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Month: May 2013 (page 1 of 2)

Little Bodies, Lots of Strength

Ants are one of the most common insects all around the world. We identify them as “pests” when they invade our homes and gardens. Ants are quite unique, they have many features which make them one of the largest social insects living in large colonies or groups. Ants are strong individually as well as in numbers. A single ant can lift 20 times its own body weight. Ants do not have lungs, oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body and then carbon dioxide leaves through the very same holes. The carbon dioxide released by the ants is a natural source and is good for the environment as opposed to the forced amount of CO2 added to the atmosphere from burning of fossil fuels in industry, transport, and the generation of electricity. Ants working together are effective predators and contribute in decomposition and soil nutrients.

There are several different species of ants which have different impacts on our environment. To name a few we have the Argentine Ants, Leaf Cutter Ants, Carpenter Ants, Army Ants and so many other species as well. Ants all have strength in numbers and use this to their advantage. Ants have a huge influence on the environment as a result of their activity as “ecosystem engineers” and predators. Ants recycle large amounts of nutrients each day by cutting up leaves and twigs and moving soil. They work in large colonies and can move more soil than worms. They prey on a wide range of animals, even larger prey, they are able to attack with their vast numbers. Their presence alone can lead to an increase in density and diversity of other animal groups. They can play a key role in local environments, having a big influence on the grassland food web. The common red fire ant is extremely aggressive and diverse, thereby affects the environment immensely.

There are two different species of fire ants, black and red fire ants, which were introduced into the country via South America. Also two local species, the southern fire ant, and the tropical fire ant. By far the most aggressive species is the imported red fire ant, which spreads fast and causes the most economical and environmental damage. It is estimated that fire ants cause damage to 57 species of plants. They devour the germinating seeds of various crops including corn and soybean, they feed on developing fruits such as okra and citrus. Fire ants create underground tunnels which affect the growth of vegetables and fruits. During times of drought, fire ants build mounds over the emitters in drip irrigation systems, this can hamper water flow to crops, these mounds also do damage to machinery during harvesting operations. Their nasty sting also prevents people from harvesting crops by hand. Their sting also prevents livestock from accessing their food causing starvation and dehydration. Fire ants are omnivorous, they devour both plants and animals and cans cause serious disequilibrium in an ecosystem. They can impact various ground nesting animals, such as insects, reptiles, birds and mammals. Urban environments are also hit by these vivacious creatures, they build nests within walls of homes and offices creating problems with the strength and balances of these structures . The fire ant’s sting is painful and since they have strength in numbers, can be dangerous to small children and the elderly.

In light of all the negative impacts the fire ant has on our environment, also there is some good. They prey on a variety of pests, including the southern green stinkbug, striped earwig, and tobacco-bud worm eggs, just to name a few. Most notably in the aftermath of fire ant infestation of northeastern Louisiana, the lone star tick vanished. Ticks are disease carriers such as tick fever. Ants are curious creatures and if we take a closer look at them, can be fascinating as well as beneficial.

Water, Water Everywhere … Part II

By:  Lee Ann Rush            
                                       
The topic is water; specifically, its availability to the public in light of Nestle CEO Peter Brabeck’s recent megalomaniacal assertion that people should only have access to water if they pay for it.  In a world where water shortages are reason for concern as demand begins to exceed supply, Brabeck’s plan for everyone to pay Nestle and its ilk for the privilege of obtaining a life-sustaining necessity that falls from the sky and can be pumped from the ground is the ultimate statement of corporate greed.  Upon learning of this, my first reaction, after utter disgust at this sorry excuse for a human being’s hubris, was, “Well, at least I’m not contributing to this evil scheme; I don’t buy Nestlé’s bottled water.”  Wrong!  I’ve since learned that Nestle, headquartered in Switzerland and the world’s largest purveyor of processed foods, is actually responsible for a third of bottled-water sales in the United States.  Nestle-produced water is sold not only as Nestle Pure Life, but also marketed under 70 other brand names including Arrowhead, Deer Park, Perrier and Poland Spring!  I’d had no idea.

