Short ecological news stories

Austria: The Leader in Organic Farming

With more than 20,000 organic farms, cultivating approximately 800,000 acres of land, Austria is the world leader in this fast-growing and future-oriented sector of agriculture. It has more organic farmers than the other 14 EU members put together. Organic farms now amount to 8 percent of all farms in Austria. In the western provinces of Salzburg and Tyrol organic farms already hold a share of 30 percent.

The market for organic, healthier food is expanding rapidly and provides a powerful incentive to farmers. Since 1990, the number of organic farms has increased tenfold and the trend is accelerating.

Organic farmers work with the natural eco-systems of their respective regions; most of them belong to eleven producers’ associations for different products, ranging from vegetables and fruit to grain and meat. Their production guidelines are often stricter than the already tough Austrian laws.

Organic farmers refrain from using chemicals and mineral fertilizer. Genetically altered seeds may not be used. Animals have to be kept according to their natural habitat; for example, cattle must be allowed to graze on at least 200 days of the year.

There is a special control label for organic products which may only be used if a farm passed a thorough examination. So-called "farm stores," where various products of different farms are being sold, are apparently the wave of the future in rural areas where "mom-and-pop" stores are rapidly disappearing.

Organic farms enhance the unspoiled scenic countryside and pass on natural resources such as soil and water to future generations.

(source: Austrian Information Service)

Gypsy High School Opens in Czech Republic

A unique high school aimed at educating Czech Gypsies to become social workers opened recently in central Bohemia.

The privately funded boarding school for 45 students in Kolin, 65 km east of Prague, is the only one of its kind in Europe, said Jan Kejklicek, head of a regional schooling committee.

Graduates are expected to take local government jobs helping fellow Gypsies, also known as Roma, in their dealings with authorities.

The director of the Roma Civic Initiative, Emil Scuka, complained that officials say Roma should be integrated through education but the state never provides enough funds.

The school building was paid for by U.S. financier George Soros and furnished by the Canadian and British embassies here.

Roma in the Czech Republic often suffer discrimination and even violent attacks.

(source: Nando Times News)

Hot Pepper Fights Pests

Hot red pepper from your kitchen spice rack can be a quick, effective, environmentally friendly way to keep your cabbages and other vegetables pest free.

Entomologist Geoff Zehnder of Auburn University in Alabama, USA, says it can serve as well or better than standard chemical insecticides.

Dr. Zehnder sprayed cabbages weekly with four organic substances: red pepper, Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt), garlic juice and azadirachtin (a neem extract). He also used a standard synthetic chemical insecticide.

Two years of testing showed that the red pepper, Bt and garlic "surprisingly... resulted in equivalent or lower insect feeding damage than the chemical standard treatment." The neem extract was not consistently effective.

Scientific research had already supported the effectiveness of Bt and garlic sprays in limiting the damage of various insects. Dr. Zehnder’s experiments, though, seem to be the first good research to confirm organic gardeners’ reports that hot pepper is equally effective.

Dr. Zehnder made the spray simply by mixing about 2 tablespoons of red pepper (from the spice section of a grocery) and 6 drops of dishwashing detergent into a gallon (about 4 liters) of water, letting it sit overnight, then stirring it thoroughly to dissolve as much of the pepper as possible. He believes that weekly spraying with this solution can protect all brassica crops: cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and collards.

(source: Consumer Currents)

Women and
Renewable Energy

Studies by Women’s Action for Development (WAFC), India, and by All India Women’s Conference (AIWC) show that rural women and children involved in collecting and transporting firewood are facing increasing problems.

Rural women usually start their day at 4:00 am in the summers and 5:00 in winter. All day they are either cooking, caring for the domestic animals or children, involved in farming or collecting firewood.

WAFD notes that systems such as biogas, smokeless chulla and pressure cookers can greatly reduce women’s drudgery. They are calling for educational programs to help introduce affordable devices for energy conservation.

AIWC notes that rural women in India are key contributors to, entrepreneurs in and beneficiaries of sustainable development. They lack, though, visibility and empowerment in these roles.

For more information, contact: AIWC, Sarojini House, 6 Bhagwan Dass Road, New Delhi 110001, India. E-mail: <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

(source: Sustainable Energy News)

Environmental Justice
in Louisiana

Alongside the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana, a predominantly African-American community, Convent (population 2,052), is struggling with the giant Japanese chemical corporation, Shintech. In 1996, Shintech announced plans to spend $700 million building 3 chemical factories and an incinerator in Convent, but the local people are just saying No. Each year, this plant would produce 500,000 kg of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), emitting 278,000 kg of toxic air contaminants. That’s almost 140 kg of industrial poisons for each person in Convent. The residents see this as a continuation of years of race, class and environmental injustice, with disadvantaged people being dumped on by the chemical industry.

Under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, residents of Convent filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), charging their civil rights were violated by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s (LDEQ) decision to issue air permits to Shintech. Living with over 7 million kg of toxic air releases every year from surrounding industries, Convent residents make a very strong case that the state is guilty of environmental racism.

According to EPA’s investigation, Shintech would expose the African-American population in St. James Parish (the district which includes Convent) to up to 242% more airborne industrial poisons than the white population. For more than two years, Convent residents have been steadfast in their opposition to Shintech. Some oppose Shintech because they want a healthy future for their children. Others base their opposition on the environmental degradation that has already occurred because of massive industrial development.

Residents are united against Shintech across racial lines.

Lawyers describe this case as a Brown vs. Board of Education for the environmental justice movement. (This 1954 case ended the official policy of apartheid in U.S. schools.) The ultimate decision by EPA will answer the $700 million question: can environmental regulators say "no" to Shintech in defence of an African-American community already enduring significant levels of industrial poisons in the air?

Louisiana authorities and corporations have launched vicious attacks against Convent residents and their supporters. Governor Mike Foster maligned the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic for providing legal assistance to Convent residents and threatened to revoke Tulane University’s tax exempt status. He also threatened to revoke the non-profit tax status of organizations that opposed Shintech at public hearings (such as Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference). As the governor explained to a New Orleans newspaper, the LDEQ’s job is "to make it as easy as they can within the law" for Shintech to get their permits.

Shintech Vice President Erv Shroeder says, "(Our) siting decision has been based upon assessment of basic economic factors such as access to deep water and to rail transportation. At no point did Shintech consider the racial or (economic) composition of the surrounding residents." That is exactly the point. The people of Convent, like many other communities that face the same kind of malign neglect, are tired of being treated as invisible by transnational corporations that are blind to everything except the local resources they can exploit. They say, "Enough is Enough!"

(source: Charlie Cray and Monique Harden for Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly)

Cook Outlines Amnesty Role in Foreign Office’s ‘Ethical Dimension’

British ambassadors are to be routinely briefed by Amnesty International before being posted to countries with records of human rights abuses.

The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, announced that he has ordered embassies to devote more resources towards stopping torture and has also authorized the secondment of two experts from Amnesty and Save the Children to the Foreign Office’s human rights department. Officials from the F.O. will also be posted to the charity sector.

Fleshing out his commitment to an ‘ethical dimension’ in foreign policy, Mr. Cook will announce programmes targeting torture, and will commission a handbook for use by human rights groups and victim support organizations.

British embassies abroad will be instructed to urge host countries to sign up to the UN Convention against Torture, to report regularly on torture, and to raise individual cases with governments.

The measures—to be announced in a speech to Amnesty International’s Human Rights Festival in London—are part of what the Government describes as ‘mainstreaming’ human rights issues into British diplomacy, in contrast to their more marginal treatment in the past.

Mr. Cook insists today that work for human rights ‘is not just an idle wish, a little morality tacked on to the end of our foreign policy’ but has made a practical difference. Last year he announced a £5 million human rights project using money diverted from military training.

‘We will make sure that Britain speaks clearly and acts effectively against torture and on behalf of its victims, wherever they are.’

(Source: World Futures Studies Federation)

Sea Turtles Need You

For 150 million years, sea turtles have swum the oceans of our planet. They witnessed the coming and going of the dinosaurs, thriving through the ages on a varied diet of jellyfish, sponges, algae, sea grasses and crustaceans. Seven species of sea turtle still navigate the oceans, traveling thousands of miles between their nesting and feeding habitats. All seven species are now endangered, threatened or vulnerable. Only one in 1,000 turtle hatchlings survives to reproduce.

One of the greatest threats to sea turtle survival is beachfront development, which is converting quiet, isolated turtle nesting beaches into tourist and industrial zones.

Now Mexico’s three most important nesting beaches for loggerhead and green sea turtles are slated for tourist development. In spite of federal laws, the state government of Quintana Roo sold the beaches to hotel developers. Construction is advanced at two of the three sites. The remaining beach, X’cacel (ish-ka-SEL), is a key to survival for loggerheads and green turtles.

Turtles that nest at X’cacel carry more than 20 percent of the genetic diversity of their species in the Atlantic. Biologist Brian Bowen of the University of Florida describes genetic diversity as the "insurance" that allows species to survive climate changes, pollution and other environmental challenges.

Bowen considers the potential destruction of X’cacel "one of the most urgent conservation crises in the world for sea turtles."

To avoid a public outcry, the governor has prohibited construction at X’cacel within 100 meters of the sea. Bowen says this measure is a "band-aid." "Protecting a narrow strip of the beach is just not going to do it."

Research shows that bright lights and human activity on the beach discourage nesting females. Whole nests of up to 200 eggs can be destroyed by fungus if just one egg is pierced by a beach umbrella. Hatchlings, born at night, are attracted to bright lights and head for the hotels instead of the surf; when the sun comes up they dehydrate and die.

In addition to the endangered sea turtles, X’cacel is home to more than 30 other protected species, including boa constrictors, marsh crocodiles, manatees, margays, jaguarundis and mangroves. To protect all these species, more than ten Mexican environmental organizations, led by the Mayab Ecology Group and Greenpeace-Mexico, ask sympathizers to join them in demanding complete and permanent protection for the 311-hectare X’cacel beach.

For information on how you can help, including writing letters, please contact:

Global Response - Environmental Action & Education Network
P.O. Box 7490, Boulder, CO 80306
Tel.: +1-303-4440306
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">globresponse
Web page: http://www.globalresponse. org/gra/current.html

(source Global Response Action)

This article was published in New Renaissance magazine Vol. 8, No. 3