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Saving the world with Christmas cookies?

Saving the world with Christmas cookies?

This article by Austrian Science Fund (FWF) about Saving the world with Christmas cookies? is serious about all matters of people continuing to ruthlessly exploit land resources around the world and to how to counterbalance that, especially during those especially festive days.

Saving the world with Christmas cookies?
Global growth is achieved at the expense of human beings and nature. It exacerbates inequalities between rich and poor countries. Credit: UNDP/GCP

Despite all warnings, people continue to ruthlessly exploit land resources around the world, planting monocultures and setting up large-scale infrastructure. Social ecologist Anke Schaffartzik analyses the political and economic interests that precede these developments and their impact on society. The snapshots of global material and energy flows, but also the power gradient of which they are a symptom, reveal that thoughtful consumption in Austria alone stands little chances against oil palm plantations in Indonesia.

Every year, Austrians produce and buy tons of Christmas cookies. Depending on the individual budget and mind-set, more and more people opt for the product on the shelf that claims to be “palm-oil free.” For today, many people know: Palm oil plantations are being operated on a large scale in countries such as Indonesia, crowding out orangutans living in the tropical rainforests. Anke Schaffartzik, Hertha Firnberg Fellow of the Austrian Science Fund FWF, can well understand that people want to improve the world. Unfortunately, unequal participation in the economy, unequal access to resources and to political co-determination already have an impact on land use even before the consumers can choose a suitable cookie brand in Austria.

In the context of her project at the Institute of Social Ecology in the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, Schaffartzik analyses worldwide material and energy flows in order to explore the dual nature of inequality: “Inequality as cause and effect of non-sustainable development is easy to observe wherever nature is being exploited to make commercial use of land and resources,” she explains. “Some countries ensure high consumption and economic growth while preserving their resource base or having long since exhausted it. But others are using up more and more land for the export of raw materials or energy sources, thereby making socio-ecologically sustainable development impossible.”

Who decides on land use?

After the first year of her research, Schaffartzik understands that global inequality cannot be quantified exclusively in terms of money. It is informed a great deal by how processes are designed, and the imbalance is already apparent in terms of access to land and decision-making processes. The global data analysis along a time series from 1960 to 2010 suggests to Schaffartzik that the “valorisation” of land is a key process in this growing and deepening use of resources: what counts is the desired economic development, not the needs and voices of the local population. The above-mentioned cultivation of oil palms in Indonesia is one case in point. Before the plantations could be exploited on a large scale, the land first had to be re-zoned accordingly. Palm oil can be used for cooking, as a lubricant and animal feed, for biodiesel or highly processed foods such as Christmas cookies and chocolate. Nowadays, almost the entire volume of crude palm oil is exported from Indonesia, but the processing that generates added value takes place elsewhere.

Cheap and diverse

In the 1980s, palm oil production began to take off in Indonesia, a vast nation of many islands. This not only encroached on the rain forests, but also crowded out other crops and areas used for subsistence farming. “The progressive land grabbing that we are witnessing was initially based on political decisions: There was a wish to see the resources being used in a way that yields money and political control over remote islands,” Anke Schaffartzik notes. Hence, political decisions about land use had to be taken before various big corporations could buy palm oil cheaply as a basis for goods of higher value and before local land was exposed to land grabbing. The “valorisation” of land that previously contributed nothing to the national GDP is the first step in the process. “Countries increasingly look to agricultural goods for economic growth and they consider that to be more important than the food supply for their own population,” explains Anke Schaffartzik. In this context, one can observe that commodities that use up a lot of land for their cultivation or extraction are not generating more money than those that require little land. Today, the local population work either on the plantations or in nickel mining, and meanwhile cooking oil has to be imported.

For her further research, Anke Schaffartzik is cooperating with various institutes in Europe. Together with Julia Steinberger from the University of Lausanne she is working on the relationship between infrastructure, its social status and how infrastructure decisions are being taken. At the Universidad Rovira y Virgili in Spain, she is collaborating on a case study of the construction boom during the Spanish economic crisis, and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona maintains a global atlas of environmental conflicts that provides a tangible picture of the processes leading up to a critical decision.

Approaches to improving the world

Hence, it is not enough, unfortunately, to read the small print and spend a little more money on palm-oil free biscuits. There are always many factors at local level that cannot be influenced downstream by ecologically minded consumers. Once the path to unsustainable development has been taken, there is hardly a way to retrace it. While consumer responsibility is something that people call for, they actually have very little influence.

