Costa Rica coffee farmers brew up a carbon neutral future

Coffee makes up nearly 10 percent of Costa Rica’s total emissions

SANTA MARIA DE DOTA, Costa Rica, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Climbing the steep slope by his house, Fernando Solis Arguedas examined a leaf on one of his 50-year-old trees that produces arabica beans for the world’s first officially certified carbon neutral coffee.

Blaming an increasingly unpredictable climate for the first spots of roya fungus, he explained how sustainable techniques such as reducing chemical sprays and planting more shade trees meant higher prices for his coffee cooperative, Coopedota.

But forget organic. Carbon neutral produce has become the buzz term in the Central American nation of 5 million people as countries look to slash greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture while feeding growing populations.

“It’s the trend, but it means we can put our coffee in the international market and if the market is at $120, we might get $180 or $200,” said Solis, the third generation of his family to farm coffee.

“Although in reality a lot goes in costs, we think we come out better,” he said, watching the hawks drifting on currents of warm air over the town of Santa Maria de Dota, some 70 km (40 miles) south of the capital San Jose.

Costa Rica is now home to three zero emission coffee companies plus some carbon neutral banana, pineapple and cattle producers, putting the nation at the forefront of a movement that is slowly growing.

Coffee is not the only drink going carbon neutral. Companies in Sri Lanka, India and China are producing zero emission tea.

Coffee production has played a major role in Costa Rica’s history and it is famed for its high-quality arabica varieties. It is the world’s 14th largest coffee producer although it only accounts for about one percent of the world’s coffee.

But with a reputation for being environmentally friendly, Costa Rica set itself an ambitious – and increasingly improbable – target in 2007 to become carbon neutral by 2021, which means tackling the 37 percent of its emissions coming from farming.

Coffee makes up nearly 10 percent of its total emissions.

Globally agriculture, forestry and other land use accounts for about 24 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Persuading Costa Rica’s coffee farmers to switch fertilisers or mills to cut energy and water consumption or turn pulp into biogas, is helping lower costs alongside their environmental footprint, said people in the coffee industry.

Many are keen to adapt as the changing climate clouds the future for producers, prompting the government recently to lift a 30-year ban on planting robusta trees that are more heat and disease resistant than arabica.

But getting consumers on board remains a major challenge as producing zero emission coffee comes with costs.

Inside the vast Coopedota facility in Santa Maria de Dota – where most livelihoods are tied to coffee – millions of beans are sorted into sacks as the smell of roasting coffee pervades.

In the quality control room, a pair of tasters tested dozens of cups of coffee, comparing the fragrance and notes from the brews before spitting the remainder into steel beakers.

Although it is now ranked as the world’s first carbon neutral coffee company, the 900-member cooperative originally set out to cut costs and increase efficiency but along the way realised the environmental benefits of the new processes.

Now with water consumption down 80 percent and energy use 40 percent lower, it uses coffee husks instead of firewood to dry beans in cylinders, said environmental manager Adrian Cordero.

Coopedota tracks the emissions produced at each stage, from planting and fertilising the seeds, taking the coffee cherries from the farm to be depulped, the beans dried and in some cases roasted – buying carbon credits to offset part of its impact.

Cordero said the cooperative exports about half its coffee to the United States and the rest to newer markets in Asia where people are willing to pay the higher price.

“The social angle, the environmental angle, ensures our prices don’t go down,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Cordero acknowledged that becoming carbon neutral was a slow process and required hefty initial investments for Coopedota.

The cooperative secures contracts several years in advance, which is security for farmers change the way or crops they farm.

However facing stiff competition from bigger coffee producers such as Brazil, low or zero emission coffee gives Costa Rica an edge, said Carlos Fonseca Castro, technical manager at the country’s ICAFE coffee institute.

Costa Rica was the first to adopt a Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) plan to help coffee producers cut emissions. It now has a plan in place for cattle.

While only three coffee companies are certified carbon neutral, more are working to slash emissions, seeing knock-on cost benefits, said Fonseca at ICAFE on San Jose’s outskirts.

“It’s not necessarily expensive but it’s a change of mentality around (coffee) production and processing,” he said.

However he said difficulties in accurately measuring how carbon is stored and the need to buy credits was a disincentive.

Roberto Azofeifa, head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s agro-environmental production programme, said training and loans were helping farmers speed up to reduce environmental impact.

But raising consumer awareness and finding niche markets for carbon neutral products remained a hurdle.

“The carbon neutral target is inspiring people to do interesting things and even if they don’t have certification, they’re doing important work such as reducing emissions through waste reuse,” said Azofeifa, in his San Jose office.

“How to convince the consumer to be part of this trend is an enormous challenge.”

Sri Lanka’s Bogawantalawa Tea Estates, which became carbon neutral this year, is confident buyers will catch on to carbon neutral as they did with organic products.

“When we mention it’s carbon neutral, they are very much interested because they also are able to mention this on their packs,” said Shivashankary Rajarammohan, head of corporate social responsibility.

Eventually companies may have to show their carbon footprint as they do with nutritional values, said Peter Laderach, climate specialist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture.

“It’s the same as food safety and traceability. Consumers get more informed and they just want to know they’re buying the right thing,” he said. (Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation.

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry donate royal wedding flowers to hospice patients

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4-year-old ‘superhero’ on a mission to save homeless people

A 4-year-old boy in Birmingham, Alabama is saving the world one person at a time by handing out food and money to the local homeless community.

He’s pitched in to build a new homeless shelter, donating $5,000, Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin posted on Facebook:

Austin Perine wears a red satin superhero cape that helps him work faster because “it blows in the wind,” the boy told CNN. He goes by the superhero name “President Austin” because he wants to become president of the United States.

When he visits with people on the streets, CNN reports, Austin Perine always wears his all-blue “work outfit,” complete with a T-shirt proudly displaying the hashtag #ShowLove in bold red letters.

Terance Perine, Austin’s father, told CBS News that his son was inspired to help the homeless after watching a show on Animal Planet where a panda left her cub alone.

When Austin asked what would happen to the baby panda, his dad told CBS News it appeared it would be “homeless for a while.” Austin asked him if people can be homeless too and wanted to meet a person living on the streets.

Terance Perine said that they went and bought food to hand out to some homeless people and it sparked something special in the boy. According to CNN, Austin Perine now spends his weekly allowance on food to give out to people on the street, to “show love” to the homeless.

Washington Redskins running back Samaje Perine is Austin’s cousin, according to the Washington Redskins website.

After Austin Perine’s story was featured on CBS News, Burger King stepped in to help, giving him $1,000 a month to spend on chicken sandwiches to hand out.

Church’s Chicken also stepped up to donate to Perine’s “#ShowLove” campaign.

Birmingham’s new homeless shelter is expected to open in late 2018.

Estonia To Become The World’s First Free Public Transport Nation

Tallinn, known for its digital government and successful tech startups, is often referred to as Europe’s innovation capital. Now celebrating five years of free public transport for all citizens, the government is planning to make Estonia the first free public transport nation. Allan Alaküla, Head of Tallinn European Union Office, shares some valuable insights for other cities.

Five years ago, citizens of Tallinn were asked in a referendum if free public transport should be realized. Why should citizens be involved in such political decisions?

“A decision for a long-term project should not only be taken by the current elected council, but it should be locked politically by asking for support from the public. Although a local referendum is not legally binding, the mandate from the popular vote is stronger than just from the council.”

How does this work out for the municipality?

“There’s no doubt that we not only cover the costs, but also come out with a surplus. We earned double as much as we have lost since introducing free public transport. We’re happy to see that so many people are motivated to register as residents in Tallinn to make use of free public transport.”

Who is profiting the most from free buses, trams and trains in Tallinn?

“A good thing is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes. But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city.”

What further actions is Tallinn taking to make the use of individual transport less attractive?

“Before introducing free public transport, the city center was crammed with cars. This situation has improved — also because we raised parking fees. When non-Tallinners leave their cars in a park-and-ride and check in to public transport on the same day, they can’t only use public transport for free, but also won’t be charged the parking fee. We noticed that people didn’t complain about high parking fees once we offered them a good alternative.”

What inspired the Estonian government to introduce free public transport all over the country?

“People in other parts of Estonia started to demand free public transport, too. In Wales, an experiment with free public transport is about to end in May, but has already been extended for another year. Taking this as an example, we would also like to remove the public transport ticketing for all rural connections in Estonia.”

What advice would you give to other European cities that are hesitant to implement free transport?

“Tallinn’s approach is not a universal solution for all and for some it might be too extreme. We know examples of cities in Poland, Germany and France that already realized free public transport or are considering it. But we’re also seeing plenty of partially free public transport ideas are being executed, ranging from free weekend rides and lower fares in off-peak hours to free public transport for the retired and students. Municipalities should be brave to use their city as a testing ground to find out what system is realistic for them to implement.”

