Sunday, August 26, 2012

Stop the River Pollution

Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun has urged oil palm plantation owners in Kinabatangan to fulfil their promises to ensure that river pollution problems caused by factory discharge are solved immediately.  

According to Borneo Rhino Alliance (Baro) executive director Datuk Dr Junaidi Payne, existing vegetation along the water courses is better to leave unmanaged in order to minimize soil erosion and runoff of chemicals. It means weeding and herbicide or fertilizers should not be applied for the row or rows of oil palm plants closest to the water courses.

Dr. Junaidi also added that if oil palm industry players cannot address the issue of water pollution that results from their activities, then the government has to do so, by policy, legislation and enforcement. 

For every metric tonne of palm oil produced, 2.5 metric tonnes of effluent are generated from processing the palm oil in mills. Direct release of this effluent can cause freshwater pollution, which can affect downstream biodiversity and people. Control of effluents from mills was probably one of the most difficult challenges, but if not tackled would result in a bleak future.

Therefore, oil palm plantation owners must play their role in ensuring they are following the rules and regulations in managing the plantations. Getting big profits is meaningless if at the same time the environment is polluted.

Shocking Health Effects of Commonly Used Pesticide

Dow's pesticide Dursban was banned for home use, but continues to be sprayed on our food despite horrific health threats.

Photo Credit: sakhorn/ 
Endocrine disruptors, synthetic chemicals that mimic and interfere with natural hormones, lurk everywhere from canned foods and microwave popcorn bags to cosmetics and carpet-cleaning solutions. 
The chemicals, which include pesticides, fire retardants and plastics, are in thermal store receipts, antibacterial detergents and toothpaste (like Colgate's Total with triclosan) and the plastic BPA which Washington state banned in baby bottles. Endocrine disruptors are linked to breast cancer , infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early puberty and diabetes in humans and alarming mutations in wildlife. They are also suspected in the epidemic of behavior and learning problems in children which has coincided, many say, with wide endocrine disruptor use.
Like Big Pharma, Big Chem holds tremendous sway at the FDA, which gave the endocrine disruptor BPA a pass in March, citing " serious questions "about the applicability of damning animal studies to humans. But in April, research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presented new evidence of the ability of endocrine disruptors--in this case the pesticide, chlorpyrifos--to harm developing fetuses. Janette Sherman, a pesticide expert and toxicologist, has studied the effects of chlorpyrifos (found in Dow's pesticide Dursban) for many years and spoke with AlterNet about what her research has revealed. 

Martha Rosenberg: Published studies, including your own, signaled safety problems with Dursban years ago. The EPA's  own data  found eight out of 10 adults and nine of 10 children had "measurable concentrations." Dow paid a  $2 million  penalty for hiding Dursban's risks from 1995 and 2003 in New York. But the pesticide was not banned for residential use  until 2000 , and after it was banned, people were allowed to use  remaining quantities . Why did the cases that you and others uncovered seem to have little effect? 

Janette Sherman: Dow attorneys took my deposition for four eight-hour days in the mid-1990s and I supplied over 10,000 pages of medical records, depositions, EPA documents, patent information and toxicology studies on which I based my opinion. Even though genetic analyses were conducted for the paper and genetic causes for the defects were ruled out--siblings who were not exposed to chlorpyrifos, for example, were normal--Dow termed the cases genetic and was able to stop most, if not all, chlorpyrifos birth-defect suits. 

Dow has almost unlimited money and personnel to fight families and small-town attorneys and they send multiple personnel to the EPA to argue their side. There is also no penalty for withholding information.
MR: Dow claimed there was insufficient proof of chlorpyrifos exposure. 

JS: Yes and one of the ironies, that I have cited in several papers, is that monitoring data for pesticide levels, either at the time of application or at the time of birth, is simply not done. People have no records and no way of collecting records of pesticides they have been exposed to. 

MR: Lorsban, the agricultural version of Dursban, is still widely in use in crops like  applescorn, soybeans,  wheat, nuts , grapes, citrus and other fruit and vegetables. Virginia Rauh, the author of the recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper cautioned pregnant women to seek organic produce to avoid chlorpyrifos. 

JS: I believe farm workers and pregnant women are at risk and obviously, a pesticide that is used widely in crops will also get in the drinking water. I don't know how widespread chlorpyrifos use is overseas and in poor countries but the same risks apply. 

MR: You published a paper in the European Journal of Oncology in 1999 which is eerily predictive of recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research about children exposed in the womb to the pesticide chlorpyrifos. This research found actual structural changes in exposed children's brains, especially related to emotion, attention and behavior control. 

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What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.

Sustainable Piglets! 

Characteristics of this type of agriculture include:
  • Conservation and preservation. What is taken out of the environment is put back in, so land and resources such as water, soil and air can be replenished and are available to future generations. The waste from sustainable farming stays within the farm’s ecosystem and cannot cause buildup or pollution. In addition, sustainable agriculture seeks to minimize transportation costs and fossil fuel use, and is as locally-based as possible.
  • Biodiversity. Farms raise different types of plants and animals, which are rotated around the fields to enrich the soil and help prevent disease and pest outbreaks. Chemical pesticides are used minimally and only when necessary; many sustainable farms do not use any form of chemicals.
  • Animal welfare. Animals are treated humanely and with respect, and are well cared for. They are permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, such as grazing, rooting or pecking, and are fed a natural diet appropriate for their species.
  • Economically viable. Farmers are paid a fair wage and are not dependent on subsidies from the government. Sustainable farmers help strengthen rural communities.
  • Socially just. Workers are treated fairly and paid competitive wages and benefits. They work in a safe environment and are offered proper living conditions and food.
In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

The confusion with sustainable agriculture is that the definition is more a philosophy or way of life than a strict set of rules, and farmers can interpret the meaning differently. In addition, there is no legal obligation to follow any of the criteria for sustainability, so food can be labeled sustainable when in actuality it isn’t. Many terms that describe this type of food, such as natural or cage free, do not have a legal or clear definition (though the USDA is currently working on this). For example, cage-free chickens might not be raised in cages, but they could be raised in overcrowded conditions in indoor barns, which is still inhumane. See our Sustainable Dictionary for an explanation of these confusing labels.

