Planet Experts http://www.planetexperts.com Enviromental News and Articles Tue, 24 Jul 2018 22:49:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://www.planetexperts.com/wp-content/uploads/cache/2018/08/cropped-planetexperts-logo/13175330.png Planet Experts http://www.planetexperts.com 32 32 82616618 Cyclist attempts to break his own world record in a bid to mitigate climate change http://www.planetexperts.com/cyclist-attempts-to-break-his-own-world-record-in-a-bid-to-mitigate-climate-change/ http://www.planetexperts.com/cyclist-attempts-to-break-his-own-world-record-in-a-bid-to-mitigate-climate-change/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 22:16:06 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29288 Award winning Austrian cyclist Michael Strasser is currently the first to join the UN Environment’s Mountain Heroes Campaign. He recently expresses his interest in taking part in the ice2ice expedition which aims to demonstrate sustainable mobility in mitigating climate change. This expedition will take the cyclist on a record breaking ride from Alaska to Patagonia...

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  • Award winning Austrian cyclist Michael Strasser is currently the first to join the UN Environment’s Mountain Heroes Campaign.

He recently expresses his interest in taking part in the ice2ice expedition which aims to demonstrate sustainable mobility in mitigating climate change. This expedition will take the cyclist on a record breaking ride from Alaska to Patagonia through the longest possible route. In the process, Michael hopes to share the relationship between his personal transportation choices and climate change.

Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment has expressed his enthusiasm to work with Michael to protect Mountain ecosystems. He stated that the cyclist’s message is simple as well as powerful and he strongly believes it will motivate several others.

Michael Strasser joins British Climber Ben Foyle and Kenyan Skier Sabrina Simader on the UN Environment’s Mountain Heroes Campaign which aims to raise awareness and inspire action for the protection of mountain ecosystems by partnering with world renowned athletes.

The campaign is of great importance since mountains serve as the home to millions of people and provide vital ecosystem services for the entire globe, including freshwater. Mountains are also centres for biodiversity and great tourist attractions. However, climate change is causing glaciers, which is a source of drinking water to unique plants and animals to start vanishing. Also, the increase in mountain tourism has caused multiple waste streams which put pressure on the habitats. Several tourists are unaware of how fragile mountains actually are.

Michael has expressed pride and excitement in being able to support the UN Environment and be part of this campaign, stating that it will mean so much to him if he can inspire and motivate his followers to take a bike sometimes instead of their cars.

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And the “Winner” Is…the Mediterranean Sea http://www.planetexperts.com/and-the-winner-is-the-mediterranean-sea/ http://www.planetexperts.com/and-the-winner-is-the-mediterranean-sea/#respond Mon, 23 Jul 2018 05:06:16 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29274 The Mediterranean Basin — a side sea of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by Africa, Europe and Asia — is the cradle of world civilization. It is a symbol of creativity, the search for the meaning of life and wisdom, and the love of people and nature. It has also bred outstanding people who have...

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The Mediterranean Basin — a side sea of the Atlantic Ocean and surrounded by Africa, Europe and Asia — is the cradle of world civilization. It is a symbol of creativity, the search for the meaning of life and wisdom, and the love of people and nature. It has also bred outstanding people who have made remarkable contributions to the development of history in philosophy, art, music, literature, science and technology. One cannot imagine world history without the Egyptian, Hellenistic and Roman civilizations. Times, however, have changed.

These days, about 320 million tourists are spending their holidays at the Mediterranean Sea each year. This tourism means a 40% increase in marine litter during the summer period above and beyond the 208-760 kg of solid urban waste produced annually by the 150 million people living by the Mediterranean basin.

Every year, 150,000 – 500,000 tonnes of macroplastics and 70,000-130,000 tonnes of microplastics enter European seas. Most of this waste ends up in the Mediterranean, where 18% of tuna and swordfish have plastic in their stomachs, particularly cellophane and PET; gaps in the waste management systems of most riparian states are the primary culprit.

Image courtesy of WWF

On the 8th of June, World Ocean Day, the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) published an article stating that a nearly four times higher concentration of microplastic fragments could be found in the Mediterranean than compared to the plastic soup found in the North Pacific gyre!

A record-breaking number of 1.25 million microplastic fragments per square kilometer are floating in the Mediterranean Sea.

In addition, ocean sediments revealed concentrations at 10,000 per km2, which are amongst the highest worldwide. The Mediterranean is considered the sixth greatest accumulation zone for marine litter; this sea holds just 1% of the world’s waters, but concentrates 7% of all global microplastics.

From the 19th of May till the 15th of June, exactly during the time the WWF published their report, we undertook an expedition in the Ligurian-Thyrennian Sea with the aim to check for microplastics. Our expedition took us from Genoa via Elba to northern Sardinia and back again. For our journey, we joined the 5Gyres TrawlShare program to help feed their global estimate of marine plastic pollution database, to strengthen the awareness of our crew members, and to verify the abundance of microplastics in the Ligurian-Thyrennian Sea.

Image courtesy of Roman Lehner

Throughout the expedition, we took 35 samples, with the 60cm manta trawl out in the water for 30 minutes each time. The results we received were very clear and support the results published by the WWF. In each single sample, we found hundreds of fragments of microplastic particles with a different origin such as foam, fishing line, thin film or pellet.

 

Image courtesy of Roman Lehner

Our crew members were astonished every time we checked the samples, shocked to see first-hand such high concentrations of microplastics in the Mediterranean Sea. None believed that we would find that much plastic in total, let alone with each sample.

While the plastic soup found in the five gyres receives most of the media’s attention, the problem is everywhere – and the Mediterranean falls just behind as the world’s sixth biggest accumulation zone.

Europe, it’s time for change and action!

 

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Starbucks Gives Up Straws, But Plastic Adult Sippy Cups Still Suck http://www.planetexperts.com/starbucks-gives-up-straws-but-plastic-adult-sippy-cups-still-suck/ http://www.planetexperts.com/starbucks-gives-up-straws-but-plastic-adult-sippy-cups-still-suck/#respond Tue, 10 Jul 2018 06:02:30 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29264 In the face of mounting pressure from environmental groups and legislation, some businesses are making the switch from single use plastics to sustainable alternatives — think straws made of stainless steel, paper, and even Twizzlers with the ends chopped off. Not Starbucks.  With pressure mounting on the company to curb its massive plastic problem (see...

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In the face of mounting pressure from environmental groups and legislation, some businesses are making the switch from single use plastics to sustainable alternatives — think straws made of stainless steel, paper, and even Twizzlers with the ends chopped off.

Not Starbucks.  With pressure mounting on the company to curb its massive plastic problem (see my op-ed An Open Letter to Starbucks), Starbucks has announced that it will forgo its infamous green straws by 2020 — only to replace them with plastic sippy cup lids.

Starbucks straw littering the sidewalk. (Photo: Lisa Kaas Boyle)

While this switch does eliminate straws, a nasty source of plastic pollution that cannot be recycled, Starbucks has maintained its alliance with the fossil fuel industry for packaging that will continue to harm our planet.  And with no recycling plan in place, the most likely fate for these plastic lids is either landfill or the environment.

The Ocean Conservancy recently released the results from its 2017 International Coastal Cleanup report; for the first time since this data was collected over the course of 30 years, all of the top ten items littering beaches worldwide are made of plastic — pushing glass, aluminum, and paper off the list.  Nicholas Mallos, director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program says, “Given that plastic production is rising, this could be the start of a long and troubling trend.”

Straws came in at number seven, while plastic lids were number nine — just ahead of polystyrene take-out containers at number ten.  As usual, the most common trash on beaches worldwide were cigarette butts, with plastic filters that do not biodegrade on land or at sea. The remaining items were plastic food wrappers (second), bottles (third), bottle caps (fourth), grocery bags (fifth), other plastic bags (sixth), and to-go containers (eighth). 

