Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Green Parties have long been a mainstay in First World politics, ever since the Values Party, as it was called in New Zealand, established a specific programme for such parties. Spread now throughout developed countries, they enjoy varying degrees of success, from having parliament reps (New Zealand, Australia) to being part of governments (Finland, Ireland) to probable spoilers in presidential elections (the U.S.)

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


Our seas, and the life they sustain, are under severe threat. Global fisheries' stocks have crashed in many places, leaving the small, native populations they once supported high and dry. Dying reefs and protein crises among Africans have also surfaced in recent years. The causes are many, but the main killers of our seas are: our governments.

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


In an article for Newsweek (Looking for Leadership, Sept. 7 2009) Dennis MacShane wrote about how European politicians fear the Obama Administration is ignoring the continent. The article went on to state how Europe needs American guidance and direction, and, after reading it, I was left puzzling: Why the heck?

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


It may surprise us developing Asians that Parisians, dwellers of one of the world's most spectacular cities, do not choke in their own smog. Nor do they rip out their hair after work. New Yorkers, meanwhile, don't even worry about having chicken to eat, daily! If your face is now green with envy, you just answered the question: it's due to city greenery, especially community gardens.

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


At least, green cars can. The Tesla Roadster, an all electric vehicle that is the choice of the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger is proof, as is the Toyota Prius. But BMW surely takes the cake with this beauty, the Vision EfficientDynamic concept car. With four-wheel drive in electric mode, killer styling, and its ability to hit 100 km/h in 4.8 secs, this one is sure to set your heart racing, sans the guilt about the environment. Of course, the turbodiesel engine on this hybrid is a bit of a setback, but with a milege of 62.5 miles per gallon and CO2 emissions at a low 99 g/km, does it really matter? Check it out here!

Friday, September 11, 2009


A pet peeve for governments and companies going green is the cost, both in funding green technologies and terminating profitable but polluting companies. This is partly due to inertia, and the uncertainty of making quick returns on investments. Truth is, environmentalism can generate as much as it expends.

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


Recent reports suggesting that glaciers and icecaps may be melting much faster than previously predicted, rubbishing computer models that predict melting as sluggish and gradual. At Greenland's ice sheet, for example, temperatures predicted at minus 20 had turned to rain in 2007. Why is this happening, and what does this mean?

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


As Muslims worldwide observe the holy month of Ramadan, we see even more chaos in the Middle East and other parts of the world by Islamic radicals. Yet, we also see a heartening effort to continue reaching out to Muslim communities in Western countries, like Barack Obama's iftar meals. Still, terror networks like al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah continue to destroy cities and ruin lives.

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


My copy of 'The Earth Report 2' contains an entry titled 'deep ecology', but i never actually read it, assuming it was a brief article on animals and plants that live in extremely deep parts of the ocean. How wrong I turned out to be when I finally read the entry.

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.