Saturday, July 04, 2009

Nowhere is global warming felt more acutely than in the Himalayas, where ice and snow are retreating

Melting caps
Nowhere is global warming felt more acutely than in the Himalayas, where ice and snow are retreating.
By SAM TAYLOR

STANDING in the Himalayan valley of Langtang, Rinjin Dorje Lama remembers where he used to play as a child in the 1960s.

"When I was a kid, it was a lot longer," said Lama, pointing at the Lirung glacier surrounded by snowy peaks on Nepal's northern border with Tibet. "We used to play on the, glacier, and it came right down to the monastery, but now it's about 2km further back."

Temperatures in the Himalayas are rising by around 0.06~C annually, according to a long-term study by the Nepalese department of hydrology. The rate is far above the global average given last year by United Nations scientists, who said surface temperatures have risen by a total of 0.74C over the past 100 years.

"I don't really understand why the glacier has gone so far back, but I am told it's due to global warming," said Lama, whose weather-beaten face makes him look older than his 57 years.

Lama has witnessed other changes in the roadless valley, 60km northwest of Kathmandu, where sure-footed ponies remain the quickest form of transport. "I feel that the sun is getting stronger, and in the past there used to be a lot more snow in winter. We used to get up to 2m in the winter, and it would stay for weeks. Last winter we only had 2cm."

On top of unpredictable weather, other dangers are increasing in Nepal's mountains because of climate change. As the meltwater flows off the glacier, lakes begin to form and grow. When the pressure becomes too great, the lake walls burst and release millions of cubic tonnes of water that can wash away people, villages and arable land.

Researchers at the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have said five major glacial lake floods have hit Nepal since 1970, as well as at least two in Tibet and one in Bhutan.

Ang Tsering Sherpa, who grew up in Nepal's Everest region, has observed the growth of one glacial lake with growing concern. "A small pond first appeared close to the Imja glacier in about 1962," said Sherpa, who owns a trekking and expedition company in Kathmandu.

Last year, a research team from Japan meas- ured the Imja lake as being 1.Tkm, 900m wide and 92m deep.

"If that lake bursts, it will be like a tsunami," said Sherpa, who estimates that the Imja glacier has been retreating at a rate of 60m per year. "Imagine the damage that will be caused by a lake emptying within minutes into a well-inhabited valley. The loss of life will be huge."

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) calculates there are 2,000 glacial lakes forming in Nepal and around 20 are in danger of bursting.

Mountain dwellers are seeing at first hand the effects of global warming, but the changing climate will eventually have dire consequences for a much wider section of Asia's population.

Himalayan snow and ice is a massive freshwater reserve that feeds nine of Asia's major waterways, including the Indus, Ganges and Yellow rivers.

"In the long term, water scarcity will become a big problem," said Sandeep Chamling Rai, WWF climate change officer. "There will eventually be a tipping point where the amount of water from the glaciers is hugely reduced, which will result in loss of water resources for people downstream who rely on these Himalayan-fed rivers."

The ICIMOD said in August last year that climate change posed a serious threat to essential water resources in the Himalayas, putting the livelihoods of 1.3 billion people at risk.

Back in the Langtang Valley, where around 700 people and 4,000 yaks live, Lama can only watch as the ice and snow retreat from around his home.

"I am very worried, but what can we do. We are not contributing to global warming but we feel its effects. I am scared there will be no snow and ice in these mountains within the next 15 years."- AFP

Trash is not always wasted. It can be recycled or even turned into educational exhibits.


Trash on show
Trash is not always wasted. It can be recycled or even turned into educational exhibits.
By DAVE COLLINS

IN a waterfront industrial area near the Bridgeport line in Stratford, Connecticut, the trucks keep dumping trash and the school buses keep dumping children.

Eight-year-old Matt Carlucci is in awe as soon as he walks through the front door of The Garbage Museum, confronted immediately by a colourful, 3.7m-tall dinosaur made out of junk. "Trash-o-saurus" resembles something out of the animated movie Robots.

Pennsylvania sculptor Leo Sewell, who grew up near a dump, fashioned the 7.3m-long piece out of old "no parking" signs, cell phones, shoes, licence plates, sunglasses, plastic toys and anything else he could get his hands on. Visitors are given a list of things to find on the dinosaur, and it's no easy feat.

"It's pretty cool," Matt said during a trip with his third-grade class from Sherman, Connecticut. "All the garbage on it, how big it is and how much it weighs."

The sculpture is 907kg, representing the average amount of garbage and recyclables each person in Connecticut discards each year. Like all the exhibits, Trash-o-saurus was designed with the goal of teaching how important recycling is.

The museum opened in 1993 at the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority's (CRRA) recycling centre in Stratford, "before 'green' was cool," a fact sheet says. About 32,200 people visited the museum and took part in its off-site programmes last year, a record.

"We don't know of any other museums dedicated to garbage and recycling in the country," said Paul Nonnenmacher, a spokesman for the CRRA, a quasi-public state trash agency.

The agency also operates a sister facility, The Trash Museum, in Hartford that drew more than 27,000 people last year.

"What's exciting is the kids go home and tell their parents what they can recycle," said Sotoria Montanari, the museum's education supervisor.

