Climate action: Anything new since 2007?

The bottomline is that working out how to produce and live in harmony with (i.e. within the limits of ) the planet’s ecosystems is basic risk management.

Video by wondermind42.

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We can change our DNA?

Genetics research suggests we have much more influence over our fate than we thought:

The new model, however, portrays a more fluid, dynamic genome that responds quickly, even instantly, to all that we experience, including how you think, feel, speak, and act. Every day brings new evidence that the mind-body connection reaches right down to the activities of our genes. How this activity changes in response to our life experiences is referred to as “epigenetics”. Regardless of the nature of the genes we inherit from our parents, dynamic change at this level allows us almost unlimited influence on our fate.

Found on LinkedIn: Big Idea 2014: You Will Transform Your Own Biology (co-authored by Deepak Chopra and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.)

When the basics are right simple goes furthest

This short video presents a reforestation technique based on natural regeneration but supported by local farmers. About 10 min into the video Tony Rinaudo (the person being interviewed) talks about the need to have secure use rights for the trees so people feel it is worth investing time in pruning and protecting a tree seedling in the first place.

It just shows that very simple ideas and approaches can go far provided people involved can agree on the principles by which they want to manage a shared resource.

We are not alone in the world: Lessons from traveling through Brazil

It is incredibly hard to get back to blogging after all this time, but for much of the time I did not update this blog, I have had a great excuse: I was traveling through the Northeast of Brazil and blogged about it elsewhere (that is Nanda – my wife – did most of the writing and I gave comments, helped translate to English and took photos).

In brief, the trip had a dual purpose: The main goal of Suficiente (enough in Portuguese) was to decide how we want to live our lives and to find inspiration for possible life projects. The second was to find a place where we would invest in setting this project up. I do not want to do a big summary here – our ideas and stories can all be seen and read at full length at http://suficiente.org/ – but rather share some things I learned during the trip:

Unfortunately, nature is a luxury good in many places either because too little is left or because you have to be rich to afford experiencing it.

Most coastal communities in Northeast Brazil seem to take one of two paths to tourist development. Either they go for mass tourism with lots of concrete, preferably directly on the beach, or they are going for the upper class tourists, in which case they take very good care of scenery and surroundings.

The mass model is not just plain ugly, but too small investments in waste management and water sanitation systems of these tourist towns pollute the water and soil, mangroves and forests have to give way to gated communities, resorts and high-rise buildings, and thousands of tourists trample on coral reefs and other attractions nature has to offer… in short many coastal ecosystems end up degraded or even destroyed.

The luxury model on the other hand seems to be very effective in protecting the environment, yet at another price: “Normal” tourists, who cannot afford the high price tags are effectively excluded. In other words nature’s riches are maintained for the benefit of rich tourists and the companies that enclosed the natural resources, earn a lot of money.

Both models see the local population as resources or as a disturbance, and in not too few tourist towns you will find fairly large shanty towns right next to 5-star resorts.

Yet, we have also seen attempts to build a different kind of tourism, a third way so to speak.

North of Maceió in the state of Alagoas a few small pousadas (guesthouses) offer high level services, but do so with an eye on environmental and social development of the region. They actively reach out to the local population, offer education, and participate in local environmental and social projects. With this, the group aims to develop the region as a tourist destination for all types of tourists and to give the local population economic opportunities without compromising the resources they all depend upon: the beaches and the beautiful surroundings.

In São Miguel do Gostoso (Rio Grande do Norte), local folks in their twenties and thirties are leading several NGOs to ensure that the touristic boom turns into better lives for them, their parents and children, and does not end in more poverty and drug abuse as in so many other tourist destinations.

These initiatives also show that environmental projects do not lead to any change if they are not taking into account the social context and vice versa.

Another such example is the work done in Tamandaré in Pernambuco on coral reefs. After several years of protection and research, it has become more and more difficult to convince local fishermen to stay out of the protected area, as fish stocks have recovered and promise much higher fishing returns than anywhere else (or many other activities). Recently the project team together with a few members of the local fishers’ association have created a new organization which helps fishers to exploit the riches of the marine reserve by guiding tours with boat and snorkel as well as acting as the guards for the reserve, instead of fishing. Of course this process is not without conflict and many discussions, but both parties have realized that they can only guarantee the reefs and fish stock if they deal with both protecting nature and guaranteeing the fishers’ livelihoods.

All of the people we talked to had stories to tell of how working with others has made the difference. Natureza Bela, an environmental NGO in the South of Bahia had a rather bad start but turned into a very successful and innovative organization when they established a consortium with various organizations, who are now applying for projects and funds together instead of competing. This consortium managed to set up the first certified carbon sequestration project via reforestation in Latin America.

That working together motivates, inspires and simply works better than fighting alone and against each other was also evident from all the other discussions we have had.

The biggest lesson of all is that change starts in each of us. Big projects, rules and policies may help, but ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what we need to lead a happy and fulfilled life. And maybe what we need is not the latest cellphone or a big car, but watching the moon rise or sitting together with friends.

Just as we had the chance to step back, watch and reflect on our trip through Brazil, I challenge you to do the same – not necessarily traveling, but maybe just in a bar around the corner over a beer with some friends.

Visualize the effects of climate change

Everybody is gearing up for December’s Climate Summit, COP 15, in Copenhagen starting next week. Just our governments seem to not want to deal with this reality.

A few weeks ago Google launched a site that visualizes different global warming scenarios with Google Earth:

Explore the potential impacts of climate change on our planet Earth and find out about possible solutions for adaptation and mitigation, ahead of the UN’s climate conference in Copenhagen in December COP15.

via Explore climate change in Google Earth.

What is good about collapse of our civilizations?

Interesting, yet glooming discussion about our future and whether it is worth saving industrial civilization between George Montbiot and Paul Kingsnorth.

While I generally agree with George that we have to face the issues and act, I also found myself agreeing with Paul on one point: We humans do take ourselves too serious thinking that we have the power to make or break life on earth. Rather, what we are doing is to destroy the basis for our own survival.

Civilisations live and die by their founding myths. Our myths tell us that humanity is separate from something called ‘nature’, which is a ‘resource’ for our use. They tell us there are no limits to human abilities, and that technology, science and our ineffable wisdom can fix everything. Above all, they tell us that we are in control.

I disagree with his conclusion that we should not even try to do something and can only prepare for the inevitable. Rather, I think above quote suggests that we have to find our way back into nature fast, and work with it instead of using it… and I have hope that we can before it’s too late!