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SOUTH AMERICA ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY,                                   AND HEALTH NEWSLETTER215 t h issue, Janu...
W A T E R : Four Water Resolutions for a New Year                                                                (Continue...
ECUADOR: Will Have the First Eolic Park at High Altitude in the World*The first eolic park at high altitude is working as ...
C O L O MB IA : M iners Looking to More Environmentally Friendly Gold Mining Process                                      ...
S C I E N C E : So m e A nimals Can Become "Zombies"*                                                                   Zo...
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Newsletter 215


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Newsletter 215

  1. 1. SOUTH AMERICA ENVIRONMENT, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND HEALTH NEWSLETTER215 t h issue, January 9, 2012 Four Water Resolutions for a New Year In this issue: Posted by Brian Richter of The Nature Conservancy and University of Virginia in Water Currents on January 2, 2013 Yes, it’s that time again – time to reflect on the year that has passed, and anticipate what could come of the Water: Four Resolutions for year ahead. I’d like to share a few New Year’s thoughts about the water challenges that many communities and a New Year. countries will be facing in coming years, and what we will need to do to secure our water future. Science: Climate Variability May Have Spurred Human Evolution. First, a bit of context. At the global scale, we are in no danger of running out of water. We are presently using Ecuador: Will Have the only about 4% of the water flowing through and into the rivers, lakes and aquifers of the planet. However, not First Eolic Park at High all of that water is readily available to us, and from the perspective of any individual community, only a small Altitude in the World. portion is affordably within reach. That means that when thinking about water shortages, we need to view Climate Change: Does the them as very localized in nature – not a global water crisis but a “multi-local” crisis. Water shortages emerge U.S. Move to Address when the users of a particular water source – a local river, lake, or aquifer – are consuming water at a rate Climate Change Concerns. faster than the source is being replenished. Bolivia: Implementing Pre- Incan Waru-Warus to That explains the physical cause of water scarcity. Trying to explain why we don’t control our depletion of our Mitigate Climate Change. water sources is much, much more complicated. Colombia: Miners Looking to More Environmentally The Promise of Water Democracy. In most regions of the world, governments have asserted the authority to Friendly Gold Mining regulate water use, and local communities have acquiesced. But most governments are failing miserably in Process. their water duties. Water agencies at state and national levels have proven incapable or unwilling to expend Science: Some Animals the time, resources, and care required to effectively manage a resource that is inherently highly localized in its Can Become “Zombies”. distribution and virtually impossible to regulate from any distance. Governments are absentee water owners. Health: Scientists Say Vaccine Temporarily As a result, the water supermarkets of the world – our watersheds and aquifers – are being operated without Brakes HIV. any cashiers or stocking clerks. The store shelves are being emptied faster than they can be restocked. I am not yet giving up on the possibility that governments will someday provide adequate water governance. But Next events: that governance needs to be fundamentally restructured. We need to move from state-run technocracies to local community-based water democracies. February 1, 2013 Building Water Literacy. These community-based water democracy experiments are exciting and fresh. But it REO S&T School Contest has already become quite clear that too many participants suffer from a basic water illiteracy. Just as with Launching managing family bank accounts, local citizens need to understand the water budgets of their local water February 4, 2013 sources: the rate at which their water sources are being replenished, how much is being removed and not World Cancer Day returned after use, who is responsible for the greatest depletions, March 22, 2013 and what measures will likely be most effective in reducing World Water Day consumption or increasing supply. March 23, 2013 Earth Hour Many of us can make important contributions to advancing water April17-19, 2013 literacy in our local communities. Here I’ll offer four ideas for your IFT Energy consideration, posed as suggested resolutions for the New Year. Santiago, Chile April 22, 2013 Resolution #1: If you are a teacher, please commit or redouble your Earth Day efforts to advance learning about water cycles, watersheds and June 5, 2013 aquifers in your educational curriculum. World Environment Day Photo by Stefan Ray (flickr user). Under Creative Commons (Continued on Page 2) License. The information contained herein was gathered from news sources from across the region, and the views expressed below do not necessarily reflect those of the Regional Environmental HUB Office or of our constituent posts. Addressees interested in sharing any ESTH-related events of USG interest are welcome to do so. For questions or comments, please contact us at * Free translation prepared by REO staff.