That said, we must stress that the vast majority of sustainable farms are run by family farmers who are hardworking, honest and sincere people. They work all hours of the day and night to bring you the freshest, tastiest, best quality food available. Read on to find out how you can reconnect with your food and eat more sustainably.

If at any point you become confused, please remember that changing to sustainable eating is a process and will take a little time. Sustainable Table has been created to help make this transition as easy as possible and to guide you through any confusion.

Sustainable agriculture is more a way of life than a law or regulation. Each step you take benefits both you and your family, and helps preserve and protect the planet for future generations.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review on handling marine life: Masidi

Published on: Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Kota Kinabalu: Photographs of various marine wildlife including turtles and giant clams being manhandled by visitors at what appears to be the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park near here are prompting a review of procedures in the conservation area.

Among the measures to be implemented are the posting of more signs warning visitors against such action, said State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

He said an investigation was also under way to verify the authenticity of the pictures posted on Facebook.

"Obviously we are taking this seriously but we also have to verify whether it was indeed at the Tunku Abdul Rahman and if so, whether these were locals or foreigners.

"If they were foreigners, they would have likely been brought to the islands by tour agents, who we will track down," he said.

He added that Sabah Parks, which is responsible for the marine park, would blacklist tour agents whose clients continued to flout the regulations.

Masidi said the ministry needed the help of licensed tour guides to inform it of illegal tour operators bringing visitors to the islands.

Sabah Tour Guides Association member David Tseu had claimed that marine park visitors who had taken pictures of themselves holding turtles and giant clams were brought there by unlicensed tour operators.

He claimed that the illegal operators were operating "rampantly" and that the authorities did not appears to have the resources to crack down on them.

Recently, Netizens reacted in anger over a photo of tourists posing with a turtle.

The photo, uploaded by wildlife conservation group Rimba, showed three people with their hands on the turtle's shell while they posed in the water, allegedly in the Perhentian Islands, off Terengganu.

A 34-second video of the incident was also uploaded. 


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Charred lands: fertile grounds for sustainable agriculture in Kalimantan?

Slash-and-burn farming, Indonesia, Photo by CIFOR
BOGOR, Indonesia (06 July, 2012)_ In the Amazon, it’s called Terra Preta. In the tribal tongues of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province, it’s called tiem by the lowland Merap and punyuh by the upland Punan. In all three languages, the meaning is the same:“Black Soil,” an apt description of the dark, nutrient-rich soil pockets prized by forest-dwelling tribes in the tropics.

A multidisciplinary research team led by a pair of CIFOR scientists has found evidence that the “Black Soil” of Indonesia’s Kalimantan province, like its Amazon analogue, is “anthropogenic” – a product of decades, if not centuries, of human cultivation. They make their case in a new paper in the journal Forestry.

If borne out by further study, the sites in Kalimantan would be the first scientifically documented instance of Anthropogenic Dark Earths (ADEs) in tropical Asia. The phenomenon has been noted in Latin America from the early twentieth century. However, nearly 20,000 kilometres apart, both the Amazonian and Indonesian ADEs are thought to originate in the same style of farming: “Slash-and-char” cultivation rather than the more common slash-and-burn pattern.

“What we are seeing in [our research site at] Malinau [East Kalimantan] is evidence that ADEs caused by ‘Slash and char’ techniques leads to improved soil quality, and are not necessarily, as some believe, the result of some long-lost knowledge in the Amazon,” says Douglas Sheil, the lead author of the  paper and a scientist with CIFOR’s Forests and Environment Programme. “These improvements in the soil can sequester large-amounts carbon, protect forest diversity and help improve sustainable agriculture in regions that are already deforested and giving poor yields.”

“These soils could be developed in low-tech and low cost ways that can reduce pressure on land and improve sustainable food security where land is scarce,” he added.

Sheil cautions that it is not fully understood how ADEs originated. However, the 15-percent carbon levels exhibited in the soil are understood to be largely thanks to “char.”

Shifting agriculture—which includes both “slash and burn” and “slash and char” methods–is practiced by many tribal peoples.

With the “slash and burn” method, trees and other woody plant are cleared and burned when preparing land for planting — this generates soil nutrients that temporarily improve productivity. When the burn-off is thorough, leaving only ash, the soil enrichment is relatively short-lived and the field must lie fallow for longer before it is ready to re-use.

However, a partial burn-off, or “slash-and-char” method, enhances soil structure and provides a longer-lasting store for nutrients that are gained from various sources but likely reflect food processing and wastes associated with sustained human presence. Overtime, if the clearing-char-nutrient additions cycle is repeated, the result is a build-up of ADEs.

The increase in soil fertility allows indigenous populations to sustain themselves without the use of costly chemical fertilisers. It also helps to conserve forest diversity and boosts carbon sequestration five- to seven-fold, which can last for centuries, even millennia, compared to surrounding rainforest land.
From field interviews, researchers learned that farmers living in Kalimantan’s upper Malinau river basin, clear fields by a method more akin to “slash and burn.” “Slash and char” methods mainly occurred unintentionally, when frequent rain blots out the burn prematurely.

This was probably why only two plots of the 202 plots surveyed had the 15-percent carbon levels seen in the Amazon Terra Preta samples, said Sheil’s co-author and fellow CIFOR researcher, Imam Basuki.
Basuki adds that the new research presents a convincing argument for why slash and char methods should be used by local communities to improve the soil fertility. “This is solid evidence showing farmers and local policy makers that this system will increase their own rice productivity,” he added.

Although remote, the Malinau region is crucially important as a watershed for East Kalimantan, including the provincial capital. It is also a biodiversity “hotspot”, as recognised by the World Wildlife Fund in its “Heart of Borneo” conservation campaign.

All the more reason, Basuki said, to promote slash-and-char in Kalimantan. If soil enrichment through “slash and char” can be achieved inadvertently, how much more could be achieved through deliberate efforts?

Source: Cifor

Food Reps Impressed by U.S. Soy Sustainability Practices

soybean bowl.jpg
Most U.S. soybean farmers know they employ sustainable farming methods, such as conservation tillage, cover crops and tactics that help minimize nutrient runoff. Now a group of representatives from global food companies know it, too.

The United Soybean Board (USB) and soy checkoff’s Sustainability Initiative recently organized an educational series of U.S. farm tours through three states that showed five food-industry employees firsthand what U.S. soybean farmers do to keep improving their farm’s sustainability performance. The companies represented included Kellogg’s, Kraft, Sodexo and Unilever, which together use a total of about 3.5 billion pounds of soybean oil annually.

“As a food company, we’re dependent upon the sustainability of farmers and want to promote their efforts,” says Sherilyn Brodersen, Kraft Foods’ sustainable agriculture lead for the Americas. “There are so many progressive measures farmers have taken, and I’ll take that information back to my company, share those stories and help increase consumers’ awareness.”

The food industry remains by far the biggest user of U.S. soy oil, consuming more than 80 percent of it every year. And the importance the food industry and consumers place on using sustainably sourced ingredients continues to grow.

The program took participants to farms in three large and diverse soybean-producing states – Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska – and showed them a large array of farm-management practices used today. Participants learned about strip tilling, how technology can improve efficiency, methods to remove nutrients from runoff water and more.

“Many people don’t realize how high of a priority U.S. farmers place on being good stewards of our resources,” says Nebraska soybean farmer Mike Thede, team lead for the checkoff’s Sustainability Initiative. “I think it’s important to show people how common these practices are among farmers and how we’re always looking to improve even more.”

The 69 farmer-directors of USB oversee the investments of the soy checkoff to maximize profit opportunities for all U.S. soybean farmers. These volunteers invest and leverage checkoff funds to increase the value of U.S. soy meal and oil, to ensure U.S. soybean farmers and their customers have the freedom and infrastructure to operate, and to meet the needs of U.S. soy’s customers. As stipulated in the federal Soybean Promotion, Research and Consumer Information Act, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service has oversight responsibilities for USB and the soy checkoff.

Environment Cleanliness is Everybody's Responsibility - Masidi

Datuk Masidi said that many of the tourist who come to Sabah made a complaint that state on how dirty our public toilets in the Kota Kinabalu area as well as rubbish that been thrown recklessly.

He said we cannot continue to promote Sabah as the best eco-tourism spot in the world if we do not have the sense of responsibility to preserve our environment and to take care the cleanliness of our city. The government can spend millions to promote Sabah as the best eco-tourism destination but if we do not care about our city cleanliness all of our effort is just a waste. The society should realize and reflect themselves that the rubbish that have been thrown come from their own attitude. He added that community should not just rely on City Hall only to pick up the responsibilities of cleanliness but instead the people should change their attitude and be more responsible to the environment.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Conference told farms are clean and green

Federated Farmers has told a conference of Royal New Zealand Forest & Bird Protection Society members that clean, green and sustainable farming methods are being used, compared to 30 years ago.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said the National government was committed to developing agriculture three decades ago by clearing more land and putting more livestock on it.

He said too much land, about 800,000 hectares of hill country, was cleared to make way for farming.
Mr Wills said some farmers back then would discharge effluent from sheds straight into streams and today there was not a single farmer doing that.

He said farmers need to have profitable businesses to be able to sustain environmentally responsible practices.

The Department of Conservation told the conference that the future of export primary production lies in clean and green sustainable methods of farming.

The two-day conference at Te Papa in Wellington ended on Saturday.

Green Economy: Does it include You?

The UN Environment Program defines the Green Economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive

In conjunction of the World Environment Day 2012 theme, a total of 50 trees are planted on 5th June 2012, 30 trees of the Tabebuai Pallida species are planted Grace Point, Sembulan, Kota Kinabalu while 20 trees of the Casuarina equisetifolia species planted at 1st Tanjung Aru Beach.

The tree planting activity at Grace Point is made possible with the partnership between Magellan Sutera Resort and DBKK. The event was attended by the Mayor Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu-YB Datuk Abidin Madingkir, General Manager Magellan Sutera Harbour- Ravi Kathiravelu, Director of DBKK and Chairman of Environment Action Centre (EAC) Kota Kinabalu- YB Datuk Yeo Boon Hai, 12 Finalists Miss Earth 2012 with Mandy Nandu from MNE Events as well as the participation of 20 Aseana College Nursing School students & DBKK Anti-Litter Ambassadors to assist in planting the trees.

As for the event in 1st Tanjung Aru Beach, it was attended by Mayor Datuk Abidin Madingkir, DBKK Deputy Director General (Operations)- Joannes Solidau, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Community Development and Consumer Affairs- Janet Chee and also the 20 Aseana College Nursing School students.

