I have just watched an item on Campbell Live about the school holiday programme at Auckland Zoo, which is supposed to start next week. It seems that the Zoo has had to cancel the programme because the sponsors have withdrawn thier support.

The reason for this withdrawl is related to the completion of a workbook which is part of the programme.  One of the questions in the workbook was about the orangutans, specifically, it asked what is the greatest threat to the survival of orangutans. The answer is palm oil.

Palm oil is something most consumers know little about, yet eat and use on a daily basis.  It is used in hundreds of different types of processed food from margarine to noodles to crackers to chocolate.  It is also used in cosmetics and cleaning products.  And it is increasingly being used as a biofuel.  As a result vast swathes of countryside in tropical regions is being cleared to for palm oil plantations- out of sight and out of mind for most Westerners.  Honduras is one of those places.  ALthough more known for fruit growing (the original ‘banana republic’), following Hurricane Mitch much of the fruit growing land has been converted to palm oil plantations.  We travelled through miles and miles of these on our last trip to Honduras.

Malaysia is one of the worlds largest palm oil producers, and the destruction of rain forest for palm oil has been accelerating significantly.  This rainforest is the home of the orangutan, and the destruction of it’s habitat is placing the already endangered primate at even greater risk- hence the question and answer in the Auckland Zoo workbook.

Turns out the sponser for the school holiday project is Tourism Malaysia.  Tourism Malaysia objected to the workbook question and asked Auckland Zoo to remove itd.  Auckland Zoo said no, education about Palm Oil was part of the programme.  So Tourism Malaysia has pulled thier support for the programme.

Of course the supreme irony is that I’m blogging on this now.  Because I’m only blogging about it because of the item which was broadcast on national tv. The issue has obviously gained significantly more exposure now than it would have if they had just left the holiday programme alone.

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A black sheep

June 25, 2008

This caught my attention today…

Of couse, that kind of thinking makes me into this…

Oh well, it’s how I usually feel these days anyway.

From AsboJesus, H/T Grace Expectations for the link.

Food Riots

April 11, 2008

Did you know that around the world today a billion people are facing food shortages?  That average food prices have risen 40% across the world in less than a year, and as much as 300% in some places?  That a top UN official has warned that the crisis could cause worldwide turmoil and global political instability? That this is already happening- that in the last few weeks there have been riots over food in Haiti (4 people dead), Ivory Coast, Cameroon (40 people dead), Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal,  Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia, Jordan and Indonesia?

I try and follow the news as much as a busy mum and student can, and as a Development Studies student have been aware of the issues for some time- and I still missed just how immanent this crisis is.  This may be because despite the fact that some have been warning for years of the potential for a humanitarian and environmental crisis (for example this article from George Monbiot in 2004), the mainline media has largely ignored to signs.  Until now.  When the world is at crisis point and it may be too late to prevent millions of deaths.

Benjamin posted on this issue on Justice and Compassion a few days ago, linking to an article by Paul Krugman in the NY Times.  He suggested that-

The most immediate need is more aid to people in distress: the U.N.’s World Food Program put out a desperate appeal for more funds.

We also need a pushback against biofuels, which turn out to have been a terrible mistake.

I don’t disagree, but I don’t think this is enough.  This is what I commented-

I’m actually not sure that Krugman’s suggestions as to what should be done are hugely helpful either. Food aid has been linked with all kinds of ongoing problems- including undermining local markets, creating desire for imported grains over local staples and generally creating dependency.

He is right about about biofuels. however. They are a mistake. But just pushing back won’t help- we don’t need to continue our love affair with oil. I think we in the west needs to seriously reduce our dependence on fuel.

The problem is most Westerners don’t know or don’t care. I guess they think science or politicians or somebody else is going to come up with an answer, and we can just keep consuming the way we have been. For the moment the food crisis is mostly impacting on the poor in developing countries, and as unjust as it is, I don’t think the West will make significant changes until it starts to impact on our lifestyles significantly. I just hope that isn’t too late.

Change starts at home though. I have been thinking about going vegetarian for a long time… this may just be the motivation I need.

This may be a contradiction in a sense (food aid and pushing back on biofuels is not enough but my personal change is?), and I know it’s a drop in the bucket but I’m serious about the vegetarian thing. I probably won’t be 100% vege (my husband is not keen on the idea, and I’ve no aversion to the occasional NZ grass-fed/ organic/ free range meat meal) but I can’t ignore the fact that it takes far more land and resources to produce meat than grains, that livestock farming is incredibly environmentally degrading, and that I just feel selfish when so many are hungry and I have an excess of food on my plate.

Now you know about the crisis- what are you going to do?

Thinking global

January 26, 2008

A couple of interesting things I found in my google reader today…

picture-is-worth-global-worrying.jpg

I think this ad from the Grey ad agency in Milan, Italy is supposed to highlight the need to think about global warming, but I think it can also be seen as a challenge to think about other global issues too.

avo-market.jpg

Thinking more positively AVO Market is a new online collaborative work that “allows you to explore different types of markets from all over the world. I love it- the photos remind me of my travels. Whereever I go in the world, one of the first places I like to visit is the local markets. You get a glimpse of how people live, what they eat, wear and use in thier homes; how they relate and do business; and the art, music and local culture of a place. Suburban malls don’t even come close to that kind of experience!

H/T Treehugger– thanks!

The Story of Stuff

December 6, 2007

Please watch this teaser then go to the site to watch the whole thing- before you do your Christmas shopping!

What are they thinking?  It would be funny if it weren’t so wrong.

Two companies planning to explore for oil in rainforest inhabited by uncontacted tribes have revealed plans to ‘communicate’ with them using megaphones if their oil crews are attacked.

No one knows the languages the Indians speak, and they are likely to view oil crews as hostile intruders. In the past oil company workers in the Amazon region have been killed by isolated Indians…

Amongst the phrases Barrett’s workers are expected to say to their potential attackers are, ‘How many days (moons or suns) have you walked for?’, ‘We are people just like you’, ‘Is something disturbing you?’ and ‘We haven’t come here to look for women, we have our own women in our own village.’

From Survival International

happy_planet_map.jpg

I’ve found another reason to move to Honduras. It ranks 7th in the world in the Happy Planet Index (HPI). This is an innovative new measure that aims to show the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world.

The HPI reflects the average years of happy life produced by a given society, nation or group of nations, per unit of planetary resources consumed. Put another way, it represents the efficiency with which countries convert the earth’s finite resources into well-being experienced by their citizens.

Vanuatu was no. 1. New Zealand ranks 78th.  The USA 150th.  The lowest ranked country is Zimbabwe (178).  The countries that scored best were Latin American and island nations (Caribbean and Pacific).  I find this fascinating.  The richest and the poorest scored badly.  The rich presumably because of thier high resource consumption, and the poorest for thier life expectancy.  Here is the authors interpretations:

Island nations score well above average in the Index: They have higher life satisfaction, higher life expectancy and marginally lower Footprints than other states. Yet incomes (by GDP per capita) are roughly equal to the world average. Even within regions, islands do well. Malta tops the Western world with Cyprus in seventh place (out of 24); the top five HPI nations in Africa are all islands; as well as two of the top four in Asia. Perhaps a more acute awareness of environmental limits has sometimes helped their societies to bond better and to adapt to get more from less. Combined with the enhanced well-being that stems from close contact with nature, the world as a whole stands to learn much from the experience of islands.

It is possible to live long, happy lives with a much smaller environmental impact: For example, in the United States and Germany people’s sense of life satisfaction is almost identical and life expectancy is broadly similar. Yet Germany’s Ecological Ecological footprint is only about half that of the USA. This means that Germany is around twice as efficient as the USA at generating happy long lives based on the resources that they consume.

You can also calculate your personal score on the website.  My score on was 43.1. What’s yours?

I Love Nappies 2!

June 11, 2007

A while back I noted that my “I Love Nappies” post was one of the most popular on this blog, and that I would follow it up with a post on alternatives. It still is, and so here is the next post (feel free to tune out if you don’t have young children, or have no interest in nappies/ diapers, I will understand!).

The first thing I need to mention is that by “alternatives to disposables” I do not mean flat fabric squares requiring advanced origami skills and scary sharp pins. Cloth nappies have evolved over the last few years and “modern cloth” is just as easy to use as disposables, is easy to clean, and is just so cute.

There are several things to consider when choosing cloth nappies, including the style or system of nappy to use, the fabric choices, and the implications for washing day.   It can be very confusing, it certainly was for me when I started. So here is my attempt to explain, based on my experience (just one child, in cloth from birth to nearly 2) and with some help from The Nappy Network and clothnappy.com– thanks!.
Systems:

  • Folded flat or “prefold” in a cover– just fold a square nappy into a rectangular pad and place in a wrap-style waterproof cover. Prefolds are simply smaller squares of either very absorbent fabric or literally prefolded and stitched squares.
    Pros: Economical, One size fits all, Quick drying
    Cons: Less absorbant, Some need folding
  • Fitted nappy with a cover– These have the absorbency sewn into the nappy and are fitted around the legs and waist with closures are made of ‘velcro’ or domes.
    Pros: No folding or pins, Snug fit with elastic, Available with stay-dry liner
    Cons: Slower drying, Multiple sizes needed, a separate waterproof cover is needed
  • All-in-One- All-in-one’s have the absorbency and the overnap (cover) combined. They are shaped to fit the baby. They have several layers of absorbency and sometimes adjustable layers. They usually close with velcro tabs.
    Pros: Easy to put on, Caregivers like them, No pins or folding
    Cons:
    Slower drying, Multiple sizes needed
  • Pockets- My favourites! Pocket nappies are shaped to fit the baby but instead of having the absorbency sewn in they have a pocket made from the outer layer of leak proof backing and the inner layer of stay dry fabric. The absorbency is inserted into the pocket. Inserts may be bought or flats or prefolds can be folded into rectangles to “stuff” the pocket. They close with either velcro or domes.
    Pros: Stay dry lining, Adjustable absorbency, Quick drying
    Cons:
    Multiple sizes needed, More expensive

Fabrics:

  • Absorbent Fabric- This is arguably the most important part of the nappy, and is laid on, stitched on or inserted into the nappy cover. As noted above basic cotton, toweling or and terry knit flats and prefolds do the job quite adequately. If you want to spend a bit more, or have a particularly heavy wetting child there are plenty of newer options. Microfibre is light and soft and absorbs very quickly, however it can be a bit like a sponge, squeezing liquid out when compressed so is often paired with a layer or two of another fabric such as hemp. Hemp absorbs more slowly but will absorb a large amount and hold it. It is also naturally antibacterial and anti-fungal. The newest fabric is bamboo- very slim, soft and absorbent but slower drying.
  • Outer/ Cover Fabrics- All nappies need a waterproof outer cover, sewn in or slipped over the top. Just not crunchy, non-breathable plastic, nylon or PVC pants! Most of my nappies & covers are Poly-urethane laminated (PUL)- polyester or cotton knits that have a coating of poly-urethane. The most natural fabric for nappy cover is wool which is highly breathable, and does not need to be washed as often as other covers (although some may require re-lanolinzing). Believe it or not wool is warm in winter and cool in summer, however unless you are good with the knitting needles (or have a Grandma who is) wool covers are expensive and some babies are allergic to them. The synthetic version of wool, Polyester Polar fleece, is very breathable and is excellent for most babies but must be high quality with a tight weave for it to be effective as a nappy cover. It is also prone to pilling, which does not affect the function but does make them look tatty after a while.
  • Stay Dry Fabric– One advantage of modern cloth is the use of new stay dry fabrics which keep your baby (almost) as dry as a disposable. Stay dry fabric, usually Microfleece or Suedecloth are used for the layer next to the skin. They draw moisture away and into the nappy, keeping the skin dry and helping to prevent nappy rashes.