  2. 2. W A T E R : Four Water Resolutions for a New Year (Continued from page 1)There are many excellent teaching resources now available. It’s never too early or too late to teach water, and wehave a lot of catching up to do. A recent poll by The Nature Conservancy found that more than three-quarters ofAmericans cannot identify the natural source of the water that they use in their homes. More than half of thosethat thought they knew were wrong. We cannot even begin to help solve water problems if we don’t even knowwhich water source(s) we rely upon!Resolution #2: If you are a media reporter, learn the difference between “water use” and “water consumption.”Trust me, it matters a great deal when discussing water shortages, and if you keep getting it wrong then you areperpetuating water illiteracy in our society. Water shortages are not caused simply by using (i.e., withdrawing)water from a river, lake or aquifer. Water shortages result from the fact that some portion of the water that iswithdrawn and used is not returned to the original water source after use (i.e., water is consumed from the localwater source, thereby depleting it). [...]Water use is not the cause of water scarcity, but water consumption is! [...] Photo by Sergio Bertolini (flickr user). Under Creative Commons License.Resolution #3: If you are a government official, stop authorizing funding for large water storage reservoirs. Wehave been taught that building reservoirs is the answer to water shortages. [...] Reservoirs can be helpful in temporarily storing water to fa-cilitate its use in irrigation, or as urban water supply. But they should never be assumed as panaceas, and they should always be evaluatedobjectively against all other options, especially conservation measures. Reducing water consumption associated with irrigation – both onfarms and in urban landscape areas – is by far and away the most cost-effective means of alleviating water shortages. The potential for wa-ter conservation in cities and farms is so huge that it will take most communities decades to exhaust the potential. Only in rare cases will itbe economically – not to mention environmentally – justifiable to continue building large water storage reservoirs. [...]Resolution #4: If you own or work for a water-using corporation, commit to having a net positive water impact on the water sources youprofit from. To become effective water managers, most communities will require considerable help in their efforts to reduce overall waterconsumption and set a course toward long-term water sustainability. If your company is operating in (or sourcing materials from) a water-short area, one of the most important ways to “give back” to your local community is to invest in local water education efforts, and to com-mit your company to a goal of being a “net positive” user of water. [...]For examples of corporate commitments to water, check out thegoals that both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have adopted.Read full article at: Climate Variability May Have Spurred Human Evolution By Umair IrfanAn ancient lake whose shores vacillated between lush forests and dry savannahs shows how the changingclimate may have shaped humanitys dawn in eastern Africa, according to new research.Scientists studying organic remains dating back 2 million years in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania tracked howplant life adapted to the regional climate as it shifted from regular monsoons to scorching dry spells. Theresearchers published their findings last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.The gorge was home to some of humanitys earliest hominid ancestors, and the surrounding landscapeprovides some of the best glimpses of the conditions they lived in from fossil remains, tools, artifacts andplant residues. "Its an unusual and almost extreme situation," said Gail Ashley a co-author and a professorof earth and planetary sciences at Rutgers University. "[The Olduvai Gorge is] like a perfect environmentbecause it was a closed basin and it filled up with sediment, and those sediments recorded everything Photo by Jason Kong (flickr user).around it, just like a book." Under Creative Commons License.It was in these sediments that Ashley and her collaborators found waxes from prehistoric plants and algae, collected in samplesover a decade from Olduvai. The team examined residues from 2 million years ago spanning a 200,000-year time frame, around thedawn of Homo erectus.Clayton Magill, a geochemistry graduate student at Penn State University and a co-author, explained that by measuring isotopes inthese waxes, the team painted a picture of what kinds of plants grew in the gorge and what environments they lived in. "With car-bon, we can delineate between grasses and trees," Magill said, noting that different plants have different carbon signatures. Hy-drogen isotopes, on the other hand, measure aridity. "Heavier [hydrogen] isotopes are associated with drier conditions," he said.Water with lighter hydrogen isotopes tends to evaporate faster, so plants end up accumulating heavier hydrogen when the grounddries up.Read full article at:
