Climate change


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The Guna won their land from the Panamanian government after a revolution in 1925 and have been managing it communally ever since. Here Marcos Ramirez (center) directs members of the Yarsuisuit Collective as they weed a plot that they cultivate in the forest. Photo by Bear Guerra.

Like many of the world’s indigenous groups, Panama’s Guna people are facing formidable challenges: the impacts of climate change, encroaching outside influences, and a younger generation that’s drifting away from its roots.

Yet their situation is not nearly as dire as it might be. One reason is their communal system of forest management, which is emerging as a model of conservation and the sustainable use of resources.

Homelands’ Bear Guerra and Ruxandra Guidi spent time with the Guna this summer and teamed up on a photo essay and article for the environmental magazine Ensia.

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What was the most important invention in human history? The printing press? Antibiotics? Nope, says Alan Weisman in this talk from TEDxSitka. And he has a couple of simple ideas for how to undo its damage.

Every day, you have a close personal encounter with methane, a key ingredient of something we don’t usually mention in polite company: farts…. Unfortunately, neither propriety nor intestinal discipline can suppress its unpleasantness lately, because now not just us, but the Earth itself is farting.

Newly discovered methane-spewing craters in Siberia are one more sign of a planet in trouble, writes Homelands’ Alan Weisman in an opinion piece on CNN.com.

Kuna Yala from the air

The Kuna Yala region is home to Panama’s healthiest forests. Photo by Bear Guerra.

Ruxandra Guidi and Bear Guerra recently returned from a two-week visit to the indigenous communities of Kuna Yala, on Panama’s Caribbean coast. They were exploring the Kuna people’s relationship to their mainland forest, which is among the best preserved in the region.

Their trip was supported by a Mongabay Special Reporting Initiative fellowship on the role of community forest management in efforts to limit climate change.

recent report by the World Resources Institute looked at deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s most heavily forested countries. The researchers found that land held by local and indigenous communities tends to be significantly less affected by deforestation–and to produce far fewer emissions–than land managed by governments or private entities.

Rux and Bear will publish their print, radio, and multimedia stories this fall.

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Judges noted Eaton’s “crisp and clear writing and place-setting ambient sound.”

Sam Eaton, a freelance radio and video producer who contributed 10 of the features in the “Food for 9 Billion” project, has won the Society of Environmental Journalistsaward for Environmental Beat Reporting in a large market.

The stories cited by the SEJ deal with the Fukushima disaster and the global threats of climate change. All were broadcast on PRI’s The World and were edited by Peter Thomson. Peter also edited the “What’s for Lunch” series of “Food for 9 Billion.”

Kudos to both!

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Mealworms are nutritionally similar to beef, but are much more efficient at converting feed into protein. Photo by Jon Miller/Homelands Productions.

In the final story in the “Food for 9 Billion” project, Jon Miller races around the Netherlands hunting for climate-friendly alternatives to meat. The piece airs today on PRI’s The World.

“Food for 9 Billion” was a collaboration among Homelands Productions, The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), Marketplace from APM, The World and PBS NewsHour. We are deeply grateful for the chance to work with such fine partners.

Since the project launched in November 2011, we produced 14 radio stories for Marketplace, 14 radio stories for The World and 12 television stories for the NewsHour.

In addition to producing the television features, our friends at CIR created an animated video called “The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers,” which has been viewed more than 184,000 times. 

We also produced two interactive web features (a World Food Map and World Food Timeline); thanks to Darcy Branchini and Stefan Einarson at the International Programs section of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, as well as to Chris Barrett at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, also at Cornell, for their help on those.

And of course all the partners blogged and tweeted as we went.

The project isn’t actually 100 percent finished. We’re still working on educational materials for high school students, and CIR plans to produce a long-form television feature about the food relationship between the US and China. We’ll keep you posted on those. We’ll also keep the Twitter account alive, at least for a while.

Before we go, we want to recognize a wonderful team of freelance journalists who worked as reporters, producers and editors: Charlotte Buchen, Sam Eaton, Cassandra Herrman, Beth Hoffman, Jori Lewis, Joshua McNichols, Fred de Sam Lazaro, Sandy Tolan, Bianca Vazquez Toness, Cecilia Vaisman and Gretchen Wilson (in alphabetical order).

And thanks to editors Ben Adair and George Judson at Marketplace, Linda Winslow at PBS NewsHour and Peter Thomson at The World. Sharon Tiller was the executive producer at CIR. Homelands’ Jon Miller was the overall executive producer.

To all you loyal readers, listeners and viewers: Thank you! And please do keep in touch.

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In India, many farmers are returning to their traditional rice varieties, which often perform better than modern strains in salty soils. Meanwhile, scientists are working to incorporate salt tolerance into high-yielding varieties as stronger storms and rising seas increase the salinity of coastal fields. Photo by Sam Eaton.

One of the goals of the “Food for 9 Billion” project has been to show that keeping our growing number of selves fed (sustainably, equitably, healthily) is more than just a technical challenge.

That’s because food intersects with just about everything we humans do. It is social and cultural and political and economic. It’s about health and justice and demographics and taste. It ties us to our land and water and climate, and to the gazillions of other beings who share our planet.

And so we’ve produced stories about a wide range of non-technical topics, from land grabbing and trade policies to overconsumption and waste.

But the technical stuff matters, too. Certainly for better-off producers and consumers, for whom small changes can have enormous consequences. But especially, I think, for small-scale, low-income farmers in developing countries, where demand is growing the fastest, productivity is growing the slowest, undernourishment is the highest, and the strains on resources are most severely felt.

So we’ve done several pieces about technology, both high and low – agroecology, biodiversity conservation, reforestation, vertical farming, aquaponics, aquaculture, plant breeding, water harvesting, seed saving, GMOs and more.

Often, after these stories air, listeners or viewers write to tell us that we’re missing the point, that the real problem is ___________. The blank may be any number of things – population growth, poverty, lack of access to markets or land or credit or political power. No technology will help until we deal with that.

In a recent blog post in Grist, Tom Laskawy reports on efforts to get geeky tech types to turn their attention to improving the food system, then warns that it’s folly to expect technology to ensure “that adequate food is produced in a sustainable way for a growing population.” The piece carries the headline “When it comes to food, technology won’t save us.” 

Fine. But no single thing will, and it would be a shame for people to stop innovating because their particular insight or gadget or method isn’t going to save the world on its own.

I think the agroecologists have it right – the world is complex. Everything interacts with everything else. Conditions differ in important ways from place to place, and they change over time. No single technology will work everywhere. Scratch that: no single technology will work anywhere.

That’s not to say that “all of the above” is the best way forward – some technologies, like some policies or ideas, are inappropriate or dangerous or counterproductive. But it’s unlikely that “none of the above” is the answer, either.

And so we’re left with “lots of the above.” Better laws, better seeds, better education, better growing methods, better financial services, better roads, better data, better trade policies, better safety nets.

I never give a journalist grief for a headline (I rarely get to write mine), but maybe a better title for Laskawy’s piece (and, for that matter, for “Food for 9 Billion”) would be “When it comes to food, ________ won’t save us.”

But maybe many things will.

 Jon

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