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Paris and Pittsburgh, pesticides in Indonesia: When none is best

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] D [/yt_dropcap]onald Trump famously said, “I was elected to represent the people of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” when he announced the withdrawal by the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement (PCA). Pittsburgh is a city in the Rust Belt, which suffered from economic decline due to deindustrialization. It was purportedly the Rust Belt that paved Trump’s path to the presidency.

But what was the Pittsburgh mayor’s reaction? “We’re actually with Paris on this.” In fact, the majority of Rust Belt states are also. It just goes to show, climate change and global warming goes beyond politics (although pssst! For your information, Pittsburgh did vote for Clinton!).

Well, that’s the way it should be. If there’s one thing that people have in common, it is that we all live on this one fragile, precious planet.

Another thing we have in common is that we all eat. In the past 50 years, the number of people in the world has doubled, and so obviously, so has food production. Modern agriculture has relied even more on pesticides to get rid of pests and vermin which damage crops, but like anything, too much of a “good thing” can be bad.

Pesticides are for crops like chemotherapy is for cancer: in the same way that chemo kills the good cells in addition to the bad ones, pesticides tend to kill organisms that weren’t intended to be killed. Pesticides also affect the whole ecological system, leeching into the soil and water, and poisoning birds, fish and other small animals.

And the effect of pesticides on humans? An entry in Toxipedia says it has “neurological health effects such as memory loss, loss of coordination, reduced speed of response to stimuli, reduced visual ability, altered or uncontrollable mood and general behavior, and reduced motor skills.” Thanks, but no thanks!

Recently I came across a book called Krisis Pangan dan ‘Sesat Pikir’: Mengapa Masih Berlanjut? (Food Crisis and ‘Misguided Thinking”: Why does it still continue?”) published last year, which addresses a very important issue: food production in Indonesia.

Edited by Yunita T. Winarto, professor of anthropology at the University of Indonesia (U.I.), the anthology has eight chapters by six experts on topics ranging from climate, insects, marginalized farmers and, yes, pesticides.

There were two chapters on pesticides, one of them written by James J. Fox, professor emeritus from the Australian National University (ANU) and Professor Yunita from UI.

Jim, as he is usually called, is an old friend of mine from the 1980s. When I knew him then he was working among others to get rid of pesticides. He was lucky. He got help from none other than President Soeharto himself. Pak Harto issued a presidential decree (Inpres No. 3/1986) on Nov. 5, 1985 banning the use of 57 varieties of pesticides in response to a serious outbreak of brown planthopper infestation. At the time Indonesia had just achieved rice self-sufficiency – a source of great national pride.

According to Jim in his chapter, the Inpres had the immediate effect of reducing the brown critters and more. The reduction of pesticides for rice cultivation resulted in annual rice increases for 17 years from 1987 to 2002. Impressive!

As the lowest user of pesticides in any developing country, Indonesia was a shining example of effective biological control of pests for other countries. In any typical sawah (paddy field) there are 100 natural predators of threatening pests, especially of brown planthoppers who breed like rabbits.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. In 2002, there was a dramatic change in the pesticide industry. Hundreds of local companies were established relying heavily on supplies from China. Pesticides were promoted as obat (medicine) for growing crops, distributed by local agents to village kiosks throughout Java.

Stunningly, in one decade, from being one of the world’s lowest users of pesticides, Indonesia became one of the highest. Brown grasshopper infestation became endemic on Java. According to Jim and Yunita, “Twice in five years (2011 and 2014) national rice production declined because of significant crop losses on Java.”

What? Aren’t pesticides supposed to get rid of the brown planthoppers? Here’s the irony: The overuse of pesticides actually induces the population increase of planthoppers by killing their natural predators. Oh no! Then there’s also resistance: With each generation of pesticide, the planthoppers become more resistant to the pesticides.

There were also rice varieties that were resistant to brown planthoppers, but by 2011, Indonesia had none. Shifting infestations became endemic.

Jim and Yunita did a UI-ANU pesticide survey in the village of Indramayu in West Java to obtain comprehensive data on farmers’ utilization of a range of pesticides. The study is replete with scientific names of various types of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, which the farmers can’t distinguish. Given the lack of control in the form of government licensing systems, for example, the farmers are like kids in a candy shop, choosing between striking labels and the existence of “new products,” which could actually be old products with new labels. Does this sound like a familiar marketing ploy?

Other problems that the UI-ANU study identifies are spraying intensity and pesticide cocktails. The farmers believe that the more, the better, and just to be on the “safe side,” why not mix all the different products into a cocktail? Sounds yummy right? In a disastrous way.

What’s the politics behind it all? Political reformation in 1998, which led to regional autonomy. Inpres No. 3/1986 still exists and could be invoked, but it isn’t. The existence of a variety of incentive schemes from the pesticide companies certainly helped, in the same way that the 22 senators who urged Trump to withdraw from the PCA over the past five years collectively received US$10 million in campaign contributions from oil, gas and coal industries.

Rice is a “political commodity” and governments’ ability to guarantee rice production and supply earns them the people’s trust. In fact, raising the target of rice production is a main program of the Jokowi administration in 2014-2019. But the reality is that the sawah ecosystem on Java has now become very vulnerable. This trend cannot be reversed until the “misguided thinking” of the farmers and various interested parties is also reversed.

Given the recognized global dangers of pesticides, two United Nations experts have called for a comprehensive global treaty to regulate and phase out toxic pesticides. The movement for organic sustainable farming is in fact growing.

Could this be an opportunity for Indonesia to reclaim the Queen Bee status it once had for 17 years to lead this movement?

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Green Planet

Air pollution linked to “huge” reduction in intelligence

MD Staff

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Air pollution can have a “huge” negative effect on cognitive intelligence – especially amongst older men – according to a study released this past August.

The research is one of the first of its kind to focus on the links between air pollution and cognition in older people. It was undertaken by scientists at Peking University in Beijing, China and Yale University in the U.S. and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. In particular, it found that long-term exposure to air pollution may impede overall cognitive performance.

The researchers’ sample set included a panel of over 25,000 people across 162 randomly chosen counties in China. The study was also based on daily readings for three atmospheric pollutants, namely sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers (PM10) where the participants lived.

The research found that that accumulative exposure to air pollution impedes cognitive performance in verbal and math tests. It found that as people age, the negative effect becomes particularly pronounced on verbal scores, especially for men while, “the gender gap is particularly large for the less educated.” One of the reasons why the researchers suggest that older men with less education were worst affected by chronic exposure to air pollution is because those subjects often work in outdoor, manual jobs.

The scientists concluded that, “The damage on the aging brain by air pollution likely imposes substantial health and economic costs, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly for both running daily errands and making high-stake decisions.” Given this damaging effect of air pollution on cognition, particularly on the aging brain, “the study implies that the indirect effect on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought.”

“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” Yale School of Public Health’s Professor Xi Chen, one of the report’s authors, said in an interview published in The Guardian.

The study also suggests that air pollution increases the risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

“Air pollution is a significant threat to public health and this study highlights the negative effect that such pollution may have on the ageing brain,” said Soraya Smaoun, Air Quality Coordinator at UN Environment. “A better understanding of the critical links between air pollution and health for policies and investments supporting cleaner transport and power generation, as well as energy-efficient housing and municipal waste management can reduce key sources of outdoor air pollution.”

According to the World Health Organization, seven million people die each year from exposure to polluted air, both indoor and outdoor. The three biggest killers which are associated to air pollution are stroke (2.2 million deaths), heart disease (2.0 million) and lung disease and cancer (1.7 million deaths).

The World Health Organization’s air quality database shows that that 97 per cent of cities in low- and middle-income countries with more than 100,000 inhabitants do not meet air quality guidelines presently. However, the percentage is much lower in higher income countries – 40 per cent.

What is being done about air pollution?

A worldwide movement to address air pollution is gradually taking shape and growing. Breathe Life – a global campaign headed by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, the World Health Organization and UN Environment – is supporting a range of cleaner air initiatives that cover 39 cities, regions and countries, reaching over 80 million people.

Most major cities are still struggling to keep air pollution within acceptable levels as set out by the World Health Organization guidelines. However, by instituting policies and programmes to reduce transport and energy emissions, and by encouraging the use of clean energy, cities are leading change and improving the lives of a large number of people.

In 2018, the World Health Organization found that more than 57 per cent of cities in the Americas and more than 61 per cent of cities in Europe had seen a fall in both PM10 and PM2.5 particulate matter between 2010 and 2016.

The rise of renewable energy is also ideally positioned to make a big difference, with investment in new renewable sources outstripping fossil fuel investments every year.

UN Environment

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Green Planet

IPCC Report: On Our global Jihad against Cognitive mind

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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A major new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was just released in Korea on October 8 (2018). Although it is nearly 800 pages long and includes more than 6,000 scientific references, it can be summarized in few sentences:

The average global temperature is now 1.0°C above its pre-industrial levels.That increase is already causing more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, and is damaging untold number of land and sea ecosystems.

A 1.5°C increase, likely by 2040, will make things worse. A 2.0°C increase will be far worse than that. Only radical socio-economic and politico-diplomatic change can stop catastrophe. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years left for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C. Beyond that an irreversibility effect would be set in motion: even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. To avoid the most serious damage requires transforming the world economy within just a few years, said the authors, who estimate that the damage would come at a cost of a fantastic $54 trillion. This transformation goes – of course – beyond what we usually label as ‘economy’. It requires a change of entire human dynamics; moods and preference of how we extract, manufacture, distribute, consume, spend, live, travel, power all that, think of and teach about it.

Reactions are folding: “Limiting global warming to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels would be a herculean task, involving rapid, dramatic changes in the way that governments, industries and societies function” – says the Nature magazine. Science Daily predicts: “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society … With clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems, limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society”.

Ecological Footprint of ‘Here-Us-Now’ civilisation

However, for the informed and willing ones all was clear already with the Rio summit. Back then, I was quick to react: it was me being one of the very first to concept and introduce (and set as obligatory) the subject of SD (along with Environment Ethics) in the universities of Europe. Thus, for the past two decades I’ve been teaching my students that: “Currently, the amount of crops, animals and other bio matter we all extract from the earth each year exceeds what such a small planet can replace by an estimated 20% – meaning it takes almost 14,4 months to replenish what we use perannum – in consecutive 12 months – deficit spending of the worst kind.”

Lecture after lecture, generation after generation, I educated my students that: “Through pollution and global warming are legacies of products, processes and systems designed without thought to the environmental consequences, cohesion of international community along with rapid introduction of new international policies and strategies in a form of clean practices and technologies holds the solutions (e.g. promoting greater coherence between energy, research and environmental policies). Since the environmental degradation (incl. the accelerated speed of extinction of living species – loss of biodiversity) knows no borders – the SD (Sustainable Development) is a matrix of truly global dimensions.”

In the meantime, the Climate Change nihilists and paid lobbyists dominated media by accusing this sort of constructivism and predictive education as an environmental alarmism and scientific sensationalism. This is how we lost almost three decades from Rio over Johannesburg, Copenhagen, Kyoto and Paris to come to our current draw: an abyss of “only 12 years left” diagnosis.

How shall we now tackle our past optimism about the possibilities and the current pessimism about the probabilities? How to register our future claims rapidly and effectively on preservation of overall human vertical when we systematically ridiculed and dismissed every science short of quick profit (or defensive modernization), when we pauperized and disfranchised so many people of this planet  in past few decades like never before in history?

Hence, the rapid, far-reaching changes to almost every facet of society are needed to avoid catastrophic climate change, reforms far beyond anything governments are currently either doing or planning to do. Additionally, it requires complete reversion of our life styles and socio-economic fashions, passions and drives – e.g. elimination of “here-us-now” over-consumerism of everything tangible and non-tangible.

Social fractured Planet devastated by anti-intellectualism

Are we are able to mobilise our socially fractured, and anti-intellectualised globe that fast and that solid?

The world must invest $2.4 trillion in clean energy every year through 2035 and cut the use of coal-fired power to almost nothing by 2050 to avoid catastrophic damage from climate change, according to scientists convened by the United Nations. That of course includes an elimination of oil and gas from our Primary Energy Mix (PEM) as well as total eradication of the ICE-powered cars (of both diesel and petrol/ benzin). All that is required within the following decade.

What changes this new “Cambrian explosion” will cause on adaptive and non-adaptive inorganic clusters and systems of our biota, and its group dynamics? Notably, what impact it will have on the traditionally automotive-industry leaning regions, and what on aviation industry – which, at least when comes to continental Europe, could have been grounded decades ago – since even at our current technological level, the rail transportation would be cheaper faster safer than using planes? What implication does it bring to the extremely crude-exporting dependent Middle East, which is situated in a center of our planet but at the periphery of human progress? This is to name but few of numerous implications and unanswered dilemmas yet even unasked question[1].

No doubt, our crisis is real, but neither sudden nor recent. Our environmental, financial and politico-economic policies and practices have created the global stress for us and untold number of other species. Simply, our much-celebrated globalisation deprived from environmental and social concerns, as well as from a mutual and fair cooperation(instead of induced confrontation and perpetuated exclusion) caged us into the ecological globalistan and political terroristan. (Acidifying of oceans and brutalization of our human interactions are just two sides of a same coin. What is the social sphere for society that is the biosphere for the very life on earth, since what what we euphemistically call anthropogenic Climate Change is actually a brutal war against nature.)

The world based on agreed principles that – besides businesses and governments – involves all other societal stakeholders, re-captured global cohesion and commonly willing actions is not a better place. It is the only way for the human race to survive.

Deep and structural, this must be a crisis of our cognitivity. Therefore, the latest Climate Change (CC) Report is only seemingly on Climate; it is actually a behavioristic study on (the dead end of) our other ‘CC’ – competition and confrontation, instead of cooperation and (all-included) consensus. Simply, it is the Report on our continued global Jihad against cognitive mind.

  • [1] Still today, sustainability is lacking an operational definition: There is a controversy whether to consider a human-made capital combined with a natural capital (weak sustainability) or separately (strong sustainability). The central to this question is to which extend a human capital or rather technology can substitute the loss of natural resources.
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Green Planet

Accelerating Renewables Is Our Most Effective Climate Solution

MD Staff

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With the UN Climate Conference in Katowice (COP24) only weeks away, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the much-awaited Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C. In its assessment of 1.5 °C pathway scenarios, the IPCC highlights the need for a rapid energy transition based on a significant increase of renewables particularly in end-use sectors. Commenting on this, Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) today welcomed the report’s focus on the critical role of renewable energy in tackling climate change and urged the global community to accelerate its deployment.

No climate solution without renewables

“The IPCC report sends a clear signal and calls for a large-scale transformation of the global energy system. A decarbonised energy system, increasingly fueled by renewable sources, is vital to the global response to the threat of climate change”, Adnan Z. Amin said. “IRENA’s analysis shows that renewable energy and energy efficiency represent the most cost-effective pathway for achieving 90 per cent of the energy-related CO2 emission reductions needed to meet the ‘well below 2 degrees objective’ of the Paris Agreement”.

“The world of energy is witnessing rapid and disruptive changes. Renewables already account for around a quarter of global electricity generation. In the last six years, renewable power capacity additions outpaced additions from fossil fuels and nuclear power combined. However, if we are to meet our climate goals, renewables deployment must accelerate six times faster than today.”

Countries leave potential of renewables untapped

“Renewable energy allows governments to opt for significantly higher ambition levels in their climate plans, including their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement”, Adnan Z. Amin added. “Thanks to dramatic cost reductions and technology improvements, renewables are technically feasible and economically attractive. This is for instance also increasingly manifested in the energy choices of private actors. IRENA estimates that, through corporate sourcing of renewables alone, companies have already created demand the size of the electricity market of France.”

“A sustainable energy transformation will not only contribute to climate objectives. IRENA’s Roadmap to 2050 shows it will support positive social and economic outcomes, lifting millions out of energy poverty, increasing energy independence and stimulating sustainable economic growth and job creation. To fully reap the benefits of the energy transformation, we have to make sure that its welfare gains and costs are fairly distributed. We have opportunities at hand that we must rally behind by adopting strong policies, mobilising capital and driving innovation across the energy system.”, concluded Adnan Z. Amin.

IRENA’s Global Energy Transformation: A Roadmap to 2050 finds that the shift to renewable energy and energy efficiency could generate global gains of up to USD 6 trillion annually by 2050. The global economy would grow by one per cent – leading to a cumulative gain of up to USD 52 trillion by 2050. Global welfare such as health benefits from reduced air pollution and reduced climate impacts would improve by 15 per cent. This massive transformation would generate a net gain of over 11 million additional jobs in the energy sector by 2050. However, this shift requires new approaches to planning, system and market operations, regulation and public policy. As countries are working towards transitioning to a sustainable energy future, IRENA is actively supporting their efforts by providing policy, technology, and financial knowledge on renewable energy and strengthening international cooperation through the exchange of experiences and best practices.

IRENA

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