Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Twenty Uses For Tea Tree Oil

Photo courtesy: ilsentiero

Tree tree oil is a "must-have" in my organic medicine chest. It sits there right next to my lavender oil and my comfrey gel. This oil is often called a “medicine cabinet in a bottle” and is effective against bacteria, fungi, and viruses and stimulates the immune system. It is also environmentally friendly.

Tea tree oil is the essential oil steam distilled from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia (unique to Australia and native to Northern New South Wales). Tea tree oil is usually clear to very pale golden in color and it exudes a fresh, camphor-like scent.

Tea tree oil should come in dark glass bottle with a dropper. The oil may seem expensive in comparison to the size of the vial; but, it is usually used by the drop. If the bottle is not dark glass, it can allow sunlight into the bottle and dilute the potency of the oil.

This oil is NOT to be taken internally. This oil is for external use only.

20 Great Ways to Use Tea Tree Oil

For Health

1. Use a dab to treat acne.
2. An anti-fungal for treating Athlete’s Foot, eczema, various yeast infections, etc.
3. An antiseptic to be used on cuts and burns.
4. An anti-viral: it may lessen the symptoms of colds and flu. Try using a few drops in the bath.
5. Add to a vaporizer to loosen chest congestion.
6. Add a small amount to shampoo to destroy head lice.
7. A small amount added to your bath can help with persistent body odor.
8. Treating sinus infection. Add a few drops to a bowl of hot water, lean over bowl, cover head with a towel and inhale deeply.
9. For dandruff and dry scalp. Choices are: tea tree oil shampoo, add a few drops of oil to your own shampoo, or massage a few drops of oil into your scalp before shampooing.
10. In the form of aromatherapy, tea tree oil is used to treat colds, persistent coughs, acne, toothaches, and sunburn.

For Cleaning

11. To create an all-purpose cleaner, combine 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil in 2 cups of water in a spray bottle.
12. Another version would be 14 ounces of water with 1 ounce of Murphy’s oil soap and 10 drops of tea tree oil.
13. Mix the above solution with kosher salt to scrub bathtub and bathroom tiles.
14. Add a few drops to dishwasher dispenser, then fill with a green dishwashing soap.
15. A few drops added to each load of laundry leave your clothes smelling cleaner.
16. Control mold with a tea tree oil/water spray.
17. Remove mustiness with that same tea tree oil/water spray. Gently spray items with must odours and leave for a few days. Musty and tea tree oil smell will be gone and item will smell fresh.
18. To keep germs at bay, spray it on high chairs, car seats, and other high traffic spots.
19. 15 drops in a quart of water can be an effective insect repellent.
20. Be sure to take some with you when hiking and camping to put directly on insect bites or blisters.

New Underwater Museum

Photo: Jason Taylor's sculptures, now in Mexico.

Mexico has plans to protect the regions coral reefs. The solution may seem a little strange at first; but, authorities are convinced that sinking approximately 400 figures made of concrete will save the reefs.

The figures will be submerged in the Caribbean sea near Cancun. The Sculpture Underwater Museum will be located at the Parque Nacional Costa Occidental. This park is located around Mujeres Island, Punta Cancun and Punta Nizuc.

This area attracts around 290,000 tourists a year. This brings alot of economic wealth which the locals don't want to lose; but, it also adds alot of pressure to the region's natural resources which the locals don't want to lose either.

According to Tierramerica, the idea is to drive tourist attention from the Mexican Caribbean sea's coral reefs onto the newly created museum.

The concrete statues will be PH neutral allowing the natural growth of algae and the unobstructed proliferation of invertebrates. The area will become an attractive haven for sea life providing scuba divers with an area away from the coral reefs that will give them a break.

Jaime Gonzalez Cano, director of the national park, is confident that this will act almost as a restoration of the natural coral reefs. He said to Tierramerica: "With this museum we will warranty a better distribution of the tourists and we will give the reefs some rest. It will be almost like a restoration because by being more healthy, the reefs will be stronger against hurricanes."

In just one short month, the first four statues should be in place. Two hundred and fifty should be in place by 2010. Jason de Caires Taylor, famous for his underwater art work, will be responsible for the sculptures along with other artists.

Via TreeHugger

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lack of Trees Means Cremation by Cow Dung

Photos via the BBC. The new mode of cremation has achieved widespread social acceptance.

Bihar, India is suffering from a shortage of trees. This shortage has led the local people to become creative in the choice of fuel sources for cremation. The local populace as decided to replace the wood used in a traditional cremation with cow dung - a move that saves an entire tree for every ceremony. The people of remote, flood ravaged Bihar have no aversion to cremating their dead over cow dung. It's entirely socially acceptable; and, is rapidly growing as a practice. It is now used by 40% of the population. Many people in India use cow dung as a building material and as a fuel source for their cooking fires.

This region is famed for its mango trees; however, it regularly loses entire orchards to storms because it is subject to extremely harsh flooding. The region is also sparsely forested (only 7%) so access to trees is increasingly restricted as the population grows. The deaths are in direct relation to the population; so, as the population grows the demand for wood for cremations grows also.

The people of the Bihar have traditionally used the wood of the mango trees for the funeral fires of cremation; but, this tradition uses an entire mango tree. Since the number of mango trees was dwindling an alternate fuel source was needed.

The new method is said to be more environmentally friendly.

Besides being less cumbersome and environmentally destructive, cow dung cakes are also more economical.

"With the stringent restrictions over cutting green trees, the mango woods have become costlier and it even becomes difficult during the flood season to get, especially when the whole area remains chronically waterlogged for months," Professor Vidyanath Jha told the BBC.

"There are waterlogged areas like Kusheshwarasthan where mango orchards have completely been wiped out," said Professor Jha.

The funeral pyre is made from cakes known as goraha. From the BBC:
Using cow dung is known in Bihar as the "goraha" way of cremation. Cow dung is fashioned into a long rod-shaped cake, known locally as goraha.

Under the new method of cremation, people dig a large pit and arrange long rod-shaped cow dung cakes in rows set in three tiers.

The lowest tier comprises three horizontal rows arranged in a scaffolding pattern and an additional fourth layer is added when the soil is moist.

Pressure is exerted on the lower layers which break into smaller pieces and help absorb the soil moisture.

The lowest tier serves as the podium on which the corpse is laid in a sitting posture to minimise the surface area. A small space is left between tiers to light the pyre through performing the rituals.

The flame gradually reaches the lower layers and sets the whole body alight
About 200 kg of cow dung cakes are used to burn a corpse compared with about 240-280kg of mango wood.

"Under this system the whole body gets disposed of within one-and-half-hours; whereas, in the traditional system mourners needed to be at the funeral site for three to four hours," said Shambhu Ram, a college employee who cremated one of his relatives using dung as fuel a year ago.

"One has to spend only 400-500 rupees ($6-$8) in the goraha system as opposed to between 3,000-4,000 rupees ($62-$83) in the traditional mango-wood cremation of a dead body.

"It's easy, cheap and takes less time for us who are waterlogged in flood waters for three to four months every year in monsoon season," Mr Ram says.