The focus should therefore be on political processes and decisions that lead to social and ecological inequality and thus promote destructive land use. This is the case not only in Southeast Asia and Latin America, but also on our own doorstep. Where do we see the privatisation of land that was previously subject to shared use? Where is land being re-zoned to build infrastructure? What changes in legislation will affect who gets to decide on land? Who are the beneficiaries? These are important questions. Whose needs are served by the third runway at Vienna Airport, one may wonder, when the actual priority is an expansion of the railway network? Projects such as urban gardening or the sharing economy gain importance if they are understood as a counter-movement to these processes.

Seasons Greetings to each and everyone.

Harvesting sustainable bioresearch

Harvesting sustainable bioresearch

Qatar University investing in Harvesting sustainable bioresearch demonstrate that it pays to go down this road regardless of the country’s physical attributes to its contrary. So here is how it is being implemented.

Harvesting sustainable bioresearch

The innovative cultivation of important crops has reduced the impact of food production on Qatar’s environment

It’s essential to Qatar University’s vision and mission to be a catalyst for sustainable development, helping the country to diversify away from its roots in oil and gas. Research into bioresources plays an important role in achieving that goal, whether that is by investigating alternative sources of fuel or ensuring that the population has a secure supply of food in the long term. 

The university’s Centre of Sustainable Development aims to ensure that Qatar makes the most of its natural resources in a sustainable way. The centre performs research into food and water security, renewable energy, the governance of natural resources and waste management. Because of water scarcity, limited arable land and high temperatures in Qatar, securing a sustainable food production pipeline is challenging. Consequently, this is a high priority for the centre, and a new plant is currently under construction in the north of Qatar for the production of food, fuel and health products.

One of the most important research initiatives is the Algal Technologies Programme (ATP), led by Dr Hareb Mohammad Al-Jabri and his team. Qatar’s environment offers a unique biodiversity in terms of the presence of microalgae and cyanobacteria – a type of microorganism that thrives on sunlight and CO2 – and ideal year-round growing conditions due to its hot and dry climate. “We want to take advantage of the high temperatures, abundant sunlight and saline water we have here in Qatar,” explains Dr Al-Jabri. “All these conditions make cultivation of traditional crops challenging, but microalgae can thrive under our conditions, and can be a great alternative source of food and feed.”

The ATP covers five key areas of research: culture collection (comparing different algae species); biofuel (converting biomass into carbon neutral fuel); environment and bioremediation (carbon capture and wastewater treatment); health (utilisation of algae in health foods or supplements) and animal feed. Microalgae are being investigated as a source of feed for both poultry and fish (aquaculture), because researchers believe that they have the nutritional potential to provide necessary proteins, lipids and carbohydrates without requiring arable land or fresh water to grow.

In 2011, researchers at the centre began investigating different strains of algae from the local environment – their growth patterns, biochemical composition, the types of conditions in which they grew best. The ATP now houses more than 200 different algae isolates sourced from the Qatar environment in its Culture Collection for Cyanobacteria and Microalgae. Among its discoveries are “super strains” that contain higher levels of protein, fatty acids and carbohydrates, as well as secondary metabolites such as omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and phycobiliproteins, which carry a higher market value. “To grow these, we need lots of sun, seawater, carbon dioxide, and any type of land,” he adds. “We can also recycle certain compounds from industry, such as urea, which is typically regarded as waste and so can’t be sold on, but can be used as a source of nitrogen.” Urea can be supplemented to algae as a fertiliser, and is necessary to support its growth.

“This type of project is good for the diversification of the economy in Qatar because it’s not dependent on oil and gas, and mitigates carbon emissions,” says Dr Al-Jabri. “We help the environment by recycling damaging chemicals, and we’re using seawater so as not to impact the scarce fresh water supply.” The department has previously looked at producing affordable and sustainable biofuels that could be used by the airline industry to reduce its carbon footprint – however this became less feasible economically because of a fall in oil prices. “Our research outcomes were good, so when this does become feasible again, we’ll be ready. But at the moment our focus is on food security for Qatar rather than fuel,” he adds.

Qatar University has been working with students and research departments in universities globally, including Murdoch University in Australia, the University of Liege in Belgium, University of Nantes in France, Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and the University of Texas in Austin. International students can visit the campus in Doha to get to know the desert environment at first hand. “Students are the main wheel of our research, they make it active,” says Dr Al-Jabri, “this is so important for knowledge exchange and to spread our networks and collaborate on different projects.”

The university has also garnered financial and research support from both the private and public sector in Qatar. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has helped the centre fund a number of start-ups focused on algae-based products, and there are numerous corporate partnerships with companies such as Total and Qatar Airways. Total is working with the university on research into biofuel made from microalgae as well as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS). Such partnerships are not only financial sponsorships, but also explore intellectual property sharing and will help the corporations involved reach their own sustainability goals. 

