Information and stories about environment.

World Bank & India's Most Impoverished StateAkhilesh Yadav is more than just a cool name; he’s the Chief Minister of India’s Uttar Pradesh and has recently sought monetary assistance of more than $3.5 billion from the World Bank Group over the next three to five years.

To illustrate India’s need more clearly, Minister Yadav took World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim on a tour of Uttar Pradesh. Home of the Taj Mahal, Uttar Pradesh is also home to the largest number of impoverished people in all of India – a country that has an estimated 37% of people living below the country’s poverty line. With India’s urban population expected to grow by 10 million each year, states such as Uttar Pradesh are in dire need of assistance.

After seeing the poverty in India’s most impoverished state firsthand, Kim agreed that helping Uttar Pradesh and other Indian states are in line with the World Bank’s mission of eliminating global poverty. Among the goals the World Bank supports is the national mission to clean the Ganga River. The World Bank will be contributing $1 billion. The money is to be dispersed through five of the basin states. This contribution supports an existing Indian program: the National Ganga River Basin Project. The Ganga River’s basin community supports more than 400 million Indians, about one-third of the population, and is India’s most important river.

– Pete Grapentien

Source: The World Bank

Green Energy Can Fight Poverty and PollutionAccording to a new study, green energy is the only sustainable solution in eradicating poverty for a large number of the world’s poor and preventing “a climate disaster.”

The study, released by the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, warns that the widespread use of clean energy, as opposed to fossil fuels, is the only way to prevent further damage to the environment and to eradicate poverty throughout the world. The World Bank, International Energy Agency, and other major institutions have also given similar warnings.

The UN has implemented a program called the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4All) that aims to “double the rate of improvement in energy efficiency” by 2013, double the amount of renewable energy used, and bring electricity to more of the world’s poor. Joeri Rogelj, who worked on the study, says that meeting these goals and also preventing widespread deforestation is the only way to prevent a climate crisis.

Rogelj’s study confirmed that the SE4All initiative’s funding would actually cost less than the current subsidies the fossil fuel industry is given, which are estimated to be about $523 billion in 2011 alone. Comparatively, the funding for SE4All is slated to be around $30 to $40 billion per year. The study also asserts that the conversion to clean energy would also aid in making the Millennium Development Goals of downsizing poverty and promoting international development.

Thus far, several countries are on track to switch much of their energy sources to renewables – Iceland uses 81% clean energy and Scotland has a mandated 100% clean energy by 2020. Denmark is also following suit to become 100% dependent on renewable energy in the near future.

The study concludes that “achieving the three SE4ALL objectives could put the world on a path toward global climate protection,” and that getting rid of fossil fuels would eliminate the health hazards associated with pollution in many developing countries and low-income communities, as 1.5 billion people worldwide still live without electricity.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Business Mirror

indonesian-frog
A new study led by Harvard Medical School researcher Matthew Bonds is linking an environment’s biodiversity and public health, namely its susceptibility to the spread of disease. Bonds found that countries with decreased biodiversity “will have a heavier burden of vector-borne and parasitic diseases,” an assertion which has drastic implications for public health systems worldwide.

Previously, some might have suggested that a lack of funding is the biggest roadblock to protecting people from pathogens. These new findings indicate that governments may be well-served in their quests for healthy citizens by protecting natural ecosystems. Bonds explains that “the more organisms you have out there, the more things there are that can interrupt the life cycle of disease, and the less concentration you’ll have of any vector.” When humans urbanize an area, many species are forced out of their natural habitats and end up dying off in large numbers. Pests and other disease-carrying creatures breed freely, resulting in a much greater risk of exposure for humans.

The United Nations estimates that one out of every three species on Earth faces extinction. Bonds uses this statistic to demonstrate how a country like Indonesia faces a grave threat from losing its biodiversity: given a 15% decline in this metric, the country would face a 30% larger disease burden. By elucidating biodiversity’s link to public health, Bonds demonstrates yet another area in which undamaged ecosystems provide major benefits to humans who can exist alongside natural cycles, instead of in place of them.

