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Friday, October 31, 2003

US: 5% of the world's population, 26% of oil use...
The WorldWatch Insititute has just sent round the following factoids which cannot be repeated often enough, especially when considering who has benefitted the most from past greenhouse emissions and would benefit the most from increased energy efficiency + diversifying energy supplies by making greater use of renewable energy.

With less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for a large share of the world’s fossil fuel burden, accounting for 26% of global oil use, 25% of coal consumption + 27% of natural gas use.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Polar bears may go extinct within 100 years
UK scientists from UCL and the Met Office's Hadley Centre have said that polar bears may be extinct within 100 years if the arctic ice cap continues to melt at the current rate!

According to submarine surveys ice on the Arctic Ocean has thinned by 40% (from 3.5 to 2m) over the past 40 years. This is a problem because the bears use the ice to hunt for seals, which form a large part of their diet.

International mining companies in the DR Congo
A report produced for the UN's Security Council by the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC has said that there is a direct link between the activities of international mining companies and the funding of armed Congolese groups.

The report says:

* "illegal exploitation remains one of the main sources of funding for groups involved in perpetuating conflict", that

*"The flow of arms, exploitation and the continuation of the conflict are inextricably linked"

and urges mining companies to raise their corporate behaviour in conflict areas and at the very least to abide by the same rules they followed at home.

Altogether 18 companies, are named as rejecting suggestions that their activities in the DR Congo are questionable or refused to accept that they have a responsibility to avoid providing support even inadvertently to rebel groups in the DR Congo and the UN has said that further investigations may be needed into the activities of named companies.

One of the named companies, De Beers, has reacted angrily to the suggestion that it is in breach of OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises as a result of the rough diamond buying activities of two of its clients, or sightholders, and has said that it will work with the UK's Department of Trade + Industry to resolve this issue...

Others companies mentioned include three diamond traders, the Steinweg transport company — which takes mineral resources out of the country, Cogecom — which exports coltan, used in the production of cellular phones and electronic games, and five other companies have been blacklisted.

The Belgian bank BBL, now ING, is also accused of having links with several of the accused plunderers.

Among the resources in the Congo are gold, diamonds, niobium, cassiterite, medicinal barks, cobalt, copper and coltan.

Last year a similar report recommended that financial restrictions be placed on 29 companies based in Belgium, Rwanda, Uganda, DRC, Zimbabwe + South Africa, and a travel ban and financial restrictions imposed on 54 people.

The people mentioned included cabinet members + top officials from Congo Kinshasa + Zimbabwe. Congolese officials are Augustin Katumba Mwanke (Minister of Presidency), Mwenze Kongolo (Minister of National Security), Dennis Numbi Kalume (Minister of Planning and Reconstruction), Kibassa Maliba (ex-Minister of Mines), Mwana Nanga Mawapanga, the Congo's Ambassador in Harare and Didier Kazadi Nyembwe, Director of the Kinshasa Intelligence Agency.

The list further includes Emmerson Mnangagwa Dambudzo, who is Speaker of Parliament in Zimbabwe and many businessmen and (ex-)military personnel from Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, the Congo and from outside the region.

Rwanda, Uganda + Zimbabwe were singled out as countries that had adopted "strategies for maintaining the mechanisms for revenue generation, many of which involve criminal activities, once their troops have departed."

Further reading:

Kimberley Process Diamond Certification Scheme

Global Witness: Kimberley Process at a Turning Point

Human Rights Watch: U.N. Must Address Corporate Role in War

Amnesty International USA: Democratic Republic of Congo Ituri - How many more have to die?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

What the world might be like in 2020...
A two-day conference organised by the UK's Environment Agency called Environment 2003 is considering the implications for society and the environment of alternate scenarios that are possible over the next 20 years...

One scenario suggests that people will begin to grow much more of their own food as fossil fuels increase dramatically in price, due to increasing demand greatly exceeding reduced supply... another suggests that international migration may increase significantly as climate change starts to make large, or heavily populated, areas of the world uninhabitable...

Thought provoking stuff + definitely worth considering now, ahead of time, before our options for changing behaviours and technology are too small to give us a chance of preventing the worst possible scenarios from becoming reality.

Red Cross to reduce presence in Iraq
The International Committee of the Red Cross has announced that it will be reducing the number of overseas staff working in Iraq following a bombing earlier in the week which killed two of its workers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Swordfish + Mercury, Shark Fins + Soup
Last week Earth-Info.Net attended a talk given by Ronny Jumeau, the Minister for the Environment in the Seychelles.

Ronny highlighted various environmental problems faced by small island states, in particular how climate change is increasing beach erosion + altering rainfall patterns in ways that may soon threaten the important tourism industry.

Mercury pollution from industrialised nations was also highlighted as a problem because it is accumulating in the bodies of the Seychelle's top marine predators, such as swordfish... with the result that European nations are warning pregnant mothers and children against eating swordfish and have recently banned the import of swordfish from the Seychelles into the EU. The loss of this market has resulted in a delay to a much needed ban on shark finning as the government cannot afford to compensate fisherman for the loss of their livelihood... Ronny also observed that local fisherman have adapted to their predicament by buying fishing boats in neighbouring French islands that are still able to import into the EU, because they were considered part of France. There being a certain irony in this as the swordfish in the French area are larger and thus likely to have accumulated even more mercury...

The delay of a ban on shark fishing is serious because the trade in shark fins, which make up only 4-7% of overall bodyweight, threatens to decimate shark populations + disrupt ecosystems in the Seychelles... as it already has in other areas of the world, such as the North Atlantic , Costa Rica + the Galapagos

As slow-growing, top predators the killing of 100,000,000 sharks per year for expensive soup is likely to be just as serious as the current, unsustainable loss of lions in Africa... even though sharks have fewer human admirers.

Find out more about the threats to sharks by visiting the Shark Trust website.

Rabies threatens critically endangered Ethiopian wolves
In the last few weeks there has been an outbreak of rabies among the Ethiopian wolves in the Bale Mountains, home to the most important population of this endangered species.

The current wolf population in Bale was estimated at 300 (of the global total of 500) wolves. To date, 19 wolves from 7 packs in the Web valley (within the Bale area) are known to have died. The Web valley is a critical core area that harboured an estimated 80 wolves prior to this crisis.

Wolves in the Bale Mountains are continually monitored by staff of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme (EWCP) and all leading authorities in the area are attempting to trace the transmission route and spread of the disease, find dead and/or sick animals, innoculate all unvaccinated domestic dogs, and interview local communities.

On Friday the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA confirmed the diagnosis of rabies and there is concern that the recent recovery in wolf numbers may have increased the risk of a fresh outbreak of disease.

A disease epidemic, diagnosed as rabies coupled with canine distemper, in 1991-92 killed 3/4 of wolves in the Web valley and 2/3 of the known Bale population at the time. There are grave concerns that the current outbreak may become an epidemic that will spread throughout the whole Bale population and cause a similar significant decline of what is already a critically endangered species.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Adopt a Granny
While looking through the donation pages of many different NGOs I came across HelpAge International's Adopt a Granny scheme and thought I would give it a special mention, as the neglect + suffering of old people in poor countries is so often overlooked or considered less important than comparable suffering by the young...

The Adopt a Granny scheme was first launched as an individual sponsorship scheme by Help the Aged in 1973, and now reaches 25,000 disadvantaged older people, through 380 projects in 29 countries.

It funds community programmes, day centres, home visiting programmes income generating projects, pension schemes + residential homes.

It has significant programmes in India, Kenya, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and in recent years has developed activities in Bolivia, the Caribbean, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Peru, Tanzania + Thailand.

Please contact HelpAge International if you would like to support this work.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Donations to effective NGOs made easy...
In an effort to support the work of the NGOs that Earth-Info.Net links to I am adding links (in the NGO section on the left) where anyone with some spare cash can offer their support...

Just click on some of the $ signs, next to the individual charity names, in order to see a selection of the worthwhile endeavours your hard-earned money can help, and how much it will cost.

I'll add more links over the next few days...

Overfishing threatens future of UK cod stocks
The WWF today warned that cod stocks will collapse if Member States ignore the advice issued by the International Council in the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) today to close the fishery for the cod stocks in the North Sea, Irish Sea + West of Scotland.

The message to fisheries ministers is the worst ever, as ICES is also advising zero catch for Irish Sea whiting, Southern hake and capelin in the Barents Sea.

According to ICES figures the number of young fish boosting cod populations in the North Sea in the first quarter of this year were the lowest they have been in 20 years and they have yet again advised that all cod fisheries are closed in order to allow stocks a chance to recover. WWF endorses ICES advice and today urged Member States to take precautionary action and close the cod fishery while investing the money, which will be vital to assist fishing communities through this period.

GM offers measurable risks + benefits to environment
A recent farm-scale assessment of the environmental impact of three genetically modified crop plants (maize, oilseed rape + sugar beet) has found that GM technology can offer both risks + benefits to the environment.

GM oilseed rape + sugar beet have been found to attract fewer insects than their non-GM equivalents, while GM maize attracts a more diverse range of insects - in part because of reduced pesticide use!

These mixed results have been taken as a vindication by both the pro- and anti-GM camps in the GM debate, but in reality offer us only a tiny portion of information we will need before finally accepting or rejecting the ability to deliberately insert specific genes into new plant species...

The results of this study do however highlight the importance of assessing this technology on a case-by-case basis, of reducing the use of pesticides + of considering the many different types of impact major changes in farming practices + technology will have before applying them.

To Earth-Info.Net the fact that the benefits to society of exploiting such a uncertain + profound technology are unclear means that we need to apply the precautionary principle when assessing GM crops and to think much harder about solving some of the problems GM is said to answer in alternative ways... such as eliminating projected shortages in global food supply by improving the global distribution of food and reducing our tolerance/subsidies of unnecessary waste + environmental degradation along the length of the entire food chain.

Further reading:

You can read the article published by the scientists in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society here

See here for a summary of the conclusions of the recent GM Nation debate.


The UK's Co-op supermarket chain has also announced that it has banned GM crops from all of it's farms + products...

Friday, October 10, 2003

Hooray! I've handed in my PhD...
Just a note to let those who know me that I have just submitted my PhD... all 287 pages, 58,000 words of it... I will be in touch again soon if you haven't heard from me for a while. All the best, Matt