While the dinosaur sculpture is popular, children have just as much fun in the viewing area over the centre's sorting area, Montanari said. Trucks dump recyclables from 20 area towns, to the tune of 60,000 tonnes a year.

Huge piles of plastic bottles look made to jump into. Stacks of newspapers and cardboard fill another area. An assembly line of workers sorts the materials, which are crushed and sold as commodities to produce new products. Some buyers even make carpets and fleece jackets out of the recycled plastic, which can be turned into fibres.

Back down a flight of stairs near the dinosaur, children can play in a general store complete with a cash register, old cereal boxes and other reusable items.

An exhibit with stacked soda cans shows how making aluminum out of recycled materials creates 95% less air pollution and 97% less water pollution than mining bauxite.

Visitors can walk through the tunnel of a big, brown and plastic "composting pile" that has fake worms, bugs and pieces of fruits and vegetables sticking out of it.

Educator Robin Bennett can show you a real composting pile, and how a special kind of worm eats the garbage and converts it into what looks like dirt.

The Trash Bash activity imprisons helmet-wearing contestants behind chain- link fence doors and makes them answer questions. If the answer is wrong, others are given the green light to dump trash on them from an overhead opening.

There are also art exhibits made from reusable stuff, including a life-size mannequin made from crushed and coloured milk containers strung together with pipe cleaners. It all makes for a fun hour or two, but visitors say they also walk away with new knowledge and appreciation.

"You can see where all the garbage goes," said 10-year-old Brooke Hiatt. "You can see how and where it goes and the process of recycling stuff. I've learned that recycling is better than just wasting. If you waste, you can pollute your environment."- AP

A British-based firm insisted for years that its tanker was not to blame for poisoning thousands in West Africa


Toxic Shipment
A British-based firm insisted for years that its tanker was not to blame for poisoning thousands in West Africa. Now proof of its lethal cargo has emerged.
By DAVID LEIGH and AFUA HIRSCH

ON a July day in 2006, workers at the port in Amsterdam began their usual task of removing "slop" from a ship that had sailed to the Netherlands from Algeciras in Spain. As they pumped wastefrom the Probo Koala- a vessel chartered to the British-based oil trading company
Trafigura - they were expecting the usual mix of water and oil left over from the tank after it had been washed down with water.

But the workers, employed by Dutch company Amsterdam Port Services (APS), noticed the waste was different from the ordinary material they were used to dealing with. Pitch black in colour, it gave off such a vile smell that some of the workers became sick, attracting the attention of the environmental authorities.

APS refused to continue disposing of the pungent waste unless its payment was increased. Refusing to pay the extra, Trafigura decided to pump the material back on board the ship. The Probo Koala then set sail again, carrying its foul-smelling cargo to West Africa. As the ship made its way to the Ivorian port of Abidjan, a company with no previous expe- rience in waste removal obtained the licence to handle the highly toxic material - for a sum 20 times less than the amount demanded by APS in Amsterdam.

The Probo Koala docked in Abidjan on Aug 19, 2006. In darkness at least 12 hired lorries began carrying loads from the ship's 400 tonnes of waste to as many as 18 sites around the city. As the sludge was emptied out into roads and sewers, crowds starting to form, protesting at the stench, forcing truck drivers to abandon their work. Over the following
weeks, thousands of residents in Abidjan found themselves choking and coughing, some vomiting. At least 10 are said to have died from sickness.

The episode is now the centre of a civil suit being played out at the high court in London. Of the 100,000 Ivorians said to have fallen sick, 30,000 are suing the oil trading firm Trafigura in Britain. Company bosses repeatedly insisted at the time the Probo Koala had only routinely discharged ordinary slops.
Yet three years on, after a series of legal developments, lawyers for the victims say they are now able to paint a completely different picture of what really happened. Documents have emerged saying that about two tonnes of highly poisonous hydrogen sulphide was indeed present in a sample of what was a potentially lethal sulphur and caustic soda cocktail.
Asked to comment about the potential toxicity of such a mix, John Hoskins, a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, told BBC: "If you dropped this in Trafalgar Square, you would have people being sick for several miles around and that would involve millions of people. It's not very hard to imagine that if a pregnant woman was poisoned her body reacts by aborting the foetus. There will be long-term effects. These things are chronically damaging and, once you've damaged your lungs, kidneys, that damage will not recover."

Waste exports
It is alleged that what Trafigura was really doing was very far from routine: that the company was trying to transform consignments of cheap and dirty petroleum, heavily contaminated with sulphur, into something more profitable. Trafigura employees were trying to remove sulphur from the so-called "coker gasoline", it is claimed, by adding highly-corrosive caustic soda and a catalyst. This process leaves the improved petroleum in a top layer and a toxic sludge underneath.

Lawyer Martyn Day, acting for the claimants, says the oil traders first tried the chemical process on land in early 2006 at the Tunisian port of La Skirra. "The resulting waste and toxic gases caused significant health problems leading to the port authorities banning them," he said. Day says the firm next tried the "highly unusual and dangerous step" of carrying out do-it-yourself refining in a tanker at sea off the coast of Gibraltar. They tried to dispose of the resultant toxic waste in Amsterdam and "unsuccessfully attempted to pass it off as ordinary waste".

