KIUC Strategic Plan Briefing

SUBHEAD: Kauai Island Utility Cooperative presentation of updated strategic energy plan for 2013-2025.

By Allan A. Smith on 6 November 2013 for KIUC -

Image above: Aerial view of KIUC Port Allen 6 megawatt solar array under construction in 2012 and now completed. Eleele and Highway at upper left. KIUC generating plant lower right. From (

The board of directors of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative invites you to attend briefings on the cooperative's updated strategic plan for 2013 through 2025.

Directors and staff will present an overview of the plan and details on how KIUC plans to reduce customer bills by at least 10 percent through its renewables strategy, cost containment, energy efficiency and a rate adjustment process known as decoupling.

Decoupling essentially rewrites the utility's traditional rate-making practice by removing the incentive for the utility to increase revenue by selling more electricity.

The old business model is at odds with the energy efficiency efforts of today, which encourage customers to use less power. Decoupling establishes a periodic adjustment process that ensures the utility is taking in only enough money to pay for its operations and to maintain the margin required by its lenders.

Using the latest forecasts on oil prices and renewable energy, we will talk about the projected impact decoupling would have on your rates and how the adjustment process will work.

Here's a good overview from the Natural Resources Defense Council on the benefits of decoupling:

Decoupling and our strategic plan are important initiatives for your cooperative so I hope you'll attend one of the three simultaneous meetings we will hold on Nov. 14 at 6:00 pm.

The meetings will be:

Strategic Energy Plan Briefing

Presented by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

Thursday, November 14th 2013 at 6:00pm

Waimea Theatre, 9691 Kaumualii Highway, Waimea
Kauai Island Utility Cooperative office, 4463 Pahee Street, Lihue
Hanalei School, 5-5415 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei

We look forward to seeing you on November 14th.

• Allan A. Smith is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Kauai Island Utility Cooperative.


Bring you Aloha to Council

SUBHEAD: Today Kauai Mayor Carvalho will present his veto to County Council. We will witness it with aloha.

By Staff of Pass the Bill Coalition in Island Breath -

Image above: Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho looking clever in meeting with Governor Neil Abercromblie. From (

We know that those committed to this movement are driven by love and aloha. 

We also know that it is a common tactic of companies and their representatives resisting social change to distract our attention from our goals of protecting what we love.  This is often done by planting "disruptors" and using fear-based "divide and conquer" messages that create false walls between our island's communities. 

So, just in case, we declare once again and reaffirm our commitment to action guided by aloha, and ask all Bill 2491 supporters to do the same.  We know you will. 

We will win together, as an island united, and for ALL of our island's children and the future of the aina.

In solidarity,

By Blake Drolsen on 6 November 2013 for GMO Free Kauai -

Just for your information, it seems that no bags are going to be allowed in the County meeting tomorrow, though not sure if that means handbags and backpacks or just paper and plastic bags like from the store.

Laptops, cameras, etc are not going to be allowed without prior press permission from county office.  County press release was just issued so I'm not sure how people were supposed to be able to get that permission in time for tomorrow's meeting.

Probably need some holding cars for people's bags, or else make sure you where something with big pockets for your stuff :)

Please let our people know.

By Yvette Sahut, Legislative Assisitant on 6 November 2013 for Kauai Couny Council
In light of the conduct of some members of the public that took place inside of the Council Chambers of the Historic County Building during the October 15, 2013 Special Council Meeting on second and final reading of Bill No. 2491, Draft 2, coupled with the increased tensions that have arisen since the Mayor’s veto of the bill, the Kauai County Council and Kauai Police Department will be taking extra precaution in ensuring the safety of our community at Thursday’s Special Council Meeting.

All members of the public, including all media personnel, will be screened by handheld metal detectors by the Kauai Police Department before being allowed entry into the Historic County Building, Council Chambers. Personal belongings, including bags, containers, food, and beverage containers (including water bottles), will not be allowed in the Council Chambers.

Anyone who does not comply with this policy will not be allowed into the Council Chambers.
Members of the media who need to bring a camera, laptop and/or other equipment will need to receive clearance from the Kauai Police Department and the Office of the County Clerk on these items before being allowed into the Council Chambers. Only media with verified credentials by the Office of the County Clerk will be provided accommodations inside of the Council Chambers.

The Kauai County Council appreciates everyone’s cooperation to ensure a productive and safe Special Council Meeting.

For more information, please contact Yvette Sahut, Legislative Assistant, at the Office of the County Clerk, 241-4821.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Hawaii GMO Bills 11/6/13


Satire is hard to write

SUBHEAD: How long until Monsanto proposes genetic engineering of the human race?

By SCott Erikson on 5 November 2013 for Nature Bats Last -

Image above: Still frame self portrait from video "Brave New World II" by Theo Eshetu, thaqt evokes cloned humans.  From (

The hardest part about writing satire is trying to write things that are more absurd than what real life comes up with. I’ve heard this from a lot of comedy writers lately. There’s this idea that satire is dead because real life has become a satire of itself.

Here’s an example: Could anybody have invented the character of Sarah Palin? The vice presidential debate with her versus Joe Biden was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in my life.

The rest of this post is about a more personal example.

I just published a satirical novel about environmental destruction: The Diary of Amy, the 14-Year-Old Girl Who Saved the Earth.

In the novel, our young protagonist Amy Johnson-Martinez encounters the evil corporation GloboChem. A spill of the agricultural chemical “GrowMagic” has led to a hospital full of sick babies.

Amy does some research into what “GrowMagic” is, and she is shocked – SHOCKED! – to discover that “GrowMagic” is actually ONE OF THE MOST POISONOUS AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS EVER MADE. This is what she finds on the GloboChem website:
Our main product is HappySeeds™ which grow 73% of the world’s vegetables and grains. Most of those seeds are Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ that are genetically engineered to accompany GrowMagic™ “agricultural helper.” As happy farmers around the world say, “I need the miraculous GrowMagic™ to keep my Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ happy!”
If you guessed that “GloboChem” is a thinly-disguised “Monsanto,” and that “GrowMagic™” is a thinly disguised “Roundup,” then good for you! You win 10 points and advance to the semi-finals.
Later in the story, things take a darker turn. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. Thus, GloboChem’s spokesperson announces a radical new proposal:
“I am proud to announce that GloboChem has developed an innovative new product that will absolutely end all problems with human exposure to agricultural chemicals.

“Our new product is a highly-advanced version of our famous ‘HappySeed’ technology. As you surely know, ‘Magic-Ready HappySeeds’ are genetically engineered to go with our ‘GrowMagic’ agricultural helper. I am proud to announce GloboChem’s brand-new product, which we call ‘HappyHuman.’ It will make human beings — people like you and me — able to withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us the clean and inexpensive food you serve to your loved ones.

“Each capsule of ‘HappyHuman’ contains specially-engineered radioactive isotopes that go throughout the body, miraculously altering the genetic code to change the cell chemistry in each and every cell. Then, our bodies can withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us attractive pest-free food at a reasonable price. In other words, it will make us able to withstand ‘GrowMagic’ 100 percent naturally!”
Funny stuff, huh? Well, maybe less funny after the recent announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. The EPA has decided to allow larger traces of the herbicide glyphosate in farm-grown foods (also see here).

Yes, glyphosate is the key ingredient in the company’s GrowMagic™ label of herbicides. Sorry, I meant to write Roundup label of herbicides.

Don’t worry, though — the acceptable level of glyphosate is only rising a little bit.

The EPA is increasing limits on allowable glyphosate in food crops from 200 ppm to 6,000 ppm. That’s not much – only 3,000%.

Yes, scientists have linked glyphosate to cancerous diseases.

Yes, a study by The Cornucopia Institute concluded that glyphosate “exerted proliferative effects in human hormone-dependent breast cancer.”

Yes, another study concluded that “glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.”

Later in The Diary of Amy, the story eventually takes an even darker turn. The public has so far resisted GloboChem’s plan to genetically alter the human race. But the situation has gotten worse, and the economy is in a tailspin due to a sudden oil shortage. We have to act fast! Fortunately, GloboChem comes to the rescue:
We recently announced our new HappyHuman™ product and sought to receive congressional approval to market it. But public reception was less-than-positive and the congressional bill stalled in committee.

