Ecology & Geoengineering - Comment

bp-logoThe BP Oil Spill (June 2010)
BP is a multinational company (44% British-owned, 39% American-owned and 17% rest-of-the-world-owned) responsible for the catastrophic oil spill currently affecting the US Gulf. This is the oil company that has cynically run a PR campaign, in recent years, to make the oil business look positively green — reworking its logo to a green/yellow flower, symbolically investing in clean alternative energy, using the phrase "beyond petroleum" beside its logo, and decorating its petrol stations with eco-bling wind turbines. But the nature of this false PR-derived image has now well and truly been exposed by the recent blow-out in the Gulf, an careless accident responsible for one of the worst oil-spill environmental disasters. And this is on top of $373m fines BP paid in 2007 to the US Department of Justice for environmental crimes and for committing fraud. As the oil runs out, deep well drilling, with its increased risk of high-pressure blow-outs, is going to become the norm. Welcome to the future of oil exploration.

BOOK: The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight / Thom Hartmann
If you read just one book to gain an understanding of the ecological crisis we now face, this should be the one. Hartmann describes the correlation between human populations and available energy from the sun, stored as fossil fuels, and how that energy is about to run dry as we scramble in an orgy of environmental destruction. He proposes that we re-learn the lessons our ancestors knew on how to live sustainably. Although the book is depressing in parts, it is ultimately uplifting.
BOOK: High and Mighty / Keith Bradsher
What a breath of fresh air to see a leading newspaper journalist writing something against big business. In High and Mighty, Keith Bradsher exposes the SUV scam and how the big motor companies in the US have conspired with the Bush government to prevent a tightening on regulations regarding fuel efficiency and safety. SUV's are classified as light trucks and so are allowed to be a lot less ecologically friendly. This book is particularly relevant now because other car manufacturers around the world are foolishly ignoring the needs of planet and moving into the SUV market.
Growing Pressure on IPCC to be More Honest and Credible (Jan 2010)
Dr. John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, has detailed how he personally witnessed UN scientists attempting to distort the science of global warming for political ends. He told CNN in may 2007: "I was at the table with three Europeans, and we were having lunch. And they were talking about their role as lead authors. And they were talking about how they were trying to make the report so dramatic that the United States would just have to sign that Kyoto Protocol." Christy has since proposed major reforms to the way that the IPCC operate so that they can try to gain back some of the credibility they have inevitably lost with their manipulation of the data. This does not mean that human CO2 does not cause global warming, only that the scientists putting forward this claim are being less than honest so that the claim itself has lost much public credibility.
BOOK: The Little Earth Book / James Bruges
This may be a tiny book, readable in a single sitting, but it is an absolutely fantastic introduction to environmental issues and the problems in the world. Bruges covers every aspect of why the world is in such a dire state, devoting a couple of pages to each topic. His writing is lucid, concise and backed up by loads of facts. A must read and already into its forth edition. If you read just one book on this page, let it be this one.
Climategate / Warmergate Raises Doubts in Global Warming (Dec 2009)
We may not know for sure whether global warming is caused by human CO2 emissions, but we do know for sure that the science backing this theory has been "cooked" by the scientific organisations responsible for analysing the data and presenting it to governments and the general public. Why this deliberate deception has been perpetrated is anybody's guess, but you can bet that there is a hidden political agenda somewhere, probably involving the concentration of political power (in this case, that of the UN and those who control it). Suppressed evidence indicates that Earth was significantly warmer than it is today only a thousand years ago (before humans were spewing out significant amounts of CO2), making recent warming not so unprecedented or necessarily manmade. Other suppressed evidence shows that the planet is currently cooling, a fact that somehow got erased from the standard hocky-stick graphs used as the definitive icon for those wishing to put serious limits on human CO2 output. This does not mean that human-caused global warming is not a reality, but it should certainly raise serious doubts in the minds of the most ardent global-warming supporters. We need an honest review of the science before allowing it to dictate international law and policy. [For more information, read the article published in the Mail on Sunday.]
BOOK: The Lost Language of Plants / Stephen Harrod Buhner
A fascinating and frightening exposé of the effects of pharmaceutical medicines on the ecosystem. Today, we think of pollution as greenhouse gases, car exhausts and the black smoke coming out of industrial chimney stacks, without realizing that one of the most insidious types of pollution is the highly toxic pharmaceutical chemicals that anybody and everybody on medication is excreting into the environment. At the same time, we are reducing the complexity of ecosystems in favour of "convenient" monoculture, ignorant that Nature's complexity is absolutely essential for maintaining living systems.

Rajendra PachauriSave the planet by becoming vegetarian (Nov 2009)
It is all very well to drive electric cars, use energy-saving light bulbs, bio-fuels and better thermal insulation, but if you want to significantly reduce your carbon footprint, become vegetarian. A UN study in 2006 estimated that 18% of total greenhouse gas emissions came from farmed animals, with methane produced by livestock being the worst culprit. But experts at the Worldwatch Institute have revised this figure to 51% due to flaws in the original calculation that underestimated livestock numbers by 50% and also did not figure in the livestock's respiration. So it is mostly what we put in our mouths that is destroying the planet. Visit www.51percent.org.


BOOK: Secret Teachings of Plants / Stephen Harrod Buhner
Sublime wisdom from one of the best writers around. Ancient and indigenous people have always insisted that their knowledge of plants and plant medicines are a result of direct communication with the plants themselves, rather than from a more logical process of trial and error. In fact, some herbal recipes are so complex in procedure that it would be difficult to imagine a process of trial and error could have produced them because get the recipe slightly wrong and the concoction is poisonous. Buhner's book shows us how to cultivate that direct connection with Nature by using our hearts rather than our heads.
Rajendra PachauriUN Climate Chief urges vegetarian diet (Sep 2008)
Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has made a speech in London where he urges people to eat less meat as meat-production is a stronger causative factor (producing 18% of greenhouse gases) in global warming than is transport (producing 13% of greenhouse gases). We are happy to drive around in more eco-friendly transport, but for some reason most of us seem reluctant to give up our personal taste in flesh. If we are to serious combat global warming, some personal preferences such as diet are going to have to be changed if we are all to have a viable future. What is more, as Pachauri states, giving up meat will not only benefit the planet, but it will benefit our health as well. Time to turn vegetarian?
BOOK: Gaia's Garden / Toby Hemenway
As a permaculture expert and an editor of The Permaculture Activist, Hemenway shows how gardens can function as ecosystems and describes how to put together an ecological garden. His main focus is on "guilds", or groups of plants function as a mini ecosystem that can provide food for humans. If you are slightly afraid of scope of Mollison's books on permaculture, this shows us how to do it on a much smaller scale.
Global Warming At Critical Levels (Nov 2007)
Professor Tim Flannery, a leading climate expert, has examined data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and concluded that the CO2 level in the atmosphere has already passed the critical benchmark of 450ppm, a level that it had not been expected to hit for a decade. This means that we may have already passed the point of no return to climate catastrophe. In the words of James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies who has been examining the accelerating rate of Arctic ice melt which covers only 50% of what it did in 2001: "The reason so much of it went suddenly is that it is hitting a tipping point." This is it guys… this is the beginning of the end. If you are going to act on global warming, do it right now. Tomorrow will be too late. [Ecologist]
BOOK: Introduction to Permaculture / Bill Mollison
If you want to read an introduction to permaculture, then you can do no better than reading this one by the co-founder of permaculture. Topics included: energy efficient site analysis; planning and design methods; house placement; design for temperate, dry-land and tropical regions; urban permaculture garden layout; land access and community funding systems; orchards and home wood lots; how to influence microclimate; and a large section on selected plant species.
BOOK: Permaculture / Bill Mollison
One of the very best and most detailed books on all aspects of permaculture which should be essential reading for this book is for all students, landowners, public-policy makers, and others interested in revolutionizing modern farming and land use Dr. Mollison was a co-founder of the entire permaculture movement, and his wisdom and experience shines through in every page of this book.
Al Gore's highly rated An Inconvenient Truth, an award- winning film-documentary on global warming, is unmissable.
BOOK: A Green History of the World / Clive Ponting
Clive Ponting is an academic who has tackled a very large subject: world history from the perspective of the environment. The result is a provocative and illuminating book that illustrates how influential the changing environment has been in the development and demise of human civilizations. His central message is that human beings prosper by exploiting the earth's resources until those resources can no longer sustain the society's population, which leads to the decline and eventual collapse of that society.
Meat is murder on the environment (21 Jul 2007)
New Scientist reports this week that a single kilogram of beef (2.2 lbs) is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving all the lights on back home! This was the conclusion of a study done by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, by Akifumi Ogino and published in Animal Science Journal 1740-0929.2007. This study examined many aspects of meat production including animal management, calf production and transporting feed. So one of the best things you can do to help global warming is to go vegetarian. And if you must eat meat, be aware that a Swedish study in 2003 showed that organic beef emits 40% less greenhouse gases and consumes 85% less energy, so it is equivalent to a 1h 50m car journey… which although less is still extremely wasteful.
The End of Oil / Paul Roberts
Billions of us around the world enjoy an unprecedented standard of living based on oil. And each year our appetite for this fuel increases, despite the fact that we have already burned more than half of all the easily available oil. What is going to happen as the oil starts to run out in the next few decades, and what will it mean to our daily lives? These are some questions that Roberts eloquently tackles in a book that examines a complex issue with clarity and objectivity. This book will change your whole perspective on an economy based on oil, and it may even encourage you to buy a smaller car.
How long can Earth supply us with the minerals? (Jun 2007)
Many of us are aware of the scarcity of oil, but what about other resources that we take from the Earth? What about minerals? New Scientist has published an article on this topic. Taking into account increasing consumption, it appears we have 20-30 more years of zinc, 30-40 more years of uranium (there goes the so-called future fuel), 15 years of platinum, 5-10 years of indium, 15-20 years of silver, about 10 years of hafnium, 15-20 years of antimony and 20-30 years of tantalum, to name just a few of the rare Earth metals that our modern society and technologies depend upon. What is going to happen as these minerals run out? Even gold is expected to run short in about 30-40 years, copper in about 40 years and tin in about 20 years. [Source: New Scientist May26]
BOOK: Sun of gOd / Gregory Sams
Gregory Sams, the inventor of the Veggie Burger, has written a new book that asks whether the ancients were right all along to regard the sun up in the sky as a conscious living being - a god. This idea has floated around on the periphery of New Age thought for a while now, but Sams takes the idea by the scruff of the neck and brings it to a mainstream audience. This fascinating book is both thought-provoking and radical in its conclusions. [more info click here] Listen to Sams speak on Red Ice Creations.
If today is a typical day on planet Earth…
We will lose 116 square miles of rainforest, or about an acre a second. We will lose another 72 square miles to encroaching deserts, as a result of human mismanagement and overpopulation. We will lose 40 to 100 species, and no one knows whether the number is 40 or 100. Today the human population will increase by 250,000. And today we will add 2,700 tons of chlorofluorocarbons to the atmosphere and 15 million tons of carbon. Tonight the Earth will be a little hotter, it's waters more acidic, and the fabric of life more threadbare.
BOOK: Gardening For The Future of The Earth / Shapiro & Harrison
If you want to change the world, you need to start in your own back garden. The authors give invaluable advice on saving seeds, maintaining plant diversity, building soil, reusing water, biointensive raised beds and gaining maximum productivity from a plot. Included in the book are many practical examples and the advice from several other different experts. But ultimately, this is a grass roots solution to the current environmental devastation; as Shapiro says in his book, "Gardeners know a lot more about soil than laboratory scientists!"
Humans Driving Global Warming - It's Official! (Feb 2007)
The Fourth Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just been published and removes most of the question marks regarding human involvement in global warming. It is now "very likely" that the rise in temperature that we are seeing globally is a direct result of human activity, but in its efforts to get the report past politicians, much of the leading-edge scientific research and anything remotely controversial was frozen out. For example, the report ignores the fact that the glaciers are melting far faster than theory predicts, the Gulf Stream is slowing down and could soon stop altogether, and large ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland could collapse any moment, raising sea-levels far higher than the report's ultra-conservative prediction of 3.1cm per decade. But still, the report served its purpose to help silence the Global Warming skeptics (most of whom seem to have some connection with the petroleum industries). Key to the report's success was the recent Democratic victory in the congressional elections which has softened the US' skeptical stance which has led to its vetoes of past climate proposals. With players like Bush marginalized, the question now is how we can practically minimize human involvement in this warming. [New Scientist]
BOOK: The Sacred Balance / David Suzuki
This book offers one of the best introductions to ecology and the interdependence of living systems on this planet. Suzuki manages to combine facts, quotations and even spiritual wisdom in book that retains scientific credibility and non-scientific readability. Indeed, the book itself is a perfect balance of these elements. He also offers practical solutions that help to reduce our impact on the environment. A very good book.
The myth of clean, efficient nuclear power (Jun 2006)
The UK government has again started looking seriously at nuclear power to meet the UK energy needs, stating that any energy source that produces zero greenhouse gases needs to be taken seriously. This perspective, however, is seriously flawed, as a report in The Ecologist magazine pointed out this month. A standard 100mw/eh nuclear reactor requires around 160 tonnes of uranium fuel each year. As concentration of uranium in the ore deposits is only 0.02 - 0.01%, to supply just one standard reactor requires 16 million tonnes of rock to be mined, crushed and chemically treated. This hugely inefficient process leaves mountains of radioactive chemical sludge, uses up far more energy in manufacture of nuclear fuels than will be released by them, and produces vast quantities of greenhouse gases in the process (some of the chemicals used are 10,000 times more potent greenhouse gases than CO2). So it is a lie when politicians present the nuclear alternative as zero-emission and efficient — they have conveniently left out all consideration of manufacture. The Ecologist also pointed out that uranium is a finite fuel, and if nuclear capacity doubles in size, the ore will run out within twenty years, whilst radioactive contamination from it will last many thousands.
BOOK: Principles of Ecological Design / Nancy & John Todd
Biologist John Todd and environmental activist Nancy Todd have written a book on how to integrate agriculture and water supply into a green urban setting, and they introduce many different technologies that are able to purify wastewaters without chemicals.
Earth's fresh water suppliers are fast dwindling:
Aquifers everywhere are emptying out as more and more water is used by the world's farming. In fact, it is estimated that a tenth of the world's food is grown using underground water that is not being replaced by rainwater. What is remarkable is the staggering volume of water needed to produce basic crops
1 kg coffee takes 20,000 litres of water to produce
1 quarter-pounder hamburger uses up 11,000 litres
1 cotton t-shirt takes 7,000 litres of water to produce
1 kg of cheese takes 5,000 litres of water to produce
1 kg of rice takes 5,000 litres of water to produce
1 kg of sugar takes 3,000 litres of water to produce
1 litre of milk takes 2,000 litres of water to produce
1 kg of wheat takes 1,000 litres of water to produce
So the next time you have a cup of coffee or slip on a t-shirt, spare some thought about the environmental consequences of even our most basic choices. And remember that a meat-based diet needs vastly more water to produce than a vegetarian diet.
[Source: New Scientist - 25 Feb 06 edition]
BOOK: The Secret Life of Plants / Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird
When this book was published back in 89 it one of the first to open up the world of subtle energies and plant consciousness to the West. As with Secrets of the Soil this book brings together a diversity of subjects from ESP and mind-over-matter to hynopsis and extra-terrestial plant seeds. A joy to read.
Amazon Rainforest Shrinking Twice as Fast (21 Oct 2005)
Ecologist Gregory Asner and his colleagues, who have been analysing satellite images to assess the rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest, have concluded that it is actually disappearing twice as first as scientists had previously estimated. The team, which included scientists from Brazil, used new supercomputer software and image processing to garner as much information as they could out of the satellite photos. The results, in Asner's words, were "sobering". What many illegal loggers are now doing is removing selected trees in a forest so as to hide evidence of their illegal logging, but the new software is able to take into account this prevalent but hidden type of destruction. The full results, which showed that the Amazon is being destroyed at twice the rate previously estimated, were shocking to the team who did not expect such a big discrepancy between real destruction and the previously estimated rate.
BOOK: Secrets Of The Soil / Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird
The title sounds like something that would only interest a hard-core permaculturalist or commune hippy, but it is actually one of those books whose with a remarkably broad scope, bringing together everything from biodynamic agriculture to nature spirits. This book brings the real hope of a bright future for our current destructive farming practices. True ecology has to be more than just another mechanism (albeit a green one) and this book certainly puts ecology within a much larger spiritual perspective.

GLOBAL WARMING is becoming an increasing problem to the Earth's ecosystem, with the single biggest contributor fiddling whilst the ecosystem burns. This week's issue of New Scientist Magazine (10 Sept 05) lists ten steps necessary to take to avert the calamity that mankind is currently facing:

  1. Wear Clothes Indoors: One of the easiest ways to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce the indoor heating in your home and wear more clothes instead. (Also, turn down any air-con — do you really need it so cold?)
  2. Minimise Car Journeys: Cars represent one of the worst contributors to global warming. By taking the bus or train, you can reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 60%.
  3. Start Composting: The organic rubbish that we throw out is compacted down into landfill sites where it becomes a breeding ground for greenhouse gas producing bacteria called methanogens. This does not happen with composting.
  4. Cut Down on Plane Flights: Emissions from flights now account for 6% of personal greenhouse gas emission. This could be dramatically cut down by reducing flights, especially short-haul were train alternatives exist.
  5. Choose A Greener Car: If you drive a gas-guzzling SUV then you are just asking for environmental damage. Today there are plenty of relatively green and economical cars to choose from, including new electrics and hybrids.
  6. Get Low-Energy Household Appliances: Household appliances use up loads of energy, so when you replace them choose low-energy options. Also, if not necessary, don't leave appliances on stand-by.
  7. Eat Less Meat and Dairy: Huge amounts of greenhouse gases are produced by the meat and dairy industries. So cutting down on them is good for global warming. Also, try to choose home-grown food to reduce transport emissions.
  8. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle: We are all encouraged in this society to be rampant consumers which produces huge amounts of CO2 in manufacturing. Reducing consumption, and reusing/recycling we help support the environment.
  9. Be Greener in the Office : Turning off lights, switching off computers at night, using both sides of paper, using energy-saving appliances and recycling makes a huge difference.
  10. Choose a Green Burial: Opting for a simple natural burial and save the enormous amount of resources currently used in modern burials (vaults, bronze caskets etc.
BOOK: The Future of Life / Edward O. Wilson
Edward Wilson is a Harvard naturalist and he has written an intelligent and balanced book on the environmental crisis that we are now facing. Wilson argues that diversity is the key to maintaining the complex web of life and he gives actual economic value to maintaining the remaining ecological integrity. For example for just a quarter of what the US spends on its military every year, Wilson shows that we could save the world. (He also demonstrates how each American is being subsidized $2000 per annum by the environment.) A very open-minded and informed book.