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Global Warming & Climate Change Media Hysteria

California Ocean Shore
The green land and blue sea of planet earth.
Big Sur, California

Editor’s Note: This latest report on global warming by D. James Guzy is yet another well reasoned and well researched analysis that makes clear the emphasis on CO2 emissions is based on highly debateable precepts.

As a matter of principle we publish these analyses by global warming skeptics. To put it mildly, it is astonishing that most media continue to largely ignore – or discredit – any information that runs counter to global warming alarm. The least they might do is cast the skeptics as the voices of moderation, instead of “deniers” and “flat earthers.”

Here is the basic algebra of global energy today: Over 80% is produced through combustion of fossil fuel, and global energy production needs to double in order to allow emerging nations to achieve a decent standard of living. It is unlikely – if not unthinkable – that we can make absolute cuts in total global CO2 output within only a few decades without collapsing the global economy. Ref. “Fossil Fuel Reality,” and “Environmentalist Priorities.”

The good news is – if you are paying attention – we are not necessarily going to destroy the planet by increasing atmospheric levels of CO2. New observational data is not reinforcing the alarming scenarios, despite many high profile studies that continue to make those claims. Consider:

  • New satellite data that can do 3D imaging of clouds indicate
    water vapor forcing may be a negative feedback, causing cooling
    instead of warming.
  • New ocean buoys are returning data suggesting the ocean,
    overall, is marginally cooling for at least the last five years.
  • A recent study published in the journal Nature predicts the earth will be cooling for at least the next 15 years. (Ref. “Next Decade May See No Warming.”)

The truth is the many general circulation models do not have the ability to predict global climate trends. They are being constantly revised and to assert their scenarios are a certainty is ludicrous. And while humans may indeed have the ability to affect global climate, these changes may be due more to tropical deforestation than because of rising levels of CO2.

It is grossly irresponsible for scientists and journalists to abandon their innate skepticism when so much is at stake. They should understand the large international corporations, the U.N., government agencies everywhere, associations of government workers, huge swaths of the scientific and academic community, myriad non-profit organizations, trial lawyers and insurance companies all stand to benefit from policies enacted in the name of global warming mitigation. This is the hidden agenda, likely creating futile and destructive policies based on flawed logic.

It is the duty of anyone influencing global warming policy – from individual voters to international journalists and world leaders – to personally and continuously survey all the facts and keep an open mind, or science becomes religion, and journalism becomes propaganda. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

Media Global Warming Hysteria Distorts Reality.
by D. James Guzy, May 24, 2008
California Ocean Shore Cliffs
The Pacific, greatest of oceans. Will climate
change arouse her to unprecedented fury?

Arctic summer sea ice registers the smallest aerial extent in history, Greenland and Antarctica ice is melting at accelerating rates, paleoclimate proxies indicate current warming is unprecedented for thousands of years, and your community will be under water by the end of the century. We are within a decade of the tipping point of irrecoverable warming.

These sample headlines in recent months can compel the unknowing to follow the leading alarmists’ cries for CO2 action. Even agnostics and some cynics resign themselves to heed these cries as an insurance policy just in case there is some chance of climate impact. We are bombarded every day with alarmist global warming headlines, giving credence to scientific consensus and draconian mitigation policies. Are these headlines distorting reality? Yes. And worse, they are often completely false.

Furthermore, the media fails completely to report the gathering research which contradicts anthropogenic (man-made) global warming hypotheses. The last year, in particular, has been a landmark year for research and observational data advancing the theory that natural forces, over anthropogenic forces, are far more responsible for the global warming we have experienced in the last thirty years. I will give examples of what has been overlooked. These recent studies begin to shed light on how tentative the science is behind man-made global warming theories.

Why do these studies go unreported and non-discussed? There are three reasons. One, environmentalists and some leading scientists are pushing global warming as a moral issue. The media are loath to be portrayed as apostates. Two, global warming mitigation policies give public policy makers and advocates means to expand their power base. Three, perhaps most importantly, the U.S. government’s global warming science grant budget is approximately $5 billion a year. Scientists and other vested colleagues are afraid of losing money. If their research does not support the pursuit of populist global warming studies, they can lose grants, tenure, publishing space and more.

I will give examples of recent compelling research that gives a completely different perspective on global warming. There is a healthy debate on man versus natural effects on climate, and there is no scientific consensus on global warming.

Amidst all the talk about the last couple decades being the warmest for thousands of years, little attention has been made to what global temperatures have been for the last several years. Since the big El Nino year of 1998, the average global temperature has not risen. An interesting example is to take this past January’s global temperature and note the difference between this temperature and the temperature from January of 2007. Next, note the temperature difference between December of 2007 and December of 2006. Repeat for each previous month. Once a year’s worth of temperature differences is noted, calculate the average difference. Comparing yearly average temperature differences, the data reveals that the earth has been cooling since 2001. 1998 has been the warmest year, the global temperature since 1998 has been relatively flat! I am the first to admit that looking at a decade’s set of data is not statistically significant enough. We probably need another seven or eight year’s worth of temperature data to be statistically significant. However, the trend is clearly not at an alarming or uncontrolled warming rate.

Ocean Rocks
Will these rocks be submerged beneath rising seas?

It is possible that we are headed for a cooling, let alone worry about warming. The earth is embarking upon solar cycle 24.

We are experiencing the end of solar cycle 23. Solar cycles track the sun’s magnetic activity through sun spot activity. The intensity of the solar cycles correlates to the number of sun spots. Sun spots modulate the solar irradiance that that reaches the earth and each solar cycle is on average, eleven years duration. Solar cycles, which have been tracked since the mid eighteenth century, are typically strong and short, indicating more solar irradiance on the earth, or weak and long, indicating less solar irradiance on the earth. Solar cycles 21 and 22 (from the late 1970s to the late 1990s) had high numbers of sun spots and lasted less than eleven years. In conjunction, the earth experienced higher temperatures with these more intense solar cycles. Solar cycle 23, ending now, is at least thirteen years long. This, along with current very low sun spot activity (sometimes zero sun spots) harbingers a very long and weak solar cycle 24. Compelling research has been published within the last year correlating the earth’s temperature with the number solar cycle sun spots: the more sun spots the higher the temperature. The bottom line is that soon we will experience a real cooling!

Temperature measurements are even under scrutiny and reevaluation. No scientist is arguing that we have not been experiencing a warming, but there is emerging questioning on how much we have warmed, particularly in the last thirty years. Pat Michaels and Ross McKitrick last year came out with a paper critiquing the IPCC (the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) temperature data base it uses (from 1979 to 2002). One of the big debates in climate science (yes, there are many debates in global warming science and no universal consensus) is how much to ascribe socio-economic effects into temperature measuring algorithms. As an example, urbanization through streets, concrete, steel, etc. causes a profound temperature increase. This is the urban heat island effect. Socio-economic impacts are non natural impacts on temperature.

Land use change, fossil fuel consumption, irrigation, population growth are other examples of socio-economic impacts on temperature. A robust temperature measurement algorithm should have no data dependent on socio-economic variables. The current database the IPCC uses employs an questionable algorithm to cross correlate neighboring temperature grid cells and applies a mere 0.05 C bias for the urban heat island effect. Michaels and McKitrick employed a more robust socio-economic analysis to conclude that the IPCC database not only underestimates socio-economic impacts on global temperature, but inflates temperature measurements two times! Up to one half of today’s observed global warming may just be an artifact of the measuring methods. It is difficult to argue with their results because they compared their temperature measurement data and the IPCC measurement data with socio-economic variables. Michaels and McKitrick discovered that the IPCC data set has correlations with socio-economic trends while their data set has no dependence.

Last year, Craig Loehle published a paper which reassessed temperature paleoclimate proxy data sets going back 2000 years. One of the big debates in climate science is proof of the existence of significant temperature swings designating the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), 1000 years ago, and the Little Ice Age (LIA), 300 years ago. This debate is highly significant, particularly related to the existence of the MWP. If the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age did not occur, or only experienced minor temperature fluctuations, then, as the man made global warming protagonists contend, today’s temperature level is the warmest we have experienced for at least a couple thousand years. This supports the theory that the global temperature is inherently stable and today’s temperature level is unprecedented, on the precipice of a runaway condition (refer to the infamous hockey stick temperature graph).

If the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age did occur, then, as the skeptics contend, this would validate the theory that earth’s climate and temperature are naturally cyclical and variant, with the MWP having been a couple degrees Celsius warmer than it is now. The proxy data sets that show no MWP and LIA are highly dependent on tree ring data. Tree ring proxies are the most controversial of all temperature measurement data sets because of the requirement of significant subjective interpretation tree ring growth influences.

Loehle’s paper extracts robust temperature proxy data sets. Loehle takes 18 data sets selected to give a geographical distribution of the earth. Each of the data sets comes from data that was published in peer reviewed journals. Each of the data sets comes from disparate paleoclimate proxies, such as ice cores, boreholes, stalagmites, etc. And, most importantly, the data sets contain no tree ring proxies. Loehle tried to create an objective case as possible. His analysis, indeed, yields the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age temperature cycles. It seems the only way to eliminate the MWP and LIA is to include data dependent on tree ring proxies. Steven McIntyre of has done extensive research on temperature proxy data and shows how all graphs that eliminate the MWP and LIA have a core set of similarly interpreted tree ring proxy data. Loehle’s analysis further lends credence to the theory that global temperatures are naturally cyclical.

Steven Milloy of describes the interesting example of the cyclical nature of our climate. From January to July, the earth warms by four degrees Celsius. This four degree rise is much greater than the 0.75 degrees Celsius rise the earth experienced during the 20th century. However, the earth does not reach a state of uncontrolled warming, it naturally cycles cooler from July to December with its natural feedback systems.

The debate is on!

In further reports I will provide examples of what the mass media is not reporting to you and how recent studies are discrediting anthropogenic global warming hypotheses.

Icebergs at Cape York, Greenland
Will they all melt into a warm and angry ocean?

Additional EcoWorld features on Global Warming:

  • The Debate Goes On, Marc Morano
  • A Case Against Climate Alarmism, Dr. Richard Lindzen
  • 35 Inconvenient Truths, Lord Christopher Monckton
  • Interview with Roger Pielke, Sr., EcoWorld Exclusive
  • Glacial Acceleration, Paul Brown
  • Global Warming Priorities, Dr. Edward Wheeler
  • Rebuttal to Inconvenient Truth, Marlo Lewis
  • Inconvenient Skeptics, D. James Guzy
  • Global Warming Facts, Dr. Richard Lindzen
  • Is There a Basis for Global Warming Alarm?, Dr. Richard Lindzen
  • Global Warming Alarm, Dr. Edward Wheeler
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Posted in Causes, Consumption, Effects Of Air Pollution, Energy, Global Warming & Climate Change, History, Organizations, Other, Policies & Solutions, Population Growth, Religion, Solar, Urbanization0 Comments

India's Population

Indian Baby
What future will this young Indian inherit?

Editor’s Note: Current demographic trends suggest India will soon become the world’s most populous nation, given India currently has 1.1 billion people and an annual population increase of 1.4%, whereas the current population leader, China, currently has a population of 1.3 billion people but an annual population increase of only 0.6%. India’s population is growing twice as fast as China’s.

When we predict that the virtues of democracy and technology will enable humanity to enter an era of abundant land, air and water within a generation, it is India and China where this prediction will be put to the test. The fate of democratic India in particular, with roughly half the per capita income and more than twice the population density of China, is going to determine whether or not this optimistic prediction can become reality.

While the challenge is daunting, the possibilities for positive outcomes are real. Within the past ten years, India has increased per capita income by a factor of almost 10x, becoming a major world economic power. This wealth has been accompanied by a falling rate of population increase, down from 1.8% per year ten years ago to 1.4% today. Nearly a third of India’s population now lives in urban areas.

Technology creates wealth, and when wealth goes up, birthrates go down. To think that India won’t eventually face the same challenges European nations face today – that of birth rates falling below replacement levels – is to take a very short-term view. The fact is, within 20 years global population will have stablized at around 8.5 billion and will then begin to fall. At the same time, urban populations will continue to increase – hence open land will be abundant.

It isn’t if technology can deliver abundant water and energy, nor whether or not population stablization and subsequent decline, combined with urbanization, will deliver abundant land. The question is when and how, and nowhere is that question more revealing than in India. But India’s tradition of democracy, combined with India’s status as one of the leading global centers of technology innovation, may bring abundance to her shores far sooner than anyone has yet imagined. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

One mouth, two hands: Inside India’s population paradox
by Brook & Guarav Bhagat, April 30, 2007
Indian Pro-Girl Propaganda Poster
“Why only a boy? Are these not girls?”
India Directorate of Family Welfare

“A child is another mouth to feed, but he will have two hands to work and bring in money for the family, especially as the parents grow older,”

…said Mrs. Asha Rane, explaining why it is often the poorest families who have the most children.

The world population in 1930 was about 2 billion; in the year 2000, around 6 billion; and in 2050, according to estimates from the U.N. Commission on Population and Development, it will hit 9 billion. 98 percent of this growth will be in the developing world, where resources are being consumed faster than they can be renewed – and India will be at the forefront of the crisis.

Rane, who was a professor at the Tata Institute for Social Sciences, now sees the effects of this phenomenon first-hand at the Hamara Club, a project which helps children living on the street in Mumbai. Understanding how and why poverty leads to increasing population is essential to curbing, or at least slowing, the tide.

Currently at 1.1 billion people, India is not far behind China’s 1.3 billion; and, because of China’s well-known government policy of one child per family, its population has stabilized and is expected to level off soon. According to the U.N., India’s population in 2050 will have overtaken China at around 1.6 billion, to claim the ominous title of the most populous nation on earth.

What are the causes? Aside from the aforementioned reasoning of more children helping the family survive, one major factor has been the increased life expectancy in India. In 1947, when India gained independence from British rule, the average life expectancy was only 33 years. Now, thanks to improved standards of living and healthcare, that number is in the mid-60′s.

As life expectancy increased, the birth rate has been falling– but not fast enough to make up the difference. India was the first country in the world to launch a national family planning program, which has had success. The total fertility rate has declined by more than 40 percent since the 1960′s, and today the average number of children per woman is around three.

Indian Propaganda Poster Promoting Small Families
“Big family: Problems all the way” (left),
“Small family: Happiness all the way” (right).
India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

The current approach focuses on improving women’s educational, social and economic opportunities – statistics show that as their status in these realms improves, their family size declines naturally.

This positive message is in part an effort to make up for a backlash against the harsher messages of the family planning program in the 70′s. At that time, the government declared a population “state of emergency,” which implemented forced sterilizations in the country’s poorest regions and even rewarded medical workers who performed the most operations. This led to a conception, especially among women, that birth control was synonymous with sterilization – an all-or-nothing decision that they then chose to forgo entirely.

Current aspects of the family planning program include financial incentives for families, and their children’s educations, when they do get sterilized. Birth control pills are incredibly cheap and easy to obtain, especially in comparison to supposedly “developed” nations’ policies– in India the cheapest brands cost about 8 rupees (appx. $ 0.20) per month at any pharmacy, with no prescription necessary and no questions asked.

Another key issue targeted by Indian public awareness campaigns is favoritism for male children, a value deeply ingrained and interwoven with the cultural structure. Traditionally, when girls get married, they first of all must offer a dowry, and secondly they go to live with and care for their new husband and his parents.

It is not unusual for a poor family to spend their entire life savings on their daughter’s dowry and extravagant wedding (which is also their burden). Then, unless the girl’s parents have a son as well, they are left with no one to take care of them in their old age. Thus the desire for boys drives couples to either keep having children if their first or second children are girls, abort female babies or even commit infanticide.

This preference for males has resulted in women being outnumbered by men in India by 32 million, according to the U.N. While the implications of this discrepancy are still largely unknown, it is not likely to benefit women or make them “more valuable,” as the law of supply and demand might imply.

Geeta Rao Gupta, president of the Washington, D.C.-based International Center for Research on Women, says that evidence suggests the opposite– that if the sex ratio imbalance worsens, so will conditions for women. She said that it forces women to marry at a younger age, if less women are available. She also predicts that there will be a greater entrenchment of the dominance of men, because there will be fewer women to speak up, and show that they are valuable. And raising the status of women is essential to lowering the fertility rate.

In ancient India, women enjoyed power and freedom in the family, marketplace, government and even scripture – for every god in Hinduism there is a goddess. But a thousand years of invasions and occupations by outside forces led to women being secluded in the home, and excluded from community and even family decisions. Superstitions and cultural mores continued to reinforce practices that had lost their usefulness. But outdated thinking has changed widely in urban areas.

Indian Propaganda Poster Promoting Waiting Before a Second Child
“For a healthy family, wait three years
before your second child.”
Family Planning Services Agency

“Birthrates are declining primarily because of improved access to modern contraception,” said Rao Gupta. “Also because of improvements in women’s status globally, and by that I mean improvements in educational status, access to economic opportunities, and a new perception of women’s role in society. Many Indian women have employment and hold the highest positions in industry and government. Indeed, we’ve had an Indian prime minister who was a woman.”

“Yet the reality is that the majority of young Indian women are very disempowered. They have a much lower status with regard to education and literacy, with regard to income and economic opportunities, with regard to access to health care and health-care services. Women, especially young women, have very little control over reproductive decision-making for themselves.”

Often, especially in poorer, more traditional families in India, the husband’s family has as much or more to say about how many children a couple should have and how fast they should have them than the husband and wife themselves. Since the burden of raising and caring for children is borne primarily by women, Rao Gupta says, given free choice, they almost always will choose smaller families than society will for them.

The status of women, however, has improved and continues to change as India changes– the economic boom, technological advances, and the increased mobilization of society has altered in many cases the entire family structure. Joined families, a household consisting of parents, their sons and their sons’ wives and children, are becoming less common, and nuclear families are on the rise.

More and more, two incomes are necessary or desired, so women are working outside the home. And, in a nuclear family, although there are certainly disadvantages to this development, the in-laws’ influence, or pressure to have more children, is less than in a joined family. And without grandparents and aunts and uncles in the home to help care for the children, especially if both parents are working, it is simply not feasible to have a large number of children.

India has a quota for women in government– it is currently 33 percent for local government bodies, and bills have been repeatedly introduced to make that number 50 percent locally and nationally as well, although they have not been passed.

It is now illegal to demand a dowry for marriage (although giving gifts is legal). It is illegal for a doctor or medical worker to reveal the sex of a baby from a sonography report, although it is still done.

Women’s employment is increasing more quickly than any other group in India, which is key to raising their status. Goverment investment in girls’ education (secondary as well as primary) has also been shown to cause a chain reaction of positive results. An educated woman is statistically more likely to earn an income, have less children and provide those children with better nutrition and health care. This outcome benefits the family, community, and eventually the world.

The numbers, however, are not slowing down fast enough. To support a population of 1.6 billion in 2050, India would have to dramatically increaase agricultural production– but there is no way to increase the amount of available fresh water, which is already in short demand.

Montek Singh Ahluwali, deputy chairman of India’s influential Planning Commission, argues that India can eventually provide such a population.

Indian Propaganda Poster Promoting Small Families Because of Limited Resources
India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

“Resources at the moment are very sub-optimally used. I think it’s possible to manage that kind of population provided there is a systemic change in how we deal with resources which are becoming scarce. The scope for increased efficiency is very large. That’s the nature of the development challenge that India faces.”

Ahluwali may be looking at the glass as half full, but the empty half depends on the increased efficiency of primarily government agencies– which sounds to many like a contradiction in terms.

It also always seems to be under debate in India to barr individuals with more than 3 or 4 children from entering politics as a public example. This idea, however, has not been put into law, and probably won’t be. The poster child, or rather anti-poster child, for this cause is Lalu Prasad Yadav, a member of Parliament and the Minister of Railways. He has nine children, which he claims is a personal protest against the forced sterilizations of the 1970′s. For those familiar with the economic and population trends in India, it comes as no surprise that Mr. Yadav hails from, and was formerly Chief Minister of, the state of Bihar.

In Bihar, which literally means, “the land where Buddha walked,” the average number of children per woman is more than four, and the life expectancy less than 60 years. Contraceptive usage is less than half of the national average, and only 35 percent of women have heard of HIV/AIDS, compared with 57 percent nationally. According to the the National Family Survey of 2006, only 17 percent of the women in Bihar had access to three rounds of antenatal care before their last child was born. What will happen to these little buddhas? For the poorest 20 percent of Indian children, the chances of survival is worse than in Bangladesh or Vietnam.

Yet, in Southern states like Maharastra, income and literacy rates are high and fertility is low– about 2 children per woman, balancing out the poorer, more rural states to the North like Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar and pulling the national average fertility rate down to 3. One of the most essential issues to be addressed is the discrepancy between these different states and regions of India.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s 2007 report on the state of the world population, 2008 will be the year that the global urban population outnumbers the rural half of the world for the first time, at 3.3 billion. And, by 2030, this number is expected to reach almost 5 billion. The urban population of Africa and Asia will double in less than a generation. This unprecedented shift to the cities, large and small, could enhance development, create opportunities and accelerate sustainability– or it could deepen poverty exponentially, and accelerate environmental degradation.

The outcome will depend largely on the management of the migration by governments, city planners and social agencies– most of the newcomers will be poor, and demographically young. They often have little choice but to live in city slums, which have higher fertility rates, higher rates of disease due to poor sanitation and water, and higher casualty rates in natural disasters.

Indian Propaganda Poster Written in an Indian Language
“Tying the tubes of women is now simple.
Laparoscopy is the newest method.
The hospital releases you quickly.
The scar is very light. This service is
available at hospitals and health centers.”
India Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

It is not necessarily, however, a gloomy prognosis: historically, the urbanization of countries generally leads to development and a higher standard of living, as we see in the Southern states of India.

Identifying populations at risk, planning infrastructure and housing policies, orienting furure urban expansion, and generating early-warning indicators about rapidly growing population growth in particular areas are all tools that can help policy-makers manage the changes ahead.

One aspect of urban planning that must not be forgotten in the rush is open space and vegetation. While cities may benefit humans economically, it is important to remember that living in such close quarters with one another, and away from greenery and natural landscapes, is not natural for us.

The hardness, grey color and anonynmity of cities often leads to a loss of a feeling of commumity and friendliness; this contributes to lonliness, depression and to the higher crime and homicide rates in urban areas. The shift to the city is often a move away from extended family members to begin with; migrants find themselves suddenly in a harsh and unfriendly environment.

Public spaces like walkways and parks are often the only leisure the poor can afford to enjoy, and they are crucial to a sense of well-being in cities. Everyone is welcome in open public spaces; they are key to keeping the peace and benefitting the whole.

While the increasing population is a reality that must be planned for and managed, there is a recent theory among economists and the media that India’s booming population is not a problem at all, but a “demographic dividend” that will pay off for everyone.

Many developed nations’ birth rates have stabilized, and some are even negative, like Japan and Italy. They are increasingly facing a greying of their workforces, and will have shortages of workers in the future. Even China’s stabilazation will ultimately result in a workforce crunch within 25-30 years, as the current workers grow older. Only India is projected to still be a “young” country at that time, with the majority of its population in the working age. So, the logic goes, India will be in a position to both attract jobs and export workers to the “old” countries.

While the theory certainly has some truth to it, the demographic dividend that is earned will not amount to much when the human and environmental cost of such a large population is taken into consideration. The population issue has been pushed so hard by the Indian government for so long that it feels refreshing, especially to the media, to hear that there might be a flip side to it. Imagine being nagged for years that smoking is bad for your health. If you find an article that says it might increase hand-eye coordination, you might make a copy for everyone you know. But that won’t stop you from getting cancer.

While other countries may export jobs, they are not likely to export water, land, clean air or forests. If there are some positive side effects to India’s booming population, that’s great. But that doesn’t make the disease any less deadly. We have to keep nagging, keep trying to shake each other awake. Because in the end, while some suits may reap a dividend, it is the children who will pay the price.

Additional EcoWorld Features on India:

- India’s Water Consciousness

- India’s Solar Power

- Nuclear Power in India

- Technology & Sunlight, India’s Green Future

- India’s Biodiesel Scene

- India’s Water Future

- India’s Energy Future

- Clean the Ganges

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Posted in Causes, Education, Effects Of Air Pollution, Energy, Natural Disasters, Nuclear, Other, People, Policies & Solutions, Population Growth, Science, Space, & Technology, Smoking, Urbanization1 Comment

China's Corn & Ethanol

Food & Fuel – Corn becomes more prized than ever.

Editor’s Note: We have made no secret of our concern for the tropical rainforests of the world, the total area of which has been cut roughly in half in the last 150 years by steady population growth, logging, timber, and agriculture. And in the last 5-10 years a new threat to tropical rainforests has emerged and become perhaps the greatest challenge yet – deforestation to grow biofuel. The irony is that biofuel is touted as a “carbon neutral” way to produce fuel, but if anything really is causing climate change, it’s rainforest destruction.

After being asleep at the wheel up until about a year ago, the environmentalist community has awakened, enacting much needed changes to, for example, certification procedures for sustainable biofuel. It is not likely that European Carbon Offset Credits will fund any further rainforest destruction. Similarly, in the USA, groups like the 25×25 Alliance have come up with Sustainability Principles for biofuel. All of this is necessary and welcome.

On the other hand, the fact that biofuel is as fungible as money means much of what the developed world does to secure a sustainably produced supply of biofuel is irrelevant. The genie is out of the bottle, and biofuel grown in unsustainable ways will still be sold, into local markets or on the black market. But let’s step back for a moment.

First of all, biofuel was going to come along as soon as petroleum prices got high enough to make it viable. We give ourselves too much credit if we think this might have been averted, if, for example, environmentalists were aware of the dangers of biofuel sooner. And while biofuel is inevitably causing food prices to rise, since many crops such as corn have dual uses as either biofuel feedstock or as food for humans and livestock, this is not all bad. Higher commodity prices will help avert deflation if the global economy undergoes a cyclical contraction – which is going to happen eventually. Higher prices also stimulate innovation – better ways to produce food and biofuel are being developed far more quickly than they might have been if prices remained low. For many years there were surpluses of food, and innovation lagged accordingly.

Global population stablization and urbanization – both inevitable and well documented trends – combined with technological innovation, are going to lead to abundance of land, energy and water within a generation. And hopefully when that occurs, tropical rainforests will regenerate even faster than they were lost. Biofuel today definitely has negative side effects, but when biofuel is grown in an enclosed reactor in a factory, and food of the highest quality is grown in urban highrise farms using recycled water, we will know these innovations came about because we saw what we were doing, and adapted. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

China’s Corn – China may become net corn importer despite move away from grain ethanol.
by Andrew Billard, March 2008
Map of Corn Growing Areas in China
Source: USDA Joint Agricultural Weather Facility

China is the world’s second largest corn producer, but a growing appetite for grain combined with ambitious fuel ethanol targets may make the country a net corn importer, possibly as early as this year.

China may become net corn importer despite move away from grain ethanol. At present, grain accounts for about 80 percent of biofuel feedstock, and consumers are finding themselves at increased competition with the country’s burgeoning energy needs for limited domestic resources.

Although China can essentially meet its own grain demand for the moment, it is a tight balance that could easily be thrown off. With 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of global farmland, the country’s grain supply is under long-term pressure from a growing population, and rising incomes, while urbanization gradually nibbles away at cultivatable land.

By 2010, China plans to consume 6.7 million tons of blended ethanol fuel gasoline and 11 million tons of bio-diesel-blended diesel annually, which would meet 10 percent of forecast demand for transport fuel. Government targets caused demand for corn from the ethanol industry to explode, which has raised concerns about how the policy will impact the country’s grain supply safety and price inflation.

Although the government has suspended the approval of new corn-based fuel ethanol projects and encouraged the use of non-grain feedstock for ethanol plants, industry insiders remain doubtful.

“China has just started on its mass plantation plans for cassava and sweet potato for industrial use, and it takes time for such crops to grow and mature,” said an official with a foreign equipment manufacturer whose products include those used in bio-fuel production. I believe that within three years time, grains such as corn and wheat will still be the leading feedstock for ethanol fuel.”

Henan Tianguan Enterprise Group Co. Ltd., one of the country’s four major ethanol producers, currently uses a mix of 60 percent wheat, 20 percent corn, 10 percent cassava and 10 percent sweet potato to produce the fuel.

China has just started large-scale production of crops such as cassava, sweet potato and sweet sorghum. However, the country lacks mature technology to produce cellulosic ethanol, which is seen as the future of large-scale ethanol fuel industry.

China’s concerns about rising food prices and grain supply concerns are not unique. A report published last year by the Sri Lanka-based World Water Management Institute said biofuel production will increase demand for land at the expense of the environment, and will also require large quantities of water, already a major constraint to agriculture in many parts of the world, including China. Other reports have said that ethanol production may severely impact upon the food industry, since, at excessive levels, it can use the food industry to feed energy needs.

The International Monetary Fund has said higher bio-fuel demand will push up food prices, especially for the world’s poor, and increase food import costs, thus curbing economic growth. In the last 15 years, China went from being the world’s largest soybean exporter to the world’s largest importer. With similar trends emerging in soy meal, edible oil, and grains, rising import costs will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

China began promoting the production of corn-based ethanol in 2001, when the country’s corn production was booming, and net corn exports increased from 10.47 million tons in 2000 to a high of 16.4 million tons in 2003. After peaking in 2003, imports began to fall rapidly. Last year, China’s corn exports reached 4.8 million tons, but this was mainly due to the fulfilling contracts signed in 2006.

Bar Chart of China's Grain Output from 1997 to 2007
Source: China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)

The dramatic reduction of export quotas for this year from 3 million to 1 million tons, the ongoing introduction of stricter usage policies, and the cancellation of all tax rebates on grain exports belie the official stance of grain security, especially insofar as corn.

Consumption in 2008 is estimated at 141.5 million tons, of which nearly two-thirds is for animal feed. In January, pork prices surged 58.8 percent year-on-year. Further rapid price growth, coupled with government support to the industry, may see pig production increase at a faster-than-anticipated rate, which means livestock feed estimates are likely too conservative. An increase of 5 percent in this area could put severe strains on domestic supply. Corn and soy meal are used to produce approximately 70 percent of animal feedstuffs. Note that these figures have not yet been adjusted for damage and losses caused by the current snowstorm crisis that has battered China since mid-January.

CHINA’S GRAIN DEMAND: 1997 – 2006 (million tons)
Bar Chart of China's Grain Demand from 1997 to 2006
Source: China Customs, Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, Interfax research.
(In this report, Interfax uses the sum of domestic grain output
and net grain import to estimate total domestic demand for grain.)

The USDA estimates China’s state corn stockpiles are in the region of 35 million tons, but it is difficult to verify this figure. However, given China’s aggressive state auction policy designed to stabilize market prices, this figure may be optimistic, although it could serve as a cushion in the event of a production shortfall.

Planting intentions, while difficult to predict as farmers tend to delay decisions, may be affected by corn ethanol restrictions. The tendency may be to shift to wheat and, where possible, soybeans which are more profitable, and China may have to resort to significant corn importation, possibly this season. This may be a continuing trend, given the scarcity of arable land and water resources.

If China does become a net corn importer this year, the impact on the price, both domestically and globally, will be dramatic and a price of $6 per bushel, up from current price of $5 is probable. The question now is how China will impact other agricultural commodities, like wheat, soybean and edible oils, in the year ahead.

Edited by Erik Dahl with contributions from Victor Wang, Tinko Hua, Yang Jing, and David Harman. This article was originally published by Interfax-China, and is republished with permission.

Findings in the article are based on extensive research from the Interfax-China China Commodities Report Grains & Softs 2008 industry report. Interfax-China’s team of in-country analysts track China’s industries and markets, providing comprehensive daily coverage of China’s energy sector. Learn how more about these markets and the opportunities they offer your business. Learn about energy in China through our China Energy Weekly and focused energy reports carbon trading, clean & renewable energy, CTL, oil & gas, and power generation. Free Trial: Contact Andrew Billard; or by phone at 86-10-8532-5021 (Beijing, China).

Additional EcoWorld reports on China:

- China’s Coal

- Cleaning Up China

- China’s Energy Demand

- China’s Renewable Energy

- Wind Power in China

- China’s Energy Outlook

- Fuel Cell Development in China

- China, Canals & Coal

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The Resource Revolution

Teak Plantation
One year old Acacia and Teak, “pioneer trees” begin the
process of transforming cattle rangeland back into forest.

Editor’s Note: When we founded EcoWorld back in 1995, one of the editorial missions of our online magazine was to support the goal to “double the timber mass of the planet within a 50 year period ending 2045.” Since then we’ve learned a lot – we’ve learned that global forest mass, overall, is not diminishing any more.

We’ve observed several encouraging trends – in 2007 for the first time in history, over 50% of the world’s population has moved into cities. It is now clear that the world’s human population will probably max at around 8.5 billion people, and that urbanization is already removing people, voluntarily, from rural and forest areas faster than population increase is adding them to those places.

At the same time we’ve witnessed the emergence of new trends – the rapid industrialization of China and India and other nations, putting a greater strain than ever on some of the finite resources in the world such as tropical forests which are prized for their hardwoods. We’ve also seen the popularity of biofuels translate into devastating new pressure on tropical rainforests, as they give way to plantations of oil palms and sugar cane, to harvest biodiesel and bioethanol. That China and India are industrializing is a good thing. That we have discovered a new source of energy, biofuel, is also a good thing. But it will make our hope to protect and restore forests all the more difficult.

Also since 1995 the concerns about climate change have become nearly all-consuming to the environmental movement. In some respects this is dangerous – climate change worries have taken all of the spotlight, and even led to more rainforest destruction, since the conventional wisdom has it that biofuel is better than petroleum, no matter if it is grown on land that used to be rainforest.

A few years ago we learned about Finca Leola, a company in Costa Rica that has quietly begun purchasing cattle ranches to turn them into tree plantations. But not just any tree plantations – Finca Leola’s operations are designed to systematically bring original forest back. First they plant “pioneer trees” such as Teak, fast growing with high value as timber. Then as these trees are progressively thinned, they are replaced with original native trees, which themselves are harvested sustainably. By underharvesting and increasing the timber mass, Finca Leola is able to increase the size of their timber harvest each year, at the same time as they sustainably and profitably harvest timber, and use the proceeds to purchase new land to convert.

Operations like Finca Leola are encouraging because they work in the real world. They create good jobs for local citizens, they deliver high yields of high value timber to burgeoning world markets for these products, and they do it while restoring forest, instead of diminishing it. Here is another installment in what has become an ongoing and inspiring saga. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

The Resource Revolution, or the End of the World As We Know It
by Fred Morgan, January 2008
Fred & Amy Morgan
Fred & Amy Morgan – pioneers of a business
model that profitably restores forests.

A new revolution has begun. As with all changes of great magnitude, the status quo is resisting for as long as it can, but inevitably, the Resource Revolution will push aside the old way of life and bring in the new.

When the world stopped having to rely on manual power and animal power, the result was the Industrial Revolution. Until that time, if you wanted a horseshoe, you would ask a blacksmith to make one for you and he would custom make it to fit your horse. When industry could make thousands of horseshoes per day, the price dropped and often the quality increased, helping create a market for the thousands of horseshoes. Much of the affluence of the modern world is due to the efficiency of industry.

Each revolution sows the seeds for the next. For example, without the Industrial Revolution, the Microchip Revolution would have been impossible, because manufacturing at the micro level cannot be done by hand. And without cheap computers and the microchip, the Information Revolution or Information Superhighway would never have happened, with its profound impact on the world. Now a smaller company can compete effectively against large companies because of the efficiencies brought about by computers and the Internet.

There are people left behind in the Information Revolution, as in any revolution. There are jobs that have gone away, just as blacksmithing became nearly an extinct occupation as a result of the industrial revolution. No longer does someone dictate to a secretary who takes shorthand. Draftsmen who did not learn to use CAD systems lost their jobs. In the publishing industry, in the early days, computers helped tremendously by replacing old typesetting processes. But now, because of the Internet, most old-style publishing companies are feeling the pressure. No longer do you need a publisher to get your ideas out, just a website. I can be sitting in Costa Rica typing this while those who will read it can be anywhere. The amount of time invested for me to write and disseminate this is very little compared to the time and cost of publishing it.

The Information Revolution has permitted us to have a global perspective like we’ve never experienced before, helping bring us into the Resource Revolution, wherein for the first time we are starting to view the earth as a closed system.

Now that we can see the world as a closed system, we have to learn how to treat it like one. With few exceptions, man has removed the easily available resources, and when those were depleted, we moved on to the next place. Land was left fallow to recover from the wastes. Our species always migrates toward resources. In the USA there is a grave problem with illegal immigration. In truth, there may not be a political solution. This is because we are dealing with the fact that it is always easier to migrate toward resources than to create them. It is the perception in many countries that the USA has an abundance of resources still remaining and all that is necessary to have a better life is to get there. You might as well try to hold back the waves with your hands as to try to stop a migration to easily available resources.

Much of the tropics have been deforested in recent years due to slash-and-burn farming (). A farmer stakes out land and removes the forest. After a few years, the soils and fertility have been used up and so he moves to the next section of land. It angers the average farmer when I try to explain why this is a problem, because I’m attacking what they perceive as their only means of earning a living. Besides, if it was good enough for dear old dad, it’s good enough for them.

I can remember a time when it was considered okay to dump your trash in the nearest stream. The ability for the streams and rivers to accept it seemed inexhaustible until rivers started to catch fire and fish started dying.

In many ways, we as a species have functioned like children. Leave children with no training alone in a home, and they will eat whatever is in the refrigerator and the pantry and, if you are lucky, fill up the trash baskets. We have been doing the same; we have been consuming all the resources of the planet without being worried that someday we would run out. The magic refrigerator and pantry were filled with all manner of good things and we have eaten like there was no tomorrow. We didn’t think about the need to deal with the trash pile growing up around our ears. Mother Earth has been like the adult who comes home to replenish the larder and tell the kids to take out the trash, but we are rapidly running out of easily available resources, untapped frontiers, and places to dump the garbage.

Cradle to Cradle Book Cover
Cradle to Cradle
Remaking the Way
We Make Things

Those who do not learn how to treat the world as a closed system will be left behind in the Resource Revolution.

Much of the profitability of old-style companies is based on resources whose only cost is that of extraction. This has left other costs not calculated. For example, to be healthy, a company needs to calculate the cost of resource replacement and the cost of cleanup of any unwanted byproducts of using the resource or creating products with the resource.

As resources become more and more dear, the nature of business is changing. Since I am in the business of wood and reforestation and it is a subject I know well, I’ll use it as my example.

Before the Industrial Revolution, if you wanted to use wood, you went out and cut the tree down yourself. Since you literally created your home from the sweat of your brow with the power of your body, you built small unless you were very rich. Log cabins required very little wood processing. The only planks that were necessary were for the floor, if you didn’t just have a dirt floor. The roof was made by splitting wood for shakes.

It was a challenge to make much of a dent in the forest. The population was relatively small, and the time involved to take a tree and make wood from it was long. In truth, most of the time the forest recuperated faster than trees could be removed. Most of the clearing for farms was done with fire, not with ax.

When the Industrial Revolution came about, not only did saws and axes become of better quality and cheaper, but motorized means of cutting trees came into play. Sawmills were invented that could process thousands of board feet of wood a day. If you wished to build a home, you could merely go and buy the processed wood. About this time the USA moved away from post and beam construction that produced homes and barns that lasted for hundreds of years to homes built using framing construction that do not last nearly as long. But it was faster to build with precut framing wood than to build post and beam, and if the homes didn’t last as long, at least they were easier to repair or replace, since there was always more wood available down at the sawmill or lumber store.

Now we have machinery such that a single crew can clearcut a square mile of forest per day. In the past, for a person to drop ten large trees in a day would be a good day’s work; now tens of thousands is more normal. This is considered progress.

But now we are seeing something: All of this great productivity has destroyed streams, rivers, and the land itself in runoff, degradation of soil, and erosion. Where before was an ecosystem that could easily regenerate itself, now it gets harder and harder to regrow the forest. We’ve tried replacing trees in monocrop plantations, but this has created very serious disease and pest problems in many areas.

Not only that, as the supply dwindles, there is not enough wood to keep the very expensive sawmills and harvest equipment busy. The nature of a large capital investment in equipment is that it only makes sense if it is used at nearly full capacity. It is hard to pay the bills on a million dollar piece of equipment if it is sitting idle because there are no trees to cut. Yet as sawmills are closing, for example, in many parts of the USA, there are people elsewhere who are doing very well in wood today.

Finca Leola Woodshop
Finca Leola’s woodshop – because they own their own
sawmill, they can harvest nearly all of the tree

They are revolutionary thinkers who have taken the long view, treating the world as a closed system and buying land with trees on it that had very little value because others had already taken all the good trees.

These people have gone out and selectively harvested just the bad trees. Instead of only taking the best, they took the worst. Even though it is not as profitable to process poor quality wood, when you do it with smaller equipment and use it to make flooring, moldings, and such, you can make more than enough to survive while you allow the forest to recover. Instead of year by year the forest being worse off, it actually improves. This means the owner, instead of being poorer every year, actually is getting wealthier. It is like having a magic pantry that every time you open it, the amount of food as well as the quality increases.

The secret to this business model is to always have a view to the future, because if you destroy the resource, you will destroy your business and your livelihood. You also have to be careful of your waste, because no more can we assume that there is yet another frontier to exploit just over the hill. If you poison your environment, it will be you that you poison, not your neighbors. The good part is that if you have your own source of resources, your business is not held hostage by availability of the resource nor by price fluctuations of that resource.

There is a book worth reading called Collapse by Jared Diamond. Diamond shows how civilizations have collapsed due to various factors, often including abuse of their environment. The author might agree with me that in the coming years, no longer can we view a society as civilized that plunders resources. After all, do we think of societies that are based on robbing and plundering as being civilizations? No, we think of them as barbaric forces against civilization. Now has come a time that if we are not to suffer a collapse of the civilization we have, we must understand that exploitation of anything is not civilization because such action is not sustainable. In the future, we may view companies who exploit resources as no different from a thief who supports himself by stealing. It is not producing to merely take from a common pool of resources. The resources of the world belong to all of us, and those who take and do not replenish are enriching themselves by making all of us poorer. This is not being civilized.

You will notice that those who are against the Kyoto agreement often state that adopting it would wreck our economy. Think about what they are saying: If we have to pay for the damage we cause, our businesses will not be profitable. In reality, since we know that there is no “magic pantry” and no “magic trash can,” businesses like that are showing themselves profitable only because they are not calculating the full costs and are leaving the rest of them for all of us to pay. It’s like transferring your expenses to another department to appear profitable. This is considered fraud in business, and we should consider it fraud in civilization as well.

Natural Capitalism Book Cover
Natural Capitalism:
Creating the Next
Industrial Revolution

When we think of the businesses that have taken resources without putting back and have left the trash for the public to deal with, we need to understand that we are really the culprits.

Any time we buy their products, we are benefiting from their short-term gains, and when we place our money in their companies via investments, we are granting them our agreement with their practices. Unfortunately, it will not be them who pay the piper at the end, but all of us.

We are starting to see new companies that not only do not rape the planet for resources, but manage to actually turn a profit while turning back the clock on resource consumption. We at Finca Leola believe we have managed to create such a company. The reason, I think, is simple: We were never driven by a need for short-term profit and so were able to take the long view, the revolutionary view.

In much of Latin America, the way people outside of the cities earn a living is often by raising cattle. They have chopped down or burned the rainforest, planted grass, and put cattle on the land. Much of the meat is purchased in order to supply cheap beef for the northern markets. There is a problem with this model. First of all, if you have to buy the land, you cannot survive this way – it is better to put the money in the bank and receive the interest. So, raising cattle in Latin America is based on having a free resource: land. Secondly, the longer you have cattle on the land, the poorer becomes the land. I constantly hear stories of how rich the land here in Costa Rica was in the past. When the forest was first removed, all that was needed to raise corn or beans was to cast the seeds on the ground and you would have a great harvest! But after a few years of doing this, you have to start adding fertilizer or you will not have a harvest at all.

Finca Leola buys cattle farms and plants trees on them. You can own trees on Finca Leola plantations, and your money will bring back rainforest, improving the world and your bottom line. We raise trees that are pioneer species in order to quickly protect the land and produce a return for the tree owners. After a while, we plant the permanent rainforest trees among the pioneer trees, using them like a nursery. As the forest returns, its products will sustain its protection as well as provide work for the locals so that they value the forest. The forest will be considered a partner, not a free resource to be robbed.

This creates many very good and permanent jobs, because the permanent forest is productive, whereas raising cattle in the tropics is a cycle of poverty for all except a few large landowners.

Every year our lands are more productive and the future looks brighter. The streams and rivers on our land are cleaner and flow with more water. The wildlife is much more abundant, and amazingly, much more comfortable around people. All our workers have health insurance and retirement, uncommon among rural Costa Rican laborers. They have better jobs that pay better than average in the area.

We now have a woodshop that is producing products from the plantations. Since we own the woodshop and sawmill, we use nearly all the tree, not just the easiest part to process. This is because we take the closed-system view that no resource is to be wasted. It takes a lot of effort to grow a tree, and we don’t want to throw away any of it. True, it would be more profitable in the short term if we took the best of the tree and left the rest as waste, but in the long run, it is better to use as much as we can. And since we don’t have many layers (loggers, sawmills, wood brokers, lumber yards, etc.) we can use wood that normally would not be considered profitable.

Sheep: natural weed control & fertilizing.

We also use sheep, small cattle, and horses to keep down the grass between the trees. This produces revenue while reducing our cost to care for the trees. When we have to create a bridge for access, at times we create a pond for fish as well. This produces food for our workers and for ourselves and perhaps some for market.

We don’t run like an assembly line but as a complete system. We try to use all resources efficiently while producing more if at all possible.

No more can industry use up the resources in one location and move on to where there are more. We have finally realized that resources are not inexhaustible. People who have decided to invest in diminishing resources such as trees instead of investing in old-fashioned businesses not only understand that many of the old-style businesses are facing very serious challenges in the future, but that companies such as ours are allowing investors to benefit in the new way of business. They are finding that the returns from the efficient way we grow trees exceed what they would have received from an old-style plantation.

We are entering into a new kind of world where holistic companies are the profitable ones. Green investing is a movement that recognizes this as a market force. Instead of investing in businesses that rape and pillage and are therefore doomed to only short-term success, the smart investor places his money in businesses that work in harmony with the earth and help replenish life.

Success in business and in investing is usually due to recognizing emerging trends. Buy low; sell high, because no one thinks what you are investing in is worth much, but when the trend catches on, your initial investment is worth many times more. Sometimes the trend is so large, it becomes a revolution. These are times when the fundamentals of business changes radically, and during such times there are always winners and losers, the losers being those who either do not or will not accept the change.

Don’t be left behind in this revolution – invest in companies that treat the earth as a closed system. If we are going to advance civilization, our money needs to do more than just earn more money; it needs to buy back the health of our planet.

About the Author: Fred Morgan, entrepreneur and former computer systems developer, turned to planting valuable tropical hardwoods in 2001 as a means to secure his own retirement. Acquaintances asked Fred and his wife, Amy, to grow trees for them alongside their own. By 2007, Finca Leola was growing trees for more than 100 clients from all over the world. Their model is to use plantation trees as a first step to permanent reforestation, with all of the Finca Leola tree farms placed under ecological easements so that the land use can never be changed from forest use.

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India's Water Consciousness

Indian Woman Collecting Water
Water Harvesting:
Using a sari to funnel raindrops into a container

Editor’s Note: At over a billion people and still increasing in population, within a country 3.3 million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles) in size, how India develops poses challenges representative of humanity at large. We have covered India’s energy and water issues extensively, in features such as “India’s Solar Power,” “Nuclear Power in India,” “Technology & Sunlight, India’s Green Future,” “India’s Biodiesel Scene,” “India’s Water Future,” “India’s Energy Future,” and “Clean the Ganges, to name some. Democratic, diverse, emerging. As goes India, so goes the world.

In many respects India has great advantages as the world rushes towards green energy technologies. Abundant solar energy and abundant rainfall provide the most critical raw materials for any going green economy, so when it comes to access to raw solar energy and raw water volume, India is a resource rich nation. India also has world class technology, with an industrial base as well as a high-tech and scientific community that is deep and broad. While of course facing afflictions that confront any great nation, India nonetheless is a healthy democracy, where green innovations gain a much better hearing. From these perspectives, India has a bright future, with many ways to collectively realize the overall goal of energy and water abundance.

Reforesting is possibly the most critical challenge for India, insofar as tropical forests increase the amount of regional rain as well as the ability of the land to naturally collect and store rain. The way to evaluate trees is to think of them as water reservoirs. Trees are water – they collect water, they store water, they breath water. When forests are restored, rainfall returns – more moderate and more frequent. When forests are restored, rainfall returns and springs again flow year-round.

It is difficult at times for those who support or oppose large scale projects such as interlinking rivers to reconcile with each other to this fact: Modern mega-project solutions and solutions involving traditional technologies are not always incompatible. What if a nuclear powered desalination station pumped water into the desert where rainforest once stood, and across tens of thousands of square kilometers irrigated pioneer stands of new trees? Then once the forest was restored, and rainfall returned, the desalinated water could be used to supply water to new city, or to refill deep aquifers, or be transported via tunnel to another watershed?

Whether or not you support mega-proposals such as nuclear powered desalination plants, the combination of decentralized solutions that combine high technology and traditional designs is what holds most immediate promise. Unlike megaprojects, which take decades to plan and implement, decentralized solutions are on a scale, by definition, where diverse suppliers could supply various solutions to millions of consumers. Thin film PV roofing material would be a good product for India. Series-hybrid vehicles would also be a good product. Home lighting and energy storage systems would be a good product – any off-grid system. So would commodifying cisterns to harvest runoff, and off-grid water treatment systems.

And the ultimate decentralized technology solution for India’s energy and water challenges is a tree. If everybody in India planted a few trees a year, imagine how much more the good rains would fall. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

India’s Water Consciousness – The Baby & the Bathwater
by Brook & Guarav Bhagat, August 15, 2007
Flood in India
The drought-flood cycle. How can water
abundance be harvested instead of cause harm?

With about 20 percent of the global population, India is struggling to meet her water needs with just five percent of the world’s available water.

The gap between these numbers is widening, and experts predict that by the year 2020, demand will exceed supply.

Making the issue of water management even more pressing is the fact that many states get as much as 90 percent of their rainfall in the four months of the summer monsoon season, leading to a drought-flood cycle. While the main enemy is drought, flooding also kills hundreds and displaces millions of people each year. And, after decades of debate, the government’s main answer is grandiose river linking schemes that would relocate the water to where it is needed– plans that are yet to reach the drawing board, but extremely expensive, invasive, environmentally risky and possibly impossible (ref. “India’s Interlinking Rivers”).

Since the 1960′s, as the water crisis in India grew more serious, people drilled deeper and deeper into the ground to tap fresh water. The idea was a success at first: the water was used for irrigation for crops needed to feed India’s ever-growing population, and farmers began focusing on water-thirsty cash crops. This, along with other “modern” amenities and the shift from rural to urban lifestyles set India on the path to unsustainable water management.

Mumbai, 2007. Without water management,
monsoons cause flooding, while during the dry
season wells deplete irreplaceable groundwater

Approximately 70 percent of India’s irrigation water and 80 percent of its domestic water supplies come from groundwater rather than from surface water.

In a recent report, the World Bank said that India has no proper water management system at all – her groundwater is disappearing and her river bodies are turning into sewers.

The annual monsoon that once was capable of filling the rivers and recharging the underground aquifers through the soil is losing ground– or, rather, losing water. In parts of New Delhi, the groundwater level drops by up to 10 meters (33 feet) each year. Rupert Talbot, a water consultant with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), described the situation in many areas as irreversible.

“You can go to parts where they are drilling so deep that they are mining fossil water that is 20,000 years old. It will never be recharged (by rains),” he said.

If she continues down this path, Mother India is headed for the official title of being in “water stress” in about 10 years, according to the World Bank. This is indicated by the annual availability of freshwater per head, which is expected at that time to fall below 1,700 cubic metres. By 2025, with an estimated 1,000 cubic metres per head, the situation will be categorized as water scarcity.

Even with numbers like these staring them in the face, there is still “widespread complacency” in government circles about the water situation, according to the World Bank report– although public promises of safe water and sanitation are abundant, getting there is not quite so easy.

For water, as with every resource, money separates the haves from the have-nots. When the government fails to provide a constant supply of water even in the national capital of New Delhi, those who can afford it find their own ways of getting it. The result is a kind of free market, with no incentive to conserve water.

“What has happened in the last 20 or 30 years is a shift to self-provision. Every farmer sinks a tubewell and every house in Delhi has a pump pumping groundwater,” said Briscoe, a water issues specialist at the World Bank. “Once that water stops you get into a situation where towns will not be able to function.”

Globally, increasing numbers of poor people are deprived of access to water of the quality and quantity necessary to meet even the most basic levels of health and sanitation. And in situations of scarcity, the poor are of course the first ones to suffer, losing out to those who can afford more powerful machinery for extracting water or those who have more political influence. In India, this means that owners of more expensive pumps and deeper-boring wells are able to continue pumping groundwater, despite rapidly depleting aquifers, leaving the hand pumps and shallow irrigation pumps of the poor high and dry.

Clearly, this is an area where the government should step in–poor people should not be the ones who are disproportionately forced to conserve water, or go without it. If anything, more responsibility for water conservation should fall on the larger, wealthier water users.

But, while it is easy to agree on the magnitude of the problem, it is not so easy to agree on the solution, or even the general direction of the solution. Most people, or at least the most vocal people, seem to favor huge government projects and interventions like the interlinking of rivers — perhaps many of these people are part of the government themselves. Or perhaps, as a result of urbanization, we have all gotten too used to our resources being someone else’s responsibility– if there is no heat, or no light, or no water coming from the tap to drink or to flush, someone ought to fix it.

Water Distribution:
Using rocks, bamboo and gravity
to transport water

What is needed, in part, is a shift in consciousness: a movement towards awareness of ourselves, the resources we consume, where they come from and where they go to. This is not only true of Earth’s water, but of all our requirements – food, land, air, energy, everything.

Greater self-awareness will lead to greater self-sufficiency – and, simultaneously, greater consciousness of the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things. Becoming more aware of and able to meet our own needs can, in a perfect world, make us more aware that everyone needs the same things. We will be better equipped to help each other on the local, personal, practical level – if you know that your neighbor dug his own compost pit, you will feel more confident (and perhaps even more obligated) to do the same, especially if he knows what you are going through and offers to help you. And, as more people in the neighborhood talk about it and do it, the design and effectiveness of the pits are likely to become better and better.

This is all, however, up in the air. In the real world, one tree-hugger’ might make the effort, and the neighbors will do little more than complain about the dust, or the noise, or whatever else they can think of.

This is where bigger groups and ideas come in: the responsibility of government and non-government organizations to organize and mobilize people. Isn’t this what we originally hired them to do? A balance must be struck between personal responsibility and the government (or non-government) promotion, organization, facilitation, and execution of plans and methods to meet our needs.

Sound like a good dream? Now it seems far away, but this kind of communal and personal consciousness of resources actually composes most of human history – out of necessity. For the 70-80% of the Indian population still living in rural villages, this is still a reality.

Everyone in the village knows where the water and food and electricity comes from, and where they go to. But the modernization, for lack of a better word, that has swept across the world judges these conditions and values as old-fashioned and time-consuming. Instant gratification, in every element of life, is becoming extreme, and actually eroding the quality of life it claims to improve.

We can speed up the pace of life, but we cannot change human nature. Instant food, water, shelter, and sex leave us without nutrition, love, or peace of mind… and the so-called developed countries are developing insanity, addiction, suicide and war faster than anything else – not to mention polluting the planet to the brink of disaster.

In the immortal words of Yoda: Sometimes the way forward is the way back. What is needed is a combination of the fruits of modern technology and development and the self-awareness that brought balance in the past. Now the necessity is different, the risks are different, but the situation is just as urgent; and the first thing we have to change is our consciousness.

Anil Agarwal Portrait
Anil Agarwal, 1947-2002
The visionary founder of India’s
Center for Science & the Environment

One of the first things we might notice if we were more aware is the amount of water we could save by simply catching the rainwater.

In the realm of water management in India, this is a movement called rainwater harvesting. One of its biggest champions, Anil Agarwal, is the founder and director of the Centre for Science and Environment and the editor of Down to Earth magazine. On the Editor’s Page of the March 4th issue, he wrote:

“Until the start of the 20th century most of water use in a highly developed country like India – we must remember that until the British came, it was one of the world’s richest, most urbanized and literate nations – was of rainwater and flood water. Indians knew that almost all the water they got in a year – in a country that is relatively rich in rainfall – was in just 100 hours. The remaining 8,660 hours in a year, the gods gave them nothing. So they built a civilization on these drops of nectar from heaven. Bengal and the Thanjavur delta were one of the most agriculturally prosperous regions in the country and they depended almost entirely on the capture of flood water for irrigation.”

The population, however, is much larger now than it was at the beginning of the 20th century. Combine this with problems like salinity, mercury poisoning and rising levels of other heavy metals in water which have significantly decreased the useable ground water, and the result is that even if every drop of rainwater was harvested, it would no longer be enough for everyone.

But the emphasis on personal and community responsibility is right on the money, and people are starting to take notice – like the last State of India Report, which focused on traditional methods of rainwater harvesting.

For more than two decades now, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a New Delhi-based non-governmental organization (NGO), has been promoting the revival of traditional systems of water harvesting, with appropriate adaptation and integration of modern systems.

From tanks and talabs to rooftop harvesting systems in the city, rainwater harvesting, with government support, is the most logical and practical way to start trying to solve the water crisis in both rural and urban, domestic and industrial, India. CSE conducts training workshops that are open to everyone – from engineers, NGO’s and politicians to concerned citizens. And, they have undertaken the awesome project of documenting hundreds of traditional and contemporary Indian rainwater harvesting systems on the website (

Water Storage:
With more water harvesting, India can to raise the water
tables in the jheels, and everywhere else

Even a passing glance at these widely varying and often brilliant methods is inspirational – from delicate bamboo pipeline irrigation to check dams, modern percolation ponds, tankas, kundis, you name it. It is truly an essential and even beautiful collection. By comparison, it makes government plans like “connecting all the rivers” seem incredibly heavy-handed.

India’s population is increasingly becoming the densest on the planet – but the bureaucracy seems even denser, particularly when it comes to tackling the difficult issue of water management. So many projects and committees and objectives are formed and rarely met, it seems tedious to even think of listing them; but the largest desk animal of them all is the ILR Project.

In the discussion of consciousness, one disturbing aspect of the Interlinking of Rivers project is that since the government will not have the money to implement the hugely ambitious project, it will go the build-own-operate-transfer route and lease rivers to concessionaires. These operators will own the water resources for several years and will charge users, both urban and rural, for that time period. This goes against India’s tradition of treating water as a community, not private, resource. While money, or the lack of it, already determines the availability and quality of water directly or indirectly for most people, it leaves a strange taste in the mouth – this is the same country that once respected every river as a goddess.

The interlinking of rivers, while perhaps being a visionary idea, doesn’t seem to have much chance. If it is literally possible or not has not been shown – and if it is possible, it still seems financially and politically doomed, and most importantly, environmentally risky.

It is a hard gamble to claim acceptable losses of any kind of life – plants, animals, and people will be undoubtedly displaced and in many cases destroyed. Will that water save more lives than it takes? Maybe. It is worth researching, it is worth asking. Every vision is worth trying. But India cannot afford to wait and see if these daydreams can come true or not.

Meanwhile, although rainwater harvesting is the appropriate place to start, this alone is not going to solve all India’s water problems. We have to look for ways to increase the available ground water supply and decrease the dependence on underground aquifers. We have to find more and more ways to stop wasting, and recycle, the water we have – in most cases, innovative technology is already there, it is just not cost-effective.

Low-flow toilets, faucets and showers should be mandatory in new construction; composting toilets and many other options exist, but are in most cases too complicated and expensive.

The development of these and other new ideas, like natural pollution- and wastewater-cleaning systems (ref. “Clean the Ganges”) should be funded; investment in water and environmental technology is an investment in life.

Furthermore, industries and corporations must be held accountable for their actions, taxed and prodded to stop making the situation worse.

This is the government’s place – to protect the people, and their water, from money-hungry predators. It can also provide incentives for the public to move toward ecologically sound products and practices, as it has already done gracefully on the issue of population control, offering financial and educational advantages to smaller families.

In the end it is a tightrope balancing act – self-sufficiency and awareness as far as it will go on one hand, and outside organization and direction on the other. While they may seem contradictory, they are not; the solutions are sure to stem from a seat of self-awareness, personal and community responsibility – not only in water management, but every aspect of life.

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California's Land Fight

Back in 2004 it seemed like a Jerry Brown / Arnold Schwarzenegger regime in California would be an odd pairing. But why? Both are intelligent, pragmatic yet outspoken politicians. Both are lampooned; the Moonbeam, the Terminator.

Now Moonbeam and the Terminator are California’s Governor and Attorney General, not in that order. And this week, in any case, they are both fundamentally wrong on environmental policy. Bravo to any politician in Sacramento who won’t pass a budget in a year when the State is going to sue and prosecute land owners at a whole higher level.

Already favored with nonprofit status, tax-deductible contributions, and settlement payoffs, environmentalist financial interests are now beginning to get reconveyance fees. And adding to this power, our Attorney General now enacts a law to require environmental impact reports, “EIR reports,” to include global warming impact.

This law will encourage additional civil suits on landowners who just want their land to have homes built all over it and as they choose, maybe even on big lots. Every scrap of ground will become even more contested between developers and environmentalists. Only the most powerful will survive. Growth will be forced into tiny land allocations of ultra high density housing. Low density suburbs inside the infill wall will be destroyed – their lifestyle exterminated – with innoculations of ultra-high density compounds. These “smart growth” ideologues and opportunists, whichever, are facilitating the increase in California’s population to sixty million people in 20 years. Perhaps there are other options.

To estimate global warming impact in an “EIR,” even if you believe in all the current precepts of global warming law – based on science – is still impossibly subjective. Perhaps high density urbanization causes congestion, because the reality of too few roads crushes utopian fantasies that people will stop buying SCG (“smart, clean, green”) cars and using them. A low density urbanized landscape would permit wildlife and surface vegetation to thrive on the private land – costing taxpayers nothing, delivering everything. Roads would not be congested. In-turn, this land use would be cooler and less water intensive than, say, biofuel plantations, and would significantly lower overall regional surface temperatures.

In an ultra-high density urban model, there are no trees. In the Sacramento “urban services” area, for example, people now live in high density residential housing, up to 10,000 per square mile. From any practical perspective of landscaping today, high density housing permits no trees on private lots, and it gets hot inside these compounds. The farmland outside the urban service walls is also hot. This is “smart growth,” and it makes regional surface temperatures hot as hell. For the sake of the environment, we need to loosen the rules on land use, not tighten them.

So go ahead and launch your global warming impact EIR requirement, Sacramento. But unless it is turned on its head, this law will only feed consultants and lawyers, as bulldozers stay close to the compounds, and our freedoms wither in a hotter sun.

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China's Renewable Energy

Aerial View of the Three Gorges Dam
With output up to 17.5 gigawatts
China’s Three Gorges Dam is the most powerful
hydroelectric power complex ever built.

Editor’s Note: As we reported in China, Canals & Coal, if the Chinese wish to develop their economy to the level of the major industrialized nations, they will have to build as many power plants and water diversion projects as they possibly can, and that is exactly what they are doing. The question is just how much of this energy and water will be green, and the prognosis is daunting.

In this assessment of China’s renewable energy initiatives, the unprecedented attention the Chinese government is giving to green energy is only half the story. It is true they now intend to derive 15% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, but 15% isn’t very much, and within this total is hydroelectric power, and in any case the 15% target may be ambitious.

If one correlates energy production to GNP, even assuming China achieves western levels of energy intensity (units of energy per dollar of GNP), China is going to have to increase their energy production from 50 quadrillion BTU’s per year to over 250 quads. This means that while production of renewable energy in China is set to increase by staggering amounts, the amount of fossil fuel derived energy consumption in China, in absolute terms, is going to quintuple in the next few decades.

This is the message the anti-CO2 crowd doesn’t get. Even if the billion people in the developed world stopped emitting all their CO2 tomorrow, and they won’t, there are over a billion people in China, and another billion people in India, and another few billion elsewhere in the world, who are going to burn quantities of CO2 in the coming decades that easily surpass what the global north burns today. More realistic solutions to global warming, such as releasing benign aerosols in the Arctic spring and summer, had better be considered. It is inspiring to imagine how innovation and global investment will help China and India accelerate their adoption of green energy technology, but a close reading of this report underscores the challenges and complexity of this calling. – Ed “Redwood” Ring

China’s Renewable Energy – Can clean renewables increase their share of China’s rapidly expanding energy sector?
by Gordon Feller, January 30, 2007
A Clear Day in Shanghai
A clear day in Shanghai.

China’s government plans for renewable energy generation to meet 15% of the country’s growing energy needs by 2020.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency look set for a boost as Beijing authorities have now outlined plans to diversify their energy resources in the face of continued price rises, pollution concerns and China’s unquenchable fuel and electricity demands.

In its “alternative oil strategy,” which is part of the China’s 2006-2010 Five-Year Plan, Beijing has called for a doubling in renewable energy generation to 15% of the country’s needs by 2020.

The target is in line with a new renewable energy law requiring grid operators to purchase resources from renewable energy producers. The law, which came into effect in January, also offers financial incentives to foster renewable energy development, including discounted lending and a range of tax breaks.

Tsinghua University Logo

Of the main renewables, wind power is tipped to have the most potential. Professor Wang Weichang, an energy expert at Tsinghua University in Beijing, predicted wind was on course to supplant hydro as the country’s second-largest electricity source, behind coal. Wang said China has the ability to generate up to 100 gigawatts, or 20% of current national capacity.

Beijing also plans to use other alternative energy sources as part of a drive to cut coal dependence from 73% of total generation today to 68% by 2010 and 60% by 2020. Vast investments in new technologies to turn coal into synthetic oil have been announced, and ethanol production will be boosted to create hybrid fuel by mixing it with regular gasoline. With China nearing a deal with Australia on uranium supply, nuclear power is also in the picture, with generation expected to rise 400% by 2020.

But a report released last month by consultants at Capgemini suggests China has underestimated future demand, putting its target at risk. The report estimated an additional 280GW of electricity will be required by 2020 on top of the 950GW already planned, meaning coal-fired power plants would still provide 71% of China’s electricity needs by 2010 and 65% by 2020.

This is good news for energy efficiency proponents, as a reduction in demand will help the government meet its targets. Beijing has said it is looking to relax its tightly controlled energy-pricing system to encourage conservation and energy efficiency plans have also been put in place. The construction ministry announced pans to increase energy-efficient floor space by 2.16 billion square meters by 2010, saving 101 million tonnes of coal.

China is increasing international cooperation with the world’s heavyweight energy producers to address growing demands. The country’s top oil refiner, Sinopec, signed a memorandum of understanding last month with India’s second biggest state-run oil company, Hindustan Petroleum Corp, for energy projects in China, India and other countries. Meanwhile, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) was also expected to sign a gas supply agreement with the world’s biggest gas producer, Russia’s monopolist Gazprom. In the US, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said there needed to be greater international co-ordination on energy issues, especially with China and India, to address concerns about growing global competition for energy resources.

The powerful National Development and Reform Commission said that filling of China’s strategic oil reserves at its 16-tank Zhenhai facility in the eastern province of Zhejiang was on schedule to begin by the end of this year. It is the first of four strategic oil reserves to be completed. Reserve facilities in Daishan, Zhejiang province, Huangdao, in Shandong province southeast of Beijing, and Xingang, in northeastern Liaoning province, are due to be completed in 2007 and 2008. Beijing plans to stockpile up to 100 million barrels of petroleum, or the equivalent of almost a month’s national consumption, to cushion against possible disruptions to supplies coming from abroad.

The country’s power-generating capacity will reach a record high this year when new generators producing an additional 75 million kilowatts come on line in 2006. But China Electricity Council secretary-general Wang Yonggan said shortages would still persist in the first half of 2006. Power shortages affected seven provinces at the end of 2005, down from 26 at the beginning of the year, as China’s power supply increased by 66.02 million kW to more than 500 million kW.

China’s rapidly growing economy is pushing energy consumption to new highs as the increasingly affluent populous plugs in and turns on more appliances than ever, adding to the high-voltage factory hum that has long characterized the country’s modernization efforts.

The chief means of meeting this insatiable demand is the domestic coal reserve, which accounts for 74% of China’s 360-gigawatt total annual power output. Oil is a distant second on 13.5%, followed by domestic hydro-power at 8.2%, nuclear energy at 1.1% and natural gas at 0.3%.

But coal presents several problems. Around 70% of the country’s coal is transported by rail from the coal-rich north to the energy-hungry coastal regions. While China accounts for 24% of global rail traffic, it only has 6% of the world’s rail tracks, resulting in bottlenecks in the transport network followed by regional power shortages. Despite US$248 billion being committed to rail expansion over the next 15 years, historical underinvestment means there is much ground to be made up.

A potentially more serious concern is environmental pollution and the related healthcare and clean-up costs, which are adding ever more weight to calls for a diversification away from coal.

Although China’s thirst for fuel means that consumption will still increase in absolute terms, there are plans to reduce coal’s contribution to the power supply to around 60% by 2020, with increased output from gas, nuclear and renewable options.

To this end, official muscle has been put behind alternative power sources. China’s Renewable Energy Law, which came into effect in January, decreed 20% of total national energy consumption should come from renewable sources by 2020.

China is set to spend US$200 billion over the next 15 years to achieve this goal, which would make it the world’s largest consumer of renewable energy.

In solar power, China already leads the world, with a total of 52 million square meters of solar energy heating panels in China representing 40% of the global total. Wind power appears to have incredible growth prospects. Installed capacity was just 1.3GW in 2005, but China aims to increase that to a world-leading 30GW by 2020. Potential installed capacity stands at 250GW onshore and 750GW offshore.

Nuclear power, and the foreign players queuing up to build the 30 new atomic power stations planned over the next 15 years, could also win big as China targets a 400% increase in capacity by 2020.

However, alternative energy sources do not yet produce nearly enough power to replace fossil fuels. It is generally thought within China’s expert community that not only do these sources provide negligible power, but the power they do produce is still prohibitively expensive.

While renewables may be the holy grail for China, oil is increasingly becoming the focus of its geopolitical maneuvrings.

Once a net exporter of oil, China imported 47.3% of its crude in the first half of 2006. Oil will fall as a proportion of total energy consumption with greater efficiency in coal delivery and the growing emphasis on renewables and nuclear power. But – just like coal – actual oil demand will continue to rise, principally through imports.

The US Department of Energy predicts China’s crude imports will represent 75% of national oil consumption by 2025, and domestic oil producers are busy buying foreign assets to meet this need. Beijing’s diplomatic tentacles have spread to Africa, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the Americas in search of the black stuff.

China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) acquired PetroKazakhstan for US$4.2 billion, teamed up with an Indian group to buy a stake in Syrian oil assets and secured drilling rights in Sudan in a joint bid with China Petrochemical Corp. It has also struck exploration and supply deals in Venezuela and Peru, and took a 4% stake in Rosneft for US$500 million when the Russian oil giant went public in July.

China Petrochemical has also snared a slice of the Russian pie by forming a 25.1% owned joint venture last year with Rosneft to explore the eastern seaboard of Russia for oil and natural gas. Not to be outdone, China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) paid US$2.7 billion in April for a 45% stake in a Nigerian oil field.

Escalating consumption has made conservation measures commonplace in China. Factor in an energy market that is becoming ever more volatile in the current geopolitical landscape and the only certainty for China is that as demand keeps rising so will the priority attached to securing energy resources.

But such acquisitions will not be used exclusively to serve the home market, unless Beijing further deregulates energy pricing. China’s retail prices remain among the lowest in the world as authorities seek to protect vulnerable sectors.

Sinopec, the listed arm of China Petrochemical, received a one-off state handout of US$1.17 billion in January to compensate for losses incurred due to caps on domestic oil-product prices. This was a sweetener to stop the company from putting profits before domestic needs – last year’s diesel and gasoline shortages in southern China and Shanghai were created by Sinopec re-exporting refined products to Korea and Japan to maximize profits.

Unless there is a substantial rise in domestic prices, companies will continue to siphon off some of their newly acquired foreign oil assets to use as a source of foreign exchange.

For every tonne that is traded, swapped or sold abroad, another question mark will be placed against China’s energy security.

What is the future of China’s use of fuel ethanol? It is already used in five provinces and Beijing seems ready to bankroll a nationwide roll-out. But is biofuel a viable alternative to gasoline?

China’s oil demands are already the stuff of legend. Urbanization, industrialization and a six-fold increase in private vehicle ownership over a decade have left the country dependant on foreign sources for 40% of its oil. This figure is expected to pass 60% in 2010 and 76% in 2020 as imports go from 4.6 million to 8.5 million barrels per day.

The price is not just financial – the International Energy Agency predicts China will account for 18% of global carbon dioxide emissions by 2025, up from 12% in 2000.

Beijing is taking action. Measures outlined in the 11th Five-Year Plan for 2006-2010 won’t end the dependency on foreign oil and dirty coal, but they should see wind, water, sunlight and nuclear power keeping the lights on for significantly more people than before. Those same people could also be filling their gas tanks with ethanol fuels.

“China needs to import a lot of oil so the government is looking at alternative fuels,” said Christine Pu, energy and chemicals analyst at Deutsche Securities Asia. “The advantage of ethanol is it’s good for the environment.”

Launched in 2000, China’s fuel ethanol industry is still in its infancy. According to GTZ, a German company that advises on energy management on behalf of the German government, total bio-ethanol production is around 4 million tonnes. Three quarters of it is edible ethanol and the remainder fuel ethanol.

“At present it’s largely limited to research institutions and there has yet to be much spillover from the labs into the marketplace,” said Frank Haugwitz of GTZ-China. By the end of 2005, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Henan and Anhui Provinces were wholly dependant on 10% ethanol-90% gasoline fuels (E10), with certain regions in Hubei, Shandong, Hebei and Jiangsu following suit. Studies have shown that using E10 reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 3.9%.

GTZ has calculated that a nationwide roll-out of E10 could see fuel ethanol demand reach 8.5 million tonnes per year by 2020.

The government appears ready to meet its goal. Four bio-ethanol plants, with production capacities ranging from 200,000-500,000 million tonnes per year, are under development. In the Jilin Fuel Ethanol plant, China already possesses what is believed to be the world’s largest fuel ethanol facility with a capacity of 600,000 tonnes per annum.

The vice-minister for finance said in July that China is committed to a long-term bio-fuel development program, noted Professor Liu Dehua of Tsinghua University’s chemical engineering department, who has been involved in China’s fuel ethanol program since its inception.

“By 2020, liquid bio-fuel production will be 20 million tonnes a year – comprising 15 million tonnes of ethanol and 5 million tonnes of bio-diesel.”

China has also cast its net wide in search of the key to success with fuel ethanol. Professor Liu has been to Brazil twice – most recently in April, accompanying officials from the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Science and Technology – to study a system under which all vehicles must run on fuel comprising at least 20% ethanol.

China’s 11th Five Year Plan
Never before has the environment
been such a high priority.

“China wants to learn from Brazil’s experiences in promoting fuel ethanol production and find out what impact using ethanol has on the environment,” said Liu. The officials were also keen to see Brazil’s flex-fuel vehicles that run on varying combinations of gasoline and ethanol.

Thirty years ago, Brazil faced some of the energy challenges that now confront China. It imported 75% of its oil in 1975 and received a series of economic body blows as the price of oil fluctuated during the course of the decade.

The development of fuel ethanol has greatly reduced this vulnerability.

However, experts warn against viewing the two countries as being at separate points on the same developmental path.

“Brazil used to import a lot of crude oil as China does now,” said Deutsche Securities Asia’s Pu. “But the big difference is that Brazil is a large producer of sugar cane while China uses corn for its ethanol.”

The situation is complicated by the high priority China attaches to food security. If it’s a choice between corn for food and corn for ethanol, the food need wins hands down. Three of the four large scale ethanol facilities under development will use sugar-based energy crops or sorghum – not only does this resolve the food-or-energy dilemma, but ethanol can be created more efficiently from these crops.

Based on their extensive work in China’s energy economy, Germany’s premier technical cooperation organization, GTZ, identified potential planting areas in southern provinces such as Guangdong and Guangxi, where the climate is more conducive to growing sugar and sorghum.

“China has multiple choices,” said Professor Liu. “It wants to diversify and can grown corn in the north and sugar cane in the south.”

Mount Tianshan in the highlands of Xinjiang. Will China
preserve the breathtaking beauty of her vast country
as she becomes the world’s leading energy producer?

But the mounting pressure being placed on China’s deteriorating farmland by the growing food demands of an increasingly affluent population means that land use is a sensitive issue. China will be a net grain exporter this year on the back of bumper crops but in the long-term, imports will grow and grow. Despite the food supply pressures, Liu believes farmers will benefit from the fuel ethanol development whether they diversify into sorghum and sugar or stick with corn.

“When the government first started the ethanol program, the price of oil was not high and the attention given to the pollution situation was not great. The reason ethanol production was important was the impact it would have on farmers’ incomes.”

For Beijing-based independent energy analyst Jim Brock, fuel ethanol in China can serve the same purpose it does in the US as far as farmers are concerned – a means of insurance.

Surplus corn that decays before it can be transported elsewhere, or grain that fails to make the grade for human consumption or cattle feed suddenly has an end-use.

“There is not really any conflict between food supply and energy supply,” he said. “In almost all cases, the production value for food is much more. It all comes down to having a supply valve so the corn that cannot be used for food is used for energy.”

Ultimately, the rise of ethanol as a viable alternative fuel hinges on the price of oil. A GTZ price comparison earlier this year put fuel ethanol in the region of US$460 per tonne, although this included a US$175 subsidy per tonne of ethanol. Production costs can be as much as US$617 per tonne, 70% of it spent on raw materials. Gasoline was priced at US$616-654 per tonne, although this too included a state subsidy.

Deutsche Securities Asia’s Pu points to a rise in global oil prices, together with oil price liberalization in China and technological improvements in ethanol production, as factors that could drive the fuel ethanol bandwagon onwards. It would take a sizeable spike in crude prices to make fuel ethanol truly competitive; otherwise, it is a question of how much Beijing is willing to spend to find the key to cost-effective ethanol production.

“Is China willing to subsidize ethanol to the extent that it has been in Brazil and the US?” asked Brock. “My impression is no – the government is willing to incentivize but not subsidize.”

About the Author: Gordon Feller is the CEO of Urban Age Institute ( During the past twenty years he has authored more than 500 magazine articles, journal articles or newspaper articles on the profound changes underway in politics, economics, and ecology – with a special emphasis on sustainable development. Gordon is the editor of Urban Age Magazine, a unique quarterly which serves as a global resource and which was founded in 1990. He can be reached at and he is available for speaking to your organization about the issues raised in this and his other numerous articles published in EcoWorld.

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Global Warming: Is it Real, are Humans the Cause, & can Anything be Done?

Tabular Iceberg Break
A massive, newly calved “tabular” iceberg breaks
loose into the Weddell Sea to meet its destiny

Editor’s Note: It’s hard to publish anything that might challenge theories of global warming – either the severity of it or the cause. We’ve published several essays with contrarian perspectives; DDT, Nuclear Power, GMO’s and Recycling, to name a few. And in those articles points were raised that we stand behind. We don’t believe these issues to be beyond debate.

Global warming is another story. This issue is so cataclysmic, so complex, and so intertwined with passionate political conflicts, that it almost seems best to leave it alone – go with the conventional wisdom.

There is a book entitled “Infinite In All Directions” published in 1988 by the visionary scientist and writer Freeman Dyson. In this book he has a chapter entitled “Nuclear Winter,” where he discusses what was then a highly publicized scientific theory describing the worldwide meteorlogical and ecological consequences of a nuclear war. In this chapter Dyson writes the following:

“As a scientist, I judge the nuclear winter theory to be a sloppy piece of work, full of gaps and unjustified assumptions. As a human being, I hope fervently it is right.”

Dyson wanted to believe in nuclear winter, because if enough people believed it, maybe humanity would avoid fighting a nuclear war. Unimpeachable motives. Bad science.

Is it possible that the political statement behind global warming theories – the worthy imperative for us to use energy more efficiently, to wean ourselves of petroleum, to achieve energy independence – has made these theories take on credibility beyond their scientific merit?

In this article the author takes a hard look at the theory of global warming, and concludes the cause is probably that the sun – which fluctuates in output – is simply entering a hotter phase. Perhaps we don’t agree politically with the rest of what global warming sceptics might believe. But that doesn’t absolve us of the need to always pursue the truth.

Ed “Redwood” Ring

The catch all term “global warming” (GW) has evolved to the point where true believers use the term to mean that not only is the earth rapidly warming, but that the warming is almost entirely due to human industrial activity and the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, especially in the United States and Europe.

It appears that a majority of climatologists, atmospheric scientists, and meteorologists (we will call them collectively “CAMs”) believe this. The term “climate change” is used by those who, while allowing that the earth is warming to some degree or other, do not necessarily believe that CO2 emissions from human power generation has much, if anything, to do with it.

World Temperature Increase Projection Map
NASA’s Global Climate Model predicts
the Earth’s temperature will increase by
up to 10 degrees centigrade by 2060

The earth has been warming for the last 10,000 years on average since the last ice age, when most of North America and Europe were covered with glaciers. Over hundreds of millions of years the earth has gone through periodic cycles of warming and cooling without the help of humans. Radiation from the sun is variable over eons. In 2001, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences issued a report suggesting that increased radiation from the sun (our very own thermonuclear fireball) may be responsible for much of the climate change in the last century. In other words, over the centuries, the sun flickers!

The average person who only gets his information from the mass media would never know that the GW concept is actually debatable, with many very heated (pun intended) debates going on at scientific meetings of CAMs. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. sponsored group of more than 2,000 scientists from over 100 countries, has concluded that human activity is a major factor in elevated atmospheric CO2 levels (probably true), and this will result in rising temperatures and sea levels that could prove catastrophic for multi-millions of coastal dwelling folk all over the world (very debateable).

The IPCC panel concluded that in the last century, earth’s average global surface temperature had risen between 0.4-0.8 °C. They also estimated (read “guessed”) that by 2100 the global average would rise by 1.4 to 5.8 °C., depending on a, very wide range of scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions. This was widely reported in the mass media. On the other hand, the “Oregon Petition” of 2001, signed by some 18,000 scientists from all disciplines, said there was no convincing evidence that human activity is responsible, or will be responsible, for any catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. That was not widely reported.

Examples abound of media hyperbole that convinces the average person that the world is in deep trouble (aside from movies like “Day After Tomorrow”). Tom Costello of NBC says, “From tsunamis to catastrophic hurricanes, famine in Africa and wildfires in California, the evidence of human induced GW, they say, is overwhelming”. CBS’s “60 Minutes”, recently featured a CAM who is warning of the worst case scenario (let’s all get really scared), that the earth is warming due to human generated CO2 emission, sea levels will rise by three feet (a few inches or more is the mainstream CAM thinking) in another hundred years, and there is nothing we can do about it now so get used to it!

After hurricane Katrina, famed environmentalist (and CAM?) Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., blamed president Bush for the damage from the hurricane because Bush didn’t endorse the Kyoto Protocols of 1997 in which many countries vowed to limit their CO2 emissions in the future to fight GW. It seems he was implying that if Al Gore had won the election in 2000, Katrina would not have happened because Gore would have seen to it that the U.S. would comply with the protocols. Never mind that the U.S. senate voted 95 to 0 not to ratify it because of the huge hit on the U.S. economy compliance would entail. And Bill Clinton never even brought it up for a vote. In fact, even many true believer CAMs, including Al Gore, realize that the agreement was so flawed that signing it would only have symbolic value. China and India (nearly half the world’s population) were exempt, and there were no means of enforcement. Anybody could sign and then ignore, which they have done. Several European countries that signed on are now emitting MORE CO2 than before.

State of Fear Book Cover
State of Fear
by Michael Crichton

Here are two diametrically opposed views on this subject: In, “State of Fear”, Michael Crichton’s recent best selling novel about eco-terrorists, he advances a very well researched contrarian viewpoint. Although a fiction novel, he presents real scientific data arguing against greenhouse gas induced warming. A book by Ross Gelbspan, a former Boston Globe reporter, entitled “Boiling Point” is a disaster scenario book about GW, in which he predicts mega-droughts and huge sea level increases, refugees, a Northern hemisphere deep freeze, malaria, etc. etc. He calls anyone who doesn’t agree with him “criminals against humanity”. But even he believes that if the U.S. did ratify the Kyoto treaty, it wouldn’t make any difference; the CO2 level in the atmosphere would continue to rise, as would the earth’s temperature. The IPCC, in the same report cited above, estimates that the global temperature will rise by about 1 deg. C by 2050. They go on to say that if the Kyoto agreement were to be fully complied with, including the U.S., global temperature would still rise by 0.94 degrees. That’s a difference of 0.06 degrees!! Obviously Kyoto is nothing more than politically correct symbolism.

Boiling Point Book Cover
Boiling Point
by Ross Gelbspan

It is no wonder, however, that average folks think the GW theology is absolutely true. A (small?) majority of CAMs are true believers. A CAM wrote in a recent issue of Scientific American magazine, “Scientists know that carbon dioxide is warming the atmosphere, which in turn is causing sea level to rise, and that the CO2 absorbed by the oceans is acidifying the water”. This is the kind of CAM that the media always quotes, not the infidel CAMs. He then goes on to say, quite rightly, that no one knows what the long term effects of this “fact” on the earth’s ecological systems might be. The real fact is his statement is not true in the first place. NOBODY knows for sure whether climate change is natural or human induced, or possibly both; if and how much overall global temperature may be rising; and whether CO2 generated by human activities has anything to do with it.

Few would argue that the various greenhouse gases (discussed below) present in the atmosphere don’t have a significant effect on global climate; it’s just that their effect is virtually impossible to quantify. In fact, a theory has been put forward that the earth would be entering a new ice age if not for the various greenhouse gases. Atmospheric science is even more inexact than economics. Are your local weather forecasts always right, even more than one or two days ahead of time? The climate is so complex and poorly understood that elaborate computer models are used to make all those doomsday predictions you read about. A computer model, however, is only as good as the assumptions that the programmers put into it. The enormous number of variables affecting the earth’s climate, some probably we are not even aware of, and feedback from one variable that affects another cannot be modeled realistically. Weather forecasting is, at best, problematic even over a period of days; so why do we think we can predict the weather/climate 50-100 years from now?

U.S. National Temperature Record Chart from 1900 to 2000
NOAA’s U.S. National Temperature
record from 1900 to 2000
(Red line = average weighted temperature)

Let us consider some of the actual debate about scientific evidence involved in the GW debate among CAMs. Believers point to temperature records over the last 100 years or so that show a definite increase. Infidels say this is due to the fact that 100 years ago temperatures were measured in rural environments, while later in the last century urbanization of our society led to temperature measurements influenced by the heat generated by the concrete and steel of the city. Some evidence seems to show that the Antarctic ice is melting away, threatening future rise in earth’s sea level.

Some evidence points to the likelihood that the southern icecap is actually thickening. On the other hand, glaciers are melting all over the world and the Arctic ice is melting, but maybe that’s just what you would expect in a normal interglacial period over thousands of years. A greater frequency of hurricanes is evident due to GW? Maybe, but it also could be a normal hurricane cycle similar to what we had from 1950-1970. Increased ocean temperature due to the greenhouse effect may be causing the hurricanes to be more intense than before?

Perhaps not, El Nino and La Nina cycles may be major influences also. Then again, maybe last year’s hurricane season was an aberration. These are questions being debated by CAMs under the mass media radar. What are we non-theological people to believe?

Here’s the crux of the whole debate. Before 1998, CAMs generally accepted that the earth had undergone large temperature fluctuations over eons. The Vikings named it “Greenland” probably because it was discovered in a global warm period in the tenth century. There were lush pastures for raising cattle, which they did. The idea that they named it “Greenland” to lure unsuspecting settlers is probably just a myth. During the “little ice age” from about 1500 to 1800 A.D., Greenland froze over and George Washington’s troops practically froze to death at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777. It never gets that cold in New Jersey anymore. The perceived global warming since then was attributed to natural rebound, especially since most of the warming occurred before 1940. Whoops, most of the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels occurred after 1940. Think about it.

Nasa Logo

Then came the now famous “hockey stick” study by Michael Mann, an American CAM, published in the prestigious journal “Nature” in 1998. The alarmist IPCC report cited above based its assessment of climate change almost solely on Mann’s study. In essence, he said all the historical temperature data was wrong. He claimed his data showed that there has been only a gradual global temperature change over the last millennium, but that there has been a very sharp rise in the last 100 years, i.e., his temperature graph looked like a hockey stick.

Industrial emissions of CO2 now became the bad guy because its concentration in the atmosphere increased from 315 ppm (parts per million) in 1957 to 370 ppm in 2002. Hotter temperatures, greenhouse gas CO2 increase; ergo GW is due to emissions from human use of fossil fuels, which when burned, emit CO2. It’s a theory that has not been proven scientifically. A scientist can perform a laboratory experiment to determine how strong a greenhouse gas CO2 is and what its affect is in some laboratory model system. But to extrapolate laboratory results to predict what is actually happening in the earth’s atmosphere is impossible. It’s all assumptions and imperfect computer models.

Here’s how scientific research is, in general, supposed to work. Some researchers conduct some laboratory experiment or statistical study and get results that appear to support some hypothesis or theory. After peer review, the results are published in a scientific journal. The Mann paper is an example. In this case, it was a sensational paper that rattled the conventional wisdom of CAMs, thus it attracted lots of media attention. The next step is for fellow scientists from around the world to either criticize or support that data by trying to reproduce those reported results. If the original research is confirmed by other scientists from around the world, it becomes generally accepted as true.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Logoee

In the case of Mann’s influential study predicting a “hockey stick” increase in global temperatures due to increased CO2 emissions, however, Mann’s results have not been reproduced. In fact, Mann’s results have been called into serious question by two scientists, Canadian mathematician Stephen McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick. They revisited Mann’s own data and concluded, in 2003, that his results were riddled with “collation errors, unjustifiable truncations or extrapolation of source data, obsolete data, geographical location errors, and incorrect calculations of principal components.” In other words, Mann’s study is in their eyes, deeply flawed. When they corrected Mann’s results for these errors, they contend, the hockey stick model disappeared! Mann has not responded except to say he’s a victim of intimidation. We shall see, but this calls into BIG question the whole CO2 induced GW paradigm. Other CAMs must now step up to do research that might either support or not support these opposite views of data.

As a scientist myself (a chemist, not a CAM), I find it very difficult to believe that such a tiny amount of CO2 (370 ppm) in the atmosphere could be responsible for GW. That is only 0.036% of the earth’s atmosphere. Let’s consider another greenhouse gas, methane, which is ignored in all GW discussions in the media and the Kyoto protocols. Methane is over 20 times stronger a greenhouse gas than CO2, although it is present in the atmosphere at a 100 times lower concentration. But, it is still significant in the whole story. Methane is, of course, the main constituent of natural gas. So when we drill for natural gas, we release lots of methane, which contributes to greenhouse warming even before we burn it to form all that CO2. It is also generated in all bacterial fermentations, which includes landfills, rice paddies, wetlands, termite farts, waste treatment plants, burps from ruminant animals, and most important the brewing of beer (I would never agree to limit my beer intake just to save the planet). I wonder how much methane is exhaled by the billions of cows, sheep, goats, buffalos, etc., which are domesticated by the 4 billion humans on this planet? Of course all that livestock also exhales CO2 with every breath they take, just like us humans do.

Anyway, it is estimated that about 60% of methane in the air is from human activity, and its concentration in the air is increasing twice as fast as is CO2! Kyoto didn’t even consider methane! We won’t even discuss nitrous oxide (released during forest fires and use of nitrogen fertilizers), 300 times more effective a greenhouse gas than CO2.

Now let’s discuss the most potent contributor to the greenhouse effect, by far, i.e., water vapor. There are various estimates, but the best estimate is that about 95% of the greenhouse effect in our atmosphere is due to water vapor, good old H2O, and it’s virtually all natural. Nearly three fourths of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and water evaporates into the air. Apparently, few if any of the computer models invented to try and predict future climatic conditions take water vapor into account, and there is absolutely nothing we humans could do to limit levels of water vapor in the atmosphere anyway; nothing, nada, zero and nichts. The bottom line is that human activities contribute less than 1% to the greenhouse warming effect, probably less than 0.5%.

In April 1911, an iceberg like this sank the mighty Titanic.
Will global warming really melt the icecaps and inundate
the world? And if so, is there anything we can do?

Given the uncertainty in climate models, my guess is as good as anyone’s, so I’ll give it. The sun is in a hot period, raising earth’s average temperature. This in turn causes more water from the oceans to evaporate and raise water vapor concentration in the atmosphere, which in turn accelerates warming. Increases in atmospheric CO2 and methane may also be contributing to the warming, but it can’t be quantified.

So what to do? Humans have lived through warm and cold periods for hundreds of thousands of years and always adapted. So just don’t live to close to what is now the sea level, and maybe think about buying property in Norway or Canada to plant orange trees. Oh, yeah, don’t buy stock in companies selling ski equipment and parkas. And, if you are still worried about human induced CO2 emission and want to do something, even if only symbolic, you should stop lighting fires (emitting CO2 AND water), using your furnace, water heater and anything electrical, driving cars and SUVs, and breathing (however, if you stop breathing, you will emit lots of methane as your body decomposes). Also, lobby for less stringent air pollution rules to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Air pollution, as is commonly found in great profusion in places like Mexico City, Los Angeles, Rome, and New York promotes global cooling because all that dirty particulate matter blocks the sun’s rays from hitting the ground. It’s an anti-greenhouse effect. Also, pray for another volcanic eruption like Krakatoa in 1883, which resulted in severe winters all over the globe due to the millions of tons of particulate matter spewed into the atmosphere.

One final thought: Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal, a favorite of my liberal friends, had this to say about global warming “the problems associated with climate change (whether manmade or natural) are the same old problems of poverty, disease, and natural hazards like floods, storms, and droughts. Money spent directly on these problems is a much surer bet than money spent trying to control a climate change process that we don’t understand.”

EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Air Pollution, Animals, Atmospheric Science, Cars, Causes, Effects Of Air Pollution, Energy, Global Warming & Climate Change, Landfills, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Other, Radiation, Urbanization2 Comments

The Mesoamerican Biological Corridor

Map of Forest Preserves in Mesoamerica
dark green = current reserves, light green = developing reserves
scale: one pixel = five kilometers

Editor’s Note: Saving and restoring forest reserves and wildlife habitat is better done when these areas are connected. The concept of wildlife corridors has been around for about 20 years, but has found perhaps its most inspiring expression in the accomplishments in Central America. In this region, seven governments have agreed to coordinate their efforts to encourage a huge system of interconnected parks, reserves and wildlife corridors that literally link North America to South America.

Not only is the scale of this undertaking unusual, but the means whereby Central American biological corridors are being established are innovative and sustainable. Costa Rica provides a particularly excellent case for how biocorridors can be encouraged using a variety of means; through tax incentives, preservation easements, education, decentralized administration, partnerships with international organizations, as well as outright land purchases.

This personal account by Jack Ewing, a noted wildlife author as well as owner of the Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge in southwest Costa Rica, offers a comprehensive look at how the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor came about. Also noted are specific ways Costa Rican’s have tackled the challenge of land preservation, a challenge they have met so successfully that forested land in Costa Rica has more than doubled in the last 20 years. Hacienda Baru, for example, was completely deforested from the beach to the highlands only 30 years ago. Today it comprises one of the richest wildlife refuges in the world. – Ed Ring

I wouldn’t call Lobo mean.

He was more crazy than mean.

Any animal that came across his path would put him in a frenzy whether it be a cat, opossum, iguana, coati or another dog. He’d get wild-eyed, froth at the mouth and chase it down wherever it went, through brush, water, into holes and over embankments. He really went nuts, and when he caught em he killed em, always.

Lobo was off somewhere that day when we spotted the young capuchin monkey crossing the pasture. I remember thinking how out of place it looked 200 meters from the nearest tree. We stopped working and watched as the monkey skip-loped by. It paused briefly to look at us, then moved on in its awkward gait. I caught sight of the charging dog at the same moment I heard Osvaldo shout. “Lobo, no!! Lobo, quitase, no, no!! Lobo quite hihweputa.” But Lobo didn’t stop.

Lobo ignored his master’s call and kept barreling toward the capuchin. I shuddered in anticipation of the carnage. That big dog hit the monkey full force, but it seemed as if the primate bounced into the air and came down on top of the dog. A flurry of squeals, flying fur and blood ensued. The monkey rode Lobo like a bronco, gouging his eyes, biting his ears and head and scratching his flanks all at the same time. I can only describe the dog’s voice as a scream, a frantic plea for mercy. He bucked, twisted and rolled on the ground trying to rid himself of the torment. The fight ended abruptly. The capuchin jumped clear of the terrified dog who took off wailing and crying until he reached Osvaldo’s house, where he crawled into a space under the floor, covered his face with his paws and whimpered. Lobo never chased another animal as long as he lived.

Hacienda Baru Logo

That was back in 1973 when Hacienda Baru was a cattle ranch. There was an estuary with a mangrove forest near the mouth of the Baru River, two small wetland forests on the coastal plain and a large primary rain forest in the highlands. These islands of vegetation were all separated from each other by at least half a kilometer of pasture. Small troops of white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus) inhabited each of the lowland forests and several larger troops lived above in the primary rain forest. At some point during their physical development the mere presence of young male capuchins became intolerable to the troop’s dominant male, who then expelled them from their little forest home. Their only hope for survival was to reach the larger primary rain forest, but to do that these post-adolescents had to run across pastures.

That year I planted trees as living fence posts. I was pleasantly surprised to see that once these tree-posts reached a height of a few meters the monkeys began using them as pathways rather than crossing open pastures. I planted more and longer lines of trees which were later used by a variety of arboreal fauna including monkeys, sloths, kinkajous, opossums, iguanas, and olingos. I still wanted to raise cattle and horses, but I loved seeing fauna too. As my fascination with tropical nature expanded so did these wildlife corridors.

By 1990 there were five forested corridors on Hacienda Baru where a monkey could travel from the beach to the highlands without leaving the trees. That was the year I sold all the cattle. In 1995 Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres signed the decree creating Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge. By that time sloths, pacas, anteaters and even collared peccaries were seen in the lowlands, and spider monkeys had migrated along neighboring forested corridors from distances of over 17 kilometers to settle at the refuge. Environmental groups began working on local, regional, national and even international biological corridors which facilitated the migration of wildlife and enhanced biodiversity. Now the monkeys don’t have to descend to the ground unless they want to.

Central American Rainforest Canopy
Central American Rainforest Canopy



The concept of biological corridors was born in Florida where environmentalists were searching for solutions to the shrinking and fragmentation of wildlife habitat. The creation of corridors of natural vegetation between larger reserves was seen as a way to allow wildlife more freedom of movement and access to a wider variety of natural vegetation.

When groups of any particular species are confined in isolated patches of habitat with limited area, they become subject to a variety of environmental stresses. The diversity of food plants may not be sufficient to provide sustenance through all of the seasons. Isolated populations of animals with limited gene pools tend to become inbred, resulting in loss of fertility, vigor and resistance to disease. Social pressures may increase, as was the case with the young capuchin expelled by the dominant male.

In the 1980s researchers in Brazil, Florida and elsewhere determined that as the size of a parcel of rainforest increases, the biodiversity it harbors also increases but by a factor higher than the increase in area. For example, a forest reserve of 1000 hectares might have 100 species of beetles, whereas one of 2000 hectares might have 300 species. By doubling the size of the reserve, the biodiversity could triple. Please note that these are not actual figures. The results of studies vary and scientists don’t agree on any one formula for the relation between parcel size and biodiversity. I use them here for the sole purpose of illustrating the principle.


If we take this idea a step further, simple logic tells us that one reserve of 1000 hectares, separated from another of 2000 hectares by 20 km of fragmented habitat, will increase considerably in biodiversity if we can connect the two together with a wide swath of natural vegetation — a biological corridor. But how wide?

This frequently asked question doesn’t have a simple answer. As we saw in the example of Hacienda Baru a single line of trees served as a corridor for several species of arboreal mammals, and certainly enhanced their living conditions, chances of survival and populations, but I doubt if it would do much to increase biodiversity in the forest reserves at either end of the line. For a corridor to be truly effective and biologically beneficial to the reserves it connects, it needs to be wide enough to permit the safe passage of most species of fauna, large and small. This includes everything from large predators to tiny litter frogs. It must be wide enough to provide an environment conducive to the existence of wide varieties of epiphytes, fungi, molds, insects and microorganisms. But how wide is that?

A biologist friend once put it this way: If there are houses anywhere near the corridor, there will be house cats, which will kill any small animal or bird they can catch. House cats seldom venture more than 400 meters from home. Therefore, 800 meters is the absolute minimum width for a fully functional biological corridor, but of course, wider is better. Not only house cats, but predators of all kinds, learn that the corridor is a narrow stretch between larger reserves, and this bottleneck is the perfect place to lie in ambush. Prey animals quickly learn of the danger and are wary of crossing. Ideally, a corridor would be several tens of kilometers wide, but this is not always possible. I think it is important to remember that even if it is less than 800 meters wide, any corridor is better than no corridor. A single line of trees is better than an open pasture.

Aerial View of Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica in 1972
Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica, in 1972
The entire coastal lowlands have been deforested


By the early 1990s most biologists agreed that biological corridors could be a useful tool for increasing biodiversity and enhancing the ecology of large protected areas.

It was about that time when a vision emerged of an immense biological corridor that would connect the forests of southern Mexico to those of all the rest of Central America and eventually reach the Panama Canal, a biological bridge between continents.

The visionary who came up with this concept was Archie (Chuck) F. Carr III, and he called his idea the “Path of the Panther,” in recognition of the Florida Panther (Felis concolor,) also known as cougar, mountain lion and puma. These majestic cats are symbolic because they survive throughout the region wherever sufficient habitat remains.

In order to fully understand the origins of the proposed biological bridge between North and South America, we need to look briefly at the origins of another bridge, Central America itself. When the geological processes that culminated in its creation began, more than 50 million years ago, the two American continents were separated by several thousand kilometers of ocean and a channel over 2000 meters deep. The movements of five different tectonic plates modified the earth’s crust bringing the two enormous land masses closer together, lifting the sea floor and fomenting volcanic action.

By fifteen million years ago the deep water channel between the American continents had risen considerably and significantly modified ocean currents. The diminishing of ocean currents brought many consequences including the alteration of global climate. By ten million years ago, an ice age cycle of approximately 100,000 years was well established and was causing sea levels to rise and fall during interglacial and glacial periods, respectively.

Ministerio de Ambiente Recursos Naturales Logo

By eight million years ago Central America looked like an archipelago during glacial periods. At that time two species of giant ground sloths swam about 60 kilometers to become the first South American mammals to reach North America. By three million years ago the gap closed, completing the land bridge and bringing on a tremendous biological upheaval as flora and fauna traveled in both directions, mixed, adapted, competed for niches and gradually settled into an ecological balance as they populated both continents. A mere 10,000 years ago humans arrived, and within a millennium, most of the large game animals, such as mammoths, toxodonts, giant bison, giant ground sloths and others were hunted to extinction.

By 2000 years ago humans had domesticated many species of plants and animals, and agriculture had replaced hunting and gathering as the main source of food. It is only logical to believe that indigenous peoples deforested vast regions of Central America. In fact, deforestation has been postulated as a contributing cause to the fall of the great Maya Civilizations over 1000 years ago. When Europeans arrived in the western hemisphere, the population of Central America was about the same as it is today, 40 million people. It is simply not possible for that many people to live in an area of 750,000 square kilometers without destroying vast amounts of natural habitat. Nobody knows with any accuracy the extent of that wave of deforestation, but it was probably comparable to that of the 20th century.

Small pox and other European diseases brought an end to the deforestation. The population of Central America plummeted, and Mother Nature reclaimed the land. Enormous tracts of land throughout the region remained relatively undisturbed for more than four hundred years, until Central American populations again expanded to a level where deforestation became a significant threat to biodiversity. By 1980 the Central American tropical forests had been severely fragmented by agriculture, cattle ranching and urbanization. Olga F. Linares in the foreword of Central America, A Natural and Cultural History, stated it very well, referring to the area to be influenced by the Path of the Panther as: “…a biological corridor that took more than 60 million years to develop and is taking less than a century to be destroyed.”

Young Girl Planting Tree
a young tree planter adds another


At the end of the 1980s, when the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation took on the challenge of promoting the Path of the Panther Biological Corridor, the project was, and still is, seen as the reconstruction of ecosystems throughout the region. The remaining forested areas, which were, for the most part, confined to national parks, wildlife refuges, forest reserves and other protected areas, contained a very high percentage of the biodiversity. The challenge was not only to halt the destruction of these tropical forests, but also to restore swathes of natural vegetation between them, connect them together biologically, and create an effective and sustainable system of environmental protection.

Because of the volcanic origin of Central American soils and continued volcanic activity the restoration of natural forests is feasible. Fortified by an invisible blanket of constantly settling, nutrient-rich volcanic dust, the land, when left to the whims of Mother Nature, will sprout into a mass of natural vegetation that quickly evolves into secondary forest. This, in turn, creates a suitable environment for a multitude of organisms which almost immediately begin migrating into the newly reclaimed habitat. In places like the Amazon, plagued with nutrient poor soils, such a project would probably not be possible.

The name “Mesoamerican Biological Corridor” (MBC) was coined in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the importance of regenerating natural habitat and connecting the natural areas of the region was recognized as a top priority.

Belize Biocorridor Partner Logo

A treaty signed by the governments of Mexico and all the Central American nations, at a 1997 summit meeting, officially established the corridor. The document describes the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor as:

“…a system of territorial organization, comprised by the interconnection of the Central American System of Protected Areas and surrounding buffer and multiple use zones, that offers a combination of environmental goods and services to the Central American and world community, and promotes investment in the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources; all by way of ample social consensus, with the objective of contributing to the improvement of the quality of life of the inhabitants of the region.”

The Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) was charged with coordinating the project at a regional level. Most of the signatories formed commissions responsible for implementing the project at a national level. Soon thereafter, funding became available from a number of sources including the United Nations Environment Program, United Nations Development Program, World Bank, US AID, European Community and others.

Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge in Costa Rica
Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica, 2005
the forest is completely restored


Costa Rica has taken the biological corridor challenge very seriously. The government formed the National Commission for the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor in 1997. A strategy for the implementation of the project was elaborated. It was decided that the creation of a number of local corridors was more feasible than one national corridor.

Costa Rica’s commission determined that the responsibility for the creation of local biological corridors would be delegated to rural communities and non governmental organizations (NGOs,) with the national commission to coordinate amongst these groups.

Early on it was recognized that strong, well organized community organizations were of paramount importance to the accomplishment of the Costa Rican sector of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. The strategy elaborated by the commission was:

Identify the zones where corridors are needed

Identify NGOs within those areas that are willing to take on a corridor project

Train and strengthen these groups

Provide local organizations with the tools to accomplish their objectives.

The National System of Protected Areas (SINAC) determined priority areas for the creation of corridors. The MBC commission with the help of the National University and the World Conservation Union (IUCN,) began looking for NGOs capable of creating local biological corridors. In many cases, this meant first teaching the organization what a biological corridor was, why it was important and how it would help local communities, and then motivating them to take on the project.

In 1999 the World Wildlife Fund financed a campaign to publicize the mesoamerican biological corridor and create public awareness about its importance and the benefits it would produce. Financing for NGOs and corridor friendly local projects became available from several international organizations of which the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) was the most active. There were differences between corridors, but many of the same tools were used in different places and by different groups to create local corridors.

Youth Environment Group in Woods
a reforesting tradition begins

Teaching and Motivating –

When building a house, the first step is laying a solid foundation. Likewise, the construction of a corridor begins with environmental education. In order to change the way people relate to their environment it is important to convince the youth.

Once the younger generation has been enlightened the general public attitude about the environment begins to change. I remember a phone call from an irate father accusing a local environmental group of “poisoning children’s minds.” When questioned further, it turned out that the man’s eight year old daughter would not allow him to poach or consume the eggs of endangered marine turtles, something he had done all of his life. Though he didn’t change his mind, he did accede to his daughter’s wishes. In some areas, local NGOs have been carrying on environmental education for 15 years. The first students to receive the material have now matured, and some have become leaders in their communities.

Environmental education is important for adults as well as youth. Many people would like to protect the environment, but feel helpless to do so. Government enforcement of laws is often weak or nonexistent. One solution to this problem in Costa Rica is a program which makes it possible for private citizens to become voluntary game wardens. In order to acquire the official identification card, they must attend two training workshops and pass an exam on environmental law. These non salaried game wardens have almost as much authority to enforce environmental laws as a full time park ranger. Many property owners have acquired this status in order to protect their own property from poachers. The program has worked well in some places and not in others. The determining factor seems to be the presence of strong NGOs that sponsor the training programs and follow up with refresher courses and motivation for the volunteers.

Honduras Biocorridor Partner Logo

At least one NGO has taken this idea one step farther and sponsored training and motivational workshops for local police officers. Many times police in rural communities are ignorant with regard to environmental legislation. When they are given basic training and motivation and backed up by a group of volunteer game wardens, they become a very positive force in controlling environmental abuses and enforcing laws.

The strengthening of local NGOs goes hand in hand with education. Environmental awareness alone doesn’t accomplish much when community organizations are weak and poorly financed. The UNDP has taken the lead in funding projects that fortify communal groups, women’s groups and indigenous groups. Once organized, trained and motivated, many of these groups have gone on to play key roles in the creation of biological corridors. Without their support the accomplishment of project objectives would be extremely difficult.

Making Conservation Profitable

Simply educating, organizing and strengthening rural community organizations is not enough. The people must benefit tangibly, and in the short term, from a healthy natural environment. Everyone has to make a living, and conservation will not work on a large scale if people don’t profit from it. The two main ways in which this has been accomplished is through Environmental Service Payments and Ecological Tourism.

Paying for Environmental Services –

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Monkeys are made of Chocolate Book Cover
Monkeys are made of Chocolate
by Jack Ewing

In Costa Rica, Environmental Service Payments are cash incentives given to people who protect environments that provide services for people. Woody plants remove carbon from the atmosphere, tie it up in wood fiber and release oxygen. Therefore people who plant trees or forgo development and leave their property forested, are providing a service for everyone: air-cleaning and oxygen production. The Costa Rican Environmental Service Payments program pays these people for that service.

Funds to pay tree planters are provided by a fuel tax. That way people who burn fossil fuels – everyone who drives a car – which release carbon into the atmosphere, end up paying for its removal. At present, the environmental service payment for forest conservation is about $60 per hectare per year, not enough to make anybody rich, but certainly enough to discourage deforestation for the purpose of raising cattle.

Another type of Environmental Service Payment charges water users a fee for the protection of the watershed where their potable water originates. This program is relatively new and has not yet been widely implemented, but it is certain to become an important method of environmental protection in the future.

Ecological Tourism –

When done well, ecological tourism can be a very effective means of making conservation pay for itself. In Costa Rica tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner, and ecological tourism is the most important sector. Though the country has close to a thousand kilometers of coastline, more tourists visit the national parks and wildlife refuges than visit the beaches. In southwestern Costa Rica, where I live, few people doubt the importance of wildlife and rainforest to the local economy. Where 20 years ago there was nothing but cattle ranches, agriculture and scattered patches of forest, today there are seven national wildlife refuges, one national park and at least 30 private nature reserves.

The many protected areas are the biggest tourist attraction in southwestern Costa Rica. Ecological tourists and bird watchers visit the region year after year, do no damage to the environment, purchase goods and services and take away only their memories. As a general rule, ecological tourists tend to respect local customs and cultures. Everybody wins including Mother Nature. In 1976, when I first prohibited hunting at Hacienda Baru, less than two percent of the local population supported me. Today the figure is more like 85%. A big part of the difference is that today rainforests and wildlife help people make a living.

El Salvador Biocorridor Project Logo
El Salvador

Land Purchases –

Corridor projects that involve very large forested areas have sometimes used a strategy of raising money to purchase large tracts of land, which are then given some sort of permanent official protection. This method works well when the area to be protected is sparsely inhabited. The land purchased may be protected in one of three methods:

Donation to the national parks system and declaration as a national park

Declaration as a national wildlife refuge which remains the property of the local NGO promoting the project

The placing of environmental easements on the purchased properties. This may be done in conjunction with the first two methods of protection.
These methods give both security and permanency, so that all parties involved are confident that the land use will not be changed.

An example of a corridor where this strategy is being applied is the Osa Biological Corridor, which will connect the Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula to the Piedras Blancas National Park on the mainland. Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy are some of the international organizations that help raise money for land purchases.

Nicaragua Biocorridor Project Logo


In the last two years the Costa Rican commission for the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor has given financial assistance to local corridor projects for the monitoring of species of flora and fauna within their respective corridors. At this early stage available data is insufficient to come to any conclusions, but on a subjective level we can make some general observations. As my personal experience has been with the Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor (PTBC,) the following comments relate to that particular southwest Costa Rica project:

Biology and Ecology:

Spider monkeys and howler monkeys that have long been absent from many parts of the PTBC are migrating along corridors and establishing breeding populations where they haven’t been observed in over 50 years.

Squirrel monkeys, a species formerly completely absent from the area have now moved into the corridor and at least one reproducing group is well established on a wildlife refuge.

White-lipped peccary are moving back into the region where they have been locally extinct since the 1960s.

In three years of Audubon Society sanctioned Christmas Bird Count, the PTBC count has increased steadily: 2003 — 340 species; 2004 — 383 species; 2005 — 395 species.

Populations of species such as pacas, agoutis, coatis, collared peccary, five species of felines, great curasows have all increased noticeably in the last ten years.

The area of forest cover has more than tripled in the last thirty years.

Costa Rica Biocorridor Project Logo
Costa Rica

Social Organization:

126 voluntary game wardens have been trained and approved.

32 schools receive environmental education

7 National Wildlife Refuges and more than 30 private nature reserves have been established since 1995.

8% of the land area is protected by Environmental Service Payment Contracts

Ecological Tourism has replaced ranching and agriculture as the number one economic activity.

Problems and Threats:

The value of land has increased to a level where only foreigners can afford to own property in the region and local Costa Ricans who were once property owners are being displaced or have become employees of the new land owners.

Due to weak or nonexistent enforcement of environmental laws developers are able cut illegal roads through rainforests, level off home sites and cause serious environmental damage with few if any consequences.

Panama Biocorridor Project Logo

Real estate developers with little respect for tropical ecosystems, have seemingly unlimited funds with which to destroy natural areas, while local environmental groups who wish to conserve habitat are severely under-funded.

Many property owners would like to inscribe their properties in the Environmental Service Payment program but limited funding has prevented extending the incentives to everyone who is conserving forests.

The original projection for financing for the MBC by international funding institutions such as UNDP was 10 years, of which eight have already elapsed. Many projects have reached a level where they are effective but not yet sustainable. If funding dries up in the next few years these projects will collapse.

Tapir Sign


Central America forms a bridge between north and south America which throughout its three million year history has served as a natural corridor connecting the two continents biologically. In the last century much of that corridor has been destroyed. Biologists have determined that biological corridors are an effective method of conserving and enhancing biodiversity in fragmented ecosystems.

The idea that the tropical forests of Central America could be reconstructed and joined together in a corridor was originally promoted by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. The project was called the Path of the Panther. Governments throughout the region later adopted the project and changed the name to the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC.)

Responsibility for regional coordination was given to the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD) and headquartered in Managua, Nicaragua. Implementation of the project in each country became the responsibility of national MBC commissions. Each of these commissions works in a different manner. Some have been very effective and others less so.

Costa Rica is the only country that has elected a strategy of working with community and environmental organizations to create a chain of local biological corridors. As a result Costa Rica has experienced a higher level of success in establishing the MBC than most other countries in Central America. Nevertheless, environmental destruction by real estate developers poses a serious threat to the environment and the government seems to be incapable or unwilling to control it.

In the final tally, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor has made significant advances, but much more is needed. If funding from international agencies is diminished or discontinued in the near future, it could mean the death of the reconstruction of the Central American biological corridor.

For further reading:

Central America: A Natural and Cultural History

Anthony G. Coats, Editor, Yale University Press, New Haven and London

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond, Viking Penguin Group, New York

The Sixth Extinction

Richard Leakey, Doubleday, New York

New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, 1491

Charles C. Mann, Alfred A. Knopf, New York

Online References:

Central American Commission on the Environment and Development (Spanish)

Pro Diversitas (Spanish)

United Nations Development Program

Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (English and Spanish)

Path of the Tapir Biological Corridor (Spanish)

Web site of Hacienda Baru National Wildlife Refuge

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Water: The Second Element

An enlightened mystic of this age, Osho, has proclaimed that the third world war can happen due to water– or, rather, the lack of it. The statistics say the same thing: as the share of fresh water per person decreases globally, and the population demanding it increases, there are bound to be conflicts which, as history dictates, can lead to military action and, ultimately, even a world war.

As the world population surpasses 6 billion, underground water levels are falling on every continent, most people on Earth are not getting enough water for the basic necessities of life. Rivers are drying up before they reach the sea, and plants and animals are undoubtedly suffering too.

Political Map of India

China, India, and the U.S. claim half the world’s population, and provide half of the global food supply as well. In the past, irrigated farming has been plagued with problems like waterlogging, salting, and silting. Now, thanks to science and technology, there is another price to be paid– it is possible to dig ever deeper for water with more powerful pumps, but the cost is aquifer depletion.

Hydrologists define a country as suffering “water stress” when the amount of fresh water per person drops below 1,700 cubic meters per year. In recent times the number of people facing water stress has reached almost one billion, which will increase to 3 billion by 2025 according to the current trend of growing population. This means people affected by water stress will not get enough water for their daily life– cooking, drinking, bathing, etc.

In India, where one-sixth of the world population is living, the water acquired by underground pumps is twice as much as the aquifer recharge from rainfall. The well-known international water research group,

International Water Management Institute, has
estimated that the grain harvest of India could be reduced by up to 25% as a result of aquifer depletion. In a country which is producing 18 million people per year– as much as the entire continent of Australia– this is, for some, a death sentence.

Drought Land

Other than the Eastern states and the Southwestern coast, which get 300-1,000 cms (120-400 inches) of annual rainfall, most of the Indian regions are getting rain under 40-300 cms (16-120 inches) annually. The driest regions are Western Rajasthan and a few parts of Gujarat, receiving 0-40 cms (0-16 inches) of yearly rainfall as well as Leh in Kashmir. Snowfall is limited to Himalayan mountain range, whose runoff provides valuable water for most of the country’s rivers. As an estimate India receives 70 cms (28 inches) average annual rainfall.

By the time the Ganga (Ganges) River reaches the Bay of Bengal, in the dry season, it is severely depleted, leaving little for Southeastern farmers. 90% of the rain in the Gangetic plains is not harvested or used, and flows into the Bay of Bengal.

India receives 420 million hectare- meters (mham) of water each year: 400 mham from precipitation and the remaining 20 mham as surface water, coming from rivers outside the country. This is equivalent to 4,200 cubic kilometers of water. At least 40% of this water is flowing out to sea and to neighboring countries.

In 1955, India’s per capita water availability was 5,300 cubic meters (cu.m.). Currently this figure is only about 2,000 cu.m., as compared to the global average of 7,420 cu.m and, in Asia, 3,240 cu.m. Statistics say that by the year 2025 the number can drop as low as 1500 cu.m. due to rising population levels, urbanization and systemic abuses of water.

If more rain is harvested, and more efficient methods of rain harvesting are implemented, the 40% of water that is flowing unused from the country can be utilized, as well as lessening the risk of floods and national problem of water stress.

The ancient ways of harvesting rain were quite efficient. Water was everyone’s business, unlike the present age, when, in towns, water is simply expected to flow from the tap, and if it doesn’t, it is the fault of city corporations run by the government. A few of these ancient ways are still practiced in villages, without any new energy or developments.

Dry Talab
Inside a dry Talab

The main traditional method of rain harvesting in India is Talab or Kundi. This way is easiest, as any open place with diameter near about 100 meters or more can work for it. The land is sloped towards the center which can be cemented or lined with limestone to support the rain water flow in the middle, where a well lies. Covering the well from the top is also beneficial as it keeps the water clean and protects it. Even with only 10 cms (4 inches) of rainfall, as in Jaisalmer district right in the heart of the desert in the Westernmost state Rajasthan, 1 million liters of water are available year-round.

One other good example of this method of rain harvesting is the 500-year-old fort of Chittor in Rajasthan, where the builders of this fort made tanks to save the precious rainwater. It was built on a good height where the people living in the fort did not have access to the town’s groundwater or any streams. Yet, the tanks were so efficient that the fort never ran out of water, even though the town did in drought years.

In Jodhpur, the second largest city in Rajasthan, there are several talabs. Two, Ranisar and Padamsar, were also made over 500 years ago, by the builders of the famous Meharangarh Fort, and rarely run out of water.

Water harvesting has traditionally meant valuing the raindrop, and being continuously conscious of water conservation in daily life; this value has grown back in many residents of Chennai. The simple urban rain harvesting system they are using there is quite low in cost. The water falling on the roof of the buildings is collected and stored in a ground-level well via pipelines. This well can generally provide water around the year. The water in the well is being cleaned before pumping by alum, which is good enough for drinking and cooking. Water used for bathing and washing clothes is drained into another storage sump after being subjected to organic treatment. About 40% of this water is used for flushing toilets and the rest is used to water the gardens. This new move has made these people free of water shortages and the Chennai Municipal Corporation has made it mandatory for all new buildings to install this low-cost system.

Another large-scale method for the conservation and distribution of water is to build dams and canals. 9% of the world’s large dams, according to the World Commission on Dam Report 2000, are Indian, numbering 4291; 3596 (73%) of these dams are located in the three Western agricultural states, one of which is Rajasthan.

The Indira Ghandi Canal
The Indira Ghandi Canal

One of India’s most remarkable examples of water management is Rajasthan Nahar (canal), now known as Indira Gandhi Nahar Pariyojna (canal project) or IGNP. In a state where the annual rainfall is just 10-65 cms (4-26 inches), fresh water is precious thing.

The creation of IGNP commenced in 1958, and construction and expansion of the canal system continue today. Its aim is to use approximately 90% of the surplus water of Ravi and Byas rivers, which are fed by runoff from the Himalayas. The construction of IGNP was planned in two stages. The total length of the main feeder and distribution canals is currently about 7000 kms.

Although the funds invested in IGNP in the last ten years alone total almost 32000 million Rupees, the benefit-cost ratio is near 3:1, calculated on the basis of annual agricultural production. 1500000 ha land is being irrigated due to IGNP, which is about 8% of the total sown area of Rajasthan.

Yet the unconscious behavior of human beings is destroying the natural balance. Global warming, pollution, the decay of the Ozone layer and deforestation etc., all cause the snowfall over the Himalayan region to be severely affected (sometimes greatly increasing and vice versa), which is the source of most of the Indian rivers. The result of this is the endangerment of human, plant and animal life, either by drought or by flooding.

Trikal, meaning a drought of three consecutive years, is what the state of Rajasthan now faces; other parts of India also share this condition. This year’s meager “rainy season” could hardly have been called such– in certain areas the rainfall was the lowest it has been in 100 years. The effects of such a drought are widespread, causing scarcity of drinking water, inflation due to poor crop yields, and even severe rationing of electricity due to the sinking water table. This year’s warm winter temperatures, as of December 20, broke records of 150 years.

Many Rajasthani towns and cities, now in a state of emergency, are forced to rely on the government’s reallocation of drinking water via tankers and water trains, and the quality of drinking water has in some areas decreased as well, causing illness.

Long-term solutions to the Indian and essentially global water crisis include tackling the problem of overpopulation in order to decrease the demand for water. In addition, not only new ways of water conservation are needed, but in fact the old ways of water consciousness, of recognizing the true value of what makes up not only 70% of our planet, but up to 80% of our own bodies: water.

The sacred nature of water in Indian consciousness is well-known, but a shift in viewpoint is essential: the obvious example is the Ganga (Ganges) River, famous for being simultaneously the world’s holiest and most polluted body of water. Rather than seeing water as a purifying element to be used and thrown away, it must be understood to be as precious as life itself.

Brook and Gaurav Bhagat are writers and independent filmmakers based in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India.

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