We believe that now is the time to pass the bill and rush HappyHuman™ to the American public. Only by genetically engineering a human race able to withstand our products can we preserve our American way of life.

We must increase the “magic” within GrowMagic™ to a level high enough to kill every form of life that has not been genetically modified to resist it. In other words, the only way to sustain human life is to modify ourselves to resist killing the rest of it.
This was much funnier to me when I wrote it. Now, not so much.

I’m just wondering how long it is before I see such a press release in real life, or before I see such a plan being proposed by a GloboChem spokesperson. Sorry, I meant to write Monsanto spokesperson.

• Scott Erickson, who can be contacted via email at


Hawaiian GMO Bills

SUBHEAD: Mayor to present his veto of GMO pesticide regulation Bill 2491 to Kauai County Council.

By Blake Drolsen on 6 November 2013 in Island Breath -

Image above: Still from  video of Kauai mayor Coming talking to supporters of Bill 2491 after vetoing it. See 33 minute riveting and disturbing video here (

 Mayor Bernard Carvalo presents his veto of Bill 2491 to Kauai County Council.

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Kauai Council Chamber
Historic Kauai County Building
4396 Rice Street, Lihue, Kauai

Well, today there is an initial response to the mayor's veto.  Below I have posted the press release from the "Pass the Bill Coalition" (which has GMO Free Kauai in it), it is a well written piece by Andrea Brower assembling legal analysis regarding the county attorneys opinion on bill 2491.  Highly recommended reading.
Three actions you can take to defend 2491 and support an override of the veto.
  1. Attend the Council meeting, Thursday, November 7th 2013! The Mayor will be there to present his Veto to the Council.  Be there to show your support for the Council's  6-1 vote to Pass 2491.
  2. Email to override the veto and also send Letters to the Editor at The Garden Island and other media.

  3. Sign up to volunteer for the Override Effort here (

Also , just got word of this new website ( for voter registration on Kauai.  Lets all get registered for the 2014 election!  Vote local even if you dont think your federal votes count for much, the votes locally will.  They are looking for volunteers too.

Finally, just wanted to remind everyone that new users can sign themselves up for GMO Free Kauai email list at (  If you can, get one friend , co-worker, or family member to sign up to this email list to help spread the word.  Okay , I'm off, please check out the great press release below.

Kauai County Attorney Politics

SUBHEAD: Eminent lawyers question Kauai County Attorney opinion on Bill 2491. Seen more as “Opposition Statement” used for “Political Cover”. 

By Andrea Brower on 6 November 2013 in Island Breath -

The content of the County Attorney opinion on Bill 2491, and Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s decision to release it, is receiving much criticism and questioning from local and national attorneys. After months of deliberation, Bill 2491 was passed by the Kauai County Council in a 6-1 vote, but vetoed by the Mayor on October 31 and sent back to the Council for an override vote.

Bill 2491 would require pesticide disclosure by the agrochemical companies on Kauai, and establish moderate buffer-zones between their operations and schools, hospitals and residential areas.

County Attorney Opinion Considered a “Position Statement” Written in Opposition to Bill 2491

Highly experienced attorneys are calling the County Attorney opinion both “flawed” and written to advance a “particular agenda.”

Joe Norelli, Kauai resident and attorney who spent his entire career as a government attorney for a federal agency, wrote in a letter to the Mayor titled “County Attorney's Position Statement is a Brief in Opposition to Bill 2491”:
"During my career, I have prepared for my superiors and had prepared by my subordinates many legal position papers. The function of such papers is to provide a balanced assessment, pointing out the pros and cons on the legal matter in question, and leaving it to the decision-maker to make the final judgment. The 66-page “confidential” legal position paper you released to the public clearly was intended to advance every conceivable legal argument against Bill 2491, without providing the counter arguments.

Either you requested that it be prepared in that manner or your legal staff did you a grave disservice. In either case, the people of Kauai have been denied a fair assessment of the legal merits of the Bill.
Denise Antolini, Environmental Attorney and University of Hawaii Law Professor, stated that the County Attorney opinion:
“...provides a confusing, overly cramped, and dated view of the legal issues...The Opinion should provide an in-depth analysis of how the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, with its strong legal history in favor of environmental protection, would view the legal issues in the event of a challenge by industry today, given how much more is known now about the risks involved and the increasing recognition of the precautionary principle.  Instead, the Opinion provides excessively long cut-and-paste passages from basic legal treatises and endless citations without analysis or references to current or secondary legal sources on point.”
Attached is a brief synopsis of the County Attorney’s opinion, which has also been posted at:!county-attorney-opinion-summary/c140v

Release of Opinion Criticized as “Self-Interested” and Political Cover
Attorneys have also pointed out that, regardless of content, the Mayor’s release of the opinion was clearly not in the best interest of the County. The Council made the decision not to release the County’s opinion and analysis prior to a potential lawsuit, as will most typically be advised by legal counsel.

Commenting on the Mayor’s decision, Earthjustice Attorney Paul Achitoff told Civil Beat:
"It gave him more political cover. But that is self-interested. That is saying, 'I'm putting my own political career ahead of the interest of the county,' which is now in an awkward position because if this veto is overridden and the industry sues you have this document out there that the county now has to deal with in litigation."
Given the Mayor’s duties to protect the County, Joe Norelli said he was “appalled by the process by which this veto was accomplished.”

Concerns Over Impacts and Costs of Lawsuit Exaggerated
Many believe that any legal issues can get worked out before 2491 goes into effect. Elif Beall, a Kauai attorney who has been following Bill 2491 closely explained:

"Bill 2491 will not go into effect for 9 months after the Council overrides the veto.  That gives time, if the industry decides to bring a lawsuit, to get a ruling from a court about the legality of 2491’s provisions.  This can all happen before any “damages” are incurred by the companies, and each side would really only be responsible for their legal fees."

Offers of pro-bono legal help from some of the State and Nation’s top attorneys will greatly reduce any costs or burden on the County in the event of a lawsuit.

Teresa Tico, former head of the Kauai Bar Association, and Peter Schey, nationally known attorney and head of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, have both confirmed in writing their willingness to defend the County of Kauai pro-bono should Bill 2491 be challenged in court.

Paul Achitoff of Earthjustice and George Kimbrell of The Center for Food Safety, both eminent attorneys on pesticides and genetically modified crops, have also offered in writing to represent pro-bono community groups who would join as interveners in defending the County.

Their official letters were received by the County Attorney’s and the Mayor’s offices, and are available to the public at:!pro-bono-representation/c21d6#!pro-bono-representation/c21d6

The County’s Kuleana
Attorneys have once again reminded the Mayor and County Council that it is both the County’s right and duty to protect the public from potential harm by the agrochemical companies.

Through the process of considering Bill 2491, state agencies and legislators have testified, revealing a lack of State action to address pesticide issues. The State does not currently have any laws in place like Bill 2491, and has not fulfilled its own legal mandates around pesticide regulation for years.

Further, bill supporters have interpreted the Abercrombie administration’s collusion with the agrochemical companies to push for vague “voluntary action” as an effort to derail Bill 2491 and County-level pesticide regulation. The Abercrombie administration has routinely lobbied against State pesticide laws and has supported proposed legislation to undermine Counties’ rights to protect public health and safety.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro told The Garden Island that despite legal concerns, “the council felt it was our responsibility to take some form of action.”

As was stated in an open-letter signed by nine leading attorneys:
"No law expressly prohibits the County from taking this action, and no court cases clearly block the County from passing and implementing this Bill. Moreover, ordinances with similar provisions have been passed elsewhere and have not been successfully challenged. We believe that Bill 2491 is sound, and the mere threat of a lawsuit by industry interests should not prevent the Council from taking action they believe is important to their community."
George Kimbrell, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety, a non-profit specializing in farming and food safety issues, agreed:
"Our position at Center for Food Safety - having helped craft and pass numerous county and state laws aimed at regulation of genetically engineered plants - is that the ordinance is plainly lawful and that claims to the contrary are baseless.  The mayor’s decision was a political one, driven by fear of the powerful multinational chemical companies opposed, and not a legal decision.  We urge the Council to override the mayor's veto and effectuate the will of the island’s people."
Denise Antolini expressed the opinion:
"In my view, Bill 2491 will ultimately be upheld by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court, where it will most likely be on appeal within one to three years given that industrial agriculture has consistently challenged or tried to end-run similar local-control ordinances nationwide.

