Category Archives: Environment

Local cleanup yields bounty of fast-trash

We were among the hundreds of volunteers who collected trash around the city the other day as part of the national Great American Cleanup. Can’t really be sure how many of the 800 turned out because the weather was miserable – rainy and cool. We were soaked within 10 minutes anyway so we were happy to carry on.

Two of us were assigned a one-mile road section within Little Rock’s Boyle Park. We went up one side and down the other over the course of about three hours.

Amazing to me was that probably 80 percent of the debris in the three large bags of trash and recycleables we collected came from fast-food restaurants. We found little mustard and ketchup containers, burger wrapers, plastic foam cups, plastic straws and so on. Also interesting was the fact that most of the fast-trash came from one side of the road – the side leading from a cluster of burger joints up the road. (And it goes without saying that we found many beer and soft drink containers too.)

It might be fun to lay all the trash out on a tarp and separate it into piles for each of the restaurants. Then we might return it to each of the restaurants, saying, “We think your customers may have dropped these.” Didn’t do it of course, but a mass action along those lines might turn some heads at Burger Headquarters.

I also thought an intense cleanup of a road like that one might make a good field trip for an Anthropology 101 course. Archeologists and anthropologists are always fascinated by midden piles unearthed on digs. These are essentially trash dumps in settlements or temporary camps. Close analysis of the refuse tells you a lot about the people who stayed there and how they lived.


Mystery: No one knows what’s causing the big bee die-off

Every third bite of food we consume depends on pollination by bees. But the bees are disappearing and no-one seems to know why.

News of a mass die-off of bees first broke in 2006. By the spring of 2007 it was clear that the newly dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder was widespread. A quarter of all U.S. beekeepers had suffered losses and more than 30 percent of all bee colonies in the country were wiped out. Huge die-offs also came in Australia, Canada, Brazil, China, Europe and other regions. In Britain, losses averaged more than 30 per cent over 2007-08.

Is Globalization to blame?

Read more in The New Internationalist

UC prof says factory farming will reduce GHGs from livestock

In 2006, The UN’s Food and Agriculture organization published “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” a much-criticized report suggesting that livestock accounted for more greenhouse gases than the planet’s entire motor fleet.

Now, a University of California professor has published a study suggesting the FAO overstated the impact of meat and dairy production on Climate Change. Dr. Frank Mitloehner says more efficient production methods — i.e. factory farming and feedlots — will reduce greenhouse gases from livestock.  

He adds that less industrialised countries should be helped to satisfy their populations’ growing demand for meat and dairy by adopting western-style factory farming.

“My concern is not to feed more meat to people in the developed world but to make nutrition available to people who are undernourished,” he said. “The current systems in Brazil, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia are very land-hungry because they are so extensive. We have the tools to show them how to do it using less resources.”

The FAO is doing a “Son of Livestock’s Long Shadow” report that should be completed next year.

Read more in The Ecologist.

Brazil’s politicians blamed for floods that killed 105

RIO DE JANEIRO — As the torrential rains began to recede over Rio de Janeiro today, following the state’s worst floods since 1966, one question was stamped onto every newspaper front-page in Brazil: Why?

Why was Rio de Janeiro – Brazil’s second largest city and one with a history of tropical rainstorms and flooding – not better prepared for the catastrophe that struck on late Monday and Tuesday this week, when an estimated 11 inches of rain crashed down onto the iconic city and and its neighboring towns in just 24 hours?

With rescue attempts continuing in several of Rio’s hillside slums, the city’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, tried to duck questions about why the floods, which have officially claimed at least 105 lives and which brought much of the city to a standstill on Monday night and Tuesday, caused such havoc.

But urban planning specialists and environmentalists have been quick to react – blaming Rio’s politicians for decades of poor spending, confused housing policy, and even outright corruption.

“This was an tragedy foretold,” says Sergio Ricardo, a leading Rio environmentalist. “To this day, the city does not have any kind of alert or prevention system – something that is common in other cities that are as vulnerable as Rio.” Read more from the Christian Science Monitor.

Vandana Shiva: Green Revolution brought ‘water famine’ to India

Since 1966 – and as a consequence of the introduction of the Green Revolution model of water-intensive, chemical farming – India has over-exploited her groundwater, creating a water famine, Vandana Shiva writes.

Intensification of drought, floods and cyclones is one of the predictable impacts of climate change and climate instability. The failure of monsoon in India, and the consequent drought, has impacted two-thirds of the country, especially the breadbasket of India’s fertile Gangetic plains. Bihar, for example, has had a 43 percent rainfall deficit, and the story is the same in many other parts of India.

In the final analysis, India’s food security rests on the monsoon. Monsoon failure and widespread drought imply a deepening of the already severe food crisis triggered by trade-liberalisation policies, which have made India the capital of hunger. Read more in Resurgence.

Krugman: Environmental Econ 101

If you listen to climate scientists — and despite the relentless campaign to discredit their work, you should — it is long past time to do something about emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, economist Paul Krugman writes. If we continue with business as usual, they say, we are facing a rise in global temperatures that will be little short of apocalyptic. And to avoid that apocalypse, we have to wean our economy from the use of fossil fuels, coal above all.

But is it possible to make drastic cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions without destroying our economy?

In what follows, Nobel Prize-winner Krugman will offer a brief survey of the economics of climate change or, more precisely, the economics of lessening climate change. I’ll try to lay out the areas of broad agreement as well as those that remain in major dispute. Read more in The New York Times.

Did American conservationists go too far in Africa?

Then, as they say, things went horribly wrong.
” ‘ ‘The Owenses earned a reputation in the valley for their intolerance of local people. “Their whole attitude was ‘Nice continent. Pity about the Africans,’ ” said another European who knew them.
P. J. Fouche, a professional hunter who manages a hunting concession in a game-management area near where the Owens couple lived, said that Mark Owens developed a proprietary feeling about the park’s wildlife. “He didn’t want them”—the Africans—“to be anywhere near his animals. That’s how he saw the animals, as his.’ ” Read more in The New Yorker.