East Coast of Vancouver Island

East Coast of Vancouver Island
Natural Beauty is Worth Preserving

Friday, 19 December 2014

Green rice will feed a hungry world


B. McPherson

A quiet, green revolution is taking place in the Philippines. A joint effort by plant scientists in China and the Philippines has developed “Green Super Rice” which builds on the heritage of IR8, the rice developed 50 years ago that saved millions from starvation.

Another revolution is needed now. By 2050, two billion more people will be living on Earth, many in areas where food is scarce. The changing climate is creating stressful conditions and lowered yields of many important food crops.

This revolution relies on plant scientists using selective breeding techniques but also the knowledge gained with regard to genetics. Instead of inserting non-rice genes into the plant makeup, the scientists working on green super rice can now pick and choose gene bundles from rice plants that exhibit the traits needed. For instance plant breeders looking for a drought resistant rice but high yielding can select a gene from a drought resistant rice and insert it into the high yielding variety.

Scientists working at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines have developed while working closely with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences rice ready for planting that is salt resistant, drought tolerant, disease resistant, high yielding without needing fertilizer or pesticide. Even better for poor farmers, the miracle rice was developed using public money so no royalties have to be paid to use the seed. The farmers will own the seed they buy and can save or sell it.

Millions of acres of newly developed flood resistant rice have been planted in India. The new rice suffered flooding and instead of dying thrived and increased their yield.

The lowest castes in India are given the worst land, and the worst lands in Odisha are prone to flooding,” says Zeigler. “So here is a very sophisticated biotechnology—flood-tolerant rice—that preferentially benefits the poorest of the poor, the Untouchables. That’s a helluva story, I think.” Nat. Geographic

While genetically modified (GM) plants such as corn and soy have greatly increased yields over the years, many questions arise as to their safety and environmental impacts.  The corporations such as Bayer and Monsanto that develop these Bt or Roundup Ready plants also retain control of the seeds requiring farmers to buy from them and sell back to them, breaking a traditional way of farming.

In many ways the old farming traditions are the best for small farmers. Diversity of crops and free ranging poultry to help control pests can produce the healthiest and best of foods.

Sources:
GM Watch          

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Lima climate conference showing ragged edges


B. McPherson

Delegates from 190 countries are spending two weeks in Lima, Peru, discussing and dealing to try to come to an agreement on reducing countries’ carbon dioxide emissions. The aim is to agree on binding limits in order to pass them at next year’s two week conference in Paris.

Already China, the world’s biggest polluter has already announced that they will not allow independent inspectors of their emissions. That may well be enough to trash the China/US emissions agreement signed in November. The US, world’s second largest polluter, is also unlikely to agree on binding restrictions.

In spite of China’s reluctance to admit inspectors, the European Union countries have made pledges to reduce their carbon releases in the range of 40% by 2025. The US and Denmark have made multi-billion dollar pledges to develop new ways to help keep the Earth’s temperature an average of only 2 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

The trouble with pledges is that they are only promises. Pledges of humanitarian aid are often given but never delivered.

Many countries around the world are facing tough economic times. Multiple countries are fighting wars and civil unrest. Millions of people are being displaced and finding scant refuge in neighbouring countries. Money can often be found to fight, but to build infrastructure to wean humanity away from fossil fuels may be hard to find.

There are also the arguments by the developing nations which include China, that they must be given more allowance for polluting in order to catch up to the developed nations. They maintain that the developed nations are responsible for the pickle we now find ourselves in so they should foot the bill for the fix.

In spite of the resources spent to bring about this two week conference in Lima, it is unlikely that any firm agreement will be reached. The more optimistic would say that valuable work has been done to pave the way to binding agreements next year in Paris.

A deal isn’t due to actually be signed until next year’s summit, in Paris. There’s no guarantee of a deal then either – in Copenhagen in 2009 a summit ended without satisfactory agreement. And even if there is a deal in Paris, few people think it will be drastic enough to keep the world to within 2C warming. The Telegraph

There is value in face-to-face meetings, but the expense involved in flying people from 190 different countries, providing lodging and food for two weeks and flying them home again is staggering. An estimated 9 000 people are attending this two weeks in Lima and generating about 29 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide while doing so.


Sources:
Democracy Now                
The Indian Express            
Newsweek                 

The Telegraph            

Monday, 8 December 2014

Bhopal 30 years ago and still hurting


B. McPherson
Dow Chemical, third largest company in the world, should be able to spare a few million to clean up this mess.
The people in Bhopal India are still suffering from the chemical release that has killed 25 000 to date. It has left many with respiratory problems, blindness and birth defects. Union Carbide, now wholly owned by Dow Chemicals(head offices in Michigan) had a pesticide manufacturing plant in the town. A release of methyl isocyanate gas spread over the town 30 years ago dropping small children where they stood, adults took a few minutes to die.

Residents of Bhopal marked the terrible anniversary by marching in the streets and demanding that the corporations involved and the Indian government treat them fairly. Compensation was meagre and spotty. A widow was awarded the equivalent of $3.20/month. Eventually this was increased to $12/month. Death payments were $1000 but only if deaths could have been proved to be a direct result of the gas leak.