In reviewing Bill 2491, I agree with the conclusions of a recent law review article (focused on GMO regulation but equally applicable to pesticide buffer zones), which concluded:  (1) “ Federal law has left the door open for local regulation of GM crops.  Federal preemption is not a huge obstacle for local regulators, nor is the Dormant Commerce Clause.” (2) “If a state grants broad Home Rule authority, either by a constitutional provision or by statute, local authority to regulate GM crops is likely. And with a majority of states adhering to Home Rule, many more communities may join the ranks of local governments asserting their police powers to regulate GM crops.” (Note, As Montville, Maine Goes, So Goes Wolcott, Vermont? A Primer on the Local Regulation of Genetically Modified Crops, XLIII Suffolk Univ. L. Rev. 727, 747 (2010).)

In the absence of state law aimed at addressing these pressing problems, the County should welcome the opportunity for the Hawai‘i courts to review Bill 2491."

Big Island GMO Bill Deferred
By Shannon Rudolph on 6 November 2013 in Island Breath -  

Image above: From Shannon Rudolph.

Mark your calendars - Come watch them vote - try not to testify so they'll have time to discuss and vote on the 19th. Show Up - let them know you're watching...

Hawaii County Council Meeting GMO Bill 113 restricting GMO plants on Big Island.

Deferred until November 19th 2013 at 1:00pm

Kona, Big Island


The art of farming with trees

SUBHEAD: Agroforestry techniques to create more varied productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable approaches to land use.

By Dan Kiprop Kibet on 5 November 2013 fr -

Image above: Luceana tree is an excellent nitogen fixer. In Hawaii it is known as Haole Koa (false koa). It is a  pioneering tree on the south shore of Kauai between Poipu and Hanapepe. In the valleys it competes with Opiuma (Manila Tamerind). Further west, to Mana, it mixes with Kiawe (Mesquite). Both are also nitrogen fixers.  From original article.

Kenya is an agricultural country, endowed with an abundance of fertile soils. Farming serves as the most important economic activity for up to 80 per cent of its population. Out of this majority, a large number are small scale farmers, owning plots of less than five acres of land across the country.
Small scale farmers play a key economic role, not only in food production, but by contributing to self employment and boosting the local economies all over the country.

As the UN Special Rapporteur on right to food affirms: “small scale farming is creating employment and contributing to rural development…it is better at preserving ecosystems because farmers combine various plants, trees and animals on the piece of land.”

Like any other pursuit, small scale farming is fraught with challenges that prevent farmers from reaching their full potential. Obstacles range from:
  1. Depletion of soils resulting from overuse of the “shamba”- a Swahili word for land.  
  2. Lack of information on sustainable farming approaches
  3. Pest and disease management and to 
  4. Drought, extreme precipitation and cold weathers.
Despite all these setbacks, efforts to end hunger and keep the land productive, however small, are now geared toward low-cost, sustainable approaches to farming. Agroforesty is now prominent among these solutions, deemed as the next agricultural solution to feed the world; it is defined as a dynamic and ecological method of land management involving the simultaneous cultivation of farm crops and trees.

Image above: Beans growing in Kenya under partial shade of Luceana trees can utilize the nitrogen enriched soil. One advantage of Luceana trees over Opiuma and Mesquite is that it does not have the long nasty thorns of those species.  From original article.   

Agroforestry combines agricultural and forestry techniques to create more varied productive, profitable, healthy, and sustainable approaches to land use. It diversifies and sustains production for increased social, economic, and environmental benefits on plots of land of any size.

Having been practiced by farmers for decades, agroforestry focuses on a wide range of trees that act as fertilizers, soil improvers, fruit providers, fodder, fuel wood, and medicine. Today, trees in farms are seen as a crucial bridge between forestry and agriculture, striking a balance between conservation and production. While Kenya’s forests diminish, more trees are being planted in farms, and small scale farmers are doing this for their own benefit and that of Mother Nature. More so, it is a strategy to compliment the 10% forest cover advocated by the Kenyan government.

Representing Kenya’s agroforestry for this article is John’s small plot; trees form part of his farming endeavors. Through this noble partnership, he has experienced a constant production of food and other tree products in a rejuvenated soil. He says that, if done well, agroforestry offers the best use of land if joined with good agricultural practices, such as organic farming. “It thus increases resiliency towards fighting hunger,” he adds.

John Chepsoi, 45 year old small scale farmer  living in Nakuru, North west of Nairobi has incorporated trees which do not compete with his crops (silvoarable system), but bring in multiple benefits to him, his livestock, crops, soil, and the environment at large. They are Nitrogen Fixing Trees (NFTs).

It began when he planted a few trees on a section of the plot four years back. He observed that the soil in the area with the trees usually looked fertile and alive. The crops were healthier and yielded more compared to the bare land. This led him to introduce more trees on his plot to increase fertility and increase production. He has harvested potatoes and his beans are blossoming. He is expecting a good harvest this season as he says all systems are functioning well under this agroforestry method of farming.

Walking round his farm, trees which are fast maturing and able to fix nitrogen in the soil are planted; he uses these trees as fodder for livestock and also as fire wood. When cut, he says that they are able to coppice again, hence avoiding the urge to invade the forest. Some of these trees include: grevillea, luceana, calliandra, acacia and sesbania sesban. The Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) provides useful information to field workers and farmers on different useful trees that can be planted in farmland. (

One example of the acacia tree, which has long been combined with traditional farming in Africa, is the Faidherbia albida, also known as “Mgunga” in Swahili. It possesses the unique ability to produce much needed nitrogen for the soil and plants. With its phenology, Faidherbia goes dormant and sheds its nitrogen-rich leaves during the early rainy season, when crops are being planted, and resumes leaf growth in the dry season.

The air we breathe consists of approximately 80% nitrogen gas. This Nitrogen is normally unavailable to plants, but nature has devised a unique way to cycle those nutrients through the trees. This is done through Nitrogen Fixing Trees (NFTs) which are able to utilize the atmospheric nitrogen through an association with a Rhizobium, a bacterium which is hosted in the root system of nitrogen fixing trees. These plants biologically accumulate nitrogen by pulling essential nutrients out of the air for their own use, and if managed well, can make it available to other crops as well. This reduces the need for commercial nitrogen fertilizers.

Through an agroforestry system, John farms without the application of synthetic fertilizers (DAP/CAN) commonly used by many farmers, but lets nature perform this duty through NFTs.  His style of farming has been a productive and conservative one, and he sees these as a long-term strategy and is happy he followed the path of agroforestry.  “The goodness of agroforest trees is that they are there to offer their free services all year round,” he adds.

He is planning to establish an agroforestry nursery in the future where he can raise and sell seedlings to other farmers, in the effort of spreading the benefits of agroforestry in building sustainable future and earning income.

John explains that during the dry season, from December to March, some trees are able to shed their leaves, while others remain green, which he uses to feed his livestock. He further says that producing staple food crops like maize, sorghum and millet under these agroforestry conditions dramatically increases their drought resilience in dry years because of the positive soil moisture and better microclimate.

The fallen leaves, weeds and crop residues don’t go to waste. They are heaped to naturally decompose and later used to fertilize the farm. John is keen not to throw away any of this, as he calls it a treasure. After they are heaped, they usually attract many beneficial micro organisms, which feed on them. As we turn a heap together, there were hundreds of earthworms at work. Earthworms are described as “ecosystem engineers.” Charles Darwin referred them as “Earth ploughs.”

They contribute to enriching and improving soil for plants, animals and even humans. Earthworms create tunnels in the soil by burrowing, which aerates the soil to allow air, water and nutrients to reach deep within the soil.

Earthworms eat the soil which has organic matter. After the organic matter is digested, the earthworms release waste from their bodies, called castings, which contain many nutrients for the crops. As an important addition to their other roles, trees not only act as natural fertilizers, but as niche for these hardworking earthworms and microbial life.

Through constant pruning and cutting firewood, he is able to increase the organic matter (leaves) in the soil, which act as mulch, keeping it moist and well aerated, and increases the activity and population of microbial life in the soil. The leaves also act as humus, a very important feature in building soil fertility.

John also acknowledges that trees are able to suppress weeds, reducing the time and energy needed for weeding, and promoting “easy to work” soil. Other trees, like luecena, attract bees during flowering. While collecting nectar, they help in pollination and repelling harmful insects. Trees here are able to provide a microclimate.

The place is cool, and you could feel the breeze. John says he is able to work without feeling the hot sun, and the same applies to the crops. “These trees protect my crops from both dry season and heavy rains,” John says. And adds that, “it conserves soils and reduces run off in my small plot.”

With growing concerns about how small holder farmers can continue to feed themselves in their small farms without destroying local ecosystems agroforestry is the best thing to happen to sustainable farming. I applaud small scale farmers like John and hope that other small scale farmers will follow suit and plant trees on their farms for a better and more productive future.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Growingfruit in a nuthouse 11/4/13


Washington State GMO label bill fails

SUBHEAD: The GMO labeling initiative in the state of Washington failed today. Monsanto and Colca Cola spent millions.

By Staff on 5 November 2013 for King 5 -

Image above: Non GMO Food berification tag. From (

Washington Initiative 522 - GMO Food Labels
Nov 05, 2013 - 20:44:05

Local farmers come down on both sides of Initiative-522. Bill would require labeling of many genetically modified foods.

Initiative 522 may be a statewide ballot measure, but that hasn’t kept Clark County residents from taking a stand.

If approved, I-522 would require that genetically engineered foods and seeds offered for retail sale in Washington be labeled.

Some local farmers and other supporters of I-522 say the measure comes down to one point: Consumers deserve to know what they’re eating regardless of how they feel about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

But the local farmers who oppose the measure say it’s poorly written and inconsistent. They also cite a lack of education among the public about GMOs. The initiative would require labeling of most foods containing GMOs but exclude many others, such as food served in restaurants and schools.

Both sides agree GMOs are pervasive. The derivatives of GMO crops — including sweeteners, corn syrup, canola oil and sucrose — are common ingredients in most processed foods.

Whether those genetically engineered foods are labeled as such will be determined November 5th 2013.

Grass-roots support

In Clark County, supporters of 522 have taken their passion for GMO labeling and invested their time and money to encourage others to vote “Yes” on I-522.

At the center of the grass-roots movement are longtime Clark County residents, young adults and parents — people like Adrianne Gibson, 29; Jenny Foster-Stewart, 31; and Roben White, 56.

“It’s been a really amazing, truly, truly grass-roots effort,” White said. “I’ve never really seen anything like this grass-roots campaign.”

They’ve canvassed neighborhoods, held rallies and waved signs. They’ve brought in speakers and given their own speeches at neighborhood association meetings. They’ve held potlucks, fundraisers and documentary-viewing parties. They’ve handed out fliers, paid for out of their own pockets.

“We’re not professionals,” White said. “We’re just neighbors.”

Gibson, a lifelong Vancouver resident, decided to get involved in the movement after experiencing an allergic reaction she attributes to genetically modified corn. Food packaging in the U.S. already labels major food allergens such as peanuts and wheat. Gibson believes GMOs should be labeled for the same reason.

“There are folks that are highly sensitive to allergens,” she said. “They should be able to avoid foods that cause serious repercussions.”

Gibson painstakingly reads labels to ensure GMOs do not end up in her home. But without clear labels, it can be difficult to know whether an ingredient has been genetically modified, she said.

“We’re not asking people to decide on GMOs,” Gibson said. “We’re just asking them to let us know.”

For Foster-Stewart, that right to know drives her to stay involved in the campaign.

“I should be able to have the right to go to the store and say ‘no’ (to GMOs),” she said. “And my neighbor has the same right to go to the store and say, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to eat it.’ ”

Clark County consumers aren’t the only ones speaking out in favor of GMO labeling.

Matt Schwab — who operates a Ridgefield farm, Inspiration Plantation, with his wife, Jen — is a steadfast supporter of I-522.

“If the ingredients in what I am eating have had their genes spliced with bacteria, I want to know about it,” Schwab said. “I want the ability to make a choice. Without the information clearly labeled, there is no choice for me or you.”

Inspiration Plantation specializes in pasture-raised chicken, turkey and pork and grass-fed lamb and beef. The Schwabs also use organic methods to grow fruits and vegetables that they sell in their farm store.

I-522 does not require the labeling of animals and animal products — such as eggs and milk — that have not been genetically engineered, even if the animal was fed genetically engineered food. Even if such animals had to be labeled, it wouldn’t affect the Schwabs. They give their animals only certified organic, GMO-free feed.

Currently, no genetically modified animals are approved for human consumption. However, a company is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve its genetically engineered salmon, which grow twice as fast as normal.

Schwab believes I-522 is a good first step toward more accurate food labeling. He suspects groups opposing the initiative are worried that when given the option of purchasing products that haven’t been genetically modified, consumers will choose GMO-free foods.

“It is truly amazing a company like Monsanto, that touts its technology as the saving grace of humanity, will spend millions of dollars fighting an initiative that discloses the use of its technology,” Schwab said of the Fortune 500 company that produces genetically modified seeds and herbicides.

522 opposition

Other Clark County farmers, however, are taking a stand against I-522.

The Clark Cowlitz Farm Bureau, the local chapter of a national volunteer advocacy organization, voted unanimously to oppose I-522, said Gary Boldt, president of the local bureau and owner of Velvet Acres Gardens in Proebstel.

The bureau’s biggest problem with the initiative is, it doesn’t cover all food sources, Boldt said. While it requires labels of some genetically modified food, it doesn’t require labels for food served in restaurants, hospitals or schools, he said.

Board member Bill Zimmerman, who owns Bi-Zi Farms in Vancouver, said the inequity of the initiative is the biggest sticking point for him.

“I think the people are right, they have a right to know what’s in their food,” Zimmerman said. “But it should be across the board.”

Everything Zimmerman grows at Bi-Zi farms is non-GMO. But his crew uses sweeteners when making some syrups and jams. Those products would require GMO labels if the initiative passes, Zimmerman said. They also sell a line of salad dressings, which are manufactured in Arizona, that would need new labels, he said.

Boldt doesn’t sell any GMO products but he has grown genetically modified alfalfa and corn for cattle feed.

Before using GMO seed, he would have to spray crops three or four times with herbicide. With the Roundup Ready seed — which is genetically modified with a bacterial gene to be resistant to herbicides — Boldt only needs to spray once, he said.

“I’ve used GMO products, and I’ve seen the help it does,” Boldt said. “The frustration of being out there and having to spray several times on a field is really costly and it doesn’t do good for the plants and it doesn’t do good for the environment.”

Joe Beaudoin, owner of Joe’s Place Farms in Vancouver, said genetically modified crops have benefits. Take earworms in corn, for example.

Beaudoin said farmers have two options for dealing with earworms. One option is to spray the corn with an insecticide, which comes at an added cost to the farmer that is then passed on to the consumer. The other option is to grow a genetically engineered variety of corn bred to resist earworm — an option without the added cost of insecticide, Beaudoin said.

If I-522 passes, Beaudoin said, he will have to label some of the corn grown at Joe’s Place Farms.

In addition to his concerns about the initiative’s inequity, Beaudoin said people aren’t well educated about genetically modified organisms and are basing their opinions on what they hear from others. Beaudoin isn’t opposed to people wanting to know if their food contains GMOs, but most people don’t even know what genetically modified means, he said.

“People are scared of something, they don’t even know what it is,” Beaudoin said.

Like Beaudoin, Boldt thinks voters need more education on the issue before casting a vote. The farm bureau wanted to hold educational events on I-522 this summer, but the plans never came to fruition, Boldt said.

“I think education is more what we need,” he said.

“I’m not here to say it’s good or bad because I don’t think anybody is educated well enough to say yes or no on the subject,” Boldt said.

For Zimmerman, genetic engineering is the next logical step for the industry. Agriculture has benefited from inbreeding and cross-breeding of plants. He doesn’t understand why genetic engineering is so scary to some people.

“I’m absolutely bewildered by people being so opposed to it,” Zimmerman said.

Dr Bronner's war on GMOs

SUBHEAD: Bronner who favors the labeling GMO ingredients, has been arrested for planting hemp seeds on the DEA's lawn.

By Cory Doctorow on 4 November 2103 for Boing Boing -

Image above: David Bronner and his families soaps. From (

Mike from Mother Jones writes, "Josh Harkinson profiles David Bronner, the 40-year-old, hallucinogen-dropping, Burning Man-attending scion of the Dr. Bronner's soap empire, who channels roughly half of the company's substantial profits into activism, including the Washington State GMO-labeling bill that voters will decide upon tomorrow.

