Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The struggle for the solar future subject of program Saturday afternoon at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street.

Please click on image to ENLARGE view of poster.

Solar Power Struggle
Professor Richard Hutchinson of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston will speak on "The Struggle for the Solar Future" at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 2, at Nightbird Books on Dickson Street in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
An inquiry into environmental change and the obstacles and opportunities in the path of the renewable energy transition.
Sponsored by OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology.

Fran Alexander says DUH to ADEQ's weak-kneed response to polluters

ADEQ Study: Drilling Fluid Disposal Done Improperly by Many
By Arkansas Business Staff - 4/20/2009 4:21:00 PM

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Monday announced that a recent study it conducted determined that fluids used in natural gas drilling have been "improperly applied by landfarms operating in the state, thus endangering the environment."

Drilling fluids are used in the fracturing process that breaks apart shale, allowing trapped natural gas to seep out. The practice is used in the Fayetteville Shale Play in north-central Arkansas.

Of 11 sites studied, all had improperly discharged the fluids, according to a department release. The department has taken actions against the 11 sites and has sought to revoke permits for two sites. The discharges resulted in improper runoff and chloride concentrations in soil that were abnormally high. The department began the study in November, after halting consideration for new landfarm permits.

"With the increase in the number of landfarms and applications for landfarms due to expanded drilling activity in the state, concerns about the resulting environmental impact warranted a closer look at these operations," Marks said.

The study supports new enforcement standards, including that routine soil and water sampling be conducted in front of an ADEQ inspector and fencing be erected around all on-site ponds.

Scientists in the department's environmental preservation and water divisions prepared the report and visited the 11 landfarms between November and January.

During several visits, inspectors discovered chloride concentrations downstream and other contaminants in higher concentration downstream than were present upstream. Four facilities also had chloride levels in fluids above the acceptable limit - 3,000 milligrams per liter.

Copyright © 2009, Arkansas Business Limited Partnership. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Earth Day Every Day, says Fran Alexander

CROSS CURRENTS : Earth Day every day
Fran Alexander frana@nwarktimes.com
Posted on Monday, April 20, 2009
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/nwat/Editorial/75828/
"We are like butterflies that flutter for a day and think it's forever." - Carl Sagan There are as many ways to acknowledge or celebrate Earth Day as there are people on the planet, so I hope everyone will commit to at least one activity or one action or one thought to this big ball on which we're whirling through space and consider your personal impact upon it. There are usually a variety of organized events to choose from on both sides of April 22, so hopefully sometime this week you'll give the old globe a personal nod of recognition. Fleas should not ignore the health of the dog, after all.

There is no subject, creation, object or idea we humans have ever come up with that does not in some way relate back to the Earth, yet we tend to behave as if people are somehow separate, like we can stop and get off when things get bad. Earth Day is a time to think hard about finding our personal niche in untangling some of the messes we all find ourselves in environmentally, both locally and globally.

A good place to start fixing problems is in learning a thing or two about the Earth's reaction to us. As part of their ongoing commitment to study, the League of Women Voters (which is having their state convention in Fayetteville on Saturday, April 25) is inviting the community to the Fayetteville Public Library's Walker Room for a couple free presentations on environmental issues by top-notch speakers.

A program from 10 until 11:30 a.m. will be given by Dr. Marty Matlock, who is with the university's Center for Agriculture and Rural Sustainability Ecological Engineering Group. He also works in ecosystem restoration projects and serves as an advisor for five national organizations as well as providing technical support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service in the Mid-East Peace Process.

Matlock's talk, titled "The Ethics of Sustainability," connects the dots as he weaves us with others across the globe in our competition for "ecological services." Those services range from provisions like food, water, fiber and fuel to what constitutes feelings of "well-being" for living things such as security, adequate resources and shelter, health, and good social conditions. These fundamentals really have to be in place before we as individuals or as nations can achieve freedoms of choice and action.

In a time when "sustainability" is on everyone's lips in discussing the economy, jobs, investments, quality of life and every other thing imaginable, it is important we learn exactly what we are talking about and the cost and ethics in sustaining varying levels of existence. Matlock is a very energetic speaker, who can convey concepts and information very clearly, and I can highly recommend his programs.

Later that day from 2 until 3:15 p.m., there will be a phone connection with and video program of Dr. Theo Colborn, founder of the Endocrine Disrupter Exchange (TEDX), "the only organization that focuses primarily on the human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to chemicals that interfere with development and function."

Right off you may say to yourself, as I did, "Well that's over my head for sure!" But think again. We all learned about the endocrine system in school, that group of little organs in our bodies (pituitary, thyroid, thymus, adrenal, pancreas, pineal, ovaries, testes) that pretty well control everything the brain doesn't bother with directly. These regulate vital functions like "body growth, response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and the ability to reproduce."

