Tag Archives: Environment

Gaza thirsts as sewage crisis mounts


Gaza’s aquifer and only natural freshwater source is “in danger of collapse,” the UN is warning.

Engineers have long been battling to keep the densely populated strip’s water and sewage system limping along.

But in September the UN Environment Programme warned that damage to the underground aquifer – due to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, conflict, and years of overuse and underinvestment – could take centuries to reverse if it is not halted now. Monther Shoblak, director of Gaza’s Coastal Municipality Water Utility, sniffs the air at the Beit Lahia water treatment plant and smiles.

“I’m happy when I smell sewage,” he jokes, “it means the turbines are working.”

Propellers are agitating the frothy sludge in one of the lagoons, aerating it to help bacteria digest it.

He says the machinery sometimes falls silent during the power cuts that plague most of Gaza.

But the mirror-smooth pond next to it is a perpetual concern.

The plant is handling twice its capacity and is only able to partially treat the sewage.

Lagoons designed to allow treated clean water to infiltrate through Gaza’s sandy soil back down into the aquifer are instead funnelling sewage straight back into the groundwater

In addition, with several years of drought and the digging of hundreds of illegal, unregulated wells, the UN Environmental Programme says at least three times more water is extracted than is replenished each year.


350 le chiffre magique ?


350 ppm pour être précis ! Les “ppm” ne servent pas à mesurer la vitesse de la musique, mais la concentration maximale de particules de CO2 par millions. Si on veut éviter que l’air terrestre ne subisse un réchauffement, ce taux de ppm doit être de 350. D’après des organisations environnementales, aujourd’hui on a atteint les 390 ppm !

Alors action ! C’était le mot d’ordre ce 24 octobre dans 180 pays. Aux Philippines, au Kazakhstan, en Mongolie, en haut du Kilimanjaro en Tanzanie, à Shangaï etc. “350″ est devenu le symbole de la lutte contre le réchauffement.

Pour ne pas passer une année de plus à 390 ppm! L’opportunité d’imposer des changements au sommet de Copenhague en décembre doit êre saisie. Les organisateurs de, liés à la campagne “tck tck tck” d’urgence climatique, veulent faire pression sur les dirigeants à travers ces mobilisations qui touchent presque toute la planète.


Something in the Air


In the Air was a project by Nerea Calvillo and collaborators that was shown earlier this year at the Prado MediaLab and I just heard about it from @mediavisual. One part of this project is rather mundane to me. According to the team of architects and artists, “In the Air is a visualization project which aims to make visible the microscopic and invisible agents of Madrid’s air”. Another visualization, I thought to myself. So what?

But what really captivated me about this project is that the team then made a prototype and, in effect, made an atmosphere, or what they call a “diffuse façade”, in which tinted particulates and pollutants become parts of a building.


Deforestation and the true cost of Europe’s cheap meat
Cheap meat has become a way of life in much of Europe, but the full price is being paid across Latin America as vast soya plantations and their attendant chemicals lead to poisonings and violence. From the Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Cheap meat has become a way of life in much of Europe, but the full price is being paid across Latin America as vast soya plantations and their attendant chemicals lead to poisonings and violence

Much of the cheap meat and dairy produce sold in supermarkets across Europe is arriving as a result of serious human rights abuses and environmental damage in one of Latin America’s most impoverished countries, according to a new film launched in conjunction with the Ecologist Film Unit.

An investigation in Paraguay has discovered that vast plantations of soy, principally grown for use in intensively-farmed animal feed, are responsible for a catalogue of social and ecological problems, including the forced eviction of rural communities, landlessness, poverty, excessive use of pesticides, deforestation and rising food insecurity.

The film, Killing Fields: the battle to feed factory farms – produced by a coalition of pressure groups including Friends of the Earth, Food and Water Watch and with European coordination by Via Campesina, – documents the experiences of some of those caught up in Paraguay’s growing conflict over soy farming and reveals, for the first time, how intensive animal farming across the EU, including the UK, is fuelling the problem.

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Today f/e jumps on the bandwagon of for Climate Change:

Opportunity for transformational change and climate protection

At the same time, this crisis of the “old” is an opportunity for the “new” to emerge. This is an opportunity that needs to be sized and should not go to waste. Joseph Schumpeter has referred to this kind of paradigm-changing transformations as “gales of creative destruction”. (**see footnote) As old technoeconomic and institutional development paths saturates, the chances for fundamentally new development paths to emerge and eventually diffuse are more likely. Decarbonization of the global economy toward a carbon-free energy future is and example of such a paradigm-changing transformation. It appears to be a must, given the ever more threatening manifestations of global climate change. As mentioned, the unequivocal message of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is that climate change is accelerating and is almost certainly largely man-made. The adverse effects of the climate change can already be felt. The changes in average temperature are not a primary concern, but rather increasing climatic variation in climate patterns. Regions traditionally suitable for settlements and agriculture might not longer be so due to changing precipitation patterns, hydrology and ecosystems. Determined action from the international community is required to promote innovation and technological developments for climate protection. This is a major planetary urgency.

** Schumpeter, J.A., 1942: Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, USA.
The notionthat gales of creative destruction lead to the emergence of the new is particularly challenging in the context of rescue and stimulus strategies to counter the economic slowdown because the majority focuses on supporting the old with the inherent risk of postponing the structural change toward the new thus deepening the crisis.

Nebojsa Nakicenovic “How Much Technological Change, Research and Development is Enough?” (pdf) from the Second Conference and Conference Volume on The Economics of Technologies to Combat Global Warming.


Global Warming Mindmap

Porthcressa Beach in Hugh Town, St Marys, Isles of Scilly, where islanders are taking part in an energy-saving experiment. Photograph: Richard Sowersby/Rex Features

Porthcressa Beach in Hugh Town, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, where islanders are taking part in an energy-saving experiment. Photograph: Richard Sowersby/Rex Features

Many people believe England’s westernmost point to be Land’s End. The clue’s in the name. But travel 28 miles west of Land’s End and you hit – as many sailors have literally done over the centuries – the sublimely beautiful Isles of Scilly, which boasts the UK’s southernmost point and is also one of the world’s premier sites for wreck diving. The honour of westernmost point goes to Rockall, an uninhabited islet far out in the Atlantic Ocean, although it’s best not to go on about it too much as Iceland, Ireland and Denmark lay claim to it too.

The Isles of Scilly’s relative isolation and microclimate makes them a wonderful holiday destination, but their distance from the mainland also affords them the chance to take part in an interesting experiment. Tomorrow, the islanders – some 2,000 people – will conduct, according to the organisers, the “first coordinated attempt by a community to reduce their electricity use and to have the effects of their efforts measured in real-time”.

The event is being called E-day 2009 and it is the culmination of the Isles of Scilly Earth summit, which took place over the weekend and saw “international, national, and local islanders talk about the impact of climate change and human activity on their island”.

This is the plan:

E-day will involve everyone on the Isles of Scilly being asked to switch off electrical items which do not need to be on, so that collective energy saving can be measured. The energy savings achieved by a family, the school and the community on the Isles of Scilly will be compared with the baseline conditions simultaneously experienced across the UK.

The fact that a single cable carries electricity to the Scillys from the mainline makes it all the easier to measure the energy used on the islands over the course of the day – something that the E-Day organisers admitted was a struggle to achieve during last year’s event in which they tried to measure the energy use reduction across the whole of the UK on a particularly cold February day.

It led to an admirably honest assessment by organiser (and founder) Matt Prescott:

E-Day 2008 did not succeed in cutting the UK’s electricity demand. The drop in temperature between Wednesday 27 February and Thursday 28 February probably caused this, as a result of more lights and heating being left on than was originally predicted. The National Grid refined its assessments, based on actual weather data, during Thursday afternoon but I am afraid that E-day did not achieve the scale of public awareness or participation needed to have a measurable effect. I will do my best to learn the relevant lessons for next time.

The hope is that this year’s event will be a success with its focused, localised approach and, crucially, the support of the island community. Dr Prescott will be posting a blog about how the day went on later this week, but if you’re a Scillonian please do tell us what you’ve got planned for the day.

More widely, let us know what you think about E-day, Earth Hour and similar campaigns: do they help to raise awareness about energy-saving measures?

Isles of Scilly power down for E-day

Water wars loom in a nation of parched fields

A Punjab Government draft water policy published last year said the state’s water resources were being polluted by industrial waste, sewage and excessive pesticide use in agriculture. “This can adversely affect the health of the populace and may cause diseases like cancer, skin diseases and miscarriage cases.”

These reports only confirm what local farmers already know.

According to Vandana Shiva, water shortages could split Indian communities along deeply entrenched divisions of caste and religion. ”What we will start seeing is localised conflicts over water,” she says. ”As livelihoods evaporate, along with water, you will see all sorts of cracks opening up in society.”

Conflict is also possible between India’s majority rural population and its bursting cities. “People with power live in cities and, as the water crisis is deepening, what remains is being increasingly delivered to the cities,” says Shiva.

She is tracking eight major river diversions under way in India to provide cities with more water.



E-Waste: There’s an App for That

chinaiphone1Before year’s end, Apple and China Unicom will finally launch the iPhone in China, leaving hundreds of thousands of affluent Chinese cell-phone users with an increasingly pressing question: What should they do with their old handsets? Sure, some will pass them on to friends and relatives, and others will stash them in drawers. But for those precious few who decide that they’d like to recycle their old cell phones in an environmentally sound manner, they’ll be mostly out of luck. Unlike in the United States, Apple doesn’t offer to collect and recycle old cell phones for its customers in China. And the Chinese government, which has long decried the developed world’s exports of e-waste to its shores, has done almost nothing to handle the growing tide of its own, homegrown e-waste, generated by its expanding middle class. In short, as China grows, consumes, and gets hooked on the iPhone, the environmental disaster that is South China’s e-waste processing industry is about to become much worse. ()

Measuring economic activity from outer space is a new frontier in the struggle to quantify humanity’s impact on the natural world.

But new analytical techniques and observational satellites may soon open a more rigorous frontier for measuring economic activity from space. Brown University economists J. Vernon Henderson and David Weil, along with their graduate student Adam Storeygard, recently released an analysis of a decade’s worth of global night-light data from DMSP. Their research shows a link between changes in a country’s gross domestic product and the intensity of its electric lighting: On average, as a country’s GDP increases, its nighttime light emission becomes more intense. The work is particularly promising for measuring growth in the developing world, where the quality of collected economic data is notoriously poor.

“A lot of activity in these developing countries is in the untaxed, off-the-books informal sector, but very little information is gathered about it,” Henderson says. “So when [statistical agencies] estimate total economic activity, they don’t really know the size of that sector even though it may account for a majority of the employment in the country. When you get another metric to compare the numbers to, you can be shocked by how much they are off.”

Henderson cites the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example of where data quality is poor. According to the Penn World Table, a standard source used to measure economic growth across countries, during the period from 1992 to 2003 the country had negative GDP growth. In that same period, the satellite data shows a marked increase in nighttime light intensity, suggestive of positive growth, likely in the informal sector. Henderson says Myanmar’s numbers, on the other hand, may show political manipulation: Nocturnal lights indicate significantly lower GDP growth than that stated by the ruling military junta.

Henderson and his colleagues also used the DMSP data to examine economic activity on sub-national scales, investigating the relationship of African cities to nearby agricultural regions. They found that years of crop-boosting high rainfall in a city’s hinterlands significantly correlated with increased growth and development in the urban center as measured by artificial lighting intensity.

“There’s a lot of literature assuming hinterlands aren’t relevant to urban growth and development, but that’s not really the case,” Henderson says. “Farmers demand a bunch of products, they demand services, they demand inputs into agricultural production—this makes a lot of difference to a nearby city. In some sense it’s an academic debate, but this really is a fundamental matter of development and policymaking that can change people’s lives.”

Of course, there are dangers in using nighttime lights as an indicator for economic growth.


The Taste of Climate Change

Cold beer

Beer enthusiasts, myself among them, were upset to read this week that our pints of pilsner lager might be the latest casualty of climate change. New Scientist reported the depressing news: it seems that the quality of Eastern European Saaz hops is going downhill each year.

According to brewing suppliers Seven Bridges Cooperative, “Saaz hops have long been revered as the very mild, spicy, earthy aroma hop associated with European Lagers. This is the hop you will want for your finest European style Pilsners, and it will shine in wheat beers and Belgian style ales.” The delicate bitterness of Czech pilsners is a result of the alpha acid levels in Saaz hops; the best quality hops contain approximately 5% alpha acids, to produce a pale brew with a soft hop aroma but low bitterness.