Bronner, who favors the labeling of foods with GMO ingredients, has been arrested for planting hemp seeds on the DEA's lawn and for a performance-art protest where he milled hemp seeds in a cage outside the White House. He also sued the DEA (and won), so that his company could legally obtain hemp oil as a soap ingredient.

Since David took over, Dr. Bronner's sales have soared. It's on track to bring in $64 million in revenues this year. But in a strike against corporate greed, Bronner has capped the company's top salaries at five times that of the lowest-paid warehouse worker."

At first, David Bronner (Jim's son) wasn't sure he wanted to become the next standard-bearer for the soap-making clan. After graduating from Harvard in 1995 with a biology degree, he wound up in Amsterdam and immersed himself in its psychedelic drug culture. "I just had my life explode on many levels of identity," he recalls about a late-night ecstasy and LSD trip at a gay trance club.

These experiences and a lot of reading eventually opened his eyes to the value of his grandfather's All-One philosophy, and the power of the soap company as a vehicle for change. In 1997, he let his dad know that he was ready to work for the family business, but only "on activist terms." A year later, his father died of lung cancer and Bronner, at the age of 25, became the new CEO.

Early on, Bronner decided that he'd rather feel good about his job than worry about making a ton of money. In 1999, he capped the company's top salary at five times that of the lowest-paid warehouse worker. He employs a lot of people he met at Burning Man, including Tim Clark (official title: Foam Maestro), a buff guy whose job mostly consists of driving a psychedelically painted foam-spewing fire truck to music festivals, which is about as close as the company gets to actual marketing. (Dr. Bronner's has run ads in Mother Jones.) Bronner also employs lots of grandmotherly ladies like office manager Nina Vujko, an intensely loyal, 32-year employee whose office is plastered with photos of her coworkers' babies.

Limiting executive pay and spending virtually nothing on advertising left a lot of extra cash for improving the products and funding social campaigns—which have often gone hand-in-hand. For years, the soap had included an undisclosed ingredient, caramel coloring. As the new CEO, Bronner wanted to remove it for the sake of purity, but feared that die-hard customers would assume the new guy was watering down the product. So he decided to incorporate hemp oil, which added a caramel color while also achieving a smoother lather.

But there was a hitch: A few months after he'd acquired a huge stockpile of Canadian hemp oil, the Bush administration outlawed most hemp products. "Technically, we were sitting on tens of thousands of pounds of Schedule I narcotics," Bronner recalls.

How Bronner got set against GMOs
SUBHEAD: Best known for tingly soaps  the company has become one of the biggest players in the battle over GMO labeling.

By Josh Harkinson on 4 November 2013 for Mother Jones -

Image above: Yes on 522 logos on Dr. Bronner's soap bottles: "Totally unprecedented in the world of product labeling."

It's midmorning at the hive of cheap buildings that serves as the global HQ of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, and, as usual, David Bronner isn't working on anything to do with soap. Sure, his phone is ringing off the hook with business calls and a rep from Trader Joe's is visiting tomorrow, but the 40-year-old CEO—who looks like a 6-foot-5 raver version of Captain Jack Sparrow—could care less.
A Burning Man amulet dangles on a hemp necklace over his tie-dye shirt as he leans in toward his computer screen, staring at what really matters to him: the latest internal poll results for Washington Initiative 522, a ballot measure that would require the labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

The initiative, which Washingtonians will vote on tomorrow, is one of the costliest in state history: Its proponents have spent a little more than $7 million, while their opponents in biotech and agribusiness have poured in $22 million.* Dr. Bronner's has donated a whopping $1.8 million to the Yes on 522 campaign. (That's on top of $620,000 it gave in support of a similar California ballot measure last year.) At stake, Bronner says, is consumers' right to decide what they put in their bodies. "If we don't win the right to label and enable people to choose non-GMO, then everything is going to be GMO."

The GMO battle is the latest in a long line of feisty political campaigns waged by Dr. Bronner's, the lovably weird cleaning products dynasty best known for its tingly peppermint liquid soap with the earnestly logorrheic label. ("Absolute cleanliness is Godliness! Teach the Moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong we're All-One.")

Since it was founded in 1948 by Bronner's grandfather, the Southern California company has become a soapbox for a variety of causes—from the elder Bronner's religious universalism to its recent campaigns to legalize hemp and marijuana, clean up fair trade and organic standards, and combat income inequality. Activism and charitable donations consume about half of the company's healthy profits. "I feel that if we are not maxed out and pushing our organization to the limit, then what are we doing?" says Bronner.

Embracing lefty lifestyle politics might not seem like the best way to grow a business—until you sit on the orange velour couch in Bronner's Tibetan-flag-draped office in Escondido and watch the phone light up with calls from buyout firms. In the 15 years since Bronner took over, annual sales have grown 1,300 percent, from $5 million to $64 million. Along the way, the company's castile soaps have gone from hippie niche products to staples on the aisles at Target. And yet Bronner has twice refused offers from Walmart to carry his soaps, even at full price, because he can't stomach the chain's politics and crummy worker pay and benefits. The best way to go mainstream, he has found, is to be as unapologetically countercultural as possible. 

At a time when companies strive to project authenticity and altruism, Dr. Bronner's remains unique. "Dr. Bronner's has always stood out on its own," says Joel Solomon, the president of Renewal Partners, a venture capital firm that invests in socially responsible businesses. "Their activism as a company is not engineered; it wasn't coached by a public relations firm. It is the real thing. Dr. Bronner's does their thing the way they think it should be done and nobody is going to change them." Dr. Bronner's shares a small but lucrative niche with socially conscious companies such as Working Assets (annual sales: $100 million) and Patagonia ($540 million). Yet none of those brands can match Dr. Bronner's idiosyncratic vision.

Bronner's grandfather, Emanuel Heilbronner, was born into a German Jewish family of soap factory owners in 1908 and immigrated to the United States in 1929. His parents died in Nazi concentration camps, and he dropped "Heil" from his last name because of its associations with Hitler. More interested in godliness than cleanliness, Bronner—not really a doctor—invented a Judeo-Unitarian pop religious philosophy, publicizing its tenets on the labels of the soap bottles that he gave away at his lectures.

He became so obsessed with spreading his All-One faith that he and his sickly wife put their three children in foster homes for long stretches so he'd have more time to travel and speak. In 1945 he was arrested after a particularly fervent speech at the University of Chicago and committed to a mental hospital. He escaped and fled to Los Angeles, where he founded Dr. Bronner's All One God Faith, which now does business as Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps.

"The soap was there to sell his message," David Bronner tells me, "and if you didn't want to hear it, he didn't want to sell to you." Emanuel Bronner's cosmic ideals and his soap's 18 suggested uses (including as a contraceptive douche—since removed) found a following on communes and hiking trails, even though Bronner wasn't exactly a flower child; he hated communists and never smoked pot. Bronner's son, Jim, rejected his father's mystical ramblings and went to work for a chemical company, where he developed a firefighting foam for Monsanto (it doubles as fake snow on movie sets). But in 1988, he stepped in to rescue Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps after it lost its nonprofit status and declared bankruptcy, recapitalizing it as a for-profit company.
"The activism side of the company enables us to take risks that no sane company would."

At first, David Bronner (Jim's son) wasn't sure he wanted to become the next standard-bearer for the soap-making clan. After graduating from Harvard in 1995 with a biology degree, he wound up in Amsterdam and immersed himself in its psychedelic drug culture. "I just had my life explode on many levels of identity," he recalls about a late-night ecstasy and LSD trip at a gay trance club.

These experiences and a lot of reading eventually opened his eyes to the value of his grandfather's All-One philosophy, and the power of the soap company as a vehicle for change. In 1997, he let his dad know that he was ready to work for the family business, but only "on activist terms." A year later, his father died of lung cancer and Bronner, at the age of 25, became the new CEO.

