We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society
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Hydro-Electricity vs. Rainforest Protection

25 08 2009
Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest is a hot topic this week it seems. The Guardian Newspaper published an article today on the proposal for 229 small scale dams in the Brazilian Amazon. This comes after my post yesterday on rainforest depletion vs. economic growth in Brazil. The issues are similar. On one hand, you have the farmers, villagers and residents of smaller towns trying to lift themselves out of poverty and grow along with their country’s economy. On the other hand you have the Indian tribes of the Amazon as well as a world wonder of a natural ecosystem that is ultimately quite fragile. The guardian article talks about how the tribes are changing drastically and adapting to modern times, with wireless internet installed recently and televisions in a few homes, all of which are powered by a generator that runs from 9am to 9 pm. The article only makes mention of the village of Pavuru though, leading me to wonder if any of the other 29 directly impacted villages have any of these comforts? Even if they are becoming accustomed to such things, they state that they do not need electricity from the dams. They fear that damming all the tributaries will prevent fish from migrating upstream and thereby cut off their access to some fish – the main source of food for the tribes.

The Amazonian tribes are also displeased with other government plans to build roads, and other hydro-electric dams, inluding plans for one of the largest dams on earth. Once again, I am going to have to side with the rainforest on this one. As with other developing countries in the world, Brazil has the opportunity to develop efficiently and differently than North America and Europe. They can efficiently consume electricity, construct buildings with passive cooling in mind, and plan to grow in harmony with their natural surroundings rather than grow overtop of  them. While constructing a select few small scale hydro-electric dams may not have a dramatic effect on the surrounding ecosystem and villages, building one of the world’s largest dams, or blocking most waterways with 229 small dams, will certainly have a detrimental effect. The scale of these projects is simply too large for the system in which they are being placed.

The Guardian Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/23/brazil-amazon-electricity





How to Store Nuclear Waste in Canada

24 08 2009
From: ecofriendlymag, 2009

From: ecofriendlymag, 2009

Community resistance to hosting public need facilities such as power plants and landfills is nothing new. Governments historically have gone into communities and imposed these public need facilities on helpless citizens. Sometimes governments succeed in stifling community opposition but in other cases, communities band together to reject the proposal as was the case with the European and American multi-billion dollar nuclear waste storage plan. The same will likely apply to the storage of nuclear waste in Canada. Or will it?

The Canadian Government has opted to address the storage of nuclear waste by working with the public. On behalf of the Canadian Government, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) was tasked with developing a site choosing process which will comprise of two major components: a willing host community and a good geological site with a steady rock formation where groundwater is not easily available. NWMO is working with organizations and individuals on important principles and elements for a fair process to identify an informed and willing community to host the storage facilities.  Interested communities are invited to volunteer themselves as a potential host community. It seems that the Canadian Government is willing to cooperate and ask rather than tell. Additionally, the Canadian Government has asked NWMO to work with the host community for 8 to 10 years to discuss concerns and issues regarding storage of nuclear waste.

An aside: Canada has more than two million high-level radioactive bundles of nuclear waste that needs to be stored for approximately 10 000 years. It will cost between 16 and 24 billion dollars just to construct the storage facility. While ample research has been done to ensure safe storage of nuclear waste no one really knows what will happen within the next 10 000 years, or even the next 100 years for that matter. So who should bear the potential unknown risks of storing nuclear waste? While the Canadian Government is putting emphasis on identifying a willing host, aboriginal communities appear to be targeted. NWMO has specifically identified aboriginal consultations as a separate component of implementing a nuclear waste storage plan. Is this a good thing? Are we honourably trying to better educate and consult with aboriginals? Or are we simply trying to entice certain communities who are in desperate need of money and job opportunities? Both of which will be made available to communities who host nuclear waste. Just a thought to consider…

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/08/19/f-nuclear-waste-storage-options.html

http://www.nwmo.ca/

Thanks to Sarah English for contributing





Rainforest Depletion vs. Economic Growth

24 08 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

After reading an article in the L.A. Times this morning about the loss of Rainforest in Brazil to agriculture, I am once again reminded of the struggle between two opposing forces that often find themselves at odds in developing countries. Do we protect the environment or allow the people to succeed economically?

According to Mongabay, Brazil has lost an average of 34 660 square kilometers of rainforest per year between the years 2000 and 2005. While this is a very small percentage of the total rainforest cover, it is certainly a lot of land, and it has only increased since then. Many of us know that deforestation in general is not helping with air pollution or climate change. We need trees to produce oxygen and sustain life. Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is not only reducing the global tree population, but is directly depleting one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth.

On the flip side, Brazilians and other South Americans have the opportunity to finally make some money by clearing their land of trees and selling grains and cows to North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. In fact, this has been strongly encouraged in Brazil with benefits being provided to those who clear at least 80% of their land.

So we are presented with quite a difficult situation. How can we support the economic gain of such South American countries without compromising the beloved rainforest? It is obvious that we cannot continue on the current path forever until the forests are entirely lost. So do we search for a solution now, or just play it off – business as usual – until we have little to no rainforest left, and we see the extinction of millions of species? My vote lies with finding a solution now. Yet the solutions that are being presented don’t sit right with me. Things like North American countries paying paying South American countries to keep their land forested. This is the equivalent of social welfare to me, except the people receiving money are fully capable of work . To pay a farmer to not do something seems terribly backwards. Maybe some solutions lie in new industries, or shade-grown crops? There must be a way that South America can rise in the world market without destroying its vast and beautiful ecosystems.

L.A. Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/22/science/earth/22degrees.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss





Better Place: The Electric Car Revolution

19 08 2009
From: Renault, 2009

From: Renault, 2009

As companies like General Motors, Toyota, and Honda plug away at developing new hybrid vehicles in their attempts to ‘go green’ (and I applaud them for doing so!), a group called Better Place has teamed up with Renault to offer fully electric vehicles as well as the infrastructure to go with them to cities across the world. Better Place’s initiative includes:

  • working with battery manufacturers to produce advanced lithium-ion battery technologies with improved performance, range, charge time and battery life, not to mention recyclable and environmentally friendly too.
  • creating networks of electric vehicle charging possibilities including charge stations and battery switching stations
  • assisting in the development of global standards which will hopefully accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles all over the world (http://www.betterplace.com/)

Now what part does Renault play in all this? Well, Renault has committed to providing the vehicles to go along with the infrastructure. They plan to produce tens of thousands of electric vehicles per year starting in 2011. There will be 3 models available: a saloon, a compact city car and a van. Better Places Denmark is developing the lithium batteries for these vehicles. The plan is to have each buyer sign up for a monthly subscription to have access to the batteries. The partnership will initially market the program and its cars in Israel and Denmark where a recent study initiated by Better Place indicated that these 2 locations had the highest percentage of buyers interested in purchasing an electric vehicle for their next car (57% and 40% respectively). Charging of these vehicles will be available through three methods. First, Denmark plans to construct an initial 60 charging stations in parking lots and on streets where you will be able to ‘top up’ your battery charge. You can also plug the vehicles in at home when they are not being used. The third method overcomes the obstacle of the time it takes to charge a battery. 100 swap stations will be available across Denmark for driver to quickly switch their used battery for a fresh one in only 5 minutes. Less time than it takes to fill up the gas tank in some cases. (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/strong-consumer-interest-in-electric-vehicles-bodes-well-for-new-era-of-sus/, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/18/renault-electric-car)

Better Places is also now working with the province of Ontario in Canada. Despite the deep rooted dependence on cars in Ontario established by Henry Ford in 1903, the Ontario Government has acknowledged the need for change. They have partnered with Better Place to move from the current gas powered Car 1.0 model to the electric powered Car 2.0 model which relies on renewable energy. The partnership plans to create an Ontario wide electric vehicle network powered by Bullfrog Power, a renewable energy company in Ontario. This network includes everything from public awareness and education to government incentive/rebate programs to reviving the local auto industry with the production of electric vehicles to a system of province wide charging stations. Finally, a real solution to recover Ontario’s dying auto industry (http://www.betterplace.com/company/press-release-detail/better-place-partners-with-ontario-to-bring-car-20-electric-car-infrastruct/, http://www.betterplace.com/global-progress/canada/).  

Thanks to Sarah English for contributing.





