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May 2006: Notes of Interest

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            This information comes from “Sweden Plans to Be World’s First Oil-Free Economy,” by John Vidal, in the February 8, 2006 issue of the Guardian:
The Swedish government has appointed a committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants and others to plan how “to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years without building a new generation of nuclear power stations. Sweden…gets almost all its electricity from nuclear and hydroelectric, and relies on fossil fuels mainly for transport. Almost all its heating has been converted in the past decade to schemes which distribute steam or hot water generated by geothermal energy or waste heat. … A 1980 referendum decided that nuclear power should be phased out, but this has still not been finalized.” The Minister of Sustainable Development “described oil dependency as one of the greatest problems facing the world.” She added “The price of oil has tripled since 1996. … Energy ministry officials in Sweden said they expected the oil committee to recommend further development of biofuels derived from its massive forests, and by expanding other renewable energies such as wind and wave power.

From “Environmental Tipping Points: A New Slant on Strategic Environmentalism” by Gerald Marten, Steve Brooks, and Amanda Suutari in the November/December 2005 issue of WorldWatch:
“Like many other fishing villages in the Philippines, where fish stocks have dropped as much as 95 percent in the past 50 years, Apo Island had been in a slow decline. Population growth had triggered heavier fishing. New methods, like dynamite, cyanide, and small-mesh nets, were more effective but more destructive than traditional ones. Over time, fishermen got stuck in a vicious cycle. They were traveling farther and working harder to catch fish that became ever scarcer, as they exhausted one fishing ground after another.
“The rescue of Apo Island began with Angel Alcala, a marine biologist from” a nearby university. He proposed that “banning fishing around 10 percent of the island could create a nursery from which to repopulate adjacent fishing grounds. ‘We already had proof that no-take marine reserves increased fishermen’s catch, enhanced fisheries, and maintained coral reefs. Marine reserves allow fish to grow larger before they’re caught. They allow fish to mature and reproduce,’ Alcala stated.
“In 1982, 14 families began guarding the coral-covered fishing grounds off a 450-meter strip of beach. After three years, the resulting explosion of aquatic life convinced other islanders to make the sanctuary official. At the same time, they prohibited destructive fishing methods throughout Apo’s waters. They set up a volunteer marine guard to enforce the rules and keep out fishermen who weren’t from the island. Within 10 years, fish stocks had rebounded so much that fishermen could pull in a day’s catch within 500 meters from shore.
“Constructive feedback loops are the heart of an environmental tip. They’re the means by which nature, and natural social processes, do most of the work of rebuilding.”

These are brief segments of an article, “Cloudy with a Chance of Chaos” by Eugene Linden that appeared in the January 23, 2006 issue of Fortune magazine. The author adapted the article from his new book, The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations:
The CEO of British Petroleum has recently been proposing solutions to global warming “that hint at the vastness of the challenge.” The solutions “aim at stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at about double the pre-industrial level while continuing economic growth. To do that, carbon emissions would have to be reduced ultimately by seven gigatons a year. Eliminating just one,” the CEO states, “would mean building 700 nuclear stations to replace fossil-fuel-burning power plants, or increasing the use of solar power by a factor of 700, or stopping all deforestation and doubling present efforts at reforestation. Achieve all three of these, and pull off four more equally large-scale reallocations of capital and infrastructure and the world would probably stabilize its carbon emissions.” However, the author muses that “even change on this vast scale may not stop global warming” and points out that the Industrial Revolution and our huge population growth have taken place “during one of the most benign climate eras in the history of the planet.
“Now climate is changing again. … The consensus on climate change has solidified to rival the medical consensus on the dangers of smoking—but in the matter of climate, public perception has yet to catch up. Like the tourists on Phuket beaches who stood and gazed at an oncoming tsunami because it was outside their experience, society is reacting to the coming wave of climate change without urgency.” But scientists are coming to see that changes can happen much more quickly than originally thought, perhaps “taking decades, not centuries. … The Earth’s heat-distribution system has already begun shifting massively in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases. Precipitation patterns, the change of seasons, storm intensity, sea ice, glaciers, temperatures on the tundras—all are in flux. … By not taking action on greenhouse emissions, we are betting our well-being that climate change poses little threat. If we are wrong, we will meet our fate.”

