Friday, December 14, 2012

Eco Kids Column: Laundry Scoop Wheelbarrows

PENCINTA ALAM JANUARY 2013 
ECO KIDS COLUMN
  LAUNDRY SCOOP WHEELBARROWS 

(Idea and image from StorkNet Kids' Crafts)



What can do you with all the laundry scoops that come with each new box of laundry detergent? Here is a simple craft idea that repurposes laundry scoops into seed starter kits that you could give out as gifts or party favours.

YOU NEED:
1. Laundry scoops
2. Acrylic paints, permanent markers or stickers.
3. Buttons or round wooden or metal discs. (Two for each laundry scoop)
4. Glue
5. Potting soil
6. Tiny plants, e.g. ferns, or seeds.
 8. A corkscrew for drilling a hole with.

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. Drill a hole at the bottom of your laundry scoop to allow excess water to drain out. You may need an adult's help for this.
2. Decorate your laundry scoops with paint or markers to make them resemble wheelbarrows. A gardening or floral theme would work well with this craft idea.
3. Decorate the buttons or discs with a black marker or paints to make them look like wheels.
4. Wait for the paint or ink to dry. Then, glue the "wheels" of your wheelbarrow in place. Let the glue dry.
5. Fill three-quarters of the laundry scoop up with potting soil.
6. If you are using seeds, push a few seeds gently into the soil. Mung bean (or green bean) seeds will work for this project. Space the seeds out so that they have room to grow.
7. If you are using live plants, make a shallow indentation in the soil with your fingers and gently put the plant into the soil. Cover the soil around the roots of the plant but do not pack the soil in too tightly.
8. Sprinkle water onto your plant or seeds. Ensure that the soil is damp but not wet or flooded. If the roots are waterlogged, the plant may die. Try making several wheelbarrows and putting them in different parts of your home to see under what conditions will the plants thrive. Does your plant like direct sunlight? Or does it prefer the damp coolness of the bathroom window?

The Challenges Ahead: Safe & Sustainable Vegetable Farming


LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
THE CHALLENGES AHEAD: SAFE & SUSTAINABLE VEGETABLE FARMING


(Image reproduced from The Star, 13 Dec 2012, without permission but in accordance with the principles of fair use)

Once every few years, the media will report of rampant land clearing, water pollution, use of banned pesticides and environmental degradation in the Cameron Highlands as a result of intensive agricultural activity (Cameron Highlands in terrible shape due to land clearing and water pollution, The Star, Dec 11 2012).

This draws attention to the challenges of reconciling food security with environmental integrity. In their research paper published in 2009, Drs. CJ Barrow, Chan Ngai Weng and Tarmiji Masron had pointed out that the expansion and intensification of farming in the Cameron Highlands had seriously polluted streams and groundwater with sediment, manure-enriched runoff, agrichemicals and sewage. The same report found that large numbers of vegetable growers were reported to be using banned pesticides imported from Thailand and other countries, as illegal agrichemicals are seen by the farmers to be cheaper and more effective. In addition, the preference for uncomposted chicken manure over chemical fertilisers by the vegetable farmers of Cameron Highlands has resulted in an increase of pathogens, veterinary pharmaceuticals and faecal pollution in streams, groundwater and produce.

It is acknowledged that stronger enforcement is necessary to monitor illegal land-clearing activities and mitigate environmental damage caused by the vegetable farmers in Cameron Highlands (Uphill task to ensure farmers do what’s right, the Star, Dec 11 2012). Yet there is so much more that consumers, retailers and policymakers could do to improve environmental quality and food health and safety standards.

In the aforementioned 2009 research paper, it was averred that media and legislation have had “less effect” in reducing agrichemical use than supermarket checks of produce. Supermarkets and major food retailers have a high level of influence and control over food quality and safety. Major retailers are therefore urged to ensure that their vegetable supply comes from farms which reach accepted health and safety standards and is checked for pesticide use and residues. Certification schemes such as the “Assured Produce” scheme practiced in the United Kingdom would help promote safer and more environmentally responsible methods of vegetable farming among major vegetable farms in Malaysia. Supermarkets should prohibit the use of banned pesticides by vegetable farms that supply produce to them, and make public the results of their own microbial and pesticide residue testing in a way that is accessible to the average consumer to enable consumers to make informed choices, bearing in mind that not everyone has the advantage or leverage of choosing organic over conventional produce.

Vegetable farms should be given incentives (such as accreditation) for employing responsible practices, such as drip irrigation to conserve water use and crop rotation to improve soil quality, and for meeting best management practices for pesticide storage and use. All manure used should be properly composted and incorporated into soil to prevent microbial contamination. To minimise pest damage, farmers could be educated on methods such as constructing protective barriers, encouraging biological pest control, choosing pest-resistant crop varieties and the use of “trap crops” to lure pests away from main crops. Regulations must be implemented to minimise pesticide drift to other crops and off-site areas and to halt pesticide applications during rainy and windy seasons.

Measures taken by the authorities apart from enforcement measures against farmers could include creating sediment traps to capture contaminated runoffs before they flow into streams, perhaps by way of constructing reed or water hyacinth beds. Buffer zones should be demarcated around sensitive zones. All potential sources of contamination should be identified and eliminated, or at least managed.

