Wednesday, February 21, 2018

2838. Startling Orangutan Population Decline Recorded in Borneo

By Reuthers, February 15, 2018

WASHINGTON — Hunting by people and habitation destruction by oil palm, paper, logging and mining industries helped drive a startling drop of about 50 percent in the orangutan population on the island of Borneo from 1999 to 2015, scientists said on Thursday.

The researchers calculated a population decrease of about 148,500 during that 16-year period and projected another drop of 45,000 by 2050, painting a bleak picture for the future of these shaggy reddish tree dwellers that are among the world's most imperilled great apes.
Orangutans inhabit lowland forests on Borneo, an island shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and Indonesia's island of Sumatra, eating wild fruits, insects, bark, flowers and leaves.

Deforestation was only part of the danger. Around 70 percent of the loss in Borneo's populations may have resulted from orangutan killings by people in forested areas, the researchers said.

"People have hunted orangutans for their meat on Borneo since they colonised the area, as they hunt any other edible animal," said biologist Maria Voigt of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

"The orangutans are not their preferred prey species. This is, rather, pigs and deer. But they also take one when encountered. Killing also occurs in situations where humans are frightened or startled by orangutans, for example when orangutans enter gardens or plantations to eat the crop," Voigt added.

The researchers tallied arboreal nests for these apes and used satellite images to appraise forest loss, determining there were between 200,000 and 300,000 Borneo orangutans in 1999 and between 70,000 and 100,000 in 2015.

"It is disheartening that despite all the conservation efforts we still see these declines. But we need to remain optimistic because if the forests remain and we can reduce killing to zero we can, over time, see a rebound of orangutan numbers," Liverpool John Moores University ecologist Serge Wich said.

"Even though the numbers are bleak there is a reason for hope," Voigt added. "We don't think that it is likely that the species is going to go extinct soon, because we are seeing some stable populations in the larger national parks in the Indonesian part of Borneo and the some areas of the Malaysian part."

Borneo has one orangutan species and Sumatra has two. Wich said Sumatran population declines probably are also steep, though that data is less comprehensive.

2837. Interview with Andreas Malm: "Without a Popular Movement We Don’t Stand a Chance”

By Rasmus Landström, Verso,  February 5, 2018
Andreas Malm
Andreas Malm sits in his office in his apartment in Malmö. He is looking uncomfortable. The question I asked — if he is active in any political organisation — seems to have opened the floodgates of his bad conscience. Well, of course, he is a member of Socialistiska Partiet (“The Socialist Party” — a Swedish left-wing organisation with its roots in the Trotskyist tradition) and Klimataktion (“Climate Action”), but the days when he went blocking airport runways seems to be over. Last year he missed the major actions against the coal plants in Germany due to a foot injury.
"Since I became a researcher I have turned into a kind of 'Armchair Activist,' and it’s something that I makes me feel incredibly embarrassed."
He scratches his head.
"But I do try to participate in as many demonstrations and manifestations as I can; and why not a riot every now and then? I guess you shouldn’t write that last bit though."
An internationally renowned researcher and authority in the field of Human ecology who participates in riots? For those of us who have followed Andreas Malm’s trajectory over the last decades that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. For many years he was a well-known character of the non-parliamentarian, far-left Sweden. He started out with Palestine activism in the 1990s, which led to the book Bulldozers Against a People — in which he chronicled his own work with activists in some of the most dangerous parts of Palestine’s. Later he wrote two books on the workers’ struggle in Iran together with his partner Shora Esmailian — which led to them both being banned from returning to the country. He has also been an activist in the struggle against Islamophobia and American imperialism, and has written books on these topics as well.
"Since I became a researcher I’ve been drawn into this academic bubble. I could say that that’s because I have a small child to take care of, but it still gives me a very bad conscience."
Malm sighs and looks quite unhappy. I figure its time to change the subject. After all, the reason I’m doing this interview isn’t his personal track record as an activist, but his contributions as a researcher and political commentator. I start by asking how he got engaged in the struggle against climate change.
"In the early 2000s I considered the whole issue of climate change a bit "petty bourgeois," as did most of us on the radical, non-parliamentarian left. Why should we care about polar bears or melting ice caps when there were more important issues, such as the workers’ struggle, right here? But then I came across Mark Lynas’ book High Tide; I read it and it got me thinking. At that time, I was active in issues concerning the Middle East, and suddenly it struck me that a democratic Iran would never come about if there was no potable water around. That made me write the book Det är vår bestämda uppfattning att om ingenting görs nu kommer det att vara för sent (“It is our Firm View that if Nothing is Done Now it will be too Late”). Since then I have kept working on these issues within the academy."
Inspiring Naomi Klein
Malm presented his dissertation Fossil Capital In 2014, at Swedens’ Lund University. The book is a tome of 797 pages in total, and a breakthrough in the debate on climate change. I read it myself when it was newly published, and it gave me an epiphany. In it Malm claims that, even by the mid 19th century it was far from given that the global economy would come to be dominated by fossil fuel. Based on a massive amount of empirical data, Malm showed that the eventual breakthrough of coal power was not due to its efficacy as a power source, but because it made controlling the work force much easier. While hydro power — which at the time was both cheaper and more energy efficient — was tied to certain locations of rivers in open landscapes, steam engines could be set up in towns and cities, where there an infrastructure of schools, poor houses and police forces was already in place. This in the long run made it easier for capitalists to exploit the work force and guarantee their profits. The conclusions of the dissertation were revolutionizing: capitalism and the fossil economy are much more intertwined than we had hitherto imagined. Thus Malm’s worked opened for research within the field now known as "Capitaloscene" — his research inspired Naomi Klein in her writing This Changes Everything.
Today Malm is a kind of "red star" within the debate on climate change. His forthcoming book The Progress of This Storm (Verso, 2018) — in which he makes the case for a Marxist perspective on the climate — has already provoked debate within the field.
I ask Malm what has changed since he wrote the dissertation.
"I sense a growing interest in issues of energy and climate change amongst Marxists, and a growing interest in Marxism amongst those studying energy and climate change. Just yesterday I read an article in one of the leading climate change journals — The Anthropocene Review in which the editor concluded that much of the research in the field is now guided by Marxist analyses of climate policy and ecological issues. He found it lamentable, but for me its refreshing, of course."
But, I ask, is a Marxist perspective on these issues really what is called for today? Aren’t there signs that the global economy is already shifting? Since the dissertation, we have gone through what is know as the “the energy revolution”; i.e. the shift into a situation where solar, wind and hydro power are commercially viable, and have started to compete seriously with fossil fuels. For example, already in 2015, the worlds wind power reached a higher combined productivity than the sum total of all that of all the worlds nuclear plants.
Malm sighs once more.
"This has become a very prevalent idea. But what those who are enthusiastic about market solutions disregard is the fact that the fossil power infrastructure keeps expanding at the same time. With Trump in the White House the oil companies have more political power in the United States, and new pipelines and highways are being prospected as we speak. In India many new coal power plants are being built, and in China the winding down of coal power has been reversed. For the world's climate it doesn’t matter much if the market for renewable fuels is booming. What matters is that we stop using fossil fuels, right now."
A Growing Movement Against Climate Change
Not since the 1950s have as many pipeline projects been under construction as today, Malm underscores. At the same time there are reasons to be hopeful. The movement against climate change is growing. In Germany large protests against coal power plants are held every year. In the US activists are blockading the building of new pipelines. Malm gets enthusiastic as he talks about how Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, recently announced that the city is planning to sue five giant oil companies for contributing to the hurricanes that have recently hit the city.
"At the press conference he sat flanked by Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein. The message couldn’t have been any clearer: this only came about as a result from the pressure mounted by the climate movement. We have to appreciate the symbolic power of something like that."
Then he turns pessimistic again.
"But the movement still needs to grow so much bigger, and the different groups all over the world have to be linked up on a scale we have not seen so far. Otherwise we don’t stand a chance against fossil capital."
Note: This inteview was first published in ETC

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2836. With 10 Million Acres in Patagonia, a National Park System Is Born

By Pascale Bonnefoy, The New York Times, February 19, 2018 
Kristine McDivitt Tompkins with her dog, Wacho, on a ridge overlooking land that the Tompkins Conservation donated to the Chilean government. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

