Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is There an Alternative to the Heiligendamm G8?

With the somewhat failed promise of the Gleneagles G8 back in 2005 on African aid, will the current G8 be better?

By: Vanessa Uy

Aside from Sir Bob Geldof’s and Bono’s anti-poverty campaigns, nobody today seems to remember – or feign interest – about the hollow rhetoric of the Gleneagles G8. With its failed promise to provide a 50 billion dollar- a- year aid package for Africa. Do we really need an alternative to G8? Since it’s inception back in 1975, G8 – or was it called G7 back then – has always been perceived globally as a “promise formulating” rather than a “problem solving” summit.

Groups who are opposed to G8 range from riot inciting “anarchists” who are not that far removed from your typical European “soccer hooligans”, to legitimate anti-G8 groups like ATTAC, Justice Now, Interventionist Left, and the most famous of them all: Greenpeace. ATTAC with its battle cry of “The world is not for sale!” appeal to those who are disenfranchised with the overly bureaucratic organizations like G8. To me, G8 is a fundamentally flawed organization due to its extremely limited legislative powers. Especially now, with the vastly differing views on how to tackle climate change between the United States and the European Union.

As the United States continues to “hog” the Heiligendamm G8’s proceedings with rhetoric on the justification of the Bush Administration’s “Missile Defense Program” that has increased the tension between Washington and the Kremlin not seen since Cold War days. An alternative summit has started in Rostock to discuss issues that the powers-that-be of the G8 summit are too squeamish to discuss like AIDS, global poverty, fair trade, and human rights to name just a few. Organized by Tillmann Günter, the Alternative Summit 2007 in Rostock serves to empower cause- oriented groups who are voicing their concerns that the global powers- that- be seem – or choose – to ignore.

The Albatross: The 21st Century’s Canary in the Mine?

Thanks to the support of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, the world –at-large is now more aware of the plight of the albatross.

By: Vanessa Uy

In our celebrity obsessed popular press, concern for animal welfare seldom make it to page two while the impact of human activity on rare and endangered species will be lucky to make it to page 14. But thanks to the support of HRH the Prince of Wales (a.k.a. Prince Charles) the world’s policy makers will be made more aware on the plight of the albatross. An orchestrated campaign was already set up to protect these endangered birds which about 100,000 are needlessly killed annually as a consequence of long line fishing. Also the “Save the Albatross” sailing race was held to spread awareness that the albatross-even in their home territory in the “roaring 40’s”- still need our help.

Biologically, albatross have comparable life span to humans. At 10 years, the albatross can breed. Their slow rate of reproduction at one chick every other year means that they cannot easily recover a population crash.

During the past few years, various researchers have noted a decline in albatross population. Ben Sullivan of Birdlife International notes that the census on albatross population decline over the past few years implies that someday the albatross will become extinct if current trends will continue.

One of the main culprits of the albatross population decline are the long line fishing boats that operate in the southern ocean i.e. "the roaring 40’s.” Equipped with lines up to 120 kilometers long and baited with thousands of fish- hooks. These serve as deathtraps to the albatross that are attracted to the bait. Unable to surface after being trapped, they drown by the thousands. The fishermen manning these vessels are concerned not only on the consequential reduction of catch quotas but also of the needless waste of albatross dying as a result. To avoid albatross by catch, long line fishing reforms such as the use of various mitigation measures like weighing the lines to allow it to sink quickly out of reach of the albatross. Streamers attached to the lines to scare away the albatross are also a success. Since the albatross are diurnal i.e. are active only during daylight ours, laying the lines after sundown are a good way of avoiding an albatross by catch.

Despite of the conservation efforts, albatross still continue to die needlessly due to “pirate fishing vessels.” These “pirate fishing vessels” flying under “flags of convenience”, were responsible for a quarter or more of annual albatross deaths. Currently, they are still very hard to catch/prosecute since albatross protection laws are only heavily enforced in South Georgia waters. Illegal unregulated fisheries (pirate fishermen) are killing the albatross as by catch with impunity.

One solution to stop this carnage is via consumer moral pressure. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) together with the consumers can exert moral pressure to our policymakers to make albatross protection legally binding like the “dolphin friendly tuna campaign” of the 1980’s. Under their mandate, the Marine Stewardship Council also monitors if a batch of fish that enters the market were taken from their point of origin in a sustainable manner.

The relationship between the albatross and mariners are “romanticized” in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “The Rime of an Ancient Mariner.” In the poem, a sailor kills an albatross. An act that later brought misfortune to the crew. In the 21st Century our concern for the welfare of the albatross goes beyond environmentalism, literary sentimentality or even superstition. This “canary in the mine” so to speak serves also to measure our humanity and on how civilized we are. Can all of us safely say that we are really more civilized today compared to when Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote “The Rime of an Ancient Mariner” when it comes to taking stewardship of our planet? Will the albatross someday –like the dodo- only exist in humanity’s collective memory?

Vietnam’s Mangrove Restoration Program

The Vietnamese Government’s pro- active approach to disaster prevention is an ideal model that should be followed by her neighbors.

By: Vanessa Uy

Over the past 30 years, climate disasters like floods, droughts and hurricanes have increased three- fold. This trend concerns Vietnam, which climatologists had found out to be one of the countries most vulnerable to natural disasters. The reason for this is that most of the Vietnamese population and agricultural industries are cited in coastal areas that are only a few feet above sea level.

In 1994, Vietnam’s Red Cross adapted a pro-active approach to against storm surges by launching a program of mangrove tree reforestation and management. Existing mangrove forests in parts of Vietnam are well known for their ability to protect low lying rice fields against tidal surges caused by increasingly powerful storms. The root complexes of these mangrove trees buffers the forces exerted by storm waves and extend the useful lives of the earthen dikes that for years served as scant protection to these vital agricultural areas.

Mangrove tree reforestation also benefits Vietnam’s fishing industry. The fishes, shrimps, prawns, and crabs that populate the coastal areas now have an increased number of secure spawning areas to rear their young. Despite these benefits, mangrove roots can easily be damaged by careless fishing practices. So mangrove fields should be designated as a no fishing zone. Illegal harvesting of mangrove trees for firewood and charcoal production is also a problem. Since Vietnam has a very long coastline, the program still has quite a long way to go in order for all coastal communities to reap the benefits and receive increased protection against storm surges.

Despite the programs documented successes, there was no mention of the effects of defoliants used by U.S. Armed Forces back in the late 1960’s. Chemical defoliants like “agent- orange” were used to reveal the camouflaged positions of the communist rebel fighters. In 1975, the publication of the three- year investigation of the 17-member National Academy of Science’s Committee on the Effects of Herbicides in Vietnam released their report in February of that year. Their major conclusions: The military use of herbicides may have had ill effects on the human population of the then South Vietnam and inflicted long-term damage on the country’s environment and supplies of timber. The “Committee’s” findings on the effects on the local vegetation were considerably more definite in comparison to the effects on human health. Coastal mangrove forests “suffered greater damage than any other type of vegetation.” Even where they were sprayed only once, they were destroyed. Time for total recovery of the mangrove forests: “at least 100 years.”

Thirty years on, Vietnam’s mangrove forests seems to be thriving. To what extent does the past herbicide and defoliant use affect the mangrove reforestation program, nobody knows? Maybe, we just got lucky that mangrove forests are more resilient than we thought they are.

Thames River Threatens London

No, this is not an episode of Dr. Who. But a portent on what could happen to London if the global warming trend continues.

By: Vanessa Uy

The Thames Flood Control Barrier, the Jewel of the British Crown when it comes to flood defence is quite an engineering marvel. Ever since her Christening by Queen Elizabeth II back in 1982, this flood control barrier was once believed not to require any upgrades until 2030. But the various threats brought about by climate change had now called that into question.

As far back as recorded history can remember, the Thames River had brought prosperity to London. The river made possible for England to achieve superpower status in the last 200 years by providing easy access to all of the world’s oceans. But if climate change has its way, the Thames could turn London into an underwater city.

Back in January 21, 1953, a terrible flood caused by the North Sea storm surge wreaked havoc on the village of Jaywick. Many people lost their lives as a result not to mention the property damage. This terrible disaster was the Thames Flood Control Barrier’s raison d’être.

But many experts have criticized the British Government’s reactive approach to disaster mitigation. These experts are suggesting to the policy makers to adapt a more proactive approach to disaster mitigation. Like upgrading the Thames Flood Control Barrier in response to the projected trend of climate change. Even then, this didn’t stop the on going housing development on the Thames Gateway Region and being earmarked as a prime real estate location. Even though this area is designated as a flood plain during storm surges, and the expected sea level rise will probably ruin every homeowner’s property value.

Thailand’s Birth Control Program: A Model for the Rest of Southeast Asia

Thanks to “Mighty Mechai,” Thailand’s birth/population control program has been a resounding success.

By: Vanessa Uy

Despite of the “American Media’s” perception of 1980’s Bangkok as the world’s largest red-light district. Thailand is generally quite a conservative country, especially in the open discussion of sex education and birth control. But thanks to public health activist Mechai Viravaidya also known as “Mighty Mechai.” He is also dubbed as the “condom king” because of his campaign of freely handing out condoms almost everywhere especially in large social gatherings-except on funerals, which in doing so is a cultural faux pas in Thailand.

