China Experiment in Permaculture Offers World Hope

China is the most populous and possibly one of the most diverse nations on the planet, with a population of over 1.3 billion people and 56 ethnic groups.

What each one of those people shares with the rest of the world, regardless of political, linguistic, economic, and existential differences, is the complete and utter dependence on the ability to find food. In China’s Loess Plateau, sustained generational farming had depleted the soil, leaving in its wake a textured landscape of dust. When winds came, the dust blew into cities, compromising air quality. In the rains, it washed down the valley, depositing more of the silt that gives the Yellow River its name. In 1995, scientists and engineers surveyed the land of the Loess Plateau in an attempt to determine what was causing the once fertile belt to be a thorn in the country’s. The results of their study led to an experiment in permaculture in China that offers hope to the world.

John D. Liu, Chinese American ecologist and documentary film-maker, documented the project in an award-winning film called Hope in a Changing Climate. In the film that Liu narrates, he reports that the first thing that the scientists discovered was a causal relationship between ecosystem destruction and human poverty. Where environmental degradation is severe, the population becomes trapped in a downward spiral. Because they needed to eat to survive, generational subsistence farming had stripped the land bare in the Loess Plateau. In search of food for themselves and their flocks, farmers and their families continued to deplete the fertility of the surrounding ecosystem, further impoverishing themselves.

When scientists developed the plan to restore the ecosystem in China’s Loess Plateau, generational farmers had to be convinced that not farming was critical for their families’ long-term survival. To get buy in from the locals who did not understand how their families would eat if they were not allowed to farm, the government subsidized them and taught them how to do the work that would restore their land from a scarce dirt pit to a thriving ecosystem.

Around the world, populations are living a scarce subsistence lifestyle similar to the one that the citizens of China’s Loess Plateau used to live. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states that besides fleeing for personal safety, the basic need for food and shelter is the primary motivation for people leaving their homes and becoming displaced. If there were a stable food supply and supportive ecosystem, then the motivation for the world’s most vulnerable populations to move, would decrease. The UNHCR reports that competition for scarce resources triggers violence. If there were a way to restore resources so that people had food and a sense of power in their lives, the fuel for much of the world’s violence would be spent.

The permaculture experiment in China indeed offers hope to the world. Working with scientists, the local population terraced slopes, they planted trees, and they penned their herds so that the trees could grow without being eaten. Soon they found that their hillsides were green. Instead of letting the rains sheet off the mountains, the terraces collected the water and fed the delicate new roots systems, transforming the arid land into a booming garden. Liu reports that since he first visited the area in 1995, the people have seen a threefold increase in income and a profound sense of hope and empowerment. More

 

Himalayan Water Security: The Challenges for South and Southeast Asia

The scramble for control of natural resources to support economic and population growth, combined with the uncertain effects of climate change on the Tibetan Plateau, is raising tensions in Asia over Himalayan water resources.

Ten of the region’s largest and longest rivers (the Amu Darya, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween, Tarim, Yangtze, and Yellow) originate in the Himalayas. These rivers help provide water, food, and energy for nearly 4 billion people in China and across South and Southeast Asia—nearly half of the world’s population. However, depletion and diversion of these transborder resources to meet growing industrial, agricultural, and urban demands have the potential to trigger far-reaching economic, social, and environmental challenges.

The lack of comprehensive and effective regional frameworks for cooperation hinders sustainable management of these waterways. China, which controls the headwaters of these rivers, has an enormous need for Himalayan water to satisfy economic and energy demands but has little incentive to participate in formal water-sharing and water-management agreements with its neighbors. China’s dam-building and water-diversion projects are a source of major concern to the countries downstream, which often complain about Beijing’s lack of transparency and reluctance to share information. Although managing water-sharing relations with China might be the most prominent challenge, cooperation is not much easier at the middle and lower reaches of the rivers. Collaboration in South and Southeast Asia is frequently frustrated by competing national interests, economic priorities, political disputes, and weak regional organizations. In addition to the environmental impacts of man-made diversion projects and unsustainable freshwater usage, there is also inadequate cooperation on scientific research to understand and prepare for the effects of climate change on the region’s water supplies.

This Asia Policy roundtable contains seven essays that discuss the challenges and implications of water security in Asia and recommend steps that both upstream and downstream countries could take to better manage the region’s shared water resources.

Asia’s Unstable Water Tower: The Politics, Economics, and Ecology of Himalayan Water Projects
Kenneth Pomeranz

China’s Upstream Advantage in the Great Himalayan Watershed
Jennifer L. Turner, Susan Chan Shifflett, and Robert Batten

Melting the Geopolitical Ice in South Asia
Robert G. Wirsing

Himalayan Water Security: A South Asian Perspective
Tushaar Shah and Mark Giordano

Hydropower Dams on the Mekong: Old Dreams, New Dangers
Richard P. Cronin

Climate Change and Water Security in the Himalayan Region
Richard Matthew

Securing the Himalayas as the Water Tower of Asia: An Environmental Perspective
Jayanta Bandyopadhyay

Download PDF


As I have been arguing for a number of years South Asia needs to re-negotiate the Indus Water Treaty to encompass Afghainstan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan before the region starts to suffer from water insecurity and the effects of climate change. Editor

 

 

 

Sir Richard Branson supports Many Strong Voices

Sir Richard Branson supports Many Strong Voices

The work of MSV to help raise the profile of people in the Arctic and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and their struggle against climate change has gained the support of one of the world’s most influential business leaders.

Sir Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines and a champion of green energy, has offered his support to MSV, which brings together the peoples of the Arctic and SIDS to meet the challenges of climate change.

“When it comes to climate change, arctic communities and small island states share similar struggles,” Branson said. “As they feel the impacts of rising sea levels and deteriorating coastal environments, organizations like Many Strong Voices collaborate, act and innovate to achieve lasting change.

“Their critical work fills the gap between those affected by adverse climate impacts and the political and business leaders focused on creating big picture solutions.”

Branson has invested considerable time and money in supporting global initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of renewable resources and new technologies. Recently, he called on business leaders to take a stand against climate deniers.

MSV is coordinated by GRID-Arendal and the University College London. More

The Cayman Institute is a partner organization of Many Strong Voices

 

Ukraine shows uselessness of NATO nukes in Europe

Many people in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands wonder why there are still US tactical nuclear weapons on their soil. These B-61 nuclear gravity bombs were stationed in Europe during the Cold War to deter the Soviet threat, but while this may (or may not) have once made sense, most pundits nowadays agree that at least from a military point of view, the weapons are irrelevant. More

Editorial

Given the tremendous damage the we humans have already done to the Earth, our home planet, the use of nuclear weapons in a conflict would be beyond insane.

We have already gone a long way to poisoning our atmosphere, making our oceans, one of the major sources of food, so acidic that we may be at a tipping point that will wipe out the shellfish and crustaceans that compose a large part of the ocean food chain. Fish stocks are in many areas depleted leading the FAO to suggest banning commercial fishing in some areas of some oceans.

We also have to face global heating which may bring with it changing rainfall patterns, which may lead to water and food shortages. Many inhabitants of our world are already living on barely enough food and water to keep them alive. Furthermore, the planetary population is growing and heading for nine billion by mid-century. Experts are questioning whether or not we will be able to feed this many.

We have to keep in mind that we have only this small fragile planet. A planet in a backwater of our local galaxy. There are no inhabitable worlds to go to nor the transport to get there on. If we do not take care and preserve our world, which will take a global effort to accomplish, the human race may perish. Think of your children and family members,your friends and colleagues If we use nuclear weapons all will certainly perish.

Chernobyl and Fukushima and all the nuclear testing carried out by the UN's P5 have spread more than enough nuclear pollution through the planet. A nuclear conflict would seal our fate.

Pope Francis said recently, “Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death”.

As H.H. 14th Dalai Lama said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” Editor

 

 

 

Summer is Coming

Studies such as these help us gaze into the uncertain future and ask if that is what we want for our children. Most of us don’t. A few of us actually try to do something to change it. For the rest, the lag time is comforting. The complexity of non-linear feedback systems gives us an excuse to procrastinate.

Why are zombies so ubiquitous in contemporary popular culture? The HBO mini-series, Game of Thrones, supplies one theory. Unlike in the AMC series, Walking Dead, or in the film, World War Z, the undead are not coming on like a Blitzkrieg hoard. Rather, the White Walkers are building slowly, as a rumor, sometimes killing the messenger and leaving the message undelivered. “Winter is coming” is an expression that hangs in the air, deepening the sense of foreboding.

One reviewer (for The New York Times) observed that “bringing in the White Walkers might be a way to ultimately point up the pettiness of politics — which is to say, no one cares who sits on what throne once zombies start eating people.”Thrones’ first four seasons of “people slicing, stabbing, axing, poisoning, eating, crushing and moon-dooring one another in every possible context,” underscore the point — that the pettiness of politics still rules the day.

Game of Thrones resonates because outside the window is the drama of NATO expansion bumping up against retired Red Army vets in the Ukraine, the unmasking of shadow banks in the U.K. by the Financial Times and shadowing governments by Edward Snowden, or the sniper battle on the U.S. Republican right that is so entertaining to MSNBC and CNN. It is all much ado about nothing. Just North of our popular culture Wall is a climate juggernaut, building momentum.

Both scenarios — business as usual and drastic curtailment — produce a temperature and climate regime that would likely be lethal for modern civilization, if not the human race. In the Cancun round of the Committee of Parties in 2010, United Nations high level negotiators produced a general agreement — over the opposition of the USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Israel and other obstructionists — that “recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet,” 2°C was the “line in the sand” beyond which global temperatures should not be allowed to climb. In the latest three rounds— Durban, Doha and Warsaw — there has been a strong push from the science and civil sectors to reduce the target to 1.5°C to avert potentially unmanageable risks of tipping points from which no recovery would be possible. Since Warsaw last December some of these points — the inexorable slippage of ice in Antarctica and the release of methane from permafrost to name two — have tipped.

The NCA3 study is saying, essentially, we are in dangerous territory whether we stop emissions tomorrow or not. Summer temperatures in the U.S. have been rising on average 0.4 degrees F per decade since 1970, or about 0.2 C. Average summertime temperature increase has been 1°C overall, but the Southwest and West regions have borne the brunt of those increases, and temperatures have risen an average of 0.4°C, with a few localized areas warming as much as 0.6°C per decade. This is 5 times faster than the Earth as a whole warmed in the 20thcentury. North America, which lags other parts of the planet, is now in an exponential curve of accelerating change

“There are a number of findings in this report that sound an alarm bell signaling the need for action to combat the threats from climate change. For instance, the amount of rain coming down in heavy downpours and deluges across the U.S. is increasing; there’s an increase that’s already occurring in heat waves across the middle of the U.S.; and there are serious observed impacts of sea-level rise occurring in low-lying cities such as Miami, where, during high tides, certain parts of the city flood and seawater seeps up through storm drains. These are phenomena that are already having direct adverse impacts on human well-being in different parts of this country.”

Studies such as these help us gaze into the uncertain future and ask if it is really what we want for our children. Most of us don’t. A few of us actually try to do something to change it. For the rest, the lag time is comforting. The complexity of non-linear feedback systems gives us an excuse to procrastinate. More

Lebanon, Hezbollah Cut off from Iran

Juan Cole writes ‘With the alleged fall to the Islamic State of Iraq, and [in] Syria of Qa’im on Saturday, and of Talafar a few days ago, the border between Iraq and Syria has now been effectively erased.

A new country exists, stretching from the outskirts of Baghdad all the way to Aleppo.

The first thing that occurred to me on the fall of Qa’im is that Iran no longer has its land bridge to Lebanon. I suppose it could get much of the way there through Kurdish territory, but ISIS could ambush the convoys when they came into Arab Syria. Since Iran has expended a good deal of treasure and blood to keep Bashar al-Assad in power so as to maintain that land bridge, it surely will not easily accept being blocked by ISIS. Without Iranian shipments of rockets and other munitions, Lebanon’s Hizbullah would rapidly decline in importance, and south Lebanon would be open again to potential Israeli occupation. I’d say, we can expect a Shiite counter-strike to maintain the truck routes to Damascus.

He goes on to say ‘Syrian jets bombed eastern positions of ISIS near the Iraqi border, perhaps signalling a likely alliance of Damascus and Baghdad to put the Sunni radical genie back in the bottle’.

From a petro-political perspective I find myself asking the following questions;

  • What will be the reaction of Saudi Arabia with the Sunni forces in Iraq having both Damascus and Baghdad allied against them?
  • What will Iran now do to support Bashar al-Assad?
  • What will Iran do to keep their supply route to Hezbollah open?

The answer to these three questions will inform the price of oil going forward. According to Reuters Libya’s oil output has sunk back to a current 1.16 million barrels per day of oil due to disruption at fields and terminals, a senior industry source told stated on Tuesday. Iran put OPEC on notice of its plans to raise output swiftly with the help of foreign investors immediately after any lifting of sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme. Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Iran could increase oil exports by 500,000 barrels per day immediately after any lifting of sanctions. “Very quickly we can increase by half a million and after a couple of months we can increase it to 700,000 barrels per day,” he told reporters ahead of OPEC’s Wednesday meeting. He said Iran could pump 4 million bpd in less than three months after any lifting of restrictions. When sanctions may be lifted is the unknown factor.


For those of us living on Small Island Dveloping States (SIDS) and other states dependant on fossil fuel, the path towards alternative energy, i.e. solar, wind, OTEC and ocean current technologies looks more attractive with every passing day. Editor

Drought in Syria: a Major Cause of the Civil War?

Syria's devastating civil war that began in March 2011 has killed over 200,000 people, displaced at least 4.5 million, and created 3 million refugees.

Figure 1. The highest level of drought,
“Exceptional”, was affecting much of
Western Syria in April 2014, as measured
by the one-year Standardized Precipitation
Index (SPI).
Image credit: NOAA's Global Drought Portal

While the causes of the war are complex, a key contributing factor was the nation's devastating 2006 – 2011 drought, one of the worst in the nation's history, according to new research accepted for publication in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society by water resources expert Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute. The drought brought the Fertile Crescent's lowest 4-year rainfall amounts since 1940, and Syria's most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. The worst drought-affected regions were eastern Syria, northern Iraq, and Iran, the major grain-growing areas of the northern Fertile Crescent. In a press release that accompanied the release of the new paper, Dr. Gleick said that as a result of the drought, “the decrease in water availability, water mismanagement, agricultural failures, and related economic deterioration contributed to population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. These factors further contributed to urban unemployment, economic dislocations, food insecurity for more than a million people, and subsequent social unrest.”

More