Friday, August 31, 2012

World Forest Area Still on the Decline

Forests provide many important goods, such as timber and paper. They also supply essential services—for example, they filter water, control water runoff, protect soil, regulate climate, cycle and store nutrients, and provide habitat for countless animal species and space for recreation.

Forests cover 31 percent of the world’s land surface, just over 4 billion hectares. (One hectare = 2.47 acres.) This is down from the pre-industrial area of 5.9 billion hectares. According to data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, deforestation was at its highest rate in the 1990s, when each year the world lost on average 16 million hectares of forest—roughly the size of the state of Michigan. At the same time, forest area expanded in some places, either through planting or natural processes, bringing the global net loss of forest to 8.3 million hectares per year. In the first decade of this century, the rate of deforestation was slightly lower, but still, a disturbingly high 13 million hectares were destroyed annually. As forest expansion remained stable, the global net forest loss between 2000 and 2010 was 5.2 million hectares per year.

Global rates of deforestation do not capture the full damage done to the world’s forests. Forest degradation from selective logging, road construction, climate change, and other means compromises the health of remaining forests. Each year the world has less forested area, and the forests that remain are of lower quality. For example, replacing natural old-growth forests with a monoculture of an exotic species greatly reduces biodiversity.

The spread of planted forests has been accelerating, rising from an expansion of 3.7 million hectares annually in the 1990s to 4.9 million hectares annually the following decade. Planted forests now cover some 264 million hectares, comprising nearly 7 percent of total forest area. Plantations now have the potential to produce an estimated 1.2 billion cubic meters of industrial wood each year, about two thirds of current global wood production. Where forests have already been cleared, plantations can alleviate the pressure on standing forests.

Forests are primarily threatened by land clearing for agriculture and pasture and by harvesting wood for fuel or industrial uses. In Brazil—which has lost 55 million hectares since 1990, an area three fourths the size of Texas—land clearing for farms and ranches is the big driver. Home to the Amazon rainforest, Brazil contains 13 percent of the world’s forested area, second only to Russia’s 20 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, Brazil lost 2.6 million hectares of forest each year, more than any other country. Brazil is trying to reduce deforestation rates 80 percent from the 1996–2005 average by 2020 and has in fact seen a large drop in deforestation in recent years. But rising beef, corn, and soybean prices are likely to pressure the government to weaken its forest protection, further threatening the world’s largest rainforest. More


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Karez in Iraqi Kurdistan Parts 1 & 2


Ancient water tunnels called karez in Iraqi Kurdistan are rapidly drying up, a clear sign that the recent regional droughts are hitting the villages hard. Climate change seems to be unfolding at a wider scale and the future for groundwater supply seems bleak. Dale Lightfoot, an american geographer, travels the northern provinces of Kurdistan to document the situation. It urges UNESCO to set up a major initiative to safe the karez tunnels of Kurdistan.


It's in your hands

This film has been shortlisted for The Golden Poo Awards short film competition as part of the Global Handwashing Day and World Toilet Day campaigns. ** It really is in your hands*** *****************************************************

Diarrheal and respiratory infections kill over 3.5 million children under the age of five every year. Hand washing with soap is the most effective and an inexpensive way to prevent these deaths. It can save the lives of 1.2 million children every year. The tippy tap is a low cost, low tech, low water, hands-free device to promote hand washing with soap. **************************************************** **

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Like WMG on FB is a partnership between WMG ( and Grampari ( Filmed and directed by Andrew Hinton at Pilgrim Films Music by Jamie Perera Produced by Sowmya Somnath and Jared Buono

Message from Prince Charles to the IUCN World Conservation Congress

HRH the Prince of Wales addresses a session of the IUCN World Conservation Congress on the urgent need of bringing agriculture and conservation back together. "There is much to learn if we let nature be our guide", says Charles, Prince of Wales.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Dark Side of the “Green Economy”

Everywhere you look these days, things are turning green. In Chiapas, Mexico, indigenous farmers are being paid to protect the last vast stretch of rainforest in Mesoamerica. In the Brazilian Amazon, peasant families are given a monthly “green basket” of basic food staples to allow them to get by without cutting down trees.

