April 30, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 18

Important but overlooked news from around the world.

DEAR READERS: We at Newsdesk.org/News You Might Have Missed are on overtime getting ready for the big Innovations in Journalism Expo coming up this Saturday, May 3, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The event is being produced by our parent agency, Independent Arts & Media, working with the Society of Professional Journalists-Northern California. You can learn more about the Expo online.

Tickets will be available at the door, but we will likely sell out, so plan ahead if you want to attend.

The keynote will be recorded by KQED-FM for broadcast; we’ll send that info along as soon as it’s available.

Meanwhile, due to the heavy workload, this week’s NYMHM will be slightly shorter than usual. Thanks much to Will Crain for another stellar batch of topic roundups …

And thank YOU for your readership and support!


QUOTED:

“Everyone who has looked for pesticide poisoning in birds has found it.”

— Biology professor Bridget Stutchbury, on the drastic declines in migratory songbird populations (see “Environment,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Environment*
Where have all the songbirds gone?

*Agriculture*
Look, up in the sky! Urban farming puts down roots


ENVIRONMENT

* Where Have all the Songbirds Gone?

Songbirds fly thousands of miles to return to the northern hemisphere every spring, just as regularly as the sun comes up every morning.

Or, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

But the numbers of migratory birds reaching the northern hemisphere from their winter grounds in the south have plummeted in recent years.

One British study found numbers of migratory birds down by 20 percent in just four years, according to the Telegraph newspaper.

A five-year study just concluded in Vermont found 17 new species since the last time an atlas was taken, in the 1970s, but other species have dwindled or disappeared altogether, according to the Burlington Free Press.

The leader of the study, Rosalind Renfew of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, told the newspaper: “You can think of birds as sentinels of change, a kind of alarm system about what is happening to our environment.”

Some studies have found that pesticides used in Latin America are killing off songbirds such as the bobolink.

“Everyone who has looked for pesticide poisoning in birds has found it,” Bridget Stutchbury, a professor of biology at York University in Toronto, told Britain’s Independent newspaper. “When we count birds during our summers we are finding significant population declines in about three dozen species of songbirds.”

Stutchbury also wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which she blamed North American consumers for the problem.

“Each year, as we continue to demand out-of-season fruits and vegetables, we ensure that fewer and fewer songbirds will return,” she wrote.

But pesticides in the Americas can’t be blamed for the decline of birds in Britain.

“It seems as though there is a big signal emerging from all the noise — that migrants as a group are declining — but we haven’t yet found the smoking gun,” David Gibbons, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, told the British newspaper the Telegraph.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Volunteers complete 5-year survey of Vermont breeding birds”
Burlington Free Press (VT), April 28, 2008

“Migrating bird numbers plummet in UK”
The Telegraph (UK), April 21, 2008

“Garden birds decline by 20 per cent in four years”
The Telegraph, March 26, 2008

“American songbirds are being wiped out by banned pesticides”
The Independent (UK), April 4, 2008

“Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?”
New York Times, March 30, 2008


ENVIRONMENT

* Look, up in the Sky! Urban Farming Puts Down Roots

Urban farming can be as simple as a backyard vegetable patch or as complicated as a proposed agricultural skyscraper in Las Vegas.

Yes, you read that right.

NextEnergryNews reports that plans are afoot for a 30-story, $200 million building which will feature crops growing on many of its floors — and the building will go up in the notoriously environmentally unfriendly city of Las Vegas.

According to the article, the project could reportedly make up to $25 million a year through selling food to nearby casinos, with perhaps another $15 million generated through tourism at the site — and the project could be completed as early as 2010.

The Las Vegas skyscraper is perhaps the most flamboyant example of a surge in urban agriculture projects.

The Web site WebUrbanist recently gathered five designs for urban farming skyscrapers, concluding: “In the long run such structures may not only provide food for hundreds of thousands of people per building but they will also relieve much of the burden on other flat landscapes where fewer and fewer usable growing spaces exist.”

Most urban farming is on a much more modest scale.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported on Oakland, Calif., resident K. Ruby and other farmers in the San Francisco Bay Area who have made it their mission to grow their own food within their crowded neighborhoods — and to educate their neighbors about how to join in.

Ruby told the Chronicle that Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” inspired her to open the Institute for Urban Homesteading, an organization dedicated to “resourcefulness, and taking whatever space you have and using it as sustainably as possible.”

The practice is not limited to the politically liberal Bay Area.

The British newspaper The Independent recently reported on Food Up Front, an organization that teaches Londoners how to grow their own food on whatever tiny spot of land they might have in front of their houses or on their balconies.

Group founder Sebastian Mayfield told the newspaper, “We wanted to reconnect people living in cities with food. You don’t have to own acres of countryside in Essex like (TV chef) Jamie Oliver to grow your own vegetables — anyone can do it using pretty much any old space.”

In the developing world, the need for urban farming can be less about environmentalism and more about survival.

Latin America Press reported recently on the Urban Agriculture program, which helps residents grow their own food in the poorest neighborhood in Bogota, Colombia.

“We need to realize: if we don’t work, we won’t have anything to eat,” one participant said.

Until the projects take off, the organization also provides free meals.

“You can’t say to people who are suffering from hunger that they come to the allotment and in three months they’ll have something to eat,” program coordinator German Bueno said. “You have to give them food immediately.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“How far can urban agriculture go?”
Latin America Press, April 10, 2008

“5 Urban Design Proposals for 3D City Farms: Sustainable, Ecological and Agricultural Skyscrapers”
WebUrbanist, March 30, 2008

“Las Vegas to Build World’s First 30 Story Vertical Farm”
NextEnergyNews, January 2, 2008

“The city-dwellers who are becoming front garden farmers”
The Independent (UK), April 17, 2008

“Urban back-to-the-land movement”
San Francisco Chronicle, April 23, 2008


Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain

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