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Around the World, Olive Trees Are In Trouble

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Olive oil, whether grocery store shelf variety or a high-end specialty import, is guaranteed to occupy space in almost every American pantry—which makes the problems currently facing Italian and Spanish olive growers our problem, too. Home to 95 percent of the world’s olive groves, the temperate Mediterranean region of Europe has recently been plagued by flies, flooding, drought, and bacterial infestation. It's a wave of misfortune approaching Biblical proportions.

First came the pests: Bactrocera oleae, the aptly named olive fruit fly. The insects merrily repopulated among Italy’s trees during this past olive season, as eggs laid in the fruit hatched into larvae that consumed it, before growing to maturity and starting the cycle over and over again. The Puglia region suffered doubly, not only from its native pests, but also a foreign bacterial infection called Xylella fastidiosa, suspected to be an accidental import from Costa Rica. The bacteria—already infamous as the bane of California vineyards and Brazilian citrus groves—is now taking Italian trees hostage, subjecting fruit-bearing plants to slow, diseased deaths. Almond, oleander, and cherry trees have also been found to harbor the undesirable bacteria, although olive trees are the main victims. Though a desperate plan by the EU has already designated 25 miles of the surrounding area in southern Italy as “buffer zones,” they been forced to cull thirty-five thousand olive trees to date, with up to a million more potentially at stake.

The fact that Spain and Italy alone are responsible for so much of the world's olive oil production can be attributed to their ideal olive-growing climate: long, hot summers and cool, but not cold, winters. However, olives, like most living things, tend to suffer in extremes, like flooding and hail in Italy and major drought in Spain. All told, the International Olive Council anticipates a global shortage of olive oil that no amount of good weather in other countries can compensate for.

Although the United States is the biggest olive oil consumer outside the European Union, accounting for 10 percent of total global olive oil use, we seem to be a nation more of takers than givers. Even the unusually generous recent bounty from California olive growers will only contribute to less than one percent of worldwide production [PDF]–so much for buying local. It’s enough to drive olive oil prices up significantly, as if the market weren’t already incredibly profitable for culinary fraudsters. It may be time to start stocking up on extra-virgin, just in case – but even that solution is only good for about a year. In the meantime, may fate soon have mercy on the olive trees.

[h/t National Geographic]

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India's Supreme Court Demands That the Taj Mahal Be Restored or Demolished
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The Taj Mahal is one of the most recognizable monuments on Earth, but over the years it's started to look less like its old self. Smog and insect droppings are staining the once pure-white marble exterior an unseemly shade of yellow. Now, The Art Newspaper reports that India's Supreme Court has set an ultimatum: It's threatening to shut down or demolish the building if it's not restored to its former glory.

Agra, the town where the Taj Mahal is located, has a notorious pollution problem. Automobile traffic, factory smoke, and the open burning of municipal waste have all contributed to the landmark's increasing discoloration. Insects and acid rain also pose a threat to the facade, which is already crumbling away in some parts.

India's highest court now says the country's central government must seek foreign assistance to restore the UNESCO World Heritage Site if it's to remain open. Agra's state of Uttar Pradesh has taken some steps to reduce pollution in recent years, such us banning the burning of cow dung, which produces heavy brown carbon. In 2015, India's Supreme Court ordered all wood-burning crematoriums near the Taj Mahal to be swapped for electric ones.

But the measures haven't done enough to preserve the building. A committee led by the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpu reportedly plans to investigate the exact sources of pollution in the area, a process that will take about four months. The Supreme Court plans check in on the status of site every day from July 31.

Air pollution isn't the only factor damaging the Taj Mahal. It was constructed near the Yamuna River in the 17th century, and as the water gradual dries up, the ground beneath the structure is shifting. If the trend continues it could lead to the building's total collapse.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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Are You Eco-Conscious? You Could Win a Trip to the Dominican Republic
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Do you love lounging on the beach but also want to take action to save the planet? You'll be able to do both if you're chosen to serve as a "sustainability advisor" for a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic, Lonely Planet reports.

The worldwide contest is sponsored by Eden Roc at Cap Cana in Punta Cana. The winner and one friend will receive a five-night stay at the Relais & Châteaux hotel, where they'll partake in specially curated activities like a food-sourcing trip with the hotel's chef. (One caveat, though: Airfare isn't included.)

You don't need a degree in conservation to enter, but you will need an Instagram account. Give the resort's Instagram page (@edenroccapcana) a follow and post a photo of you carrying out an eco-friendly activity on your own page. Be sure to tag the resort and use the official hashtag, #EcoEdenRoc.

The only requirement is that the winner meet with hotel staff at the end of his or her trip to suggest some steps that the hotel can take to reduce its environmental impact. The hotel has already banned plastic straws and reduced its usage of plastic bottles, and the sole mode of transport used on site is the electric golf cart.

Beyond the resort, though, the Dominican Republic struggles with deforestation and soil erosion, and the nation scored poorly on the 2018 Environmental Performance Index for the agricultural category.

Entries to the contest will be accepted until August 31, and you can read the full terms and conditions here.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

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