Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Prevailing rage

One would think that after completely botching every aspect of the tragic events that unfolded in the Gulf Coast prior to and immediately after the Hurricane Katrina made landfall, government officals at all levels would make a special effort to do right by the citizens of New Orleans during cleanup and recovery operations. Right?

Guess again.

Advancement Project is a democracy and justice action group that works with communities seeking to build a fair and just multi-racial democracy in America. Using law, public policy and strategic communications. It acts in partnership with local communities to advance universal opportunity, equity and access for those left behind in America. Advancement Project recently released "And Injustice For All", a report on the policies and practices impacting Hurricane Katrina survivors and reconstruction workers in New Orleans.

It is not a pretty (or acceptable) picture. Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans was a pivotal event in the history of race relations in the United States. Its aftershocks continue to be felt by the displaced poor in the form of reprehensible injustices that elected officials have apparently chosen to turn a blind eye to -- or even worse -- endorse. (GW)

And Injustice For All: Workers’ Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, several hundred thousand workers, mostly African American, lost their jobs. Since the storm, these workers have faced tremendous structural barriers to returning home and to finding the employment necessary to rebuild their lives. Without housing, they cannot work; without work, they cannot afford housing. As these pre-Katrina New Orleanians fight to return, the city has experienced a huge influx of migrant workers—citizen and noncitizen—who have been wooed to the area with promises of steady, good paying jobs.

Yet, these workers, like their local counterparts, are finding barriers to safe employment, fair pay, and affordable housing that are driving them further into poverty. In fact, many workers are finding themselves exploited, homeless, and harassed by law enforcement. These workers and former residents, mostly people of color, recognize that New Orleans is being rebuilt by them, but not for them.

The stories of workers across New Orleans after Katrina are not simply tales of personal plight. They are also stories about institutional responsibility. Powerful institutional actors shaped the post-Katrina landscape and placed workers in situations of disadvantage and inequity. In the days following the Hurricane, the federal government came under fierce criticism for being slow to act in the wake of Katrina. Yet, in actuality, the federal government sprang into action quite quickly with a range of policy initiatives that were breathtaking in their scope and impact on workers.

And Injustice For All: Workers’ Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans raises the voices of New Orleanians struggling to return and reconstruction workers, all of whom are attempting to survive in the face of inequitable and unjust policies and practices of public and private institutions. It is through the stories of the workers in this report that particular policies and practices are identified that are putting these workers of color on a race to the bottom. The report is intended to provide a road map for organizers, advocates, policymakers, and funders—providing data and direction with regard to some of the most pressing needs of Hurricane Katrina survivors and reconstruction workers in New Orleans.

And Injustice For All: Workers’ Lives in the Reconstruction of New Orleans focuses on structural racism, which is far more pervasive and profoundly damaging than individual racism because it is systemic. Structural racism occurs across institutions and throughout society. It occurs because a number of institutions create policies and practices that routinely disadvantage people of color and benefit primarily wealthy whites. This racism may not be intentional but does have an adverse impact on people of color. Our report makes three key contributions to the existing body of work focused on workers’ conditions in post-Katrina New Orleans.

First, it lifts up workers’ voices. In order to understand the complexity of the issues faced by workers and the dire conditions in which they work, it is essential to listen to the workers themselves. This report is the result of the most comprehensive worker conditions documentation project to date since Katrina. Through the historic role of student volunteers, more than 700 workers were interviewed between January and April 2006.

Second, through the voices of the workers, this report illuminates how the actions of government and private institutions have locked some workers out of work and others into situations of abject exploitation. While the workers tell deeply personal stories, they reflect the impact of broader policies and practices by both state and private actors.

Third, the report identifies the patterns of disadvantage and inequity that emerge from the workers’ stories, and reveals the structure of racism that fuel the inequities. By illuminating racism at the systemic level, this report proposes interventions that could proactively advance racial justice.

Ultimately, the voices of workers in post-Katrina New Orleans demonstrate that the actions and inactions of federal, state, and local governments and the actions of the private reconstruction industry have created deplorable working and living conditions for people of color striving to rebuild and return to the city. Because these workers are migrant, undocumented, and displaced they have little chance to hold officials and private industry accountable (e.g., many cannot vote, while displaced New Orleanians continue to experience barriers to voting) except through organized, collective action.

Workers of color, regardless of status (immigrant, citizen, or pre-Katrina resident) are facing similar struggles; yet, they have been pitted against each other in a so-called competition for jobs. The media and political officials have promoted racial conflict. While some workers interviewed believe this competition exists, others fully understand that other racial groups are not to blame for the situation in New Orleans but instead the government is the perpetrator. Through multiracial, cross-industry collective action, workers will gain a greater awareness of these dynamics and their shared struggles in order to exert power to change the paradigm of exploitation and marginalization that currently plagues New Orleans.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The true costs of climate change

In 1997 Nature Magazine published an article entitled "The Value of the World's Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital" (Nature: Volume 387, no. 6230). The authors calculated the economic value of 17 ecosystem services for 16 biomes at that time. These services are the life support functions such as purification of air and water; detoxification and recycling of wastes; generation and maintenance of soil fertility; pollination of crops and other plants; regulation of climate; and mitigation of weather extremes like flood or drought. They valued these services as somewhere between $16 - 54 trillion per year in US dollars. (Due to the nature of the uncertainties, this estimate is considered conservative). As evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson and others point out, Nature subsidizes humanity with these services and the prosperity of all societies hinges upon safeguarding them.

Now, according to a report scheduled to be released on October 30th by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, unless immediate action is undertaken to curtail climate change, Nature's ability to provide these services will be seriously compromised, and the cost of repairing the damage done and restoring ecosystem functionality will top 3.68 trillion pounds (~ 7 trillion dollars).

You do the math. Pay now or pay later? (GW)

£3.68 trillion: The price of failing to act on climate change

Landmark report reveals apocalyptic cost of global warming

Gaby Hinsliff, political editor
Sunday October 29, 2006
The Observer

Britons face the prospect of a welter of new green taxes to tackle climate change, as the most authoritative report on global warming warns it will cost the world up to £3.68 trillion unless it is tackled within a decade.

The review by Sir Nicholas Stern, commissioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and published tomorrow, marks a crucial point in the debate by underlining how failure to act would trigger a catastrophic global recession. Unchecked climate change would turn 200 million people into refugees, the largest migration in modern history, as their homes succumbed to drought or flood.

Stern also warns that a successor to the Kyoto agreement on cutting greenhouse gas emissions should be signed next year, not by 2010/11 as planned. He forecasts that the world needs to spend 1 per cent of global GDP - equivalent to about £184bn - dealing with climate change now, or face a bill between five and 20 times higher for damage caused by letting it continue. Unchecked climate change could thus cost as much as £566 for every man, woman and child now on the planet - roughly 6.5 billion people.

The 700-page report argues that an international framework on climate change covering the globe will be necessary, and that different countries may opt to reduce emissions differently. Options range from many more green taxes to carbon trading.

