Archive for ‘Climate Change’

Parts of Amazon forest very close to tipping point

Monday, February 15th, 2010

The Amazon forest is very close to a tipping point. The Mato Grosso region, an area more than twice the size of California in the southern Amazon, has already seen 17% of the region’s forest cleared. A study by Federal University of Viçosa Brazil, simulated that with 20% deforestation –  an increase of just 3% from current levels of deforestation – northern Mato Grosso would not be able to recover even after 50 years. It would turn into a dry, bare savannah. The results of the study could even be an underestimate as the study did not take into consideration the effects of climate change.

Source: Parts of Amazon close to tipping point

Date: 5 March 2009

A variety of tipping elements could reach their critical point within this century under human induced climate change. The nine top tipping elements are listed

Monday, February 15th, 2010

“Society must not be lulled into a false sense of security by smooth projections of global change,” says Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia. “Our findings suggest that a variety of tipping elements could reach their critical point within this century under human-induced climate change. The greatest threats are tipping of the Arctic sea-ice and the Greenland ice sheet, and at least five other elements could surprise us by exhibiting a nearby tipping point.”

The nine tipping elements, the time it will take them to undergo a major transition, and their major effect:

  • Melting of Arctic sea-ice (approx 10 years; amplified warming, ecosystem change)
  • Decay of the Greenland ice sheet (more than 300 years; sea level rise of 2-7 meters)
  • Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet (more than 300 years; sea level rise of 5 meters)
  • Collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation (approx 100 years; regional cooling)
  • Increase in the El Nino Southern Oscillation (approx 100 years; drough in Southeast Asia and other places)
  • Collapse of the Indian summer monsoon (approx 1 year; drought)
  • Greening of the Sahara/Sahel and disruption of the West African monsoon (approx 10 years)
  • Dieback of the Amazon rainforest (approx 50 years; biodiversit loss, decreased rainfall)
  • Dieback of the Boreal Forest (approx 50 years)

Further tipping points:

  • Antarctic Bottom Water (100 years)
  • Tundra (100 years; amplified warming)
  • Permafrost (100 years; CH4 and CO2 release)
  • Marine methane hydrates (amplified global warming)
  • Ocean anoxia (lack of oxygen) (10,000 years; marine mass extinction)
  • Arctic zone (1 year; increased UV at surface)

Source: Climate change tipping points outlined –

Date: 5 February 2008

Source: Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Date: November 2007

Factory Farms, Deforestation, Subsidies and Soy: UK Campaign Connects the Dots

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

From Meatless Mondays to Weekday Vegetarianism to going raw food vegan to adopting the 100-Mile Diet, there are plenty of individual actions we can take to reduce the impact of our meals. But personal action is not enough, and with the complex, interrelated clusterf**k that our food system has become, individuals can feel powerless to make positive change on a systemic level. Luckily, a new campaign from Friends of the Earth UK is connecting the dots for you.

Having already brought us singing cows and politicians, the Fix the Food Chain campaign is stepping up its efforts for a fundamental shift in how the UK Government treats the food system. Among the campaign’s demands are:

1. Stop spending taxpayers’ money on subsidizing intensive livestock farming and invest in research on alternatives.

2. Introduce new legislation to ensure public money is not spent on environmentally damaging, unhealthy food for schools, hospitals, care homes, the armed
forces and prisons.

3. Address the climate change impacts of livestock production, including the worldwide impacts of the global food chain.

4. Change global investment policy and stop spending taxpayers’ money on finance for damaging intensive livestock schemes via the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other forms of bilateral finance.

5. Fund research and development into sustainable farming, including suitable breeds, crop varieties and cropping systems.

6. Make UK companies, including supermarkets, accountable for the impact on people and the environment abroad.

7. Revise the Sustainable Consumption and Production Strategy so that it addresses
the full impacts of livestock production.

8. Review European Trade Policy and ensure greater priority is given to the environmental and social impacts of global trade.

Check out the summary of FOE’s report on the environmental impact of livestock (PDF download), and check out the organization’s campaign guidelines if you want to do more.

Source: Factory Farms, Deforestation, Subsidies and Soy: UK Campaign Connects the Dots – Tree Hugger

Date: 08 November 2009

Study claims meat creates half of all greenhouse gases

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Climate change emissions from meat production are far higher than currently estimated, according to a controversial new study that will fuel the debate on whether people should eat fewer animal products to help the environment.

In a paper published by a respected US thinktank, the Worldwatch Institute, two World Bank environmental advisers claim that instead of 18 per cent of global emissions being caused by meat, the true figure is 51 per cent.

They claim that United Nation’s figures have severely underestimated the greenhouse gases caused by tens of billions of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and other animals in three main areas: methane, land use and respiration.

Their findings – which are likely to prompt fierce debate among academics – come amid increasing from climate change experts calls for people to eat less meat.

In the 19-page report, Robert Goodland, a former lead environmental adviser to the World Bank, and Jeff Anhang, a current adviser, suggest that domesticated animals cause 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), more than the combined impact of industry and energy. The accepted figure is 18 per cent, taken from a landmark UN report in 2006, Livestock’s Long Shadow.

“If this argument is right,” write Goodland and Anhang, “it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change.”

“In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on greenhouse gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”

Their call to move to meat substitutes accords with the views of the chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, who has described eating less meat as “the most attractive opportunity” for making immediate changes to climate change.

Lord Stern of Brentford, author of the 2006 review into the economic consequences of global warming, added his name to the call last week, telling a newspaper interviewer: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources.”

Scientists are concerned about livestock’s exhalation of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Cows and other ruminants emit 37 per cent of the world’s methane. A study by Nasa scientists published in Science on Friday found that methane has significantly more effect on climate change than previously thought: 33 times more than carbon dioxide, compared with a previous factor of 25.

According to Goodland and Anhang’s paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, scientists have significantly underestimated emissions of methane expelled by livestock. They argue that the gas’s impact should be calculated over 20 years, in line with its rapid effect – and the latest recommendation from the UN – rather than the 100 years favoured by Livestock’s Long Shadow. This, they say, would add a further 5bn tons of CO2e to livestock emissions – 7.9 per cent of global emissions from all sources.

Similarly, they claim that official figures are wrong to ignore CO2 emitted by breathing animals on the basis that it is offset by carbon photosynthesised by their food, arguing the existence of this unnecessary animal-based CO2 amounts to 8.7bn tons of CO2e, 3.7 per cent of total emissions.

On land use, they calculate that returning the land currently used for livestock to natural vegetation and forests would remove 2.6bn tons of CO2e from the atmosphere, 4.2 per cent of greenhouse gas. They also complain that the UN underestimated the amount of livestock, putting it at 21.7bn against NGO estimates of 50bn, adding that numbers have since risen by 12 per cent.

Eating meat rather than plants also requires extra refrigeration and cooking and “expensive” treatment of human diseases arising from livestock such as swine flu, they say.

While looking into the paper’s findings, Friends of the Earth said the report strengthened calls for the Government to act on emissions from meat production. “We already know that the meat and dairy industry causes more climate-changing emissions than all the world’s transport,” said Clare Oxborrow, senior food campaigner.

“These new figures need further scrutiny but, if they stack up, they provide yet more evidence of the urgent need to fix the food chain. The more damaging elements of the meat and dairy industry are effectively government-sponsored: millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is spent propping up factory farms and subsidising the import of animal feed that’s been grown at the expense of forests.”

Justin Kerswell, campaign manager for the vegetarian group Viva!, said: “The case for reducing consumption of meat and dairy products was already imperative based on previous UN findings. Now it appears to have been proven that the environmental devastation from livestock production is in fact staggeringly more significant – and dwarfs the contribution from the transport sector by an even greater margin.”

“It is essential that attention is fully focused on the impact of livestock production by all global organisations with the power to affect policy.”

