Groups Deep in Discussion (photo courtesy of nealstimler via flickr)

Over the past year, State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity has prompted many conversations–on how to grow green jobs, on how to degrow the economy, on how to transform corporations, local governance and global government institutions. These discussions, and many others, have evolved over the year but certainly revolve around a common set of themes: environmental sustainability, equity, justice, and societal resilience.

It’s now time to facilitate even more discussions–in classrooms, in book groups, in techno clubs (ok, we’ll be happy with 2 out of 3 of these)–by publishing State of the World 2012 Discussion Guide & Review Questions. Available for free download here.

This illustrated discussion guide includes questions for all 17 chapters–plus brief chapter summaries. A total of 90 questions in all. The one thing that’s missing are answers, so you’ll have to provide those yourselves. So check it out!

And if you use this guide in a discussion group you set up, don’t forget to leave your comments on it below.

UN Roundtable Discussion (photo courtesy of US Mission Geneva via flickr)

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Gangnam Style has taken the world by storm, and with it, so has a celebration of the hyper consumeristic lifestyle. It’s time for a new video that celebrates political action and simple living. Yes, we’re talking “Gandhi Style.”
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Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the 20th Annual Fall Meeting for the American Bar Association’s Section on the Environment, Energy, and Resources (SEER). The conference, held in Austin, Texas, was attended by hundreds of lawyers and professionals involved in the environment, energy, and natural resource legal fields. Unlike in previous years, the 2012 meeting was dedicated completely to U.S. energy issues, including the production of shale gas, the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, federal energy and climate regulation, and prospects for wind and solar power.

As expected at a gathering of prominent lawyers, there was little agreement about the proper direction for U.S. energy policy. But one overriding theme did emerge: the country will continue to pursue a broad-based energy strategy. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama laid the groundwork for an “all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.” During the recent presidential debates, both Obama and his opponent Governor Mitt Romney indicated that the United States would continue down this path. Where the conference attendees, presidential candidates, and general public disagree is on the proper composition of an “all-of-the-above” energy policy.

So, what do we agree on?

At last week’s SEER conference, natural gas production was an immensely popular topic of discussion. Most participants, including energy regulators, leading academics, NGO lawyers, and in-house counsel for prominent energy developers, agreed that natural gas has a strong future in the United States. As shale gas begins to dominate the country’s natural gas supply, it will likely continue to displace large quantities of coal at power plants, although there are certainly environmental concerns that need to be addressed.

Regardless of who wins the November presidential election, U.S. natural gas production will remain strong. But will it help the country secure energy independence? In short, unless the challenges in using natural gas as a transportation fuel can be overcome, its contributions to energy independence will be limited. Petroleum is at the heart of the energy independence question, and currently the United States imports nearly half of the oil it consumes.

A strong natural gas market will not lessen this dependence, because very few vehicles run on natural gas. Although natural gas has had some success in large fleet vehicles, natural gas vehicles are not readily available for the general public, due mainly to an inadequate infrastructure and lack of fueling stations. For natural gas vehicles to take off, the next administration must pursue improved fuel efficiency standards and further regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Conference attendees also agreed that both Obama and Romney would continue offshore drilling operations, despite the recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Professor Marla Mansfield of the University of Tulsa noted astutely that executive administrations typically “go where the oil resource is located.” In other words, both an Obama and a Romney administration would consider drilling in any location where oil reserves are economically recoverable. Mansfield noted one exception under Obama—the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)—and hypothesized that this exception would continue in an Obama second term. Meanwhile, Governor Romney has indicated his support for opening ANWR to drilling.

There was also agreement among conference attendees that the United States needs to advance its waste conversion technology. As electricity prices rise and waste piles up, an advanced waste-to-energy (WTE) policy makes both environmental and economic sense. In recent years, Congress gave support to WTE facilities by extending the Section 45 Production Tax Credit for renewables to WTE plants, and by including WTE in the definition of renewable energy sources under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (“the bailout”). There has also been significant support at the state level, with 32 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia all recognizing WTE as a renewable energy source under various statutes and regulations.

Unfortunately, broad agreement on an “all-of-the-above” national energy policy ends there.

As evidenced by the presidential debates, there are some stark differences between the two candidates’ energy policies. President Obama has been a large proponent of wind and solar power, and he sees renewable energy as the future. Conversely, Governor Romney has been highly critical of the current administration’s subsidies to renewable energy projects.

Another stark difference is in the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s exercised authority to regulate emissions, Romney would likely strip the EPA of this authority if elected. He would also likely instruct his EPA administrator to roll-back regulation of coal-fired power plants and focus attention on other issues. Meanwhile, many legal scholars believe that Obama, if re-elected, will pursue further greenhouse gas regulation, through either the Clean Air Act or other methods.

Currently, there is no “silver bullet” to solve all of our energy issues. As a result, an “all-out, all-of-the-above” energy policy will continue into the foreseeable future. If this is indeed our chosen path, then the public should take some solace in the realization that energy regulators, NGO lawyers, and counsel for large energy developers are all looking to quickly address the environmental and social issues associated with each specific energy source.

On the other hand, this could be taking attention away from developing a more sustainable long-term energy system that is based on renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and smart grid solutions. We are rapidly approaching the climate tipping point, but our national policies continue to allow for large emissions of greenhouse gases. While some climate change impacts are now inevitable, we can avoid, or at the very least mitigate, some of the more severe outcomes if we pursue policies, laws, and regulations that rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Sean Ahearn is a Climate and Energy intern.

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Tomorrow is U.S. Food Day, a yearly nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Watch our short, fun video about Food Day by clicking here!

In honor of Food Day 2012, we’d like to showcase 50 state-by-state programs, projects, individuals, and organizations that are innovating to make the nation’s food and agricultural system more sustainable. This week, we bring you the first 25, from Alabama to Missouri. Keep an eye out for the second 25 next week, where we will highlight innovations taking place from Montana to Wyoming!

 1. Alabama. The Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, Alabama has been in operation since 2007. Occupying 3.5 acres of once vacant space in downtown Birmingham, Jones Valley Urban Farm grows organic produce and flowers and offers hands-on education to the community about farming and nutritious foods.

 

2. Alaska. The Fish to Schools program, created by the Sitka Conservation Society, is a school feeding initiative dedicated to serving local and nutritious seafood to students in Sitka, Alaska. As the ninth largest seafood port in the United States, Sitka’s economy and community is strongly interconnected with seafood. Through the Fish to Schools program, Sitka youth gain knowledge about local seafood resources by integrating seafood into their diets and by attending educational seminars on marine life and the process of harvesting seafood.

3. Arizona. The Sunizona Family Farms in Wilcox, Arizona started growing cucumbers in 1996. Today, not only do they sell nearly 95 percent of their organic produce, ranging from tomatoes, to kale to beets, to chard, locally, they also use growing methods which rely strictly on plant-based products. No animal inputs are used in any part of the farming process, they make their own fertilizers out of vegetable components, and even use waste pecan shells to create wood pellets, which they use to heat their greenhouse.

 

4. Arkansas. The City of North Little Rock, Arkansas has been given $1.5 million to encourage healthy nutrition and lifestyles in low-income neighborhoods. The mission is to make the City of North Little Rock a Fit 2 Live community that is committed to healthy eating and active living by creating an environment that recognizes and encourages citizens to adopt healthy life choices.

5. California. In 2011, San Francisco passed the Urban Agriculture Ordinance, amending the zoning code to allow food production for personal and public use, provide guidelines and requirements for urban farms, and regulating the sale of harvested products and value-added products. This law has allowed San Francisco to expand into sustainable urban agriculture and become a promoter of healthy, sustainable diets. Products like jams and pickles, for example, as well as those sold at farmer’s markets, are subject to the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s guidelines under this law, while agricultural products for personal consumption remain unregulated.
6. Colorado. The Central Colorado Land Link Initiative is a program designed to preserve agricultural land and connect new farmers to retiring or veteran agrarians. The Land Link Initiative is helping to keep retiring farmer’s property in farming by connecting them with next generation farmers who are interested continuing to cultivate the land.

 
7. Connecticut. The Connecticut Farm-to-School Program has nearly 50 farms and 95 school districts participating in its program. It helps provide cafeterias in Connecticut schools with locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. The Farm-to-School Program is not only developing new markets for local farms, but is also providing Connecticut youth with nutritious food.

 
8. Delaware. The Delaware Young Farmers Program has been helping young farmers acquire farmland through long-term, no-interest loans since 2011. Designed to give a leg up to young farmers looking to start their own farms, the Program targets Delaware natives between 18 and 40 years old and offers them up to $500,000 in no-interest 30-year loans.

 
9. Florida. Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, Inc. (FAITC) is a non-profit organization that aims to educate students in Florida schools about the importance of agriculture. FAITC provides grants to teachers and volunteers for projects that teach students the importance of agriculture and the contribution Florida farmers make to their communities and state. The organization holds workshops to train teachers and volunteers and uses the 2013 Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award to recognize teachers who find innovative ways to bring agriculture into the classroom.

 

10. Georgia. In 2011, Georgia Olive Farms (GOF) conducted the first commercial olive harvest east of the Mississippi river since the late 1800s. GOF, an agricultural cooperative formed in 2009, aims to help potential East Coast olive farmers by providing informational resources, market access, and selling young olive trees. They also provide consumers with sustainably, locally produced olive oil, which greatly reduces the carbon footprint for olive oil consumed on the East Coast.
11. Hawaii. On the island of Oahu, FarmRoof grows organic, unprocessed foods on local rooftops. Rooftop farms lower energy costs by insulating the building and help prevent sewage back-ups by absorbing rain water. They also increase biodiversity and promote local food, reducing food miles and energy use.

 
12. Idaho. Earthly Delights Farm is a small-scale, human-powered farm growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in Boise, Idaho.  The farm uses almost exclusively hand tools and transports their produce on bicycles. Earthly Delights engages the community through their internships, workshops, and unique events like “weed dating” – speed dating where participants spend time learning about plants and weeding while getting to know one another.
13. Illinois. Part vertical farm, part food-business incubator, and part research and education space, The Plant in Chicago, Illinois is converting an old meat-packing building into an indoor vertical garden. The Plant will include a tilapia fish farm, vegetable gardens, a bakery, a brewery, a mushroom farm, and a shared kitchen space. The net-zero energy design hopes to not only produce zero waste, but actually consume more waste than it produces, eliminating waste from surrounding neighborhood food manufacturers.

 

14. Indiana. What’s better than fresh baked goods? Fresh baked goods with a conscience! Marilyn’s Bakery, located in Northwest Indiana since 1986, focuses on seasonal items made using locally-grown, farm fresh produce. The bakery sells only fair trade coffee, offers many vegetarian and health-conscious options, and uses 100 percent biodegradable packaging.

 

15. Iowa. Small Potatoes Farm is a certified-organic, human-scale vegetable farm run by Rick and Stacy Hartmann. Since 2001, Small Potatoes Farm has been selling their vegetables to local chefs, specialty grocery stores, and the community in the Ames and Des Moines areas. Their website includes information on their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a recipe database, and a Sustainable Agriculture Library of books they loan out to those interested in learning more about sustainable food and agriculture.
16. Kansas. The New Roots for Refugees program helps women refugees start their own small farm businesses growing and selling vegetables in the Kansas City area. The program, run by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate KC not only provides the women with garden plots at a public housing site, but also financial literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The women remain in the program for a few years, gradually becoming more independent until they transition to running their own farm businesses.

 

17. Kentucky. The Restaurant Rewards Programis an incentive for restaurants in Kentucky to purchase local produce with the “Kentucky Proud” seal. Funded by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the program helps compensate participating restaurants for the higher costs of buying local foods, helping them lower their food costs while also promoting fresh ingredients.

 

18. Louisiana. Our School at Blair Grocery is an independent school and education center in New Orleans that gives disadvantaged youth the opportunity to become part of a supportive environment by engaging them in community-development activities.  OSAG runs an urban farm that gives students the chance to learn and becoming actively involved in the local food supply chain.
19. Maine. Since 2007, the Maine Harvest Lunch has celebrated and raised awareness about small farmers and the health benefits of their produce. The lunch is a community-building, statewide event that helps connect farmers to their customers and sheds light on the local food system and its importance for environmental health.

 

20. Maryland. Rumbleway Farm, in the Chesapeake Bay town of Conowingo, combines animal raising, marketing, and community development. The farm experiments with “free-range houses” that provide chickens with more room to move, and with raising rabbits on pastures to boost their Omega-3 fatty acid content. The farm also hosts dinners around once a month, which are open to the public, to boost involvement and interest in the community’s agricultural system.
21. Massachusetts. The Worchester Kindergarten Initiative is a farm-to-school program offered in five low-income public schools. The initiative offers in-class food tasting, cooking demonstrations, farm tours and mobile farmers markets.

 

 
22. Michigan. Just recently, Michigan State University implemented the MetroFoodPlus Innovation Cluster (MIC) project, with a pledge of $1.5 million to fund research and development for urban agriculture initiatives across Detroit. The project is looking to involve 80 local organizations in hopes of increasing communication between local food creators and distributors, and creating eight to ten state-of-the-art greenhouses to increase the city’s agricultural knowledge base.
23. Minnesota. The Women’s Urban Farm Incubator in St. Paul improves entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities for underprivileged women by providing them land to train and harness their agricultural skills. The initiative has helped several women to become successful urban farmers.

 
24. Mississippi. The Eco-Stamp Program allows consumers a chance to get educated on the initiatives in their communities that are tackling hunger, malnutrition, and agricultural malpractices. The program gives consumers a 50-cent credit that can be donated to local programs like Fruits of the City and West 7th Meals on Wheels.

 

 

25. Missouri. To get a better return on their investments, the Shepherd family at Shepherd Farms in Cilfton Hill took entire control of their marketing and distribution. The farm focuses on unique markets by producing buffalo, pecans, and gamagrass, a plant whose extensive root system breaks compact soil and helps recycle nutrients.

 

 

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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By Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds

Global meat production rose to 297 million tons in 2011, an increase of 0.8 percent over 2010 levels, and is projected to reach 302 million tons by the end of 2012, according to new research conducted for our Vital Signs Online service. By comparison, meat production rose 2.6 percent in 2010 and has risen 20 percent since 2001. Record drought in the U.S. Midwest, animal disease outbreaks, and rising prices of livestock feed all contributed to 2011’s lower rise in production.

Record drought in the U.S. Midwest, animal disease outbreaks, and rising prices of livestock feed contributed to the lower rise in meat production (Photo Credit: AZ Green Magazine)

Also bucking a decades-long trend, meat consumption decreased slightly worldwide in 2011, from 42.5 kilograms (kg) per person in 2010 to 42.3 kg. Since 1995, however, per capita meat consumption has increased 15 percent overall; in developing countries, it increased 25 percent during this time, whereas in industrialized countries it increased just 2 percent. Although the disparity between meat consumption in developing and industrialized countries is shrinking, it remains high: the average person in a developing country ate 32.3 kg of meat in 2011, whereas in industrialized countries people ate 78.9 kg on average.

Pork was the most popular meat in 2011, accounting for 37 percent of both meat production and consumption, at 109 million tons. This was followed closely by poultry meat, with 101 million tons produced. Yet pork production decreased 0.8 percent from 2010, whereas poultry meat production rose 3 percent, making it likely that poultry will become the most-produced meat in the next few years.

A breakdown of meat production by geographic region reveals the dramatic shift in centers of production from industrialized to developing countries over the last decade. In 2000, for example, North America led the world in beef production, at 13 million tons, while South America produced 12 million tons and Asia, 10 million tons. By 2011, North America had lowered its beef output by 200,000 tons and was overtaken by both South America and Asia, which produced 15 million and 17 million tons, respectively.

Widespread and intense drought in China, Russia, the United States, and the Horn of Africa contributed to lower meat production—and higher prices—in 2010 and 2011. The combination of high prices for meat products and outbreaks of new and recurring zoonotic diseases in 2011 curtailed global meat consumption. Zoonotic diseases, or zoonoses, are diseases that are transmitted between animals and humans. In 2011 alone, foot-and-mouth disease was detected in Paraguay, African swine fever in Russia, classical swine fever in Mexico, and avian influenza (H5N1) throughout Asia. According to a 2012 report by the International Livestock Research Institute, zoonoses cause around 2.7 million human deaths each year, and approximately 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases now originate in animals or animal products.

Many zoonotic disease outbreaks can be traced to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms. These systems now account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide.

Factory farming systems contribute to disease outbreaks in several ways. They keep animals in cramped and often unsanitary quarters, providing a breeding ground for diseases; they feed animals grain-heavy diets that lack the nutrients needed to fight off disease and illness; and many CAFOs feed animals antibiotics as a preventative rather than a therapeutic measure, causing the animals—and the humans who consume them—to develop resistance to antibiotics.

But not all livestock are reared in industrial or mechanized environments. Nearly 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day depend to some extent on livestock, and many of these people are raising animals in the same ways that their ancestors did. Reconnecting meat production to the land and its natural carrying capacity, as well as reducing meat consumption, can thus greatly improve both public and environmental health.

Further highlights from the report:

  1. Production of both beef and sheep meat stagnated between 2010 and 2011, at 67 million and 13 million tons, respectively.
  2. Over the last decade, meat production grew nearly 26 percent in Asia, 28 percent in Africa, and 32 percent in South America.
  3. In 2012, drought and corn crop failures continue throughout the United States, causing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to estimate that by 2013, beef will cost 4–5 percent more than in 2010, pork 2.5–3.5 percent more, and poultry 3–4 percent more.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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Join Nourishing the Planet project director Danielle Nierenberg and the Small Planet Institute’s Anna Lappé for a discussion about agricultural subsidies, animal rights, and the environment on the Huffington Post this afternoon at 4:30 pm EST! Click here to watch the live stream.

 

 

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India has yet to take a definitive step in the anti-dumping war that is currently raging in the solar energy sector; however, its policymakers may be guided by decisions made by U.S. and European Union regulators. An ongoing question is whether the Indian government should create a trade barrier against cheap imports from foreign solar manufacturers, primarily those from China. Options include levying an anti-dumping duty (such as a countervailing duty to offset the huge subsidies offered by China to its solar manufacturers) or offering preferential tariffs to domestic solar equipment manufacturers.

Solar power industry in India must overcome numerous development challenges in order to continue its rapid growth. (Source: Solar Thermal Magazine)

One reason why Indian solar manufacturers might be harder hit than those the United States is because India’s solar industry is relatively new, not more than a decade old. It lacks the same level of technical capacity that its foreign counterparts have. As a new entrant, the Indian industry is relatively small scale and fragmented, leading to higher production costs.

Production capacities for Indian module manufacturing range from only 10 to 20 megawatts (MW), compared to the global average of 75 megawatts. Countries such as China and Taiwan have a clear price advantage over Indian manufacturers because of their economies of scale. Both subsidies and economies of scale have helped Chinese manufacturers produce solar panels and equipment that are 25 to 30 percent cheaper than those produced in India.

What makes India’s case singular is that the Indian manufacturers have not only condemned the Chinese solar manufacturing industry as a cause for their trouble, but also accused U.S. financial institutions, such as the U.S. Export Import Bank (Exim) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), of adding to India’s woes through their pro-U.S. solar equipment policies.

Indian solar panel manufacturers and the media have raised concern about the fact that both ExIm Bank and OPIC offer low-interest loans (with long repayment periods) to Indian solar project developers—under the mandatory condition that they purchase the panels from U.S. manufacturers. While the ExIm Bank and OPIC refer to these loans as “Fast Start Finance,” some Indian environmental think tanks, such as the Centre for Science and Environment, allege that these programs undermine India’s broader development goals by pushing Indian solar equipment manufacturers out of competition.

On the other hand, Indian solar project developers argue just as strongly that cheaper electricity, supported by the lower cost of capital and equipment through such programs, will help Indian solar energy reach grid parity ahead of stated goals. The U.S. banks too have reacted by saying that they are adhering to international rules and regulations for project lending to overseas developers. They also point out that the reasons that Indian solar developers prefer U.S. solar panel imports are because of the superior quality, lower prices, and great post-sales customer service.

Resolving the conflicts

For India, these international trade wars and financial disputes will prove to be detrimental to the planned ambitious growth that the country’s National Solar Mission has charted out. However, there are numerous other actions that India (and other countries) can take to encourage industry development and put their solar energy industries on a level playing field in the short run. These represent an alternative to protectionist trade policies that would raise project costs and perhaps violate international trade law.

These actions include:

  • Countries can make international agreements to set stringent quality standards for solar panels and modules. This will not only curb practices such as price under-cutting, it will also motivate technological innovations and efficiency improvements.
  • As the solar market matures, manufacturers and project developers can consolidate their efforts to achieve economies of scale. In the Indian solar market, one can expect that small, fragmented manufacturing utilities will consolidate to boost larger scales of production.
  • Countries can engage in greater technological collaboration and knowledge sharing. However, India should not lose sight of developing a domestic solar manufacturing industry within a realistic timeline. Such development can start with an assessment of the size of the solar manufacturing sector at present and its growth potential for the near future.
  • Governments can provide partial risk guarantees to lending authorities in order to increase the bankability of solar projects. In India, this would enable solar project developers to procure low-cost loans from domestic banks.
  • Governments can set a separate solar/renewable energy sector-specific lending portfolio requirement for domestic banks. In India, declaring the solar energy sector a “priority sector” will also help mobilize finance for solar project developers. Low-cost debts to project developers can also be mobilized through issuance of long-term, tax-free solar bonds.
  • Government can create National Manufacturing & Investment Zones (NMIZs), or planned industrial zones that include government incentives such as exemptions from capital gain taxes. The Indian government has already proposed increasing the number of NMIZs  to push the contribution of the manufacturing sector from the present 16 percent to 25 percent of GDP by 2020. To reduce costs, the solar manufacturing industry can take advantage of such zones as well.
  • Governments can specify Domestic Content Requirements (DCRs) for certain large-scale projects with capacities exceeding a certain threshold. This would spare smaller developers from being mandated to buy domestically produced solar panels. If the Indian government wants to protect domestic manufacturers, it must begin by rendering more support to project developers in the form of cheaper loans and innovative funding options.

Already, India’s solar power sector has shown exponential growth in recent years, jumping from only 20 MW of installed capacity in 2009 to today’s 1 GW. To continue such growth, however, the sector will need to adapt to changes in the global solar market. Some domestic manufacturers have already become vertically integrated with project developers. Yet few have taken advantage of opportunities for international collaboration with foreign manufacturers.

Instead of protectionist measures, the Indian solar market needs to focus on mechanisms to attract private and international finance. Supporting domestic project developers and manufacturers through innovative finance options and international cooperation will be much more beneficial for the Indian solar sector, and the environment as a whole.

Suparna Dutta is a Climate and Energy intern at Worldwatch Institute.

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Design Strategist Ann Thorpe looks at four ways designers are changing how we consume.
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This month, Brazilian headlines showed an uncommon move by a national court in environmental matters.  A Brazilian federal judge stopped the Belo Monte Dam on the grounds that the licenses were invalid given the lack of consultation of the indigenous population. In a subsequent press conference, Judge Souza Predente said, “only in a dictatorial regime does a government approve a project before holding consultations.”

While I claim no expertise in the specifics of the case or Brazilian law, it shows a growing move on the part of many governments to protect the rights of citizens to participate in decisions before major projects are permitted that have lasting impacts on the environment and livelihoods.

Belo Monte Dam (Photo via Flickr, by International Rivers)

As the Belo Monte case shows, without adequate access to information, public participation, and access to justice, major development projects can be shut down, disrupted, or become a scene of violent protest.

The case of Belo Monte is far from over. Before long, the Brazilian people will need to decide whether the project is an unprecedented environmental and political disaster or is the best next step for a country desperate for reliable, inexpensive energy. Though the future of the Belo Monte Dam is unclear, it is apparent that having a tribunal that can fairly and openly adjudicate these matters and provide a forum for public debate has been a tremendous boon, especially as other institutions, arguably, have failed to do so.

Beyond Brazil at Rio+20

Energy crises and lack of inclusivity in development are problems that plague many nations, not just Brazil. Without access rights—the right to access to information, to participate, and to have access to justice—voices that defend the poor and the environment are often not part of substantive decisions. This is not a new revelation, as these rights have been at the core of sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Declaration enshrined them as “Principle 10”. While these rights are supported in international human rights treaties, and many multilateral and bi-lateral agreements, they often fail to be enforced because legal frameworks at the national level and sub-national levels are often weak, institutions are unable to carry out necessary reforms, and civil society cannot demand the rights be fulfilled.

In the context of Brazil’s own domestic policies, Brazil hosted the Rio+20 UN Summit on Sustainable Development this June. Beyond the largely negative headlines in Western media, the Rio+20 summit actually made notable progress in re-affirming aspirations and working towards making these goals into access rights. Perhaps most promising was the groundbreaking step undertaken by Chile and nine other governments develop a regional convention for Latin America and Caribbean nations.

The Latin American-Caribbean region is plagued by escalating conflicts: in Bolivia conflict erupts over decisions about the use and protection of natural resources; in Peru and Ecuador, its the commencement of mining that ignites tension; in Panama, the construction of roads; and in Chile and Brazil the dams draw ire. Therefore, a regional convention could not be timelier. Political leaders are beginning to realize the importance of including all stakeholders and providing space for public deliberation.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janiero, Brazil (Photo via Flickr, by photog63

This regional convention follows on the heels of the Aahrus Convention, a regional convention for the European Economic Commission for Europe, and will therefore have a significant impact on the spread of access rights, and the standardization of laws and practices on the provision of information on releasing pollutants into the environment. Legally binding international agreements are critical in promoting and strengthening access rights, as well as driving the development of national legislation and practice. This Latin American-Caribbean convention also provides governments the opportunity to introduce innovative approaches to enhance compliance to international agreements, and methods to include poor and vulnerable communities into environmental decision-making.

Making “Open” meaningful on the ground

A convention process, though exciting, may take years to implement at the national level. At the local level, where many of the most significant environmental decisions are made, it could be decades, before new processes are adopted in certain countries. In my chapter for the State of the World 2012, I highlight innovations that my colleagues in The Access Initiative have worked on, taking place at the local level, where local governments have already begun to adopt practices which make profound, daily difference in peoples’ lives:

Access to Information:

  • Make information on all agency jurisdictions, budgeting, revenue, and procurement available and usable;
  • Adopt local access to Information laws, providing a mechanism for request of government-held information;
  • Pass open meeting laws for all local authorities;
  • Provide proactive information on land use, development planning, transportation, waste disposal, utilities, and regular environmental quality monitoring data.

Public Participation:

  • Accept and promote mechanisms for public accountability in service delivery, such as public social audits and report cards of agency performance;
  • Adopt reforms for early, meaningful public participation in policy and planning by a broad range of stakeholders;
  • Expand the number of decisions that incorporate public participation and oversight;
  • Increase participation of stakeholders by integrating the rights and means to obtain information into educational curricula.

Access to Justice:

  • Improve the authority and capacity of citizens that monitor and enforce environmental laws and protect civil rights;
  • Create public interest standing and mechanisms to allow citizen enforcement of environmental laws

These are just a few steps that can be implemented to progress the openness agenda.  In the coming years, many countries will pass further legislation and think globally, beyond regional conventions. Much of this work will be “trickle up” as cities and subnational governments test a range of programs and learn how to interact better with their constituents, incorporating newer, greener voices.

(Written by Joseph Foti; Edited by Antonia Sohns; Originally published on CSRwire Talkback as a part of a series on Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity).

Tomorrow is U.S. Food Day, a yearly nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Watch our short, fun video about Food Day by clicking here!

In honor of Food Day 2012, we’d like to showcase 50 state-by-state programs, projects, individuals, and organizations that are innovating to make the nation’s food and agricultural system more sustainable. This week, we bring you the first 25, from Alabama to Missouri. Keep an eye out for the second 25 next week, where we will highlight innovations taking place from Montana to Wyoming!

 1. Alabama. The Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, Alabama has been in operation since 2007. Occupying 3.5 acres of once vacant space in downtown Birmingham, Jones Valley Urban Farm grows organic produce and flowers and offers hands-on education to the community about farming and nutritious foods.

 

2. Alaska. The Fish to Schools program, created by the Sitka Conservation Society, is a school feeding initiative dedicated to serving local and nutritious seafood to students in Sitka, Alaska. As the ninth largest seafood port in the United States, Sitka’s economy and community is strongly interconnected with seafood. Through the Fish to Schools program, Sitka youth gain knowledge about local seafood resources by integrating seafood into their diets and by attending educational seminars on marine life and the process of harvesting seafood.

3. Arizona. The Sunizona Family Farms in Wilcox, Arizona started growing cucumbers in 1996. Today, not only do they sell nearly 95 percent of their organic produce, ranging from tomatoes, to kale to beets, to chard, locally, they also use growing methods which rely strictly on plant-based products. No animal inputs are used in any part of the farming process, they make their own fertilizers out of vegetable components, and even use waste pecan shells to create wood pellets, which they use to heat their greenhouse.

4. Arkansas. The City of North Little Rock, Arkansas has been given $1.5 million to encourage healthy nutrition and lifestyles in low-income neighborhoods. The mission is to make the City of North Little Rock a Fit 2 Live community that is committed to healthy eating and active living by creating an environment that recognizes and encourages citizens to adopt healthy life choices.

5. California. In 2011, San Francisco passed the Urban Agriculture Ordinance, amending the zoning code to allow food production for personal and public use, provide guidelines and requirements for urban farms, and regulating the sale of harvested products and value-added products. This law has allowed San Francisco to expand into sustainable urban agriculture and become a promoter of healthy, sustainable diets. Products like jams and pickles, for example, as well as those sold at farmer’s markets, are subject to the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s guidelines under this law, while agricultural products for personal consumption remain unregulated.

 
6. Colorado. The Central Colorado Land Link Initiative is a program designed to preserve agricultural land and connect new farmers to retiring or veteran agrarians. The Land Link Initiative is helping to keep retiring farmer’s property in farming by connecting them with next generation farmers who are interested continuing to cultivate the land.

 
7. Connecticut. The Connecticut Farm-to-School Program has nearly 50 farms and 95 school districts participating in its program. It helps provide cafeterias in Connecticut schools with locally grown fresh fruit and vegetables. The Farm-to-School Program is not only developing new markets for local farms, but is also providing Connecticut youth with nutritious food.

 
8. Delaware. The Delaware Young Farmers Program has been helping young farmers acquire farmland through long-term, no-interest loans since 2011. Designed to give a leg up to young farmers looking to start their own farms, the Program targets Delaware natives between 18 and 40 years old and offers them up to $500,000 in no-interest 30-year loans.

 
9. Florida. Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, Inc. (FAITC) is a non-profit organization that aims to educate students in Florida schools about the importance of agriculture. FAITC provides grants to teachers and volunteers for projects that teach students the importance of agriculture and the contribution Florida farmers make to their communities and state. The organization holds workshops to train teachers and volunteers and uses the 2013 Excellence in Teaching About Agriculture Award to recognize teachers who find innovative ways to bring agriculture into the classroom.

 
10. Georgia. In 2011, Georgia Olive Farms (GOF) conducted the first commercial olive harvest east of the Mississippi river since the late 1800s. GOF, an agricultural cooperative formed in 2009, aims to help potential East Coast olive farmers by providing informational resources, market access, and selling young olive trees. They also provide consumers with sustainably, locally produced olive oil, which greatly reduces the carbon footprint for olive oil consumed on the East Coast.

 
11. Hawaii. On the island of Oahu, FarmRoof grows organic, unprocessed foods on local rooftops. Rooftop farms lower energy costs by insulating the building and help prevent sewage back-ups by absorbing rain water. They also increase biodiversity and promote local food, reducing food miles and energy use.

 

 
12. Idaho. Earthly Delights Farm is a small-scale, human-powered farm growing vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers in Boise, Idaho.  The farm uses almost exclusively hand tools and transports their produce on bicycles. Earthly Delights engages the community through their internships, workshops, and unique events like “weed dating” – speed dating where participants spend time learning about plants and weeding while getting to know one another.

 
13. Illinois. Part vertical farm, part food-business incubator, and part research and education space, The Plant in Chicago, Illinois is converting an old meat-packing building into an indoor vertical garden. The Plant will include a tilapia fish farm, vegetable gardens, a bakery, a brewery, a mushroom farm, and a shared kitchen space. The net-zero energy design hopes to not only produce zero waste, but actually consume more waste than it produces, eliminating waste from surrounding neighborhood food manufacturers.

14. Indiana. What’s better than fresh baked goods? Fresh baked goods with a conscience! Marilyn’s Bakery, located in Northwest Indiana since 1986, focuses on seasonal items made using locally-grown, farm fresh produce. The bakery sells only fair trade coffee, offers many vegetarian and health-conscious options, and uses 100 percent biodegradable packaging.

 

 

15. Iowa. Small Potatoes Farm is a certified-organic, human-scale vegetable farm run by Rick and Stacy Hartmann. Since 2001, Small Potatoes Farm has been selling their vegetables to local chefs, specialty grocery stores, and the community in the Ames and Des Moines areas. Their website includes information on their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a recipe database, and a Sustainable Agriculture Library of books they loan out to those interested in learning more about sustainable food and agriculture.

 
16. Kansas. The New Roots for Refugees program helps women refugees start their own small farm businesses growing and selling vegetables in the Kansas City area. The program, run by Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas and Cultivate KC not only provides the women with garden plots at a public housing site, but also financial literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. The women remain in the program for a few years, gradually becoming more independent until they transition to running their own farm businesses.

 
17. Kentucky. The Restaurant Rewards Programis an incentive for restaurants in Kentucky to purchase local produce with the “Kentucky Proud” seal. Funded by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the program helps compensate participating restaurants for the higher costs of buying local foods, helping them lower their food costs while also promoting fresh ingredients.

 

 

18. Louisiana. Our School at Blair Grocery is an independent school and education center in New Orleans that gives disadvantaged youth the opportunity to become part of a supportive environment by engaging them in community-development activities.  OSAG runs an urban farm that gives students the chance to learn and becoming actively involved in the local food supply chain.

 
19. Maine. Since 2007, the Maine Harvest Lunch has celebrated and raised awareness about small farmers and the health benefits of their produce. The lunch is a community-building, statewide event that helps connect farmers to their customers and sheds light on the local food system and its importance for environmental health.

 
20. Maryland. Rumbleway Farm, in the Chesapeake Bay town of Conowingo, combines animal raising, marketing, and community development. The farm experiments with “free-range houses” that provide chickens with more room to move, and with raising rabbits on pastures to boost their Omega-3 fatty acid content. The farm also hosts dinners around once a month, which are open to the public, to boost involvement and interest in the community’s agricultural system.

 
21. Massachusetts. The Worchester Kindergarten Initiative is a farm-to-school program offered in five low-income public schools. The initiative offers in-class food tasting, cooking demonstrations, farm tours and mobile farmers markets.

 

 
22. Michigan. Just recently, Michigan State University implemented the MetroFoodPlus Innovation Cluster (MIC) project, with a pledge of $1.5 million to fund research and development for urban agriculture initiatives across Detroit. The project is looking to involve 80 local organizations in hopes of increasing communication between local food creators and distributors, and creating eight to ten state-of-the-art greenhouses to increase the city’s agricultural knowledge base.

 
23. Minnesota. The Women’s Urban Farm Incubator in St. Paul improves entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities for underprivileged women by providing them land to train and harness their agricultural skills. The initiative has helped several women to become successful urban farmers.

 

 
24. Mississippi. The Eco-Stamp Program allows consumers a chance to get educated on the initiatives in their communities that are tackling hunger, malnutrition, and agricultural malpractices. The program gives consumers a 50-cent credit that can be donated to local programs like Fruits of the City and West 7th Meals on Wheels.

 

 
25. Missouri. To get a better return on their investments, the Shepherd family at Shepherd Farms in Cilfton Hill took entire control of their marketing and distribution. The farm focuses on unique markets by producing buffalo, pecans, and gamagrass, a plant whose extensive root system breaks compact soil and helps recycle nutrients.

 

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

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