Saturday, December 29, 2007

Global Problem, Local Solutions

"If we want to tackle climate change, we have to be local. Our aim is for the cities to push the governments to act on climate change." - Pedro Ballesteros Torres, manager of the European Commission's Sustainable Energy Europe campaign.

With the inability of governments around the world to take immediate and concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, many cities, towns and even villages across Europe are forging ahead with their own initiatives to cut carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change and global warming.

From Vaxjo, in southern Sweden, to major cities like London, Munich and Paris, Europeans are taking the lead and using novel ways to reduce their carbon footprints, with some of them achieving emission cuts that exceeded those prescribed by the Kyoto Protocol. Here are some heartwarming examples of what an environment-conscious citizenry can achieved :
Woodchip fuel, Vaxjo
Vaxjo, Sweden
This southern city of 78,000 in Sweden, which aims to be completely free of fossil fuels eventually, has been using leftover products from forestry industry and sawmills, namely fir and pine chips, to generate electricity. Its centralised "district heating system", running on the low-emitting woodchip fuel, provides about 90 per cent of local heating needs. Ashes from the process are also brought back to fertilize the forest.

With emissions from cars being a major contributor to carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, Vaxjo has also been encouraging its citizens to use bicycles as the main mode of transport. Snow is cleared from the cycle paths before roads and its bicycle network has also been expanded. So successful has been its efforts that Vaxjo has managed to cut greenhouse gases emissions by 30 per cent since 1996 and is confident it can get a 50 per cent cut by 2010. Visitors from all over the world also come to see what can be done on a local level.

Photo-voltaic panels, Woking
Woking, England
An early pioneer in adopting environmental-friendly practices, this town south of London has gained a reputation as Britain's greenest city. With its solar-powered street lights, photo-voltaic panels and energy-efficient power generators, it has managed to cut carbon emissions by about 20 per cent since 1990. Enterprising solutions like installing photo-voltaic panels on top of glass-roofed structures along its roads, generates more than 50,000Kwh of energy every year and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by more than 40 tonnes annually. Thanks to its alternative energy supplies, parts of Woking will remain lit even if the national energy grid were to go down.

Gussing, Austria
This tiny town in Austria is the first community in the European Union to cut carbon emissions by more than 90 percent since 1995. Using a technology that produces natural gas from scrap lumber, which is use to drive the town's power plants, Gussing generates about 22 megawatt hours of power a year, more than enough to meet its energy needs and sells the surplus of 8 megawatt hours to the national grid.

Big signs of "Eco-Energy Land" greet visitors to the town and its alternative and renewable energy movements have spawned an entire "eco" industry with many companies producing power, heat and fuels from sawdust, corn, cooking oil and creating more than 1,000 jobs. So determined is this tiny outpost in Austria in seeking alternative energy that it is now embarking on a major project to harness the power of the sun through a 50 million euros plant built by Solon AG Fuer Solartechnik of Germany, which is scheduled to begin operation next year.
"Velib" bicycle scheme, Paris
Major metropolises in Europe are also doing their part in reducing their carbon footprints. In Barcelona, through its Solar Thermal Ordinance, all new and renovated buildings are required to be fitted with solar panels to generate at least 60 per cent of the energy needed for hot water production while in Munich, old buildings are been refurbished to tackle energy wastage through poor insulation.

The Europeans are also tackling the fastest-growing source of carbon-emissions in cities : transport. Paris has its "Velib" free bicycle rental scheme, a self-service bicycle-hire scheme that is available round the clock to encourage people to cut down usage of cars. Similar bicycle schemes can also be found in Copenhagen, Helsinki and Brussels. In London, its much-admired congestion charge has tremendously cut down weekday traffic through the city centre. And through the Climate Alliance of European Cities, a grouping of more than 1,400 cities and municipalities across Europe, the Europeans have also set the ambitious target of cutting carbon emissions by 10 per cent every five years.

Cities covers just 1 per cent of the earth's surface but are home to more than half the world's population. They consume about 75 per cent of global energy and are responsible for 80 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases emissions. As a result, it is cities that have an important role to play in mitigating the effects of climate change and it is also in cities that climate and sustainability solutions are to be found.

