Archive for January 16th, 2011

Why most natural disasters aren’t natural at all

Why most natural disasters aren’t natural at all


Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011globe
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Editor of

(NaturalNews) From the point of view of many humans, the term “natural disaster” is a convenient scapegoat because it allow a person (or a whole nation) to blame nature for their own poor planning. Wherever we find so-called “natural disasters” around the world (such as Brazil at the moment), we also usually find a large group of people who have cut down the forests that buffer rainfall, paved over the grasslands that allow rain to soak into the soil, and built their homes right in the middle of gullies and natural drainage channels. When the floods come, they look to the sky and curse Mother Nature, shouting, “We got hit by a natural disaster!”

Of course, in some cases it really is a natural disaster. When a volcano blows and causes widespread destruction beyond what anyone could have reasonably foreseen — such as Mt St Helens in the 1980’s — that’s a legitimate natural disaster. When an under-the-ocean earthquake causes a fifty-foot tsunami that wipes out a beach town, that’s a legitimate natural disaster, too. When a large meteorite slams into the planet with the force of millions of atomic bombs, laying waste to an entire era of unique lifeforms (the dinosaurs, for example), that’s a natural disaster.

But getting wiped out by a flood because you built your house right in the flood path of a local river is not a natural disaster. That’s a man-made disaster. Or, more accurately, it’s just poor planning on the part of short-sighted humans. And when it comes to disasters, there’s plenty of short-sightedness to go around these days.

Poor planning

When I lived in Ecuador, I witnessed all sorts of homes being built right in the drainage pathways and low-lying flood zones of rivers with a known history of flooding. Even back in the United States, the federal government actually encourages people to build homes in flood zones and hurricane zones by offering “federal flood insurance” which is for the most part a way for the taxpayers to subsidize the risk of those who live in homes that never should have been built in those areas in the first place.

The entire fiasco of rebuilding the low-lying regions of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of mankind just begging to be hit with yet another “natural disaster.” It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that some time in the next 50 years, a category five hurricane is going to strike New Orleans yet again and reclaim the very same regions that technically belong under water as part of the Gulf of Mexico. (This is in no way meant to disparage the people of New Orleans, by the way, who are some of the most joyful and creative people you’ll ever meet. Great folks. Sad geologic situation, however. You can’t fight geology for long…)

Forest fires should never be a surprise

The most striking example of so-called “natural disasters” is when people build their homes in a giant forest, surrounded by trees, and then they seem surprised when those trees catch on fire and burn their homes to the ground. Did they really think that trees never burn? Do people honestly buy multi-million dollar homes in California and think that their homes will somehow be magically immune to the forest fires that inevitably sweep through all forests?

I don’t mean to make light of the loss of property and the human suffering that occurs during such events, but wouldn’t all that loss have been prevented if they thought more carefully about the situation in the first place?

Even the news gets it wrong. They’ll report things like, “The fire caused over $200 million in property damage…” Well, not exactly. The forest fire burned where it has always burned, every few decades, for probably tens of thousands of years. Fires are, in fact, crucial for the healthy functioning of forest ecosystems. And until humans started building homes in forest fire zones, those fires never caused any so-called “property damage.” So why is the fire to blame for destroying homes? Because people built their homes right where the fires burn every few decades!

Once you realize that, you can’t really blame the fire for destroying the homes. It’s not the fault of the fire. People shouldn’t build homes in forest fire zones.

See, when I look at a forest as a potential home site, the very first thing that comes to my mind is, “Sooner or later, these trees are going to burn.” It’s a natural cycle caused by lightning combined with a dry season that follows a wet growing season that produces lots of underbrush “fuel.” All it takes is one lightning strike to light it up, and from there the laws of chemistry take over.

When poor planning collides with natural repeating cycles

Most “natural” disasters are actually caused by poor human planning. Generally speaking, people don’t have a very long-term view of things. They don’t consider that the little creek running behind their new home could very easily wind up meandering through their living room after record rainfall. The cattle rancher who buys 500 acres of forest and then clear-cuts the trees to make room for cattle grazing (Brazil, anyone?) doesn’t usually consider the fact that they have now removed the rainfall / water buffer zone that protected their lands from floods and erosion.

Even professional city engineers often aren’t very bright about all this: They’ll design cities with enormous areas of pavement and roads, all while failing to properly consider the fact that what used to be dirt which once absorbed water is now concrete that channels water somewhere else. It doesn’t take much rain for a city of pavement to become a flash flood nightmare.

Stop blaming nature for poor human planning

It’s inappropriate for people to use the term “natural disaster” to refer to poor planning on the part of humans. Instead of blaming themselves for building their homes right in the middle of a flash flood zone, too many people blame nature (or God). “Why does God punish us by destroying our home?” they cry. Maybe God was actually sending them an important message: “Don’t build your home in a flood zone.”

Not all floods are the fault of the people affected by them, of course. There are huge floods happening right now in Brisbane, Australia. I haven’t studied the underlying cause of these floods, but they seem completely out of character for the region there. In that case, it means the victims of the floods in Brisbane are suffering through no fault of their own but rather as a result of some destructive global influences on the planet’s weather systems.

Still, now that Brisbane has seen the potential for flooding, watch in amazement over the next twelve months as many Australians rebuild homes right back in the same exact locations devastated by this flood. It’s not a characteristic of good planning. (And it’s not unique to Australians, of course. This happens everywhere in the world, it seems, where people live.)

What “natural disasters” are coming next due to poor human planning?

Here are some of the “natural disasters” I predict will strike our world in the near future. They’ll be blamed on nature, but the real cause is found in human behavior:

• It won’t be too long before our food crops suffer a genetic pollution disaster due to the widespread use of GMOs. Amid global starvation, the GMO scientists will exclaim, “There’s no way we could have foreseen this!” Oh yeah? We warned ya!

• The massive life extinction event occurring right now on our planet will ultimately be traced largely to the mass chemical contamination of the world with pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, food additives and synthetic chemicals in consumer products. Already, the bird and fish die-offs are being called “natural” by conventional scientists who don’t see what’s really happening.

• The next great dust bowl will strike within twenty years as abused, over-farmed soils continue to erode, transforming many food-producing regions of the world into food deserts (deserts as in sand, not desserts as in cherry pie). Instead of blaming destructive farming practices, scientists will blame the weather.

• The global use of fossil water — especially in India — will soon meet a geologic limit, causing widespread drought and desertification. This, too, will be blamed on a “natural” disaster (dry spells).

• The massive loss of food pollinators will accelerate, ultimately leading to emergency shortages of pollinators and a detrimental impact on the global food supply. Instead of blaming this on the most likely culprits (GMOs and pesticides), conventional scientists will try to blame viruses or weather events.

… and this list goes on… and on… while humans continue to blame nature instead of looking at the real source of these problems: Ignorant “scientific” progress and boundless human expansion!

Maybe instead of blaming floods, fires and crop failures on Mother Nature (or God), human beings should take responsibility for the impact of their own actions, both individually and collectively.

How to prevent many so-called natural disasters

So how can we avoid these “natural disasters” on a personal level? It’s easier than you think:

Be mindful of the world around you.

Be aware of your impact on the world around you and the fact that you are connected with the world around you. Everything we do to world around us, whether destructive or creative, will eventually be reflected in that world.

And especially be wary of contaminating the planet, destroying natural habitat or attempting to alter the natural cycles of nature. The best way to avoid natural disasters is to learn to live in greater harmony with the nature world, respecting its natural cycles of “destruction” which are actually crucial to life on Earth.

As one more quick example, consider large hydroelectric dams and the issue of flooding. Arrogant scientists and engineers promised that such dams would end floods downstream, produce clean energy and lead to a healthier world. They were wrong: By stopping the floods, dams directly interfere with the normal life cycle of virtually all the animals that live downstream. And by halting flooding, they deny the croplands on the banks of the rivers the nutritional replenishment they need to grow healthful, mineral-rich crops.

Much the same is true with forest fires. Humans desperately and ignorantly attempt to extinguish such fires, thereby preserving the forest floor “fuel” that one day ignites into a much stronger blaze that, instead of invigorating the forest, kills it dead. Just look at the history of Yellowstone National Park. It was all the decades of extinguishing fires there that led to the devastating, tree-killing fire of 1988.

Human arrogance at work yet again, thinking that every time a fire or flood occurs, it’s a “natural disaster” that must be halted through human intervention.

The upshot is that many “natural disasters” are really only disasters from the point of view of people who don’t respect nature in the first place.

Measuring Park Access and Environmental Justice in Baltimore

Measuring Park Access and Environmental Justice in Baltimore

[image:] Map of Baltimore parks and population characteristics, 1930.  Click on image to see larger version.

Urban Natural Resources Stewardship, United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station

Research Issue

Do all Baltimore residents have the same access to city parks? Does the distribution of parks in the city indicate environmental justice or injustice?

Our Research

We used a novel approach to measure park ‘service areas,’ territories defined by distance to the closest park, as an indicator of environmental justice in Baltimore, Maryland. We found that more blacks than whites have access to parks within walking distance of their homes, but whites have access to more acres of parks than blacks. Areas of the city with the highest need for parkland have the best access to parks but also have access to fewer acres of parkland compared to low-need areas. Park service areas that are predominantly black have more park crowding than areas that are predominantly white. We argue that environmental justice must move beyond just the locations of amenities like parks to address the underlying forces that create land use patterns. For Baltimore, we examined how local laws, racial covenants, improvement associations, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, and the Parks and Recreation Board created separate black spaces. In the post-WWII era, many middle-class whites and blacks moved out of the city to the suburbs leaving blacks who were formerly segregated in park-poor areas of the city with much of Baltimore’s land, including parks. The outcome is that blacks today seem to have equitable access to parks but this access was caused by historical patterns of discrimination and injustice.

Expected Outcomes

This research adds to the extensive body of past work on environmental justice and access to environmental amenities like parks.  We suggest that historical factors and patterns should be taken into account when measuring access to environmental amenities.

Research ResultsForest Service logo

Pickett, S.T.A., Cadenasso, Mary L, Grove, J. Morgan, Boone, Christopher G., Groffman, Peter M., Irwin, E., Kaushal, Sujay, Marshall, Victoria, McGrath, Brian P., Nilon, Charles H., Pouyat, Richard V., Szlavecz, Katalin, Troy, Austin, and Warren, Paige. 2011. Urban ecological systems: scientific foundations and a decade of progress. Journal of Environmental Management. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2010.08.022

Buckley, Geoffrey L., Boone, Christopher G. 2010. To promote the material and moral welfare of the community: Neighborhood  Improvement Associations in Baltimore, Maryland, 1900 – 1945. In Environmental and Social Inequalities in the City since 1800, eds. R. Rodger and G. Massard-Guilbaud. Munich: Berghahn Press.

Boone, C. G., G. B. Buckley, J. M. Grove, S. Chona. (2009). Parks and People: an Environmental Justice Inquiry in Baltimore, Maryland. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99(4): 1-21.

Research Participants

  • Christopher G. Boone, School of Human Evolution & Social Change, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
  • Geoffrey L. Buckley, Department of Geography, Ohio University
  • J. Morgan Grove, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Chona Sister, Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University

Dueling Hypotheses

Dueling Hypotheses

a critique by Michael Lewis, Hayduke Blogs

A recent article by Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) contains so many glaring errors and biased assumptions, it’s hard to know where to start.

First of all, the difference between theory and hypothesis:

The problem is not with dueling hypotheses, it is with dueling theories regarding the processes resulting in observed global warming. One theory states: Observed global warming is the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. Another theory states: Observed global warming is not caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, but is a result of natural geophysical processes.

The statement, “Global warming is the result of human greenhouse gas emissions” is not an hypothesis, it is a proposition, or at best, a simple theory. A theory is an explanation of process based on a body of observation.

Hypotheses, on the other hand, are predictive “if…then” statements used to test a small subset of  a theory as an adequate explanation of observations, thus either strengthening or weakening the theory. The results of an individual hypothesis never disprove a theory. A theory can only be weakened and eventually replaced by the accumulation of a body of evidence that contradicts the theories explanation of observations, and the formulation of a new theory that provides a more adequate explanation.

We can test the theory of anthropogenic global warming with the hypothesis: If observed global warming is caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, then we should find a positive correlation between the amount and rate of greenhouse gas production and global average temperature rise. This is weak test of the theory, since, if we find such a positive correlation, we merely confirm the existing theory. No new information is gained. If we fail to find the positive causal correlation, it may be because we just have not looked hard enough yet, or haven’t looked in the right places. The truth is still out there!

Alternatively, a null hypothesis would be stated as: If observed global warming is caused by human greenhouse gas emissions, then we should not find a negative correlation between the amount and rate of greenhouse gas production and global average temperature rise. This is a much stronger test of the hypothesis, since it only takes one instance of negative correlation to negate the hypothesis and weaken the theory as an explanation of observations.

This is the process of Science, the Hypothetico-deductive Method of Theory Confirmation.

Secondly, Trenberth repeatedly fails to make a distinction between Global Warming and Anthropogenic Global Warming. There is no question that the average global surface temperature of the Earth has been increasing steadily over the past 20,000 years or so, else, we would still be skirting glaciers on our daily commute. The question is: What is the contribution of anthropogenic greenhouse gases to this warming, and, what effect will reduction of anthropogenic greenhouse gases have on this on-going global warming, if any?

Since we do not yet fully understand the natural geophysical processes that result in observed climate variations over geologic time periods, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for us to fully understand the contribution to global climate variation resulting from anthropogenic greenhouse gases. Wild predictions of future catastrophic weather events are simply science fiction prognostications with as much scientific validity as a Star Wars movie.

The periodic reports by the IPCC are not scientific documents, they are produced to give policy-makers estimations of the relevant probabilities of various climate scenarios, as an aid in preparation of national and international policies dealing with climate variation. These statements of probability have been inflated by the world press and by politicians anxious to make a name (and fortune) for themselves. Probability has been turned on its head into certainty and is being used by all manner of organizations and individuals to forward their individual agendae. Hyperinflated scare stories of sea level rise, catastrophic flooding, heat waves and droughts have been used to justify continued human growth and development in the face of dwindling natural resources and increasing air, water and soil pollution, all in the name of environmental justice.

At some point, increasing evidence of negative correlations between global average atmospheric CO2 concentrations and global average surface temperature will falsify the null hypothesis and greatly reduce the adequacy of the anthropogenic global warming theory as an explanation of observed global average surface temperature increase. At that point, environmental organizations, politicians and science policy organizations will find they’ve hitched their wagons to a black hole. Their unceasing drum-beat for Anthropogenic Global Warming will ultimately discredit their otherwise worthwhile and necessary programs to reduce human pollution as a result of unrestricted human population and economic growth.

The Observer Ethical Awards 2011

The Observer Ethical Awards 2011

Welcome to the Observer’s Ethical Awards for 2011. Whether it’s your green-minded local grocer, a school recycling project or a global brand with sustainability at its heart, this is your chance to vote for the people and companies putting the environment first

by Lucy Siegle, The Observer, Sunday 16 January 2011,

    Since the launch of the Observer Ethical Awards in association with Ecover six years ago, we’ve flatteringly become known as the “green Oscars” (thanks in part to a glittering awards ceremony held in June at the V&A and presented by Colin Firth) and we’ve watched as your entries have increased by the thousand. We hope you’ll vote and nominate again this year with similar commitment and passion.

    This year’s judging panel is breathtaking. We are joined by some of the brightest professionals in environmental and social justice, including the climate scientist Dr David Frame and some of the UK’s most extraordinary cultural and scientific talents – author Jeanette Winterson, the conductor John Eliot Gardiner and the physicist and television presenter Brian Cox – the full panel is listed at the bottom of this article.

    We fully imagine the calibre of entrants to be as exciting. Each year sets new standards in innovation and creativity and we expect to see both of these traits in the fashion category, sponsored by The leadership vacuum over environmental issues has been filled by activists and campaigners, so there is no politician of the year category in 2011, but there are UK and global-campaigner categories. We also we want your nominations for grassroots community projects and, as usual, we’re looking for the best and brightest ideas and the individuals, companies and organisations who mean it most when they say they want to change the world. We’ll reveal the results in June. Happy voting…


    The winners of the following four categories are chosen by you, the reader. To encourage you to go online and name your favourites, all voters could win one of our wonderful ethical prizes (see below). Vote now at Retailer: The winner of this category could be any local retailer with three or fewer branches. Winners could range from the local deli creatively sourcing sustainable produce to a celebrated farm shop or a small organic beauty store.

    Online Retailer: Nominate the web retailer who has undertaken ethical initiatives to make internet purchasing a more sustainable solution.

    Campaigner of the Year sponsored by B&Q: Past winners of this award include Al Gore and Peter Tatchell. This category recognises the public-facing campaigner who has made the biggest difference to Observer readers over the past 12 months.

    Global Campaigner of the Year: This could be an individual or an international campaign – either way it will have made a difference on a global level and brought the key issues around social and environmental justice to the world’s attention.


    Our panel of experts will select the overall winner for these categories, but they still need your entries. Send us your nominations for the following categories at awards, and we’ll pass them on to the judges.Big Idea sponsored by National Grid: Big ideas are needed in order to tackle climate change, promote social justice and protect ecosystems. Whether you’re an individual, a small business or an established organisation pushing the boundaries of sustainable innovation, we want to hear from you. The winner will receive £2,000 and two runners up £500 from National Grid.

    Grassroots Project sponsored by Timberland: This pays tribute to those who fight climate change and social justice on the home front and have allied their ethical ideals to concrete action. We are looking for entries from impassioned local groups or individuals. The winner will receive £2,000 towards their project from Timberland. (Projects specifically addressing conservation issues may be better suited to the Conservation category).

    Ecover Ethical Kids: This category has seen some highly inspirational winners over the years, including a school rangers group, young eco filmmakers and a special needs school that created a nature reserve. The category is open to school groups or youth community groups whose members were under 16 on 1 January 2011. Ecover will provide a bursary of £2,000 a year for three years to go towards the winning entry’s sustainable project.

    Fashion and Accessories sponsored by This category supports the growth of ethical fashion labels and products. From London Fashion Week to the Hhigh Sstreet, ethical fashion is increasingly seen as both aspirational and accessible. Are you a designer, fashion house or retailer who can demonstrate a real commitment to sustainable fashion? Are you committed to lightening fashion’s footprint and creating an ethical supply chain? Last year the label From Somewhere was honoured with this prestigious award – who will be this year’s winners? This category is open to entries from fashion labels or retailers only – if you have an ethical fashion favourite why not drop them a line to encourage them to enter.

    Conservation: A group protecting the Arran seabed that provoked a change in Scottish maritime law and an international insect arts festival dubbed “the Glastonbury of the natural world” are both previous winners. Who this year has gone the extra mile to fight for the rights of the biosphereand protect against species or habit loss in the UK or internationally? We invite applications from conservationprojects undertaken by communities, schools, NGOs or charities which make an impact in the UK or overseas, but all entrants must be based in the UK. The winner receives £1,000 from The Observer.

    Ethical Business sponsored by Jupiter Asset Management: This category rewards the steps made by large or small businesses to go beyond “greenwash” and to offer goods or services that truly deliver sustainability. Increasingly, businesses are looking at their performance from an ethical as well as a financial perspective, recognizsing that consumer power favours those who operate transparently and sustainably. Who is leading the way in this new business model? Who has demonstrated their business is about more than the profit line and who also cares about people and the planet? Last year, B&Q showed they had what it takes to claim the award. Could it be your business’s turn? This category is open to entries frombusinesses only – large and small. If you have a favourite ethical business why not drop them a line to encourage them to enter.

    Ethical Blog: The internet plays a huge role in discussion, activism and education. But which ethically themed blog has caught your attention? We are looking for the blogger who has kept you entertained while most effectively explaining and humanising complex arguments, from recycling to keeping chickens to travelling.


    During the final judging stage our panel will nominate and vote on the recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award. The winner will be in illustrious company. Two years ago, the award went to Sir David Attenborough and in 2010 the winner was social activist and entrepreneur Gordon Roddick.


    Vote in this year’s Ethical Awards and you will automatically be entered in the draw to win one of these amazing eco prizes. To vote, go to

    Two-night city break by high-speed rail: Enjoy an unforgettable two-night break for you and your partner in Amsterdam, thanks to Eurostar and Thalys (

    Four nights in Cornwall: Win a luxury break with Beach Retreats, Cornwall’s answer to contemporary self-catering holidays (

    £500 to spend on Timberland’s Earthkeepers: Earthkeepers is a line of premium Timberland products that reflects their commitment to design using recycled, organic and renewable material (

    £250 B&Q gift card: B&Q has more than 4,000 One Planet Home eco products that can help you reduce your home’s carbon footprint (

    Eco house clean: Ecover are offering one lucky winner the chance to have their house professionally cleaned from top to bottom with Ecover products. The prize includes an Ecover hamper (

    National Trust day out: Led by a National Trust guide through some of the Peak District’s most stunning areas, you’ll discover places where the public rarely venture (

    REN luxury hamper: A selection of products from REN Skincare which uses the latest hi-tech bio actives (

    Luscombe Drinks: Win one of three Luscombe party packs. Worth £100 each, they contain a selection of 16 organic grown-up soft drinks (

    Pure Twilight radio: The world’s first combined dawn- simulator lamp and digital radio (

    Jordans breakfast hamper: A bumper hamper filled with nature-friendly Jordans cereals and bars (


    Clare Allman, marketing manager, Ecover
    Rob da Bank, DJ and founder of Bestival
    Michael Bremans, managing director, Ecover
    Jessica Bumpus, fashion features editor, VOGUE.COM
    Damian Carrington, head of environment, The Guardian
    Lily Cole, model
    Brian Cox, scientist
    Stacey Dooley, campaigner and TV presenter
    Anabel Drese, social responsibility manager for Europe, Timberland
    Rick EdwardsM TV presenter
    John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
    Colin Firth, actor
    Livia Firth, filmmaker and owner of Eco Age
    Ben Fogle, TV presenter
    Dr David Frame Smith, School of Enterprise and the Environment
    Rob Holdway, director, Giraffe Innovation
    Emma Howard Boyd, head of sustainable investment, Jupiter Asset Management
    Kate Humble, writer and TV presenter
    Tim Lewis, editor, THE Observer Magazine
    David Lindo, the Urban Birder, TV presenter
    Deborah Meaden, businesswoman and Dragon’s Den star
    Chris Murray, chief executive officer of xoserve, National Grid
    Penny Newman, chief executive, Platform 51
    Ben Okri, poet and novelist
    Sue Perkins, comedian and presenter
    Lewis Pugh, swimmer and environmental campaigner
    Gordon Roddick, co-founder of the Body Shop, The Big Issue and
    Matt Sexton, director of corporate social responsibility, B&Q
    Lucy Siegle, Observer ethical living columnist and BBC One Show presenter
    Alison Tickell, director, Julie’s Bicycle
    Dilys Williams, director of sustainable fashion, London College of Fashion
    Jeanette Winterson, author
    Lola Young, baroness and ambassador for Ethical Fashion Forum and MADE-BY


Panera opens pay-what-you-wish cafe in Oregon

Panera opens pay-what-you-wish cafe in Oregon

by SARAH SKIDMORE AP Food Industry Writer,,

Posted on January 12, 2011 at 3:58 PM

(see original post for a short news video from KGW News Center 8)

PORTLAND — Panera Bread Co. will open a nonprofit restaurant Monday in Portland where customers can pay what they wish for food.

It’s the third “Panera Cares” community cafe for the company and its first West Coast location.

Panera opened community cafes last year in Clayton, Mo., and Dearborn, Mich. The restaurants are owned and operated by a nonprofit arm of the national restaurant chain, which receives no profit from the business.

“In some ways it is a test for humanity,” said Ron Shaich, founder of Panera who launched the concept for the company. “Will people step up and help each other or will they take advantage?” So far, people have stepped up. Panera said about 20 percent of the visitors to the cafes leave more than the suggested amount, 20 percent leave less and 60 percent pay what is suggested.

Those who are not able to pay anything do not have to, but the cafe suggests they volunteer their time in support of the organization.

“This is not about a handout,” Shaich said. “This is about a hand up, and every one of us has a need for that at some point in our lives.”

There are a number of other independent community kitchen formats already in existence around the country such as those in Denver and Salt Lake City. Panera, however, is one the first chain restaurants to make the leap.

The company is converting an existing Panera restaurant in the Hollywood neighborhood into the community cafe format. Panera looked at a number of potential sites around the country but said that it felt the “sensibility” of Portland suited the project. The company also tries to place restaurants in economically diverse neighborhoods that can support the format.

If there is excess revenue, Shaich said it will be reinvested in the community such as using the cafe as a work-training site for at-risk youth.

“I think the people of Portland will do the right thing,” Shaich said.

Shaich said he would like to open more community cafes but must see first if the existing sites prove self-sustainable.

Ancient Egyptian Palm Trees Faces Extinction

Ancient Egyptian Palm Trees Faces Extinction

Line of palms behind sphinxes

Environmentalists have called for urgent action to save the last 400 argun palm trees, a rare desert palm tree highly valued by the ancient Egyptians

In the remote regions of Sudan and Egypt the argun palm tree- a rare desert tree whose fruit was discovered by archaeologists in Pharaoh tombs- grows under a harsh sun. Less than 400 trees is all that remains of the species which environmentalists say is now in critical danger of extinction. Although the desert palm tree has managed to survive the passage of time and outlive the Pharaohs, ecological experts say that human activity such as over-exploitation and climate change is putting the prized palm tree in serious danger.


Argun Palm Population Under Threat

According to a report by IPS News, the argun palm tree was first recorded by archaeologists who found its dried fruit amongst the gold and offerings recovered from the tombs of Pharaohs. However, it was assumed that the palm tree had died off with the Pharaohs until a German naturalist, Prince Paul Wilhelm von Wurttemburg stumbled across the species in the wilds of northern Sudan in 1837. Comprehensive surveys done over the last two decades recorded only 40 argun palms in Egypt and several hundred in northern Sudan.

In Egypt, desertification has taken it’s toll on the species whilst the palm trees in Sudan are at risk of over-exploitation by the local tribes who use the trees to make rope, mats and baskets. Professor of plant ecology Irina Springuel told IPS, “The argun palm survives, but its population is under heavy pressure. Unless protected, the species could disappear – and this time for good.” The argun palm tree is currently listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nation Red List of Threatened Species.


Growing Threat of Human Activity

Mahmoud Hasseb, director of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) of South Area Protectorates, told IPS that the growing level of human activity in regions where the argun grows in Egypt could also have a potentially devastating affect on the palm trees. Hasseb added that they were currently assessing the possibility of seeking protected status for the regions to limit the risk that a careless fire by a visitor or hunter would destroy the entire species. “For several years we’ve seen evidence of tourists and hunters visiting this area,” he told IPS. “When we visited in 2009, we collected the bones of dead gazelles and found dozens of palm trees had been burned. It became clear that this ecosystem was at risk.”


This report is one of many similar cases highlighting the danger of extinction for various species in the Middle East including: concerns about sharks in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf, as well as the dragon blood tree in the Socotra in Yemen. Whilst these may appear to demonstrate the dangerous situation much of flora and fauna face in the MENA region, these calls for urgent action also demonstrate an awareness of the seriousness of the situation and willingness to take action.

:: Image via Bracketing Life via flickr.

For more on species at risk in the Middle East see:

Kuwaiti Sharks, Ecosystems and Exxon

Biodiversity Under Threat At Yemeni ‘Alien Island’

Women’s Coalition Denounces Exclusion by Security Council

Women’s Coalition Denounces Exclusion by Security Council

By Haider Rizvi, Inter Press Service,
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 12, 2011 (IPS) – In October 2001, the United Nations Security Council endorsed a resolution recognising that women’s participation is essential to sustain efforts for peace in the world. But did the international body ever ask world’s women leaders to take part in the decision-making process?

UN logo

United Nations Logo

Activists associated with a global coalition of women’s right activists say the answer is “no”.

“You cannot do anything [about peace-building] if women are not engaged in the decision-making process,” said Mavic Cabrera-Balleza of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, an umbrella organisation of over 80 rights groups across the world.

“If any policy is to be effectively implemented, you need to consult with women’s representatives,” she told IPS, after the group sent a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior U.N. officials, as well as the member nations of the Security Council.

The letter was dated Jan. 7 and released to the media on Tuesday.

GNWP logo

Its signers raised critical questions about the lack of women’s participation in the Council’s decision-making processes on issues related to international peace and security and called for the world body’s principle organ to match its words with deeds.

The Security Council resolution on women’s role in peace- building, known as UNSCR 1325, envisages participation of women at all levels of decision-making.

In its letter, the global coalition of women’s organisations welcomed the establishment of the new U.N. Women agency, but observed that the process of the recent adoption of the Council resolution 1960 was fraught with shortcomings.

“It speaks only of women as victims of sexual abuse during violent conflict and does not mention that if women were recognised as participants in decision-making, they would be less vulnerable to attack,” said the letter’s signers.

“If governments would involve more women and worked harder to prevent wars there would be less sexual violence,” they said. “If small arms were regulated and reduced by involving women in the decision-making, there would be less sexual violence.”

The coalition says if the U.N. leadership and its member states involved women “more systematically” in conflict prevention and resolution, “there would be a marked improvement in peace and security for everyone.”

The letter said that there was no crime “worst for women or men than rape, the trauma for which remains for a lifetime”. It further says that rape will be reduced in war time “only when greater efforts are made to prevent the violence, when more women are participating in decision-making.”

Cabrera-Balleza said it is “sad” that there are only three women in the Security Council. “That reflects institutional and structural imbalance,” she told IPS, referring to the gender inequality in the Council.

Currently, the three women ambassadors who are engaged in discussing on the international issues of peace and security come from the United States, Brazil and Nigeria. The other 12 diplomats on the Council are men.

In Belleza’s view, it is due to a lack of political will that women are not able to have their say in the international action and decision making on matters of war and peace.

“There is a lot of talk and no walk,” she said. “The member states must be required to report on [gender balance in matters relating to peace and security].”

When asked by IPS about the letter from women’s organisations, the spokesperson for the secretary-general, Martin Nesirky, said he would respond later after reviewing its contents.

The Security Council’s December 2010 resolution on women’s role in peace-building asks the U.N. chief to establish monitoring, analysis and reporting arrangements on conflict- related sexual violence, including rape in situations of armed conflict.

It also “encourages” the secretary-general to “engage” with the U.N. actors, national institutions, civil society organisations, healthcare service providers and women groups to exchange data collection and analysis of incident, trends, and patterns of rape in conflict situations.

But is that really being translated into action?

The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders thinks otherwise.

“If the U.N. member states, particularly those represented in the Security Council, are serious about their commitments to women’s equality and to stop rape and violence, they … would individually and collectively ensure to women their full participation in decision-making,” said Balleza.