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Monday, December 02, 2013
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Legal Structures for Just and Sustainable Food Systems

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

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.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
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Where’s the Law?

By Guest Author, Jennifer Skene, Yale Law School '14

“Where’s The Finance (WTF)?” That was the question posed repeatedly the past two weeks during the UNFCCC’s 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Warsaw. But this simply leads to another question: “Where’s the Law?”

In other cases of environmental damage for the past seventy years, under international law the question of “Where’s the Finance?” has been comparatively easy to answer—it lies with the countries to blame for the harms caused. This is known as the polluter pays principle (PPP), and it is now a widely recognized tenet of international law. Yet the PPP has yet to materialize in any UNFCCC agreements, meaning that developing countries, which are the hardest hit by climate change, are left with minimal financial assistance.

Ironically, it was a case brought by the United States that provided the initial foundation for the PPP. In the 1941 Trail Smelter decision the United States won a dispute against Canada for compensation for pollution damages caused to the U.S. by a Canadian smelter.

With climate change, however, the U.S. and other developed countries are successfully keeping compensation out of the picture, and this COP in Warsaw was no different.  The “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage (IMLD)” is the compromise States reached during their overtime negotiations on Saturday, November 23. Despite the calls of developing nations to create a separate loss and damage mechanism, the IMLD will be housed under the existing adaptation mechanisms. Essentially this means that funding provided by developed nations, if and when it should materialize, will come in the form of financial assistance, not compensation for harm caused by greenhouse gas emissions. And this financial assistance will almost certainly be far from adequate.

It may be up to other international legal institutions to bring compensation into the picture. In 2011 and 2012 the island nation of Palau sought an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on whether the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters are responsible for harm caused to developing countries. While an advisory opinion would not be binding, it could offer sufficient legal support to compel States to create a loss and damage mechanism based on compensation. However, developed countries, led by the United States, stymied Palau’s campaign, and it is, for now, dead in the water.

So Where’s The Finance? Until we answer the question of “Where’s the Law?” finance may remain elusive. As the latest COP further demonstrates, answering the question of “Where’s the Law” may take the authority of a body outside the UNFCCC altogether—like the ICJ. Until the entire international community understands compensation to be a legally binding obligation that they cannot negotiate away, developing countries will likely be left asking “WTF?”

Jennifer Skene is a third-year law student at Yale from Tallahassee, FL. She is the chair of the Native American Law Students Association, a board member for the Yale Environmental Law Association, and a Features Editor on the Yale Journal of International Law. Jennifer is active in Yale's Environmental Protection Clinic, and this past summer she received a Ford Fellowship to work at the Center for International Environmental Law. 

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Friday, November 22, 2013
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Down the Drain—Water Metering in the Home

By Guest Author, Rachel Lipstein, Yale College '15

Superstorms and costal flooding may grab headlines, but water scarcity is emerging as our most immediate environmental concern. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent assessment highlights the increasing risk of water scarcity in this age of climate extremes and skyrocketing populations. Another recent study finds that if, by the end of the century, 500 million people are subjected to water scarcity, it will be the result of an optimistic warming scenario. Even now, the droughts plaguing many of the world’s most arid regions—including parts of western United States—are contributing to economic fragility and social unrest.

Water meters, small devices that track water usage, could play a key role in helping people understand the reality of water as a limited resource. Because they allow utilities to bill by volume, meters encourage customers to conserve—often with dramatic results. In this series, we will examine metering's effect on water consumption, its intersection with cultural norms and individual rights, and its impact on communities.The first installment highlighted water metering policy in Chile.

***

In 2009, only 55 percent of the homes in California’s San Joaquin Valley had water meters installed. That low percentage was not the result of a naturally slow adoption process. It was a result of aggressive resistance to the devices, which were billed as “taxing machines.”[1] When the city of Fresno, in the heart of the arid valley, attempted to install 8,000 meters in a pilot program, a group of taxpayers fought fiercely and successfully to amend the city charter, banning residential meters.

The United States isn’t the only developed country with popular opposition to metering. In southern England a renewed compulsory metering drive has been met with indignation. Some customers claim that volumetric pricing is a tax on children, as larger families might now pay more.[2] Financial concerns are colored by a popular distrust of England’s private utility companies. In the past decade, water prices have increased 84 percent, while the utilities profits have jumped up to 200 percent.[3]

With correct regulation, however, residential metering encourages individual conservation. When coupled with grace period and gradual price increases, metering can be rolled out fairly. In Denmark, the transition to residential metering and volumetric billing were correlated with a 12.6-percent decrease in consumption between 1996 and 2007.[4]

Metering also improves equity. When customers pay by volume, the implicit subsidy that high-volume users receive at the expense of low-volume users is eliminated. Although most residences in the United States are metered, regulations differ by state and even by district. Water is not always billed volumetrically. Many meters are never even read.

In the past, Fresno utilities charged a flat rate regardless of usage. For a city that averaged just under 290 gallons per person per day—almost triple the national average of 100 gallons—this was a problem.[5] In light of diminishing aquifer levels and excessive usage, the California legislature mandated that any city drawing from federal dams install water meters by 2013.[6]

Today, Fresno is almost completely metered, and the results have been positive. Patrick Weimiller, Fresno’s director of Public Works, told local news affiliate KFSN that he has already seen a reduction in usage. “Our actual numbers are showing we're about 17 percent below where we were with the fixed rate, with some room to grow.”[7]

This post is the second in a series on water metering. The next installment will look at agricultural metering in the United States.


