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Enviro Blog Post 3: The Food Industry Paradox

24 Apr

Here are some paradoxes that constitute the basis of the food crisis:

  1. Agriculture is entirely dependent on fresh water for its subsistence. Yet, agriculture wastes 60% or 1,500 trillion liters, of the 2,500 trillion liters of water it uses each year.
  1. 805 million people struggle with hunger everyday around the world, 1.2 billion people are undernourished and live in extreme poverty and yet 33% of all the food produced on the planet is wasted.
  1. The cost of wasted food amounts to $750 billion every year. The cost of ending world hunger has been estimated by the United Nations to be $30 billion every year.
  1. 28% of farmland grows food that will be thrown away due to them not meeting the standards of perfection that make them desirable to consumers according to supermarket chains. This quest for perfection apparently does not apply to making the world a better place for everyone.

The more I think about it, the more ridiculous our food system seems to me. I wonder, “how does any of this make sense?” and then I remember, the goal of Industrial Agriculture is not to feed the world, it is to maximize profit and that is probably the biggest paradox of all and the root of all the other problematic paradoxes of that industry.We are talking of an industry who spends more money and energy on perpetuating unrealistic expectations of fruits and vegetables than on actually feeding the hungry. It is fundamentally wrong.

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Fortunately, some people are fighting back the trend of food waste: a French supermarket chain, Intermarché, has launched the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables initiative- selling “ugly” fruits and vegetables with a 30% discount- in an attempt to fight food waste; similarly Jamie Oliver working with Asda, a UK-based supermarket chain, have introduced oddly-shaped fruits and vegetables at a discounted price in the retailer’s aisles. This practice might be new among big retail chains, but it is already a common one for locally based, smaller organic retailers like Real Food Connections in Fredericton, to sell vegetables rejected by big chains at a discounted price. Honestly, I don’t understand where this obsession with the physical perfection of food comes from. 65% of Asda customers who answered a poll were in favor of buying unconventionally shaped food for a cheaper price. A weird potato can still make a good mash, a crooked carrot can make delicious soup, a bruised orange will not make bruised juice. By now we should all know that what counts is inner beauty not outer beauty, especially when inner beauty is delicious and just as nutritious. 

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As for me, this chapter turned out to be a motivation to be smarter when it comes to food, and not just in the healthy way. Wasting food contributes considerably to global warming so I believe it is important that everybody takes a minute to think about how their personal food habits impacts the planet. It would not be very hard to buy just what we need from sources that care about the environment and to eat what we buy without trashing unspoiled food.

However, would we make a difference if we all changed our ways? Possibly. But the biggest change would have to come from the industry of paradoxes. After all, most of the food wasted in countries like India and Bangladesh, are lost before it even reaches the customers due to poor stocking capacity. That does not mean we should just give up on changing our ways because we have the numbers on our side, we can make a difference just through the laws of demand and supply simply by shopping wiser. If we buy less, they won’t have to produce as much and hopefully there will be some new balance in this world.

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Enviro Blog Post 2: Weather Gone Wild: Mauritian edition

24 Apr

Among the material and concepts we went over when we were going over Module 2 in class, we went over humanity’s carbon footprint and we watched documentaries such as “Weather Gone Wild” and “Do the Math”. The films explored issues like recent extreme weather conditions, expectations of future natural disasters, requirements for the survival of our society, the carbon cycle and the huge negative impact of fossil fuel companies on the planet’s equilibrium. As much as they tried to be global, the documentaries’ main focus was on North America but I could not help but apply all this information to my country, Mauritius.

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Mauritius is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. With 2040 km² area of land and a population of approximately 1.3 million, Mauritius is my home. Many may not know about my country but we rank 1st in Africa for Economic Freedom, Global Economic Competitiveness, Global Innovation, Peace, Democracy, ICT Development, Environmental Performance and Social Progress among others. Mauritius is one of the most successful stories among the developing countries, yet I am worried about its future. Despite our general success, we have been classified as ‘Highly Vulnerable’ by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission and the United Nations Environment Program. The latter program has added that the island is vulnerable to “considerable economic loss, humanitarian stresses and environmental degradation as a result of climate change impacts.”

There is no denying that Mauritius has recently been experiencing extreme weather. The events of March 30, 2013 got us featured on international news: in less than 2 hours, over 150mm of rain fell on the capital, that is more than half of the average expected rainfall for the whole month of March. These torrential rains caused flash floods that killed 11 people, injured around a hundred and caused thousands of dollars of damage.

