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Bringing ‘anytime water’ to parched Barmer districts in India

” Two companies, the government and an NGO team up to build user-friendly reverse osmosis plants in this district in India’s Rajasthan state

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It is scorching hot in the town of Kawas, in India’s Rajasthan state, but Kamla Devi, 35, is not deterred. She has walked to the RO (reverse osmosis) plant to fetch drinking water. “It’s an addiction now,” she says, “to drink this pure water.” Kamla says she doesn’t want to even think that only a few months ago, she used to drink brackish water, which, people from an NGO later told her, was contaminated with fluoride, nitrate and potassium. No wonder, she adds, people in the family had joint pain and gastric trouble.

Standing behind her in the queue, Sua, wife of Bhawra Ram, a tailor, says she feels the difference the RO water has made. “Earlier I had a hard time getting out of bed at 5am due to joint pain, and felt weak in the daytime and often had to rest. But now all that has changed,” she says while swiping her card before the tap begins to fill her can. Every day, she takes two cans of 20 litres each to meet her family’s drinking water needs.

At a similar plant in Bhimda village, Kalpana Kumari, 16, can’t hide her excitement about her father giving up opium. “He consumed it to get relief from joint pains, and then it became an addiction, but last month, there was a de-addiction camp in the village and he vowed to kick it. But I would like to believe that it has also got to do with this water that we now drink,” says the Grade 10 student of Gayatri School, a stone’s throw from the RO plant.

More than 300 villagers in four villages of Barmer district’s Baytoo and Gudhamalani blocks are now using these anytime-water (ATW) prepaid cards to get RO water. The machine dispenses water after the card is placed on the sensor.

In western Rajasthan, women bear the burden of water scarcity — quite literally. Balancing pitchers on head, they walk home from faraway water sources. There is an absence of surface-water resources; rainfall is sparse; and the groundwater, saline and unsuitable for drinking or irrigation. People used to harvest rainwater in traditional underground water-tanks. These tanks with a capacity of 15,000-20,000 litres could stock water for four-five months only. In the summers, people had no option but to rely on groundwater, which had a high fluoride content and harmful pathogens. Getting a water tanker to deliver 5,000 litres cost Rs1,000-1,200 (Dh61-73) but quality was still an issue. Fluoride in water was the reason for a high incidence of dental and skeletal fluorosis in the villages.

In April 2013, Cairn India, the oil and gas company which has an operation in the Barmer district, decided to provide people access to clean drinking water under its corporate social responsibility programme.

Says Ritu Jhingon, general manager, CSR, Cairn India: “We decided to establish RO stations through a sustainable model of self-ownership to solve this problem. Locations in the Cairn intervention area with a minimum of 250 families or 1,250 people were identified for these plants that would provide villagers clean drinking water at the cost of Rs5 for 20 litres.”

The first plant was set up in Gudhamalani on April 20, 2013, and five more followed. These plants operated from 10am to 5pm. But soon, when it became clear that the timings needed to be made more flexible, the concept of anytime water was worked on.

Cairn India teamed up with Tata Projects, Rajasthan Government’s Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) and Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) to initiate the Jeewan Amrit Project under which RO machines were fitted with sensors to scan cards.

Cairns and Tata bore the cost of setting up stations; PHED supplied raw water to the plants. Cairn India assistant manager (CSR) Uma Bihari Dwivedi says that prepaid cards are issued to villagers for Rs150, the cost of 600 litres or 30 cans of potable water. After 30 cans, the card can be recharged with a minimum of Rs150. For every 20 litres, Rs5 is deducted from the card.

The PHED water has total dissolved solids (TDS) of 3,000 to 4,800 parts per million (ppm). The RO machines at these stations reduce the impurity to 60 to 80 ppm.

“The machine produces 1,000 litres of product water per hour and the good thing about it is that it has a capacity to reject 99 percent TDS from raw water. This is a rare feature and is not available in other RO machines sold in the market,” says Mahesh Panpalia, CEO of Dhara Sansthan, the implementing partner of Jeewan Amrit Project. “As per the norms, 45 per cent is what we get in the form of product water and 55 percent goes as reject water. This waste water is used to recharge groundwater through soak pits or used in construction.”

Dhara Sansthan, along with the government’s Communication and Capacity Development Unit (CCDU), creates awareness about and generates demand for RO water. The CCDU consultant in Barmer, Ashok Singh Rajpurohit, who has written a book on water conservation efforts in the district, adds: “We use street plays, puppet shows, school sessions, wall writings, slogans and handouts to create awareness about clean drinking water and harmful effects of fluoride-containing brackish water.”