This program would not be successful without all participants who took time to attend the tree planting program. It is hoped that such program would be beneficial to the environment as well as spreading awareness to more people within the state.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sustainable Agriculture Techniques

Sustainable agriculture provides high yields without undermining the natural systems and resources that productivity depends on. Farmers who take a sustainable approach work efficiently with natural processes rather than ignoring or struggling against them – and use the best of current knowledge and technology to avoid the unintended consequences of industrial, chemical-based agriculture. One important result is that farmers are able to minimize their use of pesticides and fertilizers, thereby saving money and protecting future productivity, as well as the environment.
Below are some of the most common sustainable agriculture techniques employed by farmers today to achieve the key goals of weed control, pest control, disease control, erosion control and high soil quality:
  • Crop Rotation
  • Cover Crops
  • Soil Enrichment
  • Natural Pest Predators
  • Biointensive Integrated Pest Management

Crop Rotation

Crop rotation—growing different crops in succession in the same field—is one of the most powerful techniques of sustainable agriculture, and avoids the unintended consequences of putting the same plants in the same soil year after year. It is a key element of the permanent and effective solution to pest problems because many pests have preferences for specific crops, and continuous growth of the same crop guarantees them a steady food supply, so that populations increase. For example, right now European corn borers are often a significant pest in the United States because most corn is grown in continuous cultivation or in two-year rotations with soybeans. Four- or five-year rotations would control not only corn borers, but many other corn pests as well. In fact, rotation reduces pest pressure on all the crops in the rotation by breaking the pest reproductive cycles.
In rotations, farmers can also plant crops, like soybeans and other legumes, that replenish plant nutrients, thereby reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. For instance, corn grown in a field previously used to grow soybeans needs less added nitrogen to produce high yields.
On a related note, the importance of crop rotation as a defense against pest infestations should be a key part of any discussion about growing crops for bioenergy purposes. Government policies to encourage bioenergy crops should not inadvertently encourage farmers to forgo crop rotation in favor of planting corn year after year. 
Many farmers also take advantage of the benefits of having plants growing in the soil at all times, rather than leaving the ground bare between cropping periods, which produces unintended problems. The planting of cover crops such as hairy vetch, clover, or oats helps farmers achieve the basic goals of:

Cover Crops
  • preventing soil erosion,
  • suppressing weeds, and
  • enhancing soil quality.

Using appropriate cover crops is worth the extra effort because it reduces the need for chemical inputs like herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. 
Soil Enrichment
Soil is arguably the single most prized element of agricultural ecosystems. Healthy soil teems with life, including many beneficial microbes and insects, but these are often killed off by the overuse of pesticides. Good soils can improve yields and produce robust crops less vulnerable to pests; abused soils often require heavy fertilizer application to produce high yields. Soil quality can be maintained and enhanced in many ways, including leaving crop residues in the field after harvest, plowing under cover crops, or adding composted plant material or animal manure.

Natural Pest Predators
Understanding a farm as an ecosystem rather than a factory offers exciting opportunities for effective pest control. For example, many birds, insects, and spiders are natural predators of agricultural pests. Managing farms so that they harbor populations of pest predators is a sophisticated and effective pest-control technique. One of the unfortunate consequences of intensive use of chemical pesticides is the indiscriminate killing of birds, bats, and other pest predators.

Biointensive Integrated Pest Management
One of the most promising technologies is the control of pests through integrated pest management (IPM). This approach relies to the greatest possible extent on biological rather than chemical measures, and emphasizes the prevention of pest problems with crop rotation; the reintroduction of natural, disease-fighting microbes into plants/soil, and release of beneficial organisms that prey on the pests. Once a particular pest problem is identified, responses include the use of sterile males, biocontrol agents like ladybugs. Chemical pesticides are only used as a last resort.

Source: UCSUSA

6 Brands Playing Footsie with Conservatives and Paying the Price

Companies have to do the right thing -- not the right-wing thing -- if they want to stick around.
Chick-fil-A might have gotten a nice, one-day sales boost with "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," but tying a national brand to aging white bigots is not a winning strategy – and the numbers prove it. Executives. directors and managers of American corporations take note: If your company is playing footsie with right-wing ideologues it can harm your company and your career. People are seriously fed up with companies that support and fund these right wingers, and brand-equity tracking surveys prove it. Here are 6 examples of companies and organizations that have flushed their brands down the right-wing toilet. 

1. Chick-fil-A Brand Damage
Last month Chick-fil-A’s CEO made public statements insulting and condemning America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens and their right to marry. For obvious reasons this provoked a national, negative reaction. Conservatives tried to salvage the situation this week by putting on a big show of support with their "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," trying to make it appear as if it is good for a company to line itself up with far-right groups. These right wingers might be celebrating what seems to be a good day for a chicken sandwich chain, but common sense -- and the numbers -- clearly say something different.
Chick-fil-A is engaged in a PR effort to lead people to think that conservative support is helping the company, but according to YouGov's BrandIndex the company's "brand health" has dropped to its lowest levels in years. In their release, Chick-Fil-A takes a hit with fast food eaters , BrandIndex explains,
Chick-Fil-A's perception with fast food eaters nationwide has taken a significant hit in most regions of the US ... since president and COO Dan Cathy's perceived anti-gay remarks on July 16th.
... On July 16th, the day the Baptist Press published its Dan Cathy interview, Chick-Fil-A's Index score was 65, a very substantial 19 points above the Top National QSR Sector average score that day of 46. Four days later, Chick-Fil-A had fallen to 47 score... This past Wednesday, Chick-Fil-A had a 39 score...
This makes sense, considering that polling shows that the very demographic groups a company like Chick-fil-A wants to attract overwhelmingly support the right of gay and lesbian Americans to marry. According to  recent Pew polling , for example the prized 18-29 demographic (they buy stuff) favors gay marriage by 65 percent to 30 percent.

