cultivate culture


Somali pirates claim foreign dumping of waste. Is this true?
November 7, 2010, 11:16 pm
Filed under: environment, politics, Uncategorized

"Don't hit the white ones."

[N.B. this post was written in April 2009. Things are only more confusing now…]

I had heard 2 or 3 months ago an interview with Somali-turned Canadian rapper, K’Naan, in which he explained that the roots of the piracy in Somalia grew from a reaction to illegal dumping and fishing on the part of foreign commercial interests. The violent end to the recent incident left a sour taste in my mouth. I searched the web and found out the following.

Many reference evidence of the dumping of waste, even nuclear waste, in the two decades since the collapse of the Somali government.In particular,  there are reports of large tanks of waste having washed ashore with the Asian tsunami. One would also think that increased hospitalizations coming from the health implications of such waste would be documented somewhere. Despite such potential, I haven’t been able to find any conclusive evidence for such events, even though the claims seem to come from credible sources.

According to this article, the United Nations Environmental Program has done a few investigations on the issue and a spokesperson for UNEP, Nick Nuttall, has verified that the claims are true. The article even reports that UNEP was contracted by the Italian and French governments to investigate allegations of mafia involvement in the dumping.

However, I also found a UNEP report: http://www.unep.org/depi/programmes/Somalia_Final.pdf

which states that certain investigations into dumping by the UNEP did not turn up evidence (see pg. 33, Box 9). I tried to reach Mr. Nuttal by email so he could clarify the results of the report but have not received a response.

[postscript: Strangely, the url for the UNEP report is now invalid and I can’t find the document on their website anymore. Weird…]

[PostScript 2: a book published on the current Somali pirate culture argues for a collapse of internal security forces as one if not the driving force: http://jaybahadur.blogspot.com/]



Volcan Chaiten
May 9, 2008, 7:14 pm
Filed under: environment

A once thought eternally dormant volcano has been releasing hot ash 30 km into the atmosphere and covering the some of southern Chile and Argentina.

A few nights ago an electrical storm broke out in the clouds. The pictures are almost unreal. Needless to say, the town of Chaiten, where we were only 2 months ago, has been completely evacuated. Tens of thousands of livestock have been lost with the inches of ash that have fallen. It’s a sad story…



Drive clean or guard your seeds?
March 29, 2008, 12:11 am
Filed under: biology, environment, society

Isn’t global warming the phrase of the decade? I mean what other phrase has mobilized/forced politicians, consumers, and companies to have a say on it? You can’t avoid it … I don’t mean global warming; I mean having a say on it. Anyway, while some consumers may feel like they’ve done their part in the fight against global warming by buying a cleaner car, others are focusing on what may arguably be the larger issue: maintaining biodiversity.

An ecosystem is a complicated network of dependencies. The more diverse the group of species within an ecosystem, i.e. the more biodiversity it has, the more robust it is against being toyed with. In the same sense, reducing biodiversity means increasing the fragility of the biosphere and increasing inability of life to sustain itself through tough times.

So, global warming or not, a great way to strengthen life’s presence here on earth is to make sure there are lots of different species. Unfortunately, species are dropping like flies due to things like habitat destruction and, yes, to some extent global warming. However, with all the focus on global warming, other issues that affect biodiversity may not be getting the attention they deserve.

Take the politics of seed diversity as a case in point. The market and economy, through seed-selling companies, have had a huge effect in last hundred years on crop biodiversity. There has been a trend in the market towards a more controlled seed biodiversity enforced by ownership laws. In the strange world in which we live, as a company you can own a genetic strain of a crop. Anyone who is caught producing from those genes without your permission is liable. A natural consequence is that companies, even though they certainly have seed vaults of their own, are homogenizing the seed market by pushing only a few varieties: you push the strain you sell. A homogeneous seed market is just waiting for a bug to devastate it and we are back to the threat of dwindling crop biodiversity.

It seems we are entering an age of drastic measures when it comes to biodiversity: Global Crop Diversity Trust is building a seed vault under a mountain near the north pole as a safe guard to our extinctionizing tendencies. Filled with millions of strains of different crops, the Trust, funded by various government organizations, is like a Noah’s Arc for crops. Popularly known as ‘the doomsday vault’, it does seem a little drastic, perhaps overly so, but who are we kidding – this is important, not only for life on the planet, but more directly, for putting food on the table of our children. So, when driving your clean cars, be careful not to drive over your neighbors exotic garden, the future of our food may depend on it.