Sunday, November 30, 2008

Birth of a Golf Course; Death of a Rare and Ecologically Sensitive Stretch of Dunes

Balmedie country park, Aberdeenshire, Scotland: Sunset over the coastline
Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty
What you are looking at is a rare and ecologically-sensitive stretch of dunes overlooking the North Sea at Balmedie country park in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It is also about to be destroyed by lavish developments meant for the privileged few. Soon the only way this wonder of nature will be able to be enjoyed in its entirety will be in media form: photos, film, or some other printed matter.

What and who are powerful enough to convince a country to set aside a portion of the legal protection of this amazing; yet, fragile site in order to allow this project to begin?

The what is the game that was named after one of the club’s most important regulations: Gentlemen Only – Ladies Forbidden or GOLF. The who is the billionaire property developer with Scottish roots, Donald Trump.

Against all odds, Donald Trump won permission to build “the world’s greatest golf course”, complete with high-rise timeshare flats (apartments) and an eight-storey hotel. Despite the outcry from environmentalists and many local residents, Scottish ministers in Edinburgh confirmed that Trump’s dream of creating one of golf’s most northerly resorts could now get underway.

Trump’s dream is to build a £1 bn ($2 bn Cdn) coastal resort north of Aberdeen, Scotland which will cover 2,000 acres (809 hectares). His vision includes two 18-hole championship courses, four blocks of 950 timeshare flats, 500 “exclusive” homes, 36 villas, a golf academy and housing for 400 staff. There will also be a coast road named (***surprise***) Trump Boulevard.

The site he has chosen for this project is the Menie Estate which backs against some of the Foveran Links – a stretch of naturally-shifting sand dunes that are home to some of the country’s rarest wildlife, including skylarks, kittiwakes, badgers and otters. An environmentalist's dream literally in their own back yard. The resort's guests would have had the opportunity to view some of the rarest wildlife and shifting-sand dunes; while, not impacting the ecologically-sensitive area.

But wait...while Trump was obviously able to do what he wished on the Menie Estate itself, the permission he had fought so long and hard to obtain was the right to build nine of the eighteen holes of one course over one-tenth of the environmentally-protected Foveran Links.

At this point, it all seems very clear to me. The Foveran Links are ecologically-sensitive dunes legally protected against any and all harm. Neither Donald Trump nor anyone else is ever allowed to build on that land. Case over; move along; next case, please!

However, money talks and there are always those who are willing to put aside all concerns (including environmental) in the name of the almighty dollar.

The decision to remove the government protection from one-tenth of the dunes was welcomed by the local constituency, the first minister and leader of the Scottish National party, Alex Salmond, as well as numerous business and tourism groups which regard it as a boost to the regional economy.

Salmond, said, "In tough economic times, substantial investment of this kind is at a premium - 6,000 jobs, including 1,400 which will be local and permanent, is a powerful argument. It is entirely right and proper that the resources of the country are harnessed to boost one of our great industries, and tourism is a great Scottish industry."

Trump said: "It will be a tremendous asset and source of pride for both Aberdeenshire and Scotland for many generations ... because of the quality of the land we are given to work with, we will build the greatest golf course in the world."

Next blog: At what cost environmental encroachment and WHO is the man in the picture below?

Balmedie: Fisherman Michael Forbes refuses to sell his land to make way for the development
Photograph: Ed Jones/AFP/Getty

Saturday, November 29, 2008


There are many diets out there that are aimed at reducing your carbon footprint. An example of this is the “food mile” diet. In this diet, you only eat food that is grown or produced with a certain number of miles from where you live. The idea being that you save the emissions and pollutants released from the petroleum products used to transport this produce long distances from entering the atmosphere.

At first flush this seems sensible, proactive and oh, so, green. However, what it (and many other diets) doesn’t take into account are the many other factors involved in getting foodstuffs from farm to dinner plate. That is where ecotarianism comes in. Ecotarianism has a charmingly common-sense approach that is also amazingly well-rounded.

The concept is simple: eat the foods that have the lowest environmental burden. That is, the products with the lowest global-warming potential (GWP) and cause the least physical harm to the environment with soil acidification and pollution.

Cooking Up a Storm (by Tara Garnett, University of Surrey, UK) is considered by many to be the ecotarians’ bible. So what does going ecotarian mean? Do you have to eat food that is either grown in your own back yard or field next door? Must you never eat meat again? What next – will they soon be encouraging you to graze your front yard not mow it?

A few changes will have us all eating healthier and eating more foods with a lower GWP. The following is an example of how things are not always what they seem on the surface.

If you lived in Germany and were asked: Which fruit juice would contribute the least damage to the environment in order to be sold in Germany – juice produced in Europe or juice produced in Brazil? What would you say?

In 2004, a German study compared fruit juice (from Brazil) with local European versions. They found that the smaller European producers used more energy producing and distributing their products than the Brazilian producers did.

A Swedish study of the perfect environmental diet suggests that we cut our intake of sweets by 50%. While this is good advice for everyone (not just ecotarians); it appears that it is the milk in milk chocolate that produces the greatest burden of all the sweets, so a good ecotarian eats only dark chocolate. (I knew there was an altruistic reason I loved dark chocolate, I just knew it!)

While many ecotarians will be vegetarians for personal reasons; ecotarianism does not demand vegetarianism. Rather, good ecotarians are discerning meat eaters. Pork and poultry have a lower environmental impact than meat from ruminants - cows in particular.

As a general rule in farming, organic, non-animal products are best as the organic system uses legumes to fix nitrogen in the soil rather than wasting fuel on synthetic fertilizers (with all the problems fertilizers and that run-off brings).

Frozen products are kept to a minimum as are chilled foods. Almost half of supermarket transport trailers are temperature-controlled (many of these travel huge distances) creating tremendous greenhouse gas burdens.

The thing that attracts me most to ecotarianism is the flexibility – the ability to call myself ecotarian (so people immediately understand my ideals) while still being able to imprint my own conscience on my lifestyle. I will never be called on to do something I feel uncomfortable with.

One issue I feel very strongly on and have had many a lively discussion with family, friends and total strangers about is the subject of eggs. I will only eat eggs from free-range, organic-fed, hens.

While some may say that commercially-raised chickens and eggs make ecotarian sense because they are cost-effective, are a nutritional source for many, and with high-efficiency feed conversion they appear to have the lesser eco burden; I say the cruelty to battery-hen operations outweighs everything and, very definitely, makes them non-ecotarian.

Just let me put my little soapbox aside...

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Warning To My American and Canadian Friends

Linens 'N Things are going out of business. While they are having some wonderful sales to liquidate their stock, they are not honouring their gift cards. Do not be fooled into buying someone's gift card, no matter how good the deal sounds, you will find yourself with a gift card you cannot use.

Circuit City is also on the verge of bankruptcy. Circuit City is the head company for Best Buy and Future Shop. A word of warning about purchasing gift cards from them as well. It may end up that their gift cards become as useless as Linens 'N Things gift cards. They may not; but, is it worth the chance? The same applies to anything electronic that carries a warranty through the store only. In order to satisfy the warranty the store must still be there.

If these stores are in your country, buy with caution.

When Bad Things Happen

Wednesday, November 26, 2008 was the scene of unspeakable horror in Mumbai, India as terrorists opened fire in the financial district that has left at least 143 dead and hundreds injured so far.

It soon became clear that foreign tourists and/or citizens, especially those from the US and UK, were being deliberately singled out by the gunmen for death.
One of the first targets chosen to be a scene of destruction was the Cafe Leopold, a famous hangout popular with foreign tourists.

The attackers also singled out British and US citizens staying in the upscale luxury hotels, the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi. The pictures and video aired on television showed how blood-thirsty and brazen these attackers were: two men were shown shooting at random as they drove through streets in a stolen police jeep.

The sieges at the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels seem to be over as dozens of stunned hostages have made it safely out of the hotels into the now empty streets of Mumbai - a city of 19 million.

Not long ago, Indian soldiers stormed the last hideouts of Islamist militants in Mumbai. Helicopters dropped masked Indian commandos onto the roof of the city's Jewish center where Islamist gunmen were still holding out. Bursts of gunfire and blasts from concussion grenades could be heard and felt in the streets around the Jewish center. The tear gas used to drive out the terrorists now wafted out into the streets.

At the time of this writing, the gunmen, thought to be between three and seven strong, are believed to be isolated on the third and fourth floors of the five-storey building. It is unknown whether they have hostages. The Indian army claims two gunmen had been killed at the Oberoi hotel.

After more than 24 hours of mayhem, gangs of heavily-armed young terrorists have attacked two luxury hotels, a hospital, a popular restaurant and a railway station.

World leaders were quick to condemn the attacks. The chorus was led by the US president-elect, Barack Obama, who vowed the US would work with "India and nations around the world to root out and destroy terrorist networks".

I have chosen photographs which I believe show the horror of the situation without being graphic. I know I have given thanks many times over in the last couple days that I, my family and friends are in a country that is still safe at this moment in time. I have prayed for my brothers and sisters in countries that are not safe. I weep for those involved in an attack that, unfortunately, will be remembered forever.

The aftermath of a blast in Colaba market
Photograph: Gautam Singh/AP

The aftermath of a blast in Colaba market
Photograph: Gautam Singh/AP

A suspected terrorist with a rifle outside the Chatrapati Shivaji railway station
Photograph: AP

A policeman escorts a survivor out of the Chatrapati Shivaji station
Photograph: AP

A policeman gives water to an injured child
Photograph: Reuters

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Found: A Previously-Thought Extinct Species

This gremlin look-alike has been rediscovered by scientists on a remote island in Indonesia. Presumed extinct until 2000, when they were rediscovered (as most are) completely by accident. Two scientist studying rats accidentally trapped and killed a pygmy tarsier. Previous to this, the last known specimen had been collected in 1921.

Recently, a team led by Sharon Gursky-Doyen of Texas A&M University captured three pygmy tarsiers. Gursky-Doyen’s team spent two months using 276 mist nets to capture the gremlin-like creatures as part of the survey they were conducting of Mount Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park on the Island of Sulawesi. (Mist nets are very fine nets especially designed to capture small birds or mammals with minimal stress to the species being captured. The nets are so fine the birds or small mammals cannot see them.)

These three individuals were outfitted with radio collars and will be tracked in an effort to gain a better understanding of their habits, movements, and other valuable information that may be used to help re-establish a thriving population. One other individual had been seen; but, unfortunately, evaded capture.

Pygmy tarsiers are extremely tiny weighing only 50 grams or 1.73 oz. They are among the smallest and rarest primates in the world. The biggest difference between them and their nearest cousin, the tarsier, is the size. The other is the fingers. The pygmy tarsier has claws instead of nails. Gursky-Doyen believes this to be an adaptation to its mossy habitat 7,000 – 8,000 feet (2,100 -2,440 meters) above sea level. She hopes this discovery will encourage the Indonesian government to enact stronger levels of protection for the mountainous park which is in danger of being encroached upon, exploited and deforested.

Sulawesi has been largely ignored by the conservationist community and its rich biodiversity is relatively unknown by scientists. Sulawesi has a high level of endemism: more than 60% of its mammals and more than 1/3 of its birds are found nowhere else on the planet (and those are just the ones we know about). They also have a large number of endemic freshwater fish and other animals.

Scientist believe that at one time Indonesia was once part of both Asia and Australia. They believe that fragments broke off from both continents and floated together to form the islands of Indonesia. One half of Indonesia has species that are more common to Asia while the other half has species that are more common to Australia. Of course, this created some very interesting changes and adaptations to the non-human inhabitants.

Close to the Wallace Line, in particular, (the line that naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, determined separated Indonesia into two distinct parts) the biodiversity created was so unusual, it inspired Alfred Russel Wallace to propose his own theory of natural selection thereby forcing Charles Darwin to publish his masterwork, The Origin of Species, before its time.

The neglect by conservationists, the lack of familiarity with Sulawesi’s biodiversity by scientists and the total lack of protection of its rainforests by the Indonesian government has been costly—Sulawesi's forests have fast been converted for agriculture, felled by loggers and degraded by miners. A new study, published in the journal Biotropica showed that roughly 80 percent of the island's habitats have been degraded or destroyed.

It may not be long before this cute little guy really is extinct.

To view a video of a tarsier (the grown-up cousin of the pygmy tarsier) see:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Solar Cemetery

Photo: Courtesy Associated Press

The destruction man has wrought upon the planet is starting to demand some creative measures to overcome and/or compensate for the damage done. It is going to require that people open their minds to solutions that may not be quite to everyone’s liking; but, minds will have to rethink traditional concepts if we are to have any chance of salvaging our planet.

And so, a small Spanish town outside Barcelona has found a unique way to make the best of a land-poor situation. They lack a sufficient amount of flat, sun-soaked available land on which to implement their renewable energy program. What to do?

Santa Coloma de Gramenet, a working-class town of 124,000, is crowded into only 1.5 sq. mi. (4 sq. km.). City officials had exhausted all options in their search to find viable spaces to set up more solar panels in an effort to continue expanding their solar energy program. The town already has four smaller solar installations on top of local buildings; so, they are already used to utilizing non-traditional spaces.

Some might say the spot finally chosen might have been just too non-traditional for some. The city officials decided to set up the solar panels in the city cemetery.

Of course, some eyebrows were raised; and, Antoni Fogue, a key city council member behind the plan says, “Let’s say we heard things like, ‘they’re crazy. Who do they think they are? What a lack of respect!’” However, Fogue continues, "There has not been any problem whatsoever; because, people who go to the cemetery see that nothing has changed. This installation is compatible with respect for the deceased and for the families of the deceased."

A subsequent municipal public-awareness campaign showed the town how the solar panels could be a win-win situation. The low-angled installation would be unobtrusive and not cause any disharmony to the landscape of the area. The town would not only benefit now in the value of the solar energy reaped; but, this is a long-term project that will help the town far into the future. While the panels cover a mere 5% of the cemetery’s land area, they offset an estimated 62 tons of carbon emissions and there is still room for expansion if desired.

Now connected to the local energy grid, the 462 solar panels power 60 homes. Town council hopes to install more panels in the future to triple the output. Currently, the panels are located on top of dense rows of mausoleums, populated five layers deep.