But Chick-fil-A is doing great with the aging, white bigot crowd (they don’t buy stuff)! Opposition to gay marriage gets great numbers among the 65+ crowd (31% favor, 56% oppose) and conservative Republicans (75% favor, 16% oppose) but almost every other demographic group favors gay marriage, and Chick-fil-A’s position puts them well behind the curve. Is tying themselves to a dying demographic of angry white bigots really a winning long term brand strategy? (Hey, that sounds like a certain political party, too!)

2. Komen for the Cure: The Gold Standard For Brand Damage
Right now it's Chick-fil-A in the news for damaging its brand by playing footsie with the far right. But Chick-fil-A is hardly the first company or organization to self-destruct this way. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure® foundation is the gold standard for right-wing-footsie brand destruction.
Komen for the Cure was the premier charitable brand in the world. People used to give through their noses supporting Komen for the Cure’s Race for the Cure, and buying pink-ribbon Komen-branded wristbands, clothing, gifts and other merchandise. Then, in a move to please the conservative right, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation pulled funding from Planned Parenthood. The result was that  according to a Harris Poll EquiTrend® Study , Komen’s "brand

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Why Imperial Greed Has a Huge Role to Play in India's Electricity Blackout

Neoliberalism and international banking share the blame with technological shortcomings.
Photo Credit: Daphne Wysham

 This article was originally posted at FireDogLake.  View original here.One-tenth of the planet’s people — one-half of India’s population — lost power completely this week, with a blackout covering most of north India’s highly populated states. What was the reason for the blackout?

While pundits and politicians postulate on the reasons for the power failure, one answer is clear: an ideology of neoliberalism foisted on India by the World Bank and IMF was partly to blame for the blackout.

It is not the only cause. Climate change has clearly played a role in India’s blackout: A delayed monsoon season meant lower water reservoirs and higher rates of  water siphoning  for agricultural purposes rather than power production. This could have been foreseen by the Bank back in the 1990s when climate change was clearly viewed as a problem to be dealt with. Nevertheless, the Bank pushed large hydropower projects in India, ramping up debt, while resettling millions from fertile land near riverbanks.

Meanwhile, India’s biggest and dirtiest source of power, coal, providing over 70% of the country’s power, is increasingly hard to come by. This, too, was something the Bank could have foreseen; yet instead it pushed coal power dependency aggressively in India. There is less and less land available for open-pit mining, deemed more “efficient” than underground mines by the World Bank. The reason for its “efficiency”?

Underground miners were once one of India’s most powerful unionized labor forces. While their jobs were dangerous and dirty, they provided a decent living, and their underground mining prevented the widespread environmental and social destruction that open-pit mines ushered in. At World Bank’s behest, however, open-pit mines replaced thousands of underground mines, and miner’s unions were busted and replaced with a handful of workers driving large dump trucks. Efficiency gains may have been achieved, but at what cost?

Open-pit mines are literally hell-holes. They smolder in a constant state of combustion. They ravage the landscape, and cause acid drainage, which destroys the water supply, kills fish, and makes the water unsafe. As with large dams, thousands of India’s poorest tribal people have been uprooted to make way for open-pit mines and placed in resettlement camps where prostitution and alcoholism are endemic. The World Bank once claimed they would provide an acre of  land for every acre taken from the most marginalized tribal peoples to make way for mines and dams. But that promise was long ago watered down, then forgotten. Ironically, many of the tribals remain without power to this day. The poorest of the poor the Bank claims to serve got the shortest end of the stick.

Add to that the fact that India’s coal is heavy in ash content, and population pressures on available land  means ash disposal is also a problem. So, often, the polluting ash—with heavy metals and radioactive elements—is merely dumped in the already polluted rivers.

As India runs out of space for open-pit mines and ash disposal, it’s increasingly turning to coal from abroad—which comes at a higher price.  All of this could have been foreseen by the World Bank and IMF back in the mid-1990s. They were urged by NGOs such as ours to move toward solar, wind and other renewable energies in India — both in the interest of providing power to rural areas more cheaply and averting a climate disaster. And they were even urged by their own hand-picked “eminent person,” Emil Salim, a former board member of one of Indonesia’s largest coal companies, who headed up their three-year Extractive Industries Review, to get out of coal completely by 2008. The reason?

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Our Oceans Are Dying--And Obama Wants to Let Shell Drill for More Oil in Arctic Waters

If the major energy companies have their way, there will be no turning back until the oceans are a garbage dump.
 When you go to the mountains, you go to the mountains. When it’s the  desert, it’s the desert. When it’s the ocean, though, we generally say that we’re going “to the beach.” Land is our element, not the waters of our world, and that is an unmistakable advantage for any oil company that wants to drill in pristine waters. 
Take Shell Oil. Recently, the company’s drill ship,  Noble Discoverer went adrift  and almost grounded in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. That should be considered an omen for a distinctly star-crossed venture to come.
 Unfortunately, few of us are paying the slightest attention.

Shell is getting ready to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean, an ecosystem staggeringly rich in life of every sort, and while it’s not yet quite a done  deal, the prospect should certainly focus our minds. But first, it’s worth reminding ourselves of the mind-boggling richness of the life still in our oceans.

Last month began with a once-in-a-lifetime sighting in Monterey Bay, California, startlingly close to shore, of blue whales. Those gigantic mammals can measure up to 100 feet, head-to-tail, and weigh nearly 200 tons -- the largest animal by weight ever to have lived on this planet. Yes, even heavier than dinosaurs. The biggest dinosaur,  Amphicoelias fragillimus , is estimated to have weighed 122 tons, while the largest blue whale came in at a whopping 195 tons.

The recent Monterey Bay sighting is being  called “the most phenomenal showing of th[os]e endangered mammals in recent history.” On July 5 alone, Monterey Bay Whale Watch reported sightings of “12 blue whales, 40 humpback whales, 400 Risso's dolphins, 300 northern right whale dolphins, 250 Pacific white-sided dolphins, and two minke whales."

"Everywhere you go you just see blows" -- that is, the blues spouting -- Nancy Black, owner of Monterey Bay Whale Watch,  told the Santa Cruz Sentinel . It seems that the abundance of krill, the tiny shrimp-like creatures the whales feed on, attracted about 100 of the blues. Until the beginning of the 20th century, they were abundant with an estimated population of more than 200,000 living in the Southern (or Antarctic) Ocean alone. Then they were hunted nearly to extinction. Today, only about 10,000 of them are believed to exist.

Dog Day Afternoon in the Arctic
If you follow the Pacific coastline from Monterey all the way north, sooner or later you’ll arrive at Kivalina along the Chukchi Sea coast in the Alaskan Arctic. Keep going along that coastline even further north and you’ll pass by Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainright, and finally Barrow -- the northernmost town in the United States.

At Barrow, you’ll be at the confluence of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas of the Arctic Ocean. Now, head east along the Beaufort Sea coast to Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik, both IƱupiat communities. The Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are remarkably rich in krill, and home to the endangered bowhead whale. It may not be quite as large as the blue, but head-to-tail it can still measure an impressive enough 66 feet and weigh up to 75 tons, and it has one special attribute: It is believed to be the longest-lived mammal on the planet.

Like blues, bowheads were also abundant -- an estimated population of 30,000 well into the mid-19th century. Then commercial whalers began hunting them big time, driving them nearly extinct in less than 50 years. Today, about 10,000 bowhead whales live in the Arctic Ocean. Blues and bowheads could be considered the elders of the sea.

Read more:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Zero-Waste Olympics? Nice Try, But No Gold Medal

A new WWF report says the London games aren't even close to meeting their own sustainability goals
Photo Credit: Sum_of_Mark
 It’s easier to imagine a world without waste than it is to actually accomplish it. And that’s what the planners of the London Olympics are finding out—their vision doesn’t quite match the situation on the ground. 
Zero waste is,  at heart, a simple concept —“garbage” is treated as a resource, to be used as fuel or as raw material for new products, and any diversion to landfills or incinerators is reduced to a trickle. No country has achieved zero waste, but New Zealand is unique in  setting it as national policy  in 2001.

Big-time professional and amateur sports are big-time polluters and wasters, and environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have focused on getting them to take the green pledge. Some 100 major teams  have adopted environmental initiatives through NRDC . Major League Baseball  purchased renewable energy credits  to offset the 120,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity that would be consumed by the recent All-Star game in Kansas City. The Philadelphia Phillies’ renewable energy offsets are the equivalent of putting 2,942 zero-emission cars on the road or planting 285,000 trees and having them absorb carbon dioxide for 10 years.

Big promises

Zero waste got a major visibility boost when the planners of the 2012 Olympics  set it as a goal  in 2009. “A development on the scale of the Olympic Park and an event on the scale of the 2012 Games provide the opportunity to create a micro-economy of waste efficiency, putting in place the infrastructure and processes to minimize waste and to maximize reuse and recycling,” said the London 2012 Sustainability Plan. The Games were to be “the greenest ever.”

The plan included design that minimized waste, composting, reusing and refurbishing spare parts, cutting back on hazardous materials and using incineration only with energy recovery. The Games might have had controversies, but this wasn’t among them. It was a win-win.

Unfortunately, according to  a new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and BioRegional , the games are generating far more waste and carbon than the green plan imagined. Although there have been notable successes and innovations, the report said, “the failure to meet the renewable energy targets set out in the bid is disappointing. Not only did this leave a significant ‘hole’ in London 2012’s carbon reduction strategy…it also sent out an unfortunate signal regarding the difficulties of incorporating renewable solutions in UK projects.”

The Games’ target was that 20 percent of Olympic Park electricity come from “new local renewable energy sources.” A symbol of what actually happened is the onsite wind turbine, because it was canceled ( at least in part for safety reasons ). A combined heat and power (CHP) energy center was constructed, but it’s reportedly “running mostly on a fossil fuel (natural gas).”

To meet 50 percent carbon reduction targets, organizers may have to invest in offsite retrofits to add energy savings to neighborhood homes. A low-carbon Olympic torch?  It didn’t happen.
Part of the blame, the new report said, is on the role of commercial sponsors and suppliers—which were apparently not prodded to be as green as possible. “The opportunity to put relationships with sponsors and suppliers on a greener footing has not been fully grasped,” it said.

Not all gloomy

In defense of unrealized plans, Jay Coalson, executive director of the  Zero Waste Alliance  in Portland, Oregon, praises the Olympics’ “substantial on-the-ground effort.” He added that the less-than-perfect result isn’t surprising, because actually achieving zero waste takes a huge amount of foresight, time and active management. “Encouraging behaviors and building robust, self-sustaining markets are two very different things,” he said.

Read more:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares?

The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity.
The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different ecosystems on the planet, such as deserts, rainforests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth.
Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as being integral to any approach to preserving biodiversity. Almost all cultures have their roots in our biological diversity in some way or form.
Declining biodiversity is therefore a concern for many reasons.

Why is Biodiversity Important?

Biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity where each species, no matter how small, all have an important role to play.
For example,
And so, while we dominate this planet, we still need to preserve the diversity in wildlife.