The following is taken from “Going to Seed: The Industrial Seed System,” in the Fall 2005 issue of The Community Farm (A Voice for Community Supported Agriculture; 3480 Potter Road, Bear Lake MI 49614; The author, CR Lawn, is the founder of Fedco Seeds, which decided to phase out all seeds from Seminis Seeds, after it was bought out by Monsanto:
“An even more compelling argument against genetic engineering is its structural effect upon the seed industry. The biotech revolution promised much but delivered little. Unanticipated obstacles pushed research and development costs far higher than expected, driving a series of consolidations in which small companies were either swallowed up or forced to make complex licensing agreements with the big guys in order to survive. … The seed industry is concentrating. Seminis controlled 40% of the US vegetable seed market and supplied the genetics for 75% of the tomatoes and 85% of the peppers on supermarket shelves. With the absorption of Seminis, Monsanto vaulted ahead of DuPont as the world’s largest seed company.
“The original Plant Variety Protection Act in 1970, the culmination of 40 years’ lobbying by the seed industry, protected varieties from others’ use for 17 years, but with important exceptions. Farmers were allowed to save seed, replant it, and even sell it to neighbors. Breeders were permitted to use it for research purposes. Court decisions in 1980, 1985 and 2001, however, have brought all products of plant breeding under the standard utility patent. Unlike PVP, utility patents protect not just finished varieties, but also individual components of those varieties and processes used to create those varieties. There are no exemptions for farmers to save seed and none for research and breeding. These court decisions now allow patenting of proteins, DNA sequences, individual mutations, genes, cells, tissue cultures and specific plant parts. The proliferation of patent rights has privatized what was once a vast commons, stifled free exchange of germplasm, choked off creativity and escalated development costs exponentially, thereby setting off further rounds of consolidation.”

The June 29, 2005 issue of the Sioux City Journal Online Edition has an article by Nick Hytrek: “County approves tax rebates to organic farmers:”
“Mark Schuett [owner of a soybean processor and a partner in a flaxseed oil processing plant] often wonders what it would be like if the majority of the soybeans and flaxseed shipped to organic processing plants in Cherokee, Iowa, came from Northwest Iowa rather than countries like China. ‘Why do we need to process grain from other parts of the world when we can grow it all here, and probably better than anyone else?’ The Woodbury County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a policy that might make Schuett’s wishes come true. The Organics Conversion Policy will provide up to $50,000 in property tax rebates annually to Woodbury County farmers who convert from conventional to organic farming. …It is believed that Woodbury County is the first local governing body in the United States to offer tax incentives to organic farmers.”

This is taken from “Diet for a Peak-Oil America, by Katie Elizabeth Renz in the November/December issue of HopeDance (POB 15609, San Luis Obispo CA 93406;
In response to Peak Oil, Jason Bradford of Willits, California, started Willits Economic Localization (WELL) about a year and a half ago. “In Willits, where both City Council members and several businesses support WELL’s goals, Bradford is focusing on making local food production visible. He asked the local elementary school if they could convert part of the playground into a school farm to provide produce for cafeteria lunches and an opportunity for kids to be involved in the food cycle. … ‘It’s amazing how rapidly cultures shift when the natural conditions make it necessary,’ Bradford says, glimpsing the future in 8-year-old kids with schoolyard gardens who know how to grow—and like to eat—highly-nutritious crops like kale and amaranth that are virtually unknown to most Americans. ‘I’m hoping people see all the benefits,’ he continues. ‘People freak out about these issues. The key is, No, we’re responsible adults; we can think and plan rationally.’ Bradford believes it’s about achieving critical mass and that progressive enclaves like Willits…exemplify how any community can prepare to eat well sans fossil fuels. ‘We don’t have to get everybody on board,’ he says. ‘But we need to reach some sort of point where enough people see, Wow, you’re doing that. Why aren’t we doing it here too?’”

From “Kaiser Permanente Farmers’ Markets Creating a Win, Win, Win” in the winter 2006 issue of Community Food Security News:
“Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest non profit health maintenance organization, currently hosts 12 farmers’ markets” and plans to at least double that number. Its mission is to be “a leader in preventive health and healthy living while increasing access to healthy food in low-income communities and providing small family farmers with new sales opportunities.” Kaiser already has 3 models of different types of farmers’ markets and “is exploring creative ways to further its farmers’ market impact. The institution convened a workgroup... [which] is drafting policies that incorporate local purchasing into the hospital’s procurement practices. Kaiser is considering purchasing as much as 20 percent of the food used in its hospitals, cafeterias and business meetings from local organic growers.”




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