Sunday, December 14, 2008

2008: The Year of the Embattled Frog?

Long thought of as the canary in the mine – or the indicator species - of the outside world, are all of the world’s species of frogs in danger of extinction?

By: Vanessa Uy

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2008 is the Year of the Rat. But given the sorry state of our natural environment, 2008 might be remembered in retrospect as the year of the embattled frog since many of them are dying as a sign that our natural environment is in peril. As an indicator species, frogs dying in record numbers could be one of our most reliable indicators that our wasteful lifestyle is inevitably destroying our planet.

Frogs of temperate regions like in Northern Europe are now at risk of the cytrid fungus, which has managed to spread to previously colder climes due to global warming. Even though some scientists still blame the spread of the cytrid fungus in the industrialized West to the importation of the African clawed frog from 1935 to 1950 for use as a pregnancy test. European Frogs are unusually susceptible to the cytrid fungus since the fungus is an invasive species and European Frogs have not yet developed immunity to the cytrid fungus.

A native of Continental Africa, the cytrid fungus only exists in very limited numbers in its pristine and undisturbed environment, but widespread environmental destruction throughout Africa. Like illegal logging and slash-and-burn farming methods had upset the balance of biodiversity that existed for millions of years. This not only endangered Africa’s native frog species, but it also sent the cytrid fungus into a population explosion plus with the help of global warming allowed the fungi to gain a foothold in the European continent via globalization-oriented trading and shipping practices.

If the current environmental destruction continues, zoos and aquariums of private collectors might be the only places in the near future where we can see a live frog. These zoos and aquariums are even now already doing their part via captive breeding program of frog species that are seriously endangered. But there is one minor snag, given that heavily industrialized European countries that can afford such programs have a naturally dry climate. Certainly an ill suited home for frogs that are designed by Mother Nature to live in the Amazon Rain Forest. Though professional breeders had managed to breed rare frogs in captivity by increasing the relative humidity of their frog enclosures and also managed to control the cytrid fungus via over the counter aquarium fungicides.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Is a Meat-Free Diet Good for the Planet?

Given that our current food production methods had a very large carbon footprint and extensive fresh water usage – especially meat production. Will vegetarianism and / or going vegan be good for our planet?

By: Ringo Bones

Current studies suggest that if Americans reduce their annual meat consumption by 10%, enough grain would be saved / freed that can provide nourishment to 60 million people. Imagine being able to help humanitarian organizations like the UN’s World Food Programme just by reducing your annual meat consumption. Plus livestock, like cattle, are significant contributors of greenhouse gasses like methane being discharged into the atmosphere. Given that methane has 20% more heat trapping capability than carbon dioxide, this does spell good news for our planet. What is good for our planet is also indeed good for our health – i.e. a reduced meat diet.

Despite the late 20th Century clarification of nomenclature, vegetarianism had been supplanted by the word vegan to mean someone who consumes only plant-derived food products. Looks like eating your vegetables with eggs, milk, and fish doesn’t make you a vegetarian anymore. Semantics aside does consuming chiefly vegetables be doing a lot of good for our planet’s environment? The legalese and rigmarole surrounding the issue could surprise you.

The good news is that it does, but given our current methods of agriculture – especially when it comes to growing food crops like grain and vegetables on an industrial scale – does not exactly pass muster as being truly Earth-friendly, especially when it comes to land and water usage. On a land area basis, it takes 8.9 square meters of arable farmland to grow 1 kilogram of corn grain. While the land area required in raising one kilogram of meat is equal to 20.9 square meters. This is due to the fact that livestock, on average, usually consume close to 10 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of meat.

Since drinkable water / freshwater has over the years slowly became a very precious indispensable natural resource due to our systemic mismanagement of it. It would be noteworthy to also mention that it takes on average 1,000 liters of water to produce a kilogram of wheat. While to produce 1 kilogram of meat consumes 10,000 liters of water. Basing on these figures alone - by consuming less meat while our assembly-line agricultural system maintains its water-wasteful practices, we can still do a lot of good to our environment by just cutting out the amount of meat that we consume. Every little bit counts.