Early on, Bronner decided that he'd rather feel good about his job than worry about making a ton of money. In 1999, he capped the company's top salary at five times that of the lowest-paid warehouse worker. He employs a lot of people he met at Burning Man, including Tim Clark* (official title: Foam Maestro), a buff guy whose job mostly consists of driving a psychedelically painted foam-spewing fire truck to music festivals, which is about as close as the company gets to actual marketing. (Dr. Bronner's has run ads in Mother Jones.) Bronner also employs lots of grandmotherly ladies like office manager Nina Vujko, an intensely loyal, 32-year employee whose office is plastered with photos of her coworkers' babies.

Limiting executive pay and spending virtually nothing on advertising left a lot of extra cash for improving the products and funding social campaigns—which have often gone hand-in-hand. For years, the soap had included an undisclosed ingredient, caramel coloring. As the new CEO, Bronner wanted to remove it for the sake of purity, but feared that die-hard customers would assume the new guy was watering down the product.

So he decided to incorporate hemp oil, which added a caramel color while also achieving a smoother lather. But there was a hitch: A few months after he'd acquired a huge stockpile of Canadian hemp oil, the Bush administration outlawed most hemp products. "Technically, we were sitting on tens of thousands of pounds of Schedule I narcotics," Bronner recalls.

Rather than destroy the inventory, he sued the Drug Enforcement Agency to change its stance on hemp, which comes from a nonpsychoactive strain of cannabis. Adam Eidinger, who now heads the company's activism efforts in Washington, DC, served DEA agents at agency HQ bagels covered with poppy seeds (which, in theory, could be used to make heroin) and orange juice (which naturally contains trace amounts of alcohol). In 2004, a federal court handed Bronner a victory, striking down the ban and allowing him to keep his stores of hemp oil.

The success of the hemp campaign convinced Bronner to push his company ever closer to the bleeding edge of the progressive movement. In 2003, Dr. Bronner's became the world's first soap company to win organic certification. Then it sued rival companies such as Kiss My Face and Estée Lauder that were using the "organic" label as window dressing.

When Bronner couldn't find certified organic and fair trade sources of palm, coconut, and olive oil, he created his own in Ghana and Sri Lanka, and scaled up small existing projects in Israel and Palestine. (His coconut oil business now accounts for 12 percent of company sales, almost as much as bar soap.)

Bronner has been arrested twice for his hemp activism—first in 2009 for planting hemp seeds on the DEA's lawn to protest a ban on domestic cultivation, then last year for milling hemp oil in front of the White House inside a metal cage designed to thwart the cops. Now he's talking about partnering with renegade American farmers to manufacture the nation's first line of domestically grown hemp-based foods. Obviously, that sort of thing isn't on the agenda of competing green brands owned by corporate multinationals. "The activism side of the company enables us to take risks that no sane company would," Bronner notes. "But the point of what we are doing is to fight, and the products serve that."
"Technically, we were sitting on tens of thousands of pounds of Schedule I narcotics."

Nowhere has that been more evident than in the GMO fight in Washington. While many organics companies have contributed to Washington's 522 campaign, none has gone to the mat like Dr. Bronner's, which prominently displays a Yes on 522 ad on its soap labels. "Taking sides on a political campaign like that is totally unprecedented in the world of product labeling," Robert Parker, the president of Label King, the printer of the Dr. Bronner's labels, tells me as we float among the breakers during a company "board meeting"—an early morning surf at Carlsbad's Terramar Beach with Bronner and a handful of his employees and friends.

On the day I met with Bronner, Eidinger was arrested in Washington, DC, for posing as a Monsanto lobbyist and dumping $1,600 in dollar bills from a balcony inside a Senate office building. The company's director of social action, Eidinger is also the brain behind Occupy Monsanto and a fleet of cute "fishy foods" art cars (Fishy Sugar Beet, Fishy Tomato, etc.) that have been crisscrossing Washington state to make light of how GMOs sometimes incorporate fish genes. (The pro-522 TV ads have taken a tamer approach, playing up consumer rights and countering the claims that labeling will raise food prices.)

Bronner falls on the more measured side of the anti-GMO camp. "I have no in-principle objection to genetic engineering or synthetic biology," he explains, pointing out his background in biology and his dad's work for Monsanto. His beef with GMOs has less to do with ambiguous fears about "frankenfoods" than with the well-documented effects of the widespread deployment of herbicide- and pest-resistant genetically modified crops.

While those breakthroughs were meant to cut down on the need for chemical inputs, studies have found that they've instead bred new superbugs and superweeds that, in turn, must be suppressed with ever more and stronger pesticides and herbicides. "Far from freeing us from the chemical treadmill," Bronner says, "GMOs are doubling down on it."

Bronner brings me to a bright, 120,000-square foot warehouse down the road from a Home Depot—his company's future headquarters and factory store. There Bertine Kabellis, a spunky, Haitian-born factory manager, details the plans to make the blandly corporate space feel more like home.

The factory store will include a "fragrance bar," an empty bottle refill station, and a hemp activism diorama featuring a Bronner lookalike mannequin sorting through cannabis plants in a cage. "So it's going to be really, really rad," Kabellis says. "We're going to have Dr. Bronner pinhole glasses for sale."

"Leopard-print Speedos?" Bronner wants to know. "Which I have to get for Palm Springs Pride," he adds, thinking out loud. "I'm gonna rock 'em."

Kabellis is explaining the layout of the new organic, farm-to-table employee cafeteria when Bronner interrupts her with a message from Eidinger, who's just been released from jail. A photo shows him in his Monsanto lobbyist outfit rolling around in a pile of dollar bills.

"Oh my gosh, he has no shame!" Kabellis says. "He's dangerous!"

"That's so ridiculous," Bronner says, slipping his phone back into his baggy hemp trousers with a huge smile on his face. "It's so rad."

Billions of "Earths" in galaxy

SUBHEAD: Our Milky Way Galaxy may support billions of Earth size planets with liquid surface water.

[IB Publisher's note: Fortunately for them we humans cannot get to another Earth before we learn how to save ourselves from ourselves.]

By Tanya Lewis on 4 November 2013 for Huffington Post-

Image above: An artist's representation of the 'habitable zone,' the range of orbits around a star where liquid water may exist on the surface of a planet. From original article.

Habitable alien planets similar to Earth may not be that rare in the universe, a new study suggests.

About one in five sunlike stars observed by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft has an Earth-size planet in the so-called habitable zone, where liquid water — and, potentially life — could exist, according to the new study. If these results apply elsewhere in the galaxy, the nearest such planet could be just 12 light-years away.

"Human beings have been looking at the stars for thousands of years," said study researcher Erik Petigura, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). "How many of those stars have planets that are in some way like Earth? We're very excited today to start to answer that question," Petigura told [9 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]

The findings, detailed today (Nov. 4) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and in a video describing the frequency of Earth-like planets, say nothing about whether these planets actually support life — only that they meet some of the known criteria for habitability.

Petigura also presented the results today in a briefing at the second Kepler Science Conference at NASA Research Park in Moffett Field, Calif, in which the Kepler team also announced the discovery of hundreds of new exoplanets, including many in the habitable zone.

"I think it's by far the most trustable estimate available, but I don't think it's final," said Francois Fressin, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who was not involved with the study.
Taking a planet census
Petigura and his colleagues painstakingly developed software to sift through Kepler's mammoth data set. The spacecraft's field of view includes about 150,000 stars, but most of these fluctuate in brightness too much for a planet to be detectable. The team examined 42,000 of the "quietest" stars, finding 603 planet candidates around these stars, 10 of which were Earth-size and lay in the habitable zone.

The team defined Earth-size planets as ones having a radius one to two times that of Earth. Planets were considered to be in the habitable zone if they received about as much light as the Earth does from the sun (within a factor of four). [7 Ways to Discover Alien Planets]

They used the Keck I telescope in Hawaii to take spectra of the stars, in order to pin down the radii of the planets.

But this wasn't the end of the story. Just as taking a census requires some statistical corrections for the people the survey misses, the researchers had to make corrections for planets Kepler missed.

The transit method of finding planets, by definition, only detects planets orbiting in the same plane of view as their host star, which includes just a fraction of the total number of planets. Study researcher Geoff Marcy of UC Berkeley compared planetary orbits to papers fluttering through the air. Very few are going to be edge-on, he said.

Secondly, the analysis misses some planets simply because the tiny amount of starlight they block makes them tricky to detect. To correct for this, the researchers inserted "fake planets" into the data so they could see how many their software would miss.

The analysis was a "Herculean task," Marcy said.