SEX! Do I have your attention now?

And what does this have to do with Earth Day? Well, quite a lot actually. Dr. Colborn and others are studying the effects on humans of industrially produced chemicals in the environment. One of their major studies is on gas drilling's chemical contamination of land, water and air. Natural gas extraction is expanding rapidly, and the Fayetteville Shale gas fields in central Arkansas are no exception in experiencing the same problems felt all over the country, yet we are hearing very little about what is actually going on environmentally. Frankly, there is a lot of head-in-the-sand denial about the impact of the poisoned water and toxins that are regurgitated out of these wells, and our governor and state Legislature are so smitten with the millions in taxes from gas production that they are "doe-in-the-headlights" blind and deaf to the consequences. There was not even a percentage of money set aside for fixing major environmental problems, if they even are fixable, especially before they harm or destroy lives.

As I have written before regarding oil and gas production, even as unbelievable as it is to the public, "all meaningful environmental oversight and regulation of ... natural gas production was removed by the executive branch and Congress in the 1995 Federal Energy Appropriations Bill. Without restraints from the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, [etc.], the gas industry is steamrolling over vast land segments." This quote is from Dr. Colburn's TEDX Web site on chemicals (http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/home.php).

Our state Legislature has just in this session allowed only people with industry connections to serve on the Oil and Gas Commission and also sustained these private industries' power of eminent domain to extract and transport resources. We need to clearly understand what these powers mean in light of our health and rights now and in the future, and what helplessness they impose on the citizenry to protect itself.

Earth Day is about now and about every day to come. And, as Dr. Matlock says, "Everything is connected, everything is changing, and we're all in this together." I hope you will connect too in looking for solutions.

Fran Alexander is a local resident and an active environmentalist.

Copyright © 2001-2009 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact: webmaster@nwanews.com

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Brown thrashers among the many species to be seen on World Peace Wetland Prairie during Sunday's Earth Day celebration

Please click on image to Enlarge view of one of the many species of birds feeding and picking nesting sites on World Peace Wetland Prairie on April 17, 2009. The elusive brown thrasher is often able to slip into the thickets before a camera can capture its image. But the attraction of scattered brush piles and the excitement of mating season can make them a bit careless.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lust for agricultural land growing worldwide

Not a day goes by without new acreage being signed over. "For Sale" ads for agricultural property are now featured in the international financial press. And there's no dearth of clients. "At the end of 2008," Jean-Yves Carfantan, author of "Choc alimentaire mondial, ce qui nous attend demain" ["Global Food Shock: What's in Store for Us Tomorrow"] (Albin Michel, 2009), observes, "five countries stood out for the extent of their foreign arable land acquisitions: China, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Together, they control over 7.6 million cultivable hectares outside their national territory, or the equivalent of 5.6 times the utilizable agricultural surface of Belgium." The phenomenon of land grabs is certainly not new, as it goes back to the first colonizations. However, in the opinion of many observers, economists and NGOs, it is now accelerating.

The explosion of agricultural commodity prices in 2007 and 2008, following the example of the same phenomenon in the 1970's, made many investors decide to turn to land. The fall in prices has not made them run away. As GRAIN - an international NGO which seeks to promote agricultural biodiversity - notes in a report published in October 2008 and entitled, "Seized: The 2008 landgrab for food and financial security," given the present financial debacle, all kinds of actors from the financial and agribusiness sectors - pension funds, hedge funds, etc. - have abandoned derivative markets and consider that agricultural land has become a new strategic asset."

They are not alone. Many countries have made the same analysis, not to find sources of surplus value, but for reasons of food security. "The objective is clearly to parry the consequences of stagnation in their domestic production, induced by unrestrained urbanization and the reduction of water resources," Mr. Carfantan explains. Arable land is becoming ever more rare in the Middle East, for example. So, the petro-monarchies have been investing the last three years in the creation of extraterritorial annexes. Qatar controls lands in Indonesia; Bahrain in the Philippines; Kuwait in Burma, etc.

"Agricultural Outsourcing"

It's not at all surprising that the Chinese government should, for its part, make a policy of agricultural land acquisition abroad one of its priorities: the country represents 40 percent of the global active agricultural population, but possesses only nine percent of Earth's arable land, Mr. Carfantan remarks. As for Japan and South Korea, they already import 60 percent of their food from abroad.