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Who was to blame for this disaster? The Ministry of Public Infrastructure for the poorly designed drains and roads? The Meteorological station for failing to predict the intensity and destructiveness of the rain? The population for the insane littering that blocked the drains? The Government for failing to create a recycling campaign to prevent the littering in the first place? None of them are responsible for the weather itself, that would be the effect of climate change on the weather patterns of the island. However, the disaster is not the flood. The real disaster is the deaths and all the damage that could- and should- have been avoided. This is the real cost of climate change and the Government as well as the people are equally responsible and simultaneously, the ones coping with most of the cost. It would be logical to assume that after two years of ‘March Torrential Rain Madness’ the population and the authorities would be better prepared, yet it happened again this year, once again exposing the limitations of the infrastructure and of the Disaster Management Committee. Once again, thousands of dollars worth of damage was caused.

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The United Nations Development Program has predicted that the direct climate change impacts likely to adversely affect Mauritius include an increase in the frequency of intense rainfall episodes, sea level rise of 18 to 59 centimeters by 2100 and an increase in intensity of tropical cyclones. Mauritius knows how to deal with cyclones, it is one of the best-prepared countries in the world when it comes to cyclones but the same cannot be said when it comes to floods and landslides, our recent threats. No, we cannot stop the rain from falling but we can change how we deal with the rain just like we learnt how to deal with cyclones before. Adaptation is the key issue we share with the rest of the world. It is the only way to protect the Mauritian people and property from the devastating effect of climate change. Most of our population are still ignorant about the phenomenon of climate change and its related impacts and issues. An ignorant population makes us more vulnerable to climate change and ignorant stubborn leaders who refuse to face the inevitable makes us the most vulnerable. Climate change is an issue of national security, people’s lives are at stake, it is time for real actions to be taken. The waning sewage, drain, land transport and electrical systems are becoming obsolete and have to be upgraded- and not simply repaired- to ensure a safer future for Mauritians. Mauritians, themselves, have to become more self-aware of the consequences of their actions, such as littering.

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I’ve had enough of seeing this after every big flood.

Adaptation is not the only key to rising up to the challenge of climate change for Mauritius. As a developing country, we barely have a say in international climate change debates and we are not big contributors to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, however that does not exempt us from advancing in the direction of mitigation. In Mauritius, thermal plants fueled by diesel oil are responsible for more than 80% of electrical power generation, while hydroelectric power and bagasse generates the remaining 20%. However, in a developing country, the demand for energy keeps increasing and in the recent years some private investors have designed and have been trying to implement the CT Power project- a coal based energy generating system. It is a well known scientific fact that coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel, yet the promoters of this project assured Mauritians that coal could be as clean as it is cheap and that there was no real threat to the environment. The ignorant, greedy and debt-ridden Government of the country had no choice but to give the project the green light. Fortunately, the population’s indignation and a change in Government this year, spelt the end of CT power and I could not be prouder. This is a huge step in mitigation for Mauritius. It harmonizes perfectly with the construction and design of all new buildings to be self-providing in electricity through solar panels. Yet, despite our efforts, Mauritius will suffer more from climate change than bigger countries simply because we are a developing country and an island nation.

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Yes it’s unfair and that is why the people of Mauritius, my people, have to strive exceptionally hard in respect to mitigation and adaptation so that we can become resilient to most of the impacts of climate change. We are a small nation, it is easier to take decisions and to work for the good of the whole population and sustain everyone; we could be an example of resilience. To achieve this we have to make changes now, before climate change catches up on us entirely and brings about the end of our paradise.

Enviro Blog Post 1: THE SIXTH GREAT EXTINCTION or the cumulative effect of humans taking up more and more of the Earth’s bio-capacity and probably ruining everything

24 Apr

As someone who usually tunes in to Wildlife Conversation networks, I knew that we had been losing more and more species, just recently the Western black rhinoceros was officially declared extinct. It breaks my heart every time it happens. Therefore, getting to see the facts and statistics behind the sixth great extinction in class was not just appalling, it was frightening. Frightening because we, humans, have been taking up more and more of the Earth’s bio-capacity leaving less and less for other species, we, humans, have the kind of power for our actions to become the main driver of global environmental change- we have literally created a new geological epoch- and yet, frighteningly enough, this power is just being invested in destruction.

The sixth great extinction is happening now. The WWF reports show that the Earth has lost half its wildlife in the last 40 years. This alarming rate can be put further into perspective when compared to the great extinction of the dinosaurs, which it exceeds. In class, we have read and assessed the “Living Planet Report”. This compilation of the biodiversity of the planet, which is assembled by the WWF every two years, comprises the evaluation of over 10,000 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Analyzing this index has showed that the total populations has dropped by 52% since 1970. In more details, it shows a percentage loss of 39% in terrestrial animals, 76% loss in freshwater animals, and 39% in marine animals between 1970 and 2010.

I am outraged. In a world that dreams of reviving dinosaurs, the focus should be on saving what we still have now. 41,415 species are on the IUCN Red List of endangered animals. Adopting a panda or a tiger is a noble initiative but to make a significant, and this time positive, change what needs to be done is a switch in lifestyle and mind-set. Our current mind-set rejects a change in lifestyle. We have adapted to this life of comfort and abundance. We have locked ourselves in this bubble where everything but us and our comfort can be sacrificed or modified to fit the demands of our lifestyle.

Our actions, the so called “progress” of the human race, has lead to the loss of biocapacity and carrying capacity of the Earth: fisheries are collapsing, natural habitats are being converted to urban and agricultural areas and fresh water supplies are being contaminated. We are driving thousands of species to extinction. We are disturbing ecosystems. The reason? It appears to me to be some underlying selfish motive: indifference for species who do not directly sustain our progress.

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Progress. Population growth. Production growth. Economic growth. All priorities in our society, priorities that are the major drivers of the environmental crisis. The rate of the environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, and not just for whales, pandas, salmon or monarch butterflies, for us humans too. The Earth is moving to a warmer state, a state where large mammals like humans cannot survive. Maybe we assumed that a few species lost was worth the rise of the superior human race, maybe our world leaders calculated that our economy deserved the sacrifice. However all our lifestyle has really done is doomed ourselves. A series of conservation short films, called “Nature is Speaking,” that I have watched recently has confirmed this theory. As Julia Roberts, who voices Nature in one of the films said as she addressed humans, “I Don’t Really Need People. I’ve been here for eons. I’ve fed species greater than you. And I’ve starved greater species than you. My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests: They all can take you—or leave you… Your actions will determine your fate. Not mine. I am Nature. I will go on. I am prepared to evolve. Are you?”

The answer is no, humans cannot evolve in time to survive in the unsustainable future we are building but the Earth has adapted to greater catastrophes before and it will adapt again, without us. It is time we understand that we are responsible for our impending doom. We have to understand that planet Earth does not need saving, we do. Similarly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, on planet Earth, everything that lives or that lived is connected. Unsettling a seemingly unimportant part of this ecosystem brings about a domino effect that will end up hitting us hard. It is essential to our survival that we play a bigger part in conservation and sustainable development, we cannot go on living our lives as the parasites of planet Earth. No, that was not a mistake and I honestly don’t think it is an exaggeration: humans are parasites to the Earth. We exploit everything the Earth has to offer and give nothing in return, we multiply our ranks at the expense of other species who never wronged us. We are ruthless and abusive. If the Earth was one big apartment and all the different species were roommates, the human race would be that domineering and extremely messy roommate who always eats all the breakfast cereals, drinks all the milk and uses all the shampoo and never replaces anything. Nobody wants that kind of roommate, then why are we forcing this behavior upon our fellow Earthlings?

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We are terrified of sharks, of pitbulls and even of vampires and zombies but the real monsters are all human. I said earlier that we needed saving but sometimes when I think of what we have been doing to Nature, I wonder if we deserve to be saved. Okay, that may be a little harsh. Granted, a lot of the damage done has been caused by big industries, corporations and governments and not by regular individuals but really, we all implemented this system. There is no nice way of saying this: humans are the only animals on this planet who found a way to work against nature and mess up with the circle of life. Simba would not be proud. 

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We are the change

23 Jun

My friend Ana is new on WordPress- yes even more “new” than me ^^
And she wrote this really nice article about something that is going way too wrong in Mauritius and, undoubtedly, throughout the world too. And since I share her views on the matter, I’m sharing her thoughts with you:

Red Scripts

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Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world right in the eye. – Helen Keller

From the first days of our socialization into this wide, wide world, we have been taught things that were supposed to make us grow up into better individuals. We were introduced to the notion of politeness and were sanctioned if we were rude. Respect and integrity were displayed everywhere, in movies and newspapers, as virtues that anyone should have if we wanted to be honest and responsible citizens of this ‘perfect’ world. We were shaped to fit. And those who didn’t went straight to the societal trash.