As an economist, Mechai Viravaidya was concerned that an unchecked booming birth rate is something that Thailand’s economy just can’t support. His population control program has been considered a resounding success despite of the Thai society’s reluctance to openly discuss birth control and sex education issues. When the AIDS scare of the mid -1980’s came along, the Thai society’s perception of sex education issues change from taboo to a public health issue. At the same time, “Mighty Mechai’s” condom distribution program has an added benefit of curbing the spread of AIDS in Thailand. Since then, Mechai Viravaidya has been credited for raising the conscience of the Thai populace about “human welfare” that an overpopulated country simply just can’t provide. To me, this raises the question why Buddhists-in general-have a more pragmatic view about “human welfare” compared to the Vatican?

Despite of the fame that he earned due to the success of his birth control program, Meccai Viravaidya just wants to be remembered as a self-effacing man. Maybe Mechai Viravaidya should spread his message of birth control here in the Philippines.

Friday, January 11, 2008

China’s Coal Dilemma

China has recently been building coal- fired power plants at a rate of one a week, does this make the country at risk for more powerful typhoons?

By: Vanessa Uy

Diminishing crop yields due to shifting rainfall patterns in rural China’s urban migration rate has increased in the past few years. This urban migration demands an expedient improvement of China’s urban infrastructure namely electricity generation. This is reason number one why the Chinese Government is building coal- fired power plants at a rate of one a week to meet the rising energy demands. China can afford this since they have an abundant supply of coal, but are there any hidden dangers?

If China's many coal-fired power plants keep on dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it can only exacerbate the effects of global warming. And a warmer planet would not be of China’s best interest because it can result to more powerful typhoons. It’s a well-known scientific fact that typhoons get their energy from the heat stored in the ocean water. The warmer the ocean, the more powerful the typhoon. And since most of China’s urban centers are not very far from the world’s sea- lanes. They could expect flooding caused by storm surges. Surely, an environmentally friendly solution must be sought.

Renewable Energy: Made in Germany?

Is the German industry “putting their money where their mouth is” when it comes to renewable energy?

By: Vanessa Uy

As manufacturer of a third of all the world’s solar photo voltaic cells and half of the world’s wind turbines, Germany – or more specifically – the German industry is very serious indeed when it comes to the industrial utilization of renewable energy. NORDEX, a German wind turbine manufacturing company is currently setting up an assembly plant in Beijing, China. In full operation, the Beijing NORDEX plant can produce 400 wind turbines a year. With the attendant technological transfer, wind turbines work very well in China due to large tracks of windswept plains just in the outskirts of every major city there. And wind turbines could serve as a viable alternative to China’s reliance on greenhouse gas producing coal-fired power plants.

As Germany is currently developing ever more efficient solar photo voltaic cells, a day will come when all of our electricity generating systems will not produce even a gram of carbon dioxide. Thus newly industrialized countries like China and India can develop their industry freely without endangering the environment.

Japan versus the International Whaling Commission

Is Japan making the International Whaling Commission unable to execute its mandate in maintaining the welfare of the worlds shrinking whale population?

By: Vanessa Uy

The International Whaling Commission’s venue this year: 59th Annual IWC Meeting Anchorage Alaska 2007- promises to improve the present conditions of the world’s whales. Except they had not been able to stop Japan from hunting whales with impunity-all in the name of “scientific research.” Since the 1986 whaling moratorium, Japan has been steadily increasing “scientific catch” quotas that present day quotas are double that of 10 years ago. Japan has been able to do this because of some legal loophole of the IWC “Article 8” which permits scientific whaling. Whaling is never humane though because it results in the whale dying a slow painful death, which usually lasts 90 minutes on average.

Japan’s plea to the International Whaling Commission to restart whaling in the name of tradition only generates worldwide condemnation. This is quite paradoxical because almost all of Japanese youths no longer follow the tradition of eating whale meat. Because of this increasingly large quantities of whale meat now languish in Japan’s cold storage facilities. The Japanese chapter of Greenpeace has been appalled by the Japanese government’s planned resumption of large scale whaling despite of the huge whale meat surplus.

Various environmental groups like Greenpeace are increasingly concerned on the IWC allowing the subsistence whaling of indigenous groups because these groups use vessels intended for large scale industrial whaling. This oversight needs to be reevaluated by the IWC.

Today only 36,000 sperm whales remain in our oceans and the humpback whale-the favorite of whale watchers due to their acrobatic leaps-are only 10,000 strong. And remember; humpback whales are featured in the movie “Star Trek: The Voyage Home.” This movie is considered a beginner’s guide to whale conservation by most environmentalists. The only species of whale whose numbers is on the rise are the minkie whale. Even then, environmental groups doubt that their present population can support the scale of industrial whaling that prevailed in the last century. Japans desperation to restart her whaling industry has forced her to resort to vote buying on poor member countries of the IWC via development aid.

How Legitimate is G8 2007?

This year’s G8 summit concerns primarily on climate protection issues, but there are other pressing issues that need discussion too.

By: Vanessa Uy

The 2007 incarnation of G8, dubbed “G8 Plus 5” has very lofty goals that it promises to achieve. Formulating a binding agreement on climate change protection and a cap on greenhouse gas emissions are on the top of the agenda won’t be easy. And the issue of sustainable development and “carbon credits” need more than good intentions to formulate a binding resolution that the global community would find equitable. The somewhat esoteric issue about “hedge funds” should also be discussed by the conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has shown concern over the issue of “hedge funds.” She even proposed a code of conduct on “hedge funds” and a discussion on minimum private quotas. If all goes well, this could make globalization more equitable for the world’s poor.

Germany’s current G8 presidency might result in a significant progress on climate protection issues because Germany-like most of the European Union-is staunchly pro environment and probably the only ones with the political will to meet the 2012 Kyoto Protocol targets on greenhouse gas emissions. This caused howls of protests from the US and China who perceives that Angela Merkel’s pro environment policies-like the rest of the EU states-undermines the economic well being of American and Chinese industries.

While anti-globalization activists defend their view that the G8 lacks legitimacy because it puts first the interests of rich industrialized countries like the US above those of the needs of developing nations. This is the reason why every annual G8 summit draws in it’s fair share of angry demonstrators and activists. And “G8 Plus 5” will be no different because it takes more than good intentions to solve the pressing problems of global warming and extreme poverty.

Paradise Lost: Global Warming Threatens Tuvalu

Al Gore has been warning us in his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” about “climate change refugees,” Tuvalu can be a case in point.

By: Vanessa Uy

If you want proof on the realities of global warming, look no further than Tuvalu. This small Pacific Island nation of about 12,000 inhabitants have already been trying to cope with the effects of sea level rise caused by global warming. Sea- water is already seeping into vulnerable parts of Tuvalu’s ground water table, damaging the nation’s corn and sugarcane farms. As the world’s 4th smallest nation, Tuvalu’s 25 square kilometer land area is principally composed of 9 atolls that barely rises more than 4 meters above sea level. Even during the normal high tide cycle threaten this country with sea- water encroachment, let alone during storm surges of tropical cyclones. Even back in 1989, the UN identified Tuvalu as a nation most likely at risk when global sea levels rise.

Economically, not so much has changed since Tuvalu was granted independence by Great Britain in 1968. Despite having signed a trade deal with Australia and New Zealand back in 1980, the average annual income hovers at around US$1,000 a year. If industrialized nations won’t do their part to combat global warming, Tuvalu’s citizens might become the first batch of “climate change refugees” in search of a new homeland. The two closest nations that have the resources to provide sanctuary to Tuvalu’s citizens if the sea level rise gets worse are Australia and New Zealand. Since Australia and New Zealand has stringent immigration laws which require anyone applying for citizenship should earn on average US$12,000 a year to be safely admitted, or has a bank account with an average daily balance of US$10,000. Unless Australia and New Zealand will amend the rules regarding their immigration policy, this rules out the majority of Tuvalu’s citizens.

Maybe it’s time for the West to give back what they have taken from the Pacific Islanders during the last 500 years or so of oceanographic exploration and colonization. Even during World War II, the Pacific Islanders were instrumental in making possible the Allied victory against the Imperial Japanese expansion. There’s more here at steak than electoral votes when the politicians of industrialized nations adopt a stronger stance on climate protection which might not be popular to the “industry lobbyists.” Or do the world’s top polluters need to wait for international opinion to exert moral pressure.

Oil Companies versus the Kyoto Protocol

Majority of petroleum companies at present doesn’t agree on the Kyoto Protocol’s plea of carbon dioxide sequestration, but that’s about to change.

By: Vanessa Uy

The Kyoto Protocol is seen as Bolshevism by most of the existing petroleum companies who don’t have the fiscal incentive to find an effective and low cost method of storing the carbon dioxide by-products of oil and gas extraction process. The emphasis here is on the effective method of carbon dioxide storage/sequestration since future legislation might impose stiff fines on the companies who aren’t in line with the Kyoto Protocol.

Natural gas is by far the cleanest fossil fuel in current use, but it contains up to 10% carbon dioxide as it is extracted from the well/mine. Today, only a handful of environmentally conscious petroleum companies extract this carbon dioxide that’s mixed with the natural gas and return the carbon dioxide back to the mine in sandstone formations underground so that it won’t contribute to global warming.

The Insala Gas Plant in Nigeria has been doing carbon dioxide capture and storing them back underground since 2004. That’s way before precedents are agreed upon by the Kyoto Protocol. Although petroleum companies that does this on a voluntary basis are still the exception rather than the rule. Norway’s STATOIL also practices carbon dioxide capture/sequestration of their petroleum extraction by products and they posses the most sophisticated underground carbon dioxide storage facility to date as recognized by the IPCC, the inter government panel on climate change.

Mauritius’ Renewable Energy Future

Mauritius’ policy of increasing renewable energy utilization should serve as an initiative that can be passed on to other countries that are poor in petrochemicals but rich in biodiversity.

By: Vanessa Uy

The Mauritius government program of promoting the increased utilization of renewable energy sources like solar power and biomass was driven in part by the constant rise of petrol prices over the past few years. Also, government revenue that can be saved from reduced dependence on imported petrol could be put to better use in improving the social development programs in Mauritius. As opposed to just using the said funds to allow Middle-Eastern despots to continually build-up their own military might. Contributing further to the instability in the region.

Parts of the sugarcane that’s left over after sugar production is a good source of biomass that Mauritius has in abundance. By using this biomass as a “feed” for biogas digesters can provide 25% more energy than by burning the same biomass directly in an incinerator-type power plant. Currently, 20% of Mauritius’ electricity is generated from renewable biomass systems. Also the Mauritius government are finding ways to make photovoltaic/solar powered electricity production fiscally viable whether in large industrial installations or just small domestic set-ups used to meet typical household needs. A lot is riding on the success on this program because Mauritius doesn’t have local petrol, and a 100% renewable energy source could allow the nation to develop without increasing the effects of global warming.

Fighting Bugs with Bugs

Almost anyone of us has probably heard the phrase: natural is best, the empirical and scientific evidence really does speak for itself.

By: Vanessa Uy

For more than thirty years, it’s well known that fighting one insect with another is a more effective and infinitely less destructive to the local wildlife community than the wholesale application of pesticides. A good example of this is the Japanese beetle infestation in the United States back in the 1960’s. The infestation was effectively checked when some 34 species of predatory and parasitic insects, all of which the Japanese beetle’s natural enemies, were imported from the Orient after favorable results from small-scale field trials.

The female wasp of genus Tiphia vernalis proved deadly effective. This wasp instinctively searches a Japanese beetle grub (i.e. young offspring) and lays a single egg into the grub. Upon hatching, the larval (i.e. young) wasp devours the Japanese beetle grub from the inside out.

An even more effective and efficient method of controlling the Japanese beetle population is the method of injecting into the soil a bacterial disease that infects the beetle’s grubs. The method is inherently safe since the pathogen evolved over time to only infect the Japanese beetle’s grubs while it is harmless to earthworms, crops, other beneficial insects and pollinators like ladybugs and honeybees, and warm- blooded animals.

Using biological methods of controlling pest population is more effective and it works out to be cheaper in the long run since it doesn’t harm the environment. Unlike the previous methods of using chemical pesticides in the DDT family which affected avian physiology. As described in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.”

A Hotter France

A majority of French citizens view the 2003 Paris heat wave as a definite sign of global warming, but some politicians think it’s a load of hot air.

By: Vanessa Uy

As the 2003 Paris heat wave claim the lives of the elderly, it sparked a national crisis over the governments apparent inaction to mitigate such a tragedy. Even the neighboring countries have criticized the French government’s poor planning and pitiful response when faced with such a tragedy. Even the installation of air conditioning units on old people’s homes will only exacerbate the effects of global warming on a later date.

Global warming is also wrecking havoc on the French ski resorts especially in the Pyrénées Region. This stop- gap measure of using a battalion of energy hungry snow machines will only exacerbate the effects of global warming in the long run.

Several promising solutions include adopting a “greener” architecture both figuratively and literally. A number of environmentally conscious French citizens had upgraded the thermal insulation of their homes to save heating bills during the winter. This also has another positive effect of lessening the amount of heating fuel to be burned thus minimizing carbon dioxide emissions. Also rooftop gardens can have a cooling effect especially during the summer months. Plants like bamboo has a very effective cooling effect on its surroundings. The electricity saved can also lessen the “carbon footprint” of individual homes.

Burning Water in an Oil Furnace

Of all the outlandish thing’s people do when driven to desperation, lets examine the method of this madness that promises lower fuel consumption.

By: Vanessa Uy

During my research on patented inventions that can help us beat the high oil prices, nothing seems more outlandish than mixing water to heating oil as what's been done by a British inventor. Eric Cottell has invented a device that emulsifies both oil and water in an ultrasonic reactor-a refinement of a device he patented back in 1952-which uses high frequency sound waves far above the human audibility range to break up liquid particles. It was originally used in commercial applications to mix the ingredients for Worcestershire sauce, catsup, cosmetics and paints. In an oil burner’s combustion chamber, a water-oil emulsion is fed into the flame; the water droplets explode into steam, shattering the surrounding layer of oil and exposing its maximum surface area. This provides more efficient and complete combustion.

Cottell tested the process in his very own home furnace and reduced his fuel consumption by 25%. A scaled up demonstration in Long Island’s Adelphi University’s heating plant during winter saved more than 3,500 gallons of oil a week-about a 25% reduction- and it cut down soot emissions by 98%. Despite of the fuel savings and a dramatic reduction in pollution, there was no apparent reduction in energy output. Cottell plans to produce his ultrasonic reactor units for household oil burners. This would be no larger than a telephone handset and costs between US$200 to US$450.

I wonder if Cottell’s invention works on gasoline powered cars, then the world could beat a path to his front door.

Fruity Biogas Variant

A variation on the domestic biogas system that uses rotting fruits as the biomass to be digested may serve as a viable alternative to petroleum based cooking fuels.

By: Vanessa Uy

A conventional biogas system that uses cow manure as a biomass or starting material for methane generation is somewhat hard to maintain for everyday domestic use. Why? Because to achieve continuous methane generation, conditions in the biogas digester must be met like the optimum temperature, the absence of oxygen or anaerobic conditions and the steady constant supply of biomass/ organic material to be converted to methane.

In principle, biogas digesters produce methane by mimicking the workings of the stomach of ruminant animals like cows. As of late, herds of farmed cattle are blamed for contributing to global warming since they emit so much methane gas which is more than 4 times as effective a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Since methane can be used as a cooking and heating fuel, it’s better to use it as such than allowing it to be released into the atmosphere.

A novel biogas system being tested in Pune, India that uses rotting fruits and vegetable peels/trimmings might serve to overcome this problem. Developed by a firm called ARTI or Appropriate Rural Technologies Institute, this biogas digester is compact and is ideal for urban applications where cow manure or other animal wastes are scarce. This biogas generating system consists of 3 main parts: the gas/methane output accumulator at the top, the main digester in the center where the rotten fruit or vegetable peelings enters, and lastly the bottom-part where the slurry/effluent of the biogas digester exits. As a bonus, the slurry/effluent can be used as a free organic fertilizer.

The business end of this biogas digester is a type of bacteria that originally dwells in the stomachs of ruminant animals like cattle. A substantial amount of these bacteria is expelled by the cow and can be found in fresh cow manure. The ARTI biogas system only uses the cow dung as a starting material. Since the ruminant stomach bacteria is not fussy about what it is going to digest as long as sugars are present, rotting fruits and vegetables are an almost perfect “biomass meal” for the bacteria. Beside the biogas system’s compact size, it can also be scaled up for increased biogas/methane output in communal situations.

As a viable alternative to purchasing tanks of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), biogas digesters demands more attention than a sundial. Rotting fruits and vegetables should be mashed up and mixed with water to the same consistency as a cow does to grass or other vegetation that its eating as “food” for the biogas system. This should be done regularly like once a day or the bacterial colony responsible for methane production in the digester will die out.

Germany: Spearheading the Solar Future

Lately, Germany’s pulling all the stops in an attempt to make solar energy use mainstream.

By: Vanessa Uy

Either by legislation or innovation, Germany is going solar with hopes that her neighbors gain the initiative to do the same. In the innovation front, Oliver Schultz, a 31 year- old German physicist from Freiburg’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Research had developed a photovoltaic solar cell whose efficiency is greater than 20%. This is much greater than existing off-the-shelf solar photovoltaic cells. By using multi crystalline structured silicon photovoltaic cells, Oliver Schultz was able to coax the cells to have an efficiency rating greater than 20%. This type of silicon crystals are much cheaper to manufacture because the purity issue is not very critical when compared to the majority of photovoltaic solar cells in current use. There’s one disadvantage though, multi crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells are high temperature sensitive which could become a problem during fabrication stage – especially if you want to maintain the consistency of it’s high-efficiency characteristic.

Recently, Oliver Schultz has developed an improved low temperature manufacturing and fabrication process for multi crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic cells. These new “class” of multi crystalline silicon cells have efficiencies approaching close to 30%. These crystals - were recently evaluated by independent US laboratories, and their efficiency claims are substantiated. If these new - generation of multi crystalline silicon solar photovoltaic cells gain widespread use, the “carbon footprint” of industrialized nations would further be reduced.

How Green is Nuclear Fission?

After hearing the news from the BBC and Germany’s DW-TV that the EU is strongly considering building fission-type nuclear power plants to lessen carbon dioxide emissions prompts everyone to ask: How green is nuclear fission?

By: Vanessa Uy

This is by far one of the most controversial proposals of the European Union: Evaluating the idea of increasing the number of fission-type nuclear power plants to meet the European Unions growing demand for energy while limiting the carbon dioxide produced by this activity. Even since commercial use of nuclear energy began in the 1950’s, scientists are already concerned that there comes a time in the future that carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels can increase the green house effect causing global warming. The Chernobyl nuclear plant incident back in April 26, 1986 caused the cancellation of any proposed nuclear power plants due to safety concerns.

Commercial fission-type nuclear power plants have always been targeted by picketing and protesting environmentalists for all the good reasons; radioactive wastes. This is one of the inevitable by - product of generating electricity via nuclear power and they can stay dangerously radioactive for up to a million years. “Radwastes” need a safe storage space where they can’t cause any harm for that length of time. Also, fission-type nuclear power plants generate excess heat and this is usually released in nearby large bodies of water wreaking havoc on the local estuarine ecosystem.

Nuclear power plants have their obvious benefits ever since Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” spoke of the dangers of increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere via industrial processes causing global warming. Day by day, nuclear fission gained legitimacy because it doesn’t generate carbon dioxide once in full operation. A very attractive process despite concerns on safety, radioactive waste storage and the threat of terrorists and rogue states acquiring weapons grade material.

Another problem that the experts haven’t discussed or are reluctant to is that the mining and refining of uranium or other similar fissionable material is very energy intensive. I’d be amazed that there is a nuclear fuel refinery in existence that uses renewable energy like wind or solar (photo voltaic or thermal) to process pitchblende and similar ores into yellow cake concentrate to uranium slugs.

“What about breeder reactors?” They can continually generate their own fuel so radioactive wastes will not be a problem and the energy intensive refining of uranium would be minimized. But, and it’s a very big one: the problem with breeder reactors is that the waste that gets recycled back into fuel is plutonium which is very easy to use as a weapons grade material. The problems of terrorist groups and rogue states probably stymied the widespread use of breeder-type reactors. These breeder-type nuclear fission reactors can only be found in easily defended and secure sites and the ones found in the US, Japan and France are the only ones freely talked about in the press.

Breeder reactors are green and eco-friendly in its own way, but like the existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre implies in his philosophical views: “Hell is other people.” If you want to know more about the carbon cycle and view detailed diagrams check out “enviropedia.org.uk”.

Hybrid Cars versus Electric Cars: Vying for Green Credentials?

The “Two Major Roads” that lead to a more environmentally friendly motoring are clamoring for our votes, which one will win and which one will you vote for?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

The two emerging technologies that serve to power a new generation of environmentally friendly cars – namely “hybrid power plant cars ” and “pure electric powered cars” – are now clamoring to prospective customers who vote with their wallets and / or checkbooks. Marketing success hinges more on which of the two technologies will be adopted by the major auto- makers. Irreproachable “green credentials” is now a major issue that determines which of the two will sell, and to a more or lesser extent; simplicity of operation and running costs. So here are the merits and faults that accompany the two different technologies.

Ever since the conspiracy theory surfaced to the mainstream media surrounding the “demise” i.e. product recall of GM’s EV1. The theory states that General Motors was under behest by the “1996 Republican Majority Congress” in collusion with “Big Oil Companies” to “kill” the EV1 because it’s “miraculous” performance could end America’s dependence on “Middle Eastern Petroleum.” Back in 1996, GM’s EV1 was the first pure electric car produced in commercial quantities by a major automobile company. It had pretty good credentials under its belt despite being powered by heavy and “inefficient” lead-acid batteries that could pose it’s own environmental problems. Fully charged, the EV1 has a range of 65 miles.

A lot has happened since then, today, a car that was referred to as the spiritual descendent of the EV1 is the TESLA Roadster. The TESLA Roadster is made by TESLA Motors a small automotive start-up company in San Francisco, California. One advantage that the TESLA Roadster has over GM’s EV1 is weight – or the lack of it. The TESLA Roadster is constructed out of carbon fiber that’s modeled after the Lotus Elise so it’s five times lighter than ordinary steel cars and also five times stronger due to the carbon fiber construction. The TESLA Roadsters claim to fame is it’s advanced lithium ion / lithium polymer battery that’s not only several times lighter than the one’s used in the EV1, it is also more efficient allowing the TESLA Roadster to have a range of 250 miles on a single charge. Because of the carbon fiber construction and lithium batteries, the TESLA Roadsters high power –to – weight ratio allows it to accelerate like a high- end conventional internal-combustion-engine-powered-gasoline-fueled racecar.

In the other camp, hybrid cars i.e. cars whose both powered by a fossil-fueled internal combustion engine and storage batteries that drive the electric motors. The environmental merit of hybrid cars is that the internal combustion engine can be made smaller than that of “conventional” cars because it’s primarily used to recharge the batteries, thus generating lower emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Hybrid cars also have better “mileage” than “conventional” cars because only in demanding situations i.e. going uphill and/or when quick accelerations are required that the two power plants is used in conjunction with each other. The most famous and highly advertised make/model of a hybrid car is the Toyota PRIUS.

While hybrid cars are praised because theoretically they could never ran out of “juice” while on the road due to the current ubiquity of gas / petrol stations over electrical charging stations. Pure electric cars – especially ones using the latest generation of lithium ion batteries – have better performance due to their high power –to – weight ratio compared to current hybrid cars. Also -if major auto makers will start mass producing them again- pure electric cars have the advantage over hybrids in terms of environmental friendliness because it’s much easier and cheaper to place air pollution mitigating devices at the power plant as opposed to every tailpipe of every car that’s running. Borrowing from the “transistor- principle” that a system with fewer moving parts is less prone to breakdown. Pure electric cars has this advantage because it uses only simple electric motors as a primary “engine” as opposed to the hybrid car that still has a conventional internal combustion engine with an inherently inefficient –in energy terms- clutch and gear drive systems. Also pure electric cars can easily tap electricity that’s produced from sustainable and / or non-carbon dioxide generating power plants like wind farms, solar photovoltaic power plants, fuel cell based power plants, etc. Also in the not-so-distant future, carbon offsetting might be legislated to include the transportation sector. Your carbon dioxide generating hybrid car could be singled out by the taxman in the coming years. Also, hybrid cars have “dubious” resale value as reported by Jeremy Clarkson in the 2003 – 2004 season of “Top Gear” an automotive TV show reviewing budget and high-end cars. On one episode, he advises against buying a hybrid car and to choose instead on a conventional car with a better mileage because this fuel- efficient conventional car is not likely to end up lying idly on some junkyard compared to it’s “hybrid” competition.

How Green is Coco Diesel?

After watching a series of documentaries presented by the BBC in their climate watch series, I think its about time that we reevaluate coco diesel’s green credentials.

By: Vanessa Uy

Coco diesel is a bio fuel derived from the coconut fruit that can run conventional diesel engines with varying degrees of very minor modifications. At first, anyone, including the experts will testify that this is a very good way to limit our technological society’s continuous adding of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which is the main cause of global warming. Note: that coconut trees are continually growing and producing fruits and every time it does this it removes the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere where the gas increases the greenhouse effect to the coconuts various parts where the carbon dioxide is converted to cellulose. This is the idea behind “carbon capture” where excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is removed from where it causes the most harm to where it can be stored safely like the coconut tree’s cellulose structure. As we already know, excess carbon dioxide produced by our technological society is contributing to the greenhouse effect that’s warming up our planet thus increasing the strength of new hurricanes causing widespread damage.

This carbon capture solution via the widespread planting of coconut trees for use in bio fuel production seems like hitting two birds with one stone. Since coconut trees are sustainable because it continually bears fruits where the coco diesel can be processed unlike “fossil fuel” sources like petroleum in which the gasoline or diesel fuels derived from this doesn’t revert back to petroleum as opposed to a bio fuel like coco diesel.

So, what’s the problem? After watching those BBC documentaries on their climate watch series, so far, the scientists haven’t yet conducted studies on the extent on how truly carbon neutral (i.e. doesn’t contribute carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) plant derived bio fuels are from all levels of production to usage. After the coco diesel is burned in an internal combustion engine either for transport or electricity generation, the resulting carbon dioxide gas lingers in the atmosphere for a while. No study yet exists if how long should this carbon dioxide be allowed to linger in the atmosphere before it becomes a problem. It takes a relatively long time for this carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the coconut tree’s cellulose structure compared to the length of time coco diesel is produced from the coconut fruit. Also, the process of husking the coconut fruit and producing coco diesel takes energy at present, this energy is likely being generated by burning fossil fuels.

Also, using crops which are originally intended as food so that affluent people could continue to drive around their cars without being penalized by upcoming stricter environmental laws might do more harm than good. Coconut based food products would skyrocket, increasing the burden of the poor on their daily meals.

Another problem that hinders coco diesel from becoming fiscally competitive to petroleum derived diesel is the government-concerned-dragging-of-heels in legislating tax cuts and issuing grants to those start up companies who are making coco diesel.

Fortunately until a newer study of this nature is presented, bio fuels like coco diesel might only be a bit cleaner than their fossil fuel derived counterparts. The BBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic or any other environmentally concerned media corporation are not likely to run out of ideas for documentaries about how to take better care of our planet.

If you like to know more about the carbon cycle and view detailed diagrams, check out “enviropedia.org.uk”.

How Eco Friendly is Corn Derived Ethanol?

After watching a series of documentaries presented by the BBC in their climate watch series, I think its about time that we reevaluate corn- derived ethanol’s green credentials.

By: Vanessa Uy

Corn-derived ethanol is a bio fuel derived from fermenting corn syrup that can be mixed with varying amounts of gasoline or petrol that can run conventional gasoline engines with varying degrees of very minor modifications. At first, anyone, including the experts will testify that this is a very good way to limit our technological society’s continuous adding of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, which is the main cause of global warming. Note: that corn plants are continually growing and producing fruits and every time it does this it removes- the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere where the gas increases the greenhouse effect- sending it to the corn’s various parts where the carbon dioxide is converted to cellulose. This is the idea behind “carbon capture” where excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is removed from where it causes the most harm to where it can be stored safely like the corn’s cellulose structure. As we already know, excess carbon dioxide produced by our technological society is contributing to the greenhouse effect that’s warming up our planet thus increasing the strength of new hurricanes causing widespread damage.

This carbon capture solution via the widespread planting of corn crops for use in bio fuel production seems like hitting two birds with one stone. Since corn plants are sustainable because it continually bears fruits where the corn-derived ethanol can be processed unlike “fossil fuel” sources like petroleum in which the gasoline or diesel fuels derived from this doesn’t revert back to petroleum as opposed to a bio fuel like corn-derived ethanol.

So, what’s the problem? After watching those BBC documentaries on their climate watch series, so far, the scientists haven’t yet conducted studies on the extent on how truly carbon neutral (i.e. doesn’t contribute carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) plant derived bio fuels are from all levels of production to usage. After the corn-derived ethanol is burned in an internal combustion engine either for transport or electricity generation, the resulting carbon dioxide gas lingers in the atmosphere for a while. No study yet exists if how long should this carbon dioxide be allowed to linger in the atmosphere before it becomes a problem. It takes a relatively long time for this carbon dioxide to be absorbed into the corn’s cellulose structure compared to the length of time ethanol is produced from the corn. Also, the process of harvesting the corn and fermenting it into ethanol takes energy at present, this energy is likely being generated by burning fossil fuels. And another thing, fermenting the sugars in corn syrup to ethanol produces carbon dioxide that eventually escapes into the atmosphere. Whether this amount of carbon dioxide is more or less than the one generated by the corn-derived ethanol when burned in an internal combustion engine is yet to be studied.

Also, using crops which are originally intended as food so that affluent people could continue to drive around their cars without being penalized by up and coming stricter environmental laws might cause more harm than good. Back in 2005, Mexican corn growers marched in protest against using corn as fuel because this might increase corn prices increasing the burden on the poor who are most likely to use corn as food as opposed to using corn to fill up their cars.

Fortunately until a newer study of this nature is presented, bio fuels like corn-derived ethanol might only be a bit cleaner than their fossil fuel derived counterparts. The BBC, CNN, Discovery Channel, National Geographic or any other environmentally oriented media corporation are not likely to run out of ideas for documentaries about how to take better care of our planet.

To know more about the carbon cycle and view detailed diagrams check out “enviropedia.org.uk”.

Toilets for the Third World: Necessity or Extravagance?

The chronic lack of clean and safe drinking water coupled with the ever- growing spread of water – borne diseases. Will the ubiquitous “modern” toilet be the solution to the Third World nation’s water problems?

By: Vanessa Uy

When I heard about the Inaugural World Toilet Summit 2007 and Expo discuss their plans to alleviate the sanitation problems of 2.6 billion people who don’t have access to proper –i.e. hygienic – toilet facilities, I asked myself Why did the “affluent” West took so long in addressing this problem? Is it hard to figure out the link between keeping the communal groundwater safe by keeping the communal toilet hygienic by modern standards? Nonetheless I just hope that the summit achieve it’s “lofty goal” of providing toilets for the Third World “poor”.

One of the problems that needs to be tackled in the World Toilet Summit 2007 so that their goal would succeed is the design of a low-cost toilet design that uses less water than typical toilets used in the “Industrialized West”. A typical Western toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water to flush 250 grams of fecal matter safely. But this kind of toilet needs to be supported by an existing sewage system which most Third World countries don’t have or existing ones are in need of repair. A “modern” toilet that uses the fraction of the water for flushing than a typical “Western” toilet is in the pipeline. And with a cost of US$30 or less, this could well be the “appropriate technology” needed to meet the demands of Third World conditions.

In the past, the peasants of the Orient had used their rice paddies as the communal toilet. Even though this practice has the advantage of using human fecal matter as a source of free organic fertilizer, in densely populated communities the practice could easily initiate cholera epidemics or other water borne diseases. Composting type toilets had since been in current use in some parts of Vietnam and China, but it safely works only in sparsely populated communities.

In affluent societies, we frequently take the humble modern toilet for granted. Since it’s a necessity when it comes to a vital –albeit relatively disgusting – part of human metabolism, toilets are somewhat a taboo topic in the industrial world. The industrialized world’s Victorian-era perception of the ubiquitous toilet had made the affluent citizens of our planet had forgotten that the humble toilet could be a lifesaver in the Third World.

The Inconvenience of Nuclear Power

Despite nuclear fission’s promise as a power source that doesn’t exacerbate our planet’s greenhouse effect, we need to take a step back and focus on safety issues.

By: Vanessa Uy

Of all the incidents that fuel the passions of anti-nuclear activists, there’s none greater than the incident at the Chernobyl nuclear power station of April 26, 1986 that changed the entire world’s views on nuclear energy. Unknown to most of the world, the incident at the GKSS Nuclear Research Center in September 12, 1986 serves as a reminder to all of us the issue of safety on the commercial applications of nuclear power. Located in the Elbmarch Region of Schleiswig-Holstein along the Elba River near Hamburg has been dubbed as “Germany’s Chernobyl” due to the increased incidence of childhood leukemia in that region 4 years after the September 12, 1986 incident. A nearby nuclear facility, Krümmel Nuclear Power Station was later ruled out as the source of the radioactive contamination in Schleiswig-Holstein.

The two nuclear facilities are somewhat convenient scapegoats as the main cause of the “leukemia clusters” but there are evidence supporting this. Back in the late evening hours of September 12, 1986 eyewitnesses saw an eerie looking fire coming from the GKSS Nuclear Research Center facility which was described to be changing colors from blue to green to yellow.

In 1991, the Leukemia Action Group was established and with the help of the local government of Schleiswig-Holstein and some benefactors raised 5 million euros in funds to investigate the extent of the radioactive contamination of the region. Soil samples were collected around the area then send to be analyzed in various European laboratories accredited with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). The soil samples show the presence of strange microscopic metallic beads that doesn’t occur naturally in the region. The readings of the soil for ionizing radiation were five times above normal levels. Household dust particles taken from low traffic parts of the house like attics were collected around the Schleiswig-Holstein region. After being analyzed, the presence of transuranic elements like plutonium and americium were detected.

Some government officials point the source of the contamination to the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant incident. But the experts later concluded that the mysterious metallic beads found near the GKSS Nuclear Research Center are core fragments from a fission reactor and can only be found in the immediate vicinity of a serious nuclear accident since they are too heavy to be carried by the wind. To this day, suspicions of a cover up / conspiracy persists on the true extent of the accident.

Sustainable Tropical Hardwoods Anyone?

While the global powers-that-be wrangle in the Heiligendamm G8 over how the Kyoto Protocol threatens their “industry”, some entrepreneurs are saving the planet via sustainable business practices.

By: Vanessa Uy

Tropical hardwoods harvested by sustainable means and have ecological certification has been in vogue lately with top- notch European furniture designers. These woods are priced by the designers not only for their exquisite quality but also the fact that you can purchase one guilt-free. Finally, we can now experience the pride of ownership of beautiful tropical hardwood furniture in our own homes without the guilt that used to come with these items like deforestation and/or swindling indigenous tribes from an honest and fair transaction.

A German company called Unique Wood imports rare tropical hardwoods from Paraguay that are grown and harvested by sustainable means with the attendant certification. As you know, the concept and practice of sustainable forestry was invented in Germany in the 19th Century. So it’s only right for her to set an example for the rest of the world.

A German business consulting firm, GTZ train the local Paraguayan wood suppliers on sound business practices while maintaining the environmentally friendly ethos that keeps the tropical hardwood supply sustainable. Just as well because the demand in Europe for tropical hardwoods has increased over the past few years. At present, only 5% of Paraguay’s original forest remain today. When Unique Wood’s suppliers harvest tropical hardwoods, nothing is wasted. The excess limbs and branches are turned into charcoal with ecological certification in keeping in line with sustainable development so that the biodiversity of the local forests are preserved. Sadly, not all –if enough- of Paraguay’s forest resources are harvested and managed in a sustainable manner.

Rock Against Global Warming

Will Al Gore score another “first” by holding a Rock concert like “Live Earth” to spread awareness on the dangers of global warming?

By: Vanessa Uy

Al Gore is indeed a pioneering figure. He’s the first politician to use his influence to spread awareness on the possible harm global warming can cause to our planet and to our civilization. Despite of the Bush Administration/Oligarchy’s stance on the contrary, Al Gore successfully influenced most of the world’s policymakers to legislate climate protection laws.

“Live Earth” is a Rock concert slated across seven continents to spread awareness of global warming to the next generation. As of June 20, 2007, Al Gore was reportedly meeting with Madonna to strike a deal for a performance highlighting the seriousness of his efforts.

In the past 20 years, Rock concerts for a cause like Sir Bob Geldof’s “Live Aid” - were held for famine relief and humanitarian efforts for Ethiopia and various “needy” parts of Africa. As does the 2005 “Live 8” as a form of moral pressure to keep the powers-that-be in the Gleneagles G8 to make serious of their sincerity to make poverty history not just in Africa but for the rest of the world.

If it succeeds, “Live Earth” could go down in history – as the 1969 Woodstock does- as a unique musical event. I hope “Live Aid” does to our environment as the 1969 Woodstock did to a generation of young people back then i.e. a revolutionary cultural advancement. Back then Jimi Hendrix made white suburban white teens more aware of Dr. Martin Luther King’s message. Which artist or performer will do the same for the urgency of current environmental causes on this coming “Live Earth” concert

Silent Spring Revisited

Way before Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” became the environmental rally point for the “Generation Next”, Rachel Carson had a dire warning on the wanton use of pesticides in the 1960’s.

By: Vanessa Uy

To me, environmentalism gained a foothold in the Western psyche in the intervening years after World War II. Even though it’s roots could be traced back to the 19th Century by the ideals of most sensitive, reflective and most observant of folks like Henry David Thoreau whose nature-is-best treatise “Walden” inspired environmental consciousness in America. While John Muir, the Californian naturalist and writer pioneered in protest against man’s rape of the wilderness.

I first learned of Rachel L. Carson’s “Silent Spring” from an educational animated film where the music teacher lectured on how Ludwig Van Beethoven was inspired to compose his then famous Fifth Symphony after listening to the singing of springtime birds. Then the teacher elaborated to her class what would be left to inspire our future musicians and artists if the ongoing environmental destruction continues unabated. To me, those gifted renaissance persons whose skills made the internet into the present very user friendly incarnation that we use today, if I dare presume, must have been inspired by reflecting on nature’s beauty. If they are rather inspired by staring at leaking corroded pipes in home basements and big city alleyways, then I’ll be very much surprised.

Back in 1962, when marine biologist Rachel Carson published “Silent Spring”, she rallied a battle cry for a generation of environmentalists. Carson made the issue of the harmful effects of environmental pollution more than a mere academic abstraction for graduate school ecologists. At the time, extensive research had found out that DDT-type insecticides (aromatic chlorinated hydrocarbons) can interfere with the ability of most wild birds to produce a hard protective shell for their eggs. Thus shedding the light on the cause of the slowly dwindling population of springtime birds in the continental United States hence the title of Carson’s book: “Silent Spring.”

Is environmentalism a lost cause simply because only the environmentally conscious heed the warnings of environmentalists and put it upon themselves to take the necessary steps in protecting our environment? To me, this might have been true for the past 40 or so years, but thanks to the efforts of a new generation of environmentalists like Al Gore, Rachel Carson’s crusade for a better planet is still very much alive.

Beyond the Rhetoric: The Philippine Anti-Blast Fishing Campaign

No longer the “toothless law” it once was, will the Philippine anti-blast fishing law work this time around?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since the post World War II economic reconstruction period, blast fishing – a fishing method that’s all but outlawed throughout the civilized world – gained notoriety here in the Philippines. It seems like anyone who can cobble up an ammonium nitrate based IED (improvised explosive device) is “good to go” for blast fishing, despite of the possible fatal injury to the fisherman and the long term damage that’s inflicted to our fragile coral reef systems. Even after years of illegal blast fishing, studies revealed that the seas surrounding the Philippine islands – especially in the Visayan region – are deemed more bio diverse than Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. According to Nygiel B. Armada a FISH fisheries manager, the Visayan seas contain more than 26 tons of fish per square kilometer. Despite of this apparent abundance, marine resources –like fish- need to be managed to maintain sustainability. Illegal fishing methods like blast fishing threaten the sustainability of our fish stocks. The damage caused by blast fishing goes beyond the crater formed by the explosive device, ultra-fine coral fragments created from the resulting blast can smother the surrounding coral bed causing long term damage that can drastically affect the local fishing industry.

Recent anti-blast fishing campaigns- especially those being spearheaded by Jojo de la Victoria and Tony Oposa are seen by local environmental pressure groups as a long-awaited “White Knight” that will eliminate the problem of illegal fishing in one fell swoop. While setting up patrols to police the relatively lawless Visayan seas. Jojo de la Victoria and Tony Oposa’s program of penalizing perpetrators to the full extent of the law, market denial of fish caught by illegal means coupled with an educational campaign explaining to the communities dependent on the fishing industry the follies of blast fishing. Their program proved to be very effective because blast fishing seems to have vanished almost overnight. Unfortunately, this angered the lawless elements that are involved in the illegal blast fishing industry.

Sadly, Jojo de la Victoria was assassinated in a desperate attempt by the organized crime elements involved in the illegal fishing industry to stop the very successful anti-blast fishing campaign that he and Tony Oposa had started. The anti-blast fishing campaign was not daunted by the murder of one of the founders. Instead, it gained the much- needed impetus to stop blast fishing once and for all. Bantay Dagat patrols with the help of NBI personnel equipped with M-16 rifles conduct raids on known blast fishing hot spots/strongholds, and confiscating paraphernalia used for blast fishing. At the same time educating these communities that blast fishing can deprive them of their livelihood by destroying the coral reefs that fishes need to spawn.

Unlike the Marcos-era Bantay Dagat of yore, which are no more than mere rhetoric aimed to please the local and international environmental pressure groups. The campaign established by Jojo de la Victoria and Tony Oposa is more likely to succeed and last because the police action is backed by an effective educational campaign. As Tony Oposa said on the environmental effects of blast fishing: “another blast is one blast too many.”

Al Gore in Bio Fuel Row

Al Gore, the man who brought the urgency of global warming to the world’s policymakers is now caught in a bio fuel controversy.

By: Vanessa Uy

Anti global warming crusader Al Gore has angered the environmental activists in Argentina last May 13, 2007 due to his relatively culturally insensitive introduction of bio fuel industry in Argentina and the rest of Latin America. Gore’s program of promoting bio fuel production to the rest of South America. Has the intent of lessening their dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Unfortunately caused an- uproar on Argentina’s environmental groups that sparked a series of loud demonstrations, burning of the US flag and chanting of anti- US imperialism slogans. The concerns of the Argentina’s environmentalist were warranted though.

Ever since the Argentina’s government started a program of producing ethanol from locally grown sugarcane. Even though the quantities of ethanol produced is for Argentina’s own domestic use, local sugar prices soared and the mono- culture created by the hundreds of hectares of sugarcane fields are a crop failure disaster waiting to happen. This can get much worse though if most Americans just substitute bio fuel like they waste petroleum based fuels. Energy conservation should be an integral part of every program if the industrialized world wants to reduce their “carbon footprint.”

Poorly conceived bio fuel production methods not only create mono -culture problems, this also increases the retail prices of staple foods in most of South America. If the US Government plans to use the whole of South America to grow the bio fuel quota needed to run their wasteful lifestyle, this could be seen as another form of US imperialism in the region. More importantly, the deeply held pre-Columbian beliefs and culture that recently began to assert despite of more than five centuries of European Christian hegemony failed to quell about the Native Latin American peoples reverence to their food crops. This is the main reason why they oppose the large- scale production of bio fuels using staple food crops. Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves and Cuban President Fidel Castro are now up in arms in opposition to this latest incarnation of US imperialism. Looks like Al Gore should have consulted Body Shop’s Anita Roddick first before launching such a venture.

A Better Honduran Agricultural Reform

A farsighted 1992 reforestation effort that protected a region of Honduras against the brunt of 1998’s Hurricane Mitch. Will this make other Honduran farmers choose sustainable development?

By: Vanessa Uy

Hurricane Mitch is probably one of the worst storms that has able to hit Honduras in the past 100 years. The storm’s high death toll was caused primarily on the heavy rain’s effect on most of Honduras’ hillside slopes weakened by slash and burn farming methods. Illegal logging also made these slopes prone to landslides even on hurricanes of lesser strength.

But in some regions of the country, landslides with their accompanying death toll didn’t happen. Thanks to the 1992 reforestation efforts in Limpira and an educational campaign explaining the follies of slash and burn farming methods. Programs that introduce progressive agricultural techniques like crop diversification. Also by allowing trees to act as shades and windbreakers for cornfields lessens the rate of water evaporating from the soil thus minimizing the amount of water used for irrigation. The locals called it “Kisengual” farming technique in honor of the pre-Columbian tribal identity of the region. The Kisengual farming technique allows the farmers to increase their corn harvest. This allows them to use the surplus corn to feed their chickens and cows as opposed to buying commercial feeds.

Introducing the concept of bio-diversity to our agricultural practices makes it sustainable. This also allows small- scale farmers the hands-on experience of organic farming, agricultural products free from harmful chemicals and at an affordable price.

11th Hour: Last Call to Stop Global Warming

With the box office success and political impact of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” will Leonardo Di Caprio’s “11th Hour” do the same.

By: Vanessa Uy

Another “environmental opus” coming you’re way via the 60th Cannes Film Festival. I just hope that the hype generated by these two environmentally conscientious works doesn’t downplay the seriousness surrounding the issue of climate change and/or global warming. I haven’t yet seen “11th Hour” in it’s entirety, but the trailer suggest it’s about those pro-Bush/pro-Republican climatologists who kept the proof of global warming from reaching the policymakers on Capitol Hill. The film is a very thorough explanation of the world’s policymaker’s current mad-dash to formulate laws to lessen the impact of global warming. Even my friends who served during the 1991 Operation: Desert Storm predicted that by the year 2000, cars will be run by something other than gasoline as they witnessed first hand the carnage caused by the industrialized world’s lust for petroleum.

Ecological Technology

Can we solve our current energy crisis in an ecologically friendly manner? Can we gain better understanding on ecological systems when viewed from a technological perspective? The answer is a big yes but only if our intellect is up to the challenge.

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

Ecology, the branch of science that deals with the interactions of living organisms and their environment, a term derived from two Greek words which mean ”the study of the home” while technology is the totality of the means employed to provide objects necessary for human sustenance and comfort.

Since humans are the dominant “life form” on this planet, and are viewed as the cause célèbre for all of our ecological problems. Paradoxically, it is us that can only solve the problems that we create in the first place. One of the problems that we face today is our increasing demand for energy generation that is not necessarily environmentally friendly to begin with. How we go about solving this must go hand in hand on how we will protect our environment just to keep our planet habitable in the future. All the energy that mankind utilizes, whether renewable or not, all come from nature. Only a handful of scientists like R. Buckminster Fuller view ecosystems as an interrelationship between matter and energy or more aptly living organisms and energy.

All ecosystems are governed by: “The Laws of Thermodynamics”, this is the relationship between matter and energy in a system. The First Law of Thermodynamics states that “the sum total energy in a system is constant” i.e. energy can neither be created nor destroyed. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that there is a tendency toward entropy or maximum disorganization of a structure and the loss of usable energy. These laws prevent us from formulating an easy solution to our energy problem in an ecologically friendly manner. But first, let’s check out how nature manages energy to sustain an ecosystem.

In autotrophic based ecosystems, the energy that is stored through net primary production by photosynthetic organisms is used to support higher trophic levels. Energy flows only one way through these levels with decreasing amount at each level. The energy that is captured by the autotrophs (photosynthetic plants) does not revert back to the sun. And also; what energy that flows to the herbivore does not flow back to the photosynthetic plants, and so on, as it moves through the various trophic levels, energy is no longer available to the previous level. The important implication of this unidirectional flow of energy in an ecosystem is that the system would collapse if the primary source of energy, like the sun is cut off.

The next major fact to be noted is the progressive decrease in energy at each trophic level. This fact can be explained by the energy lost as heat in metabolic activity and manifests here as respiration. This particular ecosystem also has a large amount of unutilized energy. Even if more of this “unutilized energy” is being used in a more efficient system, there would still be considerable loss due to respiration. Thus, even with more efficient energy utilization, considerable energy would still be required to maintain the system.

These factors-Unidirectional energy flow and inefficient energy utilization-account for the requirement of a steady stream of energy to avoid the collapse of an ecosystem. An ecosystem simply cannot itself when deprived of a source of energy input for an extended period of time.

To know more about this energy flow or how “Mother Nature” does energy management on ecosystems, Vanessa and I studied R. Buckminster Fuller’s thesis about “energy and wealth.” At first we thought that we came to a wrong conclusion. At present, most college physics students are taught the idea that the energy of a closed system remains constant, but as time goes on its entropy always increases. That is, natural processes always tend toward states of increased disorder. Based on what they’re taught, those college students could conclude that what humanity’s been doing is using up our available sources of energy at a rate greater than the ability of our technology to make new sources available. Until solar energy is in use on an everyday basis, humanity had better hang on to our oil, coal, natural gas, and wood.

The more we studied R. Buckminster Fuller’s thesis, the more uncomfortable we felt on his rejection on the second law of thermodynamics as a universal principle. This rejection is based on his own axiom that there are no closed systems-that closed systems; like straight lines or bodies at rest, are like obsolete Aristotelian concepts that hinder, rather than help, our understanding of the universe.

Fuller’s synergetic-energetic geometry is still debatable, of course, and it will probably take another generation of experiments and research before his position on the second law of thermodynamics is truly confirmed or refuted. However, a modification of that law has become generally accepted-and if “most college physics students” does not know about this, most graduate physics students do (like Ringo), this concept was only known to graduate physics students because it is a relatively recent finding. Only college physics students who go out of their way and follow closely the latest trends in the advancement of thermodynamic research can know about this. This refers to the development of general systems theory, which redefines both closed and open systems. While closed systems follow the second law precisely, and entropy increases within them, making less energy usable, open systems operate without this restriction, so that negative entropy (negentropy) may increase, making energy more usable.

As L. Brillouin wrote in American Scientist in 1949:

The second¬ [law] means death by confinement…Many textbooks, even the best of them, are none too cautious when they describe the increase of entropy…The theory of relativity, and all the cosmological, quantum mechanical theories that followed…involve a bold revision and drastic modification of the laws of thermodynamics…The earth is not a closed system…The sentence to “death by confinement” is avoided by living in a world that is not a confined and closed system.

Of course, this does not deny the existence of an ecological problem. It’s because the scientists concerned wish that this problem should be understood correctly, as a misuse of technology, like the increase of “greenhouse gasses” in our atmosphere, rather than a consequence of an inescapable human law. This law is a product of our current understanding of the universe, that Fuller and others have emphasized so urgently that there is nothing in thermodynamics that makes the growing ecological disaster inevitable.

So what does all of this suppose to mean? First the ecological structure of our planet is quite complex that it is very easy for the powers- that- be like industrialist and politicians with the help of scientists in their payroll to refute the existence of global warming. They do this by stating that our current knowledge of the planet’s ecosystem is insufficient or flawed and to contradict to this would take research and experiments that would take so much time and money as to be an anathema to the shaky relations between science and politics. Second, we cannot stop technological progress. The Genie is out of the bottle so we have to deal with it rationally. One viable solution to this problem is to move our less ecologically friendly industries out into space, thus the urgent need for “green energy” to escape the earth’s “gravity well.” This in turn will make it easier for us to turn the entire planet as a nature preserve with us humans as an integral part of it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Climate Change Threaten German Beer Festival

The effects of climate change are more insidious than we presently realize; even beer is threatened by global warming.

By: Vanessa Uy

If you think that global warming can’t possibly affect those traditions-no matter how trivial-that we hold dear, then you’re wrong. When spring arrived early in the heart of Europe this year, most Germans greeted the strange phenomena with much rejoicing and fanfare. But a warmer climate could threaten a much- loved German staple: beer. Whether you believe that the ancestral home of beer is Germany or Ancient Egypt, you should be concerned on how global warming and climate change can affect your cherished “brew.” The type of barley that is used to brew traditional German gourmet beer has not weathered very well to Europe’s increasingly warmer climate. Looks like ski resorts are not the only casualty of global warming.

A decline in barley harvest was noticed in Germany during the past few years. There was also a noted decline in the general health and well being of the kind of barley that is traditionally used in preparing German beer. Where this leads to can only be assessed by on going research on the warming climate’s effects on the barley crop.

Compounding the threat of climate change on Germany’s beer culture is the European Union’s heavy-handed approach in granting financial subsidies. The EU hand these out like their going out of fashion to farmers who comply to their current mission du jour. Crops that can be used to produce bio fuels like the rape plant whose rape seed oil can be easily converted to bio diesel are heavily subsidized. This “free-money” diplomacy can easily make small-scale German farmers to choose “favored” crops as opposed to barley.

Fear and Loathing on the World Community’s Efforts for Climate Protection

Now that there’s a consensus that global warming is primarily caused by our industrial activities, should we be optimistic about a solution that serves everyone’s interests.

By: Vanessa Uy

Have you noticed that anything designed by a committee is seldom aesthetically and functionally pleasing? I hope that this fate doesn’t befall the well-intentioned actions of the Global Community / Powers-That-Be to limit the impact of our industrial processes on our climate. Believe me, I’m all for establishing resolutions to limit the generation of greenhouse gasses that’s causing global warming that would eventually cause a catastrophic climate change and sea level rise. But chances are, the United States will have the loudest voice on formulating policies to solve this somewhat intransigent dilemma because herein lies the true extent of the complexity of the task at hand. But first, lets take a look back on the United States Government’s track record on how might they deal with this problem.

During the end of the 1960’s, the gravest threat to the Global Community was the all-out nuclear exchange between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. The Nixon administration at that time was in a unique position to declare a détente or and end to the “Cold War” and the ability to enforce it. Sadly, the U.S. Administration at that time was extremely reluctant to reformulate the “canon” of their “interests” and foreign policies. This was immortalized in that famous Richard M. Nixon quote; “Peace in our time with honor.” A lot of people will argue that it was a good thing because the almost imminent all-out nuclear exchange was postponed indefinitely. But as time went on, this flawed foreign policy has created Al-Qaeda and despotic Persian Gulf Heads-of-State.

If the U.S. Administration’s involvement in formulating laws that are of benefit to the Global Community in tackling catastrophic climate change is still based on a 40-year-old “canon” that protects U.S. interests in maintaining their Military-Industrial-Complex above all else would probably result in two scenarios. One, it would be doomed to fail; two, it would create more problems that it intends to solve.

Maybe, we should take solace on what Abraham Lincoln said about slavery more than a hundred years ago. He said that the institution of slavery was “formulated on both injustice and bad policy.” This is much like our present “agricultural subsidies” that only benefit the rich and powerful. Policymakers really should think carefully on how they should formulate solutions to protect our climate that not only benefits the poor but also rich industrialists can live with.

Most “common folks” that I know have been doing their part in protecting our planet. Some of them for more than thirty years by reducing energy consumption and recycling in order to conserve our dwindling natural resources. Let us just hope that when run-of-the-mill politicians use their heavy handedness on environmentalism, Russian Literature buffs won’t be saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

How Real Is Global Warming

Since the runaway blockbuster success of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and a well-founded case of “Republicans” suppressing evidence on global warming since the mid-1990’s, is everyone ready to heed the warning signs?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

We’ve been always fascinated by the concept behind the “Einsteinian Dictum.” It’s Albert Einstein’s suggestions to scientists when presenting their scientific theories and laws to the general public. Einstein says “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.” On presenting their ideas on global warming to the public, “simple as possible” is fast becoming “we don’t get it” unless you’re a climatologist with a minor in chaos theory. The earth’s climatic system is quite complex that at present there are still some aspects of it that we don’t understand. The good news is that more and more people are well informed of the issues on taking care of our climate. The bad news is that a lot of people, including climatologists and policymakers under the tenure of the industrial-political-powers-that-be, can quite easily refute the existence of global warming using the complexity of the earth’s climate as an excuse.

One aspect of this confusion is the natural “greenhouse effect” that keeps the global average temperature to within 25ºC. This is caused by the small amount of carbon dioxide gas (200 parts per million) that’s naturally present in the earth’s atmosphere. This traps the infrared or heat component of the sun’s radiation that reaches us. Without this, our global average temperature would be about -30ºC. The main culprit of global warming is the dramatic increase of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere due to our industrial processes being run by burning fossil fuels.

Global warming that’s caused by the increase of greenhouse gasses, primarily carbon dioxide, was first described by Dr. Roger Revelle back in 1957. Revelle was concerned about the vast quantities of carbon dioxide venting into the earth’s atmosphere as a by-product of our industrial processes like electricity generation and/or transportation. Revelle wrote that, ”Mankind is inadvertently conducting a great geochemical experiment.” As the world’s climatologists continue to gather data during the intervening years, recently, a large majority came to an alarming conclusion. It was assumed that Earth’s climatic system was resilient enough to absorb shocks and respond to human influence in a steady, gradual way has come under question. One prediction by climatologists that’s being suppressed by the industrial-political-powers-that-be is that the climate can suddenly – within a century or less – flip into an entirely different mode, a “climate change.” In fact, the climatologists argue using evidence recently collected from the polar ice caps and ocean sediments shows that it has already occurred in the past.

Due to the lack of concrete findings from the scientific community, our policymakers are forced to adopt a wait- and-see approach, which is being criticized by the experts as a dangerous naïveté. A number of qualified weather experts are challenging the present existence of global warming that’s being caused by the increase of greenhouse gas emissions. Reid Bryson, a prominent professor of meteorology at the University of Wisconsin, has stated that the global warming predictions are based on flawed data. If anything Bryson and others claim, that the worldwide climate over the past 50 years is getting colder, not warmer. Kenneth E. F. Watt, professor of zoology and environmental studies at the University of California at Davis, points out that the urban "heat-island" effect known since 1952 is the reason why the data we have at present that points to global warming is suspect. Another critic is James Goodrich, one time chief climatologist for the state of California, points out that the use of urban temperature records for monitoring long-term climatic trends skews the results that would validate the existence of global warming.

Despite the credible experts probably with vested interests from the industrial-political-powers-that-be, an- albeit less vocal majority of the scientific establishment in the United States tends to accept the existence of global warming. One of them is James Hansen of NASA, has been recommending immediate congressional action since the mid-1980’s, to slow down the degradation of the earth’s atmosphere, and set targets for global reduction in the burning of fossil fuels.

As Vanessa and I viewed Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” a movie which is a critique-backed-by-scientific-data to the policymaker’s inaction in taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We can say that we are now better informed and thus have a more realistic perception of the big picture. Using the worse case scenario projected progression of global warming, we can conclude that the Kyoto Protocol’s target and timetable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is unrealistic. It’s a “catch 22” of the industrial world’s reluctant to develop and adapt non-carbon based alternative sources, and the long term effects of the greenhouse gasses from industry even if we suddenly stop generating them.

And even if you don’t believe that global warming exists, you should know that the “American Foreign Policy Du Jour” affects us all. The U.S. Government’s dependence on foreign oil and reluctance to develop and adapt alternative energy sources is a sign that it’s okay for them to “reward bad behavior” to despotic Middle-Eastern States that are the primary producers of petroleum. This petroleum dependence is the source of revenue of these repressive regimes that threaten geopolitical stability.

Isn’t Overpopulation a Problem?

Various interest groups still insist that overpopulation is not a problem, are they waiting for cheap kalashnikovs for a speedy resolution?

By: May Anne UY

In 2006, ecologists around the world reached a consensus that the current human population has an “ecological footprint” equivalent to 1.2 Earths. This means that we need another fifth of planet Earth in order for each and every one of us humans to live comfortably and prosper. Population/birth control programs are tried and true (i.e. most humane) methods of controlling our numbers but religious zealots seem to continue to have increasing clout over legitimate governments in our supposedly rational 21st Century.

Back in 1798, the English cleric Thomas Malthus influenced public thought on population and food supply via an essay that still exerts controversy till this day. Malthus predicted that people would always multiply faster than their food supply/means of production and populations would be “kept equal to the means of subsistence by misery and vice.” In modern terms, the restrictive factors at work are – primarily – the starvation and pestilence that threaten underdeveloped nations. But advanced nations, benefiting from developments Malthus did not appreciate, such as birth control and farm technology, produce more food that they can use.

Ah birth control, a very humane and effective solution against food shortage and environmental destruction. Except that in poor and depressed parts of our planet, the Catholic Church seem to be the be-all end-all policymaker/clout-meister when it comes to family planning / birth control. Your Holiness, its 2007 not 1407. You hide behind the Crimen Solitationis law like an American Soldier uses the Posse Comitatus law to justify half-assed jobs. If the Catholic Church/Vatican really care about the well being of these people and their “Canon” doesn’t allow them to support birth control, then how about manned space travel/ space colonization? Sadly, their political view on this idea is hopelessly bunkum. Remember what the Catholic Church did to Giordano Bruno and Galileo 400 or so years ago. In our recent past, I never ever heard or saw Pope John Paul II or any high ranking Vatican official urging then US President Ronald Reagan or the NASA Administrator at the time of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster to “stay the course.” Is this proof that the Catholic Church doesn’t support existing manned space programs and/or will not support space colonization programs in the future? This could be the most viable solution to the overpopulation problem that’s killing our planet.

It’s now election season here in the Philippines, electoral candidates are now vying to be elected for their various electoral positions. Along with environmental concerns, overpopulation is an issue that’s probably on the way bottom/unimportant cache on the list of problems to be tackled by our politicians and policymakers elected or otherwise. Is this due to the Catholic Church’s apparent illusory hegemony over our government, God only knows? To me, the problem of overpopulation is long overdue to be discussed in an erudite and rational atmosphere by our policymakers and government officials. It’s the primary/root cause (take your pick) of poverty here in the Philippines. Despite the 10% economic growth attributed to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s policies, the population grew by 25% during the same period. How can you share the wealth under such conditions? If our country doesn’t exert a concerted effort to solve our overpopulation problem soon, conditions similar to that which started the genocide in Rwanda back in April of 1994 will be upon us by the year 2012. I hope that you have already stocked your share of black market Soviet-era weaponry as a stop gap solution.

Methane Hydrate: A Blessing or a Curse

A huge reserve of methane found under the sea could ease our current energy problems, or send our planet into a runaway greenhouse effect.

By: Vanessa Uy

Studies show that the amount of methane hydrate that’s currently found under of all the Earth’s oceans is probably twice as large as our current reserves of other fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas combined. Even though all of this methane hydrate has the danger of escaping into the Earth’s atmosphere increasing the effects of global warming, it also has the potential of easing our current energy shortage. Also, methane is the cleanest carbon based fuel in current use.

The mysterious phenomena of deep-sea methane hydrate deposits, is being currently under investigation by marine geologists all over the world. Methane hydrate can also be found in the permafrost layer of the soil in Arctic regions, but deep-sea deposits are more concentrated therefore more economical to mine. Methane hydrate is made up of frozen water or ice that contains large amounts of methane gas trapped in its crystal structure. The chemical process of hydration also contributes to the relative stability of methane hydrate crystals. On extremely rare occasions, methane hydrate fields can suddenly out- gas in huge eruptions. This could explain why some ships mysteriously sank without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle, even on calm weather conditions.

Chemists, geologist and other scientists have now joined forces to study of methane hydrate crystals from its stability aspect to the economics of harvesting it as a source of methane fuel. Certain deep sea beds are now being studied whether the relatively high water pressure of the deep ocean or the relatively low temperature of just a few degrees above freezing are factors that affect the occurrence of methane hydrate crystals.

One of the few research vessels that’s currently studying the phenomena of methane hydrate deposits is the Hamburg-based Meteor. Meteor is a German science vessel that is specially equipped with an autoclave corer that can reach 2000 meters below to extract the methane hydrate seam. This autoclave corer enables her to maintain the ambient water pressure that surrounds the methane hydrate deposits-usually 180 bar- as these samples are brought to the surface to be collected. Then the other samples of methane hydrate are stored in a cryogenic fluid like liquid nitrogen for further analysis in land-based laboratories.

Marine Geologist Gerhard Bormann of Marum Bremen University with a team of chemist and engineers run the research ship Meteor. They are currently involved in the feasibility study of mining methane hydrate from the ocean’s dept without exacerbating the effects of global warming by allowing the methane to leak into the atmosphere. Japanese scientists are also involved in formulating efficient and economical ways of extracting deep-sea methane hydrate deposits.

By melting methane hydrate crystals in the lab, scientists found out that the “frozen” methane expands to 160 times its volume as a gas. Even though by weight, a typical piece of methane hydrate crystal is just made up of 10 to 15 percent methane by weight.