Environment and Ecology

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Nature's Services: Ecosystems Are More Than Wildlife Habitat

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An ecosystem is a geographically specified system of organisms, including humans, their environment, and the processes that control their dynamics.

When you step outside, whether heading for your car or for a walk around the block, you expect to be able to breathe the air. When planting flowers in the window box or tomatoes in the raised bed in your backyard, you expect those plants to grow, flower, and produce seeds or fruit. When perusing the grocery shelves, you expect to find fresh produce, and affordable fish and meat. When you turn on the tap, you expect to be able to drink the water.

Ecosystem services are the processes through which natural ecosystems, and the plants, animals and microbes that live in those environments, sustain human life. Ecosystem services produce goods, timber, and fibers, medicines and fuels. Ecosystem services even conduct life-support activities, like filtering water and recycling all kinds of wastes. The natural services that for millennia have purified the water and air, supported the growth and reproduction of food plants, controlled pests, and even moderated the weather and its impacts are declining rapidly. Land clearing for agriculture, industry and mining, and development is affecting ecosystems worldwide. As habitats become fragmented, with only pockets left here and there, the services those natural systems provide become less effective.

Tom Lovejoy, Chief Biodiversity Advisor, The World Bank, says other natural services, like waste decomposition and flood control, are often overlooked. Technology may duplicate these services temporarily, but it's doubtful that technological advances will be able to continually compensate for the large-scale loss of natural services. Although it is difficult to put a price tag on a wetland, forest, or river, the "price" for failing to protect or nurture these natural services could be daunting. As we populate the planet, nature's services will become even more essential to humans and worthy of protection from even those who never leave the cities.


TURKISH Prime Minister, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is winner of the inaugural Rafik Hariri-UN-HABITAT Memorial Award

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Rafik Hariri

The late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

TURKISH Prime Minister, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan

A seven member international jury found Mr. Erdogan deserving of the award because of his “excellent achievement and commendable conduct in the area of leadership, statesmanship and good governance”.

Announcing this in Nairobi today, the chairperson of the jury, former UN Under Secretary General, Ms Mervat Tallawy said the jury was unanimous in recognizing Mr. Erdogan’s outstanding achievements during his tenure as Mayor of Istanbul between 1994 and 1997.

“It was under his steady leadership and stewardship as host of the second UN Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II, during which the habitat agenda was passed, with the noble goals of adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements development in an urbanizing world,” she said.


The GreenBuilding Programme

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GreenBuilding LogoIn 2004, the European Commission initiated the GreenBuilding Programme (GBP). This programme aims at improving the energy efficiency and expanding the integration of renewable energies in non-residential buildings in Europe on a voluntary basis. The programme addresses owners of non-residential buildings to realise cost-effective measures which enhance the energy efficiency of their buildings in one or more technical disciplines.

European Commission in the context of the EIE ProgrammeIn a pilot phase in the years 2005-2006, the GreenBuilding infrastructure was set up in ten European countries. In each participating country so called National Contact Points weres established for aiding organisations, which  consider a participation in the GreenBuilding Projekt. The successful work is now being continued in a 2nd phase - called GreenBuildinPlus - that started December 2007. The GreenBuilding project is supported by the European Commission’s Intelligent Energy Europe Programme.

On this central project website, information will be updated and amanded continuously. Furthermore, you will find links to the websites of the ten National Contact Points and the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

The GreenBuilding Programme

In its Green Paper on Energy Efficiency, the European Commission (EC) identified the building sector as an area, where important improvements in energy efficiency can be realised. According to the Green Paper, the building sector accounts for more than 40% of the final energy demand in Europe. At the same time, improved heating and cooling of buildings constitutes one of the largest potentials for energy savings. Such savings would also improve the energy supply security and the EU’s competitiveness, while creating jobs and raising the quality of life in buildings.


Generation E

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National Wildlife Federation Releases New Report - November 2009

Report: Generation EStudents Leading for a Sustainable, Clean Energy Future

By Christina Erickson and David J. Eagan, with a foreword by Julian Keniry

35 ways students are creating a sustainable future at U.S. colleges and universities - cutting carbon emissions, saving resources and equipping the coming generation for a green energy economy.

This 70 page, example-rich guide is a timely, best-practices report on exemplary student-led sustainability activities and programs at schools around the U.S. Like other guides in the NWF Campus Ecology Climate and Sustainability Series, it features dozens of examples from postsecondary institutions of all types; public and private, urban and rural, large and small. More than 160 campuses from 46 states plus the District of Columbia are included, along with photos, graphics, links to related resources and an extensive endnotes section so readers can learn more about specific campus projects. As an illustrated “idea-book,” it shows students, faculty and staff a wide range of project possibilities, encouraging them to engage with their campus and community in ways that make real reductions in their school's carbon footprint and also foster the technical and intellectual skills needed in the future green economy.



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The green guide for muslims

A Muslim Green Guide to help households reduce climate change has been published jointly by UK Lifemakers Foundation and the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), with the charity, Muslim Hands, meeting production costs. This booklet explains the impact of climate change using Islamic references and also explains why Muslims must do their bit for the environment.

The Green Guide is unique in that it is a simple, practical handbook that looks at different aspects of the household and suggests changes from an Islamic prospective that can have a big impact on climate change. These include decisions about domestic food, water, laundry, heating, electricity, transport and recycling. Also at the end of the 20 page booklet is a green checklist that gives households something positive to aim towards.

The booklet had been printed in time for Ramadan, the month in which Muslims are most reflective of their actions.

Download the Green Guide >


Deep Ecology

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Ecological and Psychological Study

Deep Ecology is defined as:

  • a philosophy based on our sacred relationship with Earth and all beings
  • an international movement for a viable future
  • a path for self realisation
  • a compass for daily action

Deep Ecology Supports:

  • continuing inquiry into the appropriate human roles on our planet
  • root cause analysis of unsustainable practices
  • reduction of human consumption
  • conservation and restoration of ecosystems
  • a life of committed action for Earth

Arne Naess’s original definition of ecosophy is:

"By an ecosophy I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy as a kind of sofia (or) wisdom, is openly normative, it contains both norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs in our universe. Wisdom is policy wisdom, prescription, not only scientific description and prediction. The details of an ecosophy will show many variations due to significant differences concerning not only the ‘facts’ of pollution, resources, population, etc. but also value priorities."


James Lovelock, Gaia's grand old man

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James LovelockJames Lovelock is an independent atmospheric scientist who lives and works deep in the English countryside. He has a knack for making discoveries of global significance. Lovelock is the inventor of the electron capture detector, a palm-size chamber that detects man-made chemicals in minute concentrations. In the late 1950s, his detector was used to demonstrate that pesticide residues were present in virtually all species on Earth, from penguins in Antarctica to mother's milk in the United States. This provided the hard data for Rachel Carson's landmark 1962 environmental book, "The Silent Spring" which launched the international campaign to ban the pesticide DDT.

In the late 1960s, Lovelock sailed from Britain to Antarctica and with his detector discovered the ubiquitous presence of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), man-made gases now known to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer.

Today, Lovelock is best known as author of the "Gaia hypothesis," named after Gaea, Greek goddess of earth. The hypothesis states that the global ecosystem sustains and regulates itself like a biological organism rather than an inanimate entity run by the automatic and accidental processes of geology, as traditional earth science holds. In essence, Lovelock's hypothesis sees the surface of the Earth as more like a living body than a rock or a machine.

He first conceived the Gaia hypothesis while working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in the mid-1960s, where he was designing life detection instruments for NASA's Mars Viking probes.


Gaia Hypothesis

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James LovelockThe Gaia hypothesis is an ecological hypothesis proposing that the biosphere and the physical components of the Earth (atmosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere) are closely integrated to form a complex interacting system that maintains the climatic and biogeochemical conditions on Earth in a preferred homeostasis. Originally proposed by James Lovelock as the earth feedback hypothesis,[1] it was named the Gaia Hypothesis after the Greek supreme goddess of Earth.[2] The hypothesis is frequently described as viewing the Earth as a single organism. Lovelock and other supporters of the idea now call it Gaia theory, regarding it as a scientific theory and not mere hypothesis, since they believe it has passed predictive tests.[3]



The Gaia hypothesis was first scientifically formulated in the 1960s by the independent research scientist James Lovelock, as a consequence of his work for NASA on methods of detecting life on Mars.[4][5] He initially published the Gaia Hypothesis in journal articles in the early 1970s[6][7] followed by a popularizing 1979 book Gaia: A new look at life on Earth.

