Karelia, Russia – These forests of pine, spruce and birch trees on Russia’s north-west frontier with Finland stretch in every direction to the horizon. When the sun shines, the dazzling green is fragmented by lakes of sky-blue water.
Yet the impact of humankind is everywhere. Tracks criss-cross the woodland, accommodating logging vehicles – diggers with robotic chainsaws and trailer trucks. At road intersections, ribbons tied around trees signpost areas earmarked for clearing.
Swedwood Karelia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Swedish furniture giant IKEA, owns a logging concession of around 300,000 hectares here. Its factory on the edge of the town of Kostomuksha processes logs into planks. Eventually, they will end up as flat-packs in hundreds of IKEA’s stores worldwide.
Swedwood is active in the Karelia Forest, one of the
last old-growth forests in Europe [Yulia Shcherbina/Al Jazeera]
For IKEA, Russia is a prime territory for expansion. Not only are two of its top three globally performing stores located in Moscow, but the country’s vast boreal or taiga forest belt is a source of high-quality timber.
Yet IKEA’s logging in Karelia has raised uncomfortable questions about its reputation for sourcing sustainable wood. And attention has also brought into focus wider problems associated with commercial forestry in northern Europe and Russia.
In April, environmental NGOs held protests outside eight IKEA stores in Sweden to raise awareness of a study conducted into IKEA’s activities in Karelia by Protect the Forest and Friends of the Earth Sweden.
The NGOs claim that IKEA, through Swedwood, is helping to destroy ecosystems that are home to endangered species by clear-cutting already depleted old-growth forests. Continue reading
I Think, Therefore I Yam
When farmland is scarce, will we all eat roots and tubers?
Since Thomas Malthus, alarmists have been pointing out that the world has a finite amount of arable land, whereas its human population keeps growing. Common sense would seem to dictate that eventually there won’t be enough farmland to feed everyone, and catastrophic famine will ensue.
The incredible pace of technological innovation has staved off that eventuality for hundreds of years, seemingly making fools of Malthus and intellectual successors like Paul R. Ehrlich, who in his 1968 book The Population Bomb predicted mass starvation in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead, the green revolution brought high-yielding crop varieties, fertilizers, and pesticides to hungry countries such as Mexico and India, leading to a doubling of food production between 1950 and 2010 with only a 10 percent increase in the amount of farmland. And in the past decade, global population growth has slowed, a deeply encouraging sign (and one that neither Malthus nor Ehrlich envisioned).
Yet the world’s food future may be shakier than ever. It’s not because of the absolute number of people or even the amount of available farmland, but because of what those people eat and how that farmland is used. In short, there’s enough land to feed the world—but not enough to feed the world Big Macs. Continue reading
WAILUKU – The Maui Planning Commission unanimously approved permits Tuesday for Auwahi Wind Energy to build and operate eight 428-foot-tall wind turbines on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
Two dozen people testified on the proposed special use and special management area permits, and none were opposed to the project, according to planner Ann Cua. Some testifiers shared concerns about traffic, safety and visual impacts of the wind farm.
The project would have the capacity to generate 21 megawatts, which would be enough power to supply electricity to 10,000 homes. The $140 million project’s infrastructure includes an energy storage system; a 9-mile, 34.5-kilovolt power line; an interconnection substation; a microwave communication tower; and a construction access road. Each generator pad would require about 2.4 acres of cleared area, while the entire project would cover 1,466 acres, almost entirely on Ulupalakua Ranch land.
The project aims to provide power for Maui island only. It is not part of the “Big Wind” project, which calls for wind farms on Lanai and Molokai to provide power to Oahu via an underwater cable.
Commission members attached conditions to Auwahi’s permits, including one that requires Auwahi Wind, a division of Sempra, to work with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Ka Ohana O Kahikinui Inc. to develop a community benefits package. The groups would develop a plan and sign a memorandum of agreement addressing the roadway improvement and other needs of the Kahikinui homestead community.
The project area contains more than 1,100 archaeological features on 174 sites, and the developer has designed the turbines and power lines to avoid culturally sensitive burials and heiau. Continue reading
Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of “superweeds”, according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.
The so-called miracle crops, which were first sold in the US about 20 years ago and which are now grown in 29 countries on about 1.5bn hectares (3.7bn acres) of land, have been billed as potential solutions to food crises, climate change and soil erosion, but the assessment finds that they have not lived up to their promises.
The report claims that hunger has reached “epic proportions” since the technology was developed. Besides this, only two GM “traits” have been developed on any significant scale, despite investments of tens of billions of dollars, and benefits such as drought resistance and salt tolerance have yet to materialise on any scale.
Most worrisome, say the authors of the Global Citizens’ Report on the State of GMOs, is the greatly increased use of synthetic chemicals, used to control pests despite biotech companies’ justification that GM-engineered crops would reduce insecticide use.
In China, where insect-resistant Bt cotton is widely planted, populations of pests that previously posed only minor problems have increased 12-fold since 1997. A 2008 study in the International Journal of Biotechnology found that any benefits of planting Bt cotton have been eroded by the increasing use of pesticides needed to combat them.
Additionally, soya growers in Argentina and Brazil have been found to use twice as much herbicide on their GM as they do on conventional crops, and a survey by Navdanya International, in India, showed that pesticide use increased 13-fold since Bt cotton was introduced. Continue reading
A wind farm has been paid £1.2 million not to produce electricity for eight-and-a-half hours.
By Edward Malnick and Robert Mendick
9:00PM BST 17 Sep 2011
The amount is ten times greater than the wind farm’s owners would have received had they actually generated any electricity.
