Tag Archives: Environmental News

Why Biodiversity Matters?

I read this interesting article in the Financial Times by Fiona Harvey titled “Bad for Biodiversity is Bad for Business”. It gave an interesting perspective to the argument in favor of development at any cost. United Nations has set aside this year as the International year for Biodiversity. The article says biodiversity is not an animal or plant issue, it is a human survival issue. Businesses in general tend to overlook the value of nature apart from Agriculture, Pharmaceuticals and food.

The article talk about 3 species which would not even capture our eye in any positive way.

The first one is the Gribble – teeny water dwelling wood boring insect, which was the scourge of many a sailor in his wooden ships of yore. No w scientists are hoping this insect could save the world! Wondering how? Enzymes from the gribble which help to digest wood are being investigated as a source for producing biofuels. If replicated scientists believe they can convert waste into biofuel!

The second one in the list is the Rosy periwinkle found only on the island of Madagascar. Locals believe it can cure diabetes, but scientists have found that it has substances which can help in fighting cancers, including childhood leukemia! Sad reality is that the plant is endangered in the wild though wildly cultivated in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.

The third one is Pyrethrum, from the family of the common daisies. Pyrethrum native to the Balkans and surrounding areas have been found to possess the extraordinary quality of being toxic to mosquitoes and other insects! Now it is being grown commercially to make insect repellants.

The writer says these insects and plants are just a very small bit of what nature holds as answers to many of humankinds pressing problems. “They are living examples of the worth of biodiversity” says Peter Seligmann, Chief executive of Conservation International. He says “If nature gets cooked, we get cooked”.

The TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity) study conducted in India by led by the Deutsche Bank’s global market business to estimate the cost of degradation and neglect of natural environments found that preserving biodiversity in some areas most at risk of species loss would yield about $4000 Billion to $5000 Billion a year in benefits!

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study is a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.

Nature’s benefits often provide the most sustainable, cost-effective solutions to meet human needs. Considering ecosystem services in policy making can save on future municipal costs, boost local economies, enhance quality of life and secure livelihoods. This approach also helps tackle poverty by revealing the distribution of scarce and essential resources and services.

In 2006 the 61st UN General assembly had taken a pledge to do everything possible to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010 and they have fallen behind. In this year’s meeting they will have to reset the goal and amp up the actions to make sure biodiversity loss is curtailed.

Some facts and thoughts on biodiversity and its importance:

  • For the first time since the Dinosaurs disappeared Humans are driving species to extinction faster than they can evolve say experts.
  • Just last year in the forests of Papau New Guinea the researchers from Conservation International identified 100 new species!
  • We took 10,000 years to turn from hunter gathers to farmers on land, now we wont need 10 years to do the same in the sea.
  • We cannot manage what we do not measure.
  • Humankind has still a lot to learn about the nature of value, and the Value of Nature.
  • Biodiversity is not just a luxury of the rich: but a necessity for the poor.
  • Investment in a functioning environment is often considered a luxury rather than life insurance. Why is it so?
  • The insights provided by a careful examination of the benefits of ecosystem services can significantly contribute to improved management in the realms of forestry, fisheries, agriculture, nature tourism and protection against natural hazards.

I am reminded of the John Muir quote “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” To me that is how the world is, all interconnected by invisible threads- we never understand the depth of impact when one thread is broken until it is too late.

Species on the brink of being declared extinct

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists 208 species as “possibly extinct”, more than half of which are amphibians. They are defined as species which are “on the balance of evidence likely to be extinct, but for which there is a small chance that they may still be extant”.

Kouprey (or Grey ox; Bos sauveli)

What: Wild cattle with horns that live in small herds

Domain: Mostly Cambodia; also Laos, Vietnam, Thailand

Population: No first-hand sightings since 1969

Main threats: hunting for meat and trade, livestock diseases and habitat destruction

Webbed-footed coqui (or stream coqui; Eleutherodactylus karlschmidti)

What: Large black frog living in mountain streams

Domain: East and west Puerto Rico

Population: Not seen since 1976

Main threats: Disease (chytridiomycosis), climate change and invasive predators

Golden coqui frog (Eleutherodactylus jasperi)

What: Small orange frog living in forest or open rocky areas

Domain: Sierra de Cayey, Puerto Rico

Population: No sightings since 1981

Main threats: Unknown but suspected habitat destruction, climate change, disease (chytridiomycosis) and invasive predators

Spix’s macaw (or little blue macaw; Cyanopsitta spixii)

What: Bright blue birds with long tails and grey/white heads

Domain: Brazil

Population: The last known wild bird disappeared in 2000; there are 78 in captivity

Main threats: Destruction of the birds’ favoured Tabebuia caraiba trees for nesting, and trapping

Café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii)

What: White flowering shrub related to the coffee plant family

Domain: Island of Rodrigues, Republic of Mauritius

Population: A single wild plant is known

Main threats: Habitat loss, introduced grazing animals and alien plants

Source: IUCN and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. To mark the International Year of Biodiversity, the IUCN is running a daily profile of a threatened species throughout 2010. See iucn.org.

Will do a detailed write up on TEEB tomorrow.

Sources –

Financial Times

TEEB

UN Convention on Biological Diversity

UN International Year of Biodiversity

A DIY Solar Water Heater From Plastic Bottles

Solar water heaters are probably the most widely used solar product worldwide, especially in Asia and other parts of the developing world it is a constant with any new construction. Out of Brazil comes this plastic water bottle based water heater created by Jose Alano a retired mechanic. He created a simple, cheap, energy saving rooftop solar water heater which is benefiting thousands of people across Brazil. Alano refused to throw away plastic bottles and packaging to end up in the landfills. In his words “Being 59 years old, I have had the opportunity to witness the technological advances of science, which improved food storage. But nowadays, some packaging weighs almost the same than the food itself! Years ago, my wife and I realized that we were not prepared for this new form of consumption.

Using his basic knowledge of Solar water heaters he and his wife created the green alternative version making use of 100 plastic (PET) bottles and 100 Milk Cartons there by getting rid of their waste responsibly.

Alano’s water heater won the Superecologia prize, offered by the Superinteressante magazine for renewable projects in the not-for-profit sector. He has made his design patented and available to use as a not for profit design. The only restrictions are on industrial production and politicians claiming credit for it!

The Invention

The standard solar water heaters cost a couple of 1000$ and have copper as a main element. The Plastic Bottle solar water heater is based on the thermosyphon technology which is used in many solar water heaters. It makes use of the circulation of water based on density; hot water which is less dense moves upwards while the cold water which is denser moves down. Alano estimates that to heat water for a shower of one person, a 1m² panel would be enough.

Materials needed for construction:

The only material required to build a recycled water heater are:

  • 2L plastic bottles (60),
  • Cartons (50)
  • 100mm PVC pipe (70 cm)
  • 20mm PVC pipe (11.7m)
  • 90-degree 20 mm PVC elbows (4)
  • 20mm PVC T-connectors (20)
  • 20 mm PVC end caps (2)
  • PVC glue
  • Black matt paint
  • Paint Roller
  • Sand paper
  • Self-amalgamating tape
  • Tools – Rubber hammer, saw, wood or other material for the support.

Once you get everything ready check out the diagrams in this DIY Leaflet online (PDF format in Portuguese, but the diagrams are easy to follow). use the 100mm PVC pipe as a mold and cut off the bottom of the bottles. Cut the 20mm PVC pipes into 10 x 1m and 20 x 8.5 cm pieces, and assemble with the T-connectors. Cut and paint the cartons (page10-12), as well as the one-meter long pipes. Assemble according to figure B.

The panels must be placed at least 30 cm below the tank and be sited on a south facing wall or roof. To optimize heat absorption, the panels must be mounted at the angle of your latitude, plus 10°. In London, for instance, the panel’s inclination should be 61°. Alano recommends that the plastic bottles in the panels should be swapped for new ones every 5 years: ‘Over time, the plastic becomes opaque, which reduces the heat caption, while the black cartons can be repainted.’ So once the bottles become opaque it is time to replace the bottles and send the used ones to the recycle dump.

Check out a video of a Alano’s bottle solar heaters below:

Such a useful way to utilize plastic bottles: green, clean and energy efficient! Reduce Reuse Recycle the 3 R’s at work! Live Green!

Source for data and Pictures – The Ecologist

Monarch’s Have Yet Another Hurdle This Year

In early May I did a post about Monarch Butterfly migration and the threats it was facing. Last year was the worst year for Monarch butterflies, the orange and black cloud which descends on Mexico every winter migrating all the way from as far North as Canada. Read the Post HERE

This year they are suffering from a double whammy sort of added to the already existing issues,  severe storms hit their forests in Mexico. The Nature Conservancy said in a news conference that storm damage in Mexico’s  Oyamel Forests 13,000-hectare (32,124 acre) monarch reserve is yet another blow to the fragile butterflies. Illegal logging has long been a major problem in these forests, this year torrential rains and heavy winds have damaged hundred’s of acres of the forest leading conservationists to feel even more worried for the Monarch.

A 1986 presidential decree in Mexico established the Monarch Butterfly Special Biosphere Reserve. This consisted of 60 square miles of protected forest. The Monarch Butterfly Reserve is strictly protected from logging.

The first one included 5 sites:

  • Altamirano
  • Sierra Chincua (open to public)
  • El Rosario (open to public)
  • Chivati-Huacal
  • Cerro Pelon

Seven more overwintering sites were later discovered:

  • San Andres
  • Mil Cumbres
  • La Mesa
  • Lomas de Aparicio
  • Piedra Herrada
  • San F. Oxtotilpan
  • Palomas

In the year 2000, a Presidential decree expanded the reserve creating a protected corridor of 216 square miles. The Oyamel forests are the perfect micro-climate for the Monarch Butterflies and years of tracking has proved that they have continued to return to the same wintering sites annually since 1976. 2010 United Nations Climate talks are to be held in Mexico and Mexico has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 50 million tons by 2012.

We can all help in tracking what is happening to the Monarch butterfly by keeping our eyes open and recording the butterflies you see HERE the tracking officially starts this year on 26th August 2010, watch out for Orange and Black 🙂 What the website wants you to look out for:

Watch for Monarchs that are:

  1. Flying Overhead
  2. Fueling at a nectar source OR
  3. Resting at an overnight roost

Lets hope things have improved and more Monarchs make it down south, keep your eyes open and remember the Website address Tracking Monarch Migration Hopefully it is not too late for the Monarch and the magical migration…

Read the entire Reuters article here

Watch the Monarchs in their forests courtesy of the Discovery Channel:

Check out “On the Wings of the Monarch” an exciting nature documentary that follows host Libby Graham on an amazing journey into the life of the monarch butterfly.

On the Wings of the Monarch [VHS]