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Archive for the ‘Fragile environments’ Category

Climate change the main cause for cold weather in Europe?

Posted by Lindy on February 9, 2012


The exceptionally cold weather characterized by chilling winds and temperatures well below zero degrees Celsius has been striking Europe for more than a week. According to a scientist Alfred Wegener from the Institute for Polar and Marine Research the main cause for this exceptionally cold weather is climate change, or to be more precise the huge loss of Arctic ice.

The effect is twofold, the Wegener scientists report.

First, less ice means less solar heat is reflected back into the atmosphere. Rather, it is absorbed into the darker ocean waters. Second, once that heat is in the ocean, the reduced ice cap allows the heat to more easily escape into the air just above the ocean’s surface.

Because warmer air tends to rise, the moisture-laden air near the ocean’s surface rises, creating instability in the atmosphere and changing air-pressure patterns, the scientists say.

One pattern, called the Arctic Oscillation, normally pushes warm Atlantic air over Europe and keeps Arctic air over the poles.

But in mid-January this year, the Arctic Oscillation abruptly changed, allowing the jet stream to plunge into Siberia and push cold and snowy weather over much of Europe.

Similar situations have emerged the past two years.

http://www.wcyb.com/weather/30391119/detail.html

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Posted in Climate change, Fragile environments, Global warming, Hazards | Leave a Comment »

Rainforest: the problem with roads

Posted by Lindy on January 19, 2012


http://e360.yale.edu/feature/as_roads_spread_in_tropical_rain_forests_environmental_toll_grows/2485/

Taken from an article by William Laurance

Brazil is currently building 7,500 kilometers of new paved highways that crisscross the Amazon basin. Three major new highways are cutting across the towering Andes mountains, providing a direct link for timber and agricultural exports from the Amazon to resource-hungry Pacific Rim nations, such as China.

Despite their environmental costs, the economic incentives to drive roads into tropical wilderness are strong. They are:

  • a cost-effective means to promote economic development
  • give access natural resources
  • local communities in remote areas often demand new roads to improve access to markets and medical services
  • new roads can be used to help secure frontier regions

Roads that cut through rainforests can also create barriers for sensitive wildlife, many of which are ecological specialists. Studies have shown that even narrow (30 meter-wide), unpaved roads drastically reduce or halt local movements for scores of forest bird species. Many of these species prefer deep, dark forest interiors; they have large, light-sensitive eyes and avoid the vicinity of road verges, where conditions are much brighter, hotter, and drier. A variety of other tropical species — including certain insects, amphibians, reptiles, bats, and small and large mammals — have been shown to be similarly leery of roads and other clearings. And by bringing naïve rainforest wildlife into close proximity with fast-moving vehicles, roads can also promote heavy animal mortality. For some creatures, especially those with low reproductive rates, roads could potentially become death zones that help propel the species toward local extinction.

Although the direct effects of roads are serious, they pale in comparison to the indirect impacts. In tropical frontier regions, new roads often open up a Pandora’s box of unplanned environmental maladies, including:

  •  illegal land colonization
  • fires
  • hunting
  • gold mining
  • forest clearing.

“The best thing you could do for the Amazon,” said the respected Brazilian scientist Eneas Salati, “is to bomb all the roads.”

In Brazilian Amazonia, my colleagues and I have done studies showing that around 95 percent of all deforestation occurs within 50 kilometers of highways or roads. Human-lit fires increase dramatically near Amazonian roads, even within many protected areas. In Suriname, most illegal gold mining occurs near roads.

Paved highways are especially dangerous to forests. They provide year-round access to forest resources and reduce transportation costs, causing larger-scale impacts on forests and wildlife than do unpaved roads, which tend to become impassable in the wet season. The proposed routes of new highways often attract swarms of land speculators who rush in to buy up cheap forest land, which they then sell to the highest bidder.
Perhaps the most damaging aspect of paved highways is that they spawn networks of secondary roads, which spread further environmental destruction. For instance, the 2,000-kilometer-long Belem-Brasília highway, completed in the early 1970s, has today evolved into a spider web of secondary roads and a 400-kilometer-wide swath of forest destruction across the eastern Brazilian Amazon.

Can the environmental impacts of tropical roads be minimized? In theory, the answer is “Yes, partially.”

  • Frequent culverts can reduce the effects on streams and hydrology.
  • Impacts on animal movements can be reduced by keeping road clearings narrow enough so that canopy cover is maintained overhead, providing a way for arboreal species to cross.
  • In high-priority areas rope-bridges are being used to facilitate road crossings of monkeys and possums.
  • For small ground-dwelling species, culverts beneath roads can allow road-crossing movements

Posted in Amazon, Fragile environments, management, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

What Can Be Done to Slow Climate Change?

Posted by Lindy on January 15, 2012


For the full article go to: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120112193442.htm

This is a very interesting article, but if you are tempted to include in your GSCE exam, make sure you mention Shindell (of NASA) as it is so new, that many exam markers will not have come across it, and may think you have got confused.

The main idea behind what they are saying is that while CO2 has the main long term impact on climate change, it we want to have some effective short term impacts ( i.e. within 40 years) these are the best ways to go, as they don’t just reduce climate change but reduce the impacts on health and agriculture as well.

The 2 key elements are methane and black carbon.

Black carbon are specs that come from burning fossil fuels and wood, and are implicated in respiratory illness and climate change. If these specs are inhaled (e.g. by burning wood for cooking as happens in large parts of the LICs) then many get sick and/or die from it – in particular women and young children. Also black carbon absorb radiation form the sun and so raise the air temperature, darken the ice caps so increasing the heat they absorb and contribute to melting and also to changes in rainfall patterns.

Methane as we know is 20-30 times worse than CO2.

What are the specific actions Shindell thinks we should take?

For black carbon, reduce the emissions from cars by filtering, and even removing the worst offenders from the road, upgrading the cookers using wood, especially in LICs, and banning agricultural stubble burning.

For methane, change methods of production of rice so the paddies do not omit methane, capturing methane from landfill sites,making sure methane do not escape from oil and gas wells and managing animal/human manure more effectively.

Who will benefit?

Russia, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan who have a lot of ice will be the prime winners.   Iran, Pakistan and Jordan would experience the most improvement in agricultural production. Southern Asia and the Sahel region of Africa would see the most beneficial changes to precipitation patterns.  The south Asian countries of India, Bangladesh and Nepal would see the biggest reductions in premature deaths as a result of chest infections.

Posted in Bangladesh, Climate change, Energy sources, Fragile environments, Global warming, management, Solution to problems, Weather | Leave a Comment »

World pays Ecuador not to extract oil from rainforest

Posted by Lindy on January 3, 2012


Friday 30 December 2011

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/30/ecuador-paid-rainforest-oil-alliance

Governments and film stars join alliance that raises £75m to compensate Ecuador for lost revenue from 900m barrels. Supporters of the Yasuní ‘crowdfunding’ initiative say it could change the way important places are protected.

An alliance of European local authorities, national governments, US film stars, Japanese shops, soft drink companies and Russian foundations have stepped in to prevent oil companies exploiting 900m barrels of crude oil from one of the world’s most biologically rich tracts of land. According to the UN, the “crowdfunding” initiative had last night raised $116m (£75m), enough to temporarily halt the exploitation of the 722 square miles of “core” Amazonian rainforest known as Yasuní national park in Ecuador.

The park, which is home to two tribes of uncontacted Indians, is thought to have more mammal, bird, amphibian and plant species than any other spot on earth. Development of the oilfield, which was planned to take place immediately if the money had not been raised, would have inevitably led to ecological devastation and the eventual release of over 400m tonnes of CO2.

Ecuador agreed to halt plans to mine the oilfield if it could raise 50% of the $7.6bn revenue being lost by not mining the oil. While the world’s leading conservation groups pledged nothing, regional governments in France and Belgium offered millions of dollars – with $2m alone from the Belgian region of Wallonia. A New York investment banker donated her annual salary and Bo Derek, Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton and Al Gore all contributed.

The idea of asking people to pay for something not to take place was widely dismissed by national treasuries as holding the world to ransom. The German development minister, Dirk Niebel, said that the principle of paying for the oil not to be exploited “would be setting a precedent with unforeseeable referrals”. However, Germany has now contributed $48m in “technical assistance”. The former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was widely criticised after he wrote off $51m of Ecuador’s $10bn external debt as Italy’s contribution. Other governments pledging support were Chile, Colombia, Georgia and Turkey ($100,000 each), Peru ($300,000), Australia ($500,000) and Spain ($1.4m).

Supporters of the scheme argued that it could be a model for change in the way the world pays to protect important places. The money raised is guaranteed to be used only for nature protection and renewable energy projects. Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and other countries with oil reserves, have investigated the possibility of setting up similar schemes as an alternative to traditional aid.

The biological richness of Yasuní has astonished scientists. One 6sq km patch of the park was found to have 47 amphibian and reptile species, 550 bird, 200 mammal and more species of bats and insects than anywhere in the western hemisphere. According to Ecuadorean scientists, it would take in the region of 400 years to record Yasuní’s 100,000 or more insect and 2,000 fish species.

Posted in Amazon, Climate change, Energy sources, Fragile environments, International action, Solution to problems, Sustainability | Leave a Comment »

Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas

Posted by Lindy on December 24, 2011


http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/shock-as-retreat-of-arctic-sea-ice-releases-deadly-greenhouse-gas-6276134.html#

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region. The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

Earlier they had found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This was  the first time that they had found continuous, powerful structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. Over a relatively small area they found more than 100. Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Posted in Climate change, Fragile environments, Global warming | Leave a Comment »

Senegal: Prospects and Pitfalls Along a Great Green Wall

Posted by Lindy on December 1, 2011


http://allafrica.com/stories/201111300170.html

29 November 2011

Former goat-herder Samba Ba proudly points to a row of metre-high acacia trees growing amid the fine grasses that are the only other vegetation in this part of northern Senegal’s arid savannah. “Planting trees is a blessing – trees mean life. We call this the Nile River of the Sahel.”  Ba hopes that in time the trees will bear black fruits that can be used as goat-feed. He and his fellow villagers are also planting the Sahel acacia, which produces a gum with medicinal properties, the tamarind, which has edible bitter-sweet fruit, and the desert date or “sump” tree, which bears small fruits whose oil can be used in cooking. These are all thorny trees with small leaves, the only kind that can survive in the arid conditions.

Sedentary and semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen are planting five hectares of vegetable and fruit crops and approximately 1,000 trees as part of the Great Green Wall project (“La Grande Muraille Verte”), an ambitious pan-African environmental programme designed to combat desertification along the southern edge of the Sahara and provide nomadic populations with extra livelihoods while enhancing their food security.

The scheme falls within the framework of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, which aims to decrease poverty and improve food sources, and is being supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Donors have pledged US$3 billion to the 11 participating countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan.

 

Ambitious

The governments of these 11 Sahelian states intend that 20 years from now, a giant hedge, 15km wide and 7,000km long, spreading across two million hectares, will help slow the advancing desert and impede the hot winds that increase erosion.

“The wall is just the final result. What we’re looking for… is to protect and improve the eco-systems of these Sahel regions, and [through this] to improve the diets, health, lifestyle and environment of the Savannah people,” said Matar Cissé, director general of the national agency implementing the project, in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Chronic drought has made it increasingly difficult for Fulani nomads to make a traditional living as pastoralists, but herdsmen would consider settling in such villages if they could earn a living by growing and selling fruit and vegetables. They are developing a system that will help these people help themselves to stay in one place, create jobs and raise their own incomes.

 

Food production and shifting lifestyles

Villagers are taught how to plant market gardens and use drip irrigation by connecting a small elevated water tank to perforated pipes that deliver small amounts of water to each plant.

So far, the 133 women participating in the scheme in Mbar Toubab have produced lettuce, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, okra, aubergines, watermelons, carrots, cabbages and turnips. Their mango and orange trees have yet to bear fruit.

Such a project must be based on market research that identifies who will be able to buy the vegetables, where, and at what prices, if it is to support livelihoods and food security, said the NGO Groundswell International.

 

Food security versus desertification

Food insecurity in the Sahel is largely due to a growing gap between rich and poor, with an “underclass of the bottom 30 percent” living in chronic poverty. Solutions include subsidized prices, social protection schemes, and disaster reduction, among many others.

Desertification is what forces people to migrate. In the popular imagination desertification is about billowing sand dunes advancing at a rate of two kilometres a year, but… [it] is the overuse of natural resources, over-grazing, intensive farming and the subsequent erosion of land-pockets that become completely denuded and then join together. Tree-planting projects to combat desertification work

best when the trees are owned by the farmers themselves. Usually only 20 percent of newly planted trees survive… so there is a high risk to tree-planting… unless we mobilize millions of [farmers] to invest in trees as well as manage them themselves, the battle against desertification cannot be won.

 

Pastoralist-led solutions

The most innovative projects to improve the lives and livelihoods of pastoralists are being developed by the pastoralists themselves, with the help of NGOs.  In Niger they have established settlement sites where they plant trees and market gardens alongside health and education services. Pastoralists then migrate from these points. Rather than using such schemes to encourage the nomads to settle – which often leads to tension with sedentary communities – a combination of mobility and agriculture is the most risk-averse survival strategy. [Partial] mobility…is a much better and less risky strategy than staying in one place… [which] leads to over-grazing, and if the area does not get much rainfall that year, the pastoralists are much more vulnerable

Posted in Fragile environments, management, Sahel, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

Climate smart agriculture – a new way to use old solutions

Posted by Lindy on November 17, 2011


This is a short summary of a very long article, the full text of which can be found here:

http://www.new-ag.info/en/pov/views.php?a=2297

What is the aim of CSA? Climate smart agriculture (CSA) increases crop yields, whilst storing more soil carbon and providing greater climate resilience

The present: As a major user of freshwater and fossil fuels, a significant producer of greenhouse gases and a frequent trigger to deforestation, agriculture has tended to be seen as part of the climate change problem rather than an agent of mitigation. The concept of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) seeks to reverse that pattern.

Developed countries currently focus on reducing energy inputs and emissions, and look for suitable opportunities for biofuel production. They look at opportunities for carbon trading from agricultural production, while the least developed countries are likely to be predominantly focussed on adapting their agricultural systems to meet the challenges posed by a changing climate.

What is Climate Smart Agriculture? Climate resilient agriculture has as its focus the effort to maximise farm output in a changing climate. But Climate Smart Agriculture is this, plus a drive to move agriculture out of the box where it is part of the problem, and into the box where it is part of the solution – George Jacob, Communications, Self Help Africa

By promoting agricultural best practices, such as Integrated Crop Management, conservation agriculture, intercropping, improved seeds and fertilizer management practices, CSA encourages the use of all available and applicable climate change solutions This is done to not only adapt but also mitigate and increase productivity sustainably – Farming First coalition

CSA is agriculture that is resilient and adapted to climate change; helps reduce emissions and sequester carbon; reduces pressure on forests; maintains ecosystem services and biodiversity; and produces food, fibre and fuel crops that the world needs – David Howlett, Africa College, Leeds University

Posted in Appropriate technology, Climate change, Fragile environments, Global warming, Solution to problems | 1 Comment »

Women helped to recover degraded land

Posted by Lindy on October 28, 2011


18.10.2011

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/oct/18/fight-against-desertification

Preventing irreversible degradation should be a global fight tackled with local, national and regional solutions. One-third of the world’s population lives in drylands where land degradation is reducing food supplies, biodiversity, water quality and soil fertility. Many of the poorest and most food-insecure people live off these lands as small-scale farmers and herders. Because they have no fallback options if this land deteriorates, they are the worst hit by desertification.

Solutions exist to help communities living in harsh environments to improve their livelihoods. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) is working with local, national and international partners on initiatives that revitalise soils and conserve water, enabling communities to reap the health benefits and incomes from otherwise degraded or soon to become degraded lands.

The approach of bioreclamation of degraded lands shows how women’s groups could revitalise barren lands by using simple water and soil conservation techniques, such as zai pits (small holes enriched with compost), to plant drought-tolerant trees and crops, and applying small amounts of fertiliser to the plant root, a technique known as microdosing.

In west Africa, most women have no or few rights to agricultural land, so Icrisat has been working with local NGOs to help them form associations and gain access to communal village wasteland. Scientists showed the women how to plant a range of crops, nutritious trees and high-value vegetables using zai pits and demi lunes (semi-permanent planting basins) to harvest rainwater and concentrate nutrients for the plants.

Their work shows that degraded lands can be made productive by plants such as the hardy Pommes du Sahel, which have 10 times the vitamin C of ordinary apples and are rich in calcium, iron, and phosphorus, and Moringa trees, the leaves of which contain four times the vitamin A in carrots, four times the calcium and double the protein in milk and three times the potassium in bananas. Drought-tolerant pigeon pea was found to help soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil. It also traps pests that would otherwise attack and damage the okra that the women plant in the zai pits, and gives harvests even when rainfall is scarce.

However, most crucially, we must look at how we can prevent soils becoming degraded in the first place. By involving farmers in sustainable water and soil management, Kothapalli, a village in Andhra Pradesh, India, which was previously below the poverty line due to recurrent drought, is now prosperous and serving as a model for other villages in Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa. Farmers have been shown how to carry out a healthcheck and feed it the nutrients that are missing so that the soil recovers before it is too late. By adding nutrients such as zinc and boron to exhausted soil, farmers are getting better and more nutritious harvests.

• William Dar is director general of the Icrisat in Andhra Pradesh, India

Posted in Appropriate technology, Food supply, Fragile environments, Sahel, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

Looking to the Sahel for Lessons in Pushing Back Deserts

Posted by Lindy on October 28, 2011


From an article by Stephen Leahy

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=105491

Oct 17, 2011 (IPS) – Nearly all our food comes from the Earth’s limited food- producing lands, but those lands continue to be degraded, guaranteeing far higher food prices and less food in the future, experts warn. But degradation and desertification can be halted and reversed, as evidenced by once barren parts of Africa’s dry Sahel Region that are now green and thriving thanks to local efforts.

Without reversing ongoing land degradation, studies show food prices are estimated to increase by 30% and that there could be up to 12% less food available.  And we can’t afford to deplete our food-producing lands when there will be nine billion people by 2050.

Although the world can produce enough food for everyone, roughly one in seven people will go hungry. Why? They simply cannot afford to buy enough food. World food prices remain 15 percent higher than a year ago, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Food commodity speculation and climatic change that is bringing increased heat and changes in precipitation patterns, along with increasing demand for biofuels, have been blamed for rising food prices in recent years.

Every year, desertification results in the effective loss of some 12 million hectares of land.

Much of Africa’s western Sahel region on the edge of the Sahara desert was as barren as a concrete floor in the 1970s. Now close to six million hectares are green again and home to over 200 million trees in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Many of the trees were not  planted, it was natural regeneration thanks in part to an increase in rainfall. However, the biggest factor was the local peoples’ actions to protect the trees and develop water harvesting techniques to create an intricate agroforestry system that sustains them. And those actions were sparked by changes in government policies that essentially said: “If you plant a tree or protect a tree, you own it forever.”

Local peoples responded by constructing semi-circular mounds, planting pits, knee-high dams and impoundments to trap and hold water, nourishing trees, bushes and food plants and helping to recharge groundwater. In some areas the water table has risen five or six metres.

Using these techniques, small-scale farmers in Niger have been able to grow 200,000 tonnes of onions. Some are producing 2,000 kilogrammes of food from a hectare of land that did not produce anything.

The re-greening of this part of the Sahel has increased the region’s soil fertility, reduced temperatures, cut the number and intensity of sandstorms, provided firewood and fodder for animals, boosted biodiversity and generated other benefits with no cost to governments, he said.

The big question now is how to bring this to other parts of Africa and the world?

In Ethiopia, where large tracts of land owned by the country’s richest person were being ploughed up for a monoculture crop,  the resulting clouds of dust blow away the  land’s fertility. Semi-arid areas of the world need to shift into agroforestry that integrates trees animals and crops.

To achieve truly sustainable forms of food production, governments need to move away from monocultures and large-scale irrigation projects. A combination of plants, trees and animals can conserve and enhance the productivity of land. Studies show that where agroforestry (also called agroecology) has been applied, it has led to an average of 116 percent increases in average yield in Africa.

The best thing governments can do is support and provide incentives to their smallholder farmers to shift to agroecological methods rather than investing in big, expensive projects. Dams and large-scale irrigation are extremely costly for states, have huge environmental and social impacts and are unsustainable.

Posted in Fragile environments, Sahel, Solution to problems | Leave a Comment »

FRW Malawi Farmers combat climate change with mulch

Posted by Lindy on October 20, 2011


http://weekly.farmradio.org/2011/10/17/malawi-farmers-combat-climate-change-with-mulch-alertnet/ Date Posted: October 17th, 2011

Anthony Kapesa has stopped tilling his land. But this farmer from Zombwe village in Malawi still expects a good harvest of maize this year. Faced with worsening dry spells, Mr. Kapesa now spreads moisture-preserving mulch over the surface of his untilled field. Lack of rainfall during the growing season is an increasing concern for farmers in Malawi. Many people believe this problem is due to climate change. In the past, Mr. Kapesa’s crops wilted whenever there was a dry spell. He hoed his fields every season. He made ridges on which he planted his maize. But he learned that soil loosened by tilling is more easily dried by the sun. Now, Mr. Kapesa uses wild grass to mulch his fields. He cuts the grass and leaves it to dry before spreading it. To plant his seeds, he pulls aside a little mulch, digs a small hole, drops in a seed, and buries it. Mulch protects the soil against the impact of raindrops. It allows rain to soak slowly into the ground. When the rains don’t come, the mulch keeps the soil cool and reduces the rate of moisture loss.

Mr. Kapesa points to a granary full of harvested maize. He says, “Since I started using this system, my crop no longer wilts … as a result, my yields have been more than what they used to be when I planted my crops on ridges.” Before he began mulching, Mr. Kapesa harvested 16 50-kilogram bags of maize. Now the same land produces 43 bags, nearly triple the yield.

Tilling the soil and making planting ridges are traditional farming techniques in Malawi. Chakalipa Kanyenda is program manager for Find Your Feet, a UK-based non-governmental organization. Find Your Feet teaches farmers how to adapt to the effects of climate change. According to Mr. Kanyenda, tilling and ridging can increase moisture loss from the soil. He says that mulching has successfully cushioned farmers against the increasingly erratic rainfall in Malawi. Farmers have eagerly adopted the practice.

Posted in Appropriate technology, Climate change, Food supply, Fragile environments, Solution to problems, Water | Leave a Comment »