Fighting Global Poverty and Deforestation: Trees for the FutureTrees for the Future is an organization that is focused on restoring the environment as well as fighting global poverty. It recognizes the large effect trees have in economic, environmental and social improvement. The slogan of the organization is, “Planting Trees, Changing Lives.”

Dave and Grace Deppner founded the organization in 1989 after an eye-opening experience in the Philippines. It was there that they discovered they could restore communities while saving degraded land.

Roughly 80% of the developing world has health and nutritional needs met by non-wood forest products and there are approximately 100,000 acres of forest lost each day in the world. The Deppners were determined to help reverse to statistics.

One country Trees for the Future works in is Senegal. Senegal’s increased deforestation has led to the loss of more than half of the forests. They have helped farmers plant more than half a million trees and develop forest gardens.

Trees for the Future has also partnered with the Peace Corps and the Senegalese Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry throughout their time there.

Brazil is another country where Trees for the Future’s impact can be seen. The organization has helped rebuild communities through the development of education programs on effective agroforestry. The main purposes of reforesting in Brazil are to bring back the nutrition in soil as well as to provide a source of food for the livestock.

One tree in particular, has proved invaluable to the Brazilian communities that the organization works with. The moringa oleifera tree produces edible pods, leaves and flowers. These are high in calcium and Vitamin A. The powder that comes from ground seeds has also helped improve the quality of water due to its purifying qualities.

The trees planted in these countries are unifying communities as well as creating sustainable agriculture. Trees for the Future has planted more than 50 million trees in various parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Their influence has reached 58 different countries and 12,000 villages.

– Iona Brannon

Sources: Food and Agriculture Organization, Trees for the Future, Trees for the Future: Senegal, Trees for the Future: Brazil,
Photo: Google Images

New Wheels in Cairo: The Benefits of Egypt's Scrapping and Recycling
At 7 a.m. every Friday and Saturday, members of the Cairo Runners Club wake up and prepare to hit the soon-to-be crowded streets of Egypt’s capital. Yet these intrepid urban runners are not trying to exercise before work—the weekend actually has already begun (an Egyptian weekend lasts from Friday to Saturday).

Their early waking is rather a matter of health and safety than of discipline. By rising with the sun, they can avoid the noxious air pollution and congested streets that perpetually plague Egypt’s capital.

In fact, according to environmental data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Cairo is more polluted than even Beijing, Bangkok and Mexico City. It has a level of fine particulate that is seven times the WHO standards. These extreme levels of pollution often can lead to heart disease and cancer.

In order to curb air pollution, the Egyptian government has turned to a variety of strategies, including banning the burning of waste and spending more on public transportation. One program that is showing promising results is an initiative supported by the World Bank, which aims to replace old and inefficient mass-transit vehicles in the city.

The program, named Egypt Vehicle Scrapping and Recycling Program, provides cash incentives of up to 5,000 Egyptian Pounds, roughly 640 U.S. dollars, to taxi owners to relinquish and recycle their aging vehicles.

The Egypt recycling program also uses operating licenses to leverage compliance. Mass transit vehicles older than 20 years can no longer receive new operating licenses. Before the program, the age of the average taxi in Cairo was a whopping 32 years. Vehicles this old suffer from poor safety ratings, bad reliability and lack the catalytic converters that filter out pollutants from an engine’s exhaust.

Although the program is reinvigorating the transit fleet in Cairo, its effectiveness does not necessarily extend beyond the metropolitan area. In fact, since the program does not prescribe the method for disposing of these aging vehicles, owners can sell parts to private parties where the law is not in effect.

The Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency also outlined a variety of challenges this program must face in order to succeed. First of all the program requires the complete motivation and organization of the vehicle owners, traffic department and the Ministry of the Interior.

The first project of its kind worldwide, the program also was entering uncharted waters and therefore only a small number could provide the required services. The complexities of Egyptian bureaucracy were also noted as hindrances to the program and would require attentiveness in order to coordinate affairs.

Nonetheless, since the program has been initiated in 2010, the World Bank has reported noticeable improvements. It estimates that during 2013 and in 2014, the program prevented over 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The program also has exchanged an impressive total of 40,689 old taxis with new taxis in Cairo alone.

Many of the old taxis were in excess of 50 years old, well above the already high average of 32 years. As Cairo replaces more of its aging taxis it can expect cleaner skies and perhaps even more runners.

Andrew Logan

Sources: The World Bank 1, The World Bank 2, United Nations Environment Program, Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, USA Today
Photo: Flickr

In 2008, solar panels were considered to be an enviable luxury. Beginning in 2013, the prices thereof began to lower, and this year the cost of solar technology is at a record low and can actually save thousands of dollars per year on electric bills.

There are still a lot of factors to consider where the installation of solar panels are concerned: how much sunlight hits the roof, the local weather, or if there are any businesses nearby where someone could be hired to install them.

Since so many people have asked Google about solar energy, engineer Carl Elkin came up with the initial idea that has since become Project Sunroof. This online tool takes the data from Google Maps and gives all the necessary information including how much money could be saved by installing solar panels.

In the next few months, the project goal is to expand to more cities, more countries and eventually become accessible worldwide. “Elkin writes that Project Sunroof is part of Google’s wider vision of accelerating the wide-scale adaption of zero-carbon energy.”

Solar panels, also called photovoltaic panels, turn energy from the sun into electricity. That energy is then synchronized to become compatible with the power grid in the home. This process actually saves energy that was formerly reliant on carbon energy and replaces it with something that is actually better for the environment.

A popular myth is that solar energy is unreliable, so people will avoid considering the technology until it improves. In actuality, solar panels generally come with a manufacturer’s warranty of 25 years and also requires little to no maintenance during its lifetime. There are few existing electronics to date with 25-year warranties.

So, with all of the existing benefits of solar energy to the environment and to the people who utilize it, the solar subscription service Bright has decided to bring those benefits to developing countries starting with Mexico.

“Working with local partners, Bright provides the software, financing, and maintenance. Using its software, it monitors installations and deploys partners to fix any errors.” These initiatives make energy more affordable and therefore, more accessible and enjoyable.

Project Loon gives the developing world access to the internet, and Project Sunroof combined with the initiatives of services such as Bright gives the necessary energy for not only the maintaining of devices that connect to the internet but also for everyday activities.

So, not only can the developing world be provided with water mills and food, but can even (for example) be helped with alternative methods of storing them and keeping them fresh for longer periods of time.

Anna Brailow

Sources: Voice of America, IFL Science, RE-volv, Bright
Photo: CS Monitor

Kenya’s Rural Farmers Profiting from Carbon Credits

Agriculture comes second as the indicator creating the most of Kenya’s GDP, which is 30.3 percent. Carbon dioxide makes up 74 percent of greenhouse gases emitted in 2004. As of 2014, there were 16,728,251 rural inhabitants living in poverty. The mission of the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP) is to teach profitable skills to small-scale farmers.

Carbon finance exposes smallholder farmers to the carbon market. Practices implemented by sustainable agricultural land management (SALM) can increase yields by 15-20 percent.

These practices enhance soil fertility and trap carbon. In 2012, Kenya’s fertilizer consumption rate was 44.3 kilograms per hectare, and 9.8 percent of land is arable.

A Swedish nongovernmental organization named Vi Agroforestry implemented KACP by receiving funding from World Bank’s BioCarbon Fund, the French Development Agency and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture. Since Vi Agroforestry’s enactment in 2007 with financial support from Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), maize yields have tripled since 2012.

Thirty thousand smallholder farmers adapt new techniques to profit from carbon credits issued under SALM carbon accounting. Nitrogen fertilizers are used to increase durability when planting and harvesting crops and trees. These practices keep carbon trapped in the ground.

Working with 45,000 hectares in Nyanza and Western Provinces of Kenya, farmers working with KACP have stored 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide. These farmers traded in their carbon credits for $65,000, which is paid for by the BioCarbon Fund.

In 2014, KACP began using carbon credits within regulation of the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). Kenya achieved a reduction of 24,788 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equal to a yearly amount of gas emitted by 5,164 automobiles.

Along with environmental progress, the quality of life for smallholder farmers reflects the project’s achievements. Farmers expand their income beyond their crop yields adopting practices by KACP. With climate change making districts vulnerable to rainfall, droughts, and soil degradation, food security decreases without diversifying farming practices.

With agriculture alone creating 14 percent of global emissions, using organic substance to increase yields will benefit the soil’s water absorption and nutrient supply. This enhances food security and improves crops’ resilience to climate change.

In addition, the districts of Kisumu and Kitale suffered with land degradation, water degradation, deforested areas, chemical pollution and urban waste. With minimal government outreach, Vi Agroforestry promoted various practices including water harvesting, crop rotation, pest and disease management, and the usage of certified seeds in 2012.

Farmers are expected to one day increase 50-100 percent of their yields. Kitale’s maize yields rose by 70 percent from 2009 to 2011. Without dependency on non-organic fertilizers and pesticides, this adds to a stronger income that benefits production. Vi Agroforestry pushes responsibility to community leaders who will provide information to groups and engage in monitoring activities to collect data.

In 2010, 4.69 billion tons of carbon was cultivated in heat-trapping gases emitted by agriculture. The BioCarbon Fund plans to purchase more carbon credits from Kenyan farmers totaling $600,000 by 2017.

Katie Groe

Sources: World Bank 1, Reuters, World Bank 2, Rural Poverty Portal, EPA, New Agriculturalist
Photo: Flickr

Environmental Education as an Agent of Change in the Developing World
It is no secret that Earth is facing a massive environmental crisis. Changes to the environment have resulted in climate change that has affected weather across the world. Pollution sickens children and creates thick layers of smog that envelop entire cities.

Climate change hits hardest in the developing world, where it kills 8.4 million people a year, which is more than HIV/AIDs and malaria kill. Many in developing countries still use more traditional fuel sources like wood and coal instead of cleaner energy. The issue has dropped off the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals, the successors of the Millennium Development Goals that expire this year.

What is the answer to all this doom and gloom? While there might not be a one-off solution to climate change, education on the issues facing the planet is certainly a big step in the right direction. Sadly, a recent study found that 40 percent of adults on earth are not aware of the idea of climate change. Lack of education also hits home in Africa and Asia, where people “are more likely to consider global warming a personal threat if they notice changes in the local temperature.”

It is often only by sensing a change in temperature that people deem climate change a threat. In Malawi, the local language does not have a word for the phenomenon. One way to combat climate change through education might be to explain the forces moving behind the slight temperature changes that people sense in order to make them understand the issue on a bigger, global scale. Knowledge on the subject can have an impact on a range of decisions that individuals might make – which crops to plant or where to place a new port, for example.

Environmental education can provide people with the necessary knowledge, behavior changes and skills that are needed in order to successfully carry out climate change mitigation and adaptation: it “can enable individuals and communities to make informed decisions and take action for climate-resilient sustainable development.”

The education of women and girls about the issues related to climate change is important. Recent studies have shown that when this happens, communities “are better able to adapt and thus be less vulnerable to extreme weather events and climate change.” When women are educated, they and their families are less likely to be vulnerable to death or injury during natural disasters.

More education on the specifics and intricacies of how natural environments function and change is needed in the developing world. Along with this, more knowledge must be spread on how individuals have an impact on their climate and the environment around them. With more of this in curriculae around the world, the effects of climate change might lessen.

Environmental education is an untapped resource when it comes to combating climate change. Those behind creating policy have not yet really utilized education as a sector that can fight climate change. Over the course of time, education has been used as a tool for social change. Today is no different – the planet needs a change in ideas and attitudes, and education is a way by which these changes can begin to sprout.

Greg Baker

Sources: Washington Post, Brookings, AllAfrica, IPS News
Photo: UC San Diego News Center

The Global Goals- Humanity’s Finest Endeavor

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development are running with the success brought by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The MDGs radically reduced child mortality rates from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013. The same age group felt a drop in underweight children from 28% in 1990 to 17% in 2013. HIV breaks fell by 38% from 2001 to 2013, and tuberculosis and HIV-negative tuberculosis cases declined. The MDGs achieved its safe drinking water goal early on in 2010, but did not hit its sanitation target.

The United Nations Member States agreed to accomplish the eight MDGs in a 15-year period. By 2015, they found success in most categories, but came short in others.

The MDGs signal a huge accomplishment in developmental and humanitarian progress, and the Global Goals are looking to continue its legacy.

The Global Goals (GGs) are going to make this generation “the first generation to end extreme poverty, the most determined generation to fight inequality and injustice, and the last generation to be threatened by climate change.”

With 17 goals, the GGs will tackle what no other generation thought possible.

On September 25, 2015, 193 world leaders are signing onto another 15 years of global development. The GGs are no poverty, no hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, clean energy, good jobs and economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, to protect the planet, life below water, life on land,  peace and justice, and partnerships for the goals.

According to Amina Mohammed, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, the 17 GGs will “encompass the unfinished business of the MDGs” like ending poverty, hunger, gender discrimination, water and sanitation. Seven of the GGs address a “social agenda.” The economic goals include boosting infrastructure, energy options and pushing for equality. The “environmental agenda” includes improving urban conditions, “life on earth, above earth and underwater.”

Further, the GGs look at “the whole picture.” They deal with the economic, social and environmental sectors.

The major difference between the MDGS and GGs is that now, “we are talking about the universal agenda, so it is about everybody,” shared Amina. It is also an “integrated agenda” because “we are looking at countries that are looking to transform their economies, but not do so at the expense of people delivering services in health and education, and not to the expense of the planet.”

The environmental attention also differs from the MDGs and GGs. The GGs are giving a “deeper look at the root causes.”

This year, the United Nations is responding to the greatest call to action the world has ever seen.

Lin Sabones

Sources: YouTube, Global Goals, UN, WHO
Photo: Photo: Global Citizen

With the advent of solar power, wind power and water power, most people would believe that scientists have used nature and all of its wonders to its greatest capacity, but there is one key aspect we have been missing: plant power.

For many years, scientists have been searching for an alternative source of energy and have had some luck on these ventures, but researchers at Cambridge University have now been able to harness the energy generated from photosynthesis to power cell phones.

As algae blooms, it absorbs a massive amount of sunlight, thus giving it a bright green color. In order to bloom and grow successfully, algae must utilize photosynthesis, as all other plants do. By converting sunlight into energy, these plants are able to grow bigger, but this energy may be able to be utilized to charge phones and other small electric devices.

Head of the Department of Plant Sciences at Cambridge University, Professor Sir David Baulcombe, stated that “algae offer considerable potential as a source of bioenergy. By studying the fundamentals of their metabolism and molecular biology and by understanding the fantastic natural variation in the different types of algae we can harness this potential for energy production.”

The Cambridge team’s discovery shows a lot of promise. This type of energy conversion is miles ahead of the photovoltaic cells most people are used to. These cells are biologically based, self-repairing, self-replicating, thoroughly biodegradable and thoroughly sustainable, creating an amazing entry into the world of truly green energy.

Recently, researchers at Cambridge have also been investigating the strength of regular plants. They have grown these plants in a vertical garden and utilizing the same concept of harnessing spare electrons from photosynthesis, have been able to power cell phones. However, these walls may take entire days to charge phones. After testing several plants, algae still remains the strongest and most productive source of energy.

At this point in time, most of the worlds’ energy comes from oil, and most of that oil comes from the Middle East. Many powerful nations, the United States being the most notorious of them all, have been intervening in Middle Eastern politics in order to ensure the safety of their precious oil supplies. For this reason, many wars have broken out, rulers have been overthrown and lives have been lost.

The invention of a source of green energy that comes directly from nature itself will drastically reduce dependence on oil as scientists are able to learn more and more about the true capability of nature. There are already solar-powered cars in the making, so maybe plant power is the next step. This would be a world out of the Lorax’s dreams, one where plants are abundant and well maintained.

By utilizing plants and their natural cycles as sources of energy, we create an even stronger dependency on them, thus causing people to plant more and more cautious in regards to nature. Of course, all of this is very far off in the future, but it will be very interesting to see how researchers decide to utilize nature and its power in the future.

Sumita Tellakat

Sources: University of Cambridge, BBC
Photo: Flickr

Why We Should Value Biodiversity-TBP
The loss of biodiversity around the globe is an imminent problem that poses a serious danger to the health and livelihoods of many people.

A report from the World Health Organization identifies poor water quality, air pollution and climate change as central causes to the decline in biodiversity, the variety of plants and animals on the planet.

Biodiversity is important for:

  1. Food and nutrition security
  2. Development of medicine
  3. Human health
  4. Economic prosperity

Today, the central problems related to food and nutrition security are the inequitable distribution of food and the lack of diversification of crops grown. According to the World Farmer’s Organization, “over 2 billion people… suffer from a lack of essential micro-nutrients such as vitamin A and iron”. With the agricultural focus on quantity of staple crops such as millet, corn, and wheat, the value of crop diversity for nutrient sources has been dismissed.

The loss of biodiversity also has implications for the extinction of plants that are currently used in medical practices, or that may have potential to cure diseases in the future. When habitats are changed or over-harvested, plant species are vulnerable to extinction. The Convention on Biological diversity states that, “an estimated 60,000 species are used for their medicinal, nutritional, and aromatic properties”. The trade of these species also has a high economic value that should be considered.

Human health is impacted by a lack of nutrition security and medicinal development associated with loss of biodiversity. In addition, poor water quality from the destruction of wetlands, that filter water, can negatively impact health.

Lastly, many people sustain their livelihoods directly from the land and the biodiversity that it provides. Biodiversity is critical to the health of the environment, and with its destruction there will be an inevitable economic cost.

The good news is that is not too late to preserve biodiversity. If we can understand why biodiversity has an intrinsic value, more resources will be devoted to protecting the environment. While some connections may seem less direct, every person relies on the environment for health and economic growth. It is in everyone’s best interest to protect biodiversity.

– Iliana Lang

Sources: Convention on Biological Diversity, World Farmers’ Organization
Photo: Good Housekeeping

Malaria. HIV/AIDS. Tuberculosis. One of these must be the biggest cause of death in the developing world, right?

Wrong. It is pollution, not diseases, that causes the most deaths in developing countries. 8.4 million people’s lives are claimed each year by varying kinds of pollution. That is three times more deaths than those caused by malaria and four times more than those caused by HIV/AIDS.

India and Africa are areas where there are particularly serious problems. India, not China, is home to the world’s most polluted city: Delhi. The number of PM 2.5 particles, the world’s most dangerous pollution, capable of penetrating the lung and therefore entering straight into the bloodstreams of millions, reached 21 times the recommended limit recently.

These levels are twice as toxic as those in Beijing, the accepted pollution capital of the world. The pollution in India accounts for 1.3 million deaths a year. It also cuts 660 million lives short by three years. Three years off a life simply because of where a person is born or happens to live.

Pollution is also a danger in Africa, where Malaria and HIV/AIDS often take the headlines as leading killers on the continent. Gaborone, Botswana, ranks eighth in particulate pollution among cities that provided information about their pollution levels.

Besides outdoor pollution is an issue, there is also the problem of indoor pollution in both Africa and India. This is generated mostly from cooking with wood and other sooty fuels that clog up the air. Even more worrisome is the fact that Africa could account for at least half of the world’s population by 2030, due to its increased mining, oil, and biofuel industries that will go along with a rise in urbanization. Regulations are lax towards both indoor pollutants as well as corporate ones.

Never fear, however. New wearable pollution-sensing technology is on the way to save the day, or at least improve the situation somewhat. TZOA is producing a small gadget capable of informing wearers about the air they breathe. “TZOA uses internal sensors to measure your air quality, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, ambient light and UV (sun) exposure all in one wearable device.”

The device can hook up to an app on a phone to give air readings. It is not alone in the small pollution-sensing technology department. A device that doubles for a keychain, called Clarity, can perform a similar task to the TZOA. Clarity tracks “personal exposure to air pollution via a smartphone app,” just like the TZOA.

While these technologically advanced gizmos cannot reduce the drastic levels of pollution around the globe that are killing millions, what they can do is help provide data where it is lacking in areas where pollution is prevalent. Data is often not available, or not provided for some of the areas with the worst pollution.

The wearables also have the potential to raise awareness of the severity of the issue. Empowering those in the thick of the worst conditions has the potential to make the severity of the situation clearer to both governments and ordinary people. Armed with this information, both could take action because of the data provided by devices like TZOA and Clarity.

– Greg Baker

Sources: Tech Times, Inter Press Service, Huffington Post, BBC, Wired, New York Times
Photo: Tech Times

Expansion of Carbon Pricing Promises to Alleviate PovertyWith an estimated value of between $16 and $54 trillion, the services provided by natural resources are an asset worth protecting. It is widely recognized that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions threatens the environment and that reducing carbon emissions is a global necessity. A dominant strategy to reduce carbon is to make it more expensive which incentivizes individuals, companies and nations to use it more efficiently or switch to alternatives. Roughly 40 countries and over 20 subnational governments are either doing or planning to do so through legal mechanisms that increase carbon pricing. A recent analysis by the World Bank estimates that the value of these initiatives grew to nearly $50 billion this year.

There are two ways in which these efforts will be working to lighten the burden of poverty across the globe.

The first focuses on the role that a stable climate and healthy ecosystems have in providing a solid footing for economic development. Clean air and water, fire, flood and erosion control, mitigation from tsunamis and prevention of landslides are all services that intact ecosystems provide. These protect human populations and provide the foundation of productive agricultural systems.

Excessive use of carbon is leading to rising sea levels, increased desertification, stronger storms and less predictable weather, which will subvert the progress made on ending poverty and may create large groups of climate refugees, up to 200 million by 2050. In short, robust ecosystems offer goods and services and climate change undermines the provision of these goods and endangers massive economic, social and political costs.

The second way in which the expanding carbon market may reduce poverty depends on the design of the regulation. Currently, the two main strategies that reign supreme are cap and trade schemes and carbon taxes. The first sets a limit, the cap, on the amount of carbon that can be emitted and allows firms to trade permits to pollute. If one firm does not need to pollute, they may sell their permit to a polluter. Over time the cap is lowered and so are the emissions. Carbon taxes simply add a tax to carbon to make it more expensive and less attractive to use, though how the tax is applied and what is to be done with the revenue is flexible.

While both forms work to end poverty through protecting the environment, the cap and trade scheme contains an added component, termed carbon offsetting, which funds emissions-reduction projects in the developing world. Rather than buying permits to pollute, a firm can invest in an emissions-reduction project that otherwise would not have been financially feasible. These projects introduce clean technology and increase the level of investment in the developing world while protecting the environment.

Examples of U.N. certified emissions-reduction projects range from a soil conservation project in Moldova to reforestation of degraded croplands in Paraguay and generating power from rice husks in India. In 2013, total investment from certified projects was estimated to be over $315 billion. As carbon pricing expands, poverty reduction and sustainable development will follow.

– John Wachter

Sources: National Geographic, Oakridge National Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, World Bank
Photo: Eco Talk