Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I'm sorry, but there is no other way to describe it. Even China has some common sense.
This comes after reading the whole of India's response to the Copenhagen Accord, made by its' Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, who said India 'has come out quite well in Copenhagen'.
Excuse me?Mr. Ramesh, do you want your grandchildren to inherit a 50 degree Celsius India?
Lets' analyse, and debunk all his baseless arguments here, shall we? "The "bears in mind that the social and economic development and are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries," Ramesh said.
Right. Now, firstly, the Accord was never created to give Mr Ramesh something to gloat about, only to make sure SOMETHING came out of the meeting. And yes, it is true that economic development and poverty eradication are the main concerns of developing nations. But seriously, there are many ways to develop a country, and eradicate poverty, while preserving the ecosystem. Reducing wastage of electricity is one, via energy-efficient devices, that would help the poor save money, while enjoying equal privileges.Compact fluorescent lightbulbs are more energy efficient and last longer compared to tungsten bulbs. Wouldn't this help the poor save money and aid in poverty eradication?
And what about green energy technologies? India produces some of the brightest scientific minds every year. Surely the Indian government is not underestimating its' graduates capabilities to come up with new clean tech to help India corner the market for such devices? If the government tried a little harder, it can stop India's brain drain (to the U.S. especially) and work on its own, cost efficient measures to save Earth. Plus, if India expects the developed world to come up with solutions, then Indians will have to buy green products from other countries, and this will NOT benefit Indian economic development (or poverty eradication) in any way.
With India producing more and more scientists, doesn't it make perfect sense to fund local development of green tech? Wouldn't this help economic development?
Next, the good minister wants "to ensure that the interests of developing countries and India in particular are protected in the course of negotiations in 2010 and beyond".
So, it is not in India's interests to protect from extreme weather events caused by climate change? Might I remind Mr. Ramesh that just last year, India was hit by severe floods in Maharashtha, Andrha Pradesh and Bihar? And bear in mind that AP is a key agricultural center for Indian consumption. Is Mr. Ramesh so concerned about mere economic development that he forgets a human's basic necessity to eat? Or worse, is his cushy office enough to make him forget about the fate of hundreds of poor farmers who rely on a good, predictable, un-global warming-ed, climate to fill their bellies and clothe their bodies?
Mr. Ramesh obviously doesn't think of these people, who will be forced to do this daily (?) if he continues to resist solid, legally binding action against global warming.
Maybe it is. After all, this is a man who was willing to form a coalition (with Brazil, South Africa, and China) that worked to block a proper deal in Copenhagen.
I'm sure he enjoyed his vacation there. And that his post as Environment Minister comes with a gas-guzzling, Earth warming SUV. You're a good man, Mr Ramesh.
And in the end, 26 nations (out of 193!!) got together at the last minute and hashed out the Copenhagen Accord, a mere realization that in future, the world must come up with a strategy to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. Like we didn't know that already.
Plus, the other nations only 'noted' the Accord, without committing to it particularly enthusiastically. Whatever Obama says about the Accord (do check out India's response), Copenhagen WAS a FAILURE!
Oh and that was a 'small' matter about climate protesters clogging up the venue.
I'm not kidding. There were so many of them, and the wonderful organizers, wanting to 'be democratic' and 'champion freedom of speech', let them harass, block and crowd the place. This was to the extent that important people who actually had important things to contribute could not get in. Like Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Report.
Anyway, a big, sincere thank you to all those who prayed for a victory of common sense. I feel your pain and I'm sorry it got thwarted. But, the battle goes on.
And a big thank you to China, for blocking anything and everything constructive, plus all developing nations who act like global warming is a rich world problem and keep insisting they fund every damn thing the developing world needs to do to stop it. Right down to the last freakin' eco-bulb. Screw them all.
I guess we shouldn't forget the developed countries. Thanks for setting a wonderful example, and to the U.S, that 17% emissions cuts target is a really wonderful effort. And to all you rich, money-minded fools all over the world for presenting governments with a powerful lobby against emissions cuts.
And lastly, if you're the consumer out there who insists on his air-cond every night, his SUV, his extravagant plastic use, his laziness to recycle, and his general Earth-polluting ignorance, this goes out to you too.
I love you all!
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Firstly, the nature of the people in developing nations means that battles on green tech are fought not only on efficiency, but also on cost. 3rd-world people, much more than richer populations, are less idealistic when it comes to the environment, and more concerned about cost. In this sense, due to the rapid emergence of developing nation consumption, green companies will be more motivated to cheapen their products, which in turn promises greater profits, and that leads to greater funds available for further research.Wanted- cheaper solar panels. If solar panels carried a "Made in China" tag, they could be hundreds of times cheaper.
As an added bonus in the price wars, developing countries also allow for green appliances to be produced far more cheaply. Take China, where mobile phones can be made and sold for $80, with full touchscreens, internet access and every other cool feature. Similarly, such price revolutions could be moved to solar cells, compact fluorescent bulbs and wind turbines. Of course, quality control is an important issue that needs more than ever to be taken into account.
And then there's the young population. While most developed countries are facing an aging population, developing nations have been blessed with a boom on young people. Not only are young people the engine for change (helping spearhead calls for climate action) but they will provide a pool of workers and innovators in the world's next big field: green tech. Plus, they provide companies with an incentive to develop such products as electric sports cars, green laptops and hip reusable shopping bags. They are, in short, producers and consumers in the exciting new world of reduce, reuse and recycle.The Tesla Roadster electric sports car. The younger population of developing nations would provide an eager market for such green products.
Last of all, developing nations also contain stores of untapped resources that are integral in cutting emissions. Take for example China. With one of the world's largest proven lithium reserves, Chinese participation is essential in the development of electric car batteries. In addition, African nations close to the Sahara Desert typically contain a plant- the jatropha, which has seeds containing oil suitable for biofuel. Jatropha is exempt from the typical food vs fuel debate plaguing most biofuels because it grows on land that can't support any other plant.A hedge of jatropha. Want 'em to power your cars, Americans? You need to work with us first.
But for these benefits to actually come through, developing nations must stop heaping near-total responsibility on rich countries, and promote green-mindedness among their people. Similarly, the 1st world should realize that only shared partnerships with the 3rd world will result in a comprehensive effort to repel the spectre of global warming.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
The story goes like this: since the Chinese are building the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants every week, developed countries insist developing countries should be bound to cut emissions by as great a number as the developed countries must do themselves. This is true, since new data shows developing countries now account for 54% of CO2 emissions worldwide, and that developed-country emissions are starting to come down. Thank God.
The Chinese, still developing, love cheap coal. The Germans, developed, get along much better with solar.
According to developing countries, however, developed countries are mainly responsible for global warming. True, since in the past, developed countries did emit more then developing nations, and since there's a lag time before CO2 starts heating the planet, past developed countries are responsible for most of the CURRENT warming we are experiencing. Developing countries also insist that they are still developing and should be allowed to do so without interference. And, they say that if they are to cut emissions, developed countries must fund it and provide the technology.U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman. On climate change, Mr. Anifah says: "Give us the tools and we will act." Wonder how Mrs. Clinton feels.