The actions by the Europeans are definitive and shining examples of what the local populace can do and achieve in the battle against global warming, proving that it does not need international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol or the recently ended contentious Bali Climate Talks to come to grips with climate change.

*Sources :
- The Nature Conservancy
- Climate Alliance of European Cities
- Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign, European Commission
- Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, United Nations

*Related posts :
- A Planet In Peril
- From Ice To Water
- The Kyoto Song And The Bali Dance

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali Climate Talks - A Nation Who Lost The Plot.

"....So, I am going to speak an inconvenient truth. My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," - Former US Vice-President Al Gore.

Having followed the progress of the Bali Climate Talks and waiting in anticipation for the outcome, I was compelled to ditch today's post on deforestation around the world in favour of a piece on the divisive behaviour of some nations, especially the United States, in the Bali Talks.

Exasperated and disgusted are understatements of how I felt. What's with the moral police and champion of democracy of the world? So quick on the draw with Iraq and Afghanistan and condemnation of human rights abuses around the world, but seemingly myopic, almost blind to the urgent task at hand to come up with a coherent agenda to tackle global warming. The behaviour of the United States at the Bali Talks seems like a nation with a leader who is morally bankrupt.

A recent headline by Associated Press : "US obstructing progress of talks, says Gore," spoke volumes of a nation who have both the ability and resources, but most importantly, a moral responsibility, by being the world's largest emitter of carbon emissions, to take on a leadership role in pressing for a solution to global warming but instead, chooses not to do so.

The moral responsibility and need for the United States to take decisive actions to curb carbon emissions cannot be overstated. Recent statistics released by the Washington-based National Environmental Trust, showed that 42 US states individually emitted more carbon dioxide per year than 50 developing countries combined and 3 states individually emitted more CO2 than 100 developing countries. The US President home state of Texas, with just 24 million people, emits 696 million tonnes of CO2 per year, much more than Britain, whose 60 million people emit 578 million tonnes annually.

It is one thing not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol (which is already bad enough), but to throw spanners in the works at every opportunity, adopting a divisive stance and creating dissension among nations in an attempt to derail the Bali Talks smacks of the behaviour of an over-sized bully out of control. From opposing mandatory carbon emission caps, going off in a different direction with its unilateral decision to have its own climate change talks to the constant proposing of amendments, even at the end of negotiations, the United States arrived at the Bali Talks without any intention of working with the rest of the world in forging a common consensus. Not only was the EU at odds with the US position, but all the members of the G77 developing countries, including China, found US demands that all countries be treated the same way, illogically and unacceptable.

While the United States is not the only country that opposed mandatory carbon dioxide emission caps, the Bali Climate Talks - already saddled with a whole range of contentious issues to deal with, from equity, worries of slowing of economic growth to calculation of carbon emissions caps by per capita basis or by per volume basis between developed and developing nations - certainly can do without the needless posturing of the United States. A statement by the delegate from Papua New Guinea, Kevin Conrad, aptly summed up the general feelings about the behaviour of the United States : "If you are not willing to lead, then get out of the way!" - a position that i had adopted and thought was necessary in order to achieve a modicum of progress in the Bali talks in my previous post - The Kyoto Song And The Bali Dance.

Well, the Bali Climate Talks are now over and the United States should be patting themselves on the back, as the outcome was a compromised piece of watered-down "Bali Road Map", with no mandatory and binding carbon emissions capping, but 2 more years of further negotiations leading to a new accord to replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2009. The original goal of the Bali Climate Talks to cut industrialised nations' carbon emissions by between 25 per cent to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 was eliminated and relegated to a footnote, replaced by vague goals like "....developed countries should take the lead in driving cuts in emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases," and "....developing nations should consider measurable and reportable national mitigation actions." More talks, more song and dance.

While I am not totally surprised by the failure of the Bali Talks to come up with concrete and decisive actions to deal with global warming, considering the complexity of the talks as the threat of climate change cuts across all aspects of our life and challenges the very structure and system that our current societies are built on, what actually surprised me was the continual faux pax that the guy in the White House, with that funny-sounding plant name, keeps doing in recent years, from the fiasco in Iraq to his handling of the sub-prime mortgage crisis in US.

