Thursday, October 30, 2008

Iraq scarred by war waste

"War destroys countries' environments, not just their people. War and its effects have led to changes in the social, economic and environmental fabric [...] It will take centuries to restore the natural environment of Iraq. [...] Most of the infectious diseases and cancer are environmental diseases. When we talk about the environment we mean health."

- Iraqi Environment Minister Nermeen Othman

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Atlas of hidden water may avert future conflict

Now, for the first time, a high-resolution map shows where underground aquifers store vast amounts of water.

[...The map project] has identified 273 trans-boundary aquifers: 68 in the Americas, 38 in Africa, 155 in Eastern and Western Europe and 12 in Asia.

Each trans-boundary aquifer holds the potential for international conflict – if two countries share an aquifer, pumping in one country will affect its neighbour's water supply.


In many parts of the world, around the Mediterranean for example, but also in the US and the Middle East, water tables are falling and aquifers are being infiltrated by seawater as agricultural practices pump water out faster than it can be replenished by rain.

When aquifers fall between countries, sustainable management requires international agreement. Yet, historically, many agreements have been weighted towards the richest or more powerful country.

Deeplink to map Groundwater resources of the world (4½ MB PDF).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pollution, poverty, war, lights, camera... action!

As I prepared myself to write this post, I realized zero of my entries were tagged 'poverty'. But it's clear how this blog has always circled the subject.

Poverty is obviously causing various types of violence, conflict, crime, migration and malnutrition. Playing a pivotal role in a web of factors weaving a vicious downward spiral poverty in turn is also caused by many of these problems. As well as - obviously - by the reduced ecosystem services and agricultural outputs caused by gradual environmental degradation through desertification, drought, reductions in wildlife stocks et cetera, pollution and also more immediate disasters.

A simplified graphical representation of the "ecowar issues" circling poverty. These issues are connected directly too, not at all just through poverty. Many would argue I left out some orange arrows (go ahead and add your comment). But I have chosen to just include the most obvious connections. Images are Creative Commons by mitch2742, kevindooley, Taras Kalapun, IRRI Images, Goosemountains and Erik Starck.

Putting poverty at the centre of the issues of this blog for a day makes a lot of sense. So far, I have focused on the relatively rare occations when the correlation from nature to war has been particularly strong and causally obvious. But most of the time, the connection goes through several other issues before manifesting.

In this light the Permaculture slogan makes even more sense...

Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share

To steward Earth sustainably it is essential to also assure certain levels of equitability. Call it socialism or what ever, it's necessary. Only a tiny minority of hard-line neo-liberals believes inequality and poverty is necessary. The vast majority of Earths population thinks it's unfair. And it is also in conflict with ecological sustainability. One pressing danger is for our politicians to buy into the lie that curbing climate change and solving similar environmental issuse is now to be put on hold due to "the financial crisis" (see yesterdays post).

The whole climate change situation is a chapter on causes and effects on it's own. I'll leave it for now, but in a system as complex as Earths biosphere any large scale change is bound to cause a crisis somewhere. It is, of course, particularly linked to the above mentioned problems with deforestation and drought as well as industrialized cultures addiction to oil and the resulting disruption of the carbon cycle.

However, in stead of continuing some litany in agony, let us finish by listing some policies to halt this vicious circle around poverty:
  • Reforestation, conservation, organic agriculture
    Let nature provide us with its services, curb the greenhouse effect and provide sources of income in "the third world".
  • Promote pacifism, eradicate motivations for crime, negotiate conflicts
    Any act of aggression aggravates this vicious circle. Promote peace on all levels. Wars pollute insanely, violence sows seeds of hatred.
  • Educate everyone
    To help people live off their land, avoid diseases, prosper and innovate.
  • Face migration realistically
    Stop listening to the fear mongering politicians. Inspire positive aspects of immigration.
And actually, as I tried searching for Ecowar and poverty related news the other day I quickly found stories about a recently agreed deal to try and plant forests to fight both poverty and climate change at the same time. (My first post tagged poverty.) Great. I hope to see a lot more stories like that one in the future!

To paraphrase The Freak Brothers: "Ecosystem services will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no ecosystem services".

This post is part of the Blog Action Day 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The financial crisis: nothing special

Even the relatively progressive newspaper I subscribe to (Danish Information) has been front page worried about the financial crisis bringing an end to environmental initiatives. Although it's probably going to be true in many cases I have thought of it as fossilized thinking that going green should equal spending green. The key is to try and think of what we have to accomplish in terms of what investments will take us there.

Today ENN has two articles that agree:

US focus on climate could ease financial crisis
"My very strong belief is that we need to reorient our investments toward this transition to a clean energy economy, and it will be the engine of growth for getting us out of the doldrums that we've gotten in right now" - Cathy Zoi
Cost of deforestation is vastly greater than that of the current financial crisis
"Whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today's rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year" - Deutche Bank economist
Also remember that the financial crisis has left few physical marks. All that has suffered are the capitalist fantasies of some investors (and of course some everyday dreams of common people too who have been more or less forced into the financial fantasies by the resulting market changes - my apologies to you for being cynical on behalf of the environment).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"The Role of Forests in Climate Change"

Forest conservation can fight climate change and poverty
"For the first time on this unprecedented scale, forest leaders, business representatives, donors, and community groups not only agreed on the pivotal role that forests can play in mitigating climate change but also mapped out a consensus action plan on concrete next steps. We now ask the world to work with us in putting these guiding principles into action"


Of all the options for responding to climate change, forest-related mitigation measures are, in the short to medium term, among the most practicable and cost-effective. They also have very low opportunity costs and can make an immediate and direct contribution to sustainable development and rural livelihoods.


By providing adaptability and supporting livelihoods, sustainable forest management offers an efficient win-win solution. It can ensure healthy and productive forests, underpin robust rural livelihoods, and deliver a wide range of products and ecosystem services that societies demand. It can also be an economically, environmentally, and socially effective way of addressing climate change globally.

Forest CO2 storage plans should aid poor
Forest protection can help fight climate change but any UN-led projects must also ease poverty and safeguard rights of indigenous peoples


"Forests have a unique ability to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon and lessen the vulnerability of people and ecosystems to climate change"


By some estimates, destruction of the natural world represents losses of a staggering $2-$5 trillion a year.

"A few billion dollars is a very good buy. The costs are marginal compared to the benefits"

Mining conflict: Farmers claim company seized their lands

on August 9, 2008, around 200 residents from barangays Cagusuan and Pagbabangnan raided the barracks of Cambayas Mining Corp. in Homonhon, eastern Samar.


The attack was staged mostly by farmers who claimed that the mining company seized the lands awarded to them by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through a certificate of stewardship agreement in 1992.

Forty Years After The Tlatelolco Massacre, The Mexican Army Attacks Civilians In The Indigenous Town of Xoxocotla

On Wednesday, October 8th, Morelos Governor Marco Adame called out more than 1,500 police personnel from the State Police and from the Paramilitary Federal Police force to the indigenous town of Xoxocotla. Law enforcement agencies were instructed to dismantle a series of road blockades along the Alpuyeca-Jojutla highway. Residents of Xoxocotla [...] had set up the blockades to show solidarity with teachers who have been on strike in Morelos for nearly two months.

The teachers of Morelos and the townspeople of Xoxocotla are united in a common struggle to stop the rapid privatization of public resources. Teachers on strike in Morelos are trying to halt a new set of educational reforms they say would open the doors to the participation of private capital in the public education system. Xoxocotla, on the other hand, is desperately trying to save the aquifer which feeds its municipal water system from being sucked dry from private condominium developers who skirt local zoning laws.

(My emphasis.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Climate change could force millions from homes

The Environmental News Network has a Reuters story on future climate changed induced migration and it's associated problems. It's essentially an interview with Janos Bogardi of the UN University (profile).

Experts estimate that by 2050 some 200 million people will be displaced by environmental problems

Already today an estimated 25 to 27 million migrants are believed to have fled their homes predominantly due to environmental issues or disasters.

Environmentally-motivated migration is expected to feature poorer people, more women, children and elderly, from more desperate environmental situations

Today most people on the run are "economic migrants" - mostly young men.

One serious concern is that criminal networks will systematically prey on migrating women - this is already happening in Bangladesh where women whose men have been killed by cyclones are trafficed for slavery, prostitution, smuggling etc.

Also see my recent Three cases of migration and conflict: Hurricane Katrina, Bangladesh and The Dust Bowl for some academical and historical perspectives.

Search This Blog