  3. 3. ECUADOR: Will Have the First Eolic Park at High Altitude in the World*The first eolic park at high altitude is working as of January 2, 2013, generates 16.5 megawatts andwill serve 23.4% of energy demand of the regions of Loja and Zamora Chinchipe.Villonaco Eolic Park is located at 1,720 meters over sea level and counts on 11 generators. Thesegenerators will help reduce greenhouse gases.The eolic energy generated by this park will substitute thermal energy, which consumes 4.5 milliondiesel gallons per year, saving about 13 million dollars per year for Ecuador. Photo by tadolo (flickr user). Under Creative Commons License.Read more: CHANGE: Does the U.S. Move to Address Climate Change Concerns? By Richard Muller The richer world is no longer in charge, says Richard Muller. And the issue is not blame; it is to find a practical solution. In the US Presidential debates, zero minutes were spent discussing climate change and global warming. The issue is no longer a high concern among the US population; per- haps not surprising, given the lack of media coverage. I expect no change in US govern- ment policy in the coming four years. There will be a general push to help develop green technologies, but no significant treaties will be signed or ratified. Yet, projections of the expected warming in the future are deeply worrisome: ChangesPhoto by Dirk-Jan Kraan (flickr user). Under Creative Commons License. of 2 to 5 degrees Celsius in the coming decades due to increases in greenhouse gasesin the atmosphere that trap heat and raise the temperature of the Earth’s surface.So why has the US and much of the wealthier world apparently lost interest? The fundamental reason is that it is no longer incharge. The developing world has taken control of global warming.Deep under the Western disinterest is a key fact: The expected rise in temperature is going to come from the burning of fossil fuelin rapidly emerging economies. In 2006, China surpassed the US in carbon dioxide emissions. With its 10 percent annual growth, itis now annually emitting twice the carbon dioxide of the US. Meanwhile, US emissions are at the lowest they have been in 20years.Reat more about this topic at: Pre-Incan “Waru-Warus” Are Being Implemented to Mitigate Climate Change* Due to negative effects of climate change in Bolivia, the Environmental Defense League (LIDEMA in Spanish) implemented pre-Incan “waru-warus” in coordination with local gov- ernments of San Ignacio de Moxos, La Paz and Tarija, among others, in order to optimize agricultural production and mitigate adverse effects such as droughts and flooding, reported LIDEMA’s Secretary of Communication, Edwin Alvarado. Waru-waru is a pre-Incan technology which alternates belts of elevated fields and ditches. Planting is done on the elevated belts, avoiding floods in rainy years. In dry years water held in the ditches is used for irrigation. Heat absorbed by ditch water during the day helps to counteract cold nights.Source: Alvarado pointed out that LIDEMA prepared an environmental diagnosis in 51 communities all over the country, and has strengthened municipalities and communities in 16 localities, asa way to mitigate the negative impact of climate change, in addition to the big falls posted by mining pollution and hydrocarbonexploitation, affecting water from rivers and lakes and in consequence land productivity.The municipal strengthening program will last four years and includes infrastructure works, such as well recovery and constructionof waru-warus.Read more at:
  4. 4. C O L O MB IA : M iners Looking to More Environmentally Friendly Gold Mining Process Colombia is a relatively large producer of gold on the global scale, but it has an out- sized role in the amount of pollution it produces. But a new group of miners, small now, is turning to a more earth-friendly, even historic, way of separating gold from ore. In the northern Colombian department of Choco, gold buyer Alfredo Hurtado walks across a bulldozed stretch of jungle the size of a football field. It’s a former gold mining site, and it’s littered with slag heaps and pits of contaminated water. The miners who worked here just wanted the gold, Hurtado says. “They don’t care if the land is turned upside down,” he lamented. Hurtado says this kind of wasteland is a common sight in Colombia. With gold demandPhoto by Rodrigo Ruiz(flickr user). Under Creative CommonsLicense. booming around the world, production is booming in Latin American. Colombia ranksamong the world’s top 15 producers. About half of its production is extracted by small-scale miners and illegal prospectors — whooften leave behind a ravaged and badly polluted landscape.One of the biggest problems is mercury. Many miners use the toxic metal to separate the gold from the ore in which it’s found. Butexposure to mercury can cause serious and permanent health problems, including brain damage and birth defects. And Colombiansare exposed to huge amounts of it. A recent United Nations report found that Colombian mining is the world’s largest mercury pol-luter, per capita.But these days, the country is also ground zero for a new movement to clean up small-scale mining. It’s called Oro Verde, or GreenGold. One project is on display right here in Choco. Alongside a small mountain river, Miner Luis Palomino picks a few leaves froma balsa tree and stirs them in a wooden bowl filled with water and sediment from the river. The leaves create a soapy film that at-taches to the lighter minerals and can be washed away, leaving behind heavier flecks of gold.They do basically the same thing as mercury, but without the health risk. The technique was passed down by Palomino’s ancestors,former African slaves. Palomino says it’s slower and extracts less gold, but he has no interest in using mercury. “We’ve mined goldlike this all our lives,” he said. And because the technique is chemical-free, Palomino earns a 15 percent premium over the worldprice for gold through a UK-based outfit called Fairtrade and Fairmined.Green Gold project director Felipe Arango says Fairtrade and Fairmined gold costs more, but he believes there’s a market for it.“Our bet is that if we can attach a value to it and if we can get consumers to recognize it, it should be enough,” Arango said. “Theforests and the ecosystems that are around these mines should be more valuable than the gold itself.”The idea behind these and other efforts is to do for gold mining what the organic and fair trade movements are doing for food pro-duction. “This is a sector that can transform itself,” says Lina Villa, who heads the Alliance for Responsible Mining in Medellín.Her organization promotes techniques that cut back on mercury use, but don’t eliminate it altogether. Things like better storageand handling techniques can reduce accidents and toxic emissions, and miners who adopt them are eligible for a 10 percent bonusfrom Fairtrade and Fairmined. “Miners are willing to change and to do things in a different way,” Villa said. “Once you have thatevidence that change is possible, not embracing change doesn’t make sense.” Fairtrade and Fairmined hopes to sign up legions ofminers across Latin America, Africa and Asia. Small-scale prospectors like these make up 90 percent of the world’s gold mining la-bor force.But so-called responsible mining has been slow to catch on. Mining with less mercury takes longer and is less profitable, even withthe premiums. That may be why just 1,400 miners in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia have so far joined the Fairtrade and Fairminedmovement.Supporters aren’t discouraged, though. Arango points out that campaigns for fair-trade coffee and chocolate also started slowlyand are now booming. “This is the beginning,” Arango says. “Right now the volumes are small, but we are starting to see consum-ers and the mining industry paying attention to a different way of doing things.”Read more at:
  5. 5. S C I E N C E : So m e A nimals Can Become "Zombies"* Zombies are not exclusive to horror movies. They also exist in real life, although they are not present among humans but among animals. This was the conclusion reached by a study performed by biologists of the University of Pennsylvania, who analyzed a zombie scenario in a colony of ants. “Each organism has its own parasite, but only a small part of them has evolved to the point that are able to manipulate the behavior of the host body” said David Hughes, one of the biologists in charge of the research. These parasites live in the brain or muscle tis- sues, and this can lead to weird behaviors.Photo by Binu K S (flickr user). Under Creative Commons License. Hughes studies the ophiocordyceps, a fungus originally from Thailand that releasesspores which attack carpenter ants. As the ant is infected, it abandons its nest and starts walking erratically in the woods for a cou-ple of hours. Then, the ant goes to a leaf and hangs upside down to die. From ant’s head more fungus are released, issuing sporesand infecting more ants.It is worth noticing that ants are not the only animal that can suffer this. A similar behavior was detected in gordians worms and inrats infected by toxoplasm parasite. Same as rats, toxoplasm infects humans, although we do not know if it could modify humans‘behavior.Read more at: E A LT H : Scientists Say Vaccine Temporarily Brakes HIVA team of Spanish researchers say they have developed a therapeutic vaccine that can temporar-ily brake growth of the HIV virus in infected patients. The vaccine, based on immune cells ex-posed to HIV that had been inactivated with heat, was tested on a group of 36 people carryingthe virus and the results were the best yet recorded for such a treatment, the team said. "Whatwe did was give instructions to the immune system so it could learn to destroy the virus, which itdoes not do naturally," said Felipe Garcia, one of the scientists in the team at Barcelona Univer-sitys Hospital Clinic.The therapeutic vaccine, a shot that treats an existing disease rather than preventing it, was safeand led to a dramatic drop in the amount of HIV virus detected in some patients, said the study,published Wednesday in Science Translation Medicine. Photo by AJ Cann (flickr user). Under Creative Commons License.After 12 weeks of the trial, the HIV viral load dropped by more than 90 percent among 12 of the22 patients who received the vaccine. Only one among the 11 patients who received a controlinjection without the vaccine experienced a similar result.After 24 weeks, the effectiveness had begun to decline, however, with seven of the 20 remaining patients receiving the vaccineenjoying a similar 90-percent slump in viral load. No-one in the control group of 10 patients experienced such a decline in the virus.The vaccine lost its effectiveness after a year, when the patients had to return to their regular combination therapy of anti-retroviral drugs.Researchers said the results were similar to those achieved with a single anti-retroviral drug, used to block the growth of HIV. "It isthe most solid demonstration in the scientific literature that a therapeutic vaccine is possible," they said in a statement. The vac-cine allowed patients temporarily to live without taking multiple medicines on a daily basis, which created hardship for patients,could have toxic side-effects over the long term and had a high financial price, the team said. "This investigation opens the path toadditional studies with the final goal of achieving a functional cure -- the control of HIV replication for long periods or an entire lifewithout anti-retroviral treatment," the researchers said in a statement. "Although we still have not got a functional cure, the re-sults published today open the possibility of achieving an optimal therapeutic vaccine, or a combination of strategies that includesa therapeutic vaccine, and could help to reach that goal," they said.According to latest UN figures, the number of people infected by HIV worldwide rose to 34 million in 2011 from 33.5 million in2010.Read more: