Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hard Rain Journal 4-19-07: Sustainability Update -- Simple Truths

Image: The first turn of the Yangtze (Changjiang) at Shigu (石鼓), Yunnan Province, where the river turns 180 degrees from south- to north-bound.

Hard Rain Journal 4-19-07: Sustainability Update -- Simple Truths

By Richard Power

In the 21st Century, energy security, environmental security and economic security have become wholly interdependent; and they are all now also synonymous with national security.

Furthermore, in the 21st Century, national security is synonymous with global security, because now more than ever before in human history, it is painfully clear that all life is one and that we are all dependent upon each other.

There are some simple, but powerful truths, e.g., we need water, we need forests, we need energy that is clean, affordable and renewable, and we need family planning.

This selection of recent news and analysis from China, the Congo, Uganda, Malawi, Indonesia, Brazil and the UK underscores each of these simple truths, and highlights some of the complexities involved in being true to them.

We need water.

China's massive Yangtze River, a lifeline for tens of millions of people, is seriously polluted and the damage is almost irreversible, a state-run newspaper said ...More than 370 miles of the river are in critical condition and almost 30 percent of its major tributaries are seriously polluted, the China Daily said, citing a report by the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Associated Press, 4-15-07

We need forests. And deforestation is driven by poverty as well as by greed. It is not enough to thwart the greedy, we must lift up the poor by achieving the UN Millennium Goals.

According to a report from environmental campaigning group Greenpeace, Carving up the Congo, corporations are offering gifts worth as little as $100 to local people in exchange for permission to cut down wood worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The report argues that a forestry code and a World Bank-backed moratorium on new logging contracts, introduced in 2002, have done little to stop foreign and Congolese companies sealing unfair deals.
Reuters Alternet, 4-12-07

While Uganda suffers violent protests over plans to turn a big chunk of its rainforest into sugarcane, Ugandans are destroying eight times as much forest every year due to poverty, a minister said on Wednesday. Reuters Alternet, 4-18-07

Year by year, the figures have increased relentlessly. While some 600,000 tonnes of wood were transported to the Malian capital of Bamako in 1994, according to official figures, 750,000 tonnes were sent in 1997. This year, the city is projected to consume 900,000 tonnes -- and the country as a whole, seven million tonnes. Inter Press Service, 4-13-07

We need energy that is clean, affordable and renewable. But an uninformed haste to produce bio-fuels can lead to further deforestation, hunger and exploitation. The electric car is looking better and better.

The Bush administration’s plans to increase biofuel imports could add to the suffering of millions of impoverished peasants in Brazil and other developing countries, food rights and environmental groups say. ”The benefits of biofuels cannot be achieved at the expense of food shortages and environmental degradation,” says Celso Marcatto, an activist associated with the U.S.-based anti-poverty organization, ActionAid, in Brazil., 4-4-07

The numbers are damning. Within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, little more than a footnote in history. With them will disappear some of the world’s most important wildlife species, victims of the rapacious destruction of their habitat in what conservationists see as a lost cause.
Yet this gloomy script was supposed to have included a small but significant glimmer of hope. Oil palm for biofuel was to have been one of the best solutions in saving the planet from greenhouse gases and global warming. Instead the forests are being torn down in the headlong rush to boost palm oil production.
More startling is that conservationists believe the move to clear land for this “green fuel” is often little more than a conspiracy, providing cover to strip out the last stands of timber not already lost to illegal loggers. In one corner of Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, a mere 250,000 hectares or 1,000 sq miles - almost twice the size of Greater London - of the 6m hectares of forest allocated for palm oil by the government have actually been planted.
Guardian/UK, 4-4-07

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are the best way to achieve a drastic reduction in greenhouse gases produced by vehicle exhaust fumes, until hydrogen-powered models become viable. They are even more environmentally-friendly than the use of biofuels.… Automotive engineering professor Marcelo Massarani at the Polytechnic School of Sao Paulo University told IPS that HEVs can cut pollution caused by vehicles powered by fossil fuels by 80 percent, "and sometimes by up to 90 percent." ...
The advantages of HEVs are recognised, but "there is a lack of political will" to take measures to promote their production, Massarani said. In Brazil, an obvious means of stimulating their use would be tax incentives.
Inter Press Service, 4-17-07

Why? Why would a string of corporations turn down cash and scrap a potentially extremely profitable technology? Isn’t that contrary to everything we are taught about how market economies work?
The oil companies had an obvious interest in stopping an alternative to fossil fuels. There is $100 trillion of oil left in the earth, and they plan to mine it - even if doing so will make the planet uninhabitable. Anything that could divert that cash away from them is a threat to be crushed.
But why did the car companies collaborate? Electric cars have no combustion engine - and it is in maintaining and replacing those engines that makes up a hefty chunk of Detroit’s profits. A transition to batteries, which require little maintenance, would be a disaster for their balance sheets. ...
Thatcho-Reaganites are always lecturing about how unregulated markets are the best way to stimulate innovation. The story of the electric car is a parable about how, to the contrary, unregulated markets often quickly descend into a corporate oligopoly that smothers new technologies in their cot.
Independent/UK, 4-7-07

We need family planning. But even political leaders willing to confront the energy industry oligarchs dare not confront the theocrats on the issue of over-population.

In the time it takes you to get to the end of this sentence, seven people have been added to the population of the world. At this rate, the United Nations estimates the number of people on the planet will nearly double by the middle of this century. Even with significant reductions in birth rates, the population is expected to increase from 6.7 billion now to 9.2 billion by 2050.
These figures are staggering. Yet there was hardly a mention of them in a major story last week: the announcement by Britain's two main political parties of how they will tackle what is commonly agreed to be the biggest threat facing the planet, global warming and ensuing climate change ...
Put simply, if governments want to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, and the world's population rises to the mid-range forecast of 9.2 billion, each person would in fact have to slash their emissions by 72 per cent.
Observer, 3-18-07


Hard Rain Journal 3-22-07: Sustainability Update -- World Water Day -- What Would You Do With Your Last Seven Drops of Water?

Hard Rain Journal 1-13-07: UN Millennium Goals and Sustainability Update -- Does Burkina-Faso Offer a Glimpse into Our Urban Future?

Hard Rain Journal 11-10-06: Sustainability and Climate Change Update -- Water, Its Unhealthiness and Its Increasing Scarcity, Demands Urgent Attention

Hard Rain Journal 9-29-06: Sustainability Update -- Freedom to Flourish and Water to Survive, Both are Vanishing...What Will You Do?

Hard Rain Journal 9-18-06: Update on Sustainability -- There is Peril Ahead, Whether Water is Privatized, Militarized or Simply Ignored for Too Long

Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: For more information, go to

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