Some Indian managers served short terms in jail for the catastrophe. No American citizens have had to face the Indian courts.

One of the demands of the people in Bhopal is for DOW Chemicals to clean up the contaminated site. There are still an estimated 20 000 tonnes of hazardous waste that is leaking into the environment. Groundwater is contaminated.

 Reported polluting compounds include 1-naphtholnaphthaleneSevintarry residue,mercury, toxic organochlorines, volatile organochlorine compounds, chromium, copper, nickel, lead, hexachloroethanehexachlorobutadiene, and the pesticide HCH.[5]   Wikipedia

The cause of the gassing of the town is not known. There are two main theories as to how the gas explosion happened. One says that a disgruntled employee deliberately added water to the chemical tank and the other cites negligence of maintenance and poor attention to safety.
The worst industrial accident in human history continues to claim more victims.


Sources:
Press Trust of India                         
Hindustan Times          
Wikipedia        

Amnesty International                                         

Saturday, 6 December 2014

World Food Programme suspended for Syrian refugees


B. McPherson

It’s a cold world that cannot feed those fleeing from warfare. Winter is coming to Jordan and Lebanon, just as the UN has announced it can no longer afford to feed the refugees from the Syrian conflict. Some Syrians left their home country with some assets but many fled with only their clothing. Many women with small children fled, their fathers and husbands dead in the conflict.
The UN WFP has been issuing food vouchers in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to those who cannot afford to buy food. The vouchers have cost the programme about $800 million to date and bolstered the economies of the countries hosting the refugees.

Many receiving food aid live in the refugee camps have no ability to buy winter clothes or blankets. Without the calories provided under the voucher programme many will not survive. The suspension of the system puts 1.7 million people at risk.

The UN spokesperson said that $64 million is needed to cover costs for December alone.

"A suspension of WFP food assistance will endanger the health and safety of these refugees and will potentially cause further tensions, instability and insecurity in the neighbouring host countries," said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, in an appeal to donors. Al Jazeera

The lack of money to provide food aid for millions still in Syria and in tent cities outside that country has forced the UN to triage who gets fed. They are sending their resources to areas at higher elevations and trying to provide enough calories to sustain pregnant women and new-borns. Other will simply not eat.

The World Food Programme is supported by donations. It is the largest humanitarian agency distributing food world-wide. Around the world many go hungry and depend on charities and the WFP to get enough food to survive.

Wealthy countries like Canada, US and many EU countries are struggling to feed their own marginalized citizens. At the same time that local food banks are stretched to their limits, many countries around the world are desperate to receive food aid. There are no easy answers to this crisis.

Incomplete list of countries aided by WFP
Swaziland                            Mindanao
Kyrgystan                            Uganda
Mali                                       India
Mozambique                     Yemen
United Republic of Tanzania
Ethiopia                                Eastern Ukraine
West Africa                         Afghanistan
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Bangladesh                         Cuba
Nepal                                    Columbia
West Bank                          Gaza Strip
Central African Republic
Iraq                                        Djibouti
Ghana                                   Cameroon

Sources:
BBC                          
Al Jazeera               
World Food Programme                          
World Food Programme                    

Friday, 28 November 2014

Protesters on Burnaby Mountain Arrested


B. McPherson
You can't drink or breathe oil. Stop the pipeline
The standoff between BigOil and environmentalists continues on Burnaby Mountain. Pipeline company KinderMorgan wants to triple its petroleum carrying capacity to bring Alberta oil to the Pacific coast for shipping to the US and overseas. They have not received the go-ahead from the Canadian Energy Board, but they have done preliminary work to map a new route for the proposed pipelines.

Part of that route would take them under Burnaby Mountain, much of which is dedicated parkland. The survey crews have been blocked from cutting more trees in the park by protesters. Some would call them protectors depending on one’s point of view.

KinderMorgan obtained an injunction to remove the protesters who were blocking the route. This served to increase the number of people joining in the movement. Police were moved in to remove the people. Peaceful, non-violent arrests were made. To date over 100 people have allowed themselves to be arrested rather than move out of the way. Under the terms of the court order an exclusion zone was established.

Early on when the arrests were being made, some said that the court order was vague and lacked proper GPS coordinates. This morning the Civil Liberties Union Association has asserted that the RCMP may have acted beyond the law in arresting people who were outside the zone described in the court order. KinderMorgan is back in court seeking to expand its exclusion zone.

As this issue has heated up, mayors of both Vancouver and Burnaby have been vocal in their opposition to the pipeline expansion. David Sukuzi made an appearance to bolster spirits and now veterans of the Clayquot Sound anti-logging group joined the Burnaby Mountain occupation to add support. Clayquot Sound old growth forest was eventually saved from logging, but only after over 900 people were arrested. The oldest person arrested today was 87 Jean McLaren, one of the veterans.

