Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Taking Action for Biodiversity


(Edited and compiled by Wong Ee Lynn

Excerpt of a message from Janez Poto─Źnik, European Commissioner for the Environment:
"Biodiversity – the variety of life on Earth – makes our planet habitable and beautiful. Many of us look to the natural environment for pleasure, inspiration or recreation. We also depend on it for food, energy, raw materials, air and water – the elements that make life as we know it possible and drive our economies.

Yet despite its unique value, we often take nature for granted. The pressures on many natural systems are growing, causing them to function less effectively or even taking them to the brink of collapse. Biodiversity loss, as we call it, is an all too common occurrence.

And we can all do more to help. We all have the power to help safeguard biodiversity and we need everyone to join in. Everyone can make small changes in their daily habits without dramatically affecting their lifestyles. These small changes, added together, can help.

We hope that the tips in this handy guide will help you to make that difference. Eating local foods when they are in season, reducing wasted water, composting food waste, or getting to know more about the animal and plant species that live in your local areas… if everyone takes just some of these simple steps it will make a big difference in preserving natural resources for future generations."

Here is a list of 8 of the most important things you can do to promote and preserve biodiversity (more will follow in the July issue):

1. When it comes to your home, its finishings and furnishings, opt for materials and products that are ecological, natural, durable and recyclable and, if possible, of local origin. Limit waste production
and the consumption of non-renewable energy.

2. Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by consuming regional, seasonal,
eco-labelled products to the greatest extent possible, by walking, riding a bicycle or sharing transport, and by limiting waste. And compensate for some of the greenhouse gases for which you are responsible by supporting the biodiversity around you (with a pond, a flowering field, nest boxes, etc.) and by supporting nature-protection associations and reforestation projects.

3. The manufacture of game consoles and portable computers and telephones requires various minerals (copper, cobalt, lead, etc.), all of which are in increasing demand. The mines from which they come are found around the planet and their exploitation has enormous impact on the surrounding environment.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the famous mineral coltan comes from, the extraordinary biodiversity of the Kivu region is in jeopardy: illegal hunting of the last gorillas, not to mention elephants and okapis, to feed the miners; massive deforestation to provide them with wood for building and heating and to expand the mines; the erosion and pollution of the soil, water and air... not to mention armed conflict.
So, think twice before changing your portable telephone or computer.

4. Discarding rubbish in nature has an impact on the environment, often with disastrous consequences.
Some waste has an immediate impact: cigarette butts and chewing gum intoxicate or choke animals that ingest them, small mammals and amphibians are trapped in bottles, pieces of broken glass can cut larger animals and, because of their magnifying effect, start fires.
Other rubbish has a more long-term impact: it takes hundreds of years for plastic to decompose, and it releases toxic products while doing so; batteries contain heavy metals that leach into the soil and contaminate
free groundwater. So use public rubbish receptacles and recycle as much as

5. Some enterprises, particularly car manufacturers, eagerly boast about the “ecological” virtues of products that are far from ecological. Others need to “greenwash” their images because their activities are highly polluting and damaging to biodiversity (production of greenhouse gases, land clearing to expand production capacity, the use of river water to cool machinery, etc.). Do not be taken in by advertising campaigns that are too green to be true. Report them if necessary. And lobby these companies to reduce their negative impact on the planet.

6. Even after treatment in purification plants, water discharged into rivers contains large quantities of phosphates, solvents, surfactants and other chemical products used in today’s detergents. These compounds, often very polluting, can have serious repercussions for biodiversity – aquatic environments in particular – as well as for our health.
What can you do? Choose eco-labelled detergents or, even better, use Marseilles (Castile) soap chips as a detergent, soft soap for cleaning floors, warm vinegar for descaling, and sodium bicarbonate (with or without vinegar) for scouring pots and sinks (and it does not scratch). And, above all, avoid using too much of any cleaning agent – it is much better to have a light hand.

7. When you are out walking in nature, be discreet. Make as little noise as possible and, if you want to see wild animals, avoid wearing bright colours or smothering yourself with perfume.
Always keep to the paths so that there is less risk of disturbing animals or of stepping on plants, mosses, mushrooms, etc. If you take your dog with you, keep it on the leash or make sure is does not stray off the path. Also make sure that it does not bark and scare away nearby animals –
in fact, if you want to catch sight of animals, it would be better to leave your faithful companion at home.
Finally, do not throw any rubbish away in natural surroundings and only pick or collect what is allowed.

8. Earthworms are an indispensable link in the food chain. They ceaselessly recycle organic matter, such as dead leaves and other decomposing plants. By so doing, they collaborate in the production of
good humus and maintain the fertility of the soil in which the fruit and vegetables that we eat are grown.
In addition, their tunnels loosen the soil, which makes it possible for roots to develop well and for water to infiltrate deeply and rapidly, down to where it can be absorbed by plants. This also limits run-off and erosion during periods of heavy rain.
Protect these invaluable partners by refusing to use any chemical fertilisers or pesticides and by working the soil with a broadfork or grelinette.

Water and Food Security


(Compiled and edited by Wong Ee Lynn

On the occasion of World Water Day, 22nd March 2012, the United Nations produced a series of educational posters called "Water For Food", to show the relationship between food production and water use.

Water is part of any production process. We need water to grow apples as well as to produce a packet of chips. It takes only 25 litres of water, for instance, to produce 1 potato, but 2,400 litres of water to produce 1 hamburger. A litre of bottled drinking water (often mistakenly referred to as "mineral water") requires 3 litres of water to produce. The food we choose to consume, therefore, has a large impact on how much water the world needs to produce food to feed the planet. Vegetable, grain and fruit-based foods generally need less water to produce than meat-based foods.

Have a look at these posters and see if the statistics surprise you. What can you do to reduce the amount of water needed to produce your food? Perhaps you can be more diligent about bringing your own drinking water from home rather than buy bottled water from the shops. Perhaps you can choose to eat more fruits and vegetables instead of meat. Perhaps you could opt for plain water instead of coffee or carbonated drinks. Having the knowledge of how much water is needed to produce a particular food item or beverage means you can make better choices for the benefit of the environment.