Earth Day 2014: Nurturing cities of the future

MOTHER Earth is a motif that commonly appears on the mythologies of different cultures around the world. It depicts Earth as a goddess embodying fertility and motherhood, such as Gaia in Greek mythology and Terra in Roman tradition.

In Southeast Asia, particularly in Myanmar, Cambodia Thailand and Laos, the Earth goddess is known as Phra Mae Thorani. She is depicted as a young woman with water flowing from her hair. In Indonesia they have Dewi Sri, who is the goddess of rice and fertility. Dewi Sri, is considered as Mother Earth in Javanese culture. She encompasses birth and life and controls rice, the staple food of the Indonesians.

In today’s culture, the term Mother Earth is still used to personify nature. The term embodies the nurturing character of the planet. It is the common expression for the Earth that reflects “the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet.”

In 1972 the United Nations organized the first UN Conference on the Human Environment to respond to the emergencies posed by global warming and the damage human activities are causing the Earth. It started the global awareness of man’s “interdependence” with Earth. In 2009 the United Nations General Assembly declared every 22nd of April as International Mother Earth Day. It aims to promote a view of the Earth as the place that sustains all living things.

‘Green cities’

TODAY more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the urban population grows and the effects of climate change worsen, the need to create sustainable communities is more important than ever.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Green Cities.” The International Mother Earth Day 2014 focused on “green cities, mobilizing millions of people to create a sustainable, healthy environment by greening communities worldwide.”

Having launched last year, the Green Cities Campaign aims to help cities and communities around the world accelerate their transition to a cleaner, healthier and more economically viable future. An initiative of the Earth Day Network, the campaign focuses on three key elements—buildings, energy and transportation.

Three key elements

BUILDING account for nearly one- third of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. To build “green buildings,” building design should improve energy and water efficiency, reduce waste and pollution, use sustainable buildings materials and move toward renewable-energy sources. Cities need to update ordinances, switch to performance-based building codes, and improve financing options.

Another key element of the Green Cities campaign is energy. The current world’s energy infrastructure pumps greenhouse gases into the air and contribute to climate change. Green cities should use cheap, clean and efficient energy by constructing more solar panels and wind turbines throughout communities. Education and policy advocacy should start now to make this energy future a reality.

The urban lifestyle prompts more people to rely on cars for transportation. This makes transportation as the fastest-growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions. The campaign pushes all the sectors to increase public transportation options, invest in alternative transportation, and improve walkability and bikability of cities.

Cities of the future

FOR the Green Cities campaign, right investments should be made in energy, transportation and green buildings for the cities of the future to be different from the cities of today. The future communities will be cleaner and more sustainable, and the quality of life will be better.

The future cities will have more energy-independent homes and buildings. Solar panels will become vital part in the construction of houses. Buildings will be equipped with comprehensive water-management systems for efficient water use. Cities will be connected by solar-powered public-transportation options that are convenient and eco-friendly. Solar energy from space will be harnessed to provide clean and efficient electricity.

Urban biodiversity

“THE cities of the future should be a haven of rich biodiversity,” according to lawyer Roberto V. Oliva, the executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity. “Ecosystems provide food, raw materials, water and medicinal resources; regulate the quality of air, water and soil, and control flood and disease; and enrich the physical, social, aesthetic and spiritual life of urban dwellers. This makes biological diversity a vital component for cities to function properly,” Oliva said.

“We should start building the cities of the future by making urban-planning guidelines to be more ecological and sustainable. It should also integrate the tools in monitoring and evaluating biodiversity in the cities,” Oliva added. He also encouraged city governments to adopt strategies that aimed to empower and to be implemented by the public and the business sector. This can be community-driven initiatives like community farms, aquaponics or urban gardening for additional food resource. Or can be business sector-supported projects, such as adopting a public park or acquiring idle lands for park development.

In building our cities of the future, all our development initiatives should carry the nurturing tradition of Mother Earth.

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No Indian Standard Time: Assam will turn its clocks ahead by an hour

The state of Assam has decided to follow the ‘chaibagaan’ time instead of the Indian Standard Time, according to reports. The chaibagaan time or bagaan time refers to a daylight saving schedule introduced by the British for better energy savings on tea plantations more than 150 years ago.

According to a report in The Hindustan Times, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said IST has affected productivity and has forced the state to follow a schedule not suitable to the time zone we are in.

“The northeastern states have been asking New Delhi for a separate time zone. We have now decided to set our clocks to bagaan time,” Gogoi is quoted as saying. He did not state whether the Centre had given its nod to the decision.

IST corresponds to the time schedule along 82.5 degrees East longitude, where Mirzapur in UP is located. States to the east of this longitude have less daylight hours in comparison to the rest.

Earlier requests for a dual time zone (discarded with the cancellation of the Calcutta Time and the Bombay Time in the 1940s and 1950s) have been met with reluctance from the Centre, which has reportedly cited administrative challenges despite the possibility of energy savings and better productivity through saving some daylight hours by turning the clock ahead an hour in the north-eastern states.

Representational image. ReutersResearchers recently stated that pushing the IST meridian eastwards, or pulling the nation’s clocks ahead by 30 minutes, could help India save an annual 2.7 billion units of electricity, enough to power 1.35 million additional urban middle-class homes.

The National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore, reportedly believe that all states in India, not just the north-east, will save power if the IST is set at six hours ahead of GMT instead of 5.30 hours ahead of GMT.

The IST should be shifted from 82.5 degrees E longitude to 90 degrees E closer to the Assam-Bengal border, according to a researcher quoted in this report in The Telegraph. “Parts of eastern India, particularly the Northeast, bear what the NIAS researchers call the “twin burden” of very early summer sunrises and very early winter sunsets. Parts of the Northeast are bright by about 4 am in June and dark before 5 pm in December,” according to the Telegraph report. Additional daylight hours in the evenings would be people-friendly, would help save power at home and in offices, reduce petty crimes among other gains, scientists have said.

The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, too has found earlier that the 116-minute time difference between the easternmost and westernmost points of India imply that two time zones for the country may be apt. The Department of Science and Technology has recommended otherwise.

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Potato power: the spuds that could light the world

With a simple trick, the humble spud can be made into a battery, so could potato powered homes catch on?

Mashed, boiled, baked or fried? You probably have a preference for your potatoes. Haim Rabinowitch, however, likes his spuds “hacked”.

For the past few years, researcher Rabinowitch and colleagues have been pushing the idea of “potato power” to deliver energy to people cut off from electricity grids. Hook up a spud to a couple of cheap metal plates, wires and LED bulbs, they argue, and it could provide lighting to remote towns and villages around the world.

They’ve also discovered a simple but ingenious trick to make potatoes particularly good at producing energy. A single potato can power enough LED lamps for a room for 40 days,” claims Rabinowitch, who is based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The idea may seem absurd, yet it is rooted in sound science. Still, Rabinowitch and his team have discovered that actually launching potato power in the real world is much more complex than it first appears. While Rabinowitch and team have found a way to make potatoes produce more power than usual, the basic principles are taught in high school science classes, to demonstrate how batteries work.

To make a battery from organic material, all you need is two metals – an anode, which is the negative electrode, such as zinc, and a cathode, the positively charged electrode, such as copper. The acid inside the potato forms a chemical reaction with the zinc and copper, and when the electrons flow from one material to another, energy is released. 

This was discovered by Luigi Galvani in 1780 when he connected two metals to the legs of a frog, causing its muscles to twitch. But you can put many materials between these two electrodes to get the same effect. Alexander Volta, around the time of Galvani, used saltwater-soaked paper. Others have made “earth batteries” using two metal plates and a pile of dirt, or a bucket of water.

Super spuds

Potatoes are often the preferred vegetable of choice for teaching high school science students these principles. Yet to the surprise of Rabinowitch, no one had scientifically studied spuds as an energy source. So in 2010, he decided to give it a try, along with PhD student Alex Goldberg, and Boris Rubinsky of the University of California, Berkeley.

“We looked at 20 different types of potatoes,” explains Goldberg, “and we looked at their internal resistance, which allows us to understand how much energy was lost by heat.”

They found that by simply boiling the potatoes for eight minutes, it broke down the organic tissues inside the potatoes, reducing resistance and allowing for freer movement of electrons– thus producing more energy. They also increased the energy output by slicing the potato into four or five pieces, each sandwiched by a copper and zinc plate, to make a series. “We found we could improve the output 10 times, which made it interesting economically, because the cost of energy drops down,” says Goldberg.

“It’s low voltage energy,” says Rabinowitch, “but enough to construct a battery that could charge mobile phones or laptops in places where there is no grid, no power connection.”

Their cost analyses suggested that a single boiled potato battery with zinc and copper electrodes generates portable energy at an estimated $9 per kilowatt hour, which is 50-fold cheaper than a typical 1.5 volt AA alkaline cell or D cell battery, which can cost $49–84 per kilowatt hour. It’s also an estimated six times cheaper than standard kerosene lamps used in the developing world.

Which raises an important question – why isn’t the potato battery already a roaring success?

In 2010, the world produced a staggering 324,181,889 tonnes of potatoes. They are the world’s number one non-grain crop, in 130 countries, and a hefty source of starch for billions around the world. They are cheap, store easily, and last for a long time.

With 1.2 billion people in the world lacking access to electricity, a simple potato could be the answer– or so the researchers thought. “We thought organisations would be interested,” says Rabinowitch. “We thought politicians in India would give them out with their names inscribed on them. They cost less than a dollar.”

Yet three years on since their experiment, why haven’t governments, companies or organisations embraced potato batteries? “The simple answer is they don’t even know about it,” reasons Rabinowitch. But it may be more complicated than that.

First, there’s the issue of using a food for energy. Olivier Dubois, senior natural resources officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), says that using food for energy – like sugar cane for biofuels – must avoid depleting food stocks and competing with farmers.

“You first need to look at: are there enough potatoes to eat? Then, are we not competing with farmers making income from selling potatoes?” he explains. “So if eating potatoes is covered, selling potatoes is covered, and there’s some potatoes left, then yes, it can work”

In a country like Kenya, the potato is the second most important food for families after maize. Smallholder farmers produced around 10 million tonnes of potatoes this year, yet around 10-20% were lost in post-harvest waste due to lack of access to markets, poor storage conditions, and other issues, according to Elmar Schulte–Geldermann, potato science leader for sub–Saharan Africa at the International Potato Center in Nairobi, Kenya. The potatoes that don’t make it to the market could easily be turned into batteries. 

Pithy answer

Yet in Sri Lanka, for instance, the locally available potatoes are rare and expensive. So a team of scientists at the University of Kelaniya recently decided to try the experiment with something more widely available, and free – plantain piths (stems).

Physicist KD Jayasuriya and his team found that the boiling technique produced a similar efficiency increase for plantains – and the best battery performance was obtained by chopping the plantain pith after boiling.

With the boiled piths, they found they could power a single LED for more than 500 hours, provided it is prevented from drying out. “I think the potato has slightly better current, but the plantain pith is free, it’s something we throw away,” says Jayasuriya.

Despite all this, some are sceptical of the feasibility of potato power. “In reality, the potato battery is essentially like a regular battery you’d buy at the store,” says Derek Lovley at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “It’s just using a different matrix.” While the potato helps to prevent energy being lost to heat, it is not the source of the energy – that’s actually extracted via the corrosion of the zinc. “It’s sacrificial – the metal is degrading over time,” says Lovley. This means you’d have to replace the zinc – and of course the potato or plantain pith – over time.

Still, zinc is quite cheap in most developing countries. And Jayasuriya argues that it could still be more cost effective than a kerosene lamp. A zinc electrode that lasts about five months would cost about the same as a litre of kerosene, which fuels the average family home in Sri Lanka for two days. You could also use other electrodes, like magnesium or iron.

But potato advocates must surmount another problem before their idea catches on: consumer perception of potatoes. Compared with modern technologies like solar power, potatoes are perhaps less desirable as an energy source.

Gaurav Manchanda, founder of One Degree Solar, which sells micro-solar home systems in Kenya, says people buy their products for more reasons than efficiency and price. “These are all consumers at the end of the day. They need to see the value in it, not only in terms of performance, but status,” he explains. Basically, some people might not want to show off their potato battery to impress a neighbor.

Still, it cannot be denied that the potato battery idea works, and it appears cheap. Advocates of potato power will no doubt continue to keep chipping away.

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Sikkim aims to become ‘fully organic’ by 2015

GANGTOK: Sikkim, which started eco-friendly farming from a small area of land about a decade ago, is set to become a fully organic state by 2015, a senior state official has said.

“The entire state will be converted into a certified organic state by 2015. Our schemes and policies are well tuned to realize that goal,”Sikkim Agriculture Secretary Vishal Chauhan said.

According to him, structured organic farming started in the state in 2003 when the government set up the dedicated Sikkim State Organic Board to promote farm techniques that prohibit the use of manufactured synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

“Our chief ,minister, Pawan Chamling, had also introduced a resolution in the assembly seeking to convert entire farming in the state to organic. Now, our farming relies on techniques such as green manure, compost, biological pest control and crop rotation.”

Over 8,000 hectares of land was covered under organic farming between 2003 to 2009. In a bid to make the state fully organic, various state government agencies have been working in coordination.

The state government has completely stopped lifting of quota of chemical fertilizers extended by the Government of India since 2006-07 and all sales points for chemical fertilizers in public and private sector have been shut.

Sikkim government has also promoted large-scale use of bio-fertilisers and provides certified manufactured organic manure to farmers as an alternative to their chemical substitutes, Chauhan said.

In order to provide alternatives to farmers, 24,536 rural compost units and 14,487 vermi-compost units were constructed in farmers’ fields till 2009.

The bio-village programme was also adopted in 2003 and around 400 villages were adopted by the state government till 2009 to benefit some 14,000 farmers and 14,000 acres of land in four districts of the state.

“We have also launched the comprehensive ‘Sikkim Organic Mission‘ as a nodal agency to implement and monitor the programme in time-bound manner. A state-level apex body with the chief minister as its chair oversees the implementation,” the official said.

“Under the new initiative, the government has set a target to implement fully-organic farming technique by 2015. Organic products sell at a premium, which will benefit over 50,000 families in the state and promote organic agro-tourism.”

According to latest data, Sikkim produces some 80,000 million tonnes of farm products, including 45,890 million tonnes of ginger, 3,510 million tonnes of large cardamom, 2,790 million tonnes of turmeric, 4,100 million tonnes of buckwheat, 3,210 million tonnes of urad daal and 20,110 million tonnes of mandarin oranges.

Significant portion of these products are already organic.

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11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It’s not the baby’s or the parent’s fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth’s seventh billionth person will be born today. That’s seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.

The questions of how many people can the Earth sustain is rightly a sensitive one, since it strikes at the heart of very personal decisions made by billions worldwide. What do we do if we’re pregnant? Do we want children? How large do we want our family to be? No one wants to be told how many children they can or cannot have, and discussions of overpopulation may imply such lectures. Others see any discussion of overpopulation as a call for stemming human population with any means necessary, which, of course, is ridiculous. Or they condemn the speakers as misanthropes—also ridiculous and contrary to the point of the discussion in the first place. Still these specious charges have made many wary to wade into one of the most important issues of our age: how many people can the Earth sustain? And, just as important, how many people do we want? For we ignore overpopulation at our peril—and our misery. The Earth is a finite planet; it has limits and thresholds; and according to many scientists and experts we are already passing several of those.

Currently, humans are consuming the equivalent of one-and-a-half planet Earths every year, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report. Looking at renewable resources—from fish to forests and carbon to agriculture—the report shows just how far we have surpassed the sustainability of our world. By the time the global population is expected to stabilize at 9 (or maybe 10) billion people in 2050, a total 2.8 Earths will be necessary if ‘business as usual’ continues. In other words it would take the Earth’s resources nearly 3 years to recover from 1 year of human consumption. Not surprisingly, some consume a far bigger share than others: for example, if everyone on Earth consumed as much as the average American, global society would need 4.5 Earths today to live sustainably.

To understand the impact of humanity on the world’s ecosystems, one needs to keep in mind it is made up of two factors. The first is population: the more of us, the greater our collective impact. The other, though, is consumption: the more resources we each consume, the further we move away from true sustainability. This makes some more responsible than others. For example, according to a 2009 study, a child born in the US today will have a carbon footprint that is 7 times larger than a child born on the same day in China. But it gets worse: the American child’s carbon footprint would be 55 times larger than an Indian’s and 86 times larger than a Nigerian’s. Population multiplied by consumption is the important metric in comprehending our footprint. In addition, humans are also living longer. A sign of societal well-being, longer lives also means a more difficult time stabilizing population and a larger individual footprint.

Yet tackling global overpopulation does not require draconian methods or a mass human tragedy; in fact, lowering global population and consumption now would make such events less likely in the future. With around two of every five pregnancies unwanted, research has shown that the greatest way to slow population growth— eventually leading to a population plateau and a slow decline—is to empower women. Universal access to contraceptives, better education, and family planning are some of the best ways to combat an overcrowded planet. Reducing poverty and child mortality are additional goals that bring overall population growth down. It also wouldn’t hurt to build greater awareness around overpopulation and consumption—and make such issues topics of conservation, even in polite company.

Food: Hunger is the issue most frequently brought up in conjunction with overpopulation (even though many others are just as pressing): how do we feed 7 billion people, let alone the 9 billion projected by 2050? According to the UN, a billion people in the world today don’t have enough food. However it’s not because the world doesn’t grow enough food, but because the food we produce is inequitably distributed. One third of all the world’s food is thrown out at one end of the agricultural chain or another: either spoiled by farmers, tossed out by merchants, or thrown in the garbage by consumers. Still, the FAO has estimated that food production will need to rise by 70 percent to supply the anticipated 9 billion. But how do we grow so much food without trashing the very environment that sustains agriculture? With quality arable land running out, there is a desperate need to grow more food on less land, while improving stewardship of resources such as water and soil. Experts continue to debate, sometimes fiercely, whether small-scale organic production is the only sustainable way forward, or whether industrial chemical-driven GMO farming is the answer.

The Turkana tribe of northern Kenya are buffeted by constant drought and food insecurity, which recent research says may be worsening due to climate change.

Water: Like food, access to fresh unpolluted water is becoming a rising concern on our crowded planet. Over 800 million people currently don’t have access to clean drinking water, while one in three people suffer from water scarcity, reports the WHO. And its not just the poor that face water problems: the American Southwest, where it is still common to see well-watered green lawns in the desert, is facing a water crisis largely due to decades of unsustainable and wasteful consumption. Experts warn that underground aquifers are running low all over the world, which will have a direct impact on crop production, since currently 70 percent of consumed water is used for agriculture. In the face of water issues, some nations are turning to desalination plants and taking their water from the sea. However, desalination is still prohibitively expensive for many, while climate change is expected to add greater pressure on water-scarce regions.

Rice field in Laos.

Mass extinction: More people consuming more resources means less and less for the millions of other species inhabiting our world. Many experts believe we are in the midst of mass extinction, with rates estimated at 100 and 1,000 times the background rate. The IUCN Red Lists says that 869 species have gone extinct since 1500 AD, yet this is a vast underestimation, considering the bulk of the world’s species have probably never been named, let alone evaluated. Expanding human population doesn’t just imperil big beloved species like rhinos, tigers, and elephants, but multitudes of species that perform essential services for humanity from clean water to soil health, and carbon sequestration to medicine. A collapse in biodiversity portends ecosystem collapse.

The Sumatran orangutan is considered Critically Endangered as forests continue to fall in Sumatra.

Oceans: In 2008 a report predicted that all wild fish stocks would collapse by 2048. This year, a landmark study predicted mass extinction in the oceans due to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Once believed to be superabundant, the world’s oceans are being plundered of wildlife (or overfished) at a rate never seen in human history. At the same time, ocean acidification from carbon emissions imperils the ocean’s most biodiverse ecosystem, coral reefs, and dead zones, areas starved of oxygen caused by nitrogen-rich pollution, are spreading worldwide. Such synergistic impacts mean the oceans of the future could be very different than those of today, and would likely provide far fewer resources, especially food, for future generations. Despite the dire warnings, fish stocks continue to be vigorously overfished, greenhouse gas emissions remain on the rise, and the oceans are still a dumping ground for much of society’s pollution.

Exploitation of the ocean is leading to precipitous declines in marine life.

Deforestation: Every year over 10 million hectares of forest are lost (an area larger than Hungary) according to the FAO, and another 10 million hectares are degraded. Forests are cut for a variety of reasons, yet all of them connect to population and consumption with big agriculture and commodities playing the lead role. In South America the Amazon is being whittled away by cattle ranching, industrial soy farms, and mining. The rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia are falling to plantations for paper and palm oil. Pressure by rural impoverished populations are diminishing forests in the Philippines, while foreign demand for high-end woods are degrading forests in Madagascar. Rising energy demands have led to forest destruction for biofuels, gas, oil, and hydropower. By some estimates half of the world’s intact tropical forests have been lost, and every year sees more destroyed. Besides harboring the majority of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, forests store carbon, safeguard freshwater, produce vapor that leads to rain, and sustain many rural and indigenous populations.

Geometric patterns of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Cattle ranching and soy are the biggest destroyers of forest in this part of the world.

Climate change: The 21st Century will be the century of climate change: a recent study predicted that regions in Canada, Asia, Europe, and North Africa will already see a rise of 2 degrees Celsius by 2030. Our warmer world will see rising sea levels, more extreme weather, higher frequency of droughts and floods, desertification, and biodiversity loss, generally creating a less stable and more unpredictable world. While rarely discussed, human population growth is invariably linked to greenhouse gas emissions, especially in wealthy and economically-rising powers: the wealthiest 7 percent produces half of the world’s emissions. More people and more consumption means more emissions, and until greenhouse gas emissions—whether from burning fossil fuels, raising food, or forest and peatlands destruction—becomes decoupled from consumption this will remain the case. In fact, efforts to slow population growth could have an important impact on mitigating global warming: a recent study found that slowing population growth could cut global emissions by 16-29 percent.

Herd of African buffalo and birds in the Okavango Delta.

Disease: More humans could mean more disease, though evidence for such a connection thus far is often anecdotal and sometimes contradictory. However, crowded conditions, especially as the world’s mega-cities continue to grow, and rising pressures surrounding sanitation and health care, may increase or worsen outbreaks of disease. While recent fears of a devastating pandemic over avian flu and swine flu proved overblown, it does not mean rising populations may not play role in the next outbreak. Climate change is also expected to change the range of disease, possibly pushing many dangerous tropical diseases into once-temperate environments.

Resource scarcity:Overpopulation isn’t just taking a toll on renewable resources—such as forests and soils—but on non-renewable ones as well. Peak oil has become a popular term over the past decade for good reason. Since society has lagged in transitioning to a fossil fuel-free economy, energy companies are scouring ever-more distant places (the Amazon, the Arctic, and the deep ocean) for new fossil fuel sources, imperiling some of the last pristine environments. High energy prices are also contributing to higher food costs. Meanwhile, many of the world’s important manufacturing metals—such as steel, copper, platinum, nickel, and tin—are running low and becoming harder to get, pushing prices up and forcing mining companies, much like energy companies, into remoter places, risks be damned. In many parts of the world, even protected areas are no longer safe from mining, drilling, and exploitation for resources.

Aerial view of Amazon rainforest landscape scarred by open pit gold mines.

Economics: The world of economics is rarely looked at as an environmental problem, since many traditional economists appear quite willing to ignore the environment. Some have even forecast that the world’s economies will keep growing exponentially, with future generations far richer than we can imagine. But how can material wealth grow on a plundered finite world? Wealth, at least capital in resources, is dependent on the environment, and our environment—planet Earth—is both finite and increasingly plundered. Beyond the fact that there is a limited amount of oil, coal, gold, etc. in the world, there is only so far one can unwisely push renewable resources—such as fish in the sea, trees to log, and arable land—before they collapse. Sustainability means safeguarding renewable resources for future generations. But currently, waste and greed are plundering not just our non-renewable resources, but pushing our renewable ones to the brink. The rise of a global throwaway culture and conspicuous consumption has resulted in an economy based in part on collapsing environmental capital, creating what may be the ultimate bubble.

Dani man in traditional battle array on the island of New Guinea. Once one of the remotest jungles on Earth, this island is seeing rapid change due to industrial-scale logging and mining

Poverty and wealth: Currently, over a third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, while the top 1 percent globally holds 43 percent of the world’s wealth. Hundreds of millions don’t have access to enough food or clean water on a daily basis, while according to Forbes this year there are a record 1,210 billionaires possessing accumulated wealth of $4.5 trillion. As more people populate the planet, paradoxically the wealth disparity has been widening. Millions in developing countries are lacking the basics of human survival (food, water, shelter, and medicine) though their nations may be rich in natural resources. Meanwhile their resources, from forests to marine fish, are often unsustainably depleted for consumption abroad in wealthy nations.

Girl in a village in Madagascar: 70 percent of the Malagasy people suffer from malnutrition. Nearly half the population is under 14.

Well-being: Even if we survive the environmental calamities brought on in part by overpopulation and overconsumption, even if we make it to 10 billion people and society is still humming along, how happy will we be? So many people crowding our small planet means the decline of some very human needs: privacy, wilderness, and hopefulness. It’s hard to imagine a world of beauty and happiness for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren if they only know gorillas and rhinos from images on the Internet, if they never have a chance to taste fresh seafood or experience true silence, if they can’t see the stars for all the light pollution or know the joy of an hour of solitude in the woods.

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A Faster Path to Biofuels

Joule Unlimited Technologies Inc. won the Silver in this year’s Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Awards for developing a more efficient technique for producing biofuel.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company has created genetically engineered micro-organisms that secrete ethanol, diesel fuel and other hydrocarbons from water, sunlight and carbon dioxide. The use of these patented organisms eliminates some of the costly processing steps needed to turn plants into motor fuel.

“The technology has the exciting potential to significantly transform the economics of the biofuel industry,” says Kenny Tang, founder and chief executive of Oxbridge Weather Capital and an Innovation Awards judge.

Traditional biofuels derived from farm products such as corn and sugar cane have come under fire for using up resources that otherwise could be used for food. So researchers began looking to other materials—plants such as switchgrass or jatropha and micro-organisms such as algae—to produce the next generation of biofuels.

Joule took a different path. It uses genetically modified strains of cyanobacteria, which are water-based organisms that make their food through photosynthesis. The organisms, created by a scientific team led by Joule co-founder Noubar Afeyan, can be tweaked to produce different fuels—one form can produce simple ethanol, while another generates more-complex diesel molecules.

While regular algae has to be harvested and processed to squeeze out hydrocarbons, Joule’s cyanobacteria release fuels continuously.

Inside the Solar-converter tanks, micro-organisms secrete fuels

Joule’s other innovation is its SolarConverter bioreactor, a system of closed tanks that look like solar panels, where the organisms grow and release their fuels. Designed to maximize the amount of sunlight that reaches each organism, the tanks mix the cyanobacteria colonies with water laced with micronutrients and piped-in carbon dioxide. Liquid fuels are separated from the water and piped to nearby tanks for storage.

Joule says its systems could produce 15,000 gallons of diesel and 25,000 gallons of ethanol a year on an acre of land, for as little as $20 per barrel-equivalent of diesel and 60 cents per gallon of ethanol.

Since 2010, the company has been operating a pilot plant in Leander, Texas, where it is testing ethanol production. It plans to break ground this month on a larger-scale demonstration facility in New Mexico, with a goal of beginning commercial production by late 2012 or early 2013.

“Scalability and efficiency are open questions, but the concept is great,” says Darlene J.S. Solomon, chief technology officer at Agilent Technologies Inc. and an Innovation Awards judge.

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DoNER Ministry focuses on tourism, hydel power as growth drivers.

Imphal, Aug 8 (ANI): The Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region is ramping up its developmental efforts to boost employment in the region by focusing especially on hydel power generation and the growth of the tourism sector in the region.

The eight northeastern states offer a blend of picturesque landscapes, age-old cultures, exotic food and vast tracts of few world-renowned wildlife and bird sanctuaries to their visitors.Their remoteness has meant that not much is known about them to the outside world. his offers vast opportunities for investment in tourism and allied sectors to open up the region.

“Tourism is another sector, which is fast growing and has the potential of creating vast avenues for self-employment,” Pawan Singh Ghatowar, Union Minister, DoNER.

“Northeast is the powerhouse of the country and the region has the maximum avenues of for harnessing hydropower, which is eco-friendly and economical. We have to harness the opportunity given by nature in the region. It is a perennial source of power,” he added.

It has been said that the Northeast has the potential to “light up half of India”.ome of the hydel power projects in the region include-Khandong (50 MW) and Kopili I and II (225 MW) in Assam, Ranganadi (405 MW) in Arunachal Pradesh, Doyang (75 MW) in Nagaland and Loktak (105 MW) of Manipur, Ranjeet (60 MW), Teesta Stage V and Teesta Stage IV of 510 MW and 520 MW each and three power plants in Mizoram, generating a total of 1,526 MW.

It is expected that the Northeast will generate 70,000-mw, once all the projects take off.

North Eastern Electric Power Corporation Ltd. (NEEPCO) and National Hydroelectric Power Corporation are working in coordination to promote the region as a powerhouse of the country. (ANI)

Reference : Retrieved on 9th August, 2011 from

How green is your supply chain?

Logistics companies in India are waking up to the global trend of offering green services to their customers and are showcasing what they do to reduce their carbon footprint.

Internationally, logistics firms are already offering such solutions as part of their strategy to reduce their environmental impact. Such a move was prompted by a mix of regulatory requirements and demand for such services from customers, who are keen to be seen as ‘carbon-conscious’.

World over, transportation and logistics are seen as key contributors to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Globally, the transport sector accounts for ten per cent of total carbon-dioxide emissions. In India, the sector accounted for seven per cent of GHG emissions in 2007, and this is expected to double to 14 per cent by 2025, according to the Environment Ministry.

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Biomass power plants in a fix over dearer inputs

Burgeoning raw material costs and a mismatch between generation cost and pricing have led biomass power plants to function well below their capacity and, in some cases, end operations.

Against an estimated potential of 18,000 Mw, the installed capacity of biomass plants in India is 2,664 Mw. These plants are in Maharashtra (403 Mw), Andhra Pradesh (363 Mw), Karnataka (365 Mw), Madhya Pradesh (7 Mw), Tamil Nadu (488 Mw), Punjab (74 Mw), Haryana (35 Mw), Rajasthan (73 Mw), Uttar Pradesh (592 Mw), West Bengal (16 Mw) and Uttarakhand (10 Mw), among others.

Industry sources said it was difficult to run these plants, as raw material like forest residue, agricultural waste and non-cattle feed was not available even at Rs 3,000 per tonne.

An industry representative said, “The advantage of biomass over other renewable energy is that it can be firmed up, unlike solar and wind projects. Second, biomass projects can be connected to the local grid and, thereby, transmission losses are reduced and decentralised local generation can give grid stability.

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