Stern's verdict will create fierce political debate, with a growing belief in government that taxes on activities such as driving or flying will have to rise.

A leaked letter from the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, to the Chancellor, in the Mail on Sunday, proposes a range of 'green' tax increases.

Stephen Byers, the former cabinet minister and member of an expert panel of international politicians on climate change, is meanwhile urging new taxes to help change behaviour, including a 'global warming premium' on exotic fruit, vegetables and flowers flown thousands of miles across the world.

'There will need to be a global response [to Stern], but it must also filter down to change at domestic level,' he told an audience of businessmen in China this weekend. 'For the Labour party there must be no no-go areas for policy debate. The politics of taxation is changing and we need to be leading the debate, not playing catch-up. We should consider how we can change the structure of our tax system in a way which benefits the lowest-paid and penalises environmentally damaging activity.'

Byers is the first of several senior Labour figures expected to go public over green taxes, reflecting views within Downing Street that the public now fears climate change sufficiently to pay more for gas-guzzling activities. Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, is expected to join the debate, while Alan Milburn raised the issue in a recent speech. Such interventions will irritate the Chancellor, who regards taxation as his turf, particularly in advance of his autumn pre-budget report.

Air freight is one of the most lightly taxed areas of transport since aviation fuel is tax-free and there are no passengers to pay duty. Yet green campaigners say the planet can ill afford the thousands of 'food miles' travelled by exotic produce. One kilo of kiwi fruit flown from New Zealand to Europe discharges 5kg of carbon into the atmosphere. Other options include hiking car tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles and cutting stamp duty on the purchase of energy-efficient houses. Byers will argue tax rises should be offset by cuts elsewhere.

The Stern report will advocate extending the European 'cap and trade' system - under which carbon emissions are capped at a certain level, with businesses which need to emit more forced to buy spare emissions quotas from low-polluting businesses around the world, encouraging industry to find cleaner and cheaper ways of operating.

He will also urge a doubling of investment in energy research and a speedier Kyoto process - meaning that negotiations with the US will have to be undertaken while George Bush is still president. International governments had hoped to deal with a more sympathetic successor after 2008.

Downing Street and the Treasury believe that the report marks a decisive moment in international politics. Stern's is the first heavyweight contribution by an economist rather than a scientist and senior officials believe he will make what might seem a hopelessly ambitious timetable credible. 'This will give us an argument to make,' said a Whitehall source. 'I think we are at a tipping point in terms of the debate, as we were at a tipping point in 2004/05 in terms of the science.'

Stern's forecast cost of 1 per cent of global GDP is roughly the same amount as is spent worldwide on advertising, and half what the World Bank estimates a full-blown flu pandemic would cost. Without early intervention, he estimates the cost would be 5-20 per cent of GDP, some paid by governments, some by the private sector. But he stresses that unilateral action will not be enough - if Britain shut down all its power stations tomorrow, the reduction in global emissions would be cancelled out within 13 months by rising emissions from China.

Stern will advocate new funds to help Africa and developing nations adapt, but will argue the key challenge is from emerging nations such as China and India. Emissions from China are nearly level with the US and likely to increase as the Chinese get more cars and electrical goods - up to 30 million households are likely to get digital TVs alone in the next few years. Britain will push this week for more energy-efficient consumer goods.

The Tory environment spokesman, Peter Ainsworth, who has argued green tax should rise as a proportion of overall taxation, said he hoped the Stern report 'spurs the government into being much more proactive than it has been'.

Britain's share of revenue from green taxes is lower now than in 1994, partly because of the freezing of petrol duty after fuel protests.

Green taxes are controversial because if they do change behaviour, tax income falls, emptying Treasury coffers. But supporters argue that, over time, the tax system could be shifted back towards more personal taxation.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Truth bee known

"The idea of the collective hive as an animal was an idea late in coming. Not until the Renaissance was the female gender of the queen bee proved, or beeswax shown to be secreted from the underside of bees. No one had a clue until modern genetics that a hive is a radical matriarchy and sisterhood; all bees except the few good-for-nothing drones, are females and sisters," writes Kevin Kelly in "Out of Control: The Rise of Neo-Biological Civilization".

The twentieth century philosopher Yogi Berra discovered that "You can observe a lot by watching". Can studying the behavior of bees provide us with a better understanding of self-organization in human in societies? If so, can the honeybee genome project enrich that understanding? (GW)

From hive minds to humans
by Erika Check

Honeybee genome offers insight into social behaviour.

Could an insect help us understand why some people are daredevils, or why others are overweight? Scientists who have sequenced and analysed the genome of the western honeybee Apis mellifera say it might. The sequence, released in this week's Nature, is already aiding the young field of sociogenomics — the search for the genetic underpinnings of social life.

Researchers have shown some examples of how genes, the environment and behaviour can influence — and be influenced by — social interactions. Implanting one gene, for example, can change voles from promiscuous to monogamous (M. M. Lim et al. Nature 429, 754–757; 2004). And maternal care from rats helps pups to express genes that make them less susceptible to stress as adults (I. C. G. Weaver et al. Nature Neurosci. 7, 847–854; 2004).

But, besides its economic importance (see 'Pollinators in peril'), the honeybee is the lodestone of social biology. "Everything they do is social," says Charles Whitfield, an entomologist and molecular biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The colony dynamic determines a bee's diet, work and sex life, making bees ideal for studying some aspects of social biology, say scientists.

Researchers are also releasing a tool set for analysing the genome, including an improved microarray of honeybee genes and a list of DNA variations called single nucleotide polymorphisms. Scientists hope to use these tools to find the genetic causes of social traits — such as the bees' dance language and the division of labour in the hive. "We have so many behaviours in the bee for which we don't have any clue about the mechanism," Whitfield says.

The genome is helping to reveal some of those mechanisms. For instance, there are 65 spots in the genome that seem to code for short RNA molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs), molecular switches that can turn genes on or off. The researchers found that miRNA activity differs between bees doing different jobs. Such work starts to show how gene regulation gives the bee such a different lifestyle from, for example, the fruitfly, with which it shares many genes. "At the level of the brain, the parts list is pretty much the same as the fruitfly, yet there are these radical differences in behaviour and social organization," says George Weinstock, a genome biologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "That makes you think that regulation is probably more important than the parts list."

So, what does this have to do with people? Primate behaviour specialists say that there are parallels between honeybee and human societies. For instance, some individuals in each care for youngsters who aren't their offspring. But, cautions anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy of the University of California, Davis, honeybees and humans have many differences. "Anyone interested in the cognitive or emotional bases of cooperation should stick with other primates, or at the very least other social mammals," Hrdy says. "The relevance of honeybee genomes would depend very much on the sort of questions one is asking.