Another key partnership is with Japanese company Chiyoda, a specialist in agricultural and vegetable production technology. Working with Chiyoda, the university has designed and constructed a designated vegetable factory plant located on campus. The aim is to build a facility where the conditions can be controlled easily with LED lighting so that leafy crops can be produced at any time of the year. This means that the harsh desert environment in Qatar does not have to influence production, so there is continuity and consistency in how the products are grown.

The plan for the ATP is to scale up the production of microalgae and cyanobacteria as part of the university’s forward strategy. This year the cultivation will increase to two hectares of land, and by 2025 it’s hoped that production will cover as much as 100 hectares. “We have a concrete strategy to start producing this on a commercial scale, and we’re moving in the right direction,” says Dr Al-Jabri. Together with a new food production plant in the north of Qatar, this research has the potential to harness sustainable food production for years to come.

For more information, please visit www.qu.edu.qa.

Original Story by the Times Higher Education.

MENA Construction Output Growth Forecast

MENA Construction Output Growth Forecast

The Region is wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery is predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report as per Dominic Ellis of Construction Global who elaborates on the MENA construction output growth forecast sees 4.5% drop.


18 December 2020

Region wrestling with oil demand slowdown but construction recovery predicted for 2021 and 2022, GlobalData report says

The construction output growth forecast for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for 2020 predicts a contraction of 4.5 percent this year, before a recovery with growth of 1.9 percent in 2021, and 4.1 percent in 2022, according to GlobalData.

The region is wrestling with two distinct but related issues: climate change, and the slowdown in oil demand.

The data and analytics company reports that the 2020 contraction reflects the severe impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as other restrictions on construction activity. Much will depend on its ability to embrace digital transformation. 

Yasmine Ghozzi, economist at GlobalData, said: “The construction sector will face headwinds in 2021 with a slow recovery, but the pace of recovery will be uneven across countries in the region. Throughout 2020, and running to 2021, spending on real estate megaprojects, especially in the GCC, is likely to take a backseat as a result of budget revisions. 

“However, large-scale projects in the oil, gas, power and water sectors have gained traction against the downturn in market conditions this year, and this is likely to continue. As a result, some local contractors are pursuing development in these sectors to replace the loss of real estate work. 

“There is also a push towards decoupling power and water production across the region to reduce energy consumption continuing to provide the impetus for Independent Water Projects (IWP) implementation and in the future, there will be a lot of contract awards in that respect as the region pushes its renewable energy programme, particularly solar photovoltaic and wind.” 

Saudi Arabia

GlobalData has slightly revised up its forecast for Saudi Arabia’s construction output to -1.9 percent from -2.8 percent and expects a recovery for the sector of 3.3 percent in 2021. This revision reflects an improvement in economic performance and the Kingdom ending a nationwide curfew at the end of September, lifting restrictions on businesses after three months of stringent curbs and a notable decrease in infection rate. 

Recovery is also underlined by the crown prince’s announcement in mid-November that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is to invest £29.5 billion (5% of GDP per annum) in the economy in 2021-22. 

Nearly half of the construction of the five minarets of the Grand Mosque in Makkah is now complete. 

The UAE

GlobalData still maintains its forecast for construction output growth in the UAE of -4.8 percent, with a rebound in 2021 of 3.1 percent and a promising medium-term outlook. 

Ghozzi adds: “The recent approval of a new Dubai Building Code is a positive development for the UAE. The new code outlines a revised set of construction rules and standards and seeks to reduce construction costs by streamlining building rules.” 

The UAE is proceeding with plans to expand its production capacity with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) announcing its five-year investment plan worth £90.1 billion.

Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman

GlobalData has not changed its estimated growth rates for Qatar and Kuwait in 2020, at -4.5 percent and -9.5 percent, respectively. However, it has further cut the growth forecast for Oman to -10.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -8.1 percent, as the construction industry struggles with the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19, low oil prices and the impact of sovereign credit rating downgrades. 

Ghozzi adds: “The new fiscal plan launched by the Omani Government to wean itself off its dependence on crude revenues through a series of projects and tax reforms is a good step which will aid the construction sector recovery in the medium term”.

Egypt

GlobalData expects construction in Egypt to grow at 7.7 percent in 2020, slowing from 9.5 percent in 2019 – given a short-term slow down due to the pandemic – and 8.9 percent in 2021. The industry is also expected to continue to maintain a positive trend throughout the forecast period. 

Ghozzi continues: “Egypt has become the first sovereign nation in the MENA region to issue green bonds with a £553.9 million issuance. Bonds’ earnings will be used to fund projects that meet Egypt’s commitment to the UN goals for sustainable development.”

Egypt’s comprehensive development plan provides varied opportunities for construction companies, such as the national project to develop the countryside which targets 1,000 villages nationwide. 

Israel

GlobalData expects Israel’s construction industry to contract by 8.9 percent in 2020, reflecting the significant fallout from the pandemic, with growth expected to resume at a modest pace in 2021. 

Ghozzi said containing a second wave of the virus, while trying to revive the economy and approve budgets for 2020 and 2021, are the government’s top priorities. “However, difficult decisions will be postponed, with the deadline to pass the 2020 budget being pushed to the end of 2020,” he said.

Arab Maghreb

In the Arab Maghreb, GlobalData maintained its forecasts for construction growth in 2020 for Morocco and Algeria to -5.5, and -3.4 percent, respectively. 

Ghozzi adds: “Amid a second wave of COVID-19 with restrictions placed on public mobility along with increasing public sector doubt about economic prospects and social tensions continuing to cause shutdowns at oil and phosphate-manufacturing facilities, GlobalData has further cut its forecast for Tunisia to -13.3 percent from an earlier estimate of -12.5 percent. 

“Recovery in the sector is expected to be very slow and expectation of an early legislative election is likely in 2021 but is unlikely to reduce political volatility.”

The Greening of the Earth approaching its Limit

The Greening of the Earth approaching its Limit

Industrialization, rapid growth and usage of certain natural resources supporting new technological development caused and seemed to continue causing global warming that ultimately impacted the planet’s climate to change. In a recent move to counter that, the greening of the earth was incepted and put into implementation with inventions put into action actually to help fight climate change. Recover from climate change seem these days to be approaching its limit as demonstrated by Mauricio Luque in the greening of the earth is approaching its limit.

The featured picture is a YOUTUBE‘s Greening Deserts Sustainable P[rojects.

15 December 2020

The Greening of the Earth approaching its Limit

Vegetation on earth has a key role in mitigating the climate crisis because it reduces the excess CO2 from the atmosphere that we humans emit. Just like when athletes are doped with oxygen, plants also benefit from the large amounts of CO2 that accumulate in the atmosphere. If more CO2 is available, they make more photosynthesis and grow more, which is called the fertilizing effect of CO2. When plants absorb this gas to grow, they remove it from the atmosphere and it is sequestered in the branches, trunk or roots.

An article published in Science, co-directed by the Professor of the Higher Council for Scientific Research at CREAF Josep Peñuelas and Professor Yongguan Zhang of the University of Nanjin, with the participation of CREAF researchers Jordi Sardans and Marcos Fernández, shows that this fertilizing effect of CO2 is decreasing worldwide.

The study, developed by an international team, concludes that the reduction has reached 50% progressively since 1982 due to two key factors: the availability of water and nutrients.

“The formula has no mystery, plants need CO2, water and nutrients to grow. However much the CO2 increases, if the nutrients and water do not increase in parallel, the plants will not be able to take advantage of the increase in this gas,” explains Professor Josep Peñuelas. In fact, three years ago he himself warned in an article in Nature Ecology and Evolution that the fertilizing effect on the soil would not last forever, that plants cannot grow indefinitely because there are other factors that limit them.

If the fertilizing capacity of CO2 in the soil decreases, there will be strong consequences on the carbon cycle and therefore on the climate. Forests have been ‘doped’ with the extra CO2 for decades, sequestering tons of carbon dioxide that allowed them to do more photosynthesis and grow more. In fact, this increased fixation has managed to decrease the accumulated CO2 in the air, but now it is over.

“These unprecedented results indicate that the absorption of carbon by vegetation is beginning to become saturated. This has very important climate implications that must be taken into account in possible strategies and policies to mitigate climate change at the global level. Nature decreases its capacity to sequester carbon and with it increases society’s dependence on future strategies to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” warns Peñuelas.

The study has been carried out with satellite, atmospheric, ecosystem and modelling information. It highlights the use of sensors that use near-infrared and fluorescence and are thus able to measure the growth activity of vegetation.

Less water and nutrients

According to the results, the lack of water and nutrients are the two factors that reduce the ability of CO2 to improve plant growth in the soil. To reach this conclusion, the team based itself on data obtained from hundreds of forests studied over the past forty years. “These data show that the concentrations of essential nutrients in the leaves, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, have also decreased progressively since 1990,” explains researcher Songhan Wang, first author of the article.

