Climate Change has Become Something All Religions Agree On

Pope Francis acknowledged, first of all, that climate change is real. He also said that technology alone would not solve the problem and human behaviour must change to ensure that the world’s poor don’t suffer due to the consumption of the rich. The Islamic Climate Declaration recognises the scientific consensus on climate change is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere so that global warming does not exceed 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The declaration is clear that a 1.5 degree Celsius warming would be preferable. It calls on people and leaders of all nations to aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and commit themselves to 100% renewable energy at the earliest possible.

In a recent interview to American science magazine Popular Science, climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe explained why religion is backing the fight against climate change. “Science can tell us why climate change is happening, and what might happen next,” she said. “But what we should do about it isn’t a science question. It’s a question of values.”

The Holy See and Islamic leaders have not been the first moral authorities to caution against climate change. Ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit in September 2014, the World Council of Churches and Religions for Peace, both prominent interfaith organisations, held their own summit to push for progress at the negotiations in Lima that December and after. In previous years Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh leaders have declared their war on climate change.

Hindu Declaration on Climate Change

Issued at the Parliament of World Religions in Australia in 2009, the Hindu Declaration on Climate Change drew on the Hindu tradition that links man to nature through physical, psychological and spiritual bonds. “The nations of the world have yet to agree upon a plan to ameliorate man’s contribution to this complex change,” the declaration stated. “This is largely due to powerful forces in some nations which oppose any such attempt, challenging the very concept that unnatural climate change is occurring. Hindus everywhere should work toward an international consensus.” Issued just as the Copenhagen round of the Conference of Parties was beginning, the declaration had little impact on the talks that ended with a weak agreement and little binding action.

Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change

In 2009, the Dalai Lama was the first person to sign the Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change that endorsed the catastrophic tipping points of global warming. NASA climatologists had predicted that the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 350 parts per million, a line that has already been breached. In May this year, atmospheric carbon crossed 400 ppm for the first time.

“We are challenged not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also to remove large quantities of carbon gas already present in the atmosphere,” the Buddhist declaration said. It also emphasised the need to change the priorities of the world economies. “The key to happiness is contentment rather than an ever-increasing abundance of goods. The compulsion to consume more and more is an expression of craving, the very thing the Buddha pinpointed as the root cause of suffering.”

The Dalai Lama has gone even further to say that the focus in Tibet, which is stuck in a losing battle for independence, should be climate change and not politics.

Sikh Statement on Climate Change

“Our Mother Earth, Mata Dharat, has gone through undeniable changes at the hands of humans. It is abundantly clear that our action has caused great damage to the atmosphere and is projected to cause even more damage if left unhandled,” said a statement released by a group called EcoSikh in September 2014. Calling on Sikhs to be the frontrunners of change and inviting the tenet of selfless service, the group asked Sikhs to reduce their carbon footprints, recycle, invest in renewable technologies and also put pressure on governments to take action to mitigate carbon emissions.

Orthodox Christians, Protestants, Baha’I and Jewish leaders have, in their turn, accepted the science of climate change and called on the faithful to save the earth. What the Pope and Islamic leaders have added is the influence of over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and 1.6 million Muslims worldwide, which is almost half the world’s population. For now, climate change seems to be the one science that world religions don’t seem to have a problem with, whether it will make a difference or not at the “make-or-break” Paris negotiations in December.

When Pope Francis chose to champion the battle against climate change via papal encyclical in June this year, the act was lauded as the one that could galvanise the world community far more than 30 years of pleading by climate scientists. Now Muslim leaders across the world have echoed the moral call against climate change with their Islamic Climate Declaration issued last week calling for a fossil-fuel phase-out.

Humans Are Set To Wipe An India-Sized Chunk Of Forest Off The Earth By 2050

(CREDIT: AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

By 2050, an area of forests the size of India is set to be wiped off the planet if humans continue on their current path of deforestation, according to a new report. That’s bad news for the creatures that depend on these forest ecosystems for survival, but it’s also bad news for the climate, as the loss of these forests will release more than 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The report, published Monday by the Center for Global Development (CGD), found that, without new policies aimed at cutting back on deforestation, 289 million hectares (about 1,115,840 square miles) of tropical forests will be cleared away. That’s a chunk, the report states, that’s equal to one-seventh of what the Earth’s total tropical forest area was in 2000. And, according to the report, the 169 gigatons of carbon dioxide that this deforestation will unleash is equal to one-sixth of the carbon budget that humans can emit if they want to keep warming below 2°C – the level that’s generally viewed as the maximum warming Earth can endure while still avoiding the most dangerous climate impacts (and even 2°C is seen by many experts as too high).

The study, unlike other recent studies on deforestation, projects that in a business-as-usual scenario, in which the world doesn’t make any effort to reduce deforestation, tropical deforestation will increase, rather than decrease. According to the study, tropical deforestation rates in such a scenario will likely climb steadily in the 2020s and 2030s and then speed up around 2040, “as areas of high forest cover in Latin America that are currently experiencing little deforestation come under greater threat.”

The study does point to one change in policy that would cut deforestation rates and help alleviate climate change: a price on carbon. According to the report, a price of $20 per ton of carbon would keep 41 gigatons of carbon dioxide from being emitted between 2016 and 2050, and a price of $50 per ton would keep 77 gigatons from being emitted.

“Our analysis corroborates the conclusions of previous studies that reducing tropical deforestation is a sizable and low-cost option for mitigating climate change,” the study’s authors write. “In contrast to previous studies, we project that the amount of emissions that can be avoided at low-cost by reducing tropical deforestation will increase rather than decrease in future decades.”

The study also noted that, if all tropical countries put in place anti-deforestation laws that were “as effective as those in the Brazilian Amazon post-2004,” then 60 gigatons of carbon dioxide would be kept out of the atmosphere. Brazil took action against deforestation in 2004 and 2008, and deforestation rates in the country have fallen from 27,000 square kilometers (about 10,424 square miles) in 2004 to 7,000 square kilometers (about 2,700 square miles) in 2010. According to the Climate Policy Initiative, this slowdown in deforestation rates helped keep about 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide in these forests and out of the atmosphere.

Forests can act as major carbon sinks, but for some forests, that role may be changing. A study from this year published in Nature documented the “long-term decline of the Amazon carbon sink,” which the study says could be occurring due to changes in climate. The study also points to increasing tree mortality rate – via deforestation – as another factor in the forests’ decreasing ability to store carbon.

Monday’s study noted that decreasing emissions from deforestation is a relatively cheap way for countries to reduce their overall emissions. If countries implemented a system in which wealthy countries paid tropical countries to keep their forests intact, those payments by wealthy countries would constitute a cheaper way to fight climate change than some alternatives.

“Conserving tropical forests is a bargain,” CGD research fellow and report co-author Jonah Busch said in a statement. “Reducing emissions from tropical deforestation costs about a fifth as much as reducing emissions in the European Union.”

Other studies have warned of the danger the world is in if countries don’t curb rates of deforestation and forest degradation. A study published this week in Science warned that, without policy changes, the world’s forests will become increasingly broken into unconnected patches – a fragmentation that will endanger the species that live in the forests.

“I fear a global simplification of the world’s most complex forests,” Simon Lewis, lead author of the study and tropical forest expert at the University of Leeds said in a statement. “Deforestation, logging and road building all create fragmented patches of forest. However, as the climate rapidly changes the plants and animals living in the rainforest will need to move to continue to live within their ecological tolerances. How will they move? This is a recipe for the mass extinction of tropical forest species this century.”

Marijuana Absorbs Nuclear Radiation

The many uses of the HEMP plant include much more than the relaxing euphoric feeling caused by THC. Paper, fuel, rope, plastic, and countless other uses have been identified.

However one of the attribute you may not have heard about is the cannabis plant’s ability to absorb nuclear radiation.