There are numerous reasons for both sides taking the positions they do. Mainly, it is economic- developing countries do not want to have to pay for the high upfront costs. Developing countries who depend largely on oil also do not want to have to give it up. After all, if they keep resisting the switch to renewables, high oil prices will benefit them greatly. Plus, clean technologies are right up the alley of rich countries, who have the money and expertise to control the market, and developing countries do not want to lose out. That might also be why they demand for clean-tech transfers from rich countries. This is highly regrettable, as the long term returns from going green are way higher.
Socially, developing countries prefer to focus on economic development, as opposed to environmental preservation. As I have written before, the level of environmental consciousness in developing countries is tragically low. People here prefer jobs and cash to hybrids and recyclables. In China, the Communist Party is bound to increase the standard of living drastically, to compensate for the lack of freedom under communist rule. If they were to slow this improvement in favour of the environment, the Party could very well face riots that might kick them out of power.The Communist Party needs a roaring economy to stay in power. Too bad for the Earth.
These thinking patterns do no good to anyone. In fact, if they continue, then developed countries might give up their own efforts to cut emissions, and just when they were starting to go green too. Regardless of what developing country governments say, shouldn't we stand up and start the change?
Friday, November 20, 2009
What are offsets? Basically it works like this. If you go on a carbon-emitting flight to, say, New York, you calculate roughly how much CO2 your flight emitted, and then try to soak it up, usually by planting trees. One year in Sydney, town authorities planted trees to offset carbon emissions from New Year's fireworks. (This piece will focus largely on tree-planting offsets).
Now I know what you're thinking, it does seem too good to be true right?
Yes, it probably is.
Offsets- like planting trees- sound good. But are they?
Lets examine some scientific evidence. Trees take many years to mature to an age where they are capable of even absorbing the carbon from a motorbike, let alone a plane trip. Younger trees certainly do not absorb as much carbon as older ones, meaning that the trees you plant as offsets might not be living up to your expectations. Maintenance of forests can be notoriously difficult, especially if trees are planted outside their optimum climates, and can release CO2- think forest rangers, tractors, etc. Take for example Coldplay's offsets project: which ended up with nothing more than dead mango trees, which, when decomposing release more CO2 into the atmosphere.Sorry gents. Guess Death and all his friends paid a visit to those mango trees.
Invasive species also form part of the critique against offsets. As everyone knows, certain trees are meant to be grown in certain places only. When green-minded dreamers ignorant of the facts mess with this, things get icky. For example, eucalyptus trees are often planted to deliver fast results. However, planted in Third World countries, its' thirst for water kills other native species, and deprives the soil of nutrients while not returning enough nutrients. According to my copy of The Earth Report 2, a 100sqm hybrid eucalyptus plantation, in one year, takes up 1594 kg of calcium, and returns only 335 kg.
Even if eucalyptus and similar trees are not used, the want of quick offsets, and a lack of regulation means that local ecosystems and animal habitats could get seriously messed up. To make matters worse, there have been claims that indigenous communities have been forced off their land to make way for tree-planting projects, as evidenced by a World Rainforest Movement report documenting land disputes and human rights abuses at Mount Elgon, Uganda, where 300 families were chased off their land.
Other forms of offsets, like investing in clean technology, (members of the public usually donate to wind-farm developments) might show more promise than tree-planting. But again, there are risks. Without proper documentation, regulation and information disclosure, people could just get swindled into donating to failed projects. Wikipedia cites:
-widespread instances of people or organizations buying worthless credits that do not reduce
-companies profiting from doing very little to actually reduce emissions
-a shortage of verification making it difficult for buyers to confirm the value of their donations
Investments in clean-tech could be a good form of offsets. With regulation. Maybe.
Whatever happens in the whole offsets business, the fact remains that we need to CUT emissions, not try to balance them out. That means nixing the SUVs and the drives to places within walking distance. That means saving energy, and practicing the 3R concept. Whatever governments say or do, we, the people, have the real power to save Earth.
Monday, November 16, 2009
Even as I speak, the very last polar bear may be dying of hunger on account of climate change, on account of us. And I will sure miss the polar bears. Their babies are so warm and cuddly and trusting, just like ours. --Kurt Vonnegut, Armageddon in Retrospect.
We’ve got 100 years left with polar bears. So says the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. One hundred years before the Arctic’s most iconic beast–now the poster animal for global warming–can no longer find food, and joins the ranks of saber tooth tigers, mastodons, and woolly rhinos. But there still is hope. So says Richard Ellis.
My own- There are actually various reports on the scale of the crisis. Polar bears being seen with one cub, instead of the usual two are one. Dead bears found on the ice- two or three as reported by one National Geographic journalist- is another indication. But they all agree on the same thing. Fail to act against global warming, and that's the end of the bears that captivated our childhood imaginations (no offence, Mr. Panda).
My own- See those smashed up bits of ice? They're not supposed to be there, not in areas previously frozen all year around. Note the rounded edges. To photographer Mitusaki Iwago's ice, the loss of the floes' sharp edges is also due to global warming. That the imposing image of a creation so mighty, it claimed the Titanic, is becoming more "gentle" is another example of how man has stripped the Earth of its' dignity.
The Hopenhagen blog- As for the upcoming Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, drastic measures are a crucial component to the bears' survival. "... Resolutions passed to diminish global warming and the spread of greenhouse gases will have a direct impact on the bears. How could they not? Polar bears, more than any other species are dependent upon the Polar ice cap for their survival, and unless steps are taken to slow down the melting, the bears, without their life-saving ice pack, will swim into oblivion."
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Now, I know what you're thinking. Just choose green energy sources and you'll be fine right? Wrong. You are hampered by the real challenges facing these technologies today. For example, you can only use solar sparingly, due to the high cost. After 3 or 4 wind turbines, you will be prevented from installing anymore due to geographical and supply concerns. Most of the time, you have to use petroleum at least once due to such constraints.
After a round, you are given the chance to choose which further cause you want to pursue- usually moderate efficiency or aggressive efficiency. You are also dealt a couple of random events, showing how your choices work out in future, and the effect of these events on your impact meters. Things like 'renewed violence in the Middle East limits petroleum supply' or good stuff like 'ethanol produced from switchgrass improves environmental impact'.
Bottom line, I placed 56698 out of 399170 players. I generally did better than the comparision scores, especially when I narrowed down the comparision to Malaysia. Maybe this shows how far we have to go to go green.
We really should start brushing up on our green knowledge. There is no other backup planet for us.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In many ways, this scenario represents all that is terrible about the human cost of environmental degradation. Those responsible for global warming and every other scourge of the Earth are caused by the rich, and the effects borne out by the poor. As the rich clamor for exotic fish on their table, and to hell with overfishing, native populations are torn apart as fishermen migrate to towns to find work, resulting in unemployment, crime and juvenile delinquency.
But, it's not the rich's problem, is it? No, because that delicious, buttery bluefin tuna matters a hell of a lot more than a child's life. And who cares if an entire mountain buries slums due to deforestation? Not the rich.
