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Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

I just came back from trip to Honolulu. For those of you who have been there, you probably noticed the spectacular old trees that stand tall all over the Hawaii capital. I certainly did. I also noticed the absence of new trees, and the long stretches of cement, with no shade to protect people from the scorching sun. Planting a tree is so simple, and such a great investment. So, how come the city officials in Honolulu, do not make the trees more of a priority? The big talk is about building a mass transit system, that would cost 3.7 billion dollars. The mayor has made it the main theme for his reelection campaign. That’s all good. And that’s no excuse for forgetting the trees. 

In my own city of Palo Alto, I have been remarking on the same problem, although to a lesser extent. Trees missing here and there, along tree lined streets, and no replacement in sight. Across the freeway, in East Palo Alto, the situation is even more blight. Hardly any trees. Its residents have other worries than planting trees, too busy they are to survive, and stay safe. 

I have been wondering for a while, what is it with the trees that makes them the forgotten child of environmental policies? Part of it is taking for granted what gives us so much, and asks so little in return. If tomorrow, the trees were removed from our urban landscapes, we would instantly notice, and plead to get the green giants back. 

Just when I thought I was done thinking about the trees, I get this mail from Glenn Pricket, the head of Conservation International:

“The CO2 emissions from deforestation are greater than the emissions from the world’s entire transportation sector-all the cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships combined. Less forest cover means fewer acres of habitat for species, so they must move or adapt. Those that can survive; those that cannot, go extinct. … There have to be limits to how much and where we encroach on the natural world.” 

Call me clueless, but that is news to me. I had no idea trees in faraway places were this critical to our survival. And that is a problem. Our collective ignorance is doing a number on us.

I take issue with the clever tagline used in the Conservation International campaign. “Lost there, felt here” fails to capture the whole issue. I am not, you are not feeling it “here”. The challenge is how to translate this remote tragedy, into one that’s personally relevant to all the world citizens. More accurate would be “Lost there, problem for you”

Let’s face it, we are squandering away one of our most important natural capital. Today, I am asking you to take a few minutes, and claim your one acre of the tropical forest

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New post on biodiversity, at The Huffington Post: “What the Heck is Biodiversity? And Why Should We Care?”

There is one typo. Can you find it? 🙂

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In their new paper, Where does biodiversity go from here? A grim business-as-usual forecast and a hopeful portfolio of partial solutions”, just published today in the Online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Paul Ehrlich and Robert Pringle, two researchers from Stanford University, propose a “hopeful portfolio” of seven strategies, to remedy the global biodiversity crisis. One such strategy involves getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen. Here it is – I have highlighted suggested actions –

For decades, conservationists have appealed to aesthetics as a principal reason to conserve wild areas and species. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the 13-billion-plus beholding eyes of the world are drawn to many things that are hostile to biodiversity: large families, tractors, treasure, pavement, goats, and Cadillacs, to name a few. The processes of economic and infrastructural development help to divorce people from the natural world. Moreover, although outdoor recreation and ecotourism are still important parts of many lives in rich countries, biophilic impulses seem increasingly swamped by other stimuli. In the United States, the rise of electronic media has coincided with a 20-year downturn in National Park visitation, after 50 years of steady increase. Recent findings indicate that similar declines in contact with nature are common to developed nations worldwide. Such trends will not be reversed and the biodiversity crisis will not be resolved until nature can rival virtual reality as a source of entertainment, intrigue, and inspiration. Janzen offers a compelling analogy: as books are uninteresting and useless to an illiterate person, so is biodiversity uninteresting and useless to a bioilliterate person. People keep what they use, and increasing bioliteracy would enable more people to find uses for biodiversity. Demand for ecotourism and perceived ‘‘existence values” would increase and, with them, biodiversity sustaining revenues. In a world of stingy appropriations for conservation, we have a wonderful academic literature on how to maximize returns on conservation investments. But we have spent comparatively little effort figuring out ways to create a world of biodiversity fanatics and conservation voters, where conservation resources would presumably flow more freely. The earlier in the developmental process comes exposure to nature, the better the odds of inspiring devotion to biodiversity and its conservation. It is a rare conservationist who did not encounter nature as a child. Every one of us can go to elementary schools to show pictures of animals and plants and tell funny stories about ecology. The teachers will be happy to have us. More ambitious people might think about how to finance and institutionalize school field trips to natural areas. Those of us who work in the tropics can do these things there, too. Clearly, we can also use other strategies. One method is to appropriate the very technologies that are currently enforcing the divide between people and biodiversity. Biodiversity is increasingly on the World Wide Web via projects such as the Encyclopedia of Life and Wikispecies. But we can do more. We can upload science and nature shorts to YouTube and contribute our knowledge to Wikipedia and its offshoots. We can post our lectures online. We can work to add ecological dimensions to online virtual-reality platforms and video games like Second Life, which currently has 10 million registered accounts. These are obvious ideas; many more are possible. There is hope here. Online sales have helped to revitalize classical music which is like biodiversity in that its devotees have long been predicting and lamenting its demise. Some have argued that the key to widespread biodiversity appreciation is the ability to know immediately what is what in nature. Janzen believes that this requires a comprehensive library of DNA barcodes along with a handheld, nanotechnological, field-portable sequencing device. We are hopeful about this dream, as well as any other means of achieving the same end. Profound social transformations are not impossible or ‘‘unrealistic.” Shifts happen. They have happened in our lifetimes. We all know these terms: segregation, Iron Curtain, apartheid. ‘‘Anthropogenic extinction” belongs on that list. More than anything else, the long-term future of biodiversity will be determined by our success or failure in helping to precipitate such an overhaul in popular perceptions of nature and what it means.