Forest cover in Bihar is rapidly disappearing.

Via BBC and TreeHugger

The Lost Ladybug Project

Photo courtesy: Cause2

When I first moved into my condo 15 years ago, I thought I lived in a ladybug flight path. They were all over the balcony, they flew in the windows, they were everywhere. I loved it!! I have always loved ladybugs - it's been a lifelong love affair.

Unfortunately, my ladybugs do not visit me as much anymore. Actually, they are few and far between nowadays. They have gone the way of the frog, the grasshopper, the garden snake and many other disappearing species I remember from childhood.

The Lost Ladybug Project is tracking ladybugs throughout the US and Canada in an effort to gain added insight into their disappearance. Great family activity to do with the children; and, the website has content designed especially for children.

This from Cause2:

Scientists are asking children, adults, families, educators and everyone from two to 102-years-old to join a citizens-science group to help our ladybugs.

Ladybugs were once one of the most common bugs found across the U.S. and Canada. Controlling pests that attack farm harvests, balancing the ecosystems in forests and fields, their industriousness is an important part of the ecosystem.

During the past two decades as invasive look-alike ladybugs expanded their territories and pollution and habitat loss have crowded them out, species of Native ladybugs began vanishing and the invasive species began increasing. These include the multicolored Asian ladybug, checkerboard ladybug and the seven-spotted ladybug.

The larger, rounder multicolored Asian ladybug had been introduced as a biological control for scale bugs then mass produced across the lands. It even eats ladybug larvae. The checkerboard ladybug, which is small and yellow, hitched a ride from Europe through the St. Lawrence River in the 1960s and has since been traveling steadily southward. The seven-spotted ladybug, also from Europe, came to North America in 1956. Its population extended its range as the Native nine-spotted and two-spotted began disappearing.

“This has happened very quickly and we don't know how this shift happened, what impact it will have, and how we can prevent more native species from becoming so rare,” said John E. Losey, Cornell University entomologist.

In June 2007 the Lost Ladybug collaborators, headed by Losey, received a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to expand the program throughout New York and extend it nationally. Their goal is to use citizen science to bring more participation in the search for the bugs. The ladybugs are collected into vials with twigs and drops of water. The date, time and place they were found are written down. The discoveries are placed on a gray square and their pictures are taken. Digital images are sent to the project's website, or color prints can be mailed to the university. The ladybugs are returned to where they were found.

The database will help scientists understand the shifting changes on earth, help farmers with crops and further understanding of rare species and the ecosystems in which they live. There are more than 5,000 species of ladybugs around the earth. About 450 are Native to North America. It’s not yet known if the new species inhabiting the continent will serve the same function or favor the same habitats as the native species.

In turn, youth will learn about the place of the ladybug in the community of nature and the importance of biodiversity and conservation for the web of life through hands-on participation in research. Educational materials, books, collection vials and nets are provided through Cornell University.

The project's website will post instructions for finding collection sites, making nets, photographing ladybugs, submitting data and uploading photos. The website will also offer an automated identification feature to provide people with real-time feedback on species that have been collected. Ladybug lore, myths, songs and culturally based stories are being posted to explain the relationships between ladybugs, pests and our food.

As of this year, more than 3,000 ladybugs will be in the new data display sent in by hundreds of participants across the U.S. and Canada.

For more information visit the Lost Ladybug Project.

Monday, September 28, 2009

50 Uses For Vinegar

One of my favourite cleaning agents is vinegar. It is cheap and cuts through anything; however, even I was amazed at the number of ways vinegar can be used.

1. Used as a hair rinse, vinegar neutralizes the alkali left by shampoos.

2. A quarter cup in a quart of water makes a good window cleaner. Dry with newspaper for sparkling windows.

3. Fabric softener and static cling reducer - use as you would liquid fabric softener.

4. Air freshener, used with baking soda - use 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon vinegar and 2 cups of water. After it stops foaming, mix well, and use in a (recycled) spray bottle into the air.

5. Chewing gum dissolver - saturate the area with vinegar. If the vinegar is heated, it will work faster.

6. Stain remover - for stains caused by grass, coffee, tea, fruits and berries. Soak clothing in full strength vinegar.

7. Corn and callus remover - soak a piece of stale bread (a cloth would probably do as well) in vinegar, and tape it over the callus or corn overnight.

8. Remedy for age spots - Mix equal parts of onion juice and vinegar and use it daily on age spots. This will take a few weeks to work, just like its expensive relative from the store.

9. Kill grass or weeds by pouring hot vinegar on it. This might take a couple of times to work completely. Use white vinegar straight from the bottle to pour on the weeds and grasses that come up through the pavement...Just pour on and let set a couple of days and the weeds will die back and won't reappear for several months.

10. Wash your windshield with vinegar in the winter to help keep ice and frost away.

11. If you have a septic tank, use vinegar instead of harsh chemicals to clean the toilet bowl. Let it set overnight if you can; it will help keep germs down.

12. Spray your hands with a mist of vinegar, or dip them in vinegar and dry after washing dishes or having them in soapy water to keep your hands soft.

13. It's an ongoing battle as to whether vinegar can help you lose weight, but the ones who say it will, say to drink a glass of water before each meal in which you've added a tablespoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of honey. Traditional wisdom says to use apple-cider vinegar for weight loss.

14. Use diluted 1:1 in water to take pet odors out of carpets. Find the spot, and saturate it with about 1 1/2 times the original volume. Let set for awhile then blot up. Repeat if your cloth is very dirty after blotting.

15. Splash vinegar on your varicose veins. The vinegar is supposed to reduce the veins and relieve the pain and swelling. Of course, you might smell like a tossed salad!

16. Use about a tablespoon of vinegar in the water when poaching eggs. It helps the eggs to keep their shape. No taste of vinegar either.

17. Use 1 tablespoon vinegar to an 8 ounce glass of warm water for a sore throat. Gargle every hour and swallow after gargling, with two mouthfuls.

18. It is also helpful when children get lice, if you take warm vinegar and put it on the hair also take your nit comb and dip it in the vinegar. As you run it through the hair it helps remove the nits. It is supposed to be able to help break down the glue the nits use to stay attached to the hair.

19. Set a container (shallow bowl) of vinegar throughout the house to absorb unpleasant odors. Works great on burned food odors.

20. Use vinegar and olive oil as a frugal dressing with a selection of herbs on your

21. Do you sometimes burn the fish or the toast? Vinegar in a towel, twirled about the head will quickly stop the smoke detectors from screaming. It also freshens the air, and captures the smoke smell before the whole house is caught.

22. Put vinegar on white bread around a house to get rid of smoke smell from a fire.

23. You can use vinegar to remove wall paper. First remove top layer of wallpaper. Then spray vinegar on and let set for a minute or two. Then pull backing away. Scrape excess glue off wall. Wipe remaining glue off with vinegar and rinse with water.

24. Keep it in mind when cleaning the walls after removing wallpaper: I use vinegar water (2-3 parts vinegar to 1 part water) to remove (new or old)wall paper paste. Add more vinegar as needed if the paste is really stubborn.

25. Vinegar can be used as an antiseptic for abrasions,to reduce itch from poison ivy or mosquito bites,and even to help rehydrate sunburned skin.

26. Use it diluted 50/50 as a skin cleanser as most soaps are alkaline as compared to skin ph.

27. On a different note, most meat marinades are most effective if acidic, so an extra few spoonfuls of vinegar can't hurt.

28. On heavily tarnished copper or copper-alloy to be cleaned up, use a paste made of salt and vinegar.

29. Use white (not apple cider) vinegar mixed with water to rinse off the dishes after washing them to take the soap off and leave them squeaky clean. This also takes the soap residue off of my hands at the same time.

30. Give acid-loving plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas and gardenias a little help by watering them with a white distilled vinegar solution now and again. A cup of white distilled vinegar to a gallon of tap water is a good mixture.

31. Pour vinegar around the sides of your pool and it helps keeps flies away.

32. Add 1/2 cup vinegar to a gal. of water to keep your vinyl no wax floors clean and shining. It also kills dust mites.

33. Use as a meat tenderizer. Add a tablespoon to water when boiling ribs or meat for stews; and, even the toughest meat will be so tender you can cut with a fork.

34. One teaspoon to one tablespoon of vinegar gets rid of hiccups. Gargling with cider vinegar will stop the most horrible case of hiccups!

35. Vinegar is great for removing calcium deposit build up. Use full strength and allow to set. Time depends on condition.

36. Sunburn Remedies: At bedtime, cover sunburns with a towel soaked in water and vinegar and try to persuade the victim to sleep this way. During the day, put vinegar in a spray bottle and spray on sunburn. It soothes for quite a length of time. Just like store bought stuff. To relieve swelling and fluid from too much sun, mix a paste of baking soda and apple cider vinegar and apply. Tan enthusiasts swear that spraying with a mixture of half water, half red wine vinegar on their skin while tanning lessens the time needed and deepens the tan.

37. Use 2 cups of cider vinegar in the tub to soak sore muscles and add potassium to muscles.

38. Use for a throat soother. Take equal amounts of honey and cider vinegar, stir or shake until dissolved. Take a tablespoon at a time to cut mucous in the throat.

39. Heat vinegar to boiling point. Then pour over your fixtures that have deposits of lime. This will release or remove lime deposits.

40. Use a cup of vinegar in two gallons of water in the diaper pail to neutralize the urine in cloth diapers. It also helps keep them from staining.

41. Keep a spray bottle of 50% vinegar, 50% water near the laundry station. Spray it on stains before tossing the clothing into the washer (just as you would a commercial spray stain remover). As a carpet spot and stain remover - take a trigger spray bottle and fill with one part white vinegar to seven parts water. Take a second spray bottle and fill with one part white, non-sudsy ammonia and seven parts water. Saturate stain with vinegar solution. Let dwell for a few minutes and blot thoroughly with a clean, white cloth. Then go over the area with the ammonia solution, let dwell and blot again. Repeat until the stain is gone. Also works for pet stains to help remove the odors.

42. Preserve cut flowers and liven droopy ones by adding 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar and 1 teaspoon sugar to a quart of water in a vase.

43. Stop ants from congregating by pouring white distilled vinegar on the area.

44. When boiling or steaming cauliflower, beets or other vegetables, add a teaspoon or two of white distilled vinegar to the water to help them keep their color. This will also improve their taste, and reduce gassy elements. This also works when cooking beans and bean dishes.

45. Vinegar in drinking water is very effective in eliminating the low-grade fevers that are present in Chronic Fatigue sufferers. It also helps eliminate the 'thrush' coating in the mouth which is sometimes caused by antibiotic use. Mix four tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a gallon of drinking water. Drink up to one gallon each day.

46. Add a splash of vinegar, a tablespoon or so, to the water when you hardboil eggs. If one cracks, it will not boil out of the shell.

47. Add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a quart of drinking water. Helps to deal with heat stress. Also helps to repel mosquitoes.

48. Add moistness and taste to any chocolate cake—homemade or from a box—with a spoonful of white distilled vinegar.

49. Give leather upholstery an extra shine by cleaning it with hot white distilled vinegar and rinsing with soapy water.

50. If you use cloth diapers for your baby, add 1 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle to neutralize the ph of the diapers and help prevent diaper rash.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Free-Range Eggs Nutritionally Superior to Factory Eggs

Photo courtesy: George & Eiko Vojkovich. Left to their own devices, chickens prefer to hang out in lush, green pastures rather than cramped, steel cages (these are from Skagit River Ranch of Washington).

I first started eating eggs from only free-range, organically fed hens several years ago. If my organic, free-range eggs are not available, I don't eat eggs until they are. This began as my personal protest against the inhumane treatment of battery hens.

I have since found that there are added benefits to eating only free-range or pastured eggs - more and better nutrition plus a fresher, more intense taste.

In 2007, Mother Earth News conducted an eggs testing project. Their testing has found that, compared to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from free-range hens may contain:

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

The conclusion? Free-range eggs are nutritionally better for you than eggs from battery hens.

These amazing results come from 14 flocks around the USA that either range freely on pastured land or are housed in movable pens that are rotated frequently to maximize access to fresh pasture.

Mother Earth News maintains that the following summary of six studies indicated that free-range or pastured eggs are richer in nutrients than typical supermarket eggs.
•In 1974, the British Journal of Nutrition found that pastured eggs had 50 percent more folic acid and 70 percent more vitamin B12 than eggs from factory farm hens.

•In 1988, Artemis Simopoulos, co-author of The Omega Diet, found pastured eggs in Greece contained 13 times more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids than U.S. commercial eggs.

•A 1998 study in Animal Feed Science and Technology found that pastured eggs had higher omega-3s and vitamin E than eggs from caged hens.

•A 1999 study by Barb Gorski at Pennsylvania State University found that eggs from pastured birds had 10 percent less fat, 34 percent less cholesterol, 40 percent more vitamin A, and four times the omega-3s compared to the standard USDA data. Her study also tested pastured chicken meat, and found it to have 21 percent less fat, 30 percent less saturated fat and 50 percent more vitamin A than the USDA standard.

•In 2003, Heather Karsten at Pennsylvania State University compared eggs from two groups of Hy-Line variety hens, with one kept in standard crowded factory farm conditions and the other on mixed grass and legume pasture. The eggs had similar levels of fat and cholesterol, but the pastured eggs had three times more omega-3s, 220 percent more vitamin E and 62 percent more vitamin A than eggs from caged hens.

•The 2005 study Mother Earth News conducted of four heritage-breed pastured flocks in Kansas found that pastured eggs had roughly half the cholesterol, 50 percent more vitamin E, and three times more beta carotene.

•The 2007 results from 14 producers are shown here.