Starbucks’ infamous green straws…advertised in glass jars that are nowhere to be seen inside the store. (Photo: Lisa Kaas Boyle)

The increase in plastic pollution is due to our national policy of extracting as much fossil fuel as possible, leading to a glut of cheap petrochemical materials, all while cars become more efficient. 

A December 2017 article in The Guardian explains:

“The global plastic binge which is already causing widespread damage to oceans, habitat and food chains, is set to increase dramatically over the next 10 years after multibillion dollar  investments in a new generation of plastics plants in the US. Fossil Fuel companies are among those who have ploughed more than $180 billion since 2010 into new “cracking” facilities that will produce the raw material for everyday plastics from packaging to bottles, trays and cartons. The new facilities – being built by corporations like Exxon Mobile Chemical and Shell Chemical – will help fuel a 40% rise in plastic production in the next decade, according to  experts exacerbating the plastic pollution crisis that scientists warn already risks “near permanent pollution on the earth.” 

This boom in plastics production is a direct result of the boom — and resulting price decrease — in shale gas production in the United States.  Kevin Swift, Chief Economist for the American Chemistry Council, trade association for petrochemical producers, makes the connection clear:“I can summarise [the boom in plastic facilities] in two words … Shale gas. … There has been a revolution in the US with the shale gas technologies, with the fracking, the horizontal drilling. The cost of our raw material base has gone down by roughly two thirds.”

While the use of plastics is increasing, the global market for plastic waste for recycling has dried up to a trickle.  China, once on the receiving end of our plastic waste — once our largest export to the country — has closed that door; its economy no longer needs such a polluting industry.  Plastics recycling in the U.S. is all but dead, as the cost for virgin petrochemical material is so cheap.  And recycling was never a solution to plastic pollution.  Only 9% of all plastic manufactured has been recycled to date, while 79% of it has accumulated in our landfills and in the environment.  

With the Trump Administration, the Republican party, and corporations favoring fossil fuels, we face a dire future as our oceans warm and drown in plastic waste, our shorelines recede under rising seas, our skies fill with petrochemical manufacturing pollution, and our waters grow more toxic from extraction and spills. 

Single use adult sippy cups are not the solution to plastic pollution; they are just another example of the same old one-way, throw-away thinking that is destroying our planet.

Lisa Kaas Boyle, Esq. is an environmental attorney and co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition.

 

 

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What are Abalone and Here’s How We Get Them Back! http://www.planetexperts.com/what-are-abalone-and-heres-how-we-get-them-back/ http://www.planetexperts.com/what-are-abalone-and-heres-how-we-get-them-back/#respond Tue, 03 Jul 2018 23:30:58 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29261 What’s Being Done to Revive L.A.’s Decimated Abalone Population

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What’s Being Done to Revive L.A.’s Decimated Abalone Population

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Time’s Up for Plastic http://www.planetexperts.com/times-up-for-plastic/ http://www.planetexperts.com/times-up-for-plastic/#respond Fri, 22 Jun 2018 19:07:02 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29250 The proliferating plastic trash crisis calls for drastic measures— ‘out’ the worst offenders, demand brand accountability, then bust the myth about biodegradable plastics being the fix. Plastic keeps making headlines. Recently it was a disturbing report that found 94% of tap water samples from around the U.S. were contaminated with plastic microfibers. Then came the...

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The proliferating plastic trash crisis calls for drastic measures— ‘out’ the worst offenders, demand brand accountability, then bust the myth about biodegradable plastics being the fix.

Plastic keeps making headlines. Recently it was a disturbing report that found 94% of tap water samples from around the U.S. were contaminated with plastic microfibers. Then came the news bottled water could have twice as much plastic as tap water. There was the bombshell that plastic production will increase 40% in the next decade, just as scientists are warning we’re already at a nasty tipping point with plastic pollution set to become a permanent blight on our planet.

Plastics and other debris littering Santa Monica Beach following the “first flush” of seasonal rain. (Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres)

In an effort to combat this plastic tsunami, a partnership of environmental organizations has identified which plastics pose the most danger. Their “BAN List 2.0” reveals the top 20 plastic products littering U.S. waterways. It includes everything from the usual suspects—food wrappers, bags, bottles and straws—down to disposable diapers.

Also identified are the brands responsible for the majority of these single-use items: Starbucks, Coke, McDonalds, Gatorade, Wrigley’s and Poland Springs.

“The idea of calling out these corporations by name isn’t to shame them necessarily,” says the list’s lead author, Marcus Eriksen, science director at the 5 Gyres Institute.

“Some corporations don’t think they’re the source of the problem, or they recognize plastic is a problem and won’t take responsibility for it. But data is data, we’re showing them it’s their brands that are on the ground doing harm,” he says.

Eriksen and his team examined multiple marine litter statistics including those of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and The Ocean Conservancy. The end result is the first ever national dataset categorizing the United States’ plastic trash by both product type and brand.

At least two of the corporate culprits are already in public show-downs over lackluster attempts to curb plastic waste. Coca-Cola’s pledges to use more recycled content in its annual 128 billion plastic bottle manufacturing operation, along with trying out bottle recovery and reward programs, is seen as green-washing.

A decade ago Starbucks—now serving four billion coffees a year—ambitiously promised 100% recycled paper to-go cups, and to increase reusable cups use by 25%. The company is finally making good on its promise because of intense consumer pressure.

As marine plastic pollution increases exponentially, so does the list of would-be plastic alternatives. Unfortunately, some of the most hyped—compostable and bioplastics—aren’t proving to be the viable solution once hoped.

Eriksen tested 16 supposedly biodegradable and compostable products over a two-year period. Only five of them biodegraded in both land and ocean conditions. Three remained completely intact after 24 months of being buried on land but did decompose in the ocean, while half of the products didn’t degrade at all.

Eriksen’s research shows what biodegradability claims were made about products and what actually happened to the products in real world test sites (Image  courtesy of 5 Gyres)

“All of these were marketed as if they’d break down anywhere,” says Eriksen. But on closer reading, the fine print often specifies industrial composting —meaning a facility with high heat and moisture in anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions—not what’s available in an ocean or roadside setting.

Packaging made from alternatives such as cornstarch or bacteria behaves almost identically to traditional petroleum-based plastics—it sticks around. As Eriksen sums it up, “switching to bioplastics may look like as easy jump but we’ll be in the same mess.”

One of the biggest myths around the exploding build-up of plastic detritus is who’s responsible?

Scientists and the manufacturing industry knew as early as 1969 plastic was ending up in marine ecosystems and staying there. Not long after this discovery came an intentional deflection of responsibility away from industry onto consumers, with anti-litter messaging that squarely blamed people for pollution.

But burgeoning plastic waste being solely the responsibility of taxpayers, municipalities and governments is no longer sustainable. Cities and countries valiantly banning single-use items such as plastic bags and straws is barely making a dent. “It’s not meeting the scale of the problem with a solution of the same magnitude,” says Eriksen.

Plastic manufacturers are fully aware of how dire the situation is—by 2050 it’s estimated the ocean will have more plastic than fish—but they remain hell bent on ramping up production, going so far as recommending countries with the worst plastic waste issues invest in costly incinerating infrastructure. Even though incinerating plastic comes with its own set of environmental nasties.

For marine scientists and environmental organizations—time’s up. They’re demanding the manufacturers switch from a one-way waste system to a circular economic model:

With better product design plus more recycled plastic used in manufacturing, less new plastic is needed. When systematic recycling and recovery are incorporated there’s a drastic reduction of waste escaping into the environment.