Food security and safety are public policy issues, and sound public policy decisions require an understanding of long-term social, environmental as well as economic consequences. Rising environmental literacy, changing consumer preferences, legislation and enforcement are all powerful forces that have the potential to create advances in agriculture that do not compromise human or environmental safety.
  


WONG EE LYNN
COORDINATOR, GREEN LIVING SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP
MALAYSIAN NATURE SOCIETY (MNS)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Eco Christmas Tree Challenge


PENCINTA ALAM DECEMBER 2012
ECO KIDS COLUMN 

THE ECO CHRISTMAS TREE CHALLENGE
By Wong Ee Lynn
(gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com)

The lives of humans are so closely intertwined with trees and nature that we frequently observe a festive holiday by bringing a tree into our homes. People decorate their homes with pine trees and other evergreens at Christmas, banana plants during the Tamil New Year and cherry blossoms and pussywillows during the Chinese New Year. However, in environmentally aware times, many people are beginning to realise that chopping down live pine trees or putting up plastic Christmas trees are wasteful practices. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, you may be asked to help in putting up a tree in your classroom or an organisation that you belong to, for the purpose of spreading holiday cheer. 

How do you then come up with a Christmas tree that is within budget, not destructive to the environment, and not made of wasteful plastic parts that are not durable?  Here are five alternative Christmas trees created by friends of Green Living over the last two Christmases:



The boys of Kelab Alami Tanjung Kupang created this minimalistic Christmas tree in the porch of their club coordinator, Serina. It sure looked beautiful when all lit up! Kitty seems to approve, too.




The management team in MingChien's office created this geek chic Christmas tree which is made of LED string lights and unwanted CDs.



Rushan Abdul Rahman created this cheerful and space-saving two-dimensional tree out of paper to stick on his apartment glass sliding door. 



Green Living coordinator Ee Lynn made this tree out of discarded CDs, mismatched ornaments and a star-shaped cookie cutter.



Serina Rahman received some help from friends to make this illuminated tree out of discarded plastic bottles.


Now here's the challenge. Eco Kids and Green Living wants YOU to try  your hand at making an alternative Eco Christmas Tree. It can be a decorated potted plant, a tree made out of recycled materials or a regular tree decorated with handmade ornaments repurposed from discarded objects -- there really are no limits to your creativity! The guidelines are as follows:

(1) Create a Christmas tree out of alternative, discarded or environmentally-friendly materials. You should ideally use whatever you have at hand and not have to go out to buy materials.
(2) Your Christmas tree should be reusable, recyclable or compostable. 
(3) It doesn't have to be a Christmas tree. You can tweak it to fit any celebration or festival you want, be it Deepavali, Hari Raya, New Year's Eve or even a birthday.
(4) Take a photo of your Christmas tree and upload it to Green Living's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/389934284359934/?fref=ts. If you are not on Facebook, email it to us at gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com. The title of the email should be: "Eco Christmas Tree Challenge".
(5) Include a short description of what the tree is made of and how you built it. You can post or attach more than one photo. 
(6) This challenge is open only to those aged 18 years and below and residing in Malaysia. If you are above 18 or living outside Malaysia, you may post a photo of your tree to our Facebook Wall but you are not entitled to compete for a prize. Please include your name and age with your entry if via Facebook (we will contact you via private message if we need your details). If you are sending a photo via email, please include your name, age, address and contact number in your email. 
(7) Entries will be graded based on their adherence to the principles of the 3Rs (reducing, reusing and recycling), energy efficiency, other environmental merits and creativity.  
(8) The closing date for this challenge is 15 January 2013.
(9) The top 3 entries will be announced in the MNS newsletter and Green Living Facebook page at the end of January 2013. Prizewinners will be contacted to collect their prizes.

Year-End Staycation Ideas


PENCINTA ALAM DEC 2012
GREEN LIVING COLUMN


YEAR-END STAYCATION IDEAS
By Wong Ee Lynn
(gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com)


The end of the year is approaching, and for many, this is a time to clear their annual leave days or just take time off to be with their families, particularly school-going children who are on their year-end semester break.

The word "staycation" is a combination of "stay" and "vacation", and describes a vacation at home or near your home and within the same state or area. Staycations are getting more and more popular for environmental and economic reasons. These are some of the advantages of staycations over travelling abroad:
(i) Less stressful -- Let's face it. Not many of us enjoy the hassle of having to with travel insurance, missing luggage, delayed flights and other disappointments.
(ii) Less expensive, but better for the local economy, especially if you are creating opportunities for local and indigenous communities.
(iii) Less travel and less fuel usage.
(iv) Less consumption, less waste and no excuses to buy tacky souvenirs for everyone back at the office.
(v) It may cultivate greater interest in and awareness of the local environment

A staycation can be more than just another day spent on housework and taking care of bills and errands. Here are several ideas on how those of us who live in or around the Klang Valley can make our staycations more meaningful and memorable:

1. VOLUNTEER FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSE

Facebook groups such as Project Revive and Sampah Masyarakat  periodically organise community cleanup projects as well as cleanliness awareness programmes. A local community group, Hawksbill EcoClub, organises periodic volunteer programmes for the Turtle Conservation and Information Centre at Pantai Padang Kemunting, Masjid Tanah, Melaka. Their latest call for volunteers on 24th November is for manpower to bathe the turtles, clean the turtle holding pond (for turtles pending release into the sea) and clean the hatchery. Keep in touch with these groups via social media to find out when their next project or campaign will be, so you can have a really worthwhile reason for going to the beach or park. MNS may also welcome the assistance of volunteers, particularly if you have special skills such as graphic design, photography, editing or organising to share.

