Archive | Walking

EnviroGLAS-Walking on Glass

You look through it, drink out of it, watch television with its reflection-glass is everywhere. The uses are almost endless. Glass has existed since the beginning of time, where natural intense heat created by volcanic eruptions, meteors and lightning strikes transformed certain rock into this shiny smooth material. The earliest glass (non-translucent) dates back to around 3000BC. It is thought that Egyptians accidentally came across the craft when calciferous sand found its way into kilns and formed a glass glaze on the ceramics fired inside.

Glass was mainly used for decorative purposes at first, but it has come a long way since then. Every home and office is going to contain glass in one form or another – lamps, televisions and mirrors are all nonfunctional without the material. With so many items made from glass, however, it makes one wonder what happens to these things when they are no longer useful? 7% of household waste is glass and not all of it gets recycled. In 2001, over 2.5 million tonnes of glass was land-filled. This is unfortunate, as glass can be recycled indefinitely – its simple structure is not damaged when reprocessed.

Certain eco-friendly companies have invested in excess glass, taking advantage of its beauty and various functionalities. EnviroGLAS converts glass destined to be land-filled into gorgeous flooring, kitchen slabs and even incorporates the glass into landscapes.

“It was in 2002 that a glut of old glass bottles, mirrors and windows became the source for this chic green twist to the classic flooring concept. Publicity in July about the Texas city of Plano’s overabundance of crushed recycled glass inspired the creative solution of combining the multi-colored crystals with epoxy resin to create recycled glass Terrazzo.” (http://www.enviroglasproducts.com/about.asp)

Walking on floors designed by EnviroGLAS is a mesmerizing process, as bits of mirrors and colorful glass shimmer underneath your feet. There are dozens of colors to choose from and interested buyers can customize the mixture of glass to suit their taste. These color combinations are endless.

One concern is that these glass floors are fragile. This is definitely not the case. The website explains that “EnviroTRAZ recycled glass [and porcelain Terrazzo] will last the lifetime of your building, and most terrazzo floors last at least 40 years without needing refinishing. DFW Airport, Parkland Hospital, Dallas Baptist University and the City of Dallas’ Hensley Field Operations Center are four of the latest North Texas community landmarks to install this environmentally friendly flooring.”

Another benefit is that the seamless quality of the finished product is easy to keep clean. There are no nooks and crannies for mold or mildew to grow while the inert properties of the glass provide excellent air quality.

With maintenance costs almost nonexistent and endless pattern and color options – who wouldn’t want to walk on glass?

Posted in Office, Television, Walking3 Comments

Vulcan Power Company – Thermal Energy Isn't Just Hot Air

Everyone has heard of solar and wind technology by now. But it does not ordinarily occur to people that they are standing on top of an immense core full of another form of power. It is a privilege to see hot lava slowly oozing its way to the ocean in areas where one can do so safely – such as in Hawaii. Steam rises from the hot crust and the red glow of the molten rock reminds onlookers what may be rolling around only a few meters underneath the cooled crust they are standing on. Lava is the molten rock that has made its way through a weaker area of the earth’s crust, but just 7 miles under our feet – no matter where you are – is where the outer mantle of the earth begins and where temperatures rise to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Geothermal technologies use heat found in some shallower areas where the temperature is much lower and safer to work with – ranging between 100-300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Vulcan Power Company (“Vulcan”) is focused on developing geothermal power plants. According to their website, it is estimated that Vulcan properties will supply sufficient electricity for up to 2 million Americans. Thinking at a larger scale; Geothermal power can provide electricity for 15% of the world’s population!

Geothermal energy comes primarily in the form of heat or steam and is mostly available in the Western part of the U.S, Alaska and Hawaii. There are many benefits to using geothermal power. Vulcan explains this in their website: “When properly developed and monitored, geothermal steam resources are renewable. Cooler fluids exiting power plants are reinjected and reheated in subsurface reservoirs on a sustainable basis. Modern geothermal power projects have minimal impacts on air, land and water ecosystems. Some consider geothermal to be the lowest impact power source. It has much lower environmental impacts than hydro, nuclear, coal, oil or gas fired or windpower plants. Geothermal plants are relatively small in size and have been permitted in national forests and fragile high desert valley environments where other power plants are not allowed.”

The main benefit is that thermal power is clean; No fossil fuels are burned and the carbon dioxide emissions are 1/6th of the cleanest alternative power-plant. Secondly, this resource will not be running out any time soon and is renewable. Finally, it is a local resource and dependence on foreign oil – which also goes hand in hand with frustrating energy price fluctuations – will be a thing of the past. (U.S Department of Energy http://www1.eere.energy.gov/geothermal/faqs.html )

For further information on geothermal technology visit the Department of Energy’s website at http://www1.eere.energy.gov/geothermal/overview.html

The next step would be to figure out how to take advantage of the immense heat emitted directly from the lava. As for right now, we are literally walking on top of an endless amount of “fuel.” The potential for geothermal technology is immense and as stated by Vulcan “Full Steam Ahead!”

Posted in Coal, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Geothermal, Nuclear, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Walking, Wind1 Comment

Taking On "Smart Growth"

Definition: “New Urbanism – the revival of our lost art of place-making, and promotes the creation and restoration of compact, walkable, mixed-use cities.”

It is completely impractical to make everything “walking distance” from everything else. People like cars. The car is the most liberating personal appliance ever invented. The new urbanist war on the car is based on a communalist ideology that completely fails in the real world. From an environmentalist perspective, the war on the car is already obsolete given the car is on the verge of becoming cradle to cradle green.

The utopian notions of the “smart growth” lobby are the reason homes are way too expensive for the average person. The massive expenditures in public amenities necessary to facilitate “smart growth” have created building fees that are now as high as $100K per home. This, combined with the complete (and artificial) lack of available land for building entitlements have restricted the supply of homes and driven prices into the stratosphere.

Understandably, public sector workers have a difficult conflict of interests here – higher property tax revenue means their pensions may remain solvent. But the rest of us pay higher taxes and can’t even afford annual property taxes when we’re old; forget about servicing a mortgage on social security. And we all get crammed into cluster homes, where people are piled on top of one another. There is plenty of land in the US, and open space should not be sacred. When you block suburban growth, you simply stimulate exurban growth.

There is an intrinsic conflict between advocating liberal immigration policies which cause rapid population growth and trying to protect open space. The new urbanist solution is to cram us all into ultra high density urban areas – this approach should be rejected. Either we stablize population via sensible immigration policies, or we allow market driven development onto open space.

There is nothing wrong with high density in the urban core, as long as it is car friendly. What is deplorable is high density on the urban fringe, or in neighborhoods that are preexisting and primarily low density. But the market should be allowed to sort this out, not new urbanist social engineers. Of course people want to live in cool high rises or condominiums or mixed use housing in the urban core. And if people want these types of developments, they should be built. But nobody should have to live in a neighborhood 20 miles from the city center in cluster homes where 20,000 people are packed into each square mile, when half that density would still ensure that very small percentages of open space are urbanized. The higher the density, the more likely there will be no canopy whatsoever among residential structures. They become imperious tree wastelands and heat islands. There is nothing smart about this. The only reason people buy single family dwellings with nonexistant yards is because it’s all they can afford and they want the mortgage interest deduction.

And private property is not a “mantra,” if that implies it has no moral basis and is simply something people repeat mindlessly to themselves without critically examining what they think. Wrong. Private property is a value that, when respected, creates the incentives that make people work hard and accomplish goals in life for themselves and their families. Take that away and you have the Soviet Union. Be careful when you dismiss the value of private property as nothing more than a “mantra.” Be careful what you wish for.

Thanks to new urbanism, restrictive zoning has made all housing less affordable. If someone wants to live in the city, great. But if someone actually likes to live on a nice big lot, they should be able to pay a reasonable price, not some over-inflated price that is only the result of artificially restricted supply. In the Sacramento region of Northern California, an acre of land within the “urban service boundary” may cost some $300K, while land barely across the street outside this arbitrary boundary can cost 1/10th that amount. This is a perversion of the market, that only inflates the price of housing, pricing ordinary people out of home ownership.

Posted in Art, Cars, Homes & Buildings, People, Policies & Solutions, Population Growth, Walking18 Comments

Challenging New Urbanism

Definition: “New Urbanism – the revival of our lost art of place-making, and promotes the creation and restoration of compact, walkable, mixed-use cities.”

On one of www.TreeLink.org’s posts, I noticed the tag “urban forestry is America’s frontline defense against climate change.” I couldn’t agree more.

So how is this statement reconciled with “new urbanism” and “smart growth” that packs people into cluster homes and super high density suburbs where there isn’t room for trees on any private parcels? (read “California’s Land Use Choices”)

As someone active in urban forestry most of my life, I think “smart growth,” “infill,” and the “urban service boundary” is utterly destroying the urban canopy. Has anyone seen trees in these new communities, where “low density” is now defined as eight homes per acre, and cluster housing now goes as high as 20 homes per acre? These are heat island dead zones, not leafy suburbs. Perhaps it is time for urban forestry advocates to also advocate lower density zoning. There’s plenty of land.

CO2 from cars (if not CO2 in general) has little to do with climate change, and in any case cars are becoming green. You can have an enveloping canopy of trees in a low density suburb, but in a cluster home “smart growth” suburb you have no room for a tree canopy to shade the roads and rooftops. It is also incorrect to suggest low density requires increased infrastructure. Actually it is far more expensive to try to re-engineer and upgrade established infrastructure to accomodate high density infill; this along with much improved septic systems that don’t require utility interties (and rooftop solar energy systems) means the low density decentralized model actually generates less infrastructure requirements.

Greenbelts and urban service boundaries cause exurbs, super-leapfrog developments outside the boundary. Because people want yards and cars, all you do when you create a greenbelt is make them move further away and drive more.

The real issue here is communalism, which environmentalists tend to embrace, a value that causes them to set policy agendas not purely on ecological considerations. Force everyone out of their cars, out of their yards, and into expensive public transportation and public parks. These mandates increase the price of housing, which increases property tax revenues into public entities – the hidden agenda. The logical extension of adhering to smart growth rhetoric is to cram everyone into ultra high density cities and depopulate the rural areas. It has little to do with protecting the environment and must be challenged.

As for farmland, there’s plenty of it. Trends in corporate agriculture and the endangered family farm are phenomena quite independent of suburban and exurban development. If zoning laws weren’t so stringent, small farms could more easily coexist among scattered residential neighborhoods – it would be easier. But by letting government agencies and trial lawyers hired by nonprofit organizations have this level of control over land development, instead of property owners, only the big corporations can play – whether they’re agribusiness or land developers. That is one of the biggest ironies – the smart growth agenda actually helps the biggest corporations that new urbanists, typically, claim are so bad.

Here’s a comment from an arborist who apparently is also a new urbanist: “Green cities have dense housing developments, with services within walking distance or accessible by public transportation. Green space consists of public parks and school campuses, and forests and farms outside the dense urban core.” I disagree with pretty much every word of that. It reflects a disdain for private property, and suggests we should have totally managed, government controlled land use. What about affordable low density housing – without subsidies? No place for them in such a world. Only the super rich will be able to have land in the new urbanist world – another irony.

The new urbanist agenda of infill will destroy every beautiful semi rural suburb in America, and leave only government entities and huge corporations in charge of open space.

Posted in Art, Cars, Causes, Homes & Buildings, Infrastructure, Organizations, People, Solar, Transportation, Walking8 Comments

Sustainable Demographics

No discussion of environmental policy should ignore the inevitability of an elderly population, but they do. The interconnectedness of the size of the human population of the planet and the health of global ecosystems is apparent to all, but environmental policy debates treat the population issue as a sideshow, instead of granting it centrality.

Only then can the crucial nature of human population demographics be analysed from an environmental and a cultural perspective. And from that perspective, there are two ways that nations of the world are coping with the aging of their populations. One is to import new citizens, the other is to automate society with armies of robots. These are utterly distinct ways to demographically manage collective aging, and the only sustainable way is to automate – because as humanity achieves zero population growth, eventually every country is going to have an aging population.

In Japan, a nation fully industrialized with a formidable technological base, robots are on the verge of walking, talking, and performing basic tasks. Parallel progress is being made to render these robots lifelike. Japan is learning to emerge into the inevitable next state of humankind, because they are not importing young people. If you believe that human population is destined to level off, then you have to assume the human population will begin to age.

So how Japan copes may help us all prepare for the advancement of humanity to a new evolutionary state, where productivity from semi-autonomous robots and androids removes the need for a young workforce, or a workforce that outnumbers the retirement citizens. Environmentalists must realize that if our ecosystems benefit from a stable, sustainable quantity of human inhabitants on earth, than inevitably that population will become an elderly population. How this will work must be part of any comprehensive vision of environmentalism.

Posted in Other, People, Policy, Law, & Government, Population Growth, Walking1 Comment

Are Fluorescents Ready?

The entire nation of Australia is going fluorescent – I guess I won’t be going there again. The entire province of Ontario is going fluorescent – ditto. Now the legislature in my own state of California is considering a ban on incandescent light bulbs, and astonishingly, it appears likely to pass. Only our governor’s veto can stop this government overreach.

This bill is the wrong approach. Incandescent light bulbs do NOT cause pollution any more than electric cars cause pollution. Why don’t we ban electric cars? If you are purchasing clean energy, you should be able to use that energy to do whatever the heck you want.

Some of us happen to dislike fluorescent lighting. Now the government is going to tell me how to light my kitchen, my living room, my bedroom? The government is going to force us to live under lights we don’t like? I’d rather pay for a $20,000 photovoltaic array so I could produce surplus clean energy. I’d even rather pay more taxes. Just don’t force me to use lighting I find unpleasant in my own home.

Check this fact sheet from General Electric “FAQ – Compact Fluorescents.” As you can see, fluorescent lights are supposed to be left on at least 15 minutes to work efficiently and if they are turned on and off a lot they will have a short life span. Well maybe some of us like to turn lights off when we’re not walking through a room. And now those inconsiderate homeowners who let their “security lighting” ruin sleepy neighborhoods all night long will never be convinced to adopt motion activated lights, they’ll all just blaze away.

How about this according to GE – fluorescents cannot be installed in any fixture that vibrates, from ceiling fans to garage door openers. Or this – fluorescents cannot work with dimmer switches, unless you purchase special dimmer switches (over $50 each), and special fluorescents that can handle these dimmer switches. Some of us happen to enjoy mood lighting – but the only mood our legislators apparently understand is undimmed, always on, bright, glaring, cool white.

What about the fact that fluorescent light just plain looks bad? Maybe some of us are more sensitive to this than others – yet these self-righteous fanatics, dupes of powerful special interests who will make a killing off of selling these expensive bulbs, intend to force us to be constantly tortured inside our homes so they can feel like they did something good for the earth.

If you want to enforce more efficient energy use, put a tax on incandescent bulbs so they cost slightly more than fluorescents. That should work. And if it doesn’t, then maybe our aesthetically-challenged legislators should get the hint – fluorescent light does NOT look good. Is it better than it was? Yes, but it is still annoying, problematic lighting to a lot of people.

Leave my incandescents alone. Make me buy a photovoltaic array. Tax me. I don’t care how you do it. But leave my incandescents alone.

Posted in Cars, Energy, Energy & Fuels, People, Walking10 Comments

Vandana Shiva – In Her Own Words

Interviewed by Paolo Scopacasa March 6, 2004
Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva
curriculum vitae

Editor’s Note: Vandana Shiva, a scientist and activist from India, has become an outspoken critic of privatization, globalization, and genetically-modified crops. Shiva is strident and at times inflamatory but her fundamental arguments are powerful and resonate with millions. It is at our peril when we no longer even ask these questions: Do corporations rule the world? Is soverignity for sale? What voice do regular people have in the tidal wave of globalization and privatization? Who speaks for the people on the land from Asia to Africa to the Americas? Should a watershed be sold like any other asset? Are the seeds of seeds that grow someone’s property?

Shiva’s opinions cover a broad range of issues, and she is often fierce in her rhetoric. But many of her positions have great merit and import. Her stand against rampant privatization is well founded. The idea that private enterprise is always more efficient than a government operation is a hilarious myth. Government organizations, such as the military or the public works administrations, enjoy access to much less expensive capital. Government agencies can pay less in salaries in exchange for offering more job security. A government agency can reinvest revenues and always focus on the efficiency of its core service. Because government-ran operations perform a specific service to the public, they avoid the constant searching for new business and higher profits that drain the resources of private sector companies. Keeping the government out of everything can be monstrously inefficient for any economy.

Shiva is also a critic of fundamentalist fanaticism, which in her view springs from a masculine, patriarchical system of rule in the world. As she puts it “They’re fighting each other around religion and fundamentalism, but they both want the same bomb, the same destruction.” Shiva champions diversity, localization, de-industrialization, public administration, feminization. Is she always right? Probably not, but who is? Should she be heard? Absolutely. EcoWorld Contributing Editor Paolo Scopacasa interviewed Vandana Shiva in the summer of 2003 in Milan, Italy. Here is Vandana Shiva, in her own words:

Q: Time Magazine has called you a hero who is fighting to preserve agricultural diversity. Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute for Biotechnology wrote in the National Review: “If developing world farmers took her one-tenth as seriously as do Western activists, her proclamations would lead inexorably to massive famine. She was born into wealth and her soft palms have never worked a plow. Hunger to her is something she reads about in the newspapers.” Who is Vandana Shiva really?

It’s interesting how people whom I have never met…

…and who know nothing about me can create images that totally fly off the face of reality. I grew up on a farm with my mother. She was highly educated, but she chose to be a farmer, because she believed that the highest state of human evolution is to be a peasant.

I don’t say this as a prescription to someone else. I actually spend most of my time on a farm I started. I find no work as meaningful as working with the soil. I defend the farmers’ dignity and their right to survival, because for me peasants are the most creative and productive individuals on this planet not the people who gamble on Wall Street and make billions overnight. I think the real wealth is created on the land by people who soil their hands, by people who work in cooperation with nature and give us the nourishment we need as humans.

Some of these corporate spokesmen would like humanity to believe that genetic engineering, nano-technologies and chemicals can replace human creativity and human labor. But most people are fed up of the bad food they are being forced to eat.

Poor people are fed up of being made scapegoats for corporate schemes to make super profits by squeezing money out of peasants for seed royalties and water. People can see the game. Ultimately, the issue is corporate control over the means of life versus the celebration of a partnership between people and the Earth.

Soil is my teacher, seeds are my teacher, nature is my teacher. So I don’t have to worry about these accusations. I spend a tiny part of my life and my work in solidarity. But if I were always in the West, I would have never done the work which makes the guy you mentioned so panicky.

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Water Wars, Privatization, Pollution and Profit Book Cover
Water Wars
Privatization,
Pollution & Profit
by Vandana Shiva

Q: In your book Water Wars you argue that wars are already being fought over water. Where is this happening and why?

When water wars are referred to, people usually imagine militaristic attacks between countries, but the water wars that are spreading around the world are, at one level, paradigm wars. They are about two ways of looking at the world.

In one view, water is nature’s gift, and we need to maintain its flow as a gift. Even now, if you come to India on a hot day, you will see people put out water in street corners. It’s called the gift of water or the temple of water. Anyone who’s thirsty can go there and drink. Instead of accumulating wealth, these people are accumulating the good act of giving and meeting other people’s needs for basic survival.

The other view has it that water can be appropriated and sold to make huge profits or wasted.

In the summer of 2002, 1,300 people died of the heat in India. But heat alone does not kill. Heat transformed into dehydration is what becomes a killer. Water is becoming more and more scarce because there are swimming pools and golf courses, wasteful crops, such as sugar cane, green revolution paddies, hybrid and GM cotton, where there is not enough water to support all these non-sustainable systems. And that scarcity is leading to conflicts within families, between men and women, within communities.

During the summer of 2002 people were killed in water fights in the country. Water riots happened every second week in the capital of India. So the water wars are very real, they are actually annihilating life. Some of these fights transform into regional conflicts, which take on the color of chauvinism, but they are really about water, as was the conflict in Punjab, where thirty people were killed over a canal being taken away from Punjab to another state.

Hundreds of people lost their lives in fights over the Kaveri water, fights created by the promotion of non-sustainable industrial agriculture rather than the sustainable, prudent agriculture that Kaveri used to have. Nature has given enough water for each ecosystem to support itself, if water is conserved. When we start to go against that, water wars are unleashed. Right now, the most important water war has been declared by a handful of corporations against the entire planet, on all the people.

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Stolen Harvest Book Cover
Stolen Harvest
The Hijacking of the
Global Food Supply
by Vandana Shiva

Q: According to your book Stolen Harvest, “a hijacking of the global food supply” is taking place at the same time. Who is stealing the harvest from whom? And how?

Food is produced by farmers, most of whom in the Third World happen to be women. In India, about 60% of the farming work is done by women. They are the producers of the harvest. Their harvest is being stolen through a trade mechanism. This allows corporations which don’t grow food and don’t work the land, to make super profits at the cost of farmers and to capture markets around the world.

The corporations are enabled to do this through trade rules, through the agriculture agreement of the World Trade Organization, through so-called free trade, which is actually forced trade.

And another means for stealing the harvest from the people and from nature is this amazing invention of calling life itself an invention, the patenting of life. Suddenly, a harvest that originates from nature and from those who have evolved seeds, bred seeds and grown the crop, becomes property of a corporation. And the small farmers are treated as thieves when they save part of the harvest of their own crop for growing the next year’s crop.

Corporations like Monsanto declare people like Percy Smitheson, the Canadian farmer, a thief, after they polluted his field through genetically modified crops. So, the stolen harvest is really the grandest of thefts ever designed, and it’s a theft of the very basis of life. It’s a theft of the food chain, from nature and from those who are the actual producers of food, by those who trade in food and monopolize seed.

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Protect or Plunder? Book Cover
Protect or Plunder
Understanding Intellectual
Property Rights
by Vandana Shiva

Q: According to many of these corporations, by developing patented GM crops, they are helping reduce hunger in the world. What do you think about this?

World Trade Organization Logo

That is the rhetoric. That’s also Mr. Bush’s argument for the new case he started against Europe in the WTO. He argued that, by not eating GM foods, Europeans are somehow creating hunger in the South. Unfortunately, no lie is bigger than the fact that genetic engineering will be a solution to hunger.

In fact, it’s becoming a cause for hunger, it’s becoming the cause for poverty. In India, since globalization introduced new rules for the seed sector, farmers are having to pay so much for totally unreliable seed, which needs huge amounts of chemicals.

They’re getting into debt, they’re spending a hundred thousand rupees per acre for production and earning ten thousand rupees at the end of the year. They get into ninety thousand rupees of debt every year. Twenty thousand farmers have committed suicide as a result of this. The genetic engineered crops themselves are actually not performing because they have been engineered to use more chemicals, not to produce more yields. They have what is called a yield drag.

Monsanto Imagine Logo

When they brought their BT cotton to India, Monsanto announced that this genetically engineered cotton would double the yield, and bring a doubling of incomes. Well, the first year of cultivation showed that this was totally false. There was a 90% decline of yields and increase of farm losses of rupees 6 to 7,000 per acre. Monsanto has just been banned from expanding its cultivation in India for the extremely bad performance of its seed.

In the third world Monsanto is causing hunger, suicides and poverty. In fact, genetic engineering is not affordable in India. Our peasants are poor, and we can’t afford to play the profit-making games of corporations at the cost of polluting nature and biodiversity and impoverishing already marginalized farmers.

Q: Do you think that this kind of development has a negative impact on the so-called Third World countries only? Does it affect people in Europe and the United States, also?

Most Member Countries of the “Global South” are in the Tropics
-

If globalization was only affecting the South, we would not have had the huge turnout of people at the WTO meeting in Seattle. We would not have seen Genoa happen and the sacrifices made by innocent citizens in those protests, we would not have seen Evian. People in the North, in the more affluent parts of the world are also getting affected. They’re getting affected in two ways. First of all, the young are beginning to see that in this world they don’t have the kind of future they want. They probably don’t have a future at all. Look at America, the so-called richest country. It cannot place its graduates. They can’t find jobs.
University enrolment in the information technology sector, which was supposed to be the miracle sector, dropped to one third, because there are no jobs.

People can see that in this system corporations can control the economy, but really generate jobs for only 2% of the world’s population. And 98% will lose their livelihoods. This will definitely happen first in the South, creating more misery there. But it is happening in the North, also.

The GATS is leading to the privatization of education, health, water and energy. This denies the access to fundamental rights and basic needs. People can see this. The wonderful thing is that the movements against globalization are movements of solidarity. For the first time, we have gone beyond selfish movements. It is no longer my cause, my need today and I can let the rest go to hell.

There is a clear recognition that this is an issue of everyone’s interest. Water privatization has to be fought for all people on the Earth. GMO’s are being resisted, both in the North and the South. Corporations in agriculture are being fought in the North and the South. In fact, globalization has created an objective situation in which, for the first time, citizens in the North and South have one common agenda for creating alternative systems.

Earthworms in Hand
Earthworms: The Key to Healthy Soil

Q: In your book Stolen Harvest you also mention that earthworms are stolen their food. Why is that a problem for us?

Darwin has been quoted so much for talking about the competition between species and the struggle for survival, but Darwin’s more important contribution was a book on the earthworm. In that book, he wrote that the most significant species on the planet is the earthworm, because it is the most efficient converter of waste into fertility.

All systems of modern industrial farming, whether they be the Green Revolution, chemical agriculture or genetic engineering, assume that the millions of living beings which live in the soil and make it fertile can be killed. They assume that fertility will come out of explosive factories which make nitrogen fertilizers and a handful of other synthetic chemicals. But those synthetic chemicals rob the earthworms of their food, and in fact they create warfare in the soil, though we can’t see it.

The killing of the earthworms is the reason why our soils are getting desertified, production is dropping, our farming systems become vulnerable to disease, pests and environmental stress increase. We need the earthworm for food security, our food security.

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BioPiracy Book Cover
BioPiracy
The Plunder of
Nature & Knowledge
by Vandana Shiva

Q: So it’s basically about respect for the soil and the Earth. In your book Staying alive, you introduced the term maldevelopment, referring to a “masculine mode of knowing”, or a patriarchal mode of development, which harms both women and the Earth. Why do you make a connection between women and ecological issues?

First of all I’d like to clarify that patriarchy is a system of male domination, but it dehumanizes the men as much as the women, and it robs from most men as much power as it robs from the Earth and from women.

The masculine mode of thinking, of doing science, of defining the economy is a mode that gains power for those who control wealth and property through controlling capital.

The reason women and nature are linked is because they are the original sources of creativity. Maldevelopment defines them into passivity. In fact the very word matter comes from mother, but matter today is the inert object around us, it’s that which provides raw material. Matter has lost its creative activity. Soil is mere matter, it’s mere container. Water is purely matter, it doesn’t have any life-nourishing force, therefore it can be commoditized.

The blindness to the creativity of nature and women is the source of power in patriarchal structure and patriarchal organization. It’s a very convenient source of power, because it allows destruction to be defined as the creation of wealth. In fact, after the war against Iraq, the general who was put in charge of reconstruction used a phrase: we are giving birth to a new Iraq. Now, after you’ve devastated a country, you’ve bombed it out, you see that phenomenon as a birthing process. And in my mind I said, generals don’t give birth and life is not born through bombs. But this illusion allows destruction to be interpreted as creation. And that is the ultimate partnership.

The partnership of ecology and feminism is a partnership of liberation. It’s not a partnership of essentially biological determinism, very far from it. It is a political association. It’s a political association that sees that systems that treat nature as merely raw material also treat women as purely suppliers of labor. And all our indicators of measurements of growth and prosperity are gained at the cost of women and nature. In India it translates into the most horrendous and the most violent systems.

Women are walking longer miles for water. Women are having to go into more and more hazardous work. But the worst form of violence we have seen emerge in the last decade is female feticide. This annihilating phenomenon is linked very intimately to globalization. It began to happen in the regions with the highest growth rates, the highest integration into commerce, the highest commoditization of culture.

Q: Isn’t that part of an Indian tradition?

Traditional patriarchy has a male bias and sons are preferred. But until a decade ago, baby girls weren’t killed. The female fetus wasn’t annihilated. The preference for the male child has been transformed into an annihilation of the female fetus by a combination and convergence of traditional patriarchy with its biases and the global capitalist patriarchy with its culture of commoditazion, which translates into a further devaluation of the female life.

Diverse Women for Diversity Book Cover
Diverse Women
for Diversity

Q: You have created a movement called Diverse Women for Diversity with several other women. What kind of world do these women want?

Very clearly a very diverse world. Our movement, Diverse Women for Diversity, is really a triple response. It grew out of defending biological diversity. It grew out of a group of women who were fighting genetic engineering, the biotech giants and the seed monopolies. We were a bunch of scientists, primarily, but we also recognized that we were all from different cultures. While we all wanted to fight monopoly, each of us wanted to defend our way of speaking, our way of eating, our way of dressing, everything that makes us what we are. But it was also a response to the dominant mode.

When India and Pakistan were competing with nuclear tests, and India called its nuclear bomb the Hindu bomb, while Pakistan called its bomb the Islamic bomb, I said: this is the perfect example of diverse men for monoculture. They’re fighting each other around religion and fundamentalism, but they both want the same bomb, the same destruction. For us, diversity is liberation. For us, diversity is precisely the solution and not the problem.

Navdanya Logo
Navdanya

Q: You have also started a movement called Navdanaya, the 9 seeds. In one of your books you mentioned that seeds are sacred for Indian farmers. Is Navdanya connected to this in any way? Do you think that the industrialized world lacks a spiritual approach?

Industrialization is desacralization. Industrialization is a project of hubris which basically assumes that there is nothing like life processes, nature doesn’t have its self-organizing capacities, people don’t have their self-organizing capacities, women have no potential, they are merely the second sex, Third World peasants have no brains, therefore intellectual properties are in the industrialized North. All of these arrogant assumptions come out of a denial of reverence for life and the lack of recognition of that which makes life possible.

All societies throughout history have organized themselves around the maintenance of life and the renewal of life. And systems that are centered on that define spirituality in different ways. However, spirituality is a link. It is about connection. Spirituality is merely the recognition that everything is related. It is what the indigenous Americans call being part of the web of life.

Now, the denial of being part of the web of life is the desacralization that is at the heart of the project of industrialization. It is at the heart of trying to genetically engineer life on Earth, including humans through the new nano-technologies.

Bija Vidyapeeth

Q: You have even started your own college, it’s called Bija Vidyapeeth. What kind of education does it provide?

Bija Vidyapeeth translates into the school of the seed. And it’s basically about living on Earth. We call it education for Earth citizenship. I started it after September 11, because I could see that now the formal education is going to be about hatred, animosity and annihilation, and we need education for love, for compassion, for sustainability and for justice. In the School of the Seed we do short courses, to learn from the seed how to renew ourselves.

Paolo Scopacasa conducted this interview in the summer of 2003 in Milan, Italy. The interview was originally aired on Italian radio.

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Seawater Farms

Bringing Life from Deserts and Seawater
Volunteers Planting Mangrove Forest
Planting New Mangrove Forests

Editor’s note: The earth is a thirsty planet, since over a third of the world’s population can barely get enough water to fulfill basic needs such as hydration and hygiene. But while fresh water is often in short supply, the earth is over 70% covered with salt water. What if salt water were able to irrigate farmland? How would that change the ironclad equation whereby fresh water and energy are the prerequisites for life and prosperity? A little-known experiment in the far-flung country of Eritrea could be the harbinger of radical changes in the malthusian notion that we don’t have enough water. Seawater farms, an operation founded by U.S. entrepreneur John Sperling, has taken the abundant and heretofore unusable resources of salt water and desert to create a managed plantation that produces, cost-effectively, fish, shrimp, lumber, and a nutritious plant, Salicornia, that thrives in salt water. Science could soon add many other plants to the list of salt-water crops. The potential is immense.

PERC Logo

Many of us don’t realize how lucky we are to have access to all the water we want. Showering or bathing every day, dishwashing with the faucet on full blast, or owning a swimming pool is unthinkable in many countries. Water is not divided equally around the world. While Americans happily feed koi in backyard ponds, others in the Middle East or Africa, for example, have to wait for a truck to deliver their monthly supply of water. Walking five miles to the nearest community well and back is not an uncommon practice in these regions. “I’m not convinced that there are water shortages as much as there are problems with water distribution” says Linda Platt, an editor at the Political Economy Research Center (PERC), who like many of us, believes that many regions are at a disadvantage when it comes to water availability for farming, drinking, or simple hygiene.

With oceans covering more than 70% of the earth’s surface, it is ironic that usable water is not an abundant commodity. Less than 1% of water on the planet comes in the exploitable form of lakes, streams and groundwater. The potential of saltwater has been contemplated for years, but only recently have there been advances in operations that utilize this abundant resource.

Map of Eritrea
Eritrea has deserts and coastline
perfect for salt water agriculture
Seawater Farms Eritrea Logo

Carl Hodges, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Arizona, came up with an ingenious plan to overcome the freshwater shortages that many farmers face in arid countries. This plan, financed by University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, came in the form of Seawater Farms. “This project is still in the experimental stages,” says Linda Platt, editor of PERC, “but Seawater farms seems to have found a way to produce environmental goods without overexploitation of the environment.” Seawater Farms, established in the small African country of Eritrea, uses saltwater to sustain an array of shrimp, fish and plants. Amazingly, it doesn’t stop there: The remaining water even irrigates and sustains wetlands and mangrove forests that naturally occur in the region. They have also planted numerous trees in the hopes of establishing habitats for the fauna in the region.

Seawater Forests Initiative Logo

“The life the mangroves support is tremendous,” says Jugal Tiwari, staff ecologist of the Seawater Farms and the Seawater Forests Initiative. “I have seen at least 100 species of insects, including 4 species of butterflies and 12 species of moths. Doves, Warblers and Prinias nest in the mangroves a well, and there are at least 14 different kind of crabs, including fiddler crabs. This year over 1 million seedlings were raised by the foresters of Seawater Forests Initiative. Each of the 15,000 mangrove plants we have planted in the 10 hectares of area is supporting a lot of life.”

“The number of bird species that have come to inhabit our farm has grown from an estimated dozen to well over 200,” says Howard Weiss, also of the Seawater Forests Initiative.

Mangrove Forest in Eritrea
Mangrove Forest in Eritrea

“The mangroves are equally important in sequestering the atmospheric carbon and making environment pollution free,” says Jugal Tiwari, “We are basically a group of people who think global and take the challenge of converting the so called coastal wastelands (4.2 million hectares of such coastal wastelands in Eritrea) into green land using just the ocean’s salt water. As you know fresh water in such areas is a limiting factor and so deficient that people can’t find enough water to survive.”

The farming system is quite effective: Untreated salt water is brought inland through a 3-mile long canal to salicornia fields which, unlike most crops, are able to grow efficiently in this salty environment. The principal field crop, Salicornia, provides a gourmet vegetable from its young shoots. The mature plant provides seed that produce a fine, edible oil and a high protein meal. There is also a large amount of biomass, which can be used for animal fodder, particleboard, and firebricks.

Not all seawater flows directly to these plants; some diverges and flows into shrimp tanks and later 3 salt lakes containing different species of fish. The shrimp species Penaeus vannamei is the gem of Seawater Farms Eritrea aquaculture. This species tolerates variations in salinity, temperature, pH and oxygen levels that allow it to be as suited to farming as it is profitable. Another species of shrimp, Penaeus indicus, arrived in seawater farms unexpectedly through the seawater canals connecting the farms to the red sea. This added little bonus, with its popular flavor, has been a big boost to Seawater Farms’ business.

Tilapia Fish
The Tilapia Fish is Farmed Worldwide

Fish were also incorporated into this intricate project. Originally, the plan was to just farm the tilapia fish. This useful species, naturally occurring in the Middle East and Africa is now farmed worldwide. At seawater farms, these fish are not just a food product; Their skin is similar to leather when dried and is used to make a variety of products whereas the leftover heads are recycled for shrimp feed. Another species of fish, the milk fish or chanos chanos, unexpectedly rode in on the seawater stream and has now established itself in the shallow waters of the mangrove park in addition to the tilapia. This is yet another bonus for the Farm.

The waste from the shrimp and fish is carried by water to fertilize the salicornia fields. This versatile agricultural system has worked extremely well, while the reestablished wetland parks, created by the overflowing seawater, are very much appreciated by wildlife residing in the area. No seawater is wasted either: It is absorbed by the soil and returns to its starting point-the red sea.

Unfortunately, Seawater agriculture can only “be confined to coastal deserts because if seawater were brought inland, it would ruin the land unaccustomed to the high salinity. Saltwater agriculture further inland would be a disaster” says Emanuel Epstein, a professor and highly respected researcher of plant biology at the University of California, Davis.

Bodega Marine Laborator Logo
Bird on Ground
Salt Water Agriculture
A Field of Salicornia

Epstein has also had a fair amount of success with saltwater agriculture during the 1970s and 80s. “Why not start out with plants that are already economically useful such as wheat and rice which feed 2/3 of mankind instead of imposing economic usefulness on other plants such as salicornia,” says Epstein. “I was fairly successful in harvesting barley, wheat and tomatoes selected and bred for salt tolerance.” The scheme discussed [regarding salicornia] starts with naturally occurring wild plants. “An alternative approach,” continues Epstein, “is to start with established crop species, such as wheat or rice, which are salt sensitive, and by means of genetic and molecular biological methods engineer salt tolerance into them. The feasibility of this approach was demonstrated over 30 years ago at Bodega Marine Laboratory, with wheat, barley, and tomatoes and the likelihood of success has greatly improved since then as a result of the spectacular advances in molecular biology.”

Seawater Farms currently focuses on salicornia fields but genetic research funded by John Sperling is being done in the hopes of using other more ‘profitable’ species in this type of agriculture.

Seawater Farms is both ecologically acceptable and profitable. The first shrimp harvest, for example, was worth nearly 12 million dollars. Seawater Farms has also revolutionized coastal agriculture as we know it. It has given hope to farmers who are limited by the lack of freshwater available while the Seawater Forests Initiative has breathed life into forests that reside in an otherwise dry, desert environment.

EMAIL TO THE EDITOR

—–Original Message—–

From: Jane Poynter [mailto:anon@anon.com]

Sent: Wednesday, December 03, 2003 4:57 PM

To: ed@ecoworld.com

Subject: Seawater Farms and Forests

In your great article about salt tolerant crops, featuring Seawater
Farms Eritrea and Seawater Forests Initiative, I would like to point out
a discrepancy in the quote by Epstein regarding genetically engineering
standard crops, such as wheat and tomatoes, for salt tolerance. He is
referring to something quite different from what salicornia can do. Salt
tolerance in his context means plants that can grow in water that would
be too salty to grow normal agricultural crops, but is far less saline
than pure seawater by many parts per thousand. Salicornia bigolovii,
which has been bred to produce a high quality oil seed, grows on pure,
untreated seawater. Something quite different altogether.

Jane

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Top 10 Capitalist Myths that You Should Know About

Capitalism makes everything possible.

Capitalism leads to wealth, wealth leads to investment, investment spawns innovation, and through glorious creative destruction, today’s innovations surpass and replace yesterday’s, creating more wealth. Through capitalist initiative, civilization has advanced beyond the wildest imaginings of our forbears. Today we cure diseases that were incurable. We cultivate miracle crops to feed the world. There is no problem in that cannot eventually be solved if we just give capitalist entrepreneurs free rein.

Yet in spite of compelling evidence, the capitalist system remains challenged. Globalization, privatization, the growth of intellectual property law, industrialization, mechanization, and free trade have all spawned resistance. Voices raised include socialists, environmentalists, indigenous peoples, humanitarians and even other capitalists.

The following Capitalist Myths, each embraced by far too many capitalists, dangerous when adopted blindly, can be amended or eliminated through more serious debate. Capitalism is a powerful force for positive change, but cannot realize its full potential unless it acknowledges and confronts its myths, and assimilates positive ideas from belief systems besides its own.

Myth #1
Global Free Trade is Always Best

El Salvador Countryside
What is Fair and Free Trade?
Read “Global Exchange”

Not always. While a world of unfettered free trade can create faster overall economic growth, that same growth can cause some societies and countries to become worse off. Suddenly introduced global free trade can turn an entire country’s economy and fledgling local industries upside-down. Foreign investment often focuses on over-development of single commodities that can go bust. Increased foreign investment and global trade usually ride into a country alongside debt. Going into countries using international legal weaponry to enforce free flow of capital and foreign ownership of local assets isn’t always best. Alongside free trade there is fair trade, an equally elusive and worthy goal.

Myth #2
Cheaper is Always Better

Price competition is a pillar of capitalism, but many measures of value do not immediately or easily translate into quantities of money. How can the happiness of a people, or the health of an ecosystem appear on the financial statements of a multinational corporation? Hire lower-paid employees and lay them off and move to another country as soon as it’s cheaper there, then move again. Mechanize the workplace and make workers commodities. Log forests on cheap land, pay massive short-term profits into dividends and close the company. Strip-mine oceans with driftnets 50 miles long and kill off the final scattered fish with high-tech sonar detection systems. Capitalist competition means more, cheaper, faster; cheaper goods, cheaper shelter, and cheaper protein, but it’s not always better.

Myth #3
Capitalism has European Roots

Only some capitalists are European. The functions of capitalism; property ownership, monetary exchange, trade, competition, value creation and entrepreneurship, easily predate Europe and exist and originate from most everywhere. Private individual wealth and multinational corporations come from diverse cultures. That the Europeans have been successful capitalists doesn’t mean they invented capitalism, and it doesn’t automatically consign capitalism to European values and prerogatives. Critics of capitalism point their fingers at the west more than the west deserves. Capitalism is part of human nature.

Myth #4
Intellectual Property is Sacred

Sunrise in Rishi Valley
Where does public domain begin?
Read “Monocultures of the Mind”

Absolutely not! Patents for inventions that incorporate life forms, mimic natural processes or copy native remedies and recipes are walking on legal thin ice. “Business method” patents are complete baloney and should be repealed. Maybe copyrights last too long, and royalties cost too much. The public domain is under attack and it’s shrinking. Farmers who save and reuse seed from their own crops, inadvertently or effortlessly cross-pollinated with windblown genetic material that somebody patented should not be prosecuted. Open source legal precedents are already set in the software industry. Stakes are high. Intellectual property law run rampant becomes an expensive and devastating tool for oligarchic and other vested interests to outlaw competition. How capitalist is that? It’s time to reverse this trend. There is an intangible commons, too.

Myth #5
Industrialization is the Only Alternative

From a global perspective industrialization is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean developing countries should develop now or else. Countries that would have enjoyed relative stability if they’d never industrialized can be sorely disrupted by sudden financial flight. Single commodity economies with debt service blow in the wind. When a country commits to industrialize they place high bets in limited areas and they run this risk. Moreover, because global productivity constantly improves, especially in the high-tech era we live in, the longer a country waits to develop, the less they will have to pay for their new industries. Countries should not be rushed into industrialization because it’s supposedly in their interests.

Myth #6
Property is Sacred.

Sea Turtle
Who Owns the Oceans?
Read “David Brower’s Legacy”

Never. Too much of the property we might consider sacred is also shared between us. If the air is unhealthy for people to breath, or the water too poisonous for fishermen to fish, some property owner’s prerogative, and resultant pollution, is definitely not sacred. Productive assets necessary to society, especially when controlled by monopolies, cartels, or foreign financial interests, must be regulated to ensure sustainable practices and a safety net for the poor. Property rights defenders are correct to call regulations “takings,” but that per se is not at issue. Governments must regulate trade to enforce “free trade,” they must regulate commerce to encourage and enable competition, and they should help protect the weak; all of which can translate into “takings” in some form. The only question is when, and how much.

Myth #7
Democracy-Capitalism is the End-Point of Civilization

Really now? Then go explain how corporate welfare fits into this rosy picture, for starters. Democracy-Capitalism has today’s media and mainstream academic endorsements, but utopia nonetheless eludes modern civilization. To strive for democracy-capitalism, ideally, is an ongoing fight against tyranny and oligarchy from any group, creed or political ideology. Capitalists can be tyrants. Democracies can be belligerent. The form of capitalism and the ethics of democratic societies are diverse and subtle and need constant reexamination. Congratulating democracy-capitalism as the end-point of civilization shouldn’t discourage or take the place of relentless investigation and reporting, healthy dissent, and meaningful public debate.

Myth #8
Privatize Public Works

Mountain in Distance
Can Everything be Privatized?
Read “The Giants of Water”

It depends. Many if not all public works provide necessities such as water and energy that cannot be found anywhere else. These necessities should be offered free to those who cannot afford to pay. Privately operated public works, owned by foreign interests, could in unregulated free-trade environments be managed as cash-cows, exporting profits into a multi-national conglomerate instead of back into the local economy. There is no monopoly on corruption, which can affect private corporations inside or outside a country just as severely as it might affect public administrations anywhere. Public works can succeed as mostly public or mostly private operations.

Myth #9
Maximize Quarterly Profits

This is a canard disguised as a rationalization turned into an obligation compelling a property owner to cut down all the trees in their forest, or pump out all the water from their aquifer, selling to the highest bidder as quickly as possible. Every industry has its culprits, compulsive competitors who cut every corner, cook the books, betting the farms, heedless of the ultimate payback. In the name of short-term gain people can become puppets and chattel, worthy enterprises ignored and abandoned, and the earth stripped. In the long run human rights always prevail, ecosystems are stewarded, and business is sustainable. It is much easier for a long-term capitalist to profit without creating victims and collateral damage. If all that really mattered were to maximize quarterly profits the world would already be a wasteland.

Myth #10
Greed is Good

Pure crap. Greed is a sin, not a virtue, but it can be confused and conflated with one of capitalism’s moral appeals; that capitalism offers, hopefully, a competitive and pluralistic game where no one sinful, awful faction can ever dominate. In this pragmatic model greed is not good it is contained. But capitalism, ideally, also depends on a totally voluntary moral framework and consensus in societies that greed is not good. Only then does capitalism better avoid caricature and condemnation. Only then do capitalist visions have more universal appeal and overall joy.

Capitalism at its best is the engine that will bring peace and prosperity to humanity, eliminate poverty and disease, and protect the earth. But building enthusiasm for capitalism throughout the world requires patience and compromise, possibly slower but more sustainable economic and corporate growth, and more diverse patterns of ownership.

To proliferate faster, more capitalists might prefer not myths that only emphasize the economic game, but instead visions of a better world. Visions where most everyone, especially the avid capitalists, believe that humanity and ecology weigh in equally alongside winning.

Ed Ring is Editor and CEO of EcoWorld Inc., publisher of www.EcoWorld.com.

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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.

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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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