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Monday, June 30, 2014

Sustainable agriculture leader Sibella Kraus on the field’s future

By: Chloe Cheng

Sustainable agriculture leader Sibella Kraus
Sustainable agriculture is a small, relatively new sector of America’s current farming system, and it is imperative that we continue to pursue it both now and in the future because the health of individual citizens and the health of the environment as a whole depend upon doing so.
Sibella Kraus, an advocate for sustainable farming methods and the founder of the organization Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), said, “We wouldn’t want the kind of agriculture that only lasts a few years or a couple of decades and then depletes its resource base...[we] want to provide for the needs of today without compromising our ability to provide for the needs of the future.”
The future of sustainable agriculture is uncertain and contains a multitude of potential avenues and possibilities, such as improvements in policies surrounding the field, improvements in public education on sustainability, and improvements on the financial front.
Kraus believes that one of the major areas on the policy front that citizens - and in particular, Californians - need to address is the sustainable use of resources, such as water. A significant portion of California is comprised of desert terrain, and droughts such as the one the state has experienced over the past year negatively impact the state’s water supply and resources to a great extent. Hence, water conservation and sustainability is of high concern to many environmentalists, including Kraus herself.
Public education is also vital to the promotion of sustainability’s future success. Kraus is an active participant in the education of the next generation on environmental issues and methods that can be employed to combat them. She said, “At the agricultural park which [SAGE] manages, which is on land owned by the SF Public Utilities Commission, we’ve developed a standards-based curriculum and field trip program for 4th through 8th graders which we call Farming in the Watershed. Right now, we bring out about 2,000 children a year for those field trips. We also have a high school program called Youths Bridging Nature and Agriculture, which brings out high school students who work on building physical and metaphorical bridges between nature and agriculture.” In addition to such youth education programs, SAGE provides beginning farmers and ranchers with the knowledge required to foster a fruitful enterprise.
Funding imposes a major hindrance to the expansion of sustainable agriculture and is another area in which environmentalists wish to see improvement. Kraus stated, “I think the whole subsidy system in agriculture is skewed and is really rewarding the wrong behaviors in terms of sustainability... the whole system of how we subsidize agriculture needs to be examined in light of trying to achieve sustainable agriculture goals.” As of now, a majority of government subsidies goes toward large-scale, corporate farms and farming methods.
The unaffordability of organic and sustainable foods to people of lower incomes is also an issue of great concern. Kraus is hopeful, however, seeing as there are a great variety of innovative solutions, such as community gardens and subsidized food in schools. However, Kraus believes that further progress can be made in this area.
Ultimately, the future of sustainable agriculture depends upon a great many factors, including how much weight the public gives to the importance of sustainability. Kraus advised, “The whole idea is to look at agriculture as a resource over time rather than as a short-term commodity.”

Farm or City?: State of lucrative Coyote Valley unresolved

By: Isabelle Marmur

Coyote Valley
With a population of just over one million people, San Jose is a swarming city full of a variety of workers. Despite the lively city, a vital piece of land is tucked away in the southernmost point of one of the largest cities in the state of California.
    The area of Coyote Valley is composed of 7,200 acres of farmland, but instead of a push for farmers by the city of San Jose, the intention has been to develop the area into a new city, according to Sibella Kraus, a developer of sustainable agriculture, marketing, and education in the San Francisco Bay Area. Instead of urban development, the developers in the area of the Coyote Valley have not begun building yet, making it still available to purchase and use as farmland.
    Kraus is the president of Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), a nonprofit organization that supports regional food systems and multifunctional agriculture. SAGE is currently working towards a solution in the Coyote Valley.
    Within the Coyote Valley there is a 348-acre reserve which SAGE is attempting to gain for local and sustainable agriculture. “One main challenge is putting that land back in the hands of the people that farm, and that needs to happen in a systematic kind of way,” said Kraus.
    The project consists of five goals: increasing the number of specialty crop operations, increasing specialty crop acreage and profitability, enhancing natural resource conservancy by adopting new sustainable land practices and establishing habitat enhancement, increasing agri-tourism, and increasing sales of CV-grown specialty crops to local markets, including on-farm sales, according to SAGE.
     “The [Coyote Valley] land prices are high,” said Kraus. If SAGE or local farmers wish to acquire land, they would need funding, as developers have more resources than nonprofits and local farmers. “Farming doesn’t work where you have a parcel here and a parcel there; it needs to be developed and the infrastructure developed,” said Kraus.
    Developers have only begun to obtain the land of the Coyote Valley within the last few years, quickly removing the option of local farming. In addition to new development, the city of San Jose has designated part of the northern area for campus industrial farming, according to Kraus.
    The Coyote Valley is desirable land for multiple reasons. “There is market demand. There is money to be made by developers when they come and put in new developments,” said Kraus.
    The suburban aspects of the land that resides just south of the hustle and bustle of San Jose are a staple of American culture and the American dream, especially in California. “For a city to be growing, it has to be growing geographically,” said Kraus.
    There has been a long period of time in which the definition of cities growing meant for the inhabitants to sprawl throughout the area as opposed to simply growing in population, diversity, or economically, according to Kraus.
    The city of San Jose is facing the predicament of what to do with the area. Creating an urban area would allow for mass revenue, but they would lose the opportunity to accumulate additional sustainable farming.
    At the moment, the majority of the land is not being used. It has not yet been converted into an urban area, but developers still own the land that is not currently being used.

    There’s no telling the future of the Coyote Valley land and how it will be used, but SAGE is hopeful for a success for local farmers and sustainable agriculture. A major accomplishment for SAGE would be if the small piece of land on the edge of the San Jose border is converted into sustainable farms instead of a hub for urban development.

Why Spending More on Sustainable Food Will Pay Off in the Future

By Sammy Herdman

Purchasing food is a commonality all Americans share.  Where the food comes from, however, and how it’s grown, is another matter entirely.  Recently, there has been a large movement towards sustainable agriculture.  Sustainable agriculture is food produced by local farmers that is much more ecologically friendly than food grown on large farms.  In addition, sustainable agriculture is commonly organic, meaning it’s not genetically modified, and is grown without pesticides.  Agriculture produced by large farming corporations often neglect the consequences of overusing the finite amount of natural resources necessary for farming, and ignore the harmful effects of pesticides.

Sustainable agriculture is a way of providing food for the present, without compromising our ability to provide food in the future.  In comparison, on standard farms, fiscal farming techniques commonly result in extracting all the nutrients from soil, washing away topsoil or drying up water sources.  These problems eventually lead to land that’s unfit for farming.

Despite the advantages of buying sustainable produce from local farms, there is a large portion of people who cannot afford the high prices of sustainable food.  Sustainable agriculture is more expensive for many reasons.  For example, because of the minimal use of pesticides, more workers are necessary to eliminate weeds and insects, and to pay workers decently, instead of minimum wage, is fairly costly. Also, the price of owning land and raising organically fed livestock is significant.  In addition, it is often harder for local, sustainable farmers to reach consumers.

The discrepancies in wealth in our country result in similar discrepancies in the popularity of sustainable agriculture.  Lower income families often don’t want to spend the extra dollars, or can’t spend the extra dollars, to buy sustainable food. “I think there’s a lot of innovative solutions in play addressing that - from community gardens, school gardens, CSA’s [these are people who buy a share of a farm, and are then sent weekly deliveries of fresh produce], institutions that have their own farms… subsidized food in schools,”  said Sibella Kraus, spokesperson and supporter of the sustainable food movement.

There are other ways for people with lower incomes to afford sustainable agriculture in addition to the aforementioned programs, such as eating in season and growing your own food.  Also, if farmers received more government support such as horticulture grants or lower taxes they wouldn’t have to rely solely on the sale prices of their produce for their income, which would make their prices more affordable.