2. VOLUNTEER AT THE NATIONAL ZOO

Nobody likes to see wild animals in captivity. But sometimes there just isn't a better alternative or permanent solution in the event of wild animals confiscated from or surrendered by private owners, private zoos, circuses and petting zoos, where they are likely to have been born and raised in captivity. A good way of helping wildlife and understanding the challenges involved in operating, managing and funding wildlife facilities would be to volunteer at Zoo Negara, where you will be able to do hands-on work to create a safe, clean and healthy environment for the animals and be involved in enrichment programmes to stimulate the animals and encourage them to engage in natural behaviour such as foraging and hunting. To be a Zoo Volunteer, you need to be at the Zoo by 8 a.m. and be prepared to work until 4 p.m. Bring your own food and drinking water. To register, you need to contact the Education Department at education@zoonegaramalaysia.my at least a day in advance. The registration form is available at http://www.zoonegaramalaysia.my/education/pdf/volunteerprogramme.pdf, or you can register when you arrive. You must arrive at the Zoo on the designated day before 8.00 a.m. If you are driving, do try to park at the staff parking area or neighbouring residential area to avoid having to pay a hefty parking fee to the car park concessionaire. Enter the Zoo from Gate 3 and ask the Security personnel to direct you to the Education Office. Inform the Education officer on duty that you are here to volunteer and submit your registration form.

3. VOLUNTEER AT AN ANIMAL SHELTER

Are you an animal lover who is unable to adopt an animal due to family or work commitments or the fact that you live in a high-rise? Or do you already have a companion animal but feel sorry for other animals who have not found their permanent homes? You can help our local animal shelters, SPCA Selangor or PAWS by contributing your time and energy. Either register through their respective websites or come visit the shelters yourself. Weekends are a good time because there is then a greater likelihood of meeting other volunteers there who will be able to guide you and assist you. You will be able to assist in bathing and tickwashing dogs, applying medicine on minor injuries such as scratches and eye infections, cleaning the animals' living quarters and preparing food. Alternatively, you can also assist during their fundraising and educational campaigns and events. The sight of shelter animals may initially make you sad, but remember that your inaction and sorrow can't help them, only your direct action can.

4. DONATE BLOOD

Have you always wanted to donate blood, but were afraid that you may be too tired to go back to work or carry out your usual activities immediately after? A staycation is a good time to recuperate and rest after donating blood. The National Blood Centre in Jalan Tun Razak welcomes blood donors and has a high standard of care. For more information, you can call them up at 03 - 2693 3888 or visit their website at http://www.pdn.gov.my/. Just be sure you are in good health, have had at least 6 hours of sleep and have had a good meal before donating blood.

5. VISIT LOCAL NATURAL ATTRACTIONS

There are many local natural attractions you may not have visited yet. Green lungs such as Bukit Gasing Forest Park, Kota Damansara Community Forest and Lembah Kiara Recreational Park have much to offer cyclists, trekkers, birders and nature-lovers. If you are willing to drive out a little further, the Kuala Selangor Nature Park, which is managed by MNS, is an ideal destination for a daytrip or a short stay (the chalets have been recently renovated), and you may also be able to squeeze in a visit to Bukit Malawati to see the lighthouse and silver-leaf monkeys.

6. BE A TOURIST IN YOUR OWN CITY

It is surprising how many KL-ites have yet to visit KL Tower, Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve or the Petronas Twin Towers Skybridge. Take a day off to take the LRT or bus to the city centre and explore all the sites that a tourist would. A fun way to enter KL Tower would be to take the alternative jungle path across the road from the Dang Wangi LRT station, along the fence of the Handicraft Centre. Go through the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve up the hill and across the little rope bridge to the park at the foot of KL Tower. There are also many museums you can visit in KL, including the National Museum, National Art Gallery, Telekom Museum, Maybank Numismatic Museum and the Philately Museum in Dayabumi. A walk in Little India (Brickfields) or Chinatown (Petaling Street) may also create opportunities for interesting experiences that you would normally not have time for in the course of rushing through these places to run errands. 

Do you have other great staycation ideas? We would love to hear from you at gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com

(Zoo Volunteers, image credit: Meiyi Leong and Ju Lienne Seet.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Eco Kids Column: Turtles Are Smarter Than You Think!


Pencinta Alam November 2012, Eco Kids Column

Turtles are Way Smarter than You Think
By Sheela Prabhakaran
(sheelaprabha@gmail.com)
Photo credits: Rahayu Zulkifli


Here’s an old West African story on why turtles prefer the deep seas to land

Long, long ago, shy turtles were quite happy to live on land. That is, until one day, when some horribly hungry hunters pounced on a sleeping turtle. They struggled to carry the astonishingly heavy turtle back to their village, where they proudly placed it before their old chief.

“Good job!” he declared loudly. “Errr…how should we cook him?” he pondered as he gingerly touched the tough shell.  You see,  no one, that is absolutely no one, had ever, ever caught, much less eaten a turtle before.

“Huh!” said the gleeful turtle! “Go on, give it your best shot! No one is going to part me from my lovely shell,” taunted the bold turtle.

“We’ll use sticks and stones,” growled a nasty hunter.

“Stick and stones won’t break my shell. Nothing works expect drowning me in water….oops!” said the horrified turtle as his short flippers tried to cover his mouth.  Unfortunately, it was way too late.

The turtle’s fate was sealed.

The hunters’ tummies rumbled terribly as they huffed and puffed to throw the turtle into deep waters. They high-fived one another  as they imagined a feast that night. Then, suddenly, everyone went quiet. “Oh dear,” said one hunter softly.

Two laughing green eyes were poking out of the water. “Not so fast, silly men!” said the turtle merrily. “From now onwards, I’ll stay safely in the water,” he said as he gracefully swam away.

And so he was safe. For many, many years.

Sadly, now turtles are no longer safe.

Grown-ups and children from all around the world have stopped caring for the rivers and the seas. And they don’t let the poor turtle lay her eggs in peace. Take a look at what you can do to help the turtle.

6 Awesome Ways to Help Turtles


·      Throw rubbish into dustbins. Don’t throw them into the sea or on the beach as turtles may eat them or get caught in them, causing them to die.
·      Stay away from turtles on beaches.  The shy turtles will flee if they see you.
·      Stay at least 2 metres behind a turtle that’s already laying her eggs.
·      Say no to turtle eggs. If you eat all the eggs, there won’t be any more turtles in the world!
·      Don’t catch or disturb hatchlings (baby turtles) who are crawling out to sea. (Remember, these poor babies don’t have their mothers around to protect them.)
·      Don’t shine bright lights, play with fireworks or make campfires on beaches.
·      Avoid talking loudly and making a lot noise on beaches at night.





******************end******************

Friday, October 12, 2012

What Should I Know About Hybrid Cars?

PENCINTA ALAM NOVEMBER 2012 
GREEN LIVING COLUMN

WHAT SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT HYBRID CARS?

By Wong Ee Lynn 
 gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com




In this discussion of "hybrid cars", we are considering only vehicles that use a combination of petrol and electric power, and not natural gas or other fuels.

A hybrid car has a standard petrol-powered motor and an electric motor that provides additional boost using a rechargeable battery. Using a technology called regenerative braking, as the hybrid car decelerates, the system captures this braking energy and regenerates this to charge the battery.

 Purchasing a hybrid car can be a very costly investment. While we at MNS do encourage everyone to take public transport, carpool or go car-free as much as possible, for many people, this isn't a realistic or practical option. The two main factors that would influence a purchaser's decision to choose a hybrid car are the fuel savings and reduced carbon emissions.

 In considering whether or not to make your next car a hybrid, here are some factors to be taken into consideration:

  (1) COST
Hybrid cars cost significantly more than conventional cars due to the capital investment poured into hybrid technology. The Toyota Prius C, for instance, costs approximately RM97,000.00 while the Honda Jazz Hybrid costs RM94,800.00 with insurance. The cost of purchasing hybrid vehicles is gradually decreasing due to legislative and other incentives. In addition, there is no import duty and excise duty imposed on hybrid vehicles with engine sizes under 2.0L until 31 Dec 2013, in a move by the Malaysian government to encourage the purchase and use of hybrid vehicles. However, the fact remains that the initial purchase price is high and may not result in a return of investment in terms of fuel savings in the foreseeable future for many car users who do not need to drive long distances on a regular basis. Also, the main factor that is keeping the prices of hybrid cars competitive in Malaysia right now is the exemption on duty and import tax. The government may change the policy in future, so there are no guarantees that the prices of these cars will remain as they are.

  (2) FUEL ECONOMY
It would make sense that a hybrid car that runs partly on battery would consume less petrol than a standard petrol engine. The electric motor of a hybrid car supplies substantial power to run the car under very light acceleration and speed. Moreover, hybrid car manufacturers have a tendency to utilise smaller engine capacities on the assumption that the electric motor would assist by way of power when needed, therefore consuming less fuel. However, if you are harsh on your accelerator pedal, no matter what make of car you drive, you car will be consuming petrol at a faster rate.

 Here is some information that would help you make a comparison of fuel use and costs between 2 hybrid models and 2 non-hybrid models, based on a 20,000km range per year and using combined consumption figures provided by manufacturers:

 Toyota Corolla Altis 2.0V (Hybrid): 1,538.46 litres x RM1.90 (RON95) = RM2,923.07
Toyota Prius Luxury: 950.12 litres x RM1.90 (RON95) = RM1,805.23

 That amounts to substantial savings of RM1,117.84 per year. Although there are substantial petrol savings each year from driving the Prius over the Altis, the initial outlay is considerably more. However, this comparison is not conclusive, as they are in fact very different cars with different specifications.