There are 13 RO stations in Barmer, and five of them — in Kawas, Bhimda, Sawau Padam Singh, Akdara and Baytoo Bhopji — are ATW card-enabled. Three more, in Santara, Hemaguda and Kanod, are under construction. One such station is also being installed in Barmer’s Police Lines for families of those working in the police department. Each station can issue a maximum of 250 water cards. Today, Kawas has 160, Bhimda 110 and Sau Padam Singh 90 cardholders. In Baytoo Bhopji, only 20 cards have been issued so far while in Akdara, water is being provided free of cost. For the first few days after installation, water is provided free of cost as a promotional offer.

To make it a community entrepreneurship model, the project appoints a committee of local people for monitoring. The committee, called Peyjal Vikas Samiti (Drinking Water Development Committee), comprises one official each from PHED and Dhara Sansthan and 15 community members. It is responsible for appointing an operator for the plant, doing monthly review of the book of accounts, holding meetings every month or fortnight, collective decisions and monitoring cash flow. The committee members also work towards increasing water sales.

The annual maintenance cost of the RO plant is about Rs180,000 and the minimum sale required to meet the break-even point is 100 cans daily. “In Kawas,” says Jethalal Chaudhary, 45, a member of Peyjal Vikas Samiti, “the average is 150 cans a day. Sometimes people take as many as 50 cans a day if there is a ceremony, such as a wedding, in the house.” In Bhimda, Malaram, the operator, says, the sale is picking up gradually, now at 60-70 cans a day. “Salesmen are also encouraged to take water from us,” Panpalia says. “They can sell it for Rs10 a can. The additional Rs5 is for transportation. Our station caters to people from nearby areas, within the radius of 5-6 kilometres. But they [the salesmen] can take it farther, to even houses in remote locations.”

Panpalia says any income above the break-even point can be used either to upgrade the plant or to carry out a development work in the community that has the approval of 80 per cent of the committee members.

In Barmer, where water is locked up and guarded, and where it is reused as far as possible in washing, clearly it is a “RO-volution” of sorts. ”

 

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Categories: conservation, Environmental Pollution, Sustainable Management, Water, water pollution | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: Renewable energy can never be sufficient to power the planet, can it?

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”   Renewable energy can never be sufficient to power the planet, can it?.

Answer:

The solar energy falling on our planet in one hour is greater than the energy from all the fossil fuels used by all of humankind in a whole year. Add in the energy of the tides, driven by the relative motion of the Earth and the Moon, and geothermal heat from deep underground, and it is clear that there is no shortage of renewable energy available to us.

The nature of renewable sources of energy is very different to the fossil fuels we currently depend on. Oil, gas and coal reserves are stored energy. Provided we can find them and extract them as fast as we want to use them, we can use as much energy as we like, when we like. We don’t, however, control when the wind blows. Weather forecasting gives us some idea, but if we don’t use the power of the wind when it is available, then we’ve missed it.

We need to change the way we think about energy to take account of these differences. We need ways of storing renewable energy in times of plenty for use in times of shortage, and more clever ways of using it so that demand is better matched to supply. Biomass fuel crops can store summer sunshine for use as winter heating fuel, but this brings with it many disadvantages. The electricity grid can work together with intelligent appliances to move demand for power away from peak times. But there remain some difficult areas, notably transport. There is no obvious successor to the vast quantities of easy-to-use liquid fuels that power our cars, buses and planes.

The important first step in this transition is to use less energy and to use energy more efficiently, in order to buy time to allow the supremely inventive species that is humankind to devise a safe route to our very different energy future. 

Alastair Sawday (2008: 47) What About China?

Categories: conservation, Food for thought, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Benefit of bees even bigger than thought: Study

” Strawberries pollinated by bees were of far higher commercial value.

Bees have a much greater economic value than is widely known, according to a scientific probe into strawberry-growing published on Wednesday.

Strawberries pollinated by bees were of far higher commercial value than fruit that was self-pollinated or pollinated by the wind.

They were heavier, firmer and redder and had a longer shelf life, researchers in Germany found.

Bees are under threat from hive “collapse”, a disorder that some have linked to pesticides and pollution.

According to a 2011 report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), pollination by bees and other insects contributed about 153 billion euros ($204 billion), or 9.5 percent, of the total global value of food production.

But such estimates could be far short of the mark, the new study said.

A team led by Bjoern Klatt at the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Goettingen in Germany planted nine commercial strawberry varieties in an experimental field.

The plants were either covered with special gauze bags to allow pollination by the wind or other parts of the plant, or were left open for visiting by bees.

The fruits were collected and graded according to standard commercial criteria for attractiveness.