My way of getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen is to blog here, and on other blogs, and to link back to this post in my comments on other blogs. Also to tweet, and digg, and stumble, as much as I can about the topic. What can you do?

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Why do the efforts of biodiversity groups such as Conservation International receive less attention than climate-change studies, though they are equally crucial? This question from Tom Friedman has been on my mind. After all, I am just as guilty as the rest of my fellow bloggers. I can only remember once writing a post recently about the bees

That biodiversity suffers from a PR image, was confirmed by a November 2007 Gallup Survey, on “Attitudes of Europeans towards the issue of biodiversity”. Published by the European Commission, the survey reveals that, only 35% of Europeans know what biodiversity mean, and most see no immediate personal impact of biodiversity. It also shows a lack of understanding of the causes and consequences of biodiversity. 

How would you fix this problem?

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Thomas Friedman‘s upcoming book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded Why We Need a Green Revolution – And How it Can Renew America, ends with a 20 question discussion guide. You need not wait for the book to come out, to start thinking. Here is a summary of Tom’s questions – slightly modified to accommodate for your lack of familiarity with the book:

  1. How has America’s bunker mentality affected its role as an agent for positive change in the global arena?
  2. How do you understand the history of energy crisis and high fuel prices, from Carter-era progressivism through the Reagan era and beyond? 
  3. Friedman oulines three trends that capture diverse American attitudes toward energy consumption, climate change, and biodiversity: the dumb as we wanna be approach, found even among the political elite; the subprime nation mentality of borrowing our way to prosperity; and the optimism of innovators who want to do what’s right. Which attitudes prevails in your community?
  4. Discuss the factors that have shaped the Energy-Climate Era: overcrowding due to population growth and longevity, the flattening of the world due to the rise of personal computers and the Internet, the fall of the Soviet Union, and other developments. How have these factors affected America economically, politically, and otherwise?
  5. The book makes the distinction between “fuels from hell” and “fuels from heaven”. How is your life fueled by both categories? What would it take to transition completely to “fuels from heaven”?
  6. In your community, who has the most obvious case of affluenza? How would these groups fare under Chinese capitalism? Do you agree with Friedman‘s prediction that Chinese capitalism will signal the death of the European welfare state? What other repercussions will rising affluence within the Chinese middle class be likely to have?
  7. Friedman describes his visit to an ultra-green Wal-Mart in McKinney, Texas, and the highly unecological urban sprawl he had to ride through to get there. In what way is this a microcosm of America’s current approach to Code Green?
  8. Friedman‘s first law of petropolitics states that as the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down. Why is this so often true? Did this principle apply to prosperity for American oil companies in the early twentieth century? What are the ramifications of Friedman‘s second law of petropolitics, You cannot be either an effective foreign policy realist or an effective democracy-promoting idealist without also being an effective energy-saving environmentalist”?
  9. Friedman describes the controversy that ensued when meteorologist Heidi Cullen tried to educate her audience about global warming. What is the best way to inform those who tune out such messages, which they believe are tantamount to “politicizing the wheather”?
  10. Friedman discusses the importance of biodiversity. Why do the efforts of groups such as Conservation International receive less attention than climate-change studies, though Friedman asserts that they are equally crucial?
  11. What do you think of the proposal, that “ending poverty” is a key to healing third-world populations, particularly in Africa. What is the best way to balance the need for energy in these regions with the destructive effects of power-supply emissions? What is the  best way to overcome the political instability that has stymied the growth of power grids in these locales?
  12. At the heart of Friedman‘s argument is the notion that market demands drive innovation. What would it take to transform America’s perception so that the Code Green message is seen as a key to prosperity? How has the image of environmentalism changed during your lifetime?
  13. Friedman decries halfhearted attempts at environmental challenge, comparing them to a party rather than a revolution. At your workplace, in your neighborhood, and within your circle of friends, is it fashionable to go green? Is it taken seriously enough to become a bona fide movement, and then a revolution, where you live?
  14. What should the role of government be in the face of a looming ecological crisis? How much government control is too much? Could a politician get elected in America by proposing higher fuel taxes and other disincentives for energy consumption?
  15. Do you agree with Friedman‘s economic principle that, REEFIGDCPEERPC (Renewable Energy Ecosystem for Innovating, Generating, and Deploying Clean Power, Energy Efficiency, Resource Productivity, and Conservation), is less than TTCOBCOG (True Cost of Burning Coal, Oil, and Gas)? How does this apply to your world? Why has America been slow to believe that REEFIGD-CPEERPC is affordable?
  16. Are any of the ideas described in Friedman‘s “futuristic” scenario (such as the Smart Black Box, smart grids, RESUs instead of cars, and energy costs that vary according to time of day) already in the works in your state?
  17. Friedman believes that the alternative-energy movement needs an economic bubble, similar to the one that poured staggering amounts of venture capital into the dot-com industry. In your opinion, why hasn’t this happened yet?
  18. Friedman describes a number of innovators and persuaders who have made significant inroads in improving conservation efforts, including an Indonesian imam, who was persuaded to acknowledge river pollution, New York taxi drivers who now praise hybrid vehicles, and the U.S. military’s determination to “outgreen” the enemy. What do these agents of change have in common? What should green revolutionaries learn from these experiences?
  19. One of Friedman‘s conclusions is that “it is much more important to change your leaders than your lightbulbs.” How will this play out in upcoming elections at all levels, local, state, and federal? What will the legacy of those elected officials be? How can you help to lead the Code Green revolution?
  20. How is the world changing? What human impulses (such as materialism, benevolence, ec)  are shaping these changes?

That’s a lot to chew on. 

Most useful to me, is  Friedman‘s imagery. “Fuels from Hell”, “Fuels from Heaven”, is a concept worth propagating. So are “Code Green”, and “Green Revolution”. These are words that can stick in the collective imagination. Let us start weaving them into our conversations. 

I also appreciate his view that, “it is much more important to change your leaders than your lightbulbs.” His segmentation of leaders into three groups is particularly helpful and can be used to guide persuasion efforts with the powers in charge. 

Last, I need to thank Friedman for reminding us to not forget biodiversity in our conversations. I am taking note.

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Day 14 of Daily Footprint Project. I was in a hurry, and needed to get some more apples for our fruit basket.

What Happened to the Apples?

I could have gone to the farmers’ market earlier, but did not get a chance. There is this local apple grower who sells all kinds of unusual apples, each week. Too much to do. How come I am always rushing? Instead, I went to Whole Foods, and circled the produce section, in search of the perfect apple. I counted nine kinds of apples. Jonagold. Granny Smith. Honeycrisp. Gala. Braeburn. Pink Lady. Golden Delicious. Red Delicious. Fuji. I knew all of them, and none enthused me. Today, I wanted a real apple, like the ones from my childhood, all weird looking with spots on them, bugs inside sometimes even, not too crunchy, not too soft, and a full bodied sweetness I can’t bear to remember, so good it was. I seriously considered going home without my apples? Again I went around, trying to decide which ones I could settle for. Out of desperation, I picked some boring Golden Delicious, still too green in my opinion. At least, the kids would have apples to munch on.

This week, I have had the privilege to meet with two conservation specialists. Both told me similar stories, about the loss of diversity for some of our most common fruit and vegetables. Apples are at the forefront of a biodiversity war apparently, and a race to keep alive the thousands of varieties still existing. In the introduction to his 2005 report, Kanin Routson, from Northern Arizona University, provides a useful perspective on the magnitude of the problem:

‘The industrialization of agriculture has replaced the subsistence farms and their associated diversity with huge monocultural fields planted in a handful of high yielding crop varieties. Horticultural crops are no exception. In his book, ‘The Nomenclature of the Apple’, W. H. Ragan lists over 14,000 named apple varieties referenced in US literature between 1804 and 1904. Today the apple has been reduced to around 90 commercial varieties, with a handful of varieties, namely Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Gala and Fuji making up about 90% of commercial apple production. In the modern version of Ragan’s work, ‘The Fruit Berry and Nut Inventory’, Kent Whealy lists about 1500 apple varieties that are currently available through US nurseries, many of which have been developed through modern fruit breeding. That suggests as much as a 93% loss in apple variety availability in the U. S. over one to two centuries.’

I am mourning the loss of the apples. Even more so, I grieve the attitude from the general population. Most of my fellow Americans are perfectly happy with two, three at the most, varieties of apples. The red one, the green one, and the yellow one. Preferably well calibrated and shiny, to emulate the newness of industrial objects, straight out of an assembly line. Show them a real apple, and they will not touch it. The newer generations have been conditioned to eat with their eyes, according to an artificial aesthetic, that has nothing to do with the goodness of nature.

Daily Footprint Project
Daily Log
Day #14

Water

personal:
flush toilet 3
wash face 2
brush teeth 2
wash hands 4
showers at pool 2
mom:
rinse dishes
communal:
run full dishwasher

Electricity/gas

personal:
electric toothbrush 2
microwave tea 2’
microwave oatmeal 4’
laptop on half day
mom:
communal:
lights
run full dishwasher

Food

personal:
oatmeal with organic milk
organic persimmons
tea
organic milk
dinner restaurant salad, fish, seafood, coffee, wine
mom:
take out sushi and chicken salad from Whole Foods
organic apples
communal:

Waste

personal:
toilet paper
mom:
communal:
3 newspaper plastic wrappers

Recycling

personal:
mom:
communal:
2 papers
2 milk cartons
plastic bottle sparkling water

Transportation

personal:
drive to pool 6 miles
mom:
communal:
drive to restaurant 5 miles

Non food shopping

personal:
mom:
communal:

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