Marijuana was actually used in the cleaning up of Chernobyl, similar to the sunflower plants. Thus for the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, cultivation of marijuana is a viable alternative since this plant absorbs the radiation. It is also viable to other places with regards on the laws of the states and the country that is going to be planted.

The earthquake in Japan and the resulting nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima has rocked the entire world with the threat and spread of nuclear waste contamination. The unknown amount of different hazardous chemicals has been released into the atmosphere and ocean that threaten our food chain for the long foreseeable future. Marijuana may be one of the alternative keys reducing this damage we all face.

The Daily Alternative Reports:

Many people know that the cannabis plant has amazing healing powers; however the same plant can literally “eat away” nuclear waste. From the flower’s ability to aid and keep people from going blind, to the woody core of the stem’s ability to build fire proof homes and much more. Now, we can add another use to the list: Marijuana as a tool to clean up nuclear contamination around Chernobyl.

Historically in 1998, the Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP), Phytotech, and the Ukraine’s Institute of Bast Crops planted industrial marijuana to help remove contaminants in the soil near Chernobyl. Marijuana is one of the best plants for a process called phytoremediation that has been mentioned before. It is a term coined by Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers University’s Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment. Dr. Raskin had been sent to examine food safety at the Chernobyl site.

Phytotech specializes in phytoremediation, the general term for using phyto (plants) to remediate (clean up) polluted sites. Phytoremediation has been used to remove radioactive elements from soil and water at former weapons producing areas. It can also be used to clean up metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil, and toxins leaching from landfills. Plants break down or degrade organic pollutants and stabilize metal contaminants by acting as filters or traps. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that more than 30,000 sites in the United States alone require hazardous waste treatment. Since nowadays there are so many pollutants and nuclear radiations everywhere on the entire earth and sea we might expect there are many more locations almost everywhere.

Founded in 1931, the Institute of Bast Crops is now the leading research institution in the Ukraine, working on seed breeding, seed growing, cultivating, harvesting and processing hemp (marijuana) and flax. The Bast Institute has a genetic bank that includes 400 varieties of hemp from various regions of the world. Newer technologies in hemp harvesting and processing are also being developed at the institute whose library contains more than 55,000 volumes mainly on hemp growing and flax growing. “Hemp is proving to be one of the best phyto-remediative plants we have been able to find,” said Slavik Dushenkov, a research scientist with Phytotech.

The company Phytotech lists the benefits of phytoremediation (compared to traditional remedial technologies):

Lower cost

Applicability to a broad range of metals

Potential for recycling the metal-rich biomass

Minimal environmental disturbance

Minimization of secondary air and waterborne wastes

Nobody knows how far the extension of the contamination from the nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima because the tsunami and wind bring together the radioactivity almost everywhere on earth.Thus it is hard to think about the tons of nuclear contaminated water getting pumped into our mutually shared ocean and how it is going to broadly effect a great deal of our ecosystems.

Growing cannabis can improve the soil when it grown as a break crop i.e. to relieve and revitalize the soil between crops. Farmers are getting a 27% increased yield after the marijuana crop because industrial marijuana puts nitrogen back into the soil, suppress weeds and diseases, and clean contaminates out of the planet, then you would realize this plant is medicine for our Mother Earth.

The Superplant That May Finally Topple the Rubber Monopoly

Eric Mathur is sitting in the backseat of an SUV, rolling south through the Arizona desert. Tall, dark, and bald, he’s dressed for a day under the sun. His linen shirt is open at the top, revealing a thick gold chain around his neck. A cream-colored Panama hat rests on his knee.

As we ride from the outskirts of Phoenix to a farm near Maricopa, about 40 miles away, Mathur explains how he and his company, Yulex, hope to break the Asian rubber monopoly using gene sequencing and an unassuming desert plant. It’s a long story, and about halfway in, as a way of describing this grand plan, he tells me about his parents. His father was Indian, part of a family stretching back more than a hundred generations in South Asia, and his mother was Latvian, with roots just as deep in Eastern Europe. The chain around his neck is a Latvian heirloom, one of the valuables his mother’s family buried outside their home near Riga as Russian troops approached in the opening days of World War II.

His parents met after the war and raised four children. Though his mother, Biruta, is all of 5-foot-3 and his father, Prem, was only slightly taller, Mathur and his two brothers are well over 6 feet, and their sister is 5-10. As Mathur tells it, his family is a living example of ” hybrid vigor.” After centuries of inbreeding in two very different parts of the world, two genetic lines collided, producing traits that weren’t there before. This, he explains, is what he’s trying to do here in the desert, with a plant called guayule.

We drive through an open gate and onto the farm where Yulex is growing guayule-pronounced why-yoo-lee -across more than 250 acres. Row after row stretch from the highway to the hills in the west. Pushing the Panama hat onto his head, Mathur walks me across this desert field, so I can see the plant up close. It’s a ragged scrub with chalky green leaves, the kind of thing you’d dig up and toss away if it sprouted in your back yard. But there’s more to see on the inside.

Bending down, Mathur tears a stem from one shrub and peels back the bark, pointing to a thin layer of, well, softness. This is called parenchyma. You can use it to make rubber, and that means you can make wetsuits, condoms, gloves, catheters, angioplasty balloons, and so many other medical devices. But most importantly, you can make tires. Car tires. Truck tires. Aircraft tires. In fact, this sort of natural rubber is essential to making tires. Yes, we now have synthetic rubber, but that isn’t as strong as the natural stuff. Our automobile tires contain about 50 percent natural rubber, and you simply can’t make a truck or aircraft tire without it.

‘There are many plants that have never had the productivity to make them interesting. But now, there are tools that can take them to the next level’

Today, almost all natural rubber comes from hevea rubber trees grown in Southeast Asia, and that hangs a nightmare scenario over US tire makers and the wider US economy. In the event of war or natural disaster, our supply could vanish, and rather quickly. But guayule can provide an alternative. Since the early 20th century, American researchers, entrepreneurs, and statesmen have eyed the plant as a way of freeing the U.S. economy from this deep dependence on Asia. Rubber trees doesn’t do well in the US, but guayule does. It’s indigenous to Mexico and the American southwest.

The trouble is that the average guayule plant yields relatively small amounts of rubber. Mass production has never quite made sense. But Mathur believes he can change that. At Yulex, he and his colleagues have collected guayule seeds from across the globe, looking for genetic strains as different as, yes, his Indian father and Latvian mother. Now, the team is germinating these seeds, and by closely examining the genetic makeup of the seedlings using DNA sequencers, they’re predicting which strains will produce the best progeny, accelerating the creation of the most vigorous hybrids-hybrids that can yield previously impossible amounts of rubber.

“We’re working with essentially wild plants,” Mathur says, in his rapid-fire way, one word running into the next. “There are many plants that have never had the productivity to make them interesting. But now, because of the genomic revolution, there are tools that can take them to the next level.”

Yulex has spent two years breeding its hybrids in Southern California greenhouses, creating about 1,200 different varieties, and the hybrids here in Arizona are the first grown en masse in an open field. According to Mathur, the best of these can produce one metric ton per acre of guayule planted. These superplants, he claims, are now on par with the rubber tree.

Nature, Domesticated

As the price of gene sequencing technology drops, academics, government researchers, and big corporations alike are using so-called molecular breeding techniques to refine the oldest agricultural crops, combining the latest in biotech with ancient farming methods. By closely examining the DNA of particular plants, they can identify which will produce the best offspring and then immediately cross-breed them. Separate from any effort to actually modify the DNA of fruits and vegetables-the much-discussed GMOs-argi-giant Monsanto is using this method to accelerate the natural breeding of produce like lettuce, peppers, and broccoli. Other Big Ag companies are doing something similar.

