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Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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The ‘Foodshed’ and the Common Interest: Powell’s Vision Revisited

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

John Wesley Powell’s 1878 Report on the Lands of the Arid Region set out his master plan for water management, land tenure, and settlement across the western United States. Even from his mid-nineteenth-century perspective, Powell could see the water wars coming. In his plan, Powell recommended that settlements and agriculture be organized around the natural flow of water over the landscape, according to a region’s given watershed. He envisioned water managed not through large diversions, transfers, or dams but through small dams and canals, with the water never leaving its watershed.

In this model, Powell foresaw farmers and communities with more power over their region’s water management. His vision, as utopian as it may strike us now, never came to pass, but his foresight still holds relevance today. The idea of organizing resource management according to natural features of the landscape is reflected in the growing national interest to orient food production and consumption to local or regional capacities. As more local and regional food systems emerge nationwide, they may not be aligning themselves with watersheds as Powell hoped, but they are responses to particular local needs and regional trends, and place more control over food production in the communities’ hands. With the help of the federal government, these networks may be creating something more akin to “foodsheds” instead.

In her April 16th presentation, “2014 Farm Bill: What’s in in for Sustainable Food Systems?” Ariane Lotti gave listeners a brief overview of the congressional lead-up to the current bill and provided a more detailed look into the nuts and bolts of the farm bill programs and subsidies. The portion of the bill that addresses sustainable agriculture is one small segment of the entire bill, but it focuses attention on local and regional food systems, the next generation of farmers and ranchers, research and extension, and farm subsidy reform. In looking closer at this one facet of this bill, and local and regional systems of agriculture, it quickly becomes clear that various realms of the farm bill overlap significantly, and likely by design. The purposes of micro-loan or crop-insurance programs, for example, bolster the up-and-coming farmers who no longer see their predecessors’ large corn or soybean fields as economically or environmentally viable.

Take, for instance, John D. Jackson’s family farm in southern Illinois, in the heart of the Corn Belt, which has grown corn for ethanol and cattle feed for decades. Recently, however, Mr. Jackson has begun to convert a portion of the farm into fruits and vegetables. He is among a growing number of Midwestern farmers responding to the economic advantage in diversifying the family farm. Apparently, the financial gain from a transition, even a partial one, can be significant. According to a February, 2014 New York Times article, “The Seeds of a New Generation,” (which cites Iowa State University crop analysts), a farmer can expect on average $284 from an acre of corn, while a one-acre apple orchard could bring in $2,000 or more. This shift in economics is due, in large part, to strengthened regional food systems. The story of one farmer’s son returning to the family corn operation and bringing with him apple trees, blackberry bushes, and rows of vegetables is striking because the more common picture is of the corn farmer’s children running far and wide, never to return.  Accordingly, this blog is devoted to highlighting a few towns and regions where a more localized and diverse approach to agriculture has already caught its trade winds or where recent federal funding has pushed another proverbial ship to sea.

What is “local food?” What is “regional food?” Is there a difference between the two? What do we mean when we say “food system” anyway? While the terms may seem self-evident to some, it is worth pointing out where the terms overlap and diverge. A food system refers to the multitude of processes through which food is grown, distributed and consumed. Put simply, a food system is “a process that includes the production of agricultural goods, purchasing and processing of those goods, distribution and marketing of value added products, end-user preparation and consumption, and waste disposal.” Local and regional food systems both encompass farmers markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA), food hubs, roadside stands, and u-pick operations. These elements refer to the type of market structures available to farmers in a certain locale; however, there is no universal definition for either “local” or “regional.” A “local food system” generally refers to the processes of growing and selling the food close to the consumer. A close proximity could mean within state lines or, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, within a 100-mile radius of a given location. While economists might define local and regional food systems according to marketing methods (i.e. direct-to-consumer markets), the general public often brings a more nuanced definition. Consumers may emphasize “small-scale (and attractive) farms, locally value-added products, and the choice of non-commodity foods,” as key traits of a local and regional food system.

A “regional food system” may be a term used to reference the importance of local agriculture to “scale up to be sustainable or self-reliant.” Regional boundaries tend to be larger but are never set, remaining flexible according to social and economic demands. However a regional food system can be useful in articulating not just a particular agricultural network, but the social, geographic, economic, and climatic traits of a certain area. Advocates of regional food systems approach see local farms as one part of a more comprehensive, if spatially bounded, and self-reliant agricultural system. This view of a multi-faceted and dynamic regional food network envisions a “nested” food system that could infuse a fragile mono-crop economy with resiliency. For a much fuller discussion of how local and regional food systems are defined and who defines them check out the USDA report, “Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues” (May 2010).