The theory was initially, according to Lovelock, a way to explain the fact that combinations of chemicals including oxygen and methane persist in stable concentrations in the atmosphere of the Earth. Lovelock suggested using such combinations detected in other planets' atmospheres would be a relatively reliable and cheap way to detect life, which many biologists opposed at the time and since. Later other relationships such as the fact that sea creatures produce sulfur and iodine in approximately the quantities required by land creatures emerged and helped bolster the theory. Rather than invent many different theories to describe each such equilibrium, Lovelock dealt with them holistically, naming this self-regulating living system after the Greek goddess Gaia, using a suggestion from the novelist William Golding, who was living in the same village as Lovelock at the time (Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, UK). The Gaia Hypothesis has since been supported by a number of scientific experiments[8] and provided a number of useful predictions,[9] and hence is properly referred to as the Gaia Theory.

Since 1971, the noted microbiologist Dr. Lynn Margulis has been Lovelock's most important collaborator in developing Gaian concepts.[10]

Until 1975 the hypothesis was almost totally ignored. An article in the New Scientist of February 15, 1975, and a popular book length version of the theory, published in 1979 as The Quest for Gaia, began to attract scientific and critical attention to the hypothesis. The theory was then attacked by many mainstream biologists. Championed by certain environmentalists and climate scientists, it was vociferously rejected by many others, both within scientific circles and outside them.

Lovelock's initial hypothesis

James Lovelock defined Gaia as:

a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet.

Deep Green: The Living Mountain: Arne Naess 1912-2009

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Those who love wild nature and work toward a day when humankind might inhabit this abundant planet with greater wonder, humility, and compassion, mourn the loss of a great ecological visionary - Arne Naess - who died on January 12, leaving behind a legacy of environmental awareness and action.

Naess, one of the most influential philosophers of his generation, died in his sleep at the age of 96 in Oslo, Norway. The avid mountaineer founded the Deep Ecology movement, drawing inspiration from Buddhism, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and above all from nature itself. Greenpeace can be proud that he served as the first chairman of Greenpeace Norway in 1988. His personal story illuminates the path of ecology in the 21st century.

Opening of Greenpeace office in Oslo, 1988
Arne Naess at the opening of the Greenpeace office in Oslo, 1988
(c) Henrik Laurvik NTB/Scanpix - used under licence

On the mountain

Naess was born in 1912, in Slemdal, near Oslo, and his father, banker Ragnar Naess, died the next year. Naess later recalled that his mother, Christine Dekke, appeared preoccupied with raising his two older brothers, so he often wandered alone into nature for companionship.

In How My Philosophy Seemed to Develop he revealed, at the age of four, "I would stand or sit for hours … in shallow water on the coast, marvelling at the overwhelming diversity and richness of life in the sea."

At the age of 17, while climbing on Norway's Hallingskarvet massif, he met a kind Norwegian judge, who also adored nature. This mentor advised young Arne to read Dutch Jewish philosopher Spinoza, who equated the 'highest virtue' with knowledge of nature. For Spinoza, Naess learned, all thinking about truth and human society begins with recognising the basic 'substance', the diversity and magnificence of the natural world.

In his 20s, Naess built a life-long writing cabin, Tvergastein, high on this mountain. "In the mountains," Naess once said, "you are small compared to the surrounding view, so you more easily and more intensely feel that you are a part of something greater. You find that your idea of your 'self' is more vast and deeper." This depth he felt in vast nature - mountains, sea, forests - inspired his use of the word 'deep' to describe his understanding of ecology


Italy delays solar incentive plan, again

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Reports claim government will delay unveiling of incentive regime for the second time this month

Solar panelsThe Italian government yesterday revealed that it had delayed the unveiling of a much-anticipated solar incentive scheme for a second time, stoking fears that the uncertainty could derail the country's booming solar industry.

Officials told news agency Reuters that the plan would not be presented today, as had been widely anticipated. They added that a new date had not yet been set for the launch of the scheme.

The announcement had originally been expected on 11 February, but was delayed amid speculation that the government had yet to finalise the scale of proposed cuts to solar industry incentives.

Italy currently operates one of the most generous feed-in tariffs for solar power in the world and the government is widely expected to reduce the payments that solar panel installers receive in line with the falling cost of panels.

Gianni Chianetta, chief executive of BP Solar Italia, told Reuters that the delays were undermining confidence in the market.

