Trees Trap Environmental Particulate Matter

Everyone knows that trees help clean the air by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen – but it appears that they are able to do more than that. A recent study has shown that silver birch trees can absorb as much as 50% of the particulate matter generated by automobiles. This comes from lead author Barbara Maher from the University of Lancaster and has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Automobiles generate a lot of particulate matter (PM) in the form of exhaust, brake pad dust, and general metallic road dust. These particles, which can be solid or liquid, are kicked up into the air. This PM has already been linked to respiratory problems like asthma and lung disease, and those who live in urban settings are at an increased risk for these diseases due to heavier and more frequent exposure. Because the bits are so small, they are easily inhaled and become embedded in respiratory tissue.

The study sought to understand how trees control pollution, so that landscapers can get the most out of both form and function of the trees. The researchers used silver birch trees, which are found throughout Europe and in southwest Asia. It is important to note that not all trees have the same ability to collect PM.

The study was carried out on one city block and PM content was determined based on dust samples taken from each of the eight homes participating in the experiment. This was done to determine how much PM was being inhaled by the families on the street. After initial samples were taken, the streets were then lined with silver birch trees in front of four of the homes, effectively creating a barrier between the home and the streets full of cars. A moist towelette was used to collect dust samples from the television screen, while a PM detector scanned the air every ten minutes. At the end of the nearly two-week-long trial, the research team noticed that the houses with a birch tree screen had over a 50% decrease in metallic PM compared to the homes that did not.

The team then needed to find out how the trees were able to filter out PM so efficiently. After examining leaves with a scanning electron microscope, they discovered that tiny hair-like structures were responsible for removing the particulates from the air.

Large amounts of further study are needed to see how readily the leaves filter the PM, if it has any adverse affect on the trees, and if the PM will actually stay trapped on the leaves or if it will shake out heavy PM to be blown on houses downwind.

‘The Sixth Extinction’ Looks at Human Impact on the Environment

When Elizabeth Kolbert joined The New Yorker in 1999, after more than a decade covering New York politics as a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, she began gravitating to environmental issues. “The magazine has a history in this area,” she told me in one of two recent conversations. “They’d published Rachel Carson. It was unoccupied ter11CONV-master675ritory at the time.”

This week Ms. Kolbert, 52, published her second major book on the environment, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” (Henry Holt), which asks science-based questions about whether humans might be causing mass extinction. (Her first, “Field Notes From a Catastrophe,” was about climate change.)

What follows is an edited and condensed version of our conversations.

Q. How does a journalist take on a topic this big — mass extinction?

A. I wrote a book almost 10 years ago on climate change, and I was looking for the next project. And my thought was, “Climate change is a huge story — there can’t be a bigger one.” As I looked for a new book, what I kept bumping into was the reality that climate change was actually part of an even bigger phenomenon: the many ways humans are changing the planet.

It’s not something we’re doing because our species is greedy or evil. It’s happening because humans are human. Many of the qualities that made us successful — we are smart, creative, mobile, cooperative — can be destructive to the natural world.

When we use fossil fuels, we are reversing geological history by taking organisms that were buried millions of years ago and pumping their carbon back into the atmosphere at a very fast rate. If I go to Antarctica, an organism I bring on my shoe could be devastating to a life form that has evolved there without any defense against it.

Humans have sped up the rate by which we change the world, while the rate at which evolution adapts is much slower. There’s a mismatch between what we can do and what nature can sustain.

Why do you say this could lead to an extinction event?

It’s not what I say. It’s what many respected scientists are writing. If you read the scientific literature, you see frequent allusions to a current mass extinction event.

So in my book, I take the readers to places where signs of this are visible. We go to the Great Barrier Reef. Coral reefs may well be the first entire ecosystem that fails because of human impacts, mainly acidifying the oceans and changes in the water temperatures.

We also go to the Amazon, which is being cut down and divided. There you see how fragmenting the landscape impacts what lives in the forest. We go to the Andes, which are warming up very quickly. I go with scientists tracking plants as they seed themselves and grow at higher elevations. We see species that were not at this elevation a decade ago, moving upslope to keep up with change.

How much do we know about past extinctions, events that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago?

Some of the events we know little about. In the last 500 million years, there have been five major extinction events. The third, about 250 million years ago, was the worst. Approximately 90 percent of species disappeared. The theory on the third and its lessons are very relevant to us now.

It was caused by a massive volcanic eruption which went on quite a long time and released a lot of carbon dioxide. It caused tremendous global warming and the acidification of the oceans on a very dramatic scale.

The fifth extinction, the one that did in the dinosaurs, was caused by an asteroid. Interestingly, today, you hear knowledgeable scientists say, “We are the asteroid.”

Did you find writing about extinction depressing?

I’ve tried to transcend my own feelings. Yes, it’s depressing, but you have to look it in the face. That’s true of a lot of topics. People say, “Don’t look at the photographs from Syria; they are too depressing.” But it’s required that we overcome those barriers.