They were then put through a battery of lab tests for objective assessment of colour, firmness and resistance to premature softness or fungal spread.

In seven of the 10 varieties, bee-pollinated fruit were more intensely red than their self- and wind-pollinated rivals.

They were 11 per cent heavier than wind-pollinated and 30.3 percent heavier than self-pollinated fruits.

They were also firmer, which meant their shelf life was about 12 hours longer than that of wind-pollinated strawberries and more than 26 hours longer than self-pollinated ones.

In commercial terms, this is a big deal, said the study.

More than 90 per cent of strawberries can become non-marketable after only four days in storage. Softer flesh exposes them to accidental bruising and fungus infection.

In the 1.5-million-tonne European market for strawberries, bee pollination reduces waste by 11 percent, or $320 million, each year, according to the paper.

Add in other benefits, and bee pollination accounted for around $1.44 billion of the market’s value of $2.9 billion, the study said.

Bee benefits may partly be explained by the effects on achenes, the tiny seeds that dimple the strawberry’s sides.

Bee-pollinated strawberries had far more fertilized achenes than other fruit, because the insects, with their typical diligence, pollinated all of the plant, rather than just part of it.

The achenes are important because they control levels of a plant hormone called auxin, which in turn influences a second hormone called gibberelic acid.

Higher levels of the two hormones delay fruit-softening proteins called expansins.

“Our results showed that crop pollination is of higher economic importance than hitherto thought,” said the probe, published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“Our comprehensive findings should be transferable to a wide range of crops and demonstrate bee pollination to be a hitherto underestimated but vital and economically important determinant of fruit quality.”

By saving food waste, the bee could also help to resolve a conundrum: how to feed Earth’s fast-growing population yet also preserve its shrinking environment.

“Quality improvements of crops can greatly affect marketability and contribute to reducing food loss and waste. In the industrialized countries, between 30 and 50 percent of all crops are thrown away at retail and consumer levels,” said the study.

Going Green (Khaleejtimes.com)  | Published: Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Categories: Biodiversity, conservation, Species Extinction | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palm oil threat to Orangutans

Plantations in Indonesia are robbing them of their natural habitat and harming the environment

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The world’s forests are disappearing at the rate of one football-pitch per second and flying in over Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan), the numerous plumes of smoke, leaving their blackened scars on the patchwork quilt of felled trees and naked land below, are testament to that fact. Once an area of prolific tropical rain forests, almost half of Indonesia’s 22.5 million hectares of peatland have already been deforested and drained — ecologically rich terrain replaced by endless regimented rows of nutrient sapping palm oil. In 2008 the Guinness Book of Records gave Indonesia the dubious accolade of the country with the fastest rate of deforestation, caused by legal and illegal logging, forest fires, mining, settlements, slash-and-burn farming methods, road mapping and the huge expansion of palm oil plantations. A problem that is particularly prolific on the island of Kalimantan, the third largest island in the world, where in recent years some six million hectares (roughly six million rugby pitches) of rainforest have been destroyed, primarily to make way for the misguided panacea to Indonesia’s social woes: palm oil.

Seen as a driver to ease small-scale farmers out of the poverty cycle and ultimately boost Indonesia’s economy, the oil that can be found in every other supermarket product, from popular chocolates and family-favourite cereals to common soaps and trendy cosmetics, is now heavily linked to highly unsustainable deforestation, and decimation of some of the world’s most threatened species, including the highly intelligent Orangutan. “The effect of palm oil on the orangutan population is devastating,” says Marie Gale from Save Indonesian Endangered Species (SIES), “and it’s not just the orangutans, it’s the loss of forest, the loss of biodiversity, and ultimately the loss of all the species, such as monkeys, sun bears, leopards, and birds. Their habitat is being encroached and consequently they are being forced to cohabit in a very small environment.” Native solely to Indonesia and Malaysia, orangutans are now only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra, where satellite images show that they have lost as much as 80 per cent of their natural habitat over the past two decades. It is estimated that there are about 40,000 orangutans remaining on the two Indonesian islands, down from 230,000 throughout Southeast Asia a century ago. The species has come under serious threat of extinction due to innumerable reasons, from poaching and habitat destruction to the illegal pet trade. However, the surging global demand for palm oil and the consequent degradation of the rainforest is proving, by far, to be the most destructive.

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Palm oil — a household name

Capable of producing up to ten times more oil than any other crop, oil palm has sparked a boom in the country’s economy. The oil that uniquely remains solid at room temperature is an invaluable ingredient in up to 50 per cent of consumer goods, primarily processed foods. However, more recently, it has gained even more popularity as a “green” biofuel. Its versatility dictates its acceptance and as much as 50 million tonnes are now produced each year for the world market, with Indonesia and Malaysia accounting for 90 per cent of this production. With global consumption expected to rise more than 30 per cent in the next decade, it comes as no surprise that Indonesia’s government plans to increase production to 40 million tonnes by 2020 — good news for the economy, bad news for orangutans and their habitat. “We need to be careful not to make people scared to consume palm oil, though,” explains Bustar Maitar, head of Indonesian Forestry Campaign for Greenpeace. “We don’t want to position it as a bad product because it has a key role to play in terms of Indonesia’s economic development but we need to challenge companies to adopt a zero deforestation policy to produce sustainable palm oil.” Kalimantan has about ten million hectares of palm plantations today and as next year’s elections loom, more concessions are being handed out by local officials at alarming rates. “On one side, the government’s efforts to fulfil democracy by giving authority to district and provincial levels is good,” explains Maitar, “but it [palm oil] is also the cause of decentralisation and now, as elections approach, our experience shows that in order to get quick support from powerful businessmen, there is an increase in the amount of forest areas that are given away for concessions … The natural-resources sector, especially forests, is like an ATM machine for the political parties and this is something that needs to be stopped.” Most recently, a decree was issued allowing a slice of Tanjung Puting National Park in central Kalimantan, the largest protected area of tropical heath and peat swamp forest in Southeast Asia, to be cleared for palm oil by a local company BGA (through its subsidiary PT Andalan Sukses Makmur — PT ASM). Another 12,000 hectares, where environmentalists have been planting saplings in an attempt at reforestation, is to be cleared. Officials say it is providing thousands of poor Indonesians with income and employment, but NGOs complain that too many companies do not follow the law or codes of practice. “There are rules and regulations in place and they are supposed to carry out environmental assessments,” says SIES’s Gale, “but when they looked at this latest concession, they didn’t find anything of concern. The plantation companies are also supposed to get a permit to start excavation but they have already started excavating and we still haven’t seen that permit.”

Deforestation

These are fruit-rich lowland areas close to rivers and peat swamp forests, environments that are favoured both by orangutans but also by palm-oil companies. For the palm oil to grow effectively in the tropics soil, however, farmers must use slash-and-burn techniques, salvaging the available timber before setting the remaining scrub on fire to clear the land for seedlings. Often the burning is uncontrolled, spreading to neighbouring forest and in the dry months of June to September, when most farmers carry out land clearing, major fire outbreaks are not uncommon. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) has used satellite images to prove that commercial development, especially palm plantations, was the largest single cause of the 1997-98 fire, a blaze that destroyed some 9.7 million hectares of land, causing damages worth more than $9 billion and killing more than 8,000 Bornean orangutans. This year, the prolonged El Nino meant fires engulfed Sumatra and east Kalimantan for nine months, and smoke was a hazard as far away as Singapore and Malaysia. Indonesia’s president was forced to apologise after the fires led to Singapore’s worst environmental crisis in ten years and forced 200 schools to close in Malaysia. Many studies indicate that oil palm expansion is partly responsible for wildfires, Lisa Curran, project leader of a Stanford and Yale universities-led study, said in a press release, “These plantation leases are an unprecedented ‘grand-scale experiment’ replacing forests with exotic palm monocultures. We may see tipping points in forest conversion where critical biophysical functions are disrupted, leaving the region increasingly vulnerable to droughts, fires, and floods.” It is a disturbing forecast given this year alone saw thousands of hectares of biodiversity destroyed through deforestation, consequently releasing unparalleled amounts of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. Perhaps this is why Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouses gases in the world, after the United States and China.

 