Mother Earth News (and I) believe the dramatically differing nutrient levels are the result of the different diets of birds. True free-range birds eat a chicken’s natural diet — various seeds, green plants, insects and worms, usually along with grain or laying mash. Factory farm birds never even see the outdoors, let alone get to forage for their natural diet. Instead they are fed the cheapest possible mixture of corn, soy and/or cottonseed meals with all kinds of additives.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Drinking Water Feminizing Male Children?

All photos courtesy: TreeHugger.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has finally decided to look into regulating chemicals used in hormone replacement therapy and birth control pills. Unfortunately, 85% of the hormones in these medications are not used by the body they are prescribed for; but, instead are passed out the body via the urine. This chemical-laden toilet bowl water, of course, ends up in the waste water system.

Some scientists believe that these hormones can (and do) affect developing children even with very low counts of parts per trillion in the drinking water. Males have smaller penises, lower sperm count, defective sperm, bigger breasts, testicular cancer; and, a reduction in the number of males being born. Females suffer from obesity and early puberty.

As one scientist said on the program the Disappearing Male:
"We are conducting a vast toxicological experiment in which our children and our children's children are the experimental subjects."

A Canadian study, obviously done by someone who didn't care that they were poisoning an entire ecosystem, showed what happens when birth control pill hormones are dumped into a lake to the concentration of five parts per trillion. One of the results was that the entire population of Fathead Minnows that called that lake home crashed.

Fathead minnows are extremely hardy and survive where many other fish can't; but, they were no match for this unnatural attack on their systems.

Karen Kidd of the University of New Brunswick seeded the 34-hectare lake with 5 parts per trillion (ppt) 17∝-ethynylestradiol — the active ingredient in birth control pills - so she could study the results.

She studied the effect of the hormones; and, according to Environmental Science and Technology:

"Within weeks of the first doses, male minnows started making vitellogenin, an egg-yolk protein typically produced by female fish. Within 2 years, the protein concentration reached up to 10,000 times normal levels. The exposure delayed sexual development of both sexes and because minnows spawn for just one season during their 2-year life, this caused the population to plummet toward collapse in just 3 years. The minnow population took 2 years to recover after researchers stopped adding estrogen.".

The EPA is also looking at agricultural pesticides, microbes, commercial chemicals, and chemicals used in Scotchgard and Teflon. It comes as no surprise to bird owners that burning teflon pots and pans can (and has) killed our feathered friends.

It is quite the list, and includes many chemicals used in agriculture, industry and the military. This list includes perchlorate a key component in rocket fuel and critical to the space shuttle. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out. If interested, you can see the whole list of chemicals here.

It is all part of a "Contaminant Candidate List"- a "multi-step CCL process". Nothing has been decided yet; they are just looking.

The Disappearing Male. Well worth the time.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Photo courtesy: Boyes Hot Springs.

Many people have stopped using this type of fly paper due to ethical questions about the morality of using fly strips that hold a fly hostage until it dies of hunger and thirst.

A new threat to birds has been discovered by a few peple who still use these types of fly paper. Apparently, strips that had been hung beside windows, slider patio doors and/or open doorways to the outside have trapped birds on the strips.

Birds have very keen eyesight; and, it is suspected that the birds can see the flies trapped on the strip. They consider this a free meal and get trapped when trying to eat the flies.

Their feathers have become trapped on the sticky paper and the birds are unable to free themselves. From what I understand, no fatalities have occured as the homeowner has been home at the time of the incident since there is either a window or door open that allows the birds access to the home.

Take care with sticky paper, friends.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Species of Scaleless Fish Found in Brazilian Waters

Scientists are baffled as a fish without scales is found in Brazilian waters.

A large fish without scales that turned up floating off the coast of Brazil baffled scientists and specialists from the region who are studying the rare specimen and ensure that the species is totally unknown.

The fish, which draws attention due to its rarity, was found by a team of marine biologists in that country while doing research on sea turtles.

The fish, weighing 88 pounds, is six feet long, it has sharp teeth and the particularity of not having scales.

The specialists, who stationed the fish in formalin for further research, believe that the animal would not be edible due to the high content of fat in its body.

“It’s a rare gem, is a fish that humans had never seen,” said one researcher.

It is believed that these coastal areas of Brazil is also hosting other species unknown to the human eye.

Unfortunately, the following video is in Spanish; but, the shots of the fish are great.

Reposted via: The Underwater Times

Egypt Deals With The Aftermath of Killing The Country's 300,000 Pigs

Quite a while ago, I did a blog about Afghanistan's plan to kill the only pig in the country. Pig (the name of the little porcine) lived in a zoo; and, his fate was hanging in the balance due to an overreaction by the Afghani people about the dangers of swine flu. I also mentioned that Egypt (in a seemingly similar overreaction) planned to kill over 300,000 pigs in an attempt to prevent swine flu entering the country.

Many of Egypt's zabaleen believed Egypt had a hidden agenda behind the wiping out of all pigs in a predominately Muslim country. They feel the Egyptian government had a two-pronged reason for the pig cull. First, Egypt is predominately Muslim and Islam prevents the eating of pork. The zabaleen are the minority Christian segment that raised pigs and ate them. Second, the zabaleen feel it a covert attempt to destroy their livlihoods; and, eventually, their way of life.

The result of this pig cull was not what the Egyptian government had in mind.

Photo courtesy: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times. Pigs were the champion garbage consumers in Cairo. Other animals just don't seem up to the task.

“They killed the pigs, let them clean the city,” said Moussa Rateb, a former garbage collector and pig owner who lives in the community of the zabaleen. “Everything used to go to the pigs, now there are no pigs, so it goes to the administration.”

The country's zabaleen are on strike and the streets of Egypt tell the tale. When the Egyptian government killed all the pigs, they effectively wiped out the zabaleens' way of life; and, the zabaleen are angry.

Who are the zabaleen and how does killing all Egypt's pigs lead to this kind of garbage in the streets? It's a story of religion and intrigue in Cairo.

Egypt does not have a sanitary department that goes from house to house collecting garbage. In fact, Egypt does not have much of a garbage collection system other than the zabaleen.

For more than half a century, the zabaleen, a community of Egyptian Christians who live on the cliffs on the eastern edge of Cairo have gone door to door collecting the city's garbage. They collected the trash, sold the recyclables and fed the organic waste to their pigs. Eventually, they slaughtered the pigs and ate them.

But the garbage crisis should not have come as a surprise.

When the government killed all the pigs in Egypt this spring, it was warned the city would be overwhelmed with trash. And here is where the intrigue begins.

The government publicly stated that the pigs were being killed in an attempt to combat swine flu; and, prevent it from entering the country.

The zabaleen say it was an attempt to undermine their way of life, eradicate all pigs in Egypt because Islam prohibits the eating of pork; and, eventually, erase the zabaleen themselves.

The situation as it exists today is that rotting food is piling up on the streets of middle-class neighbourhoods like Heliopolis as well as the streets of poor communities such as Embaba.

Ramadan Hediya, 35, who makes deliveries for a supermarket, lives in Madinat el Salam, a low-income community on the outskirts of Cairo.

“The whole area is trash,” Mr. Hediya said. “All the pathways are full of trash. When you open up your window to breathe, you find garbage heaps on the ground.”