The other side of it was that in writing a book about extinction, I went to some of the most amazing places on Earth. I walked across the Great Barrier Reef at night!

I went snorkeling in the Bay of Naples, where Jason Hall-Spencer was looking at an unusual natural experiment: The water in one specific place is naturally acidified because of volcanic vents that spew out CO2. In a very concentrated area, you can see what the normal Mediterranean looks like: vivid and full of life. But by the vents, you see what the acidified ocean of the future might look like: an underwater moonscape. Very little could live there.

Now, I had an absolutely great time going into the field. I always came home and said, “That was incredibly interesting.” It wasn’t like I came home and curled into a little ball.

You profile Kinohi, a Hawaiian crow in the San Diego zoo. Why him?

He’s one of about 100 of his kind left. Kinohi is being kept there so that his sperm can be collected by a very, very devoted specialist. She spends a lot of time stroking him and trying to get him to ejaculate.

Spending time with them showed me the amazing lengths people are willing to go through to preserve species. That’s the other side of the extinction story. With Kinohi, one felt the shadow of his impending death — he’s very old in bird years — and that of his species.

Extinction hangs over the whole enterprise. His tissue will be frozen when he dies, and they will take a cell line from him. And they will keep those cells alive. So there you have people being ingenious and devoted, and meanwhile all these things are going on that are having these tragic effects. His story brought together a lot of the strands of our relationships to other species.

You posit that if there is a sixth extinction, it won’t be cockroaches who inherit the planet, as many New Yorkers predict, but rats. Why rats?

My guess is that the roaches will do fine. This is the conjecture of one of the key characters in the book, Jan Zalasiewicz. He’s a British geologist, who has imagined the planet of the future and has wondered who will survive. He thinks rats have gone with people everywhere and done very well in the new places. They eat everything, and they reproduce like crazy. His provocative idea is that one of our human legacies is going to be rats everywhere, including on islands and places where they weren’t before, and that they’ll change in size, get bigger.

He jokingly speculates that rats will eventually evolve to make tools, live in caves and sit around in the skin of other mammals — just like a certain primate we know about.


Bill Gates Admits To Chemtrails


Bill Gates backs climate scientists lobbying for large-scale geoengineering ( Chemtrails )

Geo-engineers are finally coming out of the “chemtrail” closet, as reports are now emerging about deliberate plans in the works to dump untold tons of sulfate chemicals into the atmosphere for the purported purpose of fighting so-called “global warming.”

The U.K.’s Guardian and others are reporting that a multi-million dollar research fund, which just so happens to have been started and funded by Microsoft founder and vaccine enthusiast Bill Gates, is being used to fund the project. A large balloon hovering at 80,000 feet over Fort Sumner, New Mexico, will release the sulfates into the atmosphere within the next year.

The stated purpose for this massive release of toxic sulfate particles is that doing so will allegedly reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere, and thus cool the planet. But many environmental groups and advocates of common sense are decrying the idea as dangerous, and one that could result in permanent damage to ecosystems all across the globe.

“Impacts include the potential for further damage to the ozone layer, and disruption of rainfall, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions, potentially threatening the food supplies of billions of people,” said Pat Mooney, Executive Director of the ETC Group, a Canadian environmental protection group.

“It will do nothing to decrease levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere or halt ocean acidification. And solar geo-engineering is likely to increase the risk of climate-related international conflict, given that the modeling to date shows it poses greater risks to the global south.”

But the Gates-backed cohort is persistent in its efforts to geo-graffiti the world, as its scientists insist that governments are not doing enough to fight back against the supposed environment impacts of global warming. If governments refuse to implement high enough carbon taxes to eliminate greenhouse gases, in other words, then Gates and Co. believes it has no choice but to “save the planet” by polluting it with sulfate particles.


Spraying the skies with sulfate particles will destroy the planet faster than ‘global warming’ ever could

Sulfate particles are toxic, though, and constitute the very same type of ambient particulate matter (PM) that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers to be a noxious air pollutant. Deliberately spraying the skies with tiny particles composed of any material, for that matter, is hazardous both to respiratory health in humans and animals, as well as to water sources, soils, and other delicate environmental resources.

“Sulfate particles from acid rain can cause harm to the health of marine life in the rivers and lakes it contaminates, and can result in mortality,” says an online water pollution guide ( A University of Washington (UW) report also explains that sulfate particles “contribute to acid rain, cause lung irritation, and have been a main culprit in causing the haze that obscures a clear view of the Grand Canyon.”

Blocking the sun with reflective particles will also deprive humans of natural sunlight exposure, which is a primary source for naturally generating health-promoting vitamin D in the body. So once again, Bill Gates is at the helms of a project that seeks to control the climate in artificial ways using toxic chemicals, an endeavor that is sure to create all sorts of potentially irreversible problems for humanity and the planet.




Green Growth as a Driver for Reducing Poverty Gap

Senior University Photographer

Bangladesh was a land of farmers and fisherman tending and caring for the very resources that brought meal in their plates. The abundance of ecological resource and biodiversity that we had in the past, indicates that the agro-economy of Bangladesh was much ‘greener’ economy than it’s now.  The word ‘green economy’ might sound a bit misleading to those who relates with this word with a big smiling photo of planting sapling in corporate events and annual reports. In actuality, the UNEP has established a nice definition for the word ‘green economy’ they defined it as “improved well- being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and scarcities”. In the past, Bangladeshi might not have seen as much human well-being in terms of improvement in socio-economic indicators, but the income inequality was surely much lower than it is now and the difference in life standards was not as vividly different as it is now.

The relaxed environmental regulatory regime of Bangladesh has attracted many local and foreign manufacturing units to set up factories in Bangladesh as a pollution haven. The lax environmental standards has stimulated mushrooming of  highly polluting industries that are freely disposing off toxic effluents in our rivers and wetlands. Within the last two decades vast acres of forest, wetland and lakes have disappeared from the map of Bangladesh at the face of the rapid urbanization and industrialization. Bangladesh was endowed with abundance of natural capital and these natural capitals have been harnessed by our forefathers for sustenance over the past generations.   The stock of natural capital such as river water quality, soil fertility and biodiversity that had provided the supporting condition for farming and fishing. The destruction of the natural capital forced the poor farmers and fisherman to change their profession to work in the industrial or real-estate sector. The wage rate in these sectors hardly matches with the market prices thus in most cases the farmers and fisherman became worse-off, because earlier they used to have surplus after consumption from their farm yield and could sell off those surplus in the market  for other  social well being goods such as better clothes or child education. But the value of the wage is much lower than the yield from farm or river and due to rising inflation and stagnant wage rates, most workers now can  hardly can manage two meals a day. And it’s to be noted that still 50% of the labor force are in the agricultural sector, so the wage rate is unlikely to catch up with the rising inflation rate because more farmers and fisherman are likely to lose their lands and fishing area because of pollution and the excessive supply of labor will keep pushing real wage down. Hence the current growth model will yield more poor in the near term and will presistently  widen the poverty gap  .

Majority of the business community in Bangladesh deliriously fear the notion of ‘environmental concerns’ or ‘environmental standards’ as existential threat. The myopic vision of most business leaders in Bangladesh creates smoke-screen on the real existential threat, that have the potential to wrap them out of business earlier than estimated. The raw materials of manufacturing firms are derived from some form of natural resources and produced by burning some form of energy, the destruction of the natural capital is raising the price of the natural resources (the shadow price we discussed in the earlier post) which are used for production and  if the firms starts to import all their nature produced raw material from imports, it is going to  make them noncompetitive in the international market. Moreover, the international legislation regarding environmental pollution are becoming more strict in curtailing in toxic gases, such legislation are going to make international trade much more expensive and cumbersome.  On the other hand,  adopting ‘green technology’ through investing in a new technology such as establishing a more resource efficient and low power consuming technology will not only help avert expensive legislative implication but also reduce the variable cost of production that have higher profit potential in the long haul.  Moreover, the resultant improvements in the natural capital will steadily push back labor to the agricultural sector and help raise the wage rate in the industrial sector through stemming the excessive supply of labor. Moreover, the food production is also likely to increase due to improvement in soil yield, driving down food inflation, which is going to further improve the real wage rates (higher value of wage compared to goods). However, the case for a green growth still seen as anti-growth considering the material growth that Bangladesh has achieved irrespective of the low inclusiveness of that growth. The rising poverty gap does not concern the government because it’s the rich that fills the pocket of the government and a greater poor vulnerable population is a strong exploitative vote bank for the politicians.

In such circumstances the pressure groups in Bangladesh cannot remain content with sparse street protests and seminars. But,  a process of more active, strategic and continuing  on-violent civil disobedience is the call of the day. In addition, a strong environment knowledge movement in every sphere of the society is a must, because without the general awakening of the society, it’s not possible to bend the political will. For executing such pervasive knowledge movement we need environmental leaders in every community, school, college and universities. The Earth Champions Programs (ECP) of BYEI is a stepping stone towards that process because it aims at creating a pool of community and high school environmental leaders. And we hope that one day that our general citizens will be part of this to create a wider movement and start welcoming ‘green growth’ as the way forth towards positive development of Bangladesh.

Ridwan is a dreamer and a passionate environment activist. He loves cycling, running and playing cricket in his leisure time. He has worked as General Secretary of BYEI and currently doing his masters at Norwegian School of Economics.