Which brings us back to the problem. Kelantan and Terengganu are, arguably, Peninsular Malaysia's poorest states. All the rich states- Selangor, Penang, Johor, maybe Perak- lie along the West Coast. And it is the fast growing class of rich people in these states who drive gas-guzzling SUVs, throw out waste by the ton, build factories that flout environmental laws, and attempt to use up as much resources as they can. Penang and KL are the worst example of crass, sickening, don't-give-a-damn-about-others mentality, where the rich can buy a 2nd penthouse metres away from filthy slums.
And now K&T are paying the price for the Malaysian rich's sickening individualism. Have a heart people. You won't die without an SUV, or sharks' fin soup, or even without that over-packaged tech toy and mountains of plastic bags. The Earth crisis is already lapping at our shores- literally. Do you rich Penangites and KL-ites want to wait for the floods to sweep you away personally? No amount of SUVs will help.
Let's pray for our brothers and sisters in K&T. More importantly, let's pray for our cold hearts of stone, that we may finally start moving to save the Earth. Amen.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Besides news from the movement's frontline, guest authors will, from time to time, post pieces to move leaders to action. I'll try, whenever I don't have pieces to post myself, to repost some of the content on the Hopenhagen Blog.
In the meantime, sign up to the Hopenhagen petition; the link's on the left. Adios, and God bless.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Sadly, the chance that the Copenhagen deliberations will fail is all too high. After all, the U.S., still does not have climate-change legislation and developing countries rely on rich nations to help them slash emissions. Powerful interest groups who will be harmed by a deal to cut carbon emissions, like oil workers and agribusinesses (who worry the abandonment of not-so-green corn ethanol), relentlessly campaign to block government action and influence the negotiations at Copenhagen.
There are a number of possible outcomes of Copenhagen. The worst case scenario is that the talks might derail completely, with leaders storming out in a huff, and effectively dooming our planet.
Then, there's the other extreme. We might actually come up with a comprehensive plan that really combats global warming, with all the necessary changes- electric cars, wind power, green technology transfers, etc. with a punishment of crippling sanctions to noncompliant signatories. The challenges then would come from failure to implement these changes due, perhaps to corruption and mismanagement.
Realistically, however, what might result from the negotiations is a treaty that occupies the middle ground, with just enough emissions cuts to appease greens, yet with numerous concessions, conditions and enough fine print to take the edge off the cuts. Such a deal won't be enough to combat global warming effectively. At best, this kind of treaty would buy us some time, delaying points of no return enough for us to revisit the issue again to come up with a better treaty. Given world leaders' track record on global warming, this is the most likely outcome of Copenhagen.
We can push our leaders to a better deal this December. Sign the hopenhagen.org petition at left. Then spread the word to turn up the voice for change. Two minutes is all you need. Earth needs you. Don't let it down.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
A clean bill of health (noun): The world record of being fully healthy without any diseases at all. Once commonplace before 2050, there has only been one such person since 2052.
Air (noun): The mixture of gasses, mainly nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, that constitute the atmosphere, and are harmful to living things. Oxygen, once abundant, in air is now carried in special tanks (see 'gas tank')
Air corridor (noun): Special, cleared routes for aircraft to fly in, which, unlike the air surrounding them, is clear of smog (see 'smog')
Air plants (noun): A primitive method of growing plants in the air, discontinued since 2050, when the air ended up killing plants grown in this method. (see 'air pollution')
Air pollution index (noun): A numerical scale used for measuring how polluted the air is. In 2050, the maximum point of this scale has been increased numerous times, from 300, to 500, to 750, etc. As of 1st Jan 2120, it currently stands at 2050. (see 'air pollution')
For now, these entries are unthinkable, but they could become reality if we persist with huge petrol guzzling SUVs, needless air conditioning, and if we refuse to recycle. Start a change. Save the world.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
For starters, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition does not have any solid political ideology, its' sole aim being to defeat the governing Barisan Nasional coalition. In no other circumstances, except sheer, power- hungry desperation would a secular party focusing mainly on economic interests team up with staunch Islamists who perceive development as the product of infidels. For a while, this conflict of interests was tempered by the work of Anwar Ibrahim, but with an impending sodomy trial and having apparently vanished off the headlines, infighting over issues like sharia law could seal the coalition's doom.
It is the aforementioned power-hungry desperation that leads to other, more pressing problems like party-hopping. Even assuming that the BN does not lure away PR politicians with money or power, the defections as a result of PR's shoddy coalition makes perfect sense. It would be the desire to overthrow BN that leads politicians to join PR, exacerbated by Mr. Ibrahim's grand promise that PR would take over on Sept. 16, 2008. Frustrated at PR's slow progress, and lacking a clear, collective political ideology to hold on to, politicians would thus feel no qualms about switching to the governing coalition.
It doesn't help that Pakatan's stand on issues is unclear, at best. At worst, keeping the coalition together has prevented them from coming out with concrete policy plans, apart from chants of "Abolosh ISA" or "Makkal Sakthi (People's Power)". The reformist premership of Najib Tun Razak, however, has blunted the former sharpness of these criticisms, and made their lack of policy plans ever more glaring. If indeed PR wants to become a viable government in future, it needs to have sound economic, social, political and environmental policies. Since Malaysians are largely bread-and-butter voters, the key to power is to communicate these issues to the masses, making them understand how these affect their lives.
One problem with PR which could be turned into an opportunity is foreign policy. Ever since its' creation, PR has offerred little or no comment on international incidents, with most of its' politicians, except Mr. Ibrahim, lacking experience on a global stage. BN's current foreign policy tasks, though, haven't been great shakes either, certainly compared to their zenith under Mahathir Mohammad, Malaysia's 4th Prime Minister- think Bosnia-Herzegovina and the 'Look East Policy'. PR could win points by cleaning up its' act enough to start slamming BN for its' repeated clashes with both Indonesia and Singapore, especially over popular street food and cultural elements.
In conclusion, PR needs to do a lot of work and soul-searching if it really wants to change Malaysia. Does it really want power so badly that it's willing to throw common sense out the window? Disbanding the coalition might cede victories to BN in the short term, but done right, it'll merely be the calm before the storm. And heaven knows the BN surely will face a storm one day.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
These parties have an ideology vastly different from other political parties. They are typically values and people-oriented, emphasizing decentralized governments, human-centred technology, renewable energy, grassroots democracy and values like co-operation, nurturing and peacemaking. While many parties call themselves 'green parties' (non-capitalized) their environmentalism is often challenged by economic worries, and can be laden with protectionist measures, thus ignoring other aspects of sustainability. By contrast, the values mentioned above are the core pillars of Green Parties (capitalized).
In Asia, however, Green Parties have, for the most part, yet to make a significant (or even minor) impact on local politics, and the reasons for this are complex and diverse. Firstly, it comes from the nature of politics across the continent. Not only do parties campaign on strictly traditional bread and butter issues, political arrangements like coalitions, especially those with the sole aim of gaining power, pose a formidable challenge to Green Parties. If making inroads among voters proves difficult, Green Parties will find coalition arrangements unviable; with limited seats and clout, to realize green policies, the core promises of Green Parties could remain unfulfilled, effectively alienating a Green Party's voter base.
The reason for that limited voter headway comes from the nature of Asian society at this point in time. Asia's rapidly developing economies are typically export-based carbon-belchers- focusing on manufacturing and large scale agriculture (palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia). This, coupled with the ever-present Asian attitude of 'the Americans started global warming', makes governments refuse large investments in green technologies, for fear that it would hurt their economies. The rapid growth in the region has also fueled a rampant culture of pollution-producing materialism, as Asia's nouveau riche aim to spend on fast cars, luxury crocodile skin bags and shark's fin soup, besides not giving a damn about tommorrow.
Still, for a party with the ideals of the Greens, it can still garner widespread support, with a little charisma and creativity. Targeting the youth would be an integral first step, as social and environmental awareness- green is, after all, the new pink- is increasing among this age group. Not only that, pitching its' case to victims of environmental crises, like Haryana, India's pesticide-poisoned farmers, would boost the Greens, thanks also to its' clearly stated political ideology that trumps the anarchy element in some Asia opposition parties- think Malaysia's Pakatan Rakyat.
In conclusion, it's time for Asian visionaries to begin preaching a different gospel of government, one that is not just green, but pure of heart as well. The whole of Asia going Green might just be what eco-crusaders need, but the challenges that kill other political dreams- corruption, cronyism, infighting- must be well negotiated too. Tread with caution, Greens.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Oil exploration is one area in which governments have failed spectacularly, as its' presence sparks a loss of all common sense in our leaders, We are all familiar with oil spills and leaks, but this goes a lot deeper. Their conduct, especially when facing the current oil shortage is disgraceful; instead of using the shortage to push for biofuels, solar power or hydrogen fuel, they instead began leasing new oilfields in ever-more fragile areas, A good example is Alaska's icy North Slope and the Beaufort Sea. Needless to say, drilling for much harder-to-reach oil pockets is more environmentally damaging, more threatening to local population and more costly.
When it comes to fisheries, governments are again incapable, insensible and at times dishonest. Set fishing quotas often lack enforcement; officials are also often heavily corrupt. This allows fishing companies to catch double/ triple the allowed amount. Nations which import plenty of endangered fish, like Japan and China, enact laws full of loopholes, like Japan's phony scientific-whaling laws. Many poorer nations, meanwhile, allow excessive exports of fish to foreign markets, leading local fishermen to use illegal nets to capture thousands of fish in the hope that they will catch expensive fish like shole or shrimp. Their nets usually grab 'bycatch'- fish like rays, squid, etc., which they dump overboard, exploiting a lack of laws on such practices and wasting valuable protein for their starving people on shore.
Judge governments by their record on shipping and most deserve to be chucked out of office. Aging ships, lacking laws mandating sustainable disposal, often travel to ship breaking yards in developing countries, usually India, which are devoid of stringent environmental laws. Polychlorinated biphenyls and asbestos are typically leached into the seas, as the hulls are discarded in ship graveyards. Governments have also failed to control ship movement in areas rich in sea grass, which, upon destruction by ship propellers, could trigger crashes in aquatic populations.
Moreover, governments the world over have impeded conservation by not assisting scientific research. Ocean agencies (unless they deal with oil exploration), and national parks agencies, typically are not granted high budget allocations. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Research Program Act of 2009 only granted $33.5 million dollars to the NOAA for 2009 purposes, while two U.S. commissions recommend the budget for ocean research be doubled. Governments also ignore scientific predictions and studies about how development could affect oceans; as in the North Slope case, the Alaskan and federal American government repeatedly ignored warnings of reduced biodiversity.
Now, the public needs to extensively broaden its' knowledge of what it can do to save our seas. Following Greenpeace and WWF campaigns on the issue is a very good start, as are changing our own habits that cause the problem- no more sharks' fin soup, turtle eggs, or bluefin tuna sushi. Awareness is the first step to dragging the conspiracy out of the shadows and finally killing it dead.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
To my mind, Europe perfectly capable of charting its' own course. Despite an European Parliament election fiasco, in which fringe groups like the Pirate Party won seats, it continues to have rather capable (if somewhat uncharismatic) leaders, like Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. These are backed up by fresh, progressive politicians and a recovering economy that should be enough to handle problems like immigrant integration, Silvio Berlusconi, internal problems, interstate oil pipelines and foreign conflicts, like Somalia and Afghanistan.
In fact, Europe has been showing some signs of independence from America recently, which makes its' current search for American leadership all the more puzzling, starting with the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and Nicolas Saarkozy's reaction to Russia's attack on Georgia. While the then-outgoing Bush administration dithered before condemning both combatants, Mr. Sarkozy immediately flew to the area to begin peace talks. The war eventually ended with a six-point peace treaty brokered by Mr. Sarkozy, showing Europe can act remarkably if he wants to, or if it feels threatened enough.
Truth be told, the Europeans can (and maybe already do) lead the way on a number of pressing global issues. They are weathering the economic storm as well as, or maybe better than, the Americans, thanks to the Euro, and their social security systems (as in France). On energy policy and climate change, America could learn a thing, or two, or three from Europe. Nuclear power supplies 78% of French electricity, without any nuclear accidents, while Germany, Spain and Italy make up 3 of the world's top 5 solar leaders, and Britain is the first country to put legally binding limits on carbon emissions. Science and technology is also alive and well in Europe, as evidenced by industrial biotech operations in France and the Netherlands.
Europe can also rest assured due to a simple fact: that it actually shares many common interests with the U.S. Both share a keen desire for obvious causes like world peace, globalisation and "democratization". Working towards these, Europe can rest assured it will seldom clash with America, unless it insists on stupid ideas like releasing convicted terrorists. In any case, Vice-President Joe Biden has also started tackling key European issues in four visits there this year. Still, a strong, Cairo- type speech by Mr. Obama himself, setting specific policy targets, would help in issues like Russia and Muammar Kaddafi.
Europe should thus responsibly realize its' immense capabilities, to check the rise of overdependence on America. Its' leaders should remember that, as Mr. MacShane put it, while "a tradition [of the personal American stroking of European leaders brought] peace, prosperity, freedom and democracy to the European continent" such sentiment might not be so welcome now. After all, 70 % of Germans blame the U.S. for Germany's economic slump.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Parisians, in particular, have an especially powerful desire to green their city, and any barren space is thus turned into a park. This is, obviously, good for the environment, and subsequently, on city-dwellers' health. There is growing proof that leaves filter and trap pollution: in Chicago 234 tons of particulates, 98 tons of nitrogen dioxide, 93 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 17 tons of carbon monoxide are removed by trees. The phenomenon known as urban heat islands are also reduced as greenery provides shade, through transpiration, cooling water vapour. As a result, lifespans are lengthened; the French clock in at 80.98 years, while the equally green Japanese enjoy 82.12.
Vast city parks also have perceptible effects on human, especially child, development. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we humans evolved in a natural environment, unaccustomed to smokestacks and sirens. In an October 2006 article in National Geographic Magazine, Jeniffer Ackerman presented scientists' suspicions that green spaces boost voluntary attention, which controls how we cope under pressure; city life, naturally, makes us grumpy. A study by Frances Kuo of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory found that people living near greens were less agressive, scored better on concentration tests and managed daily problems more effectively.
The study also found that those dwelling in greener areas had a stronger sense of community- and its not hard to see why. Before the advent of air-conditioned megamalls and cybercafes, parks were the top meeting places for most people. Even now, they offer a sense of romance and companionship. Community gardens go a step further- various races coming together to share green thumbs in Paris are likely instrumental in maintaining goodwill. As Muslims also manage chicken "farms" in urban New York, expanding and upgrading public parks might give a little extra push to 1Malaysia.
But, selling these ideas about green spaces in Asia is hard, primarily because municipal governments and the public still oppose a city lot with only plants and no profits. Typically, authorities cover this materialism with arguments that they have no more space for parks, but then a stroll through Ipoh city reveals exactly the opposite: plenty of unused, disease breeding areas that could become parks. Parks are also, sadly, the first public amenities to be deprived of funding by cash-strapped towns, no thanks to their significant erection and maintenence costs.
This illustrates yet again that environmentalism improves our world by far more than simply cleaning our air or cooling our Earth. We all know we are but a strand in life's web, so improving the state of that web will benefit both our bodies and minds. How long before those providing the force for change outmuscle the inertia?
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
There are all sorts of savings to be found in emissions reductions, a combination of certain methods would save the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars while cutting 1.3 billion tons of CO2 annually. Savings mostly come from buildings' emissions reduction, and, even in other areas, cuts that save money typically emphasize efficiency. In the U.S., for example, using data from a March 2009 National Geographic, more efficient electronics in homes would cut emissions 100 million tons a year, saving 9.3 billion dollars, while cellulosic biofuels slash 600 million tons of carbon, saving 3.2 billion dollars even with its' research costs factored in.
But most, if not all, CO2 cuts that require high initial investments eventually save, or begin generating profits. Distributed photovoltaic solar power in the U.S. costs 29.4 billion dollars, but then, a barrel of sunlight won't cost $176 (unlike oil). Nor do you need huge armies to control the sun. Some methods to cut emissions just need a little promotion and publicity before they start raking in revenue. Consider a freeze in deforestation in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil, which would require some primetime ad spots to overcome the fall in timber revenue and inject profits into these nations' economies.
Going green would also allow for diversifying of economies, especially of those tethered to such volatile commodities like oil (the Middle East) or diamonds (large parts of Africa), or on easily tamperable financial products (loans, mortgages, etc.). Green technologies would boost rural economies (like through cellulosic ethanol) long outshone by industrialization, and kickstart domestic demand (by marketing efficiency to consumers as value for money). More importantly, countries which develop and export CO2 reducing technologies would find steady sources of income from buyers looking to overhaul their energy systems, like the Spanish building solar power plants for American utility companies.
Economic benefits also come from better foreign relations with new allies other than the U.S. Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader has called for a retreat to Asia in foreign relations. Viewed with the DPJ's green-mindedness, Japan could work with China on the latter's green car project, bringing technological bravura and much- needed quality control. Branching out from this, Japan can begin supplying high-end products (like laptops, Walkmans and HDTVs) to China's newly wealthy, while thrifty Japanese consumers would benefit from an influx of cheap Chinese products. African economies would likely benefit more from, say, cellulosic ethanol partnerships than from condition-laden loans from the U.S.
Clearly, we have a lot to gain from going green, and companies and governments should see this. A profound change in mentality needs to start now, not just for our environment, but also for the millions of poor who would benefit from a greening of our minds.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The first reason is the nature of sheet ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Snow covering the ice prevents it from melting by reflecting the sun's light and heat; however, once global warming melts the snow, the dark ice (or worse, rock) underneath absorbs heat much faster, defying predictions made only a year ago.
The meltwater produced as a result also absorbs more heat due to its' darker colour. But meltwater is dangerous to ice because it plunges into open moulins and crevasses, breaking up the ice and lubricating its' base. The ice then flows much faster to the sea, where warm ocean currents continue to eat away at the already ravaged ice.
Perhaps more devastating is what is released, not exposed, once ice sheets melt: CO2. Recent research shows that icecaps hold in carbon dioxide from millions of years ago, and that this is released back into the atmosphere once the ice melts. This accelerates the melting of ice, perhaps more so because heat is now trapped closer to the poles itself.
There are two main effects of this acceleration of melting, the first being an impact on polar wildlife. Much more than we already know, ice is central to these animals' lives; phytoplankton, producers in the Antarctic food web, grow on the underside of ice; ice depletion could thus drive bowhead whales to extinction. Polar bears and ringed seals need ice to rest and rewarm in between swims, and with ice melting, they are forced to make longer, riskier swims, causing scientists to fear the extinction of polar bears sometime this century.
Moreover, ice-melting predictions being proved wrong will also impact how the formulation of climate-change policy. Many scientists have now revised ideal atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 or 300 parts-per-million, down from a previous 450 ppm. The EU has agreed to temperature cuts of 2 degrees Celsius, which will amount to an 85% emissions reduction. More worrying is how the sudden unreliability of ice models has caused renewed bickering over global warming prevention; geoengineering is now being bandied about as a real option, but is heavily criticized ethically (will we still be willing to cut emissions significantly?) and scientifically ( a parasol in space won't solve ocean acidification)
As we approach a point of no return, one model remains unchanged: that we need to drastically cut emissions now. It we don't, then just like the computer models, our climate will go right out of whack too.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Part of the problem is due to the Western world misunderstanding the nature of these terror groups. They are commonly referred to as Islamic terror networks- implying that Islam somehow condones terror, when anyone even slightly familiar with the religion knows it does nothing of the sort. When such rhetoric is spouted by American and European leaders, it gives radicals a basis for the claim that everything the West does is part of a plan to destroy Islam. Using this rhetoric and basing such claims on them, Islamic radicals can then obtain support among (mainly poor Muslims) by saying it is a Muslim's duty to oppose the so-called 'enemies of Islam'.
It would also help reconciliation efforts if Western leaders were to end military efforts against Muslim countries. And if they were to stop forcing democracy on Muslim countries, a process which has created nothing but failed states worldwide. On that score, the West should realize that theocracy, or monarchy can govern a country just fine, better, perhaps, than democracy in certain places.
Thus, a good beginning is to stop calling terrorists Islamic terror networks. The proper term is radical-Islamic terror networks, as there has to be an understanding that these people are different from regular Muslims, who don't take radical views of the Quran. Additionally, states that successfully integrate other faiths, like Indonesia, should be given due and appropriate recognition, but not to the point that an implication is given that Islam is somehow unfriendly.
The onus now is on the West to continue efforts to understand and accept the Muslim world, not as a reluctant ally, but as a close brother and equal. Similarly, Muslim leaders should not be overly paranoid about the West and be willing to find common ground, especially on sore points like Israel. And, times like Ramadan are excellent opportunities for bonding. Dates, anyone?
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Deep ecology is actually a branch of ecological philosophy that places a greater value on both human and non-human species alike, as well as on the ecosystem and processes in nature, and establishing environmental and green movements. Wikipedia states that: "The core principle of deep ecology is the claim that, like humanity, the living environment as a whole has the same right to live and flourish. Deep ecology describes itself as "deep" because it persists in asking deeper questions concerning "why" and "how" and thus is concerned with the fundamental philosophical questions about the impacts of human life as one part of the ecosphere".
Therein lies the first difference between deep and 'shallow' ecology- shallow ecology views humans as separate from their environment, and is concerned about environmental preservation purely because of human interests. 'Shallow' ecologists, therefore, are worried about such matters as which countries will be flooded due to climate change, certainly noble, but they ignore issues like global warming's effects on wildlife and biodiversity.
Second, deep ecology rejects the industrial worldview of 'mechanical mechanism', instead seeing the world as a whole. It refutes claims that the world can be broken down into separately and independently existing parts for analysis. It therefore understands that global warming caused deaths of butterflies (a real example) will have bigger ramifications further up the food chain, as opposed to a shallow ecologist's blunt "They're dead butterflies. So what?"
And, lastly, shallow ecology accepts that the dominant ideology is of economic growth. Therefore, in a shallow ecologist's mind, how much he should spend on green programs are always dictated by the cash he has readily available, and by the cheapest such programs he can get away with. Stopping oil-sands projects in favour of detailed environmental studies (another real example) are therefore out of the question; plus, green programs that might not be effective but can pull in revenue (like eco-tourism- its' impact on animal lifestyles is highly debatable) are always their favoured choice of environmental policy. Deep ecologists, however, understand that environmental concerns take foremost priority over economic ones.
In short, it is high time we show shallow ecology the door, along with its' methods of saving the planet, especially geoengineering. To stop global warming and every other environmental problem, we are going to think real deep.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Therein lies CE's first promise; it would have a much higher fuel yield. Since all plants are made up of cellulose, agricultural residue, forestry wastes, paper pulp, fast- growing prairie grasses and even algae could be used for fuel. Switchgrass yields up to 800 gallons of ethanol per acre per year, double that of corn, and equal to the current 'numero uno' ethanol crop, sugarcane, and one acre of algae could even yield up to 5000 gallons a year. These yields are augmented by the fact that CE crops can grow on arid, infertile land unsuitable for food crops. The potency of this combination of factors is revealed in the 2000 acres of algae farms in the Sonoran Desert that could double current U.S. ethanol production.
Plus, CE is also greener than petroleum, obviously, and other ethanol crops. Food crops require carbon belching technologies (aircraft, harvesters) during production, and sugarcane fields are burned to ease harvesting by hand. CE thus has a 85- 91% CO2 reduction compared to petroleum, which is greater compared to corn ethanol (22%), soy biodiesel (68%) palm oil (28%) and sugarcane (56%). CE crops also don't require soil- unfriendly pesticides, fertilizers or irrigation, and require less nutrients, besides causing less or no soil erosion, and providing wildlife habitats. Besides, bags of algae hung outside factories could soak up emissions.
Moreover, the economics (and politics) of CE also look promising. Adopting CE as our main fuel would save on petrol and other biofuel-crop subsidies, like corn. Governments and companies would also save on costs to defend Middle Eastern oilfields, and deprived of a global need for petroleum, Russia and the Middle East can no longer use fuel as political or economic leverage. Still, CE needs to be cheaper than petrol for these benefits to come through; its' current high price is the reason why it's not commercially produced. Since these costs have even forced temporary shutdowns of research reactors, a lot of work does need to be done here.
The next potential benefit of CE is its' actual usefulness as a fuel. CE can be used for almost all the current uses of petroleum; certain types of algae can be used to brew jet fuel. The energy ratios of CE also look promising; its' maximum of 1 unit of energy input to 36 units of enrgy output shames corn (1:1.3), sugarcane (1:8) pal oil (1:7), soy biodiesel (1:2.5) and even petrol (1:10.5). However, current production methods (heating with concentrated acids to hydrolyse cellulose into sugar) inlock only 45% of the energy available in plant matter, compared to the 85% unlocked during oil refining. Scientists, however, think they've found the answer: genetically modifying bacteria which digest cellulose in the guts of termites.
CE is thus in a position where its' surprisingly diverse promises could be killed by its' challenges, which pander to man's worst instincts of greed, mediocrity and molestation of the Mother Earth. These shackles have always restrained us as a species, but now, can we break them?
**For a longer, more detailed version of this article, leave a note in the Cbox, or drop me a comment, with your e-mail add. I'll send this to you as soon as possible. -Noel.
Monday, August 24, 2009
With that in mind, it's time to start figuring out the 2nd green revolution, and the first step requires no more than common sense in the form of sustainable farming. Since past green revolution techniques (lots of pesticides and chemical fertilizers) led to depleted aquifers and salinized soils, crop rotation, polyculture, composting, agroforestry, biological control and interplanting with legumes need to be mandated. Green agriculture would preserve and improve soil health, meaning production can be increased without clearing forests, vital in slowing global warming, which also decimated crop yields.
It's also imperative that this revolution be properly brought to Africa. The first never came here due to corruption, mismanagement, rickety infrastructure and cost, which forced Africans to export crops, leaving themselves hungry. Development aid packages should now focus less on industrialization and more on providing hybrid seeds and training to local farmers for sustainable farming. Both types of agriculture- high tech and sustainable- are beginning to take roor, the former via Malawi's Millenium Villages, and the latter through the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) project, so the challenge is to keep them both going.
Farmers' rights and welfare also make up an often overlooked, yet integral, aspect of sustainability. Farmers should be empowered to sell their own produce, eliminating unscrupulous middlemen, and should not be taxed for side products: e.g. selling catfish reared in paddy boxes. Plus, trickery like making high yielding varieties infertile (forcing farmers to keep buying new seeds yearly), coating seeds with chemicals, and sacrificing built in disease resistance during breeding (so that if chemical companies own seed breeding companies, as is common, those companies can sell more pesticides) should all be outlawed so that farmers need not sell their produce to pay for the costs of farming. This will enable agricultural societies to have sufficient food and income.
Of course, biotechnology and targeted breeding are also vital in this revolution. New crop varieties must be created with increased drought tolerance, nitrogen efficiency, pest resistance and photosynthesis rates (making more with existing sunlight and water resources). Unlike in the past, new varieties should produce high varieties without relying on pesticides and fossil-fuel based fertilizers.
The onus is now on governments and scientists to merge immediate results with long term sustainability. I'm praying for food, farmers and fertility, that this Green Revolution may be one of multicoloured harmony.
*For a longer, more detailed version of this article, leave a note in the Cbox, or drop me a comment, with your e-mail add. I'll send this to you as soon as possible. -Noel.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
Here, Medivh and Khadgar ponder the nature of time, in relation to the visions at Karazhan Tower.
The focus of their thoughts is whether or not time is a clock, mechanical and ordered, or an hourglass, a reasonably reliable timekeeper, but random, and unpredictable, since a grain of sand will never end up in the same position twice.
Of course, not being God, it's impossible to really answer the question, but we are all entitled to our choice. I'd go for the hourglass. Maybe because we can never truly predict our actions based on the past. Because humans have a streak of unpredictability that trumps orderly timekeeping. Or maybe I'm posting this because I'm stumped in the process of my next post. (It's currently 2 and a 1/2 pages long, and making it a page long is nigh impossible). A big apology to the Earth for wasting electricity. I won't switch on my air-con later.
Or maybe I will. After all, time is an hourglass. I could never really like an orderly, well- planned universe.
Maybe I will tomorrow.
One of PPSMI's aims was to improve the standard of English among Malaysian school students. Logically, how is this even possible? In both Maths and Science, the language used, be it English, Chinese or Urdu, is direct, terse and functional. Scientific language does not have even a minute grasp of the real beauty and essence of its' language medium. In the decision to teach both subjects in BM, no-one said that this was to improve the standard of BM, rather, the reason given for the reversal was to improve the understanding of both subjects. Similarly, PPSMI's main goal should always have been to make university level Science and Maths jargon easier to grasp, and not for the purpose conceived by the dolts that are our policymakers.
Plus, I doubt very much that the government was even serious about achieving this misguided main goal. Improperly training teachers in English, assigning those same teachers to teach Science and Maths, continuing with bilingual public exam papers, not penalizing spelling and grammatical errors in Science and Maths, etc, etc. In many places, especially rural areas, PPSMI was little more than a translation of textbooks, with little or no effort by teachers to teach and make sure students fully understood the subjects in English. In such a half-past-six environment, it's no wonder the erstwhile opponents of PPSMI were able to find enough ammo to shoot it down.
The replacement for PPSMI seems a rather decent attempt to boost the standard of English among students, and if properly implemented, could open up exciting new possibilities. Malaysian Man Booker Prize-winners! A new culture of literature and greater prominence of public intellectualism! But the new plans do not provide any methods to reverse the decline of the in Malaysian Maths and Science scores on the international stage. The vast, vast majority of scientific jargon is reserved for science, seldom or never used in regular spoken or written language, and will thus never get into English textbooks. This means that students will forever remain unknowing of these terms and at a disadvantage in both higher education and at workplaces. Contrasting language styles of standard, descriptive and scientific language also would result in hilarious and/ or disastrous consequences, mainly misinformation and delays, both intolereable in science.
In short, the soon-to-be-implemented English improvement system should be adopted in tandem with PPSMI. Malaysia needs both a higher level of command of English, and scientists who can hold their own and cooperate on a global stage. It's time to ignore the whining of both rural folks committed to a culture of mediocrity and the so called 'pembela bangsa dan bangsa'. Now's the time to move forward. If you can't take the heat, get out!
Saturday, August 22, 2009
There are three main aspects that Copenhagen must include, aside from a strong opposition io the usual whining from developed nations about the economy and costs. The first is standard: the reduction of emissions, which must now be more drastic, especially when compared to the paltry 7% required under the Kyoto Protocol. Princeton Researchers Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala say that to hold CO2 levels at 450 parts per million ,global emissions must be slashed 50% (or 12 billion metric tons) by 2057. Developing countries, previously "encouraged to develop sustainably", must now be given targets of their own that would allow for sufficient modernization: for example, as a developed country, country X must only emit 20% more CO2 than it did as a developing nation.
Secondly, any agreement reached in Copenhagen must include mandates for restoration of destroyed environments, which have resulted in irresponsibly high CO2 emission: e.g. deforestation via slash and burn. Restoration of such areas would also increase our environment's capacity to offset emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide and filtering the air for other pollutants. The restoration of such areas would provide a host of other benefits beyond emissions reductions, like wildlife habitats, improved soil quality, eco- tourism, and proliferation of water catchment areas.
Lastly, Copenhagen must become a launch pad for a complete shift in human mentality, a beginning for the greater realisation that man is merely a strand in the web of life. True, such a drastic paradigm shift will require far more than a treaty, and here is where Copenhagen's outcome is likeliest to fail, and failure here would be the worst of all. This is because if we fail here, then the perception that man should only preserve Earth for his own sake will begin to take root ("shallow" ecology over deep ecology) . This, in future,could cause a backtrack in genuine green efforts and a beginning in merely avoiding the effects of global warming, such as geoengineering. A treaty, however, could make it mandatory for participating countries to begin massive media campaigns to educate the public about going green.
These are my hopes, and also the hopes of all who really wish for an end to man's arrogance towards the environment. May our politicians turn Copenhagen from a frigid capital to a battlefield of victory for Earth, and not a boulevard of broken dreams.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Public vigilance, once very high, fell after media reports that there were no new infections, and that some of those infected had been cured and sent home. This could also be traced to a real weariness of crises, and a burning desire for a return to normalcy. After all, the economy had just imploded, and two great superstars passed on.People stopped washing their hands, stopped stiffling sneezes, and assumed sniffles were just the common cold. Some stopped being serious about their home quarantines.That's how the deaths came.
But its' not all the public's fault. Typical bureaucratic ham-handedness in handling the disease also resulted in the resurgence. Case in point, when certain public institutions of higher education got hit by the virus, the government chose to close down these institutions and send the students home. Honestly, what were they expecting? For the students, young, sprightly, free spirited, men and women, such an occasion would be nothing less than a holiday, and they would thus act accordingly. Dinners with family, outings and excursions with friends, would definitely spread the virus around.
It's sad that this had to happen, especially since I thought the outbreak was dying down. Now that it has, however, it's very prudent to relook and revisit prevention methods. This includes not sneezing in public, staying in if you have a cold and etc. On the government's part, they must immediately focus on acquiring newly-developed H1N1 vaccines, and stop blaming private hospitals. If humans are to be wiped out by a virus, lets at least make sure it's not the flu.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Films like Sepet (part of which was shot in my primary school), Gubra and most recently, Talentime, showed that despite the many profound differences between us, we can, and must, learn to live with each other. Veteran actress and close friend Fatimah Abu Bakar said,"She had a big heart and vision that we usually don’t understand. That was why people misunderstood her. But she never intended any malice". Other prominent industry veterans spoke along the same lines, reminding us that Yasmin's death represents a cruel blow against the forces of morality and tolerance, and a huge loss in a society already not richly endowed with morality. And, so now I ask, what has Yasmin taught us?
In many ways, the lessons she taught were no different from other great men and women: love thy neighbour, do unto others as you wish others to do unto you, honour your father and your mother, and so on. Yasmin showed us that regardless of our mother tongues, there is only one language we should speak: the language of love. The only difference is, film was her canvas, the canvas on which she displayed the art of loving.Just like Michael Jackson, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, she believed that whatever our faults, we have it in us to "tear down these walls," to "heal the world", to “be the change you want to see in the world.” But maybe best of all was that she "had a dream" and that she was determined to share it with us.
Like all the great people with so much love to give, she is no more... As with everyone else who wanted us to transcend skin colour, God loved her so much more. But there is a great poem by Mary Frye, which I think truly captures the fact that everytime someone extends a helping hand, Yasmin's spirit is there.
I'm not there; I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's rush,
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I'm not there; I did not die.
Thank you, Yasmin. Keep teaching us to love.
Friday, July 24, 2009
However, a nasty string of reports, articles and studies have emerged, all bearing news that turn palm oil biofuel (POB) from a Godsend against global warming into Satan. Esteemed scientific publications, such as Science, and National Geographic magazine have noted the various vagaries of POB, from environmental to social. Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, went as far as to say “As a biofuel, it (POB) is a failure”. Sadly however, the MPOC has responded to all this scientific evidence with allegations of protectionism, as shown in a 24 February 2007 article by its chairman, Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron. In addition to the allegations, Mr Basiron made several factual errors, supposedly to further the cause of POB. However, as USAToday noted, “palm oil’s lustre has faded on the biofuel scene” and here’s why, plus the reasons it should stay that way.
Forest destruction: The fact is, palm oil is a plant, and plants need land to grow. To get land in a country not known for its land area, like Malaysia, something has to go, and unfortunately, that something will be tropical rainforest. OilChange International estimates that if current rates of deforestation for oil palm plantations continue, 98% of Malaysian and Indonesian rainforest will be gone in just 15 years. The aforementioned ‘current rates’ are merely the rates that are needed for Malaysia to export POB, mainly to the European Union. If the entire Malaysian vehicle fleet is mandated to run itself on POB, I’m willing to bet that Malaysia won’t have any forests by the time I’m married (I’m 15+ now), since obviously the government will want a Malaysian company, perhaps SimeDarby to produce POB for local consumption. Willie Smits, who set up StarVision, a satellite mapping service that charts the rainforests’ decline, says “…the areas where companies are getting permission for oil palm plantations are those of high-conservation forest.” This means that as the craze for POB becomes more frenzied, species such as the Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant and Borneo’s orang-utans are going to be swept aside by chainsaws and bulldozers, whose onslaughts are masterminded by POB. In our earnestness to capture a slice of the world’s biofuel market, our natural species must not be victimised, and if it is the West who has realized this problem, then we must not cry foul and butcher these animals anyway. Malaysia has been designated as one of the world's 18 megadiverse countries largely because of these animals, which have also generated tourism revenue. Deforestation will also see other environmental problems, notably flash flooding, as powerful tropical storms erode the exposed soil, subsequently clogging up our rivers. Not only that, our rivers will also run dry and thus be unable to sustain marine life as water catchment areas will have been destroyed for oil palm plantations. Moreover, extensive deforestation would also contribute to rivers drying up during droughts, as forested land typically stores water and releases it back into nearby waterways during extreme dry spells. While its’ true that laws do exist to protect our forests, historically, how effective have they been? Let’s not take the risk, and eschew palm oil for our forests.
Social Crises: The forests in Malaysia don’t just provide shelter to flora and fauna, but also house vast communities of Orang Asli. Besides the environmental degradation caused by deforestation, these communities, already increasingly fragile, would suffer a possibly fatal blow if palm oil biofuel continues to be promoted. The fact is, these people feel a very powerful attachment to their home, even if the forest might not mean much to us. To them, it is an inseparable aspect of their lives, and they, dare I say it, value the jungle more than most of us value our brick houses. Malaysia’s Orang Asli have powerful cultural, spiritual and religious ties to every tree, clearing and moss covered boulder. Being forbidden to have fixed settlements, the Penans, for example, migrate every time there is a death in the community. The Ibans cannot build homes in parts of the forest in where they can hear the calls of certain types of birds, which are God’s messengers that bring warnings of hardship. Malaysia, does not have a proud record of dealing with the Orang Asli, ranging from indifferent to downright nasty. Having not adopted UN International Labour Organisation Convention No 169 (1989) that removes “assimilationist” orientated international standards towards indigenous rights, the government has also not sufficiently protected them in their natural residence, as proven by the recent barrage of news that Penan girls were raped by loggers in the area. Malaysian activist posted on his blog that the Penans “ancestral lands were seized for oil palm and acacia plantations as well as destroying their forests, the source of their food”. This goes to show that if we continue to promote palm oil, we could kill the Orang Asli.
Food vs. Fuel: Palm kernel oil is a surprisingly essential food product, being used in margarine, chocolate, cream, condensed milk, doughnut fillings, biscuits, cakes, swwets, cream for coffees, peanut butter, various baked products and even as a supplement in animal food. Palm oil is also used in frying, as it is resistant to high heat. Food products with palm oil, or palm kernel oil, last longer, give food products added volume, a softer texture and a far lower trans fat content. As such, people with obesity have been advised to opt for palm oil food products, plus, it’s generally cheaper than imported canola or olive oil. However, the past three years have seen a 90% jump in palm oil prices, and I would bet that it is in part due to the squeeze caused by expropriating food for fuel. Moreover, as the global food crisis deepens, global agriculture output can no longer keep up with consumption. While oil palm is not a grain, its usage as a meat supplement renders it vulnerable to the recent spike in newly- prosperous meat eaters, and its’ prices could increase again. If you’re a capitalist, or a farmer, that’s a boon, but to regular citizens, it’s a burden. This could also spell doom for health- conscious citizens, and eventually to the farmers, as annoyed consumers flee from palm oil in droves. And the government seriously does not need to spend precious ringgits trying to subsidize margarine.
The Effectiveness of Palm Oil as A Fuel: Measurement of effectiveness of any biofuel inevitably yields comparisions with petroleum. The obvious first question is price at the pump. Well, M.R. Chandran, former head of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association said that crude oil would now have to be as much as $130 a barrel before palm-oil-based biodiesel is competitive. As oil prices currently hover around $70 ($66.27 as of 3rd July 2009) a barrel, it’s safe to say that palm oil looks hopelessly outdone, and that despite EU mandates for 30% of vehicles to run on biofuel, consumers could be returning to petroleum as I write.Moreover, the energy balance of POB, which is the energy input vs. the output stands at an average of 7, compared to 8 for sugarcane ethanol and up to 36 for cellulosic ethanol. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, POB, like any other biofuel, is not carbon neutral. Heavy amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, like methane, nitrogen oxide and such, are released during cultivation, harvesting, transportation, and processing. In fact, the carbon released when tropical rainforest is cleared for oil palm plantations creates a carbon debt of 83 years, and if peatland rainforest is cleared, the debt soars to 423 years! Using all this data and statistics provided by National Geographic Magazine, October 2007 shows that the actual carbon reduction of POB is actually just 28% compared to petroleum, paltry, when you consider that to actually halt global warming, a reduction of 12 billion metric tons by 2057, a reduction of 50% is required . Palm oil biofuel, like all other food crops, is therefore unsuitable for our cars and trucks.
In conclusion, it is my sincere hope that the Malaysian government abandons any and all palm oil biofuel plans, both domestically and internationally, and directs funds to alternatives that are really green (hydrogen fuel cells and cellulosic ethanol). Scientists predict that not only is warming occurring faster than previously predicted, but that even if all emissions stop now, the Earth will still warm by about 3.6 degrees Celcius; so badly have we roasted our planet.We have only a small, fast closing window left to pull Earth back from a point of no return. Why then, do we keep bouncing off the walls?