[7] http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn/story?section=news/local&id=8934000

Rachel Lipstein is a junior at Yale College majoring in English major with a concentration in Writing. She is interested in sustainable agriculture and enjoys spending time on farms. Previously, she worked on the 108-foot sloop, Clearwater, which is dedicated to protecting the Hudson River through education, advocacy, and celebration.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
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Heirs to Our Land: The Changing Face of US Farmers and Resources for Incoming Practitioners

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

Jason Foscolo’s November 6 webinar, “Food Law Activism: Legal Models for Sustainable Businesses,” launched Part II of the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series. Part II of the series focuses on food and agriculture law—often a complex and bewildering topic for producers across the country. The principal attorney at the Food Law Firm in New York, Foscolo works with local farmers and producers committed to sustainability, offering legal guidance on how to remain competitive in the food industry in the long term. His work is especially important as both the farming demographic and modes of agricultural production shift, but must still work within the same legal apparatus.

Even as conventional family farms in the Intermountain West, for example, are finding it increasingly difficult to stay afloat, and as the percentage of residents in the region involved in agriculture have declined to less than 2 percent, recent shifts in the national agricultural community may indicate that trend is changing. Utah counties have lost 434,000 acres of farmland between 1974 and 2007 and yet smaller urban farms have increased by 20 percent during the same period. This change has prompted some farmers to consider diversifying and becoming involved with organic farming or even growing landscaping plants.

Median farm household income, according to a USDA study, was expected to decrease by 2.5 percent in 2013. Furthermore, many farms (defined broadly) continued to remain unprofitable nationwide even in the best of years, painting what is, perhaps, a less-than-reassuring entré into the scene for beginning farmers. Although the career path may not promise dividends in the short term, for many families and individuals, farming is an essential part of their family history, or it may simply represent a new way of living in modern society. Whatever the draw is, a new, and decidedly young, approach to farming is emerging.

The agriculture business is dominated by an aging population (the average farmer age increased from 47.6 to 57.1 from 2003-2007), unable to pass their farms onto their daughters or sons. Since 1982 the percentage of new farmers who have managed their land for ten years or less has steadily declined, according to the 2007 Agricultural Census. However, the faces of America’s farmers may slowly be changing. The passing of lands, so to speak, is nothing to overlook as less than 10 percent of U.S. farmers have transition plans for their lands or businesses and the eventual passing of these properties will represent the transfer of an enormous amount of real estate. Into whose hands will these lands fall?

A 2011 National Young Farmers Coalition Survey found that not only do many young people want to farm, they also want to farm in unconventional ways. The biggest barriers to their entry, predictably, are access to land and capital. As a recent NPR feature highlights, young, aspiring farmers aren’t necessarily flocking to the farm out of any romanticized notion of a bucolic lifestyle, but out of a genuine desire to create viable small farming and ranching business models that advance new agricultural techniques. Their efforts, though, are beset by high land prices and student loan debt.

In other words, “(t)oday’s new farmers aren’t just white hipsters;” rather, they are individuals and couples in their 20s, 30s and 40s from widely varying cultural and ethnic backgrounds who are ready to buy farmland, build businesses or cooperatives, and continue old family traditions, or create new ones. This upwelling of more-than-a-passing interest is reflected in the emergence of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition and the Young Farmer’s Conference, both of which give new farmers venues through which they can voice ideas, gather legal and business resources, and build collective momentum. New publications like the Modern Farmer Magazine, which features farmers across the country and offers news on a wide variety of daily farming topics, attempt to facilitate this burgeoning conversation amongst new and old practitioners. Although the next frontier for America’s food movement remains to be seen, online publications such as Young Farmers Unite, which offers information on topics such as agroecology, loan equity, and healthcare issues, indicate that for many incoming farmers, collaboration, education, innovation, creativity and empowerment are central tenets of their endeavors.

A change in demographics alone may have a variety of implications for how farming in the US looks in the twenty-first century. It may mean more non-conventional farming operations seeking legal support from attorneys like Foscolo as they implement new business models, develop alternative farming practices, and establish new regional markets for their goods.

A recording Jason Foscolo's webinar is available here: http://vimeo.com/79785843.

Resources For New Farmers

National Young Farmers’ Coalition: http://www.youngfarmers.org/

This organization works to support young farmers and offers news and a wide variety of resources on policy, food safety, the Farm Bill, and USDA farming programs. It also features a database for training and educational opportunities nationwide.

Report: “Building a Future with Farmers: Challenges Faced by Young, American Farmers and a National Strategy to Help them Succeed,”National Young Farmers’ Coalition, November 2011

Young Farmers Conference: http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/articles/2012-young-farmers-conference-1.html

The New York-based Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, an organization dedicated to creating sustainable food systems through education and training, holds the annual Young Farmers Conference to offer workshops, business courses, and demonstrations for beginning farmers. The Center’s websiteis also a valuable source of regional farming resources as well.

Greenhorns:  http://www.thegreenhorns.net/#

This non-profit organization offers an online network of support for beginning farmers by producing “avant-garde programming, video, audio, web content, publications, events, and art projects” that bring new and innovative resources to the fore. The Greenhorns produces the 2013New Farmers Almanac, which offers essays on agrarian philosophy with the intent of shaping and implementing an alternative food system or, in their words, to “reclaim a landscape dominated by monoculture.”

The National Young Farmer Association: http://www.nyfea.org/what-we-do.html                 

NYFEA is a leadership development and community service organization based in Montgomery, AL and focuses on educating beginning/young farmers and agribusiness professionals through workshops, conferences, and seminars.

The Land Stewardship Project: http://landstewardshipproject.org/morefarmers/fbresources

The Land Stewardship Project is a Minnesota-based organization that provides information and workshops for farmers on how to map out business plans and learning strategies. If offers a Farm Beginnings Course as well as a Farmer Network of more than 130 farms of widely varying enterprises.

Beginning Farmers: An Online Resource for Farmers, Researchers, and Policy Makers: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/finding-land-to-farm/

This website offers a clearing house of resources on finding land to farm across the country with links to programs such as LandLink, Lands of America, LoopNet, and Land and Farm.