Bee researchers say there could be links between human and bee behaviour. For instance, some bees seek out food sources, others wait and follow on. It's possible that scouts have the same sort of novelty-seeking genetic pathways that predispose some humans to become bungee jumpers. "One of the lessons of developmental biology is just how conserved gene function is in building complex phenotypes" such as social behaviours, says Gene Robinson at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Some even see a link to human health. Worker bees make queens by feeding larvae a protein-rich substance called royal jelly. Understanding how the jelly reprogrammes genes might tell us more about how humans get fat, says molecular biologist Ryszard Maleszka at the Australian National University in Canberra. "Some of the insights we gain from following this protein family might be useful for probing a major problem in human society: obesity."

Friday, October 27, 2006

Natural (assisted) selection

Could it be that the "Brave New World" has arrived? I heard Illinois Senator Barack Obama comment in a recent interview that it's time for the Baby Boomers (I would be one of those) to step aside and let the next generation take the reins of government and world affairs. The clear implication is that the worldview and ideas that matured in the 60's have grown tired and irrelevant. Might that include long-held and deep-seeded opposition to perceived evils like nuclear energy and biotechnology?

Jeremy Rifkin, who in "The Biotech Century" wrote about the promise and perils of biotechology, appears cautiously optimistic that Marker-Assisted Selection (MAS) may offer a way for humanity to constructively participate in evolution in his article that follows. (GW)

This crop revolution may succeed where GM failed

Jeremy Rifkin
Thursday October 26, 2006
The Guardian

For years, the life-science companies - Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Pioneer etc - have argued that genetically modified food is the next great scientific revolution in agriculture, and the only efficient and cheap way to feed a growing population in a shrinking world. Non-governmental organisations - including the Foundation on Economic Trends, of which I am president - have been cast as the villains in this agricultural drama, and often categorised as modern versions of the Luddites, accused of continually blocking scientific and technological progress because of our opposition to GM food.

Now, in an ironic twist, new cutting-edge technologies have made gene splicing and transgenic crops obsolete and a serious impediment to scientific progress. The new frontier is called genomics and the new agricultural technology is called marker-assisted selection (MAS). The new technology offers a sophisticated method to greatly accelerate classical breeding. A growing number of scientists believe MAS - which is already being introduced into the market - will eventually replace GM food. Moreover, environmental organisations that oppose GM crops are guardedly supportive of MAS technology.

Rapidly accumulating information about crop genomes is allowing scientists to identify genes associated with traits such as yield, and then scan crop relatives for the presence of those genes. Instead of using molecular splicing techniques to transfer a gene from an unrelated species into the genome of a food crop to increase yield, resist pests or improve nutrition, scientists are now using MAS to locate desired traits in other varieties or wild relatives of a particular food crop, then crossbreeding those plants with the existing commercial varieties to improve the crop. This greatly reduces the risk of environmental harm and potential adverse health effects associated with GM crops. Using MAS, researchers can upgrade classical breeding, and cut by 50% or more the time needed to develop new plant varieties by pinpointing appropriate plant partners at the gamete or seedling stage.

Using MAS, researchers in the Netherlands have developed a new lettuce variety resistant to an aphid that causes reduced and abnormal growth. Researchers at the US department of agriculture have used MAS to develop a strain of rice that is soft on the outside but remains firm on the inside after processing. Scientists in the UK and India have used MAS to develop pearl millet that is tolerant of drought and resistant to mildew. The crop was introduced into the market in India in 2005.

While MAS is emerging as a promising new agricultural technology with broad application, the limits of transgenic technology are becoming increasingly apparent. Most of the transgenic crops introduced into the fields express only two traits, resistance to pests and compatibility with herbicides, and rely on the expression of a single gene - hardly the sweeping agricultural revolution touted by the life-science companies at the beginning of the GM era.

There is still much work to be done in understanding the choreography, for example, between single genetic markers and complex genetic clusters and environmental factors, all of which interact to affect the development of the plant and produce desirable outcomes such as improved yield and drought resistance. Also, it should be noted that MAS is of value to the extent that it is used as part of a broader, agro-ecological approach to farming that integrates new crop introductions with a proper regard for all of the other environmental, economic and social factors that together determine the sustainability of farming.

The wrinkle is that the continued introduction of GM crops could contaminate existing plant varieties, making the new MAS technology more difficult to use. A landmark 2004 survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that non-GM seeds from three of America's major agricultural crops - maize, soya beans and oil-seed rape - were already "pervasively contaminated with low levels of DNA sequences originating in genetically engineered varieties of these crops".

Not surprisingly, MAS technology is being looked at with increasing interest within the European Union, where public opposition to GM food has remained resolute. In a recent speech, Stavros Dimas, the EU's environment commissioner, noted that "MAS technology is attracting considerable attention" and said that the EU "should not ignore the use of 'upgraded' conventional varieties as an alternative to GM crops".

As MAS becomes cheaper and easier to use, and as knowledge in genomics becomes more easily available over the next decade, plant breeders around the world will be able to exchange information about best practices and democratise the technology. Already plant breeders are talking about "open source" genomics, envisioning the sharing of genes. The struggle between a younger generation of sustainable-agriculture enthusiasts anxious to share genetic information and entrenched company scientists determined to maintain control over the world's seed stocks through patent protection is likely to be hard-fought, especially in the developing world.

If properly used as part of a much larger systemic and holistic approach to sustainable agricultural development, MAS technology could be the right technology at the right time in history.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cuba's sustainable footprint

When I went to check out Cuba's entry in Wikipedia, I was greeted by the following message: "Because of recent vandalism or other disruption, editing of this article by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled. Such users may discuss changes, request unprotection, or create an account."

There are undoubtedly other topics in Wikipedia that warrant such a notice but this was my first encounter with one. Controversy seems to follow Cuba everywhere.

Cuba continues to baffle, perplex and defy being pigeonholed (see earlier post). Its recent recognition by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as the only country in the world to have achieved sustainable development will only add to Cuba's mystique.

In 1987 The World Commission on Environment and Development released a landmark report entitled "Our Common Future". Commission members defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) began its Living Planet Reports in 1998 to show the state of the natural world and the impact of human activity upon it. Since then it has continuously refined and developed its measures of the state of the Earth. (GW)

WWF cites Cuba as only country with sustainable development

By Antonio Broto
Beijing, Oct 24, 2006 (EFE via COMTEX)

Cuba is the only country in the world to achieve sustainable development, a leading global conservation organization said here in its biennial appraisal of the state of the natural environment.

"The world's natural ecosystems are being degraded at a rate unprecedented in human history," according to the WWF's 2006 Living Planet Report, presented this year for the first time in Beijing.

Extrapolating from current trends, the group predicts that humanity will be consuming "two planets' worth of natural resources by 2050 - if those resources have not run out by then."

What occurs, therefore, is a vicious circle: poor countries produce much less damage to the environment per capita, but as they develop - and China and India are going through that phase - the rate increases to unsustainable levels for the planet.

The World Wildlife Fund, or WWF, has included in its report a graph in which two variables are superimposed: the U.N.-devised Human Development Index and the so-called "ecological footprint" which shows the amount of energy and resources consumed per person in each country.

"No region, nor the world as a whole, met both criteria for sustainable development. Cuba alone did, based on the data it reports to the United Nations," the report says.

"That does not mean, of course, that Cuba is a perfect country, but that it does meet the necessary standards," Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the study, said in response to a question from EFE.

"Cuba has reached a good level of development according to United Nations' criteria, thanks to its high literacy level and a very high life expectancy, while the ecological footprint is not large since it is a country with low energy consumption," said Loh, who presented the study in Beijing.

The fact is that Latin America in general seems to be remain closest to sustainability, since countries like Brazil and Mexico are close to the necessary minimums, compared with regions like Africa, which has low energy consumption but is very underdeveloped, and Europe, which is just the opposite.

Despite the good vibrations from Latin countries, the global situation as portrayed by the WWF report is disheartening; for example, the number of surviving vertebrate animal species has dropped 30 percent in the last 33 years.

"We are in serious ecological overshoot, consuming resources faster than the Earth can replace them," said WWF International's director general, James Leape, who was also on hand in Beijing for the presentation of the report.

Man's ecological footprint, his consumption of resources, tripled between 1961 and 2003, according to WWF, which means that human impact on the planet is 25 percent greater than the natural regenerative process of the Earth can compensate.

And the situation is getting worse, despite such efforts as the Kyoto Protocol to try to fix it; the previous WWF report published in 2004 had human impact outstripping the planet's regenerative capacity by about 21 percent.

The organization's new report puts on its blacklist of countries with high per-capita consumption of energy and resources the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Finland, Canada, Kuwait, Australia, Estonia, Sweden, New Zealand and Norway.

The fact that the report was presented in China shows the importance the WWF gives to the future of the Asian economy: "its growing economy and rapid development mean it has a key role in keeping the world on the path to sustainability."

China is second worldwide in emissions of contaminating gases, but spread over its enormous population its ecological footprint per capita is, as in the case of India, very small compared with wealthy countries.

The expert Jiang Yi from Beijing's Tsinghua University said at the event that one of the keys to improving consumption of resources and energy in China is "to develop a rural system of energy balance" and to study alternatives for heating and air conditioning in Chinese homes.

The subject is not a trivial one in a country where temperatures soar in the summer and air conditioning causes huge energy deficits and power outages in the most developed areas of China, particularly in the delta of the Yangtse River.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Forgotten history: New England and slavery

In 2003, Brown University President Ruth Simmons appointed a Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. The committee, which included faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, and administrators, was charged to investigate and to prepare a report about the University’s historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. It was also asked to organize public programs that might help the campus and the nation reflect on the meaning of this history in the present, on the complex historical, political, legal, and moral questions posed by any present-day confrontation with past injustice. (Brown University web site )

Thanks to the Urban Socialite for bringing this to my attention. (GW)

Brown University's Debt to Slavery
Copyright New York Times Company Oct 23, 2006

A long-awaited report on Brown University's 18th-century links to slavery should dispel any lingering smugness among Northerners that slavery was essentially a Southern problem.

The report establishes that Brown did indeed benefit in its early years from money generated by the slave trade and by industries dependent on slavery. It did so in an era when slavery permeated the social and economic life of Rhode Island. Slaves accounted for 10 percent of the state's population in the mid-18th century, when Brown was founded, and Rhode Island served as a northern hub of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, mounting at least 1,000 voyages that carried more than 100,000 Africans into slavery over the course of a century.

The Brown report is the latest revelation that Northern businesses and institutions benefited from slavery. Countless other institutions might be surprised, and ashamed, if they dug deeply into their pasts as Brown has over the past three years.

The Committee on Slavery and Justice, composed of faculty, students and administrators, found that some 30 members of Brown's governing board owned or captained slave ships, and donors sometimes contributed slave labor to help in construction. The Brown family owned slaves and engaged in the slave trade, although one family member became a leading abolitionist and had his own brother prosecuted for illegal slave trading. The college did not own or trade slaves.

The hard question is what to do about it. The committee makes sensible recommendations -- creating a center for the study of slavery and injustice, rewriting Brown's history to acknowledge the role of slavery, creating a memorial to the slave trade in Rhode Island, and recruiting more minority students. Other proposals are more problematic. But the value of this exercise was to illuminate a history that had been ''largely erased from the collective memory of our university and state.''

Click here to downloand "Slavery and Justice".

Pictured above: Account book for the slave ship Sally, recording the ship’s transactions on the African coast.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tough mama and the jokerman

Oxford Professor of Poetry, Christopher Ricks (whom W.H. Auden once referred to as "exactly the kind of critic every poet dreams of finding") calls Bob Dylan "the greatest living user of the English language." He writes: "Dylan has always had a way with words. He does not simply have his way with them, since a true comprehender of words is no more their master than he or she their servant. The triangle of Dylan's music, his voices, and his unpropitiatory words: this is still his equilateral thinking."

Dance artist Twyla Tharp is described by Alex Witchel in the New York Times Magazine article below as "a control freak, a perfectionist, a zealot in forming a vision and stopping at nothing to see it realized. But when it is realized, when her dances are good-better-best, flying off the stage like some biblical fire on a mountaintop, there is nothing in the world like them. Twenty-three years ago, Robert Joffrey said that Tharp’s work “didn’t look like anyone else’s.” It still doesn’t."

Now, for the first time together on Broadway...

Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune,
Bird fly high by the light of the moon
Jokerman, Bob Dylan, 1983

Tough Mama

Meat shakin' on your bones

I'm gonna go down to the river and get some stones.

Sister's on the highway with that steel-drivin' crew,

Papa's in the big house, his workin' days are through.

Tough Mama

Can I blow a little smoke on you?
Tough Mama by Bob Dylan, Planet Waves, 1974

To dance beneath the diamond sky

by Alex Witchel

New York Times Sunday Magazine

October 22, 2006

Twyla Tharp has strong feelings about good coffee, just as she has strong feelings about dance, theater and the universe in general. So this particular moment, as she fished a dead fly from her coffee cup, was probably as good an introduction as any to Rule No. 1 in the World According to Tharp: Twyla Tharp is always right. Rule No. 2? See Rule No. 1. Rule No. 3? Yes, there is a 3. Though rare, it is possible for Tharp to be wrong. But only if she proves herself wrong. No one else need apply.

“Let me get you a fresh cup,” offered Artie Gaffin, the production stage manager of “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the new Broadway musical conceived, directed and choreographed by Tharp, based on the music of Bob Dylan. Gaffin, among his other duties, had the unenviable job of coffee maker at Aaron Davis Hall, the theater in Harlem where the cast rehearsed during the summer. Located in a neighborhood improbably crammed with beauty salons, there was not a bodega to be found with a can of Maxwell House and a plug.

Tharp drank the coffee. “I don’t want you to remake it,” she told him. “I just want you to acknowledge that this coffee sucks.”

Once that was accomplished, Tharp turned her gaze on Kim Craven, the resident director who is her second in command. Craven was busy showing a dancer a change in steps that Tharp asked for the previous day.

“Thank you, Kimmy, for being so conscientious,” Tharp called. “That’s going to change again today.”