After making these corrections, the researchers had their result: About 22 percent of sunlike stars observed by Kepler have Earth-size, potentially habitable planets.

Chances for life
The researchers were quick to point out that the fact that these planets are Earth-size and lie in the habitable zone does not mean they could support life. The planets might have scorching-hot atmospheres, or no atmospheres at all, they said. Even if the planets have all the basic ingredients for life, scientists don't know the probability that life would ever get started.

The definition of Earth-size planets in this study was pretty broad, Fressin said. For instance, a planet that has a radius twice the size of Earth's might not even be rocky, he said.

Kepler mission scientist Natalie Batalha, an astronomer at NASA's Ames Research Center who was not involved with the study, agrees it's a generous definition. Rocky planets with a radius about 1 to 1.5 times the size of Earth's have been found, but the fraction of larger planets that are rocky is probably much lower, Batalha told Still, it's a fair start, she said.

"Kepler's prime objective was to understand the prevalence of habitable planets in the galaxy," Batalha said at a news conference. "This is the first time a team has offered such a number for stars like the sun."

The researchers had to extrapolate the number of planets with orbits longer than 200 days, because these haven't been detected in the Kepler data. "Ideally, we won't rely on extrapolations," Batalha said. "But as a first cut, this is a valid thing to do."

Last week, Marcy and his colleagues reported the discovery of the alien planet Kepler-78b, a rocky world nearly the same size and density as the Earth. But Kepler-78b hugs its star at a distance far too close and hot to be habitable, with surface temperatures of about 3,680 degrees Fahrenheit (2,027 degrees Celsius).

Kepler went out of commission in May, after the loss of a wheel used for pointing the spacecraft. Nevertheless, scientists will mine Kepler data for decades to look for potentially habitable planets.

"Maybe with future instruments, we could actually image these planets," Petigura said.


Does Earth need saving?

SUBHEAD: It is doubtful that the consequences of human actions, however extensive, could wipe out every trace of life on the globe.

By Kurt Cobb on 3 November 2013 for Resource Insights -

Image above: Abandoned Statue of Liberty rendering from "Life After People" series on the History Channel. From (

Hardly a day goes by without someone writing or saying that we need to save the Earth. My geologist friends scoff at such language for semantic reasons. The coolish, rocky planet that we call Earth will be fine when humans are long gone, they say.

Yes, climate change and human depredations of the biosphere have already brought many species to extinction and will likely extinguish many more. And, the radioactive wastes we leave behind might very well get spread about the Earth in ways that are destructive to life. But give the Earth a few hundred million years, and all of this will be essentially forgotten, gone without a trace.

As for life, it is doubtful that the consequences of human actions, however extensive, could wipe out every trace of life on the globe. Some form of life is likely to survive anything we as a species ultimately throw at it and then begin the cycle of evolution all over again.

So, if the planet doesn't need saving, what does? Well, two things depending on your goals. Many people believe that humans are moving quickly toward premature extinction, and, as I mentioned above, that we are taking many species with us. So, if your goal is to maintain the continuity of the human species, you presumably have your work cut out for you--or maybe not depending on the result you'd like to see.

We humans are almost certainly in overshoot, a term from population biology that means we've exceeded the long-term carrying capacity of the Earth for humans given our current technology and consumption habits. So, here's the solution. Bring the per-capita consumption of humans down drastically or drastically reduce the number of humans consuming at our current rate. The first seems nearly impossible given our system of governance and technology and the fact that there are so many poor people who aspire to higher levels of consumption. The second seems impossible even though we have highly effective and cheap contraceptive technology that would over the course of the next century enable us to reduce our numbers down to one billion. (This assumes that average fertility is no more than one child per couple.)

There is a third solution. And, that is simply to let nature take its course and thin human numbers through plagues, food and resource shortages, climate-related catastrophes and the collapse of our complex global economic network that might ensue. Even with all of this, humans are extremely resilient, and enough of us would likely survive to create a new system of living based on the available resources under the new climate conditions on Earth.

It seems that human continuity is relatively assured no matter what. So, what we are really talking about saving is not the species, but the way of life we currently enjoy and the number of humans who currently enjoy it (using the term in its broadest sense since the world's vast sea of poor people must enjoy it without the material benefits of citizens in wealthy countries).

There is certainly an interest in protecting one's children and grandchildren who may face an increasingly perilous climate and shrinking resources including food. And, there is a broader concern that the world's poor will bear the brunt of these problems resulting in skyrocketing death rates.

But, some people have an even more wide-ranging concern for all the other creatures and plants which inhabit the Earth. In general, they form a web of life that provides us with services not accounted for by our money-driven economy, so-called ecoservices which according to the Encyclopedia of Earth do the following:
  • Moderate weather extremes and their impacts
  • Disperse seeds
  • Mitigate drought and floods
  • Protect people from harmful ultraviolet rays in sunlight
  • Cycle and move nutrients
  • Protect stream and river channels and coastal shores from erosion
  • Detoxify and decompose wastes
  • Control agricultural pests
  • Maintain biodiversity
  • Generate and preserve soils and renew their fertility
  • Contribute to climate stability
  • Purify the air and water
  • Regulate disease carrying organisms
  • Pollinate crops and natural vegetation
We could not survive without these ecoservices and would be bankrupted if we had to provide them completely artificially. Their scope and complexity are something on which our entire global society depends and gets essentially free of charge.

So, a concern for the well-being of all the other creatures and plants which inhabit the Earth is partly an act of self-interest in survival. Beyond this, there are aesthetic, cultural and moral reasons for preserving these other living things. For instance, it is sad to imagine a world without the beauty of the tiger. But we may someday inhabit such a world.

We inherited a rich diversity of edible plants, but have been narrowing the ones we continue to raise based on our ability to grow vast quantities with modern farm machinery and methods--and our ability to store, ship and market crops across long distances. A part of our cultural as well as our genetic heritage is being lost.

Then, there is the moral argument. Deep ecologists suggest that all life has intrinsic worth and that therefore to exploit and destroy other life except to satisfy basic needs is a moral failing. For deep ecologists, then, preserving life on Earth means much more than simply preserving human life.

So, next time someone tells you he or she wants to save the Earth, you might inquire, "Which part? And for what or whom?" It's a vital clarification. If you only wish to save the human species consuming at its current level, then humans will surely continue to impoverish the plant and animal kingdoms. And, we humans might ultimately see our numbers diminished considerably by forces beyond our control if we insist that consumption go up or stay the same, rather than go down.

However, if your goals are broader, those goals may require far-reaching changes in human society as it is currently configured. So, yes, go out and save the Earth. But, you would do well to understand which part you want to save and for what or whom you want to save it.
• Kurt Cobb is an author, speaker, and columnist focusing on energy and the environment. He is a regular contributor to the Energy Voices section of The Christian Science Monitor and author of the peak-oil-themed novel Prelude.


Economic growth becoming anti-life

SUBHEAD: An obsession with growth has eclipsed our concern for sustainability, justice and human dignity.

By Vandana Shiva on 1 November 2013 for the Guardian -

Image above: Economic growth begins when seeds are genetically modified and patented, leading to farmers having to buy seeds every season'. Photograph: Raminder Pal Singh/EPA. From original article.

Limitless growth is the fantasy of economists, businesses and politicians. It is seen as a measure of progress. As a result, gross domestic product (GDP), which is supposed to measure the wealth of nations, has emerged as both the most powerful number and dominant concept in our times. However, economic growth hides the poverty it creates through the destruction of nature, which in turn leads to communities lacking the capacity to provide for themselves.

The concept of growth was put forward as a measure to mobilise resources during the second world war. GDP is based on creating an artificial and fictitious boundary, assuming that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. In effect , “growth” measures the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities.

Thus nature’s amazing cycles of renewal of water and nutrients are defined into nonproduction. The peasants of the world,who provide 72% of the food, do not produce; women who farm or do most of the housework do not fit this paradigm of growth either. A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of patented medicine.

Water available as a commons shared freely and protected by all provides for all. However, it does not create growth. But when Coca-Cola sets up a plant, mines the water and fills plastic bottles with it, the economy grows. But this growth is based on creating poverty – both for nature and local communities. Water extracted beyond nature’s capacity to renew and recharge creates a water famine. Women are forced to walk longer distances looking for drinking water. In the village of Plachimada in Kerala, when the walk for water became 10 kms, local tribal woman Mayilamma said enough is enough. We cannot walk further; the Coca-Cola plant must shut down. The movement that the women started eventually led to the closure of the plant.