One regional food system that has received attention in recent years is in the Hadwick region of Vermont’s “Northeast Kingdom.” The area has been a leader in establishing its food system through the Northeast Kingdom Food Systems Strategic Plan (NEKFSP). The regional planning commission initiated the plan in 2010 to engage in a more thorough analysis of the region’s food systems and economic development. The planning commission selected the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) to draft a plan that would create a “conceptual working model to assess and plan for the regional food system.” This planning process involved a broad-based assessment of the stakeholders and potential participants in the food system through a committee composed of community members from every aspect of the production, distribution, marketing and consumption facets of the food system. CAE also conducted interviews throughout the region with farmers, value-added producers, seed company owners, and retail distributors (to name a few) and, after public review sessions, CAE issued its plan, the NEKFSP, along with a set of goals, targets, and measures as the plan was implemented. The goals address a wide range of agricultural, social, economic, and educational realms of development in the Hadwick region and are each paired with recommendations. A few of these goals and select recommendations are listed below. Not only does the plan align with Vermont’s Farm to Plate plan, which is a state-wide effort to boost Vermont’s farming and food sector, but the NEKFSP establishes “a set of food systems performance measures and a plan for how to track them over time.” Another strength of the plan is a governance network map of primary actors in the food system and their roles and responsibilities in the plan’s implementation, a feature that helps administrators manage wide-ranging action items. For more information about this approach and the plan itself, consult the June 2011 “Full Report” by the Center for an Agricultural Economy and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association.

Select goals and recommendations for the Northeast Kingdom Food Systems Strategic Plan:

Goal 1: The Northeast Kingdom will have increasingly localized, affordable, and sustainable farming and production inputs including energy, fertilizer, seeds, forage, and feed.

Recommendation 1.1: Invest in renewable energy for food production and energy efficiency programs, and increase the amount of on-farm power generation.

Goal 2: More food will be produced in the Northeast Kingdom for local and regional markets; production will continue to diversify, and farmers and food producers will be able to be profitable

Recommendation 2.1: Study the challenges, activities, and profitability of diversified farms and assist farms transitioning to diversified farming

Recommendation 2.2: Promote the production of niche markets (e.g. aquaculture, dairy, beef, hogs, etc) if there is evidence of demand.

Goal 8: Agricultural land will remain open and available to future generations of farmers and the food system will have increasingly positive impacts on environmental quality.

Recommendation 8.1: Develop new and support existing programs to increase access to farm land

Recommendation 8.2: Encourage sustainable production and waste management methods that reduce negative environmental impact.

 

In southeastern Ohio, another regional food system is gaining momentum, largely because of recent farm bill funding. On March 20, 2014, the USDA announced its grant to support the Ohio food hub. The nearly $200,000 grant will assist the Rural Action and the Southeast Ohio Food Hub Network in broadening the local food network by providing “business support, technical assistance and shared infrastructure support for the region’s local agricultural economy.” The grant, in particular, aims to increase rural Ohio community access to economic and job opportunities generated by local agriculture, which, in turn, may serve to make nutritious foods more available. Rural Action, a nonprofit organization that assists the new food hubs claims that the grant could help the organization maintain 275 existing food-sector jobs, and create another 65.

Ohio’s regional food systems are increasingly centered on the concept of a “food hub.” Food hubs, according to the USDA, are “businesses or organizations that connect producers with buyers by offering a suite of production, distribution, and marketing services.” In other words, these are simply marketing venues for farmers looking to reach local consumers. Ohio food hubs include the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, Local Matters, and the West Side Market.”

In yet another context, the San Mateo Food System Alliance (SMFSA) is one example of a regional food system but in a more urban setting.  Upon its 2006 establishment SMFSA was the first Food System Alliance in California. The group works to bring this California county’s food system into a unified and robust food economy and grew out of a realization that San Mateo County’s own residents did not have access to the region’s own rich agricultural bounty. In response to this disjuncture, SMFSA creates garden recognition programs, supports public schools, hospitals and government buildings in serving county-sourced food, and helps incoming farmers find land. Among its 2011 projects, SMFSA continues to identify mechanisms to distribute the counties produce in its local institutions, to support school garden programs, and assist urban youth education projects.

Regional and local food systems may not abide by the defined boundaries of their watersheds but they can enhance the ability of farmers and community members to use resources more efficiently, while improving their food stability and economic opportunities. Powell would likely heartily endorse these attributes of these emerging food systems, even if they are enabled by a water system propped up by behemoth water works that we can’t easily change the course of now. In her April 16th presentation, Ariane Lotti pointed out the ways in which the 2014 Farm Bill is reaching out to new farmers and, in some ways, endeavoring to encourage and support more environmentally responsible farming practices. These efforts are seen by many individuals as among the first of many in a long and labored journey toward a sustainable American food system. As the cases in Vermont, Ohio, and California indicate, local farming systems are one component in bringing this transformation about.

For a recording of Lotti’s talk please see this link: https://vimeo.com/92902443.

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.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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Going the Distance: An Update on Efforts to Address Emissions in the Aviation and Maritime Sector

By Guest Author, Joanna Dafoe, Yale F&ES '14

Aviation and maritime transportation make up an important part of the transportation sector—so, too, are the emissions associated from their fuel use. This article reflects on the progress made to address greenhouse gas emissions within the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization, and presents a blueprint of activity within the coming year.

Member States to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) make decisions related to aviation emissions under the Organization’s sovereign body, the ICAO Assembly. ICAO’s 38th Assembly met on 13 October 2013, and its outgoing resolution on climate change summarizes the Organization’s progress and challenges addressing emissions.

Under ICAO Assembly Resolution A38-18, Member States agreed on, among other things, three elements related to greenhouse gas emissions. First, Member States repeated their resolve to work toward a global annual average fuel efficiency improvement of 2 percent until 2020 (with a long-run aspirational efficiency improvement rate of 2 percent per year from 2021 to 2050). Second, Member States requested the ICAO Council to develop a global CO2 certification Standard for aircraft (with a view to adoption by Council in 2016)—the purpose of which is to reduce aircraft CO2 emissions through fuel-efficient technologies in aircraft design. Third, the Assembly agreed to further its support for Member States’ action plans to reduce aviation emissions through capacity building and assistance. For an example of this capacity-building work, see our IISD calendar entry on ICAO States’ Action Plan Seminar for the South American Region and North American, Central American and Caribbean Region.

The second big topic of work within ICAO is related to market-based measures. During the 38th Assembly, this issue was the source of difficult and protracted debate between Member States. Paragraph 19(d) within Resolution A38-18 suggests a general roadmap of work before the 39th Assembly in 2016. Member States requested the Council to identify problems with, and corresponding recommendations for, market-based measures. Member States also requested the Council to identify the “mechanisms for the implementation of the scheme from 2020 as part of a basket of measures.” Thus, technical work remains for the coming year. This includes work on environmental and economic impacts and possible options for a market-based measure scheme. Finally, in the Annex of Resolution A38-18, Member States agreed on guiding principles for the design and implementation of market-based measures.

Just as ICAO had a busy year of work on climate issues, so too has the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Member States within IMO have been working to address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, which is estimated to make up approximately 2.7 percent of global emissions. IMO Member states address issues related to greenhouse gas emissions under the Martine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

This past year the Committee focused on technical and operational measures relating to energy efficiency for ships. In particular, the Committee focused on developing technical and operational energy efficiency regulations under the new chapter 4 of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI, which went into effect on 1 January 2013. This chapter includes requirements for new ships under the Energy Efficiency Design Index and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan.

In addition to regulation, IMO has also been working on energy efficiency developments through research and capacity building. The 65th session of the Committee adopted resolution MEPC.229(65) on promoting technical cooperation and transfer of technology relating to energy efficiency of ships. The MEPC also approved the terms of reference to initiate a study to update emissions estimates for international shipping. Despite these areas of progress, the MEPC was unable to agree on a discussion for market-based measures and related issues. Member States thus decided to suspend this issue to future sessions. The 66th Session of the MEPC met from 31 March to 4 April. Among other items, the 66th Session considered technical and operational measures for enhancing energy efficiency of international shipping and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

Looking back on the past year, IMO and ICAO have both taken up important issues related to greenhouse gas emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport. Future meetings will largely focus on technical and operational issues related to emissions, but there is also room for important policy developments in the background. We will have to wait until future meetings to know what exactly is on deck—or, perhaps also, on the runway—for the rest of 2014.

A version of this blog entry initially appeared on the International Institute for Sustainable Development Reporting Services Climate Change Policy and Practice site.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, April 21, 2014
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Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson, III, Yale F&ES '15

The last speaker in the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy’s 2014 Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series is a fellow Alaskan. I have been reading journalist and author Tom Kizzia’s stories since I first started following the news as a teenager. As a reporter for Alaska’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, Mr. Kizzia has been on the front lines of our state’s most pressing issues for years.

His recent book Pilgrim’s Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier, one of Amazon’s best books of 2013, details the strange (but true) journey of the self-proclaimed Papa Pilgrim, who established his wife and fifteen children in America’s largest national park in south-central Alaska. The Wrangell St.-Elias Park, at over thirteen million acres, is larger than the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Jersey combined. When the Pilgrims moved there in 2002, they challenged the National Park Service’s authority to conserve the nation’s protected areas, and their attempts to bulldoze thirteen miles of road and to develop their property inside the park touched off one of the most-visible controversies between environmentalists, government officials and local land-rights advocates in a generation.

The Pilgrims story will be the focus of Mr. Kizzia’s lecture "Frontier Gothic: Transcendentalists, Puritans, and Pilgrims in Alaska" on Wednesday April 23 at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (also available for live stream at http://new.livestream.com/YaleFES/frontier-gothic). If you are interested in battles over national parks or protected areas, public land vs. private property disputes, religious connections to the wilderness, or Alaska’s many environmental debates,  this talk is for you.

Today Wrangell St. Elias Park, with about 25 percent of its land is covered by glaciers, is a hotbed not only for the land conflicts between the federal government and the region’s sparse inhabitants, but also a nexus between climate change and its impacts on wilderness areas.  The National Park Service and other organizations, such as the National Parks Conservation Association, are monitoring how climate change is impacting the area’s glaciers and weather.  They claim melting glaciers and ice within the region are uncovering many Native American and former mining industry artifacts that were left after the area’s early 1900s copper mining rush, artifacts that archaeologists are trying to preserve amidst global change. I look forward to seeing everyone at the lecture.

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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance
Monday, April 14, 2014
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The New Farm Bill + Sustainable Farming Systems: A Conversation with Ariane Lotti

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

On Wednesday, April 16, we will continue our conversation about the farm bill and the future of farming with Ariane Lotti, assistant policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Lotti will speak with us about how the 2014 farm bill shapes emerging alternative food systems and will give us insight into spaces for subsidy reform in the coming years.

farm subsidy is essentially a financial “safety net,” which is designed to help agricultural producers weather unstable markets from year to year. This security is intended to even out the fluctuations in market prices, demand, and weather and protect the agricultural community from collapse as a result of one or two bad years. These subsidies, however, are not disseminated broadly within the entire agricultural system of the United States. Rather, they are heavily weighted towards the five commodity crops: corn, soybean, cotton, and rice. Dairy and sugar producers are also bolstered by a separate market and cost control system.

These subsidies are government intervention in the food systems that began in the United States during the New Deal and Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (though the United Kingdom has much earlier versions of such government action). Although these subsidies grew out of economic necessity, they have come under increasing attack in recent years. While proponents point to the need for subsidies in order to make domestic products competitive in the international market, others argue that they distort markets. This distortion, detractors hold, is not only detrimental to poor farmers in developing countries but also places excessive burden on domestic taxpayers, while incentivizing environmentally harmful agricultural practices, thereby leaving more environmentally friendly techniques underfunded.

Commodity programs dispense billions of dollars every year to farmers and in order to access these funds, farmers may put marginal land into production, a decision that can lead to overproduction, and a prompt price collapse as in the rice industry of the 1980s. Opponents of historic farm subsidies quickly point to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides that farmers use to make marginal cropland more productive, a behavior incentivized by subsidies.  The resulting nutrient loading and pollution, they argue, creates an unnecessary environmental problem.

While the 2014 Farm Bill may have upheld historic trends in maintaining an agribusiness protected by farm subsidies, it does invest more than $1.2 billion over the next five years for programs for beginning farmers, local food, and organic agriculture. The Farm Bill also “reconnects crop insurance subsidies to basic conservation requirements,” a good sign for those concerned about the impact of modern industrial agriculture on U.S. ecosystems. However, as Ariane Lotti will demonstrate, the Bill’s persistent subsidy structure leaves much to be desired if truly innovative farming practices are to take hold.

Arianne Lotti holds a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University and, in addition to her work at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, she has served as the policy director for the Organic Farming Research Foundation. Lotti is a published author and her research remains focused on organic and conventional farming in the US and in Europe. Lotti also serves on USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Advisory Committee.

To register for Lotti’s talk, please see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/576821455.

Our final speaker in our Frontiers in Food and Agriculture series is Sarah Carlson, research coordinator at the Practical Farmers of Iowa. Carlson will be concluding this series with her talk “Driving Sustainability: Empowering Growers with On-Farm Research.” For more information about her talk please visit our events page here:http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events. To register for this final webinar see this link: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/470665063.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & Governance
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How the Public Trust Doctrine Can Save Us from the Perils of Climate Change

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

University of Oregon environmental and natural resources law Professor Mary Christina Wood tries to minimize her personal travel to reduce her carbon footprint.   But as a professor, she believes that it is extremely important to constantly engage with future leaders who will have to deal with the growing impacts of climate change.  That is why she traveled across the nation to offer her expertise at the Yale Law School on April 3rd

Her message to the future leaders at Yale offered a glimmer of hope and a new way of thinking about how environmental law can help battle the perils of climate change and other environmental issues.  The paradigm shift that she urges the environmental community to undertake in order to help solve the climate and environmental challenges of our time is also eloquently stated in her new book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age.While reading her book, listening to her lecture, and having conversations with her throughout her visit at Yale, I was intrigued with this new way of thinking.

It’s no secret that the many current environmental statutes and the strategies that the environmental movement has used to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have failed in many ways.  It was all too evident this past week in Berlin, Germany, where the world’s governments along with its most expert and credible scientists met to finalize an updated scientific report by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  The report, released on Sunday April 13, is to be used for discussion at the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Paris where expectations are high for a strong international greenhouse gas reducing treaty.

In putting together the IPCC document, scientists agreed that humans are fuelingthe extreme storms and weather to which many parts of the world have fallen victim in the past decade.  They also agreed that there needs to be a global shift on how we get our energy, and that moving to renewable energy sources will be critical.  Yet many of the world’s political leaders used the IPCC process in Germany to try to hack away the strong language that scientists agreed on.  For example, Saudi Arabia’s officials did not want the report to contain scientific findings that declare that emissions need to go down 40 to 70 percent by 2050 for the world to stay below a warming of two degrees Celsius.  Saudi Arabia would stand to lose a lot if countries ultimately acted upon that language, since its economy relies heavily on the oil industry.  While the language remained in the scientific document, it is unlikely to be ratified at the UNFCCC because the process requires unanimous consent.

Here in the United States, a recent Supreme Court ruling also paved the way for wealthy special intereststo influence the political process even more, which will likely have a lasting impact on climate-related law and policy.  In the case McCutcheon vs. the Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that there can be no limits on how many candidates for federal office a single private donors can give to.  Under the previous rules, a donor could only give a maximum of $123,200 in federal races and parties in each two-year election cycle.  Now an individual donor can give up to $3.6 million in federal U.S. Senate and House races. Thisallows rich political donors connected to the fossil fuel industry, such as coal company CEO Shaun McCutcheon who brought the suit, to have more political influence. 

Professor Wood argues that because of the grip that fossil fuel interests hold on the political process, we must look at another way to fight climate change.  She argues that the Public Trust Doctrine surpasses legislative and regulatory environmental efforts that have thus far failed to curb greenhouse gas emissions.  The doctrine, enshrined in constitutional and common law, states that governments hold certain natural resources needed by everyone, such as clean air and water, in trust.  Government officials cannot just give those resources away for private ownership, and may not permit the demise of those resources.  Public officials also have a continuous duty to safeguard the long-term preservation of those resources for the benefit of future generations.  Professor Wood argued that the founding fathers recognized that the people rely on clean natural resources such as wildlife and streams to exist, and that our government must act as a trustee for these resources.

Use of the doctrine for environmental protections is reaching a critical point.  In a recent groundbreaking case, on December 19,2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Robinson Township in eastern Pennsylvania was allowed to ban the practice of hydrologic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas within their jurisdiction to protect their town’s water supplies.  In that decision, former Chief Justice Ronald Castille cited the Public Trust Doctrine and wrote that there are certain environmental rights that we all hold, such as a right to clean air and water, and in addition to being identified in the Pennsylvania constitution, these rights are inherent to the public at large. 

The Public Trust Doctrine is currently being tested in federal court by a group of young people who argue that their rights to clean air are being compromised by increased greenhouse gas emissions. The youth are trying to force the Obama Administration to create a comprehensive Climate Recovery Plan in order to protect the “Atmospheric Trust” that they argue young people and future generations are entitled to.  The Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will decide the case on May 2nd, and Professor Wood will undoubtedly be paying attention to what she believes will be a historic ruling. 

 

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.

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
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Short of a Sea Change: Alternatives for 21st Century Farmers

By Guest Author, Avana Andrade, Yale F&ES '15

In response to Craig Cox’s March 26th webinar, “The Farm Bill and the Environment: Missed Opportunities and Where to Next” and audience members’ unanswered questions, I’ve dedicated this blog to looking at a variety of techniques available to farmers that reduce the environmental impact of modern farming. One might call them “sustainable” farming techniques, insofar as they implement more ecologically minded thinking into a system completely decoupled from such considerations. In the very least, these practices offer farmers concerned about what’s happening to our nation’s soil, ground- and surface waters, and insect pollinators (just to name a few) methods to mitigate the damage. While none of these practices represent a “silver bullet” solution to what we’ve come to realize is a flawed agricultural system, they are responses to the question that Craig Cox posed to listeners at the very end of his webinar: “What do we want from agriculture? Mountains of corn? Or something different, like clean water?”

Techniques such as conservation tillage, crop rotation, cover cropping, and integrated crop livestock systems fall within the sustainable agriculture paradigm and demonstrate that we are gradually articulating a response appropriate for the 21st century.

Conservation tillage is simply any form of cultivating the soil that leaves the vegetative remains of the previous years’ crop, such as corn stalks or dried stems of wheat, on the ground before and after planting. At least 30% of the soil surface must be covered with such plant material in order for benefits such as erosion reduction, water conservation, and wildlife food and cover to be realized. Conservation tillage can also reduce the energy required to till the field, thereby conserving fuel and reducing diesel emissions.

Crop rotation is a practice that farmers have long used, and is even evidenced in ancient Roman farming practices. Modern-day crop rotation typically involves rotation between just a few select plants, corn and soybean being the most common. However, rotating among even a small variety of crops from year to year, rather than planting corn every single year can bring multifold benefits to both the farmer and the environment. The alternation between corn and soybeans, or other legumes, for example, can be key in reducing pests each year. Four- or five-year rotations eliminate a steady food supply for one insect, which might not feed on the alternate crop. Legumes, furthermore, can help replenish nutrients, such as nitrogen, in the soil and, in turn, can reduce fertilizer use.  In small-scale gardening, where the landowner might grow a wide variety of crops, crop rotation schedules can be an effective way to enhance soil fertility and drastically minimize the need for insecticides.

Cover cropping, or planting to cover bare soil in the off-season, can protect soil during the late fall, winter, and early spring when it is exposed to the elements. These secondary plants can provide livestock forage too. This practice is shown to increase water infiltration into soil, thereby reducing flooding and runoff, enhancing biodiversity, and attracting honeybees and other beneficial insects. For farmers, this translates into reduced erosion, better soil quality, nutrient retention, weed suppression, and even disease cycle disruption. For more detail on each of these benefits see the University of Minnesota’s Organic Risk Management chapter on rotation,found here. Plants such as hairy vetch, clover, or annual ryegrass are common cover crops. Farmers, however, are often slow to adopt cover cropping due to the extra seed cost, planting, and maintenance, all without obvious financial return.  

And yet, recent studies show that crop rotation can, in fact, boost annual yield. One Iowa study indicates a “clear rotation effect resulting in higher yield levels after legumes at both sites that could not be achieved by application of up to 240 lb [nitrogen]/acre.” Another 2012 USDA study of the benefits of maintaining crop diversity shows that a more diverse system has the potential to use far less synthetic chemicals, and use them to “tune, rather than drive” the entire agricultural system. This is possible, researchers suggest, “while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems.” Although farmer uptake of cover cropping is slow, research is showing that the financial and environmental benefits might not be trivial.

To further demonstrate this point, results from one recent (2014) five-year study conducted by Iowa State University, for example, assists farmers in northwest Iowa in reducing nitrogen runoff and protecting the water source for a nearby community through cover crops, all while maintaining desired agricultural yield. In this case, researchers implemented a variety of cover cropping systems (corn/winter rye; hay/perennial grass; oat/red clover; soybean/winter wheat/corn).  For more in-depth information on cover crop benefits and barriers to implementation, check out the Iowa Cover Crops Working Group, which conducts on-going research and programs related to cover crop innovation. For more information about selection and seeding methods of cover cropping, visit Purdue University’s extension resources such as their article “Cover Crops for Modern Cropping Systems.”

Another approach to sustainable agriculture is agroecology. Agroecology responds to conventional agriculture’s lack of “a deep understanding of the nature of agroecosystems” and provides methods on designing and managing agricultural systems that conserve the functioning of local and regional ecosystems. This approach aims to generate systems that are sufficiently productive but that are also socially just and economically feasible. Agroecosystems take both environmental and human realms into consideration and are understood to be “communities of plants and animals interacting with their physical and chemical environments that have been modified by people to produce food, fibre, fuel and other products for human consumption and processing.” Agroecology places an explicit emphasis on reducing external inputs and enhancing extant processes of nutrient cycling, predator/prey relationships, and symbiosis. This approach includes crop rotations and cover cropping in its suite of techniques and methods, along with polycultures, agroforestry systems, and animal integration into cropping systems. Collectively, these practices keep the soil covered for the majority of the year (achieving soil and water conservation), provide a steady supply of organic matter, enhance nutrient cycling, and encourage pest control through biological control agents (rather than chemicals).

polyculture differs from crop rotation in its use of several crop species in the same place, growing simultaneously, thereby avoiding the hundred-acre farms planted solely in corn or soybeans. This attending crop diversity immediately offers the benefit of reducing vulnerability to pests and diseases. While the idea of incorporating greater diversity into the American farming system has certainly gained traction in recent years, the idea of polyculture is acknowledged as potentially useful, but economically very impractical since multiple crop species will demand a wider variety of watering regimes, nutrient profiles, and differing types of maintenance in general. In terms of resiliency, however, polycultures and their continued study, offer examples of systems able to withstand or respond more quickly to changes in climate or precipitation. Climate disruption poses significant challenges for conventional farming methods in the near future and developing knowledge on how to use resilient perennials and more sophisticated plant communities on farms may soon become an extremely valuable tool, and not only for US farmers.

Another practice that demonstrates the symbiosis that agroecology emphasizes is agroforestry, or the “deliberate growing of woody perennials on the same unit of land as agricultural crops and/or animals.” This premise is based on the idea that “there must be a significant interaction between the woody and nonwoody components of the system, either ecological and/or economical.” Basically, “woody” plants such as trees, shrubs, and palms, are planted within the same space and are incorporated into a single management program along with other “nonwoody” crops such as corn or alfalfa. Such a program provides an “interface” between resources provided by agriculture and forestry, and is a response to the unique combination of land uses commonly found in tropical, developing countries. However, as one might expect, this agricultural method encourages diversity on the land but also offers a host of other benefits too. Not only does “the intentional growing of trees and shrubs in combination with crops or forage” protect water resources, conserve energy, and create wildlife habitat, it also provides other useable products such as timber, fruit, nuts and feed. For more detail on practices such as alley cropping, tree gardens, aquaforestry, or protein banks see to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ Appendix on agroforestry systems and practices here.

Another elaboration on this theme of interconnectivity between a locally diverse agricultural regime is the integrated crop-livestock system. While a diversified system simply involves distinct crop and livestock systems, these rarely inform one another. Resources, in these common farming scenarios, are not recycled. An integrated system, on the other hand, can recycle by-products such as manure extremely efficiently, since farmers can use products generated by one component to support another facet of the system. In China, for example, integrating fish production with duck, geese, chickens, sheep, cattle or pigs has been shown to boost fish production by 2 to 3.9 times. Here, farmers use livestock manure as feed for fish and zooplankton, as well as fertilizer for grass and other plants. Farmers irrigate the vegetables from the fishponds, which produces, in turn, livestock feed. This particular example may only be feasible in specific climates, but it demonstrates the broader concept of an integrated livestock system. In Southeast Asia, an integrated system might involve livestock grazing under oil palm, a practice that utilizes previously unused ground vegetation, thereby increasing overall farm production while saving 40% of the cost of weed control. In these cases, livestock not only contribute nutrients for the land and a fuel source for the farmers through their manure, but represent a “savings account” for the farmer too. These cases may not reflect the reality of agriculture in the US, but the concept and potential for greater integration on and between previously divided farms is, perhaps, a viable one as policymakers and farmers explore new ways to make US agricultural more sustainable. For more detail on project design and integrated systems in general, see the report “Integrated Crop-Livestock Farming Systems” by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

The applicability of such a concept in the US context is not entirely far-fetched. According to one 2007 Agronomy Journal study “Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems in the Southeastern USA,” there are many possibilities for building integrated crop-livestock systems into American agriculture. In particular, the southeastern US, due to its mild climate, has great potential for expansion of integrated agricultural systems. The essential elements of a successful integrated crop-livestock system are practices already covered, namely crop rotation, cover cropping, intercropping, and conservation tillage. If cover crops are grazed, however, this would provide an immediate economic benefit to farmers, especially when considering the financial barrier to practicing cover cropping. According to the same 2007 Agronomy Journal study, research in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont regions indicates that integrated crop-livestock systems can protect soil and water resources by reducing external inputs, while maintaining, if not increasing, economic return.

Such alternative practices to modern and “conventional” agriculture point to the ecological necessity of such integrated modes of thinking and the economic feasibility in such an approach. Craig Cox’s discussion highlighted the ways in which the US Farm Bill’s subsidies endorse environmentally destructive agricultural methods. A cursory look into more sustainable techniques broadens our view as to what is physically possible and suggests that we don’t have to accept the manner in which our food is grown according to the oft-heard argument that any alternative whatsoever is economically unrealistic.

For those interested in engaging further in this discussion, be sure to listen to our final webinar in the series. On April 22, Sarah Carlson, the research coordinator at the Practical Farmers of Iowa, will be speaking about helping farmers make science-driven choices that minimize their ecological impact in her talk: “Driving Sustainability: Empowering Growers with On-Farm Research”  (12 pm EST). You can register for this event here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/470665063.

For a recording of Craig Cox’s presentation please see this link: https://vimeo.com/91476388

To see the rest of our line up for the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar, please see our events page here

Posted in: Innovation & Environment
Thursday, April 03, 2014
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National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition Puts Theory into Practice

By Susanne Stahl

The National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition at Pace Law School in White Plains, N.Y., is the largest interschool environmental moot court in the nation, regularly attracting over 200 students from various schools to compete and 200 attorneys to serve as judges. Halley Epstein, YLS ’14, and Sarah Langberg, YLS/FES ’14, participated in this year’s competition and made it through to the semifinal round—one of the top nine teams out of the 76 competing—and the only team without a coach to advance to the penultimate round.

They recently sat down with the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy to discuss their experience.

What is a moot court?

Sarah Langberg: The Pace competition simulates writing and arguing in front of an appellate court. Participants receive a prompt describing issues decided either by a state supreme court or a lower federal district court; they then argue those issues on appeal to a higher court.

The organizers generally pick an issue that’s heavily contested in the courts—one for which there’s no clear outcome; different courts may have decided in conflicting ways; it’s not clear which side is correct or what the best argument is. It’s for the students to then determine the best legal reasoning and policy arguments and ask themselves what they can bring to bear on these unresolved questions.

What issues did the competition highlight?

Sarah Langberg: The competition highlighted six key issues—two procedural, and four substantive. Each involved the jurisdictional reach of the Clean Water Act. The nuances of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction have been contested for decades, and a series of Supreme Court decisions in the early 2000s made these issues even more confusing.

Halley Epstein: Even though the Supreme Court addressed some of the nuances of our case, their past decisions left many unresolved questions in the field. The procedural issues we had to address dealt with who can bring suit and who can enforce certain rights in federal court.

Sarah Langberg: For the Clean Water Act in particular, jurisdiction is so important because once you say a water is protected under the Act, it’s clear cut what those protections are and how they’ll apply. But getting that water protected under the Act is the game, and people often heavily contest that jurisdiction.

How much time did you have to prepare?

Halley Epstein: We received the prompt in early October, and we had two months to research and write the brief itself. We then had another two and a half months to prepare for the oral argument part of the competition.

Sarah Langberg: There were three parties in case, and we had to choose only one party for whom to write our brief. But for the oral arguments, we had to argue all three sides.

Halley Epstein: The morning of the competition we drove from New Haven to White Plains.  We couldn’t find out which side we were arguing until we arrived, so we had a short amount of time to orient ourselves and get into the mindset of “this party’s right and here’s why.”

What was the competition itself like?

Halley Epstein: We argued five cases—three preliminary rounds, the quarterfinal round, and then the semifinal round. Each round is a full two hours, with three teams participating in a case. Each student is allotted 15 minutes (30 minutes per party, since two oralists represent each team in a given round) with the remaining time left for rebuttal.

Most teams had three students; only two argue per round, so one person typically gets a break. But as a two-person team, we did not have any breaks—the competition was non-stop. There were a lot of mental gymnastics going on in switching between the different parties each round.

Sarah Langberg: Fifteen minutes of arguing in front of the judges, by yourself—just you having a conversation with the judges—feels like a very long time. And that’s what it’s like in real appellate courts.

How does an experience like this shape or change your perspective on the practice of law?

Sarah Langberg: I’ve been thinking that I want to litigate. Successfully standing in the line of fire of the judges’ questions was definitely an affirming experience. I enjoyed the atmosphere. It didn’t feel like pressure, it felt exciting.

Halley Epstein: We’re both interested in litigation, but neither of us had participated in moot court before. The practice—even if we had gone home after the first round—gave us the opportunity to learn about our styles, things we want to work on, and the conversational aspects of our presentations that we want to continue to build.

Sarah Langberg: The brief writing aspect of it was also very valuable. We wrote briefs our 1L year, but that was just as we were coming into law school. Through various internships and practical experience, we’ve written a section of something here or there, so doing a whole brief ourselves was an invaluable experience.

Halley Epstein: And the team aspect of dividing the issues and then consulting with each other to ensure our lines of reasoning were consistent was also important because, in the real world, you may have primary responsibility for a motion or brief, but you mostly likely will be writing with someone else.