Jake Simon

Source: NPR
Photo: About Indo

3 Ways Aquaponics Encourage Urban Food SustainabilityImagine staring out over the observation deck of the Empire State Building and seeing a greenhouse covered Manhattan skyline able to provide fresh fish and produce for all of their buildings’ tenants. Thanks to the technological breakthrough of Aquaponics, urban food sustainability might actually be a reality.

Aquaponics is best explained as a closed system in which fish and vegetables are able to thrive and mutually benefit one another, with the vegetables utilizing the wastewater of the fish and in turn, delivering water free of particulates back to the tank. Basically, by enabling the water supply of fish to flow from the tank through the gravel bed of the adjacent garden, the vegetables are both watered and fertilized, enabling the growth of produce ranging from lettuce to tomatoes and limes. Furthermore, the required water supply free of waste materials for the fish is delivered via the filtration effects of the vegetables which enable the full maturation and harvesting of delicious species such as Yellow Perch and Tilapia. This amazing Aquaponic technology is already being deployed in building rooftops across the US and Western Europe, encouraging urban food sustainability in the following 3 ways :

1. It’s self-contained – Unlike the traditional agricultural method of crop or fish production requiring thousands of acres of land or huge tanks and logistical support, the Aquaponic growth method requires little more than a storage container size of available rooftop space. Additionally, the growth system simply requires daily maintenance, a little electrical power, and labor, enabling an apartment building or home to produce their own organic food and fresh fish supply anywhere in the world. This method has the potential to eliminate the environmental damage of topsoil runoff and over-fishing and promote long term urban food sustainability.

2. It’s affordable –  As previously stated, the cost of purchasing the land, equipment, and labor resources necessary for commercial farms is extremely expensive and often prohibitive to nations establishing their own urban food sustainability programs. However, the start-up cost of an Aquaponic system starts at only 3,000 dollars for a beginner package to 7,000 dollars for a package able to significantly impact a family’s annual food costs. Furthermore, the construction of a simple rooftop greenhouse is extremely cheap, and necessary for both environmental protection and the maximum fish and production yield of the Aquaponic system.

3. It provides a source of income – As an added incentive, the market for organic produce and fresh fish is in high demand and given the relatively low start-up costs of the technology and accompanying greenhouse, the Aquaponic system can serve as a viable source of income. Even better, by forming a co-op among buildings tenets for the construction of several Aquaponic greenhouses on a rooftop, the fresh fish and produce can be sold at local farmer’s markets and to fishmongers, generating a passive source of income. Given the ability of the Aquaponic technology to be deployed anywhere in the world, building tenets from Manhattan to Moscow can enjoy the income generated from fresh, year-round fish and products which not only enriches the inhabitants’ wallets but also encourages urban food sustainability.

Brian Turner
Source: Aquaponics.com
PhotoAquaponicsfaq

Horse Meat and Social Responsibility
The recent discovery of horse meat in fast food chains in the U.K. and around the world has started some interesting conversations. An inspection of 139 meat products showed that nearly two thirds of those products included unlisted ingredients such as donkey, goat, and water buffalo. The discoveries about what is in food has led many people to ask, “What else don’t we know about how our food is produced?”

Oxfam International has started a new project called Beyond the Brands. This project investigates how the world’s ten largest food and beverage companies operate and how they are fulfilling their social responsibilities to their workers and customers. Among the “Big 10” food companies are familiar names like Pepsico, Nestle, and Coca-Cola. These companies combined turn out huge profits around the world and, through their supply chains, employ the labor of millions in the developing world.

The companies are given scores in seven categories including women’s rights, business transparency, environmental responsibility, and workers’ access to land and clean water. The goal of the campaign is not only to pressure some of the world’s largest companies to do more but to help consumers know more about where their food is coming from and the conditions in which it is prepared. An Oxfam spokesperson claimed that these large food and beverage companies need to become more socially responsible. At the same time, most of these companies are doing just that, trying to be more responsible by offering solid employment, providing safe places to work, and working to create less pollution.

With this latest Oxfam initiative, the public can learn more about where food comes from, investigate how the workers are treated, and identify how responsible their employers are. Hopefully, this information will inspire these big businesses to focus on their own supply chains and maybe change the habits of thoughtful consumers. If “you are what you eat”, why not be a positive change?

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: IBI Times

Flooding Disaster in MozambiqueThe nation of Mozambique experienced one of the worst floods in recent history due to extremely high amounts of rainfall throughout the month of January. Flooding in Mozambique damaged the province of Gaza. Over 250,000 have been affected by the floods, with 150,000 people forced out of their homes in the province and over 100 killed.

While the victims of flooding in Mozambique are dealing with destroyed homes and families, the natural disaster has been exacerbated by the outbreak of cholera. There have been over 250 cases so far, fortunately, no cases have proved fatal. Mozambique has experienced problems with cholera for years, so their response has been effective thus far. However, the potential for more flooding means that they must remain vigilant.

The complete rebuilding effort is estimated to cost over $30 million, according to The Humanitarian Country Team in Mozambique, an organization comprised of NGO and UN officials. UNICEF itself seeks $6.8 million from this fund to pay for projects to improve the welfare of children and those around them, like building clean water pumps and constructing new homes.

According to Jesper Morch of UNICEF, “emergency supplies and funding has been depleted…we urgently need additional funds if we are to help many children and families recover.”

Jake Simon

Sources: news24, UNICEF, Al Jazeera
Photo: Times Live

Smog From China is Crossing BordersSmog in China is an ongoing issue. China’s ongoing process of industrialization has resulted in extreme amounts of pollution in many of its cities. Because of the national dependence on particularly dirty fossil fuels, millions of citizens wear surgical masks when venturing outside because the air is just too dirty to breathe safely.

Until recently, the problem has been largely confined to China itself. Those afraid of global climate change, however, have been calling attention to the issue for years. Now, smog from China is crossing borders and affecting its Japanese neighbors. This presents another challenge to test Chinese-Japanese already strained relations.

Associate Professor Toshihiko Takemura of Kyushu University, who studies pollution for the University, explained that in Kyushu, “the level of air pollution has been detectable in everyday lives since a few years ago.”

China is notorious for quashing public dissent on sensitive issues like government shortcomings. However, in recent weeks, there have been uncanny amounts of focus put on environmental shortcomings by both state television and party officials.

Hopefully, the new Chinese Premier will work hard to drastically reduce China’s levels of pollution, bettering the health of the country’s citizens while improving relations with China’s estranged neighbor.

Jake Simon

Source: news.com.au
Photo: Japan Times

Who is Benefiting From Land and Water Grabbing?It is assumed that the already existing gap between developed and developing nations is large and apparent enough that wealthier nations would try and fill this gap and bring these opposite ends closer together. According to an ABC Environmental article, however, wealthy nations are instead competing over ‘land’ and ‘water grabbing’ to appease their growing populations and the “stressed” supply of basic necessities such as food and water. Investors in a foreign land, or better yet, the land-grabbers, are countries and investment firms from biofuel producers to large-scale farming operations (agricultural investors).

Since 2000, the major countries that have contributed to this land purchasing are the U.S., Malaysia, the U.K., China, and the U.A.E. Experts aren’t sure of these investors’ motives but it is clear that they are only focusing on buying land where there is clear access to water.

‘Land grabbing’ is defined by Paolo D’Odorico, a professor at the University of Virginia, as “a deal for about two km2 or more that converts an environmentally important area currently used by local people to commercial production.” According to an environmental study, 454 billion cubic meters sums up the ‘water-grabbing’ per year by corporations on a global scale, which is about 5 percent of the world’s annual water consumption. According to the public database Land Matrix “1,217 deals have taken place, which transferred over 830,000 square kilometers of land” since 2000, with 62 percent of such deals happening in Africa alone.

From 2005 to 2009, during a major food price crisis, land purchases, which fall under a very low level of regulation, skyrocketed. In 2011, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N. released guidelines that advise investors to consider the people and communities whose land is being used. However, such guidelines are viewed as humanitarian concerns and have little enforcement, meaning that they aren’t strict enough to have corporations and investors abide by them or even care for them.

Governments who are interested in and have been leasing and selling land to foreign countries and investors are mainly those in Eastern Africa and Southeast Asia. They are interested in these sales because they want to modernize their farming and believe this is the way to do it. However, the reality is that the resulting development from such ‘land and water grabbing’ depends on the investors’ terms and conditions, as well as their sense of morality.

The main problem is that the majority of these sales are happening in poor countries in which there are high rates of hunger and where resources valuable to the local populations are being purchased by wealthier developed nations or even by private corporations. The main question of the matter is this: Who is benefiting from land and water grabbing? Are these sales helping the local people since it is their land? Or are these purchases only concerned about foreign benefits and the population concerns of developed nations?

– Leen Abdallah

Source: ABC
Photo: Water Governance

Energy-101
Whether it’s the annoying news reporter or that obnoxious know-it-all in your Air Pollution class, people everywhere seem to be making up facts and statistics about our energy consumption. Does charging your phone from a laptop save more energy than if you were to charge it from a wall plug? Would using solar energy to power factories actually reduce air pollution?

Energy 101, a free online class offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology, sheds light on “the driving forces of energy used in transportation”, the production of energy-efficient products, and the process of converting renewable resources into a more desired form.

Dr. Sam Shelton, a veteran in energy systems, teaches the course. Aside from his multi-million dollar funded research and development, he is the founder of two companies that produce and market energy-efficient products. He was also a leading developer in the 1980s of the first commercial solar energy systems and investigated the efficiency of offshore wind farms.

The format of the Energy 101 is as simple as they come: over the span of nine weeks, lectures are taught in 5-12 minute videos. Quizzes are also given and upon finishing the program, students will receive a Certificate of Completion.

But what use is studying the complexities of thermodynamics to the average curious cat? For one thing, Dr. Shelton stresses the ‘no experience necessary’ aspect of the class. You don’t need to be able to understand physics or be able to use mathematical formulas to do well in the class. The information from this class can be put to use in a variety of settings from an elementary school classroom in Arkansas to sustainable farming training in Cambodia.

Understanding the truth about how we use energy and where it comes from will help dictate our policies on diverting our focus to the right alternatives.

Before even listening to one lecture, Dr. Shelton lets his potential students in on an unexpected secret, “Building nuclear, wind and solar energy systems does not save any oil in the U.S..” This only goes to illustrate the new and exciting information students of Energy 101 can look forward to learning that will enlighten them on the truth about energy consumption in the world.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Coursera.org

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According to a campaign called Think.Eat.Save by the Save Food Initiative (a partnership between NEP, FAO and Messe Düsseldorf),  a third “of all food production world-wide gets lost or wasted in the food production and consumption systems. Almost half of this quantity is the result of retailers and consumers in industrialized regions who discard food that is fit for consumption.” This food is often discarded because it is considered unsellable by retailers or is bought and uneaten before reaching its expiration date. However, all of this food disposal adds up.

On a global scale, tackling food waste would save over $1 trillion dollars annually. Over 1.3 billion tons of food could be saved and used to help feed the approximately 900 million people that suffer from global hunger. According to the UK non-profit and food sustainability organization Waste & Resources Action, average savings are around $1,090 USD for individual families. Food waste is not just throwing away expired or funny shaped fruits and vegetables but also throwing away water, land, and agricultural efforts.

Think.Eat.Save is campaigning to make people more conscious shoppers, more aware of expiration dates, less likely to buy on impulse, and more accepting to funny shaped, yet edible, fruits and vegetables. Doing this, one can expect, will impact global hunger for the better, getting more edible food to those who need it and leading everyone to consume more carefully and consciously.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: NY Daily News, Think.Eat.Save
Photo Source: NY News Daily