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Archive for environment

Civilisation could fail say food experts

The upcoming era of food scarcity is said to mirror the times that led to the demise of other civilisations.

 

Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third while world food prices have more than doubled.

The new geopolitics of food is said to be spreading hunger amongst poorer people while still allowing population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars in wealthier nations.

Extreme soil erosion and growing water shortages are also leading to imbalances that could ensure that food prices continue to rise, eventually leading to world hunger and the end of our social system.

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century when overproduction in agriculture was a major issue.

During that time, from 1950 to 2000, there were large grain stock carry-overs which maintained stability in world grain markets.

Countries in over-supply were able to ship the excess grain to countries which were suffering from drought or other natural disasters as a means of averting famine.

But during that time the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has seven billion.

World consumption started to exceed production from 2002, which is when the unprecedented period of world food security came to an end.

Food shortages undermined earlier civilisations.

For instance, the Mayan civilisation declined it moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable.

Like the Mayans, our lands are now being mismanaged, generating record losses of soil from erosion.

While deforestation and soil erosion defeated the Mayans, farmers are currently facing new threats such as depletion of aquifers, grain yield down-trends and rising temperatures.

Source: Pakistan New

China unveils rival GPS satellite system

BEIJING: China has launched commercial and public services across the Asia-Pacific region on its domestic satellite navigation network built to rival the US global positioning system.

The Beidou, or Compass, system started providing services to civilians in the region on Thursday and is expected to provide global coverage by 2020, state media reported.

Ran Chengqi, spokesman for the China Satellite Navigation Office, said the system’s performance was “comparable” to GPS, the China Daily said.

“Signals from Beidou can be received in countries such as Australia,” he said.

It is the latest accomplishment in space technology for China, which aims to build a space station by the end of the decade and eventually send a manned mission to the moon.

China sees the multi-billion-dollar programme as a symbol of its rising global stature, growing technical expertise, and the Communist Party’s success in turning around the fortunes of the once poverty-stricken nation.

The Beidou system comprises 16 navigation satellites and four experimental satellites, the paper said. Ran added that the system would ultimately provide global navigation, positioning and timing services.

The start of commercial services comes a year after Beidou — which literally means the Big Dipper in Chinese — began a limited positioning service for China and adjacent areas.

China began building the network in 2000 to avoid relying on GPS.

“Having a satellite navigation system is of great strategic significance,” the Global Times newspaper, which has links to the Communist Party, said in an editorial.

“China has a large market, where the Beidou system can benefit both the military and civilians,” the paper said.

“With increases in profit, the Beidou system will be able to eventually develop into a global navigation satellite system which can compete with GPS.”

In a separate report, the paper said satellite navigation was seen as one of China’s “strategic emerging industries”.

Sun Jiadong, the system’s chief engineer, told the 21st century Business Herald newspaper that as Beidou matures it will erode GPS’s current 95 percent market share in China, the Global Times said.

Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Sydney, Australia, said that making significant inroads into that dominance anywhere outside China is unlikely.

“GPS is freely available, highly accessed and is well-known and trusted by the world at large,” he told AFP. “It has brand recognition and has successfully fought off other challenges.”

Morris described any commercial benefits China gains as “icing on the cake” and that the main reason for developing Beidou is to protect its own national security given the possibility US-controlled GPS could be cut off.

“It’s that possibility, that they could be denied access to GPS, that inspires other nations to develop their own system that would be free of control by the United States,” he said.

“At a time of war you do not want to be denied” access, he said.

The Global Times editorial, while trumpeting Beidou as “not a second-class product or a carbon-copy of GPS” still appeared to recognise its limitations, at least in the early stages.

“Some problems may be found in its operation because Beidou is a new system. Chinese consumers should… show tolerance toward the Beidou system,” it said.

Source: News international

Gross national happiness in Bhutan: the big idea from a tiny state that could change the world

Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not the GDP. Now its ideas are attracting interest at the UN climate change conference in Doha

A series of hand-painted signs dot the side of the winding mountain road that runs between the airport and the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu. Instead of commands to cut speed or check mirrors, they offer the traveller a series of life-affirming mantras. “Life is a journey! Complete it!” says one, while another urges drivers to, “Let nature be your guide”. Another, standing on the edge of a perilous curve, simply says: “Inconvenience regretted.”

It’s a suitably uplifting welcome to visitors to this remote kingdom, a place of ancient monasteries, fluttering prayer flags and staggering natural beauty. Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La, largely for its determined and methodical pursuit of the most elusive of concepts – national happiness.

Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity. Now, in a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequity and wide-scale environmental destruction, this tiny Buddhist state’s approach is attracting a lot of interest.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Doha on Monday for the second week of the UN climate change conference, Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

As representatives in Doha struggle to find ways of reaching a consensus on global emissions, Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure.

At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

“It’s easy to mine the land and fish the seas and get rich,” says Thakur Singh Powdyel, Bhutan’s minister of education, who has become one of the most eloquent spokespeople for GNH. “Yet we believe you cannot have a prosperous nation in the long run that does not conserve its natural environment or take care of the wellbeing of its people, which is being borne out by what is happening to the outside world.”

Powdyel believes the world has misinterpreted Bhutan’s quest. “People always ask how can you possibly have a nation of happy people? But this is missing the point,” he says. “GNH is an aspiration, a set of guiding principles through which we are navigating our path towards a sustainable and equitable society. We believe the world needs to do the same before it is too late.”