Knock-on effects

The irresponsible slash-and-burn farming in the pursuit of profits not only decimates vast swaths of forest leading to environmental damage, but razes the natural habitat of orangutans. As their rainforest home is destroyed, the arboreal creatures have no more trees on which they can travel, and so are forced to escape burning land by foot. Not being natural ground travellers, they are often too slow for the flames and are ultimately burnt to death. Those that survive find they have nowhere left to go, and are forced into narrow corridors of forest with limited amount of food. Consequently, they are drawn to raid crops and village gardens. The past few years have seen several headlines involving palm-oil workers hunting down orangutans, now seen as pests in farmland. Some conservationists have reports of the large apes being hacked to death with machetes, while others have been gunned down, or fatally beaten. “About 1 kilometre inland from the Sekonyer River, the palm oil plantations begin,” explains Basuki Santoso, general manager of the Friends of the National Parks Foundation (FNPF). “There are so many orangutans in this small area of land and because there is not enough room for them, they go to the palm oil plantations where they are often shot and killed. Now even this small area of land they had left has just been given away for more palm oil.” The plantations not only destroy their homes, forcing them into small isolated patches of remaining rainforest, but also deplete their food stocks. Often the great apes are found emaciated, on the brink of starvation. Earlier this year, the Indonesian arm of the charity International Animal Rescue (IAR) saved four starving orangutans from an oil palm plantation — belonging to a company that is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Karmele Llano Sanchez, executive director of IAR Indonesia, said in a press release: “We were appalled at the condition of these orangutans. All of them had gone through long periods of starvation before we rescued them. The area where they were found, since the company had cleared most of the forest, was too small to provide them with sufficient food.” The IAR, which then airlifted the starving primates to an area of forest with enough food, discovered that despite laws preventing palm oil concessions that deprive orangutans and other endangered species of their habitat and food, the orangutans had been forced into eating tree bark because there were so little leaves available. Images of a lone orangutan hanging to a single tree left in hectares of bulldozed land had conservationists crying out and the IAR urged the company, Bumitama Gunajaya Agro (BGA), to stop any more intended land clearing on the borders of the Gunung Palung National Park, an area which is home to one of the largest populations of Bornean orangutans. Although this time the starving orangutans were brought to the attention of the IAR by the palm oil managers, it is rumoured many are killed before a handful are reported, while often it is the mothers that are killed so their offspring can be sold illegally as pets. According to the WWF, studies have indicated that 200 to 500 orangutans from Indonesian Borneo alone enter the pet trade each year. With each carrying a price tag of as much as $30,000 (Dh110,189), it is lucrative business. Naturally, due to poor care and hygiene, injury from falling from trees after their mother is shot, or the trauma of seeing their mother killed, most baby orangutans do not survive their first year, and it is believed that for every orangutan that does survive, six to eight would have died.

In the palm of their hands

Despite laws designed to protect the species, much of the struggle seems to depend on charities and volunteer conservationists. But despite best efforts, the hands of many charitable organisations are tied. Palm oil has pushed up the price of local land and now, any charity wishing to buy land for reforestation purposes is faced with prices of between $500 and $1000 a hectare — an unfeasible sum for small-scale conservationists. Others find that land they have worked hard to reforest has fallen prey to concessions. “Friends of the National Parks Foundation, together with the local community, have planted 150,000 rainforest trees across a 300-hectare area that was previously within the National Park boundaries,” Gale explains. “After years of hard work, collecting seedlings, raising them and then replanting, they are devastated that all their hard work to create urgently needed forest for orangutans, monkeys, sunbears and others is about to be bulldozed for palm oil.” Charities forced into a corner are, therefore, focusing efforts on dissuading villagers from plantation employment. With 44 per cent of central Kalimantan’s population relying directly on palm oil for their livelihoods, it is not easy. Many villagers will agree to cultivate their land with the promise of $3,000 yields. However, what they fail to understand is that the benefits are short-term, that oil palm plants only have a 25-year lifespan, and many villagers end up getting themselves into a debt cycle with the companies. “PT Bumitama Agri, who are responsible for the expansion of palm oil into the Tanjung Puting National Park and the sensitive buffer zone, have focused on getting local villagers to support them with the lure of easy money,” Gale says. “Sadly, experiences elsewhere show that these are hollow promises.” SIES, along with FNPF, is, therefore, trying to educate communities and provide villagers with alternative viable income sources. Their focus is on providing financial security to the residents and protecting their land from takeover through eco-tourism, agroforestry and organic farming. Recently they funded a community cattle and organic produce farm providing cows to those villagers who opted not to work with the palm oil industry. It is an all-round approach. “We can’t protect the area if the people aren’t safe,” says Santoso, “so we must give them education and income. We don’t just talk about orangutans and reforestation; we have to take care of all the aspects to teach people about conserving our land.”

 

Sustainable palm oil?

Although conservationists are doing their best to protect the area, efforts are also being made to try and regulate the high-street palm oil industry at national governance level. RSPO was set up in 2001 with the aim of creating a body that could set criteria for greener palm oil production. However, despite its formation, forest destruction has continued unabated. “Ostensibly they are all under an umbrella to follow sustainable practice,” Gale says. “They aren’t allowed to cultivate palm oil in national parks. They can’t cut down high-conservation forest or destroy wildlife. However the RSPO needs to enforce its Principles and Criteria (2013), particularly the criteria, to conserve biodiversity and comply with laws.” A recent report by Greenpeace, “Certifying Destruction”, revealed that a few of the RSPO members were flagrantly flouting laws by continuing to buy or trade palm oil produced via the conversion of rain forests and carbon-dense peatlands. “A lot of [RSPO] members are actively carrying out deforestation,” says Greenpeace’s Maitar, “which is ironic as they are meant to be complying with standards when they expand their plantations. Becoming a member for some is just a PR exercise, and one of our biggest challenges is how to change that behaviour.” Another key move in conservation efforts was brokered in 2011 by the Indonesia-Norway $1 billion REDD deal, under which Norway promised to pay Indonesia $1 billion to protect its remaining rainforests and peatlands. Central Kalimantan became the pilot province, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono placing a two-year moratorium on new logging permits. However, the loophole was that the deal did not apply to existing concessions, only virgin rainforest. Norway has so far only handed over a small sum of the pledged money, as it was a performance-based deal.

 Consumers

Apart from the big players, orangutans are ultimately at the mercy of uninformed consumers. Palm oil is a consumer-driven problem and raising awareness among the everyday shoppers is key. Today, the majority of consumers have no idea that their washing liquid, hand soap, favourite cookies and breakfast cereals contain such an environmentally damaging product. “The supply chain is very complex,” Gale says. “It goes to a very broad market — of soaps and shampoos — but there are no labelling laws yet … There needs to be clear labelling in all products so that consumers throughout the world can make informed choices about purchases.” At present, producers are able to group oils under the one umbrella term “vegetable oil”, but thanks to the constant efforts of conservationists, from December 2014 onwards, food producers will be obliged to mention palm oil, giving customers the choice that the orangutans do not have. It seems the small drops are finally making an ocean and the world’s attention is being drawn. As Maitar says, “We are challenging the market to have strong policies on no deforestation and a couple of big corporations have made this happen. Nestlé and Unilever have now committed to sourcing palm oil responsibly produced by companies. If they can make that commitment, other companies can do the same.”

By Anthea Ayache
 | Weekend Review (Gulfnews.com) http://gulfnews.com/about-gulf-news/al-nisr-portfolio/weekend-review/palm-oil-threat-to-orangutans-1.1257975Published: 21:30 November 21, 2013

Categories: Biodiversity, conservation, Environmental Pollution, Global Warming, Species Extinction | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: There is no alternative to flying, especially for cross-continental travel. You can’t expect people to go back to boats.

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”   There is no alternative to flying, especially for cross-continental travel. You can’t expect people to go back to boats.

Answer:

 Two journalists raced from central London to central Paris. The one who went by train (using Eurostar) got there before the one who flew, and the cost was roughly the same.

Until the 1990s most people who went to France and onwards to other continental countries went by ferry. The ferry companies operated from lots of southern ports and competed vigorously with each other. Then came the Channel Tunnel and the competition got hotter. The ferry companies slashed their prices and became even cheaper and more comfortable. People would even pop across to France for the weekend. Though generally we took longer foreign holidays. Once in France, of course, it was considered easy to drive long distances. Or you could pop the car on the train – or travel by train without it, anywhere and easily.

Then along came the low-cost airlines. Within a few years we have got used to nipping across the Channel by air, at a frequency unthinkable a few years ago – so much so that airports are now becoming crowded and unpleasant. If you have ever been badly delayed, or diverted, or held up by security checks, you will know what I mean. In fact, given the need to get to airports earlier and earlier before a flight, the total travel time for a lot of continental journeys can be greater by air than by rail and even by ferry in some cases. (Try flying to Normandy.)

It is true that to travel right across Europe to, say, Hungary is bound to be quicker by air than by train and ferry. But speed isn’t everything, is it? There is a now growing movement towards ‘slow travel’, getting from place to place at a pace that creates no stress and is actually enjoyable. Many people are taking the train to Italy, say, rather than the plane; and counting their blessings. The process of travelling can be half the enjoyment. A comfortable ferry journey followed by a train ride is something to look forward to. There is no reason why we should be frightened of switching from flying will cost a great deal more than it does now. Oil is now over $100 a barrel, unthinkable a while ago. Some predict that it will double in price within a year or so.

Alastair Sawday (2008: 65-66) What About China?

Categories: Environmental Pollution, Food for thought, Green Tips, Sustainable Management | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Today’s Advice: Drive smoothly.

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” Today the world burns as much oil in 6 weeks as it did over the course of a year in 1950. Oil reserves are running out and, at current rates of consumption, will be exhausted in less than 50 years. Transportation alone accounts for half the world’s oil consumption.

You can help to preserve the planet’s reserves. In cities, take care to avoid accelerating and braking too hard and too frequently. This manner of aggressive driving increases fuel consumption by 40%, which means spending money needlessly and aggravating urban air pollution. “

-Abrams, “365 Ways To Save The Earth”, 2008

Categories: conservation, Daily Advice, Green Tips | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: It’s the responsibility of politicians and world leaders, not me. What difference can I make?

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  It’s the responsibility of politicians and world leaders, not me. What difference can I make ?  

Answer:

 Let’s imagine: a parent and child are watering their garden. Father controls the tap while daughter holds the hose. When they’ve finished the job he says, “That’s enough now, stop all the holes in the spray head with matchsticks”. “Dad”, she replies, “are you mad? Turn the tap off !”

The father’s stupid approach is rather like present policies where we are urged to use low-energy light bulbs and travel less while politicians and world leaders allow, even encourage, the extraction of as much fossil fuel as possible. Can’t they understand that, once out of the ground, these fuels will be burned and the carbon dioxide they release will reach the atmosphere? If politicians are serious about greenhouse gas emissions they must find a way to reduce, not increase, the amount of coal, gas and oil that is extracted within, or imported into, a country. Unless they control the tap all our attempts to reduce emissions in a hundred little ways will be useless.

But how will politicians be persuaded? Unless the public puts pressure on them corporate interests will rule. Corporate lobbyists will twist any complicated legislation to their own advantage. Politicians pretend to the electorate that they are concerned when they introduce targets, taxes and incentives, but these blunt instruments cannot guarantee that their commitments will be met.

A new wave of thinking suggests that the solution must involve individuals. The atmosphere does not belong to corporations – not even to countries or governments. We all, as individuals, have an equal right to its life-maintaining properties. This new thinking led to the suggestion that everyone should have personal carbon allocation managed with the help of a smart-card. Points would be deducted every time you filled your car or paid your heating bill. And you could sell any surplus points so that the gas-guzzler would subsidise those with a low carbon footprint. This approach would have a huge psychological impact since it would make us all aware of our responsibility for carbon emissions. But it would be very difficult to administer even in an industrialised country.

For a policy to be adopted it must be simple, and for it to be politically  sustainable it must be popular with the electorate. So the approach has been modified as CAP-and-Share – in America a very similar policy is called the Sky Trust – which would be easy to introduce. Under Cap-and-Share much of the astronomical income enjoyed at present by fuel producers would go to individuals. The Irish government may be the first to adopt it. This is how it could work for Ireland’s transport sector:

  • A cap, which reduces each year, sets the maximum emissions allowed from all road transport.
  • All adults receive equal emission-permits that, together, add up to the amount of this cap.
  • People can then sell their emission-permits through brokers to whichever fuel-importing company offers the best price.
  • Importers would not be allowed to sell fuel unless they had enough permits to cover its emissions.

With less fossil fuel coming into the economy, its price would rise and push up the cost of living but, instead of the oil companies making ever-larger profits, people would receive an income from the sale of their permits to compensate for the higher prices, and local economies would flourish because of this injection of money at grass-roots level. The government would use its normal powers to ensure that essential users, like ambulances, received their necessary share, and that biofuels were not allowed to compete with food production.

The Irish application of Cap-and-Share to an individual sector of the economy demonstrates that it could run alongside the European Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) – until the ETS collapses. IF CAP-and-Share were introduced on a global scale, or even within a large country like China or India that is struggling with discontent as world food prices rise, much of the money that at present pours into oil-rich countries would stay and automatically relieve their rural poverty.

What difference can you make? Urge your politicians to put a cap on the use of fossil fuels and share the right to benefits from the use of those fuels equally among all citizens. And join the transition movement where communities work together to find a post-carbon way of living. ”

Alastair Sawday (2008: 14-16) What About China?

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Food For Thought: I am prepared to take risks – whenever I board an aeroplane for example. Are risks from the climate more immediate?

 

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  I am prepared to take risks – whenever I board an aeroplane for example. Are risks from the climate more immediate ?  

Answer:

 Professor Rajendra Pachauri puts it starkly: “If there is no action before 2012, that’s too late.What we do in the next two or three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.” First let’s look at what might happen if temperatures exceed 2 degrees Celsius, the broadly accepted danger zone.

The UK Meteorological Office warns that a rise above 2 degrees Celsius will cause  havoc, with up to two-thirds of the world affected by water scarcity, major losses in agricultural productivity (grain reserves are already at a record low) and the loss of many ecosystems. With a 3 degrees celsius rise the Amazon rainforest would collapse and most coral reefs would almost certainly die, the oceans would become more acidic and less able to absorb carbon dioxide. The knock-on effects from these changes are unimaginable. And if runaway warming kicks in after a tipping point is reached we can kiss goodbye to civilisation. It’s that serious.

Stern said that concentrations were 430pm CO2e by extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, Stern’s diagram shows there is a five per cent chance that temperatures would increase by almost 3 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. In the light of the awful effects outlined above it is appropriate to ask: would you board an aeroplane if you knew it had a five per cent chance of crashing?

At 450ppmCo2e the Stern Review gives a 50 per cent chance that temperatures will reach 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and a five per cent chance that they will climb to 3.8 degrees Celsius. At 550pmCO2e, the target adopted by the Review, the diagram shows a 50 per cent chance that temperatures will reach 3 degrees celsius and a five per cent chance that they could soar to 4.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Sir Nicholas Stern is an environmental economist. his discipline requires him to assume that our economy is sacrosanct and to explore what it can afford to spend on environmental issues.

Ecological economists invert the question. They see the human economy as just one component within the planet’s ecology and ask what limits are imposed on economic activity by the environment. They say that you cannot extrapolate from past events because natural systems frequently tip from one stable state into another. We already over-exploit the world’s resources, and all our efforts should now go into repairing the damage and learning to live within the Earth’s systems before it is too late. ”

Alastair Sawday (2008: 12-14) What About China?

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Today’s Advice: Plant a tree.

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” Eight thousand years ago, when human beings settled and began to grow crops, half the planet’s land mass was covered in thick forest. Today, less than a third is still forested. Worldwide, over the last 10 years, forest cover has been reduced by 2.4%. In order to live, all plants on the planet release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Two acres of mature forest absorb the equivalent of the carbon emissions from 100 midsize cars over a period of a year.

Plant a tree: You will be joining the fight against global warming and the atmospheric pollution caused by carbon dioxide emissions “.

-Abrams, “365 Ways To Save The Earth”, 2008

Categories: Daily Advice, Environmental Pollution, Global Warming, Green Tips | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Food For Thought: Global warming is a natural phenomenon – look at the ice ages. Where is the evidence that human impact plays a part?

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  Global warming is a natural phenomenon – look at the ice ages. Where is the evidence that human impact plays a part?  

Answer:

” Global temperatures have varied in step with carbon concentrations in the atmosphere, and these concentrations have suddenly shot up way above anything experienced over the past half million years. Human activity is the only explanation for this sudden surge.

Climate scientists talk about temperature, greenhouse gas concentrations and emissions. To understand what they are saying you must be prepared to study figures, think bout probability and allow for scientific complexity being reduced to media simplicities.

First: temperature. There is broad consensus that global temperatures should not be allowed to rise more than 2 C above pre-industrial levels, although Professor Rajendra Pauchauri, head of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its 2500 climate scientists, now says that 1.5 C would be more appropriate. Land-based temperatures have already risen 0.8 C, and current levels of emissions in the atmosphere commit us to a rise of 1.3 C due to the time lag between cause and effect. The biggest danger is runaway global warming. For example, if the area of arctic ice reduces there is more dark water to absorb heat from the Sun. This, in turn, causes more ice to melt – exposing more dark water – causing more melt – more dark water – more melt. This is a chain reaction that could cause temperature to rise without any further help from us.

Second: greenhouse gas concentrations. The Stern Review (2006) stated that greenhouse gas concentrations at the time it was written were at 430ppm CO2e (parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent). A figure of 382ppm is sometimes mentioned but this does not include methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Before the industrial revolution the figure was 280ppm. According to the Stern Review, “stabilisation at 450ppmCO2e is almost out of reach, given that we are likely to reach this level in ten years”. It therefore set a target for stabilising at 550ppmCO2e.

Third: Emissions. Despite the Kyoto Protocol (adopted in 1997), emissions have been rising at an ever-increasing rate. In 2006 James Hansen, who heads the US NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said: “A global tipping point will be reached in ten years if levels of greenhouse gases are not reduced. Global warming at this point becomes unstoppable.” The prestigious Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, in a 2006 report ‘Living Within a Carbon budget’, said that a 90 percent cut in UK greenhouse gas emissions, including those from shipping and airlines, is needed by 2050, adding that emissions must reduce by “an unprecedented nine per cent a year from 2010 for up to 20 years”. With this sort of reduction oil refineries would no longer be viable, so we would be moving to a carbon-free economy.

What about sea levels? Greenland is the size of France and Spain combined and mostly covered with ice two kilometres (km) deep. Melt-water is dropping down crevasses and lubricating the base so that glaciers are sliding into the sea faster than anticipated. It was predicted that Greenland would lose 80km3 of ice in 2006. NASA’s Grace satellite showed that it actually oat 287km3 that year.If greenhouse gas emissions are not stabilised within a decade, sea levels could rise several metres before the end of this century.”

Alastair Sawday (2008: 11-12) What About China?

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