When they were asked to pay extra by the Dutch disposal firm, Trafigura admits it pumped the waste back on board and subsequently took it down the West African coast where it could be disposed of at a fraction of the cost, hiring a local contractor to take it away.

Day says a final Trafigura attempt to continue its desulphuring operations in Norway, using a different ship, led to a tank explosion "causing a sulphur gas cloud to affect hundreds in the local population".

An analysis of the sample obtained from the Amsterdam authorities shows that, despite all Trafigura's denials, it did contain large quantities of sulphur compounds and poisonous hydrogen sulphide gas. These were by-products of desulphurisation attempts, not ordinary tank washings.

Jailed

Trafigura director Claude Dauphin found himself temporarily jailed alongside two company executives when he went out to the Ivory Coast in an attempt to handle the durriping crisis.

He was only released when the company paid more than E100mil (RM554mil) to the African government for clean-up costs and individual compensation, although it continued to deny any link between the payment and his release.

A local contractor and a port official were convicted and jailed in Abidjan for their part in the dumping. Trafigura faces possible pros- ecution in Amsterdam for illegally exporting toxic waste. But the company also faces the massive group litigation from Day. The trial is due to open in October in London.

In a significant legal move last year, Trafigura agreed to compensate claimants if they could prove a link between their illness and exposure to the waste, a cause-and-effect relationship which they continue to strenuously deny. The firm said it would only pay up to anyone who could prove to legal standards that the toxic waste directly caused their medical condition.

Day, for the claimants, says this move has the effect of excluding from the courtroom all the history of the voyage of the Probo Koala. He claims that Trafigura has followed up its move by attempts to induce claimants to change their stories.

Witness statements allege that Simon Nurney, a partner in Trafigura"s solicitors, Macfarlanes, interviewed a lead claimant who had been flown business class to a luxury hotel in Morocco, and was later offered money to retract his evidence. The high court has, as a result, banned Trafigura from further contact with witnesses.

In a statement on May 13, Macfarlanes admitted Nurney had met the witness but denied any wrongdoing. "At no time has anyone from Macfarlanes or Trafigura's legal team, our client or their agents acted improperly or offered any inducements whatsoever to any witnesses or claimants."

Trafigura's has claimed that further publicising these allegations would put the lives of their local employees in danger, hence court hearings have been held in secret because of allegations of intimidation.

The privately-owned oil trading group claims to be one of the biggest in the world, with claimed revenues of US$73bil (RM262bil) and undisclosed share ownership. It was set up offshore in 1993.

Trafigura managers worked until then for Marc Rich, the oil trader who became notorious for South African and Iranian sanctionsbusting. Rich was a fugitive from US justice for alleged tax evasion and trading with Iran, but was pardoned by President Bill Clinton. -Guardian Newspaper Service

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A new road near Taman Negara may well be built at the expense of wildlife and their habitat

The road to ruin -A new road near Taman Negara may well be built at the expense of wildlife and their habitat.
By TAN CHENG LI
IT would shorten the route by a mere 6.6km - probably 10 minutes of driving -but the new alignment of a stretch of road near Gua Musang, Terengganu, will eat into habitats for wildlife and allow development to inch closer to the country's premier park - Taman Negara.

Bulldozers are already hard at work at both ends of the new road, located about 45km from Gua Musang. This stretch is labelled as Phase 1-Segment 5, and is just one parcel of a bigger project by the Public Works Department (PWD) to upgrade Federal Route 8, the major thoroughfare that connects Bentong, Pahang, to Gua Musang, Kelantan.

While the existing road curves around oil palm and rubber estates for 13.7km, the realigned road will cut through these plantations as well as some tracts of forest, to cut the route by about half.

Conservationists have questioned the necessity of this shorter route. They say the new road is within the Taman Negara-Sungai Yu corridor, an important ecological bridge between the Main Range and the national park, and an area known to host elephants, tapirs and sun bears.

WWF-Malaysia chief technical officer Surin Suksuwan explains that the Taman NegaraSungai Yu corridor has almost contiguous forest cover- so its preservation will greatly enlarge the available wilderness.

This link is among several earmarked by the Town and Country Planning Department to connect four major forest complexes spanning the length of the peninsula, to form what is called the Central Forest Spine.

These four wild lands - the Main Range, Taman Negara, south-east Pahang-Chini/Bera wetlands and Endau Rompin-Kluang Wildlife Reserve - are crucial for biodiversity and environmental protection but are now fragmented from one another.

Suksuwan says a report on the Central Forest Spine, the boundaries of which are being finalised now, discourages the widening of roads in areas earmarked for forest corridors.

WWF chief executive officer Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma fears that the impact will extend beyond the actual site cleared for the road to adjacent forests.

"The upgrading and realignment of the existing road might not only impede wildlife movement between the Main Range and Taman Negara, but also accelerate forest conversion and fragmentation in surrounding areas. This in turn will disrupt ecological functions and lead to the loss of biodiversity."

He says existing forests flanking the road are vulnerable to conversion to other land uses as they are state-owned land with no protected status.

Sharma urges the Pahang state government to gazette these forests as Permanent Reserved Forest under the National Forestry Act 1984, to reduce the risk of forest conversion and maintain the connectivity between the Main Range and Taman Negara,

"It is crucial and urgent that a buffer zone is demarcated for Taman Negara to address a range of mounting concerns such as forest conversion and potential poaching pressures. No development activities should take place in this buffer zone," says Sharma.

As is often the case, new roads spell easier access - in this case, trespassing by poachers into Taman Negara. At their closest point, 2km is all that separates the new stretch of road from the 4,343 sqkm park.

Sharma urges the PWD to share information on the other phases of the road upgrading scheme with key government agencies and nongovernmental groups which might be able to provide useful recommendations on ways to minimise the environmental impact of the scheme.

Should the realignment of certain stretches be unavoidable, he proposes that measures such as elevated roads and tunnels as well as wildlife crossings be incorporated into the design, to prevent forest fragmentation.

The PWD, however, has brushed off the claims of WWF.

Responding to questions from StarTwo, it says the realignment of Phase 1-Segment 5 is to make that stretch, an accident-prone spot, safer. Upgrading the existing road will pose greater risk to the locals as vehicle speeds will be higher. It is also cheaper to construct the new alignment.

The PWD says Segment 5 does not encroach into any forest reserves: 3km will cut through secondary forest that makes up the Jalan Merapuh Malay Reserve and another 3.3km, the Felda Cegah Perah Satu oil palm plantation.

It says the existing road as well as the railway line already transect the forest corridor between the Main Range and Taman Negara, hence "the realignment of certain stretches is not a new impact to wildlife in the area that have already adapted to the presence of the road for many years." It also points out that the area is already fragmented and consists of forest, oil palm and settlements.

To minimise impact to wildlife, the PWD has produced a Wildlife Management Plan which among other things, suggests elephant warning signs, lower speed limits and reporting of wildlife sightings. The PWD also intends to construct underpasses for animal crossings in the road upgrading, in compliance with the requirements of wildlife authorities.

Countering concerns that the new road will worsen poaching of wildlife, the PWD says illegal hunting is already prevalent in the area - traps for porcupine were detected during surveys for the Wildlife Management Plan -due to accessibility. It says poaching can only be solved through deterrent measures such as severe punishment and constant surveillance.

Lost wilderness - yet another tract of forest will be sacrificed for dams and timber.


An expanse of green in the upper reaches of Terengganu, home to countless species of wildlife, including the highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, will soon be no more. It is being logged and will eventually be flooded for a new hydroelectric scheme. What is alarming is that
the area being cleared is three times larger than that needed for the project.
10
Under the 212MW hydroelectric project in Kuala Berang, 65km west of Kuala Terengganu, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) will dam up Sungai Terengganu Mati and Sungai Tembat to create two reservoirs north of Kenyir Lake. In so doing it will flood 6,000ha and 130ha of Tembat and Petuang forest reserves.

As if it is not bad enough that over 6,130ha of wilderness will have to make way for the two reservoirs, the Terengganu state government intends to log another 12,620ha around the inundated area.

Much is at stake: forests and riverine habitats, together with the flora and fauna within. What worries conservationists is that the forest here is among the last few refuges of the highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, Malayan tiger and Malayan gaur (seladang). It also harbours the Asian elephant, tapir, primates, wild cats and plants, of which 94 species are Red Listed as threatened by extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) on the project predicts that logging will have a high impact on wildlife as an area three times larger than that required for the reservoirs will be clear-felled - not selectively logged, which would still leave behind vegetation cover.

WWF-Malaysia has questioned the need to log the additional 12,620ha as not only is the area an important wild habitat, it is also the catchment for Kenyir Lake. Destroying the catchment will hamper water flows, says WWF chief technical officer Surin Suksuwan.



"Erosion resulting from logging can silt up the river and this could reduce the lifespan of the dam and affect electricity generation. It would be a disadvantage for TNB if the catchment is chopped down," he says.

There are valid reasons for preserving Petuang and Tembat. The presence of a highly endangered species, the Sumatran rhinoceros, makes them high-value forests, Tembat has also been identified as an important site for tiger conser- vation.

And not only are Petuang and Tembat part of the Central Forest Spine, the tract of forest running the length of the peninsular that is crucial for biodiversity and environmental protection, they sit within the ecological corridor that links Taman Negara with the Main Range.

With this corridor, essentially a stretch of forested lands, a larger wild sanctuary will be created for wildlife dispersion and breeding.

But Terengganu is adamant on exploiting the timber housed within Tembat and Petuang. In June 2003, then Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had said that in view of the TNB project, the state had awarded timber concessions for some 16,000ha. Last August, the state gazette showed 6,168ha of Tembat forest reserve to have been excised, but the degazettement was backdated to November 2006.

Last November, Mentri Besar Datuk Ahmad Said told The Star that the logging was to prevent loss of timber revenue when the area is submerged - but he failed to explain why the state is allowing logging of an extra 12,620ha outside of the 6,130ha that would be flooded.

The hydroelectric project was mooted in the 1990s. TNB had submitted an EIA in 2000 but the review panel deemed it incomplete and asked for more studies. No fresh EIA was submitted, however, until the latest DEIA dated September 2008.