Bhutan’s principles have been set in policy through the gross national happiness index, based on equitable social development, cultural preservation, conservation of the environment and promotion of good governance.

At a primary school in Thimphu, the headteacher, Choki Dukpa, watches her students make their way to class. She says that she has seen huge changes to the children’s emotional wellbeing since GNH principles were integrated into the education system four years ago. She admits that at first she had no idea what the government’s policy to change all education facilities into “green schools” meant.

“It sounded good but I wasn’t sure how it would work,” she says. But after Unicef funded a “green schools” teacher training programme, things improved. “The idea of being green does not just mean the environment, it is a philosophy for life,” says Dukpa.

Alongside maths and science, children are taught basic agricultural techniques and environmental protection. A new national waste management programme ensures that every piece of material used at the school is recycled.

The infusion of GNH into education has also meant daily meditation sessions and soothing traditional music replacing the clang of the school bell.

“An education doesn’t just mean getting good grades, it means preparing them to be good people,” says Dukpa. “This next generation is going to face a very scary world as their environment changes and social pressures increase. We need to prepare them for this.”

Despite its focus on national wellbeing, Bhutan faces huge challenges. It remains one of the poorest nations on the planet. A quarter of its 800,000 people survive on less than $1.25 a day, and 70% live without electricity. It is struggling with a rise in violent crime, a growing gang culture and the pressures of rises in both population and global food prices.

It also faces an increasingly uncertain future. Bhutan’s representatives at the Doha climate talks are warning that its gross national happiness model could crumble in the face of increasing environmental and social pressures and climatic change.

“The aim of staying below a global two-degree temperature increase being discussed here this week is not sufficient for us. We are a small nation, we have big challenges and we are trying our best, but we can’t save our environment on our own,” says Thinley Namgyel, who heads Bhutan’s climate change division. “Bhutan is a mountainous country, highly vulnerable to extreme weather conditions. We have a population that is highly dependent on the agricultural sector. We are banking on hydropower as the engine that will finance our development.”

In Paro, an agricultural region one hour out of the capital, Dawa Tshering explains how the weather is already causing him problems. The 53-year-old farmer grew up in Paro, surrounded by mountains and streams, but has found it increasingly difficult to work his two acres of rice paddy.

“The weather has changed a lot: there is no snow in winter, the rains come at the wrong times and our plants get ruined. There are violent storms,” he says. Around 70% of Bhutan’s people are smallholder farmers like Tshering.

“The temperature has got hotter so there are more insects in the fruit and grain. I don’t understand it, but if it continues we’re going to have many problems in growing food and feeding ourselves.”

Bhutan is taking action to try to protect itself. Ground-breaking work is being done to try to reduce the flooding potential in its remote glacial lakes. Yet it cannot do it alone. Last week in Doha, campaigners pushed for more support to countries such as Bhutan that are acutely vulnerable to climate change.

“While the world is now starting to look to Bhutan as an alternative model of sustainable economics, all of its efforts could be undone if the world doesn’t take action in Doha,” says Stephen Pattison from Unicef UK.

“Small and developing countries like Bhutan must get more support, and the UK and other governments must start actually taking action, like pledging their share of money to the green climate fund and get it up and running as soon as possible.”

In Paro, teenagers in school uniform heading home from lessons are well aware of the hard times ahead for Bhutan as it tries to navigate a path between preserving its sustainable agenda and the global realities it faces. All say they are proud to be Bhutanese. They want to be forest rangers, environmental scientists and doctors. At the same time they want to travel the world, listen to Korean pop music and watch Rambo.

“I want to be able to go out and see the world but then I want to come home to Bhutan and for it to be the same,” says Kunzang Jamso, a 15-year-old whose traditional dress is offset with a hint of a boyband haircut. “I think we must keep the outside from coming here too much because we might lose our culture, and if you don’t have that then how do you know who you are?”

Source: Guardian News

UK education comes sixth in global league table

Countries which do best have a culture which supports education, says report

The UK education system is ranked sixth best in the developed world, according to a new global league table.

Finland and South Korea top the new league table, followed by Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

The global study, carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) for education firm Pearson, used data from international tests, as well as data on school literacy and university graduation rates to draw up the index.

UK education has come sixth in the world

The UK was found to have the second best education system in Europe, ahead of countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Germany which were ranked 9th, 12th and 15th respectively.

The research is designed to help policymakers, school leaders and academics identify the key factors which drive improved educational outcomes.

For educational attainment, based on literacy and graduation rates from schools and colleges, the UK is second only to South Korea, while Finland, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan were ranked highly in the cognitive ability category based on international tests in maths, reading and science.

While investing in education “undoubtedly reaps rewards”, the report – called the Learning Curve – suggested that a culture of support for education is probably more important. It also added that there was no substitute for high quality teaching. “The best performing countries attract top talent, train teachers throughout their careers and allow them freedom too” the report stated.

Denis McCauley, executive editor, business research at the Economist Intelligence Unit said: “We hope our study serves as a catalyst for further collaborative efforts by academics, practitioners and policymakers to deepen our knowledge about what contributes to better education performance and outcomes.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said: “This is great news for all those working in schools and colleges. The study by Pearson concludes that having a culture that is supportive of learning is vitally important to educational success.”

Learning Curve top 20 countries for education

  • Finland
  • South Korea
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • Singapore
  • UK
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland
  • Canada
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Australia
  • Poland
  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • Russia

Source: Guardian News