A healthy biodiversity offers many natural services

Ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest are rich in diversity. Deforestation threatens many species such as the giant leaf frog, shown here. (Images source: Wikipedia)
A healthy biodiversity provides a number of natural services for everyone:
  • Ecosystem services, such as
    • Protection of water resources
    • Soils formation and protection
    • Nutrient storage and recycling
    • Pollution breakdown and absorption
    • Contribution to climate stability
    • Maintenance of ecosystems
    • Recovery from unpredictable events
  • Biological resources, such as
    • Food
    • Medicinal resources and pharmaceutical drugs
    • Wood products
    • Ornamental plants
    • Breeding stocks, population reservoirs
    • Future resources
    • Diversity in genes, species and ecosystems
  • Social benefits, such as
    • Research, education and monitoring
    • Recreation and tourism
    • Cultural values
That is quite a lot of services we get for free!
The cost of replacing these (if possible) would be extremely expensive. It therefore makes economic and development sense to move towards sustainability.
A report from Nature magazine also explains that genetic diversity helps to prevent the chances of extinction in the wild (and claims to have shown proof of this).
To prevent the well known and well documented problems of genetic defects caused by in-breeding, species need a variety of genes to ensure successful survival. Without this, the chances of extinction increases.
And as we start destroying, reducing and isolating habitats, the chances for interaction from species with a large gene pool decreases.

Read more: Global Issues

Stranded Whale Dies

STUCK....The whale shortly after it was found stuck in shallow waters in Kuala Penyu, where rescue workers could not do much other than hoping for high tide to enable them to free it.


KOTA KINABALU: A 5.8-meter long whale which was found stranded in shallow waters near shore at Kampung Setompok, Kuala Penyu yesterday, died despite efforts by various authorities to rescue it.

The whale, believed to be trapped by changing tide, was said to have died at about 8pm, some 10 hours after it was found, while rescue workers tried to move it back into the open sea.
Kuala Penyu Fisheries Department officer Julin Bagang said the whale was alive but weak when it was found due to some injuries on its body.

He said the mammal was spotted around 10am by a local fisherman who notified the Fisheries Department.

The department immediately sought help from the Fire and Rescue Department and the Wildlife Department to try to rescue the whale.

Julin said assistance was also sought from WWF Malaysia, but the main problem faced by rescue workers was logistics.

He said however that they were unable to do much to help the whale except to keep it calm and hope for high tide so that they could guide it back into the sea.

Julin also said they were unable to identify the whale’s species, but he believed it may be a sperm or blue whale (theborneopost)

Commissioner Calls for Sustainable Agriculture Commitment

GLOBAL - Sustainable agriculture is not a luxury but a necessity the European Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolo? told the G+20 meeting in Rio last week. 

He said the link between agriculture and natural resources is unbreakable because for over 25 per cent of the world's population, farming is the main source of income and it accounts for 65 per cent of the jobs in developing countries.

He said that with a steady increase of food demand, with already nearly one billion people undernourished, farmers have a difficult mission.

"As policy makers, we have the responsibility to offer farmers solutions and support for sustainable agriculture," commissioner Ciolo? said.

"I believe that sustainable farming can make a positive difference."

He added that sustainable farming should aim at:
  • Increasing productivity without affecting the capacity of soil and water to regenerate and to be maintained in good conditions
  • producing high quality, safe, healthy food
  • generating enough income for farms to keep them going
  • delivering ecosystem services (preserve valuable habitats, biodiversity, genes)
  • improving quality of life in rural areas
  • strengthening the economy
  • contributing to a balanced territorial development
  • ensuring animal welfare
The commissioner said that the Common Agricultural Policy is helping farmers towards sustainable agriculture by helping them support the environment.

"The current EU farm policy is well on its way towards a more sustainable agriculture. But not yet there," he said.

"The proposed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy put forward last year in October, will go the extra mile."

He added: "Setting agricultural production onto a sustainable growth path will be possible only with major research and innovation efforts, to which the EU Commission is committed.

"The application of sustainable agricultural practices by all farmers in the EU is a long-term investment in a sustainable competitiveness.

"The competitiveness of our agriculture has to internalise these aspects of sustainability. We can no longer build at world's level a competiveness which does not take into account, in the production costs, the sustainability aspects."

commissioner Ciolo? added that global food security is more likely to come from increasing production and improving infrastructures in Africa and the developing world rather than pushing production up where farming is already efficient.

But he said that increasing agricultural productivity in these countries cannot be done through a quick fix solution.

He said it was necessary to foster a sharing of knowledge and innovation, affordable technologies, including those for efficient irrigation and to reuse of treated waste water as well as technologies for water harvesting and storage.

And the Commissioner also called for action to cut food waste.

"Sustainable agriculture is not a luxury but a necessity. It concerns us all, whether we live in Europe, or on any other place on Earth," Commissioner Ciolo? said.

Stop the slaughter, save orang utans in Borneo

PETALING JAYA - Malaysian authorities have been urged to help stop the slaughter of orang utans in Borneo.

Environmental groups, who made the call in the wake of reports and photographs of orang utans being shot dead by plantation companies, urged Malaysia to work with Indonesian authorities to stop the killing.

According to a report in Britain's Daily Mail, oil palm plantation managements have resorted to shooting orang utans as part of "pest control" exercises to protect their crops.

This report followed earlier allegations that companies had offered bounties for the heads of orang utans in Borneo after blaming the animals for destroying their young palm trees.

In a phone interview with theSun, Chris Shepherd, the Southeast Asia deputy director of Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, said investigations should be carried out and the perpetrators brought to book.

The situation with species like orang utans is becoming more critical and need urgent attention, he said adding that although the quality of law enforcement in this area has improved, illegal killing of wildlife and illegal wildlife trade still go largely unpunished.

"The list of threatened species is getting longer, not shorter," said Shepherd.

"The killing of the orang utans by Malaysian oil palm companies damages the image of the country abroad and needs to be addressed by the Malaysian authorities." said Malaysian Animal Rights and Welfare Association president N. Surendran.

He urged the government to exercise its power to terminate the licences of plantation companies found to have killed orang utans.

Besides being endangered through such action by planters, orang utan face rapid depletion of their numbers due to rampant land clearing in areas of their natural habitat.

Non-governmental organisation Nature Alert said 300 orang utans have been killed over the last eight years due to expansion efforts by the palm oil industry.

Conservationists say the animals have had to encroach on the plantations because their own habitats have been destroyed.

The action of companies, including Malaysian enterprises, in the alleged "extermination" and burning of forests for the purpose of land clearing for plantations in Kalimantan, across the borders of Sabah and Sarawak have also been highlighted by NGOs.

Although the concern on the Malaysian side of Borneo is more towards the destruction of the animal's habitat, the issue took an intensely grim turn when gruesome photographs of orang utan killings in Kalimantan emerged.

In February, four men including the Malaysian manager of an oil palm plantation in East Kalimantan went on trial for killing orang utans and other endangered primates.

All four were reportedly arrested in November after pictures of them with the slaughtered primates, were circulated by local villagers.

The manager, Phuah Chuan Hun, and his employee Widiantoro allegedly paid two men one million rupiah (RM330) for each orang utan killed and 200,000 rupiah (RM66) for monkeys, AFP had reported.

Malaysian Animal Welfare Society president Shenaaz Khan praised the action taken by the Indonesian authorities which put the four employees of the plantation – including its Malaysian manager – on trial for the killing of orang utans.

She, however, condemned the inaction of the Malaysian government (where the action of plantation companies are concerned).

The Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme had recently highlighted the dangers to wildlife from forest fires allegedly set by oil palm plantation companies to clear land for planting of crops.

The Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), responding to the matter, clarified that its jurisdiction under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 is restricted to Peninsular Malaysia and the Federal Territory of Labuan.



Sunday, August 5, 2012

9 Things You Can Do to Save Water

By Jennifer Bogo


Use these guidelines to see how many gallons you can conserve each year.

Turn Off the Faucet While Brushing Your Teeth

Why it’s worth the effort: Brushing your teeth seems like a quick job, but before you know it, four gallons of water may have slipped down the sink.

Your one-year effect: 2,880 gallons of water saved.

The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: More than four times the Mississippi River’s annual flow of water.


Bring Your Water With You

Why it’s worth the effort: Buying a daily bottle of water may quench your thirst, but it parches the planet. Each one-liter plastic bottle takes seven liters of water to produce. Refilling your own bottle directs the water where it’s needed―into your body.

Your one-year effect: 577 gallons of water saved.

The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to the amount of water that would cover Washington, D.C., by 52 feet.

Buy Recycled-Paper Products

Why it’s worth the effort: Products made from 100 percent recycled paper require much less water in their manufacturing than do those made from virgin paper. If your family goes through four rolls of paper towels a week, choosing recycled reduces waste significantly.

Your one-year effect: 637 gallons of water saved.

The effect if every household in the U.S. did it for one year: More than the amount of water that cascades over Niagara Falls in a day.


Install a Low-Flow Showerhead

Why it’s worth the effort: Low-flow showerheads cut water use in half. If you take a five-minute shower using this type of showerhead, the showerhead would save enough water in a year to fill a 15-foot aboveground pool. Plus, you save all the energy that would have gone into heating the shower water.

Your one-year effect: 4,550 gallons of water saved.

The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: Enough water to fill about 2,100 Giants Stadiums.

Water Your Lawn in the Early Morning or Evening

Why it’s worth the effort: If you irrigate in the middle of the day, evaporation prevents 14 percent of the water from reaching the plants’ roots. Watering the lawn in the early morning or evening can save the typical home owner 87 gallons a week.

Your one-year effect: 4,524 gallons of water saved.

The effect if every household in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to nine times the annual rainfall in Seattle.


Water Your Lawn With a Hose, Not a Sprinkler

Why it’s worth the effort: The average single-family home pours at least 25,000 gallons of water a year on the lawn―more than double the amount used inside. People are smarter than automatic sprinklers: Watering with a hose is at least twice as efficient.

Your one-year effect: 12,500 gallons of water saved.

The effect if every household in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to the volume of water in Shasta Lake, in Northern California.

Eat One More Vegetarian Meal a Week

Why it’s worth the effort: It takes a lot of water to grow the grain to feed the cow that ultimately produces a hamburger. Replacing just four ounces of beef in your diet a week with a vegetarian option can save more than 3,000 gallons of water.

Your one-year effect: 171,704 gallons of water saved.

The effect if everyone in the U.S. did it for one year: More than twice the volume of water in the Chesapeake Bay.


Use a Lower Setting on Your Dishwasher

Why it’s worth the effort: Contrary to popular belief, it’s almost never necessary to use the normal setting on a dishwasher or to rinse plates beforehand. The light-wash setting cleans just as well while reducing water use up to 55 percent.

Your one-year effect: 2,860 gallons of water saved.

The effect if every household in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to the amount of water that would cover Rhode Island by a foot.


Install Faucet Aerators

Why it’s worth the effort: Faucets account for 15 percent of indoor water use and typically flow at twice the rate they should. Installing aerators in kitchen and bathroom sinks fixes this problem for only a dollar or two per sink.

Your one-year effect: 1,000 gallons of water saved.

The effect if every household in the U.S. did it for one year: Equal to the 10-day water supply for New York City.

Read more:  Real Simple