On the Environment
It was my first time attending the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This 19th COP was held in Warsaw this year from November 11 to 23. As a Yup’ik Eskimo from Alaska whose family has seen the impacts of climate change firsthand, it was an honor to attend this international convention on behalf of Yale University. I learned about the process of international negotiations, and heard what the world leaders who populate the COP are planning to do to address climate change.
The outcome of the COP will affect my family and my future personally. In my home state of Alaska, my village of Dillingham is one of nearly two hundred Alaskan Native villages at risk of coastal erosion from lower sea-ice levels and rising seas. My family’s salmon fish camp has lost a warehouse to erosion already. We’ve seen invasive species invading our forests and infecting our salmon because warmer temperatures are allowing them to survive in Alaska. People have fallen through the abnormally thin ice on the rivers, lakes and oceans we use for transportation during the winter, because the ice has not been thick enough for us to do traditional ice fishing and hunting. Warmer temperatures are changing our way of life in a way that our elders say they have not seen before.
So I went to Warsaw with a personal stake. I was both heartened and taken aback to learn that many other people around the world have similar concerns and also have seen changes to their livelihoods. While at the COP, I worked with the Red Cross Climate Center, whose efforts help ensure that vulnerable communities become more prepared to adapt to a changing climate, and face reduced risks from climate disasters such as deadly hurricanes and severe drought. I helped with the Center’s Development and Climate Days (D&C Days) side event, which invited policymakers and other leaders from around the world to a two-day conference to learn more about climate change and how to prepare for it.
I was also involved in the deliberations of Arctic peoples and states, the Indigenous Caucus, the US delegation, and the younger generation’s caucus, or “YOUNGO.” They all had a similar message: our leaders must produce strong mitigation and adaptation measures to reduce the impacts of climate change.
Some highlights include meeting with former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, who is a strong advocate for helping people vulnerable to climate change. I was also able to meet some youth delegates from the Arctic and the Caribbean Islands, who had a side event called “Portraits of Resilience” to show their own pictures and stories of how climate change is affecting their communities and their future. I witnessed a walkout protest by non-governmental organizations that said the COP delegates were not doing enough to take strong measures against climate change. I was involved with both the YOUNGO and Indigenous Caucus while they passed resolutions urging leaders to address the threats of climate change. And I was able to chat and ask questions with top US delegate officials while attending their high-level negotiation events.
I was at COP for its second week, when the high-level negotiations between the nations occur. This year’s COP was supposed to lay the groundwork for a groundbreaking 2015 COP in Paris, which is expected to achieve big results in emissions reductions. While some believed that the negotiations did not achieve this, nations did agree to finish making plans for their “contributions” to reduce climate change emissions by the 2015 conference, to the best of their ability. The “contributions” language was weaker than what the US delegation wanted. The US asked nations to make firm “commitments” on how much they would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Since it will be up to the nations themselves to come up with this “contribution” level, I went to the side events and negotiations of the US delegation as much as I could, to see what our leaders were saying. At one of the side events, I was able to meet with Council for Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, who is a top environmental advisor to President Obama. The US delegation stated that the US is on target to reduce their greenhouse emissions by at least 17 percent by 2020.
Since it is unlikely that the US will institute new emissions rules by passing legislation through Congress, it will be up to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to control emissions through new regulations. The US Supreme Court handed the EPA a victory in 2007 when it ruled that EPA could regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants. Now, new EPA rules on emissions may be central for the US to achieve its greenhouse reduction goals. In October, I was able to go to the first of 11 listening sessions across the US by the EPA on proposed rules to reduce emissions from power plants. This effort could cut emissions and help with America’s commitments, since power plants contributed 40 percent of the US carbon emissions in 2012. The new set of proposed rules will be subject to a forthcoming ruling by the Supreme Court though, which will determine how much authority the EPA has to regulate certain emissions.
Moving forward, it will be important for US officials to better understand the emissions science in order to achieve our emissions reductions goals. A new study released in late November found that methane emissions are perhaps 50 percent higher than the EPA had anticipated. Methane is emitted from agriculture sources and from fossil fuel sources such as natural gas, and though it does not remain in the atmosphere as long, it is four times as potent as carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Emissions of methane may increase due to large finds in hard-rock natural gas deposits in the U.S. The increased use of fracking may pose a challenge to America’s ability to achieve its emissions goals as stated in Warsaw.
It will be interesting to watch what regulations the Obama Administration will propose moving forward. With the new study on methane, as well as another study released this week that says Arctic methane is leaking into the atmosphere at an alarming rate, a reduction in carbon emissions cannot be the only answer. One thing is certain: a legal framework by the US and individual nations must lead the way to reduce climate emissions, as nations agreed to in Warsaw.
Verner Wilson, III is a first-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is originally from Bristol Bay, Alaska, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies in 2008 from Brown University. He previously worked for the World Wildlife Fund, as well as a coalition of Alaska Native tribes, on issues related to sustainable wild salmon fisheries, environmental justice, mining, oil and gas, and climate change.
At first it sounds like the set-up of a joke or a riddle: “What has 8 percent of the world’s population, a GDP the size of China’s, and the potential to take a billion-ton bite out of the world’s carbon emissions?” These statistics characterize the 63 cities of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which brings mayors from around the world together to share strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Rit Aggarwala, the former director of long-term planning and sustainability for New York City, serves as special advisor to Michael Bloomberg in his role as chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. During his November 21 visit to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Dr. Aggarwala discussed some of the driving forces behind cities’ leadership on climate change, and explored the ways different cities apply adaptation strategies to fit local needs and resources.
The success of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group reflects urban areas’ growing leadership in climate change adaptation. A number of factors have spurred and enabled cities to act on climate change. To start, urban dwellers are more likely to see global warming as a real issue; 90 percent of cities stand near coasts, and city residents tend to be more dependent on the infrastructure that climate change threatens. For instance, an urban resident who relies on an elevator to leave his apartment or on public transit to commute to work may be especially affected by a blackout. Mayors typically face fewer political roadblocks than state and federal politicians, and the day-to-day responsibilities of managing a city provide both the tools and the practice for implementing pragmatic solutions.
Dr. Aggarwala highlighted heat and drought; sea level rise and flooding; storms and extreme precipitation; and changes in the geographic distribution of disease as five key themes driving cities’ preparations. As cities implement policies to protect their citizens and their infrastructure, they face a diverse and sometime counter-intuitive array of challenges. For instance, London, a city close to the coast, and famous for its rain, is actually more concerned about heat than water. A sea wall currently keeps flooding at bay, while buildings and public transportation often lack air conditioners, fans, and other means to deal with hot weather. While rising sea levels and flooding do threaten Vietnam’s Ho Chi Ming City buildings, a sea wall here would pose significant financial challenges. So, instead of trying to keep water out, the city is experimenting with strategies to minimize the damage water causes when it comes in.
Identifying the right solution is often far easier than figuring out how to implement the fix on a megacity scale. For instance, a SmartCity partnership between IBM and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, uses microclimate data to predict landslides up to an hour before they occur. Landslides jeopardize some of the city’s most vulnerable communities, and as storms and precipitation increase, landslides are expected to become more frequent as well. By altering community leaders of danger via text messages, IBM’s technology saves lives. However, Dr. Aggarwala noted, its success ultimately depends on strong community networks, effective community leaders, and safe evacuation routes and centers. In responding to climate change, technology only makes up half the battle. Effective management plays an equally important role.
Sometimes, the best solution does not rest on innovative technology, but on new applications for something as simple as a water fountain. That’s the approach London used to help address rising rates of heat stroke on its subway platforms. Similarly, New York City plans to explore the use of window screens to help combat expected increases in insect-borne illnesses. Dr. Aggarwala pointed to examples like these as he distinguished climate change adaptation from resiliency. He worries that the framework of climate change adaptation can narrow cities’ efforts, by focusing on new challenges and tools. In contrast, resiliency involves both preparing for new threats, such as rising sea levels, and responding to new levels of severity in existing challenges, like extreme storms and heat.
Dr. Aggarwala’s presentation concluded a semester-long speaker series, From Mitigation to Adaptation: Regional Responses to Climate Change. The series, co-hosted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute, highlighted regional and local approaches to climate adaptation, and how those strategies fit within the larger context of climate change mitigation. His final remarks, in response to an audience question about the future of urban adaptation, offer a fitting end to this semester-long conversation. As populations trends continue and “everything becomes urban,” Dr. Aggarwala suggested that urban adaptation will become less of a hot topic, and more of an integrated part of city’s management frameworks.
Amy Weinfurter is a first-year Masters of Environmental Management (MEM '15) candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, focusing on the intersection between environmental communication and policy. Before arriving at Yale, she studied English and environmental science at Colby College, and worked with non-profit organizations in Colorado and Washington, D.C., on communication, watershed management, and community outreach and engagement initiatives.
In light of Rachel Armstrong’s webinar, “Business as Unusual: Building the New Food Movement with Business Law,” Thanksgiving seemed an especially appropriate moment to consider the role Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangements play in their communities. I spent the holiday home in Fort Collins, Colorado—a perfect place to highlight how CSAs engage with their community, and how the legal guidance Rachel Armstrong outlined in her webinar can equip local farms with staying power in similar towns across the country.
Arriving home, my stepmom, Tonya proudly showed me her homemade yogurt (amazingly creamy!), fermented cabbage, grown on a nearby farm, and kombucha (her latest experiment). She dreamt of having chickens and finally making a go at a vegetable garden in the spring. The next day, my mom, Aimee, opened her storage freezer to show me their “harvested” chickens that she was planning to use in a stew. As much as she might like to have goats in the backyard, and despite her insistence that my stepdad wouldn’t have to mow the lawn anymore, Jeff is not so keen on the idea. Tonya is religious in her CSA memberships every summer and Aimee is the most doting mother chickens could possibly have (up until the moment they are “harvested” that is). They are both reflections of their Fort Collins community.
If not oriented toward meeting the needs of a single household, Fort Collins local farms take the form of community-supported agriculture or CSA. The CSA format is both a marketing and philosophical approach in which customers make a non-refundable payment ahead of the season’s harvest, for regular deliveries of produce. This way, the farmer does not carry all the production risk, and the producer and consumer build a more direct and reciprocal relationship, something Fort Collins residents like my parents are coming to appreciate.
Nestled at the foot of the Rockies, Fort Collins residents have access to some of the country’s cleanest water, abundant sunshine, and to numerous sources of locally grown produce. Over the last decade, the city has seen urban farms sprout up in backyards throughout Old Town and small farms emerge at the city’s edge. These farms are a part of a local scene that supports and embraces local producers. The city, in fact, recently adopted a revised city code that allows residents to scale their chicken flocks according to property size, raise ducks, keep bees, and tend dwarf or pygmy goats for household milk production. These new rules allow more citizens to engage in urban agriculture, and they help create markets in more areas for farmers. More than that, however, they are an indication of increased collaborationbetween the city and the farming community.
The local university, Colorado State University, historically an agricultural school (Go Aggies!), also supports urban agriculture through the Extension Office, which offers a wide variety of programs and services for new farmers. CSU manages the 2014 Building Urban Farmers Program, maintains an urban “land-for-lease” list that connects landowners to farmers, and catalogues urban farming internships and volunteer opportunities. CSU students are also becoming more involved in the CSA scene. Though the up-front cost is hard for some students to meet, the cost per pound of food is less than grocery store prices. One farmer, Justin Norton, a CSU student and owner of Donoma Farms, offers a 15-week winter share (from December through March) of salad greens grown in raised beds under greenhouses in his backyard. A share costs students just $55.
Fort Collins and the Be Local Northern Colorado organization host local farmers markets throughout the year, including the winter months, and provide farmers and artisans regular opportunities to market their goods to local consumers. Such markets, along with local and state-wide directories of CSAs and blogs dedicated to bringing farmers of “the Fort” together, lend greater access and transparency to the movement as farmers find more ways to reach consumers.
Local farms such as Jodar Farms, which specializes in free range poultry, eggs, and pork, Native Hill Farm, Cresset Farm, Garden Sweet Farm, and Happy Heart Farm provide the Fort Collins community with organic and, in some cases, biodynamic, produce. Some farms, such as Happy Heart and Native Hill offer working shares, and volunteer or internship opportunities that reduce the cost of a member’s share and engage the individual more directly in the processes of food production.
Recently, however, the CSA community in the area has been prompted to consider what community-supported agriculture is and how large such farming enterprises can be while still adhering to the intent and philosophy behind the concept. During the summer of 2013, a particularly large CSA, Grant Family Farms, which had a membership of more than 5,000 members, declared bankruptcy. Grant Family Farms struggled with many of the same challenges Armstrong described in her recent webinar: large debt burdens, managing volunteers, and giving choice produce to grocery stores, where they can demand higher prices, rather than to CSA members. Grant Family Farms distributed produce throughout Colorado’s Front Range, and though the reason for its closure might not have been related to its size, others in the farming community are left wondering: can a CSA get toobig? Some farmers seem to think so; for others, the critical issue is the integrity of the relationship with customers. According to one biodynamic farm owner, Jean-Paul Courtens in New York, “When size becomes a factor in dehumanizing the whole transaction, yes, you are too big…Where is that? I don’t know.”