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But, as a child, I did not understand any of that, because I was still learning the notion of right and wrong. However, some less glorious qualities still  confused me. I did not understand the word ‘jealousy’. I did not know that I had to…

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We’re Doing It Wrong.

19 Jun

Being a woman is not a competition. Why do we keep forgetting this and instead keep cat fighting, backstabbing and judging as if we were in these reality shows? Wait, I remember the reason. We were brought up this way; always thinking we have to prove ourselves to the world and reflect “perfection”.

But we’ve grown up, we’ve seen the world-maybe not a lot of it but probably enough to  understand- we don’t have to be perfect and we should stop expecting others to be. People make choices and mistakes. Maybe somebody’s choices and mistakes are completely different from yours but in no way does that make any of you better than the other if you keep criticizing each other. Being a good woman is not about being tall, thin, intelligent, beautiful, clean and quiet, wearing the highest heels , wearing decent yet sexy clothes, having perfect hair, cooking perfect meals, knowing all about laundry and chores, wearing make-up, having a clean job- and one that does not involve politics, science or engineering, getting married, being a good mother, etc… How many women that you know actually fit all these requirements anyway? Women are individuals, they are more than female. Our gender is only part of who we are; it does not define us as people. We, women, are always claiming that we want to break free from society’s definition of a woman. Yet, the first to criticize a woman if she doesn’t fit the “norm” are women themselves.

Stop Judging!

Stop Judging!

We are the first to lash at somebody about their size, crooked teeth, acne, big nose, weird haircut and so on. And most of the time we are intending to hurt the person with our words. What gives us the right to say these things? None of us are perfect and we will never be, then why?  Criticizing somebody on their physique is the lowest form of insult ever. It is really cheap to feel good about pointing out their insecurities to people. Physical beauty can be altered. Then it fades; you’re never pretty forever. But a judgmental asshole? This can stick to you to the grave.

As Jennifer Aniston once well said, “It’s impossible to satisfy everyone and I suggest we stop trying.” If this can apply to you then it can apply to your neighbour, to your classmate, to your co-worker and to that stranger you saw on the road. They don’t live to satisfy your standards of perfection so stop judging them like some small-minded celebrity news journalist!

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Now to something else, I must admit I’ve always thought that it was men that rendered rape victims responsible for the act because of their “provocative” clothes and/or the level of alcohol in their blood. Apparently, and sadly, I was wrong: women think that too. How can anyone in their right mind dismiss rape as a normal consequence of getting drunk in a mini skirt? No woman “shares responsibility” for her rape. I’ve seen a lot of girls walking around in “provocative” apparel and yet they’ve never been raped and I never thought to myself when they came into view “OMG in such a dress…surely she must want to be raped!” That’s probably because they don’t. When they put on this dress they did not intend to attract rapists. They probably thought that in a free country with smart enough men they would not be taken for sexual objects or preys whatever their clothes. Because it’s true, in a free country, a woman should have the right to dress however she wants with whatever intention without having to fear physical assault.

Recently, Serena Williams have made quite insensitive remarks about the rape of the 16 year old girl by high school footballers. (Yes it’s the Steubenville case I’m referring to.)  What did the world renowned tennis player have to say? That:

“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”

So the girl was lucky she was raped? Wow.

And so what if she was drunk? How does that justify her rape exactly? So getting raped is the logical step after getting drunk? Well if that was true everybody would be getting raped at parties and in clubs. The girl’s level of drunkenness cannot and should not in the mind of anybody justify how these boys behaved like animals. Yes, animals. Because not being able to resist sexual temptation to the point of satisfying your “urge” without waiting for consent is expected from animals not humans. Men are humans, when facing temptation they also face a number of choices: ignore the source of temptation, walk away if you really can’t stand it or  yield in disregarding your education and the respect you are to show your fellow humans; yield in like an animal because you’re that weak. Most men are totally able to control themselves, that’s why they’re not all rapists. Therefore stop blaming the rape victim for the abominable actions of the weakest and semi-animal males. Your argument is invalid and illogical. You’re clearly doing it wrong.

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It’s time society’s way of educating kids goes from “Don’t get raped!” to “Don’t rape!” Because I’m sure we’re all getting tired of this, no?

Alexandra