A bit of research into Nestle’s tactics revealed how this greed machine manages to make a $35 billion annual profit on bottled-water sales in the US alone.  Nestle has long advocated for public-private water partnerships, such as the deal they struck several years ago with McCloud, a tiny northern California town (population 1400) whose water supply is fed by glacial springs from Mt. Shasta.  Some highlights of it include:  a 100-year lease term for Nestle’s right to take 1,250 gallons of water per minute and pay the town .000087 cents per gallon (a miniscule 8.7 cents for every 100,000 gallons).  Nestle then turns around and sells the bottled spring water for over $10 per gallon (calculated at $1.29 for a 16 oz. bottle x 8 bottles per gallon), for an enormous profit that nets them over $1 billion per year just from McCloud!  Meanwhile, McCloud’s Community Service District is on the hook for the cost of disposing of the Nestle operation’s wastewater, and construction of water wells at the Nestle plant for the company’s own use.  Doesn’t sound like a very good deal for anyone except Nestle, does it?  But, that’s exactly the point.

Peter Brabeck, known as the “Water Man” by the Swiss, is also now chairman of the 2030 Water Resources Group, whose stated mission is to help set priorities for water and sanitation programs worldwide.  The smart money recognizes this as a ploy for Brabeck to peddle his influence and strike more self-serving deals like the one in McCloud in his quest to completely commodify the world’s water supply.  Nestle and Brabeck’s immoral displays of abject greed have been roundly excoriated by policy makers, environmental activists and ordinary citizens alike, but talk is cheap; money is all this demigod understands.  The Green response is simple:  Stop buying Nestle products.

Water, Water Everywhere but Not a Drop to Drink?

By:  Lee Ann Rush

We’ve discussed the stranglehold that the giant food-processing conglomerates have on our domestic food supply several times, always recommending that people choose wisely by limiting processed foods, buying local (preferably organic) produce in season, and taking a shot at growing their own backyard or container gardens.  One thing we haven’t talked about is drinking water, something that most of us here in the United States take for granted.  If you’d asked me back when I was in high school if I’d pay to buy bottled drinking water, I’d have laughed; why would anyone pay for something that comes free from the kitchen tap and is perfectly fine?  Back then, my parents had a well; our water came from the ground and, aside from it being “hard” water (i.e., it contained minerals that caused rust in the toilets), it was just fine — unless the power went out and the pump didn’t operate.

Fast forward to the present; my mother still has a well at her house but won’t drink the water from it because the local wells have been contaminated by pesticides and other chemicals (a topic for another day).  She buys bottled water for drinking and cooking, and, I must admit, I also drink bottled water regularly now.  I use water from the tap for everything else, but don’t care much for the taste of what’s supplied by the county water company.  Still, my municipal water bill is well under $200 a year.  While I’ve chosen to drink bottled water, I was absolutely horrified and chagrined to learn that Peter Brabeck, the former CEO and current Chairman of Nestle, the world’s largest food-processing behemoth, has gone on record as saying that all potable water should be controlled by corporations (primarily Nestle, one would assume), and people should not have any drinking water unless they pay for it!  Judging by this statement the man seems to have serious delusions of grandeur, but when you look at his track record, it’s truly frightening.

Nestle and Brabeck have a long history of committing environmental and public health abuses in the name of corporate profits.  According to Corporate Watch, Nestlé’s $35 billion annual profit from its bottled water businesses is made largely from,” the abuse of vulnerable water resources,” both in the United States and abroad.  While Brabeck asserts that water is not a human right, but rather a “foodstuff” that must be assigned a value (by a corporation, no less) flies in the face of common sense, there is actually a new tax in Maryland on rainwater!  As Paris Hilton used to ask on her “reality” show, The Simple Life, “Where the hell are we?”

More on this next time….

Morning Cup of Joe

Oh how we enjoy and look forward to our morning cup of coffee. It is a daily part of most American people, not to mention also people from all over the world. Americans consume more than one-third of the total of the total amount of coffee produced in the world. All coffee is grown between the tropic of Cancer and the tropic of Capricorn, which represent two “imaginary lines” that circle our globe. It is here in the middle of our world approximately 23 degrees north and south of the equator , the climate is warm and humid, this is necessary conditions for growing the sensitive coffee plant. These required conditions are where the issues to the environment stem from with the cultivation and production of coffee plants.

Coffee is really a fruit tree. Coffee branches form delicate blossoms that last for little more than a day. These blossoms then become coffee cherries which look like the real cherry fruit itself. For the plant to produce can take 3 to 5 years, which is only possible with the proper combination of climate, rain, sunshine, and shade. The two most commercially cultivated varieties of coffee are Arabica and Robusta. They do best in rich, volcanic mountain soil. Higher elevations allow the bean to grow more allow the bean to grow more slowly, which in turn provides a more aromatic and flavorful end product. Arabica coffee is considered a higher quality coffee. Arabica is harder to grow and is not as hardy as Robusta. Robusta and Arabica beans are blended together by large commercial coffee companies for the manufacturing of coffee sold to the public.

With coffee plants requiring so much extra care, the question arises about how is our environment affected by this process? Actually the most important problem that is presented is habitat destruction and species loss. The regions which coffee is grown are home to many different species and contribute to “high biodiversity”. This is harmed when mountain forest is cut down and converted into fields that grow only one crop, better known as monoculture, which can also create erosion and soil loss. To create the highest yield of coffee, the method used is grown via “sun coffee method”. The forest is cleared so the plant can grow in rows as a monoculture with no forest canopy.

In the 1970’s and 80’s there was a general shift to “technified agriculture” this was also a time of the Green Revolution. At this time the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as other groups distributed $80 million dollars for the plantations in Central America to replace traditional shade grown farming techniques with “sun cultivation” techniques for the simple fact of increasing yields. This type of technique resulted in the destruction of biodiversity and vast forests. “Sun cultivated” coffee involves the cutting down of trees, input of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and mono cropping. It leads to severe environmental problems, including pesticide pollution, deforestation and sadly the extinction of animals and insects through habitat destruction. The Smithsonian Institute has identified industrial coffee production as one major threat to songbirds due to the mass deforestation. It has destroyed the bird’s natural habitat where they live and thrive.

An alternative method of growing coffee is called “shade grown coffee”. It is where coffee plants are interspersed beneath local forest trees, mimicking the way coffee grows naturally in these regions. According to the American Bird Association (ABA) and the Smithsonian , these plantations are only second to natural undisturbed forest as best habitat for birds in Latin America. These products are however, more expensive. The Fair Trade Certification process has been adopted to guarantee fair prices to farmers and the protection of the environment. It has definitely helped to some degree but has not been completely successful yet at providing the necessary means to ensure farmers can be compensated fairly and thus be more willing to utilize shade grown coffee techniques.

The end of the road is always the consumer, if we are aware and believe in Fair Trade, Shade/Bird Friendly coffee and also teas, looking for Organic labeling will be a step towards maintaining a diversified and safer environment in the long run.

A National Organic Policy — Where?

 

  Written by: Lee Ann Rush

There is a country in the world where the government has officially opted to describe its national economic state of affairs not in the language of short-term economic gains as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), but rather by the degree to which its citizenry can live and prosper in a holistic   framework of human well-being, as measured by its own gross national happiness (GNH) Index.  The GNH is based on four core goals:  cultural preservation, good governance, sustainable socio-economic development and environmental conservation, and the entire concept hinges upon the need for sustainable development and the belief that “progress” must take into account both the economic and non-economic aspects of societal well- being.  A large component of the GNH is the tenet that working in harmony with nature will yield significant and lasting results without sacrificing either the environment or the health of the citizenry.

Where is this country?  Certainly there’s no place that fits this description in North America, or even in the Western hemisphere.  No, we’re talking about Bhutan. Nicknamed the Dragon Kingdom, Bhutan is a landlocked kingdom located in Southern Asia on the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains and bordered by China on the north and India on the other sides.  Bhutan’s Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley made a major announcement at the 2012 United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.   In discussing his country’s proposed National Organic Policy in the context of measuring progress by GNH rather than GDP, Thinley pledged that, in the not-too-distant future, Bhutan, a nation where much of the populace is engaged in farming, will become the first country in the world to convert to a completely organic agricultural system in which absolutely no herbicides, pesticides or GMOs are used.

Simple, right?  This is a back-to-basics approach by a country that clearly cares about its citizens and already boasts a high level of happiness among them. Apparently, the Bhutanese have firmly grasped the concept so near and dear to disciples of the Green movement everywhere:  don’t consume more than you have, and aim to balance material development with ecological and cultural values.   Will this venture be a success?   Yes, according to Andre Leu, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements and advisor to the Bhutanese government, who added, “I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult, given that the majority of the agricultural land is already organic by default.”   Let’s hope that Mr. Leu is right.  Green supporters across the globe will certainly be watching.

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