Organic Farms Become a Winner in Putin’s Feud With the West

In August, Russia banned all beef, pork, fish, fruit, vegetables and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia and Norway for one year, retaliating for Western economic sanctions imposed after the Kremlin destabilized Ukraine.

Senior leaders, starting with Mr. Putin, heralded food sanctions as a chance for Russians to finally stock their larders with homegrown products. Dmitri A. Medvedev, the prime minister, released a “road map” for agriculture last month. “The aim of our efforts is to increase our own agricultural produce and to reduce Russia’s dependence on food imports,” he said.

But the content of the road map was basically “watch this space,” with new agricultural policies promised by the end of 2015.

Critics said the government typically announced the sanctions first and thought about the fallout afterward. A range of experts and organizations noted that beyond the populist, patriotic speeches about growing food locally, there is minimal government support when it comes to supplying the new land, long-term credit and transportation logistics that Russian farmers desperately need to expand.

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Doctors, nurses urge ban on neonic pesticides

A group of doctors and nurses is urging the Ontario government to ban an agricultural pesticide blamed for the deaths of bees and other insect pollinators.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario are placing advertisements in Toronto’s subway system, warning “neonic pesticides hurt our bees and us.” In the ads, a young boy is gazing sadly upon a dead bee.

Gideon Forman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said the neonicotinoid insecticides used to grow corn, canola and other crops are a “major threat to both nature and people.”

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Amazon Joins Apple Using Clean Energy at Cloud Data Centers

Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) is turning to wind to power data centers forming its giant global network after committing in November to drive all operations on renewable energy.

The online retailer will buy electricity from a planned 150-megawatt wind farm in Benton County, Indiana, for 13 years, the project’s owner and developer Pattern Energy Group LP said Tuesday in a statement. Amazon Web Services will use the wind energy at its data centers, joining other technology companies that are buying power from clean energy projects.

Yellowstone river clean-up begins after Montana oil pipeline breach

Crews worked on Monday to clean up crude oil that spilled in and near the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana while officials with Bridger Pipeline LLC tried to determine what caused the weekend breach.

Bridger has said the break in the 12in steel pipe happened on Saturday morning in an area about 9 miles upstream from Glendive. Bridger’s spokesman, Bill Salvin, said on Monday that the company is confident that no more than 1,200 barrels – or 50,000 gallons – of oil spilled during the hour-long breach.

“Oil has made it into the river,” Salvin said. “We do not know how much at this point.”

Oil has been seen in the river in spots 15 and 25 miles downstream from Glendive, Salvin said. Some of the oil is trapped under ice.

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Solving hunger is simple — end poverty. Gulp.

The fact that people need to eat causes tremendous environmental and social problems. The solution, clearly, is to reengineer ourselves so that we don’t have to eat and instead draw energy directly from the sun.

That shouldn’t be hard at all! But just in case we hit some snags, we should have a backup solution ready. Something modest — like eliminating poverty.

I’ve argued that poverty is the key to resolving this conundrum of feeding ourselves without wrecking the planet. Every economist, activist, farmer, and academic I talk to agrees about this. No matter where I dig in this investigation of hunger and its impact on the environment, I eventually find myself unearthing the same thing: poverty.

Better people than I have broken their picks against this problem. In the 1960s, many students of economics thought that economic growth would end poverty within a few decades. When that didn’t work out so well, experts began to say that richer countries needed to give poorer ones money to help them develop. Now there’s a backlash against that approach, too. Aid hasn’t worked, people say: Corrupt governments grab the money, and foreigners are often wrong about what poor people need.

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Renewables are no longer a fad but a fact of life, supercharged by advances in power storage

At first sight the story of renewable energy in the rich world looks like a waste of time and money. Rather than investing in research, governments have spent hundreds of millions of pounds, euros and dollars on subsidising technology that does not yet pay its way. Yet for all the blunders, renewables are on the march. In 2013 global renewable capacity in the power industry worldwide was 1,560 gigawatts (GW), a year-on-year increase of more than 8%. Of that total, hydropower accounted for about 1,000GW, a 4% rise; other renewables went up by nearly 17% to more than 560GW. True, after eight years of continuous increase, the amount invested dropped steeply in 2012 amid uncertainty about future subsidies and investment credits. But thanks to increased efficiency, less money still bought more power.

Measuring progress is tricky: the cost of electricity from new solar systems can vary from $90 to $300 per megawatt hour (MWh). But it is clearly plummeting. In Japan the cost of power produced by residential photovoltaic systems fell by 21% in 2013. As a study for the United Nations Environment Programme notes, a record 39GW of solar photovoltaic capacity was constructed in 2013 at a lesser cost than the 2012 total of 31GW. In the European Union (EU), renewables, despite a 44% fall in investment, made up the largest portion (72%) of new electric generating capacity for the sixth year running.

The clearest sign of health in the renewables market is smoke-clogged China, which in 2013 invested over $56 billion, more than all of Europe, as part of a hurried shift towards clean energy. China’s investment included 16GW of wind power and 13GW of solar. The renewable-power capacity China installed in that year was bigger than its new fossil-fuel and nuclear capacity put together.

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Mexico’s ‘worst environmental disaster in modern times’

On 6 August 2014, copper-producing company Buenavista del Cobre, a subsidiary of Mexico’s largest mining corporation Grupo Mexico, spilt 40,000 cubic metres of copper sulphate acid into public waterways near Cananea, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. The toxic leak has affected seven communities, home to more than 24,000 people.

Mexico’s Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources Juan José Guerra Abud called the spill ;the worst environmental disaster by the mining industry in modern times’. The company reports that high concentrations of heavy metals, including iron, aluminium and zinc, were released in the copper sulphate solution. PROFEPA, Mexico’s federal environmental protection agency, estimates that environmental damage from the accident will cost more than $134m.

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Overachieving Germans to green the Autobahn

Leave it to the Germans to be the innovators of everything “das auto” — even if it means burying their most famous highway. The city of Hamburg plans to turn cover a two-mile section of the Autobahn with greenspaces. In total, the roof-parks, complete with woods, gardens, and trails, will add over 60 green acres to the city.

It’s significant in part because the Autobahn is most often applauded for its utility, not its beauty. The freeway network, which connects German cities, is designed for maximum speed: The wide, flat, and vast roads never, ever exceed a 4 percent grade. I experienced this firsthand when, two years ago, I sat in the backseat of a Volkswagen driven by an elderly Swiss gentleman named Rolf, both mph and Rolf pushing 80. What struck me most was its bleakness: mile after gray concrete mile, without obstruction.

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