Posts Tagged ‘Conservation’

Chimpanzees catch human viruses

June 21, 2008

Researchers in Tanzania have confirmed that chimpanzees are catching human viruses. Virginia Tech’s Dr. Taranjit Kaur and researchers from the US Center of Disease Control and from Japan are working together to determine how harmful the human viruses are to chimps, and to figure out how the viruses are transmitted to them.

The researchers increasingly suspect that human scientists and eco-tourists are the source of the respiratory viruses found in chimpanzees. If this suspicion is borne out in research, it could be disastrous for those African countries whose economies depend increasingly on eco-tourism. This would also be very bad news for the chimps, as their protection also depends on the income from eco-tourism.

Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. They share some 96% of our genome, many of our facial expressions, and transmission of culture from one generation to the next. Sadly, it looks as though their very kindred with us is threatening to undo them.


Biofuels argument stalls UN food action

June 5, 2008

I found this article from BBC News pretty interesting. The UN is currently working on a resolution to counter rising food prices, and Latin American is holding out because of its language regarding biofuels. Brazil produces ethanol from sugarcane, and is one of the leading producers of biofuels in the world. Delegates from the region are apparently worried that the resolution will add to the “demonising” of biofuels.

Here’s the offending passage from the resolution, as quoted in the article:

It is essential to address the challenges and opportunities posed by biofuels, in view of the world’s food security, energy and sustainable development needs.

Seems spot on to me. Simple economics dictates that biofuels will drive up food prices. Land that might be used for producing food gets converted to producing biofuels, reducing the amount of food produced in total. The supply goes down, and the demand remains the same. Add to this the fact that a lot of fossil fuels are burned in the production and distribution of biofuels, and I for one begin to wonder exactly how they alleviate any problems.

Would Brazil lose any export income if it went back to producing sugarcane for food? I don’t know. Biofuels seem to me to be nothing more than a way for politicians and governments to look like their doing something about climate change and the energy crisis, when in fact it’s more of a hindrance than a help.

It’s worse than I thought

April 30, 2008

As promised, here’s a post on Orangutan Outreach, which director Richard Zimmerman pointed out to me in a comment to an earlier post.

The primary purpose of Orangutan Outreach is to preserve orangutans in their native habitat, and to rehabilitate orangutans held captive illegally. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that is why I refer the reader to their website.

If I’ve read correctly, the main threat to orangutan survival is posed by palm oil production. Palm oil is an ingredient of dozens of household products, as well as the basis for certain biofuels. The production of palm oil has lead to deforestation on a breathtaking scale in many countries, the displacement of millions of people, and the threat of extinction of orangutans, probably among others. The Orangutan Outreach page has information on what everyone can do to reduce this threat.

The page has a staggering wealth of information, pretty much all of which on topics I had never heard of. As I read over it, I began to reflect that, in this day and age, there is no excuse for this kind of ignorance. The continued existence of humanity is under threat from dozens of directions. All these issues can be remedied if action is taken, and all stem in some way from human activity. Further, information on all of these problems is freely available online.

I can easily think of one reason why ignorance of these issues persists. Reading about a small subset of these issues, for instance, has filled me with paralyzing fear. What can one person do in the face of all this? The answer is simple: one can do what one is capable of doing. If we all did that much, ensuring a bright future for humanity would be simple.

That’s enough confused babbling for today. Everybody head on over to Orangutan Outreach right now!

The truth behind biofuels

April 30, 2008

Richard Zimmerman, director of Orangutan Outreach, left a comment on yesterday’s post about the fishing orangutan. I followed the link to the program’s webpage, with the full intention of writing a post about it, when I was sidetracked by a rather horrifying article.

We’ve all heard President Bush’s praise for biodiesel and other biofuels. It may be that rather fewer of us, however, have heard of the major problems with them. A recent study showed, for example, that piofuel production actually hastens the buildup of greenhouse gases. This study was conducted by Nature Conservancy, and was published in the journal Science.

Further, top scientists with an international research consortium have urged that biofuel production be halted. They conclude that biofuel production reduces food availability and increases food prices. Read this article, and the others above, if you want more evidence of President Bush’s penchant for ignoring science.

The article on the Orangutan Outreach website that started this derailment describes a report presented to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The report states that millions of indigenous tribal peoples have been displaced from their land in the production of biofuel crops, including palm oil, sugar cane, corn, soy, mantioc and jatropha. It seems that in many countries, when plans are made to begin a new plantation, any indigenous inhabitants of the land are simply evicted.

This is another nail in the biofuel coffin. Isn’t it time it were buried?