETICALLY MODIFIED ALFALFA

I was shocked when I learnt about the proposal to allow genetically modified alfalfa into Canada. Alfalfa is a forage crop that is very popular, with 4.5 million hectares in production. It is used as hay and pasture for cows, lambs, pigs, and horses, and as a high protein feed for animals. It is a perennial crop that grows deep roots, so once a GM variety was planted, it would be very difficult for farmers to get rid of it.

And bees love it, too. This means, however, that when they feed on a genetically modified alfalfa crop, they would carry its genetically modified pollen, contaminating other plants – including those on organic farmland. If GM alfalfa contaminates organic farmers’ hay fields, what will they feed their animals? And the farmers could be sued for the “theft” of the GM genes.

We know that when the pollen of GM corn is blown or carried onto a plant such as milkweed, it can kill Monarch butterfly larvae – and that the genes of GM crops can be carried at least 21 kilometres by means of pollen.

Canada has already approved GM alfalfa for growing, but it’s not yet legal to sell the seeds, unlike in America. The National Farmers Union is completely opposed, and so are most forage growers. The risk this poses to organic farms is enormous, so we really must try to stop it – see Action of the Month. There’s a great 3-minute cartoon, please take a look and pass the concern around – see www.cban.ca



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ACTION OF THE MONTH

GM ALFALFA

Action: Write to federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz – a Saskatchewan farmer himself – who “believes in putting the farmers first”. Urge him not to allow the variety registration of the sale of GM alfalfa seed .

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, The Hon Gerry Ritz, House of Commons, Ottawa K1A 0A6

RitzG@parl.gc.ca
 613-996-8472


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Guy Dauncey, Editor
395 Conway Road, Victoria, BC
CANADA V9E 2B9
Tel (250) 881-1304
guydauncey@earthfuture.com

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