Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Kingdom of Magical Rhinking

In 1935, an oilman visiting the Middle East reported back to his headquarters, "The future leaves them cold. They want money now."

Although the temptation of overspending has repeatedly undermined oil-rich governments from Caracas to Tehran, Saudi Arabia avoided this trap over the last decade through fiscal discipline that has kept its expenditures below its swelling oil receipts.

But in a recent report striking for the candor of its unpalatable conclusions, Saudi investment bank Jadwa laid out the kingdom's inexorable fiscal challenge: how to balance soaring government spending, rapidly rising domestic oil demand, and a world oil market that gives little room for further revenue increases. And that was before the recent economic turmoil knocked $20 per barrel off oil prices.

Saudi Arabia's government spending, flat since the last oil boom in the 1970s, is now rising at 10 percent or more annually. And it will rise faster still: The House of Saud's survival instinct in the wake of the initial Arab revolutions led King Abdullah to announce $130 billion of largesse in February and March. The resulting increases in government employment and salaries can be cut only at the cost of more discontent.

And that's only what the kingdom is spending on its "counterrevolution" at home. Saudi Arabia will pay the lion's share of the pledged $25 billion of Gulf Cooperation Council aid to Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Oman. With Iraq, Syria, and Yemen likely flashpoints yet to come, the bill will only increase. Already, nearly a third of the Saudi budget goes toward defense, a proportion that could rise in the face of a perceived Iranian threat. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Friday, August 26, 2011

Live Streaming of the International Permaculture Conference - IPC 10

For those who cannot make it to the IPC10 in Jordan next month (September 2011), my announcement here should hopefully be gladly received! PRI Australia has put up the funds for the additional equipment I needed to enable me to live-stream the International Permaculture Conference (IPC10) to the internet.

I’ll be live-streaming the 1-day Conference, and with a bit of luck perhaps even parts of the 4-day Convergence (the latter I’m not so confident about as I need to see if the internet connection is up to par when I physically get there, but from reports it’s looking positive).
Even if you cannot make the exact times of the live-streams, the system we’re using will subsequently have the streams available on-demand — so you can play them later.

This will be the first time an IPC has been live-streamed. (I’m told there was an attempt to do this at IPC9 in Malawi, but the internet connection was insufficient for the task.) More >>>

Location:Amman, Jordan

Irrigation and climate change

While attention has, appropriately, been focused on getting food and medicines to the victims of the famine in the Horn of Africa, many observers are asking about longer-term solutions, especially if droughts such as the current one become more frequent with climate change. One possibility is to expand irrigation.

Currently, only about 4 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land is irrigated; the rest is rain-fed, meaning it is susceptible to droughts and floods. Yet, irrigated land can have yields that are up to five times those of rain-fed areas. It must be the case that the costs of irrigation—capital, recurrent, administrative, political—are sufficiently high to outweigh these benefits. But if you take into account the possibility of more frequent floods and droughts, which would make irrigated land relatively more attractive, does the benefit-cost calculation change?

The short answer is yes. In a calculation for the Zambezi basin, Aziz Bouzaher and I estimate that the costs of tripling the irrigated area are about equal to the benefits—if you ignore the effects of climate change. It is not surprising therefore that there has not been much investment in irrigation. But when you include as benefits of irrigation the avoided damage from increasingly frequent droughts (using fairly conservative assumptions), the overall benefits are double the costs. Recognizing that the effects of climate change will increasingly affect rain-fed agriculture may tip the scales in favor of more irrigation in Africa, and lead to higher yields for African farmers.

More information on the costs and benefits of irrigation in the Zambezi River Basin (PDF)

Location:Cayman Islands

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Expanding Deserts, Falling Water Tables, and Toxic Pollutants Driving People from Their Homes

People do not normally leave their homes, their families, and their communities unless they have no other option.

Yet as environmental stresses mount, we can expect to see a growing number of environmental refugees. Rising seas and increasingly devastating storms grab headlines, but expanding deserts, falling water tables, and toxic waste and radiation are also forcing people from their homes.

Advancing deserts are now on the move almost everywhere. The Sahara desert, for example, is expanding in every direction. As it advances northward, it is squeezing the populations of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria against the Mediterranean coast. The Sahelian region of Africa—the vast swath of savannah that separates the southern Sahara desert from the tropical rainforests of central Africa—is shrinking as the desert moves southward. As the desert invades Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, from the north, farmers and herders are forced southward, squeezed into a shrinking area of productive land. A 2006 U.N. conference on desertification in Tunisia projected that by 2020 up to 60 million people could migrate from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe.