BAN List 2.0 goes one step further by making the case that the best alternatives to disposable plastics are products that are 100% reusable. “We’re really trying to nudge industry and policy makers towards the ultimate goal—zero waste,” admits Eriksen.

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Seeking Refuge from the Storm: ten things I learned from kayaking in Bangladesh http://www.planetexperts.com/seeking-refuge-from-the-storm/ http://www.planetexperts.com/seeking-refuge-from-the-storm/#respond Fri, 15 Jun 2018 08:49:25 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29170 Photos by MONTY. World Refugee Day is celebrated every June 20: this UN initiative was set up to raise awareness about the situation of refugees worldwide. The media tends to focus on refugees displaced by dramatic violence or war, but in the coming decades by far the largest number will comprise ‘climate refugees.’ Meaning those...

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Photos by MONTY.

World Refugee Day is celebrated every June 20: this UN initiative was set up to raise awareness about the situation of refugees worldwide. The media tends to focus on refugees displaced by dramatic violence or war, but in the coming decades by far the largest number will comprise ‘climate refugees.’ Meaning those fleeing natural disasters, and loss of land and livelihood due to climate change, water scarcity, drought and other calamities. And all of that is happening right now in Bangladesh, with a large contingent of climate refugees.

Bangladesh is Ground Zero for climate change. The nation is battered by flooding from melting glaciers in Tibet to the north, and saline intrusion from sea-level rise on the coast. Compounding this are storm surges and extreme weather patterns–particularly cyclones. These extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. What was a once-in-a-twenty-year mega-flooding event is now becoming a once-in-a-five-year event. Bangladesh is facing a perfect storm: climate change, population problems, and frequent disaster scenarios like landslides and land being washed away by rivers–both associated with the heavy annual downpours in the June-to-October monsoon season. As the rains spread, so does disease, as mosquito activity increases. One very sure result of climate-change chaos in Bangladesh will be refugees—millions of them. This situation has been recently exacerbated by a million Rohingya refugees crossing from Burma–most now in a massive camp of makeshift shelters at Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh is a nation of rivers, with three major river systems—the Padma (Ganges), Jamuna (Brahmaputra) and Meghna flowing together into the world’s biggest delta. So what better way to explore than by kayak? That is our goal, but right off the bat, our kayaks are confiscated on arrival in Dhaka–and only returned after a week of wrangling with officials, involving kickbacks. Corruption is rife: that gives the first clue why Bangladesh is ill-prepared to deal with a major catastrophe. The nation’s infrastructure is weak, and emergency back-up funds are hopelessly inadequate.

Our first target is a foray on the narrow Teesta River to the far north, followed by paddling partway down the very wide Brahmaputra river. We hire two local fixers, and set off in two tandem kayaks. Here are ten things I learned along the way about climate refugees: those displaced by disaster, degraded land, flooding–the list goes on.

River refugees face ‘sandquakes’: Kayaking gives us access to the most impoverished regions of Bangladesh—where people live on shifting sands. Along the river basins of Bangladesh, impoverished people eke out a living by farming ‘chars’—which are islands of sand, mud and sediment that pop up or disappear, at the mercy of the river flow and the monsoon rains. Upwards of five million people inhabit the lawless chars of the river basins. These are the forgotten people of Bangladesh—internal refugees with no government facilities and no electricity. The river supplies the running water. Kayaking along the Teesta River, we encounter people who have moved homes dozens of times as the sands shift or disappear beneath their feet. Sand erosion constantly eats away at the islands. Sometimes the sandy banks of the river completely collapse, a kind of “sandquake” that demolishes makeshift housingmade of mud-walls and thatched roof. And you can get stuck on sandbars when kayaking the Teesta. Why? Because of dam-construction upstream on the same river in India. The river is so low in places that even our kayaks runs aground—we have to pull them, or walk over sand.

Bangladesh has a serious population problem: Breakfast in Bangladesh: with 80 people gathered around our campsite. Breakfast is a startling introduction to Bangladesh’s top problem: people. There are far too many of them in this small nation. Too many mouths to feed, not enough resources. Not enough water to irrigate the fields of rice, the staple food of the nation. The population ballooned to 166 million by 2018, making Bangladesh one of the most densely populated nations on earth.

 

Cellphones are lifelines to avert disaster: The reason our camp got surrounded so quickly is that word got out via cellphone. The coverage is terrific in Bangladesh, because the nation is dead flat. I have never been on a trip to a remote area where cellphone reception is so good. We get lost on sandbars, lose our way along the river channels—and end up phoning between kayaks to trade news on the best direction and the deepest water. It’s like having a shortwave radio at our disposal. We can even phone for advice on logistics from a knowledgeable person in Dhaka. The cellphone network is being put to use for last-minute warning signals, giving alerts for cyclone or other calamity. The plan is to have warnings flash automatically on the phone screen without users having to push a button.

Floating hospitals provide urgent medical outreach: In remote regions like the Teesta River, there’s little or no support for medical clinics. Enter Frenchman Yves Marre, who came up with an ingenious solution to reach out to impoverished folks: floating hospitals, where patients are ferried in by small boat. He brought in a disused barge from Europe and converted it into a medical facility, complete with operating theatre. Yves set up the NGO Friendship, flying in volunteer doctors from Europe for specialist care. The week we were there, a team of eye doctors were performing cataract operations. The NGO Friendship has set up two more floating hospitals in remote parts of Bangladesh.

 

 

 

 

Ducks float, chickens don’t: Farmers are switching from keeping chickens to keeping ducks. Why? Because ducks float. Bangladesh sees devastating seasonal flooding: imagine 30 million of Bangladesh’s 166 million people under water and you get the picture. Water is a blessing—and a curse. Sooner or later, everything may need to float in Bangladesh to survive. Already in place are floating schools and floating hospitals. Aquaculture, with farming of fish in ponds or cages, is under development. An intriguing pilot project in southern cities is the development of freshwater floating gardens. A raft of bamboo slats is seated on car tires for flotation: mulch is then added as a floating seed bed to grow cucumber, tomatoes, pumpkin, and cabbage. Researchers are working to create new strains of rice, such as flood-tolerant rice and saline-resistant strains. The saline-resistant strains are supposed to combat salt-water intrusion on the coast.

Arsenic poisoning is a huge issue: Our guides warned us not to drink water from village wells. Why? Potential arsenic poisoning. A Human Rights Watch report from 2016 estimates that around 20 million people in impoverished parts of Bangladesh drink arsenic-laced water. Tube-wells sunk by NGOs tapped into naturally occurring arsenic deposits in the soil because the wells went too deep. The Bangladeshi government has been slow to respond to this horrific arsenic-contamination problem, discovered 20 years ago. It can take a decade for the crippling symptoms of arsenic poisoning to show up. It is estimated that over 40,000 Bangladeshis die each year due to chronic arsenic-related illness. Another source of drinking water contamination is sea-level rise, which brings contamination by salt.

India is determined to keep climate refugees out: India has built a fence along most of its long border with Bangladesh—to prevent illegal migration into India and to prevent smuggling. The double-row fence is about 2.5 metres high and topped with barbed wire. Some sections are electrified. This is a huge project. India shares a 4,097-km border with Bangladesh. Of that, about 1,100 km is riverine, which is impossible to fence, so the concept of ‘smart fencing’ has been introduced. It is not clear what technology is involved—could be infra-red cameras, radar, lasers, who knows? Work is in progress for ‘smart fencing’ along the liquid 300-km mangrove-forest border in the Sundarbans.

 

A tidal surge can demolish houses overnight: Clear down the other end of the country, on the large island of Bola, in the Bay of Bengal, we come across villagers building a mud embankment outside their village, with their bare hands. Why? An attempt to block a potential tidal surge. Also known as a storm surge, a tidal surge is a tsunami-like phenomenon that can see a terrifying two-metre-plus rise in water level  in a matter of hours. The surge is associated with low-pressure weather systems like cyclones. Coastal Bangladesh is prone to devastating cyclones. We pay a visit to a cyclone shelter–a three-storey building that is normally used as a primary school. It’s hard to imagine that this concrete structure holds thousands of villagers, staying several nights in times of danger. At the height of a cyclone, it is standing room only as people are packed in. When Cyclone Mora hit eastern Bangladesh in May 2017, around half a million people were evacuated to hundreds of storm shelters.

The Sundarbans region harbours man-eating tigers: Lying on the south coast of Bangladesh, the Sundarbans hosts the largest stand of mangroves on the planet. And it hosts an array of wildlife—including Royal Bengal tigers. The tigers normally prey on spotted deer, wild boar and other animals, but have developed a taste for human flesh during cyclone disasters, with numerous dead bodies scattered around. We were not permitted to kayak here—probably for this reason. But it would be an ideal place for paddling—with quiet canals lined with mangroves, and many exotic bird species inhabiting the region.

Dhaka rickshaw drivers

Dhaka has the craziest traffic in Asia: Climate refugees flood into cities—mainly Dhaka—to start anew. But life here is harsh—and highly polluted, with water sources contaminated by tanneries and clothing manufacturers. This chaotic city of 18 million is where we start and end our trip, running around to get paperwork and logistics completed. During one hellish tuk-tuk ride, we are rammed by other vehicles eight times along the route, and choke on deadly diesel fumes from bus exhaust pipes. Bumping into other vehicles and physically scratching them does not seem to faze drivers. Buses have battle-scar scratch-marks along their sides. The only cars in Dhaka without scratches are likely to be immaculate official cars or embassy vehicles.

 

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Manhattan Beach Passes Historic Ban on Single-Use Plastic Straws, Stirrers, and Utensils to Reduce Plastic Pollution http://www.planetexperts.com/manhattan-beach-passes-historic-ban-on-single-use-plastic-straws-stirrers-and-utensils-to-reduce-plastic-pollution/ http://www.planetexperts.com/manhattan-beach-passes-historic-ban-on-single-use-plastic-straws-stirrers-and-utensils-to-reduce-plastic-pollution/#respond Thu, 14 Jun 2018 00:01:25 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29165 The Manhattan Beach City Council voted unanimously to prohibit the sale, distribution and use of single-use plastic straws, plastic stirrers, and plastic utensils within the City during the City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 in order to protect the environment from plastic pollution. “We have the opportunity to be environmental leaders and take...

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Straws are out in Manhattan Beach

The Manhattan Beach City Council voted unanimously to prohibit the sale, distribution and use of single-use plastic straws, plastic stirrers, and plastic utensils within the City during the City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 in order to protect the environment from plastic pollution.

“We have the opportunity to be environmental leaders and take action on addressing the plastic pollution problem, just as we did with plastic bags and polystyrene years ago” Mayor Amy Howorth said. “Manhattan Beach residents value clean neighborhoods, beaches, and healthy oceans. These are key reasons why we live here. Getting rid of single-use plastics makes sense and is the right thing to do for our coastal community. Plastic straws, stirrers, and utensils are now added to the list of plastic pollution that we will stop at the source so it doesn’t reach our beaches and the ocean. Our City leadership and community is committed to keeping our beaches clean and healthy for our families and future generations.”

Protecting the environment is part of Manhattan Beach’s core values. The ordinance is part of the City’s Plastic Free MB campaign to eliminate the use of a variety of single-use plastic items in order to protect our environment and the oceans. Yet, plastic straws and utensils of all shapes, sizes and colors are popping up everywhere from cocktails to delivery food to unasked-for glasses of water. Collectively, Americans use roughly 500 million plastic straws daily – enough to fill 125 school buses each day and wrap around our entire planet 2.5 times.

Because they’re not recyclable, most plastic straws and utensils end up in landfills. The rest wind up polluting the environment and posing a threat to aquatic life. In fact, recent studies show that half of all sea turtles and nearly all seabirds have eaten plastic, and by 2050, it’s expect

ed that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight.
Coastal Cleanup Day has tracked the amount of trash collected since 1992, and data show that straws and utensils are in the top six most commonly found pieces of trash during beach cleanups in California, and are also some of the most harmful pieces of plastic pollution to marine life.

Plastic straws, stirrers, and utensils never biodegrade. The plastic is broken down into smaller pieces that become difficult to manage in the environment. Nearly all plastic, regardless of whether it has been recycled, still exists. It is estimated that there are over five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. Tiny plastic fragments in the ocean are eaten by marine wildlife and enter the food chain.

The newly-adopted ordinance updates Manhattan Beach’s Municipal Code to prohibit single-use plastic straws, utensils, and stirrers. This is paired with an upon-request policy for non-plastic disposable items. Only straws and utensils made from non-plastic materials, such as wood, metal, bamboo, fiber, glass are allowed. Bioplastics, PLA plastics, and #7 plastics are NOT allowed.

In addition to this, the City Council also updated the City’s polystyrene ordinance to ban polystyrene egg cartons and produce trays as well as polystyrene packing materials like foam peanuts.

A grace period is available for businesses to exhaust their existing supply of plastic straws and utensils, and polystyrene packing materials, and procure alternatives by January 1, 2019. A list of alternatives and more information on plastic pollution is available via a guide on the City’s website at www.citymb.info/PlasticFreeMB

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Plastic Pollution is Rising, But So Are We! http://www.planetexperts.com/plastic-pollution-is-rising-but-so-are-we/ http://www.planetexperts.com/plastic-pollution-is-rising-but-so-are-we/#respond Fri, 08 Jun 2018 05:52:23 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29148 By Lisa Kaas Boyle and David Helvarg The inaugural March for the Ocean — which will be held on Saturday, June 9th in our nation’s capitol, with sister marches around the globe — has an appropriate call to action: ‘The Ocean is Rising, and So are We.’ Unfortunately, so too is a wave of unrelenting plastic...

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By Lisa Kaas Boyle and David Helvarg

The inaugural March for the Ocean — which will be held on Saturday, June 9th in our nation’s capitol, with sister marches around the globe — has an appropriate call to action: ‘The Ocean is Rising, and So are We.’

Unfortunately, so too is a wave of unrelenting plastic debris, posing an existential threat to life on our planet.  We are the only species creating waste that the earth cannot digest.  Plastic is designed to be resilient, and single-use plastic goods are filling our landfills and basins at a speed that far surpasses rates of recycling.  Current projections forecast that there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by the year 2050.

Of the famed 3Rs — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — reducing the use of an everlasting material like plastic is the best option for the environment.  Reuse is a distant second since the chemical components of plastics are increasingly found in all living things, including even the umbilical cords of newborn babies; almost all of us have BPA (an industrial chemical) in our blood due to plastic leaching from bottles and the lining of aluminum cans.  And recycling simply delays a trip to the landfill, as plastic recycling is rarely a closed loop (cannot be endlessly repeated) and it does not abate the constant flow of new plastic that continues to escape into our environment.

In fact, recycling has proven to be a massive fail.  It is a messy polluting process that has turned into an industry crisis ever since China — which used to be the dumping grounds for our used plastic — recently closed its harbors to any new plastic waste.  The current market in America for used plastic is almost nonexistent thanks to continual production of fossil fuels that are used to make ever more and cheaper plastic.  “The bottom line is that what is recycled and what is not is directly linked to oil,” says Tom Szaky, CEO of TerraCycle, which works with companies on programs to make packaging recyclable. “If the cost of collection and processing is greater than the material value, then the material becomes non-recyclable… And the material value is 100 percent dependent on oil prices.”