 Let's now compare 2 cars with similar specifications and capacities:
 Honda Jazz Grade V: 1,265.82 litres x RM1.90 (RON95) = RM2,405.06
Honda Jazz Hybrid: 938.97litres x RM1.90 (RON95) = RM1,784.04

 This results in savings of RM 621.02 a year.

 Furthermore, hybrid cars consume zero petrol when at a standstill, so you won’t be burning petrol in heavy traffic or while waiting at the traffic lights. However, many of the newer models of conventional petrol cars are using the same stop-start technology, so hybrid vehicles are not the only options if you want a fuel-efficient vehicle.

(3) RESALE VALUE
The price of hybrid cars is inevitably coming down due to a rapidly increasing demand. In addition, tax incentives that may apply now may not continue forever. This means that you will not be able to sell your car at a premium price later, even though resale value is good now. So if you buy a hybrid because you think it will hold its value, don't count on that being true in five years' time.

(4) MECHANICAL ASSISTANCE AND MAINTENANCE
Many mechanics are not yet trained in maintaining and repairing a hybrid vehicle. Could you get yours repaired and maintained locally?

(5) CARBON EMISSIONS -- A LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS
This may upset electric vehicle proponents, but it has been determined that electric and hybrid cars generate more carbon emissions during their production than current conventional vehicles, according to a new report prepared in collaboration with the UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership that includes major vehicle manufacturers and oil companies.
However, electric and hybrid vehicles still have a lower carbon footprint overall. For example, a typical medium-sized family car will create around 24 tonnes of CO2 during its life cycle, while an electric vehicle (EV) will produce around 18 tonnes over its life, the report said.

For a battery-powered electric vehicle, 46% of its total carbon footprint is generated at the factory, before it has travelled a single kilometre. The report, being released as part of the LowCVP Annual Conference 2011, highlights the increasing importance of accounting for whole life carbon emissions to compare the greenhouse gas emissions of low carbon vehicles. The study found that some of the CO2 savings made during the use of low carbon vehicles is offset by increased emissions created during their production, and to a lesser extent, disposal.

We must appreciate that hybrids are still internal-combustion, petroleum-powered cars. While they might use less of it than other vehicles, they still depend on a fuel that often comes from a fossil fuel, and they still create emissions when they are driven around.

 The batteries inside hybrid cars depend on materials like lithium and cobalt. Mining for those minerals is an extremely destructive process, and one that has left entire mountains leveled in their wake. Local residents benefit little from these endeavors. Furthermore, the countries with the most lucrative mines tend to also be some of the most unstable, including Bolivia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. So increasing our dependence on electric and hybrid cars may mean trading the conflicts in the Middle East for another set of problems.

 Then there's the issue of plug-in hybrid cars. While they have the potential to use far less petrol than conventional engines or even regular hybrids, the electricity they use comes from our existing power grid, which in Malaysia comes mostly from coal-fired power plants. Adding more plug-in hybrids will put an extra strain on the grid that just means more output from existing power plants, at least until our country runs on renewable energy sources

DISCUSSION:
Hybrid cars can be a great alternative to conventional vehicles, but people need to realise that hybrids won't solve the fossil fuel and pollution crisis overnight. There are many ways to reduce your fuel consumption and carbon emissions without having to invest in hybrid cars. Your driving style has a large impact on your fuel consumption. It's not just about what kind of vehicle you are driving, but how you are driving it. Is it a single-occupancy vehicle most of the time, or are you carpooling and ride-sharing? Are you making too many unnecessary trips, or combining trips and errands whenever possible? Are you making every effort to reduce your reliance on driving, and taking public transport or walking / cycling instead? Are you able to forgo driving once a week? Are you braking and accelerating abruptly and frequently, or do you drive at a manageable and consistent speed, and anticipate things which may require you to stop or slow down? Do you drive mostly in the city, or on highways? If in-town, low-speed, start-stop driving is a major part of your day, a hybrid will probably get the better side of the fuel consumption equation. But for long highway commutes at steady high speeds, petrol and diesel-powered cars might perform comparable to, or in some cases even better than, hybrids.

Hybrid vehicles aren't the only fuel efficient and low emission vehicles around. Clean diesel vehicles such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, for instance, have high fuel effciency and cleaner emissions than conventional vehicles, and may even outperform hybrids while driving on highways. Diesel's former reputation as smelly, dirty and sluggish is now a thing of the past. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) tank installations on your existing vehicle can also result in considerable fuel savings and cleaner, lower emissions. Smaller, newer cars designed for city driving (remember the Smart Fortwo?) can make significant fuel savings and reduced emissions.

Ultimately, you need to ask yourself your reasons for wanting to purchase a hybrid vehicle. Are you going to do much driving at all? Are there alternatives to driving? How frequently will there be passengers in your car? Would you consider smaller and newer conventional cars as other fuel-saving options? Can other types of fuel such as natural gas or clean diesel be comparable to hybrids in terms of reduced emissions? It may also be worthwhile to wait until the prices of hybrid vehicles come down, or more secondhand hybrid vehicles are available on the market, or for the technology to improve in a few years.


(Sources: http://savemoney.my/malaysia-hybrid-car-buying-guide-do-hybrid-cars-save-you-money/; http://www.edmunds.com/hybrid/before-buy.html and http://auto.howstuffworks.com/ 
Image credits: How Stuff Works)

Monday, September 10, 2012

October Repurposing Project: Glass Jar Halloween Lanterns

PENCINTA ALAM OCTOBER 2012
ECO KIDS COLUMN

REPURPOSING PROJECT: GLASS JAR HALLOWEEN LANTERNS
By Wong Ee Lynn
(gl.mnselangor@yahoo.com)

October is a month of creepy fun, especially since a growing number of Malaysians are celebrating and observing Halloween. After all, who doesn't love candy, costumes and games? There is no need to purchase Halloween decorations or costumes since you can easily make them out of objects you already have in your home. Jack-o-lanterns can be fascinating to look at, but can also be messy and wasteful, especially since pumpkins start to rot within hours in our tropical weather. Here are instructions on how to make reusable glass Halloween lanterns that can last you many years!


(1) You need: Glass jars with wide openings (e.g. jam jars, pasta sauce jars), crepe paper (coloured tissue paper or cellophane wrap works too), black construction paper, scissors, craft glue and a glue stick. First of all, protect your work surface using an old plastic tablecloth or old newspapers. Have a small basin of water ready to rinse your sticky fingers in.




(2) Cut the crepe paper into pieces large enough to wrap around each jar and glue them onto the jars using the craft glue. You may need to dilute your glue with water if it is difficult to spread. Cover the entire surface of the jar with glue using your fingers or an old paintbrush so that the crepe paper will not come off when dry. Smoothen out any wrinkles or bubbles before the glue sets. Leave the jars for a few hours over overnight for the glue to dry completely.





(3) While waiting for the glue to dry, sketch your designs on black construction paper and cut them out carefully. Ideas for designs can include bats, owls, black cats, haunted houses, skulls, ghosts and jack-o-lantern faces.




(4) Use the glue stick to coat the back of the construction paper cut-outs, and then paste them on the jars. Dry glue sticks are much easier to use and less messy than liquid glue for intricate work like this. Leave the glass jars for a few hours or overnight for the glue to dry.




(5) Insert a lit tealight candle into each completed jar for a spooktacular effect!




Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Harassment of Wildlife Can Never Constitute Ecotourism

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:HARASSMENT OF WILDLIFE CAN NEVER CONSTITUTE ECOTOURISM




A video clip and photographs which surfaced on the Internet this week of a group of tourists and snorkelers harassing, restraining and attempting to ride on a sea turtle created an uproar among netizens and necessitated an investigation by the Departments of Fisheries and Marine Parks. What appalled netizens was not only that the tourists were engaging in the thoughtless, cruel and irresponsible act of harassing the turtle, but were encouraged to do so by the tour operator / snorkelling guide as part of their marine holiday experience. There was no regard for the safety, welfare or well-being of the unfortunate turtle, in spite of the obvious consequences that stress would have on the feeding, mating, breeding and resting patterns of a wild sea turtle.



All too often, such instances of cruelty to wildlife are passed off by irresponsible tour operators as ecotourism. Tourists are only too happy to have a photo opportunity with restrained crocodiles, tigers, turtles, primates and dolphins in order to have their “money’s worth” from the holiday package. There are insufficient regulations on what businesses may use the label of ecotourism, despite the existence of a National Ecotourism Plan and a relatively sophisticated legal framework where wildlife and the environment are concerned. Some tour operators and tourist destinations even argue that direct contact with animals during activities such as elephant rides, photo opportunities with captive wildlife, the feeding of wild birds and monkeys and petting zoos are important to enable tourists to get acquainted with wild animals and thus learn to love them. This idea is not only fallacious but also harmful to the welfare of animals.



Consumers should carry out basic research on tourist destinations and tour operators before paying for services and experiences that may in fact harm animal populations, the natural environment and the local community. A basic guide to choosing a responsible ecotourism service or experience may include the following tips:

· Do not engage in activities such as the feeding of wild birds, wild boars and macaques. Feeding wild animals causes them to lose their fear of humans, which makes it easy for them to be hunted or poached. It may also lead to a rise in aggression and human-animal conflict. Macaques are frequently emboldened by contact with humans and end up trespassing into buildings and attacking people. Feeding animals also affects their ability to learn to forage for their own food, and causes them to be dependent on humans for food. Human food such as processed snacks and sweets can also pose health and choking hazards to animals.

· Do not patronise the services of companies that drive off-track to harass animals. Insist on walking to a sensitive ecological site to appreciate the flora and fauna present. Ecotourism must necessarily sensitize people to the beauty and fragility of nature.

· Do not engage in activities such as elephant rides or photo opportunities with tigers, wild birds, reptiles and other wild animals. Most of the animals used in photo shoots are physically restrained using ropes and chains, or doped or overfed into becoming lethargic and passive so they could be easily handled. Animals are trained to give rides or perform tricks through beatings and cruel training methods, including by the withholding of food. Learn to appreciate wildlife as they are, and from a distance, without feeling the need to manhandle and hold them. Be happy in the knowledge that you have seen them in their natural environment, and that your tourist dollars will help maintain their sanctuary and improve their living conditions.

· Conduct due diligence on the destination you are about to visit. Research the travel operators or destination, and read the reviews and complaints of other travellers. Some zoos, safari parks and aquariums may have directly contributed to the poaching of animals from the wild, or resorted to cruel and stressful training methods. Avoid any travel attraction featuring performing animals. Animals performing tricks do not teach you anything about the natural history of the animal, their conservation status or their needs.

· True ecotourism will take into account natural resource and waste management, provide empowerment and economic opportunities to indigenous and local communities, minimises environmental impact, and fosters environmental awareness and respect for the environment, local population and animals. Good ecotourism practices may include activities such as beach and reef cleanups, tree-planting, data collection work and other hands-on activities that enable holidaymakers to make a positive difference to the ecologically sensitive site they are visiting.



We encourage all travellers and netizens to be proactive and play the role of the eyes and ears of non-governmental organisations and enforcement agencies, since a boycott by a handful of individuals may not have the same leverage and impact as a public campaign to end harmful practices and prosecute offenders. The trade in and consumption of wildlife should be reported to WWF Malaysia, the Department of Wildlife and National Parks or the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers (MYCAT) Hotline. Cruelty to and mistreatment of wildlife should be reported to the Department of Wildlife and National Parks and the state SPCA, which can then assist in investigations and lodge an official report with the Department of Veterinary Services. Any offence involving marine life should be reported to the Department of Fisheries and Marine Parks. Responsible tourism begins with you and me. It is up to us not to invest in cruelty and environmental damage and destruction. It is hoped that the culprits in the turtle harassment video and pictures will face the maximum penalties stipulated under the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 and / or Fisheries Act 1985.

WONG EE LYNN
COORDINATOR, GREEN LIVING SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP
MALAYSIAN NATURE SOCIETY (MNS)


Monday, August 13, 2012

A Wheelie Good Idea

PENCINTA ALAM SEPT 2012
ECO KIDS COLUMN

A WHEELIE GOOD IDEA: TOY VEHICLES FROM DISCARDED ITEMS

By Wong Ee Lynn


What's durable, attractive, fun to play with and costs next to nothing? Why, empty laundry detergent bottles and milk jugs, of course! Don't believe us? Check out the photo collage below of various toy vehicles made from discarded household containers and bottle caps and plastic lids. Once the labels have been removed, the "vehicle bodies" don't even need to be painted over, which makes environmental sense as they will be easier to send for recycling once broken or once you get tired of them.



(Photo credits: La Bioguia Facebook page.)

Designed by artist Martine Camillieri, these toy vehicles are a great example of what happens when creativity meets environmental responsibility. Empty bottles and containers could be reused indefinitely until they break, and then they could be sent for recycling.

Although the artist did not provide instructions on how to make these wonderful toys, we can use the resources at hand to try to make toy vehicles with bottle cap wheels that really turn.

Get an adult to help you drill holes in the bottom of the bottle where the axles of the vehicle should go. Be sure to measure the bottle first. If you drill the holes too high, the wheels might not reach the ground. You can make axles from used disposable bamboo chopsticks. Get an adult to measure the chopsticks and cut them into their desired lengths (slightly longer than the width of the bottle), and then glue the bottle caps to the chopstick using silicone glue, epoxy or other strong glue. Make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area, as the glue fumes can be very bad for your health.

If you have the patience, you can also cut windows and hatches for your vehicle before decorating them with stickers or illustrations. Now you are ready to have a wheelie good time with your new toy vehicles!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

What are "E.M. Mudballs" and do they work?

PENCINTA ALAM SEPTEMBER 2012
GREEN LIVING COLUMN

WHAT ARE "E.M. MUDBALLS" AND DO THEY WORK?
By Wong Ee Lynn




We often hear of "E.M. Mudballs" being thrown into rivers and seas during beach and river cleanup campaigns. These mudballs purportedly contain properties that will purify water, improve water quality and solve sanitation problems. Why is it that we have never heard about these miraculous mud balls before, and what is the science behind them?


WHAT DOES "E.M." STAND FOR?

An effective microorganism ("E.M.") refers to any of the predominantly anaerobic organisms blended in commercial agricultural amendments, medicines, and nutritional supplements based on the trademarked product originally marketed as EM-1 Microbial Inoculant, aka Effective Microorganisms and EM Technology. These blends are reported to include:
* Lactic acid bacteria: Lactobacillus casei
* Photosynthetic bacteria: Rhodopseudomonas palustris
* Yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiae
* Others: beneficial microorganisms that exist naturally in the environment may thrive in the mixture.
EM Technology is purported to support sustainable practices in farming and to improve and support human health and hygiene, compost and waste management, disaster clean-up (the Bangkok floods of 2011, the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, the Kobe earthquake, and Hurricane Katrina remediation projects).


ORIGINS

The concept of "friendly microorganisms" was developed by Professor Teruo Higa, from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan.

DO THEY WORK?

The Effective Microorganisms (EM) concept is considered controversial in some quarters. There is no scientific evidence to support all of its proponents' claims. This is acknowledged by Higa in a 1994 paper co-authored by Higa and soil microbiologist James F Parr, a USDA Research, they conclude in that, "the main limitation...is the problem of reproducibility and lack of consistent results."

Many of the claims about "EM" are being put to the test and research is being conducted by scientists to find out the effectiveness of EM mud balls as biological control and water purification agents. None of the scientific papers published so far seem to give any real evidence of the beneficial effects of EM.

POSSIBLE ECOLOGICAL IMBALANCE

Doubts are also raised as to whether the microorganisms in the mud balls are able to survive in environments such as heavily polluted seawater. Temperature, pH, salinity, oxygen density, redox potential, concentrations of preferred nutrients, concentrations of co-substrates and presence of toxicants affect the survivability and persistence of any single species or combination of species of microorganisms introduced into an environment. Microorganisms that have been introduced into an environment are usually less able to grow in that environment, compared to indigenous microbial populations or microorganisms that have had time to gradually adapt to environmental changes.

Whenever an organism is to be introduced into a natural environment, careful study must be conducted to assess its impact on the ecology of the environment. Even where an organism is native to an environment, a sudden influx of a single species or a group of species will alter population dynamics in the ecosystem and may result in long term negative consequences. The risks of introduced/invasive species are now well-recognised.


Since EM functions by overwhelming existing microbial populations, haphazard andcontinuous use of EM threatens to alter our environment and reduce microbial diversity. Continuously using EM freely and abundantly with poor understanding of its consequences is reckless. Even though EM is promoted as consisting of “naturally-occurring microorganisms”, they may not occur naturally in the environments to which they are applied.

SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?


The variety of claims made by EM proponents is astounding and borders on pseudoscience. Governments, corporations and organisations that promote or endorse the use of EM mudballs appear to be content to rely on anecdotal advice without examining the science behind EM mudballs. Even if EM Mudballs do work (and right now there is no evidence that they do), their positive effect on water quality, if any, is only fleeting. The problem of water pollution must be addressed at the source. No amount of mud balls and commercial products can help improve water quality if there is still discharge of wastewater, pollutants, industrial and agricultural runoffs and litter into our waterways. In order to improve the state of our rivers, waterways and beaches, Malaysians need to be proactive about reducing waste, managing solid and liquid waste efficiently, managing stormwater, reducing pollution and regulating industrial and agricultural waste, among others.

At your next beach or river cleanup, Green Living's advice to you is to focus on picking up litter and not waste your time and energy on fads and fallacies.

(Photo credits: The Star, available at: http://thestar.com.my/metro/story.asp?file=/2009/8/21/north/4553758&sec=north.

Information extracted and compiled from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effective_microorganism and http://www.scribd.com/doc/33020658/Should-EM-Mudballs-Be-Used-for-Treating-Rivers-and-Seafro)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Retain Bukit Kiara as a Green Lung


LETTER TO THE EDITOR
RETAIN BUKIT KIARA AS A GREEN LUNG

While concerned citizens and civil society groups are heartened by the large turnout at the "Save Bukit Kiara" walk to show solidarity in the matter of the construction work taking place within Bukit Kiara (The Star, July 15), we are disconcerted by the Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Chor Chee Heung's somewhat contradictory explanation that the construction and clearing work was for the purpose of protecting the park from illegal encroachment and to develop the park as a big-scale public park.

It must be pointed out that the construction of the 3.5m-high security fence by the National Landscape Department entailed the felling and destruction of thousands of mature indigenous forest trees. Further, the fence restricts the movement of wildlife. The construction of a road in order to put up a fence to protect the park from "illegal encroachment" also has the ironic effect of opening up access to the forest to vandals, poachers and those with ill-intentions, as can be seen from the increase of litter ever since the commencement of the construction work.

Nature lovers and residents of the areas surrounding Bukit Kiara have already indicated their strong preference for keeping Bukit Kiara pristine, instead of fashioned into a giant playground planted over with non-indigenous flora. The flora of Bukit Kiara is part of our natural heritage that no amount of secondary replanting and landscaping by even the most well-meaning of developers and landscape architects can replace.

Green lungs such as Bukit Kiara provide valuable ecological services, such as maintaining freshwater quality, hydrological integrity, flood mitigation and carbon storage and sequestration. They provide the community with aesthetic pleasure as well as opportunities for contact with the natural environment.

The loss of green sanctuaries such as Bukit Kiara to superfluous development projects is an erosion of our right to a healthy environment that the Malaysian public will not countenance. It is imperative that the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur, Ministry of Housing and Local Government and National Landscape Department halt all construction and land-clearing activities, review any requests from private owners for development projects within the vicinity of this ecologically-sensitive site, and immediately gazette the areas of Bukit Kiara that are under state ownership as a permanent forest reserve.


WONG EE LYNN
Coordinator, Green Living Special Interest Group,
Malaysian Nature Society