Which city will be the next to copy Tallinn’s successful system?

“Right now, Paris is considering the introduction of free public transport — mostly to reduce pollution in the city center. Once a city of this size and scale takes the step, other cities will inevitably follow. No doubt about that.”

The EU Green Week 2018 will explore ways in which the European Union is helping cities to become better places to live and work. In a special article series, Pop-Up City will highlight some of the most inspiring green developments from across the continent. Join the #EUGreenWeek conversation on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Turkish pilot saves 151 lives after making emergency landing in Jeddah.

A Turkish pilot saved the lives of 141 passengers and 10 crew aboard a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight by making an emergency landing in Jeddah late Monday.

The Airbus A330-200 controlled by pilot Ümit Atlat?rlar was heading to the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka from Medina, reports said.

The aircraft was reportedly leased from Turkey’s Onur Air.

The pilot successfully made the landing and kept the aircraft on the runway, allowing the evacuation of passengers and crew.

He circled around Jeddah for around three hours before making two low passes and finally made the landing with the nose gear retracted, reports said.

No injuries have been reported but the aircraft suffered significant damage.

In a statement, Onur Air said that the aircraft sustained a hydraulics malfunction due to an unknown cause.

The statement noted that the pilot successfully landed the plane by following crash-landing procedures in coordination with the Flight Operation Directorate, saving the lives of 151 people onboard the plane.

Both Onur Air and Saudi Arabian officials are investigating whether the accident was caused by outside factors.

Footage posted on social media showed flames coming from the nose of the aircraft after making the emergency landing.

Over 10,000 endangered tortoises are rescued in Madagascar

International conservationists in Madagascar have been treating more than 10,000 critically endangered radiated tortoises that were seized from traffickers who crammed the creatures into a home with no access to food or water.
The Turtle Survival Alliance and other groups are caring for the tortoises at a wildlife facility in the Ifaty region of the Indian Ocean nation, although hundreds have died from illness and dehydration.
The alliance says police found the radiated tortoises at a home in Toliara on April 10. The group said the amphibians native to southern Madagascar likely had been collected for the illegal pet trade, with Asia possibly the intended market.
Radiated tortoises are coveted for the star pattern on their shells.
Most of the surviving tortoises appear fairly healthy, said Susie Bartlett, a veterinarian with the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo. In an email, Bartlett described the challenges of working with the huge number of tortoises.
Each morning, ill tortoises that are under veterinary care are collected from their enclosures and brought to the clinic in large tubs and pans, Bartlett wrote. Sick animals are given subcutaneous fluids to rehydrate them and antibiotics if needed, along with vitamin supplementation. This is easily done with the sick tortoises that do not have much strength to retract their heads and legs.
However, as tortoises get stronger it gets more difficult to extend a leg out of a shell to find a fold of skin for an injection, according to Bartlett. Some of the rescued animals have eye and mouth infections and are given pain medicine.
Conservationists from zoos in the United States the Bronx Zoo, Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee, Hogle Zoo in Utah, Dallas Zoo and Oklahoma City Zoo are participating in the rescue. About 1,500 radiated tortoises deemed to be healthy have been moved to other facilities in Madagascar.
Radiated tortoises used to be found along roadways in the dry, spiny forests of south and southwest Madagascar. Poaching and habitat loss have taken a heavy toll, according to a red list of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The list says Asian smugglers are known to collect the tortoises and that tortoise meat is popular among some people in Madagascar.

Alaska Airlines says ‘so long’ to non-recyclable plastic straws

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Alaska Airlines passengers will soon notice something different when they order in-flight cocktails or coffees.
No, the airline’s not changing a crucial ingredient. But those plastic stirring sticks? They’re about to go the way of paper tickets and empty middle seats.
Alaska Airlines will phase out plastic stirring sticks in favor of compostable versions made of white birch. Citrus picks will switch from plastic to bamboo.
It’s all in the name of the environment, swapping out the single-use plastic sticks for a more sustainable option. The changes begin July 16, when Alaska starts phasing out the plastic items from its flights and frequent-flier lounges.  
Though some global airlines have pledged to gradually reduce the use of such items, Alaska Airlines says its move will make it the first in the U.S. to eliminate them altogether.
“Plastic is a serious issue for our planet. What’s important is continuing to move the global supply chain toward making sustainable materials accessible and affordable,” Shaunta Hyde, Alaska Airlines’ managing director – community relations, says in a statement to USA TODAY’s Today in the Sky blog.
Alaska Airlines will switch from single-use plastic stir sticks to sustainable organic versions starting in July 2018. (Photo: Alaska Airlines)

