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Arctic sea ice shrinks to fourth lowest extent on record

Polar region’s sea ice continues long term decline since satellite monitoring began in the 1970s, driven by warming temperatures in atmosphere and ocean

Ice coverage in the Arctic this year shrunk to its fourth lowest extent on record, US scientists have announced.

The National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, said the ice reached a low of 4.41m sq km (1.70m sq miles) on 11 September in what experts said was a clear indicator of climate change.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Global drought: why is no one discussing fresh water at Cop21?

In December, the UN’s conference on climate change gathers in Paris but the issue of fresh water is absent from the agenda. How can policymakers be brought onside?

Around the world, fresh water supplies are drying up: California in the US and São Paulo in Brazil are enduring historic droughts, groundwater sources have been plundered in south Asia, and globally more than 750 million people lack access to safe drinking water. The global fresh water shortage is one of the world’s most pressing challenges, yet the issue is not scheduled to be discussed at Cop21 – the UN’s climate change conference – in Paris this December.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Pope Francis faces challenge persuading US's Catholic leaders on climate change

Campaigners say challenge lies in diverting church leaders from preoccupation with gay marriage in order to take up public cause the pope is seeking to ignite

When the US supreme court legalised same-sex marriage in June, the leader of America’s Catholics erupted in white-hot fury, condemning the historic decision as “a tragic error”.

When a week or so earlier, it fell to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz as leader of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to deliver the official welcome to Pope Francis as he issued his sweeping indictment of the global economic order and its effects on the poor and the environment, the response was several degrees cooler.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Why Soil Is The Key To Feeding The World

It’s no under-estimation to say that food is an essential aspect of human life. The challenge of ensuring that a global population, which is predicted to reach nine billion by 2050, has access to an affordable and nutritious food supply is not a simple one. Food production that provides the right nutrition levels and is economically viable depends upon access to water and the health and richness of soil. Discussions about the ‘health of the earth’ may usually carry spiritual connotations, but there is a growing body of evidence that a significant economic opportunity exists in altering our agricultural and farming paradigms, and gearing them more towards the preservation and restoration of soil.

In their book, Natural Capitalism, Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins suggest that “the superficial success [judged by raw agricultural output] of America’s farms masks other underlying problems”. The key challenge identified by Hawken, Lovins and Lovins was that one third of the original topsoil in the United States has gone and that a subtler soil degradation is impacting the nutrition of what remains, and consequently the quantity and quality of the crops that can grown in it. There are signs that the era where seemingly endless improvements in the size of crop yields may be over.

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: Parker Knight
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: Parker Knight

A combination of petrochemicals, inorganic fertilisers, pesticides and monocropping has created farmland that doesn’t hold nutrients, has become eroded and has high salinity. Dr Elaine Ingham, the president of Soil Foodweb Inc, has pointed out that rainforest habitats typically have immeasurably low nitrate and ammonium levels, no inorganic fertilisers are used, and yet there is a productivity in terms of plant life that is unmatched by any farm. Ingham’s work is focused on the importance of soil in restoring agricultural productivity. She argues that there is a microbiology in the growing of healthy crops and plants that is under-appreciated in farming and gardening and that monocropping and fertilising of land has disrupted the ecosystem balance exist naturally. Moreover, the application of fertilisers is has been found to be highly in effective. A recent study of Europe found that 70% of the fertiliser applied on farms was not taken up by crops [1].

There are some examples of modern farming techniques adjusting to take into account soil health, for example, the utilisation of Internet of Things data technology to irrigate more effectively. However, Ingham’s work suggests that there are also opportunities to do farming differently, in a way that has positive outcomes for both producers and consumers.

Licensed under CC - credit Flickr user: US Department of Agriculture
Licensed under CC – credit Flickr user: US Department of Agriculture

Leontino Balbo Jr is an obvious example of a sugarcane farmer who has pioneered a farming method that he calls “ecosystem revitalising agriculture”. Balbo’s sugarcane farm is most often associated with the idea of organic farming that doesn’t utilise fertiliser. However, its real focus is actually on soil health. Balbo believes that by restoring and revitalising soil, a number of favourable agricultural benefits can be achieved including; greater productivity and resilience to pests, increased biodiversity and a reduction in the resources needed to farm. His two sugar mills in São Francisco and Santo Antonio (Brazil) are a testament to the fact that a different approach can work.

IMG_0760The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s recent report, “Growth within: a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe”, suggests an alternative vision for a “regenerative food system”. In “Growth within”, six levers that could reshape the food system are identified, including the development of new regenerative farming practices and the preservation and restoration of natural capital. It highlights the increase is in organically cultivated land and no-till farming techniques as farmers aim to conserve and protect soil, aim to optimise long-term yields and improve the economics of their business. It emphasises the commercial viability of these project, using the example of the Loess plateau in China, where 1.5 million hectares of degraded land was restored increasing grain output and the availability of water, biodiversity and carbon absorption, all while lifting more than 2.5 million people out of poverty.

The 21st century challenges for agriculture are just beginning to be explored, but there is enough encouragement from current examples and research to conceive of a positive future. At its core, an abundant farming system must focus in some way on preserving and regenerating the nutrition and richness of soil, and natural capital more broadly. In that sense, the work done by the likes of Lovins, Ingham, Balbo Jr., and the vision presented in “Growth within” come together.

The topic of regenerative food systems and agriculture will be explored in detail during the Disruptive Innovation Festival 2015. Hunter Lovins and Leontino Balbo Jr. will be providing headliner talks, while Elaine Ingham will be doing a presentation and there will also be an opportunity to explore the “Growth Within” findings in detail with the project lead Ashima Sukhdev. Register to be a part of the DIF at


[1] Statistic taken from chapter 3 of “Growth within: a circular economy vision for a competitive Europe

The post Why Soil Is The Key To Feeding The World appeared first on Circulate.

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Liberal senator Ian Macdonald says children 'brainwashed' on climate change

Of course the climate changes, politician says, but idea that humanity is contributing to it is ‘farcical and fanciful’

The Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has said children are being “brainwashed” by education campaigns urging Australians to take action on climate change, describing the political debate about how to tackle it as “puerile”.

“The children of Australia have been brainwashed into thinking if you turn off a light in Australia, somehow that is going to stop climate change,” the Queensland senator told parliament on Wednesday.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Hitler’s world may not be so far away | Timothy Snyder

Misunderstanding the Holocaust has made us too certain we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1940s. Faced with a new catastrophe – such as devastating climate change – could we become mass killers again?

It was 20 years after I chose to become a historian that I first saw a photograph of the woman who made my career possible. In the small photograph that my doctoral supervisor, her son, showed me in his Warsaw apartment, Wanda J radiates self-possession, a quality that stood her in good stead during the Nazi occupation. She was a Jewish mother who protected herself and her two sons from the German campaign of mass murder that killed almost all of her fellow Warsaw Jews. When her family was summoned to the ghetto, she refused to go. She moved her children from place to place, relying upon the help of friends, acquaintances and strangers. When first the ghetto and then the rest of the city of Warsaw were burned to the ground, what counted, she thought, was the “faultless moral instinct” of the people who chose to help Jews.

Most of us would like to think that we possess a “moral instinct”. Perhaps we imagine that we would be rescuers in some future catastrophe. Yet if states were destroyed, local institutions corrupted and economic incentives directed towards murder, few of us would behave well. There is little reason to think that we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s, or for that matter less vulnerable to the kind of ideas that Hitler so successfully promulgated and realised. A historian must be grateful to Wanda J for her courage and for the trace of herself that she left behind. But a historian must also consider why rescuers were so few. It is all too easy to fantasise that we, too, would have aided Wanda J. Separated from National Socialism by time and luck, we can dismiss Nazi ideas without contemplating how they functioned. It is our very forgetfulness of the circumstances of the Holocaust that convinces us that we are different from Nazis and shrouds the ways that we are the same. We share Hitler’s planet and some of his preoccupations; we have perhaps changed less than we think.

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Source: Guardian Environment

London's Santander bikes get high-tech laser lights amid arms race to be seen

Great as it is to see Blaze’s Laserlights trialled for some of the hire bikes, proper infrastructure would be even better

Among the attractions of London’s city-wide bike hire scheme, like those elsewhere, is its fundamental sameness: use one of the machines and, once you’ve checked for a wobbly saddle or rubbing wheel, you know it will look and ride more or less exactly like its 11,000-plus fellows.

Until now. The bike scheme, now sponsored by Santander and so newly red rather than blue, has just announced it is fitting 250 of its bikes with a posh gizmo called the Blaze Laserlight.

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Source: Guardian Environment

UK drops out of top 10 renewable energy ranking for first time

EY report says Conservative government has sentenced renewable energy sector to death by a thousand cuts and left investors puzzled at policy changes

The UK has dropped out of the top ten of a respected international league table on renewable energy for the first time since it began 12 years ago.

In its quarterly report published on Wednesday, EY said the new Conservative government had sentenced the renewable energy industry to “death by a thousand cuts” and investor confidence in the sector had collapsed because of policy changes over the summer.

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Source: Guardian Environment

Revealed: how Indigenous Australian storytelling accurately records sea level rises 7000 years ago

Distinctive ‘cross-checking’ tradition helps explain extraordinary accuracy in 21 stories about dramatic sea level rises between 7000 and 18,000 years ago

Indigenous stories of dramatic sea level rises across Australia date back more than 7000 years in a continuous oral tradition without parallel anywhere in the world, according to new research.

Related: Scientists predict huge sea level rise even if we limit climate change

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Source: Guardian Environment