With the latest "performance" by the United States at the Bali Talks, I doubt he can look at his children and children's children eyes and say he did what was best for the only home we will ever have. My children will certainly say he did not.

*Related articles :
- Climate Talks Near End Amid Row - BBC News
- Al Gore Lays Blame Of Bali Stalemate On US - Reuters
- The Kyoto Song And The Bali Dance

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Friday, December 7, 2007

The Kyoto Song And The Bali Dance

"...the world is already at or above the worst-case scenarios in terms of emissions and we are moving past the most pessimistic estimates of the IPPC." - Germany's Kiel Institute for World Economy.

Representatives from more than 190 nations are meeting in Bali this week for talks to find a successor to the emissions-curbing Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012. The outcome of the 13th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will define the world's response to the threat of global warming and climate change in years to come.

Will the Bali talks result in a universal framework of concrete actions and commitments from the world's industrialised nations to adopt binding and absolute targets to curb and reduce greenhouse gases or will it be just another song and dance showpiece like the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol came out of the UNFCCC and was adopted in Japan in Dec 1997 with an expiry in 2012. The Protocol committed 36 developed countries to reducing emissions of six greenhouse gases by around 5 per cent below 1990 levels and the target must be met between 2008 and 2012.

But since its inception 10 years ago, global carbon dioxide levels have increased instead, from 365 parts per million in 1998 to 383 parts per million today and the United States, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases with an annual emission of more than 6 billion metric tons, has yet to ratify the Protocol, with Australia signing it just recently with its change of government. Countries like Canada, while being a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, has largely ignored it with emissions up by about 25% from 1990 levels, without taking environmental degradations like deforestation in Canada into account.

Clearly, the 36 developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol have failed to deliver on their promises and carbon emissions have actually continued to rise in many industrialised countries that ratify the Protocol. Emissions have also soared in developing countries, like China, India and Brazil, who have ratified the accord but were not required to cut emissions. According to a report recently released by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, explosive economic growth and voracious coal consumption has led China to overtake the U.S. in CO2 emissions in 2006.
Deforestation in Indonesia
Large scale deforestation, a major contributor to global warming and which accounts for about 20 per cent of all global carbon dioxide emissions, is still unchecked in Indonesia and Brazil. Recent reports by Greenpeace indicated that between 2000 and 2005, an area of forest equivalent to 300 soccer pitches was destroyed every hour in Indonesia, making it the third largest CO2 polluter.

Probably the only positive outcome of the Kyoto Protocol was the increase in awareness among the general public and there is now a greater readiness among the people to act and to demand action. What is sorely lacking and what is needed is the political will.

With the United States divisive stand and indication that it is still opposed to mandatory capping in carbon emissions and Japan's latest proposal to adopt a broad "least common denominator" approach, without legally binding targets, in the Bali talks plus the contentious issues of equity, slowing of economic growth due to environmental controls and reduction definitions by per capita or per volume basis, the Bali conference is unlikely to produce an updated and strengthened successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

But produce it must, as the time for talking is over and the days of waiting for Bush is long gone. With or without the US, the world must act now as it no longer can afford another 10 years of inaction. The UN, EU and ASEAN must show desperately needed leadership and use the Bali conference to come up with a coherent agenda and mobilise global public opinion to support concrete, legally binding and absolute reduction targets in greenhouse gases emissions.

Let's hope the Bali conference is a dance that will result in a revolution that the world desperately needs - a healing one - before it is too late.

*Sources :
- Greenpeace
- World Wildlife Fund
- Kiel Institute for World Economy
- Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
- Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, United Nations

*Related post : A Planet In Peril

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Global Warming And The Cradle Of Life.

"Increased carbon dioxide emissions are rapidly making the world's oceans more acidic and, if unabated, could cause a mass extinction of marine life..." - Carnegie Institution's Dept of Global Ecology Report Feb 2006.

Our oceans, the cradle of life, account for about 70 per cent of the Earth's surface and are home to a diverse range of life, from marine mammals like whales and dolphins to fishes, corals, crustaceans and exotic micro-organisms. Many, like the food fishes, are crucial to us and the oceans, as natural carbon sinks, perform an important role in maintaining atmospheric gaseous equilibrium through the carbon cycle.

But rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, due to the unbridled burning of fossil fuels especially over the last two to three decades, are causing the climate to warm resulting in rising water temperatures, and the oceans to become increasingly acidic.

A recent report, "Turning Up the Heat: How Global Warming Threatens Life in the Sea," by the World Wildlife Fund and Marine Conservation Biology Institute in June 2007, indicated that rising global temperatures are impacting ocean ecosystems to a far greater extent then previously thought. Wide spread changes are occurring across the entire marine food chain, from plankton, corals, fishes, seabirds to penguins and polar bears.

Coral reefs, the most biologically diverse and beautiful marine ecosystems, are suffering unprecedented devastation due to high surface water temperatures, with large numbers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea, losing their polyps, turning completely white and dying - a process called bleaching. As a result, thousands of species of fishes and invertebrates that depend on the habitats that the reefs provide are in danger.

Dying corals off Florida's coast 1975 - 1995
Unchecked warming would also wipe out most of the habitat of the salmon species, eg. the Pacific Sockeye salmon, as they are extremely temperature-sensitive. In the waters off Australia, warmer oceans have sparked mass migration of species like the yellow-fin tuna, stinging jellyfish and sea turtles to the cooler waters in the south while in California, reef fish and inter-tidal invertebrates including sea anemones, crabs and snails are moving toward the poles in response to warming.

The biomass of phytoplankton, tiny marine plants that many marine organisms depend on for food, has also declined as a result of warmer oceans. Data released by researchers from the Oregon State University, after a ten-years analysis, indicated that phytoplankton productivity from 2000 onwards, declined by 190 million tons of carbon each year, with carbon as a unit of measurement of the amount of carbon dioxide they remove from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

The study clearly showed that overall phytoplankton biomass decreases as the climate warms. This also creates a vicious cycle. As carbon dioxide levels rise, with decrease in phytoplankton production, there will be less ocean plants to absorb this green house gas.
Coral bleaching
The declined in plankton biomass has also contributed to decreased reproduction and increased mortality of seabirds due to starvation as these plankton form the base of the birds' food chain. Between late 1980s and early 1990s, California's Sooty shearwaters population declined by 90 percent and Cassin's auklets by more than 50 per cent. Common murres also died by tens of thousands.

Besides warmer ocean temperatures, the rising amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide is also causing our oceans to be increasingly acidic which will adversely affect many organisms that use calcium carbonate for their skeletons and shells, including corals and molluscs. Carbon dioxide, when dissolved in the oceans, becomes carbonic acid and excessive amount of carbonic acid lowers the pH of the oceans, increases its acidity and endangers marine life.

This drop in ocean pH is especially damaging to hard-shell marine animals such as corals and shellfish that use calcium carbonate, a critical mineral, for the formation of their shells and growth. However, a more acidic ocean will easily dissolve calcium carbonate, just like a piece of chalk dissolving in vinegar.

For decades, the oceans' absorption of carbon dioxide have been viewed as an environmental plus, as it mitigates the effects of global warming. But by taking up about 30 per cent of the atmosphere's carbon dioxide, mainly produced through the burning of fossil fuels, our oceans ph levels have dropped by about 0.1 units on the 14-point scale since the Industrial Revolution.

Scientists expect that carbon dioxide emissions, if left unchecked, will further reduce the oceans ph levels by another 0.3 units by 2100 and the increased ocean acidification will have serious repercussions to all marine life from the smallest marine micro-organisms, molluscs, corals to large marine mammals like whales.

Failure to check and reduce carbon dioxide emissions today may mean that there will be no place in the oceans of the future for many of the species and ecosystems that we know today.

*Sources :
-Live Science
-Science Daily
-World Wildlife Fund
-Oregon State University
-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

*Related post :
- Magical Melodies & The Songs Of Pain

Monday, November 19, 2007

Magical Melodies And The Songs Of Pain.