It was interesting to talk to students from the other teams and find out how they had prepared. The competition was a fun and unique way to connect with other people interested in environmental issues.

Sarah Langberg: Preparing the brief and oral arguments from three perspectives forced us to think about issues in various lights and put our education into practice in a way that we often don’t get to do in standard classes. It was a wonderful experience.

Halley Epstein: Because we had such a good experience, we’re encouraging students in the Yale Environmental Law Association to coordinate a more formal team next year. Even though our informal effort worked very well, a little more structure will help YLS field competitive teams in future years.

Halley Epstein, YLS ’14, will be clerking on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after graduation.

Sarah Langberg,YLS/FES ’14, is a joint-degree student with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She will be clerking for the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court after graduation.

Posted in: Environmental Law & Governance
Wednesday, April 02, 2014
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Advocate for Future Generations and Climate Change Policy to Speak at Yale Law School

By Guest Author, Verner Wilson III, Yale F&ES '15

The state of the world is at a crossroads, and according Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), "in view of [the current] impacts [described by the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report], and those that we have projected for the future, nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."  Related, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization said that 2013 was the sixth-warmest year on record. Thirteen of the fourteen warmest years were in the 21st century alone, showing how human activities have warmed the planet. 

U.N. scientists that met last week in Japan to discuss these findings underscored how humans are vulnerable to a changing climate, which can mean more extreme weather events and spiral into related disasters.  They cited that without anthropogenic emissions of fossil fuels, it would have been “virtually impossible for Australia’s record hot calendar year of 2013…illustrating that some extreme events are becoming much more likely due to climate change.”  And it’s likely to get worse, which does not bode well for future generations who will have to deal with the impacts as emissions continue to increase.

That is why I’m pleased that someone who has tirelessly advocated for future generations and a new way of thinking on climate change policy will be coming to Yale Law School on Thursday April 3rd.  Mary Christina Wood is the Philip H. Knight Professor of Law at the University of Oregon as well as Founder and Faculty Director of the nationally acclaimed Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program at the University of Oregon School of Law. She will be discussing her recent book, Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age, which defines the frontiers of public trust law and maps out a full paradigm shift for the way government agencies around the world manage public resources.  It reveals the dysfunction of current statutory law and calls upon citizens, government employees, legislators, and judges to protect the natural inheritance belonging to future generations as part of the public trust.  Professor Wood’s talk begins at 6:10 PM on Thursday, April 3rdin Yale Law School’s Room 128 (127 Wall Street); it is free and open to the public and refreshments will be served.

The talk, co-sponsored by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Yale Climate and Energy Institute, is part of the Climate and Energy Bookshelf speaker series featuring new publications by renowned environmental policy thinkers including Brian Keane, Todd Wilkinson, and Tom Kizzia.

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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
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2014 Farm Bill: A Fair Shake for Sustainable Farmers and Farming Systems?

By Guest Author, Jena Clarke, Yale F&ES '15

Tomorrow we have the opportunity to speak with Matha Noble, a vice-chair of the Agricultural Management Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources. On the heels of the passage on the Agricultural Act of 2014, better known as the 2014 Farm Bill, Martha will be using her presentation to ask whether this legislation is “A Fair Shake for Sustainable Farmers and Farming Systems?”

The farm bill is a hugely influential piece of legislation, forming the basis of American agricultural policy and fundamentally shaping agriculture as a process and an industry. It achieves this through numerous policies that determine what farmers and farming systems have access to federal resources for agricultural land and production, and to agricultural processing and marketing channels. It also regulates food labels and other signals to consumers about where and how their food is produced.

While these policies impact farmers across the board, they can have particular consequences for sustainable producers who attempt to operate outside the conventional framework of the agro-industrial process. Ms. Noble’s talk will touch on some of these issues and the way they played out in the debates and final outcome of the 2014 Farm Bill. She will review the fate of the proposed King Amendment that would have limited state regulation of agriculture; ongoing efforts to undo protections for individual farmers and ranchers in the relationships with meat and poultry processing companies; and other issues that determine whether sustainable farming and food systems have a level playing field in the context of the Farm Bill.

We are fortunate to have access to an authority like Martha Noble while attempting to unravel a piece of legislation as massive and mystifying as the farm bill. In addition to her current work with the American Bar Association, Martha is also an active member of the American Agricultural Law Association. Previously, she worked as a Senior Policy Associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, she was a research professor and staff attorney with National Center for Agricultural Law at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where she taught in both the Masters in Agricultural Law and J.D. programs, while guest lecturing at several other law and professional schools and publishing extensively. She also served on the U.S. EPA’s Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Advisory Committee under two administrations. All told, on top of a law degree from the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, Martha Noble has over 26 years of experience working on agricultural law and policy issues.

Join us tomorrow for Martha Noble’s presentation, “The 2014 Farm Bill: A Fair Shake for Sustainable Farmers and Farming Systems?” The live webcast will begin at 12:00 EDT on Thursday, April 3  Her talk will be followed by an interactive question and answer session with the listening audience.  Register online at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/417819199. If you can’t join us at that time, the full webinar will be posted to our website.

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.

Posted in: Energy & Climate

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