What can we do before we are buried by our plastic waste or our seafood — tainted by PCB and DDT-absorbing microplastics making their way up the food chain — becomes a serious health hazard?

The organizers of the March for the Ocean are highlighting meaningful solutions to the plastic pollution challenge.

First, we can begin with our own daily practices. When Ocean March Steering Committee members Dianna Cohen and co-author Lisa Boyle founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2009, they added a new R — Refuse. The March will be plastic-free, and organizers are providing alternatives to single use plastic water bottles.  Participants are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles and to fill/refill them using hydration stations, and to download the free WeTap App to locate fountains along the March route and around the world. There will also be sustainable restaurants and other ocean friendly sites nearby offering free water.

March participants can use the free WeTap app to find drinking fountains and fill their reusable water bottles. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Second, the March is highlighting the ocean movement’s increasing focus on corporate accountability.  It is not enough to convince an underpaid restaurant server or coffee house barista that single use plastic straws are wreaking havoc on our environment.  Major retail and wholesale corporations are going to have to start explaining to customers, shareholders and public servants why they continue to use billions of these throwaway items every year.  We will bring pressure to expose and reform these business practices until these companies change course and commit to a timely transition away from petroleum-based plastic packaging.

Plastic straws on a California beach. (Photo: Lisa Kaas Boyle)

 

This Saturday, we are marching for the ocean not only to say NO to plastic pollution, but also NO to the Trump Administration’s plans to open up over 90% of U.S. ocean waters to offshore oil drilling and spilling.

We say YES to clean job-generating renewable energy.  YES to ocean friendly packaging. YES to protecting our living coasts and communities – both human and wild – from rising seas, and other fossil fuel-related climate disruptions.   YES to a healthy ocean and clean, plastic-free water for all. www.marchfortheocean.org

 

Lisa Kaas Boyle, Esq. is an environmental attorney, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and serves on the March for the Ocean Steering Committee.

David Helvarg is an author, Executive Director of Blue Frontier, an ocean conservation and policy group, and Chair of the March for the Ocean Steering Committee..

 

 

 

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Plan Bee for Refugees http://www.planetexperts.com/plan-bee-for-refugees/ http://www.planetexperts.com/plan-bee-for-refugees/#respond Mon, 07 May 2018 04:02:15 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29132 May 20, 2018 marks the first ever celebration of World Bee Day, an FAO initiative. Why devote a special day to bees? Because without them, humans would likely not survive. Bees are by far the most important pollinators on the planet. In this piece, beekeeping provides much-needed income for a remote Tibetan refugee camp, high...

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Tsechu Dolma, founder of Mountain Resiliency, with log-hive in background.

May 20, 2018 marks the first ever celebration of World Bee Day, an FAO initiative. Why devote a special day to bees? Because without them, humans would likely not survive. Bees are by far the most important pollinators on the planet. In this piece, beekeeping provides much-needed income for a remote Tibetan refugee camp, high in the Himalayan range of Nepal—and is a boon for local flora.

The air is brisk up at 2,900 metres, at Dhorpattan Tibetan Refugee Camp. There’s a thin layer of ice to shake off my tent in the morning—and this is in April, in the spring. The remote camp is situated in northwestern Nepal, in a broad valley surrounded by peaks dusted in snow. Locals get around using pack-horses. The camp was established in 1961 by the Swiss Red Cross for Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese persecution. Today, it is inhabited by 40 families, who make a meagre living by breeding horses and raising livestock–and growing buckwheat and potatoes. And those crops are seeing reduced yields due to climate-change factors.

Enter an innovative social enterprise called Mountain Resiliency Project, which is pioneering a new source of much-needed income: bees. ‘We use apis cerena cerena bees, which are hardy and native to this region. There is a rich tradition of indigenous beekeeping in Nepal: we use traditional log hives,’ says Tsechu Dolma, a young Tibetan-American who founded the venture in 2014 to deal with poverty and food insecurity prevalent in remote high-altitude communities. After the devastating May 2015 megaquake in Nepal, Mountain Resiliency shifted into top gear with rebuilding efforts. To bolster food security in vulnerable communities, Mountain Resiliency has built over 50 greenhouses across Nepal to grow diverse vegetables in these harsh environments, and has started up mushroom farming for a low-caste community.

 

 

Tsechu Dolma herself grew up in a Tibetan refugee settlement in Kathmandu, before moving to New York and graduating from Columbia University. She has garnered a number of prestigious awards and fellowships for her innovative projects. In fact, our group trekking into Dhorpattan comprises members of Wild Gift, an Idaho-based nonprofit dedicated to empowering social entrepreneurs working to solve the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. Tsechu is a Wild Gift Fellow.

 

Attached to the eaves of the humble houses at Dhorpattan are log hives, where busy bees come and go, heading out to flowers around the valley. Tsechu jokes about labelling this product ‘Tibetan refugee honey.’ The bee project kicked off with help from American donors, who supported the initial outlay of buying 25 hives at US$100 apiece. Boston-based social business Follow the Honey agreed to provide a market by purchasing honey.

It’s a win-win scenario. Economic win, ecological win. As Himalayan bee species are disappearing due to receding biodiversity, this plan to propagate more bees to accrue extra income will have wider impact. Bees are important pollinators of high-altitude flowering species such as rhododendrons, juniper and magnolia. Other pollinators include flies, butterflies and moths, but the bees—both domesticated and wild–do the greatest share of the work, especially at high altitude. They visit some 500 flowers a day, collecting pollen and nectar. The resulting honey flavours vary, depending on what the bees have been foraging on: mustard, buckwheat, rhododendron flowers, apple blossom, butternut squash, or lemon trees. These are the highest-altitude bees in the world. But the survival issue is not so much the altitude (though that does impair winged flight), it’s surviving the freezing winters. These bees disappear for three or four months during that time—nobody knows where. But they return to their hives in the spring.

 

Tsekang and Tsering with log-hive in background                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 On a day-hike in Dhorpattan, we meet an elderly couple, Tsekang and Tsering, at an outlying village. Tsekang takes care of her log hives, sited in trees nearby. Tsering is a honey hunter: he goes out several times a year in the fall to collect honey from wild bees. This species, Apis laboriosa, is the world’s largest honey-bee—and is only found in high Himalayan regions. This bee builds huge hives that weigh some 50 kilograms–hanging off precarious cliff faces. Collectors like Tsering smoke them out and steal the whole hive—a dangerous endeavour. Wild bee honey is known to have medicinal properties—even psychotropic effects, which result from toxins in the flowers of massive rhododendron trees.

 

 

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Decoding the behaviour of bees presents many mysteries. Around the world, the phenomenon of bee colony collapse is prevalent—thought to be connected with the spraying of herbicides for GM crops. Nepal is not immune from this ‘insectageddon’, though it is much less impacted. Back in Kathmandu, I quiz bee ‘guru’ Professor Madhusudan Man Singh about the fate of bees in Nepal. He is co-ordinator of the EU-funded Smart Bees project. ‘If bees disappear from the surface of the earth, humans will not survive—not more than four years,’ is the professor’s stark opener, repeating a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. ‘No bees, no pollination–and the plant kingdom will slowly disappear. And there will be no more plants to get food from,’ he adds. But he is optimistic that bee species will continue to thrive in Nepal, although they face new threats.

the Bee Guru                                                                                                                                                                                                               There are half a dozen wild bee species across Nepal, says Professor Madhusan, living in jungle and mountain environments. Bees must fight off predators such as bears and pine martens (after the honey) and bee-eaters and hornets (after the bees themselves). ‘Interestingly, both wild and domesticated bees use shimmering behaviour to repel hornet attacks—they shimmer simultaneously to make themselves appear to be a much larger insect.’ Imported bee species do not fare so well. ‘Attempts by NGOs to introduce Apis mellifera bees from Europe have largely failed,’ he says, ‘because they are not hardy like local species–and because they are susceptible to disease, which can spread quickly in traditional log hives.’