The disclosure exposes the bizarre workings of Britain’s electricity supply, prompting calls last night for an official investigation into the payments system.
The £1.2 million will go to a Norwegian company which owns 60 turbines in the Scottish Borders.
The National Grid asked the company, Fred Olsen Renewables, to shut down its Crystal Rig II wind farm last Saturday for a little over eight hours amid fears the electricity network would become overloaded.
The problem was caused by high winds buffeting the country in the wake of Hurricane Katia.
In total, 11 wind farms were closed down last week, receiving a total of £2.6 million. The money – detailed in calculations provided by National Grid – will be added on to household bills and paid for by consumers.
As Britain pushes for more and more wind farms, critics claim the size of the ‘constraint payments’ will grow accordingly – raising serious concern about the long-term suitability of wind power to meet Britain’s energy needs.
Crystal Rig received by far the largest single payment because the National Grid runs an auction, inviting energy companies to say how much they want in compensation for switching off.
Crystal Rig’s owners asked for £999 per megawatt hour of energy they would have produced had they been switched on. Incredibly, the figure Crystal Rig had bid was accepted by the National Grid. Continue reading
A state commission decided today to allow a developer to amend its long-pending plan for turning 1,554 acres of Ewa farmland into a community called Hoopili with 11,750 homes.
The OK by the state Land Use Commission followed a nearly two-year halt in the case, and essentially allows the local Schuler Division of Texas-based developer D.R. Horton to present its case to the commission again.
There was some debate and testimony over whether Schuler should be allowed to proceed after adding project phasing to its petition.
In August 2009 the commission, in a 5-3 vote, deemed Schuler’s original petition deficient because it didn’t adequately split the project into phases.
LUC members voted 9-0 today to allow the case to resume.
The commission is expected to allow a more-or-less entirely new presentation of the case, with opportunities for public testimony and consideration of new elements added to the Hoopili master plan.
Attorneys for Earthjustice announced Wednesday they had filed a notice of intent to sue Maui County over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility.
The notice claims that the county has known for years that treated wastewater injected into the ground at the facility percolates into the ocean nearby, but has not made good on promises to phase out the injection wells or obtained a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit to allow the discharge.
It also states that, although the wastewater receives some treatment, it still contains bacteria that presents health risks to ocean users, as well as nitrogen and other nutrients that can stimulate reef-smothering algae blooms offshore.
County officials said they were operating the treatment plant under permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health, and had been working cooperatively with state and federal officials to make sure they were in compliance with all their permit conditions.
Part of that cooperation includes conducting tracer and seep studies to determine if a discharge permit is needed for the facility, they said, noting that the EPA had not yet determined if such a permit was required. Continue reading
Endangered species hotspot now guarded against goats, pigs
A new pair of fences in the remote wilderness of Kaua‘i will reportedly protect the island’s primary source of water and one of the most important biological diversity hotspots in the Hawaiian archipelago.
These strong barriers, developed by The Nature Conservancy for the benefit of the Kaua‘i Watershed Alliance, will shelter 8,000 acres of the state’s most pristine wildland from the onslaught of invading feral animals, a news release states.
“These are just amazing areas. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded by incredible native Hawaiian birds, plants and insects. There is nowhere in the state like quite like it,” said Jeff Schlueter, Kaua‘i natural resource manager for The Nature Conservancy.
Ken Wood, a prominent biologist with the National Tropical Botanical Garden, which is a key partner in the Kaua‘i Alliance, said the biological diversity of the region is remarkable. He calls the area “one of the most important conservation sites in the entire archipelago.”
This land is also the core of the island’s watershed, a place where abundant rains and mists are soaked up and then feed the island’s rivers and its aquifer.
“These fences were conceived to protect the primary source of the island’s water supply. Continue reading
Book Excerpt: ‘Intelligent Tinkering’ By Robert Cabin
* Animals * Birds * Nature * Plants * Reviews * Travel * Wildlife
By Alisa Opar
Hawaii is home to one of the world’s last dry tropical forests. In their prime, these magnificent ecosystems were bastions of biodiversity. Now, only 10 percent of the state’s original dry forests survive. In Intelligent Tinkering, Robin Cabin, an associate professor of ecology and environmental science at Brevard College and a former restoration ecologist for the U.S. Forest Service, draws on his own experience in doing restoration work in the few remaining Hawai’ian dry forests.
Below is the excerpted first chapter from Intelligent Tinkering, by Robert Cabin. August 2011, Island Press.
The acronym IAM represents “I Aloha Molokai,” a newly formed working group comprised of Molokai residents opposed to the proposal to develop a 200 megawatt industrial scale wind power plant to serve the energy needs of Oahu. IAM’s mission is to share information, as well as educate the general public to the potential impacts of the project. This is a grassroots effort to raise awareness and provide balance as the developer and proponents of the project move forward in their attempt to persuade the island community to support the project.
IAM is fortunate and pleased to announce that on June 2 at 6 p.m. at the Kulana `Oiwi Halau, Robin Kaye from Friends of Lanai (FOL) will be sharing the “Lanai Wind Fall Out” video and their experience with the Big Wind and undersea cable project. IAM invites the public to join us to talk story and learn how others are proactively engaged in mitigating efforts to challenge the Big Wind and Undersea Cable project.
Numerous testimonies, letters printed in the local paper and a recent voting survey reveal major concerns and opposition to the proposed project. IAM stands firm on the position that the cultural, social, economic and environmental impacts far outweigh the benefits and opportunities of the project. “NO DEAL” is worth sacrificing our integrity and island for. Continue reading