Satellite image of Poyang Lake on November 15, the day after the lake’s water level fell below eight meters. NASA image courtesy LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC.
The troubles of Poyang Lake, China’s largest freshwater lake, are getting drowned out by the clamor generated by the superstorms Typhoon Haiyan and Cyclone Phailin. A crisis is still a crisis, however, even if it is not punctuated by 150mph winds and catastrophic flooding.
The problem is, Poyang’s waters are receding earlier in the season now. The local government reported that the lake now enters its dry season more than seven weeks earlier than it did in the second half of the 20th century. The region receives 60 percent less precipitation, and the lake’s water level is reaching a historic low. More than a million people have suffered drinking water shortages as a result this autumn, and the lake’s fishing industry has literally been grounded.
Pooper-scooper signage in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Credit: Dan Klotz
In 1978, New York embraced a major public health and environmental innovation. The idea, which became known as the “Pooper-Scooper Law,” was that all dog owners must collect their pets’ waste and deposit it in the trash so that it didn’t muck up the urban environment.
Industrial-scale livestock operations—known as factory farms—annually generate 500 million tons of manure in the United States, more than three times the amount generated by people in the U.S. Should all that manure go directly into our environment? More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/19Nj6xa.
In mid-April, a humongous explosion rocked the Texas town of West when a fire broke out at an agriculture retail facility storing ammonium nitrate. The blast killed 14 people, injured more than 200, and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. If this and other forms of ammonia are so explosive before being used as fertilizer, what happens when it is used in agriculture? More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/10oCQjh.
In April 2013, I produced and placed an opinion piece for Samuel Nguiffo, the Secretary General of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) in Cameroon. Using his own country as an example, Samuel’s op-ed discussed how the “Land Grab” taking place in Africa was more of a “giveaway” where governments at all levels were providing multinational corporations with their country’s natural resources for very little compensation. Research from Rights and Resources Initiative showed that the communities that live on the land involved in these transactions lost out repeatedly. The opinion piece ran online at http://aje.me/17z1mpk.
Looking out over a new oil palm plantation in Liberia. Credit: Dan Klotz
In December, I spent a week in Liberia with an Agence France Presse (AFP) reporter exploring two large-scale land acquisitions in which the Liberian government turned over large swaths of land for oil palm and rubber plantations, ignoring the rights of the communities that live on the land. The trip was part of the outreach work I have been doing for Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).
Underlining the dire problems confronting these communities, four people with whom we visited were arrested shortly after we left.
After the trip, the AFP reporter filed two feature-length stories detailing the difficulties inherent in these transactions (http://bit.ly/YaJ0G4 and http://f24.my/UhCU62). Last week, my photos from the trip were featured in a slide show on AllAfrica.com (http://j.mp/15CeiZC) that highlighted two new reports from RRI.
Stepped farming in Paro, Bhutan (Credit: Soham Banerjee)
The small kingdom of Bhutan is known for establishing the “gross national happiness” tool, a “multidimensional measurement” that looks at its citizens’ quality of life and well-being. Lately, it has been making waves for its government’s ambition to become the first 100% organic country in the world. More on National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog. http://on.natgeo.com/15kgyW0
At the end of May, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared a ban on “Big Gulps” in the Big Apple. Lost in this public health debate is whether or not cutting down on super-sized sodas will have an environmental benefit–and the answer, while not as obvious as the obesity epidemic, makes common sense. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog. bit.ly/OQpT0a
This week, the Senate began debating the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012,”the latest name for the Farm Bill. This legislation comes up for renewal every five years, and the back-and-forth always been larger than life and somewhat crazy. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog. http://bit.ly/KvoPiw
Last year’s record flooding in the Chao Phraya River’s watershed caused $40 billion in damages and left one third of Thailand—including parts of Bangkok, the capital and largest city—underwater for weeks. The prolonged media coverage, however, completely drowned out most recollections of the record drought that the country experienced in 2010.
For Thailand, managing the agricultural challenges presented by climate change means planning to handle both too much water and too little. One solution, Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR), sets aside land in upstream areas of major rivers to “capture” floodwater and direct it into natural underground aquifers. With fully “charged” aquifers, farmers could then maintain rice yields during dry spells.
Matthew McCartney, principal researcher for the International Water Management Institute, and Theerasak Tangsutthinon of Thailand’s Department of Groundwater Resources led a tour of a MAR project 50km north of Bangkok that showed both the potential of this solution as well as the challenges it brings.