 

 

 

 

Much later, I get news from Tsechu Dolma. The hives at Dhorpattan have been harvested. She has photos of the first jars of honey. Each precious jar represents the work of thousands of bees, visiting millions of flowers–travelling thousands of airborne kilometres, and leaving no carbon footprint. Plan Bee is working. Each hive can be harvested twice a year, producing between 30 and 40 kilograms of honey. This can generate over US$5,000 a year in income for the refugee camp—a major windfall in these parts. Most of the beekeepers are women: the money will go towards their children’s education, as well as buying more diverse seeds for farming.

Mountain Resiliency aims to implement Plan Bee in other camps in Nepal as well as introducing other income streams such as mushroom growing. Tsechu plans to set up a Mountain Resiliency Institute where young locals can learn agribusiness skills. She already has set up a fellowship project for young women to start their own businesses. Find out more at: www.mountainresiliency.org/.

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Nepal’s Last Wild River http://www.planetexperts.com/nepals-last-wild-river/ http://www.planetexperts.com/nepals-last-wild-river/#respond Mon, 23 Apr 2018 00:56:58 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=28846 The Karnali in western Nepal is the nation’s longest river. It flows gloriously free for now, to the benefit of rafting tourism and the people and wild animals that depend on its waters – but for how much longer? Chinese and Indian megadam builders are closing in on the mighty river. Megh Ale, the Karnali...

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The Karnali in western Nepal is the nation’s longest river. It flows gloriously free for now, to the benefit of rafting tourism and the people and wild animals that depend on its waters – but for how much longer? Chinese and Indian megadam builders are closing in on the mighty river. Megh Ale, the Karnali Waterkeeper, wants to make the Karnali a “sacred river corridor”–Nepal’s first Wild and Scenic River.

In the late 19th century, Western geographers were intent on finding the exact sources and courses of the major rivers of Asia. Tibet, however, was off-limits for exploration. Tibetans claimed that four major rivers derived from Mt Kailash – a peak sacred to Tibetan Buddhists, Bon adherents, Hindus and Jains. This was dismissed as myth until, decades later, the British discovered that the Tsangpo (Brahmaputra), Indus, Sutlej and Karnali all arose within 100 kilometres of Kailash.

At the time, the British had no craft fit to explore these huge rivers as they gushed through towering gorges. The irony is that now we can explore these rivers by raft and kayak, but the four rivers themselves are under siege – by Chinese and Indian megadam-builders. The 500-MW Zhangmu Dam is up and running on the Tsangpo southeast of Lhasa. And four more Chinese-built dams are under construction in a cascade on this stretch of the river. The Indus is being dammed in Pakistan in liaison with Chinese megadam-builders and financiers. The Sutlej has been dammed at a handful of sites by Indian dam-builders, with 1325-MW Bhakra Dam being the largest gravity dam in the world.

And the Karnali is the last free-flowing river sourced near Kailash. It is still possible to descend by raft or kayak from the source of the Karnali close to Mt Kailash all the way to where it flows into India’s most sacred river, the Ganges. We are setting off on a more modest trajectory: rafting the Karnali for seven days in far-west Nepal, from Daab to Chisopani. But the threat of dams looms large here. Indian company GMR has a controversial proposal to build a megadam at Daab, just above the put-in point for our rafting trip. The dam would divert all the water through a two-kilometre tunnel where it would drive turbines to generate electricity. This design would completely drain a loop of around 70 kilometres of the Karnali, and all locals would have to be relocated. At least 75% of the 900-MW of power generated would be exported to India. Toward the mid-section of the rafting run, on the West Seti, a key Karnali tributary, there’s a proposal to build a 750-MW dam. China’s Three Gorges Corporation has a 75% stake in this project. Below the rafting take-out point at Chisopani, there are further plans for a gargantuan 10-GW project—far larger than any dam in India itself. None of this dam-building will benefit Nepalis–the power is all slated for export to India or Bangladesh, or beyond. There are 31 hydropower projects slated for the Karnali River basin, and a whopping 350 projects slated nationwide to harness Nepal’s immense hydropower potential.

Nepali Government deals with such megadam builders are often shrouded in secrecy. Locals are rarely consulted about these projects, and very little environment impact assessment is done. In any case, the power is not destined for Nepalese themselves—it is slated to be exported as a lucrative foreign income earner. With its powerful rivers running from Himalayan heights, Nepal has huge hydropower potential—as yet tapped. Chinese megadam builders have run into rather large snag. Indian PM Modi told his Nepali counterpart PM KP Oli at a meeting in March 2018 that India would only allow export of hydropower from Indian-built dams in Nepal, not from Chinese-built dams. And India is the only feasible export revenue earner, since it is near-impossible to run transmission lines from Nepal over the Himalayas into Tibet and on to the grid in China. That could turn Chinese-built megadams into multi-million-dollar white elephants. Which, from a rafter’s point-of-view, would be a very good thing.

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Tonight, it feels like the reset button has been pushed–back to the dawn of time perhaps. A million stars overhead make me feel like a mote of dust. We are camped under this infinite canopy on a spit of white sand, on the banks of the Karnali river in western Nepal. Sparks rise from the fire, logs crackle. Gathered around is our new ‘family’: five rafters, three kayakers, our captain Bikram, and our expedition leader Mahendra, who mans the gear-boat with an assistant. All swapping stories.

For now, the Karnali is still pristine, thundering along like a great river should–not choked by megadams. Tumbling through canyons and jungles for 507 kilometres, the Karnali is Nepal’s longest – and one of its last major free-flowing rivers. It’s our second day and it’s been a wild ride — with exhilarating runs on Class 3+ rapids. Many times, our fate has hung on Bikram’s split-second decisions, and occasionally on the reactions of the two safety kayakers. The weather is hot, but that’s no problem when christened by the rapids – dumping icy water over our heads at regular intervals. We catch glimpses of wildlife. Langurs are sighted in the treetops, eyeballing us right back — and our arrival at the campsite interrupts a cavorting pair of mongooses.

By now, I have settled into the rhythm of the river: paddle (strenuously), eat (ravenously), set up camp, sleep (like a log). The menu is still fresh, with novelties like pasta with vegetables and yak-cheese still tempting, though this cannot last. My new evening ritual is to lie down gazing at stars before retiring. Miraculously, there are no mosquitoes along the river. But Mahendra tells us scorpions have been spotted in these parts. Pythons and leopards too. In fact, this campsite is called Scorpion Beach apparently. A day of being tossed around in huge rapids, being stared at by langurs and checking the toilet tent for scorpions – that’s the stuff of vivid dreams.

Our paddles are the envy of the locals, who drop by the camp and borrow them to test out. They fish and cross the river using dugout canoes, sometimes propelled with a wooden pole, or simply the boatman’s flip-flops. On day three, Mahendra leads us inland on a village tour. This is a hike with a mission: to inform locals about news that will have a huge bearing on their future: proposals for a dam. Most villagers are illiterate and have very little idea about such things so hope rests with the younger generation, most now at least attending school. Along this part of the river, villagers are mostly subsistence farmers — growing rice, wheat and potatoes — with water buffalo, chickens and goats parked close to their adobe homesteads, if not inside them. The Karnali hosts a profusion of ethnic groups— the Magar, Bisokarma and Chetri among them. Rarer are the nomadic Raute, who forage for forest fruits and bushmeat.

Day four on the river: rodeo on the rapids. This is what we came for. To experience the full power of the river. Stretched over seven kilometres is a staircase of drops, between big canyons. Our captain, Bikram, is wary. We stop to scout the bigger rapids to determine if they harbour any deadly holes that will flip the raft. He’s been here before, but they constantly change.

The first major challenge, God’s House, goes over a giant rock to the side, creating a massive hydraulic hole and a narrow passage with a strong reverse wave in the middle. This one lets us off lightly, but the next rapid, The Juicer, is a nasty Class 4+. The raft bucks and weaves, spins 360˚, and barely makes it. A big high-five of the paddles, and we thunder on – straight into Flip & Strip, Touching the Void and Freight Train. As the water crashes around, all our energy goes into hanging on. Hands grip safety ropes and feet are thrust as far under the thwarts as they will go. An adrenaline-fuelled day.

Megh Ale with a golden mahseer (catch and release)

 

Rafters and kayakers face challenging Class 3 to 4+ rapids on their descent of the Karnali but around the campfire that night, Mahendra describes the athletic and acrobatic feats of a monster fish that goes up the rapids – the golden mahseer. This huge fish – growing up to 100kg – migrates upstream on the Karnali and West Seti rivers to spawn and lay eggs. As winter approaches, the upper reaches turn colder — the signal for the mahseer to migrate downstream again, chasing food.

I examine a juvenile fish caught by a local and admire the golden sheen of the scales that gives it its name. The Karnali and West Seti rivers rank as the top rivers in Nepal for fish species, which local fishermen depend on as a prime source of protein. The mahseer’s power and agility means it’s prized by visiting anglers as a fighting fish. Besides the golden mahseer, there are its chocolate and silver cousins, Himalayan snow trout, and a monster-sized catfish called the goonch.

All are migrating fish. An Indian proposal for a dam on the upper Karnali mentions building a fish ladder, but a crossing would be more like a fish marathon course–negotiating a power station, a long diversion tunnel, and finally a megadam. This is most likely just distracting propaganda put out by the dam-builders. A huge fish like the golden mahseer would never be able to get around fish ladders.

local rafters: kids using old inner-tube to tackle the Karnali

Day five: After passing the confluence with the West Seti River, the Karnali becomes somewhat tamer. This affords us the luxury of taking in the magnificent vistas of towering canyon walls. I train my binoculars on the bird life taking advantage of the Karnali’s bounty: cormorants drying their wings in classic pose, a flock of ruddy shelducks, a pair of woolly-necked storks, a yellow-throated kingfisher, and a fish eagle flapping overhead with a large fish in its talons.

Day six on the river brings eel and chips for breakfast. We’re supplementing our diet with fresh catch from local fishermen and so this large eel has gone from river to repast inside 10 minutes. Bikram tells me this is the most lucrative catch on the river – even more pricey per kilo than golden mahseer. After breakfast, I go for a swim. A big, downriver, upside-down swim, having flipped a kayak. A few of us rafters have swapped with the kayakers to try this tamer stretch but we are found out by the still-powerful currents. I can’t imagine how Neil, the English kayaker on our trip, managed to tackle the huge rapids we experienced upstream. They must have been daunting, if not completely terrifying. I probe him about this, and he admits, with British understatement, to it being ‘a bit technical’.

Safely back in the raft, the now-subdued river gives time to reflect on the nature of the Karnali. The name means ‘turquoise’, though the hue is more glacial green. The canyon walls keep changing. Some sections are bathed in green — covered in ferns — while elsewhere, strange sandstone cliffs are sculpted into odd shapes. It’s certainly the most remote river I’ve seen in Nepal, and the cleanest – I’ve seen only one plastic bottle floating in the water to this point. As a wilderness experience, the Karnali is hard to beat.

The last day on the river is a hard paddle: barely any current, and into a headwind. There are suddenly more kids in the water, swimming up to the raft. More human presence, more buildings – and garbage. Where there are roads, there is garbage. The take-out point is near the town of Chisopani, with a giant suspension bridge — the longest in Nepal — and what seems a bewildering array of shops.

The rafts are swiftly deflated and stacked on the roof of a bus, but I am staying with the Karnali. A major branch now runs through Bardia National Park, close to the Indian border, where I rest up for the next four days.

There I am less lucky with the mosquitoes but the compensations are many, starting with the 30 elephants we watch bathing at a stream, blasting themselves with trunkfuls of water. We see the odd rhino slathering itself in mud as a sunscreen and even a Bengal tiger makes a brief appearance, causing a herd of spotted deer to scatter. I’m told that rare Gangetic dolphins sometimes come as far up the Karnali as Bardia.

Damming the Karnali risks losing all this, turning Bardia into a wasteland. It’s a terrible thought — and on my return to Kathmandu, I seek out Megh Ale, the owner of Ultimate Descents, the outfit that took me down the river. Megh Ale is founder of Nepal River Conservation Trust and is the Karnali’s official Waterkeeper. That’s the name given to community leaders around the world who advocate for locals’ access to clean water from protected watersheds. He is spearheading the campaign to save the Karnali.

“In Nepal, we have over 6,000 rivers and streams, so why can’t we save just one and keep it freeflowing?” he asks. “The Karnali is a very special river – flowing from the Tibetan Plateau to the Gangetic Plains.” He points out that India’s plans to build megadams on the Karnali are tantamount to shooting itself in the foot since the river is a major tributary of the Ganges. In fact, over 70% of the Ganges flow comes from Nepal’s rivers.

“In Nepal, we have huge potential for generating energy from rivers but we need to look at what prosperity means. To make the country prosperous, do we really need to kill all these rivers?” he says. He points to tourism as Nepal’s major income earner – most of which is based on the natural beauty of the country and its wildlife. He suggests creating a Karnali River National Park, taking in the river and a corridor of land along its length, running from the Nepal border with Tibet, all the way to Bardia and the Indian border, where the Karnali empties into the Ganges. This could be Nepal’s first Wild And Scenic River, he says, alluding to innovative legislation (the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act)  that protects sections of rivers in the US from any development such as dams. Creating a ‘Sacred River Corridor’ is the only way, he believes, that the Karnali can retain its majestic wilderness.

–This feature first appeared in modified form in Action Asia Magazine, Hong Kong, September-October 2017 issue.

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The Connection Between Environment, Conflict and Security http://www.planetexperts.com/the-connection-between-environment-conflict-and-security/ http://www.planetexperts.com/the-connection-between-environment-conflict-and-security/#respond Wed, 11 Apr 2018 04:08:33 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29062 There are two directions the connection between conflict and the environment can take that influence security.  The degradation of the environment can cause conflict and a reduction in security; or conflict can destroy the resources and services provided by the environment, which also compromises security. Conflict influences the environment by direct damage as well as...

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There are two directions the connection between conflict and the environment can take that influence security.  The degradation of the environment can cause conflict and a reduction in security; or conflict can destroy the resources and services provided by the environment, which also compromises security.

Conflict influences the environment by direct damage as well as by disruption of productivity and responsible environmental and resource practices. Conversely, poor environmental and resource practices can increase vulnerability and the risk of conflict.  In either case, the most severe expression of conflict is war.

Water stress areas of the world.

Water stress areas of the world.

Recent wars give a clearer view of the destructive power humanity has over the natural world. Modern warfare has only increased its destructive capability, culminating with biological and nuclear weapons.

These weapons and tactics are a direct and indirect threat to civilian populations. Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) by definition have expanded the area of collateral damage, increasing the destruction of the environment, resources and institutions that civilian populations depend upon for daily survival.

Technology allows conflict by remote control. This removes immediate feedback on both the humanitarian and environmental damage. The horrors of conflict begin to appear more and more abstract and isolated from commonly accepted social mores or inhibitions.

Despite international prohibitions, defoliant spraying, poisonous gas, drones, carpet bombing and firebombing are only a few of the tactics used in recent wars. Their proliferation and use is an immediate and long-term threat to civilian populations.

Agent Orange Defoliant spraying in Vietnam.

The environment has been weaponized, militarily and politically.

Conflict may utilize strategic political and economic means.  Resources, financing and trade may be manipulated for strategic advantage.  An ally may be granted special privilege. Tariffs and embargos of a strategically vital resource can strangle the productive capacity, adaptability and resilience of an enemy.

The destructive potential of modern conflict now expands well beyond the immediate areas of conflict. The consequences now spill over borders and involve parties with no direct “skin in the game.” Globalization and trade have formed partnerships where even a minor conflict in a small area can involve more powerful players and lead to far greater regional destabilization.

By the 1960s, conflict scholars and Departments of Defense began assessing the risk of a quick death by nuclear holocaust as well as the slow, but inexorable death from pollution, population dynamics, and disruption of critical planetary systems like global warming and subsequent climate change.

By the 1980s, and the Chernobyl disaster, Soviet Premier Gorbachev called on the world to rise above Cold War thinking. He argued that the risks of planetary environmental damage posed a threat just as serious as nuclear holocaust.

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) recognized the need to consider “Our Common Future” on a finite planet.  This resulted in the most widely accepted definition of sustainable development by the commission’s chair, Gro Brundtland:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In the 1990s, a few scholarly studies began to consider the opposite of conflict impact on the environment. Their research focused on the impact of environmental degradation in creating conflict.

Environmental degradation and disruption began to be recognized as a significant cause or magnifier of conflict and breaches in security, including:

  • Soil Erosion
  • Water scarcity
  • Overfishing
  • Deforestation
  • Pollution (air, water, land)
  • Resource depletion (Natural Capital)
  • Species Diversity (6th Mass Extinction)

Disruption and scarcity are not the only motives for conflict. Resource-rich regions may not have the capacity to develop their resources. Opportunistic nations with wealth and technology often take unfair advantage. Wealthy entities may make deals with those in power with little concern for the equitable distribution of the profits resulting from resource development.  Consequently, many developing nations have only become rich at the top from foreign investment, while the average citizen reaps little or no gains.

When environmental crises such as floods, droughts or catastrophic weather events occur, people will seek help from their leadership. Those who have profited the most from foreign investment may not be willing to open their coffers for assistance. Motivation for this failure to provide assistance may be territorial, economic, political, tribal, religious, ethnic or any combination. Historically, the predictable result is civil strife and conflict.  Syria is only one example-taking place around the world today.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. The inhabitants are U.S. citizens, though they cannot vote and only have limited representation in the nation’s capital. The island first suffered a glancing blow by Hurrican Irma, a destructive Category 5 storm. Irma left over 1 million people without power. Vital infrastructure was severely damaged. Before there was time to recover, hurricane Maria plowed right over the top of the island. Puerto Rico was demolished.

Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster on record for the Virgin Islands, Dominica and Puerto Rico. All of the power, schools, medical facilities, and infrastructure were destroyed.  There were 3.4 million thrown into a desperate humanitarian crisis.

The Syrian Civil War and Puerto Rico have more in common than would first meet the eye.  Poverty, desperation and grim prospects for the future have collapsed the trust between the government and the governed.

In the last 11,500 years, every civilization in history has risen and fallen. The collapse of civilizations often follows a recognizable pattern. Leaders become lords. Lords become Emperors. Emperors become gods. The elite begin to feel blessed, entitled and superior. Instead of the leadership serving the nation, the nation serves an insatiable, often hereditary, elite class.

It is easy for those with less education, or who live in relative poverty, to appear less capable than the more privileged class. The privileged become isolated, protected and less and less aware of the needs of the governed or the resources and services provided by the environment on the backs of the workers. The gap widens. The priorities of the privileged class begin to overtake the basic needs of the laboring class. The general population may not be given affordable access to adequate health care, food and shelter. Lack of access is usually due to economic factors. The economic split begins to widen in favor of those who already have the most.

Today, eight men have more wealth than 50 percent of the world’s population.

A “failed state” occurs when the basic needs of the populace are no longer met. Collapse occurs when the state can no longer recover security; or a just and egalitarian distribution of prosperity.

Where is the United States in this arc of history? The bubble of privilege is growing in America. Class segregation widens through economic disparity.

Storming the Bastille.

Storming the Bastille.

A corporate mentality dominates U.S. policy. Stewardship gives way to the quarterly profit report. This perspective views natural resources as untapped, economic opportunity. Corporations and the rich are insulated by their wealth. Those living in the bubble of privilege are increasingly unaware that the degradation of the natural environment threatens the security of everyone. This is a false sense of security. The protection of wealth is limited. Throughout recorded history, the connection between the environment and security has brought down even the most powerful.

W. Douglas Smith is an environmental scientist, environmental diplomat, explorer, educator and a retired Senior Compliance Investigator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked for 36 years.


References: “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari, 2015; “The Environment and World History by Edmund Burke III and Kenneth Pomeranz, 2009; “One With Nineveh” by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, 2004; “The Rise and Fall of Nations” by Ruchir Sharma, 2016; “Collapse” by Jarred Diamond, 2005; “The Fall of the Roman Republic” by Mary Beard, 2011; The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Conference of the Parties (COP21) and the Paris Accords 2015; Forbes Magazine 2018;

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Darwin, Guns and School Safety http://www.planetexperts.com/darwin-guns-school-safety/ http://www.planetexperts.com/darwin-guns-school-safety/#respond Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:00:37 +0000 http://www.planetexperts.com/?p=29055 Darwin firmly established that no species can survive if it does not ensure that its offspring reach reproductive adulthood. Where are the priorities of the richest nation on Earth when it comes to protecting its children? The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King brought major firearms legislation within 5...

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Darwin firmly established that no species can survive if it does not ensure that its offspring reach reproductive adulthood.

Where are the priorities of the richest nation on Earth when it comes to protecting its children?

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King brought major firearms legislation within 5 years. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Control Act of 1968 that restricted mail order sales of firearms.

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and shooting death of rock star John Lennon resulted in the 1993 Brady Act. The Brady Act established who could buy a weapon through an FBI background program, and a mandatory waiting period when buying a handgun.

Between 1999 and 2018, there have never been fewer than 5 school shootings in a year. Of these shootings, 64.5 percent were targeted, 22.3 percent indiscriminate and 13.2 percent undesignated.  Since Sandy Hook in 2012, where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed, there have been an additional 239 school shootings nationwide, with 438 shot and 138 killed.

More recently, 59 adults and young people were slaughtered and 527 wounded in Los Vegas by the son of a convicted bank robber. His AR-15 military style weapon was converted to function like a machine gun with a legally purchased “bump stock.”

This February, seventeen children and adults were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Children who survived the Parkland massacre organized to defend their generation against this genocide. Over 800,000 children and adults marched on Washington D.C. to protest gun violence and seek better protections. More than a million others demonstrated in the U.S. and around the world in support.  Thus far no legislation has reached the President’s desk, though the President has suggested that more guns in schools might be a good solution.  Senator Santorum (R-Pa) suggested that instead of marching on Washington, the students might learn CPR.

What can be drawn from this history?

You can kill and maim hundreds of children with little or no action to improve child safety in schools, but shoot a few politicians and major gun legislation will soon follow.

W. Douglas Smith is an environmental scientist, environmental diplomat, explorer, educator and a retired Senior Compliance Investigator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he worked for 36 years.

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