Amazon Rainforest Protectors: Putting Their Lives on the Line

Brazil’s President vs the Amazon

SBS Dateline (2019)

Film Review

This Australian documentary is about the indigenous Mundruku tribe and their efforta to stop illegal deforestation in the Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Altogether the Amazon is home to 300 indigenous tribes. All are threatened by multinational mining, agricultural and logging interests. This film also looks at the big threat to their way of life posed by the election of right wing populist Jair Bolsonaro as president.

The fillmmakers begin by interviewing the mayor of nearly Intaituba, a strong Bolsonaro supporter facing fines and corruption charges for illegally clearing forest to set up a cattle ranch. The mayor lobbies for international gold mining interests in addition to international and domestic agribusiness.

Under Brazil’s former government, indigenous tribes could file claims to have their ancestral lands demarcated for protection from logging schemes. Bolsonaro who has transferred oversight of indigenous rights to the department of agriculture, has suspended the right of Brazil’s first peoples to make further claims.

In response, Mundruku women from adjoining villages have installed their own signs demarcating their land.They are also organizing a resistance movement to confront illegal loggers. They do so despite numerous threats they have received from logging interests in the past.

They’re not the first Amazon protectors to put their lives on the line. Hundreds of rainforest activists have been murdered (with impunity) in the decades-long battle to save the rainforest known as the lungs of the world.

Insect Apocalypse

Insect Apocalypse

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about German research into the 75% drop in global insect numbers over 25 years. After demonstrating the research methods used to measure this decline, the filmmakers focus on the plight of specific insect species. Some entomologists predict total ecosystem collapse if insect populations decline any further.

The film also explores specific threats insects face: overuse of insecticides (particularly neonicotinoids), the spread of agricultural “deserts” (large cultivated areas devoid of flowers) and the herbicide Roundup.*

Scientists are most concerned about the plight of butterflies, moths and other pollinators – without them humanity can’t mass produce fruits and vegetables. Other insects play an important role in feeding fish, birds, frogs and small mammals. Their populations are also collapsing.

The segment I found most interesting features the mayor of Miami protesting the nightly spraying of his city with pesticides (theoretically to destroy mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus). Owing to the short mosquito life cycle (egg to egg in 11 days), pesticide overuse paradoxically increases mosquito numbers. Following pesticide spraying, mosquito recovery takes two days. Meanwhile it takes weeks for the insect predators that feed on them to recover.


*Although Roundup (which is meant to target weed) doesn’t kill bees, it reduces their heartbeat and brain oxygenation. This, in turn, impairs orientation and can prevent them from returning to the hive. In wild bees, this can result in brood death.

 

Why We Want What We Don’t Need

The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need

Consumer Protection Hub (2018)

Film Review

This documentary, narrated by Juliet Schor (author of the 1999 book The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need), examines the political, economic and psychological forces responsible for compulsive consumption in all developed countries.

The most important factors Schor identifies are

1. The movement of women (starting in the 1970s) out of economically homogeneous neighborhoods into the workplace – exposing them to lifestyles  (cars, homes, clothes etc) of coworkers across the economic spectrum. This would lead to expansion into the working class of competitive consumption. Previously “keeping up with the Jones’s” was mainly limited to affluent neighborhoods.

2. The rapid increase in income equality that began in the 1970s. Corporations strenuously resisted efforts by workers to benefit (through increased wages and decreased work hours) from widespread productivity gains. Instead Wall Street helped fuel competitive consumption via usurious consumer credit (ie credit cards).

3. The tendency of TV dramas and sitcoms to portray $100,000+ annual incomes as average and normal. Schor offers the portrayal of Bill Cosby’s family as typical African Americans and Friends characters as typical mid-twenties roommates (there’s no way the characters depicted could have afforded Manhattan apartments).

According to Schor, the net effect of these influences has been growing demand for mcmansion-size homes, gas guzzling SUVs, brand name athletic footwear and casual apparel and niche coffee.

Satisfying these cravings has led to massive personal debt levels (approximately 50% of US GDP), grueling work schedules, virtual disappearance of family life and growing unwillingness of voters to be taxed for education, parks, libraries and other public services.

The self-help recommendations Schor gives for curtailing compulsive consumption habits are

1. Controlling your irrational desires by limiting mall visits, surfing Internet shopping sites and exposure to catalogues and fashion magazines.

2. Making a conscious choice to downshift to a lifestyle that reduces your consumption (eg Voluntary Simplicity*).

3. Demanding corporate and regulatory policies that allow people to work shorter hours.

4. Lobbying for a progress consumption tax (aka luxury tax).

5. Learning to recognize and question advertising messaging.

6. Learning to connect with people and community rather than competing with them.


*Voluntary Simplicity, or simple living, is a way of life that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often just called ‘the simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’

 

Regenerative Agriculture vs Veganism: Is the UN Missing the Boat?

Interesting article about the rapidly growing regenerative agriculture movement. An increasing body of research indicates that proper pasture management sequesters carbon (in soil) far more rapidly than either tree planting, transitioning to plant-based diets and crops or carbon sequestration technology. Regenerative grazing, in which grass is grazed to within a foot of the ground but not completely down to the ground, is one of the simplest and most effective regenerative agriculture techniques. It’s not meat that’s destroying our planet, but the way meat is produced under industrial agriculture. Someone needs to tell the UN (and the corporate media).

 

This year’s Acres U.S.A. Conference features numerous speakers, who can show how we can reverse the disruptive effects climate change by adopting best practice regenerative production systems. These systems will also make our farms and ranches more productive and resilient to the current erratic climate disruption that we are all facing.

[…]

The Solution Is Under Our Feet!

In order to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2, agricultural systems would have to sequester 2.3 ppm of CO2 per year. Using the accepted formula that 1 ppm CO2 = 7.76 Gt CO2 means that 17.85 Gt of CO2 per year needs to be sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in the soil as soil organic carbon (SOC).

Stopping the increase in (green house gasses) GHGs and then reducing them must be the first priority, and this should be non-negotiable. Moving to renewable energy and energy efficiency will not be enough to stop the planet from warming over the next hundred years and going into damaging climate change. The amount of 405 ppm is past the level needed to meet the Paris objective of limiting the temperature increase to +1.5/2°C (2.7/3.6° F). The levels need to be well below 350 ppm. The excess CO2 must be sequestered from the atmosphere to stop damaging climate change.

Soils are the greatest carbon sink after the oceans. There is a wide variability in the estimates of the amount of carbon stored in the soils globally. According to Professor Rattan Lal, there are over 2,700 gigatons (Gt) of carbon stored in soils. The soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere (848 Gt) and biomass (575 Gt) combined. There is already an excess of carbon in the oceans that is starting cause a range of problems. We cannot put any more CO2 in the atmosphere or the oceans. Soils are the logical sink for carbon.

Most agricultural systems lose soil carbon with estimates that agricultural soils have lost 50-70 percent of their original SOC pool, and the depletion is exacerbated by further soil degradation and desertification. Agricultural systems that recycle organic matter and use crop rotations can increase the levels of SOC. This is achieved through techniques such as longer rotations, ground covers, cover crops, green manures, legumes, compost, organic mulches, biochar, perennials, agro-forestry, agroecological biodiversity and livestock on pasture using sustainable grazing systems such as holistic grazing. These systems are starting to come under the heading of “regenerative agriculture” because they regenerate SOC.

Regenerative Agriculture Potential

BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management), is a process developed by Dr. David Johnson of New Mexico State University, that uses compost with a high diversity of soil microorganisms. BEAM has achieved very high levels of sequestration. According to Johnson et al., “… a 4.5 year agricultural field study promoted annual average capture and storage of 10.27 metric tons soil C ha-1 year -1 while increasing soil macro-, meso- and micro-nutrient availability offering a robust, cost-effective carbon sequestration mechanism within a more productive and long-term sustainable agriculture management approach.” These results have since been replicated in other trials.

Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2 which means that 10.27 metric tons soil C ha-1 year -1 = 37.7 metric tons of CO2 per hectare per year. (38,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year – close enough)

If BEAM was extrapolated globally across agricultural lands it would sequester 184 Gt of CO2/yr.

Regenerative Grazing

The Savory Institute, Gabe Brown and many others have been scaling up holistic management systems on every arable continent. There is now a considerable body of published science and evidence-based practices showing that these systems regenerate degraded lands, improve productivity, water holding capacity and soil carbon levels.

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s agricultural lands are used for grazing. The published evidence is showing that correctly managed pastures can build up SOC faster than many other agricultural systems and that it is stored deeper in the soil.

Research by Machmuller et al. 2015: “In a region of extensive soil degradation in the southeastern United States, we evaluated soil C accumulation for 3 years across a 7-year chronosequence of three farms converted to management-intensive grazing. Here we show that these farms accumulated C at 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1, increasing cation exchange and water holding capacity by 95 percent and 34 percent, respectively.”

To explain the significance of these figures: 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1 = 8,000 kgs of carbon being stored in the soil per hectare per year. Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2, means that these grazing systems have sequestered 29,360 kgs (29.36 metric tons) of CO2/ ha/yr.

If these regenerative grazing practices were implemented on the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 98.5 gt CO2 per year.

Conclusion

Just transitioning 10-20 percent of agricultural production to best practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate. Regenerative agriculture can change agriculture from being a major contributor to climate change to becoming a major solution. The widespread adoption of these systems should be made the highest priority by farmers, ranchers, governments, international organizations, industry and climate change organizations.

André Leu is international director of Regeneration International. He is a longtime farmer in Australia and past president of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements. He is the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children, published by Acres U.S.A.

Other good links about regenerative grazing:

Mother Earth News

New Zealand Herald

How Climate Change Drives Refugees

Fleeing Climate Change: The Real Environmental Catastrophe

DW (2019)

Film Review

Population scientists estimate the climate crisis will force 1/5 to 1/4  of the global population (2-3 billion) to migrate by the year 2050. Already the climate emergency has caused the displacement of more than 20 million people.

The filmmakers examine three parts of the world that are already impacted by climate change: Indonesia, Cameroons and Siberia.

An estimated 300 million Indonesians will be displaced by sea level rise. The coastal farmers of Dadap have already started moving inland due to flooding of their homes and fields. Some have emigrated to Saudi Arabia to work in construction. One-third of the city of Jakarta is below sea level, and in 2013 nearly half the city was under water.

The farmers and herders of Cameroons are being displaced by drought and increasing desertification. Many live in refugee camps and depend on international food aid.

In Siberia, 25 million Russians face displacement because the permafrost supporting  their roads, bridges, homes, public buildings and pipelines were is melting. Once thawing occurs, the wet soil erodes quickly causing these structures to collapse. The melting Siberian permafrost also substantially increases global warming because it releases large amounts of methane to the atmosphere.

The filmmakers point out that millions of refugees from these areas will be joined by millions more fleeing droughts in Brazil, hurricanes in the Caribbean and the total submersion of most of the Pacific islands.

 

Morocco: The Largest Solar Farm in the World

Sun State Morocco: Solar Energy in Morocco

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns Morocco’s growing solar industry. This country, which experiences 3,000 hours of sunlight a year, is home to the largest solar farm in the world.

Near Zarat, the farm employs 7,500 giant mirrors to concentrate solar energy. This energy, which is stored as hot water and steam, produces sufficient electrical power to supply 2 million homes.

Historically Morocco, which has no fossil fuel deposits, has been forced to import 90% of its energy. Thanks to its rapid development of solar and wind power, this percentage has dropped to 60%. The government has strongly supported the transition to renewables with the help of the German International Development Bank (GIZ).

The filmmakers follow a local solar engineer as he installs solar panels and batteries on scattered households in the Atlas mountains. Few of these families have access to the electrical grid, in part due to their isolation and in part due to the high cost of grid energy. They barter their saffron crop (their only cash crop) for a solar panel and battery costing 400 euros. A solar system large enough to run the irrigation pump for a large date farm costs about 3,000 euros.

With the support of the Moroccan government, the GIZ has launched a green mosque program that installs free solar panels on mosques to increase environmental awareness and uptake of solar energy among farmers and households. This project has the indirect benefit of providing mosque lighting at night for women to attend literacy programs and prayers during Ramadan.

 

 

 

 

Jane Goodall: Animal Rights Champion

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe

by Jane Goodall

Guernsey Press Limited (2000)

Book Review

In this book, primate ethologist Jane Goodall sums up her remarkable career studying the wild chimpanzees at the mountainous Gombe Reserve in modern day Tanzania. She was drafted for the project by renowned British anthropologist Dr Louis Leakey. Also she completed a PhD in ethology in 1965, at the time she had no education beyond high school. As she recounts in the book, this placed her advantage because she was not bound by prevailing biases about higher mammal (eg the absence of a “mind” in non-human animals that made them incapable of experiencing complex emotions).

In the course of her research, Goodall offered the first evidence that chimpanzees both make and use tools (it was long believed only humans could do so), that they engaged in war (during periods of food scarcity) on other chimpanzie groups, that there are capable of generalization and abstract thinking and that, like humans, they experience enduring family bonds, cooperate in hunting, care for the sick, grieve for the dead, share food, and experience depression and fear.

The book is primarily a collection of anecdotes about the chimp families she and her staff observed over her 30 year involvement with the Gombe Reserve. Chapters are organized by topic, such as sexual behavior, infant rearing, war, male dominance behavior, foster parenting and maternal death and depression in adolescent and adult chimps.

In the last chapter, she rails against the persistence of poachers (in the late eighties) who kill mother chimps to steal their infants for research labs and as pets. She goes on to describe her visits to the National Institutes of Health and other research labs and her horror at the inhumane conditions they are kept in.

In Appendix 1, she makes a passionate argument against the use of higher mammals in scientific research. In addition to demolishing the common argument that torturing research animals is essential to prevent human suffering, she points to numerous modern alternatives (eg tissue culture, in vitro studies and computer simulation).

Sea otters also use tools: Sea Otters’ Stone Tools Provide New Clues for Anthropologists