"A Japanese whaling fleet has set sail aiming to harpoon humpback whales for the first time in decades. The fleet is conducting its largest hunt in the South Pacific - it has instructions to kill up to 1,000 whales, including 50 humpbacks." - BBC News Nov 18 2007

Have you ever heard the songs that whales sing? You can listen to them here and you will realise that they sing some of the most beautiful songs on Earth. The songs are an amazing phenomenon, highly structured and at any one time, all the males sing the same songs using the same sounds arranged in the same pattern. These haunting songs travel many kilometres and can even be heard above the surface and consists of intricate vocalisations ranging from high squeaks to low growls, with many at a frequency so low that they are inaudible to humans.

The Singer of The Sea - the endangered humpback whale - produces the most varied songs in the animal world, with each lasting 10-15 minutes and can be repeated without pause, for hours. The largest of the whales, the blue whale, can sing for 10 hours.

But the songs they sing, with the latest announcement by Japan, will no longer be songs of joy but of pain.

“If we can imagine a horse having two or three explosive spears stuck in its stomach and being made to pull a butcher's truck through the streets of London while its blood pours into the gutter, we shall have an idea of the method of killing whales." - "Troubled Waters," a March 2004 report by Whale Watch.

The main method of killing whales is insanely inhuman and cruel. Using a grenade-tipped harpoon fired from a cannon mounted on the brow of a ship, the harpoon penetrates about 30cm into the whale before detonation. The aim is to kill the animal through neuro-trauma induced by the blast-generated pressure waves of the explosion. And if this fails, which is more often the case, a second harpoon is fired.

Given their sheer mass, complex vascular systems, their adaptations for diving and the constantly moving environment of the sea, killing them swiftly is impossible. Whales, when hit with an exploding harpoon, can take up to an hour or more before dying with the majority likely to suffer a slow and painful death.

In the Faroes Islands, whole families of whales - including pregnant mothers, lactating females, youngsters and foetuses - are butchered by the islanders in a carnival-like atmosphere. Islanders in motorboats first drive and round-up the terrified and confused whales into a shallow bay where the bloodbath begins.

The islanders repeatedly jab 2.2 kg metal poles into the living flesh of each whale until the hooks hold. A 15 cm knife is then used to slash through the blubber and flesh to the spinal column followed by the severing of the main blood vessels. The blood-stained bay is soon filled with horribly mutilated and dying whales, screaming in agony.

Despite a worldwide ban since 1986, about 30,000 whales have been killed by the 3 whaling nations - Japan and Iceland under the guise of "scientific research"- while the meat and by-products from the slaughtered whales are sold for profit - and by Norway as commercial hunt. The numbers of whales killed in recent years are among the highest since the moratorium went into effect and they continue to increase.

More shockingly, this unsanctioned killing is happening in the protected waters of Antarctica’s Southern Ocean Marine Sanctuary, blatantly defying international law. Japan and Iceland ability to continue hunting whales with such blatant disregard for international law is because they are exploiting a loophole in the international ban that permits killing whales in the name of scientific research. But the painful slaughter of whales is totally unnecessary as it does not benefit science, whales or people.

Despite claims of killing whales in the name of science, Japanese whaling isn’t about science at all and is simply commercial whaling in disguise.

Non-lethal methods to study whales already exist such as photo identification, tagging, DNA analysis and observation experiments. Data from satellite tagging of whales, harmless skin biopsies and fluke identification has already yielded valuable information about the migration patterns of whales, without a single harpoon being fired. In fact, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has clearly stated it does not need the data obtained from killing whales and has passed forty-one resolutions critical of Japan’s research whaling program.

As a food source, it is a known fact that whale meat is often extremely toxic and is dangerous to eat. Whales accumulate environmental pollutants that bond with their blubber, such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) and dioxin, and also heavy metals such as methylmercury. The effects on humans who consume contaminated whale meat or blubber include cancer, nerve damage, reproductive and developmental disorders, immune system suppression and liver damage, to name a few.

With the whales' natural low reproductive rates and already facing long-term debilitating effects on their communication, social behaviour and foraging habits arising from chemical pollution, noise pollution, increasing shipping traffic and oil and gas exploration, it is imperative that all governments condemn and stop the needless slaughter of whales by Japan, Iceland and Norway, with the ultimate objective of banning this barbaric practice entirely. A complete and permanent ban would also stop the exploitation of the loophole in International Whaling Commission rules and exceptions by the pro-whaling nations.

These majestic cetaceans are the largest animals that have ever existed, far larger than any dinosaur that have roamed the Earth and are highly evolved animals with a complex social life. Whales are sensitive, social animals - they call out to each other over the vast expanses of the oceans - with highly developed nervous systems and have a profound capacity to suffer distress, terror and pain. The killing of whales is unjust, terribly inhuman and has no place in modern civilised society.

Living whales are far more valuable to us and a joy to behold. We should allow them to sing their songs of joy again.

*Sources :
- Whale Trust
- Whale Watch
- Stop Whaling
- Green Peace
- Humane Society of United States

*Catch the latest updates about Japan's whaling mission :
- GlobalNewsBlogger

*Related post : Man And The Loss Of Biodiversity

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Man And The Loss Of Biodiversity.

"Current documented rates of extinction of species are estimated to be roughly 100 times higher than typical rates in the fossil record." - United Nations GEO4 report.
Golden Mahseer
Have you ever seen the golden mahseer before? The majestic fish, known to reach 2.75m in length and 60 kg in weight, is no ordinary fish. Lying at the top of the food chain, the golden mahseer is the emperor of the freshwater fish species inhabiting the mountain streams of the Himalayas. But in recent years, its population have been declining rapidly because of net and dynamite fishing, damming and pollution of the rivers it depends on.

Living often in the same habitats as the golden mahseer is another species which was suddenly found this year to be highly endangered - the gharial, or fish-eating crocodile. With increasing human encroachment into their habitats and as gharials compete directly with people for fish in the rivers they inhabit, there are now only an estimated 200 breeding adults left in the wild as compare to about 10,000 in the 1950s.

Like the golden mahseer and gharial, thousands of species are dying worldwide, often unacknowledged because they are not cute or cuddly. Some, like the Sumatran Rhino, are functionally extinct in the wild - meaning their population is so low and so widely scattered that breeding is no longer possible.

A recent update of endangered species by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union in September concluded that more than 16,000 species are in danger of being extinct - 188 more than last year. In Europe, more than a third of the continent's 522 freshwater fish species face extinction due to overfishing, pollution and damming which have caused rivers to dry up. The European eel, which reproduces only once in 20 years, is critically endangered and the population of jarabugo, a freshwater fish found only in Spain and Portugal, has declined by more than 50 per cent in the past 10 years.

Golden Headed Langur
Hong Kong's Ocean Park Conservation Foundation released findings recently that showed 79 species of freshwater turtles - 80 per cent of the turtle family in Asia - are endangered. Asia alone has 11 primates, including the Hainan black-crested gibbon and Siau island tarsier, on the endangered list. In Vietnam, the population of the beautiful golden-headed langur has declined drastically - down from thousands of animals two generations ago to only 65 today.

While species extinction is a natural part of Earth’s history, numerous studies have clearly
shown that human activity is accelerating the extinction rate by at least 100 times. The causes of this rapid and widespread loss of biodiversity, with entire species in the air, on land, in freshwater and in our seas and oceans disappearing, includes loss of ecosystems from large scale conversion of natural forests for use in agriculture, industry and towns, changing the geography and hydrology of river systems with dams and reservoirs, over-exploitation of natural resources for food and commercial trade, and pollution.

Hainan Black-Crested Gibbon
Biodiversity loss, as part of the food chain, has negative effects on several aspects of human well-being, such as food security, vulnerability to natural disasters, energy security, and access to clean water and raw materials. It also affects human health and social relations as it narrows the base for food and medicine.

This drastic loss of biodiversity is seriously impacting us if we are to survive as a species ourselves and it is now imperative that education on the importance of biodiversity be ramp up across all segments of our society. Further actions like habitat conservation, reduction in consumption and waste, recycling and promoting sustainable agricultural practices are needed to reverse this loss in biodiversity so that future generations can enjoy our priceless heritage.

*Sources :
- United Nations GEO 4
- World Conservation Union
- Hong Kong Ocean Park Conservation Foundation
- The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
- GreenFacts. org

*Related post : A Planet In Peril

Friday, November 16, 2007

Reducing Your Carbon Footprints - Going Green At Work.

With many of us spending a major chunk of our time at work, the office is another area besides our home where simple changes to the way we work can result in drastic reduction in the amount of resources and energy being consumed plus the additional benefit of saving money.

With offices being major producers of paper, printing and electronic waste, adopting environmental friendly practices like recycling and waste reduction, can have a tremendous and beneficial impact on our environment. With an estimated 3.8 million acres of U.S. forests cleared every year to meet Americans demand for wood pulp, implementing paper waste reduction practices for example, can drastically reduce the need for large scale deforestation. Refurbishing and reusing computers and other electronic products will also go a long way in reducing the ever growing amount of hard-to-dispose and hazardous electronic waste.

Here are some green tips that you can easily adopt in your office and contribute to a better environment :

1. Go paperless where possible
- Think before you print and print only when you really need to. Read documents off the screen and store them online. Post employee instructions, manuals and other similiar materials online rather than distributing hard copies.
- Use a fax-modem to reduce paper usage as it allows documents to be sent directly from a computer without the need for a printed hard copy.

2. Print smarter
- Print on both sides of paper or recycle old documents for printing on one side.
- Avoid color printing and print in draft mode whenever possible.
- Buy chlorine-free paper as products bleached with chlorine leached harmful by-products like dioxins into the environment.
- Choose a lighter stock of paper, which uses less paper fibre, and consider alternatives made from bamboo, hemp, organic cotton or kenaf.
- Consider buying copier paper produced from farmed trees as paper produced from farmed trees which are grown and replaced, have minimal environmental impact.

3. Recycle
- Recycle toner and ink cartridges and buy re-manufactured ones. Companies like Dell and Hewlett-Packard have schemes to take back used printing cartridges from their customers for recycling.
- Recycle everything that your company collects including fax paper, junk mail and catalogs and check if your suppliers take back packaging for re-use.
- Place recycling bins in accessible, high-traffic areas and provide clear information about what can and cannot be recycled.

4. Improve computer efficiency
- Turn off your computer at the end of the day. Leaving it on overnight increases energy consumption by more than 50 per cent, increases mechanical stress and reduces its lifespan.
- Turn off the monitor when not in use and setting your computer to "sleep" mode during breaks reduces energy consumption by as much as 60 per cent.
- Invest in energy-saving electronic products for e.g switching to LCD monitors as they use half the energy of old, bulky CRT ones.
- Refurbish and reuse old computers or donate them to organizations that will refurbish and find them new homes.

5. Save electricity
- Turn off the lights, air-conditioners and other apliances when leaving a room. Utilize natural light whenever you can.
- Use energy-rated light bulbs and fixtures, which use at least two-thirds less energy than regular lighting, and install timers or motion sensors that automatically shut off lights when they're not needed.

6. Improve communication efficiency
- Reduce the amount of traveling by investing in video-conferencing and other technological solutions.
- Make it a habit to commute by train, bus or subway whenever possible instead of a rental car when traveling on business.

7. Create a healthy office environment.
- Brighten up your workplace with plants which absorbs indoor pollution.
- Use non-toxic cleaning products.
- Buy furniture and carpeting and use paint that are free of volatile organic compounds that will not leach toxic chemicals.

*Related post :
- Going green at home.
- Calculating your carbon footprints.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The Impact Of Global Warming On Rainfall And Flooding.

"Breaking news in recent years has been swamped with stories of extreme weather - flash floods in East Asia, prolonged drought in Africa, destructive hurricanes like Hurricane Katrina, heavy monsoon rainfall in South Asia, and an historic heat wave in Europe. The effects of these weather crises have been devastating and their frequency seemingly on the rise." - A NASA Feb 2007 report

When i was a boy, the year-end monsoon season always started somewhere in late October and will end around February of the following year, followed by the hot months from March to September. But the timing of this raining season has become unpredictable and had in fact, shifted in recent years. Together with sudden occurrences of heavy thunderstorms in what is suppose to be hot months and hot days during the traditional monsoon period, it all points to changes to our weather patterns and i am sure these freakish climate changes are not isolated to my country alone.

Global warming, the result of unbridled emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, leads to higher rainfall because a warming atmosphere contains more water vapour and more energy. An increase in global temperatures will cause an increase in evaporation and higher levels of water vapour. In addition, a warmer atmosphere is also capable of holding more water vapour. The excess water vapour will in turn lead to more frequent heavy and intense downpours which results in flooding, soil erosion, landslides and damage to structures and crops.

Besides causing increased rainfalls, global warming also leads to heavy flooding due to the impact of the massive amount of CO2 - the principle greenhouse gas - has on vegetation. During photosynthesis - the process in which plants make food and produce oxygen - CO2 enter plants thorough tiny holes in their leaves called stomata. Plants take water from the ground and secrete the excess thorough the stomata. But higher levels of CO2 in the air cause these tiny holes to open far less widely, leading to reduced water loss from the plants.

And with plants extracting less water from the soil in a warmer world, the soil becomes saturated and surplus water will then drain into rivers. "This will increase global flows by a further 6 per cent on top of the 11 per cent rise already predicted due to global warming," said a meteorologist at Britain's Met Office. Together with more water staying in the ground and the runoff into rivers, areas with increased rainfall will suffer severe flooding and flash floods.

According to recent study published by the British science journal Nature in Aug 2007, the risks of flooding may increase more than previously expected because intense precipitation events - heavy downpours - would be more likely to occur over areas with saturated ground.

Flooding is a major problem, especially in poor countries that do not have the money to invest in drainage systems to cope with runoffs from saturated soils. Since June this year, more than 3,200 people in South Asia have been killed as a result of heavy monsoon rains and snow melt and many more left homeless.

*Sources :
- British science journal Nature
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- Climate Ark

*Related post : The Melting Of Our Polar Ice Caps.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Planet In Peril.

"The earth has experienced five mass extinction in the past 450 million years, the latest about 65 million years ago. A sixth major extinction is under way, this time caused by human behaviour."

This statement was made in the recent fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4), a United Nations environmental report. Alarmist? Maybe, but it is a fact that the human population is living far beyond its means and is inflicting damage and seriously undermining the environment of the only home we will ever have.

Climate change, the challenge of feeding a growing population and the rate of extinction of species are putting humanity at risk. Over the past twenty years, our world population has increased dramatically by about 35 per cent, from 5 billion to 6.7 billion. The amount of resources needed to sustain it far exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns and human activity, needed to feed this population, has reached an unsustainable level and is outstripping available resources.

Humanity's demand on space, currently at 21ha per person, is now about a third more than what the earth can supply. This intensity of land use have led to major environmental degradation, due to pollution, soil erosion and nutrient depletion and affects more than a third of the world's people. Over-harvesting of the oceans due to rising fish consumption coupled with the rapid formation of "dead zones", where marine life cannot survive due to pollution, will result in massive depletion of fish stocks and the extinction of marine life.

The environmental degradation has also led to species becoming extinct 100 times faster than what available fossil records show, with 12 per cent of birds, 23 per cent of mammals and over 30 per cent of amphibians facing possible extinction. Other than the golden-headed langur of Vietnam and China's Hainan gibbon, it is estimated that a third of all apes, monkeys and other primates now face extinction due to large scale deforestation.

The ever-rising energy demands to cope with the world's population has contributed to the rapid rise in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and will further hinder efforts to stabilise the situation. As a result of the unbridled burning of oil, gas and coal, the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are now around a third more than in pre-industrial times.

With some greenhouse gases ability to persist in our atmosphere for up to 50,000 years, global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.8 to 4 deg C this century and accelerates the rate of melting of glaciers in the Arctic and Antarctic continents. The resultant rising sea levels will have disastrous implications on about 60 per cent of the world's population who live within 100km off coasts. Vast river systems, sustaining hundreds of millions of people, will dry up as the glaciers that feed them disappear and the resultant migration people, in search of water and sustenance, may lead to terrible conflicts.

While advances in science and technology, especially the development and deployment of clean technologies, together with improvements in energy conservation and efficiency are vital in meeting the climate change challenges, efficiency and innovation will not be enough unless there are concerted and coordinated efforts by governments to come up with a global framework that obliges governments to penalise pollution and provide market incentives to encourage clean energy alternatives.

- Global Environment Outlook 4
- World Conservation Union
- British Science journal-Nature

*Related post : The Melting Of Our Polar Ice Caps