Archive for December, 2010

Cultivating Rainforests: Facing the Reality of Logging

December 13, 2010

The growing world, consumption by inhabitants and the demand for raw materials have put an increasing strain on almost all resources, especially forests which are being harvested for fuel, timber, wood products, plywood and pulp. The threat to these forests, due to illegal logging should be prevented. Not only forests are feeling the implications of fraudulent wood harvest, but national economies, stability of biodiversity and human health are also affected.  Given the low cost of illegally logged timber, forests are being exploited at alarming rates and the problem is widespread. The threats posed to forest survival are to be discussed in this session of the United Nations Environmental Program so that international agreements may be made regarding the necessity of various standards, definition of illegal logging and plans of action to be taken against production, processing and supplier nations.

Any illegal trade, be it of wood, money laundering or smuggling of arms, undermines international security and the efforts of many nations to preserve their sovereignty and resources

The opening of new roads in remote forest areas permits the expansion of illegal trade in bushmeat; while logging methods often reduce biodiversity and have a major impact on the livelihoods of poor, resource-dependent communities. At the macrolevel, and especially in countries with few valuable resources other than timber, the trade is associated with corrupt practices, nepotism and tax-dodging. This undermines democracy and reduces the amount of money available for government-led development. Globally, illegal logging on public lands is estimated to result in annual losses of revenues and assets of more than US$10 000 million (World Bank 2003). Losses are estimated at US$5.3 million annually in Cameroon, US$4.2 million in Congo, US$10.1 million in Gabon, and US$37.5 million in Ghana.

-UNEP Africa Environment Outlook 2

By addressing this issue amongst nations, countries can support one another and weaken the existing infrastructure that allows for illegal logging. One aim is to decrease the impact of low-cost, illegal timber entering the competitive markets and undermining the chance for fairly logged lumber to fetch a price greater than its’ cost.Private and public sectors, local, central and international governments must all be involved in the solution to addressing the threat. This will enable all members to move beyond voluntary programs, only enacted in some countries, to international efforts and initiatives of sustainable forest management and legal logging. Stabilizing the logging sector economy, creating a level playing-field and standards that will support ecosystems and reforestation in areas cleared are steps to reverse damage and make progress.When one resource has been tapped, the search for a new source begins. Thus, a pattern of economic growth and prosperity followed by an equally rapid bust starts to show up in areas targeted by logging. What is left is a ransacked ecosystem and many unstable economies. This also defers influence to those nations with buying power, weakening national sovereignty and control over forests.

These goods enter the market with very low selling prices compared to those legally harvested and as the general source dwindles, a price hike is inevitable. This cycle could be reduced to the simple statement, lower costs now are only assuring more expensive costs of raw materials, later.Tracking the origin of wood to assure it is logged in accordance with international trade agreements and environmentally responsible standards is an initiative that has been taken on by many organizations, the problem being the application of this practice on a  world-wide scale. The distance wood travels from point of origin to buyer is not always a direct one and many nations, people, and businesses are involved along the way. Should a shipment of illegal wood be intercepted along this journey, what should be done so as not to interrupt business for those not guilty of harvesting?  Should the owner of a ship carrying a shipment of illegally harvested wood be held to the same standards as those harvesting and buying it? What should be done with the shipment and any personell in the meantime. Holding shipments and waiting for jurisdiction to be decided grows to a multinational problem.Without hindering free trade, the sale of lumber should be held to standards that support sustainable forest management and hold producers, processors and suppliers accountable for their timber footprint. How should this be approached? To what degree should the timber sector be targeted by international governance? How does this affect international relations? Where should the blame fall?  What solutions can be found to protect the fragile ecosystems and fortify one of our natural assets which has the power to reverse CO2 damage?  What measures are necessary and within the powers of UNEP?In order to decrease the threats to business relations, ecosystems and endangered resources and ensure acceptable standards for payment and pricing, this issue cannot be ignored and is therefore being brought to the United Nations Environmental Program for discussion this session.