China and Pollution: What You Can Do

18 08 2009
From: Current, 2009

From: Current, 2009

I know this probably isn’t News to anyone, but China is pretty bad when it comes to pollution. Often the argument goes like this:

  • China’s recent history of water pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions is higher than anywhere in the world.

But then there is the counter argument:

  • North Americans along with Western Europeans have far higher greenhouse gas emission rates per capita, in fact the emissions per person in china are about a quarter of those of his or her United States counterpart.

And my counter argument?:

  • If China’s pollution is so high when their per capita rate is so low, that means there are a few very large, very powerful corporations, power plants, etc in the East that are allowed to pollute without consequence, or so it seems to me. We can’t punish the already struggling and impoverished general population of that country.

My personal argument isn’t based in fact so much as it is in observation and inference. We often hear about industrial catastrophe’s in China such as the recent lead poisoning of nearly all children in one village. We see the polluted haze that consumes Beijing daily (the olympics sure didn’t help thier image). We know that the country is very rapidly running it’s water resources dry and on top of that, it is said that a major water pollution incident occurs every other day. In effect, most of these problems are partly induced by us westerners who demand Chinese goods day in and day out, from irons to computer chips. It is within our capacity to change the way China manufacturers it’s products. We have the ability to demand a clean manufacturing process and the fair treatment of employees by only purchasing goods that meet our requirements. Wal Mart, of all places, is sort of doing this. They are developing an environmental rating system for all products on their shelves, and if their manufacturers don’t comply, they’ve threatened to drop them. The catch here, is that the system will only apply to packaging, which Wal Mart says it will reduce by a whopping 5%. This doesn’t mean much in and of itself, but it may hopefully spawn a new movement towards consumer knowledge of what they are purchasing. A rating system that expalins the approximate greenhouse gas emissions created by that product, the amount of recyclable material within it, the exact toxins that go into the manufacturing process, the amount of water used. If the west were to make purchases based on this type of data and not solely price, then maybe we could see a great change in Chinese manufacturers?

For now, you can look desparately for North American made products (occassionaly you can still find some clothing, shoes, office products, etc.), and you can improve your knowledge of the manufacturing industry in China. Two relatively mainstream documentaries are worth watching: WalMart: The High Cost of Low Prices, and Manufactured Landscapes. You can also support Human Rights Watch or support any number of environmental organizations, many of which will be involved with China in some way.

We can’t blame the country of China for the environmental problems of the world. We in the west have certainly been polluting for a longer period of time. Consider our industrial revolution was over 100 years ago, China’s has happened within the past 20 years. However, they are not going to change all by themselves. A quote from Wang Yongli, a water engineer in Shijiazhuang says, “We have a water shortage, but we have to develop…And development is going to be put first…In Israel [where there are also extreme water shortages], people regard water as more important than life itself. In Shijianzhuang, it’s not that way. People are focused on the economy.” If we as consumers show that we want environmental and social justice through our purchases by buying locally as much as possible, maybe the Chinese will then see the need to meet western regulations on both the environment as well as human rights. This is as much our problem as it is theirs. Don’t blame China until you stop supporting their dirty industries with your wallet and demand change.





Two Activists Murdered in Chechnya

13 08 2009
Prayers Over Zarema's Body from: Dayton Daily News, 2009

Prayers Over Zarema's Body from: Dayton Daily News, 2009

The bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and Alik Lechayevich Dzhabrailov were found in the trunk of their own car early today in Chechnya. It appears that human rights activists are in more danger than usual this summer in Chechnya – this following last months murder of Natalya Estemirova. One day ago, the two activists were abducted from their office in Chechnya. Zarema Sadulayeva was the head of Let’s Save the Generation, an organization that tasked itself with aiding children that had been affected by violence in Chechnya.

Witnesses reported men entering the offices claiming to be a part of security services. The men demanded that the head of the organization and her husband go with them. Minutes later, the men returned to claim Ailk’s telephone and his car, the same car in which their bodies were found this morning.

These two put the number of human rights defenders murdered up to six within the past twelve months in Chechnya.

Take Action

See RickB’s post for more details: http://tenpercent.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/murdered-left-in-the-boot-of-their-own-car/