KinderMorgan is a Houston based company. When interviewed in May of this year they issued this statement:

Trans Mountain has not made any assessment if it is possible or practical to transport expanded volumes,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement Tuesday.  Financial Post May 27, 2014

While changes can happen rapidly in industry, the planning of high pressure pipelines with a total diameter capacity of over three metres(approx. 3.5yards) takes careful planning. In December 2013 the company commissioned a detailed environmental plan for the building of the pipelines. It is available on the Net and makes for interesting reading. Following is a snippet from the report:

The construction right-of-way will typically be 45 m wide, including an approximately 18 m widepermanent easement. The remainder of the construction right-of-way width will be used as temporaryworkspace. ….
Temporary Workspace: Additional temporary workspace will be necessary at select locations to accommodate constructionactivities (e.g., road, rail, buried utility line and water crossings; sharp sidebends; tie-ins; and locations

Opinion The people of British Columbia are being asked by foreign owned corporations to bear the risks and environmental degradation that these high pressure pipelines cause. The petroleum products are not destined for Canadians, they are destined for off shore use and to increase the profits of foreign owned corporations.

Sources:
Financial Post                  

CBC News                        

Monday, 17 November 2014

UK fracking won’t fill the energy gap


B. McPherson

Fracking hype in the UK may be just that. Laws have been changed to make it easier for petroleum corporations to shatter the shale beds to extract the oil or gas held in the rocks. People have been told that the sacrifice of land and water to facilitate this extraction is for the common good, that it will make the UK self-sufficient in natural gas. Prices will remain as is or be reduced.

A credible report from the University of Sussex challenges that assertion. Published in The UK’s Global Gas Challenge, the report points out that the year 2000 was the last year that the UK was self-sufficient in natural gas. As the fields in the North Sea diminished their productivity, the UK gradually increased its dependence on foreign suppliers. Now about 50% of the natural gas that the UK uses comes from Norway and Qatar.

The US has led the world in fracking to obtain natural gas. Canada has followed suit. There has been a large increase in the supply of natural gas, but it has been accompanied with much controversy. It has been sold to the populations there as the way to make the countries self-sufficient in energy supplies. Liquified natural gas(LNG) is being exported from the US. There is no doubt that many people have been employed in the industry. Some states are enjoying an economic surge as money is poured into the local coffers. But like many resource “rushes”, the end may come to an abrupt end.

America’s shale gas resources and reserves have been grossly exaggerated and today’s level of shale gas production is unsustainable.   In fact, due the distortions of zero interest rates and other factors, an enormous shale gas bubble has developed.   Like all bubbles, this one will pop sooner than expected and when it does, the aftermath will be very unpleasant. Forbes

Inextricably tied to the shale fracturing industry, is the water each well requires to hydraulically break the shale beds. On average about two to four million gallons of water for each well. That water is mixed with toxic chemicals and becomes an environmental hazard. As fresh water becomes an increasingly important environmental factor, water conflicts may increase as fracking continues.
When all the costs of fracking are added up, the price of cheap gas may be too high for the people to pay.


Sources:
The Guardian UK                   
Forbes           
Source Watch            

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Kinder Morgan Faces Mock Pipeline Lawyers



B. McPherson
Pipeline corp. shows disregard for human life
Giant corporation Kinder Morgan faces widespread opposition to its application to triple the oil pipeline through Metro Vancouver. If the increase in oil transport to the coast are allowed, an estimated 300 more oil tankers will shuttle through Georgia Strait each year.

There are environmental concerns with having a high pressure oil pipeline in one’s neighbourhood. A few years ago, one of the municipalities found to their horror that the black gold will spew many feet into the air ruining houses, yards and running down the streets to ooze into the ocean. It was nicked by a backhoe working on a street.

Kinder Morgan has proposed a more efficient(read shorter) route for its additional capacity. Some people woke up one day to find strangers in their back yards. The workers said they were surveying for the new pipeline. They were kicked out. Next KM proposed tunnelling under Burnaby Mountain over Burnaby’s city council’s objections. Then the corporation started chopping trees down in local parks so they could get better sight lines.

Demonstrators have turned out to block KM’s efforts to push this unwanted construction.  Court action has been taken to clear the people blocking the cutting of park trees. The legal representatives have argued that their contractors have been assaulted by people making angry faces at them.

Kinder Morgan lawyer Bill Kaplan told the court that activists who have blocked a subsidiary pipeline builder in a Metro Vancouver conservation area obstructed workers in part by making faces. Millions in damages are being sought. National Post

The judge has reserved judgement on the latest court action until November 17. Activists have taken up the challenge, posting selfies of themselves with angry faces. The KM Face has been taken up by the mayor of Vancouver as well as thousands of others.

The Houston based pipeline company has come under criticism from other quarters as well. Part of their publicity programme highlighted the economic benefits of allowing the pipeline expansion. A trade off to the intrusive project would be thousands of high paying construction jobs. A report by Simon Fraser University has concluded that the number of jobs created is vastly overstated and the possibility of a catastrophic oil spill is vastly understated.



Sources:
National Post              
Vancouver Sun              
Yahoo finance                 
Simon Fraser University Department of PublicPolicy