As conventional oil – oil extracted using traditional oil wells – becomes increasingly uneconomical to extract, unconventional sources are being turned to as a solution to meet the global demand for petroleum-based energy sources. One unconventional source shown to have abundant reserves is oil sands, also known as tar sands. Canada is home to one of the largest oil sands deposits on earth.  Despite the promising amount of reserves that can be added to the global supply from this supply, the substance, which resembles cold molasses when at room temperature, is sparking a lot of controversy amongst public opinion and is playing a large role in defining U.S. energy infrastructure priorities.

With the addition of oil sands to its proven reserves list, Canada is now second place amongst oil-producing nations, behind Saudi Arabia. Despite the promising amount of reserves that can be added to the global supply from oil sands, the topic is sparking a lot of controversy amongst public opinion and is playing a large role in defining U.S. energy infrastructure priorities.

Bitumen, the substance found in oil sands, was at one time light crude oil. Geologists theorize that tens of millions of years ago, oil was pushed up during the formation of the Rocky Mountains, allowing it to reach depths shallow and cool enough for bacteria to thrive, which degraded the oil to bitumen. Bitumen is not oil or tar, but a semi-solid degraded form of oil. Once extracted, bitumen deposits can be sold as raw bitumen, or upgraded to synthetic crude oil frequently refined for use in essentials such as asphalt, gasoline, and jet fuel. The upgrading is done by increasing the ratio of hydrogen to carbon by either removing carbon (coking) or adding hydrogen (hydro-cracking).

As resources become scarcer and more expensive, refined bitumen seems like a great additional energy source as the U.S. strives to diversify its energy portfolio. Canada’s oil sands are one of the largest oil deposits on earth.  According to a recent Vital Signs publication by Worldwatch, oil sands in the Canadian province of Alberta added an additional 143 billion barrels to the country’s oil reserves in 2010, increasing Canada’s total reserves to 173 billion barrels. This resource now accounts for about half of Canada’s crude oil production, with expectations by the Canadian Ministry of Environment that production will double over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. When the Oil and Gas Journal added the Alberta oil sands to its list of proven reserves, Canada moved into second place among oil-producing nations, behind Saudi Arabia. The proven reserves of oil sands in Alberta’s three main deposit sites are eight times those of the entire U.S.

Rivers, over the last tens of millions of years, have eroded away billions of cubic yards of sediment that once covered the bitumen, making it more accessible to extract.  Nonetheless, the bitumen extraction process is still very environmentally, energy, and water intensive. Bitumen can be extracted through the traditional mining process or the in-situ recovery process, both of which require hundreds of thousands of acres of forests to be cleared. In the Athabasca Valley in Canada, for every barrel of oil extracted from the oil sands layer by the mining process, up to two tons of dirt and peat need to be removed. From there, large hydraulic and electrically powered shovels dig up oil sands and load them into enormous trucks that can carry up to 320 tons of tar sands per load to refining facilities where the mixture is intensely heated to process out the bitumen. Every day in the Athabasca Valley of Canada, more than a million tons of sand is mixed with 200,000 tons of water that must be heated to 175 degrees Fahrenheit to separate the bitumen from the sands. The viscous oil must then be rigorously treated in order to convert it to an upgraded crude oil to be refined to produce gasoline and other fuels. This process requires the bitumen to be heated again, this time to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, while also being compressed to more than 100 atmospheres. The by-product is waste water comprised of a mixture of water, clay, sand, and residual bitumen deposited in tailings ponds where the sand settles. Overall, more than two tons of oil sands must be dug-up, moved, and processed to produce one barrel of synthetic crude oil.

 

Pictured is one of the in situ processes used to extract bitumen. In-situ extraction can use up to twice as much energy as the mining process due to the high amounts of steam or thermal energy injected.