In Iran, villages abandoned because of spreading deserts or a lack of water number in the thousands. In Brazil, some 250,000 square miles of land are affected by desertification, much of it concentrated in the country’s northeast. In Mexico, many of the migrants who leave rural communities in arid and semiarid regions of the country each year are doing so because of desertification. Some of these environmental refugees end up in Mexican cities, others cross the northern border into the United States. U.S. analysts estimate that Mexico is forced to abandon 400 square miles of farmland to desertification each year.

In China, desert expansion has accelerated in each successive decade since 1950. Desert scholar Wang Tao reports that over the last half-century or so some 24,000 villages in northern and western China have been abandoned either entirely or partly because of desert expansion. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Monday, August 22, 2011

Farming overhaul vital for food, water security: UN

Agricultural methods need to be radically overhauled to ensure food production rises to meet increasing demand but that water resources are not depleted further by doing so, research showed on Monday.

A radical overhaul of agriculture could create farms that enhance, rather than degrade, the world's ecosystems, said a report led by the United Nations' Environment Programme and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
"Managing water for food and ecosystems will bring great benefits, but there is no escaping the urgency of the situation," said David Molden, deputy director general for research at IWMI.
"We are heading for disaster if we don't change our practices from business as usual," he added.
Water limits are close to being "reached or being breached" in areas such as northern China, India's Punjab and western United States, said the report, entitled 'An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security'. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jamaican Delegation Attends 4th Singapore International Water Week

Permanent Secretaryin the Ministry of Housing, Environment and Water, Genefa Hibbert, and Chairman of the Water Resources Authority of

Jamaica, Dr. Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr., recently attended the 4th
Singapore International Water Week, Water Convention and Water Leaders Summit.
The week-long event held in the South- East Asian city-state, was attended by over 2,500 delegates from around the world. Major issues, such as climate change, urbanization and water supply, as well as water security were discussed. High level meetings and discussions were also held with regional and global water ministers, as well as industry and academic leaders.

A session was also held with the Singaporean Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Hsien Loong on the policy and strategic direction for water affairs for the country, as well as providing leadership and sharing expertise with the rest of the world.

The Jamaican delegation met with senior members of Singapore’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources including the Minister, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan; Junior Minister, Mrs. Grace Fu Hai Yien. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On thin ice

The Arctic — a mosaic of oceans, glaciers and the northernmost projections of several countries — is a place most of us will never see. We can imagine it, though, and our mental picture is dominated by one feature: ice.

Yet the Arctic sea ice is changing dramatically, and its presence shouldn’t be taken for granted, even over the course of our lifetimes. According to new research from MIT, the most recent global climate report fails to capture trends in Arctic sea-ice thinning and drift, and in some cases substantially underestimates these trends. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, forecasts an ice-free Arctic summer by the year 2100, among other predictions. But Pierre Rampal, a postdoc in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and colleagues say it may happen several decades earlier. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Friday, August 12, 2011

Call for reservoirs to store rainwater

Monsoon always have a great impact on local agriculture as good rains always increase production of both major and minor crops of Pakistan, which boosts the agriculture sector growth.

There is a need to establish water reservoirs to store this precious natural resource while promotion of rainwater harvesting technique is also a need of hour for Pakistani agriculture.

These views were expressed in the Jang Economic Session on ‘Monsoon-Impact on Agriculture and Economy’, here on Thursday. Participants in the moot included Meteorologist Riaz Khan, Monitoring Chief PMIU Irrigation and Power Department Punjab Habibullah Bodla, President Basmati Growers Association (BGA) Hamid Malhi, Director Farmer Associates of Pakistan (FAP) Rabia Sultan and Chairman AgriForum Pakistan Ibrahim Mughal. The moot was hosted by Sikindar Hameed Lodhi and Intikhab Tariq.

Riaz Khan said that water was the lifeline for agriculture and Pakistani agriculture mainly depended upon rainwater. He said winter rains and snowfall in northern areas irrigated Rabi crop. He said historically 70 mm rain on average had been recorded in winters, which filled 80 per cent of Mangla Dam. He said low and medium flood was very important for river channels as well as for improving ground water table while high floods created troubles due to non availability of water reservoirs infrastructure. Habibullah Bodla said rainwater was very useful for agriculture sector but its benefits were never exploited properly. He said in 2010, Pakistan wasted 1.2 million acre feet rainwater in flood while China save similar quantity out of its 2.1 million acre feet rainwater by storing in dams. He said it has never been thought to utilize the abundant monsoon rainwater by constructing dams. He said that this year so far good rainfall was recorded in rice, cotton and other crops growing zones. He criticized that due to poor forecast system rainwater was also wasted in Pakistan. More >>>


Thursday, August 11, 2011

International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, IPC10, will be held in Jordan across September 2011

The biennial International Permaculture Conference is the world's premier permaculture gathering.

The next International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, IPC10, will be held in Jordan across September 2011. The theme is "Plan Jordan ~ Water".

The 1-day IPC10 Conference (open to all) and 4-day IPC10 Convergence (open to Permaculture Design Certificate graduates only) will be held in Jordan (Amman and Wadi Rum, respectively) and will be coordinated by Nadia 'Abu Yahia' Lawton. Prior to the start of the Conference and subsequent Convergence, a two-week International Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course will be taught by a team of respected permaculture educators and pratitioners, and all three events will be followed by tours and permaculture site visits.

The theme of IPC10 is highly appropriate given the United Nations have just launched their Decades for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification. We have the solutions!

You are cordially invited to support this valuable initiative with your presence and involvement! We welcome submissions for appropriate articles to appear below! More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Managing Contraction, Redefining Progress

Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend upon the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to
existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.
—Milton Friedman (economist)

Many analysts who focus on the problems of population growth, resource depletion, and climate change foresee gradually tightening constraints on world economic activity. In most cases the prognosis they offer is for worsening environmental problems, more expensive energy and materials, and slowing economic growth.

However, their analyses often fail to factor in the impacts to and from a financial system built on the expectation of further growth—a system that could come unhinged in a non-linear, catastrophic fashion as growth ends. Financial and monetary systems can crash suddenly and completely. This almost happened in September 2008 as the result of a combination of a decline in the housing market, reliance on overly complex and in many cases fraudulent financial instruments, and skyrocketing energy prices. Another sovereign debt crisis in Europe could bring the world to a similar precipice. Indeed, there is a line-up of actors waiting to take center stage in the years ahead, each capable of bringing the curtain down on the global banking system or one of the world’s major currencies. Each derives its destructive potency from its ability to strangle growth, thus setting off chain reactions of default, bankruptcy, and currency failure. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The World Needs a New Language

We know it is dangerous to cross a red light, so we wait until it turns green.

We do not go out sailing when the weather forecast promises a great storm. We accept it when a doctor tells us to take medicine to prevent hypertension.

We do not drink the water if there is sign saying that it is contaminated. We are constantly accepting different potential risks and manoeuvring to limit them.

But when it comes to climate change, our willingness to accept it as a potential great risk is missing - and so is our motivation to respond to it with our normal risk-behaviour.

97 percent of the climate scientists believe global warming is happening, that humans are largely responsible and that we need to take action now. From their perspective there is a mountain of evidence on the reality of climate change; the nearest thing to an open-and-shut case that scientist can produce. They are constantly trying to convince us -- the public -- of this fact.

But still the concern shared by almost every scientist is not concurrent with the general public opinion. 44 percent of Americans still believe that global warming is primarily caused by planetary trends, according to a poll from Rasmussen Reports conducted in April. And 36 percent do not believe climate change is a serious problem.

Thus we are currently witnessing an enormous reality gap between science and the public -- with very different perceptions of the risks posed by climate change.

If scientists could solve climate change on their own, the lacking public support wouldn't be a problem. But they can't. Without the endorsement from the general public, the fight against climate change does not stand much of a chance. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

UNGA Debate on Right to Water Highlights Impact of Climate Change

27 July 2011: The UN General Assembly (UNGA) held a debate on the human right to water and sanitation, during which a number of speakers highlighted that climate change constitutes an obstacle to the enjoyment of this right, stressing the particular situations of small island low-lying States.

The debate took place on 27 July 2011, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. In his opening address, Joseph Deiss, UNGA President, recalled that, in July 2010, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on the human right to water and sanitation, which he said was an important first step towards the explicit acknowledgment of that resource as a human right.

Egypt said States must take all necessary measures to extend human rights, including the right to clean water and sanitation. He added that Egypt’s efforts were challenged by funding, climate change, population growth and other factors, and indicated that his Government had adopted an integrated national plan to address these challenges. Senegal stressed the need to address climate change and drought in order to achieve the right to water, calling for increased assistance.

Cuba called for enhanced cooperation in the face of climate change, calling for the creation of mechanisms that are not dependant on the international financial institutions.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines expressed support for the UNGA resolution by which the Assembly had recognized the right to water and sanitation as a human right. He underlined that his country's achievements in terms of ensuring the realization of that right, considering its limited resources, illustrate the importance of political will. He emphasized the urgency of “looming threats” to achieving the right to water, namely climate change and desertification. He added that his country often resorts to transporting water by ship and said sea-level rise would have a disastrous effect. He concluded by calling for mainstreaming the issue in the global agenda.

Maldives explained that her country's main source of water is shallow groundwater, underscoring its extreme vulnerability to water scarcity. She called for considering the legally binding right to water in the context of sea-level rise, climate change, and other critical phenomena. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands