Wangari Maathai muses on trees, activism, and God (radio)

June 9th, 2011

Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Green Belt movement, Wangari Maathai, started a tree-planting campaign to create a better world for the impoverished and marginalized people of her native country, Kenya. For such views, she faced threats of assassination, violence, and censorship from the government.

Now 71, Maathai speaks to Krista Tippett, the host of the radio show On Being, about the importance of trees, how ecology and human well-being interact, and where she finds her faith.

For more information:

Restoring forests: an opportunity for Africa

(05/26/2011) Tropical forest news last week was dominated by Indonesia and Brazil. Forest clearing has surged over the past year in parts of the Amazon, the Brazilian Government reported. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s President signed a moratorium on cutting some intact forest areas, as part of a landmark billion-dollar deal with international donors. But new research shows that Africa offers some of the greatest opportunities globally for restoring forests.

Reforestation program in China preventing future disasters

(05/13/2011) China’s response to large-scale erosion with reforestation is paying off according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The 10-year program, known as Sloping Land Conversion Program (SLCP), is working to turn some 37 million acres back into forest or grasslands after farming on steep slopes in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins had made them perilously susceptible to erosion and flooding.

Women are key to global conservation

(03/03/2011) In 1991, my nine-year-old daughter Rachel traveled with me to Guatemala where we were struck by the heartbreaking rural poverty and mudslides worsened by widespread deforestation. We vividly remember holding a three-year-old child who was so listless and malnourished he could scarcely lift his arms. The worry and fatigue on his mother’s face and the child’s condition affected us both profoundly, despite Rachel’s relative youth.

Great Green Wall gets go ahead

(02/28/2011) Spanning the entire continent of Africa, including 11 nations, the Great Green Wall (GGW) is an ambitious plan to halt desertification at the Sahara’s southern fringe by employing the low-tech solution of tree planting. While the Great Green Wall was first proposed in the 1980s, the grand eco-scheme is closer to becoming a reality after being approved at an international summit last week in Germany as reported by the Guardian.

India commits $10 billion to expand forests

(02/25/2011) The Indian government has approved a bold plan to expand and improve the quality of its forests as a part of the nation’s National Action Plan on Climate Change. The reforestation plan, dubbed the National Mission for a Green India (NMGI), will expand forests by five million hectares (over 12 million acres), while improving forests quality on another five million hectares for $10.14 billion (460 billion rupees).

Activism: save Southeast Asia’s last major primary lowland rainforest

June 2nd, 2011

Note: as a news organization, mongabay.com does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue further.


Villagers from Prey Lang forest area rally in Cambodia’s capital against continuing destruction of their forest. Protestors dressed as ‘avatars’ to gain more attention to their plight. Photo courtesy of: Prey Lang Network.

Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest is one of Southeast Asia’s most important rainforests. Much of the forest has never been logged even though as as a lowland rainforest it should have been one of the first to see the axe. It sustains startling biodiversity including popular animals such as tigers and elephants, and provides vital resources to the surrounding communities. Yet, the Prey Lang forest remains unprotected and the forest is being handed over to corporations for clearcutting piece-by-piece. Locals are working to stop the destruction, but they face an uphill battle, including threats to arrest and intimidation for protesting. For Prey Lang to be protected, pressure may need to come from abroad as well as locally.

According to the petition: “Prey Lang is the last large primary forest of its kind on the Indochinese peninsula. Inclusive of seven distinct ecosystems including unique primordial forest, Prey Lang’s biodiversity is exceptionally high, including almost 40 endangered plant and animal species. As a primary watershed, regulating water and sediment flow to the Tonle Sap Basin, and as an important spawning area for fish, Prey Lang is vital for Cambodia’s long-term environmental sustainability and people’s food and water security. With among the highest carbon sequestration values in the region, it is a powerhouse for fighting global warming. About 200,000 people, mostly indigenous Kuy, live around the forest and our dependent on it for their livelihoods and culture.”

Prey Lang Forest petition: Help Save Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest.

For more information on Prey Lang:

Photos: Cambodians rally as ‘Avatars’ to save one of the region’s last great rainforests

(05/31/2011) Two hundred Cambodians rallied in Phnom Penh last week to protest the widespread destruction of one of Southeast Asia’s last intact lowland rainforests, known as Prey Lang. In an effort to gain wider media attention, protestors donned dress and make-up inspired by the James Cameron film, Avatar, which depicts the destruction of a forest and its inhabitants on an alien world. The idea worked as the rally received international attention from Reuters, CNN (i-report), MSNBC, and NPR, among other media outlets.

Cambodians prevented from protesting destruction of their forest

(03/10/2011) Cambodian villagers fighting to save their forest from rubber companies have been rebuked by the local government. Two days in a row local authorities prevented some 400 Cambodian villagers from protesting at the offices of the Vietnam-based CRCK Company, which the villagers contend are destroying their livelihoods by bulldozing large swaths of primary forests. Authorities said they feared the villagers would have grown violent while protesting.

Rising hope for Asia’s vultures?

May 31st, 2011

Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction from The RSPB on Vimeo.

Vultures may not get a lot of love, or respect for that matter, from the public, but they play a vital role in cleaning up and recycling nature’s waste, which also helps prevent diseases from spreading. Vultures were once abundant throughout Asia, but that was until veterinary drug diclofenac became common. Used on cattle and livestock, researchers discovered in 2003 that the drug was toxic to vultures, killing any bird that consumed the deceased livestock. Within years populations plummeted, putting several once-abundant species on the Critically Endangered list.

Rapid response from conservationists, including innovative and unique programs, have provided hope that vultures species may still survive.

Economic worth of living sharks (video)

May 15th, 2011

It turns out that sharks are worth more alive than dead. According to a new study, a single shark is worth $1.9 million over its lifetime as a tourist attraction in the island nation of Palau. Sold for consumption the shark is worth around $108. In this case a shark is worth a stunning 17,000 times more alive than dead. Sharks worldwide are being decimated, largely for the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. Some populations have fallen by over 90%.

The study did not collect data on the shark’s economic worth as providing other ‘ecosystem services’.

For more information:

Left alive and wild, a single shark worth $1.9 million

(05/02/2011) For the Pacific island nation of Palau, sharks are worth much more alive than dead. A new study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) has found that one reef shark during its full life is worth $1.9 million to Palau in tourism revenue. Sold for consumption the shark is worth around $108. In this case a shark is worth a stunning 17,000 times more alive than dead.

Green dams in the Amazon? (video)

April 3rd, 2011

Video looks at how to save the Amazon in midst of rising pressure to build massive hydroelectric power in the region.

WWF (with aid from Nature Conservancy) looks at what rivers must be preserved from hydroelectric power in order to keep the Amazon ecosystem thriving using ecosystem-wide modeling.

For more information on dam projects in the Amazon:

Bill Clinton takes on Brazil’s megadams, James Cameron backs tribal groups

(03/28/2011) Former US President, Bill Clinton, spoke out against Brazil’s megadams at the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, which was also attended by former California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and film director, James Cameron, who has been an outspoken critic of the most famous of the controversial dams, the Belo Monte on the Xingu River.

World’s most controversial dam, Brazil’s Belo Monte, back on

(03/06/2011) A recent injunction against controversial dam, Belo Monte, in Brazil has been overturned, allowing the first phase of construction to go ahead. The ruling by a higher court argued that not all environmental conditions must be met on the dam in order for construction to start.

Indigenous leaders take fight over Amazon dams to Europe

(03/02/2011) Three indigenous Amazonian leaders spent this week touring Europe to raise awareness about the threat that a number of proposed monster dams pose to their people and the Amazon forest. Culminating in a press conference and protests in London, the international trip hopes to build pressure to stop three current hydroelectric projects, one in Peru, including six dams, and two in Brazil, the Madeira basin industrial complex and the massive Belo Monte dam. The indigenous leaders made the trip with the NGO Rainforest Foundation UK, including support from Amazon Watch, International Rivers, and Rainforest Concern.

Rivers worldwide in peril: society treats symptoms, ignores causes

(09/29/2010) Dams, agricultural runoff, pesticides, sewage, mercury pollution from coal plants, invasive species, overconsumption, irrigation, erosion from deforestation, wetland destruction, overfishing, aquaculture: it’s clear that the world’s rivers are facing a barrage of unprecedented impacts from humans, but just how bad is the situation? A new global analysis of the world’s rivers is not comforting: the comprehensive report, published in Nature, finds that our waterways are in a deep crisis which bridges the gap between developing nations and the wealthy west. According to the study, while societies spend billions treating the symptoms of widespread river degradation, they are still failing to address the causes, imperiling both human populations and freshwater biodiversity.

Which came first the forest or the rain?

October 20th, 2010

By: Douglas Sheil
Repost from Bwindi Researchers on Wildlife Direct

During the rainy season in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, there’s an impressive storm and our water tanks overflow nearly every day. We’re in the equatorial rain forest after all: we have the location, trees and weather to prove it. But is the forest here because of the rain or is it the other way around? Being in a highland area we probably get much of our rain simply due to the terrain (mountains tend to be wet even in dry regions) and the forest vegetation takes advantage of that.

Clouds over Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Clouds are often found over forests. What causes what?

But what about in the wet lowland forests of the Congo and Amazon basins? How does so much rain get so far inland from the oceans? You might think that climate scientists know the answer. Actually they don’t. That troubles me.

I have spent some time trying to understand how so much rain gets into the interior of wet continental regions. Why do winds blow the way they do and why do they carry so much rain?

One new theory really deserves recognition. The theory suggests that forests are the reason: they attract rain. The physical principles behind this idea have been explained by two Russian physicists. Their publications are not easy to read and follow, but I have spent some time trying to share their ideas because I think they are important.

Clouds forming over the forest — Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.

The basic concept relates to how water vapor, via condensation and evaporation, gives rise to differences in atmospheric pressure between areas and thus cause winds — these winds in turn control where water (i.e. rain) comes from and goes to. If the theory is true we have a whole new way to understand how climate works and a whole new reason to value forests.

Last year, Daniel Murdiyarso and I published an overview of the basic ideas that got some media coverage. You may have seen some of it: e.g. Mongabay, New Scientist and Scientific American. We even got a recent mention in to the Economist. . If you like, you can see our original article in Bioscience. So why is this news? Well, I’ll get there in a moment.

Morning time clouds — Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. Would the clouds be there without the forest?

The theory received its fair share of criticism. We should not be surprised—science works through critical scrutiny and radical ideas should certainly be well scrutinized. I welcome that. But it also seems to me that some, perhaps most, of the comments are misdirected—when we look in detail the theory is not being understood in the manner intended. Misreadings and assumptions get in the way.

So to get a fair hearing we need to communicate the ideas as clearly as we can. To do so I have teamed up with the physicists themselves: Drs. Anastassia Makarieva and Victor Gorshkov (you can learn more if you visit their site). We now have a new manuscript up for anyone, including you, to see. Feel free to take a look at the text here. It’s technical because climate science needs to be, but we also hope it makes good clear sense.

Will it change the world? I don’t know. But it might.

So now we wait and see what the rest of the scientific community thinks. Some may like it, others may not. If their comments are insightful I wont mind either way (well not too much). After all, that’s how science moves forward.