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Mar 07

Ecological Sustainability, Peace and Social Justice are Inextricably Connected

Posted by: Elizabeth Israel

Elizabeth Israel

              Haiti 2010
  2010 Haiti...today moving towards Ecological Sustainability! 

Roy Morrison is Southern New Hampshire UniversityDirector of the Office of Sustainability.   He recently completed work including,  Seven Postulates for An Ecological Civilization  - published by Center for Ecozoic Studies Monthly Musings / February 28, 2011 - not on-line)

Roy talks on how Ecological Sustainability, Peace, and Social Justice are inextricably connected.    Some of his key points support GreenMicrofinance's mission. 
*   An ecological democracy pursues sustainability in all aspects of life. 

*   We must build the road as we travel towards an ecological civilization and those who would realize and maintain it, must pursue sustainability as their ongoing goal and guide. 

*   An ecological civilization is characterized by the ongoing pursuit of sustainability in the economic, ecological, and social realms.  Success in all three realms is completely interdependent. We cannot succeed in one without succeeding in the others.  

*    Economic growth must mean ecological improvement.

 *   We have the technological, economic, political and philosophical means for an ecological turn. Our challenge is to decide to employ them for ecological ends. 

*   A fundamental marker of progress toward an ecological civilization will be measured by a progressive annual decrease in global carbon emissions, and an annual increase in global economic output that leads to ecological improvement.

*   A global sustainable order requires technical assistance and transfer of resources and capital from rich to poor to make possible a sustainable global convergence. 

*    Without justice and fairness and sustainability for all, there ultimately will be sustainability and prosperity for no one. 

Dec 13

Direct Seeding Nitrogen-Fixing Trees...made easy and reliable for farmers

Posted by: Elizabeth Israel

Elizabeth Israel
Dec 04

Carbon-Neutral Biofuels - Addressing Climate Change and Microfinance

Posted by: Elizabeth Israel

Elizabeth Israel

USAID MicroLinks Note from the Field

Honduras: Blending Finance, Technology, and Training to Encourage Responsible Growth

La Mosquitia, one of the last remaining tropical forest areas left in Central America, is the most impoverished region in Honduras. Local communities, including the indigenous Miskito (or Mosquitia) people, have struggled to keep alive their distinctive cultural heritage while dealing with the threats of environmental and economic uncertainty.

Through a carbon-neutral biofuel initiative,  the MOPAWI (from Mosquitia Pawisa) seek to generate equitable social development through sustainable microenterprise  utilizing palm oil  that is used for a variety of purposes.   This approach will provide financial, social, and environmental returns in order to:

  • Increase local employment while decreasing out-migration;
  • Lower the cost of production and with lower agricultural labor;
  • Reduce waste and increase product yield; and,
  • Decrease emissions and deforestation.

“The beauty of this enterprise,” says David Hircock, Senior Advisor for Estée Lauder, “is the multidimensional, entrepreneurial approach. Many elements of this approach can bring much-needed cash into the economy and also negate the need for cash. For example, the indigenous community may not need to purchase diesel. Additionally, the enterprise incorporates important elements affecting local security issues, such as food, water, land and economics. Perhaps most importantly, this enterprise could show that the Mosquitia people are integral to the sustainable development of the area and local economy of Puerto Lempira, whereas at the moment they are so often marginalized. Now they can have a much-needed voice.”

Nov 19

The Wonders of Biochar

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Biochar: Ancient Wisdom Gives Clue to A Brighter Future


by Francesca Rheannon 
Could a centuries-old technology help solve climate change, soil depletion, water scarcity, fossil fuel dependence and poverty? Biochar advocates say, "yes!" 

With prospects dimming for a binding climate change agreementat the upcoming talks in Copenhagen, we all need some good news on climate change. So when I was listening to the radio the other day, half-snoozing in bed, my ears perked up when I heard about an ancient technology being revived as a possible big gun to tackle climate change. When the reporter said that the technology could also take a big bite out of world hunger and possibly provide carbon negative, clean, renewable fuels for transportation and heating/cooling, I leaped up in astonishment. Was I dreaming or is the Murphy's Law of global warming finally coming to an end? 

It's too early to break out the bubbly, but a burgeoning movement of scientists, entrepreneurs and policy makers are touting the benefits of biochar, the product of burning plant wastes and other biomass at low temperatures without oxygen. They say it may be able to significantly lower the amount of carbon dioxide we keep adding to the atmosphere every year. That's not a solution to fossil-fuel induced climate change, but it could buy us critical time to get the whole toolkit of solutions -- clean technology, increased efficiency, and other energy-saving practices -- on board and widespread. 

When I heard that a symposium on biochar was taking place at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst this past weekend, I jumped at the chance to find out more. The large conference hall was packed with attendees and presenters from around the world, from soil scientists like Johannes Lehmann, who co-wrote the "biochar bible" to entrepreneurs like Jim Fournier ofBiochar Engineering, who is building light industrial biochar furnaces in Colorado (more on this, below). 

Biochar could make the world's deserts bloom -- without using enormous quantities of water for irrigation. That's because biochar is the "coral reef of soil": it provides a lattice that can store large amounts of nutrients, water and beneficial organisms to help plants grow. On poor and marginal land, it can supercharge fertility. Some test plots have boosted crop yields by almost 900%, as you can see in this video clip

And it's not just for deserts. Cape Codders Peter Hirst and Bob Wells demonstrated their "Mobile Adam Retort" at the conference's field day, held at the New England Small Farm Institute. They've been taking in chippings and other waste from landscapers (who are only too happy to give it away for free) and turning it into a high quality soil amendment mixed with compost to sell to farms and gardeners. You can make biochar out of animal wastes, too. That could cut down on the smells and pollution from factory farms. 

The beauty of the technology is its scalability. From tiny units to help you make your houseplants grow all the way up to municipal and factory-sized units that can furnish energy for heating and electricity, biochar production provides opportunities for entrepreneurship in poor rural communities and developed nations alike. 
Already, some of Jim Fournier's units have been sold to municipal landfills excited about turning their waste into a product they can sell to the public while cutting down on the space they need to store waste and providing heat to their buildings. He's also developing a mobile unit that can be trucked to forests out West being devastated by the pine bark beetle. All those dead trees will put carbon into the atmosphere as they decay. But processing the dead wood into biochar and turning some back into the soil will regenerate the forests and get them soaking up carbon once again. 

Carbon negative fertilizer is just one product. Other companies, like Dynamotive Energy are working on creating clean, renewable liquid fuels from biochar. From fertilizer to fuels, biochar can provide opportunities for sustainability investors -- but investors in other biofuels, like corn ethanol, may find stiff competition in the market as the biochar market evolves. 

Policy makers are taking note. Senator Harry Reid introduced the "Water Efficiency via Carbon Harvesting and Restoration (WECHAR) Act of 2009" in September, along with cosponsors Max Baucus and John Tester of Montana, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and Tom Udall of New Mexico. The bill would give loan guarantees for biochar technology, support biochar landscape restoration projects on public land, and fund research on biochar technology and economics. And COP-15 has approved several side events about biochar, including one to be hosted by the International Biochar Institute, which hosted last weekend's conference. 

So, while the news on the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks could be brighter, I'm seeing a glimmer of light on the horizon.


Oct 21

"Microfinance and Climate Change" USAID Forum Summary by Betsy Teutsch

Posted by: Elizabeth Israel

Elizabeth Israel

Microfinance and Climate Change: Can MFIs Promote Environmental Sustainability The Summary was authored by our own Betsy Teutsch, GreenMicrofinance, Director of Communication.  Great work, Betsy!

This report summarizes key themes and “lessons learned” from the “Microfinance and Climate Change: Can MFIs Promote Environmental Sustainability?” Speaker’s Corner, held November 18-20, 2008.  Nearly 200 participants from over 40 countries participated in this discussion hosted by GreenMicrofinance, allowing participants to connect and learn about each other's activities.

Energy-Efficient Cookstove

Sep 16

Aora-Solar's Dream: An Energy Array in Every Village....

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Yuval Susskind, a rising Israeli greentech star, would like to put an Aora solar tower and array in every village in Africa. His company's innovative design meets the gap between household solar panels and utility-sized giant solar farms.  The system creates energy 24 hours a day; if the solar supply is insufficient, the system can run on biofuel or other non-fossil fuel sources.  So a whole village, if the funds were available for launching the system, could be truly ENERGY INDEPENDENT.  No waiting around for the grid to arrive - in a few decades at the earliest!

Pictured here is their installation in the Arava desert in Southern Israel.which supplies Kibbutz Samar, an agricultural collective with around 230 residents.  The hope is that this type of innovative technology designed for our resource-constrained world will be accessible to the world's poorest communities....


Sep 02

World's Poor are the Most Vulnerable Victims of Global Warming

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Some headlines just fail to surprise, like the recent one announcing that "low income workers are often cheated out of their wages."  Unfortunately, the fact that global warming's greatest impacts are on the world's poor is not really news; we at GMf are well aware of this terrible truth.  But this recent article in mainstream USA Today sums the situation up well:

   Global warming will fall heaviest on the desperately poor, finds a study of agricultural economics.

Released this week in Environmental Research Letters, the study led by Syud Ahmed of The World Bank in Washington, D.C., looked at the economic impacts of increases in atmospheric temperatures and climate variability, droughts, floods and storms, projected for the last three decades of this century across 16 developing nations. They based the estimate on the economic effects of similar weather in those places from 1970 to 2000.

"We find that extremes under present climate volatility increase poverty across our developing country sample -- particularly in Bangladesh, Mexico, Indonesia, and Africa -- with urban wage earners the most vulnerable group," write the authors. "We also find that global warming exacerbates poverty vulnerability in many nations."

Farmers in poor nations actually see their wages increase under global warming, says study co-author Noah Diffenbaugh of Purdue University, as the price of grain goes higher in nations experiencing more drought, but city dwellers, who spend much of their income on food, do worse.

The study fed projections of climate effects in two future scenarios produced by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into its economic forecasts. One was a hot, "business as usual", scenario, with industrial emissions of greenhouse gases continuing unabated into the future. The other was a "low emissions" model with limited emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere. Poverty was worse in the high-emissions model, Diffenbaugh says.

"IPCC identified the poor, the elderly, and the very young as the most vulnerable categories of people on the planet ... regardless of location, as Katrina and the European (2003) heat wave taught us," says economics professor Gary Yohe of Wesleyan University, an author of the IPCC report. "Nonetheless, the most vulnerable are more likely to live in developing countries where they face multiple stresses.  For many, climate change itself is a source of multiple stress because it is manifest in so many different ways."

However, climate scientist David Battisti of the University of Washington in Seattle is critical of the study, explaining by email that "the climate models do a poor job at simulating rainfall in many places...As well, the climate models do an extremely poor job at estimating natural variability and extreme events in temperature and precipitation. In particular, they overestimate the variability in summertime temperature and extreme events. Without correcting for these biases -- which are ubiquitous in the climate models -- it is very likely that the extreme event information input into the impact models is grossly exaggerated," Battisti says.

But Diffenbaugh notes that the poor in developing countries, who live on less that a dollar a day, have been vulnerable historically to climate swings, as seen in the study's look at numbers from the 20th century. "These folks are already vulnerable to climate, so climate 'change' seems unlikely to make things better for them."

By Dan Vergano

Aug 26

Energy Meeting Women's Needs!

Posted by: Elizabeth Israel

Elizabeth Israel

Why Women's Rights Are the Cause of our Time
New York Times Magazine
August 23, 2009

WHY DO MICROFINANCE organizations usually focus their assistance on women? And why does everyone benefit when women enter the work force and bring home regular pay checks? One reason involves the dirty little secret of global poverty: some of the most wretched suffering is caused not just by low incomes but also by unwise spending by the poor — especially by men. Surprisingly frequently, we’ve come across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito bed net; the mother says that the family couldn’t afford a bed net and she means it, but then we find the father at a nearby bar. He goes three evenings a week to the bar, spending $5 each week.


Reflection on the NY Times Article....

WHY IS MICROFINANCE AND THE ENVIRONMENT important to women today?  How can micro-finance be used for Energy Meeting Women's Needs?   

Aug 06

Barh Koh ESDA in Chad: Preserving Forests while Enhancing Quality of Life

Posted by: Betsy Teutsch

Betsy Teutsch

Barh Koh ESDA in Chad approaches poverty relief through environmental protection, working to provide environmentally safe alternative energy sources to the disadvantaged inhabitants and refugees in the region of Maro in southern Chad. The group's focuses on cooking and indoor lighting, to help reduce dependence on firewood, thereby reducing deforestation. 

Their plan of action shows the many ways clean technology can transform life in off-grid villages - providing power and preserving habitat.  It's always good to read about clean energy's impact on the ground!  As a northern city dweller, protection from reptiles is not something I've ever needed to contend with! (#3)
1) Providing solar cookers/ovens to poor rural families.
Solar cookers cost approximately $40 while solar ovens are in the vicinity of $300; which constitute a very small investment to help relieve poverty and save the environment at the same time. Solar cookers and stoves are safe; they cause no danger of fire, burns or smoke inhalation associated with wood burning.
2) Providing solar lanterns for poor families and students. A set of two solar lanterns can cost around $40 to $60, including shipping and handling. Solar lanterns are eco-friendly and will reduce the risks of fire hazards associated with kerosene lamps and firewood burning. A solar lantern will also enable a rural student to study and do homework after sunset. Solar lanterns also provide indoor lighting in the otherwise dark rural dwellings.
3) Providing solar flashlights to poor families and students. A single solar flashlight could save lives in a rural family that spends its evenings and nights in perpetual darkness, subject to all sorts of insects, reptiles and other elements. A solar-powered flashlight costs between $20 to $30 and can make a significant difference in a rural villager's life.

(H/T to DevelopmentCrossing).

Jun 23

Reflections From the Colombia Microcredit Summit: A Q&A With GMf Director William Yager

Posted by:




 On June 10th, GreenMicrofinance’s William Yager, Director of Sustainable Microenterprise Development, participated in the panel, “How MFIs and Their Clients Can Have a Positive Impact on the Environment,” moderated by Muhammad Yunus at the 2009 Latin America-Caribbean Regional Microcredit Summit in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.  Upon his safe return, Bill imparts his experience and reflections from the conference:


GMf: What are some of the key underlying ideas reinforced by the Colombia Summit?

WY: This particular context was not emphasized during the conference, but kept coming to mind as I listened to a truly remarkable succession of presenters. The background data are stark and unforgiving – the absolute number of poor is actually growing, since more than nine out of every ten births occur in what we know as the "third world"; to call it the "developing" world is, in most cases, truly euphemistic.  Global aid programs are overwhelmed. In the wake of the global economic crisis perpetrated by the rich, giving has been reduced dramatically. The poor suffer inordinately in such an atmosphere and have no power to affect their fate.  Income (if there is any) is down and prices are up drastically. The gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider, illustrating decisively the human capacity for delusion and short-term self-aggrandizement.


Nevertheless, microentrepreneurship, and the enabling support of microfinance institutions, has emerged from the periphery to the mainstream, not only contributing substantially to country economies but also contributing immeasurably more to human well-being.


GMf: How do you see microenterprise development as a tool in combating global poverty and having a positive impact on the environment?

WY: As outlined elsewhere, microenterprises have the potential to enhance self-esteem, intellectual development, discipline and a spiritual connectedness, as well as economic self-sustainability. For those who may not have the entrepreneurial bent, there is the new potential of employment in successful and hopefully growing enterprises.


This phenomenon of microenterprise as a powerful tool in combating global poverty was given significant impetus by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. We were indeed privileged to have Professor Yunus as a plenary speaker at several sessions and especially to have him as the chair of our panel on "How MFIs and Their Clients Can Have a Positive Impact on the Environment." The audience was swelled at least as much to be in his presence as to absorb more on the topic.


Professor Yunus, in his characteristically succinct style, said that our polluted environment is "a mess" created by humans, and in need of human innovation to solve the problem.


Consequently, the relevance of the mission of GreenMicrofinance is undeniable.


GMf: What thoughts do you have now as you reflect on meeting those at the conference who are dedicated to microenterprise development as an answer to ending poverty?

WY: On reflection, I would leverage that diagnosis to include global poverty as well. The greed and thinly disguised motivations of the wealthy have continued to marginalize and exploit the poor. The inescapable conclusion is that the stubbornly elusive solution to poverty lies within the human capacity not only for compassion and empathy, but perhaps more importantly for the justice and empowerment that can come from microenterprise development.


Beyond hope, the tangible implementation of real progress was palpable in this group of dedicated people from all over the world. The conference participants seemed to be bathed in a vision for the future – that poverty could actually be eliminated. Their reported experience on the ground was striking, yet they actually entertained the feasibility of ending the phenomenon, having existed for all of recorded history, called poverty…


The unleashing of the human spirit and tapping of fundamental human potential will leapfrog anything that anyone thought possible. What a gift to be sitting among over a thousand of like-minded individuals, from at least 47 countries, many of whom experienced over long periods of time, in the trenches working directly with the poor, with all the frustrations and realism that test anyone’s idealistic commitment! The Summit was goal oriented, experienced, realistic, and without platitudes – inspiring.

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