"We have made investment plans... for the next few years hoping that there will be a new incentive plan and that it will be sustainable," he said in a statement to the news agency. "But many of the planned initiatives in terms of investments and new job creation have been put on hold awaiting clarity. Further delays would create distrust in Italy and divert the group's investments to other countries."

However, there was some good news for the industry after media reports suggested the scale of the cuts in the feed-in tariff being considered by the government were lower than originally expected.


World's temperature record to be re-analysed

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Global warmingThe whole of the world's instrumental temperature record – millions of observations dating back more than 150 years – is to be re-analysed in an attempt to remove doubts about the reality of global warming.

The new analysis, an enormous task which will be carried out by several groups of scientists working independently in different countries, has been proposed by the UK Met Office in the wake of recent controversies over climate science, such as the "climategate" email affair at the University of East Anglia and revelations that the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contained inaccuracies and exaggerations.

The whole of the world's instrumental temperature record – millions of observations dating back more than 150 years – is to be re-analysed in an attempt to remove doubts about the reality of global warming.


The new analysis, an enormous task which will be carried out by several groups of scientists working independently in different countries, has been proposed by the UK Met Office in the wake of recent controversies over climate science, such as the "climategate" email affair at the University of East Anglia and revelations that the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contained inaccuracies and exaggerations.

The proposal was put to the World Meteorological Organisation by the Met Office at a meeting in Antalya, Turkey, earlier this week, and accepted by 150 delegates from around the world. Its detailed terms will be agreed at a conference to be held in Britain later this year.


Italy's longest river at risk after 'sabotage' at oil depot

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The Lambro river has been polluted by an oil spill which has seeped into the Po; threatening an ecological catastropheItalian officials warned of an ecological disaster as they scrambled to contain an oil spill that reached the the Po river yesterday.  

Milan regional officials said the cause was certainly sabotage at a former refinery turned oil depot on the tributary Lambro river. While no arrests have been made, Italian news reports have noted that the depot owner had laid off several workers in recent months.  

There were varying accounts of the amount of oil released: officials in Milan said they now believed 2.5 million litres had poured out, but environmental groups put the quantity at 600,000 litres.  

The WWF wildlife charity said several water and bird species were at risk from the spill, with fish, wild ducks and herons – that were beginning to nest along the Po – the most at risk. Several oil-covered ducks have already been plucked from the river and taken for treatment at a regional animal shelter.  

But even after the spill is cleaned up the impact will last, the WWF said, as the Po river valley is the most important agricultural region in Italy, and the Po is used extensively for irrigation, environmentalists noted. The spill began on Tuesday at the depot near Monza and spread south down the Lambro to Piacenza and Cremona overnight, despite efforts to contain it. By yesterday, it had reached the Po, which crosses the country from Piedmont in the west, across Turin and Ferrara, before emptying into the Adriatic.  

"The scale of this is dramatic," said Damiano di Simine, regional president of the Legambiente environmental group. He said his organisation – as well as the regional government – had asked that a state of emergency be declared to release federal funds to help contain it.  

The Lombard regional president, Roberto Formigoni, said those responsible would be prosecuted and punished severely for the "ecological disaster". "Some criminal decided to intervene in a harmful and cowardly way, putting at risk an asset that belongs to all of us," he was quoted as saying by the Apcom news agency.



Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology

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Social Ecology versus Deep Ecology: A Challenge for the Ecology Movement

by Murray Bookchin


[Originally published in Green Perspectives: Newsletter of the Green Program Project, nos. 4-5 (summer 1987). In the original, the term deep ecology appeared in quotation marks; they have been removed in this online posting.]

The environmental movement has traveled a long way since those early Earth Day festivals when millions of school kids were ritualistically mobilized to clean up streets, while Arthur Godfrey, Barry Commoner, Paul Ehrlich, and a bouquet of manipulative legislators scolded their parents for littering the landscape with cans, newspapers, and bottles.

The movement has gone beyond a naive belief that patchwork reforms and solemn vows by EPA bureaucrats to act more resolutely will seriously arrest the insane pace at which we are tearing down the planet. This shopworn Earth Day approach to engineering nature so that we can ravage the Earth with minimal effect on ourselves---an approach that I called environmentalism in the late 1960s, in contrast to social ecology---has shown signs of giving way to a more searching and radical mentality. Today the new word in vogue is ecology---be it deep ecology, human ecology, biocentric ecology, antihumanist ecology, or to use a term that is uniquely rich in meaning, social ecology.


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