Farmers have bred hybrids for centuries, putting two promising plants together and encouraging them to pollenate each other. But such “open pollination” is slow to produce the desired traits. Often, the right plant breeds with the wrong one, and the process moves backward. DNA sequencers provide far more control. Researchers can better understand what’s happening, and sooner. “We’re able to skip the multiple years of testing required by traditional breeding methods,” says Patrick Schnable, an Iowa State University professor who specializes in plant genomics.

‘We’re able to skip the multiple years of testing required by traditional breeding methods.’

But molecular breeding can boost more than just staples. It can produce entirely new crops, crops that didn’t make sense before. Before joining Yulex, Mathur was the chief technologist at SG Biofuels, which transformed a plant called jatropha into a source of jet fuel. Now, he’s applying the same science to guayule. And he’s not alone.

The US Department of Agriculture is working to sequence the guayule genome in full, and multiple companies, including Cooper Tire and a Yulex competitor called PanAridus hope to use this for molecular breeding. In the years to come, these same breeding techniques could help refine a wide range of other plants, producing not only new fuels and new materials, but new sources of food. “The natural world,” Schnable says, “is now ours to domesticate.”

The Rubber Monopoly

In 1875, an Englishman named Henry Wickham smuggled some 70,000 hevea seeds from Brazil to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew outside London. Many rotted on the trip across the Atlantic. But some arrived intact. And some germinated at Kew. From there, Britain shipped hevea across its empire to Ceylon and Malaya and Indonesia, breaking the Brazilian rubber monopoly. In the decades to come, a fast-spreading leaf blight strangled the hevea market in the Amazon. But the tree thrived on the other side of the globe.

The rub: this created a new kind of monopoly. Today, Southeast Asia produces 92 percent of the world’s rubber, according to the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries, a consortium that includes China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, The Philippines, and Vietnam. Ever since the Asian rubber boom, American government and industry have sought ways of mass-producing rubber closer to home. In 1910, a group of entrepreneurs, including John Rockefeller, invested $30 million in guayule. During the Second World War, after the Japanese seized a majority of the hevea plantations in Southeast Asia, Congress passed a bill that spread guayule across 32,000 acres in California and Arizona. And as oil prices surged in 1970s-raising the cost of the synthetic rubber-a new wave of guayule research swept the American tire makers.

As wars ended, oil prices dropped, and other economic pressures subsided, these efforts faded. But the broader need remains. No one can build a decent tire without natural rubber. Synthetic rubber just isn’t strong enough-at the molecular level-to keep the tire together. “You can certainly build a tire from synthetic rubber, but-depending on the kind of tire-it doesn’t run that well,” says Chuck Yurkovich, senior vice president of global technology at Cooper Tire. As such, the US economy is almost wholly dependent on growers in Southeast Asia. These growers have the leverage to set their prices. The leaf blight-or another war-could sever our access to hevea. And in recent years, this multi-faceted problem has grown more acute, as economies in China and India mature at such a rapid rate. They need more rubber for themselves.

‘We know so much less about how to breed guayule. But we’re now going to get all this information about how it works.’

All this is why Colleen McMahan and a team of USDA researchers are working to sequence the guayule genome. “It’s why I have a job,” she says, sitting in the basement of the USDA’s research center in Albany, California, just across the bay from San Francisco.

As part of a $6.9 million government grant, which also funds work at Cooper Tire, PanAridus, Cornell University, and Arizona State University, the USDA hopes to release a fully sequenced genome by year’s end. The aim is to create a complete genetic reference that can help researchers identify the guayule genes that yield specific traits, like the size of the plant, the number of parenchyma cells that circle its trunk and stems, even its shape.

“This is the foundation for molecular breeding,” says Bill Belknap, one of the USDA biotechnologists working to sequence the genome. “We’re providing the information that lets you see where genes are and how you want to move them.”

The potential for improvement is enormous-in part because guayule is so under-bred, in part because breeding technology is evolving so quickly. “The creation of a guayule commodity, which is what we’re all banking on here, is behind the science. That’s almost never the case,” says McMahan. “We knew a whole lot about how great humans evolved before we ever sequenced the genome. We know so much less about how to breed guayule. But we’re now going to get all this information about how it works.”

In about a decade, Belknap believes, the USDA’s work will produce new breeds that can finally push guayule rubber into commercial tires. The tire industry moves slowly, he says. But Eric Mathur believes the changes will come sooner. Much sooner.

The Walking Dead

Mathur has spent the last twenty years trying unlock the hidden powers of organisms you’ve never heard of. In the ’90s, he went to work for a company called Diversa, traveling the world in search of microrganisms that could improve everything from animal care to vegetable oil processing. “We mined natural diversity,” Mathur says. “We would isolate DNA from dirt, from fish guts, from Antartica rocks. We would find genes that behaved in new ways, and then we would blend the best of them.”

Then, in 2006, he joined Synthetic Genomics, a company founded by Craig Venter, one of the first scientists to completely sequence the human genome. There, Mathur focused on transforming microbes, algae, and plants into biofuels-alternatives to oil and gas-using the same tools that drove the human genome project. Later, at SGB, he did much the same with jatropha, a plant previously used to make Portuguese candle wax.

SGB raised jatropha seed yields by as much as 900 percent, eventually signing a deal with BP and others to plant 75,000 acres of the stuff in Brazil. “Their work really showed the potential of molecular breeding technologies, particularly for new crops,” says Iowa State professor Schnable. As the price of oil dropped-making biofuels less attractive-the company faded from view. But its work had caught the eye of Yulex CEO Jeff Martin.

Martin, the former vice president of sales and marketing at a medical device company called Safeskin, co-founded Yulex around the turn of the millennium, hoping to transform guayule into a new source of rubber for the medical industry. Many people are allergic to hevea rubber, and Martin saw guayule as a natural alternative to synthetic latex. But Yulex couldn’t find a wide market for its products-the FDA saddled the company’s guayule gloves with a rather confusing label warning that they could fuel allergies, though that may not have been the case-and outside of some wetsuits, it struggled to push into other products.

So, in 2013, Yulex signed a deal with SG Biofuels to use its gene sequencing techniques, and last year, Mathur joined the company full-time. Yulex has offices in Arizona, not far from the fields where its growing guayule hybrids. But Mathur and his team work out of the old SGB office on the outskirts of San Diego. Yulex has redecorated the walls with photos of guayule.

This is where the team is working to revive its decades-old guayule seeds. The newest seedlings are sprouting in oven-sized “environmental chambers” that tightly control temperature, light, and humidity, each plant swaddled in tiny towelettes to keep them moist. Only about one percent of seeds can be revived. Mathur calls these “The Walking Dead,” comparing them to the hevea seeds Wickham brought to Britain from the Amazon. “These are 30- to 50-year-old collections, and they’ve been through some tough times,” he says, explaining that some of them were kept in freezers that lost power from time to time. “It’s not all that different from the Kew story.”

Genetic Fingerprints

The project began with Mathur and his team collecting as much guayule “germplasm”-living tissue that can produce new plants-from as many disparate sources as possible. Universities. Labs. Private collections. Though many others are working to improve guayule yields, including the USDA, they typically use germplasm from the same area of Mexico, where guayule originated. “Most of the USDA public lines are closely related,” McMahan says. “In the past, collectors looked for big plants and lots of rubber, not genetic diversity.” By finding extremely divergent lines, Mathur says, he and his researchers can help produce the hybrid vigor he sees in his 6-foot-2-inch self.

In all likelihood, Mathur and his tall siblings benefitted from a better diet than his parents, as well as cross-continental breeding. And some question the genetic diversity of the Yulex germplasm. But hybrid vigor, or heterosis, can boost plant yields in big ways. If you inbreed the same line, damaged or recessive genes can show through, says Belknap, of the USDA. But if you cross-breed lines, dominant genes will mask the recessives. “When you mix ’em together-boom!-the damaged genes go away.” Mathur points to rice and corn as examples of crops that have benefited from hybrid breeding in recent decades.

‘When you mix ’em together-boom!-the damaged genes go away.’

Once their seeds are revived, Mathur and his team use DNA sequencing machines to identify particular gene sequences and determine which plants are the most genetically diverse. Those will likely produce the best hybrids. Then, the team cross-breeds these plants at a greenhouse further up the California coast, producing hybrids by the dozens. This end of the process is still charmingly low tech. They put the plants in small tents filled with blue bottle flies and carbon dioxide, and the flies carry the pollen from one plant to another. Mathur calls it “forced caged sex.”

As these plants grow, the team examines the genetic makeup of the most promising hybrids-dubbed Jedi Warriors-and the process starts again. Eventually, they plant the top Jedi across those open fields in Arizona. A particular plant may offer only some of the traits Mathur and his team are looking for, but they can always cross it with yet another.

Once the company has a reference genome from the USDA, Mathur says, the process will accelerate further. With a reference genome, they can better identify which DNA fingerprints correlate with important traits, predicting with even greater accuracy which plants will produce the best hybrids. He believes that, when paired with the USDA’s work, the company’s techniques will impact commercial products by 2019. “By then,” he says, “we expect real economic change.”

The Hybrid Clones

Mathur’s friends and colleagues will tell you he’s an exceedingly positive person, a trait that’s obvious the moment you meet him. But it also means his projections should be viewed with some skepticism. In some ways, changing an industry as old and entrenched as the rubber business-or the oil business-is a quixotic pursuit. So many previous efforts to transform guayule into a viable crop have failed. Yulex has struggled to push guayule rubber into the marketplace for well over a decade. The once promising SGB now sits in limbo.

Changing something as old as the rubber industry-or the oil business-is a quixotic pursuit

“We still have to get to critical mass, where crops are actually grown by farmers and sold,” says Katrina Cornish, a professor in the department of food, agricultural, and biological engineering at Ohio State University who helped advance guayule research at the USDA and worked for a time at Yulex.

Even if you can get guayule to produce enough rubber, you’re still left with the rest of the plant. This isn’t like hevea, which you can tap maple tree-style, extracting its liquid latex without killing the plant. You musty harvest guayule and extract the parychema cells from the bark. But in creating new forms of guayule, Mathur hopes to address these issues, at least in part. He’s producing breeds that will grow in cooler climates. He aims to turn the rest of the plant into biofuel feedstock, so harvesting isn’t as much of a problem. He’s working to reshape the scrub-literally.

As he walks through rows of guayule hybrids in an enormous sloping greenhouse in Encinitas, California, Mathur points out how different the plants look from one another. Some are short and squat, others tall and thin. Some have small trunks, others large. On some, the leaves spread out like fans. On others, they look more like ribbons. It seems as if entirely separate species are growing from row to row.

This is just what happens when you first cross disparate plants. And it doesn’t necessarily indicate extreme genetic diversity. But it shows what Mathur and Yulex aim to do. In reshaping the plant, they can potentially grow more of it per acre. Traditionally, guayule was planted like cotton-in long single-file rows-but Yulex is growing it more like a vegetable, with many plants slotted alongside each other. “You can increase the density of plants,” he says, “not just increase the amount of rubber produced by the plant.”

Once they’ve found the traits they want, they can induce the plant to reproduce without sex-to clone itself

With this small scrub, the possibilities are myriad. And as we walk out of the greenhouse, Mathur points to one more. The added trick, he says, is that once he has a plant he likes, he can clone the thing in perpetuity. And he can clone it without actually modifying the genes.

Guayule exhibits what’s called facultative apomixis. It reproduces in a sexual way some of the time, but not all the time. That’s why Mathur and his team can cross breed plants and produce new traits (sex is required). But it also means that once they’ve found the traits they want, they can induce the plant to reproduce without sex-to clone itself.

Mathur calls this “the real power” of guayule. The plant has behaved this way for centuries. But, now, Mather and his team have the technology they need to harness that power. They recently applied for a patent on this technology, believing it can finally turn guayule into a source of natural American rubber. So many others have failed to do so. But they didn’t have the same tools.

Dreaming the Dark Mountain: Time, Economy and Development in Senegal’s Ecovillages

“I would burn my right hand in a slow fire
To change the future … I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.”
– Robinson Jeffers, “Rearmament”, 1935

I first discovered ecovillages on a small farm in southern Sweden. The farm itself was not an ecovillage, but it did have a small book called Ecovillages: A Practical Guide to Sustainable Communities. Between pulling weeds and trench digging, I absorbed the book in a single day. Like its author,I found provocative the idea of living in “community with others” and in “harmony with nature,” and became part of a Global Ecovillage Network​, a worldwide movement of people building a new world. It was an alternative, at least, to that dark “mighty cosmos of the modern economic order” that the German sociologist Max Weber prophetically wrote would determine the life of “every individual … born into [its] mechanisms until the day that the last ton of fossil fuel had been consumed.” Ecovillages seemed to me like a blueprint for a new world. Buzz-words like “Permaculture,” “small is beautiful,” and “sociocracy,” and technologies like reed-bed watering systems, passive solar houses, and communal living all seemed preferable to consumer capitalism, mass culture, and the dominance of rising towers of glass, steel, and concrete. At least, that is what I thought when I came across a puzzle: The Senegalese government was attempting to convert 14 000 villages-nearly half of Senegal’s rural communities-into ecovillages. How was it that the “model” of the ecovillage, a reaction to environmental and social problems of modernity in the global North, had come to be seen as a State-sponsored development solution in Senegal?


It was a question at once personal and intellectual: I had lived in ecovillages as an “environmental anarchist,” studying statecraft and development critiques by the likes of James Scott, Arundhati Roy, and James Ferguson. My challenge was to explore how a model of anti-modernity created in the North was becoming embedded in a decidedly pre- (or even post-) modern West African nation. I went to the land of the long boats- pirogues- to find an answer. Yet, what I found was anything but…


There were not, in formal ontological terms, any ecovillages in Senegal. What I encountered were not ecovillages being built “out there,” but a variety of experiments with alternatives to deeply held assumptions about Western development. Those assumptions centered on the axes of time or temporality, and value or economy. Ecovillages were, in this evaluation, a continuation of a much older history of people experimenting with, re-theorizing, and critiquing modernity in situ, effacing conventional boundaries between thinking and doing, analyzing and acting, and between the worlds of theory “in here” and of built models “out there.” In a country where the phrase ” la modernité“-in North America more often the preserve of an educated elite-came instead from the voices of Senegal’s youth; I came to see ecovillages not as a solution to the problems of modernity, but as opening up a broader questioning of modernity itself. The problematic, it became apparent, was not solely a question for the privileged intellectuals of the West, but a subject of live, political discussion about the right forms of life in Senegal, a country that has yet to experience totalizing modernization. In failing to find model ecovillages, I encountered instead ways of thinking that problematized some of the most deeply held assumptions of development.

Traditional development policy assumes a sort of that time progresses linearly towards the future. In Senegal, I saw this view of progress reflected in le Monumentde la RenaissanceAfricaine, a statue depicting an uncharacteristically small nuclear family in its advance towards a wind-swept future-trash strewn below. I read this as an inversion of Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History: an Angel of Progress oblivious to the cultural and environmental havoc wreaked by a globalizing detachment that subsumes capital interest at the behest of those at the bottom of an exploitative hierarchy. Here modern time, as E.P. Thomson brilliantly observes, takes “time as money.” While the State continues with visions for that model of growth, I encountered communities hoping to reverse the logic of time converted into value. One ecovillage advocate wanted to return to an imagined past where “at night the children … would play hide-and-seek between their parents’ rice warehouses … [and] the elders would remind them of the region’s reputable populations of lions, hyenas, crocodiles, hippopotamus, and brilliant multi-colored birds.”


Contradicting the ideal image of development-the standardization and formalization of markets managed by a rationalized bureaucratic State-I found myself a disruptive economic agent in a world disrupted by Western capital. GEN Senegal, the NGO of my first contact in the country, dissolved after the promise of potential “millions” from the UNDP and the Global Environment Fund to build ecovillages at the national level. Once they realized the national government would only be appointing its own agents, many of GEN Senegal members felt disillusioned and disenchanted with the money they felt was already poisoning Senegal’s hopes for a better future. The National Ecovillage Agency, a government program I was also trying to explore, turned out to be a gate-keeper for corruption, eating away the funds provided for it by Western development agencies without engaging in the sort of disciplined work that donors foresaw. While the goal was to build ecovillages, it seemed more that foreign funds were being turned into an economy of non-sustainability, low quality solar panels, non-performing villagers and agents, and endless piles of government development documents with economic calculations being the “solution” to Western imaginaries of development. Everywhere I went, I found myself viewed as a lifeline to such notions of foreign investment. In the final weeks of my visit I even encountered a marabout (Islamic religious leader), who did a ceremony involving boiling water and ground nuts to convert my stolen laptop into $240 dollars for his own benefit.

The politics of development in Senegal turned out to be not about ecovillages but about competing visions of past, present, and future. In one community, I found myself in the midst of a political fight: between an idealistic mayor wishing to “return” to the ecovillage past (his slogan was: ” ici, on vit ecovillage“) and a new mayor more resigned to the pragmatic present of the development status quo. Both were in desperate need of solutions for the country’s youth (in a country where the average age is 21), but they were looking for it in terms of different technical models and development projects. Senegal is a country from which many young people are taking off to Europe, and many are dying in trying to escape. On this score, I found only one village-Ndem-that perhaps, could be said to be approaching that sought-after “solution.” Oddly, unlike any other Senegalese community I encountered, it was not working from established models. It resisted scalability. Its marabout had come back not to “develop” but to “reincarnate” the village’s founder, and to return the village to its past through religious teaching and practice. Its members were looking to build things as a community ” petit-a-petit“, not with sudden leaps and jumps of technology. These Baye Fall (an Islamic sect seen as a nuisance in Dakar) were more concerned with the rhythm of religious devotion than with standard uses of time and money (like getting a job and an apartment in Dakar). All the same, despite its decidedly anti-modern stance, Ndem is considered by many to be one of the most successful rural development examples in the country.


Ultimately, my exploration of ecovillages and resulting examinations of temporality in Senegal delved into the politics of progress, the efficacy of established models, and conflicting interests wrapped in a seeming lack of sincere direction. If there was a “model” that worked best, it was a project more considerate of local conceptions of past and future than about the clichéd standardizations of modernity. On the side of value, ecovillages offered an unforgiving look at both activists who were resisting the importation of Western money as a solution and development agencies opportunistically taking up well-funded projects doomed to fail in Senegal.

I began my search in Senegal to see how ecovillages, a posited solution to hyper-development in the North, had come to be seen as a development solution in the South. Through this exploration, I came to question conventional notions of modernity, a goal the very term “development” assumes many countries are striving to obtain. I did not find a unified vision for the future, but a multiplicity of attempts to dream a better life-often ones starkly different from the narratives of the high-level organizations working in the country, or even of “ecovillages”. There was not, I learned, a solution (singular) to the problems of modernity in Senegal or elsewhere. There were solutions (plural): operating at different levels and all at once, bringing out the multiplicity of meanings that make up our modern world. In my subsequent explorations with Aesir Lab, I hope to open up investigations that move past conventional social science framings, resisting realist framings that presuppose both the “problem” and the “solution”. Instead, I will use methods that the Senegalese context called for: pushing against realist thinking that imposes “ecovillage”, “environmental crisis”, or “development” as totalizing frames; using “both-and” instead of “either-or” logics; and looking at “actors” as theorists of their own situated contexts. In the end, what was born out of my study was a dazzling, kaleidoscopic world challenging Anglo-American framings of development as a goal to be “accomplished.” I concluded by asking whether there are not more open, discursive forms of cross-cultural engagement that bring in, rather than overwrite, the voices that are today excluded from expert discourses on development.



To learn more about Ecological Villages around the world, visit The Global Ecovillage Network Global Ecovillage Network


Photographs by Hilton Simmet (unless otherwise stated).

Featured Image by b. hessmann


Bang, Jan Martin. (2005). Ecovillages: a practical guide to sustainable communities. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society.

Benjamin, Walter. (1969). Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. (H. Zohn, Trans., H. Arendt, Ed.) (English Language edition). New York: Schocken.

Ferguson, James. (1990). The anti-politics machine: “development,” depoliticization, and bureaucratic power in Lesotho. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jasanoff, Sheila. (2002). New modernities: Reimagining science, technology and development. Environmental Values, 11(3), 253-276.

Scott, James C. (1976). The moral economy of the peasant : rebellion and subsistence in Southeast Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Weber, Max. (1949). Objectivity. “Social Science and Social Policy.” The Methodology of the Social Sciences. New York: Free Press, 1949a, 49-112.

Mushroom used in Chinese medicine ‘slows weight gain’

A mushroom used for centuries in Chinese medicine reduces weight gain in animals, say researchers in Taiwan.

The study, published in Nature Communications, suggested Ganoderma lucidum slowed weight gain by altering bacteria in the gut.

The researchers suggested the mushroom could eventually be used in the treatment of obesity.

Experts said the science was good, but putting mushroom extract in cans of cola would not help people lose weight.

G. lucidum has traditionally been sold for “health and longevity” say researchers at Chang Gung University.

They analysed the impact of the fungus on mice being fed a high-fat diet.

Those on just a high-fat diet reached 42g after their first two months whereas mice that were also fed a high dose of mushroom extract reached only 35g.

Mice were still much slimmer if they were fed a normal diet.

In their report, the team said mushroom extract “may be used as pre-biotics to reduce body weight gain, chronic inflammation and insulin resistance [type 2 diabetes] in obese individuals.”

Although this would, they said, need further testing in people.

Gut bugs

The team in Taiwan showed that adding the mushroom to the mice’s meals altered the types of bacteria living in the gut.

Gut bugs are heavily involved in digestion and the release of energy, and some species are associated with slim people and others with fat people.

The scientists showed that transplanting faeces from the mushroom-fed mice to other mice – known as horizontal faeces transfer – helped the recipient keep off the pounds.

Prof Colin Hill, a microbiologist at University College Cork in Ireland, told the BBC News website: “I like the idea of some of these Chinese medicine stories coming back into science, I love the idea of revisiting traditional medicines.

“The microbiome is certainly a key player in weight gain and weight loss, it’s certainly involved in extracting energy from our food.

“But no intervention will overcome someone drinking lots of fizzy drinks, there won’t be a magic pill, no mushroom extract in a can of coke will help people lose weight.”

Mushroom used in Chinese medicine ‘slows weight gain’ – BBC News

A mushroom used for centuries in Chinese medicine reduces weight gain in animals, say researchers in Taiwan.

The study, published in Nature Communications, suggested Ganoderma lucidum slowed weight gain by altering bacteria in the gut.

The researchers suggested the mushroom could eventually be used in the treatment of obesity.

Experts said the science was good, but putting mushroom extract in cans of cola would not help people lose weight.

G. lucidum has traditionally been sold for “health and longevity” say researchers at Chang Gung University.

They analysed the impact of the fungus on mice being fed a high-fat diet.

Those on just a high-fat diet reached 42g after their first two months whereas mice that were also fed a high dose of mushroom extract reached only 35g.

Mice were still much slimmer if they were fed a normal diet.

In their report, the team said mushroom extract “may be used as pre-biotics to reduce body weight gain, chronic inflammation and insulin resistance [type 2 diabetes] in obese individuals.”

Although this would, they said, need further testing in people.

Gut bugs

The team in Taiwan showed that adding the mushroom to the mice’s meals altered the types of bacteria living in the gut.

Gut bugs are heavily involved in digestion and the release of energy, and some species are associated with slim people and others with fat people.

The scientists showed that transplanting faeces from the mushroom-fed mice to other mice – known as horizontal faeces transfer – helped the recipient keep off the pounds.

Prof Colin Hill, a microbiologist at University College Cork in Ireland, told the BBC News website: “I like the idea of some of these Chinese medicine stories coming back into science, I love the idea of revisiting traditional medicines.

“The microbiome is certainly a key player in weight gain and weight loss, it’s certainly involved in extracting energy from our food.

“But no intervention will overcome someone drinking lots of fizzy drinks, there won’t be a magic pill, no mushroom extract in a can of coke will help people lose weight.”

A blind man and his armless companion plant over 10,000 trees in China

Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi are 53 year-old men with disabilities. Mr. Haixia is blind and Mr. Wenqi has had his both arms amputated. Despite their disabilities, they form a great team that makes a huge difference. They have worked together for 10 years and have managed to plant 10,000 trees in a rural area in Hebei, China. They deserve to be called eco-warriors and heroes for their incredible efforts and amazing deed!

10 years ago, these men decided to team up and start their work together. This happened after they both couldn’t find jobs due to their physical incapability. Happily, they have managed to think of a unique way to pair up and make a difference. ‘I am his hands and he is my eyes,’ says Mr. Haixia. With each other’s help, they succeeded in transforming a three-hectare stretch of riverbank, despite the intensive and hard work planting trees requires.

Mr. Wenqi is a 53-year old man who had lost his both arms when he was only a 3-year old. Mr. Haixa is also 53 and was born with an eyesight problem. His condition is called congenital cataracts which affected his sight with his left eye, leaving it blind. Sadly, he lost sight with his right eye as well in a work accident. Both men’s unfortunate disabilities deprived them from finding secure jobs later in their lives. This is why in 2001 the eco-warriors leased from the government a large portion of a riverbank in a bid to plant trees for the generations to come. Plus, this action would contribute to the protection of their village from floods. Hoping for a modest income, they devoted their days to their work.  They both leave their home at 7:00 in the morning carrying a hammer and an iron rod. But in order to start with their work, they have to pass through a river in order to get to the other side of it. To do this, Mr. Wenqi has to carry his blind friend every day.

The two men have been partners in goodness for over a decade

Their working process is really interesting. As they don’t have enough money for saplings, they have to collect the cuttings which is not a simple task. They have come up with a unique and efficient technique that helps them optimize their work. As Mr. Haixa is the one who has to scale the trees, he climbs on his armless partners’ shoulders and guides him while he pulls himself through the tree branches. After climbing down, he digs a hole in the ground and plants the new cutting in the soil. It is Mr. Wenqi who takes care of the new saplings by watering them. Doing this for 10 years has resulted in the land being covered in thousands of new trees that attract a significant number of birds.

‘Though we did not accomplish much in a dozen years, we recognize our effort,’ says Mr. Haixia. Mr. Wenqi adds:  ‘We stand on our own feet. The fruits of our labor taste sweeter. Even though we are gnawing on steam buns, we find peace in our hearts.’

How Playing In The Dirt Benefits Your Immune System

When I was a kid, and it really wasn’t that long ago, my parents were totally up for letting me play in the dirt. It was an every day thing. These days, I watch everything-phobic parents of my generation keep their kids out of the sun, out of the dirt, and inside where it’s “safe.” But it turns out, that may not actually be good for them – or anyone for that matter.

According to an article published by Mary Ruebush, PhD, Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends, kids are naturally attracted to playing in the dirt. It’s an evolutionary trait that boosts our immune systems and makes us less susceptible to catching, and dying, of various diseases.

“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment.” writes Ruebush. “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”

And it’s not just some random person saying it. Science backs it up. In a , researchers were able to demonstrate what lack of exposure to microbes does to the immune system later in life. They found that early exposure to dirt and bugs helped immune cells later in life, and that there was actually a disruption of the natural bacterial flora in the body that led to hyperactivity in T cells and may contribute to asthma.

The most incredible finding though is that if children are denied access to these microbes, it can’t be fixed later on in life.

Of course, don’t overdo it! If you have kids, don’t make them eat dirt or anything. Just let them do what they do.

Prison Gardens Are Transforming Inmates

Don Vass, an admitted drug dealer, pulls a cabbage from the ground, then hands it to Walter Labord, a convicted murderer.

They are gardening behind soaring brick walls at Maryland’s largest penitentiary, where a group of inmates has transformed the prison yard into a thriving patch of strawberries, squash, eggplant, lettuce and peppers – just no fiery habaneros, which could be used to make pepper spray.

It’s planting season behind bars, where officials from San Quentin in California to Rikers Island in New York have turned dusty patches into powerful metaphors for rebirth. The idea: transform society’s worst by teaching them how things bloom – heads of cabbage, flowers, inmates themselves.

“These guys have probably never seen something grow out of the ground,” says Kathleen Green, the warden at Eastern Correctional Institution, watching her inmates till the soil. “This is powerful stuff for them.”

And they are lining up for the privilege of working 10-hour days in the dirt and heat.

Gardens were a staple of prison life decades ago – Alcatraz had a lovely one – but experts say many disappeared in the 1970s as lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key justice took hold. As some corrections systems veer back toward rehabilitation, prisons without gardens are scrambling to start them, contacting nonprofit groups such as the Insight Garden Program, which runs California’s prison gardens and is expanding nationwide.

“The demand is huge,” says Beth Waitkus, the program’s director. “Prisons see the value of this. When you have to tend to a living thing, there’s a shift that happens in a person.”

Some prisons are using the food to feed inmates, part of a green movement in corrections to save money, both in operating expenses and health-care costs, with many inmates suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Food quality is typically at the top of the food chain of prisoner complaints.

Other prisons donate the food to the poor, a powerful form of restorative justice where inmates help people living in situations very much like where many of them came from.

The Eastern Correctional prisoners are growing food for their neighbors in Somerset County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which has some of the highest poverty and childhood obesity rates in the state.

Last year’s total: five tons. And the garden is off to a good start this season. As the warden walks by, Maurice Jones, serving seven years for theft in Baltimore, drives a wheelbarrow over to help with the cabbage. Vass holds one up; it’s firm and leafy.

“Those look good,” the warden says.

And it makes the inmates feel good, too.

“It makes it feel like you still have it in you to do something good,” says Labord, now 39 and serving a life sentence for an armed robbery and murder in Prince George’s County back when he was a teenager.

Before he got into trouble, he used to work with his grandma at a church handing out food to the poor. “It felt good,” he says. “Now I’m giving back again.”

While Labord might never see another free day in his life, most prisoners do get out. Corrections officials think gardening is one way to keep them from coming back. Early studies of gardening programs in California prisons found that less than 10 percent of participants returned to prison or jail, a dramatic improvement from the National Institute of Justice’s U.S. rate of more than 60 percent.

Experts say that gardening provides career opportunities on the outside for ex-convicts with low job skills and that working with nature calms the soul and helps them jettison criminal behavior. The Insight Garden Program’s curriculum includes classroom lessons on ecology, emotional intelligence and leadership.

Whole new worlds are opened. Prisoners at Eastern Correctional even say they watch gardening shows on public television in their cells.

“You want to just learn everything,” says Edward Carroll, 43, convicted on drug charges in Charles County. He has eight books in his cell – six gardening manuals and two Bibles.

Eastern Correctional’s garden started as a small patch after Officer Gary Brown brought in a few seeds. It has expanded to nearly an acre, which is a bit of a miracle given that the ground is hard and dry. The irrigation system is whatever falls from the sky. There is a lot of praying for rain.

The work is grueling. The inmate gardeners work long days, scorched by the sun and tormented by flies. Their work is slowed by the rhythms of prison life. When inmates move through the yard on the way to chow, the gardeners have to lock up their shovels so someone with escape on their mind can’t get near them.

The gardeners work in an unusual partnership with corrections officers. They are all novices. They share ideas and study log books. If there is an issue with planting – pumpkins have been difficult – an officer will dispatch a gardener to the library for research.

“It’s custody,” says Lt. Debra Flockerzi, who supervises the gardeners. “They are inmates. But if we didn’t work as a team, we couldn’t do all of this.”

The gardeners are thankful to the staff. They named the grounds Green Garden after Warden Green, who often provides them with suggestions and zippy one-liners.

“I’ve got them growing a lot of herbs,” she said. “But not the kind you smoke.”

Flockerzi has set strict requirements to get on the garden team, including no gang affiliations and clean discipline records. And the gardeners know they must keep it that way.

“You can’t get nothing past that woman,” Vass says, lowering his voice so she can’t hear.

Some gardeners have tried. Though the inmates are sometimes allowed to bring strawberries or vegetables back to their cells, Flockerzi says a few were caught bringing back more than their allowance last year. In prison, fresh vegetables can be valuable currency. The gardeners were promptly fired.

“We’ve always got someone in line to take over,” Brown says.

The gardeners say there is some jealousy from other inmates who want to work in the garden. Some tease that the work can’t be all that hard – just drop some seeds in the ground, rake the dirt, and voila.

“They see the fruits of our labor,” Carroll says, “but they don’t see our labor.”

And that labor produces deliciousness.

“The quality is amazing,” says Matey Barker, behavioral health director for Somerset County. “The greens are just gorgeous.”

And so are the strawberries, according to this reporter, who sampled several.

The inmates who are getting out all say they plan on having a garden wherever they live. Jones, convicted of theft in a carjacking, says he sometimes wonders whether he would have gotten into trouble if he’d been tending to vegetables.

“I could have had one at the places I’ve lived,” he said. “It’s a nice little hobby.”

Vass says his fiance is jealous of his garden: “She says, ‘I want one when you leave.’ ”

She’ll have to wait a few years.

Sacred Land What would Mandela Do?

What Would Mandela Do ?

There is a right and wrong way to apologize, isn’t there? As our brothers and sisters in tribal communities around the world struggle between language barriers, legal barriers and unfortunately the physical removal of their people from the places they were born; eventually we will have the courage to give it back to them. That energy …

Read more

Costa Rica Becomes The FIRST Nation To Ban Hunting!

After Congress unanimously voted to ban hunting in 2012, it became illegal to poach wildlife in Costa Rica.

Do animals feel pain? Should they have rights like humans? These questions and others have been asked before on TrueActivist, and increasingly the response is that an individual should be honored – no matter their species – for who they are and what they might offer to the world.

We also recently reported that in the wake of controversy over the poaching of endangered animals, a number of airlines are now also refusing to ship hunting trophies.

Which is why we highly suspect you’re going to love the news – albeit a few years old – of Costa Rica becoming the first country to ban hunting!

As The Huffington Post reports, in December of 2012, Congress unanimously voted to ban hunting as a sport in the Latin American country. It was in 2010 that the popular initiative was proposed to Congress, with an accumulated 177,000 signatures calling for a ban on hunting.

Under the new law, those caught hunting will face up to four months in prison or fines of up to $3,000. Smaller penalties were also included in the reform for hunters who steal wild animals or keep them as pets. Among Costa Rica’s most treasured and sought-after species are jaguars, pumas, and sea turtles; but thanks to the new legislation, they are now much safer.

With a population of 4.5 million people and an ecosystem that boasts more than 500,000 species, the diversity of Costa Rica is what attracts tourists from all over the world. In fact, tourism is the country’s number one industry.

Said environmental activist Diego Marin, who campaigned for the reform, to local radio:

“We’re not just hoping to save the animals but we’re hoping to save the country’s economy, because if we destroy the wildlife there, tourists are not going to come anymore.”

However, not all foreigners are interested in catching some waves or taking a leisurely stroll through the country’s gorgeous parks. Some are most interested in capturing exotic felines to sell on the black market, or are in pursuit of securing rare and colorful parrots to sell as pets elsewhere.

It is to be noted that there are limits on the ban. The legislation does not apply to hunting by some indigenous groups for survival, or to scientific research.

Still, as a very environmentally conscious country, Costa Rica’s initiative will likely boost conservation efforts and maintain its diversity for years to come.

“Costa Ricans think of themselves as “people who are in a very good relation with the environment,” said Alonso Villalobos, a political scientist at the University of Costa Rica. “And in that way, we have made a lot of progress. We have a stronger environmental consciousness.”


What are your thoughts on this news? Share your comments below.

Adidas Wants To Turn Ocean Plastic Into Sportswear

by Lorraine Chow

Would you buy shoes or clothes made from trash that is recovered from the ocean?

Adidas has partnered with Parley for the Oceans to develop materials made from ocean plastic waste to use in its products starting in 2016. The sportswear giant will also phase out plastic bags in its 2,900 retail stores around the world. Parley for the Oceans is a team of artists, musicians, actors, directors, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors and scientists that addresses major threats to the world’s oceans.

“The conservation of the oceans is a cause that is close to my heart and those of many employees at the Adidas Group,” said Eric Liedtke, Adidas Group executive board member responsible for global brands. “By partnering with Parley for the Oceans we are contributing to a great environmental cause. We co-create fabrics made from ocean plastic waste which we will integrate into our product.”

As we previously mentioned, plastic-from plastic bags and bottles to tiny microbeads of plastic broken down from larger sources-is a major threat to marine life and marine ecosystems. The staggering 8 million tons of plastic tossed into the oceans every year also causes about $13 billion in damages annually.

“Our oceans are about to collapse and there is not much time left to turn it around. Nobody can solve this alone. Everyone has to be part of the solution. And collaboration is the magic formula,” said Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans. “We are extremely excited about this partnership. There is no other brand that carries the culture of collaboration in the DNA like Adidas. Together, we will not only focus on creating the next generation of design concepts, technologies, materials and products. We will also engage consumers, athletes, artists, designers, actors, musicians, scientists and environmentalists to raise their voice and contribute their skills for the ocean cause.”

Besides Adidas, many other major clothing companies are ramping up their sustainabilitypractices. Outdoor clothing company Patagonia is making efforts to get rid of toxic chemicals in their materials. Additionally, fast fashion retailer H&M is the world’s largest purchaser of organic cotton and has set up an in-store recycling program, which has brought in around 13,000 tons of clothing.

The announcement from Adidas coincides with the publication of their 15th annual sustainability report, which highlighted the company’s efforts to green up their gear. According to the report, the iconic sportswear brand has used more sustainable cotton than ever before, with 30 percent of all its cotton coming from sustainable sources, exceeding the originally planned 25 percent target. The company has committed to 100 percent sustainable cotton by 2018 and has also increased quantities of recycled polyester into their product line.

Adidas, along with Nike and Puma, made a major commitment to eliminating all discharges of hazardous chemicals throughout their supply chain and across the entire life cycle of their products by 2020. However, environmental groups such as Greenpeace criticized the sportswear brands last May for failing to take the critical steps needed to meet its target.

But now, in its most recent Detox Catwalk report, Greenpeace praised the clothing brand for its latest environmental initiatives. “Adidas is now back on track as a Detox leader. Two years after it crossed the line as one of the original Detox pioneers, Adidas began failing to meet its commitment. That was until global pressure from the Detox movement helped it get back on side in June 2014,” Greenpeace said. “Adidas has delivered on its commitment to ensure that 99 percent of its wet processing supply chain facilities in China publicly report data via the credible Institute for Environmental Affairs platform. It also publishes its list of suppliers and encourages facilities to divulge their respective customers when reporting data.


We Asked Kids: 10 Creative Ideas To Help Solve Global Waste Issues

Massachusetts-based creative research firm and marketing company Latitude teamed up with schools in France, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the United States to ask the kids how they might deal with one of today’s most intractable issues: waste.

In my recent move across the country from Toronto to Victoria, I was hit with a hard realization about consumerism: Humans collect and dispose of too “stuff.”

Although my partner and I made a conscious effort not to accumulate unnecessary things in our tiny Torontonian condo, even the bare essentials proved to be a challenge to get rid of. We had to sell pretty much everything we had accrued during our few years in Toronto in order to make the cross-country jump as simple as possible (minus the Vitamix and coffee machine, for obvious reasons).

Once we had gotten our belongings down to nearly zero, we caught a flight to Victoria where it was soon time to build our assets up yet again. Sigh.

I became nauseous at the idea of throwing down thousands of dollars on furniture and household items, but even more sickened by the amount of garbage we were creating by stocking our new pad with only the bare essentials. Luckily, my handy partner put his creative skills to the test and built our kitchen table, along with my office desk.

After unpacking all of our new things, such as a toaster, salad spinner, wok, and other kitchen utensils, along with a couch, a bed, and some groceries, we were left with a pile of waste too shameful to look at. Plastic, cardboard, and other various disposables filled our different waste and recycle bins, oozing guilt and ecological disappointment.

Then the thought crept into my head: nearly everyone out there has all of this stuff and more. And some a LOT more than others. Every person in our society creates this amount of waste on the regular. And even with the compiled efforts of recycling programs worldwide, are we really keeping up, considering the vast amount of material goods currently being consumed by the global population?

Technological innovation and clever marketing has perpetuated a cultural appetite for the latest and greatest, but at what ecological expense?

Sadly, the consequences of the latter may only ever be witnessed down the road by the newest generation of consumers, and the solutions to these issues may only every be tackled by the same generation.

This notion was the inspiration behind a recent project from Massachusetts-based creative research firm, Latitude, who went to children across the globe with the pressing questions about global waste management. Researchers wanted answers for the following three questions:

  1. How much do children know about the journey of trash once it’s thrown away?
  2. How do children think we can reduce and re-use trash more intelligently?
  3. What possibilities do “digital natives” see for technology to create a more sustainable future?

Some of the kids’ answers were adorably brilliant, while others may be considered far-fetched, but regardless, these pictures give us a glimmer of hope for the future of our planet. Check out their creative responses below!

An indestructible cell-phone.

What are your thoughts on these imaginative solutions? Are any of these kids on to something? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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People Hunt Endangered Animals, So This Woman Hunts Poachers

A group of retired US vets have just landed in Africa, and their mission is to deter poaching before it contributes to the elimination of endangered species.

The effects of poaching are not to be taken lightly. According to the African Wildlife Foundation, rhinos, elephants, and other types of African wildlife may go extinct in our lifetime. Take, for example, the Black Rhino: populations of this magnificent animal have decreased by 97.6% since 1960. It’s very clear that unless some heavy force and invested interest is given to help reduce rates of poaching, the entire planet will suffer from loss of biodiversity and the greed that is causing it.

One way activists in the United States are supporting an end to poaching is by enlisting retired vets to take part in an organization that puts their years of combat training to work overseas. The non-profit VETPAW (Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife) is focused on protecting African wildlife from illegally being hunted and captured.

And a recent addition to that group is Kinessa Johnson, a US Army veteran who served for 4 years in Afghanistan. At the end of March, she and a team arrived in Africa to take on a new mission: According to her, ” We’re going over there to do some anti-poaching, kill some bad guys, and do some good.”

Johnson and her team of fellow Vets arrived in Tanzania on March 26 th, quickly getting down to work. She has already noticed a decrease in poaching activity in her team’s immediate area because their presence is known.

…And if you take a minute to look at the build and confidence just Johnson exudes from years in dangerous territory, you likely can understand why. Her team’s primary focus at the moment will be to train park rangers and patrol with them to provide support.

African park rangers are in serious need of assistance, as she mentions, “they lost about 187 guys last year over trying to save rhinos and elephants.” The training they will provide includes marksmanship, field medicine, and counter-intelligence.

Kinessa joined VETPAW because she loves animals, and because protecting endangered species is a cause that speaks to her heart. Because Africa experiences the highest rates of poaching in the world, it made sense for her to volunteer her strength and skill to help protect some of the wildlife who are too easy of a target for poachers. Another incentive is because revenue made from selling parts from slaughtered endangered species usually goes to fund war and terrorism in Africa. So helping to combat the first act of violence will hopefully help to reduce other aspects of conflict elsewhere.

According to Johnson, “After the first obvious priority of enforcing existing poaching laws, educating the locals on protecting their country’s natural resources is most important overall.”

Taking to social media, Ms. Johnson is helping to raise money and awareness for the cause. She now has over 44,000 followers on Facebook and Instagram. And if you take time to check out her profiles, you’ll discover amazing photos of exotic African animals and updates on what her team is accomplishing.

You can also support Johnson and her team by donating to VETPAW and sharing their mission. Soon you’ll be able to watch Johnson and her team on a new show, as their efforts are being captured by the Discovery Channel!

When asked if her or her team had killed any poachers yet in a Q & A forum on Reddit, she stated, ” We don’t operate with the intent to kill anyone.” The African poachers would be well advised not to test this All-American bad-ass on that though.

This article is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author and TrueActivist.Com. .

Italian Spends 40 Years Building a Human-Powered Theme Park, It’s Amazing!

It’s social enterprises like this that we -at Valhalla- espouse. Organizations that bring people together while preserving our harmony with Gaia.

Bruno first began his journey to create one of the first human powered theme parks in Battaglia, Italy on June 15, 1969 with two jugs of wine, a bag of sausages and a grill. Two individuals walked by Bruno’s odd, but interesting display and asked, “What is this?” Bruno responded, “It’s a restaurant!”, and Ai Pioppi was born. The family run restaurant still operates to this day, even after 45 years later. The work that Bruno has created over the years to attract customers is phenomenal.Bruno began to build rides like: swings, slides, seesaws, gyroscopes and roller coasters all by his own two hands. Bruno, being the passionate builder that he is, hoped the rides would attract families and provide a memorable experience for the kids, who would in turn encourage their parents to return.The end game for Bruno and his park was fantastic. The spirit of adventure is definitely a bonus in this seemingly dangerous (but fun) place to be. This video allows you to see the masterpiece and hard work that Bruno has put into his park. I couldn’t help but be a little curious myself to actually believe how some of these rides work.

Ai Pioppi Rides

(Photos by: Alessandra and Oriol Ferrer Mesià)

This Ancient, Beautiful Tree Will Leave You Awestruck

It’s age alone is mind-boggling

This gigantic tree is the world’s second largest, and is known as ‘The President’. Situated in Sequoia National Park, it is 27 feet in diameter, a staggering 247 feet tall, and- wait for it- a breathtaking 3200 years old.

Yes, this tree was alive during the great Egyptian civilization, and was already nearing 1000 years old by the time Cleopatra was Queen. It was alive long before Buddha, The Great Wall Of China, The Roman Empire and the Mayan Golden Age. The President pre-dates Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and pretty much anything else you ever learned in history class.

The President was photographed by National Geographic magazine photographer Michael “Nick” Nichols for the December 2012 issue. He managed to create one incredible photograph of this amazing giant from a mosaic of 126 images. Simply beautiful.


Church Man Regards 155MPH Cyclone Pam As “Just Another Storm”

Light breaks through the open window of our temporary home in Vanuatu and I rise from bed, following the sound of children laughing and a dog barking. At intervals, the stillness of the island air is disrupted by the drone of relief helicopters, swaying back and forth over the capital Port Villa. After a quick …

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