"The best tribute we can pay to our ancestors, whatever your religion may be, is to generate clean energy for new generations. That is our leitmotif," says Esteve Serret, director of Conste-Live Energy, the renewable energy company that runs the solar cemetery in Santa Coloma.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Declared The World's Most Invaluable Species

Thursday, November 20, 2008 was officially recognized as the “The Night of the Bee.” No, no, not another horror flick like “The Killer Tomato That Ate Chicago.” Something much more auspicious than that. The bee was officially named the "world’s most invaluable species" at the annual Earthwatch debate held in London, England.

The Earthwatch debate is a public debate which sees eminent scientists battling it out to have their endangered species declared the world’s most invaluable species. Besides the honour of being named “world’s most invaluable species” comes a fictitious one trillion dollar cheque to be spent on their conservation.

The debate is a much-anticipated event every year, attended by the general public who listen attentively to the cases put forward by the scientists. There is a vigorous question and answer period for the audience followed by the vote. An option buffet follows for those eager to continue the debate amongst themselves.
This year there were five endangered species represented by five of Britain’s most eminent scientists. They were:

Bats - Dr. Kate Jones, the Zoological Society of London
Bees - Dr. George McGavin, Honorary Research Associate, Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Fungi - Prof. Lynne Boddy, Cardiff School of Biosciences
Plankton - Prof. David Thomas, School of Ocean Sciences, University of Bangor
Primates - Ian Redmond OBE, Chairman of the Ape Alliance
The evening was chaired by Andrea Catherwood, award-winning broadcaster and TV presenter.

Deciding that they didn’t want a world without honey, flowers and a third of everything we eat including chocolate and coffee, the audience voted to save the bees.

Without bees 250,000 species of flowering plants would not get pollinated. Many of these are crucial to world agriculture. The yields of approximately 90 crops are increased by up to 30% (including many of my favourites, such as apples, blueberries and cucumbers). Without bees, these fruits and vegetables would become scarce and therefore tremendously expensive.

Bees also pollinate many of the plants that provide both our conventional and alternative medicines; the cotton plant that provides the cheap t-shirt and jeans; they feed birds and small mammals by pollinating the berries and seeds they feed on; they feed the omnivores and carnivores by feeding the birds and small mammals they eat; and so on up the food chain.

We could survive on wind-pollinated grains and fish; but, there would be wars for control of dwindling food supplies. South America's ancient Mayan civilization is thought to have died of starvation. The veneer of civilization is very, very thin when comes to things like survival.

Although other insects and animals do pollinate – such as bats, butterflies and even wasps – none is designed like the bee as a pollinator machine.

While there are 20,000 bee species around the world, honey bees are most valuable to mankind. Honeybees live in huge colonies of up 50,000 in the summer months, pollinate many different plant species (multi-taskers) and their ability to be managed, manipulated and transported by man makes them the most valuable pollinator of all winged pollinators.

Unfortunately, bees are in serious trouble all over the globe. There has been such a decline in their numbers that …well, they’ve just been named “world’s most invaluable species, haven’t they?

Industrialized farming with its monocultures and pesticides has destroyed biodiversity robbing the majority of bees of their habitat and food sources. Across the globe the western honeybee – bred for its gentle nature and prolific honey making and pollination capacity – is plagued by parasites and viruses. If that isn’t enough, modern agricultural practices jeopardize their continued survival.

More than a third of honeybees were wiped out in the US this year by Colony Collapse Disorder, a mysterious disease which is thought to be a combination of these assailants.

As Dr George McGavin, who was batting for the bees said: "Bee populations are in freefall. A world without bees would be totally catastrophic."

Bravo to the forward-thinking Earthwatch audience who had the foresight to vote for the bees. (I can see you smiling from here K.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Monarch and The Trucker

This is a story that will warm the cockles of your heart. Believe me, there is no toastier feeling in the world than warm cockles. This is a story that makes you wonder why everyone in the world can’t be just as caring as the people in this one.

Some of my Canadian, American and Mexican friends know the migration of the Monarch butterflies firsthand. A group of Monarchs on the wing is an arresting sight. They are noted for their lengthy annual migration that seems so incongruous compared to their seemingly-frail bodies. In fact, Monarchs are the only insects capable of transatlantic flight. Looks can be deceiving.

In North America, the Monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains start south toward their overwintering spots in the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve in the Mexican states of Michoacán and Mexico by the end of October. The western population overwinters in varying sites in central coastal and southern California, USA.

The migration of the Monarchs is such an important annual event, there are untold websites on the migration, how to help track it and other information concerning this amazing journey. One such site is:

The migration has one more participant this year thanks to Jeannette Brandt, Mike Parwana, and an unknown truck driver.

Jeannette was out riding her bike in Hadley, NY when she noticed a Monarch with a broken wing. Feeling she might be able to help it, she used her emptied water bottle to transport it home.

As luck would have it, Jeannette and her partner, Mike Parwana, are bee keepers and mixed the honey they produced with water to compliment the rotting pears they fed it to help build up its strength.

While the butterfly was eating well, they still had the problem of the broken wing to contend with. They found a video on the web from Live Monarch Foundation, a non-profit group from Boca Raton, FL., that demonstrated how to fix a broken butterfly wing.

Painstakingly, tiny cardboard splints were applied with contact cement. The operation was a success and the patient spent a week in recovery doing nothing more strenuous than eating and resting.

Finally, the day arrived when it was time to send the tiny traveler on its way to warmer climes. They took the butterfly (in a shoebox) down to Scotty’s, a popular and busy truck stop about 35 miles north of Albany. Now all they had to do was find someone who wanted to be the “and release” portion of their “heal and release” mission of compassion.

"And all these truckers looked down at their shoes," Parwana told the newspaper. "If you ever want to feel strange, walk into Scotty's and just put it out there that you want them to take a box south."

Finally, a trucker from Alabama headed to Florida decided to help out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 the trucker called. The butterfly had been released.

Congratulations to Jeannette Brandt, Mike Parwana, and an unknown truck driver from Alabama.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Calling All Eco-Nuts

I'm hoping to build a community of nature nuts who would like to share photos, stories, hints, tips, comments, and; generally, try to improve our environment.

Do you have a story and/or pictures of a pollution problem in your area - or better yet - a story and/or photos of a pollution problem solved?

Do you have helpful hints for recycling or otherwise helping to reduce waste?

Is there an event coming up in your area that you would like publicized concerning the environment?

I would be delighted to publish them and give full, partial or no credit to the contributor as they desire. Wouldn't opinions from different countries be amazing!! We could really learn something from each other. Not to mention having our minds opened to a new way of thinking.

If this interests you, leave your stories, photos, comments, wisdom or whathave you either under the comments section or use the option to follow up with email.

A Few Fun Pictures

My parents have gone on the Alaska cruise several times now and I am just so jealous. I really want to do this trip at least once. I thought I would post a few pictures Dad sent me from one of the cruises.

The stateroom he and mom had. Looks nice, eh?

Looks cold to me.

Water so clean, it reflects like a mirror.

I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

People Must Realize That Bees Are One of Our Most Valuable Resources

On September 29, 2008, I posted a blog about the importance of bees and other winged pollinators to the environment and; ultimately, our food sources. I also revealed that due to many factors, most of them man-made, there was a worldwide shortage of winged pollinators - bees in particular. Without our winged helpers, our crops don't get pollinated. No pollination - no produce. No produce - no food of any kind. Even our meat sources eat grains. The bee shortage has become so critical that beekeepers will come to remove bee infestations from anywhere.

This not only helps the person with the problem, it saves an entire colony of precious bees and the beekeeper receives an already intact hive for his/her time and trouble. Most of this work is done either at no charge or at minimal cost.

My good friend (name escapes me at the moment), just kidding, Kathi, sent me this story by email today. She is an absolute eco-nut like me and this story touched her. She feels the bees' story needs to be spread some more and I agree.

The Death of a Colony

The scene of the crime. Innocent looking enough.

This is the chemical chosen for the warfare and the implement used as the carrier of mass destruction. (George Bush: there really are weapons of mass destruction - they're just not in Iran).

Apparently, the screaming of the dying could be heard for three miles. This is the testimony of the woman who committed the act. As the cover was removed, the dead littered the balcony floor.

As she was cleaning up the mess, the woman noticed what she labelled a "fatty substance" and investigated further. What she discovered was the rest of the colony - the beeswax, the honey, the larvae, cells for future larvae. This was an intact colony.

My friend is sure she didn't realize that nearly any reputable beekeeper would have been happy to remove that colony for her. I'm sure Kathi is right.

If any kind of colony is bothering you (bee, wasp, hornet, etc) and you are unsure of your options, contact your local university - they usually have services for just about everything or know who does.

There is one thing I am very sure of about this story however: Neither Kathi or I would have set off that "bomb" and there may be a time when bees become so precious there will be a fine attached for those who do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Interesting Fun Facts

As some of you may have noticed by now, I just love trivia. In fact, I love to tell people that I'm a very trivial person. Another dose of environmental trivia.

o If just 25% of U.S. families used 10 fewer plastic bags a month, we would save over 2.5 BILLION bags a year.

o On the average, the 140 million cars in America are estimated to travel almost 4 billion miles in a day, and according to the Department of Transportation, they use over 200 million gallons of gasoline doing it.

o Every year we throw away 24 million tons of leaves and grass. Leaves alone account for 75% of our solid waste in the fall. (Compost, compost, compost!!)

o Over 100 pesticide ingredients are suspected to cause birth defects, cancer, and gene mutations. (It was designed to kill bugs, wasn't it?)

o Every ton of recycled office paper saves 380 gallons of oil. (Every sticky note counts here.)

o About 1% of U.S. landfill space is full of disposable diapers, which take 500 years to decompose. (This has been on your baby's delicate bottom.)

o Americans use 50 million tons of paper annually -- consuming more than 850 million trees.

o Homeowners use up to 10 times more toxic chemicals per acre than farmers. (Now that's scary.)

o Insulating your attic reduces the amount of energy loss in most houses by up to 20%.

o One ton of carbon dioxide that is released in the air can be prevented by replacing every 75 watt light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs.

o Many banks lent large sums of money to developing nations. In order to pay those debts plus interest many nations have turned to the mining of their natural resources as a source of financial aid.

o Every day 40,000 children die from preventable diseases. (Most of these are in the lesser developed countries.)

o The human population of the world is expected to be nearly tripled by the year 2100.

o A three percent annual growth rate will result in the doubling of consumption and production of food and other products in 25 short years. The amount of motor vehicles that are expected to be operated will increase 15 million a year until at least 2010. (On the up side, accidents are expected to decline due to the near zero visibility rate experienced by drivers. This is caused by the ever increasing smog demanding a 5 mph limit on all major highways worldwide.)

o The world's per capita grain production has been on the downfall since 1985 despite the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

o Already a train system has been developed (back in 1987) which is based on magnetic levitation and causes minimal pollution. These versions of a train are already in use in several countries.

o Fibre optics, made of glass, are being used to replace copper cables throughout the world.

o The uncontrolled fishing that is allowed has reduced the amount of commercial species. Some species, up to one-tenth of their original population. Every day 50 to 100 species of plants and animals become extinct as their habitat and human influences destroy them. (And yet we keep insisting on helping Mother Nature.)

o Deserts are advancing and taking over the land. In Mali the desert has taken over about 220 miles in as few as 20 years. Deserts can be repelled, by developing tree-planting projects, having better agriculture and by managing the land better. However, governments still are reluctant to fund anti-desertification, despite horrific droughts that have occurred in recent years.

o The Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years. Scaling this time down to 46 years we have been around for 4 hours and our Industrial Revolution began just 1 minute ago. During this short time period we have ransacked the planet for ways to get fuels and raw materials, have been the cause of extinction of an unthinkable amount of plants and animals, and have multiplied our population to that of a plague. (Just think: Had we listened to Mother Nature instead of each other, we'd probably still be in the Garden of Eden.)

o Despite all of the damage we have caused the environment most of it is reversible. We can restore habitats and return species to them; clean rivers; renovate buildings; replenish the topsoil, replant forests. However, these activities do not relieve the worst symptoms of the damage. We still have to fix the source of these problems, us and our vision that we must progress.

o In Peninsular Malaysia, more tree species are found in 125 acres of Tropical Forest than in the entire North America.

o In Peru a single bush may contain more ant species than in the British Isles.

o A study has shown that there are possibly over 30 million species of insects dwelling in the canopies of tropical forests.

o 63,000 square miles of Rainforests are being destroyed each year.

o Rainforests higher than 3,000 feet above sea level are called cloud forests.

o Already over half of the world's tropical forests have been lost.

o Madagascar is the home to a rainforest where 60 percent of it's 12,000 different plant species are unique to that island.

o When you visit a pharmacist, one in every four purchases will have come from a tropical forest.

o Medicine produced in tropical forests bring in commercially 30 billion dollars a year.

o Large areas of South and Central America are cleared and burned for cattle ranching. This is so that farmers can provide cheap beef to consumers in the West.

o Every year approximately four billion tons of carbon accumulates in the air each year, about 30% of this comes directly from the continued burning of the rainforests.

o More than anything else, rainforest is destroyed by peasant farmers. However, the responsibility for this lies largely with the governments who fail to promote land reform and sustainable agricultural practices as an alternative to forest clearance.

o Greater than a quarter of our rainforest is in Brazil.

o Penguins live only in the Southern Hemisphere and never in the Northern Hemisphere.

o A scallop moves by sucking water into its shell and then squirting it out suddenly. It likes to wander around and this gives it enough force to push it in front in a zig zag manner.

o A male garibaldi damselfish attracts females for mating by covering a rock with a thick layer of algae. A male which cleans off a rock to allow only algae to live have a higher chance of mating. The algae is also used to protect the eggs of the fish.

o To prevent the nest from getting soaked, the rare white-chinned swift, which nests behind the waterfalls of Latin America, plant pieces of moss in the nest which then grow and reinforce the nest. (Natural architecture at its best.)

o A porcupine loves salt so much that it would walk into a camp and gnaw on anything that has been touched by salt or even by perspiring hands. (I understand his dilemma. I just love the taste of natural sea salt.)

o Despite having a shell of armour for the body, an armadillo has teeth that do not have enamel and thus are very soft. It can only eat equally soft food such as ants, termites, grubs and bugs.

o If a mole does not find food within 12 hours, it will die. Its chief food consists of insects and earthworms.

o A male nightingale stops singing when its eggs have hatched so as not to attract unnecessary attention to the nest. However he gives short calls to tell the female that all is well or danger is approaching.

o Bolas spiders snare moths by producing chemicals similar to pheromones used by several species of female moths to attract mates.

o The webbed feet of the stormy petrel enable it to 'walk' on water. It spends almost its entire life over the ocean and only comes to land to breed. If a storm arises, they can't walk on water and are forced to remain in the air all day and night.

o Some giant land turtles are able to bellow. (So could my ex-mother-in-law.)

o No one knows what happens to the seahorse during winter as it is only seen during the summertime.

o The arctic tern, a migrating bird is able to travel back and forth as much as 22,000 miles in a course of a year.

o The Amazon army ant raids the nests of certain black ants. They carry the cocoons and larvae back with them to their own homes. When the cocoons hatch, they will become the slaves of these army ants doing all their work.

o The huge nest of an osprey is an attractive one which is not hidden from sight. Each year the bird adds new material to the same nest causing some of them to weigh up to 450 kilograms.

o The Grasslands cover one-fifth of the land on Earth.

o The majority of grasslands are found around the tropics.

o Natural grasslands are; the savannahs of Africa, the North American prairies, and in southern USSR-the dry steppes.

o Semi-natural grasslands are where the forest has been cleared and grazing, cutting or burning maintains the grass cover. Tending to be more productive most South and South-East Asian grasslands are semi-natural grasslands.

o The temperate grassland soil contains a lot of organic material (more than the tropical).
The cheeky comments in brackets are mine.

Online Communities: Too Real?

Computers are taking over the world. Unless you can operate a computer, you are almost unemployable. For a select few, the computer is their world after work as well. There are several virtual worlds that can be accessed on the internet that allow the players to conduct a virtual life totally separate from the life they live day to day.

One of these online communities is Second Life (a three-dimensional virtual world with millions of users) where players adopt personas in the form of avatars, mingle with other players and have the ability to teleport themselves to a series of artificial worlds.

Amy Taylor of southwest England is filing for divorce in real life because she has discovered her husband having a virtual affair in Second Life.

"I caught him cuddling a woman on a sofa in the game," Taylor told the South West News Service press agency. "It looked really affectionate. He confessed he'd been talking to this woman player in America for one or two weeks; and, said our marriage was over and he didn't love me any more."

Ellen Helper, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, studies the impact of the Web on relationships. She says, “the online drama shows how emotionally invested some people have become in their virtual identities.”

"For a while there was this impression that as long as it's online, it doesn't matter. But research has shown it's not a separate world," she said, adding that infidelity was "just as painful, whether it's electronic or physical."

Amy, 28, moved in with her husband Dave Pollard, 40, after they met in a chat room in 2003. They first wed in a virtual ceremony in the standard exotic tropical setting; then, married in real life at a registry office.

Everything was going well until Amy fell asleep one night last year and woke up to find her husband’s avatar having cyber sex with a virtual prostitute. She gave him a second chance; but, caught him cuddling on the couch with another virtual partner in April. It remains unclear how she found out about the couch episode.

There is beginning to be an increasingly tenuous line between virtual relationships and the real people behind them. People are becoming more and more invested in the personas they portray to others in these online communities. I believe some of them lose touch becoming so involved, they end up believing these relationships are real.

In Delaware, USA, a woman was charged with plotting the real-life abduction of a boyfriend she met through Second Life. Some of these relationships can even become quite spooky. If someone is computer savvy enough and diligent enough, you can be traced.

Japan has a very popular website called Maple Story – an online adventure game. One user was so infuriated by her sudden virtual divorce from her online husband that she logged on with his password and killed his digital persona. Very creative; not to mention strange; but, illegal nonetheless.

She was jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data.

I’m sure you will all be happy to know that Amy Taylor and Dave Pollard are still on the web looking for love.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Where Do All The Dead Computers Go?

March 16, 2006: Heaps of electronic waste lie at a dumping site in Guiyu, China.

This is what some sections of the streets look like in Guiyu, China.

For five years, environmentalists and the media have worked to bring the dangers both to the health of the Chinese workers who dismantle most of the world’s junked electronics and the dangers to the environment this “industry” promotes to the public's attention.

Guiyu has become known as the heartland of “e-waste” disposal and the problem is being compounded by China’s own contribution to the problem.

There is a very impressive sounding international treaty in place (?) that is always pointed to as the “be all and end all” when policy makers are taken to task about this obvious disregard for human and environmental health.

This 1989 treaty is the Basel Convention (Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal). This treaty was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations; and, specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to lesser- developed countries (LDCs). For some reason, the treaty does not address the movement of radioactive waste. The Convention was also intended to minimize the amount as well as the toxicity of wastes generated, to ensure their environmentally-sound management as closely as possible to the source of generation. (Isn’t there somewhere closer to the US that could handle these wastes other than China, India and Africa?) There was also supposed to be a commitment to assist the lesser-developed countries in environmentally-sound management of the hazardous and other wastes they generate (and dumping our waste on them, helps them how?)

The Basel Convention sounds good – on paper – and; that’s exactly where it remains: on paper. The United States has not ratified it; so, it remains virtually useless - at least on our end.

This doen't seem to matter much since the U.S. government doesn't ban or even monitor e-waste exports. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has no certification process for electronic-waste recyclers. Any company can claim it recycles waste, even if all it does is export it and face no inspection, no forced compliance to the rules.

Imports slip into China despite a Chinese ban and Beijing's ratification of the Basel Convention due to fancy legal mumbo jumbo. China does allow the import of plastic waste and scrap metal which many recyclers use as an excuse to send old electronics there.

And though the U.S increasingly requires that electronics be sent to collection and recycling centers, this does not necessarily mean that will be recycled in an environmentally-safe manner. Even from these centers, American firms can and do send the e-waste legally abroad because Congress still hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention (remember?).

Guess what’s at the root of all this evil? None other than...everyone say it with me...the love of money. Funny how these four words keep popping up again and again, isn't it?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is ten times cheaper to export e-waste than to dispose of it at home. To recycle a computer on American soil costs the owner of the computer(s) approximately $25.00 a computer to have it done in an environmentally-safe manner. However, if you have a lot of computers, brokers who ship computers overseas will come to bid on your computers – they will pay you. Imagine: you are a country hospital that needs a new expensive piece of equipment to better serve your patients. You also need new computers. You can pay $25.00 a computer to have a company recycle them or you can be paid real money (that can be put toward that life-saving piece of machinery) by a broker to have them taken away.

The reason it is so cheap to ship this e-waste overseas is simple. Labor in the dump in Guiyi or ones in India, Pakistan or Africa is so cheap it is actually cost-effective (read: extremely profitable to a few) to try to salvage every last screw or bit of silver.

To make electronics manufacturers accountable for their obsolete products, several organizations believe a recycling fee should be charged at the time of the computer’s purchase — much like a bottle deposit — to fund clean and efficient recycling programs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Where Do All The Dead Computers Go?

March 16, 2006: Workers unload electronic waste from trucks as seen from a hidden position inside of a vehicle in Guiyu, China.

The town looks like one of those extended garbage heaps you see on World Vision ads on television. The ones where the little children go every day to scavenge anything they can (instead of being able to go to school) in order to put a few grains of rice in the stomachs of their brothers and sisters. Sometimes they are responsible for the stomachs of their parents as well.

The smoke from the always-smoldering dump sites pollute the air they breathe and exact a heavy toll on their frail, undernourished bodies. The lucky ones have rags they can tie to their feet to protect them from the heat and the dangers in the dump.

In Guiyu, China things are similar. However, in this case, the entire village is involved the "recycling" of electronics. Those who settle and work in Guiyu are the truly destitute. Persons who are too desperate for money or too ill-formed to let the health risks stop them from working.

The air is heavy, acrid and laden with carcinogenic particles from the squat gas burners that sit outside homes and the plastic from the wires the workers melt over these burners in order to recover the copper inside. Computer motherboards are cooked for their gold content adding their toxic ingredients to the witches’ brew. Plastic casings are shredded; open fires, acid baths and broilers are used to recover the gold, silver, copper and other valuable metals while the thickener for this concoction is provided by migrant workers in filthy clothes who smash picture tubes by hand (no gloves – too expensive) to recover glass and electronic parts. They can add as much as 6.5 pounds of lead dust per person per day. Say good-bye to pink, healthy lungs, say hello to life in a computer graveyard.

As the picture shows, the trucks just show up and quickly unload their dead electronics right onto the street and then drive away. The workers come, pick through the stuff that has been dumped and take away the pieces they either “specialize” in or think will yield the most copper, gold and other saleable materials. It is estimated that approximately 70 percent of the 20-50 million tons of electronic waste produced globally each year is dumped in China. India and the poorer African nations are the lucky recipients of the rest.

"I've seen a lot of dirty operations in Third World countries; but, what was shocking was seeing all this post-consumer waste," said Jim Puckett of the Seattle-based Basel Action Network (after a visit to Guiyu). "This is all stuff from you and me."

One year ago, the environmental group Greenpeace sampled dust, soil, river sediment and groundwater in Guiyu and found escalating levels of toxic heavy metals and organic contaminants. They found “over 10 poisonous metals, such as lead, mercury and cadmium” reported Lai Yun, a campaigner for the Greenpeace.

“When the workers shatter the circuit boards into powder, they rinse it away with water,” said Wu, the environmental activist on the trip. "And the water goes into the rivers. They also use acid baths to dissolve metals on the boards. The acid is also released into the rivers," Wu continued.

Consequently, the ground water is so polluted that drinking water has to be trucked in from a town 18 miles away, Greenpeace reported. One river sample in the area had 190 times the pollution levels allowed under World Health Organization guidelines.

Water for the town is trucked in; but, that seems to be the only concession being made in showing concern for the workers’ health. Fish destined for the workers’ dinner plates are raised in local contaminated ponds which can’t help but contaminate the fish raised in them. Would you like your heavy metals in solid, liquid or gaseous form today? Piles of ash and plastic waste sit heaped haphazardly beside rice paddies and dikes that hold back the Lianjiang River. Accidents waiting to happen.

Chemicals, including mercury, fluorine, barium, chromium, and cobalt, that either leach from the waste or are used in processing, are blamed for skin rashes and respiratory problems.

Contamination can take decades to dissipate, experts say, and long-term health effects can include kidney and nervous system damage, weakening of the immune system and cancer.

"Of course, recycling is more environmentally sound," said Wu Song, a former local university student who has studied the area. "But I wouldn't really call what's happening here recycling."

Isn’t there some kind of legislation against this? Isn’t there some kind of law to help people like this? There is…and there isn’t. The reason this still continues next blog.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Victoria's Secret's Secret

Tuesday, November 11, 2008, ABC News reported that a lawsuit has been filed against Victoria’s Secret claiming that some of the brand’s most popular bras are responsible for injuring customers by causing rashes, hives and even permanent scarring.

Roberta Ritter, a 37 year-old Ohio resident, filed a lawsuit against the company on May 14, 2008, claiming the Angels Secret Embrace and Very Sexy Extreme Me Push Up bras she purchased and wore made her sick. “I had the welts ... very red, hot to the touch, extremely inflamed, blistery. It itched profusely," Ritter, told ABC News. "I couldn't sleep, waking up itching. I was just utterly sick."

The Ohio resident isn’t alone in her complaint. Her lawyers confirm that dozens of women have contacted them with similar claim with many of them wanting to be part of a class action lawsuit.

"I was floored. I thought, I have to come out with this. The can of worms has to be opened because it's not just me, it's other people as well," Ritter said. The medical web site features numerous complaints against the underwear company. "I, too, had an awful itchy, red splotchy rash from the Secret Embrace bras," one poster complained.

Ritter's lawyers say they went out and purchased the same bra types named in the suit from a retail store then had them tested at a lab. The tests revealed that formaldehyde, a chemical used in embalming, was contained in the fibers of the bras. The lawyers believe Ritter may be allergic to formaldehyde.

Victoria’s Secret has denied the allegations. They released a statement saying in part, "We have strict quality controls around our products, and we do not use formaldehyde in our bras."

Ritter's attorney maintains that somehow the chemical is making its way into the bras. "It may not be something that they're specifying to put in their bra; but, somehow it's making its way into the manufacturing process because it was certainly present," said attorney Dawn Chmielewski of Climaco, Lefkowitz, Peca, Wilcox & Garofoli Co., L.P.A.

Although Ritter's bra has not been tested, she said her doctor has diagnosed her with an allergic reaction that could have been caused by formaldehyde.

"It's not something you think about every day when you grab your underclothes, when you put them on; but it's woken me up, and I just hope to wake people up to the reality that it can happen," she said.

A Victoria's Secret spokesperson admitted the company had received direct complaints from customers; but, added the bras have NOT been removed from store shelves. The company went on to say they are investigating the complaints and released this statement:

"We are sorry that a small number of people have had an issue and we want to help them determine the cause. Customer safety and satisfaction are always our primary concerns and we take seriously any issues our customers may have with our products. Customer safety and satisfaction are always are primary concerns and we take seriously any issues our customers may have with our products.”

The class action paperwork already has been filed; but, a judge won't decide until May 2009 if enough evidence exists to move the case forward. Dozens of women are seeking compensation for medical bills and suffering as part of the claim.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Our Web-Footed Friends

One of the greatest things of living in Vancouver and surrounding areas (yeah, Surrey) is that being so close to the ocean, there are many little rivulets, creeks and other small bodies of moving water that invite water fowl. For 10 years, the condominium I live in faced onto a large lot of poplar trees. Every summer large pools of water formed from the rain and lack of drainage. There was a pair of mallards that came to that lot every spring and raised their little family there. It was wonderful to see this mother duck proudly leading her clutch of yellow featherballs around the pools teaching them how to scrounge for food and imparting other important duck knowledge. Three years ago, another set of condominiums was built on that land displacing our little feathered family. I don't know where they went; but, I hope they are bringing as much joy to someone else as they did to me.

Yesterday, I was near an old job site of mine that I hadn't visited in nearly 13 years. I was delighted to see that the mallard pairs that had inhabited a small stream there had increased instead of decreasing or disappearing entirely. This is amazing to me as the stream runs between a very busy Canadian Superstore supermarket, skytrain station and other office buildings. In the past 13 years , this area has become busier not slower. Here's to the ducks and their unflagging desire to return home every year bringing with them a gift joy to city dwellers for a few months every year.

Nature doesn't let us down - let's not let her down.

A Little Environmental Humour

DEJA MOO: The feeling you've heard this b*** before.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Water Makes The World Go

The UN defines “water scarcity” as less than 1,000m3 of renewable clean water for every person to drink, clean, grow food and run industry every year. This standard leaves one-half the world’s population in countries suffering from water scarcity. Jordan, our example country, averages 160m3 of renewable water per person per year.

11 million children under the age of five die each year from disease and malnutrition due to a lack of clean drinking water and sanitation. Lack of water accounts for nearly 1 billion people being chronically hungry. Another 2 billion suffer what the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization calls “food insecurity” – a nice way of saying they do not have adequate food and nutrition for an “active and healthy life”. Lack of clean drinking water keeps more than 60 million girls out of school. These are the people who get caught in the water-poverty trap: two-thirds of the people who lack enough water for even the most basic needs live on less than $2 a day.

“Variability of water availability is strongly and negatively related to per capita income,” says Professor Jeffrey Sachs, author of Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, and a special adviser to the UN Secretary General. Poor health, lack of education and hunger make it hard to escape.

So, with half of the world’s population living in water-stressed countries, how do so many keep the irrigation taps open and the kitchen taps running?

There is a saying that goes, “Water flows uphill to money.” Professor Tony Allan of Kings College says, “Water shortages don’t pose serious problems to gardeners in Hampshire or California homeowners with pools to fill.”

Tony Allan has found what he calls “virtual water” to be one answer to the conundrum of water scarcity – who gets it and who doesn’t it. He wondered why Middle Eastern countries without abundant water supplies were not suffering the water crisis they should have. The answer was trade. They bought food and along with it these water-poor societies were also buying what he dubbed “virtual water.” Virtual water is the water used to bring these foodstuffs to the point where they can be sold. These countries are not only buying the food, they are buying the water contained in that food. This is water they don’t have to find.

The other answer is that peoples and communities around the world have been forced to use water they wouldn’t normally tap for drinking, agriculture, or industrial uses. Rivers, lakes and aquifers, some of them millions of years old, have been empties far beyond the limit at which they can replenish themselves. Above ground, lakes are receding or drying up; rivers are reduced to mere trickles or drying up while underground, the crisis is just as large; but, harder to see. Aquifers worldwide are beginning to dry up as more water is being removed than can be replenished. Sometimes the empty cavities simply collapse and the aquifer can never be used again.

All these dams and irrigation channels and pumps and pipes allow billions of people to run up a gigantic global water overdraft. What worries experts is that there is no sign of humans withdrawing less water.

Debates are raging worldwide regarding ways to save water and reduce our water footprints. Rich countries can make huge inroads just in domestic efficiency alone; but, most of the world’s peoples do not have power showers, swimming pools or waste great quantities of food. The focus is mainly on reducing water used for agriculture by improving the efficiency of irrigation, engineering seeds to grow in arid and/or salty condition or even shifting crops. Unfortunately, there is a widespread resistance to raising prices for water or energy for pumping to increase efficiency, suspicion of genetic modification and reluctance among farmers to abandon water-hungry; but, lucrative crops when they are struggling to feed their family. “It's a socioeconomic dilemma,” says Al-Nuimat. “You can't stop now: it's the source of their life.”

Many communities are reinstating simple, more traditional methods: tree replanting, taking out thirsty non-native species and replacing them with hardier native species, stone walls to hold back erosion and rain harvesting with the use of ponds and/or storage tanks.

Some are even urging a more vegetarian diet for all. Vegetarian (or mainly vegetarian) diets require approximately one-half the water that a typical American meat-eater’s diet requires. This is, according to Lord Haskins, the former chairman of Britain's Northern Foods group and a government adviser, "the most virtuous and responsible step of all".

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Water Makes The World Go Round...con't

Archeology has proven that many ancient civilizations, whose ruins now lay buried in the unrelenting sands of modern deserts, were originally settled because of the abundance of water. Due to misuse of the land and water plus natural climate changes, these paradises changed to barren, almost waterless lands that forced these peoples to leave everything but the most important of possessions behind and find new lands to populate.

The farmers in Wadi Faynan are not alone. Communities all around the world are paying the price for thousands of years of exploitation of our environment and our water in particular. Right now, in the 21st century, when we are supposed to have the highest standard of living ever achieved on earth, 1 billion people do not have enough clean water to drink. At least 2 billion people cannot rely on adequate clean water to drink, clean and eat with; let alone have enough let over to share with the land.

Millions of deaths each year occur from disease and malnutrition. Chronic hunger keeps children away from school which is the only hope of a better life. These and other looming crises are being blamed on either the lack of or mismanagement of our most precious resource – water. Up until now, it has been mostly the poor who have suffered; so, (in my mind) efforts were not as vigorous as they could have been to alleviate the problem. However, increasingly rich nations are beginning to struggle with this problem also.

Climatologists are saying that Australia has been “gripped by drought” for so many years that the time has come to accept and admit that the lack of rain is permanent. Residents in the town of Orme, Tennessee were shocked last autumn when the Red Cross delivered water parcels. One resident, Susan Anderson, told a reporter, “I thought, that can’t be the Red Cross. We’re Americans!” This year in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared the first state-wide drought in 17 years. Barcelona, Spain has begun importing tankers of water from cities along the coast. The United Kingdom, home to more rainy day horror stories (rising damp and all that) than anywhere I know, has developed such a problem in the crowded southeast that one company plans to build a desalination plant. This is the type of measure the desert states are investigating to increase their rainfall in the coastal areas.

The phrases being tossed about now are designed to raise awareness through fear. Unfortunately, the time has come that fear may be necessary. Every other tool in our “raising awareness” tool belt seems to have failed. As usual, the love of money has closed the developed countries eyes to the damage being done. The facts have not been delivered to the public in a straightforward, easy to understand manner, and we are now reaping the rewards of that deception.

The Stockholm International Water Institute warns of 'an acute and devastating humanitarian crisis'. The founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, alludes to a climatic 'perfect storm'. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary General, has chosen to raise the specter of 'water wars'.

Experts are predicting that unless is something is done to alleviate this problem, billions more will suffer lack of water bringing on hunger, disease, migration and finally war.

Politicians, economists and engineers are pressing for dramatic changes to the present water management system in Wadi Faynan and like areas. They are looking at everything from tree planting and simple storage wells, to more costly (multibillion dollar) schemes such as a dam and pipe system that would, in effect, replumb the planet. Relatively new technologies such as making freshwater from sewers and seawater are also being looked at.

In theory, there is plenty of water on earth for all its approximately 6.5 billion people with plenty left over for crop irrigation and other uses.

"There's certainly enough water for every person on the planet, but too often it's in the wrong places at the wrong times in the wrong amounts," says Marq de Villiers, author of the 2001 book Water Wars.

Three hours to the north of Wadi Faynan is the much greener Wadi Esseir; but, even there the effects of living in one of the driest countries of the world is being felt. Orchard owners receive water only once a week from the local irrigation co-operative to sustain trees such as fig, lemon, olive and grenadine plus any vegetables the family may grow. Any additional water must be obtained from the infrequent rainfall.

Human water demand has risen sixfold in the last 50 years due to the ever-increasing population, economic development and a growing consumption of meat, dairy and fish. Toss in diminishing supplies: approx. 845,000 dams block most of world’s rivers depriving downstream communities of water and sediment. Damming also increases evaporation of the dammed water and up to 50% of the water is lost due to leakage. An estimated 1 billion people do not have the proper infrastructure necessary to transport the water effectively and safely. Much of the uncovered water is often polluted by chemical and heavy metals from farms and industry. The UN blames water contaminated in this way for poisoning more than 100 million people. The last of the diminishing supplies is the rain. Every year it gets less reliable. Soon it may not come at all.

More next blog.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Water Makes The World Go Round

The mysteries surrounding why ancient civilizations built here rather than there are starting to unravel and archeology is largely responsible for finding these unexpected answers.

The pictures of Wadi Faynan (located in Jordan) show an arid stone desert devoid of any moisture whatsoever, let alone enough to support a thriving ancient population. So why would humans settle in an area that appears to be unable to quench the thirst of a lizard? Surprisingly, the answer is water.

According to archaeologist Steven Mithen, a source of water would have been one of the most important reasons for a group of peoples to choose a certain site over all others to inhabit. The picture below is an artist’s rendition of how Mithen feels the area would have looked 11,500 years ago when the first Neolithic men and women arrived and decided to settle the area. The climate would have been cooler and wetter enabling the landscape to be overflowing with vegetation including wild figs, legumes and cereals. This vast expanse of fresh, green vegetation would have attracted and been able to maintain a plentiful supply of wild goats and ibex for meat.

It is thought that WF16, as it has been renamed, would have originally been used as a seasonal camp. Mithen, professor of early prehistory at the University of Reading, and a fellow archeologist, Bill Finlayson, feel eventually WF16 became a permanent residue due to its many attractive features - such as water.

Evidence sifting also seems to indicate that there are food remains from each season while the scale of the garbage piles suggest that these inhabitants stopped moved approximately 10,000 years ago. If these deductions are correct, that would make Wadi Faynan one of the oldest sites of permanent settlement. This would be where the inhabitants learned to farm and helped to change the course of human civilization.

However; people being people, even that long ago, eventually they all but destroyed the very resource that had attracted and sustained not only them; but, the successive waves of settlements that followed.

Some incredibley brilliant person (name escapes me) once said: If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are bound to repeat them. A line from one of my favorite songs goes: It’s all just a little bit of history repeating. Again, people being people, we have not learned from many of our mistakes - this one in particular. Now, we are finding that history is still repeating 10,000 years later. This pattern has been repeated around the world for millennia; so, now the problem is threatening us on a global scale.

The beginning of the end began when people started cutting trees indiscriminately for shelter and fuel. When the rains came the soil was swept away. There were no longer enough tree roots and such to hold the soil in place. When both the soil and the trees were gone, there was nothing to slow the progress of the rainwater running downhill. This meant barely any water seeped into the shallow underground aquifers. As a result, the springs dried up. The second contributor to the end to this culture was the constant diversion of what water they could collect to grow enough crops to feed the ever-increasing number of people. The third and final blow was the climate naturally becoming drier and hotter.

Historians believe that Wadi Faynan has been abandoned and resettled at least twice. It is believed that the first evacuation of the city was due to a sharp change in the climate with the second exodus being due to pollution. Today what water is left in the spring is being rapidly used up by the Bedouin peoples who still live in the valley. They have driven pipes down into the dry stream bed in order to irrigate fields of tomatoes they are barely maintaining in the dry soil. Their already hard lives are getting harder. According to local lore, decent life-giving rains only come less than once every two years.

Heavy stuff! More next blog.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Some Vancouver Pictures

I thought I would share some of the photos of Vancouver I have taken over the past couple of years. Vancouver, like all major cities, has places of great beauty. I prefer the natural beauty of British Columbia; but, will publish some pictures of the man-made beauty we all get to share as well.

This shot is taken from the north end of the University of British Columbia campus overlooking a small inlet of the Pacific Ocean. In the background is North Vancouver and the mountains. Exquisite!!

Some of the construction happening in downtown Vancouver. The Fraser River is one of the busiest waterways in the world. You can see some of the cargo ships in the background and more of our majestic mountains.

The ocean makes a small harbour in the middle of downtown Vancouver. It is an oasis of calm and serenity in the chaos of city life. The buildings and mountains act as a stunning backdrop to a much-loved green space.

Same harbour - different view.

I will be diving into my topic of the (mis)use of water in a couple of hours. I just need a couple more good cries and I shall be close to normal. In the meantime, enjoy the photos.

Two More Lives Gone

Early this morning one more little life gave up the struggle and later this morning another little life joined her brothers and sisters. The remaining female had been segregated from her sister as there definitely appeared to be something wrong with the litter with the exception of her. Her new owner-to-be has named her Scratch because they are starting from scratch. Right from the beginning Scratch (the grey one) was larger than her siblings. We didn't think much about it; but, I think now that it was a sign that there was something wrong with the rest. Although they ate heartily, they failed to thrive. Of course, I was sure it was just a matter of time before they caught up to Scratch. I didn't realize I was wearing my rose-coloured glasses at the time.

Unfortunately, the mother cat was already pregnant when she discovered our feeding station. When we first saw her, she was in wretched condition - her coat was dry and listless and she was definitely underweight. She fed well for the last part of her pregnancy; but, by this damage the formation of the babies had already been determined. Being feral, we also don't know if she has any diseases or conditions that were passed on to the little ones.

Fortunately, the little ones passed away warm and full. The legacy of not spaying an neutering pets lives on. Four little lives were brought into this world only to pass away in less than a week due to inadequate care for both mom and dad. In cases like this, all the rescuers can do is try to save lives and cry when they fail.

They will be buried beside their siblings.

Bad News

Sad, sad, news. Our one remaining male kitten gave up his struggle late this evening. He seemed full of beans this morning, ate a hearty breakfast and took a nap. When the "children" were roused for their feeding, he was lethargic, didn't want to get up and refused to eat. He passed away gently while being rocked and cuddled. He will be laid to rest tomorrow next to his brother. Keeping our fingers crossed for the three remaining females.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

What's a Water Footprint?

Water is becoming the new standard of luxury. Without water absolutely nothing on this planet could exist. Water is becoming so scarce that we are now calculating every item's water footprint. What is a water footprint? The water footprint works on the same basis as the carbon footprint; but, measures the amount of water used in any activity.

I foresee a time when items that have a large water footprint will be produced on a limited basis only. This will have to be done simply because we won't have the water anymore to go on mass producing items and then discarding them without thought to the energy and/or resources that went into producing them.

This water footprint includes all water used during the process including water needed for drinking, watering, cleaning, processing, distilling, or anything else. If water is used anywhere in the cycle, it is calculated in the water footprint.

I thought it would be fun to list a few of them:
  • beef: 15,500 litres of water for 1 kg
  • coffee: 140 litres for a 125 ml cup
  • tea: 30 litres for a 125 ml cup
  • wine: 120 litres for a 125 ml glass
  • lamb: 6,100 litres for 1 kg
  • pork: 4,800 litres for 1 kg
  • chicken: 3,900 for 1 kg
  • wheat: 1,300 litres for 1 kg
  • cheese: 5,000 litres for 1 kg
  • rice: 3,400 litres 1 kg
  • sugar cane: 1,500 litres for 1 kg
  • corn (maize): 900 litres for 1 kg
  • chicken egg: 200 litre for 60 g egg
  • bread slice: 40 litres per slice

Water is becoming such a potentially explosive issue, I will be doing further blogs on it because I can see wars being fought over the ever-diminishing supply of drinkable water.

In the meantime, drink your 8 glasses a day while it is still fresh, pure and free.