We throw out more food than plastic, paper, metal, and glass

The much-anticipated U.N. Climate Summit, which began a few days ago in New York, and was ostensibly a platform for world leaders to leap frog debates over whether climate change is real, and skip straight to discussions centered around how to overcome the challenges it poses.

But it’s also an impetus for those beyond the sessions’ panels to illuminate troubling patterns of behavior that are contributing to our collective carbon footprint—and food waste is without question one of the most egregious, especially in the United States.

In 2012, the most recent year for which estimates are available, Americans threw out roughly 35 million tons of food, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s almost 20 percent more food than the United States tossed out in 2000, 50 percent more than in 1990, and nearly three times what Americans discarded in 1960, when the country threw out a now seemingly paltry 12.2 million tons.

“Food waste is an incredible and absurd issue for the world today,” Jose Lopez, Nestle’s head of operations said of the issue earlier this month.

Take as percentages, not tonnage.

Roughly a third of the food produced worldwide never gets eaten. The problem is particularly egregious in developed countries, where food is seen as being more expendable than it is elsewhere. “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes),” the U.N. notes on its website.

This country is one of the worst offenders: a 2012 paper by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that as much as 40 percent of America’s food supply ends up in a dumpster.

The most obvious problem with this waste is that while Americans are throwing out their food, an estimated one in every nine people in the world still suffers from chronic hunger—that is, insufficient food—including more than 200 million in Sub-Saharan Africa and more than 500 million Asia. Even in the United States, where that number is significantly lower, some 14 percent of U.S. households still struggled to put food on the table for a portion of last year, according to the USDA.

The level of food waste suggests that curbing hunger isn’t a matter of producing more food so much as better preserving and distributing the food currently being produced. As the United Nations noted in its report on world hunger last week, there is actually enough food to feed all seven billion people living in the world today.

But there’s another less apparent problem with food waste: the threat to the environment. Landfills full of decomposing food release methane, which is said to be at least 20 times more lethal a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And America’s landfills are full of food—organic waste is the second largest contributor to the country’s landfills. Those same landfills are the single largest producer of methane emissions in the United States—they produce almost a quarter of the country’s total methane emissions, according to the NRDC.

The environmental cost of food waste goes further than just methane emissions. Producing food is a costly affair for the environment—an estimated one third of global carbon emissions come from agriculture—but it’s one society pays to feed itself.

The price for producing food that never ends up in someone’s mouth is much more—it includes both the resources and environmental decay sacrificed for its making. The livestock industry contributes more than 15 percent of global carbon emissions, according to the U.N, which means that when Americans throw out meat, they are wasting some of the most environmentally costly food available. More

Given all the discussions concerning the creation of a new landfill here in the Cayman Islands, here a link to creating healthy soil using composted food scraps and hervested water, and helping to reduce waste going to the dump.

Read about what how you can build better soil with all that food “waste” in the WMG's Soil Resource Guide: Here or here from the Watershed Management group's site here

 

UN:Rapid mangrove loss costing $ billions

(CNS): The world is losing its mangroves at a faster rate than global deforestation, the United Nations has revealed in a new report which points to billions of dollars in economic damage impacting millions of lives.

Mangrove Destruction in Cancun

The destruction of the coastal habitats is said to now be three to five times faster than global forest loss resulting in $42 billion losses annually and exposing ecosystems and coastal habitats to an increased risk of devastation from climate change. The report was launched Monday at the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, held in Athens, Greece, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warned of the far reaching implications of the habitat loss. Although a global phenomenon the Cayman Islands has seen miles of costal mangrove sacrificed in the name of development in recent years

“The escalating destruction and degradation of mangroves – driven by land conversion for aquaculture and agriculture, coastal development, and pollution – is occurring at an alarming rate,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner who added that over a quarter of the earth’s original mangrove cover has gone.“This has potentially devastating effects on biodiversity, food security and the livelihoods of some of the most marginalized coastal communities in developing countries, where more than 90 per cent of the world’s mangroves are found,” he added.Steiner said mangroves – which are found in 123 countries around the world – provide ecosystem services worth up to $57,000 per hectare per year, storing carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and providing the over 100 million people who live in their vicinity with a variety of goods and services such as fisheries and forest products, clean water and protection against erosion and extreme weather events. He stressed that their continued destruction “makes neither ecological nor economic sense.”As well as the economic problems posed by mangrove deforestation, the report, entitled The Importance of Mangroves: A Call to Action, also cautions that a continued reduction in the surface area of mangrove forests would inevitably expose coastal environments to the harmful effects of climate change.In the Caribbean, mangrove-lined “hurricane holes” have functioned for centuries as safe-havens for boaters needing to ride out storms. The complex network of mangrove roots can also help reduce wave energy, limit erosion and form a critical barrier to the dangers posed by the strengthening tropical storms, cyclones and tsunamis which have been assailing coastal communities in recent years due to climate change.In order to safeguard what UNEP calls “one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet,” the report outlines a number of financial mechanisms and incentives designed to stimulate conservation, including the creation of a Global Mangrove Fund, encouraging mangrove conservation and restoration through carbon credit markets, and promoting economic incentives as a source of local income from mangrove protection, sustainable use, and restoration activities.Steiner said it was important to spell out the need to preserve mangroves in real terms, underlining the economic impact their destruction has on the local and global communities.“By quantifying in economic terms the value of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves as well as the critical role they play in global climate regulation, the report aims to encourage policymakers to use the tools and guidelines outlined to better ensure the conservation and sustainable management of mangroves.” More

 

Solar energy: a sunflower solution to electricity shortage

Computer giant IBM last week revealed the prototype of its advanced solar electricity generators: a 30ft-high concrete “sunflower” fitted with wafer-thin aluminium mirrors and a maze of tiny tubes for carrying coolant through the heart of each device.

The machines, which will be built in conjunction with the Swiss company Airlight Energy, can convert 80% of the sun’s radiation into electricity and hot water, it is claimed, with each generating 12 kilowatts of electricity and 20kW of heat on a sunny day, enough to supply several homes.

At the device’s official unveiling in Zurich, executives for both companies said they hoped that by 2017, when their sunflower generators should be ready for the market, they could be manufactured for half to one-third of the cost of comparable solar converters today. According to IBM, the machine’s secret lies with the microscopic tubes that carry water through the cluster of photovoltaic chips at the heart of each device. This system has already been adopted by IBM to cool its high-performance supercomputers. “We were inspired by the branched blood supply of the human body,” said Bruno Michel, from the IBM Research laboratories in Zurich.

The sunflower operates by tracking the sun so that it always points in the best direction for collecting its rays; these are then focused on to a cluster of photovoltaic cells that are mounted on a raised platform. The cells convert solar radiation into electricity. However, without the microchannel cooling system, which carries distilled water through the chips, temperatures would reach more than 1,000C. With the microcooling system, which carries water to within a few millimetres of the back of each chip, temperatures are kept down to 90C – a far safer, and far more efficient, operating level. Electricity is generated while the system also produces large amounts of hot water from the cooling system. “That hot water is a game changer,” added Michel. “Electricity is obviously vitally useful but so is the heat – for we can use it for desalinating water.”

At present, about 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity. However, that figure is dwarfed by the number – 2.5 billion – who have no access to proper sanitation. And according to figures supplied by Airlight Energy, that latter number is currently increasing at a rate of 9% a year. However, the IBM-Airlight sunflower is designed to tackle both problems. The electricity will have numerous uses while the hot water can be pumped through desalinators that use porous membranes to boil salt water and distil the result into pure, drinkable water. A large installation made up of several generators could provide enough fresh water for an entire town, it was claimed at last week’s launch.

Apart from sites in Africa, the Middle East and Australia, it is hoped the sunflower system will be used for remote hospitals, hotels and holiday resorts. IBM says it will instal its first two devices for free in 2016 and has asked towns around the world to put their names forward to be the first to have a solar sunflower erected on their land. More

 

Explaining Extreme Events of 2013

A report released today investigates the causes of a wide variety of extreme weather and climate events from around the world in 2013. Published by the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, “Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective (link is external)” addresses the causes of 16 individual extreme events that occurred on four continents in 2013. NOAA scientists served as three of the four lead editors on the report.

Of the five heat waves studied in the report, human-caused climate change was found to have clearly increased the severity and likelihood of those events. On the other hand, for other events examined like droughts, heavy rain events, and storms, fingerprinting the influence of human activity was more challenging. Human influence on these kinds of events—primarily through the burning of fossil fuels—was sometimes evident, but often less clear, suggesting natural factors played a far more dominant role.

“This annual report contributes to a growing field of science which helps communities, businesses and nations alike understand the impacts of natural and human-caused climate change,” said Thomas R. Karl, L.H.D., director of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “The science remains challenging, but the environmental intelligence it yields to decision makers is invaluable and the demand is ever-growing.”

Confidence in the role of climate change about any one event is increased when multiple groups using independent methods come to similar conclusions. For example, in this report, five independent research teams looked at specific factors related to the record heat in Australia in 2013. Each consistently found that human-caused climate change increased the likelihood and severity of that event. However, for the California drought, which was investigated by three teams from the United States, human factors were found not to have influenced the lack of rainfall. One team found evidence that atmospheric pressure patterns increased due to human causes, but the influence on the California drought remains uncertain.

When human influence for an event cannot be conclusively identified with the scientific tools available today, this means that if there is a human contribution, it cannot be distinguished from natural climate variability.

“There is great scientific value in having multiple studies analyze the same extreme event to determine the underlying factors that may have influenced it,” said Stephanie C. Herring, PhD, lead editor for the report at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “Results from this report not only add to our body of knowledge about what drives extreme events, but what the odds are of these events happening again—and to what severity.”

The report was edited by Herring, along with Martin P. Hoerling, NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory; Thomas Peterson, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, and Peter A. Stott, UK Met Office Hadley Centre and written by 92 scientists from 14 countries. View the full report online (link is external).

