Even though nature provides us with everything our modern society needs, our relationship with her is rather destructive. All the impact that our society has inflicted on Earth has led to a new geological era, which experts have baptised as Anthropocene. The Living Planet Report shows us what is the state of the planet. Do not miss it!
THIS IS THE STATE OF THE PLANET: LIVING PLANET INDEX 2018 (WWF)
This is not the first time that we make a summary of the Living Planet Report, carried out by the WWF and, with this latest edition, turns 20 years and has the participation of more than 50 experts. Previous reports stressed the remarkable deterioration of Earth’s natural systems: both nature and biodiversity are disappearing at an alarming rate. In addition, it is estimated that on a global scale nature provides services valued at around 110 billion euros per year.
WHAT IS THREATENING BIODIVERSITY?
According to a recent study, the main threats to biodiversity are two: overexploitation and agriculture. In fact, 3 out of 4 species of plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals extinct since 1500 disappeared due to these two reasons. This is due to the huge growth of consumption worldwide, which explains that the ecological footprint has increased by 190% in the last 50 years.
The demand for products derived from ecosystems, linked to their lower capacity to replace them, explains that only 25% of the earth’s surface is completely free of the impacts of human activities. This fraction is expected to be only 10% by 2050.
Soil degradation includes the loss of forest, with the highest rate of deforestation in tropical forests, which harbour the highest levels of biodiversity. Soil degradation has diverse impacts on the species, the quality of the habitats and the functioning of the ecosystems:
Alteration of the biological functions of biodiversity.
Alteration of habitats and their functions.
Alteration of the wealth and abundance of the species.
Invasive species are also a common threat, the dispersion of which is associated with trade. Pollution, dams, fires and mining are additional pressures, in addition to the increasing role of global change.
LIVING PLANET INDEX 2018
The Living Planet Index (LPI) is an indicator of the state of global biodiversity and the health of the planet. It is established by calculating the average abundance of about 22,000 populations of more than 4,000 different species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from around the world.
The global LPI shows that the size of vertebrate populations has decreased by 60% in just over 40 years (between 1970 and 2014).
If we distribute the analysed species into biogeographic realms, as the lower image shows, we can observe differences in the LPI. The most pronounced population declines occur in the tropics. The Neotropical realm has suffered the most drastic decline: 89% loss respect the year 1970. On the other hand, in the Nearctic and Palearctic the reductions have been much lower: 23 and 31% respectively. The other two realms have intermediate declines, although important: in tropical Africa it is 56% and in the Indo-Pacific 64%. In all the realms, the main threat is the degradation and loss of habitats, but variations are observed.
Unlike recent reports, in which the index was separated according to whether the populations were terrestrial, marine or freshwater, in this edition only the freshwater LPI has been calculated. These are the most threatened ecosystems since they are affected by the modification, fragmentation and destruction of habitats; the invasive species; excessive fishing; pollution; forestry practices; diseases and climate change. Analysing 3,358 populations of 880 different species it has been calculated that the freshwater LPI has decreased by 83% since 1970, specially the Neotropical (94% decrease), the Indo-Pacific (82%) and tropical Africa (75%) realms.
AIMING HIGHER: REVERSING THE BIODIVERSITY LOSS CURVE
Despite political agreements for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity (Convention on Biological Diversity, COP6, Aichi Targets…), global biodiversity trends continue to decline.
As indicated in the Living Planet Report, “between today and the end of 2020 there is a window of opportunity without equal to shape a positive vision for nature and people.” This is because the Convention on Biological Diversity is in the process of establishing new goals and objectives for the future, adding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the case of the SDGs, these refer to:
SDG 14: Conserve and sustainably use oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
The authors consider that what is needed are well-defined goals and a set of credible actions to restore the abundance of nature until 2050. To achieve this, the authors recommend following three steps:
Specify clearly the objective of biodiversity recovery.
Develop a set of measurable and relevant indicators of progress.
Agree on a package of actions that together achieve the objective within the required time frame.
Looking at the data from the Living Planet Report 2018, it is evident that nature is in retreat: we have lost 60% of the vertebrate populations of the planet, despite the differences between the different areas. In addition, environmental policies are not enough to stop this trend. Therefore, more ambitious policies are needed to stop and recover the nature of the planet in which we live. We have an obligation to live with nature, not against nature. If we do not have more sustainable and respectful habits with the environment, the benefits that nature brings us will be lost and will affect our own survival.
The fact plastics cause problems in ecosystems, biodiversity and human health is well known. In fact, being aware of this, the European Union win ban in 2021, some single-use plastic objects and has established some measures for others. Let’s see what we can do to fight this war against plastic!
WAR AGAINST PLASTIC
REASONS TO FIGHT PLASTIC USE
According to a study published in 2015, it is estimated that there are 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the world’s oceans, equivalent to a weight of 268,940 tons. If we focus only at the Mediterranean Sea, there are about 2,000 tons of plastic particles. It is also known that 80% of marine plastic comes from land. Another study points, in addition, that by 2050 there will be more plastics than fish in the seas and oceans of the planet not to stop the current trend.
As we already talked in this other article, marine litter, of which 75-85% are plastics, causes serious problems in biodiversity, its habitats and the economy. In fact, it is known that every year one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die from plastic.
The problem of plastic also affects our health. According to a study published in the recent weeks, microplastics have been detected in the excrements of all people who participated in the study. The presence of plastics in the body can be dangerous for the immune system and cause diseases due to their toxins.
HOW CAN WE LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC?
We must recognise that, nowadays, living without plastic is quite complicated. The reason is that it is infinitely easier to find a product in a plastic container than in a glass one, or even without it, that is, in bulk. Does this mean that we cannot beat the plastic battle? Obviously, not, but we’ll have to make a little effort.
FORBIDDEN PLASTICS FOR THE EUROPEAN UNION
We have already said that the European Union will ban some plastic items in 2021. These objects are plates, glasses and cutlery, drinking straws and cotton buds. Considering that in two years we will not find them in the stores, go ahead to the prohibition and implement these alternatives.
Using plastic cutlery, plates and cups at a party with many people is comfortable, and if they are colourful it is even fun, but it is totally unsustainable. Alternatives:
In the market you can find these objects made with alternative materials. In particular, they are usually made of corn, so that when you finish your party or picnic you can throw them into the organic fraction, since they are compostable. You can also find them in paper, although they are less resistant and less sustainable.
Another alternative is to use your metal cutlery, your ceramic dishes and your crystal glasses. Simpler, smarter and more sustainable!
Plastic straws are a problem for the environment, since many of them end up in the sea.
In the United States alone, 500 million straws are consumed every day. Maybe you are going to think that this is why it is a very populated country. Well, in Spain every day 13 million are consumed and it is the European country in which they consume the most. If you are one of those who need (need!) to drink a soft drink or cocktail with a straw, we have an alternative for you.
At home, we can use reusable bamboo or metal straws. They are equally effective and you will be collaborating to avoid images like the ones in the video being repeated.
Do you really need to drink with a straw? If you only find plastic straws in a bar, pub, club or restaurant, reject it (but before they bring you the drink!). Surely you will survive!
The ear buds are another of the prohibited objects from 2021 since it is one of the most found among marine debris.
Apart from the fact that the health authorities only advise its use for the external ear, if you cannot avoid its use, you should opt for alternatives to the plastic ones:
Use cotton buds made with bamboo or other woods which, in addition, are sold in recycled cardboard boxes.
If you want to be even more sustainable and reduce your garbage production, there is another better alternative: buy a metal stick as we recommend in this article and put a piece of clean cloth on a tip to absorb the water from the shower.
SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVES TO OTHER PLASTIC ITEMS
Plastic bottles also harm the environment. Did you know that it takes up to 1,000 years to degrade one bottle? In addition, to make each plastic bottle it is needed 100 mL of oil. For sure, many of you will be thinking about water, but the truth is that this also applies to soaps, detergents, softeners… Seeing how these bottles are accumulating, we give you some tips:
Buy larger bottles. It is needed less plastic for a bottle of 1L than for 4 of 250 mL.
For the specific case of water, use canteens to avoid the use of plastic. You can drink tap water if in your town has the right quality, but if it is not the case you can install an osmosis or buy water jugs (remember what we said in the previous point).
Observe what products you consume at home in plastic bottles and look for a store in your area that sells them in bulk.
Plastic bags, although their use is being reduced, are another problem. In Spain, according to Cicloplast, each year 97,000 tons of plastic bags are consumed, of which only 10% are recycled.
How easy and comfortable it is to go shopping with cloth bags, a trolley or a shopping basket!
Finally, we will now focus on polystyrene trays and plastic film. These two elements are increasingly common in supermarkets and homes, since supermarkets sell their fresh product packed in them. Some advises:
If your supermarket only sells meat, fish… in these containers, opt for a local store, which will sell it in bulk and you can also buy just the amount you need.
Go shopping in bulk stores and take your tupperware (best glass) from home to avoid plasticized paper (which goes to landfills) or the aforementioned objects.
We are aware that we have forgot many things to comment due to plastic is very present in our lives, but the best thing is to become aware of the plastics we generate every day to find an alternative to each of them.
What do you do to avoid the use of plastic? Leave us your advice in the comments for others to join this war against plastic.
Towns and cities have increasingly become hostile to biodiversity. Fortunately, a few years ago there is a growing interest to make cities more friendly to the native fauna and flora. Discover what you can do for urban biodiversity!
HOW CAN YOU HELP BIODIVERSITY OF THE CITIES?
According to SEO BirdLife, 10% of the bird species that live in Spain are housed in urban environments. In fact, some of them, like the sparrow, depend on human presence. In spite of that, these species are in decline.
They also assure that urban birds in Spain have suffered a decrease of over 18% in the last 20 years. For the case of the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), the loss amounts to 44% of its individuals.
BENEFITS OF URBAN BIODIVERSITY FOR PEOPLE
Biodiversity in cities is positive for human beings, beyond the ornamental function, since it offers a set of very important services that improve our quality of life. In fact, the WHO recommends that in cities there are between 10 and 15 m2 of green areas per inhabitant and that the inhabitants have a green area less than 300 m from their house.
In addition to the benefits that nature has for human health and well-being, green areas cushion the temperature (important to reduce the effect of heat islands), purify the air and fix CO2. It is also responsible for the pollination of crops and, in general, to increase the resilience of the environment.
WHAT CAN WE DO FOR URBAN BIODIVERSITY?
Broadly speaking, to help the biodiversity of cities, we must:
Provide enough urban green areas in the cities and that they are distributed throughout the area.
Have urban green spaces connected between them and with the natural environment.
If the green areas are illuminated, make sure it is not annoying for the fauna.
We must bear in mind that, if we have cats at home, we must consider if it is worth doing some of the actions we propose, since our feline friends are great predators and, rather than helping the fauna, we could be harming it.
PLANT TREES, BUSHES AND FLOWERS THAT PROMOTE BIODIVERSITY
Obviously, if we plant native trees or shrubs we will be favouring the biodiversity of our city. If we do not meet this first point and plant exotic invasives, we will be questioning the future of our area. In addition to this fact, we must add other considerations.
The trees or bushes that produce fleshy fruits, such as the olive tree (Olea europea), the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) or the lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), will be able to sustain a part of the diet of some animals. The olive tree also generates holes, which may serve as a nest for some birds. If we look for species that bear fruit in winter, when conditions are more difficult due to the reduction of food, it will also be of great help.
Softwood trees, such as poplar (Populus), will allow some birds, such as the Iberian green woodpecker (Picus sharpei), to make holes in its trunk, which will cause that when leaving the nest other species can be installed. We can also leave dead trees standing for the Iberian green woodpecker to make its nest.
Combining deciduous and perennial trees will allow a refuge for wildlife throughout the year.
As for the plants, it is highly recommended to plant indigenous aromatic plants, which will attract a large number of pollinating insects. In the Mediterranean area, you can choose rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), lavender (Lavandula stoechas), savory (Satureja montana), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), sage (Salvia officinalis), basil (Ocimum basilicum)…
INSTALL NEST BOXES
If there were old trees in the cities (and in the natural areas), it would not be necessary to install nest boxes. The reason is that the old trees have holes, in which the chickadees, the tits, the owls, etc. make a nest. But not only can you install nest boxes for birds, you can also do them for bats, which are effective mosquito eaters.
On the other hand, there are animals that use buildings to breed, such as the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the kestrels, the crow (Corvus corax), the common swift (Apus apus), the common gecko (Tarentola mauritanica), etc. .
In general, in the Iberian Peninsula there are about 40 species of birds and a dozen mammals that can use nest boxes to breed and rest.
BUILD A INSECT HOTEL OR OTHER STRUCTURES FOR FAUNA
An insect hotel is a construction with a wooden structure that is full of different materials, such as natural cane, stones, tiles, bricks, pineapples, perforated wood or straw, which serve as a hiding, resting and breeding place for various species of insects.
Although you can buy them, we recommend you do it yourself with a little imagination. Collect these materials and about 6-7 wooden pallets and start to build a new home for solitary bees (solitary bees are not aggressive, unlike colonial ones), ladybugs (they will eat the aphid you have in your garden), lacewing, syrphids…
The construction of dry stone spirals with aromatic plants will also favour the presence of fauna, especially reptiles.
In a corner of your garden, you can leave a pile of trunks in the shape of a pyramid. You will see that in a while it will be colonised by mosses, fungi, xylophagous insects, lizards…
VEGETATION MAINTENANCE TASKS
All this is meaningless without sustainable maintenance of green infrastructure. What good is it to plant trees with fleshy fruits if we prune them in full fruition?
Here are some tips:
Do not prune in the time when the trees are in fruit, concentrate them during the winter.
Avoid pruning all trees and shrubs the same year.
Decrease the number of prunings and ask that they be less drastic. So there will be structures that can support large nests.
Do not remove all the leaves from the ground, since leaf litter allows the development of the invertebrate fauna and incorporates organic matter into the soil.
Do not use chemical pesticides or phytosanitary products. If you have a pest, use biological control systems against them.
ASK YOUR LOCAL ADMINISTRATION TO JOIN IN THE PROMOTION OF URBAN BIODIVERSITY
Some of these tips will be easy to implement, others will be less. In addition to applying it in your own home, ask your local administration to apply these principles. Together we will make towns and cities more sustainable in which biodiversity can also live!
In addition to the points already mentioned, local administrations can do some other tasks that are within their competence:
Naturalise artificial lakes. What if, instead of having ponds with crystal clear water, we took advantage of these points to favour the presence of amphibians, reptiles and aquatic vegetation?
Change lawns for natural meadows. What if instead of having large expanses of green grass, typical of northern Europe (where water is plentiful), we had spaces with different species of native flowers that attracted large numbers of pollinators and birds? Some birds, such as the zitting cisticola or streaked fantail warbler (Cisticola juncidis) or the European stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), make nests in the middle of meadows.
Reduce the mowing of the lawns (better done at the end of winter) and make differential mowing. What if instead of completely mowing the lawn we did it irregularly to allow the growth of spontaneous vegetation that attracted the invertebrates?
Plant in the tree clogs. What if instead of having tree clogs full of dog droppings we had them full of flowers that attract the insects that control the plagues of the tree that is planted in it?
Have we encouraged you to apply any of the measures we present? Tell us what you are doing to help urban biodiversity in the comments of this article.
On May 22nd, the International Day of Biological Diversity is celebrated worldwide, or in other words, the day of biodiversity, to commemorate the approval of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Did you know that we only know 15% of all the biodiversity on the planet? Discover more!
HOW MANY SPECIES LIVE ON EARTH?
Before answering this question, it is important to understand the concept of biodiversity or biological diversity.
WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY?
Biodiversity is the living beings on Earth and the natural patterns that make up, that is, the set of existing plants, animals and microorganisms. This biodiversity must be understood within each species, between species and ecosystems.
THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
The Convention on Biological Diversity, which was adopted in 1992 and has the ratification of 193 countries to date, has three main objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable participation of the benefits that derive from the use of genetic resources, in order to promote measures for a sustainable future.
The governments of the acceding countries meet every two years to examine progress, set priorities and adopt work plans.
According to the Convention, species, genetic resources and ecosystems should be used for the benefit of the human being, but without this implying a reduction in biodiversity. It also applies the precautionary principle, that is, when there is not enough scientific evidence to demonstrate the reduction or loss of biodiversity, it should not be used as a reason to postpone taking measures to deal with it. Thus, it is an instrument that promotes sustainable development.
SPECIES OF THE EARTH
To date, a total of 1.3 million species have been identified and described, but the truth is that many more live on Earth. The most accurate census, conducted by the Hawaii’s University, estimates that a total of 8.7 million species live on the planet.
If we take this figure as good, it means that we have described only 15% of all the organisms that live on Earth. To be more precise, we still have 86% of the terrestrial species to be described and 91% of the marine species.
To give an example of how far we are from knowing all the species, last year we identified a new species of primate: the orangutan of Tapanuli (Pongo tapanuliensis), which lives on the island of Sumatra (Indonesia).
In spite of these figures, the dance of numbers is important and the different investigations carried out give different values, reaching the point that some point out that there would be 100 million species.
What is clear is that we have a long way to go until we have a complete catalog of species. Worst of all, many of these unidentified species are becoming extinct before we discover them.
CLASIFICATION AND DISTRIBUTION OF THE SPECIES
Here we do not want to talk about the way species are classified, as we already did in this article on classification and phylogeny. Here we want to see how species are distributed in the different groups of living beings.
If we take the classification system of Margulis and Schwartz of organization of living beings in five kingdoms, according to Llorente-Bousquets, J and S. Ocegueda (2008), this is the distribution of the known species of the planet:
The predominant group is that of animals, representing 76% of all known species. Within animals, arthropods are the group with the most species, with about 1.2 million species (1 million of which are insect species), representing 86% of all known animals. Our group, the chordates, is light years away from this figure, since it is made up of some 61,000 species (4% of the species), being surpassed by that of the molluscs, with some 85,000 species.
Plants represent 17% of the species studied, with approximately 292,000 species. These include different large groups: angiosperms (87% of species), gymnosperms (0.3%), ferns (4.3%) and bryophytes (9%).
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF SPECIES EXTINCTION?
Human activities cause a decline in species because the principles of sustainable development are not always applied. Among these activities, the following should be highlighted:
Alteration and destruction of ecosystems. The destruction of the rainforest is an example. In many tropical areas, such as Southeast Asia, it is devastated with large areas of forest to plant the palm, from which the famous palm oil is extracted. This endangers a high number of species, among which there are orangutans. Avoid products with palm oil to avoid this situation! Another example is the fragmentation of rivers due to the construction of large dams, which prevents fish such as salmon, eel or lamprey to move freely between rivers and the sea.
Agricultural practices The abusive use of pesticides is causing the massive death of bees, insects essential for pollination and, therefore, for the provision of food. As we have seen before, agriculture needs land and, when it is not available, large areas are destroyed.
Hunting and exploitation of animals. Until not many years ago, there was a hunt for animals that were thought to be harmful to livestock, hunting or man, as in the case of the Iberian wolf. Trade in exotic species, collecting or capturing animals with supposedly curative properties are also threatening biodiversity.
Introduction of exotic species. When a species is introduced, voluntarily or involuntarily, in an area where it is not native it is called an exotic species. These compete for space and resources with the natives, so that local species are harmed. If, in addition, these new species displace the locals then they have an invasive behavior. In Hawaii, human activity and the introduction of new species such as the rat has caused the disappearance of 90% of native bird species.
We all like to travel and many times we seek contact with nature. This happens especially when we travel to exotic countries and seek contact with wild animals. Travelling and respect for nature are two concepts that should go hand in hand. It is nothing other than responsible tourism. Discover what you can do to travel respecting animals!
RESPONSIBLE TOURISM: TRAVELLING RESPECTING THE ANIMALS
Every time people are more disconnected from nature, which means that when we go to it we do not do it in the best way. How many times have we seen pictures of people with wild animals? If you really love animals, you will look for ways to approach them without endangering their lives or their natural habitat.
WHEN DO WE HAVE TO CONSIDER IRRESPONSIBLE AN ACTIVITY WITH ANIMALS?
A first indicator that we should reject an activity that will be harmful to animals is that they are not in their habitat, but above all because they perform sickly and inappropriate behaviors of their species. An encounter with animals should make us feel that we all are part of nature and that we all share the planet together. Remember: the animals are not for fun!
In accordance with the Amsterdam European Treaty of 1997, for animals to enjoy minimal animal welfare they must:
Do not suffer hunger or thirst.
Do not suffer discomfort.
Do not suffer pain, injury or illness.
Be free to express their natural behaviour.
Do not suffer fear or anguish.
For these reasons, when an activity calls into question any of these five points we must reject it.
3 ACTIVITIES THAT CAN ENDANGER ANIMALS (AND WE CAN AVOID)
ANIMAL SIGHTINGS AND SAFARIS
According to FAADA, every year 12 million trips are organised to observe wild animals in their natural habitat, whether they are cetaceans, birds, lions or any other animal.
It is not difficult to imagine that all this amount of people occupying their natural habitats and interacting with animals have negative effects:
Behavioral and psychological changes, such as reducing the time they feed or rest or even seek refuge in other areas, where there could be less food and more predators.
Animals during breeding season are especially sensitive, so bothering them at this time can have negative effects for the conservation of the species.
Chemical changes in the blood by the increase of stress hormones or by being fed by tourists.
Transmission of diseases, whether from animals to humans or vice versa.
Their natural habitats are also compromised.
In spite of what we have just said, this type of activity can also have a positive impact on species, such as the protection of habitats, the financing of conservation projects, the creation of jobs for locals and education on wildlife and the need to preserve it. An example of this is the Galapagos Islands, which thanks to wildlife sightings, such as marine iguanas, can maintain the national park, or the whale sharks of the Seychelles, which can be studied thanks to the money collected.
TIPS FOR A RESPONSIBLE TOURISM IN ANIMAL SIGHTINGS AND SAFARIS
The tips that should be followed vary a lot depending on the species that we will observe, but in general we should take into account the following:
Do not take or introduce fauna or flora from the place we visit.
Do not use means of transport that move at high speed, that produce a lot of noise or that change direction abruptly.
Never touch the animals, because you could transmit diseases, infections or parasites (or vice versa).
Never feed the animals, because you could modify their behaviour patterns, create dependence or even suffer aggression.
Do not leave a trace of garbage, including organic remains.
Do not provoke animals or try to attract their attention.
Do not shout or make exaggerated noises or movements, because they could come to interpret it as a threat.
Do not maintain eye contact with animals, since some interpret it as a challenge.
Investigate when it is the time of reproduction or moult of the species that you want to see and avoid going in this period.
Never place yourself between two animals, especially between a mother and her offspring.
Try not to damage plants, mosses and lichens while walking or driving.
Respect the maximum time allowed for sighting.
Call the attention of the people in the group or the guide whenever these recommendations are not met and inform the organizers.
In many touristic destinations, we can find some souvenirs made with animal parts or even with living animals.
Reject gifts or products with shells, horns, furs, feathers, teeth, bones or other parts. Remember that selling ivory, such as of elephant, is totally illegal. In addition, some objects can be made with sea turtle shells, such as jewellery or sunglasses. And as a final example, rejects any product of traditional Asian medicine made with parts of tiger, leopard, musk, rhinoceros and bear, since they are also illegal.
As for live animals, as a traveller/tourist and consumer, you have the power to stop this industry that endangers wildlife. Just to give an example, it is known about 700 animal species that are in danger of extinction as a result of the capture of exotic species to be acquired as pets. In addition, for a single individual to arrive at the store, it is estimated that there are 9 other animals that have died along the way.
Buy them, besides being unethical and that could have involved a lot of cruelty towards animals, could cause many legal problems, since the fact that they are sold does not mean that they are allowed.
TIPS FOR A RESPONSIBLE TOURISM IN SOUVENIRS
Never buy this type of products. Tell the seller that you want another type of souvenir.
If you suspect the legality of a product, inform the police, your tour operator or the local tourism authority.
Alerts the rest of tourists of this problem.
Many times animals are abused, even causing their death, with the excuse that it is a tradition of the country or the region. An example of this are bullfights. As it is impossible to talk about all of them, here we are going to focus on elephants in temples, snake charmers and gastronomy.
ELEPHANTS IN TEMPLES
In Hindu and Buddhist countries it is easy to find elephants in the temples, since they consider that they will bring fortune and good luck. Interestingly, they do bring fortune; the money they get from the locals who want to be blessed in exchange for a donation.
These elephants are victims of stress, boredom, loneliness, physical pain and psychological pain. Many times they remain chained for life in the same place, one front leg and one back so they cannot move. This usually causes psychological problems and can go crazy: it can be observed by a constant rolling of the head.
Obviously, they do not enjoy the necessary requirements: they spend 18 hours a day searching for food, they protect themselves from the sun with mud, they spend a lot of time in the water, they are highly sociable, they live in herds and a long etcetera.
Nor are they spared a long and suffered training time, in which they are deprived of water, food and social contact, they have limited movement, they are beaten when they rebel and to master them trainers use metal hooks to hit their heads and ears. We leave a video for you to see (notice: it’s hard).
In countries like India and Morocco it is not strange to find snake charmers. Let’s not trick ourselves: it’s not magic, it’s abuse.
In the first place, we must be aware the poaching of these animals are a cause of their disappearance. In fact, each “charmer” uses about 7 snakes per year. The most commonly used species are the cobras and brooding vipers, horned and Maghreb, all very poisonous.
In addition, they are forced to live in wooden boxes of 15 x 40 x 60 cm, in which there are usually different species, so that predation, cannibalism or poisoning are not rare.
To avoid bites, their tusks are cut, their mouths are tied with plastic or even glue is used so that they can only stick their tongue out. The poison glands are also removed to prevent poisoning.
Why do they raise? The reason is that the “charmers” use flutes that look like snakes (in the eyes of snakes, of course) and perform undulating movements, so that they respond with intimidation.
Travelling is a synonym of tasting other types of gastronomy, it is part of the grace of travelling. But when these dishes contain endangered animals or the preparation entails animal suffering, we must reject them.
Here we will only focus on some dishes to avoid, but the list is long:
Shark fin soup (Asian countries): only the fins of the sharks are used to cook it, so they are cut off while they are still alive and the rest of the body is returned alive to the sea, so that their destiny is suffering until get to the deepest.
Turtle eggs (Asia and the Caribbean): turtles reproduce very slowly, so taking their eggs endangers their survival.
Whale meat (Iceland, Japan and Korea): not only threatens its survival, but also endangers human health (contains many pollutants).
Meat of wild animals (Africa, Asia and Latin America): the trade of monkey, anteater or elephant trunk meat is the main reason for its disappearance.
What is your next trip? Will you have any contact with nature and animals activities? What will you do so that this interaction does not compromise the animal’s well-being and survival? Leave us your comments!
The Biosphere Reserves were created with the aim of reconciling biodiversity conservation with sustainable use, economic development, research and education. But is it possible to reconcile progress and conservation?
1. THE BIOSPHERE AND MAN PROGRAMM
Since 1970, the Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB) aims to establish scientific bases for improving relationships between people and the environment.
Biosphere reserves are areas composed of terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems, recognized by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Program. The objective of these areas is to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use, economic development, research and education.
This particular figure of protection must meet certain requirements, such as the need to be large areas of more than 40,000 hectares, with landscapes and habitats representative of a biogeographic region. Another requirement that a Biosphere Reserve must fulfill is to have a high participation of the population, for which several consultation and work committees were created that manage how space will be conserved. This is how to raise awareness and involve people in the conservation of it.
2. HOW DO THEY WORK?
The designation of a “biosphere reserve” of an area implies conservation, scientific research and sustainable development. Its aim is to demonstrate that environmental conservation can be combined with sustainable development, based on the results of local population participation and scientific research.For this, the lands under this protection figure are managed according to their biological, topographical, economic and socio-cultural characteristics.The Biosphere Reserves are characterized by three main functions, which are combined specifically in each of the reserves:
Conservation function, contributing to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
Development function, promoting sustainable economic and human development.
Role of networking, supporting demonstration projects, education and training on the environment, research and observation in relation to conservation and sustainable development at local, regional, national and global levels. It is intended that all areas be interconnected and exchange information.
According to their level of protection, Biosphere Reserves are divided into three zones:
Core zone: formed by undisturbed ecosystems and characteristic of a specific region. It is the area with the greatest protection, it only allows activities that do not interfere in the conservation of the ecosystem and must ensure the protection of biodiversity in the long term.
Cushioning zone: it is an intermediate zone in which activities of scientific investigation, education and environmental training, recreational and tourist activities can be realized, and others that do not interfere in the objectives of the Reserve.
Transition zone: in this area the work of the Reserve is applied to the needs of the local population.
3. THE BIOSPHERE RESERVES IN THE WORLD
Currently 120 countries are part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, with 669 areas declared under this protection figure.
You can check the complete list, but here are some The Biosphere that by its singularity should know:
Mexico: Guadalupe Island. This island has 253.8 km of surface and is in the Pacific Ocean. It stands out for its diversity of marine flora and fauna, among them the largest colony of Pacific elephant seals and the great white shark.
Spain: Picos de Europa. The area, also declared National Park, is located in the central part of the Cantabrian Mountains. They emphasize the gorge of the Beyos and the throat of the Cares, besides its fauna and the variety of forests.
Colombia: Andean Belt. It is located in the Andean chain in southern Colombia and consists of three national parks: Cueva de los Guácharos National Park, Puracé National Park and Nevado del Huila National Park, with a great diversity of birds. One of the main objectives of the Reserve is the planning and management of the agro-systems of the area in a sustainable way.
Venezuela: Orinoco Delta. It stands out for its great biological diversity, in terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Very frequent estuaries and coastal mangroves.
Peru: Huascarán. It is located in the highest and most extensive tropical mountain range on the planet. It is a zone of great biodiversity, thanks to its forests in perfect state of conservation, and its more than 700 glaciers that form lagoons. In order to maintain its protection, a sustainable tourism is practiced which in turn benefits the local population.
Germany: Bavarian Forest. It is a spectacular mountain system of medium height, and next to another zone of protection they form the greater forest reserve of Europe.
United States: Congaree Park. Formed by a forest of fluvial lands, that by its height constitutes one of the highest woody canyons deciduous that remain in the world. 8. China: Huanglong. It is a region located in the southern part of the Minshan Mountains, which stands out for its terraces formed by deposits of calcite and forest ecosystems. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992.
Russia: Lapland. It is located beyond the arctic polar circle and presents a subarctic climate, although free of permafrost (permanent layer of ice in the superficial levels of the soil, which accumulates organic carbon).
Indonesia: Komodo National Park. It is located in the Indonesian archipelago and consists of several islands of volcanic origin. At first, the Komodo Dragon, the great symbol of this reserve, was the main reason for the protection of the area, although this protection was extended towards the protection of the flora and fauna of the region, with marine areas included. Currently deforestation by crops (especially palm oil) and the traffic of wood, are causing the disappearance of large wooded areas of Indonesia at high speed.
FAO. Program Man and the biosphere of UNESCO in mountain areas
The actual world is in turmoil. News related to terrorism, drug trafficking, coups d’état, refugees crisis or the numerous wars still present flood our screens day after day. And, in a completely understandable bias, the focus is almost exclusively on the people and countries involved. But (and it’s something I ask every time I watch the news) what happens to nature in these regions punished by violence? In this entry we review the most important armed conflicts nowadays and their consequences for the nature surrounding them.
Any human action has repercussions on natural life, and even more wars, intrinsically destructive. A series of damages on the wildlife are associated with them such as deforestation, soil degradation, pollution or hunting, among many others. The first time we really became aware of the great impact of the wars on nature was in the Vietnam War. The US army, in its fight against an invisible enemy, threw more than 75 million liters of herbicides into the jungles, in order to defoliate the trees to find their enemies. However, despite partially achieving its objective (we all know how that war ended) nature was seriously damaged. A study carried out in Vietnam in the mid-1980s found that there were only 24 birds and 5 mammals in an area where there were previously between 145 and 170 birds and between 30 and 55 mammals.
Other wars, such as the Civil War in Rwanda, apart from causing more than 500,000 deadsand displacing more than 2 million of people, left the nature of the country in a state of absolute crisis. In the Akagera National Park, one of the most emblematic environments in the country, deforestation wreaked havoc: 200,000 of the 300,000 hectares of forest were lost in just 3 years, as well as 90% of large mammals.
But what is happening today? How are the wars of today affecting the survival of nature? Here we review the most important current conflicts and their difficult coexistence with the wildlife of the region.
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (1948-present)
Although the last war between Israel and Palestine began in 2005, violence between the two countries has been present since the creation of the state of Israel. Thousands of people have been dead for decades, and millions have been displaced against their will. And, of course, nature has not come out unscathed.
One of the most famous cases occurred in 2006. The Israeli army bombarded two oil tanksnear a power station in Jieh, Lebanon (where a terrorist group called Hezbollah was emplaced) causing a spill of 10,0000 and 15,000 cubic meters of oil in the Mediterranean sea. This black tide spread along 90 km of the coast of Lebanon, carrying the death with it. In addition, this phenomenon severely affected the habitat of the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in one of the last well-preserved places that this species still had in the Mediterranean basis.
However, in early 2016, images that would call even more international attention came to light: dozens of animals from the Gaza zoo appeared completely mummified after suffering a terrible agony and starving.It happened twice since the zoo opened in 2007, but the strongest famine took place in 2014, following a conflict between Israel and Hamas’s Palestinian forces.It is estimated that about 80 animals died because of famine, including crocodiles, tigers, baboons or porcupines.When rescue services were able to reach the zoo, only 15 animals remained alive, many of them with severe symptoms of malnutrition.
Second Congo War (1998-2003)
This war, also known as the Great War of Africa or the African World War, has caused the death of more than 5 million people since then, which has given it the dubious honor of being the deadliest armed conflict since The Second World War. Although the war officially ended in 2003 and there is an elected government since 2006, the Democratic Republic of the Congo lives in a state of instability typical of a country at war.
The guerrillas use the country’s many natural resources to obtain money so they can continue the war. And ivory is the most precious commodity, the one that produces the most benefits. That is why African elephant populations (Loxodonta africana) have been reduced by 90% since the beginning of the conflicts. Something worse has occurred to the northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) a subspecies of the white rhinoceros. Its last specimens, 2 males and 2 females living in the Garamba National Park, are believed to have died between 2006 and 2008 at the hands of the guerrillas, causing the extinction of this subspecies.
Bushmeat, or the food coming from wild animals, is another major problem stemming from the numerous military conflicts in the country. In the wake of extreme poverty, many villagers have been forced to hunt to survive.And the primates has been one of the most harmed groups.The populations of the great primates, once counted by millions, have been drastically reduced.It is believed that there are only 200,000 lowland gorillas, 100,000 chimpanzees and 10,000 bonobos in freedom.
Syrian Civil War (2011-present)
Undoubtedly, the most famous war at the moment. This conflict has killed more than 500,000 people and has caused one of the most important humanitarian crises of our time: it is estimated that there are more than 10 million of refugees because of the war. Those who have remained in Syria, have been displaced from the interior to the coastal zone, becoming a great threat to the forests of the region. According to Aroub Almasri, a Syrian government environmentalist, most people need food, electricity and fuel to cook and warm up, which has lead to clear the area’s forests, mostly in protected areas. Apart from the severe impact of deforestation, there are also a large number of fires that have been spreading throughout the region in recent times. A particularly affected area is the Fronlok forest on the border with Turkey. In these mountains the degree of endemism is high, and many species are at a serious risk of disappearing from the area, especially a type of oak, Quercus cerris, native to the region and which would begin to be threatened.
Due to the fragmentation of the habitat, it is believed that an iconic species of the Mediterranean zone and classified as critically endangered by IUCNhas become extinct in Syria. It is the bald ibis (Geronticus eremita), a bird of which only 500 individuals remain and is present only in three countries: Morocco, Turkey and Syria. In spite of Syria‘s enormous effort to maintain a stable population in its territory, the war wiped out the last individuals of this species in the region. Only one individual of the species remains, a female named Zenobia, who was seen for the last time in Palmyra before ISIS troops entered the city.
Second Libyan Civil War (2014-present)
After the first Libyan civil war, which ended with the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, the country entered into a spiral of violence sponsored by the numerous armed groups that control the country. The importation of meat from abroad has stopped, and the owners of sheep, goats and camels keep their animals as if they were gold because of shortages. Because of this, armed groups are heading to the south of the country, where anarchy prevails and there are a lot of wild animals to take advantage of.
One of the most harmed species has been the rhim gazelle (Gazella leptoceros), classified as threatened by IUCN and with its populations in decline. Ten years ago the population did not exceed several hundred individuals, and it is believed that today the situation is much worse.
But the gazelles are not the only ones harmed by the banditry and impunity reigning in Libya. Large numbers of migratory birds, which have to cross the African country on their way to Europe, are slaughtered by hunters. In addition, the oases that they use to rest are being opened by the hunters, which causes that hundreds of cranes, ducks, herons and flamingos are annihilated without anyone can do anything.
In addition, the effect of the Libyan war on nature does not remain within its borders.In 2015, weapons from Libya were found near elephant corpses in Mali, a heavily threatened elephant subspecies.It is believed that the ivory of the Mali elephants is serving to finance the Libyan militias.
The Colombian government against the FARC and other guerrillas (1964-2016)
Despite the peace agreement reached few months ago between the Colombian government and the FARC, both social and environmental wounds will take a long time to be closed. For a long time the militias have been financed largely from the money generated by illegal cocaine crops. Placed deep in the Colombian jungle, thousands of hectares of pristine foresthave been cleared for the construction of laboratories and coca plantations. In addition, in an attempt to stop this type of illegal crops, the government fumigated extensive forest areas withglyphosate, a herbicide that, despite being considered harmless, caused the death of birds, small mammals and insects, what in turn left without sustenance the people who live on hunt. Another added problem is that illicit crops have spread to protected areas. Thus, according to a report by the National Parks of Colombia, FARC were present in 37 protected areas of the country, and 3791 hectares of coca plantations were also detected in there.
However, the illicit activity that most threatens Colombia’s nature is illegal mining, one of the most lucrative activities for armed groups. Not for less, since while 1 kg of coca is sold at about 4.3 million pesos, 1kg of gold is sold at 85 million pesos, about 20 times more. For this reason, large areas of jungle have been destroyed by backhoes to open gold (60%), coltan (25%), charcoal (10%) and tungsten (5%) mines. Deforestation resulting from illegal mining reaches unimaginable numbers: between 1990 and 2010, an average of 310,349 hectares of forest per year were deforested, that is, 6206.000 hectares in all that time, or what is the same, 5.4% of the Colombian surface.
Finally, FARC actions against oil extraction have caused serious oil spills in areas of high environmental value. This is the case, for example, of the 492-liter oil spill in Puerto Asis, Putumayo, in June 2015. The FARC intercepted a convoy containing tanks with oil and spilled them, affecting 9 wetlandsand spreading oil along the Putumayo River.
War in Afghanistan (2001-2014)
Either the last war and the previous one had a strong impact on the region’s wildlife. It is estimated that between 1990 and 2007, more than one-third of Afghanistan’s forests were cleared, either by refugees to use wood for cooking, fuel or construction, or by logging industries, which cut down the forests of the region with impunity.
Nevertheless, the news are more optimistic than would be expected of a country plunged into war for decades. Between 2006 and 2009, the first censuses since the 1970s were carried out in the province of Nuritán, with the help of trap cameras, the study of faeces and the realization of transects. The results were encouraging: 18 black bears, 280 porcupines and many red foxes, gray wolves, golden jackals, wildcats, palm civets and rhesus macaques were observed, and even the elusive snow leopard (Panthera uncia), concretely 3 distinct individuals.
However, there are still threats for Afghan wildlife. The large number of bombsthrown during the years made a dent in the abundance of migratory birds. Many birds died directly from the impact of the bombs or poisoned when they came into contact with contaminated water. Others, however, varied their rute due to the bombing and no longer cross the country. This is the case of the Siberian crane (Grus leucogeranus), a species critically endangered by IUCN that has not been seen in Afghanistan since 1999. In addition, due to the war and the incipient Afghan economy, hundreds of hunters Are forced to catch live birds for subsequent smuggling into rich Arab countries.This has led to the fact that, in some regions of Afghanistan, migratory bird watching has declined by 85% since the start of the war.
Korean Conflict (1950-present)
The KoreanDemilitarized Zone is the proof that even something as tragic as a war can bring positive consequences. In 1953, following the peace agreement by both countries, the Korean Demilitarized Zone, a strip of land 4 km wide and 250 km long that separates both countries, was created. The area, which has a strong military presence of about 2 million soldiers, has remained virtually unchanged and sparsely populated since then.
The area is characterized by a great topographic richness and high variety of ecosystems, which allows it to contain a great diversity. Some scientific expeditions have documented more than 1,100 species of plants, 80 species of fish, 50 of mammals and hundreds of birds.In addition, it is a frequent stop for many species of migratory birds that head towards Mongolia, the Philippines or Australia.
Recently, thanks to improved relations between the two countries, the area can be visited for only about 43 euros. In addition, due to its exceptional conservation status and high diversity, somecampaigns are under way to turn the area into a protected area. One of these campaigns, the DMZ Forum, proposes to declare the area as World Heritage Site and World Park for Peace, in order to be able to protect it from a possible urban development on the day that peace between the two countries is reached.
Christmas is coming, so it’s more than probably you’ve started to think about the Christmas dishes you’re going to prepare for your relatives and friends. However, how do you think they would react if you offer them dishes made of insects instead of the traditional Christmas’ meals we’re used to? Rejection, disgust, curiosity…
Eating insects has become an exotic and atypical practice in almost all western societies, despite insects were once an important foodstuff for humans all around the world. Why? In addition, what if I tell you that eating insects could be a nice solution for almost all sustainability problems western societies are experimenting nowadays? Keep reading to find out the reason.
The entomophagy over the centuries
Despite eating insects seems odd for most of us, the entomophagy (from the Greek terms ἔντομος [éntomos], ‘insect, and φᾰγεῖν [făguein], ‘to eat’) has had an important weight for almost all humans’ diet throughout history. In fact, there are numerous allusions to consumption of insects in different religious documents from Christianism, Islam and Judaism.
In Europe, the first references about entomophagy come from Ancient Greece, where eating cicadas was considered a delicatessen. Aristoteles left proof of this practice at Historia Animalium (384-322 b.C.), and according to him, female cicadas taste better after mating because they are full of eggs.
Other many documents show how usual was to eat insects in those times: Diodorus(200 b.C), from Sicilia, called people from Ethiopia as ‘Acridophagi’ because of their diet based on grasshoppers and locusts (family Acrididade). Pliny the Elder from the Ancient Rome and author of Historia Naturalis refers in his work to a dish loved by romans called ‘cossus’ which, according to Bodenheimer (1951), was prepared with beetle larvae of the species Cerambyx cerdo.
In Asia, Chinese literature usually refers to entomophagy and the use of insects in traditional medicine. In the Compendium of Materia Medica (Li Shizhen, Ming Dynasty, (1368–1644)) there are listed a big amount of recipes based on the use of insects along with their medicinal attributes.
Why do some western societies stopped eating insects?
Despite insects were always been an essential element in human diet since the beginning of times and that they keep being eaten in different countries around the world, they started to be seen as a taboo in modern western societies (specially on Europe and the USA). Which could be the cause of this change?
The most feasible reason remains linked with the origin of agriculture and livestock. The Fertile Crescent, an historical region containing western territories of Asia, the Nile Valley and the Nile Delta, is considered the birth place of agriculture and, secondarily, livestock (Western Neolithic Revolution). From this moment on, these practices started to spread towards Europe, so they eventually replaced hunting and gathering of resources as the main food sources.
So, the consume of insects was eventually replaced by the consume of meat, especially from herbivorous and omnivorous animals which, in addition, offered a wider variety of products: fur and leather, lactic products, traction power and a new mean of transport. Thus, agriculture and livestock became common practices all over Europe as they relate to more stable food sources. Animal hunting and the consume of insects are both ways very dependent on seasonality to obtain food, so they shifted to the background and started to be considered primitive practices.
However, the reason that finally leaded people to feel aversion to the consumption of insects probably was the negative impact these organisms cause on agriculture. As this practice became the main source of food for many western countries, insects started being seen as a problem for agriculture productivity in the way they become plagues. In addition, population density, especially in more urbanized places, ease the transmission of vector-borne diseases.
Out of western influence, the consumption of insects is very usual in different countries. There exist many reasons that could explain this: a greater contact with nature in less urbanized societies, the development of a less extensive agriculture or a late introduction of agriculture could have perpetuated the consumption of insects in this countries.
Insects: resources from the past that could be a solution for the future
As insects shifted to the background in western diets, their commercialization for human consumption in many of these countries lack of a properly regulation. Unlike other regions over the world, insects’ commercialization as food in the European Union was blocked. However, in 2013 the FAO(Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) published a report in which it listed the benefits of eating insects, trying to urge European countries and other developed western societies to regulate insects’ commercialization as one of the ways to reach a more sustainable diet.
Which benefits would entail to give insects a major weight in western diets?
Source of proteins and fatty acids. The body of some insects can reach almost 70% of protein content. According to different experts, the consumption of insects could be a good solution to relieve children’s undernourishment due to their high content on fatty acids. Moreover, according to the Entomological Society of the United States, termites, caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, spiders and weevils are richer protein sources than other domestic animals, such as chickens and cows.
Source of minerals and fiber. About 1 of 2 pregnant women and almost 40% of preschool children in develop countries are believed to suffer from anaemia (lack of iron) as a consequence of a poor diet, which can drive them to develop problems in physical and cognitive development, to have an increased risk of morbidity in children and a reduced work productivity in adults. Insects contain a great amount of different micronutrients, such as iron, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium and zinc. Moreover, they are a great source of fiber as they have a lot of chitin, the main structural component of arthropods’ cuticle. Chitin has a molecular structure similar to plants’ cellulose and also has an important role on intestinal health.
They have a reduced risk to transmit zoonotic diseases. There exist no evidences of the transmission of zoonotic diseases derived from insects’ consumption the way it happens with chickens and cows (avian flu or mad cow disease). However, there still are not enough studies that supports the total harmlessness of insects’ consumption. Although they could produce allergies the way crustaceans do, it would be necessary to study this question further.
Environmental and economical health
They have high feed-conversion efficiency. This is, an animal’s capacity to convert feed mass into increased body mass, represented as kg of feed per kg of weight gain. Insects have a greater capacity to transform what they eat in body mass and growth than any other domestic animal. So, it’s not necessary to invest so many resources on feeding them. This fact is increasingly important as world population is growing faster day by day along with food demand, so the necessity to take advantage of more terrains is getting enormous (pastures, crops, etc.).
Revalorisation of organic waste. Insects can be reared on organic side streams, such as compost or animal faeces. This can reduce environmental contamination and add value to all these wastes.
Their are relatively less contaminant than other animals. Insects emit relatively few GHGs gases and relatively little ammonia, which mostly derives from organic wastes, such as animal faeces. Thus, its impact on air, ground and water health is almost negligible.
Less consume of water. Lack of water affects most of humanity and endangers biodiversity. Insects rearing requires significantly less water than cattle rearing.
Despite all the advantages linked to the consume of insects, in Europe only the Great Britain, France, Holland and Belgium had the properly regulation to permit the commercialisation of insects as humans’ food in 2013.
. . .
Introducing insects on western diet could be a great solution for most of problems western developed societies suffer nowadays. However, there’s still reticence to eat insects due to the lack of information, the cultural background and the lack of studies. But, as it happened with other exotic foods, such as raw fish and sushi, it’s possible that we can buy insects or insect-derived products at supermarkets in a near future.
Do you feel ready to change your diet in order to be more sustainable?
Christmas is just around the corner. It is time to be with family and friends, or with whom everyone wants. In addition to being a “time of love and peace,” it is a time of the year when consumerism soars. For this reason, we want to bring you 17 tricks to make this Christmas more responsible and sustainable.
For your family meals, buy local products. By this way you will avoid the pollution caused by transport over long distances.
Buy foods that use the least amount of packaging (plastic, paper). A good alternative is to buy products in bulk or in the market.
Reuse the food you eat or freeze what you will not consume at that time. Do not throw it! And if you do not have room at home, think that there are many social lunchrooms that will appreciate some food.
Use non-disposable dishes, glasses and cutlery: instead of buying and using plastic glasses and plates with Christmas motifs, use plates and cutlery of reusable material as well as crystal glasses.
Do not buy natural fabric products. Opt for ethically-produced wool, silk or textiles made from plants (suggestion from Cécile).
As much as possible, wrap presents with reusable bags or boxes, so you will have more options to store your things.
Choose to make hand gifts, with reused materials or those you have at home. Aside from being something much more personal, you will save money and contribute to generate less waste.
Avoid gifting puppies or other pets. Despite the temptation to make our children happy, having a dog is a huge responsibility, and that is why we should talk to them before taking such an important step. Many begin with a lot of attention, but they usually get tired, because they associate it more with a toy than with a life partner. It is important to remember that in the later months of Christmas is when more dogs are abandoned.
Before buying a gift, you should make sure that its processing has been respectful with the environment and human beings.
When you go shopping, be sure to bring your own bags (other than plastic ones). By this way you will be contributing to reduce the problem of plastic.
Find local handicraft toys made from biodegradable materials, without much packaging and without batteries. You will help to take care of the environment. In addition, you will be sure to be paying the product and not its advertising.
Plan your Christmas shopping: make a list of everything you have to buy and the shops you want to go. Use public transport to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, or organise a trip with your family and/or friends to take just one car.
Do not leave the lights on all day long. Turn them off at night or when you are not at home. You will save money and avoid light pollution.
Do not have the heating on at full power all day long. Turn it off at night and turn it on only when it is really necessary. You will save money and contribute to reduce air pollution.
Use synthetic, wooden or recycled-material Christmas trees. Thousands of trees are planted each year, although they have been planted specifically for these dates, occupying large areas of forest that could be used to house native forests. A synthetic tree will last for years and you will avoid the annoyances of the authentic trees, as they are the great amount of fallen leaves or the resin. Besides, it is sinister to cut a tree to have it for only two weeks at home, languishing slowly… Do not you think?
Avoid collecting or buying moss to make the Bethlehem. Moss is a plant that takes many years to develop and plays a key ecological factor against erosion and microhabitat for other species as it retains moisture. You can use sand, grass or use a green background.
Do not use wild plants as a Christmas decoration. Some plants such as the butcher’s-broom, holly and mistletoe are native plants, some of them with serious conservation problems due to the massive extraction for decorative uses during Christmas. Try to use cultived plants or be creative and create mistletoe with cardboard and drawings. It can be a good activity with your children during the holidays!
These are our 17 tricks to be more sustainable and responsible this Christmas. And you, what do you do to be more sustainable and responsible? Leave your comments!
Phosphorus (P) is an indispensable element for life on Earth. Essential structures for any organism like DNA or RNA contain this element, and plants can not perform photosynthesis without it. Because of this, crops require huge amounts of phosphorus to meet the standards of efficiency and productivity needed to feed an ever-growing human population. However, this is a limiting and finite resource, and the predictions are not promising: reserves will be depleted in about 100-150 years. That will lead to significant geopolitical problems still unimaginable because, apart from the ephemeral nature of this resource, there is the fact that 90% of stocks are in the hands of only 6 countries.Conflict is served.
Anyone who has ever had to buy fertilizer will recognize this sequence: N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium). They are the most used nutrients for gardening and plant production in general. Without them, plants do not grow or can not develop enough to persist in the long term. Of the three main nutrients, potassium is the most abundant in the earth’s crust (representing approximately 2.4% of the earth’s surface by weight), especially in ancient seabed and lakebeds, as well as being the most available for plants. On the other hand, nitrogen in its gaseous form is extremely abundant (78.1% of the air around us is molecular nitrogen), but not their molecules in solid form, which are usually scarce due to their high mobility throughout the soil. However, thanks to the Haber-Bosch process (which lead researchers to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry), solid nitrogen (in the form of ammonia) was produced from gaseous nitrogen, leading to a high availability of this inorganic fertilizer.
THE PHOSPHORUS CASE
Phosphorus, however, is the third party in discordance. Essential for life, it is the main component of DNA, RNA, ATP (the energy used in cellular processes) and phospholipids, which cover cell membranes. It is present in the bones and is involved in almost any animal biological process. In addition, it is imperative for plant growth: without phosphate, photosynthesis can not be carried out. The biggest problem with phosphorus is that it is not free in nature. Plants and, in general, all organisms, satisfy their phosphorus needs thanks, mainly, to another living organism: animals, from plants and, these, from animal residues or their corpses, which release the Phosphate in the decomposition process. In fact, the most important fertilizers until the arrival of inorganic fertilizers, already in the twentieth century, were the excrements and urine of farm animals, which contain a large amount of phosphorus, in addition to the other elements already mentioned. However, as a result of the Haber-Bosch invention and the increase in food demand as a result of population growth, phosphorus deposits, which are in the form of minerals and are actually scarce in the earth’s crust, began to be exploited.
A SCARCE, IRREPLACEABLE, AND BAD-USED RESOURCE
Phosphorus is an irreplaceable and non-synthesizable resource. Reserves are finite and are being wasted, since much of the fertilizer applied is not assimilated by plants and, through the soil, ends up in the sea or in the lakes, where they unbalance the ecosystems. Being such a scarce resource, it is often the limiting resource in most ecosystems. For that reason, an overfertilization of phosphorus is often exploited by autotrophic algae to grow uncontrollably, which, in many cases, causes blooms that can generate important animal, economic and environmental losses.
6 COUNTRIES CONTROL WORLDWIDE PRODUCTION
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has estimated the world’s reserves of phosphorus at 71 billion tonnes. 90% of these are in the hands of 6 countries: Morocco (where, according to the USGS, 75% of the world’s mineral reserves are found there), China, Algeria, Syria, South Africa and Jordan. However, United States and, specially, China (accounting for 47% of world phosphate production), are the countries that are currently extracting more phosphorus from their deposits. This production has been increasing in the last years, and it will go to more in the coming decades. According to this recent article by Nature, it will be necessary to double, by the year 2050, the use of phosphate fertilizers to meet the demand of food, in a world where there will already be 9,000 million humans. But, by then, more than half of the phosphorus in the reservoirs will have been used. This study warned of the possibility that we were reaching the peak of phosphorus production, although new calculationsestimate their peak around the year 2040. In any case, if we continue with the current production, the reserves will be depleted in no more than 100 years.
GEOPOLITICS ENTERS INTO THE SCENE
A symptom of the potential shortage of phosphorus in the not too distant future is the rise in phosphorus prices that has been observed recently due to rising demand. Between 2007 and 2008 the price of phosphate tons increased threefold from 2005 values, and cost up to 9 times more than in the 1970s. In addition, it has been estimated that by 2035 phosphorus demand will exceed supply, what will cause an increased prices and, with them, political tensions. No stranger to it, many countries are working on ensuring a supply of this valuable resource for a few more decades. China, for example, which is now the largest producer (what does not mean the holder of the largest reserves) has begun to impose 135% tariffs on its exports. The United States, on the other hand, has signed a bilateral free trade agreement with Morocco, which gives it the rights to exploit their long-term phosphate deposits. Taking into account that most of Morocco’s phosphate reserves are in Western Sahara (a region that has fought for its independence since its occupation in 1975), it is not surprising that the United States has always supported Morocco in the United Nations Security Council, vetoing any proposal in favor of the independence of Western Sahara.
THE SOLUTION IS TO GO BACK TO THE ROOTS
According to the latest estimates, phosphorus deposits will be depleted, affecting crops around the world. This decline in food production will have a global repercussion, especially in the poorest countries, the most susceptible to a possible decrease in food production. Failing to establish measures to reduce global population, the lack of phosphorus combined with climate change will lead to tense relationsbetween many countries, leading to geopolitical conflicts on a global scale.
For that reason, the main solution is to use phosphorus in a more rational wayand to recycle it as much as possible. Today, around 80% of phosphorus is lost between the exploitation of the mineral, its transport and its application in the fields, which requires us to make a more sustainable use of this resource. However, the world food security will only be able to mantain its production by recycling. The main proposal would be to return to the beginning: to collect human excrets and urine, generated in cities and towns, to recover all that phosphorus that, in other conditions, would end up in the aquatic environment. Approximately 100% of the phosphorus consumed by mankind through food is excreted in excrets and urine. Collecting it would be like a double-edged sword: on the one hand we would satisfy the phosphorus demand of the crops and, on the other hand, we would avoid the eutrofization of waters due to the excess of these nutrients. Furthermore, a change in diet, prioritizing vegetables instead of meat, would reduce the demand of phosphorus between 20 and 45%, according to Cordell et al. (2009). Other solutions include the recovering of the use of manure in more rural and less-technological areas and promoting the composting of food waste in households, factories and commercial establishments. Finally, a waste from wastewater treatment plants, called struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) could help to fertilize the fields in an effectively and cleanly way.
The madness begun at the beginning of the 20th century with the exploitation of the phosphoric rock to produce food in great quantity is almost over, and this requires us to adapt our crops and, perhaps, our way of life, to a future that will have to drink a lot of the proceedings carried out in the past. There is a need for a change of mentality, centered on a reduction of the world population and on a major sustainability of natural resources, if we really want to guarantee a world where no one is hungry.