Farm Aid-Beginning Farmer Resource Guide:  http://www.farmaid.org/site/c.qlI5IhNVJsE/b.8064555/k.95D2/Beginning_Farmers.htm

Farm Aid lists a wide variety of resources for individuals to get started, and includes listings on internships, and apprenticeships nationwide. It also provides the Farm Start-Up Resource Guide, which outlines aspects such as creating a business plan, financing, and finding land.

The Center for Rural Affairs: http://www.cfra.org/resources/beginning_farmer

The Center is a Nebraska-based organization focused on supporting rural communities and farms. Like other regional farming sites it lists resources for financing, connecting new farmers with retiring landowners, and business strategy.

US Farm Lease : http://www.usfarmlease.com/

US Farm Lease provides a venue for landowners to be connected with operators. The website facilitates this process with a national database and map of all available listings, as well as educational tools, newsletters, and Farm Bill updates.

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center: http://afsic.nal.usda.gov/

This component of the USDA National Agricultural Library collects information and resources regarding sustainable food systems.

Beginning New Farmers: http://afsic.nal.usda.gov/farms-and-community/beginningnew-farmers

Recognizing the aging farming population in the US this USDA online source looks to enable the transition of the farm economy to new hands with programs such as Start2Farm.

Farm Loan Programs-Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loans: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=fmlp&topic=bfl

The USDA Farm Service Agency gathers information for new farmers on initiating and navigating the loan application process.

Ag Link: http://www.extension.iastate.edu/bfc/farm

Ag Link is a resource for incoming Iowa farmers to find land and financial support and for retiring farmers who wish to preserve their farm business but do not have anyone to continue the enterprise.

Connecticut FarmLink: http://www.farmlink.uconn.edu/

The FarmLink program helps family farms prepare for a transition in ownership to facilitate their continued operation. The program also helps new farmers create business plans, and become familiar with local regulations.

Food Law Resources

The National Agricultural Law Center: http://nationalaglawcenter.org/

The Center is the “only agricultural law research and information facility that is independent, national in scope, and directly connected to the national agricultural information network.” It covers many aspects of food and agricultural law and allows users to research by topics such as agricultural leases, corporate farming laws, crop insurance, or national organic programs. The Center publishes research articles on a wide range of topics and assembled an Ag Law Bibliography and Glossary.

The Association of American Law Schools: https://memberaccess.aals.org/eWeb/dynamicpage.aspx?webcode=ChpDetail&chp_cst_key=9744d7fd-4898-415c-8c15-4740cc8f204e

The AALS website may not be a particularly useful source of information regarding legal issues, aside from providing potential points of contact. However, the blog “Agricultural Law,”the official blog of the AALS’ section on Agricultural and Food Law may provide relevant and up-to-date information or discussion on legal aspects of farming.

American Agricultural Law Association: http://aglaw-assn.org/

The AALA provides resources on various topics such as agricultural law, animal rights, cooperatives, farm policy, land use regulation, and property rights, along with bibliographies, and seminar and conference listings. AALA also maintains the “Ag & Food Law Blog,” with the National Agricultural Law Center, a source of nation-wide news.

Niche Meat Processor Assistance Network: http://www.nichemeatprocessing.org/

NMPAN helps connect small meat processors with each other and support their network with access to business and policy resources.  The organization also offers particular sets of tools for individuals new to the industry.

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
Monday, November 18, 2013
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Business as Unusual: Building the New Food Movement with Business Law

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

In the next installment of our Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series on November 20, Rachel Armstrong will continue our conversation on how legal expertise and legal knowledge can rebuild and reinforce a burgeoning food system in the US. In her presentation,“Business as Unusual: Building the New Food Movement with Business Law,” Rachel Armstrong will expound on innovative business models and legal tools that attorneys are using to help farmers face daily and seasonal challenges such as employment and contract law issues.

Armstrong is the founder and executive director of Farm Commons, a Madison, WI-based non-profit that providing legal services to sustainable farmers. Her previous work on farms, managing community gardens, catering, and running a local foods marketing program motivated her to earn her law degree. She’s written several articles and books, instructed university and attorney classes in agricultural law, and, in 2012, received the Echoing Green Fellowship, an award recognizing the world’s most promising social entrepreneurs.

As previous speakers, Jason Foscolo and Laurie Ristino, have helped demonstrate, creating the legal framework to support an emerging local and regional food movement is critical and there are many creative and unexplored ways of transforming a conventional food system that does not meet changing social demands or support environmental integrity. If, as Rachel Armstrong suggests, farmers are social entrepreneurs in developing innovative business models, then the role they play in implementing a sustainable food system advances both economic and social concerns such as community health and even race relations. In this light, the ways that attorneys, consumers, researchers and students can support those endeavors become ever more important.

Rachel Armstrong’s webinar will be followed by an interactive question and answer session with the audience. Please register online here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/454961063 and join us on Wednesday, November 20 at 12:00-1:00 PM EST. If you can’t make it to the webinar but would still like to listen to Rachel Armstrong’s presentation, or any of our previous webinars, please find the recordings on our website.

On December 4, Janelle Orsi, a “sharing economy lawyer” and the executive director of the Sustainable Economies Law Center, will pick up the webinar series with her presentation “Legal Structures for Just and Sustainable Food Systems” focusing on barter, sharing, cooperatives, local currencies, and local investing. For more details see: http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events/. Registration is available here: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/390068879.

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
Thursday, November 14, 2013
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USDA Climate Director Sheds Light on the Vulnerabilities of the Global Food Sector

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

In a recent lecture at Yale, USDA Climate Change Office Director William Hohenstein said climate “extremes” are becoming the new normal. Hotter days, longer heat waves, more drought, intense storms and extreme rainfall will mean more challenges to food growers worldwide, and that will affect everyone.

Mr. Hohenstein’s office is responsible for coordinating a response to a changing climate in the agriculture and food sectors, providing recommendations to America’s top leaders on climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, serving as a liaison to thirteen federal agencies on climate change, and helping represent the US during international climate negotiations.

The severity of what climate change could mean for agriculture was driven home by a leaked UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report earlier this month. The report, scheduled for release in March 2014, included projections that have the world’s food supply decreasing by up to 2 percent every decade due to more extreme climate conditions. It is a stark reversal from the 2007 IPCC report that stated food supplies could actually improve under climate change. The projections for decreased food supply come as global population is expected to increase to over 9.6 billion people by 2050.

Many places have already witnessed these impacts, and delegates to Warsaw COP, including Mr. Hohenstein, will undoubtedly hear about them. The UN World Food Program estimated that in 2011 alone, countries in Central Africa, such as Mauritania, have lost nearly half of their average five-year crop yield due to severe drought conditions. This means that many poorer communities and developing nations will see increased mortality due to nutrition issues, especially for the elderly and the young.

More intense storms, like Typhoon Haiyan, will also impact food and agriculture. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Haiyan, which caused huge losses and damage to the Philippines, hit its agriculture and fishing industries hard. More than one million farmers were hurt and thousands of hectares of rice farms were destroyed. The FAO is calling for at least $24 million in relief for the Philippines agriculture sector alone.

During his lecture, Mr. Hohenstein showed a map detailing climate projections for various regions in the US. The Northeast can expect higher temperatures, extreme precipitation and coastal flooding. The Midwest, considered the country’s breadbasket, will see more extreme rainfall, increased heat events, and fewer workable field days. In the Southeast, temperatures will increase, along with drought, sea level rise, and invasive pests. The Southern Plains and Southwest, however, are likely to be the most adversely affected, primarily due to decreased water supplies, less snow, increased drought, hotter temperatures, and more wildfires. The full USDA report on regional climate impacts is available here.

Since impacts will vary by region, USDA is establishing seven regional hubs to help growers with risk assessments and adaptation strategies. Mr. Hohenstein also unveiled a new tool under development by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in collaboration with USDA. The tool will project the Palmer Drought Severity Index in the US for the rest of the century.  The index currently measures real-time soil moisture based on precipitation and temperature, but projections from the new tool showed an alarming prediction of greater periods of drought across a spatial and temporal map of the US.

This week, I am going to Warsaw for the UN Climate negotiations to job-shadow the Red Cross Climate Center and learn about the organization’s efforts to reduce the negative impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. While there, I will be thinking of a recent blog by Dr. Bruce Campbell, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). He advocates for the global food sector to adopt “climate-smart agricultural practices,” such as crop rotation and other proven conservation techniques and increased use of innovative regimes such as livestock insurance.

In Warsaw, I look forward to learning more about this issue, but also helping others understand the outcomes of the climate negotiations.  As we’ve seen in the food and agriculture sector, the stakes are high across the world and there is a lot of work to do. 

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: Energy & Climate
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Rit Aggarwala to Speak on Megacities’s Leadership in Climate Change Adaptation

By Guest Author, Amy Weinfurter, Yale F&ES '15

Amidst the frustration surrounding national and international action to address climate change, cities are increasingly emerging as leaders in both adaptation and mitigation. As the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group notes, “City mayors are directly accountable to their constituents for their decisions, and are more nimble than state and national elected officials to take decisive action—often with immediate and impactful results. What … cities do individually and in unison to address climate change can set the agenda for communities and governments everywhere.”

Cities’ leadership in addressing global warming has potentially enormous impacts: the world’s larger cities consume two-thirds of the world’s energy, or over 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. From the development of glow-in-the-dark bike paths to the increasing use of green infrastructure and green spaces to buffer storm events, urban communities are especially adept seeing opportunities for change through existing infrastructure. This makes their innovations rapidly scalable, enabling the kind of fast-moving change needed to reduce or respond to climate change.   

As the former director of long-term planning and sustainability for New York City and the current special advisor to Michael Bloomberg in his role as chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Rit Aggarwala works at the center of this activity.  He visits Yale next week to discuss how implementing meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions locally will help address climate change globally. His talk, “Climate Change Adaptation in Megacities,” takes place on Thursday, November 21, at 5:00 PM, in Kroon Hall's Burke Auditorium. The talk is free and open to the public.

His presentation concludes a semester-long speaker series titled From Mitigation to Adaptation: Regional Responses to Climate Change. The series, co-hosted by YCELP and YCEI, highlights regional and local approaches to climate adaptation, and how those strategies fit within the larger context of climate change mitigation.

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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, November 11, 2013
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The New Food Movement: How We Got Here and Why It Matters

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

Laurie Ristino will join us Wednesday, November 13, for our next Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar. She’ll continue our discussion of the legal framework for the new food system with her presentation “The New Food Movement: How We Got Here and Why it Matters.” 

Laurie Ristino joins us from Vermont Law School (VLS), where she is the director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) and an associate professor of law. Laurie holds a Masters of Public Administration from George Mason University and a law degree from the University of Iowa. Prior to coming to VLS, she served as senior counsel with the Office of the General Counsel at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). There, she advised on a wide range of environmental and natural resource policy issues for the Department, the Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). She has worked extensively on the development and implementation of the farm bill and numerous instances of conservation and restoration policy.

With CAFS, Laurie works to realize the Center’s dual missions: to develop the next generation of sustainable food and agriculture law and policy leaders while providing legal and policy resources and solutions for citizens to build and support such systems. Through their work, Laurie and CAFS address the challenge of producing healthy food to feed the growing global population while maintaining and sustaining the natural resources which these systems both materially impact and upon which they depend.

In her webinar, Laurie will draw from her expertise on and experience with the foundations of food and agricultural policy to provide us with the background to modern American agricultural history and the new food and agriculture movement. Laurie believes the success of sustainable food systems demands an understanding of the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the conventional industrial agricultural industry and its means of production, distribution, and marketing; her presentation will help us draw the links between the past, present and future of these issues.

Laurie Ristino’s presentation will be followed by an interactive question and answer session with the listening audience. To register, visit https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/156388167 and then log in from 12:00 – 1:00 PM EST on November 13. Can’t make the live broadcast? Don’t worry! We will be recording the presentation and posting it on our website.

The series continues Wednesday, November 20, with a presentation by Rachel Armstrong, founder and executive director of Farm Commons -- an organization providing detailed education to farmers and food advocates on business legal issues, including land leasing, sales, hiring, and food safety. For more details, visit http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events. Registration is available online at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/454961063.

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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Thursday, October 31, 2013
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Jason Foscolo to Explore a Legal Framework for the New Food Movement

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

Jason Foscolo, principal attorney at The Food Law Firm, will kick off Part II of the Frontiers in Food and Agriculture webinar series on Tuesday, November 6.

Part II of the series, titled A Legal Framework for the New Food Movement, will examine the legal structures that support and enable a new food movement. Mr. Foscolo’s presentation will explore how specialized legal tools can be used to promote sustainability, ethical livestock production, and soil-enhancing agriculture practices. In particular, he will highlight the unique features of the cooperative model in agricultural contexts, the sustainable cultivation of livestock through contract production, and agricultural leases that reward tenants for soil-enhancing farming practices

The series continues Wednesday, November 13, with Laurie Ristino, director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School; her presentation will offer a brief overview of modern agriculture history and the forces that produced our highly efficient, industrialized food system – touching upon the environmental, social, and economic impacts of our consolidated food production and the economies of scale that define its production, distribution, and marketing. Rachel Armstrong (11/20), and Janelle Orsi (12/4) will explore new business models to help farmers access the legal system as well as the possibility of re-envisioning our food system as a commons. These guests, in sum, will shed light on the role of law in giving the emerging food movement legitimacy and durability.

For more detailed information on each webinar see YCELP’s calendar of upcoming events: http://envirocenter.yale.edu/events.

To register for any of the webinars in Part II, including Jason Foscolo’s, please see the following links:

Food Law Activism: Legal Models for Sustainable Business
Jason Foscolo, Principle Attorney at The Food Law Firm
Wednesday, November 6, 2013| 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST
Registration: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/303489727

The New Food Movement: How We Got Here + Why It Matters
Laurie Ristino, Director, Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, Vermont Law School
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 | 12:00 – 1:00 PM EST
Registration: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/156388167

Business as Unusual: Building the New For Movement with Business Law
Rachel Armstrong, Executive Director, Farm Commons
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 | 12:00 – 1:00 PM EST
Registration: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/454961063

Legal Structures for Just and Sustainable Food Systems
Janelle Orsi, Executive Director, Sustainable Economies Law Center
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 | 3:00 – 4:00 PM EST
Registration: https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/390068879

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Monday, October 28, 2013
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USDA’s Climate Change Director to Talk About Changing Food Systems

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

A changing climate will mean big changes in our agriculture and forestry systems that will affect every American, and that’s why the US Department of Agriculture has an office devoted specifically to analyzing and taking action to minimize the negative impacts of climate change. Bill Hohenstein, director of USDA’s Climate Change Office, will discuss how USDA approaches that mission Tuesday, October 29. His talk, which begins at 6:00 PM in Kroon Hall’s Burke Auditorium, is free and open to the public.

Earlier this year, under Mr. Hohenstein’s leadership, the USDA released a report that underscored the negative effects that climate changewill bring to US food systems.  While USDA says that changes must be assessed at a regional and local scale, the changes will be felt throughout the US.  For example, in an interview with US News in April, Mr. Hohenstein said that a changing climate will cause more “miserable days” for farmers and ranchers in the Southwest US. That’s because an increase in the misery index, which is a combination of temperature and humidity, will mean hotter temperatures that can kill crops and livestock dependent on cooler temperatures.  Miserable days also will mean higher prices for food that consumers buy at the grocery store.

Mr. Hohenstein serves as a liaison to thirteen federal agencies, serves as a US representative during international climate negotiations, and provides recommendations to America’s top leaders on climate change adaptation and mitigation. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute are pleased to host him during as part of their fall 2013 speaker series: From Mitigation to Adaptation: Regional Responses to Climate Change.

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: Energy & Climate
Thursday, October 24, 2013
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Maxine Burkett and the “Ex-Situ Nation” as a New Home for Climate Refugees

By Guest Author, Amy Weinfurter, Yale F&ES '15

During a recent presentation at Yale Law School, Maxine Burkett noted that her scholarship often focuses “on the edge of what is possible.”  Professor Burkett, Associate Professor at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii, and the former director of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy (ICAP), visited campus Friday, October 18, as part of the fall speaker series From Mitigation to Adaptation: Regional Responses to Climate Change speaker series, co-hosted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute. Her scholarship tackles a problem that indeed seems unimaginable, but increasingly threatens island and coastal communities across the world: how states might continue to exist, even after climate change has made their physical territories uninhabitable. 

For island and coastal nations, rising sea levels pose an urgent threat. Saltwater intrusion can damage water supplies, and ruin soil’s ability to support agriculture.  More frequent and intense storms can damage infrastructure, and accelerate coastal erosion, a phenomenon creating tough decisions for coastal Alaskan communities. For island nations, such as Tuvalu, the threat is so complete that it is difficult to truly comprehend; rising sea levels are likely to completely flood low-lying countries, creating scores of climate refugees.  

The toll of climate change on communities is already heavy, though the many people do not always recognize the link between migration and global warming.  Professor Burkett noted that in the continental United States – an area that might not seem to be at risk for climate-change-driven migration – Hurricane Katrina temporarily or permanently displaced 1.1 million people from communities in Louisiana and Mississippi. In addition to the impact of extreme weather events, like hurricanes, a more subtle and long-term exodus is also underway. Many residents of Pacific islands have begun what Professor Burkett terms a “slow-moving migration,” leaving now in anticipation of the future threat of rising seas.  This process threatens to create “empty states,” by draining communities of skills and tax revenue even before the full physical impacts of climate change hit. 

This migration poses challenges that existing legal tools cannot easily meet. As a closely watched court case in New Zealand demonstrates, human rights laws do not account or make provisions for victims of climate change. In New Zealand, as in most states, the “legal concept of a refugee is someone who is being persecuted, which requires human interaction.” Climate change, which depends on so many different decisions and decisionmakers, is difficult to fit into this framework, despite the clear threat it poses to the future of vulnerable communities. Additionally, in countries like the United States, the political difficulty of accepting the presence of global warming may prevent conversations about climate refugees. 

Professor Burkett argues that the unique threat climate change poses to vulnerable communities – and the current legal system’s inability to tackle it – requires a radical rethinking of the definition of a nation. The current legal framework for a state requires a permanent population, defined territory, functioning government, and capacity to enter into relations with other states. Professor Burkett envisions a new type of “ex-situ state” that could operate without a physical territory. These nations would use virtual networks to maintain a sense of culture and identity among a citizenry spread across the globe. They would also act as important intermediaries and advocates for citizens who have immigrated to – but not yet received full citizenship in – other countries. Her proposal draws on current alternative models of the state, such as the Tibetan Government-in-exile; the Sovereign Order of Malta, which operates out of Rome after losing access to its island territory; dual citizenship models; and the networks that link post-colonial diaspora populations to their home countries. 

Professor Burkett’s talk highlights the environmental injustice inherent in climate change; a major brunt of its impacts will be born by island nations with tiny carbon footprints. While adaptation strategies often call to mind engineering or urban planning initiatives, climate change also has the potential to radically alter political framework and boundaries.  Professor Burkett’s work eloquently illustrates the need to more fully plan for the human and sociopolitical impacts of climate change, and the moral imperative to invest in mitigation strategies, to make such drastic measures less necessary.  

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.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
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Introduction to Metering: Spotlight on Chile

By Guest Author, Rachel Lipstein, Yale College '15

Superstorms and costal flooding may grab headlines, but water scarcity is emerging as our most immediate environmental concern. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent assessment highlights the increasing risk of water scarcity in this age of climate extremes and skyrocketing populations. Another recent study finds that if, by the end of the century, 500 million people are subjected to water scarcity, it will be the result of an optimistic warming scenario. Even now, the droughts plaguing many of the world’s most arid regions—including parts of western United States—are contributing to economic fragility and social unrest.

Water meters, small devices that track water usage, could play a key role in helping people understand the reality of water as a limited resource. Because they allow utilities to bill by volume, meters encourage customers to conserve—often with dramatic results. In the upcoming series, we will examine metering's effect on water consumption, its intersection with cultural norms and individual rights, and its impact on communities. 

***

In urban areas of Chile, people know exactly how much water they use. The country’s regulatory agency pegged average usage in 2009 at 44.9 gallons per capita per day, nearly half the United States’ average consumption. They know with such a high degree of certainty because 96 percent of households across the country—100 percent in urban areas—have water meters, small devices that track consumption. Meters allow for volumetric billing, charging consumers for the water they actually use, which encourages them to pay attention to how long they run the tap.

Outside of Chile, where meters are sparse or nonexistent, households pay for water at a flat rate, which encourages users to ignore how long they run the tap. With flat rates, lower-volume users subsidize higher-volume users, and neither has an incentive to curb consumption.

Urban Chileans pay for water by the cubic meter. The more they use, the more they pay. Poor Chileans are protected by a direct subsidy that has money going directly into citizens’ pockets to help pay the bills. To maintain fairness and equity, and to ensure that utilities charge a fair rate, tariffs are set by an independent regulatory body.

Despite success stories like the one in Chile, many countries have been slow to accept meters. Chile has a remarkable degree of meter coverage, particularly for Latin America (according to the World Bank). For the sake of comparison, Ireland hovers just above 0 percent. For most countries without a history of utility centralization and regulation, such as the United States, metering policy may vary widely from region to region. It seems high levels of development or GDP are no indicator of coverage.

Chile’s exceptional performance is a result of a series of transitions that began with a 1974 military coup headed by Augusto Pinochet. As a component of sweeping centralization, Pinochet implemented a national public water and sanitation company, extending coverage dramatically through the 1970s and 1980s. Meters were installed in most new connections, paving the way for a mandatory metering policy.

After the 1988 transition to democracy, Chile adopted a spate of laws that divided the national company into several public and private corporations. Mandatory metering was implemented, and a powerful state regulatory agency was established to oversee it all. New progressive policies ensured that no household spent more than 5 percent of its average monthly income on water and sanitation. While customers have an incentive to conserve water, no one is denied access due to price. Utilities are incentivized to maintain good quality water and reliable systems.

Chile, the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported, has created the perfect public-private model. Privatization has increased in recent years, accompanied by a private service provision that maximizes efficiency and quality. Meanwhile, an autonomous public regulator ensures fair prices and equitable service. [1][2]

Bolivia is a counterpoint to Chile’s success. In 1997 and 1999, the government awarded two major contracts to foreign private utilities, granting them the right to provide water in La Paz and Cochabamba. These contracts resulted in skyrocketing prices and water cut-offs, along with mandatory meters. Multi-city riots ensued in a conflict known as the Cochabamba water wars. Thousands took to the streets, erected roadblocks, and defied police. Within the span of three days in April 2000, several protesters were killed, including a 17-year-old boy. Then-president Hugo Banzer declared martial law. The government finally agreed to grant water control to the grassroots coalition of protesters with the promise of dissolving the private contract.

The memory of that conflict remains in the hearts of many Bolivians. “In a lot of Latin America, there is a hesitancy to talk about metering due to its association with the water wars,” said Kim Lemme, of the international non-profit, Water for People. The mention of metering, she said, often elicits murmurs of “Bechtel,” one of the despised private water companies. “Being able to get people used to the idea of metering,” she concluded, “is powerful.”

Bolivians are still adjusting to the idea of meters. However because of innovative funding plans and the example set by model projects, several communities have already made the switch. According to Kate Fogelberg at Water for People, over 120 rural communities in Bolivia now have metering systems. While Chileans enjoy 96 percent metering, they still face challenges in their water sector, particularly in the over-allocation of rural water rights that leaves remote, arid, downstream households dry.

A progressive metering policy, accompanied by careful regulation, has made Chilean cities standout sites of clean, affordable water in Latin America. Because of its broad implications, water metering can act as an indicator of both water conservation policy and practice. However, spotty data coverage may hamper the development of a metric to assess how much water consumption is metered in countries, mainly because information is self-reported by the utilities themselves and only in selected countries. Representing the status of water resources, describing systems, and guiding policy meaningfully is an Augean task, one in which metering will play a part.


[2] http://www2.udec.cl/~mquirog/OECD%20Water%201.pdf

This post is the first in a series on water metering. The next installment will look at residential metering in the United States and other developed countries.

Rachel Lipstein is a junior at Yale College majoring in English major with a concentration in Writing. She is interested in sustainable agriculture and enjoys spending time on farms. Previously, she worked on the 108-foot sloop, Clearwater, which is dedicated to protecting the Hudson River through education, advocacy, and celebration.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
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Climate Law Expert and Climate Justice Champion to Speak at Yale Law School

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

In the vast Pacific Ocean lie thousands of islands with rich cultures and histories. One of them is the country of Tuvalu. The country, with a population of about 12,000 people, is the fourth least-populated nation in the world.  Tuvaluans have called their island home for thousands of years and depend on fishing as well as their islands for food and livelihoods. As an Alaska Native I can relate to their culture. It shares a tradition of hunting and fishing for survival, as well as a deep connection to the sea. This island and my own home face a similar threat from the impacts of climate change.

Tuvalu and many other Pacific Island nations are low-lying. The tallest point in Tuvalu is fourteen feet above sea-level. This is problematic, since studies show sea levels will continue to rise as a result our changing climate. In late September, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UN IPCC) released its fifth assessment on the impacts of climate change, and their report predicted that oceans would rise by at least a foot or two this century. This is a larger increase than predicted in the IPCC’s previous report, and raises the stakes for small island-nations such as Tuvalu.

One or two feet may not seem like much, but in Tuvalu the average elevation is just about six feet above sea level. That means that infrastructure – homes, schools, workplaces – will be compromised. When this happens, Tuvaluans may be among the first nations forced to completely desert their homeland, creating a state of climate refugees. In Alaska, Shishmaref is facing a similar fate. The small Arctic village is located on a barrier reef. When I visited the Alaskan island last year, while working for the World Wildlife Fund, many people told me how reduced sea ice and increased storms had already carried away one home in their village. It struck me to hear of their experience and plea for action.

Stories like this illustrate the importance of Maxine Burkett’s work. Professor Burkett is an Associate Professor at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii, and the former director of the Center for Island Climate Adaptation and Policy (ICAP). She is an expert on climate change law and policy, and her previous work includes advising Pacific Island nations like Tuvalu on how to move forward. Her lecture, titled “Climate Refugees and the Challenge of Statehood: Defining the Problem, Identifying Solutions,” is on Thursday, October 17, at 12:30 PM in Yale Law School's Room 121. The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute are honored to host her while she explores the issue of climate justice and regional adaptation and mitigation measures in the Pacific. All are welcome to be a part of this important discussion.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
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Flipping the Script: Women’s Labor as Central in the Global Drive for Sustainable Food

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

In her October 2 webinar, “Gender, Food and Agriculture,” Maria Trumpler, Director of the Office LGBTQ Resources at Yale, spoke about the centrality of women’s labor and expertise in agriculture around the world and highlighted the ways in which interdisciplinarity can illuminate conventionally delineated topics such as agriculture and gender studies. In doing this, she helped listeners find connections between agriculture, international development, cooking, gender, women’s voting rights, and the simple (or socially complex) act of eating.

This approach reveals that women are critical drivers behind the sustainable production of food globally, particularly in many developing countries where women provide 43 percent of agricultural labor. The recent report, The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognizes the “gender gap” in agricultural production. That is, recent data reveals that despite their large contribution of labor, women own less land, fewer livestock, and have less access to machinery, credit, or extension education. Ameliorating this gap could increase a locale’s food production and help reduce food shortages.

From a women’s history perspective, this report reflects an important historic trend, the acknowledgement of women’s labor as independent of men’s. The inclusion of gender studies in agriculture does much to dismantle the invisibility of women’s work in the fields and in the home, an all-too-familiar historic narrative.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, women run 14 percent of farms (as opposed to 5 percent in 1978) and are increasingly interested in small-scale farming ventures. By 2007, in fact, small or “tiny” farms represented 31 percent of all U.S. farms (as opposed to 11 percent in 1982). Women play an important role in the local agriculture movement that is gaining momentum across the US. Local farms and community-supported agriculture organizations (CSAs) are becoming important sources of organic produce, dairy, and meat in regional markets. Groups such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are pressing for federal action to support small farms as drivers of local economies. Such efforts are creating a national platform for re-thinking food production and distribution.

Women’s support of small farms may boost regional economic systems, but may also be a source of biological and cultural revitalization. In this sense, perhaps, local women farmers are both reclaiming and redefining their roles as members of their communities. As the loss of crop diversity globally becomes a greater threat to food security, the task of protecting native and heirloom varieties becomes ever more important.

Indeed, the protection of crop diversity is both biologically and culturally relevant as these carefully selected plants are, in many ways, embedded in a cultural milieu. Crops such as lacinato kale, beets, or cabbage bind cultivators and consumers to the land and to each other through economic and social ties. These plants often represent seasonal traditions in celebration of the spring planting or fall harvest, or may be a central component of how communities express social values like sharing or cooperation.

