Within the NIU Foundation’s top 16 investments – worth $2 million or more – in its $95.6 million endowment fund, an estimated 13% is invested in fossil fuel stocks.
The Foundation’s top investments, amounting to $52.6 million of the total endowment fund, were examined and showed that nearly $7 million – or 13% – were in fossil fuel stocks. The Northern Star only examined 55% of the NIU Foundation’s entire endowment fund because not every fund’s investments are accessible online. The NIU Foundation’s fossil fuel holdings amount to nearly $7 million, or more than 7% of the entire endowment fund.
Between 73 and 152 million metric tons of food gets wasted each year in the U.S., or over over a third of the country’s food supply, according to a recent report from the U.S. EPA. The most commonly wasted foods are fruits and vegetables, followed by dairy and eggs. Over half of all waste occurs at households and restaurants. The food processing sector generates 34 million metric tons of waste per year, the agency said.
EPA said that halving food waste in the U.S. — a goal set by policymakers — would save 3.2 trillion gallons of blue water, 640 million pounds of fertilizer, 262 billion kilowatt hours of energy, 92 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and over 75 million acres of agricultural land. Reducing waste of meats, cereals and fresh fruits and vegetables would have the biggest environmental impact, according to the agency.
Over the past decade, total U.S. food loss and waste has increased by 12% to 14%, according to EPA. Based on these findings, in order for the U.S. to reach its goal of halving food waste by 2030, it will require greater effort from consumers, businesses and legislators.
Big farming is both a victim of climate change and a contributor. Droughts, floods and soil degradation threaten crop yields. But agriculture produces nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
A potential antidote to harmful monocultures is a form of community farming invented back in the 1970s: permaculture. Permaculture is not just about farming; it incorporates economic and social principles.
Permaculture’s three main tenets – caring for the Earth, caring for the people and sharing the surplus – offer a potential path toward climate justice, which is a response to well-researched phenomena that climate change disproportionately harms underprivileged groups in economic, public health and other ways, and solutions to climate change should include adaptation strategies designed specifically for underprivileged groups.
I spent time at two communities in the Pacific Northwest and in Cuba during the fieldwork for my book “Surviving Collapse.” I witnessed how the communities worked to cut emissions and adapt to climate change in two ways: with egalitarian social organization and regenerative farming techniques.
Permaculture was born in Australia
In the 1970s, two Australian naturalists, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, invented permaculture, a method of growing that considers the natural ecosystem and the community. They wanted to change agriculture’s unsustainable practices, like the heavy use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
Mollison and Holmgren borrowed ideas and techniques from the knowledge and practices of Indigenous and traditional peoples, as well as the “do-nothing” farming methods of Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. Today permaculture is an international movement that, although understudied, shows great promise.
Permaculture aims to care for the Earth by emulating how healthy natural ecosystems function rather than trying to fight or control nature. Its methods are regenerative, meaning that they maintain healthy, nutrient-rich soils, minimize waste, conserve water and protect wildlife habitat. Permaculture often produces crops that are more nutritious than those from industrial farms and, in some cases, yields greater harvests.
Permaculture differs from organic farming in that organic is a legal designation about regulating genetically modified organisms and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, whereas regenerative agriculture is more concerned with ecosystem and soil health. Both permaculture and organic methods sometimes manage fertilizers or pests in similar ways. However, as Holmgren has emphasized “people, their buildings and the ways they organize themselves are central to permaculture.”
Permaculture in the Pacific Northwest
Two of the communities I observed practiced permaculture’s principles of caring for the Earth and people and sharing the surplus.
I call one place I studied in 2007 Asaṅga – the name is made up to give my subjects confidentiality. It’s a 1-acre, 30-person “ecovillage,” or environmental intentional community, in the Pacific Northwest – the agricultural efforts involve a variety of permaculture practices to maintain the soil, ranging from composting food scraps to fertilizing gardens with chicken manure.
To avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, the ecovillagers use techniques like “polyculture” – mimicking the diversity of natural ecosystems by simultaneously growing several different crops in the same place. For instance, they plant food crops with cover crops such as lentils, peas, beans and soybeans that increase the soil’s natural fertility, manage erosion and help retain soil moisture.
Asaṅga residents practice ecological pest management, in which they proactively prevent pests rather than attempt to eradicate them after they’ve arrived. One way they do this is through “companion planting” – growing food crops together with noncompetitive, pest-repelling plant species like marigold, mint or sage.
Asaṅga irrigates crops with captured rainwater and filters wastewater from low-impact activities like dishwashing or bathing for its decorative fountain in the village center.
Permaculture in Cuba
The farmers at a 27-acre urban farm in Havana, Cuba, that I call el Organopónico – again, a made-up name – share similar concerns and practices. The farm’s roughly 200 cooperative members manage 11 areas, such as livestock, fields and nursery, so that each contributes to another.
They save manure from the bulls in the livestock area – which are employed to transport heavy equipment – to feed the worms at the vermiculture station. The worms consume the manure and expel their own waste, or humus, which is combined with compost and rice shells to make soil and fertilizer for trays of tomatoes, lettuce, onions, garlic, guava, mint, and chamomile seedlings in the plant nursery.
Very little is wasted at el Organopónico. Even overripe crops are turned into condiments or are composted. The farmers also recycle potential waste by cleaning and reusing soda bottles for value-added products on the farm, such as tomato paste.
Farms run by community consensus
The permaculture principle of caring for the people refers to making sure people can meet basic needs for healthy food and good homes. It also sets expectations for the ways communities organize themselves to make decisions, manage conflict and achieve larger goals like providing education.
At Asaṅga, people pay rent to live at the community. Residents together decide community issues, such as what to do with the geese on the property and where to store the compost. At bimonthly meetings, ecovillagers decide most questions by consensus.
El Organopónico is led by a president who was voted into leadership. At the farm, they meet monthly, and everyone votes on new proposals, which pass by simple majority. This farm is a workers’ cooperative. The members own the machinery, inputs like seeds or fertilizers and the produce they grow. They pay the government a subsidized rent for the land.
Sharing surplus can slow overconsumption
Human populations are consuming far more in a given year than the Earth can replenish and creating waste much faster than the Earth can assimilate it. This is a global problem, but the worst offenders are affluent people of the West.
Sharing surplus is a way of limiting consumption. Asaṅga residents share in many ways. Community meetings are potlucks where villagers share food from their gardens. One community member shared bread from a local bakery that gave away leftovers. Ecovillagers share tools, knowledge and other resources.
Farmers at el Organopónico share surplus through wages. During my fieldwork, the farmers earned a decent wage by Cuban standards, and wages at the farm were capped and calculated based on years employed at the farm. Workers began at a minimum salary and earned a raise every five years. In times of surplus, profits were evenly distributed.
Although my research focused on only two small communities, I believe the principles of permaculture offer an important model because they address both the environmental and social challenges posed by climate change.
Permaculture holds powerful lessons that could guide many countries to save resources and cut emissions, thus finding a balance between production and consumption.
LevelTen Energy, The Nature Conservancy and The National Audubon Society have launched a new white paper to guide the renewable energy industry toward a sustainable and equitable clean energy transition. As the pace of renewable energy development accelerates, energy buyers are increasingly looking to create positive social and environmental impacts beyond the emission reductions that a zero-carbon power purchase agreement delivers. However, the renewable energy industry lacks a standard and efficient method of assessing projects holistically based on these impacts. Beyond Carbon-Free addresses this need by defining a clear framework for integrating community, conservation, and climate considerations — the 3C’s— into every step of the renewable energy procurement and development process.
Based on the most comprehensive winter study to date, conducted in the Southern Ocean during July and August 2017, scientists were able to show that phytoplankton were indeed active during the icy cold and dark winter months. These findings are important for predictive global climate models, which currently are based predominantly on spring and summer seasons. With the addition of data from winter, the models can now better represent the atmosphere-to-ocean carbon transfer cycle over seasons. For scientists, this is a step forward in analyzing the sensitivity of this transfer to climate change.
Del Monte Foods has announced what it said is the industry’s first canned vegetable product to be certified by the Upcycled Food Association under its new upcycled certification program.
The company’s Blue Lake Petite Cut and Blue Lake Farmhouse Cut Green Beans are made with 100% upcycled and sustainably grown green beans from Wisconsin and Illinois. Both products have been on the market for years. Del Monte said it is looking into reflecting the new certification on future cans.
Del Monte is among countless other companies in the CPG space looking to curtail product waste and find new ways to use foods that would otherwise be thrown out as the issue becomes more important to shoppers.
In October 2021, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) issued its PFAS Roadmap, establishing a comprehensive, three-year plan to address the potential risks posed by this large class of manmade compounds, often referred to as “forever chemicals.” The Roadmap takes a “whole of Agency” approach to address the risks of PFAS, outlining a wide range of measures to be taken under the authority of multiple statutes, including the Clean Water Act (CWA), Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), and Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). In outlining the measures to be taken, the Roadmap also evinces a commitment to promoting and implementing environmental justice (E.J.) principles, and ensuring that disparate impacts to E.J. communities are addressed.
The Colorado River is a vital lifeline for the arid U.S. Southwest. It supplies water to seven states, Mexico, 29 Indian reservations and millions of acres of irrigated farmland. The river and its tributaries support 16 million jobs and provide drinking water to Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Tucson – in all, 40 million people.
These rivers also course through several of the world’s most iconic national parks, including the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Canyonlands in Utah. Today millions of people visit the Colorado River Basin to fish, boat and explore.
Southwestern states, tribes and Mexico share the Colorado’s water under the century-old 1922 Colorado Compact and updates to it. But today, because of climate change and rapid development, there is an enormous gap between the amount of water the compact allocates to parties and the amount that is actually in the river. With users facing unprecedented water shortages, the compact is hopelessly inadequate to deal with current and future realities.
I have studied water resource development for 35 years and written extensively about Native American waterrights and the future of America’s rivers. As I see it, the compact rests on three fundamental errors that now plague efforts to develop a new vision for the region. I believe the most productive way forward is for states and tribes to negotiate a new agreement that reflects 21st-century realities.
Flawed data and allocations
The compact commissioners made two fatal blunders when they allocated water in 1922. First, they appraised the river’s volume based on inaccurate data that wildly overestimated it. Actual annual historic flows were far below what was needed to satisfy the dictates of the compact.
There is evidence that the commissioners did this purposefully: Reaching an agreement was easier if there was more water to go around. This strategy guaranteed that the compact would allocate more water than was actually in the river, a situation now referred to as the “structural deficit.”
Second, the compact allocated water in fixed amounts rather than percentages of the river’s actual flow. That approach would be viable if river flow were constant and the agreement were based on sound science. But the Colorado’s flow is highly variable.
The compact divided the river artificially into an Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico) and a Lower Basin (Arizona, Nevada and California), and allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of water to each basin. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, or about 325,000 gallons.
In 1944, a treaty allocated an additional 1.5 million acre-feet to Mexico, for a total of 16.5 million acre-feet. However, actual flow has typically been below that amount. River volume at the time of the compact was about 18 million acre-feet per year, but the 20th-century average was closer to 14.8 million acre-feet. And then things got much worse.
That month, the Bureau of Reclamation declared an official shortage, which will force Arizona, Nevada and Mexico to make significant cuts in water use. In short, the original fixed allocations are no longer anchored in reality.
In my view, a much better approach would be to allocate water among the states and tribes in percentages, based on a five-year rolling average that would change as the river’s flow changes. Without such a shift, the compact will merely perpetuate a hydrological fallacy that leads water users to claim water that does not exist.
No Native participation
Beyond these errors, the compact also rests on a fundamental injustice. The 30 tribal nations in the Colorado River Basin are the river’s original users, and their reservations encompass huge swaths of land. But they were completely left out of the 1922 allocations.
Tribes have gone to court to claim a share of the Colorado’s water and have won significant victories, beginning with the landmark 1963 Arizona v. California ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court recognized water rights for five Indian reservations in the Colorado River Basin. The tribes continued to press their claims through numerous negotiated settlements, starting in 1978 and continuing to this day. They now have rights to over 2 million acre-feet of water in the Lower Basin and 1.1 million acre-feet in the Upper Basin. And 12 tribes have unresolved claims that could total up to 405,000 acre-feet.
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I see these discussions as an excellent opportunity to discard the compact’s unworkable provisions and negotiate a new agreement that responds to the unprecedented challenges now affecting the Southwest. As I see it, an agreement negotiated by and for white men, based on egregiously erroneous data, in an age when people drove Model T cars cannot possibly serve as the foundation for a dramatically different future.
In my view, the 1922 compact is now an albatross that can only inhibit innovation. Eliminating fixed rights to water that doesn’t actually exist could spur members to negotiate a new, science-based agreement that is fairer, more inclusive and more efficient and sustainable.