Fort Collins farmers and CSA farmers across the country are, in fact, confronting the “tricky business” of figuring out how to communicate to customers the risks inherent in farming each year, and balancing the distribution of produce to local markets, restaurants, and members. They are tasked with finding the right size to meet demand while not inviting disaster if a bad weather year drives away customers, disappointed and unfamiliar with the risk-sharing concept. Scaling up a CSA farm, though tempting, can pose significant legal and financial challenges and the stakes, a farm’s reputation for example, are high. Farmers looking to grow may be faced with a lack of data about what can work financially and economically, though this picture is slowly changing nationally. In this light, as Rachel Armstrong explained, legal advice becomes an equally vital component in giving small farms the support and guidance they need to maintain strong relationships with their customers while still protecting their investments.
Although the legal measures Armstrong proposes for the farming community may seem alien or, perhaps, impersonal, they touch on highly relevant topics for farms even in my own home town. In Fort Collins, the issues Armstrong brings into focus are as apparent as anywhere else in the country. As vibrant as this farming community may seem, and as thankful as residents may be for it, local farms are still vulnerable to the capriciousness of weather, insects, and even customers. Armstrong’s pioneering work in re-formulating the legal apparatus to work forfarmers and protect the fruits of their labor may, in fact, go a long way in preserving that all-important relationship between farmers and customers, and building more resilient local farming businesses.
A link to a recording of Armstrong’s webinar can be found here: https://vimeo.com/80411482
Avana Andrade is a first year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She earned her B.A. in International Studies and Western European History at Colorado State University in 2010. Before returning to school, she worked as a public historian and backcountry ranger with the Student Conservation Association and the National Park Service in both Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. Her work has focused on the history of grazing and cultural resource management in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park. Work and recreation on the Colorado Plateau motivates her primary interest in grad school, environmental conflict mediation. Avana is a Colorado native and an avid backpacker and gardener.
This week, the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series features Janelle Orsi, who will conclude our segment on the Legal Framework for the New Food Movement. To participate, register here and then join us online at 3:00 pm EST on Wednesday, December 4. Janelle’s presentation will be followed by a moderated discussion of audience questions.
Janelle Orsi is an attorney, author and the executive director of the Oakland, CA-based Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC). SELC is a nonprofit organization that works to promote just and resilient economies through legal tools that include education, research, advice, advocacy. The Center uses unconventional and innovative approaches to foster local communities and practices that promote sharing and sustainability. The work is diverse, with programs that focus on shared housing, local investment, and food systems, to name just a few.
In the food space, SELC is actively involved with grassroots promotion of community-based urban agriculture, and also with policy advocacy supporting local and community interests. Recently, SELC provided commentary on the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to voice concern that the proposed rules will excessively burden small food and farming businesses. SELC is also advocating for the California Neighborhood Food Act, a law that will support small, local producers and remove undue legal and policy barriers created by cities, counties and homeowners associations.
In addition to her work with the Sustainable Economies Law Center, she also runs the Law Office of Janelle Orsi, a law and mediation practice that provides services for shared housing, nonprofits, cooperatives, social enterprises and individuals. She is a self-described “sharing lawyer” and has written extensively on the legal and communal aspects of sharing. She is the author of Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy, co-author of How to Save Money, Simplify Your Life & Build Community, and a frequent blogger on Shareable.net. She has been widely praised for her creative approach to social issues, including being recognized by the American Bar Association as a “Legal Rebel” and being named by The (En)Rich List as one of 100 people “whose contributions enrich paths to sustainable futures.”
On Wednesday, Janelle will speak about the “Legal Structures for Just and Sustainable Food Systems.” In her presentation, she will explore the potential contributions of the legal system to create a more just and sustainable food system. In particular, she will address the key legal principles underlying cooperatives and common pool resources, highlighting the primary legal barriers inhibiting the transition of the food system and looking at how these barriers might be overcome and transformed through policy change.
Janelle’s presentation will concludes the second segment of the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar and marks the conclusion of our 2013 program. On January 28, 2014, Laurie Beyranevand, the Assistant Director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School will kick off the third part of our series, “GMOs and Intellectual Property.” We encourage you to check back in January to register for this and other presentations on the future of food and agriculture.
Jena Clarke is a first-year Master of Environmental Management candidate at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She earned her B.S. in International Agricultural Development from the University of California, Davis in 2009. She is interested in agricultural policy, especially relating to livestock production and rangeland management. Her background is in cattle ranching in the US and Australia, where she worked as a cowgirl and later as a business analyst for a corporate agricultural funds manager.
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