Increased involvement with growing food locally may allow women to build not only a more robust economy but create a stronger community-driven and cooperative relationship to the land.

If you weren’t able to join us for Maria’s webinar but are interested in exploring this topic more, a recording of Maria Trumpler’s webinar is available here.

Please join us November 6 at 11:00 AM EST for our next webinar in the series. Jason Foscolo of the Food Law Firm will join us to launch “A Legal Framework for the New Food Movement,” the second part of our yearlong webinar series on Frontiers in Food and Agriculture. Registration details are forthcoming. For more information about the series and to register for upcoming webinars, visit our webinar page.

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
Thursday, October 10, 2013
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At Yale, Arctic Leader Speaks on the Greatest Global Threat of Our Time

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

We don’t often talk about American communities falling into the ocean, what it means for an entire ocean to lose 75 percent of its summer sea-ice volume, or of extreme weather events like super-storm Sandy becoming the norm. Yet on September 24, in front of a crowd of over one hundred Yale students, faculty, and members of the public, Fran Ulmer, the chair of the US Arctic Research Commission, addressed these issues as the new reality in a changing world.

Fran Ulmer’s talk launched the fall speaker series From Mitigation to Adaptation: Regional Responses to Climate Change, co-hosted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Yale Climate and Energy Institute. In her lecture, “What Happens in the Arctic Doesn’t Stay in the Arctic,” the former Lieutenant Governor of Alaska and member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill explained her current work for the US Arctic Research Commission. The Commission is a federal agency created in 1984 by Congress to help protect this remote and mysterious region by directing and coordinating Arctic research. (Photo: Danielle Lehle)

Ulmer explained that Alaskan communities have already experienced warmer weather. Many schools, homes, and other infrastructure have already suffered from the impacts of thawing permafrost. The loss of sea-ice that usually protects Arctic villages against the cruel waves of the open ocean has also increased coastal erosion, putting seaside communities at risk. Arctic sea-ice has gotten so low, she said, that the Arctic has lost 75 percent of its entire volume of summer-sea ice since 1980.

One of the consequences from this loss of volume is a change in the atmospheric jet stream that regulates weather. The alteration of the jet stream is likely to cause more intense storms and extreme events in places around the world, including the US East Coast. What happens in the Arctic truly doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Ulmer highlighted the importance and relevance of the Arctic to Americans from all climates, reminding the audience that the US is an Arctic nation – whether or not it understands itself as such. Ms. Ulmer said that this lack of understanding means research projects in the Arctic are insufficiently funded.

Funding to help Arctic communities adapt to a changing world is even more lacking, and it affects the millions of people and wildlife living in the Arctic.  Ms. Ulmer’s speech underscored the fact that Alaskans like myself have already suffered the impacts of climate change, and we need proper research and preparation to reduce the threats climate change poses to our communities in Alaska.  While I was in high school, as part of a group called Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA), I was moved by the experience of my peers, who told stories about how their villages and towns were experiencing changes. I knew that it was the youth of Alaska who were going to be most affected by climate change in the future, and as the leaders of tomorrow we had to take action. As a result, AYEA started a climate change educational initiative directed at our peers throughout the state, and a corresponding petition to our elected officials demanding that they also take action on climate change. We got over 5,000 Alaska high school students from over 105 Alaskan communities to sign the petition and as a result, our elected officials vowed to take action. Some went from naysayers of climate change to co-sponsoring legislation to help with the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

I continued my outreach and activism on climate change while in college as a presenter with the Climate Project, and during my professional career at the World Wildlife Fund in Alaska. After years of doing this work, it is humbling to know that leaders like Ms. Ulmer understand the important research needs for the adaptation and mitigation of climate change and are advocating this to federal agencies.

Adapting physically to a changing climate is only one of the challenges. Our research, priorities, and regulations must also evolve to address the challenges this new reality brings. Ms. Ulmer urged the US to catch up with the other seven Arctic nations and develop a comprehensive climate action plan for America’s Arctic. For example, many nations in Europe have already adopted comprehensive plans for adaptation to climate change. A website by the European Environment Agency is a useful tool that shows what initiatives each country have taken or will take for climate adaptation. For example, Finland adopted a comprehensive plan that includes resources for its citizens to obtain climate change information, and a step-by-step guide to support adaptation and mitigation strategies from the municipal level to the small business level.

It will be interesting to see if our leaders in the US heed the advice of policy experts such as Ms. Ulmer and others in the near future. Organizations such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C.-based bipartisan policy think-tank, have come up with specific recommendations for the US, including adopting the United National Convention on Law of the Sea Treaty, appointing an Arctic Ambassador, and improving interagency cooperation on the Arctic. In 2015, the US will take the reigns as chair of the Arctic Council, an international forum between all eight Arctic nations with a mission to help foster a dialogue on Arctic issues. Ms. Ulmer and the CSIS argue that in order for the US to be more credible as chair of the Arctic Council, it should adopt these recommendations.

Further, international figures, including President Obama, are hoping to enact a big global climate change agreement in 2015 to strengthen efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What leadership role will the US play during these two global opportunities? As Ms. Ulmer said in her speech, Americans should think about what our responsibility is as an Arctic Nation.  President Obama, the leader of the second largest carbon-dioxide-emitting country in the world, has stated that climate change is the greatest global threat of our time, and that a great deal of work remains to solve this problem. It will be interesting to see if actions will speak louder than words within the next two years.

For more information on the US Arctic Research Commission and updates on the latest Arctic research, you can subscribe to the US Arctic Research Commission’s daily Arctic Update newsletter at www.arctic.gov. The newsletter covers Arctic updates from around the world, including news from places such as Russia and Greenland. The Research Commission’s site also includes an Arctic Science Portal, a tool on research projects in the Arctic, and facilitates networking among those doing related work in this region. These are small, important steps to help make a difference on climate change impacts to the Arctic.

For more from Fran Ulmer, listen to her podcasts interviews here and here

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.

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