I will be traveling in Latin America for the next few weeks, during which time I will have limited access to the Internet. Site updates should resume around January 21 when I am back in the United States.

In the meantime I have highlighted some news articles that have appeared on the site in recent months. Archives are also available:
December | November | October | September | more

Sections of the site that have also been recently updated include:
kids' site | mongabay in other languages | tropical rainforests

As always, thank you for your patience, understanding, and interest.

Rhett Butler,

Are Brazil nuts really sustainable?

(12/20/2006) A lot of rainforest conservation initiatives embrace sustainably harvested non-timber forest products (NTFPs) like seeds and nuts as a means to provide income to locals without harming the forest. Operating on the premise that such products are eco-friendly, hundreds of outfits ranging from Whole Foods to the Body Shop to Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream tout their use of sustainably harvested Brazil nuts and related products. But really, how sustainable are these products?   [ Rainforests | Sustainable Development]

"Europe's largest tropical rainforest" invaded by gold miners

(12/19/2006) As Europe frets over climate change and deforestation, threats to "Europe's largest tropical rainforest" are mounting, according to reports from French Guiana. While French Guiana is best known for its infamous Devil's Island penal colony and as the main launch site for the European Space Agency, which is responsible for more than 50% of the state's economy activity, most of the territory is covered with lowland tropical rainforest. As a department of France, French Guiana has the largest tropical rainforest under the jurisdiction and the responsibility of a European country. One might think that with this status, and Europe's concern with global warming, biodiversity preservation, and the environment, French Guiana's forests would be treasured and safeguarded. This is not the case. Over the past decade illegal mining has affected extensive areas especially in the region bordering Brazil and Suriname where wildcat miners known as garimpeiros are wreaking havoc as they search for gold. To date the French government has taken a lackadaisical approach to addressing deforestation and illegal land invasions.   [ Rainforests | Amazon]

An interview with rainforest plant expert Pierre-Michel Forget:
France needs to act to protect French Guiana's rainforests

(12/19/2006) Understanding relationships between plants and animals is key to understanding rainforest ecology. Dr. Pierre-Michel Forget of the MusÈum National d'Histoire Naturelle in France is a renowned expert on the interdependency between rainforest trees and seed dispersers. Author of dozens of papers on tropical forest ecology, Dr Forget is increasingly concerned about deforestation and biodiversity loss in forests of the Guiana Shield region of Northern South America. In particular he sees the invasion of informal gold miners (accompanying article), known as garimpeiros, as a significant threat to forests in French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela.   [ Interviews | Rainforests]

52 species discovered in Borneo rainforest

(12/18/2006) In 2006 scientists discovered 52 species in the highly threatened rainforests of Borneo according to a new report from WWF, an environmental group working to preserve the biodiverse "Heart of Borneo" from further destruction. The discoveries -- which include 30 fish species, two tree frog species, 16 ginger species, three tree species and one large-leafed plant species -- add to the ever growing roster of previously unknown species from the island. More than 400 previously unknown species has now been found on the island since 1994.   [ Borneo | Species Discovery]

Protecting Uganda's rare and precious primary forests:
President Museveni needs to do what's best for Uganda

(12/14/2006) In recent months Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has moved to destroy some of Uganda's last remaining primary rainforests to give land to politically-connected plantation owners. Personally intervening in two disputes, one in Mabira Forest Reserve and the other on Bugala island in Lake Victoria, Museveni has argued that his country urgently needs such projects to industrialize and bring a better quality of life to Ugandans. He would be wrong. Sugar cane and oil palm plantations are not going to save Uganda. The country needs to focus less on agriculture, which is responsible for more than 80 percent of employment in Uganda but only 31 percent of its economy, and more on services, like tourism, which generate nearly half of its income despite employing only 13 percent of its workers. Uganda's remaining primary forests are rare, precious and irreplaceable -- it would be a shame to see them cleared for marginal sugar cane and oil palm fields.   [ Africa]

An interview with the largest sponsor of rainforest protection:
Who pays for Amazon rainforest conservation?