Photo courtesy: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times. A zabaleen carrying a load of cardboard. The zabaleen no longer go door to door collecting organic waste, which they fed to pigs.

Basically speaking, services are delivered in Egypt one of two ways: the government system or the do-it-yourself system. Instead of becoming embroiled in Egypt's infamous bureaucracy, most people rely on an informal system of personal contacts, bribes, favours and any other means necessary to get building permits, pass an inspection, get a driver's license, get garbage collected or make a living.

“The straight and narrow path is just too bureaucratic and burdensome for the rich person, and for the poor, the formal system does not provide him with survival, it does not give him safety, security or meet his needs,” said Laila Iskandar Kamel, chairwoman of a community development organization in Cairo.

When asked about the pig cull, Ms. Kamel said this: “was the stupidest thing they ever did. This is just one more example of poorly informed decision makers.”

“The main problem in Egypt is follow-up,” said Sabir Abdel Aziz Galal, chief of the infectious disease department at the Ministry of Agriculture. “A decision is taken, there is follow-up for a period of time, but after that, they get busy with something else and forget about it. This is the case with everything.”

When swine flu fear first emerged President Hosni Mubarak ordered all the pigs killed in order to prevent the spread of the disease. It should be pointed out that not one case of swine flu had been reported in Egypt at this time.

Health officials worldwide determined that the virus was not spread by pigs and the Egyptian officials changed the story. The new reason for the cull was about cleaning up the zabaleen's over-crowded, garbage-strewn neighbourhood.

That was in May.

The pigs are gone; the streets of Cairo and other cities are awash in rotting organic matter; the zabaleens still live in squalor; and, Egypt is sinking in its own garbage.

“The problem is clear in the streets,” said Haitham Kamal, a spokesman for the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs. “There is a strict and intensive effort now from the state to address this issue.”

Photo courtesy: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Times
A woman picked through garbage in Cairo. A delicate balance of trash collecting has been upset, and garbage is everywhere.

In an attempt to clean up the garbage, the government hired multinational garbage companies. These companies decided that the best method would be to set up garbage bins all over the city; but, they did not count on the mindset of the city's inhabitants. People were not used to removing their own garbage, they were used to their garbage being collected at their front door.

The zabaleen still collect some garbage; but, they are sticking to their pledge not to dispose of 99% of the organic waste. Since their pigs have been killed, they own only a few goats now; and, their need for organic waste is almost non-existent.

Instead they dump the organic refuse wherever they can; or, at best, pile it beside trash bins scattered around the city by the international companies that have failed miserably at keeping up with the refuse.

And; then, just when you thought matters couldn't get any worse for the beleaguered Egyptian people, along comes a strike by the employees of one of the multinational companies. The men and women in green uniforms with crude brooms who are dispatched around the city stopped working in a dispute with the city.

The government says that the dispute has been resolved, but nothing has been done to repair the damage to the informal system that once had the zabaleen take Cairo’s trash home.

The garbage is only the latest example of the state’s struggling to meet the needs of its citizens, needs as basic as providing water, housing, health care and education.

Who knows where this will end. World organizations may have to step in due to the very real danger of plagues and other deadly virus' taking hold of an unsuspecting and vulnerable population.

A video showing the zabaleen, their pigs and their lifestyle before the Egyptian government slaughtered all the pigs. Things have worsened since the pig cull.

Via: The New York Times

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walruses - The New Canaries in The Coal Mine?

(Click photos for enlargement)

I previously have written a blog calling frogs the "new canaries in the coal mine". I still believe that frogs have been sounding the warning about the ever-worsening environmental catastrophe for decades. However, it would appear that walrus have joined the front lines in declaring the environment too toxic to exist in.

Walruses are hauled out Sept. 6/09 on the shore of Icy Cape about 140 southwest of Barrow. Photo courtesy Gary Friedrichsen/Noaa/ The Associated Press

Walruses are the latest victims of climate change. These sea mammals spend most of their days at seas; but, they cannot swim forever. Walruses need to haul-out (come onto land or sea ice) to rest, give birth, and socialize. The problem is that the packs of sea ice used by the walruses to haul-out are diminishing forcing them to crowd onto beaches. This is where the deaths happen.

Up to 200 dead walruses have been spotted on the shore of Chukchi Sea on Alaska's northwest coast. The story unfolds.

Mystery deaths: Some of the dead walruses found on the shore of Icy Cape in the Chukchi Sea about 140 south-west of Barrow, Alaska. Up to 200 carcasses were spotted by wildlife researchers a fortnight ago.

Federal wildlife researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey were on their way to a walrus-tagging project when they spotted 100 to 200 walrus carcasses near Icy Cape about 140 miles southwest of Barrow. The dead mammals when gathered together formed a pile approximately the size of the group in the first picture.

They report the dead walruses appeared to be mostly new calves or yearlings. However, neither the age of the dead animals nor the cause of death is known, said Bruce Woods, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It's just too early to say until we can get someone on the ground," Woods said.

The investigators will have to be careful as walrus gatherings at haul-out sites have become larger and larger. When walrus panic they stampede. A man doesn't stand much of a chance caught in a walrus stampede - neither do the very young, the very old, the sick or the weak.

About 3,500 walruses were reported last week at the Icy Cape haul-out site. Remember Icy Cape is the area the dead walruses were found.

Due to a lack of packs of sea ice, these land-based haul-out areas are becoming overcrowded and tempers among the bull walruses can flare especially over mating rights. One of the leading causes of death in young, elderly or weakened animals is being crushed in a stampede.

With tempers short, lack of room and more animals competing for their share of the ever-diminishing space there really isn't an avenue of escape when a stampede occurs. Unfortunately, a herd can be startled by many things: a polar bear, human hunters or even a low-flying aeroplane.

Walruses are forced on to an Alaskan beach in this undated image from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Receding sea ice is being blamed for the death of hundreds of walruses on Arctic beaches.

The decreasing sea ice is being blamed for these walrus deaths. This is the second time in three years that walruses have congregated in such large numbers on the Alaskan shore rather than the edge of the sea ice. The sea ice drifts throughout the year moving north in the summer as temperatures rise and south in the fall and winter as temperatures cool.

Walrus historically have used sea ice as a platform for diving in the Bering and Chukchi seas for clams and other food on the ocean floor. These ice platforms are also used as resting areas between dives. In recent years, sea ice has receded far beyond the outer continental shelf. This forces walruses to choose between riding the ice over waters too deep to allow them to reach clams and other food source on the ocean floor; or, moving onto the already overcrowded shore.

The summer retreat of sea ice over the Arctic is shown in these images from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Arctic sea ice melted this summer to the third-smallest area on record this year, scientists have said.

USGS researchers began a tagging project using satellite transmitters to study foraging habits of walruses gathered on shore. Researchers fear animals congregating on shore, instead of the sea ice edge, could eventually exhaust food within swimming and diving range. This could lead to mass starvation leading to a crash in the population. And, as we all know, what impacts one species greatly has fall-out that affects other species.