Craven kept her equanimity, which was impressive, considering that she had just given Tharp a note of her own, to which Tharp responded, “I understand what you’re saying, but I’m leaving it as it is.”

Bark, bark. You get the idea. But it is probably time to say this: There was not a person in that theater, including the 19 performers, musicians and production staff, who did not admire Tharp. Those new to her are scared of her, those used to her are over her, because they know that behind the barking lies a devotion to them, to the work — always, always the work — that is religious in its fervor. Yes, she is a control freak, a perfectionist, a zealot in forming a vision and stopping at nothing to see it

realized. But when it is realized, when her dances are good-better-best, flying off the stage like some biblical fire on a mountaintop, there is nothing in the world like them. Twenty-three years ago, Robert Joffrey said that Tharp’s work “didn’t look like anyone else’s.” It still doesn’t.

Tharp’s most recent success was the Broadway musical “Movin’ Out,” a danced narrative set to the music of Billy Joel, which won her a Tony Award for Best Choreography. The show ran for more than three years, and its touring company is still on the road. But Tharp is more than a Broadway baby; she’s an American artist of the first order. In her 41-year career, she has famously broken down the barriers between ballet and modern dance, fusing them into a genre specifically her own. She created 132 dances for her company, Twyla Tharp Dance, as well as for American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Martha Graham Company and others. This month, American Ballet Theater will perform her “Sinatra Suite” (1984) and “In the Upper Room” (1986), with music by Philip Glass. In November, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform “The Golden Section” (1983), and in February, the Bolshoi Ballet will also do “In the Upper Room,” its first work by an American female choreographer.

Like Jerome Robbins, her late friend and fellow perfectionist, Tharp has never mistaken provincialism for artistic purity, and she has pursued a wide range of commercial projects; her work was presented on Broadway as early as 1976. For the director Milos Forman, she choreographed the films “Hair,” “Amadeus” and “Ragtime,” and she won two Emmy Awards as choreographer and co-director of “Baryshnikov by Tharp.” She is the author of “Push Comes to Shove” (1992), an autobiography, and “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life” (2003). She has received the National Medal of Arts, 17 honorary doctorates and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation award, more commonly known as the “genius” grant.

Maybe she’s always right, after all.

Standing in the audience near the lip of the stage, she watched the dancers warm up — some jumped on trampolines or twirled lassos while others performed a makeshift barre — and she looked even tinier than her 5 feet 1ð inches. Although it was Dylan who approached her, after the success of ’“Movin’ Out,” to make his music dance as she had Joel’s, the show is completely her invention.

She listened to every song Dylan ever recorded and chose 25 around which to build a narrative. She conceived of a traveling circus run by an abusive father at odds with his artistic son; complicating things further is the woman who comes between them. Unlike in “Movin’ Out,” which literally split the stage in two, musicians playing on the top level, performers dancing beneath them, in “Times,” Tharp cast singers among her ensemble to fully integrate song and dance. The end result is a fable about growing up, love, death and acceptance, danced and sung to a Dylan hit parade, including “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (“Everybody must get stoned”). It opens at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Oct. 26.

Click here to read the entire New York Times Magazine article.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

"Almost everything we do on earth we could do with less water"

The above quote is from Peter Gleick, co-founder and President of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security. It zeroes in on the essence of the world's rapidly escalating water crisis.

Virtually everywhere you turn these days, water is in the news and the news, unfortunately is grim. A few weeks ago the New York Times ran a three-part series by Somini Sengupta on India's water crisis where "A soaring population, the warp-speed sprawl of cities, and a vast and thirsty farm belt have all put new strains on a feeble, and ill-kept public water and sanitation network."

Michael Specter sees India's problems as symptomatic of a larger global water crisis. His article "The Last Drop" appears in the October 23, 2006 issue of The New Yorker. Specter observes that "There is no standard for how much water a person needs each day, but experts usually put the minimum at fifty litres. The government of India promises (but rarely provides) forty. Americans consume between four hundred and six hundred litres of water each day, more than any other people on earth. Most Europeans use less than half that." Meanwhile "Nearly half the people in the world don't have the kind of clean water and sanitation services that were available two thousand years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome."

A few more of his eye-opening observations:
  • More than a billion people lack access to drinking water.
  • At least a half billion people have never seen a toilet.
  • Half the hospital beds on earth are occupied by people with an easily preventable waterborne disease.
  • In the past decade, more children have died from diarrhea than people have been killed in all armed conflicts since the Second World War.
  • Simply providing access to clean water could save two million lives each year.
There is actually reason to be hopeful in light of all this. As Jeffrey Sachs points out in his book "The End of Poverty" addressing the majority of the problems like those outlined above do not require new and/or expensive technologies or medicines. Existing and, for the most part, relatively inexpensive solutions (compared to ill-advised dams or desalination plants) --centered around conservation -- will do the trick. As Sachs and others have noted, the most important missing piece is political will.

For example, water continues to be undervalued throughout the world. Specter writes: "Philosophers and economists since Copernicus have noted that, although no substance is more valuable than water, none is more likely to be free. In 'The Wealth of Nations,' Adam Smith called this the 'diamond-water paradox': although water is essential for life, and the value of diamonds is mostly aesthetic, the price of water has always been far less than that of diamonds. Economists often argue that water should be considered a commodity like housing or food."

However, we know it's not quite THAT simple.

"But water possesses an intangible, even mystical quality that transcends the principles of economics; people simply don't think about it the way they think about transportation or clothing -- and they never have." concludes Specter.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations grapples with the issue of valuing water in a report issued a couple of years ago. (GW)

What's Water Worth?
Agriculture 21 Magazine

Purely economic valuation of water often overlooks two important dimensions: environmental values, such as the role of water flows in maintaining ecosystem integrity, and social values - such as using water to grow food to eat...

When reminded that about 60% of the human body is water, all would agree that water is a truly "valuable resource". But what is the value of the estimated 3 000 litres of water used to grow the food that the average person consumes each day? That would have been an academic question just 15 years ago, when water was still viewed largely as a free, or at least low-cost, public good. Today, amid growing water scarcities, increasing competition from industrial and domestic users, and alarm over the degradation of ecosystems, the economic valuation of water use in agriculture is rapidly emerging as a key issue in water resources management.

Of all the sectors that use freshwater, agriculture - which claims 70% of global withdrawals from natural sources - shows the lowest overall economic return. That fact has led some proponents of water valuation to champion unregulated "water markets" which, by treating water as an economic commodity, redirect it from low-value to high-value uses - typically from irrigated agriculture to higher value horticulture and from rural areas in general to the industrial and urban sectors. The reasoning is that, since demand outstrips supply when water is treated as a free good, the market will "bring supply and demand into balance" and, in some cases, mitigate the environmentally detrimental effects of overexploitation.

A "triple bottom line". But a new report from FAO says indiscriminate use of the economic approach risks overemphasizing "monetary expressions of value" at the expense of two other important dimensions: environmental values, such as the role of water flows in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, and social values - which, at its most basic, can mean simply using water to grow food to eat. Needed, the study says, are water valuation frameworks that recognize a "triple bottom line" giving equal value to water's economic, social and environmental uses.

The report argues that a sound valuation of water can only be done through a process involving all stakeholders in water use. To explore stakeholder-oriented approaches, it presents cases from Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Tanzania where valuation tools and methods were imbedded in "real-world" water resources management. "We found that the concept of value is inherently subjective," says FAO's Leon Hermans, who co-authored the report. "In the end, value is really what the stakeholders can agree on. That's why we see valuation mainly as a practical means of helping stakeholders express the values that water-related goods and services represent and supporting them in reconciling their water demands."

Click here to read more about FAO's program on the value of water.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Darwin online

When I was in junior high school I coughed up 95 cents and bought a paperback copy of Darwin's "Origin of Species". My science teacher, Mrs. Bagley, saw me reading it one day in study hall and gasped. She accused me of being an atheist and forced me to debate James Poole, a classmate and ardent student of the Bible (honest to ---).

Needless to say, this was all very confusing. I couldn't figure out
why was my science teacher upset that I was reading a book about science. At any rate, we did debate -- a mini version of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" at Rawlings Jr. High School in Cleveland Ohio.

I can't remember if a winner was declared, and can't imagine anything like that ever happening in a public school in this day and age -- just think of the potential lawsuits. But if it did, one could save at least 95 cents since all of Darwin's works are now available online. (GW)

Charles Darwin's works go online

The complete works of one of history's greatest scientists, Charles Darwin, are being published online.

The project run by Cambridge University has digitised some 50,000 pages of text and 40,000 images of original publications - all of it searchable.

Surfers can even access downloadable audio files to use on MP3 players.

The resource is aimed at serious scholars, but can be used by anyone with an interest in Darwin and his theory on the evolution of life.

"The idea is to make these important works as accessible as possible; some people can only get at Darwin that way," said Dr John van Wyhe, the project's director.

One big collection

Dr van Wyhe has spent the past four years searching the globe for copies of Darwin's own materials, and works written about the naturalist and his breakthrough ideas on natural selection.

The historian said he was inspired to build the library at darwin-online.org.uk when his own efforts to study Darwin while at university in Asia were frustrated.

"I wrote to lots of people all over the world to get hold of the texts for the project and I got a really positive reaction because they all liked the idea of there being one big collection," he told BBC News.

Darwin Online features many newly transcribed or never-before-published manuscripts written by the great man.

These include a remarkable field notebook from his famous Beagle voyage to the Galapagos Islands, where detailed observations of the wildlife would later forge his scientific arguments.

Free use

The real artefact was stolen in the 1980s and is still missing, but the text has been transcribed from a microfilm copy made two decades earlier.

"It is astonishing to see the notebook that Darwin had in his pocket as he walked around the Galapagos - the scribbled notes that he took as he clambered over the lava," said Randal Keynes, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin.

"If people can read it on the web and they learn that it was stolen then I think there is more chance that this very important piece of national heritage is recovered," he told BBC News.

Other texts appearing online for the first time include the first editions of the Journal Of Researches (1839), The Descent Of Man (1871), The Zoology Of The Voyage Of HMS Beagle (1838-43) and the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the Origin Of Species, the pivotal tome that elucidated his thoughts on evolution.

There is no charge to use the website. Most texts can be viewed either as colour originals or as fully formatted electronic transcriptions. There are also German, Danish and Russian editions.

Users can also peruse more than 150 supplementary texts, ranging from reference works to contemporary reviews of Darwin's books, obituaries and recollections.

At the moment the site contains about 50% of the materials that will be provided by 2009, the bicentenary of the naturalist's birth.

"The family has always wanted Darwin's papers and manuscripts available to anyone who wants to read them. That everyone around the world can now see them on the web is simply fantastic," said Mr Keynes.

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online

Story from BBC NEWS:

Friday, October 20, 2006

"The sacred place where life begins"

There is a subtle but significant difference in the conservative and progressive positions on ending the country's addiction to oil. President George W. Bush called for ending our dependence on foreign oil. Some progressive Democrats have been more thoughtful and honest in demanding a commitment to reducing all oil consumption -- foreign and domestic -- and shifting our energy focus to renewables. Accepting the President's position gives Big Oil a license to pillage the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). But as Peter Matthiessen points out in a recent article published in the New York Review of Books, drilling for oil in ANWR would ultimately end up adding more carbon into the atmosphere and do little if anything to relieve our dependence on foreign sources of energy. It would, however succeed in improving the bottom line of some oil companies.(GW)

Inside The Endangered Arctic Refuge

by Peter Matthiessen|New York Review of Books

October 19, 2006

Wild northern Alaska is one of the last places on earth where a human being can kneel down and drink from a wild stream without being measurably more poisoned or polluted than before; its heart and essence is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in the remote northeast corner of the state, the earth's last sanctuary of the great Ice Age fauna that includes all three North American bears, gray wolves and wolverines, musk ox, moose, and, in the summer, the Porcupine River herd of caribou, 120,000 strong. Everywhere fly sandhill cranes and seabirds, myriad waterfowl and shorebirds, eagles, hawks, owls, shrikes and larks and longspurs, as well as a sprinkling of far-flung birds that migrate to the Arctic slope to breed and nest from every continent on earth. Yet we Americans, its caretakers, are still debating whether or not to destroy this precious place by turning it over to the oil industry for development.

A wildlife sanctuary in northeast Alaska had already been established when, in 1968, an oil-bearing geological formation called the Barrow Arch with exceptionally promising strata was discovered at Prudhoe Bay, an obscure location on the Beaufort Sea on Alaska's north coast. In 1977, with the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), the first oil flowed from Prudhoe over the mountains of the Brooks Range to Port Valdez, eight hundred miles to the south.

Three years later, in 1980, Congress more than doubled the size of the sanctuary with the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in a huge wilderness directly east of the pipeline. Most of the 19.6 million acres permanently set aside for wildlife protection were steep rocky mountains uninhabitable by large creatures other than the white Dall mountain sheep. The one great wildlife region inside the refuge was the flat coastal plain between the Brooks Range foothills and the Beaufort Sea.

Even so, the refuge legislation might not have passed without concessions to Big Oil's lobbyists and aides, deeply embedded in Congress and the White House. The most significant concession was Section 1002 of the enabling legislation, which provided for later assessment of fossil fuel potential in the 1.5-million-acre region of the refuge's coastal plain nearest to Prudhoe, followed by a congressional decision on whether oil leasing and drilling would be approved there. Thus when one speaks of the ANWR dispute, one is implicitly referring to the 1002—or "Ten-Oh-Two"—as the contested area, somehow diminished by a numbered designation, is widely known today. How sad that this land, so vital to the native Gwich'in and Inupiat peoples, should be the center of what has become the longest and most acrimonious environmental fight in American history.

On March 16 of this year, as it has attempted to do many times since 1980, the US Senate authorized energy companies to drill in the Wildlife Refuge; since then, the House has passed similar legislation. During the August recess, Republican leaders across the country claimed to voters that exploiting the refuge will solve the problem of the nation's dependence on imported oil and reduce the high price of fuel. Should the two chambers reconcile their differences in this congressional session, our rarest and most precious wilderness may be lost for good. Despite all the oil industry's talk about "safe drilling" with environmental safeguards (less than credible at a time when, at corporate behest, a primitively pro-business administration is dismantling many decades' worth of hard-won protections), mining fossil fuels from a fragile, treeless plain will permanently deface, contaminate, and gut it, while accomplishing almost nothing to offset the so-called oil crisis.

Even if Congress should succeed today in bestowing the refuge on the corporations, the first leases could not be issued before 2008, after seismic exploration, test wells, permits, and the truncated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required for the lease sale are completed. Next would come seven more years of construction of hundreds of miles of roads and pipelines and hundreds of acres of infrastructure, from flow stations to cesspools—all this to be done during eight or nine dark months of ice and blizzard, followed by a brief summer season when roads and installations sink and shift in the endless swamps of water-logged tundra.

Not before 2015 could the oil extracted from the Wildlife Refuge affect energy supplies, and even then it would represent an inconsequential fraction of our gluttonous US consumption. (A Department of Energy report of September 2005 predicted that ANWR oil production, peaking in 2025, would slash the gas price at the pump by no more than one penny per gallon.) As most of our legislators know well, to flog this questionable source as a solution to our wasteful habits is not only dishonest but a long-term disservice to the nation.

Click here to read the entire New York Review of Books article

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Founding Farmer

In 1978, I was asked by Susan Redlich, the visionary director of the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture's Division of Agricultural Land Use, to help organize a network of farmers' markets in the Greater Boston Metropolitan area.

Two years earlier, the Department, under the leadership of commissioner Frederick Winthrop had released "A Policy for Food and Agriculture" for the Commonwealth. The state was, on average, losing 200 farms a year -- and had been since the end of the Second World War.

Winthrop had determined that providing Massachusetts farmers with more direct-marketing opportunities might be one way to keep them in business. By selling directly to consumers from the backs of their trucks or makeshift stands set up in the heart of Boston city neighborhoods, farmers would be able to bypass wholesalers and thereby increase their profits while maintaining reasonable prices.

This seemed like a win-win situation to me, so I eagerly took the job and working with intern Michael Grunebaum, a junior from Buckingham, Brown & Nichols high school set out identifying sites deep within the heart of Boston to host weekly farmers' markets.

One of these sites was Fields Corner in Dorchester. A local grassroots community gardening group called Dorchester Gardenlands Preserve took the ball and got permission to block off a section of the city's main street -- Dorchester Avenue -- on Saturday mornings so that farmers could drive their trucks in, park and sell their produce.

In June, Ken Moll, head of the newly formed Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets and I drove to the western part of the state to recruit farmers for the Boston farmers' market. We gave them our best sales pitch about the benefits of selling direct to their urban neighbors.

For a variety of reasons, this turned out to be much more difficult than we envisioned. Nonetheless, a week before the scheduled grand opening of the Fields Corner Farmers' Market we had pledges from roughly 20 farmers who said they'd show up.

Opening day was Saturday, July 9, 1978. Commissioner Winthrop was there. So was Massachusetts Lt. Governor, Thomas P. O'Neill III (Son of Tip). Television crews arrived shouldering cameras and with microphones readied, and newspaper reporters were there with pens and pads in hand. And oh yes, throngs of customers -- many who even brought their own shopping bags.

The only problem was there were no farmers. Apparently they all had second thoughts about driving into Boston.

Michael and I stood in the middle of the empty street nervously wondering if we'd have a job on Monday. Ken Moll arrived in his VW Bug with vegetables from his garden to sell, but that didn't satisfy many in the crowd who wanted to see "real farmers".

Finally, about 45 minutes after the opening of the market, just when grumbling camera crews and newspaper reporters were packing up to leave, a pickup truck came rumbling down Dorchester Avenue.

It was Kachie Berberien (top photo) and his family from Northboro, Massachusetts. His truck runneth over with lettuce, chard, radishes and zucchini. He saved the day, and I'm convinced the Boston Farmers' Market project in the process. From that day on, farmers' markets have blosssomed throughout the city and around state (there are currently more than 130).

Two days ago, a friend of mine Hugh Joseph sent an email with photos attached. The photos were taken at the Dorchester Farmers' Market a week or so earlier.

And lo and behold, there was Kachie, now 82 year young, still selling his lettuce and apparently still loving every minute of it. (GW)

Perennial and annual wisdom

Fortunately for all of us there are still people working the land for whom farming is more than just a business. For them it is a way of life -- and invaluable and irreplaceable part of the social fabric. Farming is hard work, and for so long it seemed like those who are committed to doing it responsibly might not be able to compete with agribusiness. One of the things that has helped these hard-scrabble farmers survive has been the development of new relationships with their urban neighbors. Nowhere are these relationships stronger and deeper than at farmers' markets. (GW)

Sustainable farms cater to a growing niche

MIFFLINBURG — The life of a domestic goose is dandy — until it trips over chickens because its farmer is chasing it around the coop.

When complimented for his superior catching skills, Bill Callahan shrugged and said, "I probably only caught him because he was the fattest one."

Geese aren't the only thing that can be found at Cow-A-Hen farm.

One finds the usual chickens, cattle, and pigs.

As butterflies flit past, it's easy to trip over a crowing rooster, hear a barn swallow's song, coo over a pig named Minimum (who wasn't that at all), and even be gobbled at by a nameless Bourbon Red turkey. With the turkey trailing along behind him, Mr. Callahan said, "I just buy a bunch (of animals) and throw them into the mix."

Mr. Callahan is what is traditionally known as a sustainable agriculturalist.

His farm is a far cry from the industrial-style of agriculture, otherwise known as factory farming.

Being "sustainable" carries with it a whole slew of implications: chiefly aimed at meeting three goals: economic viability, environmental protection, and social responsibility, according to Brian Snyder, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).

The farm must be able to thrive simply by using resources that are indefinitely available on-site.

Cow-A-Hen Farm boasts about 30 cattle (bulls, calves, and cows) and about 60-70 hogs. Though he is not certified-organic by federal standards, his cattle, for example, come from certified-organic herds.

He rotates the animals around his approximately 100-acre plot of land. Fifty acres are wooded and the other 50 are divided into paddocks for the animals. The ground in the pig area is hoof-beaten, and a substantial amount of grass has disappeared, in comparison to the rest of his farm. "The grasses come back, though. If you take the pressure off the ground, it would only take about five years for this to revert back to woods," Mr. Callahan said.

He has no need for using antibiotics on his animals and he has not used herbicides in about 10 years, Mr. Callahan adds.

The animals are free to roam in their allotted pieces of land and are only separated by species.

There is nothing harmful on the fences, and they are easily stepped or hopped over by Mr. Callahan during feeding-time.