(12/11/2006) Last Monday, Brazil created the world's largest rainforest protected area in the northern Amazon. Covering more than 15 million hectares (57,915 square miles) -- or an area larger than England -- the network of seven new protected reserves has been met with praise by environmental groups. Instrumental in the development of the conservation project has been an organization that most people wouldn't associate with rainforest conservation but certainly should: the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.   [ Conservation | Amazon]

The Vaquita, the world's smallest cetacean, dives toward extinction

(12/10/2006) Fishing nets are pushing the world's smallest cetacean, the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), towards extinction, according to a new study published in the current issue of Mammal Review, the official scientific periodical of the Mammal Society. Today around 400 Vaquita live in the northwestern corner of the Gulf of California, Mexico.   [ Oceans | Extinction]

Ebola kills thousands of gorillas in African park

(12/07/2006) The Ebola virus, a nasty hemorrhagic fever that causes massive organ failure and bleeding, is killing thousands of endangered gorillas across Central African forests according to new research published in the journal Science. While the findings suggests that even in strictly protected wildlife sanctuaries gorillas are not safe, the research provides insight on how to control Ebola outbreaks among wild gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) if conservation groups are not scared off by big initial upfront costs. Dr. Peter Walsh, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and a co-author of the paper, spoke with and said this is a one-time opportunity for ape conservation: "When people look back 100 years from now, most won't even remember Iraq. One thing they will remember is that we sat by and did nothing while our closest relatives slipped away. This is a case where one wealthy individual could have an enormous impact. He or she could quite literally save gorillas from ecological extinction."   [ Primates | Congo]

Past global warming suggests massive temperature shift in our future

(12/07/2006) If past climate change is any indication, Earth could be in store for some significant global warming according to research published in the December 8, 2006, issue of the journal Science. The research, based on fossil records of terrestrial plants and oceanic plankton, suggests that the world's climate is highly sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, finding that a doubling of CO2 concentrations can raise global temperatures by at least 4 ∫F (2.2 ∫C). Current projections show that natural background atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are expected to double around mid-century due to fossil fuel combustion.   [ Climate Change]

Interview with carbon finance analyst Johannes Ebeling:
Nairobi talks made progress on forest conservation for global warming emissions credits

(12/05/2006) Tropical deforestation is one of the largest sources of human-produced greenhouse gases yet it has no place in existing climate agreements. This has been a point of contention in negotiations as the United States has objected to some developing countries -- notably Brazil and Indonesia -- to be getting an apparent "free ride" on deforestation-related emissions in addition to emissions from fossil fuel sources. Recent negotiations have looked at this issue from a different perspective, one where developing countries would be paid by industrialized countries for reducing their deforestation rates. Globally the payoff could be immense, extending well beyond helping mitigate global warming emissions to safeguard biodiversity and important ecological services. While the media largely discounted the recent climate talks in Nairobi as a waste of time, progress was made on this important issue says Johannes Ebeling, a Masters of Environmental Science student at Oxford University who just completed an analysis of the potential of carbon finance to reduce emissions and preserve forests. In an interview with, Ebeling discusses his work and the outlook for carbon finance.   [ Interviews | Carbon Finance]

Brazil creates world's largest rainforest reserve

(12/05/2006) Brazil created the world's largest expanse of protected tropical rainforest in Para, the state where American nun Dorothy Stang was murdered after trying to protect land rights of rural poor. The network of seven new protected areas covers an expanse of 15 million hectares (57,915 square miles) -- or an area larger than England -- and links to existing reserves to form a vast conservation corridor in the northern Amazon, one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.   [ Amazon | Brazil]

Moray eels and groupers hunt together

(12/05/2006) Moray eels and groupers hunt together according to research published in the December 5 issue of PLoS Biology. A team of researchers lead by Redouan Bshary, a biologist at the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland, found that moray eels and groupers practice cooperative hunting in Red Sea coral reefs -- behavior not before described outside primates and birds. The hunting habits of groupers, which are diurnal (day-active) predators that hunt in open water, are markedly different from moral eels, which are evasive nocturnal hunters that sneak through reef crevices in an attempt to ambush and corner prey. As such prey have distinctly different evasive behavior when confronted by groupers versus morays.   [ Animal Behavior]

An interview with canopy expert Dr. Meg Lowman:
Canopy research is key to understanding rainforests