Indeed, concern has been growing regarding the effect of plastic on the environment. Single-use plastic items – such as the straws and citrus picks Alaska Airlines is set to replace – have drawn particular scrutiny by environmental groups.
In a statement detailing the change, Alaska Airlines says “plastic straws are of special concern because they cannot be recycled, and they’ve been shown to kill birds and other marine life.”
After handing out a combined 22 million plastic stir straws and citrus picks on its flights and in its frequent-flier lounges in 2017, Alaska Airlines hopes its shift to sustainable versions will make a difference.
“I imagine this will make a big difference,” Hyde says about Alaska’s decision to shift to sustainable versions of the items. “They are a very real wood alternative, and quite nice.”
Alaska Airlines will switch from single-use plastic citrus picks to sustainable organic versions starting in July 2018. (Photo: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines also says it will introduce non-plastic, marine-friendly drinking straws for customers requesting them. Hyde says Alaska has not yet selected a compostable alternative yet for those but says “we will be using a product that is marine-friendly.”
More broadly, Alaska Airlines says the change is part of its overall goal to reduce its in-flight waste per passenger going to landfills by 70% by 2020.
Among the environmentally-focused changes already in place at the Seattle-based carrier: bottled beer has been replaced with aluminum cans, which are lighter and easier to recycle, according to the company. And a policy to refill plastic cups rather than requiring a new cup for every round of beverage service has recently been reintroduced.
For the effort with straws and citrus picks, Alaska Airlines has partnered with environmental group Lonely Whale, which has made “For A Strawless Ocean” one of its pillar campaigns.
“Plastic pollution is causing devastating marine life issues with plastic now found in the bellies of whales, turtles and more, including seabirds, of which 99% of all species are expected to have ingested plastic by the year 2050,” Lonely Whale executive director Dune Ives says to Today in the Sky. 
“The banning of single-use plastic beverage straws sets a new standard for the travel industry, and we couldn’t be happier that Alaska Airlines is the first U.S. airline to lead the charge,” Ives adds in the carrier’s media statement.
TODAY IN THE SKY: Alaska Airlines unveils new uniforms for 19,000 employees
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Dog Raises Ducklings After Mothers Death

Wing Commander John Butcher, Commanding Officer of 617 Squadron, left, jokes with Britain’s last surviving ‘Dambuster’, Squadron Leader George “Johnny” Johnson, during an event to mark the 75th anniversary of the ‘Dambusters’ raids, at RAF Coningsby. The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight was hoping to fly one of the two remaining Avro Lancaster bombers over the Derwent and Ladybower reservoirs, but high winds prevented the aircraft from taking off. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the RAF and the 75th anniversary of the 617 Squadron Dambusters operation. The Dambuster raids, or ”peration Chastise’ was an attack on German dams on 16-17 May 1943 by Royal Air Force No. 617 Squadron, using an innovative ‘bouncing bomb’, which skimmed on the surface of the reservoir before hitting the dam wall and exploding.

Dominick Chilcott, right, British ambassador in Turkey, hands over a letter of apology from the UK government to Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj, at the British Consulate, in Istanbul. Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, allege they were detained in southeast Asia in 2004 and sent to Libya to be interrogated by the regime of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Britain acknowledged Thursday that its intelligence agents played a role in the kidnapping and torture of an opponent of the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, a rare admission of wrongdoing by British spies.

People release balloons outside Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, following the death on Saturday morning of Alfie Evans, who was being treated at the hospital. The 23-month-old died at 2.30am, parents Kate James and Thomas Evans said on Facebook. The youngster was at the centre of a legal battle over his treatment that touched hearts around the world.

Members of the military work in the Maltings shopping area, close to the bench where Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found critically ill seven weeks ago. The area around the bench where the couple collapsed is one of nine sites to be cleaned in an operation that is likely to take several months.

A statue in honour of the first female Suffragette Millicent Fawcett is unveiled as Prime Minister Theresa May and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan look on during a ceremony in Parliament Square. The statue of womens suffrage leader Millicent Fawcett is the first monument of a woman and the first designed by a woman, Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing OBE, to take a place in parliament Square.

A man pulls the flowers down from a fence opposite the house of Richard Osborn-Brooks in South Park Crescent in Hither Green, London. The shrine has become an unlikely flashpoint of tensions between the grieving family and his neighbours since last week’s incident where burglar Henry Vincent was killed by Richard Osborn-Brooks at his house.

Mount Everest female record-setter wants to be an inspiration.

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The most successful female Everest climber said after finishing her ninth ascent of the world’s highest mountain that she wants to inspire all women so they too can achieve their dreams.

Lhakpa Sherpa was guiding some 50 climbers with her brother when she scaled the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak last week, breaking her own record for the most climbs of Mount Everest by a woman.

“If an uneducated woman who is a single mother can climb Everest nine times, any woman can achieve their dreams,” Sherpa said in Kathmandu on Wednesday.

“I want be an inspiration to all the women in the world that they too can achieve their goal,” she said.

The 44-year-old Sherpa never got a chance for formal education because she was already working carrying climbing gear and supplies for the trekkers.

She plans to climb the mountain again next year.

“People who are 70 years old are still climbing Everest, I am no where there,” she said adding that she was healthy and fit to continue mountaineering.

Her recent climb was the toughest of the nine, she said, adding there was a lot of wind and snow and they had to wait a few days to make their climb to the summit.

“Only two of our clients did not make but most of them made it to the top and were happy clients,” she said.

This successful expedition is likely to help her brother Mingma’s mountaineering company grow. It would also mean that Lhakpa can continue to climb Everest.

She says she is also looking forward to seeing her three children back in Connecticut, where she works as a dishwasher at the Whole Foods Market in West Hartford.

At ceremony in Kathmandu on Wednesday, tourism community honored her and and the overall record-holder for successful Everest climbs, Kami Rita, who has reached the summit 22 times, for their achievement and contribution to mountaineering in Nepal.

NY Jets rookie Nathan Shepherd went from having to drop out of school because he couldn’t afford it, to working odd jobs for two years in construction and factories, to walking on at a junior college, to finally being drafted in the NFL and signing a million dollar signing bonus.

Not every player has a straight and narrow path to the NFL. Just ask Jets defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd.

Over the weekend, Shepherd’s NFL dreams came true when New York selected him in the third round of the 2018 draft. Four years ago, though, Shepherd’s path strayed about as far away from a football field as one can get.

A native of Ajax, Ontario, Shepherd attended Simon Fraser University in British Columbia for two years before he could no longer afford tuition. Shepherd spent the next two years working numerous jobs in order to save up enough money to return to school and the football field.

Whether it was working in construction, at a plant nursery or at a printing factory, Shepherd did whatever it took to come up with enough cash to go back to school. He wondered if he would ever be able to find a way back onto the gridiron.

“Honestly, it brought me to the point where I had to look myself in the mirror and decide how much football meant to me,” Shepherd told reporters, according to the New York Post. “It was just one of those loves that I couldn’t get over. It became a matter of just do whatever you have to do to make your dreams come true.”

In 2015, Shepherd left Canada and wound up at Fort Hays State in the middle of Kansas. It was there that Shepherd became an NFL prospect and performed well enough in his two seasons at the school to earn an invite to the Senior Bowl.

According to Todd Bowles, Shepherd projects as a 3-4 defensive end. Bowles expects Shepherd to play a part in New York’s defensive line rotation as a rookie and could see time filling the hole vacated by Muhammad Wilkerson.

Wilkerson would still be in New York if it weren’t for his rebellious attitude and habitual tardiness. A Linden, New Jersey native, Wilkerson was not always that way. When the Jets selected him out of Temple in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they were getting a player who was hungry to make a name for himself.

Wilkerson played with that kind of drive and competitiveness up until 2016, which is when he earned a hefty contract extension from the Jets. Once Wilkerson got his money, that drive disappeared and the player who was once heralded for his high motor became disinterested and a problem in the locker room.

It’s no surprise that general manager Mike Maccagnan coveted a player with drive and determination to take over the spot Wilkerson once held. Maccagnan has made a concerted effort to bring in high-character guys throughout New York’s rebuilding process and Shepherd fits the mold of what Maccagnan is looking for.

Based on his backstory, it’s easy to imagineShepherd’s work ethic is top-notch. It takes some serious determination to do what he did, giving up school and entering the workforce just to find a way back to the sport one day.

Credit Maccagnan for finding a player who not only flew under the radar from a talent perspective, but from a character standpoint, as well. Shepherd’s drive should take him a long way in the NFL and he deserves every ounce of success that is bound to come his way.