COCHRANE, Chile — An eagle soared over the lone house atop an arid hill in the steppes of Patagonia Park.
In the valley below, not far from the town of Cochrane, President Michelle Bachelet announced the creation of a vast national park system in Chile stretching from Hornopirén, 715 miles south of the capital, Santiago, to Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, where Chile splinters into fjords and canals.
The park is the brainchild of Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and her husband, Douglas Tompkins, who founded The North Face and Esprit clothing companies, and starting in 1991, put $345 million — much of his fortune — buying large swaths of Patagonia.
As Ms. Bachelet spoke about the creation of the park network, Ms. Tompkins looked up and gasped, watching the eagle circling above the house, which she owns; águila, or eagle, was the radio call name of her husband.
Mr. Tompkins died at 72 in December 2015, after a kayaking accident in Patagonia. Months before, Tompkins Conservation, an umbrella group of conservation initiatives the couple directed, proposed a deal to the Chilean government: It would donate more than one million acres of their preserved and restored territory to Chile if the government committed additional lands and designated new parks to create a Patagonian national park network.
Continue reading the main story

Yvon Chouinard, left, founder of the outdoor-clothing company Patagonia, and the mountaineer Rick Ridgeway visiting the grave of Douglas Tompkins in late January, the morning the Chilean president announced the new national park system. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times
The Bachelet administration ended up contributing nine million acres, more than the couple had proposed, creating five new national parks and expanding an additional three. The deal was a rare victory for conservation efforts in a region where mining, logging and agriculture are increasingly threatening ecosystems and forests.
It was a partnership, Ms. Tompkins said in an interview, “a real model to do large-scale conservation and create national parks in a public-private way.”
The resulting 10 million-acre Patagonia National Park system is more than three times the size of the Yosemite and Yellowstone parks combined. It expands Chile’s national parklands by nearly 40 percent, enlarging the area of protection for pumas, condors, flamingos and endangered deer species.
Continue reading the main story

The new park system runs south along 1,500 miles of lush native forests, rugged mountains, snow-capped volcanoes, lakes and rivers. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times
By April 2019, the parks the Tompkinses donated will be run by Chile’s National Forestry Service; one will be renamed for Mr. Tompkins.
The parks are “good not only for Chile, but for the planet,” Ms. Bachelet said in an interview. “It shows that you don’t have to be a rich country to make these kinds of decisions. It only requires will and courage.”
Among some locals, though, reaction has been ambivalent. The mayor of Cochrane did not even attend the announcement in late January.
Getting to the site where the ceremony took place that windy morning required a seven-hour drive south from the closest airport, in Balmaceda, near the border with Argentina.
Along the way, unpaved roads wind through looming mountains, flanked by turquoise rivers and the seemingly endless General Carrera Lake.


Grasslands dotted with guanacos, a cousin of the camel, give way to sprawling steppes and forests, deep-blue waterways and majestic snow-capped mountains at the doorsteps of breathtaking ice fields.
Continue reading the main story

Guanacos, a camelid native to South America, in the Chacabuco Valley in Patagonia National Park. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times
“It is a wonderful coincidence to be here this day,” said John Rosenblum, the retired dean of the University of Virginia’s business school, who was visiting the park with his son the day of the announcement.
Mr. Tompkins traveled through Patagonia in 1961, when he was 18, an adventure seeker and rock climber. He bought his first lands there 30 years later — the 42,000-acre Reñihué farm in Los Lagos region, which he converted to organic agriculture.
The couple married in 1993, after Ms. McDivitt retired from the outdoor apparel company Patagonia, where she had risen to chief executive. They began “a very nomadic life looking at conservation projects in Chile and Argentina,” she said.
In partnership with the philanthropist Peter Buckley, the Tompkins purchased 208,000 more acres near the Corcovado volcano, south of Reñihué. They also bought more land further south, and large tracts in northeastern Argentina, which they are currently donating, in four stages, to the Argentine government.
Over the years, they continued buying property, largely from absent landowners, developing the more than 700,000-acre Pumalín Park, made mostly of temperate rain forests including the millenary alerce tree, a relative of the California redwood.
The valleys were used for ecological farming, and luxury cabins, camping sites, hiking trails and other infrastructure were built to open the park to the public.
Continue reading the main story

West Winds Campground, near Patagonia National Park headquarters, offers hot water heated by solar panels. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times
Suddenly, the Tompkinses were at the center of national security concerns.
Politicians and the military argued that Pumalín Park, which crosses the narrow space between the Pacific Ocean and the Argentine border, cut the country in two, jeopardizing national sovereignty.
Business leaders and landowners accused Mr. Tompkins of impeding economic development. Nationalists said he was secretly creating a Zionist enclave in Patagonia.
Leftist parties were alarmed that an American businessman was buying big chunks of Chile. The Roman Catholic Church objected to the Foundation for Deep Ecology, which Mr. Tompkins founded in 1990 in San Francisco, saying it sought population-control.
Mr. Tompkins was vilified in the conservative news media, interrogated by congressional commissions and threatened with deportation.
Continue reading the main story

Hikers taking in the view of Lake Cochrane and Mount San Lorenzo. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times
Then, in 2005, the Tompkinses began donating land to the Chilean government to create a park. That same year, the government designated Pumalín a nature sanctuary.
By then, Tompkins Conservation had bought another large parcel of land, a 764,000-acre sheep farm in Valle Chacabuco, which it named Patagonia Park. Local ranchers and farmers objected to the purchase, saying their traditional livelihoods were being disrupted.
With the help of international donors and partners, the group took down more than 400 miles of fencing, removed 25,000 sheep and again built high-end lodges, campgrounds, hiking trails and roads, developing programs to restore natural ecosystems and to reintroduce wildlife to their natural habitats.
“There is something about the expanse of Patagonia, a kind of haunting soulfulness to it that affects you physically,” Ms. Tompkins said the day the new park network was announced. “Few places like this one grab you and hold on to you like it happened to Doug and I.”
Continue reading the main story

Sunrise over snow-capped mountains that line the western edge of the Chacabuco Valley, in the heart of the new Patagonia National Park system. CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

2835. Cosmetics and Climate Change

By Kendra Pierre-Louis and Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times, February 16, 2018

The deodorants, perfumes and soaps that keep us smelling good are fouling the air with a harmful type of pollution — at levels as high as emissions from today’s cars and trucks.
That’s the surprising finding of a study published Thursday in the journal Science. Researchers found that petroleum-based chemicals used in perfumes, paints and other consumer products can, taken together, emit as much air pollution in the form of volatile organic compounds, or V.O.C.s, as motor vehicles do.
The V.O.C.s interact with other particles in the air to create the building blocks of smog, namely ozone, which can trigger asthma and permanently scar the lungs, and another type of pollution known as PM2.5, fine particles that are linked to heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer.
Smog is generally associated with cars, but since the 1970s regulators have pushed automakers to invest in technologies that have substantially reduced V.O.C. emissions from automobiles. So the rising share of air pollution caused by things like pesticides and hair products is partly an effect of cars getting cleaner. But that breathing room has helped scientists see the invisible pollutants that arise from a spray of deodorant or a dollop of body lotion.
The researchers said their study was inspired by earlier measurements of V.O.C.s in Los Angeles that showed concentrations of petroleum-based compounds at levels higher than could be predicted from fossil-fuel sources alone. Concentrations of ethanol, for example, were some five times higher than expected. And those levels were increasing over time.
“You can see these really rapid decreases in tailpipe emissions,” said Brian C. McDonald, a scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who led the study. “It just made sense to start looking at other sources and seeing whether they could be growing in relative importance.”
While people use far more fuel, by weight, than they do lotions and paints, Dr. McDonald and his colleagues found a marked difference in how much of the pollutants from those products end up in the air.
Even though drivers can use gallons of gasoline each week, “it’s stored in an airtight tank, it’s burned for energy, and converted mostly to carbon dioxide,” said Jessica B. Gilman, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also involved in the study. Those carbon dioxide emissions are not smog-forming V.O.C.s, though they are a major driver of human-caused climate change.
“But these V.O.C.s that you use in everyday products — even though it may just be a teaspoon or a squirt or a spray — the majority of those kinds of compounds will ultimately end up in the atmosphere, where they can react and contribute to both harmful ozone formation and small-particle formation,” Dr. Gilman said.
Forty percent of the chemicals added to consumer products wind up in the air, the researchers found.
To make their calculations, the study’s authors constructed a computer model that simulated air quality in Los Angeles, weaving in data from the chemical composition of consumer goods and tailpipe emissions. Using the model, they could see the fingerprints of the chemical compounds coming from personal care products and also estimate how many V.O.C.s from paints and finishes inside buildings were being released to the outside world. Roughly half of the V.O.C.s in Los Angeles air could be attributed to consumer products, the authors found.
Ravi Ramalingam, who leads the California Air Resources Board’s consumer products and air quality efforts, said he was not surprised that paints and perfumes were making up a bigger share of emissions as cars and trucks became cleaner.
He said his agency was surveying the chemical makeup of about 300,000 consumer products sold or used in California, and preliminary results also suggested that emissions from those products were higher than previously estimated, though by a lesser amount than Dr. McDonald and his colleagues found. He said their different methodologies likely accounted for the disparity.
“We’re still looking for opportunities to reduce emissions from consumer products,” Mr. Ramalingam added.
California has regulated emissions from consumer products since the late 1980s, and federal regulations have followed suit, setting V.O.C. emissions limits for a range of items, including paints, varnishes and lacquers.
Concerned consumers may be tempted to turn to “natural” products, though the researchers say that isn’t a cure-all. For example, one class of compounds called terpenes gives many cleaning products a pine or citrus smell. These terpenes can be produced synthetically, or naturally from oranges.
“But whether it’s synthetic or natural, once it gets into the atmosphere it’s incredibly reactive,” Dr. Gilman said. Similar natural compounds give the Blue Ridge Mountains in Appalachia their name, from the blue haze formed by terpenes emitted from the trees there, Dr. Gilman added.
Galina Churkina, a research fellow at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies who was not involved in the study, noted that the study did not consider emissions related to biological sources like trees and animals. But the authors said their study was not the end of this line of research.
There are tens of thousands of chemicals in consumer products, and researchers have not yet pinpointed which chemicals are most likely to form ozone or PM2.5 particles. “One of the things that we’re hoping the public takes away from this is that our energy sources and the consumer products we use every day are continually changing the composition of our atmosphere,” Dr. Gilman said.
Notably, some of the V.O.C.s used in consumer products were replacements for chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. Those chemicals were phased out beginning in the 1980s because they thinned the Earth’s ozone layer.
For consumers looking for a greener solution, Dr. McDonald offered some advice. “Use as little of the product as you can to get the job done,” he said.

Monday, February 19, 2018

2834. Book Review: A Precautionary Tale: How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement

By Alisson WIlson, Independent Science News, February 18, 2018
A Precautionary TaleIt was the first day of two weeks’ voting. The rural alpine municipality of Mals was about to consider a revolutionary possibility – a vote for a “Pesticide Free Mals.” A “yes” vote would end all pesticide use in Mals and therefore initiate a full transition to diversified organic agriculture.
The Malsers had awoken to find their township awash with bright yellow sunflowers. The flowers sat in doorways and floated in fountains. Some were painted on manhole covers, others were on sticks in public gardens. Their message was clear. Each sunflower had Ja! (Yes!) boldly printed in its center. The national police ordered them removed, but the flowers mysteriously “regrew” each night until the two weeks’ voting was finished.
A Precautionary Tale
This sunflower skirmish was the final exchange in a controversy triggered originally by the appearance of the first industrial apple orchards in Mals. With this new apple monoculture came an influx of highly toxic pesticides. These chemicals, directly and indirectly, posed an existential threat to the traditional rural culture of Mals and to the health and the wellbeing of its citizens. Yet to challenge “Big Apple” was to challenge the myth of progress — the nearly universal belief that the uptake of new technology is essential and inevitable.

A Precautionary Tale For All

Philip Ackerman-Leist published A Precautionary Tale in November 2017. Subtitled How One Small Town Banned Pesticides, Preserved Its Food Heritage, and Inspired a Movement, it could not have been better timed. Earlier in 2017, three separate U.S. groups publicly released large digitized chemical document troves (The Poison PapersToxicdocs, and the Monsanto Papers). These searchable databases expose not only the extreme toxicity of common synthetic chemicals, many used in industrial agriculture, but the collusion between industry and regulators necessary to keep these chemicals on the market.
The question therefore arises, “How can individuals and communities protect themselves when regulatory systems do not?” A Precautionary Tale provides a creative and inspiring answer.
Mals is the name of the largest of 11 villages that together constitute the municipality of Mals. This region of the Italian Alps, part of the Upper Vinschgau valley, has a single mayor and is further united by its unique Tyrolean culture.
For centuries, the villages thrived within a distinctive agro-ecosystem of small but diversified family farms. Even today, cows, goats, pigs and poultry graze in tiny fields, one farmer’s field interspersed with another’s. Also intermixed are fields of vegetables, hardy local grains, and hay. Historic castles, a monastery, and medieval architecture provide visual links to the past. There are abundant mountain views and wildlife to attract tourists.
The township had recently elected a young mayor on a sustainability platform. Train lines and bike paths had been expanded and many farmers had transitioned to organic agriculture. Eco-tourism became a growing business.
Much of A Precautionary Tale is told through Ackerman-Leist’s energetic portraits of the redoubtable Malsers themselves. His descriptions of their personalities, livelihoods, and creative efforts on behalf of “A Pesticide Free Mals” make the book a pleasure to read.
Ackerman-Leist visits seed saver Edith Bernhard, for example, who for two decades has collected and grown regional organic heirloom tomatoes, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and berries. Her display gardens are a riot of biodiversity, with tomatoes ranging in color from black to white, and over 250 heirloom herbs.
In 2000 Edith began specializing in historic grains of the Vinschgau valley region. One of her seed saving triumphs was to rescue and grow out two heads of 100 year old spelt grains, developing them into a variety she called Dinkel Burgeis (Burgeis spelt). First given to her by a mason who found them wrapped in an 1895 newspaper in the attic of a neighboring house, Dinkel Burgeis is now being grown again by Vinschgau valley farmers. Regional bakers use historic grains like spelt and rye, and ancient varieties of fruit like the Palabirne, to make traditional breads.
Before the second half of the 20th century, bread was baked only two or three times a year. It was difficult to get the grain to the miller, baking bread was hard work, and ground flour needed to be used before it went off. One of the region’s most distinctive breads is a long-storing herbed rye. This is so hard it requires a special cutting board, with a knife attached by its tip for “safe chopping.” The board has three tall sides to catch flying pieces of bread. These are soaked in soup, milk or wine before eating, presumably to avoid chipping a tooth.
From Ackerman-Leist’s cultural tour of the Mals region it becomes clear that the Malsers had a lot to lose from a Big Apple takeover.
Mals man
Mals man

Big Apple

While Alpine Mals was strengthening its local economy, the Vinschgau valley below had become engulfed by the Tyrolean apple industry. Once as diversified and enchanting as Mals, the lower valley had been transformed into a regimented monoculture of fences, cement posts, and trellised dwarf apple trees.
Big Apple’s presence had changed more than just the view. Apple growers can legally spray up to 30 different pesticides. They can also spray each individual pesticide 12–14 times a year. Consequently, lands adjacent to apple farms are continually subjected to pesticide drift. The impact can be devastating.
For organic farmers in the lower Vinschgau valley, the apple orchards proved to be a direct threat to their livelihood. The Gluderer family, for example, had built up a thriving organic herb business over many years. As orchards surrounded their farm, their herbs began to test positive for pesticides. They tried to block drift by growing giant hedges. However, neither the hedges, nor the orchard’s mandatory spray buffer zones were sufficient. As a last resort, the Gluderer family covered their herb beds with an enormous plastic greenhouse. Without its protection, their herbs were too contaminated to sell.
Their experience provided a clear warning to organic farmers in Mals.

Big Apple Raises Big Questions in Mals

Eventually, the first industrial orchards appeared in Mals. For hardworking farmers, Big Apple held out the promise of big profits for little labor. Land prices, once relatively low, began to rise in response. Some Malsers became uneasy. When an orchard was planted next door and his organic hay tested positive for pesticides, farmer Günther Wallnöfer went to see the mayor.
This started the public dialogue over the future of Mals. The question ultimately engaged the whole township, as well as orchard owners and the Tyrolean apple industry. Its culmination was the ballot initiative for a “Pesticide Free Mals.” 
In the beginning, everyone hoped for “co-existence” — that with adequate care, orchard owners could protect their neighbors from toxic drift. This would allow each farmer to choose her or his preferred form of agriculture – from industrial apple orchards to diversified conventional or organic farms.
To test this possibility for Mals, a local environmental group took more than 300 samples from land adjacent to orchards. Every sample showed contamination with complex mixtures of highly toxic pesticides. These included the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos and the fungicide mancozeb. Many residue levels were above legal limits. Tests also showed pesticide contamination in the Mals’ schoolyard.
The Mals data were clear–orchard pesticides spread freely to neighboring fields, waterways, footpaths, parks, and other public areas. Co-existence was not possible.

War of the Worldviews

Preserving the historic diversified farming system of Mals was essential to the municipality’s plans for a sustainable food and eco-tourism-based economy. Yet the Tyrolean apple industry clearly intended to continue its expansion into Mals. It had the backing of the Governor of the South Tyrol Province to which Mals belonged. Two experimental orchards had already been planted; their purpose was to test which apples and other fruits were best suited to the area. The citizens of Mals realized they needed to act fast if they wanted to choose their own future.
In response, over 60 residents formed the Promotorenkomitees für eine pestizidfreie Gemeinde Mals (Advocacy Committee for a Pesticide-Free Mals). Their initiative asked the mayor of Mals to pass legislation that would (1) protect the health and diversity of people and the economy; (2) promote organic and biodynamic agriculture; and (3) prohibit toxic chemical pesticides within municipal boundaries.
The initiative’s supporters ranged from farmers, pharmacists, parents, and pediatricians, to dedicated seed savers, environmentalists, homesteaders, and the owners of small local businesses. A Precautionary Tale describes how each contributed something crucial to the debate. Expert opinion and analysis were sought, public discussions were held, letters were written to the local paper and to politicians, guerilla actions conducted, and festivals were held to celebrate the unique culture and history of Mals.
The ensuing uprising of public support ultimately gave the mayor the mandate he needed to schedule a legally binding referendum on the initiative for a Pesticide Free Mals.

Pesticide-Free Mals

While Ackerman-Leist describes the efforts of the apple industry to block the initiative, his story focuses on the origins of the campaign for a Pesticide Free Mals, its audacious yet practical tactics, and its ultimate triumph. When the votes were in, the initiative had passed, with 75% voting “yes” and 25% “no.”
As a result of the new legislation, Mals schools and other public institutions will now serve organic food. Furthermore, organic farms and those transitioning to organic practices will be financially supported. This measure was intended to benefit all Mals farmers, including any who initially opposed the initiative, and to encourage the development of new sustainable businesses.

A Pesticide-Free World?

How did the revolutionary idea of a Pesticide-Free Mals win out over the formidable Big Apple? The tactics of the Pesticide Free Mals movement were successful precisely because they were the tactics of the larger global food movement. While not every community starts with such an intact historic culture as Mals, all communities need healthy soil, water, and air; wholesome food; and a sustainable inclusive economy. A Precautionary Tale provides a concrete example of how the holistic thinking and democratic power of the food movement could eliminate toxic chemicals from all agriculture.
Including an eloquent call-to-arms from scientist and activist Vandana Shiva and a useful “Activist’s Primer,” complete with additional tips for U.S. activists, A Precautionary Tale is an enjoyable and practical guide to positive change.
Reviewer: Allison Wilson, PhD is co-founder and Science Director of the the Bioscience Resource Project.
For more more information and photos documenting the people, places, and events in A Precautionary Tale see: Toppling Goliath
For more information on pesticides, problems, and solutions see: PAN, Pesticide Action Network International and Beyond Pesticides.