The team also found that water availability and temporary changes in water supply played a significant role in this phenomenon. “We have found that plants slow down their growth, not only in times of drought, but also when there are changes in the seasonality of rainfall, which is increasingly happening with climate change,” adds Yongguan Zhang.

Human-made Materials now weigh as much as all Living Biomass

Human-made Materials now weigh as much as all Living Biomass

Anthropocene: human-made materials now weigh as much as all living biomass, say scientists by Jan Zalasiewicz, University of Leicester and Mark Williams, University of Leicester. Does this assertion apply to all continents, regions and countries equally? Absurd reasoning; does a square kilometre of desert land weight the same as elsewhere? Let us read and understand what is this all about.

Our deficiencies have always driven us, even among our distant ancestors, back in the last Ice Age. Having neither the speed and strength to hunt large prey nor sharp teeth and claws to tear flesh, we improvised spears, flint knives, scrapers. Lacking a thick pelt, we took the fur of other animals. As the ice receded, we devised more means of survival and comfort – stone dwellings, ploughs, wheeled vehicles. All these inventions allowed small oases of civilisation to be wrested from a natural wilderness that seemed endless.

The idea of a natural world that dwarfed humanity and its creations long persisted, even into modern times – only to run, lately, into concerns that climate was changing, and species were dying through our actions. How could that be, with us so small, and nature so large?

Now a new study in Nature by a team of scientists from the Weizman Institute in Israel upends that perspective. Our constructions have now – indeed, spookily, just this year – attained the same mass as that of all living organisms on Earth. The human enterprise is growing fast, too, while nature keeps shrinking. The science-fiction scenario of an engineered planet is already here.

It seems a simple comparison, and yet is fiendishly difficult in practice. But this team has practice in dealing with such impossible challenges. A couple of years ago they worked out the first part of the equation, the mass of all life on Earth – including that of all the fish in the sea, microbes in the soil, trees on land, birds in the air and much more besides. Earth’s biosphere now weighs a little less than 1.2 trillion tonnes (of dry mass, not counting water), trees on land making up most of it. It was something like double that before humans started clearing forests – and it is still diminishing.

Human-made Materials now weigh as much as all Living Biomass
Two large tree trunks in a forest
Heavyweights. Andreas C. Fischer / shutterstock

Now, the team has delved into the statistics of industrial production and mass flows of all kinds, and reconstructed the growth, from the beginning of the 20th century, of what they call “anthropogenic mass”. This is all the things we build – houses, cars, roads, aeroplanes and myriad other things. The pattern they found was strikingly different. The stuff we build totted up to something like 35 billion tonnes in the year 1900, rising to be roughly double that by the middle of the 20th century. Then, that burst of prosperity after the second world war, termed the Great Acceleration, and our stuff increased several-fold to a little over half a trillion tonnes by the end of the century. In the past 20 years it has doubled again, to be equivalent to, this year, the mass of all living things. In coming years, the living world will be far outweighed – threefold by 2040, they say, if current trends hold.

Human-made Materials now weigh as much as all Living Biomass
A concrete highway bridge viewed from below.
Most of the weight is in concrete. Lijphoto / shutterstock

What is this stuff that we make? It is now of extraordinary, and exploding, diversity. The number of “technospecies” now far exceeds the estimated 9 million biological species on Earth, and counting them exceeds even the formidable calculating powers of this team. But our stuff can be broken down into ingredients, of which concrete and aggregates take a gargantuan share – about four-fifths. Then come bricks, asphalt and metals. On this scale, plastics are a minor ingredient – and yet their mass is still greater, now, than that of all animals on Earth.

It’s a revealing, meticulous study, and nicely clear about what the measurements include and exclude. They do not include, for instance, the rock and earth bulldozed and landscaped as foundations for our constructions, nor all of the waste rock generated in mining the ingredients: currently, nearly a third of a trillion tonnes of such material is shifted each year. Add in the Earth material that we use and abuse in other ways, in ploughing farmland, and letting sediment pile up behind dams, and humans have cumulatively used and discarded some 30 trillion tonnes of Earth’s various resources.

Whichever way that you cut the cake, the team’s final point in its groundbreaking study hits home, and chimes with that of another recent analysis we both worked on. Since the mid-20th century, the Earth has been set on a new, human-driven trajectory – one that is leaving the stable conditions of the Holocene Epoch, and is entering the uncertain, and rapidly changing, new world of the Anthropocene. The weight of evidence, here, seems unarguable.

Jan Zalasiewicz, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Leicester and Mark Williams, Professor of Palaeobiology, University of Leicester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.