<http://www.unep.org/dewa/Africa/publications/AEO-2/content/205.htm

http://www.bimun.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Abstract_Cultivating-Rainforests1.pdf

(note article of the Bonn conference I attended last week)

Biotechnology in Agriculture

December 13, 2010

Many volunteer groups, NGOs and UN-bodies address the subject of world hunger on an annual basis. While aid and food support is among the most common responses to this problem, is there another solution given to us by science? Biotechnology in Agriculture or genetically modified foods (GMF) could be an answer to not only the shortage of food in many places in the world, but also hold a key to modifying plants that can withstand extreme climates and harsh conditions.  Among others, genetically modified crops are designed to increase production and productivity, which leads to higher yields. Furthermore, some species facilitate the usage of marginal land for agriculture, which could be a solution to spreading desertification and land degradation therefore ensuring people’s nutrition and reducing  their vulnerability. In addition, a better nutrition supply could be reached by adding vitamins and iron in crops. In some Asian countries for example, an improvement in the health situation could be proven after the implementation of Vitamin A and iron in rice. Nevertheless, the distribution of genetically modified seeds is very controversial, as there are various negative impacts on both, nature and society. From nature’s perspective the implementation of genetically modified crops means  an upsetting of the ecosystems balance. The effects are diverse. By enhancing the resistance of crops to diseases and environmental stress natural relatives might be extruded, finally resulting in a loss of biodiversity. Furthermore, the reaction of ecosystems cannot be predicted yet. Especially crops with induced pesticide genes destroy the soil’s fauna and thereby inhibit  a sustainable cultivation. In addition, the reaction of the human body to a more intensive exposure to agricultural poisons is not known yet but a dramatic increase in allergic reactions is predicted. Not only is the impacts on nature are tremendous, the social consequences are far reaching as well. Even if genetically modified food would be most beneficial in developing countries, these countries often do not have access to the new seeds. Until now research seems to be concentrated on the private sector and orientated towards high-income countries, where greater power for purchasing those products exists. Furthermore, patents make modified seeds unaffordable for small-scale farmers, which reduces their contestability on the world market.  Thus leaving open various questions to be discussed:  Should Biotechnology in agriculture therefore be promoted besides all uncertainties and dangers? And if so what can be done to ensure the benefit of developing countries from the new technologies?  How can genetically engineering be monitored internationally? Should there be clear regulations concerning the labeling of genetically modified food so that consumers can make a profound choice? And finally, should humans in general have the right to change the basic structures of life?

(note Article of the conference in Bonn where I was delegate last week)

Organic Food

December 9, 2010

Organic food is food growing  without using any kind of chemicals from pesticides to fertilizers,hormones and genetic engineering (or product). Processed organic food product is not used preservatives or food colouring or other synthetic additive.Organic food processing and manufacturing technologies are defined luxury, including all physical technologies / Mechanical enzymatic / biological.Contains mostly organic fertilizer compost made from vegetable food scraps, clippings and manure of farm animals (sheep and cattle).In order to be approved to be labelled as organic, a product have to be  produced using at least 95% of organic ingredients or derivation of them, those who are not from organic materials should be permitted ingredients list, or at least not be a list of components is prohibited.

Organic products can be defined as

food where all  the links in the chain that led to the creation are also organic: watering crops and livestock drinking water would rather use – tested groundwater contaminated leftovers that are not pesticides; food and fertilizer provided over a period of growth will carry organic standards; additives during processing are organic themselves.

There are also limitations of the organic products in terms of storage and handling. the case of animal products which are produced “organic” according to their producers are monitored by independent bodies. They supervise the parameters in which the animals are growing, from living spaces, organic nutrition, usage of medicines and vaccines.  All these allow that artificial hormones and medicines to be used only in emergency situations such as diseases which cant be cured otherwise.

ANOTHER DEVELOPMENT TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS/MAHAUN IN BRAZIL

December 9, 2010

The Brazilian government is keen to improve on the lives of  its citizenry.The need to facilitate  the  provision of capabilities in the form of infrastructural development is key in archieving this goal.There can be no meaningful development if the basic essentials are not provided such as,freedom, food,hospitals,roads,houses,transport to mention but a few.

The Cancaun conference in Mexico(December 2010) is  come and gone and there appears to be no general concessus on climate change and global emission levels.Well you cannot blame the Brazilian government if its aim is to better the lives and livelihood of its people.

I watched a documentary on a development programme undertaken by the Brazilian government to improve transport network   for the rural poor.The Mahaun bridge is a good example.This bridge is built on a river that is served communities/livelihoods for generations.Now the government is spent seventeen  months in the construction of this bridge of twenty seven kilometres and is costed  about $230 million.The  enviromental,economic and cultural  impact of such a development cannot be underesitmated and indeed a tragedy on the commons.The bridge is forced the local people to migrate ,schools and local communities have vanished and above all the livelihoods of the chronic poor have been severely affected/ evaporated.Well to the poor this is  an untimely development as alternative sources of livelihood provision are non existent.The river no longer belongs to them and the government is charging motorists for the use of the bridge.This finances go into the government account with no consideration of renumeration of the poor.

My concerns are,  was the government transpirent in the planning stage,where the rural people affected  empowered in the participation and  decision making of their lives and livelihoods,and how will this development be sustained if the returns are  not plough back into the local communities.

Now lets look at the  livelihood alternatives employed by the communities affected.They have resorted to deforestation as a major source of income and survival.The impact of their actions is  one  major effect of global warming and an overall tragedy of the commons.The  causes and effects of global warming  therefore needs a multi-dimensional approach if  a workable solution is to be sort.

Enclosure of the land: china

December 9, 2010

After the Tiananmen Square massacre the Chinese ruling party established a new form of profit making mechanism, the land enclosure movement. Since its establishment a number of peasants were forcefully removed from their fields and dweller from cities have been forced to move to different location with only few receiving moderate compensation. Local governments have successfully traded lands owned by the people for political achievements and financial profit.

This form of enclosure has led to increasing mass protests of Chinese peasants. It has been estimated that in 2004 three million people were involved in demonstration and because more farmers are becoming aware of their rights, the government in Beijing is getting increasingly concerned.

For many people the government is a key force in the land trade abuse, especially when looked at its relation with the idiosyncrasy of the Chinese real estate market. Apart from the real estate developers and property buyers, there are also two other parties, the original owner and local governments who seized the land from the original owners, the government then it sells the right of usage of the land to real estate developers. Therefore the central government is the arbitrator in land related conflict.

The Chinese are the victims of the local governments profited oriented mechanism and corrupted officials. Nearly 60 million Chinese peasants were victimised and have lost their fields which is their only means of living. They are given small amount of subsidy for their lost of land and can barely feed themselves and their family.

The Chinese people as a whole are also victim of the enclosure movement because the country’s resources are exhausted with just short-term gains by the government. The Chinese government tried for a long period of time to regulate the land market; however it has never succeeded in it. The only solution to this problem is by giving land ownership to communities and individuals.

Red Revolution: Stem Cell Technology

December 9, 2010

“The primary threat to nature and people today comes from centralising and monopolising power and control. Not until diversity is made the logic of production will there be a chance for sustainability, justice and peace. Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times: it is survival imperative.”

_Vandana Shiva

Why do we have to worry about rising food demand in such technological age?  Exciting news was presented on BBC NEWS this morning about stem cell technology, the production of meat in laboratory. Scientists are working on it to reduce the cost of production and few other drawbacks linked to its characteristics (taste, form), to make it feasible for industrial production in the future. The technology was presented by a guest speaker in the studio as ‘NO BRAIN-NO PAIN’ technology and it will save animals from brutality. It might sound good for people working for animal rights and especially for the global corporations. However it should make clear that stem cell technology is not a new technology and scientists have been working on it since long.

In existing literature, several justifications are given in the favour of stem cell technology in addition to NO BRAIN-NO PAIN. According to Steinfield et al (2006, cited in Betti, 2009, p.14) ‘in the light of sizeable negative impacts of livestock production, introduction of stem cell technology (in vitro meat production) is becoming increasingly justifiable’. The negative impacts of current meat production are pointed out as consumption of fossil fuels, land and water resources. According to Steinfield, current meat production practices are contributing to 15% to 24% of greenhouse emission as a result of grazing and deforestation. According to Vein (2004, cited in Betti, 2009, P.14) ’considering the benefits of stem cell technology (in vitro meat production technology) it is not surprising that a number of parties (Global Corporations) have proposed (and patented) the methodology for actualizing this idea.

Despite of all advantages as mentioned by Steinfield, the technology still seems problematic. As we have seen in the case of Green Revolution, the patenting of seeds and promotion of selected species resulted into monoculture and as a result, many traditional species especially of rice and wheat became extinct. This time the object under experiment is livestock rather than crop. And the term ‘NO BRAIN- NO PAIN’ as mentioned above could also be seen contrary, in the form of species extinction. In other words, brutality of slaughter will be replaced by the brutality of extinction. It would also result into extinction of traditional farming practices, and livelihoods of poor farmers which are dependent on livestock production.

Though it would be too early to build an opinion about the future and impacts of stem cell technology, however by looking into Green Revolution it could be concluded that this technology would be another disaster for the right of existence of species after green revolution, and definitely again a success story for  global corporations in economic terms.

References

Betti, D. M., (2009), Possibilities for an in vitro meat production systemjournal of Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies, 11 (2010) 13-22. P.14

http://www.redorbit.com/

Carbon reduction in European Union

December 9, 2010

European Union decided  to cut much more dramatically emissions of greenhouse gases Germany, France and Britain in a surprise statement that shocked much of the business, writes Financial Times.   Ministers from three countries stood behind the idea of the European Union to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide by 30% by 2020, instead of currently planned 20% to 1990 levels.  Even tough the European Union  Emissions Trading Scheme has its problems, it has had a great deal more success than its alternatives. It not only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 2% to 5% in its first three years, but it put an effective mechanism in place to more aggressively reduce emissions over time, according to Forbes (article mentioned below).

The initiative of the three countries, however, again stirs dispute that most companies were considered closed. In May this year the European Commission announced that reduce carbon emissions by 30% would cost 22 billion per year less prior forecast, as the recession has limited emissions. Strong protests from the business community, however, forced the Commission to agree that such removal of ceiling on emissions should wait more “appropriate time”.

Germany has long opposed the unilateral reduction of emissions by 30% and supported the original idea of the union to lower the ceiling only if other countries agree to such a move – something that no agreement was reached at last year’s meeting of Copenhagen. France also had reservations about such a decision.

However, some companies, including those working in the field of green technology, support the more stringent limit carbon emissions. According to Joan Maknotan, vice president of engineering group Alstom – “30% emission reduction can really help to intensify investment in low carbon technologies which Europe needs.”

Further details:

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/dossier/dossier_20.htm

http://www.forbes.com/2010/03/17/greenhouse-gases-environment-technology-ecotech-europe.html

can africa feed itself

December 8, 2010

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11890702/can-africa-feed/

This was an interview i recently listened to and as an optimist am very much  in support of the recommendations suggested.The countries in Africa need to identyify hunger and poverty as utmost priorities and vehicles to sustainable development.The  need to adopt democratic priciples  in enpowering the chronic poor,that is, to actively engage them in the decisions that impact on their lives and livelihoods .The need for close partnership with the global north is essential in research and development.

Commodifying Humans: The Case of the Roma

December 6, 2010

Reading the conference paper of Anthony McCann (2004) Enclosure Within and Without the Commons, I started wondering to what extent enclosures really play a part in our lives. McCann believes that we isolate variables, separating ‘things from other things, people-as-things from other people-as things’ (p.12). By concentrating on ‘things’, according to McCann, we can isolate ourselves from the ethical concerns of the reality we experience ignoring our own attitude and role in it. McCann writes that we allow this ‘commodification’, the concentration on ‘people-as-things’, to keep us distance on what actually happens to other people around us.   

This reminded me of a seminar that was organised a couple of weeks ago at UEL ‘Sarkozy and the plight of the Roma’. The speaker of the seminar was Dr Jim Wolfreys from King College London and the event was chaired by Philip Marfleet from UEL. As it can be seen from the title, the seminar was about the Roma in France but also dealt the situation of the Roma in other parts of Europe. The situation of the Roma is one – among many others – reminder to us Europeans, that development is certainly something that cannot be isolated only to the global south, and it is one of the greatest reminders of how economic growth does not mean the same as real development and is far away from equality. In the seminar there was discussion regarding the deportations of the Roma from France as well as their (mal)treatment in some other parts of Europe, like in Italy or in England. It is clear, not only from the seminar, but more generally from the news we see that the Roma are indeed very marginalised group of people. As Philip Marfleet mentioned, especially during times of financial trouble and other instability, it is too easy to target a group that is vulnerable and has no single country of origin to defend them. We can blame them for almost anything, from misbehaviour to organised crime. Even in Finland, the Roma have been pictured as vagabonds, beggars and being part of organised crime. The discussion in Finland went so far that legislation which would forbid begging in public spaces was talked about. Our former prime minister also instructed ‘good citizens’ not to give money to the beggars (meaning, the Roma).

And why is it possible that politicians in Europe can engage in such a discussion that so obviously is discriminatory, even racist? It is because us ordinary citizen allow – and in cases like Finland, encourage – them to do that. We encourage the politicians as we are disgusted by the begging people on our streets, people, who we have decided to be criminals or just otherwise very suspicious group. We fail to see them as fellow human beings facing individual suffering. Instead we isolate the Roma to be ‘people-as-things’ so that we can distance ourselves from them. We are commodifying the people, making them things and then enclose the Roma out of our lives without the need to feel moral concern about it. Because, after all, if they were to be seen as individuals, as human beings like any one of us, how could we ever justify ourselves the treatment we are putting them through.

Copenhagen Summit, Round 2

December 2, 2010

Today, November 29th, is the followup to the Copenhagen Summit on climate change of 2009. Representatives from countries around the world are meeting in Cancun, Mexico for the UN Climate Conference to discuss a global agreement on how to tackle the problem of global warming. With the monumental failures of the Copenhagen Summit, these representatives have a tall order to fill. Many people were outraged with the non-binding Copenhagen accord made in December 2009 that only pledged to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2° C. With international groups protesting with chants of “2 degrees is suicide,” it was clear that many believed country leaders were not doing enough to combat climate change.

According to an article in The Economist, global leaders are hoping the Cancun conference will lead to “decisions about finance, forestry and technology transfer that will leave the world better placed to do something about global warming.” But there is much skepticism that achieving even the 2° C cap is possible. In order to reach that target, “every signatory of the Copenhagen accord would have to hit the top of its range of commitments,” which we know from experience is nearly impossible. Major carbon emissions producers like the US and China are not likely to be able (or willing) to reduce emissions in such a short period of time. So is it possible for any other major agreements on reducing climate change to be achieved?

Unfortunately, BBC News believes that “in contrast to last year’s summit in Copenhagen, there is a general belief that no new global deal will emerge” from the Cancun conference. The conference has received little media coverage and it is not clear how much pressure the UN has been receiving from international groups to make real commitments to reducing global warming. It seems as if this meeting will come and go and once again leave us with no hopes for the future of our planet.