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Plans for a new uranium mill in Utah announced

High Country News - Thu, 01/26/2023 - 01:00
Fierce opposition to the project is likely.
Categories: H. Green News

Save public lands: Put solar on Walmart!

High Country News - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 15:35
Parking lots and big-box store roofs could generate oodles of clean power.
Categories: H. Green News

Object of Political Desire I: My Hypocrite Reader

Green European Journal - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 06:23

Let me start by saying something about you. Yes, you. “— Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!” as Baudelaire once called you. There’s one or two things I know about you.

You’re reading this article in the Green European Journal, which means that you are interested in environmental questions, European affairs, or ideological debates. You are, in short, interested in politics. You think about politics a lot, you may even be one of those persons who think about politics all the time, and you may justify yourself with that oft-repeated truism,  “everything is political”. You are right. Everything is political in the sense that everything in society is social and everything about humanity is human. But everything being political does not mean that everybody cares about politics for the sake of politics. Quite the contrary: precisely because everything can be said to be political for many people (even for most) politics are relevant mainly as a conduit to other objects of political desire.

Let’s now shift into thinking about a third person, one that is neither you nor me. The person who is neither reading nor writing this article nor any other article in the Green European Journal and probably does not care for it anyway — a choice that is as legitimate as caring deeply about it. It is much more difficult to guess things about them. Does this person think about politics the whole time? Do they agree that everything is political or would they say that apart from a very commonsensical interpretation of that sentence, they pride themselves in not being political? In any case, everything is also cultural, or social, or communitarian, or even spiritual; may it be the case that this person cares much more about culture, or religion, or the arts, than you care about politics?

You certainly know people that care even more about politics than you and there are surely people who care less. The ones who care more about politics are no better than you and you are no better than the ones who care less. It just a matter of distribution of interest, motivation, and attention that people are bound to care more or less about something, or care less about something now and more about something in the future.

However, the person who thinks about politics the whole time is making a mistake if they think that everyone else is wrong for not thinking about politics with the same intensity, in the same terms, or according to the same categories as they do. If someone reasons like this, explicitly or otherwise, they are actually not thinking about politics as deeply after all. For the political is, as Spinoza once wrote, about people as they are and not as you think they should be.

Whoever thinks about politics the whole time is making a mistake if they think everyone else is wrong for not thinking about politics with the same intensity, in the same terms, or according to the same categories as they do.

This, in turn, leads to another mistake: thinking that politics should be enough to engage people in politics. Don’t get me wrong: I have probably been in as many political meetings, movements, and the like as you have. Politics was motivation enough for me to be interested in politics. But if we are ready to admit a heresy in political circles, the political is never enough of a reason in itself.

History teaches us otherwise. Working people did not form trade unions because of the trade union form itself; they did it because they wanted more pay and shorter working hours. Feminists did not create their movement because of the movement, but because of women themselves: votes for women, legal rights, individual freedoms that would allow them to live their lives more fully. Anti-colonial parties were not created by people who loved being in political parties, but people who wanted to free their peoples from oppression and eradicate colonialism. Some people did feel the joys of extremely long meetings and speeches and dedicating most of their free time to the cause. Most people, however, participate in politics because of an object of political desire.

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But the “object of political desire” in itself is seldom the object of political reflection or theorising. People say they are in politics because they desire justice, or freedom, or equality. But in order to arrive there, they first have to desire. And when one reads political theory one reads a lot about justice and freedom and equality — but never about desire. Isn’t something amiss there?

That’s what this column strives to explore. We desire desire. We are not hypocrites when we say we want justice, or freedom, or equality. But we are a little bit hypocritical when we think that being political is only about the love of high-minded ideals and concepts and refuse to give pride of place to the very mechanics of wanting. This shift in focus will help us, I believe, grasp a much better theory of change, understand the roots of some of the current misunderstandings between progressive politics and our societies, and even identify some of difficulties of contemporary Green European politics.

This is why I hope — desire? — you follow this new column in the Green European Journal.

This article is a part of our new monthly column looking at the past, present, and future of political desire. Subscribe to our newsletter to get it in your inbox.

Categories: H. Green News

Ann Arbor’s big decarbonization bet

Grist - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 03:30

This story is part of the Cities + Solutions series, which chronicles surprising and inspiring climate initiatives in communities across the U.S. through stories of cities leading the way. For more solutions stories like these, subscribe to the Looking Forward newsletter.

The neighborhood of Bryant sits in Ann Arbor, between the hills and valleys that surround this city in eastern Michigan. Its 262 homes are perched across from the city’s largest landfill and stand on a floodplain, so residents grapple with mold, mildew, and water damage. Outdated infrastructure subjects them to high utility costs, and Interstate 94 long ago isolated the community, one of the city’s most densely populated, prompting decades of neglect. 

More than half of the people in this frontline community identify as people of color. About the same number are renters. Three in four families, many of whom have been in the neighborhood for three generations, live in poverty. The help that does come from the government is too often offered by bureaucrats with good intentions but little idea what residents want — or need. 

“A lot of programs, specifically ones that are focused on energy conservation, just get designed and brought into these communities,” says Hank Love, director of municipal and community programs at the energy equity organization Elevate, which works in cities nationwide including Ann Arbor. “People would say, ‘Look at what we made for you and are going to implement,’ without getting adequate input on the front end.” 

That dynamic began to change when Ann Arbor vowed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The city is beginning in Bryant, where it has enlisted residents and nonprofits to help decarbonize the entire community. Renovations to the first homes began in May 2022, funded through a state grant to repair and electrify homes, plant trees, and install solar panels.

“We made a really strategic decision to focus on those who have been hurt first and worst by climate change and systemic racism.”

– Missy Stults

“It’s resident-designed and resident-centered,” says Missy Stults, the city’s sustainability director and a 2022 Grist 50 honoree. “We are trying to correct for market failures by working directly with a frontline community to determine how best to collaboratively create the nation’s first fully decarbonized low-income neighborhood. There’s a layering of so many elements, and it is literally changing lives.”

* * * 

In 2020, Ann Arbor announced the A²Zero initiative, an audacious plan to achieve carbon neutrality citywide within a decade. City officials formed a broad coalition of nonprofits, for-profits, and community organizations to answer the question, “How do we make it happen in just 10 years?” 

Stults saw an opportunity to engage the community in an effort to address the complex and intertwined issues of gentrification, disinvestment, and environmental racism.  She and her team had been mapping socioeconomic vulnerability within the city, and “Bryant popped up for us as an area of opportunity,” she says. “We made a really strategic decision to focus on those who have been hurt first and worst by climate change and systemic racism. We thought, ‘Well, why don’t we try? Let’s go talk to the residents and see if this is of interest.’”

Although she found plenty of interest, she also found apprehension — many of Bryant’s residents had lived for generations under a legacy of institutional disregard and neglect. To earn their confidence, Stults and her colleagues knocked on doors to chat with residents about the program and gauge interest, and hosted community events like tree plantings.

Missy Stults (bottom left), Bryant residents, and members of Community Action Network plant trees outside of residents’ homes as part of efforts to decarbonize the community. Courtesy of Missy Stults

“Our biggest obstacle was to gain that trust, to help people believe that we were actually trying to do something for them without taking from them,” says Krystal Steward, a Bryant resident and outreach specialist for Community Action Network. “And now, they’re seeing that things are actually happening. Because I’m their neighbor, there’s a greater sense of trust in the project. It’s an amazing feeling to be helping my community.”

* * *

In spring 2022, nearly two years of planning finally began to yield results. Through a $500,000 state grant to Community Action Network, decarbonization of the first 19 homes — selected through an energy assessment that considered the extent of needed repairs — began.  

Every project begins with an energy assessment to determine how best to rehabilitate and retrofit each house. Most homes use gas to power furnaces and other appliances, making the transition to clean tech as much about increasing comfort as it is about reducing emissions, says Hank Love. There’s no point in, say, replacing a gas furnace if the roof has holes or the attic lacks insulation. “It’s going to feel cold no matter how much you heat it, and you’re going to spend a ton of money just trying to feel comfortable,” he says.

Once repairs are made, crews swap gas appliances for electric ones before installing solar panels. “What I’m most excited about is that we are already solarizing households in the neighborhood and essentially fixing affordability issues that some residents are having,” says Derrick Miller, executive director of Community Action Network.

Exterior of the Bryant Community Center, which is located in the heart of the neighborhood and hosts events held by the Community Action Network. Courtesy of Missy Stults

Bryant resident Deborah Pulk, who lives on a fixed income and has been in Ann Arbor since 1986, was among the first to benefit from the program. She needed a new roof, and an inspection revealed that her stove was emitting dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide. The switch to electric appliances and renewable energy has saved her money, too.

“Krystal had told me that they were trying to start putting up solar panels,” she says. “I said, ‘Sure! I’d love to have solar panels on my house.’ My gas and [electricity] bill is already much lower. I used to pay $145 per month on a budget plan. Last month my bill was $39.”

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As in any neighborhood, some people support the project, others are indifferent, and a few are opposed — because they remain leery of City Hall, question whether there will be enough money to continue the program, or don’t believe climate change is a problem. Stults concedes the city has not yet lined up additional funding, but notes, “We are making progress.” City officials are hopeful that the work done on the first 19 homes, and the lessons they’ve learned working with residents, homeowners, and landlords, will provide a blueprint for decarbonizing other neighborhoods and, perhaps, other cities. 

“This project really lights me on fire and keeps me going — it’s so transformative for everyone who touches it,” says Stults. “It’s certainly transforming me. I hope that it actually transforms our system by creating new tools and mechanisms for everyone to be able to engage in the clean energy and decarbonization movement. If we don’t create space for everyone as a part of this movement, we will fail.”

Explore more Cities + Solutions:

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Ann Arbor’s big decarbonization bet on Jan 25, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Britain’s protected natural areas are failing to stop biodiversity loss

Grist - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 03:15

In the United Kingdom, some species of bees, ladybugs and spider populations are declining at faster rates in protected natural areas. That’s according to a new study that shows protected areas in the U.K. are as vulnerable to biodiversity loss as their unprotected counterparts.

The report from researchers at the United Kingdom Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the University of Sheffield, shows that protected areas – which have been seen as key to protecting biodiversity – can be effective at protecting rare species, but have been unsuccessful in protecting common species.

“It is worrying, as you would expect species to show more positive trends in protected areas,” said Rob Cooke, lead author of the study. “It should serve as a warning as today’s common species can be tomorrow’s rare species.”

In the U.K., data shows that on average, three species are lost each decade in protected areas while in unprotected areas, only two species per decade. Researchers say this phenomenon in protected areas could be explained by external factors like climate change and the steady encroachment of development along protected borders. However, researchers also say protected areas in the U.K. have nearly double the number of rare species than their unprotected counterparts. 

The report comes amid a global push to protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and water by 2030, known as the 30X30 plan. Data on the U.K.’s protected areas suggest that as the country works toward that goal, how areas are protected is as important as their size. At the recent United Nations biodiversity conference, delegates from nearly 200 countries agreed to formalize 30X30. But many environmentalists say more ambitious targets should be set to protect the world’s remaining biodiversity while Indigenous peoples say a failure by world leaders to recognize Indigenous rights, territories and knowledge has led to land grabs and human rights abuses.

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According to a 2022 progress report on 30X30, the U.K. has made little progress on its 30X30 goals with just over three percent of the country’s land, and eight percent of its waters, effectively protected. “Unfortunately, our figures show that in the race to halt nature’s decline by 2030, the Government is limping backwards. At this rate, the Government’s prospects of effectively protecting 30% of the land and sea for nature by 2030 are vanishing,” said Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, the organization behind the report.

The study’s authors recommend evidence-based management of protected areas to ensure they remain effective, rather than simply measuring the area covered. This could include developing more robust monitoring networks and improving site-level data collection. They also stress the need for greater protection for common species. “I think the positive thing we can take from this is that we have a clear opportunity to make protected areas better for biodiversity,” Cooke said. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Britain’s protected natural areas are failing to stop biodiversity loss on Jan 25, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Missoulians nearly lost access to their beloved community ski hill

High Country News - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 01:00
Now they’re rallying to ensure public access to the recreation hotspot.
Categories: H. Green News

Rischio siccità: proteggere il diritto all’acqua in Europa

Green European Journal - Wed, 01/25/2023 - 00:00

L’acqua è un elemento essenziale in ogni aspetto delle nostre vite, ma non dobbiamo darla per scontata: in un mondo in cui i periodi di siccità e le ondate di caldo si susseguono a causa dei cambiamenti climatici, all’Europa serve mettere in atto rapidamente un nuovo modo di gestire questa risorsa. Un’acqua pubblica e condivisa, e una cooperazione che vada oltre le frontiere sono la chiave per limitare i rischi a lungo termine, evitare i conflitti e garantire a tutti l’accesso all’oro blu.

Le politiche europee hanno a lungo considerato l’acqua un bene disponibile in abbondanza, da cui si può trarre profitto. Le recenti siccità registratesi in Europa sono il segnale che l’era dell’abbondanza volge al termine, e rimettono in primo piano il valore dell’acqua in quanto risorsa preziosa ed esauribile. È tempo di vederla sotto una nuova luce.

La situazione attuale necessita di un cambio radicale del nostro approccio alle politiche relative all’acqua e alla sua gestione. I precedenti tentativi di integrare le risorse idriche nel mercato unico europeo appaiono ora come minimo poco lungimiranti e potenzialmente disastrose. Per acquisire la resilienza necessaria ad affrontare i cambiamenti climatici che ci aspettano non possiamo più permettere che l’acqua venga sfruttata dai mercati a fini di lucro. Le politiche neoliberali in vigore in molti Paesi europei devono essere riviste, affinché l’acqua diventi di gestione pubblica o condivisa. Solo così potremo costruire sistemi idrici resilienti e mantenere l’acqua disponibile ed accessibile a livello globale.

Privatizzazioni e resistenza

L’era della privatizzazione dell’acqua è cominciata negli anni Ottanta durante i quali, sotto la guida della conservatrice Margaret Thatcher, il governo britannico sovrintese alla privatizzazione delle strutture idriche. L’acqua fu quindi privatizzata in Inghilterra e in Galles nel 1989, come parte di un programma più ampio di liberalizzazione del servizio pubblico e delle risorse. Dieci autorità regionali di gestione dell’acqua e relative infrastrutture furono interamente trasferite ad aziende private. Di conseguenza, le aziende che gestivano l’acqua divennero “monopoli permanenti regolati”, contrapponendo “i livelli di competizione e rischio del settore pubblico” ai “livelli di profitto e rendimento del settore privato”.

Il risultato di queste misure è stato il completo collasso degli investimenti pubblici nelle infrastrutture idriche, con gravi perdite d’acqua. L’azienda privata Thames Water, che fornisce l’acqua all’area metropolitana di Londra, è stata criticata per la sua incapacità di gestire le massicce perdite nelle proprie tubature. Si stimano perdite intorno ai 600 milioni di litri al giorno, quasi un quarto dell’acqua totale distribuita, il che rappresenta un problema serio in tempi di siccità. Due grandi società di gestione dell’acqua e delle acque di scarico, Thames Water e Southern Water, sono state messe sotto accusa anche per i livelli inaccettabili di perdite e inquinamento delle acque di scolo, con conseguenze sull’ecosistema ma anche sulla salute pubblica.

In Francia, invece, la privatizzazione delle risorse acquifere è una tradizione sorprendentemente longeva, datante addirittura della metà del Diciannovesimo secolo. In questo caso, la privatizzazione assume la forma di cooperazioni tra pubblico e privato tramite contratti di locazione o di concessione. Le città regolano le tariffe e rimangono proprietarie delle infrastrutture. In altre parole, le amministrazioni locali hanno la responsabilità delle infrastrutture, mentre le aziende private si occupano della distribuzione. In questo modo, il controllo sulle provvigioni di acqua del Paese rimane in mano a poche aziende che registrano ampi profitti e mantengono posizioni di monopolio facendosi carico solo di una piccola parte dei costi. Negli ultimi anni, la Francia ha assistito ad un’ondata di rimunicipalizzazioni in seguito alla fine dei contratti dei grandi distributori Veolia Environnement, SUEZ e Saur. Pertanto, mentre nel Regno Unito la privatizzazione è avvenuta tramite la vendita dell’intero sistema idrico a compagnie private, in Francia si è optato per le concessioni, che hanno reso più semplice per le amministrazioni pubbliche recuperare la gestione dell’acqua.

L’esperienza di città francesi quali Parigi o Grenoble dimostra i benefici della rimunicipalizzazione dell’acqua. Nel 2010, Parigi ha ripreso in mano la gestione dell’acqua, prima affidata a compagnie private quali Veolia e SUEZ per creare la compagnia pubblica Eau de Paris, che ha rivoluzionato completamente la situazione: il prezzo dell’acqua è sceso dell’8 per cento ed è stata istituita una commissione cittadina per favorire la trasparenza e la gestione democratica. L’utenza pubblica ha creato una politica attiva di accesso all’acqua per le famiglie più povere, i migranti e i senzatetto, e ha aumentato il numero di fontane pubbliche. Questa storia a lieto fine ha avuto un grande valore simbolico, cambiando il tono del dialogo nazionale sul tema dell’acqua in Francia. Per i suoi meriti, Eau de Paris ha ricevuto nel 2017 il premio del Servizio Pubblico delle Nazioni Unite (UNPSA).

Gli anni successivi alla crisi economica del 2008 hanno visto, in tutta Europa, una forte spinta per portare l’acqua al di fuori della gestione pubblica. Le risorse idriche della Grecia sono state, prevedibilmente, tra quelle prese di mira: nella crisi del debito dell’Eurozona, il settore pubblico greco ha subito pressioni sistematiche per privatizzare le due principali compagnie acquifere a Salonicco e Atene, EYDAP e EYATH. Ma questi tentativi, resi apparentemente necessari dal debito, di privatizzare l’acqua, sono stati però accolti da una forte opposizione popolare. Un’iniziativa promossa nel 2011 dall’associazione dei lavoratori di EYATH è culminata nel referendum di marzo 2014 in cui una schiacciante maggioranza (il 98 per cento dei 218 mila votanti) ha detto no alla privatizzazione dell’azienda. Nonostante la Grecia mostri gli esempi più eclatanti dei tentativi di privatizzazione dell’acqua per sanare in parte il debito pubblico, non si può certo dire che queste pratiche siano limitate alla penisola ellenica.

La privatizzazione della gestione dell’acqua è spesso considerata, da istituzioni quali il Fondo Monetario Internazionale o la Banca Mondiale, una delle condizioni di base per i Paesi che vogliano sanare il proprio debito. In Irlanda, unico caso all’interno dell’Organizzazione per la cooperazione e lo sviluppo economico (OCSE), l’uso dell’acqua è gratuito fino ad una certa quantità e finanziato con il denaro delle imposte. Come nel caso della Grecia, i creditori dell’Irlanda hanno spinto per porre fine a questa politica durante la crisi dell’Eurozona e per l’introduzione di tariffe idriche nel 2014.

Anche in questo caso, la proposta è stata accolta da una forte resistenza che ha comportato grandi manifestazioni, una campagna di diserzione del pagamento, e atti di disobbedienza civile quali il blocco dell’installazione di misuratori d’acqua. Le proteste hanno infine portato, nel 2016, alla sospensione dell’acqua a pagamento. Oggi, le risorse d’acqua irlandesi sono controllate dalla compagnia Irish Water, di proprietà dello Stato, che fa capo alla Commission for Regulation of Utilities [Commissione per la regolazione delle utenze, ndt] e all’Agenzia europea dell’ambiente.

In Italia, nonostante nessuna delle utenze regionali dell’acqua sia a gestione interamente privata, alcune sono almeno parzialmente in mano a privati. Il fatto che gran parte dell’acqua della penisola rimanga in mani pubbliche è dovuto principalmente al referendum del 2011, in cui più del 55 per cento dei votanti si è opposto alla privatizzazione dell’acqua, che faceva parte del più ampio programma di austerità stabilito in seguito alla crisi economica.

La svolta: il movimento Right2Water

Promosso dal Movimento italiano per l’acqua, il referendum italiano, i cui risultati positivi sono diventati un argomento cardine contro la liberalizzazione dell’acqua e delle utenze pubbliche in generale, segna un momento chiave nella storia dei movimenti europei contro la privatizzazione dell’acqua e pone le basi per la campagna di iniziativa popolare europea Right2Water. Il diritto d’iniziativa dei cittadini europei (ICE) èun meccanismo relativamente sottovalutato (e non vincolante) di democrazia diretta nel processo legislativo europeo, che permette ai cittadini di raccogliere firme e richiedere un’azione politica in ambiti di competenza europea. La petizione Right2Water, organizzata dalla Federazione Sindacale europea dei Servizi Pubblici (EPSU) nel 2012, ha raccolto 1,9 milioni di firme in tutta Europa, diventando l’ICE più fruttuosa della storia. Right2Water si è in seguito sviluppata divenendo un movimento sociale vero e proprio, che ha ridato vigore all’opposizione alla tendenza della Commissione Europea a favorire la privatizzazione dell’acqua nei Paesi dell’Unione.

La disponibilità dell’acqua deve diventare un argomento di pubblica sicurezza.

Le richieste iniziali dell’iniziativa popolare erano chiare: accesso e disponibilità di acqua e servizi d’igiene per tutti i cittadini europei e interruzione della privatizzazione delle risorse idriche e della liberalizzazione dei servizi. L’adempimento di queste richieste potrebbe in effetti contrastare le tendenze liberali presenti nella politica europea e l’impulso di rendere l’acqua una merce da sfruttare secondo logiche di mercato.

Tra gli anni Novanta e l’inizio del nuovo millennio, la privatizzazione dell’acqua era arrivata a sembrare necessaria per il successo del mercato unico europeo. Gli argomenti a favore della privatizzazione dell’acqua si rifanno ad una mentalità neoliberale più ampia, secondo la quale i beni precedentemente a gestione pubblica sarebbero meglio amministrati in quanto merci private. Sia l’industria che gli investitori hanno provato a convincere l’opinione pubblica e politica che dare in mano le compagnie idriche alle aziende private aumenterebbe gli investimenti nelle infrastrutture, migliorando quindi la qualità del servizio ed assicurando la stabilità dei prezzi.

Gli aderenti a Right2Water hanno però ribattuto che la privatizzazione dell’acqua pubblica non giova agli utenti. In Francia come nel Regno Unito, i risultati della privatizzazione dell’acqua sono stati indiscutibilmente negativi: costi più elevati, ritardi negli investimenti sulle infrastrutture, nessun miglioramento del servizio di distribuzione. Inoltre, sempre secondo Right2Water, le soluzioni dettate dal mercato hanno inasprito i conflitti per l’acqua e le disuguaglianze già presenti in seno all’Unione Europea, mettendo a rischio il diritto individuale e collettivo all’acqua.

A fronte di una tale, inedita pressione pubblica, la Commissione europea ha finito per convenire che l’acqua è un bene pubblico, e non una merce, e l’ha esclusa dalla direttiva sulle concessioni del 2014, un regolamento che apre l’approvvigionamento pubblico ad una più ampia competizione. Le politiche di deprivatizzazione, in ogni caso, sono rimaste inattuate: malgrado la tendenza alla privatizzazione dell’acqua sia stata almeno parzialmente contrastata in vari Paesi europei, questo non significa che ci sia stato un vero ritorno delle infrastrutture idriche privatizzate nelle mani del servizio pubblico, sfida che dovrà essere affrontata nel prossimo futuro per ragioni che vanno oltre quelle esposte dal movimento Right2Water.

Costruire la resilienza

Le motivazioni alla base della privatizzazione delle infrastrutture idriche e della loro gestione erano che quest’ultima avrebbe generato introiti da poter reinvestire nelle infrastrutture, ad esempio per migliorare la rete di distribuzione ed evitare le perdite. Com’era prevedibile, non è stato così: l’unico risultato è stato l’arricchimento spropositato degli azionisti. Un’indagine del 2020 del Guardian mostra che, tra il 1991 e il 2019, le compagnie idriche private inglesi hanno versato 57 miliardi di sterline di dividendi, quasi la metà della cifra spesa per le infrastrutture nello stesso periodo. Un altro aspetto discutibile della gestione finanziaria delle aziende private risiede negli oltre 48 miliardi di sterline di debito accumulati nello stesso periodo, il che porta alla facile conclusione che i prestiti contratti siano serviti essenzialmente a dirigere il denaro nelle tasche degli azionisti.

Nell’attuale contesto di crisi climatica, guadagni di questo tipo rappresentano un insostenibile lusso che non ci possiamo più permettere. Permettere l’accesso universale all’acqua diventerà sempre più difficile negli anni a venire, nei quali l’acqua diventerà una risorsa sempre più scarsa, che dovrà essere distribuita in modo ben più responsabile e organizzato. Il nostro sistema di gestione dell’acqua deve adattarsi alla probabilità sempre maggiore di siccità, ondate di caldo ed eventi climatici estremi, ridurre i rischi e gestire le emergenze. Per questo bisognerà adottare un approccio coordinato.

Una sfida di questa portata deve essere affrontata da più parti. Innanzitutto, l’Europa ha un enorme problema di perdite idriche causato da tubature vecchie e fatiscenti. Per affrontare una tale situazione di degrado è necessaria una risposta politica decisa, sotto forma di investimenti massicci di riparazione ed espansione delle infrastrutture idriche. Il settore privato non vorrà (o non potrà permettersi di) affrontarne i costi. In secondo luogo, quando le compagnie e le infrastrutture idriche sono in mani pubbliche, imporre restrizioni durante i periodi di maggiore siccità diventa molto più semplice. Questo risolverebbe in parte il problema del far fronte alle emergenze idriche in maniera equa e coordinata. Mentre il mercato reagisce alla scarsità dei beni alzandone i prezzi, laddove la distribuzione dell’acqua sia gestita a livello nazionale o locale l’aumento dei prezzi può essere tenuto più facilmente sotto controllo. Nell’estate del 2022, il Governo britannico ha chiesto per settimane ai fornitori d’acqua di vietare l’uso di sistemi di innaffiamento per gli esterni; non avendo alcuna obbligazione legale di farlo, in alcune regioni le aziende hanno semplicemente rifiutato, incuranti della conclamata emergenza nazionale.

Il problema della gestione dei beni pubblici primari da parte di enti privati risiede nel fatto che questi ultimi non hanno le responsabilità solitamente riservate alle autorità pubbliche o comunali. Le aziende fanno capo ai loro azionisti, non ai clienti finali. Una gestione pubblica o condivisa, al contrario, si basa su una logica radicalmente diversa che mette gli utenti al primo posto.

Costruire una gestione dell’acqua resiliente in un contesto di cambiamenti climatici sempre più rapidi non può basarsi sulla condivisione delle perdite e sulla privatizzazione dei profitti. Nonostante i nostri più grandi sforzi per mitigarne gli effetti, il clima sarà sempre più caldo almeno per i tre decenni a venire, il che metterà le nostre risorse idriche a dura prova. In queste circostanze, la disponibilità dell’acqua deve diventare un argomento di pubblica sicurezza. L’acqua è una risorsa vitale che dev’essere più facilmente governabile, di cui occorre regolare l’uso e mantenere il prezzo stabile e la qualità elevata.

Ma non è solo la gestione dell’acqua e delle infrastrutture correlate a richiedere maggiori investimenti; sono anche necessarie, e devono essere supportate, iniziative su larga scala che si occupino della ritenzione dell’acqua nel suolo. Ne è un buon esempio il movimento popolare ceco Živá Voda (Acqua vivente), focalizzato su interventi diretti per la ritenzione dell’acqua nelle zone rurali attraverso la rivitalizzazione di fiumi e banchine. Lo scopo di queste misure è di restaurare il ciclo dell’acqua corto, gravemente danneggiato dall’espansione dell’agricoltura moderna e dal sovrasfruttamento del suolo. La messa in atto di progetti simili in tutta Europa, che conta i più grandi bacini idrici condivisi del mondo, implicherebbe senza dubbio di guardare oltre i confini nazionali e di attuare politiche a livello europeo, per esempio tramite progetti e collaborazioni tra più Stati o iniziative ad ampio respiro da parte della Commissione europea, che potrebbe fornire il quadro legale necessario. Anche le iniziative per sfruttare la ritenzione di acqua nel suolo, inclusa un’ambiziosa strategia di attuazione, dovrebbero diventare parte importante della strategia europea di adattamento che guida gli sforzi europei per prepararsi agli effetti dei cambiamenti climatici.

Il successo del movimento Right2Water è d’ispirazione per altre iniziative popolari; se portate avanti nel modo giusto, queste ultime potrebbero cambiare la direzione delle politiche europee, contribuendo non solo a mitigare le misure potenzialmente dannose, ma anche per spostare il discorso politico europeo verso un adattamento ed una resilienza efficaci. Se la Commissione europea può redigere direttive per la privatizzazione, può allo stesso modo implementare approcci di messa in comune e rimunicipalizzazione che assicurino che l’acqua sia considerata bene pubblico.

Nonostante la deprivatizzazione delle risorse idriche sia un passo importante, è evidente che ci vorrà ben di più per assicurarci un futuro davvero sostenibile. Sono necessarie politiche intelligenti: massicci investimenti pubblici nelle infrastrutture idriche e impegno per la ritenzione dell’acqua saranno cruciali nei periodi di siccità, che potrebbero presto diventare la norma nei Paesi europei. Una gestione razionale dei rischi di catastrofi e crisi future implica che l’acqua sia gestita in modo democratico, per fare in modo che le comunità e la società tutte possano adattarsi efficacemente a circostanze mutevoli. Una proprietà pubblica e comunale dei beni primari può rappresentare la chiave per arrivare alla resilienza.

Traduzione Elena Pioli Voxeurop

Categories: H. Green News

A zero emissions future without the mining boom

Grist - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 11:13

The effort to shift the U.S. economy off fossil fuels and avoid the most disastrous impacts of climate change hinges on the third element of the periodic table. Lithium, the soft, silvery-white metal used in electric car batteries, was endowed by nature with miraculous properties. At around half a gram per cubic centimeter, it’s the lightest metal on Earth and is extremely energy-dense, making it ideal for manufacturing batteries with a long life. 

The problem is, lithium comes with its own set of troubles: Mining the metal is often devastating for the environment and the people who live nearby, since it’s water intensive and risks permanently damaging the land. The industry also has an outsized impact on Native Americans, with three-quarters of all known U.S. deposits located near tribal land. 

Demand for lithium is expected to skyrocket in the coming decades (up to 4,000 percent according to one estimate), which will require many new mines to meet it (more than 70 by 2025). These estimates assume the number of cars on the road will remain constant, so lithium demand will rise as gas guzzlers get replaced by electric vehicles. But what if the United States could design a policy that eliminates carbon emissions from the transportation sector without as much mining? 

A new report from the Climate and Community Project, a progressive climate policy think tank, offers a fix. In a paper out on Tuesday, the researchers estimated that the U.S. could decrease lithium demand up to 90 percent by 2050 by expanding public transportation infrastructure, shrinking the size of electric vehicle batteries and maximizing lithium recycling. They claim that this report is the first to consider multiple pathways for getting the country’s cars and buses running on electricity and suppressing U.S. lithium demand at the same time. 

“Conversations [about the dangers of mining] can lead folks to think that there’s a zero-sum trade-off: either we address the climate crisis or we protect Indigenous rights and biodiversity,” said Thea Riofrancos, an associate professor of political science at Providence College and the lead author of the report. “This report asks the question: is there a way to do both?”

Riofrancos and the other researchers modeled four scenarios for public transportation in the U.S. that would lead to different levels of lithium demand. In the baseline, the country follows the path it’s currently on, swapping out all gas cars for electric ones by 2050 with few other changes.

The other three scenarios consider what happens when more people are walking, biking, or taking trains and buses. Cities grow denser, commutes shorten, and public transportation expands and is electrified. Governments take away subsidies for owning cars, like free parking, and limit on-street parking and lots. Assuming average battery size stays the same and 8-year battery warranties remain in place, lithium demand drops by 66 percent in the most ambitious scenario as compared to the U.S. staying on its current path. But even the more modest scenarios bring 18 and 41 percent drops in demand for the metal, largely thanks to expanding mass transit and denser urban areas that allow families to live without cars.

“The scenarios were really informed by what already exists in certain places,” said Kira McDonald, a Princeton University researcher. She and her colleagues used real-life examples for their estimates, looking at success stories in cities like Vienna, which has slashed car use in recent years through car-free zones, bike-sharing, and improvements to pedestrian comfort and safety. London, Lyon, and Amsterdam have also all seen steep declines in vehicle ownership after rolling out low-emission zones and adding more bike lanes; in Paris car use has fallen by about 45 percent since 1990.

A worker displays 99.9% lithium inside the El Carmen Lithium processing plant in Antofagasta, Chile, in September, 2022. MARTIN BERNETTI / Getty Images

The researchers experimented with other variables that could influence lithium demand and were surprised to find that by reducing average battery sizes to 54 kilowatt-hour, close to the capacity of the Nissan Leaf, lithium demand fell as much as 42 percent, even when car use stayed on its current trajectory. While the global average battery is small, with a capacity of around 40kWh, bigger batteries used in the United States have an average capacity around 70kWh, and the report notes a trend toward even bigger batteries with higher capacities like the 150 kWh ones found in electric trucks and SUVs. 

Riofrancos said there’s a way around building big batteries, while allowing that there are reasonable concerns about the availability of charging stations and the need for longer battery ranges in certain areas. “But the solution to that is to build more charging stations, not make enormous electric vehicles.” 

Read Next

Battery recycling – a nascent industry in the U.S. – could also reduce lithium demand, but it’s unlikely to help much for at least a decade, according to experts. Currently, there just aren’t a lot of electric-car batteries to recycle, as most of the early EVs are still on the roads, and batteries that do putter out often get reused for solar and wind energy storage. While the European Union will soon require new lithium-ion batteries to use some recycled parts, and China makes battery manufacturers collaborate with recycling companies, the United States has no such requirements. The Climate and Community Project report points out that recyclers have also had little reason to recover lithium, as it’s cheaper to mine. Even a fully up-and-running industry that recovers 98 percent of EV battery material could only meet about a third of lithium demand by 2050 if the country continues to rely on cars the way it does now– two thirds would still come from the earth. 

Getting Americans out of their cars, even their electric ones, would take sweeping changes to the country’s infrastructure, the fabric of urban areas, and the very culture. Some have described the level of transformation required as unrealistic. But the researchers found examples of successful efforts in big cities around the world, even in the United States. Riofrancos pointed to free bus lines in Providence, Rhode Island, e-bike subsidies in Denver, and efforts in other cities to scale back parking lots.

“The conversations are happening but they’re not connected with congressional funding priorities at all,” Riofrancos said. She added that the Biden administration’s recently released transportation blueprint, with its focus on public transit and land-use planning, is out of step with the emphasis on promoting EVs and domestic lithium mining in the Inflation Reduction Act, the landmark climate legislation Biden signed into law last August. 

“I think at this point the question is not whether we decarbonize, but how,” she said. “That’s still an open question, and I think we should be having a broader kind of social and political debate over the different ways forward on this.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A zero emissions future without the mining boom on Jan 24, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

“We shouldn’t be afraid of involving businesses”: Doughnut Economics in Brussels

Green European Journal - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 06:35

Kate Raworth’s doughnut model is an economic theory designed to easily and intelligibly assess an economy’s sustainability. Visually represented in the shape of a doughnut, it combines the concepts of planetary boundaries and minimum social standards to measure economic performance. Major European cities such as Amsterdam, Geneva and Brussels, have adopted the doughnut model to guide their green transitions. Barbara Trachte, secretary of state of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for Economic Transition and Scientific Research, explains how Brussels is using the the model to set a new direction for the city region’s economy.

Green European Journal: What made you decide to adopt the doughnut economics model in the Brussels-Capital region?

Barbara Trachte: At the beginning of my term, in July 2019, we decided to rename the Brussels-Capital Region’s Ministry for the Economy as the “Ministry for Economic Transition” to really show that we were going in a different direction. It was about aligning economic development with our social and environmental objectives and trying to transform Brussels’ economy to make it environmentally and socially responsible. Before I got there, there were just a few piecemeal and one-off initiatives. Traditionally, climate and social goals have been considered economic externalities. It’s only recently that they have become a central issue.

Until now, looking at the economy hasn’t necessarily been a priority for Greens. Yet the economy is a huge factor in climate change. In 2019, with many years of experience in government behind us, we decided that it was very important to invest in this area too. The first thing that we needed was a theoretical tool. Regional development policies had some very comprehensive programmes to support businesses in the transition, but there was no overall vision or real consideration of environmental impacts. So we needed indicators, a compass for our government agencies. First of all, we wanted to conduct participatory research together with government agencies and the public, to find new indicators and to internalise what were once considered “externalities”. The book Doughnut Economics had just come out and it seemed appealing to us because it was very easy to understand. For once, we had a comprehensive picture of the environmental and social impacts of the economy and how to fully take them both into account. The biggest strength of the growth model that still dominates economics is that it’s a curve that everyone understands.

Doughnut Economics allowed us to explain our plan to government agencies so that they really grasped what we wanted to do.

The BrusselsDonut project began development in 2020. How has the process gone since then, particularly in the context of the pandemic? What has it achieved concretely?

We worked with the research non-profit Confluences, ICHEC Research Lab, government agencies as well as Kate Raworth and her team at the DEAL on the project. The first stage was funding the research, then working on a way of scaling down the doughnut to regional size. Once this stage was completed in 2020, amid the pandemic, the lessons learned enabled us to have a snapshot of the social and environmental impacts of the region’s economy, and to produce guides on applying this theory to specific strategies.

Finally, we had a clear methodology for a business to assess its environmental and social impact, both in its local area and beyond, as well as a methodology for explaining this theory to Brussels’ citizen-consumers. The core team was made up of a dozen people tasked with researching the methodology and writing the report. They went to see our government agencies, three businesses and members of the public. We would have liked to have reached far more people from the outset, but the pandemic made it difficult.

When you’re unfamiliar with the theory, the idea of a doughnut as a framework might appear gimmicky. Given that economics is seen as a “serious” subject, how were you and your doughnut idea initially received?

To be honest, it was much better received than I expected. A few months after our coalition agreement, this idea of economic transition was in vogue anyway. In 2019, before the pandemic, the European Commission had, for example, just unveiled its Green Deal. Then the Covid-19 crisis really showed how fragile supply chains were in our globalised world. As Greens, we had long known that this system was no good for the climate or society, but pandemic illustrated that it wasn’t even able to provide us with basic products like masks. Everybody realised that this globalised economy made our companies very vulnerable. And the current energy crisis, as well as successive scorching summers, have proven us right again. There was fertile ground.

The doughnut model imagines an outer circle of planetary boundaries that cannot be crossed and an inner circle of social rights that must be respected. What did it reveal about the environmental and social conditions in Brussels?

Unsurprisingly, Brussels exceeds a host of environmental limits. It was unsurprising because Kate Raworth had already applied her theory to typical “Global North” and “Global South” situations. Generally, in the North, we cross lots of planetary boundaries on the outside of the doughnut, but we do better on the inside by granting lots of social rights to citizens. In the South, it’s the other way around. In Brussels, for example, we realised that the region was spending seven times its carbon budget. But the biggest surprise came from the social foundation, where we saw that we had gone into the red quite a bit inside our doughnut. This is partly explained by the fact that the targets for public services were set high by the citizens we consulted. Importantly, it demonstrated that need citizens if we are to meet their needs.

Did the pandemic also lead you to rethink Brussels’ economic model? Was there anything that surprised you or challenged your beliefs?

Quite the opposite. The pandemic confirmed a number of our intuitions. In March 2020, when we needed to produce masks because we didn’t have any left, the first businesses that stepped up came from the social and solidarity economy. Everything we’ve been saying for ages about resilience, the local economy, supply chains that don’t depend on exploited Chinese workers etc. Well, it works! In this unprecedented pandemic situation, it was the businesses we’ve always championed that were the first to respond. While this period was perhaps a revelation for some, it was really a validation for Greens. The social economy model has pioneered the economic transition and has shown its resilience in a crisis, because it meets local needs with jobs that cannot be offshored.

Change must always be properly supported, then it can stand the test of time.

Brussels is also an international city that is home to people, organisations and businesses with links throughout the world. Does BrusselsDonut address the impact Brussels has on other parts of the world?

Yes, the big advantage of doughnut economics is that it includes everything in terms of impact in a local area and outside of it, too. In Brussels, if we just look at environmental impacts and we just focus on the city, we will be able to reduce our direct impacts. But in Brussels, over 80 per cent of our emissions are indirect and related to what we import for consumption (food, transport etc.). With doughnut economics, all of this is taken into account. This theory provides the tools that will enable these companies to change their business model, the way they work, as well as the products and services they offer. And this will allow us to re-orient our economic policy towards companies that have joined the transition or want to do so.

What’s your vision for a prosperous and sustainable future for the Brussels region? How will the region change and what will drive this change?

We’ve updated our business support tools, such as help in developing business models, assessing impacts, finding new customers, etc. We also now have an Economic Transition Fund with a clear strategy as well as precise and dynamic criteria. It’s no longer just about saying “yes, we’ll fund you” or “no, we won’t fund you”, but rather “you’re here at the moment, and if you go further this way, we’ll give you more funding”.

It’s also about bringing back industries to Brussels, because it’s mainly a service economy. We want more production in the city so that we’re more resilient and diversified. In Brussels, we want to see more self-employed people, more women entrepreneurs and more companies setting an example socially and environmentally. We’re heading in the right direction with lots of examples of Brussels businesses that are already there or making the transition.

But Brussels will never by a self-sufficient city. It’s still a service economy (93 per cent of jobs) and will stay that way, which makes sense given that it’s the capital of Belgium and Europe, with a wealth of connections and public and private institutions. As food self-sufficiency is also very low, we’d also like more farming, but there’s very little space.

We also have a community currency, the Zinne. We are helping this volunteer-led initiative to scale up by increasing the number of businesses that accept it, developing the electronic Zinne, collaborating with municipalities and boosting trade within the network. The Zinne is a tool for supporting the regional economy because it’s spent in the local area, unlike the euro.

The Brussels region has struggled to implement its sustainable mobility plan in some areas because of objections from residents unhappy about its impact on drivers. How can the region gain people’s support and understanding when it comes to the transition? What could and should it do differently?

Mobility policies are often met with resistance when they are implemented. And then, once the transition is complete and people have actually experienced the change, opposition disappears pretty fast. In the places with the strongest resistance in Brussels, this subsided fairly quickly in the end. In my own municipality of Schaerbeek, there was opposition to Good Move initially, but three months later it was gone. In the centre of Brussels, there’s no longer any resistance either and things are going relatively well even though there have been major changes.

As for shop owners, for example, we have to take their needs into account. There needs to be support alongside implementation, otherwise opposition will remain. For example, Brussels has many new cycling lanes. For shop owner, this means their goods can be delivered within minutes by back than waiting for a van to get through traffic then double park to offload deliveries. The alternative mobility routes have thus helped soften opposition that was felt in the beginning.

For you then, the best solution is to involve as many people as possible? Because Greens are often seen as preachy.

I don’t think we should expect to implement changes in, for example, mobility and have everybody onboard from the start. Regardless of the neighbourhood, behaviour change always scares people at the beginning. There are also shops that can’t be supplied overnight by cargo bike. Change must always be properly supported then it can stand the test of time. Everywhere, cities that have pedestrianised their centre, like Bordeaux, saw lots of opposition but today it’s a no brainer, including for shopkeepers.

Greens have a very good understanding of planetary boundaries thanks to the work of the scientific community and international processes such as the COP events. Is the doughnut model a way of making their commitment to social justice just as fundamental to their approach?

The doughnut model enables the link between social and environmental impacts to be clearly illustrated. It’s therefore a powerful communication tool. It’s crucial for Greens to talk more about the economy. We are very good on energy, biodiversity, mobility etc. On the economy, we have expertise that needs to be recognised.

There’s no time to lose. If we want to achieve our climate objectives for 2030 and 2050, we must work with businesses and encourage them to transition. I encourage Greens to make economic issues their own. We’re more credible than people think. For example, I met two women in Strasbourg, France who work with businesses every day: Lyon Metropole Vice President Emeline Baume and Strasbourg Eurometropole Vice President Anne-Marie Jean The three of us are doing the same thing in trying to get businesses in our regions to be more climate responsible, and the three of us are met with both opposition and openness.

What’s happening with the Green Deal, with the European taxonomy, with the world of finance and the banks, with workers themselves… is creating a favourable environment. In Brussels, companies tell me every day that when they want to hire young talent leaving university while graduates are increasingly asking for information about firms’ environmental and social impact.

We’ve now reached a point where we can accelerate things. Lots of businesses now believe that they have to act or else risk being hit hard by crises.

What advice would you give a city or region considering trying doughnut economics?

Participation really brings very nice surprises. We shouldn’t be afraid of involving businesses. Every day I work with socially or environmentally responsible businesses, but also with big supermarkets. They are increasingly willing to engage and work with us, recognising our legitimacy and expertise. So we should adopt doughnut economics by involving as many people as possible, including the stakeholders who seem furthest away from us.

This interview was conducted in November 2022 by Benjamin Joyeux on behalf of the Green European Journal.

Categories: H. Green News

Can cities eliminate heat-related deaths in a warming world? Phoenix is trying.

Grist - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 03:30

This story is part of the Cities + Solutions series, which chronicles surprising and inspiring climate initiatives in communities across the U.S. through stories of cities leading the way. For early access to the rest of the series, subscribe to the Looking Forward climate solutions newsletter.

Regional Carrillo could walk to his last job in five minutes. In most places, it would be a pleasant commute. But in Phoenix, where summer days routinely top 110 degrees Fahrenheit (and can feel like 150), it’s far from a walk in the park — especially when there are no trees or shade along the way.

“When people move to Arizona, they don’t think we have any climate crisis,” Carrillo, a school teacher, says. “No, we don’t have hurricanes. We don’t have tsunamis. But what we do have is the heat, and the heat kills out here.”

Phoenix’s vote for a cooler future

Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, is known as the Valley of the Sun by the 4.5 million people who call it home. The name fits. Phoenicians braved 22 days above 110 degrees in 2022. Brutal heat is nothing new here, but it’s only getting worse: The number of days above that dangerous threshold is projected to double by 2060. “Phoenix is very much on the front lines of climate change,” says city councilmember and Grist 50 honoree Yassamin Ansari, who has made climate central to her platform. 

Maricopa County recorded 339 heat-related deaths in 2021, continuing an upward trend that started in 2014, when 61 people died, and has climbed 70 percent since 2019. As the body’s core temperature rises, the risk of heat stress or heat stroke increases. Once the body’s internal temperature hits 103 degrees, the brain, lungs, heart, and key organs can’t function properly.

Read Next The temperature threshold the human body can’t survive

Heat season was revving up when Ansari was inaugurated in April 2021, but so too was the city’s response. Six months after Ansari took office, Phoenix established a $2.8 million Office of Heat Response and Mitigation — the first, and so far only, publicly funded office of its kind. Most cities spread such responsibilities across departments, but heat is the agency’s sole focus. Its four employees are charged with preventing deaths and lowering urban temperatures, which they hope to achieve through initiatives as simple as handing out bottled water and as ambitious as doubling the city’s tree cover. 

“Our ultimate goal,” says Ansari, “is to save as many lives as we can.” 

Heat is not felt equally 

Take a look at Maricopa County’s annual heat death reports and a consistent pattern emerges. “The people most likely to die from heat exposure are disproportionately likely to either be unsheltered or live in mobile homes,” says Lora Phillips, a sociologist at Arizona State University.

Those in lower-income communities of color that have faced historical disinvestment also tend to live with fewer trees and more concrete, which traps heat. With every $10,000 increase in a neighborhood’s annual median household income, Phoenix residents enjoy a decrease of .50 degrees Fahrenheit in daytime surface temperature. “You don’t even need to read reports. You can just drive around and you see what neighborhoods are 10 degrees warmer than others,” says Melissa Guardaro, an expert in sustainability and resilience at Arizona State University. 

Carrillo, who also is a community organizer, says this blatant inequality creates an “infrastructure of failure” that is passed down through generations. “Why are the kids not outside?” he says. “It’s because their communities are not built for them to be outside.”

“We don’t have hurricanes. We don’t have tsunamis. But what we do have is the heat, and the heat kills out here.”

– Regional Carillo

That idea provides the framework for Maricopa County’s Heat Action Planning Guide, a 120-page adaptation manual developed through the health department’s collaboration with ASU, The Nature Conservancy, and three nonprofits that helped rally support, and trust, within the community.  

The planning guide homes in on three of the county’s hottest and most historically disenfranchised neighborhoods: Mesa, Edison Eastlake, and Lindo Park-Roesley Park. In these areas, residents shared their top concerns about heat; identified hot spots, like bus stops without shelter and sidewalks without tree cover; and offered ideas, like erecting portable shade structures on commuter routes and creating a warning system to let people know when it’s too hot to venture outdoors safely.

Ryan Winkle, the executive director of RAIL CDC — the Mesa partner organization — says this bottom-up approach leads to solutions that are more likely to succeed. He cites tree plantings as an example: In Mesa, most people rent their homes and are not interested in tending young trees. So instead of the standard strategy of planting them in yards, RAIL hopes to establish a neighborhood tree farm where saplings can grow large and strong before being transplanted, minimizing the effort residents must make to keep them healthy.

With this community-driven approach, RAIL has secured $75,000 from various grants and programs to implement some of the Heat Action Planning Guide’s suggestions — starting with a plan to bring sprinklers, shade stops, and vegetation to West Broadway Road and South Grand Avenue, creating a model for additional “cool corridors” that will be established over the next seven years. 

Mobilizing life-saving resources — but not fast enough

The county published its Heat Action Planning Guide in 2017, but it’s taken five years to bring these solutions to the streets. The delay highlights the tension between the often slow pace of community revitalization and the urgent need for shade and cooling. This is where the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation comes in. 

Following citizens’ requests to accelerate cooling strategies, the mayor and city council approved the establishment of a heat office, which acts separately from the city’s climate and sustainability office, and secured the $2.8 million to get it started.

Pilot projects like the Heat Action Planning Guide have helped the office find its footing. Its leader, David Hondula, an environmental scientist and heat researcher from ASU, is now working to execute some of the plan’s local cooling strategies on a city scale. So far, that has looked like securing funding for short-term relief like emergency cooling supplies and longer-term mitigation strategies, including tree planting and heat-reflective pavement.

Water misters at a Phoenix restaurant kept diners cool as temperatures reached dangerous levels last summer. Mario Tama / Getty Images

During the height of the 2022 heat season, $600,000 in surplus COVID-relief funding financed cooling supplies like towels, hats, and umbrellas. Hondula’s team also expanded the region’s heat-relief network to 112 cooling centers and 56 hydration stations where anyone can get bottles of water. Outreach initiatives, particularly to the unhoused, increased by a factor of 40 last year, Hondula told AZCentral

Hondula’s office is awaiting final data from the summer of 2022 to see if these initiatives saved lives. It doesn’t look good. By one projection, the city recorded a record 450 heat-related deaths in 2022. Ansari says preliminary numbers show 331 confirmed deaths and another 128 under investigation.

Still, most agree the steps taken thus far have undoubtedly saved lives, as have small acts of kindness people extend to their neighbors. The question is whether they can come fast enough to outpace the threat facing Phoenix — and communities around the world.

Ahead of the next heat season, Hondula’s office is conducting community outreach to determine how to increase tree cover to 25 percent of the city (it’s currently around 13 percent) in an equitable and water-savvy way. His team continues ramping up emergency shelter options for at-risk community members, and will by 2030 create a network of 100 cool corridors in vulnerable neighborhoods to make commutes like Carrillo’s more manageable.

Phoenix is a proving ground, and potentially a template, for a future in which almost everyone will endure ever-greater heat. The city hopes to show that it’s possible to combat this mounting crisis quickly, using strategies that center equity to ensure that no one is left to face this threat alone.

Explore more Cities + Solutions:

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Can cities eliminate heat-related deaths in a warming world? Phoenix is trying. on Jan 24, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Amazon’s ‘The Rig’ brings new energy to old eco terrors

Grist - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 03:15

What’s scarier: being stranded at sea, stuck in an ominous fog, or forced to confront the monstrous motives of the fossil fuel industry? Well thanks to The Rig, the highly bingeable new sci-fi series from Amazon Prime Video, you don’t have to choose.

Rather than using sci-fi tropes such as of a giant sea monster or a devastating natural disaster acting as a stand-in for climate change, The Rig is a contemporary thriller rooted in the interpersonal conflicts that arise when a group of people learn their future has been uprooted due to forces beyond their control.

The series focuses on a crew of North Sea oil workers who discover their offshore drilling platform is about to be decommissioned by its owner Pictor Energy, a (fictional) major player in the United Kingdom’s energy market. Soon, a mysterious fog engulfs the operation, making it impossible for the crew to return to the nearby Scottish mainland. 

John Carpenter fans will recognize where the show must go from here, albeit with a Build Back Better twist: Workers begin to spiral into madness, be it from contact with supernatural forces buried deep beneath them, or upon learning that their oil industry employer is not coming to save them. Talk of retraining workers into green-based jobs creates added division between the blue- and white-collar ranks, with seasoned workers calling plans to send grown men back to school “embarrassing.”

Calls for industry retraining, of course, aren’t merely a work of fiction; they’ve been sweeping the oil and gas fields in Europe and the United States for years as governments and the private sector attempt to quell global emissions. Many oil workers know that a transition in the field is underway, though unlike in The Rig, a majority may already have skills that could translate to other energy sectors. And according to one survey, half of the rig workers in the North Sea, a region that supports over 200,000 jobs, want to be retained for work in offshore wind. 

But despite calls for increased transitions to wind and other renewables in the region, the United Kingdom recently announced more drilling in the North Sea, mostly in the name of domestic energy production. Climate groups have called the decision unlawful, and the Scottish government recently announced that they do not support the expansion of oil and gas in the area.

Throughout writing and shooting the series, series creator David Macpherson said he was inspired by the decommissioning of oil rigs and the energy transition. He wanted the show to speak to the stories of the people who work on the rigs, from old rig workers to green management with new ideas. “As much as we want to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, industrial decline is a process that often isn’t managed very well, particularly in the United Kingdom,” Macpherson told Grist. “We have a long history of not looking after workers when these big industrial changes come about.”

Macpherson, a former environmental policy worker for the Scottish government and the son of a North Sea oil worker, said he wanted the series to act as a way of bringing the interpersonal conflict to the discussions of climate change and energy transition, but through an entertaining medium. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for the people who work in these places and these industries,” he said. “We get pushed into false dichotomies and I wanted to use the show to hopefully bring a bit more nuance to these discussions.”

Read Next ‘Alcarrás’ review: In a new Spanish film, solar power threatens a family farm

Though the series is currently streaming globally, Macpherson said he wanted it to feel like a Scottish show in its origin and location, with North Sea oil acting as a microcosm for the rest of the world’s energy industry disputes. “We get a lot of post-apocalyptic dramas where the climate disaster has happened in the past and we’re in a sort of a different Earth, but I really wanted to focus on the here and now,” Macpherson said. 

The Rig comes at a moment when talks of a global fuel transition, unstable economies, and energy scarcity are more prevalent than ever. Premiering at the beginning of the year, moments in the series nod to workers who have already gone through a global pandemic; some workers pontificate that their underwater woes may be caused by the Russian military as opposed to a supernatural aquatic nemesis.

At times, the heavy-handed talk of energy, climate, transition, and environmental harm reminds viewers of what it is, an action, sci-fi, thriller, trying to fit a lot of drama, knowledge, global issues, and supernatural elements into six episodes. From a horror perspective, there’s plenty of real-life source material. Oil rig workers have died, been stranded for days, and face grueling conditions to maintain energy needs and record profits for oil companies. 

Throughout the series, which is growing in popularity with American streamers and already receiving praise from horror icons like Stephen King, talk of both a once and future wave hangs heavy. Even the subject of a changing tide causes workers to tense up and brush off the unknown future with playful, pointed banter of “going green.”

Taking a page out of Ridley Scott’s Alien trilogy, the real villain of The Rig isn’t apparent until the end, when more information about Pictor Energy comes to light. In a not-so-subtle nod to the Exxon internal memos, it turns out the company knew about the underwater organism and its effects the whole time. 

But don’t let the spoilers deter you: Whether you’re a fan of supernatural suspense films, a rapid environmental news reader, or both, The Rig is worth a watch. The themes of climate disaster, or as the rig’s foreman puts it, “punching the Earth until it punches back” might not be new to the genre, but the series takes the audience deeper. With talks of renewable energy, carbon capture, and sea monsters rising from the deep, The Rig is able to compress energy headlines and modern sci-fi into a mostly digestible thriller worth exploring. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Amazon’s ‘The Rig’ brings new energy to old eco terrors on Jan 24, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Biden administration unveils roadmap for a greener, more equitable transportation sector

Grist - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 03:00

Cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships make up the U.S.’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions — about one-third of the nation’s total. Now, the Biden administration is laying out a strategy to clean up the transportation sector while also making it more convenient and just.

Four federal agencies unveiled a “national blueprint for transportation decarbonization” earlier this month, a collaboration they described as the first of its kind for the federal government.. Co-published by the Departments of Energy, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the 88-page roadmap envisions a low-emissions mobility system that is “clean, safe, secure, accessible, affordable, and equitable, and provides sustainable transportation options for people and goods.”

“The domestic transportation sector presents an enormous opportunity to drastically reduce emissions that accelerate climate change and reduce harmful pollution,” Jennifer Granholm, secretary of the Department of Energy, said in a statement.

The document lays out three overarching strategies for decarbonizing transportation. The most straightforward — and the one that’s expected to cut greenhouse gases the most — involves replacing fossil fuels with cleaner alternatives. For the most part, this means cars, trains, and planes powered by batteries or green hydrogen, a fuel made using renewable electricity and water. The agencies also propose some level of decarbonization via “sustainable liquid fuels,” a category that includes biofuels made from corn, agricultural waste, or algae.

The two other strategies, “increasing convenience” and “improving efficiency,” are more cross-cutting, a nod to the interconnected nature of the transportation sector. Putting schools, workplaces, and businesses closer to people’s homes could cut down on traffic, simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas emissions and boosting quality of life. Better walking and biking infrastructure can also encourage physical activity and make travel safer. 

Improving efficiency involves fewer single-occupant vehicles and more people on trains and buses, which can shuttle more people around while using less space and energy. Cars, buses, and trains can also become more efficient themselves, using newer technology to go farther with less fuel or electricity. Such improvements can reduce energy use and save people money.

The report identifies opportunities within both strategies — increasing convenience and improving efficiency — to rectify environmental injustices related to the transportation sector. As a result of decades of restrictive housing policies and zoning laws, poor people and people of color tend to face a disproportionate burden of air pollution from major transit corridors like highways — all while living farther from reliable public transit than their whiter and more affluent counterparts. The roadmap says new transportation investments should benefit these people, including through new job opportunities and by building more affordable housing near transit centers. 

Environmental advocates have applauded the roadmap for highlighting decarbonization solutions that go beyond electric cars, although some have raised eyebrows at its “ambivalence” on biofuels. According to the roadmap, 50 billion gallons of these fuels will be needed by 2050 for every mode of transportation except passenger vehicles — but especially for aviation and shipping. Environmental advocates argue that crop-based biofuels can drive deforestation and biodiversity loss and that other kinds of biofuels are not technologically viable. Even when they decrease greenhouse gas emissions, research suggests they may have unintended knock-on effects, like when fertilizer runoff causes rivers, lakes, and ocean areas to lose their oxygen, suffocating the animals that live there.

The federal agencies emphasize more research is needed to produce sustainable fuels in a way that “considers climate change, land use, water, and ecosystem implications.”

The roadmap doesn’t represent a commitment from the federal government to clean up the transportation sector, but Deron Lovaas, a senior policy adviser for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a blog post that it’s a promising “starting gun” — a vision that can become reality with concrete action plans from each of the four federal agencies, as well as coordinated action from states and companies. 

Federal agencies “have a lot of leverage and influence,” Lovaas told Grist, but they’ll be hard-pressed to reach their decarbonization targets on their own. “State agencies are key,” he added, urging them to support the federal roadmap by launching their own transportation projects, taking advantage of unprecedented federal funding from President Joe Biden’s climate spending and bipartisan infrastructure laws.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Biden administration unveils roadmap for a greener, more equitable transportation sector on Jan 24, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

LDS environmentalists want their institution to address the Great Salt Lake’s collapse

High Country News - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 01:00
Advocates call for healing the rift between scripture and politics.
Categories: H. Green News

Mining Industry Still Falls Short on Tailings Safety

EarthBlog - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 00:00

Guest Author: Yvonne Orengo, Director of the Andrew Lees Trust

This week, investors, insurers, mining companies, representatives of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and other stakeholders meet in London for the annual Mining 2030 Investor Agenda & Global Tailings Summit, with the goal of improving tailings safety around the world. This year’s meeting will focus on creating a Global Tailings Management Institute and promoting the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management (GISTM).

Held on the anniversary of the Brumandinho dam disaster of 25th January 2019, which killed 270 people, the initiative is a reminder that large mining companies are yet to make meaningful changes to mine tailings and mine tailings dam management that actually improve the lives of downstream communities and protect ecosystems.  This can be seen through the actions of one of the largest mining companies in the world, Rio Tinto, in Madagascar.  While Rio Tinto boasts its involvement in establishing and promoting the GISTM, the QMM mine does not currently adhere to the standard. Rio Tinto claims it will be in compliance by August 2023.

The Rio Tinto QMM mine in southern Madagascar is extracting ilmenite, which yields titanium dioxide used to produce ultra-white pigments for paints, papers, cosmetics and food. QMM is a company jointly owned by Rio Tinto (80%) and the Malagasy Government (20%).  Extraction began in Mandena in 2009 with a projected project lifespan of 40 years and the removal of 6000 hectares of indigenous littoral forest in one of the poorest and most environmentally sensitive areas of the island.

Tailings Dam Failures

There have been four reported tailings dam failures at Rio Tinto’s QMM mine: 2010, 2018, Feb 2022 and March 2022. The incidents in 2018 and 2022 received significant attention due to the appearance of dead fish.  One additional incident was reported by the local community on 24th April 2022, but was denied by QMM.

In response to questions about the dam failures in February and March of last year, Rio Tinto’s Chair asserted that there are “no tailings” and “no tailings dam” at the QMM mine. This is highly deceptive. They call the mine’s waste “reject sands”. This is another way of saying mine tailings. These are deposited back into the mine basin, thereby making it a Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) or Tailings Disposal Facility. 

The Malagasy regulator requires QMM to build a “berm” 30m wide and 4m high, in order to “prevent water flowing from the mine basin into the surrounding environment.”  The “berm” around the TSF is therefore a mine tailings dam. Even if the company insists on calling it by other names (i.e., berm, barrier, levee, embankment, retaining wall). It has a performance objective of a dam: to retain mine process wastewater in the mine basin. If it does not do that, it has failed.

Contamination of local waterways

Through churning of mineral sands during extraction, QMM’s mine generates water containing heavy metals such as uranium, lead and thorium, which it releases through surface discharge and groundwater seepage.  QMM water data, analysed in 2019 by radioactivity expert Dr. Stella Swanson,indicated high concentrations of uranium in the QMM mine basin, “creating an enhanced source of uranium” to local rivers and waterways when released.

Uranium and lead have been detected in waters downstream of the QMM mine, 50 and 40 times respectively above WHO safe drinking water levels (Swanson 2019, Emerman 2019, 2020 and 2021).Uranium can affect kidneys and bones (Health Canada, 2019). Low levels of lead exposure can damage the nervous system, and are linked to learning disabilities, shorter stature, impaired hearing, and impaired formation/function of blood cells (US EPA, 2019). 

In 2019, hydrology and mining expert Dr. Steven Emerman calculated the annual probability of seepage from the QMM mine basin or overtopping of the dam in response to heavy rainfall and determined these to be “unacceptably high.”

Impacts on people

Villagers collect drinking water and fish for food and livelihoods from the lakes around the QMM mine at Mandena.  Following the February and March tailings dam failures at QMM in 2022, hundreds of dead fish appeared. A fishing ban and months of conflict and protests ensued.

A total of 8778 affected villagers submitted complaints after the fishing ban destroyed their livelihoods, compounding ten years of losses and health issues that they attribute to water quality degradation caused by QMM operations.Latest reports from the ground suggest that the proposed compensation for 5400 of these complainants does not adequately reflect the real value of the decade-long losses experienced by villagers.

Villagers have no independent arbitration, legal counsel nor professional accompaniment for these negotiations. The majority of rural villagers are non-literate, with little understanding of Rio Tinto/QMM’s international standards and commitments or their national level obligations. Most are excluded from decision-making.


Rio Tinto’s maneuvering to avoid the words “tailings,” “dam,” and “tailings storage facility,” allow the company to claim compliance and support for the GISTM, while avoiding the safety improvements urgently needed to protect communities and their livelihoods. By witholding or delaying the release of water data, water quality analysis, dam safety inspection reports, risk assessments and other relevant information, the company undermines the goals of transparency established in the GISTM.  As investors and UNEP announce the newly formed tailings institute, it will be imperative that the institute have the authority and capacity to confront mining companies, like Rio Tinto, that claim compliance but whose actions are in fact the opposite.

The post Mining Industry Still Falls Short on Tailings Safety appeared first on Earthworks.

Categories: H. Green News

L’aumento dei prezzi può diventare un ostacolo alla mobilità degli europei?

Green European Journal - Tue, 01/24/2023 - 00:00

In risposta alla contingenza delle crisi sociale e climatica, diversi Paesi europei stanno sperimentando politiche di mobilità che implichino un sistema di trasporto pubblico gratuito o, quanto meno, a massiccia partecipazione statale. Questo tipo di misure è efficace e in grado di far evolvere le nostre abitudini a lungo termine? Philipp Cerny, specialista di politiche dei trasporti, analizza i potenziali limiti del trasporto pubblico gratuito.

La libertà di movimento è uno dei vantaggi principali dell’Unione europea; tuttavia, le politiche predominanti che sostengono questo diritto fondamentale presentano gravi limitazioni nell’Europa odierna. Il concentrarsi eccessivamente sul possesso individuale dell’automobile crea restrizioni nei modi e nei luoghi in cui le persone possono viaggiare, specialmente visto l’aumento dei prezzi della benzina e la profonda crisi economica; al contempo, i cambiamenti climatici necessitano una revisione globale dei sistemi di mobilità.

Un numero sempre maggiore di cittadini europei versa in condizioni finanziarie difficili. Il carovita ha conseguenze su ogni aspetto della vita quotidiana delle persone, dal loro modo di consumare e socializzare alla maniera in cui lavorano e si spostano. Nonostante il lavoro da remoto sia diventato la norma per molti durante la pandemia, quest’opzione non è possibile per tutti. La qualità della vita di molti lavoratori e lavoratrici, tra cui gli addetti alle vendite e le professioni meno stabili e meno pagate come operatori assistenziali e  personale ospedaliero, dipende dai trasporti.

Secondo i dati Eurostat del 2018, immediatamente prima dell’attuale crisi le famiglie europee spendevano in totale 1,1 miliardi di euro all’anno in trasporti, una cifra equivalente al 7,2 per cento del PIL europeo. I trasporti, al 13,2 per cento della spesa totale, rappresentavano la seconda principale categoria di spesa per le famiglie dopo l’alloggio (24 per cento) e prima di cibo e bevande non alcoliche (12,1 per cento). Il costo dei trasporti per le famiglie europee è destinato a salire ancora, a causa della forte inflazione e di una crisi energetica sempre più grave. Il prezzo del carburante è salito del 150 per cento, e il costo dei biglietti dei mezzi pubblici è aumentato quasi ovunque. In Germania, il principale operatore ferroviario ha annunciato per dicembre 2022 un aumento dei prezzi dei biglietti di almeno il 5 per cento. L’aumento dei prezzi non è stato omogeneo all’interno dell’area europea: nelle stazioni di servizio ungheresi, per esempio, il carburante costa circa la metà rispetto a quelle svedesi, per via del tetto imposto dal governo di Budapest, contrario alle sanzioni contro la Russia, sul prezzo del carburante. L’aumento dei prezzi è stato accompagnato da misure diseguali prese dai diversi governi europei: alcuni hanno scelto semplicemente di ridurre le tasse sul carburante, mentre altri hanno optato per politiche più trasformative riducendo i prezzi dei trasporti pubblici. Può l’adozione di un trasporto pubblico gratuito o scontato aiutare ad allentare la morsa del costo della vita e, al contempo, aprire la strada verso un trasporto più sostenibile?

L’estate europea all’insegna dei viaggi low-cost

Nell’estate 2022, ha fatto notizia l’introduzione da parte della Germania di un biglietto mensile valido su quasi tutti i mezzi di trasporto pubblico, ad eccezione di alcuni treni a lunga percorrenza, al prezzo di 9 euro. Questo tipo di abbonamento, disponibile da giugno ad agosto, ha rappresentato un grande cambiamento per gli utenti del trasporto pubblico tedesco, abituati ad un complesso sistema tariffario del trasporto pubblico.

Anche se il trasporto pubblico divenisse gratuito è necessario che sia anche di facile accesso.

Mentre l’abbonamento a 9 euro introdotto dalla Germania si rivolgeva principalmente ai pendolari, altri Paesi hanno cercato di attirare i vacanzieri attraverso le linee ferroviarie. La Danimarca ha reintrodotto, per il secondo anno consecutivo, un Rejsepas (titolo di viaggio) che permette ai passeggeri di viaggiare liberamente su quasi tutti i mezzi di trasporto pubblici per otto giorni, al prezzo di 399 corone (54 euro). L’offerta era valida solo durante le vacanze estive danesi e limitata a 75mila biglietti disponibili. Il Tågluffarkort (abbonamento ferroviario) svedese era invece rivolto principalmente a chi viaggia su lunghe distanze: valido durante i mesi estivi e per periodi dai 7 ai 30 giorni, permetteva di viaggiare su tutti i treni dell’operatore nazionale SJ, compresi quelli per Oslo o Copenaghen, per una cifra tra le 1995 e le 4695 corone (rispettivamente 190 e 450 euro). Anche l’operatore finlandese VR ha introdotto un abbonamento estivo, il Lomalippu (biglietto vacanze), che abilitava i passeggeri a viaggiare per periodi dai cinque ai trenta giorni durante i mesi estivi ad un costo variabile tra 119 e 349 euro. L’offerta è stata in seguito rinnovata per le vacanze scolastiche di ottobre. Infine, in Repubblica Ceca, la compagnia ferroviaria České dráhya ha istituito il Jízdenka na léto (abbonamento estivo), acquistabile durante l’estate al prezzo di 890 o 1290 corone ceche (rispettivamente 36 o 52 euro). L’offerta, contrariamente ad altre, permetteva di acquistare un abbonamento in prima classe, rivolgendosi quindi anche a chi viaggia per lavoro.

Questo tipo di offerte rappresenta un’efficace evoluzione dell’Interrail, che permette ai viaggiatori europei di spostarsi liberamente in treno al di fuori del proprio Paese d’origine per un periodo limitato. Seppure sia importante fornire opzioni di viaggio ecologicamente sostenibili per le vacanze, anche per chi ha disponibilità economiche limitate, questo tipo di offerte non è di grande aiuto per chi fatica a sostenere i costi quotidiani del trasporto pubblico.

Trasporto pubblico gratuito: una vittoria per tutti?

Spostarsi in Europa utilizzando i trasporti pubblici può rivelarsi una sfida difficile.  Anche all’interno dei Paesi stessi mancano opzioni tariffarie trasparenti rivolte a chi li utilizza quotidianamente. Se è vero che il prezzo gioca un ruolo importante nell’attrarre i consumatori, facilità d’accesso e servizio di qualità sono fondamentali per fidelizzarli.

Una delle lezioni più importanti che si possono trarre dall’esperimento tedesco del biglietto universale è il bisogno di un sistema tariffario semplice e valido al di là dei confini delle regioni, su diversi mezzi di trasporto e appartenenti a diversi operatori. La maggior parte delle compagnie ferroviarie europee propone abbonamenti annuali, ma questi hanno lo svantaggio di essere validi per un solo operatore e principalmente per i treni. In Germania c’è già chi chiede di trasformare il biglietto unico a 9 euro in una soluzione permanente, benché ad un prezzo diverso. Dal canto suo, l’Austria ha introdotto KlimaTicket Ö, un abbonamento a forte partecipazione statale che permette di utilizzare tutte le linee di trasporti pubblici (treni pubblici e privati, mezzi pubblici e urbani) per un anno intero, ad un prezzo massimo di 1095 euro. L’abbonamento svizzero GA, in vigore dal 1990, copre un ventaglio di mezzi di trasporto simile a quello austriaco, pur presentando un prezzo ben più elevato.

Altri Paesi decisamente più piccoli, come il Lussemburgo, hanno scelto di superare i problemi tariffari del trasporto pubblico rendendolo semplicemente gratuito. Anche Malta ha preso la stessa decisione nell’ottobre 2022, facilitata dal fatto che i trasporti pubblici sull’arcipelago si limitano sostanzialmente agli autobus. Anche il governo spagnolo ha fatto dei passi avanti in questa direzione, fornendo viaggi gratuiti sui treni locali e regionali gestiti dalla compagnia statale Renfe (offerta prolungata fino alla fine del 2023). La misura è stata finanziata utilizzando parte dei fondi raccolti tassando i guadagni di banche e compagnie energetiche. Per incoraggiare la transizione dai mezzi di trasporto individuali ai treni, i biglietti gratuiti sono disponibili solo per viaggi multipli. Dall’introduzione dei biglietti gratuiti avvenuta il 1° settembre, i treni a media distanza hanno registrato un aumento dei passeggeri del 40 per cento, quelli locali del 24 per cento.

La città belga di Hasselt, sebbene la si possa considerare come la culla dell’idea del trasporto pubblico gratuito, mostra anche gli inconvenienti generati dal viaggiare gratuitamente. Nel 1997, il sindaco propose una serie di misure per permettere agli utenti del trasporto pubblico di viaggiare gratuitamente. Sedici anni dopo, nel 2013, il programma è stato abolito perché giudicato troppo costoso. Lo stesso anno, la capitale estone Tallinn ha introdotto il suo programma di trasporto pubblico gratuito (destinato unicamente agli abitanti della capitale) che, nonostante alcuni inconvenienti, è tuttora in vigore. Le esperienze di queste due città mostrano che, per essere sostenibile, il trasporto pubblico necessita di un minimo di utenti che ne fruiscano.

I vantaggi di una mobilità pubblica interamente gratuita sono molteplici: da un punto di vista finanziario, il principale risparmio proviene dal fatto di non dover gestire complesse infrastrutture di fatturazione; da un punto di vista ambientale, si registrano livelli di inquinamento più bassi dovuti ad una minore presenza di auto sulle strade. Infine, rimuovendo le barriere economiche, il trasporto pubblico gratuito è più inclusivo verso i cittadini economicamente svantaggiati.

È evidente che spingere le persone a ridurre l’uso dell’auto implica maggiori investimenti pubblici nel settore dei trasporti. Il land tedesco di Baden-Württemberg ha istituito la “garanzia per la mobilità” che assicura la presenza di mezzi pubblici regolari ed affidabili. Per finanziare la manovra, un “pass mobilità” è stato proposto a tutti i proprietari di automobili, che dietro pagamento consente l’accesso gratuito o a tariffe preferenziali al trasporto pubblico. Uno dei modi più efficaci per generare soldi da reinvestire nel trasporto pubblico resta comunque l’introduzione di pedaggi, come nel caso della Congestion Charge londinese o del Trängselskatt a Stoccolma e Göteborg. Un altro approccio potrebbe essere quello di richiedere ai datori di lavoro di contribuire economicamente a nome dei propri dipendenti che utilizzano i trasporti urbani, al fine di finanziare questi ultimi. Già nel 1970, la città di Vienna introdusse un sistema per il quale i datori di lavoro erano tenuti a pagare un’”imposta sulla metropolitana” per ciascun dipendente sotto i 55 anni che lavorasse più di 10 ore la settimana. In Francia esiste un sistema simile, per il quale le aziende con più di nove dipendenti sono tassate tra lo 0,55 e l’1,75 per cento del salario degli impiegati per coprire quasi il 50 per cento delle spese per il trasporto pubblico.

Niente politiche di mobilità senza politiche sociali

Il fattore economico gioca un ruolo cruciale nella transizione verso un modello di mobilità più sostenibile per tutti, ma sono necessarie altre considerazioni: anche se il trasporto pubblico divenisse gratuito, come nel caso di Malta o del Lussemburgo, è necessario che sia anche di facile accesso. Se, per esempio, le fermate degli autobus non sono collocate in luoghi strategici, gli utenti potrebbero preferire altre opzioni, in particolare quelli a basso reddito, che cumulano talvolta più impieghi per guadagnarsi da vivere, in luoghi spesso meno ben collegati dei grandi uffici. La bicicletta è un’alternativa valida nelle aree urbane, ma l’auto resta il mezzo di predilezione per gli abitanti delle zone più svantaggiate delle metropoli, per non parlare delle aree rurali.

Con questo non voglio dire che mezzi pubblici economici o gratuiti non aiutino a contrastare l’aumento del costo della vita: l’imminente crisi economica causerà un aumento globale del costo della vita, e per molti pendolari il trasporto pubblico gratuito sarebbe di grande aiuto. Ma così come un’ampia trasformazione della mobilità deve tenere in conto la protezione dell’ambiente, allo stesso modo le politiche di mobilità devono essere volte in primis a soddisfare i bisogni di coloro che, attualmente, non possono usufruire in maniera appropriata del trasporto pubblico.

L’accessibilità è un punto chiave della transizione verso una mobilità sostenibile. L’introduzione di biglietti più economici o gratuiti rappresenta un primo passo avanti. È tempo di migliorare e ampliare l’offerta proposta dal trasporto pubblico, cosicché sempre più persone possano spostarsi in maniera più sostenibile. Un cambiamento necessario se si vuole limitare l’uso di carburanti fossili.

Per concludere, è indispensabile definire una strategia di più ampio respiro per dare sostegno a chi ne ha bisogno. La Spagna ha compiuto un primo passo con l’introduzione della tassa sui guadagni: coloro che traggono beneficio dall’aumento del prezzo dell’energia devono contribuire maggiormente alla collettività reinvestendo una parte dei loro guadagni. È l’unico modo per aiutare l’intera popolazione ad affrontare la crisi del costo della vita.

Traduzione Elena Pioli Voxeurop

Categories: H. Green News

Alternative ad un sistema alimentare inadeguato

Green European Journal - Mon, 01/23/2023 - 07:40

Blocchi militari, condizioni meteorologiche instabili e speculazione finanziaria contribuiscono insieme ad una crisi alimentare senza precedenti. Emblema dell’attuale situazione di crisi su diversi fronti, un sistema alimentare creato per un mondo senza imprevisti non può che ritrovarsi esso stesso nel caos, e sono i più poveri a pagarne il prezzo più alto. Se vuole garantire l’accesso al cibo e al contempo tutelare l’ambiente, l’Europa non può più permettersi di rimandare la creazione di un sistema alimentare resiliente e basato sull’agro-ecologia.

Green European Journal: I prezzi dei beni alimentari sono in aumento almeno dal 2020, e la guerra in Ucraina non ha fatto che peggiorare la situazione. Molti analisti prevedono che la situazione non si risolverà sul medio termine. Quali sono i fattori all’origine della crisi alimentare globale?

Priscilla Claeys: La guerra in Ucraina ha rivelato la fragilità del nostro sistema alimentare globalizzato, proprio come era già successo con la pandemia. L’aumento dei prezzi non ha un impatto uniforme: i più colpiti saranno i paesi che dipendono strutturalmente dalle importazioni di alimenti e, all’interno di essi, le popolazioni più marginalizzate subiranno maggiori conseguenze. Ciò che emerge dalla crisi attuale è il fallimento della globalizzazione alimentare gradualmente messa in atto a partire dagli anni ‘90.

Il 70 per cento delle persone che soffrono di fame cronica o malnutrizione vive in zone di conflitto. L’attenzione portata sulla situazione in Ucraina non deve farci dimenticare le altre zone di guerra: Afghanistan, Repubblica Centrafricana, Somalia… Questi conflitti sono spesso legati ad un uso inefficace delle risorse naturali quali gas, acqua e terreni; in alcuni casi, i conflitti nascono proprio dalla lotta per queste risorse. Servono soluzioni a lungo termine, in particolare per assicurare una pace duratura.

Benoît Biteau: Sono d’accordo sul fatto che la guerra in Ucraina ha messo in luce i punti deboli del sistema alimentare globale, come già fatto in parte dal Covid-19. Durante la pandemia, però, la crisi era meno evidente e meno chiara. L’invasione dell’Ucraina ha messo in difficoltà uno dei maggiori esportatori al mondo di generi alimentari di base; ne subiscono le conseguenze Paesi quali l’Egitto, gli Stati del Nordafrica e del Medio Oriente, eccessivamente dipendenti da queste importazioni.

Si parla molto di solidarietà durante l’attuale crisi, ma è doveroso anche parlare di speculazione. A causa della situazione in Ucraina, c’è chi specula in maniera cinica e immorale per alzare i prezzi del cibo. Non tutti i Paesi saranno in grado di pagare a caro prezzo i generi alimentari di cui hanno bisogno, e chi non ci riesce avrà bisogno di aiuti e supporto finanziario per poter continuare a importare generi alimentari.

Com’è possibile che la sicurezza alimentare di così tanti Paesi dipenda da Russia ed Ucraina?

Benoît Biteau: La creazione di un mercato alimentare globalizzato ha portato alla specializzazione di intere aree del pianeta. L’Ucraina e la Russia, in particolare, si sono specializzate nella produzione di grano, cereali e olio di semi. La situazione di crisi geopolitica della regione genera quindi grandi difficoltà a livello mondiale. In passato, quando la produzione globale era diversificata, le conseguenze sarebbero state meno gravi. La specializzazione imposta dal nostro mercato ha dato vita ad una situazione disastrosa.

Priscilla Claeys: La crisi attuale deriva dal considerare il cibo come una merce. Gli accordi di libero scambio istituiti fin dagli anni ‘90 hanno contribuito alla specializzazione di alcune regioni, secondo una dinamica ereditata anche dall’era coloniale. La specializzazione dell’Ucraina è la stessa di quei Paesi africani i cui sistemi agricoli sono destinati all’esportazione di caffè, cotone o cacao. L’antica diversità dei sistemi alimentari appare oggi distrutta.

In tutto il mondo vi sono movimenti che richiedono di riconoscere il cibo come bene comune o diritto umano, come stipulato, del resto, dal Patto dalle Nazioni Unite sui diritti economici, sociali e culturali del 1966. Il quesito fondamentale ora riguarda come, partendo dal riconoscimento del cibo come bene comune o del diritto al cibo, si possano implementare politiche di scambio ed investimento volte a costruire un sistema alimentare globale diverso.

La produzione di cibo sarebbe in realtà sufficiente a sfamarci tutti.

Benoit Biteau

Il problema non riguarda solo il resto del mondo: nel 2021, 95 milioni di persone in Europa erano a rischio povertà. In che modo i prezzi influenzano l’accesso al cibo in Europa?

Benoît Biteau: Le più colpite sono le persone con meno disponibilità economiche. Il problema non è la disponibilità del cibo: l’aumento dei prezzi è il risultato di speculazioni e di scelte fatte in passato. La produzione di cibo sarebbe in realtà sufficiente a sfamarci tutti. Pensiamo, per esempio, al 57 per cento della produzione di grano destinata a nutrire il bestiame, o al 20 per cento che serve per produrre bioetanolo e riempire i nostri serbatoi di carburante. Solo il 23 per cento della produzione finisce nei nostri piatti: si tratta quindi di una scarsità artificiale. Con la giusta volontà e determinazione politica, potremmo ridirigere tutto il cibo usato per allevamenti e agrocarburanti, mettendo fine ad una situazione in cui le persone più svantaggiate, in Europa e nel mondo, non hanno la possibilità di nutrirsi correttamente.

Priscilla Claeys: La crisi dell’energia non fa che aggravare il problema. Le organizzazioni attive sul campo per contrastare la povertà riportano situazioni di grave difficoltà: le famiglie meno abbienti non comprano più le patate perché richiedono troppo tempo per cuocere. Alcune di loro si trovano a compiere scelte davvero difficili riguardanti cibo, alloggio, istruzione. Si tratta di diritti umani relegati ad un budget estremamente ridotto.

Benoît Biteau: Un altro collegamento con la crisi energetica riguarda il modo in cui produciamo il cibo. L’attuale modello basato sull’agricoltura intensiva dipende in larga parte da sostanze sintetiche che derivano direttamente dai combustibili fossili, in particolare i fertilizzanti. I produttori si troveranno ad avere delle perdite perché la produzione di cibo non è più sostenibile. Stiamo andando verso una realtà come quella del Sud del mondo, in cui sono proprio gli agricoltori ad avere più difficoltà a mettere il cibo in tavola.

Negli ultimi anni, abbiamo assistito a periodi di siccità straordinariamente lunghi e impietosi in diverse regioni del mondo: Brasile, Cina settentrionale, gran parte dell’Europa e dell’India, per citarne alcune. Che conseguenze ha la crisi ecologica sul nostro sistema alimentare?

Benoît Biteau: Sia la geopolitica che i cambiamenti climatici possono avere conseguenze negative sulla sicurezza alimentare. Se, in futuro, un’altra regione produttrice di cibo dovesse soffrire gravi problemi ambientali, ci troveremmo di fronte agli stessi problemi che vediamo oggi con la guerra in Ucraina. Il dato davvero allarmante è la frequenza dei disastri ambientali. In passato, si assisteva ad un’alluvione ogni cento anni; poi si è iniziato a parlare di inondazioni ogni dieci anni; oggi, alcune zone del mondo sono inondate ogni anno. L’agricoltura è quindi intrinsecamente legata ai cambiamenti climatici. Se è vero che le coltivazioni industriali ne sono una delle cause, d’altra parte un’agricoltura sostenibile basata sull’agro-ecologia può essere parte della soluzione.

Priscilla Claeys: Sono molteplici i legami tra l’agricoltura e il clima: da un lato, l’agricoltura industriale produce emissioni in grande quantità, seconda solo al settore dei trasporti; dall’altro, gli agricoltori sono i primi a subire le conseguenze dei cambiamenti climatici. Di fronte ad alluvioni e siccità, che talvolta colpiscono nel corso dello stesso anno, credo che sempre più persone si stiano interrogando sul nostro modo di coltivare.

L’emergenza climatica dovrebbe portarci verso un’agricoltura locale e diversificata. Le soluzioni esistono già: è stato dimostrato che i semi autoctoni e locali sono strumenti efficaci per contrastare i cambiamenti climatici e ricostruire l’agricoltura dei territori. Conosciamo già i metodi da utilizzare, che potrebbero tra l’altro contribuire a creare posti di lavoro buoni e ben pagati (il che non è così frequente in ambito agricolo), ma resta da chiedersi se sia possibile mettere in atto i mezzi strutturali per applicare queste tecniche. C’è un vero potenziale perché lo sviluppo economico e sostenibile vada di pari passo con l’agricoltura.

Secondo voi, l’Unione europea, che ha un ruolo importante grazie alla Politica agricola comune (Pac)  sta trascurando i benefici sociali derivati dall’agricoltura sostenibile?

Benoît Biteau: Modificando le politiche in vigore, il settore agricolo potrebbe essere una grande fonte di posti di lavoro, ma la Pac non è per nulla al passo con i tempi. Tante sono le persone in cerca di lavoro e altrettante quelle desiderose di tornare nelle zone rurali, ma le linee guida su come verranno spesi i fondi europei non sono rivolte a un’agricoltura resiliente che crea posti di lavoro retribuiti sviluppando allo stesso tempo soluzioni agro-ecologiche e coltivazioni di semenze locali. Finché i fondi Ue saranno destinati ad un’agricoltura di tutt’altro tipo, non faremo che allontanarci sempre di più dalle vere soluzioni.

La Pac dovrebbe essere volta a creare le condizioni per concretizzare queste ambizioni; al contrario, quello che rappresenta un terzo del budget dell’Ue e il più ampio progetto dell’Unione è ancora completamente fuori fuoco in termini di sviluppo agricolo e sovranità alimentare.

Sempre più persone si stanno interrogando sul nostro modo di coltivare.

Priscilla Claeys

Priscilla Claeys: È un vero disastro. Le imprese agricole scompaiono ad un ritmo rapidissimo ogni anno, e i molti giovani che vorrebbero iniziare un’attività in questo settore non possono accedere alle terre a causa dei prezzi in aumento, della speculazione e delle difficili condizioni lavorative. Di recente, ho condotto un sondaggio sulle condizioni di lavoro dei giovani nell’agricoltura in tutta Europa; i risultati sono sconvolgenti: retribuzioni inadeguate, orari di lavoro eccessivi, nessuna copertura assicurativa né prospettive di mettersi in proprio a causa dei prezzi troppo elevati dei terreni. Le politiche europee non stanno affrontando il problema di come incoraggiare i giovani ad intraprendere il mestiere di agricoltori.

Ci troviamo ancora intrappolati in una tensione immaginaria tra la sicurezza alimentare e il contenimento della crisi climatica, eppure questi due obiettivi sono perfettamente in sintonia. Conservare il carbone in maniera sostenibile, proteggere l’ambiente nelle fasi di produzione di cibo e creare impieghi per i giovani sono obiettivi che vanno di pari passo. C’è un evidente collegamento tra sostenibilità climatica, economica e sociale.

L’aumento dei prezzi del cibo hanno portato alcune lobby ad opporsi ai progetti Ue per un’agricoltura più ecosostenibile. In Olanda, il governo obbliga gli allevamenti di bestiame a chiudere a causa delle alte emissioni di azoto; gli allevatori interessati stanno protestando e allertando sulle conseguenze che questa decisione potrebbe avere sul prezzo degli alimenti. Il costo della vita può diventare un argomento a sfavore della transizione ecologica nell’agricoltura?

Benoît Biteau: È stato così fin dall’attuazione della Pac. Si dice che la Pac sia necessaria per produrre generi alimentari a basso costo che siano accessibili a tutti. Il basso potere d’acquisto è sfruttato per giustificare un modello agricolo che non ha più ragione di esistere dato che, in realtà, questo tipo di agricoltura genera costi altissimi. Saranno i fondi pubblici a dover coprire i costi dei danni causati da pesticidi e fertilizzanti sintetici sull’ambiente e sulla salute umana. In un modo o nell’altro, saremo noi a pagare.

Quando sentiamo parlare di aumento dei prezzi, dobbiamo tenere a mente che le grandi multinazionali stanno registrando profitti mai visti prima. Ho parlato prima di cinismo e immoralità: [la multinazionale alimentare] Cargill ha incassato cifre da record nel 2015 [5 miliardi di dollari] grazie alla speculazione alimentare. Prima o poi, dovremo adeguare a queste dinamiche i meccanismi regolatori in vigore e mettere un tetto alla speculazione, oltre il quale il denaro dovrebbe rientrare nelle casse pubbliche. Ecco perché serve una tassa sui guadagni: come diceva mio nonno, “non esistono i più poveri senza i più ricchi”.

Ancora oggi, i consumatori europei spendono per i generi alimentari una parte del loro reddito significativamente minore rispetto al resto del mondo. L’era del cibo a buon mercato sta giungendo a una fine?

Priscilla Claeys: I prezzi del cibo sono artificialmente bassi. Se prendiamo in considerazione i sussidi della Pac nel calcolare il nostro accesso al cibo, vi aggiungiamo le conseguenze negative di cibo spazzatura e obesità e includiamo nella formula le conseguenze sulla salute dell’inquinamento ambientale, possiamo farci un’idea del vero costo degli alimenti. Una mensa scolastica che utilizzi cibo biologico prodotto localmente non solo creerebbe un clima educativo migliore, ma avrebbe anche un impatto positivo sulla salute delle giovani generazioni e sul sistema alimentare locale. Solo allora potremo parlare di cibo a buon mercato.

Il numero di cittadini europei che si affidano alle banche alimentari continua a crescere. Esistono modi per aiutare le persone a far fronte alla precarietà alimentare e al contempo trasformare il nostro sistema alimentare?

Benoît Biteau: In Francia si parla molto di come dovrebbe essere la previdenza alimentare (sécurité-sociale de l’alimentation). Un’idea potrebbe essere quella di utilizzare denaro pubblico per aiutare le persone a basso reddito a sostenere le spese legate al cibo. Bisognerebbe attuare misure progressive per dare maggiore supporto a chi ne ha più bisogno.

Priscilla Claeys: La previdenza alimentare potrebbe funzionare in questo modo: dare alle persone il diritto ad una somma mensile, da spendere unicamente presso agricoltori o produttori convenzionati. Le amministrazioni locali dovrebbero applicare un processo democratico per determinare quali produttori includere, coinvolgendo quindi le persone nel processo decisionale volto a determinare i cambiamenti da attuare nelle pratiche agricole a livello locale.

La previdenza alimentare rappresenta una proposta interessante nell’ambito del diritto al cibo, nonché una risposta concreta alla domanda su cosa significhi effettivamente questo diritto. Non vuol dire solamente che si deve garantire un salario o reddito minimo che permetta alle persone di procurarsi cibo di scarsa qualità nelle banche alimentari o nei supermercati. Il diritto al cibo potrebbe essere uno strumento per migliorare le condizioni di nutrizione degli individui e delle famiglie e trasformare il sistema alimentare europeo.

Traduzione Elena Pioli Voxeurop

Categories: H. Green News

“Europe should use all of its imagination to support Ukraine”

Green European Journal - Mon, 01/23/2023 - 07:15

Sharing a border with Russia, Lithuanian citizens are acutely aware of the security threat presented by their neighbour. Since the invasion, the country has witnessed a broad mobilisation in support of Ukraine and its war effort. Tomas Tomilinas explains why the war calls for nothing short of a deep transformation to Europe’s economy.

Green European Journal: I’d like to start by asking you about your visits to Kyiv. Can you describe the reality for the people living there and the situation as you experienced it?

Tomas Tomilinas: I have travelled to Kyiv twice [in 2022], in April and November. During both visits I saw no panic. The people are not desperate. The city is very quiet. It is totally dark at night. People have restarted some aspects of their lives. Some of the bars are open and some minimal cultural life is happening but there are still major security restrictions and a curfew from 10PM.

The country remains very much in a state of war. It’s a miracle that Ukraine as a country, as a governmental and municipal system is working properly. All the services people need are there. Europe and the world are helping, of course, but it is still a miracle that everything is more or less well organised.

As part of your visit, you also met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. What was his message for Greens and progressive parties in Europe?

We met people at every level. We met with the Kyiv administration, the city mayor, the prime minister, the parliamentary groups – the ruling group and the opposition – and President Zelenskyy. We discussed the situation and, of course, the main message was that there is no security for Europe without Ukraine. It’s a fact. It’s impossible to shape our future without integrating Ukraine into all European institutions. Ukraine is Europe. It is the European Union. 

We also discussed NATO and security guarantees, including Ukrainian security guarantees towards Europe because without Ukraine we cannot be secure as they have proved on the battlefield. The debate is moving faster and it is possible we’ll be talking about Ukraine joining NATO at the summit we are hosting in Vilnius in 2023. Lithuania is focussing its efforts on having a clear plan for Ukraine joining NATO, whether after its victory or however else.

Tomas Tomilinas inspects wreckage with the Lithuanian delegation to Ukraine. Image by: Olga Posaškova.

What more could Europe be doing to support Ukraine?

Do you know how many tanks Britain produced in one year during World War II? 10,000. Yet we are talking about sending 20 tanks to Ukraine from all countries. The European Union could provide thousands if it transformed its economy to a war economy. The EU is not fighting so it has the privilege to transform its economy and provide the weaponry faster. We know it’s possible because we’ve done it in the past, so why are we not considering this?

European solidarity is a reality but it remains too slow, which has cost many lives. Europe has many countries with powerful weapons industries ready to be transformed into a war regime. Of course, it will cost us a lot but how can we compare it to the cost of human lives and our security?

Latvia is the biggest contributor to the Ukrainian effort in terms of GDP and Lithuania is the fourth. Is this transformation into a war economy happening in the Baltic states already?

The Baltic states are receiving many refugees and providing them with the same social security as our own citizens. We are sending all the weapons we can, which represent huge amounts of our army parts, weapons, and stocks. So, the Baltics are doing what they can but we are too small to be very substantial. It’s up to the larger countries to make a real difference.

There should be a common European campaign to transform economies to win the war, not just to help – it’s not a charity effort. Europe should use all of its imagination to create a solidarity mechanism to support Ukraine. Maybe we should think about a war tax? Because Ukraine will need this support for some time. So far, we have enough resources at the EU level but we still need more to win. How we mobilise it is an open question but I think we can find solutions.

Lithuania was once part of the Soviet Union. It borders on Russia because of Kaliningrad. How has the war changed how Lithuania thinks about its security? 

There are two scenarios for the future of Lithuania’s security policy. The first is the militarisation of society. Lithuania becomes like Israel. This scenario is already mainstream in the debate not only in Lithuania but also Poland, Latvia, and other nearby countries. It is becoming more common for people to join the army reserves and paramilitary organisations. It is today’s fashion, not the climate. This trend has not reached the western part of Europe but it’s only a question of time.

The second option is that Europe thinks of and make new supranational security rules s to protect against this kind of situation. By this, I mean new forms of solidarity-based security that mean that we do not have to militarise so deeply. Here is where the Greens can step in and think about the future of security on the European continent and globally. Because you cannot be a pacifist unless you win the war. Our fathers had the privilege of being pacifists because our grandfathers won the war. This is the situation we are now in and provide constructive ideas that can act as credible alternatives to the militarisation of Europe, especially eastern Europe.

Has the fact that energy is such a major part of this war accelerated the green transition in Lithuania and the Baltics? 

Yes, it’s moving much faster because of the war. The energy transition is the only way for us to be independent. In Lithuania, many steps had already been taken before the war, unlike other parts of Europe. We were ready to stop gas imports from day one. We’re continuing to make progress insulating rooves, installing solar panels, and building windmills at sea. There is no political debate about this direction. Lithuania decided against nuclear power in 2012 and the few attempts to revive the discussion failed, so we are focused on the green transition. 

One day Putin will be defeated or deceased. What foundations need to be built to ensure a peaceful future for eastern Europe after the war?

We have to end this stupid debate for and against NATO. There’s no alternative to NATO so we have to strengthen it. Macron failed to show any leadership for Europe as a continent. Right now the real leader of European security is Ukraine itself.

I don’t have a full list of solutions but two points are important. First, the Greens have always been a political force with vision and an eye on the future. We, as Greens, therefore need to be the ones setting out a vision for the security of the European continent and the world. Zelenskyy and his team have been excellent at playing with German interests, with Dutch interest, and so on. They somehow managed to overcome all the very difficult European politics and become candidates for EU membership. But they can play even more of a role in thinking and providing ideas for the future as well. We Greens can help them with thinking up new institutions, regulations, and forms of global governance. What will NATO look like? How will we reform the UN? The UN is just a humanitarian charity agency. It is no longer a security organisation. Do the Greens have the vision on how to reform it? We need to have stronger vision than our political rivals on how to reinforce security institutions after victory, from a detailed plan of Ukraine NATO membership and EU membership to a reform of the UN security council. Greens cannot say that these issues are too difficult. If we know how to prevent climate change, we can definitely kick Russia off the security council.

Second, the only historical lesson we have here is World War II and there the lesson was that the priority is winning the war. I don’t want solidarity with Ukraine to end up as a cultural event that passes. There needs to be full support now.

You’ve recently started a new political party in Lithuania. Where do you see this new force going in the coming period?

We are quite eager to find a political family. I’m hopeful that we will join the Green political family. Our brief history is that a large part of our leadership was in the Farmers and Greens Party, myself include. This party took a sudden change of course and became increasingly populist and adopted stances against human rights on some topics. So we left to found a new party.

Our party, Democrats for Lithuania, has four main pillars. First, democracy. By this, we mean that parties lack democracy. Most of the parties call themselves social democratic or liberal but lack a real democratic practices and only serve power. We are working on proper party democracy, something that is truly important but often underestimated. The second pillar is green ideas. The third is social justice: we are the centre-left party. The fourth pillar is still under discussion and is decentralisation as a core values. The desire to see power at the grassroots is something that we inherited from the Farmers and Greens Movement. I would say we are the strongest opposition force in the country and we are doing everything we can to keep democracy alive in parliament.

Categories: H. Green News

Rekindling the Practice of Cultural Burning: An Act of Climate Hope

The Revelator - Mon, 01/23/2023 - 05:00

After more than 100 years of suppressing the West’s fires, land managers and government agencies are finally warming to the idea that fire can be beneficial — and necessary — for many landscapes.

This idea is far from new among Indigenous communities in the region. For many Tribes, the use of fire to manage plant communities was common practice until it was outlawed by colonizers.

Today, as climate change increases threats of more severe and more frequent large-scale wildfires, Tribes are re-engaging with the practice of Indigenous-led fire — also referred to as cultural burning. These smaller and lower intensity burns can help replenish soil nutrients that aid native plants and restore the land.

“There’s this inherent fear of fire right now that’s totally justifiable,” says Melinda Adams, who is studying the reclamation of cultural burns as a doctoral student in the department of Native American Studies at University of California, Davis. “So what we try to do as practitioners is to work on reestablishing that good relationship, that respectful relationship, because fire is a relative too.”

The Revelator spoke with Adams about how cultural burning changes the land, why attitudes about it are shifting, and what it can do for communities.

How did you become interested in cultural burning?

I come from a Tribe in Arizona, and I grew up in New Mexico, and I went to a Tribal college in Lawrence, Kansas. It was in the Midwest that I started being interested in fire through research with biochar. I’ve worked with pyrolysis and making soil amendments, creating them and putting them back into the soils to regenerate some of the more highly degraded soils that we have in the Midwest due to mining or over-usage by agriculture.

I did prairie burns, which are culturally significant to Tribes in the Midwest for food, medicine and basket materials.

Now at U.C. Davis my dissertation topic concentrates on land-stewardship practices that have been created and sustained by Indigenous peoples of what we now know as the United States, and specifically in what we know as California.

I am a trained ecologist and environmental scientist. I’m studying the physical and chemical soil responses of what we’re calling “good fire” — that’s cultural fire led by Native practitioners. These burns differ from what a government agency would consider a prescribed burn or a controlled burn because they are rooted in Indigenous knowledge and practices.

Being a Native person and taking up space in scientific fields, I also am called upon to talk about colonization, land dispossession, erasure of our histories, and our lived experiences. So with cultural fire, I use that as an entry point to talk about the history of California, of Native peoples of the United States, and how we’ve always held these land stewardship tools.

What’s different about cultural fire?

Cultural fire that’s a slow and low-intensity burn helps provide nutrients that native plants favor. Those chemical reactions from those lower-intensity burns provide better and more fertile areas for the plants, soil and microbes.

Cultural fire is also more guided. In the burns that I participate in, we tend to back away from using heavy fuels or machinery. With cultural fire, there’s more time spent getting ready for the burns and cleaning up afterwards than when fire is actually on the ground. That end care is huge and it makes a big difference.

I was at one of the practitioner’s properties and I could see where people didn’t prep the piles or they used fuels, and there’s white ash that looks like the ground has been scorched. There weren’t any plants coming back on that plot.

Then 100 feet to the right, I could see a cultural burn that was prepped — where we cut the plant materials, piled it and lead the burn. Then we went in after and mixed the soils. Native plants came back on that plot.

How are attitudes about cultural burning changing?

Most of the ways that [federal and state] agencies are trained to work with fire is suppression. And it’s been that way for a very long time. The very first piece of California state legislature in 1850 was to remove “Indian fire” based on very skewed misconceptions about Indigenous people’s relationship to the land.

When John Muir set foot here and saw these wonderful mosaics of different plants growing together, he didn’t give credit to Indigenous peoples for stewarding those lands and maintaining that biodiversity.

The California legislature prohibited small burns or family burns, and they’ve more or less been upheld until now, when legislation [in 2022] changed that. On top of physical violence to remove us from our lands, there was also the removal of stewardship practices, land tending, water care, and relationships with relatives other than humans. All of that was removed once colonizers arrived.

Today, in the West, an increase in the amount of catastrophic wildfire has been created because of the buildup of fuel and the under-utilization of prescribed burns. We’re feeling the effects of no-burn policies that have been upheld for close to 200 years now. And with climate change, when things burn, the large-scale wildfires are emitting greenhouse gases. And it’s creating higher-risk living areas where wildfire can consume entire homes, entire communities.

But we’re seeing some change [in practices] and more inclusion of voices that haven’t had a say in decision-making before. Biden just acknowledged traditional ecological knowledge that’s supposed to be in government training and working relationships with Tribes. It also helps that we have Secretary Deb Haaland as the head of the Department of Interior, who controls the vast majority of public lands.

There are shifts in perceptions of the intelligence and knowledge that our communities hold. And they’re being called upon now, although maybe not at the speed and scale that our communities have been waiting for since colonization.

Where is cultural burning taking place?

I’ve been a part of these cultural burn demonstrations since 2018, and we work with Chairman Ron Goode of the North Fork Mono Tribe near what we know as the Yosemite area. I also have partnerships and friendships with the Karuk, Yurok and Hoopa Tribes that are far north in California. They’re doing some amazing cultural fire work. They’re training people in the art and the science of good fire. They’re leading the way with a lot of the knowledge building and reclamation of larger-scale cultural fire.

Melinda Adams lights a field of deergrass on fire during the Tending and Gathering Garden Indigenous fire Wworkshop at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve in Woodland, Calif. Photo: Alysha Beck/UC Davis

I also work at the Cache Creek Nature Preserve, which has a small section that’s called Attending and Gathering Garden. That space came about specifically for Patwin practitioners, harvesters, traditional gatherers and Native peoples of the greater community to gather basketry materials.

It was envisioned 25 years ago by a geography student at U.C. Davis and the Native elders as a space to do cultural reclamation. The fires started to be planned and implemented more regularly when I came there in 2018.

What we’re burning is tule, a reed wetland species. It’s hollow on the inside and dry on the outside. So it’s the perfect igniter and the perfect carrier of fire. We don’t need propane and fuels. When we do our burns, we just use tule.

When we burn, it’s on an island and the water dries up [part of the year], so you can see the soil layers that these women have created — the rich, dark charred materials on the top, then some organic material underneath, and then some gray material from the water trickling in and out, and some orange from oxidation.

I love soil profiles and horizons. They’re amazing because as Native people, we’re storytellers, and you can see the story of the land if you look at the layers.

It’s also a former gravel-mining site with degraded soils that don’t hold nutrients very well. It makes it interesting to apply good fire to the space to replenish those soil nutrients. We have burned every year in that space, and I’m tracking the changes in soil and the yield in the plants.

What the practitioners who harvest these plants for basketry are seeing is that the plants are growing back taller, they’re growing back stronger, in more dense stands, and the color is more vibrant.

In addition, my qualitative data is telling me that there’s an increase of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium — the big ones that you tend to need when you’re trying to grow anything.

I’m also measuring culturally significant plants for their aboveground yield over the course of a year. Because most of these are perennials, we’re looking at a snapshot of their regeneration.

What do you hope cultural burning can do?

The hope with this work is to rebuild our relationship with fire.

But this is also about more than fire. It’s about our time on the land and reclaiming parts of ourselves that were taken away a long time ago — and having the space to do that. The word that keeps coming up is healing. We’re healing these landscapes with fire, which is tied to water, animals and pollinators.

I’m participating in something that my ancestors did hundreds of years ago that was taken away. So that’s so powerful for me as a Native woman.

I just want people to know these are healing fires, they’re healing stewardship lessons — and not just for Native peoples. We’re privileged in the fact that it’s part of our culture, but there’s definitely space for allies, for people who are working towards improvement in our environment and the mitigation of climate change.

The practitioners that I work with are so excited to share their knowledge, their practices, their worldviews, and their time with allied scholars. This is climate hope. This is hope for our future actualized on the land and together.

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Previously in The Revelator:

Can Native American Tribes Protect Their Land If They’re Not Recognized by the Federal Government?


The post Rekindling the Practice of Cultural Burning: An Act of Climate Hope appeared first on The Revelator.

Categories: H. Green News

A California town’s wastewater is helping it battle drought

Grist - Mon, 01/23/2023 - 03:45

This story is part of the Cities + Solutions series, which chronicles surprising and inspiring climate initiatives in communities across the U.S. through stories of cities leading the way. For early access to the rest of the series, subscribe to the Looking Forward climate solutions newsletter.

Standing under a shady tree drooping with pomegranates late last year, Brad Simmons, a retired metal fabricator who has lived in Healdsburg, California, for 57 years, showed off his backyard orchard. Along with the apple, cherry, and peach trees, he’s packed one pear tree, two lemon trees, and a century-old olive tree into his bungalow’s compact garden.

Of course, the small grove requires plenty of water — an increasingly scarce resource in a state that continues grappling with a historic drought despite recent torrential rains. Yet Simmons, like many of his fellow 12,000 residents, has managed to keep much of this wine country community north of San Francisco looking verdant while slashing the city’s water use in half since 2020.

Healdsburg benefits from an invaluable resource that keeps gardens, trees, and vineyards irrigated: free, non-potable water produced by its wastewater-reclamation facility. The plant recycles 350 million gallons of effluent drained and flushed in the city every year, according to city officials, or slightly more than half its annual water consumption. The reused H₂O is used in irrigation, construction, and other applications that require lower levels of treatment than drinking water. This eases pressure on regional reservoirs and wells while enlisting a wide pool of users in promoting an ethos of conservation, all the while helping manage the amount of treated wastewater discharged into the Russian River. 

“I worry about water all the time,” Simmons said as he dragged a hose across his parched grass to an enormous box filled with 275 gallons of reclaimed water. The washer-and-dryer-size containers have become a standard lawn fixture around town. “So this is a real lifeline.”

Healdsburg resident Brad Simmons relies on the city’s supply of free recycled wastewater to keep his small orchard of fruit trees verdant. Naoki Nitta California’s wastewater projects

Currently, California treats and reuses approximately 728,000 acre-feet, or approximately 18 percent, of the yearly wastewater it produces. But the state has higher ambitions for increasing water security: New goals call for a near threefold increase by 2030 to 2 million acre-feet annually. 

Backed by initiatives such as the California Water Board’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and federal support, including a $750 million grant program, several large projects are in the pipeline. Orange County, for one, is upping capacity on its potable water-purification plant — already the world’s largest — to recycle 130 million gallons of effluent daily. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is eyeing a new $3.4 billion recycling facility that would secure a renewable source of drinking water for 19 million customers in the Los Angeles area.

For smaller communities or those with limited resources, however, a more modest approach can be just as effective, says Anne Thebo, senior researcher at the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit water conservation think tank in Oakland, California.

“The local context can really give communities flexibility in developing their water-reuse plans,” she notes. Agricultural communities hold an advantage here, she says, because many forms of irrigation don’t require recycled water that’s clean enough to drink. But all communities have some flexibility in their ability to use treated effluent, because water used to irrigate timber or lawns can be lower in quality than that used for pasture grass like alfalfa or crops that can be eaten raw, such as strawberries and lettuce. Developing a water-recycling plan that suits the needs of the community can diversify a region’s water portfolio and offset overall demand.

Healdburg’s approach

Reuse wasn’t Healdsburg’s main priority when it upgraded the wastewater plant in 2008. The city needed to comply with environmental discharge regulations into the Russian River, which included meeting a higher threshold of nutrient and pathogen removal. The $29.3 million enhancement added pathogen-filtering membranes and UV light to a process that already included filtration and a microbial scrubbing. The additional measure purifies wastewater to near-drinking quality, making it clean enough to release into the 1,485-square-mile watershed.

Still, even at that quality, regional water authorities limit discharge to October through mid-May, when rain typically swells river volumes and reduces the risk of negative impacts. For the remaining months, “we have to figure out what to do with it,” says Healdsburg’s water and wastewater engineer Patrick Fuss. This became the core challenge, and eventual success, of Healdsburg’s program — ensuring that there’s enough demand for that supply.

“I worry about water all the time.”

– Brad Simmons

Although state regulations allow the agricultural use of triple-treated water, they also require permits that outline specific uses, largely to ensure the safety of groundwater and the public. Healdsburg’s original permit included wine-grape irrigation along with residential, landscaping, and industrial use. But finding sufficient takers for the treated water was, for years, a challenge, Fuss says. While the recycled water is free, it’s non-potable and requires separate plumbing and tubing, making for a potentially expensive outlay. Others had unfounded concerns about nitrate, mineral, and chemical residues in the supply tainting their prized grapes.

As a result, treated wastewater continued to cascade into the river until three years ago, when municipal actions driven by the escalating drought pushed the city into full compliance with the discharge rules. The multifaceted approach tightens the amount of wastewater coming into the system through water-conservation measures, while increasing demand for recycled water.

Fuss laid some of the groundwork for that by enlisting vintners through a door-to-door campaign, and engaging potential participants in planning a pipeline extension for easier delivery to them. Meanwhile, the city required the use of reclaimed water in all construction projects, making it available at two fill stations. Finally, as state and regional water restrictions tightened last year, Healdsburg started free residential deliveries of up to 500 gallons per subscriber every week.

Read Next Pipe dreams: Why far-fetched Western water projects won’t go away

Accommodating a diverse range of users is crucial, says Fuss, to balancing supply and demand. “We know we can achieve compliance during a drought, when the influent — the amount of wastewater we need to treat — is reduced because people are conserving, while the demand on the other end is greater,” he says. A wet or normal year would flip the equation, which, without sufficient spigots, would quickly overflow the system.

Managing wastewater discharge quality is actually a major motivator of water-recycling projects in California, says Thebo. And as a rule, developing multiple benefits seems to be the common driver to success. “They’re at the core of the partnerships that form between cities, growers, environmental groups, and the slew of other stakeholders. And they’re also what gets the community and local politicians engaged.”

In Healdsburg, there seems to be no shortage of community engagement. Popularity, in fact, killed the residential delivery program, which at its peak served more than a quarter of city households. “It was [financially] untenable as a long-term strategy,” says water and wastewater superintendent Rob Scates, “but it definitely helped get the word out.” The water is still given away at filling stations, and several hauling companies deliver for a small fee (Simmons reports paying $40 for each biweekly delivery).

The purple swatch at the base of the pipe indicates where De La Montanya Vineyard connects to Healdsburg’s reclaimed, non-potable supply. The vineyard uses the recycled water to irrigate its pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. Naoki Nitta

The city, however, isn’t taking chances. As extra insurance, it recently broadened permissible uses to include pastures, commercial orchards, and nondairy livestock. And plans are in the works to extend the pipe network — painted purple to denote the non-potable supply — directly into town for municipal irrigation, thanks to a $7 million state grant. “Word’s gotten out that the water quality is very good, and it’s a pretty reliable system,” says Scates. “Now [users] are really hooked on it. They keep us in compliance.”

As an early adopter, Dennis De La Montanya, owner of De La Montanya Vineyards, has no apprehension. He’s been irrigating the grapes that produce his award-winning pinot noir and chardonnay off the purple pipes for years. “It’s been a real boon in terms of water availability. And we don’t put a strain on groundwater resources or the public water system,” he says. “It’s a win-win.”

Tangible outcomes like this make the real value of recycled water apparent, says Thebo. “So many of the challenges of water scarcity can feel intractable. But when people can see solutions that impact their daily life, I think it becomes a point of pride for the community.”

Explore more Cities + Solutions:

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A California town’s wastewater is helping it battle drought on Jan 23, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

What 5,000-year-old skeletons tell us about living with climate change

Grist - Mon, 01/23/2023 - 03:30

What can old bones teach us about adapting to climate change? More than you’d think.

In a new paper published in the journal PNAS last week, 25 archaeologists and anthropologists analyzed thousands of years’ worth of human remains from nearly every continent to learn how ancient people responded to rapid shifts in the climate. They studied the health of the people during hard times, comparing characteristics between societies to see what made a difference.

Wherever they looked, they found that some cultures adapted to drought, changing rainfall patterns, and fluctuating temperatures better than others. In general, when people lived in rigid, hierarchical societies, depended too much on agriculture, and lived in close quarters, they faced the most destruction from these challenges. In Europe, for instance, the Little Ice Age coincided with the Black Death and the Hundred Years’ War. On the other hand, people who lived in more mobile societies with diverse food sources and more flexible social structures fared better, cooperating with each other to survive.

Contrary to the story that often gets told, migration, violence, and civilizational collapse are not inevitable responses to environmental stress, said Gwen Robbins Schug, the lead author of the paper and a professor of biology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While relocation is often a solution for coping with shifts in the climate, it’s not the only way, and doesn’t necessarily lead to conflict and violence. “There are many times in history where people successfully navigated climate and environmental change and they didn’t migrate,” Robbins Schug said.

Recent research has countered the idea that abrupt shifts in the climate unavoidably led to the breakdown of ancient civilizations. Sure, environmental shifts caused serious problems — and sometimes catastrophe — but pop-science books have tended to focus on the most dramatic tales, such as the collapse of Easter Island or the Mayan civilization, sometimes fudging the facts to fit a particular narrative. They also tend to ignore how many groups managed to survive, responding and reorganizing without losing their core identity. This preoccupation with crumbling societies has resulted in a warped picture of the past, one report published in Nature argued.

It has also fueled a fatalistic view, sometimes called “doomism,” about our ability to survive the alarming rise in temperatures today. Misconceptions about collapse, migration, and violence in the face of climate change could end up shaping modern-day policy decisions, with serious consequences, Robbins Schug argues. “What should actually be driving policy is the notion that cooperation is much more common in human evolution,” she said. “We would not be where we are today without cooperation.”

Robbins Schug and the other researchers assessed dozens of studies looking at societies stretching back 5,000 years through the Middle Ages, pulling out common themes in how they responded to environmental stress. They studied societies hailing from locations in present-day North America, Argentina, Chile, China, Ecuador, England, India, Japan, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

What they found was a divide between large, rigid societies and smaller ones that were more nimble and cooperative. Consider the megadrought that hit Asia around 2200 B.C., one of the most severe climate events in the last 10,000 years. Prior to the drought, the Indus Valley civilization in contemporary Pakistan and northwest India had grown rapidly, building dense, complex cities and trade routes. But diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis thrived in tight quarters and spread through trade, economic opportunities started drying up, and unpredictable monsoon rainfall made the situation worse. Violence spread; Indus cities were largely abandoned within 200 years. 

By comparison, the drought didn’t do as much damage to hunting-and-gathering communities in Japan, China, and the United Arab Emirates, less hierarchical societies with more dietary diversity. In Japan, people in Jomon cultures ate lots of chestnuts that they cultivated in addition to what they hunted, gathered, and fished.

The modern-day Four Corners region in the American Southwest offers another example of how to cope with environmental stresses. From the years 800 to 1350, temperatures swung from one extreme to the other, and the area oscillated between drought and floods. But at Black Mesa in northern Arizona, the desert-farming population grew slowly and steadily thanks to a series of adaptations. People moved around as water sources shifted, created “eco-niches” to attract rabbits to supplement their diet, and built widespread cooperative networks to trade resources across a large area.

Frost Fair on the Thames at London, 1683. Winters in Britain were often particularly cold in the 17th and 18th centuries, a period known as the “Little Ice Age.” Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector / Getty Images

The new paper suggests that a preoccupation with climate-driven violence might come, in part, from a focus on European history. The Little Ice Age that started in 1300 was marked by widespread famine, epidemics like the Black Death, and wars. The increase in violence seen during this time wasn’t an inevitable outcome of a changing climate, the study’s authors argue, but an example of how a specific historical and cultural context created “an atmosphere conducive to violence as a response to stress,” with deep economic inequality, endemic warfare, and religious fundamentalism as backdrop.

The study also suggests that migration may be a healthy adaptation to a changing world. While migration is often painted as a scary, unnatural force, some say it might be time to reframe the phenomenon, envisioning it as a way to move out of harm’s way and actively seek better living conditions. For instance, during times of high aridity in sub-Saharan Africa, migration offered “a successful strategy for dwindling local resources,” the study says. 

It’s a reminder that, even though the scale of modern-day climate change today is unprecedented and frightening, people have dealt with environmental problems before. You could say that some lessons for how to deal with climate change are written in their bones.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What 5,000-year-old skeletons tell us about living with climate change on Jan 23, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News


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