No such thing as ‘away’

Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there…

William Bryant Logan, author of Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, recalls a conversation he had with Clark Gregory, a compost guru in central Florida, as he explains how he travels the country spreading the word about the value of composting:

     “We’ll just chip away a little at a time, and eventually nothing at will be going into the landfill anymore.”

     Aren’t there things that just have to be thrown away, I ask.

     “There’s no such place as ‘away’ “ he replies.

     “So all of those wastes from the farm, the home, the lumberyard, and the fishing boats shouldn’t be going to the landfill?”

     “It’s not waste,” says Gregory. “It’s not waste until it’s wasted.”

There is no such thing as ‘away’; no such thing as non-anthropogenic waste. Nature does not waste, it cycles and recycles.

It’s not that humans can’t be sustainable, it’s just that we won’t. We are like children, sitting in the corner with our arms crossed, a sour look on our faces, because our mothers tried to make us clean up the mess we made when we spilled the chocolate milk all over the table after a temper tantrum because we couldn’t have a second scoop of ice cream with our chocolate cake.

There’s a very practical origin to the saying “Mother knows best”. Maybe mother didn’t want us to have a second scoop of ice cream because she loves us and doesn’t want us to get a tummy ache. Maybe, just maybe, Mother Nature didn’t want us to discover oil, because she knew she couldn’t clean it up properly if one day we accidentally dumped it in the ocean. Maybe that’s why she put it down so deep in the first place.

Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there…

Would you do to your baby, what you do to your ocean?




Bring DOT ECO to EnviroLite!

In this world of identity theft, false promises, and low reliability, it’s good to know there is a system underway to make being environmentally friendly much less political.

Like Twitter’s check mark , .eco allows environmentally sustainable websites to separate themselves from the fraudulent ones. Imagine weeding out the fake cancer victims, and being able to focus on the Lucas Gonzalez type victims that really need it. Well Dot Eco is doing something similar – for the environment.

Transparency, they say, is key. Consumers can expect full transparency from companies and organizations, which will serves as a tool that allows consumers to attain information so that head-to-head comparisons can be made across products and services.

According to Helio Mattar from the Akatu Institute, “Once a company or organization decides to become transparent about what [they] are doing, [they] will not be able to go back… It establishes a basic level, a bar, from which you can only go upwards”.

Which companies would you like to see with the Dot Eco domain?

Smoking does NOT cause cancer

Smoking does not cause cancer… and fossil fuels do not cause global warming.

Whether or not you agree with the correlation of global warming and the production of fossil fuels, are you really that attached to your double ply tushie cushie Depends-thickness toilet paper, your fork-destroying hand-munching garbage disposal, and your jack-hammer strength 8-jet 360 degree open-your-mouth-for-too-long-and-you-might-drown shower, that you can’t bear to sacrifice any of those things if there was even a slight chance that it could help save our environment and ensure a beautiful planet for your children and grandchildren? Um, hello? Anybody in there?

You do realize that if you over water plants they die, right? And no, plants do NOT know the difference between bottled and tap water. You must be aware that Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coca-Cola Co’s Dasani are both made from purified water sourced from public reservoirs – right? Riiight!?

Ok, some serious questions people…

Do you reeallly believe you have to run your dishwasher on a daily basis because if you don’t drink from your favorite coffee mug every morning,  consequentially your boss will happen to pick that day to hold an impromptu evaluation on your value (or lack thereof) to the company? You really don’t think that might be due to the fact that you skipped three days of work last month because “your car wouldn’t start”, “your dog died…for the second time” and “Harold Camping said the world was going to end”?

The Struggle: Science vs. Society

Merging the ideals of scientists and environmentalists with those of current decision-makers is not an easy task. In order to have a successful science-policy dialogue, several obstacles must be overcome. We must link issues of biodiversity and sustainability to development issues that speak to the general public, which will in turn create concern among policy-makers. If society at large is uninterested in a particular subject, the chances politicians will be on board are very slim. Creating public hype or concern on a subject people know little about can pose quite a challenge. Another challenge is identifying policies that can address multiple environmental issues at a time. Every issue has its trade-offs, and most countries will barely even bat an eyelash for environmental protection unless policies also serve to helping achieve their own personal sustainable development objectives. Market imperfections such as: “perverse  energy, water, agricultural and transportation subsidies; the lack of recognition of the value of natural resources; failure to appropriate the global value of natural resources; failure to internalize the social costs of environmental degradation into the market price of a resource; the failure to invest in research and development of future technologies; and limited technology transfer to, and the inefficient use of technologies in developing countries” are all significant obstacles that need to overcome in order to significantly influence decision-making (Watson 2005).

Certain conditions can foster better and more effective interactions between policymakers and society at large than others. Two general requirements for success in biodiversity assessments are: a government mandate and adequate outreach. Firstly, without sufficient government involvement, research lacks the opinion of potential users, and therefore misses a vital contribution for an assessment’s success. Secondly, without adequate outreach and communication with these users both before and after the compilation of reports, the assessment is relying solely on what the scientific community deems important, bypassing user needs entirely. In addition to these general requirements, it helps to have a group or organization who’s opinion the public trusts that can provide knowledgeable and trustworthy judgement calls on various environmental issues and their importance. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change is an example of one such process.

In recent decades, science has undergone a marked increase in political undertone. The bottom line is, once environmental issues are linked to human harm or societal degradation, those issues become a lot more pertinent. For instance, government-implemented policies to reduce the production of ozone-depleting substances followed solid scientific evidence that indirectly linked human activities to increased incidences of skin cancer in light-skinned people. Such circumstances cannot be taken lightly by politicians without significant public backlash. Anything that helps policy-makers appear to care more about issues as important as public health than their adversaries is a priority in their minds. The fact that policies to reduce skin cancer happen to coincide with scientists’ environmental agenda is just dessert.

Watson, R.T., 2005. Turning science into policy: challenges and experiences from the science-policy interface. The Royal Society B (360): 471-477.

Climate Change

Climate Change and Society

Climate change does not only have an impact on the natural world, but on society and the economy as well. Both developing and developed countries will be impacted and will undergo significant changes in a variety of ways.

As global warming continues, many previously uninhabitable areas become desirable as a more comfortable living climate ensues. This is the basis for why developing nations are vulnerable to climate change. The slightest global temperature increase can cause drastic changes. This increase may be beneficial for colder mountain regions such as Northern Russia which will experience extensive snowmelt, opening up new areas for development. However, for countries like Nigeria, this could mean unbearable heat waves. Equatorial and low-latitude regions will become too hot, causing a decrease in crop yield and economic return, increasing civil unrest. For simple reasons like geography, the Northern Hemisphere, which houses more developed nations like the United States and Canada, are more likely to draw inhabitants that seek refuge from the blazing heat of the lower latitudes, triggering an economic boom to already affluent nations.

Global warming not only affects migration, it has a direct effect on many economic sectors. If strict carbon dioxide regulations are enacted as a response to global warming, purchasing carbon offsets may become increasingly desirable to high-emission industries. Planting Leucaena trees (an unusually fast carbon dioxide metabolizer), is an option for greenhouse-offset businesses. An increase in precipitation, should it arise (especially in the form of downpours that would normally cause flooding), would create a high interest in water-related investments such as hydropower. The melting of Arctic sea ice could trigger a boom in the commercial shipping industry as previously icebound seas become available for transit routes. While routes across the North Pole region will become more viable (resulting in decreased shipping costs from East Asia to the United States), traffic in port cities such as Singapore may decline.

In order to keep up with an ever-developing world, developing countries need a plan of action that will allow them to adapt to climate change while still pursuing development goals. Governments would benefit more from enacting incentives for the private sector to develop innovative greenhouse gas reduction methods then from conducting this research themselves – progress would be both faster and more cost-effective. Investments in bioengineered crops designed to sustain higher temperatures would also prove beneficial, as well as those in energy-efficient buildings and cars. Although the list of potential adaptations is long, the most important step is for these countries to accept global warming and its effects on the local economy in order to take the necessary steps towards a sustainable future for their people.

As countries brainstorm the best climate change plan of action, they often ask, “What’s in it for us?” Whatever the reason, it is increasingly clear that nations worldwide would benefit from accepting the implications of global warming and acting accordingly. In fact, the sooner the better

Happy free laborers!

Want to skip the scientific stuff? Scroll to the bottom for “Breaking it down” – simplifying concepts and getting right down to it.

This past Monday, the world population reached 7 billion. Not only is that a lot of people, that’s a lot of food, water, electricity and material goods that need to be produced and distributed. Half of those 7 billion currently live in urban areas. More than 60% of the world population will be urban by 2030. Although technically this reduces our overall ecological footprint, that is still an enormous number of people to service! Furthermore, urbanization has the tendency to promote consumption. Not just of food either – of material goods, electricity, heating – everything!

So this poses the question of whether or not our planet can sustain so many people. This is not just a recent debate either, this debate has been going on for centuries – literally.

Doomsters vs. boomsters:

Doomsters are people who believe that are world is essentially, well, doomed. We are in the middle of a downward spiral that essentially started with the Industrial Revolution and the fate of the human species is inevitable – we will drive ourselves to extinction. Thomas Robert Malthus was a population theorist who made the now-famous 1798 prediction that the human population was heading for a “gigantic inevitable famine”. He claimed that while food production may have been increasing linearly, population growth was increasing exponentially – clearly a bad combination.

Boomsters on the other hand, are the optimists of the debate. They believe that the strength of the human spirit will shine through, and we will overcome all obstacles in our path. They argue that more people means more labor, technological innovation, and economic growth. Some the world’s highest population densities in fact —such as Singapore and the Netherlands—also have some of the world’s strongest economies and environmental commitments.

Land transformation:

Approximately half the land on Earth has been transformed – about 11% each for farming and forestry, 26% for pasture, another 2-3% for housing, industry, services and transport. Those percentages only grow as the human population does. Building cities, roads, and landfills aren’t the only way we degrade the environment. Agriculture (including crops, factory farming and pasture space for grazing) takes up huge amounts of space.

So what do we do? Enter the Happy Free Laborers!

Norway has cunningly developed a way to integrate livestock pastures right into their homes (or should I say, on their homes). Now that is how an environmentalist needs to think! Norway seems to be on the techno-optimist bandwagon, and maybe we should all hop on a enjoy the ride. That’s not to say  we should all continue to over-consume (gluttony is a sin you know), buy things we don’t need just to throw them out when the “updated version” comes along, and throw away perfectly recyclable water bottles because the recycling bin is too far (ie. across the street) because technology will save the world and Mars is looking more and more habitable every day in case we run out of room here on Earth. But at least we know there are alternatives out there, if we care enough to look for them.

Breaking it down

  • World population – 7 billion (as of Monday October 31st 2011)
  • People that live in cities – 3.5 billion.
  • Ecological footprint (aka environmental footprint): human demand on nature
    • large footprint = large impact on the environment
  • Reason why living in an urban area (the city) reduces our footprint: good and services reach more people faster if they are in the same area. That’s right, suburban living may seem more green without all that pollution, but at least it’s concentrated in one area, which means less environmental impact than if those same people were to be spread out all over the surrounding area and taking up more space. Now don’t go pointing fingers at suburban dwellers just yet – consumption rates in cities are much higher than in suburban and rural areas, which is a whole other problem in itself.
  • Doomsters (modern version = techno-pessimists): Humans are doomed – we will not be able to produce enough food to sustain our population. The only solution? Population control.
  • Boomsters (techno-optimists): humans excel under pressure and we will develop technological and agricultural innovations that will pull us through.
  • half of total land on Earth has been altered by humans and almost 40% of this is due to agriculture practices (farming, forestry, crops, pasture for grazing)
  • the bad news? we may be running out of space. the good news? we have learned to think outside the box (Happy free laborers!)