Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"New technologies for small island developing states"

Tom Goreau, gave this address at the UN General Assembly Preparatory Meetings for the 2007 Commission on Sustainable Development on 26 February.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Oops, there goes 71% of the planet

"If you dive here, you may see some really horrible things before your body dissolves [in the pollution]", says a guidebook in a reference to Manila bay.

It's a jokey exaggeration, of course, but not by much. The energy that has engendered 90 million mostly warm and loving (and mostly very young) Philippinos has -- when combined with a political elite often grossly negligent -- also inflicted huge damage on the air, land, water and almost all other life forms of the country except for those that thrive on sewage and toxic waste.

But comparatively wealthy foreigners shouldn't scoff. As I return from the Philippines to Britain, working to put what I have learned about coral reefs in context, it seems reasonable to consider whether industrial civilisation is doing the same to the whole planet.

Three points come to mind in support of this. The first two are prompted by stories in the press over the last few days.

One, a new report about a story that has actually been told many times: Tires Meant to Foster Sea Life Choke It Instead. The article refers to the good intentions of the perpetrators. But good intentions are not enough. Their ecological illiteracy almost screams at us today, and surely not that much has changed in thirty-five years.

Two, a report about large dead zones and changing ocean currents that are thought likely to have been caused by anthropogenic climate change (press release here, Observer story here).

The Observer quotes Jane Lubchenco from Oregon State University as saying "We should expect more surprises." Well (Three), one huge change that should be no surprise at all is acidification of the oceans (see my article here, or e mail for a full copy. See also this update on depth of CO2 penetration). Even if net emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere were cut by substantially more than the most ambitious scenarios envisaged at present, acidification would probably continue much more quickly than has been the case for tens of millions of years. The consequences are likely to be quite large.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Out of the Neolithic

Following time with the good guys chasing the bad guys in the Central Philippines (see Massive blow to destructive fishing), I am visiting the science guys (and gals) at the Marine Science Institute field station in Bolinao in the North. I will reflect and write more about both in a forthcoming book, but here is a short interim musing.

Big, quick changes in perception are underway in at least some parts of this country (as in others). Will those changes be enough to lead to changes in human behaviour and management of the marine environment (on which so many Philippinos depend) that will both protect at least part of the extraordiary natural heritage *and* increase quality of life for people in other ways?

It's sometimes said that when it comes to the seas, humans are not yet out of the Neolithic: we have scarcely begun the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers. In the early part in the transition we seem, generally speaking, to be applying techniques that are at least as destructive of the natural biome as many of those deployed in large scale mechanised agriculture after World War Two. (Here in Bolinao, for example, what were once massively rich and diverse coral reefs have basically disappeared, and the amazing animal life that went with them is largely gone. The usual suspects, including widespread use of cyanide and blast fishing, have largely been responsible, but now that these have been brought under control, fish farming over the last two decades or so seems to be doing most of the damage. Or so, at least is my first impression).

Will it be possible to get fish farming more right in than agriculture? Will the farmers themselves learn?

An article by Lydia Polgreen on the regreening of Niger by its farmers (In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert) suggests some analogies for hope (although there are many important differences and my comparison may be too facile. Further, even with best case similarities things may get much worse first). David Bellamy, speaking at the British School in Manila earlier this week, was right to pick up on those messages of hope at least with regard to the terrestrial environment.

But it is going to be a very hard slog on land and in the sea, and the joker could be climate change. Polgreen reports projections by Kerry H. Cook based on a variety of climate models which point to longer and more frequent dry periods in the Sahel, caused by rising temperatures in the Gulf of Guinea. The impact of likely rises in sea surface temperature do not necessarily portend advantage either.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Massive blow to destructive fishing in world's richest seascape"

Attached as a comment to this post is a press release from the Visayan Sea Squadron, the National Bureau of Investigation of the Philippines and other organisations. This is the first appearance of that press release.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hold fast

Australian scientists are said to be warning that hysteria surrounding the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef could lead to less being done to protect it from immediate threats such as pollution and over-fishing. (The Australian, 1 Feb)

"People will just throw their hands up in the air and say coral reefs are stuffed, let's just go and save some rainforest," says Prof Terry Hughes. "I don't think people are doing coral reefs any favours by indicating there is nothing we can do about it."

By coincidence, I wrote something germane to this last week which was published as Holidays on death row on 5 Feb on (by the way, George, it's "Après moi le déluge"; see the original text I sent you!)

And I am writing this post from Cebu in the Philippines, just ahead of field visits at seom remarkable projects in this region created by courageous people who are doing all they can in sometimes dangerous circumstances to protect and restore reefs, thereby enriching the lives of their fellow countrymen and women (see, for example, The Law of Nature Foundation).

The Philippines has already suffered very severe reef degradation (as it has to its forests and other natural environments). I've heard that a joke going around is that the *optimists* are the ones who say it's only 90% gone.

Much of the damage comes from destructive fishing practices. Climate change has, so far as I know, probably played a very small role to date. But people are certainly not throwing up their hands and giving up.

Friday, February 02, 2007

GBR coral bleaching "could occur yearly"

...says this report.