But in blatant disregard for the law, portions of the forest have been laid bare even as experts were vetting the DEIA. Satellite images in the report reveals logging in the area dates back to 2003. From an image taken in January, it is esti- mated that 5,500ha have been denuded.

The effects of forest destruction are being felt. "When it rains, Sungai Tembat will be the colour of tea," says one tour operator who declined to be named. "It takes a few days for the water to clear up. This has been happening for the past two years."

He foresees that the proposed dams will lead to reduced flows- so boat trips upriver for either fishing or the riverine scenery will be a thing of the past.

The DEIA report states as much. It says silt that is washed into the rivers from barren lands will smother fish spawning grounds and kill aquatic insects which fish feed on. As the river water quality declines, so will ecotourism activities.

Another loss is the Tembat waterfalls, said to be the second biggest in Kenyir. The five cascades along the river will turn into mere trickles with the damming. The stemmed flows downstream of the dams will doom some species, and eventually transform the composition of species. The DEIA foresees a drop in populations of kelah, daun and tengas, which are what draw anglers to Kenyir.

Equally imperilled are endangered plants such as numerous dipterocarp species, orchids, begonias, rafflesia and the ginger kantan hutan ( Etlingera terengganuensis) that is endemic to Terengganu.

With the forest destruction comes other problems. The DEIA anticipates more road kills along highways in the area, and poaching too as logging roads will make the remote forest accessible. As it is, the DEIA consultants had come across old and new Thai poachers' camps while surveying the catchment.

To counter these problems, it is suggested that signboards be erected along the highways to warn of wildlife crossings and there be more enforcement and patrols by wildlife and forest rangers.

The logging and dam construction will drive elephants into nearby settlements and plantations, particularly those at the north near Setiu.The DEIA says to safeguard crops, the elephants might have to be trapped and moved to other forests.

But the jumbos of Tembat and Petuang seem destined for a life in captivity. The Mentri Besar in November said the animals will be relocated to an elephant sanctuary.

WWF executive director Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma does not think this a viable solution. "This would be too costly and the sanctuary would not be able to accommodate all the elephants in the state in the long term. The increase in reports of human-wildlife conflict within the area strongly infers that wildlife habitats are being encroached or are diminishing. More land clearing will result in more elephants and other wildlife being displaced."

With so much at risk, the DEIA has rightly cautioned the state government against logging what remains of Tembat and Petuang forest reserves, urging it to instead gazette them into catchment areas to protect the remaining wildlife and vegetation.

It says the 12,620ha outside the reservoir site should be selectively logged instead of clear-felled to reduce environmental destruction. Also, the sliver of forest west of Kenyir Lake needs to stay to enable movements of wildlife, otherwise Taman Negara and the catchment will be cut off from each other.

Sharma, however, says the suggestion in the DEIA on selective logging will not be effective. "The forest will take many years to regenerate and resume its ecosystern function as water catchment and to prevent soil erosion."

He says it is crucial that both Petuang and Tembat be gazetted as catchment forests immediately, and not after they are logged. This will conform to a National Forestry Council directive for states to protect their catchments.

"Logging or clear-felling should not be allowed in these protected forests, in line with the National Physical Plan which classifies all catchment forests as Environmentally Sensitive Area Rank 1. Logging, development and agricultural activities are not permitted in these areas."

A 2006 filepix of elephants being transported from Kenyir Lake to be released in Taman Negara. It is feared that logging for timber and two new dams will displace more elephants in Hulu Terengganu.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Planet Keepers - Six campaigners winthe environmental world's 'Nobels'.




Planet Keepers

Six campaigners winthe environmental world's 'Nobels'.
By PETER GRIFFITHS

FROM the rainforests of Africa to the mountain-top coal mines of West Virginia, six campaigners who have fought governments and industry to protect the planet won prestigious Goldman Environmental Prizes recently.

The awards, often referred to as the Nobel Prizes of the environmental world, went to activists in six continents who took on everything from toxic chemical dumps in the former Soviet Union to ship-breaking in Asia.

Thisyear's African winner is Marc Ona Essangui, who campaigned against plans by a Chinese state-owned company to open an iron ore mine in the rainforests of Gabon, west Africa.

Ona, who uses a wheelchair due to child- hood polio, has been repeatedly threatened, and arrested and evicted from his home.

"Threats shouldn't prevent you from carrying on your fight. It could destroy the most beautiful forests in central Africa."

His campaign helped lead to a review of the project, which is currently on hold, the prize's organisers said.

The North America winner was Maria Gunnoe, a former waitress who campaigns against the environmental impact of mountain-top coal-mining in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia.

The method involves blasting the tops of mountains, removing the coal and pushing the rubble into valleys. Critics say it pollutes land, destroys streams and causes flooding.

In an area where coal is the backbone of the economy, Gunnoe has divided the community and received death threats.

"There's a lot of people here who support what I do. But there's others who drive in here every, day for their jobs, and given a choice, they would run over me in a heartbeat," she said in a message on her website.

In Europe, the prize went to Olga Speranskaya, a Russian scientist whose Moscow-based campaign group Eco-Accord aims to rid former Soviet republics of old toxic chemicals once used in agriculture or industry.

"They are among the most toxic and dangerous substances and cause birth defects... and even cancer," she told Reuters.

The other winners, who received their US$150,000 (RM540,000) prizes at a ceremony in San Francisco were:

> From Asia: Rizwana Hasan, from Bangladesh, who has raised public awareness of the dangers of ship-breaking.

> From South and central America: Hugo Jabini and Wanze Eduards, from Suriname, who organised local people to campaign against logging on their land.

> From islands: Yuyun Ismawati, who campaigned for better waste management in Indonesia.

Previous winners of the award, established in 1990 by two US philanthropists, include the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged in 1995 after leading protests against oil companies in Nigeria.- Reuters

Recycling is taking an object, like a plastic bottle, and after you drink it, turning it into a candleholder

Waste not
A husband and wife architect team is on a quest to promote a green lifestyle for themselves and their community.
By BARBARA THORNBURG

MOST things in the lives of Alejandro D'Acosta and Claudia Turrent are recycled: the trailer in which the architects live, their three-year-old Christmas tree.

"The only thing not redclada is my wife," D'Acosta says with a grin, his wedding-ring finger tattooed with her name.

"Ay, gordo! What am I going to do with you?" Turrent admonishes him, laughing, her right wrist imprinted with his name like a bracelet. The couple show their good humour, but make no mistake: they are on a serious quest to promote a sustainable way of life for themselves and their community in the nascent revoludon verde just south of the Tijuana border in Mexico.

The Ensenada coast and nearby Valle de Guadalupe wine-making region inland are testing grounds for the couple's experiments in recycling and "upcycling", the process of designing a product with its end-life in mind.

"Recycling is taking an object, like a plastic bottle, and after you drink it, turning it into a candleholder," Turrent says. "We want companies designing the plastic bottle to design it in the shape of something functional, like a roof tile." Instead of ending up in a landfill, she says, the plastic could be incorporated into an inter- locking System of bottles that provide cover. "This would help many poor people have a shelter over their heads,and at the same time, the Earth will be cleaner."

At the rear of the couple's home facing the northern Baja coastline, where waves break dramatically along the shore, a brown Christmas tree stands in the small garden. "The tree was a big discussion at Christmas," D'Acosta says. "My children told me, 'It smells like fish, and we want a new one that smells more like Christmas.' I told them, 'This tree will be for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.'"

Originally from Mexico City, the couple spent eight years living in Oaxaca, teaching and aiding poor communities in the area by building health facilities and cultural centres. Along the way, they learned to create a modern architecture based on ancient traditions.

A local bar, La Mezcaleria, features walls and a ceiling woven of carrizo or cane grass, which the indigenous people also use for roofs, window coverings and baskets.

"Es una canasta ... it's a basket," D'Acosta says of the structure. When the sun's rays stream into the interior, Goethe's description of architecture as frozen music comes to mind. "We have much to learn from indigenous people and the way they live with the land," D'Acosta says. "Some people call them backward, but they don't need cars because they grow their food in the garden next to their house. They use the natural materials that surround them to make their homes."

The couple have taken the lessons they learned in Oaxaca and created a vernacular architecture of their own based on materials that surround them in northern Baja. And the material found in most abundance here, they say, is basura - trash.

Showcase home
D'Acosta and Turrent's home is a laboratory. They joined a 1940s American mobile home with a former Mexican office trailer to create a comfortable, inexpensive dwelling that seems to float on the land, parallel to the sea. The 20m-long red mobile home, re-clad in waterproof
corrugated cardboard, houses the kitchen, living room, two girls' bedrooms and a bath. The shorter trailer, set at a right angle, serves as the master bedroom suite overlooking the ocean.

The house wears an interior skin of unpainted dry wall and is filled with recycled furnishings. A whale vertebrae is now a sculptural centrepiece atop the patio dining table. A vintage blouse is a cover for the plasma TV. A 70s desk serves as the kitchen table.

Outside, a long deck made of redwood beams from an old, deconstructed bridge stretches to the shore. An open-air aluminum-and-wood pavilion, reclaimed from an old factory, is covered with carrizo, echoing the trailer's topping of palm fronds. The materials, salvaged from their neighbour's trash heap, help to cool the spaces.

"Our neighbour used to throw things out. Now he asks us before disposing of anything," says D'Acosta, who can be found most Sundays combing the coastline for trash, often returning with a necklace of plastic bottles draped around his neck. "Gifts from our northern neighbours," he quips, referring to refuse that has washed clown from California. "They make great insulation."

He's planning to use the colourful bottles in a new wine-tasting centre at La Escuelita, a wine school started six years ago by his brother, Hugo D'Acosta, in the Valle de Guadalupe. Set in a former olive oil factory that still produces olive oil as well as wine, the school is where D'Acosta keeps stashes of trash in segregated piles.

"Another laboratorio," he says, pointing to mounds of cans, tyres, rusted pipes, barbed wire
and old wood, as well as a lone toilet where he takes up a seat to gaze at his tesoro. Treasure? Most people would look at all this and see junk. D'Acosta, like Don Quixote on his quest, conjures other visions. Buildings on the property have been fashioned from the trash: a classroom made of discarded pieces of wood from construction sites; a wine storage facility composed of used bottles; and an open-air building framed in rusted box springs. Then there's the front of the school, clad in discarded filters used in the pressing of olive oil.

His latest structure is a work in progress:a wine-tasting centre made of old barrel staves. Colourful plastic bottles will be placed between walls as insulation and to "colour the light," he says. Old wine barrels, fittingly, will make up the wine bar. "The idea of buildings is not just for function but to create sensations," D'Acosta says. "Each material~ has its own soul, and when you reuse that material it has a new soul on top of its old soul." Nature's way

Turrent has her own project, Viento, a highrise condominium in El Sauzal, a seaside community just north of Ensenada, complete with an in-
house wine-making facility that will be cooled by sea breezes and heated by the sun. She's experimenting with hand-carved furnishings - built-in benches, wooden sink stands - made from the same redwood beams that form her home's deck.

While the project is on hold, Turrent has turned her attention to retrofitting a half-dozen trailers on the property as part of a new delimarket by the sea. Come summer, when wine aficionados hit Ensenada's Fiesta de la Vendemia (Harvest Festival) and other cultural events, the new market will be in place offering organic and regional products. "The idea," she says, "is to
bring small producers together and promote the idea of buying local."

Inland, in the Valle de Guadalupe, lies D'Acosta's latest boutique-winery, Paralelo. With its corrugated metal roof painted the colour of nearby olive trees, the rammed-earth structure all but disappears into the landscape. During harvest, trucks drive up the building's eastern ramp to the roof,.releasing grapes into the vats below.

"Everything is run by gravity," D'Acosta says. No pumps are needed. Metre-wide walls, punc- tuated with barrel-shaped windows on each side of the building, regulate air flow to control temperature. "We try to work with the land- scape, not against it," says the architect, also a professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California, where his classes emphasise ecology and sustainability.

Baja conservation attorney Jose Luis Perez Rocha recently worked with D'Acosta on trans- forming an abandoned 120-year-old school into a family home in La Paz, Mexico. "Alejandro sees things differently from the rest of us," Rocha says. "He turns waste and trash into something not only useful but beautiful."

Already copies of D'Acosta's work- fences of discarded lumber or recycled grapevines - are popping up in the Valle de Guadalupe and Ensenada. But D'Acosta says that's a good thing. "People are starting to look at trash as something that has value."- LAT-WP

Monday, May 25, 2009

Some housewives have resorted to smuggling banned dishwashing soaps as the 'green' ones

Detergent outlaw
Some housewives have resorted to smuggling banned dishwashing soaps as the 'green' ones, well, don't clean as well.

By KIM MURPHY

By day, Patti Marcotte is a working mum-dealing with the balancing act created by a five-year-old daughter, a demanding job, a split-level house and a willful boxer puppy. Come the post-dinner hour, however, Marcotte begins operating in the shadowy world of smuggled soap.

Spokane County, Washington, last July adopted a near-total ban on sales of water-softening phosphates in dishwasher detergent- the first in the United States - in an attempt to slow the flood of pollutants that is sucking oxygen out of the endangered Spokane River,smothering its fish.

The problem, Marcotte and many of her neighbours say, is that most low-phosphate detergents are wimps when it comes to fighting greasy pots and spaghetti-crusted plates. So she has become a detergent outlaw, driving 45 minutes across the Idaho state line to pick up secret stashes of the old, bad dish cleansers.

"With the 'green' stuff, the dishes come out with a real slippery texture ... like somebody poured a cup of grease in some dishwater ...
and a white film. Just really gross," Marcotte said. "And then the food gunk just mixes around the dishwasher and when it stops, it just settles on whatever's there. I mean, it's bad."

Retailers in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, say the sight of apologetic but defiant Washingtonians loading their carts with dishwasher detergent is becoming increasingly common. For those inclined to chuckle at the travails of distant, desperate people with dirty dishes, consider this: the detergent industry has pledged to make every automatic dishwashing soap sold in the United States and Canada nearly phosphate-flee by mid-2010.

With 12 states- including Washington-phasing in low-phosphate laws by the end of next year and four others considering them, industry officials say they are gearing up to produce a new generation of products that will clean dishes while also protecting lakes and streams.

The pledge marks a significant turnaround for an industry that until recently not only opposed such laws, but also warned that many "phosphate-free" dishwashing detergents didn't work the way consumers expected them to.

But plenty soon will be available, said Dennis Griesing, vice-resident of government affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based Soap and Detergent Association. "We sort of warned Spokane that things wouldn't be ready by 2008. We had told people it's not enough time to get our best products out there. We have to do the R&D, restructure our chemical supply lines, maybe build some new plants."

Two major manufacturers have introduced nearly phosphate-free gels that work well in most water conditions, he said, and more are on the way.

The transition echoes the elimination of most phosphates from laundry detergent several years ago, but represents an entirely different technological hurdle. Previous attempts to phase out dishwasher phosphates in Europe and a brief trial in Arizona met with implacable consumer resistance.

But Spokane County authorities say that since the law went into effect, they have reduced phosphate pollution from the county's main wastewater treatment plant by 14%. Scientists say phosphorus - a nutrient that is an essential component of living cells, as abundant in human waste and yard fertiliser as it is in detergent - is one of the biggest threats to lakes and rivers whose waters take in a constant stream of phosphate-laden wastewater discharges, agricultural runoff and storm-water flows.

Acting as a fertiliser in the water, phosphates promote the uncontrolled growth of often-toxic algae blooms that, when they die, nurture bacteria. That bacteria rapidly consume much of the oxygen in the water, leaving little for plants and fish.

The Spokane River is considered one of the United States' most endangered, threatened by mining pollution, sewage treatment planl outfalls and heavy draw downs of river wate that tend to concentrate pollutants.

In an attempt to turn things around, the state Department of Ecology imposed what appear to be the lowest phosphate limits in the nation on Spokane's main water-reclamation plant. And the county instituted its dish washer detergent rules two years before the statewide low-phosphate law takes effect.

The plant is spending US$7mil (RM25.2mil) to experiment with new technologies for cleaning up remaining ohosphates in the wastewater. SpoKane County will spend up to US$250mil (RM900mii) more to build a new treatment plant after that. The state is also looking to crack down on agricultural and industrial polluters, along with leaky septic systems.

The law allows dishwasher detergents to have no more than 0.5% phosphate content. The most popular brands contain about 8% phosphates in order to remove fats and hold food particles in suspension. Most hand dish soap, which relies on scrubbing to clean plates and pots, does not contain phosphates.

Marcotte says she's environmentally conscious, but the phosphate-free dishwasher detergents she has tried left the dishes so dirty she had to wash them twice, in much hotter water, or at least rinse them after washing them - a waste of water and electricity, since she normally uses tepid water on the short cycle.

"I try to recycle and do my part," she said. "The whole thing is if they're going to take away something that works, they need to replace it with something that works." - LAT-WP

Waste energy - A chicken waste-to-energy project is gaining attention.

Waste energy
A chicken waste-to-energy project is gaining attention.
By SANDHYA SOMASHEKHAR

DO NOT try to tell Oren Heatwole that chicken poop smells. "Total myth," he said before a colleague, eager to prove the point, scooped up a mulchy handful and inhaled deeply.

Heatwole, a former chicken farmer, might be biased. But he isn't the only fan of the stuff. Scientists at Virginia Tech are experimenting with technology that would convert what you might call an abundant resource here in the Shenandoah Valley into energy.

Virginia Tech has built a prototype chicken-waste-to-energy machine. Using a process called pyrolysis, the device super-heats the droppings to transform them into three products: an oil that can be used for heating, a slowrelease fertiliser and a gas that the researchers hope will one day be recycled to power the machine.

If successful, the project also will help reduce a source of pollution in Chesapeake Bay. Although the raw waste has long been recognised as a top-flotch fertiliser, if applied too heavily, it can flush into waterways and eventually the bay. That has led to severe restrictions on its use.

It will be at least two years before the technology is perfected and the unit - now built for about US$1 rail (RM3.6mil) - is affordable for the average poultry farmer, said Foster Agblevor, the Virginia Tech professor in charge of the project.

Environmental groups have been largely critical of efforts to generate energy from waste products such as garbage or droppings. Often such plants produce harmful emissions. In addition, critics note that raw poultry waste already brings in top dollar as a fertiliser - more, some-times, than the energy it can produce.

"It does not make sense to try to solve a waste problem as an energy solution," said Mike Tidwell, director of the non-profit Chesapeake Climate Action Network in Maryland. "It is an unproven technology that is going to serve only to delay and confuse the real solutions in Virginia, which are energy efficiency and true renewable energy like wind and solar."- LAT-WP

Converting Chicken Waste to Power

Scientists at Virgina Tech are developing technology to convert chicken waste to energy. In this process, chicken litter - a mixture of manure, feathers, bedding and fee - is super-heated by a portable machine. The heat breaks down the mixture and yields oil for heating, fertiliser and non-combustible gas.

Related Topic: Uses of Garbage Enzyme

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Earth Hour at 28th March 2009

62 countries including Malaysia have committed to participate in WWF’s Earth Hour in 2009. This will be the first time Malaysia officially takes part in Earth Hour and our Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah bin Ahmad Badawi has indicated his support and endorsement of Malaysia’s participation.

The campaign, which hopes to reach out to more than one billion people in 1000 cities around the world, encourage individuals, businesses and governments to switch off lights for just one hour on Saturday March 28, 2009 at 8:30pm to convey their support for action on climate change. Cities already committed to Earth Hour include Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London, Hong Kong, Sydney, Rome, Manila, Oslo, Cape Town, Warsaw, Lisbon, Singapore, Istanbul, Mexico City, Toronto, Dubai and Copenhagen.

2009 is a critical year in terms of the political decisions that will be made at global climate negotiations in December 2009. Earth Hour, aims to highlight the voice of the people of the world and represent a visual mandate for meaningful policy on climate change.

If you would like to pledge your support of Earth Hour log on to http://www.earthhour.org/malaysia and sign up. If your company would like to participate in Earth Hour, please call WWF-Malaysia at Tel: +603 7803 3772 or Email: ARaj@wwf.org.my