Saturday, November 28, 2009


Anyone following our governments' efforts to unite to save the environment would surely notice a gaping rift, that between developing and developed countries. The former is represented by: the U.S. and fighting for the developing countries is the up-and-coming kingpin of the world economy: China.Side by side? Not when it comes to the environment.

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


Among mega-companies, offsets seem to be the buzzword when it comes to slashing CO2 emissions. In fact, it has even become popular among regular citizens seeking to go green while maintaining flights, pleasure cruises and the like.

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 qui
ck 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-pla
nting. 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


From the Hopenhagen Blog

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


In an attempt to raise awareness about energy and environmental issues, Chevron Corporation has started an online game called Energyville. It's actually very straightforward, you have to choose methods to power your city, while considering the economic, environmental and security impacts your choices have. The less impact, the higher the score.

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


As we all probably know, Kelantan and Terengganu's flood woes are about to get a lot worse due to the melting of the Siberian ice caps up north, a process that global warming is surely accountable for.

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


Hopenhagen, the global movement for climate action in Copenhagen, recently launched its' blog.
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.