Also, view the slides for the media briefing on the “Explaining Extreme Events of 2013 from a Climate Perspective” report. More

 

Solar power could be world’s top electricity source by 2050

Solar energy could be the top source of electricity by 2050, aided by plummeting costs of the equipment to generate it, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the West’s energy watchdog, said on Monday.

IEA Reports said solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16% of the world’s electricity by 2050, while solar thermal electricity (STE) – from “concentrating” solar power plants – could provide a further 11%.

“The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades,” said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels constitute the fastest-growing renewable energy technology in the world since 2000, although solar is still less than 1% of energy capacity worldwide.

The IEA said PV expansion would be led by China, followed by the United States, while STE could also grow in the United States along with Africa, India and the Middle East. More


 

WHAT’S POSSIBLE: The U.N. Climate Summit Film

WHAT'S POSSIBLE: The U.N. Climate Summit Film

Published on Sep 23, 2014 • Presented to world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, this short inspirational film shows that climate change is solvable. We have the technology to harness nature sustainably for a clean, prosperous energy future, but only if we act now. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, it calls on the people of the world to insist leaders get on the path of a livable climate and future for humankind.

Learn more about climate change and take action at takepart.com/climate.

WHAT'S POSSIBLE was created by director Louie Schwartzberg, writer Scott Z. Burns, Moving Art Studio, and Lyn

Davis Lear and the Lear Family Foundation.

SEQUEL ALERT! Sign up at MovingArt.com to be the first to hear about the launch of the sequel to WHAT'S

POSSIBLE: movingart.com/un/

Directed by Louie Schwartzberg

Written by Scott Z. Burns

Produced by Lyn Davis Lear

Narrated by Morgan Freeman

Music by Hans Zimmer

 

 

Israel’s very own history of eugenics

This hour-long documentary, the Ringworm Children, raises so many disturbing questions about Israel and its relationship with the US that one hardly knows where to begin.

In the 1950s, waves of new immigrants swept into Israel. To the dismay of the country’s Ashkenazi leaders (those originating from Europe and the US), the great majority were from Arab countries. Levi Eshkol, a later prime minister, expressed a common sentiment when he called them “human rubbish”. Israel, deprived of “good-quality” Jews, was being forced to bring to its shores Arab Jews, seen as just as primitive and dirty as the Palestinians whom Israel had recently succeeded in ethnically cleansing.

Into this deeply racist atmosphere stepped Dr Chaim Sheba, a eugenicist, who believed that the Arabs Jews were bringing along with them diseases that threatened the Ashkenazi Jews. His obsession was ringworm, an innocuous childhood disease that affects the scalp. He went to the US, collected old military X-ray equipment and zapped tens of thousands of these children’s heads with potentially lethal doses of radiation. The survivors tell of their horrifying experiences during and after the treatment, and of the brothers and sisters they lost at a young age.

But this isn’t just a history lesson exploring an unusual aspect of Israel’s racist underpinnings. The documentary exposes a massive cover-up by the state: many of the children’s medical files – long thought to have been lost – were actually held by one of the doctors involved. Even after this disclosure, the state has continued to refuse the victims access to the files, despite the fact that such access may be vital in helping them receive the correct life-saving treatment, as well as proper compensation.

The final shocking twist is the discovery that all these experiments cost the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars in today’s terms – in fact, more than Israel’s entire annual budget at the time. How could Israel have afforded it?

The documentary suggests persuasively that the US, with its own long fascination with eugenics, most likely sub-contracted these experiments to Israel as a way to bypass the increasing domestic legal impediments it faced. The US presumably footed the huge bill.

There are a couple of troubling omissions in the documentary itself. The first is that Dr Sheba did not carry out these experiments on Arab Jews only. He also exposed many Palestinian children in Israel to the same huge doses, for the same racist reasons.

The other is that Dr Sheba is still venerated to this day in Israel and has one of the country’s most famous hospitals, the Chaim Sheba Medical Center, named after him. As the documentary makes clear, there was plenty of evidence by the 1950s of the extremely dangerous effects of radiation on humans. What Dr Sheba did was a form of genocide. That he is still honoured in Israel is, to my mind, no different from Germany naming a hospital in Berlin the Josef Mengele Medical Center.

But keeping Dr Sheba’s reputation unblemished is, I suspect, important to those who wish to prevent other, even more unseemly skeletons being unearthed over this affair.

(UPDATE BELOW)

The documentary, from 2003, is in five 10-min parts: More

UPDATE:

I often talk about “hasbara” (what Israelis translate as “explanation” but really means “propaganda”) but rarely have I found an example of it quite as blatant as the entry on the Ringworm Affair on Wikipedia. By the look of it, this entry has been written by an Israeli government hasbara team. One can almost hear the indignation in the text dismissing the documentary’s claims. But interestingly there is no attempt to refute the two accusations at the heart of the film: that the medical files are still being withheld from the victims, and that the sum needed for the experiments was astronomical and way beyond Israel’s means. So who paid for them and why?