Source: Study claims meat creates half of all greenhouse gases – The Independent UK

Date: 01 November 2009

Critics round on Lord Stern over vegetarian call

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Farmers and meat companies across Britain reacted with a mixture of anger and exasperation yesterday after one of the world’s leading climate change campaigners urged people to become vegetarian to help to fight global warming.

The offensive by Lord Stern of Brentford in The Times was especially timely as about 100 leading meat and farm industry figures sat down to breakfast in the elegant Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords to celebrate champions in the pig industry.

The occasion was also an opportunity to show the vegetarian Farming Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, the efforts being made to reduce the carbon footprint of livestock farms.

Serving the right bacon and sausage was therefore important, and industry leaders chose Bedfordia Farms, which is pioneering technology in farming. The group pumps slurry from pig units to an anaerobic digestion plant, where it is combined with other waste from the food chain to produce renewable energy and bio-fertiliser. These type of plants are increasingly being seen as one of the ways to help British farming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It was the lack of acknowledgement about what the industry is doing to help to fight climate change that made senior farming leaders so outraged by the comment by Lord Stern. The reaction in Whitehall, however, was muted. The remarks were a personal view from Lord Stern, who is an economist, one senior insider said.

It was left to Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to set the record straight and make clear that stopping people eating meat was not on the government agenda. The professor, who eats meat, fish and cheese but admits that he consumes more fruit and vegetables these days, made clear that eating a balanced diet that was good for health and the environment was the key. However, he did not flinch from Lord Stern’s view that the nation had to reduce its carbon emissions.

“There’s no question we need to reduce greeenhouse gas emissions, not only the way we produce energy and use energy, but also from avoiding deforestation and our agricultural sector. Livestock globally could account for as much as 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.”

“When you look at the livestock industry, it’s not just the cows burping methane, it’s transporting the meat, it’s cooking the meat, it’s storing the meat. It’s not stopping eating meat. It’s how do we get a balanced diet that reduces the environmental footprint.”

The Soil Association; Compassion in World Farming; the food and farming campaign group, Sustain; and VIVA, vegetarian campaigners, were united that everyone should have one or two meat-free days a week.

The word on meat

“Eating a vegetarian diet is a lot cheaper than a meat one. Let’s face it — the most expensive foods on the average families shopping lists are meat and dairy” — Jonte Jay

“Thanks for the good and scientific article. More people should be vegan. I hope all people take \ up soon, before it’s too late” — Sean Lee

“Those who refuse to give up meat are contributing significantly to the destruction of the planet” — Peter Radcliffe

“If we quit breeding large herds of animals for meat, population goes down, less animals producing less methane gas. Unfortunately, there will still be Lords and politicians producing more than their fair share of gas . . .” — Dbrent Willis

“Tell me I’m having a bad dream and not living in such a ridiculous country” — Nicholas Fox

Source: Critics round on Lord Stern over vegetarian call – The Times UK

Date: 28 October 2009

How the Maccas want to save the planet

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

THERE is a charming, seemingly random, video on YouTube of Paul McCartney demonstrating how to make mashed potatoes. It’s a recipe from Linda McCartney’s On Tour book (he is following the instructions from his own well-thumbed copy), and there is something endearing about the way he shows you Linda’s tip on how to chop an onion, as he hacks away with the knife in a way no professional chef would.

He is no Jamie Oliver. Obviously, Sir Paul has other talents, and his guide to making mash the Macca way, a video he made as the president of the UK’s Vegetarian Society, is just a bit of fun — the perfect accompaniment to a couple of Linda’s vegetarian sausages.

Food was a key part of Paul and Linda’s relationship, and when they went vegetarian in the Seventies, it was a spontaneous and joint decision, he says. “We were on the farm and we saw lambs gambolling and we were eating leg of lamb. So it was a compassionate thing. That seems to be the least important thing to people these days. It seems to have gone right out of the window, unfortunately.”