The canvassing of Southern countries' political officials is intensifying. At the end of 2008, Moammar Kaddafi, Libya's head of state, came to the Ukraine to propose an exchange of oil and gas for (local) fertile land. The business is about to be concluded. Thursday, April 16, a Jordanian delegation will go to Sudan to strengthen its agricultural presence there somewhat - a presence initiated already ten years ago. But the movement also concerns Europe. According to the weekly, La France agricole [Agricultural France], 15 percent of the total surface of Romania - or over 15 million hectares - is in the hands of owners from other European countries.

This strategy of "agricultural outsourcing" is not without consequences. What about local populations directly threatened by this commoditization of the land they live from? Today, the planet contains 2.8 billion farmers (out of a population of 6.7 billion people) and three-quarters of those who are hungry live in the countryside. Land registries are often nonexistent. How are and how will those who till and live from the land be indemnified if they have no property titles?

"Producers' organizations are alerting us more all the time about the question of land concentration and about conflicts between small peasants and agribusiness that cultivates for export," explains Benjamin Peyrot des Gachons, from the NGO, Peuples solidaires, which has chosen to organize an international forum on land access (in Montreuil, April 18 and 19) to celebrate the World Day for Peasant Struggle April 17. Farmers from India, Ecuador, Brazil, Burkina Faso and the Philippines will come to bear witness.

The NGO militates for the development of usage rights - with land remaining in the government's hands - not for property rights, which the World Bank favors. Although the attribution of property titles may allow the coexistence of family agriculture and the presence of foreign investors to occur, Peuples solidaires "deems that peasants will not have the means to acquire land." And even if land is attributed to them, "they will rapidly be forced to sell it, should they get in trouble." According to the NGO, property rights will consequently benefit big operators, whether foreign or not.

Another problem provoked by this race for arable land: cohabitation between investing countries and the local population. "Look at what happened in Madagascar after the announcement of the rental of 1.3 million hectares to the South Korean Daewoo Group," resumes Mr. Carfantan. "It was an explosion. I believe tensions will be inevitable wherever this occurs, making foreign agricultural enclaves veritable besieged fortresses." Unless, he argues, harvest sharing and technology transfers are organized so that all may bank on the long term.

A Million Chinese Peasants in Africa by 2010

In 2006, Beijing signed agricultural cooperation agreements with several African countries that allowed the installation of 14 experimental farms in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Tanzania. "We believe that between now and 2010, a million Chinese peasants could be installed on these lands," explains economist and agricultural consultant to Brazil, Jean-Yves Carfantan. Candidates for expatriation are found among the peasants affected by the present crisis.

The Official Objective: to help the receiving countries increase their production, thanks to Chinese technologies: "The hybrid rice varieties created by Beijing allow improvements in yield of 60 percent compared to the global average," Mr. Carfantan notes. However, also according to him, it's clear that a good part of the harvests will be exported to China, in order to guarantee that market's long-term supplies.


This article is the first of a series on the rush for arable land, which has led Le Monde to investigate in Mali, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.

Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Earth Day celebration on April 19, 2009, at World Peace Wetland Prairie

Please click on image to ENLARGE to read details of the poster.

Bird-watchers welcome every day from dawn to dusk!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Reagan family farm north of Arkansas 16 exemplifies the kind of land that must be protected in the cities of Northwest Arkansas to save Beaver Lake

Please click on image to ENLARGE view of Bill Reagan pointing to the line of trees along the fence on the south edge of his family farm along the north edge of East Fifteenth Street.

The Reagan family has owned the land for many years and Bill said that he has bought it from his mother and will keep it in the family. The farm is prairie that has been used for cattle grazing and other agriculture over the decades. It is an example of a heritage farm of the sort identified in the Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association's Green Infrastructure plan. Its rich soil captures water where falls and does not cause flooding downstream with its limited stormwater runoff entering the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River without causing siltation or pollution. See Google map with view of Fifteenth Street area in a preceding post on this subject.
Democrat-Gazette on widening of Arkansas 16

View Larger Map
Please use controls and cursor to move the image, zoom in or out and trace the whole route discussed at the meeting yesterday. The Reagan property is near the middle left part of the image above.
If you use your cursor to travel north of the open Reagan property between Washington Avenue and Wood Avenue from 11th Street up to near 9th Street you can see the 7 wooded wetland acres that the Partners for Better housing board is trying to buy to dredge and fill for a low-income housing development. Water drains from north of Jefferson School, all the way from north of MLK Boulevard (former 6th St.) down to 15th St. and into the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River and is slowed and purified by the moist-soil area where the tiny branch overflows.
This portion of the Beaver Lake watershed is under extreme threat. Thanks to the Reagan family and others for keeping a bit of green infrastructure intact and allowing a small part of the rainwater to stay it falls.