In Kenya, small farmers who plant climate-hardy trees and protect green zones are promised payment for their part in the fight to reduce global warming. In Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest nations, fully 19 percent of the country’s surface is leased to a British capital firm that pays families to reforest.
These are a few of the keystone projects that make up what is being called “the green economy”: an emerging approach that promises to protect planetary ecology while boosting the economy and fighting poverty.

On its face this may sound like a good thing. Yet, during the recently concluded United Nations Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, tens of thousands of people attending a nearby People’s Summit condemned such approaches to environmental management. Indeed, if social movements gathered in Rio last month had one common platform, it was “No to the green economy.”

Whose Economy? Whose Green?

Just a few years ago, the term “green economy” referred to economies that are locally based, climate friendly, and low-impact. But since the global economic meltdown began in 2007, the green economy has come to mean something more akin to the wholesale privatization of nature. This green economy is about putting a price on natural cycles through a controversial set of policies called “Payments for Ecosystem Services”—an approach to greening capitalism that some liken to a tiger claiming to turn vegetarian.

Rather than reducing pollution and consumption, protecting the territorial rights of land-based peoples, and promoting local initiatives that steward resources for future generations, the approach is doing the opposite: promoting monoculture tree plantations, trade in pollution credits, and the establishment of speculative markets in biodiversity and forests, all of which threaten to displace land-based communities.

A report by Ecosystem Marketplace, the leading purveyor of “Payments for Ecosystem Services,” lays out the green economy argument: “Ecosystems provide trillions of dollars in clean water, flood protection, fertile lands, clean air, pollination, disease control. ... So how do we secure this enormously valuable infrastructure and its services? The same way we would electricity, potable water, or natural gas. We pay for it.”

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), among the chief proponents of the green economy, says this approach will result in “improved well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” The World Bank, also promoting the green economy, says, “Natural capital accounting would add to our national GDPs the wealth stored in our natural resources: minerals before they are mined, forests before they are felled, water while it is still in the rivers.”

But, for social movements, land-based communities, and indigenous peoples, the question is, who really pays? For what are they paying? And, most poignantly, since when has nature, the source of all life, been reduced to a service-provider?

One concern is that this new green economy is a form of “disaster capitalism”—a global effort to put the “services” of nature into the same hands that caused the global financial meltdown. And that seems like a very, very bad idea.

Increasingly, the evidence on the ground bears this out.

The reforestation plan in Mozambique has peasant farmers planting industrial monocultures of African palm for biofuel production, not native forest. The Kenyan farmers of the Green Belt Movement, while initially receptive to a World Bank-backed scheme that would pay them to protect agricultural soils, became discouraged when they realized the payments would add up to less than 15 cents per acre per year, and that they would have to wait many years for payment. In Brazil, the “green basket” of food staples adds up to 100 Reales per family per month—but cooking gas alone can cost 50 Reales a month, leaving families without access to the forest hungry and dependent on paltry state support. More


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Permaculture in Palestine - A green revolution

It was a brisk, rather harried morning when my husband, photographer Christopher List, and I set off on a trip to delve deeper into the relatively unheard of phenomenon of permaculture.

It felt like only yesterday when we’d announced to friends and family that were were going to Palestine, to study a 14-day intensive permaculture course. After discovering some of the principles of permaculture on a recent trip to SA, I knew we were in for a gruelling, yet worthwhile experience.

Relatively new to the Middle East, with permaculture projects in Saudi Arabia and in the Jordan River Valley, permaculture simply means working nature to produce a sustainable garden design, and can be used by farmers and gardeners alike.

In fact, permaculture principles can be applied to community gardens, rooftop gardens, small balconies or even just to help your pot plants flourish. Not only applicable to growing things, permaculture includes reusing and recycling as well as renewable energy. It even extends to sustainable housing. In a nutshell, permaculture entails a holistic, sustainable way of life. More


Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Outside Classrooms

If you ask me what I remember of all that I studied at school and, then, in many years at college and university and which came in handy later in life, I don't think I'll have much to narrate. What an awful waste of those precious youthful years! Honestly, little of what I was forced to learn in the classroom proved of any use to me once I stepped out into the 'real world'. Which is why, when Raju, a middle-aged father, came to meet me yesterday for 'advice' as to what to do about his two sons, who go to an expensive medium school but who seem, as he put it, to 'learn nothing at all' there, I was tempted to tell him to pull them out of the school at once.

If education is a means for us to learn about the world so as to help us prepare to live in it, it was mainly outside the classroom--out in the 'real world'--that my education really took place. My parents made it a point to take us to a new place every year during the winter holidays, and the things I learned in the course of those early travels--about different places, monuments, people, cultures, religions, ways of living and so on--was my first exposure to the 'real world', and an enormously educative experience. But this was for less than a month each year, and then it was back to school, where, carefully insulated from the 'real world', I spent the rest of the year studying about almost nothing at all that inspired or intrigued me.

I know I ought to be grateful for those annual learning trips, but they were nothing remotely like what a girl I heard of the other day is priveleged to enjoy: She's not yet ten, but her parents have sensibly withdrawn her from school for a while and are taking her on a two-year journey around the world. They are really roughing it out, going for treks in the mountains, trips deep into deserts and jungles and across seas, and spending time with NGOs working with people with disabilities. What an amazing learning experience for that lucky little child!

Back in the 1980s, I was in college in Delhi, where I majored in Economics, a subject I had no interest in whatsoever. The subject was taught in such a way that it seemed to have no bearing at all on the harsh realities of the 'real world'. Poverty, for instance, was just a bundle of figures and graphs. We learned about industries and agricultural yields, but were never taken to see a factory or a field out in the 'real world'. And so on. And so, when I heard of an organisation that sponsored college students to spend their holidays in an NGO of their choice working out in the 'field' I enthusiastically signed up, and was sent to spend a month in a little village in tribal-dominated Koraput, in Orissa.

This was a quarter century ago, and Koraput, which is still said to be among the most 'backward' districts in India, was then thought to be really 'back of beyond'. The village I was to live in was set in a narrow valley and surrounded by thickly-forested hills. Most of its inhabitants belonged to the Kondh tribe, most of who were then (and, I suppose, even now are) miserably poor. The Kondhs still followed much of their simple, traditional way of life. More


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Extreme Weather

The weekend forecast for Nashville, Tennessee, called for two to four inches of rain. But by the afternoon of Saturday, May 1, 2010, parts of the city had seen more than six inches, and the rain was still coming down in sheets.

Mayor Karl Dean was in the city’s Emergency Communications Center monitoring the first reports of flash flooding when something on a TV screen caught his eye. It was a live shot of cars and trucks on Interstate 24 being swamped by a tributary of the Cumberland River southeast of the city. Floating past them in the slow lane was a 40-foot-long portable building from the Lighthouse Christian School.

“We’ve got a building running into cars,” the TV anchorman was saying.

Dean had been in the “war room” for hours. But when he saw the building floating down the highway, he says, “it became very clear to me what an extreme situation we had on our hands.” Soon 911 calls were coming in from every part of the city. Police, fire, and rescue teams were dispatched in boats. One crew in a skiff headed out to I-24 to pluck the driver of an 18-wheeler from the chest-high water. Other teams pulled families off rooftops and workers from flooded warehouses. Still, 11 people died in the city that weekend.

This was a new kind of storm for Nashville. “It came down harder than I’ve ever seen it rain here,” says Brad Paisley, the country singer, who owns a farm outside town. “You know how when you’re in a mall and it’s coming down in sheets, and you think, I’ll give it five minutes, and when it lets up I’ll run to my car? Well, imagine that it didn’t let up until the next day.”

Over at NewsChannel 5, the local CBS station, meteorologist Charlie Neese could see where the weather was coming from. The jet stream had gotten stuck over the city, and one thunderstorm after another was sucking up warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico, rumbling hundreds of miles northeast, and dumping the water on Nashville. While Neese and his colleagues were broadcasting from a second-floor studio, the first-floor newsroom was being swamped by backed-up sewers. “Water was shooting up through the toilets,” Neese says.

The Cumberland River, which winds through the heart of Nashville, started rising Saturday morning. At Ingram Barge Company, David Edgin, a former towboat captain, had more than seven boats and 70 barges out on the waterway. As the rain continued to pound down, he called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to get its forecast of how high the river would rise. “It’s blowing up our models,” the duty officer said. “We’ve never seen anything like this.” Edgin ordered all of Ingram’s boats to tie up at safe locations along the riverbank. It turned out to be a smart move.

By Saturday night the Cumberland had risen at least 15 feet, to 35 feet, and the corps was predicting it would crest at 42. But the rain didn’t stop Sunday, and the river didn’t crest until Monday—at 52 feet, 12 feet above flood stage. Spilling into downtown streets, the flood caused some two billion dollars in damage. More

When one starts to look at the bigger picture of extreme weather around the world you quickly realize that something is ot right. Climate change anyone? Editor


Monday, August 13, 2012

Population and Sustainability in an Unequal World

June’s Rio + 20 Conference on Sustainable Development left environmentalists little to cheer about. Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace International, called the meeting “a failure of epic proportions.” And Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin said the conference “may produce one lasting legacy: convincing people it’s not worth holding global summits.”

For those who care about population and sustainability, the meeting was especially disappointing. Despite advocacy efforts by scientists and NGOs from around the world, including a high-profile lead-up report by the UK’s Royal Society, the outcome document failed to recognize the environmental implications of population dynamics and to connect the dots between demography, reproductive health, and sustainable development.

How did this happen? The reasons are many, but here, I’ll focus on one that is fundamental to the global stalemate on environmental issues in general and to population and environment issues in particular: inequality.

The Gap

Around the world, there is a vast – and widening – gulf between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” A 2008 study by the UN University’s World Institute for Development Economics Research found that the richest one percent of adults now own 40 percent of global assets. The bottom half of humanity, in contrast, owns barely one percent of all wealth.

This appalling gap in wealth is matched by disparities in environmental impact: The relatively affluent citizens of industrialized countries consume a far greater share of the planet’s resources and emit a greater quantity of waste than their counterparts in the developing world. According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone on Earth lived the lifestyle of an average American, we would need five planets to support everyone.

These disparities, and the injustice they represent, are a major obstacle to global consensus and action on environmental problems. Take climate change; because industrialized countries have historically contributed the lion’s share of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, those countries lack the moral authority to call for reductions elsewhere. And developing countries, which are struggling to lift their people from abject poverty, reasonably fear that emissions limits will stunt their development. More



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Biochar Promises Bevy of Benefits for People and Planet

It’s hard to attend any kind of energy or sustainability conference these days without needing to pop a Xanax, but at the 2012 US Biochar Conference , held this week in Sonoma County, California, excitement trumped angst handily. That’s because biochar is a simple technology with the potential to ameliorate no fewer than five dire global crises –topsoil depletion, nitrogen runoff, solid waste disposal, drought and, drum roll please…climate change.

Biochar is essentially charcoal that is ground up and incorporated as a soil amendment. It’s made by slowly burning anything from walnut husks to dead tree limbs to poop – just put that feedstock into a simple biochar stove (or bury it underground), light up and presto, you’ve got gas and charcoal, two valuable products for farmers grappling with high energy prices and poor soil fertility.

Long the province of farmers and gardeners, biochar is now attracting the attention of the climate change community for its massive carbon sequestration potential. Of the ten finalists for the Virgin Earth Challenge’s $25 million prize for a proven carbon capture technology, three are biochar companies.

Climate activists are fans of technologies like renewable energy that are carbon neutral -- that is, they don’t add any more friggin’ CO2 to the atmosphere. But carbon neutrality alone won’t prevent us from reaching the dreaded tipping point climate scientist James Hansen warns of . According to Hansen, even if all fossil fuel emissions cease in 2015, we’ll still be above the safe limit of 350 ppm until the end of the century (we’re currently at 395 ppm, and CO2 has a long shelf life). That means, Hansen and a growing number of climate scientists and activists agree, we need to scale up carbon negative technologies that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere. Enter biochar which, alongside reforestation, grasslands restoration and regenerative agriculture techniques, can turn dust bowls into rich, lush carbon sinks. According to the Climate Trust , biochar has the potential to sequester 12% of the world’s current GHG emissions. More