Shadow Prices of Environmental Unsustainability in Bangladesh

Photo: Ferdousi Begum

Photo: Ferdousi Begum

In our elementary economics class we had learnt that in a market economy, prices must express scarcity of resources to guarantee efficient allocation of resources. The economist’s syndrome of obsessively searching for an intersection point to determine prices does not seem to apply for some goods, because some goods do not have a price although their availability is not unlimited in amount. For most of us, probably even for the policy makers in Bangladesh, the availability of fresh water, air and land quality is almost considered as inexhaustible goods and thus free. A common characteristic of Bengalis is that we are big lovers of free goods even if its coal tars (alkatra in Bengali). But it seems that our western friends are bigger fan of free goodies than us, this is the reason they have shifted their toxic industries such as ship wreaking, dying and leather processing units to Bangladesh. There has been awareness campaigns, blog posts, news articles and mass protest against such polluting industries in Bangladesh, but all this went to deaf ears, there are two reason why such polluting industries operates with such impunity, first the regulators are in their side instead of against them and second there are no market based instruments to allocate price of environmental goods. The idea of allocating cost for environmental goods is a difficult one and the common proposition of internalizing by means of Pigouvian taxes have not been possible in Bangladesh.The Pigovian taxes in simple terms mean that polluter must compensate the damage of pollution by equally proportionate monetary means to the regulatory authority. The Pigouvian taxes looks good as text book solution to our problems but the uncertainty regarding the scope of the damages and damage cost makes it an untenable solution to our problems. However, it might be difficult to calculate the actual damage cost but it won’t be too difficult to estimate the chemical composition that minimizes the damage at least to biologically sustainable level, so then we might be able to set a cap on toxic gases such as sulphur, phosphorus and carbon dioxide according to the biological sustainability constraint. And to make this a market based instrument we can make the emission certificates as tradable like the emission trading system in Europe. The notion of emission trading system is quite simple say for example that each tannery company has cap of 500g of sulphur dioxide emission per year, for the tannery factory which has clean and efficient production technology it can cost effectively meet its target with ‘surplus’but for the highly polluting factories meeting the target will be an impossibility and say if the fines are substantial enough, it might also force the highly polluting companies out of business. The emission trading certificate allows such high polluting company to buy the surplus emission certificate at an auctioned price from the market, thus allowing its production until it shifts its technology of production.

For developing countries like Bangladesh such market based instrument to reduce externalities is considered as counter intuitive to economic growth, given that we have improved economic and social indicators substantially with our dirty but cheap technological setting, it’s almost assumed that we have inexhaustible resources to continue this growth in the future. But the fact is that our resources are not inexhaustible, we have already reached the limit to polluting our rivers, our water table is declining, our land quality is degrading and the toxicity of our air is reaching threshold limits.It won’t be difficult for us to calculate the shadow prices of such unsustainable growth, if we try to optimize our economic growth and hold the biologically sustainable limits to pollution as constraints, the shadow price is the price imposed on us for violating each unit of the constraint.

However, such monetary unit does not take into account of the massive death tolls that are taking place due to our environmental unsustainability. In the surrounding areas of Burigonga River, the ship wrecking and dyeing industries are severely choked with fatal chemical and in a recent study it was found that the average life expectancy of a tannery worker is less than 40 years.  Most of the residents living near the vicinity  of the toxic industries suffer from carcinogenic liver, kidney and skin a disease which frequently proves to be fatal. In my reckoning these are Industry sponsored‘genocide’ and it’s perpetrated on the behest of a fairytale economic growth prospect.  I think it is our nationalistic responsibility to call for justice against such genocide and integrate into national policy making to make transition from a dirty to clean economic growth model. It can be argued that a clean economic growth model promotes greater employment and steady sustainable economic growth rather than fast pace destructive economic growth. In my next post I will argue regarding inequality factors of current economic growth model compared to green economic model, until then Ciao and Happy New Year.


Syed MuntasirRidwan

Ridwan is a dreamer and a passionate environment activist. He loves cycling, running and playing cricket in his leisure time. He has worked as General Secretary of BYEI and currently doing his masters at Norwegian School of Economics.

Grave Yards

By Srestha Banerjee

Photo by Srestha Banerjee

A visit to Sitakunda, the ship-breaking hub of Bangladesh, does not give an impression that only a few years ago the apex court of the country had intervened to clean up the hazardous industry following years of campaign by environmental and human rights groups.

The coastal strip in Chittagong division remains littered with scrap metals stained with toxic oil and chemicals; some of the chemicals are carcinogenic. Stories of accidents and deaths at ship-breaking yards are frequent, but only a few get reported (see ‘Harbour of…’). “Last year, 22 workers died while dismantling ships,” informs Muhammad Sahin, senior programme manager of non-profit Young Power in Social Action (YPSA). “This year till July, seven have died and hundreds have been injured,” he adds.

Ship importing and breaking activities are on a rise, says Rizwana Hasan, director of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA). The non-profit was instrumental in the supreme court intervention. In 2009, when the supreme court passed its landmark judgement and directed the environment ministry to immediately take steps to ensure closure of ship-breaking yards that do not follow environmental norms, at least 60 yards were dismantling the great hulks, making the industry the second largest in the world. Thirty-six of them were operating without clearances, according to an affidavit submitted by the ministry in the court. The court lifted the ban two-and-a-half years ago. “Now there are nearly 150 yards. About 70 of them are operational,” says Sahin.

Officials with the Department of Environment (DoE) say all operational ship-breaking yards have necessery permits but refuse to divulge the number of the total or operational yards in the country.