An in situ recovery process is used for oil sand reserves buried more than 75 meters (m) deep, but most often reserves are more than 350-600m below the surface. Because of the depth, the bitumen in these reserves is less viscous (it can flow more easily) and can be extracted without the sand. This means there are no tailings ponds, but the in situ recovery process can use up to twice as much energy as mining due to the steam, solvents, or thermal energy injected to access the reserves.  If water is not recycled, every one barrel of bitumen requires 2-3 barrels of water. Natural gas is the most common fuel used for heating purposes during production, which account for 9.3-15.8 grams per megajoule (g/MJ) of associated CO2 emissions. Overall, the production process requires an energy input equivalent to about 30 percent of the energy value produced. This is significant when compared to conventional oil and gas production, which only require an energy input equivalent to 6 percent of energy value produced. For the Canadian oil and gas sector as a whole, bitumen production will result in greenhouse gas emissions rising nearly one-third from 2005-2020, even as other production methods, like conventional oil, are reducing their emissions. Since the oil and gas sector was the second largest contributor to Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2005, (transportation being first) significantly increasing emissions in this sector makes it questionable as to whether Canada will meet its 17 percent emissions reduction levels from 2005 to 2020, as agreed to at Copenhagen in 2009.

 

The $7 billion 1700 mile pipeline expansion project would carry diluted bitumen from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to markets in the Texas Gulf Coast

For energy security reasons, the U.S. is eager to take advantage of a North American source of crude oil. The Keystone Pipeline, which was approved by Canada’s National Energy Board in September 2007 and the U.S. Department of State in March 2008, plays a crucial role in linking the Canadian oil supply to U.S. refining markets. In June 2010, the Keystone Pipeline’s first phase was completed, which converted an already existing natural gas pipeline into a crude oil pipeline and built a pipeline that brings crude oil non-stop from Canada to the Midwest U.S. The second phase went into operation in February 2011, which connects the pipeline from Steele City, Nebraska to Cushing, Oklahoma, another oil marketing and refining hub. The Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion Project is the most recently proposed addition to the already built pipeline. It would connect Alberta with Port Arthur, Texas, another oil marketplace. A map showing the paths of all of these pipelines can be seen below.

 

The proposed addition to the pipeline is raising varied public response. Opponents of the project, primarily environmentalists and communities along the proposed pipeline route, greatly oppose the pipeline extension due to the high greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of boreal forests associated with oil sands, and the potential for spills that would jeopardize U.S. water supplies. Overall, opponents to the project believe that promoting continued dependency on fossil fuels, no matter where they originate, is not an acceptable objective.

Proponents of the project, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, say it will create jobs, bring needed revenue to state budgets, and improve our energy security by increasing oil supplies from a friendly neighbor. Some contend that if oil sands cannot flow to the U.S., infrastructure will develop to export the oil to other countries, meaning the oil sands will be exploited regardless, while the U.S. will need to continue to depend on unstable foreign sources for their oil needs. Finally, having recently permitted the original Keystone Pipeline, proponents of the project argue that the State Department could face criticism if it were to come to a different conclusion on similar environmental issues for the proposed Keystone Gulf Coast Expansion permit.

Opponents have recently taken their opposition to the next level. From August 20th to September 3rd, people are engaging in civil disobedience in front of the White House in an effort to encourage President Obama to veto the decision to construct the pipeline. Over 2,000 people from all 50 U.S. states as well as from Canada have registered to take part in similar sit-ins of 50-100 people every day during this time frame.  So far, nearly 500 people have been arrested, including 350.org founder, Bill Mckibben, and NASA scientist James Hansen.

Bill Mckibben, Author and Co-Founder of 350.org, participated in Civil Disobedience on August 20th, 2011 at a sit-on in DC against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

It is hard to imagine that limiting pipeline capacity to U.S. markets will limit the development of Canada’s oil sands. Due to the global infrastructure and demand for fossil fuels, it is likely Canada would be able to export the product elsewhere, no matter how environmentally destructive the oil sand extraction process. However, the decision on the fate of Keystone XL will be symbolic of what the U.S. administration’s priorities are. Investing in infrastructure to further promote fossil fuel use in the U.S. will create yet another roadblock for the development of a future clean energy infrastructure.

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Go to Source

By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. 

One way to make out a slim ray of hope from today’s global financial crisis is to look from the vantage point of 2008, and — forgive me for going so far back into the mists of time — 1973.

Photo credit: www.wayneroberts.ca

Judged by the standards of the 2008 banking crisis, western governments have jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

The 2008 banking crisis seemed catastrophic at the time. But looking back, 2008 was about a relatively defined set of problems faced by bankers and borrowers during an economic downturn. That banking crisis during a recession has now morphed into a recession compounded by financial crises of nation states – the banks are now doing very fine, thank you. And the problems faced by nation states are as severe amongst well-regulated and social democratic countries in Europe as in the relatively de-regulated USA.

That’s a major system-wide setback in just three years. As we get a sense of what’s behind the cuts to social and environmental programs touted in 2011, we may see the outlines of a new politics that brings cities, food and green jobs together.

THE NEW CHUTZPAH

What intrigues me about comparing responses to 2008 and 2011 is the sheer chutzpah of political and financial leaders in both times.

Former British Columbia premier Dave Barrett defined chutzpah as the ability to grin at someone after stealing their false teeth.

People who hyped multi-billion dollar bail-outs of banks and auto companies and multi-billion government spending programs in 2008, who lived to see that these measures didn’t stimulate jobs in the auto industry or do much to stimulate the world’s stock of human, social or natural capital, who know they didn’t keep a banking and mortgage credit crisis and slowdown in economic growth from escalating into a full-blown debt crisis of nation states  – if they were like most people I know, they would feel  humiliated, apologetic and keen to make amends.

Since I haven’t yet seen a politician, auto magnate or banker fess up to spectacular misspending of hundreds of billions in public savings, I can only conclude that chutzpah means never having to say you’re sorry.  It’s one thing they get full credit for.

To pay for previous government giveaways to big business by taking away long-established government-funded social security programs from vulnerable people is quite the about-turn. It forces those who least benefitted from either found money made available to mismanaged banks and auto companies, or from later stimulus projects that created a small number of regular jobs, to make up for the money that’s gone missing.  I had a hard time realizing that politicians actually had the gall to do that.

I kept thinking that someone beside the usual suspects would call for a stop to this. Surely some Wall Street financial mogul will give marching orders to the Tea Party on the critical importance of reputation for a national economy, or some banking lord on Threadneedle Street in London will warn the British Conservatives that massive cutbacks undermine efforts to prepare people for a complex economy, or  some Bay Street big shots in Toronto will read the riot act to whackjobs who want to balance budgets by eliminating crucial jobs and vaporizing billions of dollars of spending power, or some worldly-wise baron from Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt Germany will shout Achtung! when cuts threaten social cohesion and stability.

Warren Buffett stands out as one of the few super-wealthy people in the world to take such a stand.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

My false expectation probably comes from my misspent youth when I was educated in old-time political economy.  Way back in 1973, sociologist James O’Connor wrote a prophetic book called The Fiscal Crisis of the State.

With his view of ideal surfing beaches from high in the hills of University of Santa Cruz, O’Connor wrote just as the post-war wave of prosperity was about to break. Until that time, there had been 25 years of slow but steady improvements in the happy day living standards of everyday working people, and in social programs sponsored by governments.

O’Connor explained these good times using the radical jargon of the time, referring to state functions of “accumulation” – measures that made it easier for businesses to make money by raising the educational level and productivity of workers, for example – and of “legitimation.” By this, O’Connor meant that western governments introduced reforms that made capitalism seem positive and legitimate, thereby offering hard-working people a chance to make something of themselves and give their families a few good things in life.

Such legitimation was considered mandatory at a time when both democratic socialist and undemocratic Communist parties were gaining strength around the world, including Europe and Canada.  It’s hard not to get nostalgic for the good old “happy days” of exploitation under capitalistic accumulation and legitimation, and for capitalists’ need to compete with Communism when it came to delivering the goods to ordinary people.

O’Connor noted, however, that capitalist governments were caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one horn, spending public money for items such as old-age pensions and unemployment insurance allowed people to spend more freely during good times, instead of saving for the dreaded downturn, thereby providing the security necessary to support a high-spending consumer economy. On the same horn, public money to train a sophisticated workforce and to open up career opportunities that allowed children of workers to become professionals eased the transition from a manufacturing to a service economy.  Judged by this horn of the dilemma, accumulation and legitimation added up to a virtuous circle that enriched peoples’ lives, enriched government coffers, and enriched corporate executives and owners.

Every dilemma has two horns, and the second horn – resistance against higher taxation, especially from the rich who paid higher rates in the days of progressive taxation – came to the fore after the 1970s, O’Connor noted.  This applied pressure on senior levels of governments to cut spending on accumulation and legitimation expenditures, which by then were generally recognized as functions of national governments.

Globalization – the steady decrease in the ability of industrially-advanced nations to feed, clothe and house themselves using national resources and labor; the steady increase in the importance of exports and imports in the Gross National Product; and the rapid rise of multinational corporations which sourced labor, resources and services wherever in the world they were cheapest — reduced the incentives for governments to invest in what O’Connor called accumulation and legitimation.

Why worry whether local underpaid workers could afford to spend good money on consumer goods if the same consumer goods could be both produced and sold cheaper to a huge middle class in Asia?

Canadian economist Greg Albo describes this as a shift to “competitive austerity.” The country that cuts its benefits the most attracts the most jobs, he argues – almost the opposite of the virtuous circle that was becoming the norm during the 1950s and ‘60s. Some call it “the race to the bottom.”

There’s not much to slow the race down.  Even those with more money than most people would know what to do with get outraged by progressive taxes, and certainly don’t raise a peep about cutbacks in basic services undermining social cohesion or the spending power of the masses.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO STATES AND RIGHTS?

In a globalized economy, accumulation can be managed by outsourcing jobs once performed by the local population to countries where low incomes and environmental pollution are the norm, and by importing the best-educated and healthiest workers from those countries to displace local workers in the domestic economy. The world market handles the challenges of accumulation.

And what about legitimation, the need to give meaning and promise to ordinary people as a means to win their loyalty and commitment to hard work? Since the scandals around Fox Networks abuse of its elite networks exploded at about the same time as the debt and credit crunches, it occurred to me that it had escaped public notice that the legitimation function of the state had been contracted out and privatized to media empires. They, not government, gave people a sense of place, meaning, identity, via celebrity gossip, game and survival shows, political angertainment – nothing that smacked of peoples’ rights or community needs.

The decline and fall of state management as practiced during the post World War 11 days, I’ve come to believe, is the story behind the story of deep dysfunction in established national (UK, Germany and US, for example) and international (UN and OECD, for instance) governments.  Leading politicians are telling everybody loud and clear: your problems are not my problems.

Indeed, the costs and burdens of accumulation and legitimation functions have been downloaded to municipalities. The “riots” throughout England show it’s cities that bear the costs and injuries of lack of national government investment in human, social and cultural capital.

THE INNER POLITICS OF CITIES

But cities aren’t just places where trouble is brewing. Quite the contrary.

Cities have long been the level of government where mutual interdependence of all residents is most forcefully felt. During the 1800s, everyone who lived in cities shared an equal benefit from dealing pro-actively with life-and-death problems caused by fire, cholera, contaminated water, rat-infested garbage, and the like.

Urban reformers of the late 1800s and early 1900s believed that solving these common problems  required people to solve the problems in common, either by strict regulations or community ownership.  No-one made the case that construction companies should compete by offering people a choice in sidewalks they might choose to walk on from day to the next. Nor did anyone gain peace of mind when thinking of a neighbor who didn’t pay the yearly fee for a firefighting company and who therefore wouldn’t get service in event a fire broke out. Ditto for police. Such services almost automatically came to be managed under public ownership.  In economic sectors where individual citizens or private companies hold sway, strict building codes, fire codes, health codes, noise bylaws, public garbage collection and restaurant inspection are the norm.

This historic municipal tradition remains vibrant, relevant and resilient to this day. People from all walks of life and widely different backgrounds depend equally on the commonwealth to manage and protect a hundred and one services crucial to each and every person – food safety in restaurants, clean water, accurate traffic signs, ongoing road maintenance, well-maintained green space, public education, low-cost recreational opportunities, public safety, campaigns against bedbugs and mosquito-borne diseases, and so on.

These services are essential because of the inherently sociability of cities and the inevitable co-dependence of all people who live in cities.  Few political candidates run openly on a platform of eliminating core civic services. Some may complain about high costs of good services, but everyone knows that the cost of poor services is much higher. Common need protects against dysfunction and polarization that are becoming the norm at other levels of politics.

Environmentalists, out to protect natural resources and services also shared by all – clean air and water come immediately to mind — have a natural home in city politics.

It’s hard to miss the blatant contrast between well-financed national and international government bodies, which are unable to provide basic protections to economic, social and environmental wellbeing, while under-financed city governments carry on with a host of everyday essentials.

I think this stark contrast is an omen that cities will soon be the decisive level of government in terms of services that require public money for accumulation and legitimation functions that once belonged to “senior” levels of government.

THE AXIS OF GOOD

Old-style national governments used to call control of banking, resources and heavy manufacturing the “commanding heights” they needed to own or regulate. New-style city governments may well identify water, soil, food, shelter, education and social services as the – to borrow a phrase from Alex Prudhomme’s new book on water — axis resources” of the future. Food is especially well-suited as an axis resource, because agriculture is the major ongoing user of water and because food underpins both economies and communities.

During the 1950s, many used to talk about the need for public control over the “commanding heights” –  banks, crucial resources and heavy industries – considered strategic and essential in a national economy.

Perhaps more people will start to think in roughly similar ways about municipal control over the “community foundations” of city life – safe water, clean air, nutritious food, healthy soil, joyful playgrounds, engaged schools, responsive health clinics, welcoming libraries, thriving main streets, resilient neighborhoods.

These are core services in at least two ways. They are core in the sense that they are imperatives in the city’s mandate and effective functioning. They’re also core in the way I’m beginning to appreciate (if that is anything like the right word) core at gym class, when we work on our core muscle strength around our stomach and lower back – the key to increasingly popular yoga and Pilates practice and a mainstay of exercises that restore back stability. The paradox of a strong and empowering core is that it allows you to reach out with your arms and legs by pulling in at the core. Likewise, I amuse myself why struggling with my core exercises, cities that establish strong core services are freer to reach out with creative and cosmopolitan knowledge economies and welcoming social policies.

Since cities are also the place where most of the world’s people, voters, job creators and taxpayers live, it only takes a little chutzpah to name this shift of political momentum a new moment in history.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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In this week’s episode, Nourishing the Planet research intern, Graham Salinger, discusses the Farmers of the Future Initiative (FOFI), a three year long program designed by CARE International to implement environmentally sustainable agricultural training in Rwanda’s schools.

Video: http://youtu.be/DqMpx2DJ_ls

To read about agricultural training in Rwanda, see: Innovation of the Week: Turning the School Yard into a Classroom

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

 

 

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Nourishing the Planet was recently featured in Wisconsin’s The Capital Times.

The article discusses our country’s broken food system, where more than 100 million people are obese, but where 36.3 million go to bed hungry. But initiatives such as local community gardens are ensuring that people have access to healthy and nutritious food.

Click here to read the article.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Nourishing the Planet’s op-ed on food waste was recently published in Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, the largest daily newspaper in Ohio.

A technician at Sansai Environmental Technologies in Cleveland spreads out a bucket of treated carrots on a soil bed that contains earthworms. (Photo credit: John Kuntz, The Plain Dealer)

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, industrialized countries waste 222 million tons of food annually. In the United States alone, 34 million tons of food goes to waste each year. But there are many simple ways that we can reduce food waste, such as composting and recycling. Making use of what we already produce will be key if we are to adequately feed a global population that is approaching 7 billion.

Click here to read the article.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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By Graham Salinger 

Every economist knows that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but if you buy the ingredients for your lunch–or breakfast or dinner–at a farmers market you could help provide a much needed boost to the economy.

Investing in farmers' markets could help boost the economy, according to this new report. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

A  report by the Union  for Concerned Scientists  stresses the importance of farmers markets in generating local revenue and creating jobs and identifies a number of steps the federal government should take to encourage the growth of farmers markets.  While the number of farmers markets nationwide more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 from 2,863 to 6,132, the report’s author, Jeffrey O’Hara, argues that more government resources could be used to support farmers markets. “On the whole, farmers markets have seen exceptional growth, providing local communities with fresh food direct from the farm,” O’Hara points out. “The fact that farmers are selling directly to the people who live nearby means that sales revenue stays local. That helps stabilize local economies,” explains O’Hara.

But If the government is going to make good on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s request  to help provide entrepreneurial training and support for farmers markets in efforts to get 100,000 Americans to become farmers by next year, the government is going to need to use the 2012 Farm Bill to prioritize funding for farmers markets.  Last year the USDA spent nearly $14 billion in commodity, crop insurance, and supplemental disaster assistance payments to support industrial agriculture, while less than $100 million was spent on supporting local food producers.

The report outlines a number of ways that the government could stimulate the growth of farmers markets. The report’s recommendations include government  funding to 500 – 2,500 farmer markets over a five year period.  O’Hara estimates that these  funds for farmers markets, along with farm to school programs, could help create as many as 13,500 new jobs. The report also recommends that the government invest more money in local infrastructure, such as meat processing facilities, to increase the efficiency of small scale farmers. Lastly, the report recommends that the food stamp program be expanded to allow low income residents to purchase quality produce at farmers markets. “If the U.S. government diverted just a small amount of the massive subsidies it lavishes on industrial agriculture to support these markets and small local farmers, it would not only improve American diets, it would generate tens of thousands of new jobs,” concludes O’Hara.

To read more about farmers markets, see: Creating a local food movement and a subsistence plus plan, Looking for local, sustainable, and healthy food: An interview with Wayne Roberts and Long Live the Food Movement.

Graham Salinger is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Check out this recent Press TV  video of Christian Parenti  discussing his most recent book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.

Parenti highlights the contribution that climate change is making to global conflict by causing droughts and creating a shortage of arable land and resources which exacerbates poverty and war. He argues that the depletion of resources, especially agricultural resources, along with reduced food security resulting from climate change, are major contributors to global violence and conflict.  Global security challenges, he theorizes, are “caused by the most colossal set of events in human history: the catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence, and climate change.”

What do you think? Do you think climate change can contribute to conflicts? Let us know in the comments section!

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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By Jenna Banning

A recent report offers an alternative to the traditional response to climate change – instead of depending on external organizations to create new initiatives, climate change adaptation (CCA) efforts may be much more successful when local solutions are recognized and encouraged.

This farmer in West Timor, Indonesia, has created an innovative way to protect his crops from floods. (Photo Credit: Prolinnova)

Prolinnova is a community of country/regional organizations from across the world, focusing on local innovations by farmers to effectively and sustainably address agricultural and natural resource management issues. Their study explores perceptions of climate change in Ethiopia, Nepal, and Niger, and how indigenous people in those countries are adapting to it.

Farmers in Nepal, for example, have adapted to increased flooding, landslides, and changes in monsoon timing by changing what and where they plant. Smallholders in West Timor have a saying for the same problem – alam sudah berubah (nature has changed) – but farmers there have come up with a different solution. By building palm tree and sediment fences around flood-prone land before the rainy season, their crops are protected.

Do you know of any successful projects which partner the strengths of local innovations with large organizations? Let us know about them!

For more, please see the policy brief: Strengthening local resilience to climate change

Jenna Banning is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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By Kamaria Greenfield

This September in Milwaukee, the Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI) will hold its fourth annual conference, including a program entitled “Sacred Soil: Cultivating Seeds of Community Transformation”. GFJI is a new national network of about 500 people who believe that dismantling racism is a core principal that will bring together people from all sectors. The initiative hopes to see a range of healthy food options in low-income communities and communities of color. It also encourages community ownership of these businesses, keeping the profits and bolstering the local economy.

Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power, shows off one of his Community Food Center’s 10,000 fish. (Photo credit: Growing Power)

GFJI’s conferences are hosted by Growing Power, Inc. Growing Power, started in 1993, is a Milwaukee-based national non-profit, land trust, and the driving force behind last year’s National-International Urban & Small Farm Conference. The organization works to achieve its goals by providing hands-on training, demonstrations, and other services. Will Allen, CEO and founder of Growing Power, operates with the belief that people should have access to fresh, safe, affordable, and nutritious food regardless of their socioeconomic standing. In 2010, Allen was named on Time’s 100 list of people who most affect the world.

Allen’s Community Food Center in Milwaukee makes up two acres and is home to 20,000 plants and thousands of animals and insects, including fish, chicken, goats, and bees. Located in the middle of a food desert, it is the only land within the city limits that is zoned as farmland. The USDA’s 2008 Farm Bill defines a food desert as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities”. The Community Food Center is located less than half a mile from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. Its 14 greenhouses use methods such as an inexpensive aquaponics structure for smaller fish. The center is also where over six million pounds of food waste are composted annually, partially thanks to the red wiggler worms that Allen sees as part of the farm’s livestock.

Growing Power is part of larger movement to extend food security to under-served urban and rural communities in the United States, lessening the disparity between farmers and consumers of different ethnic groups and social classes. On the lack of black-run agriculture nationwide, Karen Washington of the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference says, “How can we talk about sustainable agriculture — how can it be sustainable if a whole race of farmers is being lost?”

Growing Power, far from remaining simply a beacon of health in Milwaukee, is starting projects in five poor areas around the country, including parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Massachusetts. Allen, 62, continues to work tirelessly on his brainchild and live by his credo of “Grow. Bloom. Thrive.” And at the GFJI conference later this year, participants will learn more strategies about how to make Allen’s words—the goals of diverse community farms around the country—a reality for more of the under-served.

Kamaria Greenfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Global production of biofuels increased 17 percent in 2010 to reach an all-time high of 105 billion liters, up from 90 billion liters in 2009. High oil prices, a global economic rebound, and new laws and mandates in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, and the United States, among other countries, are contributing to the surge in production, according to research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute’s Climate and Energy Program for the website Vital Signs Online.

The United States and Brazil remain the two largest producers of ethanol. In 2010, the United States generated 49 billion liters, or 57 percent of global output, and Brazil produced 28 billion liters, or 33 percent of the total. Corn is the primary feedstock for U.S. ethanol, and sugarcane is the dominant source of ethanol in Brazil.

In the United States, the record production of biofuels is attributed in part to high oil prices, which encouraged several large fuel companies, including Sunoco, Valero, Flint Hills, and Murphy Oil, to enter the ethanol industry. High oil prices were also a factor in Brazil, where every third car-owner drives a “flex-fuel” vehicle that can run on either fossil or bio-based fuels. Many Brazilian drivers have switched to sugarcane ethanol because it is cheaper than gasoline.

Although the U.S. and Brazil are the world leaders in ethanol, the largest producer of biodiesel is the European Union, which generated 53 percent of all biodiesel in 2010. However, some European countries may switch from biodiesel to ethanol because a recent report from the European Commission states that ethanol crops have a higher energy content than biodiesel crops, making them more efficient sources of fuel.

In the United States, however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made the decision to dramatically lower the country’s production target for cellulosic ethanol, a biofuel that is made from woody plants or crop waste and that can be converted to ethanol much more efficiently than conventional ethanol, resulting in lower associated greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA’s target reduction reflects the technical challenges and high costs of commercializing so-called ‘second-generation’ biofuels. Instead of the 950 million liters required initially under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, the final target will be a much smaller 25 million liters.

Proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate would cut current ethanol production subsidies while maintaining tax credits for related infrastructure such as refilling stations. If supports like subsidies and tariffs are removed, sugarcane ethanol from Brazil will likely become more prevalent in the United States. Although sugarcane ethanol has the benefit of being cheaper and more efficient to produce, there are concerns that increased production will speed deforestation in Brazil as more land is cleared for feedstock cultivation.

The new Vital Signs Online article highlights both the increases in global production of biofuels and the factors behind this growth. It presents the latest facts and figures on the major biofuels producers and outlines new laws and mandates that will affect production of the fuels.

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