As Americans we have the responsibility of being informed and conscientious consumers.  It’s critical to support sustainable farming to ascertain the natural resources necessary for farming don’t run out in the future.  Investing in sustainable food now will pay off in the long run, regardless of the high price.  The food that is kept cheap by artificial means is the food that is going to turn out to be costly - for the health of individuals and the health of the environment.

Chlorophyll Fluorescence Detected from Space

By Charlotte Smith

Dr. Frankenberg, a member of NASA, has been researching the remote sensing of atmospheric gases, biogeochemical cycles, and more to develop a way to detect chlorophyll fluorescence from space. During photosynthesis, part of the solar radiation absorbed by chlorophyll is emitted at a different wavelength, called fluorescence. Using spectrometers, scientists can measure this fluorescence from space. According to Dr. Frankenberg, “With the solar induced fluorescence, we get a little insight into how this process [the carbon cycle] actually works from the vantage point of space.”
Dr. Frankenberg, along with other NASA scientists have worked to develop a sort of satellite – the OCO-2 (Orbiting Carbon Observatory) – set to launch July 1. This will measure chlorophyll fluorescence from space, which is very important because it can inform scientists extensively about the photosynthetic rate occurring worldwide. Dr. Frankenberg says, “Photosynthetic activity is the biggest carbon uptake on the globe; it is the input of energy to the natural carbon cycle. Without this, there would be no trees, no life, no oxygen. Photosynthesis is the main reason why there is oxygen. Photosynthesis is the reason we live as humans.” With this new way to inform scientists about photosynthetic rate, they will be able to measure the amount of photosynthesis occurring and thus carbon uptake and oxygen output.

This mission is so important, because a main benefit of the OCO-2 is that it can detect where this photosynthesis is occurring in great amounts, which will lead scientists to determine if said location will continue to aid humans in consuming a large amount of the CO2 that we produce. “The main focus of the OCO-2 mission is to look at where the sink [carbon uptake] in the terrestrial biosphere is located. Nature is doing us a favor now of taking up almost half of the CO2 we emit. But, the real question is if this will continue in the future. Because of global warming, we don’t know if this will be continued or reversed in the future,” says Dr. Frankenberg. Because global warming is unpredictable, Dr. Frankenberg and his colleagues are looking for a way to predict what will happen to the carbon cycle in the future.

The OCO-2 is predicted to have a number of positive effects. Dr. Frankenberg hopes it will transform the carbon cycle science to fill the missing gaps of the natural carbon cycle and how it reacts to global warming, droughts, and other natural occurrences. He says fluorescence and the OCO-2 are complimentary, because they can show a net CO2 flux and the raw uptake of CO2. Dr. Frankenberg says, “What we find out will possibly help guide future policies. Our data will be the basis for how we as a society should react.” We’ve never had such a device before, and with these new discoveries, many policies can be implemented to lower CO2 emissions. We would even be able to physically see the changes we as a society could make. Dr. Frankenberg believes this work will be the basis of that change.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

"Watching the Planet Breathe": New Technology Allows NASA to Leap Atmospheric Bounds

By: Genevieve Finn

The Earth is headed towards a crisis. Yes, you read that right: our Earth will soon face drastic consequences if we continue to burn fossil fuels, cut down oxygen-making trees at our current rate, and do not fortify our atmosphere. "Count all the barrels of oil and all the fossil fuels and we should see an increase in CO2 levels in the future," says reputable Cal-Tech scientist Dr. Christian Frankenberg. Another factor in this crisis is the "global tree die-off", which is significantly lowering oxygen-encouraging photosynthetic activity. Dr. Frankenberg says photosynthetic activity is, "the input energy into everything on Earth." It is key to creating oxygen, light, and our very lifestyles. "It is the reason we live as human beings." Can you imagine a world without oxygen or light? Not likely. So you see, if we do not move to stop this impending atmospheric crisis, our world will soon change dramatically for the worse.

            Luckily, NASA is working to prevent this crisis, and the first step to preventing the problem is exploring it. This is where the work of Dr. Frankenberg and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) come in. Dr. Frankenberg, who we interviewed, studies patterns of photosynthesis and how oxygen/carbon levels fluctuate under different conditions. Working with the Japanese, Dr. Frankenburg and his team have closely examined the Earth's carbon levels. They are also a key part of NASA's newest project, labeled OCO-2 to allude to the actual element carbon's scientific name CO2.                        
            This project is a special satellite that will orbit the Earth collecting maps of CO2 distribution across the globe. The satellite will measure chlorophyll distribution by taking photos of areas of high chlorophyll fluorescence, which are places where chlorophyll, a key ingredient in plants, shines strongly. Dr. Frankenberg said proudly, "Now (carbon) won't be able to play hide-and-seek with us." This project falls under the auspices of NASA, which means it is ultimately financed by the public. Dr. Frankenberg says the costliest part of the project will be launching it on Delta 2, the most reliable US space vehicle.
            In three days, the NASA Orbiting Carbon Observatory will launch into space and begin sending back vital information about chlorophyll fluorescence and the carbon cycle to scientists on Earth. The scientists will analyze this data and assess Earth's current atmospheric situation to understand how we can better manage our oxygen usage and carbon generation in the future.
            OCO-2 will launch on June 30th of 2014. You can look deeper into this project and the work of Dr. Frankenberg at these sites:
Also remember to look out for Earthscope Media's radio reports and excerpts of Dr. Frankenberg's interviews on KWL Radio Station this coming July.

Fracking linked to increased sexual abuse among indigenous women, one organization claims

By Danielle Chemtob

Even if you don’t consider yourself an environmentalist, you’ve likely heard of fracking. Yet few people actually understand what the term means, and why the practice of fracking is so dangerous.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that involves pumping fluid into the ground at a high pressure to extract natural gas. Many advocacy groups often highlight the environmental consequences of fracking—the unsafe chemicals involved, the water wasted, and contamination issues, to name a few—but few people are aware of the practice’s impact on the health and well-being of indigenous women. The Women’s Earth Alliance is trying to change that.
The organization is currently partnering with the Native Youth Sexual Health Network in a project called “Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence.” The project aims to document experiences of indigenous women and how their reproductive health is affected by the fracking industry.
Kahea Pacheco of Women’s Earth Alliance explained that this harm to women is part of what she calls “environmental violence.” She defined the term as “the deliberate release of toxins or the deliberate practice of other harmful environmentally degrading industries on our lands and territories despite evidence that they cause a range of serious health and social impacts which disproportionately affect indigenous communities.”
According to Pacheco, Native American women are two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than non native women in the United States. Pacheco said that this is partially due to the fracking industry. She explained that near extraction sites, male workers from out of town  set up in temporary and remote housing camps, often outnumber the women in the area considerably, leading to increased cases of assault, domestic violence, and drug use.
“When we’re looking at just the reproductive health socially of indigenous women and youth in resource industry impacted communities, we’re looking at communities that are being flooded with large numbers of young men coming to live  and work in a dangerous field in workers’ camps sometimes called ‘man camps,’ by local native communities” she said.
Pacheco said that there are two types of these housing units—documented and undocumented. Those that are documented are sponsored by the companies that employ the men, and usually have resources on-site such as cell phone services, bathrooms, stores, etc.
However, the undocumented temporary housing, which are informal and are not sponsored by the extraction industries, can pose the biggest threat to indigenous women.
“Undocumented camps are threats to native communities, because they’re often simply 50 to 100 trailers that ranchers or farmers rent out located in isolated or desolate areas, where emergency and cell phone services are not usually the priority or are not usually available,” Pacheco said. “So you have an influx of non indigenous people coming into traditionally native communities.”
Pacheco believes that it is important to protect women's rights due to their significant role in the success of their communities.
“When women thrive, communities thrive,” Pacheco said. “Women are often the center of communities - the center of the home - and they are often the people who do work with the resources around them, and they provide food for their families. So these are the women that just need a few more resources and the tools to take what they’re already doing to the next level and address the concerns that they already have.”
According to Pacheco, the next step in dealing with this issue is for the environmental movement to recognize that women's’ well-being is a concern intertwined with their own goals.
“Everything connected to the land is connected to our bodies,” Pacheco said. “The first step is recognizing that environmental violence is real, that environmentally degrading practices have social impacts as well as health impacts, and have all these impacts that disproportionately affect indigenous communities.”
Although some argue that fracking has economic benefits, Pacheco said, “all the economic wealth in the world will be nothing if we do not have the environment we need to survive in. When there’s no air, are you going to breathe dollars?”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Environmental Violence, When environmentally harmful activities lead to rape, and social degradation