(11/28/2006) The canopy is the most biodiverse part of the rainforest, but due to its inaccessibility, it has been notoriously difficult to study. Over the years a number different techniques have been used to learn more about this biologically rich layer. Today you can find cranes, canopy walkways, ultra-lite planes, dirigible balloons and balloon-rafts, ski-lift-style trams, and remote-controlled pulley systems being employed to provide access to the canopy. Familiar with these efforts is Dr. Margaret D. Lowman, Director of Environmental Initiatives at New College of Florida. Known as "CanopyMeg" to her friends, Lowman has been exploring the rainforest canopy for over 25 years, developing an expertise for the use of different canopy access techniques while authoring over 95 peer-reviewed publications and three books. Recognized as a world-renowned canopy expert, Lowman today focuses on science education and rainforest conservation, and frequently speaks about her adventures to groups ranging from elementary school classes to corporate executives.   [ Interviews | Rainforests]

Fragmentation killing species in the Amazon rainforest

(11/27/2006) Forest fragmentation is rapidly eroding biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest and could worsen global warming according to research to be published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Rainforest trees can live for centuries, even millennia, so none of us expected things to change too fast. But in just two decades-a wink of time for a thousand year-old tree-the ecosystem has been seriously degraded." said Dr. William Laurance, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and leader of the international team of scientists that conducted the research.   [ Amazon | Biodiversity]

3 new lemur species identified in Madagascar

(11/27/2006) Genetic analysis has revealed three previously unknown species of lemurs on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. The newly described lemurs are all mouse lemurs, one of the world's smallest primates. These lively lemurs are found in virtually all of Madagascar's forests where they feed on insects, fruit, and plant sap. Nocturnal, mouse lemurs betray their presence with high-pitched chirps   [ Madagascar | Lemurs]

An interview with writer Jeff Greenwald:
How to travel ethically

(11/27/2006) Ecotourism is hot. Travel companies everywhere are slapping eco-friendly labels on their tours and hotels to attract green-minded visitors. Alas some "ecotourism" is not really good for the environment or local people. That three-week round-the-world eco-tour via private jet for just $42,950 will generate a lot of greenhouse gases as you're flying between plush lodges that import food and staff from other places. Likewise those wood carvings purchased in tourist centers may come not from indigenous artisans but a factory turning endangered rainforest hardwoods into throwaway tourist items. Heavy anchors dropped on reefs are good neither for the coral reef ecosystem nor the sustainability of the local tourism industry. So what's a true "ecotourist" to do? Is it really possible to travel without trampling culture and tradition and further soiling the environment? Writer Jeff Greenwald says it is. Greenwald, who wrote the first international blog in 1993/1994, is Executive Director of Ethical Traveler, a global community dedicated to exploring the "ambassadorial potential" of world travel.   [ Interviews | Ecotourism]

As presidential election approaches, Madagascar's lemur sanctuary burns

(11/23/2006) Forest fires are burning crucial lemur habitat and other hotbeds of biodiversity in Madagascar according to reports from the northeastern part of the island. The upcoming presidential election -- a bitterly contested poll -- may be partially to blame for the upswing in destruction says a leading local conservationist. Madagascar, a biologically rich, but economically poor island country located off the southeastern coast of Africa is almost as famous for its environmental problems as for its lemurs, a charismatic group of primates found nowhere else on Earth. The country is home to some 90 types of lemurs as well as a bonanza of other rare and unusual creatures including a puma-like mongoose, spiny hedgehog-like beasts called tenrecs, and absurdly colorful chameleons. But these creatures are highly threatened by habitat destruction, most of which results from slash-and-burn agriculture that has left less than 10 percent of the island's original forest cover standing.   [ Madagascar]

Amazon Indians use Google Earth, GPS to protect forest home

(11/14/2006) Deep in the most remote jungles of South America, Amazon Indians are using Google Earth, Global Positioning System (GPS) mapping, and other technologies to protect their fast-dwindling home. Tribes in Suriname, Brazil, and Colombia are combining their traditional knowledge of the rainforest with Western technology to conserve forests and maintain ties to their history and cultural traditions, which include profound knowledge of the forest ecosystem and medicinal plants. Helping them is the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), a nonprofit organization working with indigenous people to conserve biodiversity, health, and culture in South American rainforests.   [ Amazon | Conservation]

Mining in Venezuelan Amazon threatens biodiversity, indigenous groups

(11/09/2006) Troubles are mounting in one of Earth's most beautiful landscapes. Deep in the Venezuelan Amazon, among ancient forested tabletop mountains known as tepuis, crystalline rivers, and breathtaking waterfalls, illegal gold miners are threatening one of world's largest remaining blocks of wilderness, one that is home to indigenous people and strikingly high levels of biological diversity. As the situation worsens -- a series of attacks have counted both miners and indigenous people as victims -- a leading scientific organization, the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation, has called upon the Venezuelan government to evict the illegal miners.   [ Amazon | Featured]

An interview with Tim Davenport:
Conserving wildlife in Tanzania, Africa's most biodiverse country

(11/08/2006) With ecosystems ranging from Lake Tanganyika to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania is the most biodiverse country in Africa. Though Tanzania is world famous for its safari animals, the country is also home to two major biodiversity hotspots: coastal forests of Eastern Africa and the montane forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains. Tanzania has set aside nearly a quarter of its land mass in a network of protected areas and more than one-sixth of the country's income is derived from tourism, much of which comes from nature-oriented travel. Despite these conservation achievements, Tanzania's wildlands and biodiversity are not safe. Fueled by surging population growth and poverty, subsistence agriculture, fuelwood collection, and timber extraction have fragmented and degraded extensive areas that are nominally protected as parks. Hunting and unsustainable use of forest products have further imperiled ecosystems and species. In the near future, climate change looms as a major threat not only to Mt. Kilimanjaro's glaciers, which are expected to disappear within ten years, but also to Tanzania's many endemic plants and animals found in its montane forests. Working to better understand these threats and safeguard Tanzania's biodiversity for future generations is Tim Davenport, Country Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in Tanzania. Davenport, who co-discovered a species of monkey in the Highlands region of Tanzania in 2003, has been working in Tanzania with WCS since 1999.   [ Interviews | Africa]

An interview with lemur expert Charlie Welch:
Lemur conservation in Madagascar requires poverty alleviation initiatives

(11/05/2006) Madagascar, an island larger than France that lies off the southeastern coast of Africa, is perhaps best known for its lemurs--primates that look something like a cat crossed with a squirrel and a dog. Lemurs, which are found naturally only in Madagascar, serve as a charismatic representation of the island's biodiversity and its problems. Since the arrival of humans some 2000 years ago from southeast Asia, Madagascar has lost all of its mega fauna and more than 90 percent of its wildlands. Today forest clearing for agriculture and hunting continues to put lemurs and other endemic species at risk. The good news is that because of Madagascar's biodiversity, the island has become a top priority for global conservation. At the forefront of these efforts is the Madagascar Fauna Group (MFG), an international consortium of zoos and related organizations that work to protect Madagascar's wildlife and ecosystems, and the Duke University Lemur Center, the one of the world's leading lemur research facilities. Charlie Welch, currently a research scientist at the Duke University Lemur Center, recently answered some questions on his experiences in lemur conservation. Welch, along with his wife Andrea Katz, has worked in Madagascar for 17 years and helped transform conservation efforts in the country.   [ Madagascar | Interviews]

Avoided deforestation could help fight third world poverty under global warming pact

(11/01/2006) Next week bureaucrats are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya at the next round of climate talks. Sure to be a hot point of discussion will be avoided deforestation, a concept whereby poor countries are paid to conserve their forests to help fight global warming. Analysis of the numbers suggests that such an avoided deforestation strategy for mitigating climate change could send billions for the world's poorest countries while preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services.   [ Deforestation]

An interview with ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin:
Indigenous people are key to rainforest conservation efforts

(10/31/2006) Tropical rainforests house hundreds of thousands of species of plants, many of which hold promise for their compounds which can be used to ward off pests and fight human disease. No one understands the secrets of these plants better than indigenous shamans -medicine men and women - who have developed boundless knowledge of this library of flora for curing everything from foot rot to diabetes. But like the forests themselves, the knowledge of these botanical wizards is fast-disappearing due to deforestation and profound cultural transformation among younger generations. The combined loss of this knowledge and these forests irreplaceably impoverishes the world of cultural and biological diversity. Dr. Mark Plotkin, President of the non-profit Amazon Conservation Team, is working to stop this fate by partnering with indigenous people to conserve biodiversity, health, and culture in South American rainforests. Plotkin, a renowned ethnobotanist and accomplished author who was named one of Time Magazine's environmental "Heroes for the Planet," has spent parts of the past 25 years living and working with shamans in Latin America. Through his experiences, Plotkin has concluded that conservation and the well-being of indigenous people are intrinsically linked -- in forests inhabited by indigenous populations, you can't have one without the other. Plotkin believes that existing conservation initiatives would be better-served by having more integration between indigenous populations and other forest preservation efforts.   
[ Conservation | Amazon | Interviews]

Bacteria can generate renewable energy from pollution,
help fight global warming

(10/26/2006) Currently, most energy production generates carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and local pollution. At the same time that carbon dioxide concentrations are rising in the atmosphere, fueling higher temperatures, burgeoning population growth of humans and livestock is producing ever-increasing amounts of organic pollution and waste. Now researchers at the Center for Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute of Arizona State University are working on a way to solve both problems using bacteria to convert organic wastes into a source of electricity. Bruce Rittmann, Director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, and his team of researchers are developing microbial fuel cells (MFC) that can oxidize organic pollutants and create electricity from pollution.   [ Energy]

Amazon deforestation rate plunges 41 percent

(10/26/2006) Today the Brazilian government announced a sharp drop in Amazon deforestation. Forest loss for the 2005-2006 year was 13,100 square kilometers (5,057 square miles) of rainforest, down more than 40 percent from last year. The figure is the lowest since 1991 when 11,130 square kilometers (4,258 square miles) of forest were lost. Deforestation peaked in 1995 when 29,059 square kilometers (11,219 square miles) of forest were cut. Deforestation has plunged by almost 50 percent since 2004. Falling commodity prices, increased enforcement efforts, and government conservation initiatives are credited for the drop.   [ Amazon | Brazil]

Bacteria can ensure clean water say researchers

(10/25/2006) Water is shaping up to be one of the most critical problems facing humanity. With water consumption far outstripping population growth rates due to surging industrial and agricultural demand, the World Bank estimates that 40 percent of the world's population -- more than 2.5 billion people -- are enduring some form of water scarcity. Still water experts argue that the problem is not a fundamental lack of water -- there is in fact plenty of freshwater to go around -- but where it's located and growing levels of pollution. Even in places where water is not scarce, it is often contaminated or "impaired" with natural containments and fertilizer runoff containing nitrates and perchlorate. While systems exist for dealing with these problems, they typically concentrate compounds and are costly to maintain, especially in poor parts of the world where water is most needed. This may all soon change. Researchers at Arizona State's Biodesign Institute have devised a way for bacteria to do the dirty work -- converting wastewater to clean drinking water using a minimal amount of energy and generating no harmful waste.   [ Green Business]

Amazon conservation efforts must come soon
to save world's largest rainforest says leading scientist

(10/23/2006) There is an immense threat looming on the horizon: climate change could well cause most of the Amazon rainforest to disappear by the end of the century. Dr. Philip Fearnside, a Research Professor at the National Institute for Research in the Amazon in Manaus, Brazil and one of the most cited scientists on the subject of climate change, understands the threat well. Having spent more than 30 years in Brazil and now recognized as one of the world's foremost experts on the Amazon rainforest, Fearnside is working to do nothing less than to save this remarkable ecosystem. Fearnside believes saving the Amazon will require a fundamental shift in perception where the Amazon is recognized as an asset beyond the current price of mahogany, soybeans, or cattle, where its value is only unlocked by its destruction. The Amazon is far worth more than this he says. It can play a key role in fighting climate change while providing economic sustenance for millions through sustainable agriculture and rational utilization of its renewable products. It can serve as a storehouse for biodiversity while at the same time ensuring reliable water supplies and moderating regional temperature and precipitation. In short, maintaining the Amazon as a viable ecosystem makes sense economically and ecologically -- it is in our best interest to preserve this resource while we still can.   [ Interviews | Amazon]

World Bank says carbon trading will save rainforests

(10/23/2006) Monday the World Bank endorsed carbon trading as a way to save tropical rainforests which are increasingly threatened by logging, agricultural development, subsistence agriculture, and climate change itself. The bank estimates that deforested land worth $200-500 per hectare as pasture could be worth $1,500-$10,000 if left as intact forest and used to offset carbon emissions from industrialized countries. The World Bank report comes on the heels of a proposal by a coalition of developing countries to seek compensation from industrialized countries for conserving their rainforests to fight global warming. Brazil is expected to announce a similar plan at upcoming climate talks in Nairobi.   [ Rainforests]

Traditional customs pit young versus old in Indonesia's Torajaland

(10/19/2006) The Torajanese people of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, have long been renown for their extravagant celebrations of the dead in their funerals, graves and effigies. Just outside of Rantepao, the regional capital of Torajaland, ostentatious, costly and increasingly generationally divisive funerals take place on a regular basis. Like other indigenous cultures around the world, a growing rift between the young and old generations is calling the foundations of tradition into question. While Westerns and tribal elders lament the loss of culture and disappearing languages, sometimes there are more complicated forces underlying the transition.   [ Indonesia | Asia]

Saving China's golden monkey from extinction

(10/18/2006) High in the cloud-shrouded Yunling mountains of northwestern Yunnan and southeastern Tibet (southwestern China) lives one of the world's most elusive monkeys, the Yunnan golden or snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti). Despite dwelling the most extreme environment of any monkey species -- high-altitude evergreen forests at elevations from 3000 - 4500 m (9800 - 14,800 feet) where temperatures may fall below freezing for several months in a row -- today there are less than 2000 of Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys remaining. Hunting and habitat loss has brought the species, which is limited to a single mountain range and fragmented into 15 small sub-populations at risk to genetic bottlenecks and inbreeding depression, to the brink of extinction.   [ China | Primates]

Rainforests face myriad of threats says leading Amazon scholar

(10/16/2006) The world's tropical rainforests are in trouble. Spurred by a global commodities boom and continuing poverty in some of the world's poorest regions, deforestation rates have increased since the close of the 1990s. The usual threats to forests -- agricultural conversion, wildlife poaching, uncontrolled logging, and road construction -- could soon be rivaled, and even exceeded, by climate change and rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Understanding these threats is key to preserving forests and their ecological services for current and future generations. William F. Laurance, a distinguished scholar and president of the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC) -- the world's largest scientific organization dedicated to the study and conservation of tropical ecosystems, is at the forefront of this effort. Laurance, who as a senior staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has spent years studying the ecological impacts of habitat fragmentation and degradation in tropical forests, is actively involved in conservation efforts and development policy in the Amazon and central Africa.   [ Featured | Interviews]

Forest fires result from government failure in Indonesia

(10/15/2006) Indonesia is burning again. Smoke from fires set for land-clearing in South Kalimantan (Borneo) and Sumatra are causing pollution levels to climb in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok, resulting in mounting haze-related health problems, traffic accidents, and associated economic costs. The country's neighbors are again clamoring for action but ultimately the fires will burn until they are extinguished by seasonal rains in coming months. The fires -- and their choking haze -- have become a yearly occurrence in Indonesia. Some years are worse than others -- especially when dry el Niño conditions turn the region's forests into a tinderbox -- but the overall trend is not encouraging. Fault should lie first with the Indonesian government for its systematic failure to enforce laws designed to reduce the country's appalling rate of deforestation. Since 1990 official figures show Indonesia has lost a quarter of its forest cover. Loss of primary forests has been even worse: nearly 31 percent of the archipelago's old growth forest have fallen to loggers and land developers over the same period. Menacingly, deforestation rates are not slowing. Annual forest loss has accelerated by 19 percent since the close of the 1990s, while yearly primary forest loss has expanded by 26 percent. These statistics should be an embarrassment to Indonesia and are testament to the government's impotence in dealing with forest loss and incompetence in reigning in cronyism and corruption.   [ Indonesia]

Shift from hard drives to flash may have environmental benefits

(10/13/2006) Fujitsu announced it will start shipping PCs that use NAND-flash drives instead of standard hard drives. While the new format will be substantially more expensive -- on the order of $670 to replace a 20GB hard drive with a 16GB worth of flash memory -- it will make the laptops lighter and more shock-resistant, extend battery life by 30 minutes and improve system performance on start-up. The shift may have ancillary benefits as well: less energy usage and reduction of components that use metals.   [ Technology]

China pictures

(10/09/2006) Many Americans probably think of China as a land of crowded cities (Shanghai) and expansive agricultural areas. In reality much of China, like the United States, is wilderness, with low population density, magnificent landscapes, and cultural diversity. On my recent trip I visited two regions that fit this description: Xinjiang in far western China, near the border of Tajikistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; and northwestern Yunnan, historically and culturally the southeastern-most part of Tibet.   [ Travel]

Photos from Xinjiang, a Muslim region in western China

(10/09/2006) Xinjiang, China's largest and western-most province, is one of the planet's most remote and desolate regions. Covering more than one-sixth the country's territory, Xinjiang borders Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and is dominated by ethnic minorities, notably the Muslim Uyghurs who make up nearly half the 18 million who live in the province. Xinjiang's ethnic mix reflects its historical importance as a central part of the Silk Road, a trading route used since ancient times to transport good between East and West. In September 2006, I, along with two friends, visited this distant land of breath-taking landscapes and fascinating local culture. The purpose of our trip was to visit Datong, a Tajik village located deep in the Kunlun Shan mountains of Xinjiang. Along the way I took hundreds of photos and met dozens of kind and wonderful people.   [ China]

A look at the biodiversity extinction crisis

(10/06/2006) As tropical forests -- the world's biological treasure troves -- continue to dwindle, biologists are racing to devise ways to save them and their resident biodiversity. While many conservation biologists talk about population viability analysis and intricacies of reserve layouts, David L. Pearson, a research professor at the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe, Arizona, focuses on a different approach: education. Pearson, whose work includes hundreds of books and papers including a series of beautifully illustrated wildlife guides for regions in Latin America, believes that lack of knowledge about ecosystems is one of the most significant hurdles to addressing the present biodiversity crisis. Fluent in five languages and able to "get along" in several more, Pearson conducts week-long workshops around the world to explain the basics of biodiversity and introduce "critical thinking" to audiences that include local government officials, business people, educators, students, and environmentalists. Pearson's trips are largely self-financed, though he says seeing the enthusiasm of workshop participants in developing countries is reward in and of itself.   [ Biodiversity]

Tree rings could settle global warming hurricane debate

(09/20/2006) Scientists have shown that ancient tree rings could help settle the debate as to whether hurricanes are strengthening in intensity due to global warming. By measuring different isotopes of oxygen present in the rings, Professors Claudia Mora and Henri Grissino-Mayer of the University of Tennessee have identified periods when hurricanes hit areas of the Southeastern United States up to 500 years ago. The research could help create a record of hurricanes that would help researchers understand hurricane frequency and intensity. Currently reliable history for hurricanes only dates back a generation or so. Prior to that, the official hurricane records kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Atlantic basin hurricane database (HURDAT) are controversial at best since storm data from more than 20 years ago is not nearly as accurate as current hurricane data due to improvements in tracking technology. The lack of a credible baseline makes it nearly impossible to accurately compare storm frequency and strength over the period..   [ Hurricanes | Climate Change]

Environmentalism without tears: Arguing climate change to an energy executive

(07/25/2006) Earlier this month I had the opportunity to make a pitch to "Mike," a top executive of a major energy company, about climate change and green energy. Mike said he didn't believe humans are influencing climate or that green energy is a key factor in the future business of his firm, "EnergyCo." I tried to persuade him otherwise, not by focusing on the science of climate change but on economics and market opportunities. It's not that science isn't important--I just didn't want to get caught up in an argument about core beliefs, which is akin to arguing over religion.   [ Energy | Happy-Upbeat Environmental]

Saving the world in six "easy" steps

(07/06/2006) Lots of people more intelligent than I have theorized ways to "save the world" in terms of the preserving the environment in its current condition for future generations. Without getting too specific I believe there are six key concepts to address in advancing toward a future where I won't have to apologize to my grandchildren. These include full cost economic analysis, education, small population, creative approaches to poverty reduction, corruption, and protection and restoration of wildlands.   [ Happy-Upbeat Environmental]

When elephants attack. Surviving an elephant charge in the Congo rainforest of Gabon

(06/27/2006) In Gabon, I had a couple of exciting encounters with elephants. One occurred when we got a little too close to a family of forest elephants. The experience almost provided an opportunity to test the theory that the best way to survive an elephant attack is to be faster than the slowest person in your group. As it was, our response to the elephant charge won't go down as a textbook example of what to do in that situation.   [ Rainforests | Africa/a>]

Saving Orangutans in Borneo

(05/24/2006) I'm in Tanjung Puting National Park in southern Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. At 400,000 hectares (988,000 acres) Tanjung Puting is the largest protected expanse of coastal tropical heath and peat swamp forest in southeast Asia. It's also one of the biggest remaining habitats for the critically endangered orangutan, the population of which has been great diminished in recent years due to habitat destruction and poaching. Orangutans have become the focus of a much wider effort to save Borneo's natural environment.   [ Borneo | Indonesia]