May 23, 2012

"Give Us 24-Hour Electricity"

From the Gulf Times:

Protests against chronic power shortages spread to Yangon late Tuesday, . . . following rallies in Myanmar’s second city Mandalay which saw several opposition party members briefly held by police.

People in the country formerly known as Burma are testing the boundaries of their freedom under the quasi-civilian government which took power last year after the end of decades of outright military rule.

Two short but noisy demonstrations involving a total of 150 people took place in front of Sule Pagoda in the heart of Yangon, the focus of uprisings in 1988 and 2007 which were brutally crushed by the military.

Activists and former political prisoners at the second—and larger—of the protests shouted “give us 24-hour electricity” for around 10 minutes before the crowd dispersed on the police’s request, a reporter said.

Myanmar suffers crippling power cuts, with six hour blackouts commonplace in Yangon and outages three times as long in Mandalay, where around 1,500 people on Monday protested as news of the rallies spread on Facebook. “We can’t have a good quality of life without electricity, which is the basis for development of the country,” said 21-year-old protester Shew Yee in Yangon. . . .

AFP: "Myanmar Power Shortage Protests 'Spreads to Yangon,'" via Energy Shortage.

May 22, 2012

Free-Flowing Rivers in Global Decline

The greenish line in the following chart shows trends in the number of global free-flowing rivers greater than 1,000 kilometers in length. The number has declined from 160 in 1900 to approximately 60 today and is projected to fall further to 2020.

The bars in the chart show the number of big rivers damned in each decade of the last century. Notable is the big surge in the decades after World War II and the revival projected over the next decade.

The chart comes from a 2006 report by the World Wildlife Fund, from which Desdemona Despair provides a few excerpts:

The rapid development of water management infrastructure – such as dams, dykes, levees, and diversion channels – has left very few rivers entirely free flowing. Of the approximately 177 rivers greater than 1,000 kilometers in length, only around a third remain free-flowing and without dams on their main channel.

While clearly this infrastructure provides benefits at one level, such as hydropower or irrigation, there is often a hidden cost to aquatic ecosystems and the wider ecosystem services that they provide. In order to sustain the wealth of natural processes provided by freshwater ecosystems – such as sediment transport and nutrient delivery, which are vital to farmers in floodplains and deltas; migratory connectivity, vital to inland fisheries; and flood storage, vital to downstream cities – it is imperative to appreciate the importance of free flowing rivers, and developing infrastructure with a basin-wide vision.

May 16, 2012

Wildlife in Tropics Falls by 60 Percent Since 1970

Wildlife populations in the world’s tropical regions have fallen by more than 60 percent during the last four decades, according to the latest version of the Living Planet Index. The Index — which tracks populations of 2,688 vertebrate species in tropical and temperate regions worldwide — found that species abundance in the tropics declined by about 44 percent on land, 62 percent in the oceans, and 70 percent in freshwater ecosystems from 1970 to 2008. Cumulatively, species abundance declined by about 1.25 percent annually every year compared with a 1970 baseline, according to the report, which is published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. Wildlife populations declined by 38 percent in Africa during that period; about 50 percent in Central and South America; and 64 percent in Indo-Pacific regions. Overall, the global index dropped almost 30 percent during the same period. These steep population declines are the result of many factors related to human activities, including deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, and climate change.
Jeremy Hance provides further details from the report:
In the Neotropics, recent years have seen amphibians decimated by a fungal disease. The disease, known as chytridiomycosis, is not only cutting populations down but also pushing dozens of species to extinction.

"This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet. Ignoring this diagnosis will have major implications for humanity. We can restore the planet’s health, but only through addressing the root causes, population growth and over-consumption of resources," Jonathan Baillie, conservation program director with the Zoological Society of London said in a press release.

Biodiversity provides many services to global society, including pollination, carbon sequestration, food production, soil health, and life-saving medicines among others, although few of these 'ecosystem services' are yet recognized by the global market.