Care:

The question everyone asks when they find out we use cloth nappie- what about the washing? Lots of people are put off cloth by the thought of cleaning nasty messes. I have to admit I wondered about it too, but in all honesty it’s easy, and only takes minutes each day. Heres our system

  1. Dirty nappies go in a big bucket- wet ones as is, dirty ones with poos cleaned off. With modern nappies solid poos just roll into the toilet. Newborn/ breastfed poos are more difficult, and may need a quick scrub unless you use disposable liners. Flushable liners are the best!
  2. Every two-three days the nappies are tipped into the washing machine (on a rinse cycle first if very dirty), and washed in a non-enzyme washing powder. Nappy sellers will advise you on the best washing powder for your nappies. Don’t use fabric softeners (they coat the fabric decreasing the absorbency) but some hygiene rinses are ok. I use 1/2 cup white vinegar in the rinse cycle, this helps deodorise and soften the nappies quite effectively.
  3. Hang on the washing line in the sun (or on a rack inside in a Wellington winter). Dryers make the job even easier, and the nappies fluffier but does negate some of the environmental benefit (I don’t even own a drier!).

For more detail information about nappy care there are plenty of websites- try here and here.

Of course, having said all that I am on my way to waving goodbye to the nappy obsession- my little girl has decided (of her own accord!) to start toilet training! And that perhaps, is the final benefit of cloth. I can’t remember where I heard the statistic but apparently, on average, children in cloth toilet train 6 months sooner than those in disposables.

Upside down world

June 1, 2007

I have just come across Upside down world,

an online magazine uncovering activism and politics in Latin America. Founded in 2003,  it is made up of work from writers, activists, artists and regular citizens from around the globe who are interested in flipping the world upside down…or right side up. Upside Down World provides concerned global citizens with independent reporting on Latin American social movements and governments that have refused to prostrate themselves to the interests of corporate globalization, and instead have focused their work on addressing the needs of the people.

There are some very interesting articles posted, from all corners of Latin America and on a variety of topics-

From Bolivia’s gas conflicts to worker-run factories in Argentina, from Guatemalan resistance to mining to the new political process in Venezuela .

They have just published an article on the Goldcorp mine in Honduras, something I have posted about before(here and here).  Here are some excerpts from the article:

The results of the latest water quality and health study, which was released on February 7th of this year (2007), show that water sources -including a domestic use well built by the company- have higher levels of copper and iron than even the generous amounts allowed by the World Bank guidelines for open pit mining areas… of the ten local people to have had their blood sampled, every single one has quantities of lead and arsenic in their blood at a level considered “very dangerous” by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Leslie Yaritza Perez hasn’t given up on waiting for the day when her baby, 18 month old Carla, will start walking. Carla still can’t support her body weight, and has little control over her legs… Carla’s father works at the mine, and their family home in Palo Ralo is a stone’s throw away from where the company built a well for the displaced community, which was later found to be contaminated with arsenic.

Honduran mining law stipulates that mining concessions can be cancelled if the mining activity “affects or damages water, air, flora, fauna, the community and the general ecosystem.” The government, led by President Manuel Zelaya, has shown little will to back the concerns of the communities and suspend Goldcorp’s concession in Honduras… For now, the battle lines have been drawn. Communities dealing with illness and water contamination, which is affecting their children more than anyone else, are on one side. Goldcorp, a major gold company waging an expensive public relations campaign is on the other.

The entire amount of money pledged by all the world’s richest countries to the world poorest to help them deal with the effects of climate change only adds up to half of what London recently assigned to help ‘climate-proof’ the London Underground.

Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign, said, “Developing countries cannot be expected to foot the bill for the impact of rich countries’ emissions. G8 countries face two obligations as they prepare for this year’s summit in Germany – to stop harming by cutting their emissions to keep global warming below 2C, and to start helping poor countries to cope by paying their share of $50bn per year in adaptation funds.” :- Tree Hugger