The ship Arctic Sunrise reaches 'the ice bridge' in the Robeson channel, near the border between Greenland and Canada on September 14 this year. The Greenland icesheet has also begun melting at an alarming rate.

Environmental groups point to the dead walruses on shore as evidence that global warming is altering the Arctic and its environment. They are calling for measures to slow greenhouse gas emissions saying the changes to the environment are forcing major changes in wildlife behaviour.

The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list walruses as a threatened or endangered species. They cite the threats to the walrus from sea ice loss as being profound enough to cause the walrus population to decline; and, possibly, become extinct.

The agency has opened a 60-day public comment period. Spokeswoman Shaye Wolf said the walrus deaths were alarming.

"It provides another indicator that climate change is taking a brutal toll on the Arctic," she said.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado announced that Arctic sea ice for 2009 has shrunk to its third lowest level since satellite measurements began in 1979. The record low was set in 2007; and, ice last year (2008) melted to the second lowest level on record.

Is it just me or is there a trend here?

Final world: Walruses for years came ashore intermittently in Alaska during their fall southward migration; but, not so early and not in such numbers.

A short, heartwarming video showing the depth of emotion between a mother walrus and her calf. Be prepared to say "aaaahhhhhh" alot. Made by National Geographic, excellent footage. You will be putty in their flippers!

Via: and World News.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Car Tires Made With Latex From Dandelions?

What child doesn't love dandelions? I used to love popping the heads off at someone and then watching the quick-flowing latex run down the stem. Or I would press the broken edge of the dandelion against my skin again and again. Or I would blow the seeds from the ripe dandelion heads all over because everyone knew they were wishes waiting to fly. Then I discovered the magic of dandelion wine; but, finally realized that dandelion tea was better for me.

Scientists from Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC) recently received a $3 million grant to design and build a processing plant that would turn sticky white dandelion root sap into quality rubber. They will use a relative of the plant that menaces American lawns everywhere, pictured here. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

Scientists from Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center (OBIC) state they have recently received a $3 million grant to design and build a processing plant that would turn sticky white dandelion root sap into quality rubber for less money than current methods.

"No matter how much chemistry we've applied, we still haven't been able to find an artificial substitute for natural rubber," said William Ravlin, a researcher involved in the project. "We're still harvesting [rubber] the same way they did 1,000 years ago; by cutting into the tree and letting the sap drip into containers. It's not a very efficient system."

The Ohio scientists vision of an efficient system is Midwestern farmers driving air-conditioned tractors harvesting acres of yellow dandelions with the same efficiency and machinery used to pull tulip bulbs.

However, the scientists will not be using just any garden-variety dandelion. Oh no, the humble Taraxacum officinale is not worthy enough. The latex found in the American dandelion's Uzbekistani cousin, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS) is considered superior for this. TKS is commonly referred to Russian dandelion.

So, what makes the Russian dandelion superior to the American dandelion? TKS' carrot-like root is anywhere from 10%-20% rubber-ready. "And that's without modifying them with biotechnology or breeding," said Ravlin.

Researchers from Oregon State University are working in collaboration with the Ohio scientists. Together they are developing different varieties of seeds with various potential improvements including increasing the ability to increase crop yield.

While many details have yet to be worked out, the researchers expect that within a few years the Ohio processing plant could produce 20 million tons of rubber annually.

By 2015 they hope to triple that amount, to more than 60 million tons, most of which will be used for research purposes. That's alot of dandelions!

Photo by mgpenguin86 via flickr

Dandelion rubber has proved to be of equal quality with the rubber derived the Brazilian rubber tree. The world's only commercial source of natural rubber comes from the Brazilian rubber trees in Southeast Asia - disease wiped out all the commercial Brazilian rubber trees in South America. Ask any gardener how easy it is to kill dandelions!! They are some of the most resilient plants on the face of the earth!

Synthetic rubber can be produced; but, due to impurities, is a poor substitute for natural. Eventually some of the dandelion rubber will go to the leading tire manufacturer - Bridgestone.

"I think this has some real potential," said Jason Poulton, Manager of Polymer Development at Bridgestone.

"It would be useful for tire producers to have a safe and steady supply of natural rubber that would insulate us from the price increases of the last five to seven years," said Jason Poulton.

Poulton advises that policymakers and farmers proceed with caution should dandelion-derived rubber prove profitable. "Dandelions could compete for farmland used for edible food," said Poulton. "Resolving that problem could be one of our biggest challenges."

Via Discovery News and TreeHugger

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

A Chinese woman was spooked after a one-footed snake, shown here, turned up in her home. Duan Qiongxiu, 66, of China's Sichuan province, woke early on Sept. 11, 2009, to find a 16-inch-long snake in her room, with a clawed foot growing out of its body. The snake is as thick as a small finger and appears to have a foot growing on its body, about 10 inches from its head. The foot is less than an inch long and has four claws.

The Odd Blog (I warned you about)

Cameron Lake on Vancouver Island is shown in handout photo taken by Brigette Horvath. Horvath knew she saw something strange in Cameron Lake on Vancouver Island two years ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Brigette Horvath-HO

Brigette Horvath knew she saw something strange in Cameron Lake on Vancouver Island two years ago; and, a team of researchers say she might be right.

Brigette states that at the time she didn't know what the strange creature might be; but, she grabbed her camera anyway and managed to get one picture before the batteries failed.

Cryptozoologists who search for animals which are considered to be legendary or otherwise nonexistent by mainstream biology spent Saturday, Sept. 19 on the lake searching for the sea creature.

On the first pass they detected a couple of large contact at the bottom of the lake, about 45 metres deep. On the return trip, the second pass, they found a much more substantial contact.

"Something just went 'ping' on the alarm on the fish finder and we saw this absolutely massive object in the midst of various fish," said John Kirk, president of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club.

Kirk points out that four more passes were made and the contact remained stable. This made the possibility of it being a school of fish highly unlikely as they would tend to scatter eventually.

"We were quite stunned that there was something that big in the lake and it was in about 60 feet of water, less than 30 yards from shore, it was quite amazing," he said.

Brigette was driving along Highway 4, July 30, 2007, when a strange semi-circle in the lake's waters caught her attention. She is not the only person to claim to have seen something strange in Cameron Lake.

"You could see like a serpent shape," claims Horvath. "It wasn't logs," she said. "It wasn't waves. There were no boats in the area. It was, like, right there. You could actually see a large fish, (an) object, no, not an object, something alive."

John Kirk says that due to the underwater camera being lost and the deterioration of the weather as the fall and winter approach, the search will have to be postponed until next year; but, the team has narrowed the possibilities.

"Maybe it's a sturgeon, maybe it's a giant sterile could be a massive type of salamander," Kirk said. "Or it could be something that we're completely unaware of at this point."

While Kirk says, "I'm not going to the extent to say there's anything exotic down there, there's just something big"; he does add that he doesn't expect to find any sea monsters in Cameron Lake.

Trees Are More Than Just Carbon Sinks

Communities living in countries most affected by food shortages have long known about the key role that trees can play in reducing the need for conventional aid.

Communities living in countries most affected by food shortages, like Africa, have always known that food from the trees can stave off starvation, dehydration, malnutrition, death and conventional aid.

Living with food shortages is a way of life for many of the world's poorest. Climate change, water shortages for crops and the rise in food prices is putting conventional food out of the reach of more and more people.

During famines or food crises humanitarian aid has always been provided. Sometimes, it's enough; sometimes, it isn't. Preventing the famine before it happens is the desired outcome; and, "trees of life" could spell the answer.

A farmer, Arzouma Thiombiano, recounts how trees saved many lives in the mid 1980's.

"Over 20 years ago, a big famine came but people escaped starvation by eating baobabs' leaves and fruit," he says.

The baobab tree trunk can store up to 300 litres of water; while, the fruit, flowers, bark and wood are used for food, medicines, clothing, rope and; even, paper. The dead, hollowed trunks have been used for toilets, prisons and tombs.

Western countries need to recognize that trees can be a source of food, water, medicine, clothing, and a host of other items for people in countries threatened with starvation and/or water shortages.

Instead of planting crops which aren't thriving due to the lack of water, perhaps foreign aid agencies should consider planting "trees of life" instead.

Fruits, leaves, wood and bark provide the vital resources for rural life

The continuing droughts across Africa have devastated crops again this year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) admits that 30 countries around the world are in crisis and need foreign aid.

Given that the effects of global warming are making droughts more common than ever, communities already in peril are being pushed even closer to the edge.

Malnutrition of the rural poor in Burkina Faso (W. Africa) has already risen to a shocking 40%. The already-failing agricultural lands are being further impacted by severe drying coupled with lack of rain. They are producing less and less; food prices are climbing higher and higher; and, the poor are falling farther and farther behind.

The G8 Summit held in Italy pledged $20 billion to support indigenous food production in an effort to alleviate the need for emergency food aid; but, include trees a viable crop.

It is time for the value of trees to be recognised at all levels internationally.

"Conventional" crops, the ones most commonly chosen to be planted, are often not native and require expensive inputs, significant irrigation and land preparation in order to produce a successful harvest. Many communities are not capable of providing the conditions needed for a successful harvest due to lack of money.

For small farmers, a failed harvest can mean months of malnutrition and hardship and crop failure is becoming a way of life for many. Trees, on the other hand, often survive when crops fail. Trees provide fruits, nuts, seeds, leaves, flowers, sepals, and sap which can all be used a food source. These tree foods already form a significant part of the daily diets of millions of Africans across rural Africa. Even in times of plenty many of the poorer people still eat these tree products because of the nutritional and healing properties. Unfortunately, these foods are considered to be "famine foods" by us westerners. I have to wonder when God gave us the right to be so judgemental.

Take Moringa oleifera - Three non-governmental organizations in particular — Trees for Life, Church World Service, and Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization — have advocated Moringa as “natural nutrition for the tropics.” Leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and reportedly without loss of nutritional value. Moringa is especially promising as a food source in the tropics because the tree is in full leaf at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce. Its leaves have more beta-carotene than carrots, more protein than peas, more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more potassium than bananas and more iron than spinach. Tests show that nursing mothers produce more milk when Moringa leaves are added to their diet. Additionally, parts of the tree are used for animal fodder to produce milk and meat for the family to consume.

Food from trees can provide vital nutrition when other food crops fail.

Training and support can help villagers earn money from things that grow on trees. Once trained, this income gives them food-purchasing power if the crops fail; access to vital services like health care and education; and, the ability to improve the quality of the lives and health of his/her family.

The approach increases self-sufficiency in both rural communities and national economies; increases environmental security; diversifies livelihood options and reduces vulnerability of the poor to climate change and external shocks.

The returns are real, sustainable and long term.

Tree Aid's Village Tree Enterprise project was set up to help villagers generate income from tree products. All the participants are women.

One of their husbands explained: "During the last drought period, when my granary was empty, my wife's income contributed more than 50% of the household's income."

Tree produce is the sole source of income for many people.

These projects provide communities with the skills and support needed so they can self-manage their trees while at the same time helps them to improve their coping abilities during times of drought, crop failure and higher food prices.

If groups like the G8 commit to developing the enormous potential of agro-forestry, they could simultaneously alleviate poverty and food insecurity for the world's poor and tackle the impact of climate change by promoting the protection and planting of trees.

Miranda Spitteler, who took the photos, is chief executive of TREE AID. I adapted this blog from her article. This site is definitely worth a visit!! Tree Aid rocks!!

Via BBC News

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Poo-Poo Train

Funiculaire Neuveville-St.Pierre in Fribourg, Switzerland. Photo courtesy

Sometimes inspiration seems to come in the strangest of places. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, cable trains or funiculars, have probably been the most energy-efficient mode of transportation anywhere on the face of the planet.

This simple, low-tech cable train often runs on plain water and gravity. Many of them have survived and continue to be utilised (mostly in a modernized form). New systems are being developed to keep the funiculars still in operation operating smoothly. A cable train system is operated on a steep slope with a gradient of up to 55%; and, consists of two passenger cars which are connected by a steel cable. Both cars travel on the same single track which widens temporarily to two tracks (usually in the middle) so the trains can pass one another.

One famous example is the Funiculaire de Montmartre in Paris, France, which was operated by water power from 1900 to 1930 and transported one million passengers per year.

Cable trains prove extremely energy efficient because a large share of the power required to pull up the ascending car is delivered by the counterweight of the descending car. Some added water and gravity do the rest. Since the system uses only one track for the majority of the line, it saves extensively on the materials needed and there is a reduction in space required.

Diagram showing how a funicular works.

Before the train departs the station, the employee in the upper station is informed of the number of passengers that have entered the ascending car. This tells him how much water the reservoir on the descending car needs (about 80 litres per passenger) to transport the cabin from the lower platform to the upper platform.

Immediately the descending car becomes heavier than the ascending car, the brakes are loosened setting both cars in motion now using only the power of gravity to complete the trip to the opposite platform. Once the descending car arrives, its water reservoir is emptied and the process is ready to begin again and transport a new set of passengers. (I shall be the one on the platform waving everyone a safe journey!)

The employee is holding the handle which regulates the brake. This brake operates a cog wheel onto a Riggenbach cog between the rails. The only thing the employee has to do is to turn the handle during the way down depending on the speed of the cabin.

I have to admit here that while I find the entire process fascinating, my fear of heights would probably keep me from ever riding one of these. If I were in the train and I could see that view, they would probably end up having to lash me in my chair.

Photo courtesy TreeHugger.

However, no matter how simple a process is; there is always someone somewhere who can improve on it.

In Fribourg, Switzerland, they had a much better idea. The two areas of town are separated by about 375' of elevation. One area is a the bottom of the hill and one area is at the top. What to do?

Since there is always one thing that flows downhill - sewage - they decided against running in a pipe and opted instead to use the waste as the counterbalance to their funicular. It is affectionately called by some - the "poo-poo train."

Photo courtesy TreeHugger.

Below are a couple of videos showing a ride on a furnicular.

If anyone has ever ridden on these, how about leaving a comment describing your trip!

Via Low-tech Magazine, TreeHugger and Funimag.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Drought Pushes Kenyan Nomads To The Brink

I know I always seem to be harping on the issue of water - it's conservation, drinkability, accessibility and many other water-related items. However, I believe water (or lack thereof) is the number one crisis in the world today; and, global warming is only exacerbating the situation.

Nearly three weeks ago, I was blogging about water riots in Yemen. Three people lost their lives in that riot - 2 police officers and 1 rioter. Now the horror in Kenya is as bad or worse than the nightmare in Yemen.

Watch the video and ask yourself: "What would I do to obtain water for my children and family?" Now ask yourself: "What wouldn't I do to get water for my children and family?" Death from dehydration can take 3 agonizing days.

The story in Kenya is the same as in Yemen. In many of the remoter places there is not enough clean water available to the villagers within walking distance; sometimes, not even within donkey distance. So clean water must be trucked in.

The difficulty with this plan is that while it is some relief to the villagers, the water does not last until the next delivery. By the time the next truck arrives the villagers are so desperate fights erupt and sometimes injuries happen.

Hawa Hassan comes leading three donkeys, accompanied by two female relatives and a handful of the family's smallest children. Hawa explains what finally forced her family to abandon the ways her ancestors had held to for generations. That life was a nomadic existence in the isolated lands where Kenya meets Somalia and Ethiopia. She explained that she feared this would be end of an entire way of life destroyed by the unprecedented decade of successive droughts.

One of the main water sources outside Moyale in Kenya runs dry. Photograph: Sarah Elliott/EPA

"We have no water," she explains, "and no food. We have left the pastures because we have lost so many goats. We had to come here to seek assistance. For the past two months we have talked and talked about making this decision. We waited because we thought there might be some rain."

Hawa and her family have exchanged the life of a nomad for the life of a community settlement member. She has became a pastoral dropout as many of her fellow herders have done before her - no longer free to live that nomadic, close-to-earth life she has lived all her life. She says: "I'm not sad that I came. I can get water here. I don't want to leave my life. If I could get some goats then I would return to herding... I can't feel good about being in a settlement. It has been forced on me. I don't wish it for my life."

Where water is provided by the government, it is delivered in a solitary tanker with a broken steering column. Even though the water is occasional and insufficient, the nomads will gather and be encouraged to drop out of their nomadic lifestyles.

The drivers of the tankers have been forced to make an uncomfortable; and, possibly dangerous decision to keep driving the truck until it breaks down totally. Their other choice would be to suspend water deliveries while waiting for parts from Nairobi. This could take up to three months. Some of the villages would never manage to survive for three months without these water supplements.

The watering points in the new settlements also attract wild animals. The smell of water draws them from the bushes. Sometimes, there are tiny droplets of water left in the puddles caused by the water tanker. From the villages come stories of infants and livestock snatched by predators.

At the first stop on the "water run" is a settlement named Iresuki. A group of women are already waiting by the road with empty 20-litre plastic canisters. The closer the tanker gets the more several women start to fight and shove.

The answer is pathetically simple. The tanker only visits an average of once a week or longer. The water it brings only lasts the villagers four days; so, those without access to donkeys to fetch water from far away have probably been without water for 3 or more days. They are reduced to begging, borrowing or going thirsty.

In the village of Dowder a tarpaulin laid into a broad trench in the earth serves as a water pan. The tanker deposits water for the livestock in it. When they're finished a few muddy puddles are all that remain of the water.

Two villagers are scooping up the puddles, a few spoonfuls at a time. "It's for my family to drink," says one of them. "For our homes."

The other villager states they have chosen to settle on these remote and dusty roads so that their plight remains visible to the government. "If we went to the big towns, no one would notice us. We have settled here where people will notice us and where we can be helped."

The escalating collapse of the pastoralist way of life is having a profound social impact on the dropouts, those on the verge of dropping out, and the few settled communities in the region.

Other problems erupting from the influx of nomads to the small villages are more obvious. The dropouts congregating in the town and by the road have little access to health care and sanitation. Most of the nomadic dropouts are unemployed; and, thus lack the money to better their lives.

For the children it is a particularly harsh existence. The children are vulnerable to illnesses such as malaria and pneumonia due to malnutrition. There is no money for medicines.

Ahmed Ibrahim, of Northern Aid, a local partner of the British charity Christian Aid, which is about to launch an appeal to counter the effects of the drought in Kenya, describes the situation of the nomads as desperate. "The pastoralists know that to take their livestock into areas like Somalia, where there is a war, is unsafe. It is a mark of their desperation."

When the nomads have tried to take their herds into pastures in surrounding areas, they have been forced back into their own territory. Many have returned gravely injured and/or with their herds stolen.

"The way the climate is changing – if it continues – it will be very difficult to sustain the nomadic way of living. It is a very hard task. We fear that soon people will begin dying not just from the lack of food but from a lack of water."

It is believed that the nomads are on the brink of extinction - a lifestyle that will exist no longer.

In Kenya, more than three million people are facing food and water shortages. The worst problems have been in the north of the country, where conflicts over resources have broken out between groups of nomadic pastoralists killing dozens.

So Kenya is facing two crises - the water shortage that is taking such a heavy toll on its people, livestock, wildlife, plant life and absolutely every other living being and the possible destruction of an entire way of life.

It may be years before we know the full ramifications.

Via Guardian

Natives Request Medicine Receive Body Bags

Native communities in Northern Manitoba are in shock and feel abandoned by the Canadian government.

Leaders of these remote communities have been hit hard by the H1N1 virus more commonly known as swine flu. Months ago, they asked the government for vaccinations, masks, hand sanitizer and any other assistance they could render. They did not request body bags.

The government delayed sending the medical supplies because the hand sanitizer contains alcohol; and, apparently, there were fears that the sanitizer would be drunk. When the precious supplies finally arrived, the members of the communities were shocked to discover that they included body bags.

Excuse Me!! What a racially prejudiced response to a legitimate crisis. Withholding much-needed medical supplies for months while a potentially deadly strain of flu ravages a remote community because of a fear that the hand sanitizer would be drunk instead of used is inexcusable. And the body bags? According to native culture, sending something like that is like inviting death into the community. Culturally insensitive to say the least. Possibly the government felt that after denying the community the help it required for months, the body bags would be needed.

If you are as outraged by the government's response as I am, you can:

1. Contact Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada


Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Fax: 613-941-6900

2. Contact The Honourable Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency

Chilliwack Constituency Office:
102 - 7388 Vedder Road
Chilliwack BC V2R 4E4

Phone: (604) 847-9711, 1-800-667-2808
Fax: (604) 847-9744


Lillooet Constituency Office
657 Main Street, Lillooet, BC

Phone: 250 256-2677
Fax: 250 256-2678
Hours: Tuesday and Thursday each week from 9.00 a.m. until 12 noon

Ottawa Office:
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Phone: (613) 992-2940
Fax: (613) 944-9376

Check out the video for further news: