27 July 2010

Naming the Nameless

This is exactly what Jamie Oliver found out in the Food Revolution in America - kids would not relate to (eat) a food unless they knew what it was (they knew french fries, but not potatoes!).

Reposted in full from Monbiot.com, 16 July 2010

'The results of our competition to name England’s threatened species are stunning.

It’s the most successful exercise in crowd-sourcing I’ve ever seen. We asked our readers to solve a problem, and they’ve done far more than that: they have created something beautiful.

The problem is this: that it is hard to persuade people to care about something they can’t pronounce. English species are disappearing at the rate of two a year. But many are vanishing unnoticed and unmourned by almost everyone, partly because we have no cultural connection to them. Scientific names, which are given in Latin or ancient Greek, are essential to proper classification, but to most people they are cold, incomprehensible and offputting.

Common names are the point at which nature and culture intersect. They allow us to engage with animals and plants which, especially if they are small and unobstrusive, might otherwise be hard to connect with. As you can see from the roaring success of books like Flora Britannica, the nexus of nature and culture is a source of constant public fascination.

So, in a column in March, I suggested that Natural England should launch a public competition to name the nameless species in danger of extinction(1). It took the suggestion up and, working with the Guardian and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, drew up a list of ten threatened or endangered species with an identity problem.

The idea lit a fire in the public imagination. Though the timetable was very tight, we received over 3000 entries, and the standard was stunning. Judging the competition was very hard, as in every case there were at least half a dozen names that deserved to win. Not only were they practical and distinctive, many of them also captured the magic and mystery of England’s wildlife.

There was a tension between the aesthetic value of some of the entries and the need to choose names that would last: meaning that they were likely to be adopted by specialists in the field. One of the winners, for example, was the scabious cuckoo bee, which, while a good, solid, practical name – it’s a cuckoo bee which feeds from scabious flowers - was less imaginative than some of the alternatives. But the specialists on the panel felt that this one would stick, while, for example, the jester cuckoo bee or the red scrounger would not.

But in other cases we allowed ourselves to be carried away. All of us loved Mab’s lantern, which is now the name of a mysterious beetle with yellow spots like the distant glow of a lantern on its back. I fought for the sea piglet, which is a wildly inaccurate term for a little deepwater shrimp, but captures something about it which feels just right. It resonates with those other marine invertebrates with mammalian names: the sea mouse and the sea hare. No one was in dispute about the skeetle: a compact, whizzy little name which exactly matches the animal it describes.
As for the overall winner, I find I can’t get it out of my head. The beetle lives only at Windsor, eats the grubs of other beetles and has a thorax that looks like a heavy black hood. In just two words, the queen’s executioner captures its nature, appearance and place, and creates an air of malevolence that guarantees this name will stick(2).

The competition has been so successful that we’ve begun, tentatively, to discuss the idea of running it annually, asking people to name another ten species every year. Please tell us what you think.

As for me, there are now ten more British species I care about. I knew and thought little about Usnea florida, Haliclystus auricula or Megapenthus lugens. But the witch’s whiskers lichen, kaleidoscope jellyfish and queen’s executioner: those are worth fighting for.

1. www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/03/15/the-naming-of-things/

2. You can read the full list of winners and runners-up here:

26 July 2010

Selling the Farm

Reposted in full from ABC News, July 2010

'Foreign interests including state-owned companies from China and the Middle East are increasingly looking to Australia to secure their food production by purchasing key agricultural assets.

The sale of agricultural land is exempt under Foreign Investment Review Board regulations and the FIRB’s attention is usually triggered only by the sale of companies whose assets exceed a $231 million threshold.

In recent years, and especially since the global food shortage in 2008, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have all been engaged in massive agricultural purchases around the world and in Australia - as outlined in these maps of Australia and the globe.

New South Wales Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan says Australia risks losing control of its wealth-creating agricultural assets. He believes the Federal Government is not paying sufficient attention to the issue of global food security.

"I would like to put on the agenda... the urgent need to put agricultural land and our water resources on the radar of the Foreign Investment Review board."
- Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan

"This is not about alarming anyone but it is about recognising that countries are taking strategic decisions now," Senator Heffernan said.

Senator Heffernan says the Foreign Investment Review Board does not monitor foreign acquisitions of Australian farming land and Australia is being complacent about the fact that a number of wealthy nations that face future food security concerns are now investing strategically in agricultural property overseas.

China has been particularly active in Africa; Saudi Arabia has acquired large amounts of land in Ethiopia, Sudan and Pakistan to grow wheat; and South Korea is buying up land in South America.

Anuhrada Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank, estimates that as much as 50 million hectares worldwide has been purchased in this way. In some cases, she says, food land is being diverted to grow biofuels.

In a new book, The Coming Famine, by University of California Press and the CSIRO, Australian science writer Julian Cribb raises major concerns about how the world will feed itself.

"Between now and the 2060s, the human population is going to grow to about 11.4 billion people... So basically the world has to find twice as much food as it is producing today."

Cribb believes China will only be able to feed a population of 640 million people in decades to come, however the projections for its population growth stretch beyond 1.6 billion.

All the resources needed to produce that extra food will be in increasingly short supply, including arable land, water, fertilisers and oil.

Cribb says the British Ministry of Defence has identified large regions of the globe that it describes as multiple stress zones, where climate change, population growth and political instability are more likely to contribute to armed conflict over food and water in the future.

During Senate committee hearings into food security issues last month, the general manager of the FIRB’s trade policy division, Patrick Colmer, conceded that under existing investment regulations it would be possible for an overseas company to buy up an entire district, farm by farm, without ever coming to the attention of the FIRB.

Senator Heffernan says there is no monitoring of purchases by the sovereign wealth funds of other countries.

"At the present time there is no differentiation between private investment and sovereign investment," Senator Heffernan said. "We need to put all of this on a register, we need to lower the trigger point for reporting foreign asset sales, and we need as part of our sovereignty to consider [our own] strategic investment in Australia."

One example of a company backed by a sovereign wealth fund buying agricultural land in Australia is the Qatar-based Hassad Foods group, which is backed by the Qatar Investment Authority.

Hassad Foods has invested more than $40 million in Australian properties this year, including Clover Downs in Queensland - a property which is bigger than Qatar itself.

David Farley, chief executive officer of the Australian Agricultural Company, says the Australian public would be surprised if it knew the full extent of foreign purchases of cattle properties in Australia’s top end, and sheep and cattle properties further south.

"Australian agriculture is a very attractive investment to a lot of offshore players at the moment and I think if the sale investments were analysed there would be a lot of surprise about what size properties are being purchased and by who."

Mr Farley says while overseas investment in Australian agriculture is a good thing, Australia needs to be careful that it doesn’t allow monopolies and duopolies to limit its ability to be a substantial and profitable international player in the world food market.

"We need to focus on making sure the investments are productive and are in the national interests of Australia."

At the moment the Chinese state-owned company Bright Foods is in the market for Australian dairy, wine and sugar assets.

Earlier this month it was outbid for CSR’s sugar subsidiary Sucrogen by a Singaporean company, Wilmar International, but it has also expressed interest in purchasing a number of vineyards in south-eastern Australia owned by Foster’s. In the cattle industry, the giant Brazilian conglomerate JBS Swift is rapidly buying up abattoirs and feedlots in Australia’s south-east.

North-western Tasmania represents a microcosm of some the issues being played out globally. Many dairy farmers are trying to bail out, after being comprehensively defeated in a long and bitter dispute over milk prices. Many say they would welcome overseas investors.

"It actually costs us to go to work," said dairy farmer Jim Hersey from Smithton. "We’re currently getting paid 31 cents a litre, and it costs us about 38 cents a litre to produce."

Tasmanian real estate agent Betty Kay has just returned from the World Dairy Expo in the Chinese city of Qingdao, where she found genuine interest in the 25 dairy farms she has on the market. She says some dairy farmers are so hard up they can’t afford to buy toilet paper.

"[Chinese buyers] would come here as investors, they would still get managers for these farms, and there’s certainly farmers who have put their hands up," Ms Kay said.

Tasmanian farmer advocate Richard Bovill says many of the state’s smallholder dairy farmers stand to become either managers or labourers on farms they used to own.

"The model in Australia allows anybody to come in and acquire our assets."
- Farmer advocate Richard Bovill

"These farmers used to have viable, profitable businesses. Now they’re almost back to 200 years ago where they’re serfs working for a big landlord," he said.

In 2005, Mr Bovill led a march of 2000 farmers and 130 tractors to Parliament House in Canberra to draw attention to the plight of Australia’s farmers. He says Australia desperately needs to create a mechanism that will make Australian farming economically sustainable.

One Chinese businessman who sees a bright future for greater Chinese investment in Australia is Mr Cheng Xie, from Fukushoku Dairy Pty Ltd, based at Hay in NSW. The company exports processed milk powder to China.

Mr Cheng says in China, Australian and New Zealand dairy products are viewed as the best in the world.

He says a number of large Chinese dairy companies are seriously interested in investing here, and that Australians should not be concerned.

"This is the 21st century. No-one wants to go to war any more. Everybody just wants a piece of land or whatever to improve their lifestyle. I think we should open the door."

Does Australia need a national food security plan? See part two of this special report tomorrow.'

Defining an Ecocity

Reposted in full from Urban Ecology Australia newsletter, May 2010

'As the consequences of climate change and resource depletion manifest themselves more and more clearly, the way we have built our cities, particularly in the past half-century, has come into question.

First used by Ecocity Builders’ President Richard Register in 1979, the term “ecocity” is fast becoming a buzzword in many cities around the world. In many cases, the legitimacy of such self proclamations has been questionable.

Just how ecologically healthy are these cities or projects? A set of principles, standards, and metrics, as well as models demonstrating ecocity elements is vital in bringing clarity regarding the definition of an “ecocity”.

While many in city planning circles use the term “ecocity”interchangeably with “green” or “sustainable” city, Ecocity Builders uses a definition of “ecocity” conditional upon a healthy relationship of the city’s parts and functions, similar to therelationship of organs in living complex organisms.

We believe “ecocities” need to take healthy organic, ecological and whole systems lessons seriously to be able to reverse the negative impacts of climate change. We are concerned with city design, planning, building, and operations in an integral way and in relation to the surrounding environment and natural resources of the region. We propose that “green” and “sustainable” are vague terms, suggesting merely the increase in vegetation or sustaining unhealthy urban systems and development practices into thefuture.

What’s Unique about Ecocity Standards

Bioregional/Ecological Indicators

We propose that urban systems, cities, have the potential to become not just less damaging but “net contributors” to restoring global biodiversity, productive agriculture, and energy independence.

International Ecocity Standards (IES) will measure net energy and materials input/output, appropriate locations, and impactof external trade and will be selected in a way to address basic principles of ecologically healthy whole systems design.

Emphasis on the Whole sSstem and “End-Point” Indicators

An ecologically healthy city is in many ways analogous to complex living systems, like our human bodies. Ecocities are lean and compact, with their complex parts interacting three dimensionally and in relatively close proximity.

International Ecocity Standards integrate means of judging the functionality of the whole system as well as “end-point” positive measures such as clean air, energy conservation, biodiversity restoration, and agricultural productivity. This emphasis shifts the focus fromjudging the individual building – subject of most design and construction standards to date – to assessing the whole built community while continuing to acknowledge the importance of the building itself.

Access to Minimum Basic Needs

International Ecocity Standards distinguish between amenities and necessities, and incorporate “plain good and solid” indicators of urban health, such as those used by the United Nations’ Human Development Index including poverty rates, food and water security, infant mortality, longevity, and basic literacy.

Social Justice

Programs and policies that promote social justice will be evaluated, such as the distribution of health, wealth and consumption. International Ecocity Standards will deeply reconsider the meanings of “prosperity” to include both human and natural wealth.

Target Users

International Ecocity Standards (IES) would be targeted towards local governments, municipalities, regional agencies in charge of development strategies including transportation, land use, housing, watershed management, agriculture, resource management, and regional development goals.

Additionally, larger governmental bodies and organizations, including the United Nations, and countries developing long-range strategies to address climate change, would be potential customers.

We expect that developers, environmental nonprofits, think tanks, educational institutions and community groups would want to use the IES as a tool for developing and evaluating proposals and seeking approvals for proposals. Community groups and advocacy and watchdog organizations would likely use the IES to weigh in on development proposals and planning/political processes, and help shape them from an advocacy perspective.

Finally, we believe that the IES could be useful to any one person or organization wanting to build awareness and partnerships around complex issues within the nexus of humanity, nature and the built environment.

Collaboration & Synergy vs. Competition

Recent studies in evolutionary biology point out that it is collaboration and synergy rather than competition that provided species with an evolutionary advantage over others.

We see collaboration and synergy as opposed to competition as the course we will pursue in developing the International Ecocity Standards. We will learn and incorporate as many of the principles expressed by other related standards and become synergistic with them where possible. We are inspired and will consider collaboration and synergies with The Living Building Challenge initiative, the Ecological Performance Standards for Cities being developed by HoK and the Biomimicry Guild, The Natural Step methodology for the Sustainable Canadian City Index and the like.

For more information about the IES please contact RichardRegister, President of Ecocity Builders at ecocity@igc.org’

Green Roofs Australia 2010 Conference

Sourced from Green Roofs Australia web site

'Green Roofs Australia Inc. is pleased to invite you to our 4th annual conference to be held at the Adelaide Zoo from the 20 -23 October 2010.

The 3 day conference will offer 2 days of expert papers from both Australian and International speakers, exhibition/trade show, and a day of green roof and wall tours and workshops.

We are very excited to announce our 2 international guest speakers:

Ed Snodgrass, Founder, Emory Knoll Farms & Green Roof Plants, United States

Since its inception, Emory Knoll Farms has supplied plants for over 400 green roof projects throughout the United States and Canada. Ed Snodgrass is the co-author of 'Green Roof Plants: A Resource and Plant Guide' (Timber Press, 2006) and 'The Green Roof Manual: Define, Design, Install, Maintain' (Timber Press 2010). To read more about Ed Snodgrass click here.

Paul Kephart, Executive Director, Rana Creek, Living Architecture, California United States

Renowned biologist, restoration ecologist and expert designer of living architectural systems, sought after for his skill as an innovator and pioneer in the fields of environmental planning and ecological design. To read more about Paul Kephert click here.

Objectives of the Conference

This years conference will be building on the growth and considerable momentum that we have developed over the past 4 years since Green Roofs Australia Inc was established as the peak, not for profit green roof and wall association.

The primary objectives of this years conference are to support the green roof and wall industries in Australia and New Zealand:
  • Focus on driving green roof and wall implementation
  • Supporting different sectors and disciplines to share an appreciation of their benefits and application for our climate
  • Demonstrating the technological and environmental benefits, sharing and disseminating good practice and promoting the implementation of green roofs and walls into our cities'

UK's First City-Wide Reuse & Repair Service

Reposted in full from Warmer Bulletin, 23 July 2010

'Mayor Boris Johnson and actress Joanna Lumley OBE have announced £8m funding from the London Waste and Recycling Board (LWARB) to create the world's largest 'reuse network', helping household items find a new home rather than being chucked away.

The funding will go to the London Community Resource Network (LCRN), a charitable social enterprise who will set up the network to address the 65,000 tonnes of household products are thrown out by Londoners each year, ending up in costly landfill sites and adding both to carbon emissions and council bills, when most of them could be reused or repaired.

The London Reuse Network will be made up of 'clusters' of organisations, including local authorities and charities who will work together to deliver an easy-to-access and consistent reuse service to residents and businesses within their area. It will collect, store, refurbish and sell on everything from furniture, books, carpets and bikes through to cookers and fridges. It aims to divert 17,000 tonnes of reusable products from landfill over the first two years of the project saving over 80,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. It will provide a single 'reuse hotline' and web portal serving the whole of London. By 2015 the network aims to be diverting over a million items from the waste stream every year, training thousands and employing hundreds of people.

The first cluster will be set up by Western Riverside Waste Authority who manage waste from the London Boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Lambeth, Wandsworth, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The Western Riverside Waste Authority will work with LCRN to deliver a reuse network across the four boroughs and will work in partnership with key organisations and community groups. The project includes the creation of a reuse workshop operating as a training centre for the refurbishment of white goods and furniture, training over 40 young people in the first year.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: 'It is a common sense use of our natural resources that we provide ways for people to hand in items they no longer need, but which still have plenty of useful life in them. This funding is really welcome news, helping to create a service for Londoners to do exactly that and help to slash the mountain of waste being sent unnecessarily to landfill and cut the heavy economic costs of doing so.'

James Cleverly, Chair of LWARB added 'Re-using products saves the energy associated with manufacturing new ones, which has an enormous and positive impact on reducing carbon emissions and stops objects and materials from entering the waste stream. This innovative project not only diverts waste from landfill but provides social benefits and perfectly demonstrates partnerships working.''