"There's no magic in the stuff I do, it's just having a deeper understanding of what they (the animals) do," he said.

Observation is the key.

"You have to understand how the animals interact with each other," he said.

Products like Callahan's present a popular niche in the market (especially in urban settings), but it is not standard, nor is it cheap.

"This is still something that is catching on," said Mr. Snyder.

For example, Mr. Callahan sells his hot dogs for $7 a pound.

"My product is what it is, not what it's priced," he said.

Many are willing to pay the extra money to guarantee that nothing harmful is going into their family's stomachs.

Mr. Callahan caters to a small, but growing band of customers. He is a regular at Lewisburg's weekly Susquehanna Grower's Market, along with Milheim Farmers Market and Boalsburg Farmers Markets. In addition, he sells his products wholesale over the wintertime, when the animals aren't demanding too much of his attention. A long-time entrepreneur in his own right, Mr. Callahan has been livestock farming since 1992.

"Loyal customers bring more customers," he quips.

The demand for his product isgrowing. Though he is primarily a one-man operation, he cooperates with local farmers in the area. He acquires some of his animals from his competition at the farmers' markets. "Good, clean competition is something to take advantage of," he said

There is a 24-week window in which he makes most of his profit, during the summer months.

"This is not a get-rich scheme. If you don't enjoy it, you won't do it for the money," said Mr. Callahan. However, he harnesses more control over his business than a corporate-owned farm. He sees his products' beginning and end result, sells his products, and decides to whom to sell it.

And the majority of Mr. Callahan's customers are locals.

"I'm so fortunate that I have a customer base that will support me on this," he said. A great contribution of farms like Callahan's is the emphasis on strong presence and participation in the community. "Locals benefit from sustainable agriculture because money stays local," said Mr. Snyder.

"I would rather see five more growers like myself than get five times larger," said Mr. Callahan. "This is a work in progress, and we're still tinkering with the system."

Monday, October 16, 2006

If at first you do succeed, scrap it.

So, is it just me or does GM's fuel cell car strategy seem perversely reminiscent of their highly controversial EV1 (electric vehicle) strategy they launched about a decade-and-a-half ago? As filmmaker Chris Paine chronicled in his documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car", GM distributed then recalled and destroyed their fleet of electric vehicles in the 1990's after receiving rave reviews from the individuals chosen to test drive and evaluate them. Now they're back ready, it appears, to do the same thing with a fleet of fuel-cell cars. The folks at MIT Review aren't so sure this is makes sense. Seems like they may have had it right the first time. It really does make you wonder why the EV1's plug was so unceremoniously pulled despite the fact that it met or exceeded designer's and driver's expectations. (GW)

Assessing GM's Fuel Cell Policy

By Kevin Bullis

The automaker plans to begin rolling out a test fleet of fuel-cell cars, but some experts say it's a mistake.

MIT Technology Review
October 6, 2006

Last month, GM announced plans to distribute 100 fuel-cell-powered vehicles to customers next fall, along with plans to develop home-based hydrogen refueling stations. It's the automaker's latest move in its stated goal to build the world's largest fuel-cell vehicle fleet. The first 100 vehicles will be available for evaluation in California, New York, and Washington, DC.

But, from an environmental and technical standpoint, does it make sense?

Fuel-cell vehicles, which are being developed by other automakers as well, are powered by electricity generated from hydrogen. They emit only water vapor from their tailpipes, and the fuel cells are significantly more efficient than an internal-combustion engine in extracting energy from the fuel.

But GM's focus on creating a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles could be a costly mistake as a strategy for combating global climate change and for decreasing U.S. dependence on oil, many energy experts say. The problem, these critics argue, is that powering electric vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells is both inefficient and expensive.

Hydrogen fuel must be extracted from fossil fuels or water--both energy-consuming processes. Once produced, the gas must be compressed or liquefied for distribution, and this process and the distribution itself take yet more energy. By the time the hydrogen has been delivered to the fuel cell for conversion to electricity, then, a significant amount of energy has been lost to these processes.

"Along the way, you've thrown away nearly three-quarters of the electricity. No one in their right mind would do that--if your alternative is to just string a power line from zero-carbon electricity and charge a battery onboard a car," says Joseph Romm, executive director of the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, and formerly in charge of energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Romm says a more promising alternative to internal-combustion engines are plug-in hybrids, which combine an electric motor powered by batteries with a conventional gasoline- or diesel-powered engine, but rely on the electric motor far more than today's hybrids. Plug-in hybrids, which are being developed by Toyota, with conversion kits for ordinary hybrids already available through several companies, would not eliminate the use of gas, but they would cut down on it significantly. In one type of plug-in hybrid, electricity from the grid can provide enough power for an average commute, at a fraction of the cost of gasoline.

Charging a battery in a plug-in hybrid would be around three to four times more energy efficient than going through the intermediate steps required to make hydrogen fuel from water, using a process called electrolysis, according to Ulf Bossel, organizer of the European Fuel Cell Forum.

But GM argues that such hybrid cars are only an interim solution, not a long-term alternative to the internal-combustion engine. To replace the internal-combustion engine, says Jon Bereisa, director of GM's fuel-cell program, automakers will need to produce all-electric vehicles that feature "no compromises" with gasoline-powered vehicles, if enough people are going to buy them to make a difference. He says that battery packs for delivering the driving range people expect will be too big, complicated, and, most importantly, take too long to recharge to make them appealing. Fuel-cell vehicles, he says, "might not be the most efficient," but they can be refilled in a matter of minutes, and consumers won't have to give up cargo space.

Still, even advocates of fuel cells admit that the technology cannot yet compete with alternatives such as hybrids. "With hybrids, we can go on a smooth technology development path. We've already got hybrids that are in place," says James Sweeney, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford. "We can now move to plug-in hybrids. They're more costly right now, but you add maybe $5,000 to $10,000. You're not adding more than $100,000 to it," as would likely be the case with a fuel-cell vehicle, he says. "The bottom-line economics right now are so much more attractive than the hydrogen economics."

Sweeney thinks that if GM starts ramping up from its initial 100 fuel-cell-vehicle fleet, it will be a "terrible strategy," at least until fuel cells don't depend heavily on expensive precious metals such as platinum as catalysts, as they do now, and better ways of storing hydrogen fuel onboard are found. "If you only have 100 of them, and they're uneconomical, you can subsidize it. If you have a million of them, who's going to subsidize it?" he asks.

Sweeney notes that, in any case, it's likely that neither fuel-cell cars nor plug-in hybrids will mean a clean break from fossil fuels, since the cheapest hydrogen will come from reforming fossil fuels, and the electricity for increasing numbers of plug-in hybrids will likely be provided by cheap coal plants.

Others, such as former DOE official Romm, are even more critical of the fuel-cell option. He says money for research and development of fuel-cell vehicles and their related infrastructure is going to waste and the GM approach is "insane." He adds: "Hydrogen is the last thing you would do, only if everything else has failed."

End of the road for GM's Electric Vehicle (EV1)