By: Genevieve Finn

Question 1: Do you know where your oil and gas comes from? Many Americans would immediately reply, "The Middle East,", but in fact, there are 500,000 gas wells active in the United States, and 20% of those are located on public or Native American land. Question 2: Do you know how energy companies get that oil and gas? The answer to that question is the keyword, "fracking".
Fracking is a method of oil extraction that involves literally smashing the rock with millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to unlock oil and gas. In 90% of the 100,000 US oil and gas locations, fracking is the main method of extraction. This is an environmentally destructive practice because it releases toxic chemicals such as methane gas that can contaminate important groundwater. Fracking has even been referred to as "raping the Earth" by writer Peter Rugh of Vice. These poisonous chemicals can have a huge impact on ecosystems and communities near drilling sites, especially if these communities are on Indian land where people and livestock depend on fresh groundwater for drinking, cooking, and washing. The chemicals released by fracking can also cause air pollution, gas explosions, and infrastructure degradation.

In addition to the negative environmental impact, research has found that fracking can also bring a slew of social issues and conflicts. At every new fracking site, a rush of workers and fortune seekers arrive to work the land. Data shows that this population explosion is linked to a huge rise in STDs, drug use, and addictionally, suicide, and domestic violence. This correlation is seen prevalent in Native American communities in places such as Alberta, Canada, and states that have high indigenous populations such as Montana and North Dakota. Studies even show that Native American women are two and ahlf more likely to experience assault than any other race. There are reports of reservation women, generally between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one, being forcibly taken to temporary workers housing in desolate areas called "man-camps" by the local communities and being raped or assaulted. It is evident that this pressing crisis must be fixed immediately, not just for the sake of indigenous women as an important piece of American culture, but for the sake of women in general in the fight against violence.
Kahea Pacheco of Women's Earth Alliance has a solution. Women's Earth Alliance is an organization that unites women and gives them the resources to stand up for themselves and their environment. As an indigenous woman herself, Kahea feels passionately about this issue and has made it her mission to educate and support Native American communities in combatting the social issues that result from fracking. "Whether it be coming up with workshops they can use for community education, coming up with activism strategies, working with Women's Earth Alliances team of pro-bono attorneys ... to help to strategize legal advocacy tools," Women's Earth Alliance is an important ally to indigenous communities who need help mobilizing to fight for their homes. Already indigenous people have begun to push back against fracking on their own. For example, Native American groups in Idaho, Oregon and Montana have come together to blockade the roads used by mega load trucks the trucks that carry supplies to the drill sitesto put a stop to bringing fracking materials onto reservation land and force them to reroute their course. Kahea recommends going to marches and rallies across the country such as Honor the Earth in North Dakota and Minnesota (where they ride along pipeline routes on horses advocating their cause) to provide solidarity and celebrate "healing the land". You can also donate to Women's Earth Alliance and learn more about this initiative on Women's Earth Alliance's website.
To conclude, Kahea summarized her feelings toward gas and oil companies' fracking activities at the expense of the land and the Native American people. "All the economic wealth in the world will be nothing if we do not have the environment we need to survive in." As consumers ourselves, it is our responsibility to get educated and take action for our world and the people we share it with.