Activists refute the officials’ claim. “The administration has legalised illegal ship-breaking yards by giving them permits. These yards fulfil only 10 per cent of the conditions outlined in the environmental clearances,” Hasan alleges.

The court order had brought a temporary halt to illegal activities in ship-breaking yards, says Taslima Rahman of BELA. “But in March 2011 the court relaxed the order, which has allowed the industry to continue its business-as-usual practices,” she alleges.

When the supreme court lifted the ban in March 2011, it asked the government to frame rules on ship-breaking and recyclining within two months. The government followed the order and drafted the Ship Breaking and Ship Recycling (SBSR) Rules by May that year. But the rules have not moved beyond the stage of drafting. When asked about the delay, Habibur Rahman, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Shipping, told Down To Earth that the SBSR rules “are undergoing a process of review by several departments”.

Industry lobby at work

Activists allege that the ship-breaking industry is lobbying hard to delay implementation of the SBSR rules.

In fact, it is said that in 2011 the supreme court relaxed its closure order on erring ship-breaking yards under pressure from the industry.

The ban order had hit the flourishing industry hard. The Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association had contested the ban, saying it will have a knock-on effect on the economy. About 30,000 of the country’s poorest are engaged in dismantling of ships at these yards. Another 400,000 indirectly depend on these yards, like truckers and scrap sellers, or work with allied industries such as rolling mills. Most of them have migrated to Sitakunda in search of work at ship-breaking or related units. The ship breakers association also argued that the ban would cause domestic steel prices to skyrocket because ship scraps meet more than 50 per cent of the country’s steel requirement. More than 350 rolling mills use these scraps as raw materials, according to the Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in Dhaka.

Since the supreme court lifted its closure order, ship breakers have been keeping ship-breaking activities behind closed doors. This Down To Earth correspondent tried to enter a ship-breaking yard to find out the working conditions, but was firmly denied. “The industry has become cautious now,” says Mohammad Idris, who has been working at the yards since he was 10 and has had close encounters with death several times while dismantling ships.

Hope in draft rules

The draft rules outline environmental and occupational safety measures that should be undertaken by ship recyclers, and impose penalty on defaulters. In case of accidents, ship-recyclers must report in writing to the police as well as to the Ship Breaking and Ship Recycling Board (SBSRB) under the Ministry of Industries. In case of major accidents, the yards can remain suspended for inspection for seven days. The rules also specify the responsibility of the authorities in issuing various permits required for ship-breaking.

Officials at DoE say at present ship-breaking industry is treated like any other industry and ship breakers have to apply for permits only from DoE and the Ministry of Shipping. “Under the draft rules, a ship-recycler will have to seek no-objection certificates from a host of authorities, including SBSRB, Customs Department and the Department of Explosives. Both DoE and SBSRB will be required to examine the ship for hazardous wastes,” says Mohammad Shahjahan, director of DoE.

Sitakunda’s long beaches and perfect slopes make ship beaching easy. This makes the coastal strip a perfect zone for setting up ship-breaking yards. “Rampant illegal activities in the yards are earning it a bad name,” admits Zafar Alam, director of the Chittagong DoE. He hopes the rules will help make the industry hazard free and lucrative.

Harbour of a hazardous industry

Mohammad Murad lost a leg while working at a ship-breaking yardMohammad Murad lost a leg while working at a ship-breaking yardLax environmental and occupational health regulations make ship-breaking a lucrative business in Bangladesh. Cheap labour force, willing to work despite dangerous conditions, helps it flourish.

Accidents and deaths are common, says 42-year-old Mohammad Murad. He lost his leg while working in a ship-breaking yard in 2009. His employer Kabir Steel Yard gave him nothing to compensate for the loss, he says. Yet, Murad thinks he is more fortunate than many others. Most often, accidents and deaths go unreported. “Many a time, bodies of workers are simply dumped into the Bay of Bengal,” says Taslima Rahman of non-profit Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (BELA).

A 2010 World Bank analysis states, 25 per cent of the accidents and deaths occur when heavy metal plates fall on workers from the upper decks of the ship. Fire explosion in oil tankers cause 50 per cent of the accidents and deaths. “Judicial mandates require a ship to be cleaned of dangerous chemicals before it is dismantled. But tests done to ensure this are merely obligatory,” says Taslima Rahman of BELA.

imageSource: Report ‘National Programme of Action for Protection of Coastal and Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, 2006’ by the Department of Environment, Ministry of Environment and ForestsOccupational safety is not the only concern for the workers and those living in the coastal area. A research by University of Chittagong in 2006 shows that polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, asbestos, lead, chromium, mercury and oil are released when ships are dismantled, have polluted the water and soil of coastal Chittagong (see ‘Toxic water’). Oil kills marine organisms, while chromium and lead in paint and batteries cause skin diseases, problems in the gastrointestinal tract, liver, and damage the brain and kidney. Mercury in lights, fire detectors and tank-level indicators can lead to mental retardation, disorder of the nervous system, and delayed neurological and physical development. However, there is little study to show the impact of pollution on the health of Sitakunda residents.



The article is re-published with permission from the author.

Bangladesh’s Climate & Food Challenges

When it comes to climate change vulnerability, it sometimes seems as if all eyes are on Bangladesh. As part of Jacob Glass’s research for a recent article exploring the rise of aquaculture in the country, he interviewed Saleemul Huq, senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, former executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies, and lead author of two chapters on adaptation and sustainable development in the IPCC’s third and fourth assessment reports. A number of his quotes made it into the final story but Jacob wanted to provide the full transcript here as well, as his thoughts on the country’s climate-related risks, food security, and population dynamics are worth a read.

What have been the observable effects of climate change in Bangladesh?

Bangladesh has a lot of problems with salinity intrusion in the coastal areas. It has drought in the northwestern part of the country; it has floods in the central part; it suffers from cyclones; and is a rapidly urbanizing country. It’s difficult to say these are definitely happening because of climate change, but one can say that they will be exacerbated by climate change. It is early days yet, and most of the climatic impacts are in the future, rather than at the moment.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and yet relies heavily on subsistence agriculture. How has food production kept up with the growing population thus far?

The challenge is growing enough food for people to eat. Bangladesh is now celebrating its 42nd birthday as a country. In those 42 years, the population has doubled from 75 million to over 150 million.

We have fed all those people for that entire length of time. Agricultural production, particularly of rice, has grown ahead of the population in Bangladesh. This can be ascribed to our farms, to our agricultural scientists, and to the green revolution in terms of the varieties of high yielding rice that have been produced.

There have been a lot of modifications made to the rice varieties to make them more resistant and able to be used more effectively following floods, droughts, or salinity changes. Our research scientists have also developed short-duration rice strains so that if farms are flooded, they can be replanted and still produce a crop.

Do you think food diversification makes Bangladesh more resilient to environmental changes?

Absolutely. The basic strategy on food has to be diversification. Agricultural diversification is one strategy for becoming more resilient, so you don’t put all your eggs in one basket with one simple crop. A transition from a dependence on rice to more fish is needed. Fish is an important source of protein and commercial employment for people, and that is growing very, very fast.

How does aquaculture factor into Bangladesh’s production of food? What is the nature of the growing aquaculture sector?

From a nutritional aspect, fish has become a significant source of protein for the diet of almost all Bangladeshis.

First, there is the coastal belt where shrimp farming is occurring. This generally tends to be large-scale, commercial production for export. The growing of shrimp in saline conditions has become an adaptation to the condition of salinity in those areas, and has become a significant export market for the country. It has generated export earnings and employment.

The second success story is just simple freshwater aquaculture in ponds, mostly on homesteads. These are mostly small-scale operations, where people have acquired knowledge and technology for getting fingerlings [baby fish], growing fingerlings, and then selling them in the market. This has grown very fast. Bangladesh used to eat much more open-water fish from the rivers. Now we eat much more aquaculture-grown fish from the ponds.


What are some of the negative aspects related to the expansion of coastal belt, commercial-scale shrimp farms?


The main negative aspect is that in order to grow shrimp, they actually have to allow saltwater to come in. So it comes inside the shrimp farm, but it also affects the surrounding areas, and the surrounding vegetation dies.


Socially, what also happens is that the owners of these large farmers tend to be rich people coming from the city. They are not local people. They employ a few people to guard their land and bring the guards in from outside. So they don’t actually generate employment locally, and the local people’s land becomes saline and it becomes difficult for them to live and survive there. There has been quite a lot of social unrest between people who used to live in these areas and the owners of the shrimp farms.


How do population dynamics factor into food security?


Population growth has had a big role to play. In the case of Bangladesh, it is a good news story. Over the past 40 years, the population growth rate has declined from about three percent to two percent or lower.


I would say this can primarily be ascribed to girls’ education. Women and girls have been given educations and women are in the workforce. They have access to family planning and they practice family planning. In fact, one of the major attributes in terms of this success is the fact that our Imams – the preachers at the mosque – are pro-family planning and have been preaching for it.


The other factor is that the provision of mother-child healthcare has made it viable for women to have small families with the expectation that their babies will survive. One of the reasons why families would have multiple children was so that only a few would survive. Nowadays the survival rate is much higher, and they don’t have to have as many babies.


So all of these factors have brought down the fertility rate and the population growth rate in Bangladesh very significantly, without coercion, and in a predominantly Muslim country. It’s an amazing phenomenon and has not been duplicated anywhere else in the world.


What are some of your hopes and fears, looking ahead to Bangladesh’s environmental challenges in the years ahead?


The fear is that climate change will exacerbate already existing risks for food shortages, damage crops, and increase rural to urban migration. These are trends that are already happening and are likely to be adversely affected by climate change


The other side of that coin is more hopeful. As a country, Bangladesh is very aware of this problem. From the government, down to civil society, to our researchers, we are now taking steps to deal with it. We are not sitting idle. We are fighting. We are coming up with solutions. Bangladeshis in general are a very, very resilient people, so my hope and faith lies in that resilience and our ability to overcome adversity.


That is the story here – the resilience, not the vulnerability. Bangladeshis are vulnerable, but they are also extremely resilient, and that resilience is what will help us tackle these adverse conditions that climate change is bringing to us and overcome them in the long run.

This is published in courtesy of Jacob Glass from NewsSecurityBeat. 


From adaptation to building resilience

The Southern part of Bangladesh is mostly affected by rain-fed disaster. There was heavy rain all over Bangladesh but flood has affected 14 out of the 64 districts. Families lost everything & staying night without roofs in wild weather. Incessant rain coupled with high tide triggered by depression in Bay in the last few days caused river water rising engulfing villages on their banks.
Photo Credit: Naima Parveen

As countries, cities, communities, institutions, private sector, and even households and individuals in both developing as well as developed countries start to consider the impacts of potential human induced climate change and how they can adapt to deal with any adverse impacts (and take advantage of any positive opportunities), they necessarily have to climb a steep learning curve about the concepts and terms involved in this new and fast emerging arena of learning, planning and practice.

The initial phase of climate change activities focused around reducing the emission of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, through mitigation. This remains very important but is no longer sufficient to prevent some degree of climate change over the next few decades. The recently released fifth assessment report of Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reiterated the message of earlier reports with an added sense of urgency for taking stronger mitigation actions if the world wished to keep global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius over the next century.

The second phase of planning and activities focused on the need to plan for adaptation to the unavoidable and inevitable adverse impacts of human induced climate change. As the Least Developed Countries (LDC) are amongst the most vulnerable and poorest countries they were the first to develop National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA). Bangladesh was one of the first LDCs to complete its NAPA and then went on to carry out a much more ambitious Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP). Other developing as well as developed countries are now also developing similar longer term strategies, called National Adaptation Plans (NAP).

As these adaptation plans start to move from planning to practice they encounter a set of new challenges including what to call them (adaptation or resilience?), and whether to have stand-alone plans or integrate (or mainstream) them into development plans? Most countries are at the initial stages of tackling these issues. Bangladesh is relatively advanced in this respect and, with regard to enhancing adaptive capacity as well as building resilience, is using both terms as it moves forward.

With regard to the term resilience, Bangladesh recently hosted a seven-day-long international “Resilience Academy” with over thirty international scholars from all over the world discussing how to build resilience of livelihoods in the face of climate impacts in all countries, learning from the experience of Bangladesh. The Academy was jointly organised by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) with the United Nations University (UNU) and Munch Re Foundation (MRF) in Germany. The scholars will be writing a seminal paper on the topic to be published in an international peer reviewed scientific journal soon.

One of the important aspects that has to be taken into account when moving from planning adaptation to building adaptive capacity of people and institutions is the need to build resilience, not just to the potential adverse impacts of climate change but also to other potential shocks, including short term climatic shocks and economic shocks. Thus, resilience building becomes more than just adaptation to climate change.

Another important aspect in moving from theory and planning to practice is the need for different stakeholders to understand the problem from their own perspective and then to figure out what to do, also from their perspective. Not all actors need to act in the same way.

Thus, for example, within government different ministries have different roles. Local and central government have different roles, members of parliament have their roles, etc. Also, NGOs, academics, researchers and media all have different roles to play in building their respective resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.

While many of the stakeholders mentioned above have begun to climb the learning curve on climate change and building resilience, the one that is still lagging behind is the private sector. Despite a few good examples, most private sector companies, including both large multi- nationals as well as national and small and medium enterprises, are still largely uninformed about the potential impacts of climate change to their businesses, let alone aware of potentially profitable business opportunities that may arise for them to exploit.
Therefore, a special effort to engage with the private sector in Bangladesh is warranted to bring them on board, together with other stakeholders, to not only tackle the problem of building resilience to climate change in Bangladesh but also to being able to export that know how globally as the rest of the world also begins to tackle the same problems that Bangladesh is tackling now.
The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University, Bangladesh.

The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University, Bangladesh. This articled is reproduced with permission from the author.

Qingdao International Youth Summer Camp Declaration 2013

This declaration was made by the participants of International Youth Leadership Summit on Environment to be presented at COP19 Warsaw, Poland. We hope the policy makers would take the issues into consideration and work towards their implementation. The declaration goes verbatim.

“We have always known about the green house gases that heat our planet, the raising sea levels that will flood many major cities around the world and our unsustainable overconsumption of our planet’s natural resources. What we now know is that because of our untimely ignorance in these fields, our time to collaborate towards solutions has been greatly diminished. We are in the midst of a crisis, and the only way to advance is through innovation, collaboration, and most importantly action.

We have always known that the planet has problems that we will have to face in our upcoming future. What we now know is that these problems will be our generations, the youth generation’s to face.

Environmental issues require constant attention. We know that no matter one’s nationality, culture or language, climate change affects us all and is a global issue that we as a world must face together.

We, the youth of the world and the leaders of tomorrow, are aware of our current problems thus demand action, litigation and conservation to save ourselves, and generations to come.

We, the youth of the world and the leaders of tomorrow, are committed to lifestyles that place the common good above our own desires. We are committed to change our actions because we know our generation’s future is at stake.

In collaboration with the international community, leaders and citizens alike, for the prosperity and posterity of the world, we wish the following actions to be taken:

1. We urge the respective local governments, the business communities and the concerned researchers to innovate and implement more eco-friendly energy sources. The prices of these eco-friendly sources should not surmount the prices of fossil fuels.

2. The desalination and distillation of ocean and sewage water respectively to meet the need of useable drinking water is of utmost importance. In this regard, affordable and tangible technology must be introduced all over the world.

3. Collaborated research facilities should be promoted to strengthen the efforts of scientists, researchers and observers from every part of the world. The findings from such endeavors should be published such that, the general public can access and understand them.

4. The significance of individual effort to reduce over-consumption and wastage of the limited resources must be emphasized.

5. Financial and technical support should be provided to firms producing organic products and/or products made from recycled material. Subsidies should be provided to make the products cheaper for the buyers yet profitable for the sellers.

6. All finished products should have carbon labeling to spread awareness about eco-friendly consumption.

7. Strict laws regarding carbon emission, protection of biodiversity and trans-boundary movement of recyclable wastes have to be formulated. The implementation of such laws has to be strictly monitored. Any deviation or misconduct MUST be highly penalized.

8. Laws to protect the marine ecosystem must be devised. Special attention must be put to the conservation of the southern Bluefin tuna, sharks and other endangered species.

9. There should be exemplary punishment for poaching and cutting trees to protect wildlife and reduce deforestation respectively.

10. Conservation of endangered species should be rewarded.

11. Governments of industrialized countries should subsidize the climate change adaptations of developing countries through financial and technological support.

12. Industrialized economies should cap their carbon footprint and increase use of carbon efficient technologies.

When it comes to the degradation of our environment and the exhaustion of the Earth’s resources, all nations must collaborate to combat the burden that our ignorance left upon our shoulders. We must collaborate, not as individuals from our respective countries, but rather as citizens of a worldwide community.

We are the youth from the world.”

Food waste- facts or myth

Food is the fundamental basis of life. I have observed the entire chain of food system, from field to plate, since I was born in a farmer’s family. As a village boy from rural Bangladesh, I took part in rice and vegetable cultivation with my father and neighbors. My entire childhood was full of fun with mud, food grains, cattle, festivity and less amount of schooling time. I have witnessed the tremendous amount of hard labour for food production and farmers affection for every grain of food they grow. They have an equal amount of love for potato, onions or rice. I am taking about experience which is way far from the modernized agriculture, where robots and machines are doing the job. The situation in my village might have changed a little bit, but not that much.

In the first lecture of ELP Professor Tom Reardon from Michigan State University brought some numbers which hammered on my head. Here I am connecting my own experience with food system to the western world. This is my first visit to the USA, despite the amazing weather and scenic beauty of Bay area, I am overwhelm by the big numbers in energy use and food wastage in the USA in general. All these numbers were familiar to me through scientific literature, but I am shocked by witnessing up close the experience. Even in the Foothill Residence dining hall I am struggling with the size of meal. The person who is serving the food have a different scale in his mind than me. His/ her small portion is way to big amount for me.

Almost half of the produced food globally can not make its way to the plate. According to US EPA “more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste (MSW). In 2011 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only four percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting” .Does it make any sense from business point of view? Even if you don’t care about Environment, is it not shocking to you? Food production is both laborious and energy intensive. If we transfer the labour to the energy term, food production have significant contribution to global climate change. We are always focusing on increases of food production to meet the global demand, feed the increasing number of population. Increasing food production come along with large environmental cost and risk associated with GMO and Biotechnology. Increased food production failed to meet the fundamental target of eradicating hunger, as if the problem is not in production but in distribution as well as the way western world treating the food. I would correct myself and say, its not the western world, its also the wealthy part of developing country contributing to this food waste scandal. Still one billion people in the world go to sleep with hunger, majority of them from developing world. Having an experience of both side of the world, I strongly believe that we have figure out a way to minimize the nightmare number (40% in global average) of food waste. This number is way to low in developing country (5-10%) for obvious reason. My experience of working in Mega Urban Food System and informal food waste market really a good hope. Where lots of people involve in collecting food waste from field, mill and supermarket. Its a large informal sector relying on food waste and seated up an alternative livelihood option.
As an answer of million dollar question “ How to feed 9 billion people by the end of this century ?” I would say we should redefine the meaning of food, we should look beyond the box of supermarket. We should appreciate the entire journey of food from field to plate. Tristram Stuart’s TED talk data is schoking but its also gives hope for future.


About the writer: 

Mofiz Rahman is a participant of Environmental Leadership Program, 2013 in U C Berkeley. He is a trans disciplinary Environmental Scientist by training and working as a Researcher and Volunteering in Bangladesh Youth Environmental Initiative (, an youth leaded environmental organization in Bangladesh.