Thursday, March 27, 2008

Giant Antarctic ice shelf breaks into the sea | Environment |

Giant Antarctic ice shelf breaks into the sea | Environment | "A vast hunk of floating ice has broken away from the Antarctic peninsula, threatening the collapse of a much larger ice shelf behind it, in a development that has shocked climate scientists.

Satellite images show that about 160 square miles of the Wilkins ice shelf has been lost since the end of February, leaving the ice interior now 'hanging by a thread'.

The collapsing shelf suggests that climate change could be forcing change much more quickly than scientists had predicted."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tread Lightly | Environment |

Guardian readers are invited to pledge to tread lightly on the earth: Tread Lightly | Environment |

This week they are asked to pledge to drink tap water rather than bottled water.

Hat-tip to The Spicy Cauldron.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Genetically-Modified Food Gamble

Heads Monsanto Wins, Tails We Lose;
The Genetically Modified Food Gamble
By Robert Weissman
March 18, 2008

There have been few experiments as reckless, overhyped and with as little potential upside as the rapid rollout of genetically modified crops.

Last month, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a pro-biotech nonprofit, released a report highlighting the proliferation of genetically modified crops. According to ISAAA, biotech crop area grew 12 percent, or 12.3 million hectares, to reach 114.3 million hectares in 2007, the second highest area increase in the past five years.

For the biotech backers, this is cause to celebrate. They claim that biotech helps farmers. They say it promises to reduce hunger and poverty in developing countries. "If we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of cutting hunger and poverty in half by 2015," says Clive James, ISAAA founder and the author the just-released report, "biotech crops must play an even bigger role in the next decade.

In fact, existing genetically modified crops are hurting small farmers and failing to deliver increased food supply -- and posing enormous, largely unknown risks to people and the planet.

For all of the industry hype around biotech products, virtually all planted genetically modified seed is for only four products -- soy, corn, cotton and canola -- with just two engineered traits. Most of the crops are engineered to be resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide sold by Monsanto under the brand-name Round-up (these biotech seeds are known as RoundUp-Ready). Others are engineered to include a naturally occurring pesticide, Bt.

Most of the genetically modified crops in developing countries are soy, says Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety and co-author of "Who Benefits from GM Crops," a report issued at the same time as ISAAA's release. These crops are exported to rich countries, primarily as animal feed. They do absolutely nothing to supply food to the hungry.

As used in developing countries, biotech crops are shifting power away from small, poor farmers desperately trying to eke out livelihoods and maintain their land tenure. Glyphosate-resistance is supposed to enable earlier and less frequent spraying, but, concludes "Who Benefits from GM Crops," these biotech seeds "allow farmers to spray a particular herbicide more frequently and
indiscriminately without fear of damaging the crop." This requires expenditures beyond the means of small farmers -- but reduces labor costs, a major benefit for industrial farms.

ISAAA contends that Bt planting in India and China has substantially reduced insecticide spraying, which it advances as the primary benefit of biotech crops.

Bt crops may offer initial reductions in required spraying, says Freese, but Bt is only effective against some pests, meaning farmers may have to use pesticides to prevent other insects from eating their crops. Focusing on a district in Punjab, "Who Benefits from GM Crops" shows how
secondary pest problems have offset whatever gains Bt crops might offer.

Freese also notes that evidence is starting to come in to support longstanding fears that genetically engineering the Bt trait into crops would give rise to Bt-resistant pests.

The biotech seeds are themselves expensive, and must be purchased anew every year. Industry leader Monsanto is infamous for suing farmers for the age-old practice of saving seeds, and holds that it is illegal for farmers even to save genetically engineered seeds that have blown onto
their fields from neighboring farms. "That has nothing to do with feeding the hungry," or helping the poorest of the poor, says Hope Shand, research director for the ETC Group, an ardent biotech opponent. It is, to say the least, not exactly a farmer-friendly approach.

Although the industry and its allies tout the benefits that biotech may yield someday for the poor, "we have yet to see genetically modified food that is cheaper, more nutritious or tastes better," says Shand. "Biotech seeds have not been shown to be scientifically or socially
useful," although they have been useful for the profit-driven interests of Monsanto, she says.

Freese notes that the industry has been promising gains for the poor for a decade and a half -- but hasn't delivered. Products in the pipeline won't change that, he says, with the industry focused on introducing new herbicide resistant seeds.

The evidence on yields for the biotech crops is ambiguous, but there is good reason to believe yields have actually dropped. ISAAA's Clive James says that Bt crops in India and China have improved yields somewhat. "Who Benefits from GM Crops" carefully reviews this claim, and offers a convincing rebuttal. The report emphasizes the multiple factors that affect yield, and notes that Bt and Roundup-Ready seeds alike are not engineered to improve yield per se, just to protect against certain predators or for resistance to herbicide spraying.

Beyond the social disaster of contributing to land concentration and displacement of small farmers, a range of serious ecological and sustainability problems with biotech crops is already emerging -- even though the biotech crop experiment remains quite new.

Strong evidence of pesticide resistance is rapidly accumulating, details "Who Benefits from GM Crops," meaning that farmers will have to spray more and more chemicals to less and less effect. Pesticide use is rising rapidly in biotech-heavy countries. In the heaviest user of biotech seeds -- the United States, which has half of all biotech seed planting -- glyphosate-resistant weeds are proliferating. Glyphosate use in the United States rose by 15 times from 1994 to 2005, according to "Who Benefits from GM Crops," and use of other and more toxic herbicides is rapidly rising. The U.S. experience likely foreshadows what is to come for other countries more recently adopting biotech crops.

Seed diversity is dropping, as Monsanto and its allies aim to eliminate seed saving, and development of new crop varieties is slowing. Contamination from neighboring fields using genetically modified seeds can destroy farmers' ability to maintain biotech-free crops. Reliance on a narrow range of seed varieties makes the food system very vulnerable, especially because of the visible problems with the biotech seeds now in such widespread use.

For all the uncertainties about the long-term effects of biotech crops and food, one might imagine that there were huge, identifiable short-term benefits. But one would be wrong.

Instead, a narrowly based industry has managed to impose a risky technology with short-term negatives and potentially dramatic downsides.

But while it is true, as ISAAA happily reports, that biotech planting is rapidly growing, it remains heavily concentrated in just a few countries: the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and China.

Europe and most of the developing world continue to resist Monsanto's seed imperialism. The industry and its allies decry this stand as a senseless response to fear-mongering. It actually reflects a rational assessment of demonstrated costs and benefits -- and an appreciation for real but incalculable risks of toying with the very nature of nature.

Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational
, and director of Essential Action.

Monday, March 17, 2008

SAFCEI AGM and Public Meeting - Johannesburg


We invite you to attend the SAFCEI AGM and Conference at St Peter’s Place, 128 Victoria Street, Rosettenville, Johannesburg from 12h30 Monday 31st March to lunchtime on Wednesday 2nd April 2008.


It would be to the good of all if more than one representative of your faith community or organization could attend. Those residing in the Gauteng area may be able to attend on a daily basis.


Monday 31st March Afternoon session: Climate Change

Evening (19h00): SAFCEI AGM.

Tuesday 1st April: Morning session: Economics, Environment and Eco-Justice.

Afternoon session: Water

Evening (19h00): Public Meeting

Wednesday 2nd April: Morning session: How do Faith Communities Respond?


If you want to find out more about SAFCEI and its vision and purpose, please come along to our Second Annual General Meeting which will take place on Monday 31st March at 19h00 at St Peter’s Place, 128 Victoria Street, Rosettenville. There will be no charge to attend this meeting.


We also give advance notice of a Public Meeting to be held on Tuesday 1st April at 19h30 at St Martin’s School, 114 Victoria Street, Rosettenville. We are hoping that a prominent public figure will address the meeting on the topic: ”Is the current energy crisis a blessing in disguise?”

There will be no charge to attend this meeting and refreshments will be served.


There is no charge to register for the Conference, AGM or Public Meeting. Meals can be ordered for day delegates at R50 per meal. The cost for accommodation and meals Monday to Wednesday is R550 per person. If your community can cover accommodation and travel costs this would be most helpful. If you are unable to do so, please apply to the SAFCEI office for funding.


Contact the SAFCEI OFFICE: 021 7018145 Fax: 086 6969666 Email:

We do hope you can be with us and we trust that your faith community will be well represented at the SAFCEI AGM and Conference.

With all best wishes

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Bishop Geoff Davies

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

SAFCEI AGM and annual conference

SAFCEI AGM and Conference



The meeting will start at with lunch (12h30) on Monday 31st March and end with lunch on 2nd April 2008.


St Peter’s Place, 128 Victoria Street Resurrection Way Rosettenville Johannesburg.


Monday 31st March

14h00: Climate Change - Session Chair: Peter Just

Ernst Conradie Christian Faith Perspective on Climate Change.

Richard Worthington Climate Change overview.

Annie Sugrue Biofuels.

Eric Mair Demystifying Renewables

19h30: SAFCEI AGM.

Tuesday 1st April:

09h00: Economics, Environment and Eco-Justice - Session Chair: Andrew


Prof Klaus N├╝rnberger Economics, Environment & Theology

Marilyn Aitken Economics, Environment & Women

Sue Brittion The Oikos Journey

Desmond Lesejane Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET)

Hillel Avidan Jewish Faith Perspective on Eco-justice

14h30: Water - Session Chair: Tahirih Matthee

Anthony Turton Meeting South Africa’s Water Crisis.

Riedtwaan Gallant Muslim Faith Perspective on Water

19h30: Public Meeting:”Is the current energy crisis a blessing in disguise?” - Session Chair: Geoff Davies

Valli Moosa Chairman of Eskom, President World Conservation Union (IUCN)

Venue: St Martin’s School, 114 Victoria Street, Rosettenville.

Wednesday 2nd April

09h00: Faith Communities’ response - Session Chair: Tim Gray

Prof Tinyiko Maluleke SACC President, “Faith Community Response to the Environmental Crisis”.

Peter Lukey DEAT - Communicating Climate Change

The Way Forward

For further information contact the SAFCEI office: 021 7018145 or email:

Cell Phones Linked to Bee Decline

Cell Phones Linked to Bee Decline: "Honey bee populations have suddenly begun to decline, and some British researchers think the proliferation of cell phones is a contributing cause.

A limited study at Landau University has found that bees will abandon their hives when cell phones are turned on and placed next to them."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Carbon Output Must Near Zero To Avert Danger, New Studies Say -

Carbon Output Must Near Zero To Avert Danger, New Studies Say -
The task of cutting greenhouse gas emissions enough to avert a dangerous rise in global temperatures may be far more difficult than previous research suggested, say scientists who have just published studies indicating that it would require the world to cease carbon emissions altogether within a matter of decades.

Using advanced computer models to factor in deep-sea warming and other aspects of the carbon cycle that naturally creates and removes carbon dioxide (CO2), the scientists, from countries including the United States, Canada and Germany, are delivering a simple message: The world must bring carbon emissions down to near zero to keep temperatures from rising further.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Storm over milk labels

Digital Journal - Monsanto Wants to Ban U.S. Milk Labelling, Hiding Food Info From Consumers:
Agribusiness giant Monsanto is doing everything in its power to keep the contents of milk a secret. Recently, Monsanto led an effort to get rid of milk labels reading “growth hormone-free” in Kansas. The company wants the state’s Senate to pass a bill that would ban any kind of labeling because, they claim, growth hormones can’t be found in lab tests.

But that's not all -- apparently Monsanto is organising the farmers to fight back.

Fighting on a Battlefield the Size of a Milk Label - New York Times:
A new advocacy group closely tied to Monsanto has started a counteroffensive to stop the proliferation of milk that comes from cows that aren’t treated with synthetic bovine growth hormone.

The group, called American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology, or Afact, says it is a grass-roots organization that came together to defend members’ right to use recombinant bovine somatotropin, also known as rBST or rBGH, an artificial hormone that stimulates milk production. It is sold by Monsanto under the brand name Posilac.

Dairy farmers are indeed part of the organization. But Afact was organized in part by Monsanto and a Colorado consultant who lists Monsanto as a client.

Don't Plant GMO Beets

A total of 63 leading U.S. restaurant, food, beverage and candy companies - including such household names as McDonald's, Campbell Soup, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee, PepsiCo, Wendy's and Hershey's - are the focus of a major Web-based campaign at seeking to block the April 2008 planting of genetically modified sugar beets. The genetically modified sugar beet crop would be used to make the sugar contained in thousands of the most widely consumed food products in the U.S., according to the Web site created by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) - a broad-based coalition of nearly 300 faith-based investors with over $100 billion in invested capital.

Don't Plant GMO Beets

Leslie Lowe, director, Energy & Environment Program, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, said: "This is a front-burner brand, reputation and consumer confidence issue for the biggest U.S. companies that sell food, drink, candy and other products containing sugar. These companies face major potential backlashes if they do not act now to stop the use of genetically modified sugar from sugar beets. Not only can these companies send a clear signal that they will not buy, but they have done this sort of thing before.

McDonald's does not use genetically engineered potatoes. General Mills will not use genetically engineered wheat. Anheuser Busch does not use genetically engineered rice. Heinz has a policy of 'seeking to avoid' genetically modified organisms. Campbell's Soup Co. does not use genetically engineered tomatoes even though the company helped to develop such a tomato. Now, it is time for these companies and others to make it clear again that they are not going to try to sneak genetically modified sugar into the diets of Americans."


The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility is a coalition of nearly 300
faith-based institutional investors, representing over $100 billion in
invested capital. ICCR members bridge the divide between morality and markets
by envisioning a civic economy that integrates ethical, environmental and
social values. Inspired by faith, committed to action, ICCR members work to
build a just and sustainable global community. For more information on ICCR,
visit Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility : Home.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

sustainable options

sustainable options: "Some ecological economics organisations in Africa:
African Society of Ecological Economists
Forum for Economics and the Environment
Africa's Search for Sustainable Economic Trajectories (ASSET)
Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa
(Let me know if I have missed important ones)"

Hat-tip to sustainable options: Green Economics in Africa
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