Linda’s food still brings the family together. They are actively involved in Linda McCartney Foods, which recently had a bit of a dust-off and a rebranding. They all taste and approve new recipes, and I imagine their freezers are well stocked with Linda’s burgers and sausages. It is important to them; it is their way of keeping her legacy alive. So when Sir Paul decided to launch the campaign Meat Free Monday — the aim of which is to persuade people to go veggie once a week to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock — it was the perfect opportunity to get together for a rare public group hug.

As he muses over a suitable recipe for another cookery video to promote the campaign, he remembers one of his father’s favourite recipes: “Pea sandwiches. I remember my dad making one for John once.” His daughters — Mary, the photographer, and Stella, the fashion designer — groan. “It has to be Mum’s lasagne,” Mary says. We are in a leafy private garden in Notting Hill, at the back of the Portobello Hotel where, legend has it, Kate Moss took a champagne bath with Johnny Depp. Grand west London villas overlook the garden.

A small girl in a school boater is peeping out of her window, watching one of the most famous men in the world being photographed. Sir Paul waves at her cheerily, and she disappears. While Mary prepares to take the photographs, Sir Paul takes a tiny mouth organ from his pocket and plays as Stella, wearing a vintage powder-blue dress, her high heels making her long legs look even longer, sings along.

“This is why Bob Dylan wants to write songs with you,” she laughs. It’s a family joke. Despite news reports that the two musicians are about to record together, Sir Paul tells me later that the rumour is unfounded. “No, that’s a newspaper thing. He just said some very complimentary things about me in some interviews, and I love him. I think he’s a great poet and writer, so I’ve always admired him. I don’t rule it out and I admire him. But we’re not the kind of people who would ring each other up.”

Mary, dressed in a kimono-style top, has her mother’s angular elegance. She takes her place in the picture, arranges her father’s hair, which is blowing in the wind, and presses the shutter. The McCartneys are famously vegetarian, but Stella says that for the sake of this particular debate she wishes they weren’t — this is not an evangelical mission to make the world veggie but an attempt to slow climate change.

“It’s an environmental conversation, not a vegetarian one,” Stella says. “It’s OK to just give up meat for one day, it doesn’t make you a vegetarian, it doesn’t make you a cranky, hemp-wearing pot-smoker, it doesn’t make you the kind of person you don’t want to be.”

Sir Paul read about the campaign in America and decided he needed to get involved. Meatout Mondays have been promoted by the American charity Farm (Farm Animal Rights Movement) since 1985, and the Meat Free Mondays campaign was set up in Australia by a health food company, Sanitarium, in 2005.

Cynics might say that Paul McCartney’s campaign is a marketing strategy to sell more of Linda’s frozen foods — veggie bangers and mash is a great quick and healthy Monday supper — but despite the battering that the McCartney investment portfolio is reported to have taken of late, he is hardly short of money. As he says, he doesn’t need to be here promoting this cause. And Stella, who is in multi-tasking overdrive, editing a photo shoot in between having her picture taken, certainly doesn’t. But he is here, and part of Paul McCartney’s charm is the fact that he is 100 percent believable.

Over the past year, he has been writing letters to celebrities and chefs, talking to schools and galvanising support from as many people as he can, including Woody Harrelson , Doris Day and Ricky Gervais. A few weeks ago, he held a press conference to launch the campaign at Oliver Peyton’s London restaurant Inn the Park. Peyton, a fully fledged bone marrow-sucking carnivore, has agreed to promote meat-free dishes every Monday at the restaurant.

The musician Moby, a vegan for 22 years, was there. Yoko Ono turned up, looking suitably eccentric in a jaunty naval outfit, her Meat Free Monday badge pinned alongside another that said simply, Imagine Peace. She chatted to Sir Paul’s son, James, also a musician, as they tucked into Linda McCartney burgers and hotdogs. The campaign has some weighty research behind it, not least from the United Nations. “Dad got the report,” says Mary, who is softly spoken but has a cool air of authority about her. “You were sent the report weren’t you?” She looks at her father, who is quietly whistling to himself.

He is a great advertisement for a vegetarian diet, looking far more youthful than his 67 years. “Yeah, Livestock’s Long Shadow, it was called. The UN, who are our appointed global watchdog, said, ‘Hey, cattle rearing is more harmful than all transport’. That is the statistic I thought was shocking, because until then I thought it was aeroplanes, cars and trucks…” According to the 2006 report, livestock is responsible for 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which is indeed a bigger share than that of transport, which accounts for 13 per cent.

“We’re not talking about just a few cows, we’re talking billions,” Sir Paul says. “I took a drive from Santa Fe down to El Paso, and you go past about 15-20 miles of cattle and it’s the same cow — it’s a brown and white cow. There are billions of them! And that’s where it hits home. That’s where the methane’s coming from, not just a couple of cows on a farm. It’s not just Daisy and Buttercup any more.”

It seems that environmentalists and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation have come to the same conclusion as the McCartneys: that rearing billions of cows to make beef burgers is not a good idea. It’s the first time not eating meat is being promoted by scientists — “traditional eaters”, as Sir Paul calls them, not vegetarians with a vested interest. For Stella and Mary, following their father’s lead is perfectly natural. Linda would certainly have been there, waving her placard. She was talking about the relationship between food and the environment long before the UN decided to act.

“Ideally, yes, be vegetarian,” Mary says. “But if not, just reduce your meat intake.”

Listening to them running through the arguments and the statistics, you feel this is a typical discussion that would happen over a family nut roast. Occasionally, they talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences.

“It can be so overwhelming,” Stella admits. “You can feel so, ‘Oh God, but I’ve got to get that plane to there and I’ve got to drive my car with my three kids to here’. You are led to believe that transport is the main problem, but actually it’s diet. To be honest, we could sit and bang on about it…”

Sir Paul: “… but we don’t want to bang on, we don’t want to say to you, ‘Look, you have to go veggie.’ The idea is that it’s for the environment, for your children’s future: would you consider just one day a week changing your habits? And then if you decide to do two days, three, four, then so much the better, it would have a huge impact.”

Stella: “If everyone gave it up on a Monday, it would be more effective than everyone stopping driving their car on a Monday. We are not perfect. It’s so important to get that across because it’s like, ‘Oh, those bloody Maccas, talking again about not killing cows!’ But the reality is, I like to think I am trying to do my little bit. I will turn off a light when I leave a room; I will turn off a socket if I don’t want to be using the socket. And those are tiny little things.”

Paul: “Even President Obama tells you to do that.”

On average we are eating twice the amount of meat we ate in 1961, the year the Beatles first performed at the Cavern club in Liverpool.

“The idea of having one type of meat for your breakfast and another type of meat for your lunch, and then another type for your dinner, and in between having your sandwiches with another kind of meat, we really do eat too much of it,” says Paul.

To produce a single kilogram of beef, farmers have to feed a cow 15kg of grain and 30kg of forage. It is a highly intensive business that is ultimately not sustainable. Livestock production is responsible for 70 per cent of the deforestation of the Amazon jungle and, by 2050, the world’s livestock population is expected to rise from 60 billion farm animals to 120 billion. It is a scary fact when you consider that a single cow can produce 500 litres of methane per day, which has around 25 times the global warming impact of CO2.

“I think we forget more and more that we are animals,” says Stella, “and we are part of a planetary system where all of the animals are on this planet together and you are made to feel like a hippy-dippy jerk that should go and live in a tipi for even making a point of remembering.”

Stella is the most vocal of the three, passionately backing up her father, shaking her head, saying “it’s all money, money, money!” about the projected growth of the meat industry (world demand for meat is estimated to double by 2050) and butting in with the odd comment like: “Greed is not a good look. I was brought up to think this was not a good look. Everything in moderation.” And she knows her stuff.

She urges me (and you) to watch a film called Home that was made by the aerial photographer, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and launched recently on World Environment Day. You can link to it from her website

As she says, she tries to do her bit. Although she already incorporates sustainable and organic fabrics in her mainline collection, she also designs a capsule Green Collection which is as purely ethical and sustainable as she can make it and is sold at Barneys in New York and Harvey Nichols in London. On her website, in between pictures of models looking supremely cool and confident in her clothes, if you click on the “Green me” button, you can read Stella’s eco tips — small things we can all do to help slow down global warming. Her London shop is powered by Ecotricity. Her skincare range, Care, is made using 100 per cent organic active ingredients and is Eco-certified. And of course, she tells her celebrity friends off for wearing fur and she doesn’t use leather.

“In my industry, there is no alternative in people’s minds to leather shoes. Now I’m not making a leather shoe. I’m doing all right. We can get by. Things change. Humans are the best animals — the best adapters on the the planet. We adapt quicker than a tree does in the rainforest.”

In March, she was given an award by the Natural Resources Defence Council (which works to protect wildlife and wild places) in New York.

“I was lucky enough to present that to her,” says Paul. “I said that when she joined the fashion world, she first of all was employed by Gucci and my first thought, and Linda’s, was ‘Uh-oh, Gucci is leather city.’ When you think of Gucci, you think of leather. We thought how long is it going to be before she caves in on her principles? And we waited, and we waited, and we waited, and she never did. That is a fantastic achievement… and that’s what’s great about new ideas, different ideas, people catch the fire, they get excited.”

While Stella feels she has been pilloried for her principles, her determination seems to have paid off. Just as the fashion world has finally come round to her big idea of wearing jumpsuits and your boyfriend’s jacket, we seem to have arrived at a moment when having principles is not such a bad thing.

It is perhaps no coincidence that she is the only fashion person to be included in Time magazine’s annual 100 most influential people this year.

Just as any father would, Sir Paul admits to having the magazine on his kitchen table, open at the relevant page — a tribute written by Stella’s friend, Gwyneth Paltrow: “Even if you are not vegetarian, somehow Stella gets you to believe. She manages to convince you (never sanctimoniously from a soapbox) that killing animals is needless and cruel and bad for the environment.”

Sir Paul: “She could have caved in and we almost would have forgiven her. The pressures were so huge, but the fact is that she did not…”

Stella cuts in: “I just think I’ve been very lucky. I think I’ve been brought up in a certain way. Mary’s like that, my brother [James] and sisters [Heather from Linda's first marriage, and Beatrice from her father's second] are like that. My husband’s like that. It was very hard in my industry especially to have those kind of principles and I did have the mickey taken out of me until about a year ago. And people will probably read this and chuck it on their barbie and cook beef on it, but the reality is I’m more impressed by people who take a risk, and I think in this day and age…”

Sir Paul: “It’s how the world changes.”

Stella: “I try to keep my head down and get on with it and design pretty frocks. That’s my job. And Dad makes pretty good records when he’s given half an hour in between his potato mashing, and Mary’s a fantastic photographer. We don’t want to come across as forcing people to think a certain way, I think it’s just a very valid issue and life’s too short to not do something you believe in. You’ve only got a short little period on the planet to make something of your life.”

With all of this passion and desire for change, I wonder if Sir Paul will be writing a Dylan-style protest song to promote the cause. “I do have a few sort of animal awareness songs, but they are very difficult to write. I wrote one called Looking for Changes that was applauded by Peta [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals], which started off with ‘I saw a cat with a machine in its brain’, you know that picture? A hardcore picture. That made me write that,but it’svery, very hard to do and it’s not my forte. Iwish it was, that would be kind of nice to be driven in that direction.

“We’re going to get a bit of flak for this campaign,” he adds. He can’t resist singing into my Dictaphone before turning it off. “Why do we feel we need to do it? Because Meat Free Monday is a damn good idea. I mean, what are you going to tell your kids? That we can do something about it. This is one of those things that you can do.”

For more details on Meat Free Monday visit

Source: How the Maccas want to save the planet – Independent Woman

Date: 26 July 2009

Georgetown joins campaign to bring a healthier menu to nation’s hospitals

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

At Georgetown University Hospital, the cafe’s lunch specials have generally consisted of two meat dishes and one vegetarian offering. In the refrigerated case, sandwiches made with roast beef or ham and cheese were kept on shelves at eye level, for easy grabbing.

In early March, however, the cafe began offering more vegetarian specials, and the meat sandwiches were moved to the bottom shelf. On prominent display are pasta- and grain-based cold salads, vegetable wraps and fresh fruit.

“It used to be that the meat sandwiches were the first thing people would see,” said Leigh-Anne Wooten, the hospital’s clinical nutrition manager. “We’re experimenting to see if customers will try alternatives.”

Georgetown is the first hospital in Washington to sign on to the Balanced Menus Challenge, an initiative of the advocacy group Health Care Without Harm that calls on health-care institutions to reduce meat purchases by 20 percent over a 12-month period.

Twenty-nine other health-care institutions in the United States have made that commitment, including eight in Maryland. The effort is part of the group’s Healthy Food in Health Care campaign, in which close to 300 hospitals have agreed to incorporate sustainable foods into their menus.

Reducing meat consumption in hospitals, according to Health Care Without Harm — a Reston-based coalition of about 500 organizations, including the American Hospital Association, the American Nurses Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility — not only encourages better nutrition but also reduces exposure to the growth hormones and antibiotics routinely used in industrial meat production. In addition, hospitals “can substantially reduce their carbon footprints” by cutting back on meat and buying foods from local producers, said Anna Gilmore Hall, the group’s executive director.

“It’s about changing market dynamics through purchasing and procurement patterns,” said Lena Brook, coordinator of the balanced-menu challenge.

Hospitals are major players in the food service industry: Nationwide, they spend about $10 billion each year, with about 45 percent sold in cafeterias and 40 percent served on patient trays, according to the research firm Technomic. (Hospital catering and room service account for the balance.) Nearly half of hospitals contract with such companies as Aramark, Sodexo and Morrison Foods, which design menus and recipes at the corporate level.

Hospitals with independent food programs have more autonomy and make changes more quickly, noted Louise Mitchell of Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment, a program of University of Maryland School of Nursing. “For those that contract out their food services, change can be much more challenging.”

Chris DeRocco, a Morrison employee who manages food service at Baltimore’s Good Samaritan Hospital, said Balanced Menus offerings at the 325-bed hospital “have gone over pretty well.”

Patients, he said, are easier to convert than cafeteria customers, who still congregate around the burger grill.

“But there are definitely those who say they like the idea of eating something that was dug up three days ago not far from here,” he said. “More people these days are in tune with the local-food movement.”

Along with the “flexitarian” — semi-vegetarian — menus that the company drew up last year, Morrison has begun “Ag in the Middle,” a program to identify local farms large enough to supply the volumes that hospitals require.

“At the peak of the season in D.C., we don’t want our hospitals to be getting corn from California,” said Marc Zammit, vice president of sustainability for Morrison’s parent company, the Compass Group. “Our first choice would be to buy from local markets, but the infrastructure wasn’t there.”

Sodexo has contracts with 600 farmers across the country, mostly for produce, said Nita Gupta, a vice president for the company’s health-care group. Menus are designed with seasonal produce in mind, she said, and food service managers can use the company’s intranet to match recipes to what’s available locally.

Some hospitals signing up for these programs are essentially affirming or expanding changes they were already making.

“We’ve created a framework,” said Jamie Harvie, a coordinator for Health Care Without Harm. “Hospitals were already working on improving the food, but mostly from a nutrition standpoint. Four or five years ago, hospitals weren’t really demanding local produce.”

Some criticism of the menu changes has come from meat producers. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association issued a statement warning that “the unintended consequences of eliminating high-quality animal protein, such as lean beef, from the diet can have a serious impact on public health.” The National Pork Board reiterates that warning and challenges claims about the risks of antibiotic use in industrial meats. Its statement cites studies showing that “95 percent of antibiotic resistance concerns in human medicine are unrelated to animal uses of antibiotics.”

Brook said the Balanced Menus Challenge is not an anti-meat campaign. “Nowhere does it say, ‘Don’t serve meat,’ ” she said. She says the challenge is intended “to bring healthier food into health-care institutions.” In fact, the program grew from environmental concerns and efforts to support sustainable and grass-fed meat production in the San Francisco area, where Brook is on the staff of the local chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Brook has been tracking four Bay Area hospitals that reduced their meat purchases more than a year ago. Initial results show that the hospitals’ combined contributions to greenhouse gas emissions dropped by nearly 85 tons per month, she said. Moreover, the hospitals saved an average of nearly $9,000 per month in food costs by buying less meat. Brook said that some of that money might be reinvested in sustainably produced meat, which is generally more expensive.

For Hall, an important result is the impact an in-hospital program can have on behavior outside the hospital. A former nurse, she recalls embracing the so-called “teachable moments,” when she was able to talk with a patient or family about diet and nutrition. “As health-care workers, we don’t always take advantage of the influence we have.”

Source: Georgetown joins campaign to bring a healthier menu to nation’s hospitals – The Washington Post

Date: 23 March 2009

Amazon’s 2005 Drought Created Huge CO2 Emissions

Friday, March 6th, 2009

OSLO – A 2005 drought in the Amazon rainforest killed trees and released more greenhouse gas than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan, an international study showed on Thursday.

The report said rainforests from Africa to Latin America may speed up global warming if the climate becomes drier this century. Plants soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they die and rot.

“The Amazon forest was surprisingly sensitive to drought,” said Oliver Phillips, a professor of tropical ecology at Leeds University in England who led the study by 68 scientists.

The experts estimated that the forest had been absorbing 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year on average since the 1980s but lost 3 billion in the 2005 drought, which killed trees and slowed growth.

“The total impact was an extra 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That is more than the annual emissions of Europe and Japan combined,” Phillips said of the study published in the journal Science.


Paradoxically, the forest’s accumulation of carbon before 2005 may have been aided by global warming, which improved plant growth.

But the U.N. Climate Panel projected in a 2007 report that rising temperatures may cause more drought and “lead to gradual replacement of tropical forest by savannah” in the eastern Amazon by mid-century.

The study by a group known as RAINFOR said the 2005 drought especially affected soft-wooded species.

“Some species, including some important palm trees, were especially vulnerable,” Peruvian botanist and co-author Abel Monteagudo said in a statement. “Drought threatens biodiversity too.”

Phillips said the expansion of the Amazon’s carbon storage had helped slow global warming since the 1980s.

“Just because we’ve been getting this subsidy doesn’t mean we can count on it for ever,” he said.

Governments have agreed to work out a new U.N. treaty to fight climate change at a meeting in Copenhagen in December. But many countries are wary of agreeing deeper cuts in industrial emissions because of economic recession.

Many nations want measures to slow deforestation to be part of the deal. Deforestation, often by farmers burning forests to clear land, accounts for about 20 percent of emissions from human activities.

Source: Amazon’s 2005 Drought Created Huge CO2 Emissions – Planet Ark

Date: 06 March 2009

Drought could turn tropical forests from carbon sinks to net carbon emitters

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Tropical forests like the Amazon, if they do not receive enough rainfall, emit tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The severe 2005 drought in the Amazon triggered by the warming of the North Atlantic released 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide. 100 millimetres (4 inches) of water deficit could trigger a loss of 2.7 tons of aboveground forest carbon per hectare.

Droughts also increase the risk of fires and threaten biodiversity.

Source: Drought threatens the Amazon rainforest as a carbon sink – Monga Bay

Date: 5 March 2009

Saving Morocco’s Maâmora Forest From Overgrazing and Intensive Cattle Breeding

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Morocco’s Maâmora Forest is in danger.

The vast expanse of oak trees used to make 70 percent of the country’s cork is suffering from overgrazing and intensive cattle breeding.

To stop the gradual disappearance of the forest, alternative economic solutions are being offered to the local population.

Source: Saving Morocco’s Maâmora Forest – euronews

Date: 23 January 2009

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