In the same vein, evolution has gifted us the seed. Farmers have selected, bred, and diversified it – it is the basis of food production. A seed that renews itself and multiplies produces seeds for the next season, as well as food. However, farmer-bred and farmer-saved seeds are not seen as contributing to growth. It creates and renews life, but it doesn't lead to profits. Growth begins when seeds are modified, patented and genetically locked, leading to farmers being forced to buy more every season.

Nature is impoverished, biodiversity is eroded and a free, open resource is transformed into a patented commodity. Buying seeds every year is a recipe for debt for India’s poor peasants. And ever since seed monopolies have been established, farmers debt has increased. More than 270,000 farmers caught in a debt trap in India have committed suicide since 1995.

Poverty is also further spread when public systems are privatised. The privatisation of water, electricity, health, and education does generate growth through profits . But it also generates poverty by forcing people to spend large amounts of money on what was available at affordable costs as a common good. When every aspect of life is commercialised and commoditised, living becomes more costly, and people become poorer.

Both ecology and economics have emerged from the same roots – "oikos", the Greek word for household. As long as economics was focused on the household, it recognised and respected its basis in natural resources and the limits of ecological renewal. It was focused on providing for basic human needs within these limits. Economics as based on the household was also women-centered. Today, economics is separated from and opposed to both ecological processes and basic needs. While the destruction of nature has been justified on grounds of creating growth, poverty and dispossession has increased. While being non-sustainable, it is also economically unjust.

The dominant model of economic development has in fact become anti-life. When economies are measured only in terms of money flow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And the rich might be rich in monetary terms – but they too are poor in the wider context of what being human means.

Image above: Water extracted beyond nature’s capacity to renew and recharge creates a water famine'. Photograph: Joe McNally/Getty, From original article.

Meanwhile, the demands of the current model of the economy are leading to resource wars oil wars, water wars, food wars. There are three levels of violence involved in non-sustainable development. The first is the violence against the earth, which is expressed as the ecological crisis. The second is the violence against people, which is expressed as poverty, destitution and displacement. The third is the violence of war and conflict, as the powerful reach for the resources that lie in other communities and countries for their limitless appetites.

Increase of moneyflow through GDP has become disassociated from real value, but those who accumulate financial resources can then stake claim on the real resources of people – their land and water, their forests and seeds. This thirst leads to them predating on the last drop of water and last inch of land on the planet. This is not an end to poverty. It is an end to human rights and justice.

Nobel-prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen have admitted that GDP does not capture the human condition and urged the creation of different tools to gauge the wellbeing of nations. This is why countries like Bhutan have adopted the gross national happiness in place of gross domestic product to calculate progress. We need to create measures beyond GDP, and economies beyond the global supermarket, to rejuvenate real wealth. We need to remember that the real currency of life is life itself.

• Vandana Shiva is a guest of the Festival Of Dangerous Ideas, Sydney Opera House, this weekend.


Peak Coconuts

SUBHEAD: While demand rises coconut crisis looms as postwar palm trees age and are not replaced.

By Supunnabul Suwannakij on 3 November 2013 for Bloomberg News -

Image above: Proposed Longs Drugs paving over the remnants of the eastsides once extensive coconut orchards next to failing Coconut Glove mall. From (

Asia’s coconut palms, which mark the landscape from the Philippines to India, face a crisis as aging groves become less productive, with harvests that are a source of food and income for millions being outstripped by demand.

The trees, many of which were planted about 50 to 60 years ago, no longer yield enough to meet rising demand, according to the Rome-based Food & Agriculture Organization. There’s an urgent need for replanting, said Hiroyuki Konuma, regional representative for Asia and the Pacific at the UN agency, which is coordinating a response to the challenge. While world consumption of coconut products is growing more than 10 percent a year, production is increasing by only 2 percent, it said.

At stake is the productivity of a core part of the rural economy in the Asia-Pacific, which accounts for about 85 percent of the global supply of the commodity that goes into food, fuel, soaps and cosmetics. In the Philippines, among the three biggest growers, one in five people depends on the crop to some extent, according to the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community. The Jakarta-based group, which represents growers, predicts that harvests could be increased to benefit millions of smallholders.

“We have a lot of aging trees,” Yvonne Agustin, executive director of the United Coconut Association of the Philippines, said in an interview, adding some local palms are already 100 years old. “The government recognizes that and has embarked on a planting and replanting program,” Agustin said by phone.

Slender Trees
The slender trees that are a staple image for tourists’ postcards are productive for between 50 years and a century, with the highest yields in the first three decades, according to the FAO. The harvest in the Asia-Pacific is now about 40 nuts per tree a year, compared with a potential yield of 75 to 150, it estimates, saying replanting is advisable after 60 years.

India, Asia’s third-largest economy, is the top producer, harvesting 17 billion nuts last year, followed by Indonesia, which gathered 15.4 billion, and the Philippines, with 15.2 billion, according to the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community. The global coconut area was about 12.3 million hectares (30.3 million acres), yielding 64.3 billion nuts, it said.

While the expansion of services and manufacturing spurs economic growth in Asia, farming remains important. In India, agriculture accounted for 17 percent of gross domestic product last year, according to the Washington-based World Bank. In Indonesia, agriculture was 15 percent of GDP in 2011, while in the Philippines it was 13 percent. The FAO estimates the coconut industry accounts for as much as 5 percent of Philippine GDP.

Image above: Photo of existing aging coconut trees to be taken down and replaced with parking lot . From (

Philippine Yield
In the Philippines, an estimated 340 million trees cover 26 percent of farmland, yielding 43 nuts per tree a year, data from the Philippine Coconut Authority show. Shipments of coconut products in the first eight months of the year rose 10 percent to $1 billion, data from the statistics agency show. The industry is the country’s largest agricultural exporter, said Euclides Forbes, the authority’s administrator.

Kerala is the top producer in India, followed by Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, according to the Coconut Development Board, under the Ministry of Agriculture. While a trial program in Kerala to replace aged palms has boosted productivity, yields are still dropping in the three other states, sometimes by as much as third, Sugata Ghose, the board’s chief coconut development officer, said in an interview.

“We have removed disease-ridden and old palms for replanting,” said Ghose, who’s based in Kochi, Kerala. “Last year, we had a big problem with the price, as farmers were not getting a good price. This year farmers are happy because production is less plus demand has gone up.”

Bangkok Consultation
Not all farmers face difficulties. Aging trees aren’t an issue in Vietnam’s Ben Tre, according to Tran Van Hung, deputy director of the agriculture department in the province that’s the biggest grower. Yields are stable at about 100 nuts per tree a year in most areas, up from about 60 a few years ago after prices rose and farmers used more fertilizer, Hung said.

The FAO, a United Nations agency, hosted a consultation in Bangkok last week to address the yield issue, drawing representatives from states including the three top growers as well as Fiji and the Solomon Islands. While yields are low and most trees are old, scientists are working to raise output, said Siriwat Kajornprasart, Thailand’s deputy minister of agriculture and cooperatives.

“Coconut is a traditional crop in India, with more than 2,000 years of history,” K. Muralidharan, director of the Coconut Development Board, said on the sidelines of the gathering in Bangkok. Every part of the palm can be used, and the industry contributes more than 83 billion rupees ($1.3 billion) a year to India’s GDP (INQGGDPY), he said.

Often Overlooked
New trees can start producing in as few as two or three years, according to Romulo Arancon, executive director of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community. With replanting and improved farm practices, output can be raised by 50 percent to 100 percent within a few years, said Arancon, who estimated that a mature palm can produce as many as 400 nuts a year.

More than half of Indonesia’s 4 million hectares of palms are aging, or over 50 years old, said Irawadi Jamaran, chairman of the Indonesian Coconut Board, which groups producers, processors and sellers. The main problem for the industry is a lack of government attention, with greater concern for bigger plantations, especially oil palm, Irawadi said. The country is the largest producer of palm oil, which is grown on estates.

“Coconut is often overlooked by many people because we’re always looking at rice and oil palm, and people don’t think coconut is an important one: this is not true,” the FAO’s Konuma said in an interview. “It contributes to economy, culture and livelihood.”