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The Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh

Report on Ecology of Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh, India

DELHI, INDIA – The Himalayan range is one of the most spectacular wonders of India. In recent years, the Himalayas have become the focus of much environmental concern. In terms of bio-diversity, the Kanawar wildlife sanctuary located in Parvati valley of Kullu district is worthy of close attention.

Kullu Valley, popularly known as the ” Dev bhumi” is host to diverse flora and fauna found in a number of National Parks and sanctuaries. A metal road from Bhunter, where Parvati River merges into Beas River, leads into the Parvati valley. The Parvati River runs through the valley. The valley holds many small and big villages on both sides. Most of the population is concentrated on the northern part of the valley. The number of houses per village varies from five to sixty. The villages have their own traditions and customs. The prime occupation of the villagers is agriculture and livestock rearing. Electricity reaches even the remotest of villages.

There are numerous gods worshipped in the valley. Every village has its own god associated with their village and have sacred places around the village. The temples are beautifully built and rituals are performed regularly. Strict rules are maintained for entering the temples. Carving is very common in the temples and many temples also have horns decorated on outer walls. The belief is so strong that even the high passes in the mountains have small worship places. One of the popular tourist and pilgrimage places is Manikaran, known for its Hot Springs. This beautiful valley is becoming more and more popular with tourists.

Villagers of Beas River Valley

I have frequented the Kanawar wildlife sanctuary since 1990.The forests are shrinking at a very fast pace and the human settlements adjoining the sanctuary are expanding at a considerable rate. Thus, demanding more and more sacrifice from the forests and the wildlife. People living in the vicinity of Beas River have already witnessed the consequences of deforestation in the form of landslides. Parvati valley is also heading in the same direction.

This report attempts to provide a brief overview of some aspects of the ecological crisis from the point of view of a traveler vis-à-vis my hands-on experiences of the same. I studied the landscape, spoke to villagers and officials. However this is in no way a complete research on the aspects of conservation. I am neither a professional writer, nor a professional social scientist.

This report has the following sections:

Fundamental Ecology

Human interests and wildlife

Threatened species

Recommendations

Fundamental Ecology

Much has been said than done on the detrimental effects of modern civilization on the environment. More so while referring to the effect on the wildlife. The threat to the country’s national parks and sanctuaries continues unabated. Human greed backed by an unabated pressure of human population is taking its toll on the green reserves of the country at an astonishing pace.

The Kanawar wildlife sanctuary is home to a host of many endangered plants and animals like the Serow, the Himalayan Tahr, the Chir Pheasant, the Musk Deer and the Western Tragopan, which has been listed in the Red Data Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In fact the Western Tragopan is limited to the Western Himalayas and the GHNP is one of the two National Parks in the world that supports the bird.

Human interests and wildlife

Endangered species protection efforts in the field are severely hampered by the high profitability of illegal wildlife trade. Consumption of endangered species products has become prevalent in India and many other countries, where greater affluence and buying power have not been matched by greater consumer awareness of the consequences of illegal wildlife trade.

An explosion of human population with intense human activities has had
far reaching effects on wildlife. Extensive deforestation resulting in
habitat destruction supported with indiscriminate hunting of birds and
animals has threatened many species with their existence. It is evident that messages of conservation are yet to reach the interior parts of Himachal Pradesh.

Deforestation is again posing a serious threat to both flora and fauna in the Parvati valley. It is not uncommon to hear the sound of an axe striking a tree in the forests. The past decade has seen a large amount of deforestation, which definitely is a cause of concern. As the population is growing, the need for construction has increased manyfold. The timber required for the same is derived from the forests. This has led to massive deforestation. The villages directly depend upon the forest for fuel, timber, herb collection, charcoal and livestock grazing.

One can find numerous trees which have been burnt. The tree is burnt to get charcoal. Often the burnt tree is left unattended during the night. This could be one major reason for forest fires. Apart from this, number of trees bear deep scars, which are made to extract gum. There are variety of plants and herbs, which are of great value. These are generally used for their medicinal values. Unfortunately the collection of these plants and herbs is done extensively, which reduces the rate at which they multiply.

Another reason for the clearing of forest area is the need of land for the cultivation of poppy plants popularly known as “charas”. The fear of authorities lead the cultivators of this plant to grow it in the denser parts of the forest and at a higher altitude. A well-camouflaged clearing is made amongst the refuge of the dense trees. Poppies require less investment and care than other crops, but at the same time it yields high profits which lure more and more people into it. The wild inhabitants and the forests pay the heavy price instead.

On one side of the river lies the famous village “Malana”. This is one of the oldest settlements in India. The ancestors of the village are believed to be the soldiers of Alexander’s army who fled and settled in the mountains. The charas cultivated in this area is considered to be of a very high quality. It is very common to see the drug abusers, which are of foreign origin mostly, setting up in the area. It is high time the authorities take immediate steps to bring this business to an end, which is directly and indirectly contributing in destroying the flora and fauna of the valley.

Over the last ten years Kasol has been commercialized into a small township. Back in the early 90s Kasol was a small village bearing few houses. Today numerous houses, hotels and restaurants have sprung up in the region. As the human concentration has multiplied, the road traffic has increased drastically. Both are effecting the ecology of the area.

Adding further fuel to the conservation problems in the Parvati valley is the construction of two power projects on the Parvati River. Malana Nala project, which is being, built about a few kilometers downstream from Manikaran on the Parvati River has resulted in major deforestation. Massive pipelines have been laid through which the water from the Malana Nala will be diverted into Parvati River. A road has been built after clearing the area, which was once a dense cover for the wild inhabitants.

A few kilometers upstream from this project, is another Hydel power project. Few years ago there was only a small trek route connecting the villages with the road head at Manikaran. As years passed, the forests gave way to a metal road on this route. Heavy traffic uses this road to transport the equipment required for the construction. Again large scale clearing was done to accommodate the project. Earlier this area had less human presence, making it a perfect home for wild inhabitants. In the early nineties, this stretch was abundant with species of birds and small animals like Red Fox, Civets etc. The call of the nature has turned into vehicle horns and running of heavy machinery. As the project progresses, the forest and its inhabitants are bound to reduce.

Threatened Species:

Snow leopard, Leopard, Himalayan black bear, Himalayan brown bear, Himalayan red fox, civets, jackals, serow, Himalayan tahr, Musk deer, goral, blue sheep, Monal, Koklass, Kalij and western tragopan are amongst the many species inhabiting the forests of the valley.

The most threatened species is the elusive Snow leopard. It is a very shy animal and an inhabitant of remote habitats. It is a strictly protected animal but still falls prey to poachers for its coat. It preys on wild sheep and goat, which share the habitat, and sometimes on domestic livestock, which leads to a clash with humans.

Though there are many existing conservation programs to save the Snow leopard, the threat is strong as ever. It is evident from the fact that their population is fast decreasing. Major campaigns have to be launched in this regard to help save the extinction of the snow leopard.

The villagers who share the habitat with this magnificent cat should be compensated for the loss of their livestock caused by the snow leopard. They generally complain about the unreasonably meager amount of compensation and the long process to get it. Compensating them reasonably would discourage them from avenging the deaths of their livestock. Their involvement should be emphasized in helping save the snow leopard. Organizing campaigns for generating awareness amongst the locals, making them understand the need to save the Snow Leopard and the ways they can co-exist with it.

I learnt from a villager the way Snow Leopards are sometimes trapped. The livestock in mountains are generally kept in the ground floor rooms where as the owners live on the first floor. Often there is a vent on the roof of the ground floor. The predator enters the area where the livestock is kept and makes the kill. While it is suffocating the its prey, the vent is opened and a folk shaped long and strong stick is used to pin the cat to the ground from its neck and then the room is stormed with laths and other weapons. Similar accounts were narrated to me in Ladakh and Garwal to capture or kill the leopard.

Himachal pradesh was once abundant with bears, both brown and Himalayan black bear. There is a serious threat to both these species. The former is lesser in number than its cousin which prefers the lower heights near the tree line. The Himalayan black and brown bear are omnivorous. It is a very intelligent animal. It avoids humans. On hearing human voices, it moves away minimizing chances of confrontation. But on a surprised confrontation with human, it generally attacks and the injuries are normally fatal.

I recall an incident narrated by a local residing in a village adjoining the park, about the fellow villager. This person was walking on a pugdundee, local name for pack-track, on the hillside. On a blind turn, he came face to face with a Black bear. On being surprised, the bear attacked him, clawing him all over his body. He fell to the ground and played dead. Fortunately, he fell besides a rock. The bear dug his claws on his face trying to open his eyes to see life in him. Then the bear covered him with heavy branches and left. Returning a few times to confirm his death, it finally left. The rock prevented the weight of branches from falling on the man. Severely wounded the man made it to his village from where he was taken to the hospital. Fortunately he survived.

Himalayan profile
(photo courtesy of Nasa)

On two of my treks, I was surprised to see the gaddis, the local nomads, carrying single barrel rifles. On questioning, he promptly said that it was for his livestock and crop protection. As the conversation progressed he boasted of killing more than a dozen bears and leopards. I learnt that there is a good market for bears and leopards. The liver of the bear fetches good price apart from rest of the parts. And of course, the leopard skin is in great demand along with its bones in Southeast Asia.

Another reason for the decline of bears is due to their crop raiding during the harvest season. Bears often raid corn and maize farms when the crop is ready to harvest. This brings them in conflict with farmers of whom most are equipped with guns. They fall prey to the bullets. It is possible that these guns are also used for poaching. There should be frequent monitoring of the population of bears and leopards as their number is decreasing. Security in the sanctuary should be made more efficient as to check the poaching activities and the people carrying firearms and the documents of their possession.

There is a large variety of wild sheep and goats occupying the Himalayan Mountains. They adjust very well with climate and the terrain. Their strong footing helps them reach food at vertical slopes of the mountain. Bharal, Musk deer, Tahr, Seerow, Goral and Himalayan goat are inhabitants of the Parvati valley. One can find large herds, grazing in the interiors of the forests and the cliffs.

Initially, their own magnificent head bearing the horns along with their natural preys were responsible for their diminishing number. The horns are a priced possession of villages. Most of the temples are decorated with these horns. Handicraft manufacturers are also somewhat responsible for their decline. The horns and bones as well are used in making handles, pistol butts, curios etc.

The most wanted of these species is the
musk deer. The population of musk deer is fast decreasing in the Himalayas. It is sought for its musk. Poaching is mainly responsible for their declining number. The musk is readily available in almost every part of India. It is not hard to see people selling it in trains, buses and tourist places. It is very sad to know that the musk deer is killed for its musk, which is sold at a mere price of a few hundred.

Nowadays these herbivores come in competition with the nomad’s livestock. The livestock of the nomads invade the “thatches”, pasturelands, which are feeding grounds of the goats and sheep. Often these are chased away by the nomad’s dogs that accompany the livestock. There is a lot of human interference in their habitat. Often the people who collect herbs and plants frequent the cliffs on which these species move around. This scares them away thus depriving them of their essential freedom.

Parvati valley is also host to variety of bird species. It is a paradise for bird watchers. The best time for this hobby is early mornings and late afternoons. The birds pay regular visits to the streams.

Long tailed minivet, verditer flycatcher, common hoopoe, ring rosed parakeet, black kite, variety of thrushes, tits, warblers, and yellow billed blue magpie are a few of the common birds in the valley .The birds of prey normally seen in the valley are Common Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Lammergier, Cinerous Vulture and Golden Eagle, although the sightings of both Golden Eagle and Cinerous vulture have become less now days. During my visits till mid nineties the Golden Eagle were a seen commonly perching on cliffs. But in the later half the sightings reduced to the extent that I did not see a single Golden eagle in two consecutive years. (1997-98).

Among the pheasants, Monal, Koklas, Cheer, Kalij are found in the denser part of the forests. A lucky few may also have a glimpse of the Western Tragopan. One can hear the pheasants calling at daybreak. Western Tragopan which is a highly threatened bird species is found in some parts Kanawar wildlife sanctuary along with the Great Himalayan National park which lies to the south of Kanawar sanctuary. There has been a drastic decrease in the population of this pheasant. There is an urgent need to protect them from disappearing. Monal, which might face the fate of Western Tragopan, is the state bird of Himachal Pradesh. The pre-mating dancing ritual performed by male Monals to attract the females is a treat to the eyes.

Earlier, the pheasants were sorted for their meat and crests. In traditional functions, it is easy to see people wearing the crests on their hats. Though the practice has reduced now. But the killing of the bird for meat might be going unnoticed because birds are small and easy to conceal. The picture shows locals wearing Monal crest and feathers on their hat.

Presently the construction of the Dam in the Parvati valley is bound to effect the population of the pheasants. The blasting done to make tunnels for the project on the same mountains which has a good population of pheasants will scare them. The mating will be disturbed due to much activity in the area. Thus resulting in further decline in their population. At the end of this project we may realize that we have lost much than gained. The Hydel power project is not only effecting birds but also the whole biological diversity of the valley.

Some suggestions and recommendations:

Respect for wildlife habitat: Several activities (agriculture, dams, roads, etc.) cause destruction of forests, with serious impacts on wildlife. There is an urgent need to understand such impacts, and to avoid interference in the most critical wildlife habitats. Legal and social monitoring may ensure that human activity is not causing loss of biological diversity of the valley.

Poaching: The poachers have a big stake in killing wild animals and pheasants such as musk deer for musk, bear for liver, fats and pelt, and pheasants for crest and meat due to their commercial value. Crop protection guns issued to the villagers contribute to poaching activities in the area. Undercover investigation to gather information on illegal wildlife trade is required to expose wildlife dealers and help in disintegrating the wildlife trade network.

Commercial Threats: Activities such as power generation, dams, roads, tourism and encroachments of forestlands due to farming, are the greatest threats to ecology of the Parvati valley. Rights in relation to extraction of forest products should be limited. Though activities of development, these are a threat to ecological areas, and also threaten local community livelihoods, It is noticed that urban and modern lifestyles and consumerism are a major factor in the above threats.

Tourism: Tourism in wildlife habitats should be environmentally and culturally discouraged, otherwise it will remain a major threat. To ensure this, a strict code of conduct should be formulated and enforced. Commercial activities other than those by the locals should be discouraged and tourist zones should be demarcated.

Old laws: Considering the fragility of the ecosystem of the valley archaic laws which date back to as early as to India’s pre-independence period should be analyzed and appropriately amended. These should take into account unnoticed poaching activities and devise a system to create legal checks not only by the allocated workforce but also by volunteers from the local populace. Adding sensitive areas under protected area status to stop anti-biological activities will help in protecting the wildlife. The rights of the locals should be well defined so as to reach a balance between their needs and wildlife habitat.

Conservation Awareness: There is an urgent need for creating awareness and raising information levels on ecological and conservation issues. There should be frequent wildlife survival discussions with locals. Educational programs that promote awareness and changes in attitude towards wildlife through the medium of television, slide shows, street plays and pamphlets will go a long way in creating awareness in the locals. Alternative employment opportunities should be created for communities depending on wildlife for economic interests.

Local involvement. Involving local people living in and around the sanctuary in conservation programs and making them realize the importance of saving the wildlife. These people are aware of the local people involved in poaching activities. Small groups in the villages to check such activities can be formed to further propagate the cause of conservation. Incentives should be given to people giving information about poaching and other activities like felling of trees etc. Involvement of locals is a must to suppress anti poaching activities, identifying the offenders and bringing them to book.

Flag of India
Flag of India

Government Initiative: It’s often a case of too little too late. The government usually will not react until a species is severely threatened. The government has to be proactive in terms of conserving the flora and fauna of the state. The bio-diversity of the state has suffered immensely due to lack of interest shown by the government. The government gives preference to developmental activities at the cost of wildlife. It should give wildlife its due share of respect and further help in conserving them by providing advance training and latest techniques to the forest department. It is noted that the number of guards in the forests is very few which should be increased. It should ensure proper utilization of funds for the same and ensure that the laws are not confined to the book.

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Hydrogen Fuel Cell Cars

In the western corner of West Sacramento, in a promontory of light industrial buildings that runs along the south frontage of Interstate 80, is the home of the California Fuel Cell Partnership. They are a depot for most of the hydrogen fuel cell powered cars in North America. In a new building on Industrial Boulevard, are spaces for auto makers and other partners from all over the world. When we visited last week, in front of the building the flags of eight nations snapped in the Pacific breeze, and across the street the vast floodplains of the Sacramento Delta stretched away to the south.

Although the facility opened up on November 1st, most of the suites are still vacant. Only Daimler-Chrysler and Honda actually have cars and crews on site. According to Linda Ortiz, the office manager, the California Fuel Cell Partnership has eighteen partners, they are auto manufacturers, energy and fuel providers fuel cell companies and governmental agencies.

There are eight suites for auto manufacturers, two of them occupied already by Daimler-Chrysler and Honda, as well as vacant ones for Volkswagon, Ford, Nissan, Hyundai, Toyota, and General Motors. Cars delivered here will be demonstrated from this site and will be open to the public. The cars won’t stay there all the time, they’ll be moved around on a regular basis to go to shows and events around the US and around the world.

So where are these cars? We headed into the back of the property, where the bays for the auto makers faced onto a back lot that looked out onto the freeway. On our way, we ran into the Chief Engineer for Honda, Shiro Matsuo, standing in the parking lot behind the building, watching for incoming cars while his team tested a fuel cell car. The car was doing laps across the length of the back lot.

We asked him what the car was doing, going in circles around the lot, and his answer indicates the cars are still very much in a development stage, “This fuel cell is not very good at lower temperatures, so we do not want to start the fuel cell system on a public road.” The car in question, Honda’s V-3, is one of the most advanced hydrogen fuel cell cars in the world, but it can not run on the open road before being warmed up for at least 5 minutes. So much for a quick start.

Honda’s other models of fuel cell cars are the V-1, which uses a metal hydride fuel tank, and the V-2, which runs on methanol using a reforming device to convert the methanol to hydrogen. The systems on these cars are so big, particularly the reformer on the methanol car, that both versions are only able to have two seats. Matsuo mentioned that California is building another depot, probably in the Bay Area, that will house new cars that use reformer technologies, such as Honda’s V-2.

Honda Concept Car
Shiro Matsuo
Chief Engineer, Honda

From a technological standpoint, methanol cars are further from being ready for the road than hydrogen cars because of the weight added by the reforming system. But there are technical obstacles to be overcome before hydrogen cars will be seen on the roads. In addition to the problem of slow warm-up, hydrogen fuel cell cars have a short range. Honda’s V-3 only has a range of 110 miles, a defect which can only be partially offset by designing a larger hydrogen tank into the car, since a bigger tank adds weight and takes up more space. A higher efficiency vehicle is still in development and won’t be ready for another year. Moreover, progress is incremental, so next year’s model will not be a breakthrough, just an improvement.

When asked about diesel cars, Matsuo had definite opinions, since it turned out he had a background in diesel engineering. His comments were interesting: “The efficiency of the diesel engine is very good, but the bad point is that it can’t get rid of some of the pollutant material, especially the particulate matter. The newest carburators produce precise high pressure injection into the cylinder which greatly increases combustion.”

Like others we talked with that day, Matsuo’s comments reflected a perception that the U.S. market, and California in particular, is more committed to zero-emissions than the rest of the world. When asked how close the new diesel cars have come to complying with ultra-low emissions standards, Matsuo wasn’t sure. He said “there are new catalysers being developed to absorb more particulate matter, it’s getting better year by year.”

Hydrogen Fuel Station
Hydrogen Fuel Station
West Sacramento
California USA

Toxins from methanol leak into the soil from bad tanks and accidental spills, particles from diesels foul the air, even methanol reformers emit some pollution, about 20% of what a typical gasoline automobile produces. Nothing is perfect, except hydrogen, which can be made from electricity and water and can be produced in limitless quantities using nothing more than solar energy and water. If hydrogen burns, it leaves no trace in the air, except for a bit of water vapor.

This pristine appeal to environmentalists, combined with the fact that fuel cells really aren’t technologically ready to power a car on any fuel but hydrogen, is why California built this facility before any others and why the major auto makers of the world are trying to make sure they keep their foot in the door. Opposite the back parking lot, just in front of the wire fence that separated us from the whizzing eastbound traffic on I-80, was a giant hydrogen fuel station. Hydrogen is stored under great pressure, 3600 and 5000 PSI in the big tanks, 7000 PSI in the smaller distribution tanks.

Hydrogen may be ecologically and technologically the logical fuel right now for fuel cell cars, but there is no consumer distribution system in place. While methanol, a liquid, can be piped, trucked and stored in the existing network for gasoline with minor conversion costs, hydrogen will require an entire new fuel distribution infrastructure. Partly for this reason, fuel cell vehicles even in California, where government subsidies and regulations are the most favorable to fuel cell development in the world, fuel cell vehicles are not expected to be on the road in significant numbers until 2004. Even by that time, most of them will be in commercial and government fleet use, where they will have a hydrogen station on site. Don’t expect to see hydrogen stations on the freeway off ramps for the next several years, if ever.

But hydrogen retains its appeal, and the prospect of gas stations that require no fuel deliveries, just solar electricity and water to convert to hydrogen to recharge their storage tanks, is a seductive vision. On vehicles that can be refueled often or have low range requirements, setting up a fleet that would run on fuel produced in limitless quantities at an on-site station will probably be a competitive economic investment within five years or sooner. Fleets of buses, which can tolerate a bulky power system, will probably be one of the first places hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be strongly competitive. As Matsuo said, “in the long run, fuel cell vehicles will gain a percentage of the market but I don’t know if they will ever dominate.”

What will be the next generation car? Diesels, hybrids, or ultra-efficient & ultra-clean gasoline or methanol powered cars using combustion engines? The answer is all of the above. Will one type dominate? The correct answer to that question will make a lot of people rich, but it’s probably safe to bet it will not be fuel cell vehicles that dominate. What about hydrogen combustion engines, since they burn so clean?

We talked with Richard Tuso, an Electrical Technician at Daimler-Chrysler. He reiterated that the fuel cell vehicle is preferred because it “does a molecular conversion of hydrogen to electricity which causes zero emissions to the atmosphere.” He noted that methanol vehicles use a reformer which catalyses the methanol to separate the hydrocarbon from the hydrogen, but the reformer puts out emissions that are still at about 20% of an internal combustion engine. Richard acknowledged that “Methanol is easier for the fuel infrastructure, but where we’re heading for in the long run is zero emissions, not low emissions.”

When asked about the possible dangers of distributing and stockpiling huge amounts of hydrogen, which is highly pressurized and explosive, Tuso downplayed the dangers. Most of the supposed problems with hydrogen are based on a public perception that it is much more dangerous that it really is. “The perception is evident when you take into account the precautions we take here,” said Tuso. “The fueling station we built here cost five times what a comparable station cost in Germany. We have hydrogen alarms and air ventilation systems that are constantly running.”

In reality, said Tuso, “The only real problem is the pressure that’s involved, and that’s not a problem with proper tanking systems.” He showed us pictures of cars that had been dropped from 45′, then from 90′, and in all these test cases the hydrogen tank did not explode, in spite of being under pressure. Moreover, he said, “the tanks are designed to blow up, not out. If, for example, that tank back there exploded,” said Tuso, referring to the hydrogen station in the lot behind the building, “90% of the debris would fall within the fence around it.”

The danger from accidental hydrogen fires was even less of a problem, according to Tuso, because “Hydrogen is a very clean fuel, it would ignite easier than gasoline, but the likelihood of it igniting is still slim. If it did ignite, the flame doesn’t put out much heat. Gasoline fires usually consume the whole car.” He cited tests where hydrogen gas tanks were exploded and ignited, and invariably the flame went upwards and didn’t burn very hot. The back windows, for example, would not typically be damaged in a hydrogen tank fire, whereas in a gasoline tank fire, the back windows usually melt.

Notwithstanding the cost of building an entire fuel infrastructure for hydrogen, the biggest problem hydrogen fuel has may end up being a public perception that it is too dangerous to handle. “People here think of the Hindenberg and Hydrogen bombs,” said Tuso, “Some people think we have a hydrogen bomb back here.”

We left that day not sure whether or not we’d found the car of the future. Hydrogen fuel cell powered cars will be part of the market, but they probably won’t sit in everyone’s garages, owning the car market the way gasoline powered cars do today. Hybrids have better range and overall performance, and they’re already cheap to manufacture. Expect to see more of them in the near future. What will emerge in the long run is anybody’s guess. Outside the U.S., cleaner burning cars using conventional fuels such as diesel and gasoline will probably stay on top of the market. How clean can they get? How clean is clean enough? Stay tuned.

California Fuel Cell Partnership
3300 Industrial Blvd., Suite 1000,
West
Sacramento, CA 95691.
916-371-2453

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Earth Market Watch

Compared to the worldwide value of commodities, stocks are nothing. Consider the underutilized “Earth Market,” the trading of values which in aggregate are as vast as the earth itself. Consider tradeable rights to emit pollution, to mine ore, to take stocks of fisheries; financial futures pegged to the value of specific forests, forest index futures, forest derivatives. The Earth Market is an unstoppable force. Growing the Earth Market could become a very bright interpretation of capitalism. Enlightened financial killings are to be made, as technology makes production more and more pollution free, and permits to pollute are bought up by conservation groups. Within 20 years there would be no pollution, no overfishing, no overharvesting. Is this just a dream of some right-wing environmentalist?

The danger in the dream is that its implementation could be just as totalitarian as the leftist alternative. Imagine what it might take to make global emissions trading work in the real world. A supra-national government agency would be necessary to verify trades, set parameters, police against abuse. The Earth Market is real, but best allowed to grow by simply evolving. Otherwise the extremes meet. Right is Left.

In WorldWatch Magazine’s November 1998 issue, there is an article entitled “Last Tango In Buenos Aires,” which describes slow progress made (or is it evolution?) at the last world conference on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The conference veered into more general topics such as reducing all greenhouse emissions, as well as discussions of possible global emissions trading schemes. In true evolutionary fashion, we dance around the edges of the idea. The Earth Market awakens.

Commodities such as forests generate real value simply by growing. Owners of forests can earn dividends simply by selling select trees from sections of their forests at a sustainable rate. Access to information and instantaneous low-cost fund transfers via the internet allow ownership in ecologically correct “EC” projects to disperse, allowing much more capital (in smaller increments!) to identify and focus on the investments that work. According to the green-consumer advocacy group Co-op America, already over 25% of American consumers are earth conscious consumers, looking for the “EC” deal.

While electric cars aren’t economical yet (if even ecologically correct, when one assesses the impact of dead batteries and new generating plants), hybrid vehicles are another story. They get incredible gas mileage, up to 100 mpg, and hybrid vehicles, which use a small internal combustion engine along with a electric motor / electric generator system, don’t pollute, and they don’t cost much anymore. They’re already a hit in Japan. Buses using hybrid propulsion systems ought to be getting built and sent to Tegucigalpa, and elsewhere in the rebuilding after Hurricane Mitch.

In Honduras and elsewhere in Central America, the recent hurricane was so fierce that in vast areas even the topsoil was blown away. Not many millions, but many billions of trees are necessary to stabilize an area as vast as an entire country, even if it is only 30,000 square miles or so. Huge percentages of trees don’t survive their first year, and in the harsh landscape of storm-scoured ground, the first generation of replacement trees will be stunted, requiring higher than normal densities of mature trees.

Why shouldn’t an Earth Market exist for tradeable futures in Honduran forests? This approach can open a whole new area of environmentally conscious investing, and a whole new way of financing new forests. Charitable environmental groups might actually purchase covenants on the forest holdings, allowing them to limit the density of harvests and the areas harvested, pushing up the value of the remaining lumber.

The Earth Market can emerge without necessarily requiring a whole new layer of global eco-cop world government power. Around the world, the Earth Market can emerge in the wake of technology’s direct effects; increased education, increased integration, increased liberation, increased communication. The Earth Market can evolve harmoniously into prominent existence, unpredictable and unstoppable, sidestepping tyranny. The sooner it arrives, the more we will save, and the richer our world will be.

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The Earth Market

Compared to the worldwide value of commodities, stocks are nothing. Consider the underutilized “Earth Market,” the trading of values which in aggregate are as vast as the earth itself. Consider tradeable rights to emit pollution, to mine ore, to take stocks of fisheries; financial futures pegged to the value of specific forests, forest index futures, forest derivatives. The Earth Market is an unstoppable force. Growing the Earth Market could become a very a bright interpretation of capitalism. Enlightened financial killings are to be made, as technology makes production more and more pollution free, and permits to pollute are bought up by conservation groups. Within 20 years there would be no pollution, no overfishing, no overharvesting. Is this just a dream of some right-wing environmentalist?

The danger in the dream is that its implementation could be just as totalitarian as the leftist alternative. Imagine what it might take to make global emissions trading work in the real world. A supra-national government agency would be necessary to verify trades, set parameters, police against abuse. The Earth Market is real, but it will best allowed to grow by simply evolving. Otherwise the extremes meet. Right is Left.

In WorldWatch Magazine´s November 1998 issue, there is an article entitled “Last Tango In Buenos Aires,” which describes slow progress made (or is it evolution?) at the last world conference on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The conference veered into more general topics such as reducing all greenhouse emissions, as well as discussions of possible global emissions trading schemes. In true evolutionary fashion, we dance around the edges of the idea. The Earth Market awakens.

Here, let´s get started. I will purchase 100 redwood trees (that´s sequoia sempervirons) for up to $.40 per tree by March 31st, 1999. There! We´ve just started the roaring bull market in commodities. The Earth Market grows.

Grandiose? No. Commodities such as forests generate real value simply by growing. Owners of forests can earn dividends simply by selling select trees from sections of their forests at a sustainable rate. Access to information and instantaneous low-cost fund transfers via the internet allows ownership in ecologically correct “EC” projects to disperse, allowing much more capital (in smaller increments!) to identify and focus on the investments that work. According to the green-consumer advocacy group Co-op America, already over 25% of American consumers are earth conscious consumers, looking for the “EC” deal.

Electric cars really aren´t economical yet (if even ecologically correct, when one assesses the impact of dead batteries and new generating plants), but hybrid vehicles are another story. They get incredible gas mileage, up to 100 mpg already, and hybrid vehicles, which use a small internal combustion engine along with a electric motor / electric generator system, don´t pollute, and they don´t cost much anymore. They´re already a hit in Japan. Buses using hybrid propulsion systems ought to be getting built and sent to Tegucigalpa, and elsewhere in the restocking and rebuilding after Hurricane Mitch.

In Honduras and elsewhere in Central America, the recent hurricane was so fierce that in vast areas even the topsoil was blown away. Not many millions, but many billions of trees are necessary to stabilize an area as vast as an entire country, even if it is only 30,000 square miles or so. Huge percentages of trees don´t survive their first year, and in the harsh landscape of storm-scoured ground, the first generation of replacement trees will be stunted, requiring higher than normal densities of mature trees.

Why shouldn´t an Earth Market exist for tradeable futures in Honduran forests? This approach can open a whole new area of environmentally conscious investing, and a whole new way of financing new forests. Charitable environmental groups might actually purchase covenants on the forest holdings, allowing them to limit the density of harvests and the areas harvested, pushing up the value of the remaining lumber. Agro-forestry farms would thrive in such a region. Trees, Water & People would benefit.

The Earth Market can emerge without necessarily requiring a whole new layer of global eco-cop world government power. Around the world, the Earth Market can emerge in the wake of technology´s direct effects; increased education, increased integration, increased liberation, increased communication. The Earth Market can evolve harmoniously into prominent existence, unpredictable and unstoppable, sidestepping tyranny. The sooner it arrives, the more we will save, and the richer our world will be.

Posted in Buses, Business & Economics, Cars, Conservation, Education, Effects Of Air Pollution, People, Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

Weedy Species

Paleontology. A sense of cyclicity, a hyperopic perspective. A perspective from which to speculate about mass extinctions. Side by side with the long boom, the mass extinction? There have been plenty of mass extinctions before, at least half a dozen big ones in the last 600 million years, where anywhere from one-third to nearly all of the earth’s then existing species were lost.

What makes species become extinct? Five key factors: (1) habitat destruction, (2) habitat fragmentation, (3) overkill, i.e., over-hunting and over-harvesting, (4) invasive species, and (5) cascading effects. Of these, invasive species appears poised to be the biggest contributor to the imminent a die-out of somewhere between 35% and 95% of the earth’s current biological diversity.

Why are invasive species, weedy species, taking over the ecosystems of the planet, and killing everything in their path? It´s not a result of the information age, but rather because of an earlier revolution, the transportation revolution. With inter-ocean trade via ship, and now via air, species are deliberately and unintentionally being deposited from every corner to every corner of the planet.

Weedy species share the following characteristics (1) they reproduce quickly, (2) disperse widely, (3) tolerate a broad range of habitats, (4) resist eradication. Where these species become established, they kill off native species, monopolizing the ecosystem. They thrive in human dominated terrains. Wherever they go, they tend to survive and then they crowd out native species.

The October 1998 issue of Harper´s Magazine has an excellent, though dark toned, article entitled “Planet of Weeds, Tallying the Losses of Earth´s Animals and Plants,” by David Quammen. Much of the above information came from that article. But of what use was the dark tone? Why not hedge every dark assessment of our global environmental prospect with constructive ideas? What can we do?

Though to say so is to risk being branded a luddite, a malthusian, a gloom & doomer, and worse, the weediest species the earth has ever seen is homosapiens. We reproduce quickly, disperse widely, are extremely adaptable, and tend to survive the exigencies of nature quite well, wherever we settle.

All the primary causes of species extinction, destruction of habitat, fragmentation of habitat, over-hunting and over-harvesting, are due to an expanding human population. Even though in the developed nations populations are now stable, because of barely checked growth rates in the rest of the world the total human population is going to nearly double in the next fifty years, to around 11 billion, before leveling off.

Barring a true catastrophe, such as being hit by an asteroid ten kilometers in diameter, or a real live version of the Andromeda Strain, most of the human race will survive.

What quality of life will the human race experience, and what quality of global ecosystem will the human race inhabit? Those are the questions we must ask ourselves about the period one or two centuries from now – a mere heartbeat in the history of our species, but easily the most profound and abrupt shift ever in our collective circumstances.

Constructive ideas should include new ideas. New ideas should allow new freedoms. Human technology has conquered nature at last. The set of traits most important for human survival and prosperity has been suddenly rearranged. With the strength needed for the hunt less important now than the ability to manipulate symbolic logic, it is only logical that the human female will ascend to a position of equity in human society. To put it mildly, our society doesn’t require physical strength in the measure it once did. The more developed a society is technologically, the more this becomes the case.

Consequently, nothing will advance the wealth of developing nations, and slow their population growth, nearly as effectively as helping to speed the emancipation of women. Their education, their equal access to opportunity; the empowerment of women. Needless to say, this phenomenon, though not as speedy as some would like, is inescapable and ineluctable, and is encountering some vehement resistance.

Imagine our planet one century from now, full of organic farms, new forests with billions of trees, clean, fresh water, and fewer people. Perhaps the New Age Californians are right, a “shift” is occuring, as the feminine principal ascends. Solar homes, hydrogen buses, sustainable societies. The feminine principal can help bring our technology back into harmony with nature.

Maybe one can conclude, Spocklike, that we are simply experiencing a predictable transition period, one that would affect any species like ours, living on an M-class planet. Barring star travel (which has its own pitfalls, such as Borg, the weediest species imaginable), here and now, this epic, these next fifty years, is where we define our biological endowment for the next thousand millenia.

Is this all overwrought gobbledegoop? Paleo-babble? Arcane trekkie aphorisms? Of course, but the question remains: Are we to be the weediest species of all? Living on a planet of weeds? Or will we celebrate ecological diversity, instead, in the year twenty-five twenty-five.

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Posted in Animals, Buses, Causes, Education, Effects Of Air Pollution, Hydrogen, Ideas, Humanities, & Education, Nature & Ecosystems, Population Growth, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Transportation0 Comments

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