Category Archives: Environmental Issues

Contemporary issues about the environment.

Water Pollution: Sources, Transport and Distribution of Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are considered as persistent water pollutants. Where do heavy metals come from, and how are these toxic substances transported and distributed? This article reviews several literature along these concerns.

The introduction of substantial chemical, physical or biological material into the coastal zone from land-based sources due to industrialization as well as natural processes such as land erosion affects the organisms living in it. This is so considering that the process involves discharge of insidious and persistent toxic pollutants such as pesticides, heavy metals and other nondegradable and bioaccumulative chemical compounds.

The potential hazard to the marine environment of pollutants depends mostly on their concentration and persistence. Persistent pollutants, such as heavy metals, can remain in the environment unchanged for years (Guzman and Jimenez, 1992). These heavy metals eventually find their way into the tissues of marine organisms as a result of ingestion.

Continuous uptake of heavy metals would lead to an increased concentration in the organisms’ tissues (bioaccumulation) until a saturation point is reached where these metals would interfere with an organism’s vital functions.

Sources of Heavy Metals

In particular, the kinds of heavy metals incorporated in sewage outputs to the aquatic ecosystem vary widely. These are determined principally by the nature of pollution sources whence these metals came.

Possible pollution sources identified by Guzman and Jimenez (1992) include:

1. point sources such as refineries, power plants, ports, dockyards, domestic and industrial sewage;

2. non-point sources such as domestic and industrial sewage, agriculture activities, soil erosion; and

3. unpredictable point sources (e. g. oil waste at sea by tankers, major oil spills.

Discharges of oil at sea by tankers, the use of antifouling and anticorrosive paints to protect vessels and structures, oil spills during shipping and terminal transfers and effluent discharges from refineries are probably among the anthropogenic sources of lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zince (Zn), cadmium (Cd), and vanadium (V) (Guzman and Jimenez, 1992). Also, all metals are normal components of fertilizers, lime and pesticides (Davies, 1980; Alloway, 1990).

Transport and Distribution of Heavy Metals

Owing to the metal’s soluble and particulate nature, heavy metal pollution transcends boundaries. This suggests that a wide range of pollution sources, both natural and anthropogenic, and a very effective mechanism for disturbing metals influence heavy metal transport and distribution (Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Rivers appear to be the most important sources of heavy metals in the sea and they carry much larger quantities of the elements as particulates than they do as solutes (Bryan, 1976). These heavy metals which may initially be deposited in one section of a coast or bay tend to be distributed to other regions because of tidal cycles, mixing of water layers and upwelling (Eslemont, 1999), currents, and occasional strong forces in nature such as typhoons, among others. Natural processes prevailing in particular locations influence the concentration of heavy metals.

In Darwin Harbour for example, Eslemont (1999) noted that the strong tidal cycle tends to disperse pollutants. Because of these processes, even the pristine coral reefs are influenced by metal pollution, although at lower levels than the other reefs proximate to pollution sources.

However, the influence of benthic infauna especially on sediment structure, chemistry and transport could not be underestimated. The disturbance of sedimentary deposits by living organisms (bioturbation) could influence sedimentary structure and therefore has important implications for the fate of contaminants. Mazik and Elliot (2000) have demonstrated that there was an increase in bioturbation with increasing distance from the source of pollution.

Literature Cited

Alloway, B. J., 1990. Heavy Metals in Soils. Blackie, London (in Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Bryan, G. W. (1976). Heavy metal contamination in the sea. In Marine Pollution (R. Johnston, ed.), pp. 185-302. Academic Press, London (in Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Davies, B. E., 1980. Applied Soil Trace Elements. John Wiley & Sons, New York (in Guzman and Jimenez, 1992).

Eslemont, G., 1999. Heavy metals in corals from Heron Island and Darwin Harbour, Australia. Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 38, No. 11, pp. 1051-1054.

Guzman, H. M. and C. E. Jimenez, 1992. Contamination of Coral Reefs by Heavy Metals along the Caribbean Coast of Central America (Costa Rica and Panama). Marine Pollution Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 11, pp. 554-561.

Mazik, K. and M. Elliott, 2000. The effects of chemical pollution on the bioturbation potential of estuarine intertidal mudflats. Helgoland Marine Research, Vol. 54, Issue 2/3 pp. 99-109.

© 2014 June 12 P. A. Regoniel

Four Reasons Why We Should Save Endangered Species

Why do we need to save endangered species? Of what use are wildlife nearing extinction to the human race? This article lists four reasons why we should protect endangered species.

Some people do not understand the importance of keeping a healthy population of animals or plants on the planet. This article, therefore, aims to provide a deeper understanding of the need to preserve endangered species.

Why should we save endangered species? Here are four principal reasons why everyone should do their share in conserving these valuable natural resources:

Four Reasons for Saving Endangered Species

The following are the potential benefits from plants and animals that may be facing extinction:

1. Medicinal value

The drug digitalis, derived from purple foxglove, prevented the death of millions of people. Digitalis is used to treat congestive heart failure (CHF), fluid retention, irregular heartbeat, asthma, epilepsy, tuberculosis, headache, constipation, headache, and spasm. It can also heal wounds and burns. Withering (1785) described the healing properties of the plant as early as the 18th century.

purple foxglove
Digitalis purpurea

This observation means that if one plant species gets extinct, the potential benefits, such as a source of medicine, will be forfeited. However, many plants may be nearing extinction without our knowledge. These plants could contain thousands of important compounds that can lengthen the human lifespan.

Plants are not the only source of medicine. Animals have medicinal properties, too. Here is a list of animals and their medicinal uses:

  • leeches – secretions prevent coagulation and inflammation
  • vipers – elements in their venom control blood pressure
  • scorpion – brain tumor research uses its venom
  • shark – utilized in the study of certain forms of cancer and muscle degeneration
  • bees – honeybee products prevent microbes from thriving
  • lizards – secrete a toxin that may benefit diabetes sufferers
  • frog – produces compounds that prevent infection

2. Agricultural value

Wild species of plants can be a source of vital genes to improve crops that are grown today. Among those genes that scientists splice from the DNAs of plants are pest or disease resistance, salt tolerance, and drought resistance. These properties can help counter the effects of global climate change.

While there are concerns about the products of genetic engineering such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), these products helped attain food security. People have had a reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. For example, genetic material from a wild corn species stopped a leaf fungus that previously wiped out 15% of US corn crop. Thus, more crop production ensued.

Animals such as gecko and spiders are also important natural pest control agents. Geckos feed on at least five different kinds of pests while spiders are known to prey on cockroaches.

3. Ecological value

Have you heard the popular quote “No man is an island?” No man stands alone.

Animal or plant extinction can drastically change an ecosystem.

Just like humans, an individual plant or animal could not live by itself. It has to interact with the other organisms as well as its environment to survive. Removing one animal or plant species from the ecosystem will compromise the life of other organisms that interact with it.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one lost plant species can lead to the loss of 30 other insects, plant, and other animal species found in the higher levels of the food chain. These individual species of plant or animal are sometimes called the keystone species. If that species is removed, the whole ecosystem will be changed drastically.

Examples to illustrate this importance of endangered species and how they link with other organisms are the following:

  • northern spotted owl – health indicator of the ancient forest of the Pacific Northwest
  • gray wolf – controls the population of the elk
  • killer whale – affects the diet of bald eagles (see illustration below)
killer whale and bald eagles
Chain of events that show how the killer whale can affect the diet of bald eagles.

Killer whales affect the diet of bald eagles.

The illustration shows the food chain dynamics in Alaska. If killer whales deplete the population of otters, the population of sea urchins will increase. Overfeeding of large algae by sea urchins will leave no place to hide or breeding places for fish that in turn will migrate to other areas. Once the fishes migrate, the bald eagle population switch their diet to marine birds. In this case, it appears that the keystone species are the sea otters.

 4. Bequest value

Leaving out a legacy for the next generation is a desirable value. We would like our children also to enjoy the benefits that could be gained from wildlife species, not only of their mere existence but for the potential benefits that they can provide.

How to Conserve Endangered Species

Endangered animals and plants, therefore, must be conserved by all means possible. Doable initiatives include the following strategies:

  • reforestation,
  • rehabilitation of degraded lands,
  • sustainable harvesting of timber and other natural products,
  • pollution reduction and prevention,
  • waste reduction and management, and
  • development of innovative strategies to conserve endangered species.

Can you think of other ways to conserve endangered species?

References

WebMD, n.d. Digitalis. Retrieved on May 23, 2014 from http://goo.gl/VvlfYD

Withering, W. (1785). An account of the foxglove, and some of its medical uses: with practical remarks on dropsy and other diseases. Classics of Medicine Library.

Zoo Granby, 2014. Why protect endangered species… So what? Retrieved on May 23, 2014 from http://goo.gl/6zFiZn

© 2014 May 23 P. A. Regoniel

Cite this article as: Regoniel, Patrick A. (May 23, 2014). Four Reasons Why We Should Save Endangered Species. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from http://simplyeducate.me/2014/05/23/4-reasons-why-we-should-save-endangered-species/

14 Uses of Metals, Mining and Its Environmental Impact

What are the benefits of mineral mining and how does it affect the environment? How can environmental management maintain the ecological benefits derived from a healthy environment?

The extraction of valuable minerals from the earth has been a major preoccupation in many countries because of the society’s need for different kinds of metals to sustain economic growth. Metals have become a significant factor in the development of human society as these are closely associated with production of consumer items, facilities, transportation, among others that make life convenient to people.

14 Specific Uses of Metals

Specifically, valuable minerals serve as vital components of the following things that make life easy or convenient to people:

  1. computers that play a very significant role in today’s modern age,
  2. cars that bring people to their destination,
  3. airplanes that transport passengers across places and guard the country’s boundaries,
  4. railroad tracks and trains that bring masses of people from one place to another,
  5. ships that ferry people across the seas,
  6. farm machineries that make possible high volumes of crop production,
  7. cellphones and wires that facilitate communication between people,
  8. satellites that monitor the weather and aid in the study of the earth,
  9. construction materials for sturdy buildings and homes,
  10. appliances that make life convenient in homes,
  11. streetlights that illuminate the streets,
  12. kitchen wares for homes and restaurants,
  13. production of robots for various uses, and
  14. dams to supply the water and electricity needs of populated areas.

The list of the different uses of metals could go on and on among which the computers stand out as these have significantly affected modern living. Although advanced computer technology suggests that glass (fiber optic cables) will replace metals in the near future, currently, these are just indispensable.

Without metals all the above services will not be enjoyed by people. Because of metals, life has become much more convenient to man.

The Need to Mine and Its Environmental Impact

To keep on enjoying the benefits derived from metals, there is a need to mine these minerals from the earth. This is not easy, as it would take a lot of effort and cost to remove the valuable minerals from the metal ore. The ore is a naturally occurring solid material from which metals are extracted. From extraction to processing, mining activities have significant environmental impact.

Many environmental groups are against mineral mining because of its environmentally destructive impact. It spoils the ecological benefits humans derive from the environment like clean water, clean air, productive land, among others. Health-related concerns arise due to mining impacts on water brought about by acid mine drainage and increased soil erosion due to forest removal. Air quality is compromised due to increased emission of particulate matter. Soil quality deteriorates because of increased heavy metal input.

acid mine drainage
A defunct, unrehabilitated copper mine upstream in the remote island of Balabac, Palawan caused this bluish coloration, due to copper sulfate, of the stream bed. Locals noticed this occurring for more than 30 years.

The Need for Effective Environmental Management

While there are negative impacts to the environment as a result of mineral mining, the benefits must be weighed against the cost. Both the environment and metals are important to human life. This is the essence of environmental resource management.

Thus, there is a need to manage the interaction between mining as an important activity of human society and the environment. For this reason, environmental impact assessments are made before starting a mining project so that decision makers are best informed as to what steps to make to sustain the ecological benefits that a viable environment provides. While the mining activities are going on, periodic environmental monitoring is conducted, and finally, when mining is no longer profitable, proper restorative measures are undertaken. These actions will prevent environmental disasters from taking place.

©Patrick A. Regoniel 19 May 2014

The Environmental Impact of Air Conditioning

Air conditioners are no longer just a luxury for the wealthy citizens of the world — they are becoming a necessity. Staying cool and comfortable is just about impossible unless you own one of these devices. While the benefits of air conditioning for basic, everyday living are welcomed during the hot and muggy seasons, the hazardous environmental effects due to their use need to be considered as well.

Air Conditioners Are Everywhere

Whether you are walking down the street in a crowded city or driving through a suburban neighborhood, heating and cooling systems are everywhere. They have become cheaper for companies to make, so households even in developing countries are beginning to use this source of comfort.

At this point in time, so many people have become accustomed to their presence that they cannot see themselves living without one. With the rising temperatures and extremely humid climates in many parts of the world, who can blame them? Still, everyone should know that they are contributing to environmental damage.

What Makes Air Conditioners Detrimental to the Environment?

Air conditioners have an environmental impact in more ways than one, but the most significant are the inputs and the outputs. These popular cooling machines do not just function on their own; they are powered by electricity. The effects of electricity production alone can be very detrimental to the world in which we live. The hazardous pollutants pumped into the air from traditional fossil fuels are one of the top sources of negative environmental impact.

Not only is the energy consumption detrimental, but the gases emitted from air conditioners are also affecting the environment. Many, if not most, of the most harmful CFC gases have been stamped out via the Montreal Protocol, which reduces the emission of pollutants, but the gases that are still being emitted have a huge impact on global warming. It has been said that 27% of all global warming will be due to the gases emitted from air conditioning by the year 2050. This shocking statistic is largely due to the expected increase of use of air conditioning as temperatures continue to rise, thus creating a cycle of damage.

Moving Forward

So, what can be done to stop this damage from spiraling out of control? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed plans stemming from the Montreal Protocol that would help to reduce the negative impact on the environment caused by the harmful gases emitted. As proposed, by next year, 2015, the United States must reduce its use of damaging HCFC’s to 90% below the baseline. This would drastically help to reduce the pollutants going into the environment, including those from air conditioners.

The EPA has also proposed alternatives for the materials used in air conditioning units. These substitutes will be less damaging to the ozone, thus helping to cut back on the cycle that is currently overwhelming the planet. Homeowners can also install options such as new cooling systems that rely on less damaging coolants.

Keep in mind that this shift to newer materials and systems will not only impact the environment, but it will also impact the jobs of those working in the heating and cooling service industry. While it is already required for technicians to keep their licenses up to date, they will also need to learn the latest information regarding the new cooling systems in order to help home owners reduce their environmental impact. Resources such as online continued education courses for heating and cooling specialists will be extremely helpful as they work to keep up with the latest information and policies. Furthermore, with new cooling systems being developed to combat environmental damage, these professionals will need to be able to service, update and replace all systems so that they are within the current regulations.

Conclusion

The impact of air conditioning on the environment is obviously a very serious issue. We must address it now to avoid further damage. The rising and sometimes deadly temperatures make living without a cooling system very difficult and uncomfortable, and living without one is simply out of the question for many people in certain areas of the world. Regulations regarding the output of air conditioners must continue moving forward. Researchers must also develop substitutes for coolants until they are as environmentally friendly as possible.

Heating and cooling technicians will also need to stay up to date on the latest regulations, as well as continue their education as new systems are developed. Overall, innovation must continue before further damage from air conditioners causes an irreversibly drastic impact on the future of the planet.

Is Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan Due to Climate Change?

It has been three weeks since typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan hit the eastern part of the Philippines quite hard that left nothing but debris to once thriving city of Tacloban and nearby areas. This was an unimagined and unexpected result of sometimes more than 300 kph winds that sent even concrete houses to ruins. Imagine the devastation that a car can do if lifted by the winds or water and hurled at that speed against a concrete wall. Storm surge, a rise in sea level above the usual tide level as intense storm moves over water, left many without homes to live on once the storm has passed and inflicted its fury.

Despite disaster mitigating preparations to frequently typhoon visited places of eastern Philippines, typhoon Yolanda proved to be an exceptional one. Some evacuation centers in raised areas did not serve their intended purposes because these were also ravaged by the strong winds and 10-foot waves. Lives were lost and much agony and chaos transpired at the aftermath.

Typhoon Yolanda Due to Climate Change?

Is this unfortunate event a result of climate change? There were reports from various sources saying with apparent confidence that typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan is a result of climate change. But is this really a well founded statement?

For a scientist or a discerning person, a pronouncement like this is not easy. There should be an empirical investigation and evaluation of data to make such conclusion. An examination of historical records will reveal important information that will cause one to pause and think, if indeed, the typhoon is unusually strong due to changes brought about by global climate change.

typhoon

If we evaluate the records of typhoons that crossed the Philippines in the past, there actually were typhoons of similar magnitude as Yolanda or Haiyan. In a Yahoo news story, two typhoons approximate the same damage . One was recorded in January 12, 1898 and another in 1912. According to estimates, the former typhoon left 400 Europeans dead and 6,000 natives while the latter killed or wounded 12,000 people. The latter typhoon hit similar areas, i.e., the provinces of Leyte and Capiz.

Yardstick for Comparison

Apparently, these data suggest that past typhoons similar to Yolanda or Haiyan already crossed the affected areas. Typhoons of such magnitude come in cycles. They tend to repeat through time. If such is the case, then there’s no reason that the current onslaught can be fully attributed to the effects of climate change; apparently has become much more pronounced during the past two decades.

On the other hand, these reports alone may not be sufficient evidence to compare typhoon impact in the areas mentioned. Similar parameters should be used, meaning, all conditions during typhoon impact should be the same. A great difference exists in many respects. Some of those related to the number of casualties are listed below:

  • disaster preparedness of the people
  • accuracy of inventory and reports
  • human population of the stricken areas
  • timeliness of rescue, assistance and relief
  • technological (especially communications) capability

While climate change is a convenient excuse for the great damage inflicted by supertyphoon Yolanda or Haiyan, the message of the unfortunate event is clear: Be always on guard. Whether the typhoon is due to climate change or not, warnings of an unusual event should not be taken lightly. Experience is not the only sole basis for readiness.

© 2013 November 28 P. A. Regoniel

The Relationship Between Bribery and the Environment

Bribery can lead to environmental degradation. What are the evidences? Are there solutions to this age-old corrupt practice? This article explores these issues.

The recent spate of corruption highlighting a businesswoman allegedly bribing government officials to channel billions in taxpayers money to fly-by-night or bogus non-government organizations prompted me to write this article. Since my concern is largely on the environmental implications of events like this, I reviewed literature on how corruption, specifically bribery, relates to the environment.

Bribery and the Environment

Considering that governance becomes the prime focus of analysis when corruption issues arise, this discussion will examine undesirable practices, specifically offering of incentives to public officials in view of exempting them from the rule of law or pocketing taxpayers money for their own selfish purposes. Bribery occurs at different levels of government, that is, from the highest administrative or lawmaking bodies to operational levels charged with law enforcement responsibilities.

A brief review of reports on the relationship between bribery at different levels of government and the environment yielded the following summaries and conclusions:

1. Bribery of law enforcers leads to low compliance among violators thus pressure to natural resources.

Sundström’s study[1] in South Africa revealed that law enforcers’ acceptance of bribes from small-scale fishers who commit illegal fishing such as poaching decrease their trustworthiness. As a result, fishers tended to exploit their natural marine resources more than what it can sustain. Overfishing upsets the balance of the marine food chain such that the population of target fishes decline and sizes of fish caught by fishermen get smaller through time.

2. Ineffective regulatory systems results to pollution.

Environmental inspections as a regulatory system serve to deter non-compliance with rules and regulations set forth for approval of environmentally critical projects. Once those tasked to do such inspections receive money in exchange for favorable reports on the project’s environmental performance despite exceeding permissible emission levels, pollution results. The effects of pollution may be immediate (acute) or long-term (chronic) depending on the nature of the pollutant.

For example, if a mining project does not have adequate leachate treatment facilities as a result of non-compliance to required mitigating measures, high concentrations of heavy metals will be discharged into waterways. This will disrupt the normal biological processes in aquatic ecosystems where various organisms including man derive sustenance.

3. Environmentally harmful policies are formulated such that disasters occur.

When unscrupulous individuals bribe lawmakers to craft policies towards their favor, environmentally harmful policies result. For example, if the government allows logging in highly elevated or watershed areas, lack of trees to cushion the impact of heavy rains result to flooding of low-lying villages. This will mean loss of lives and property aside from loss of important ecological goods and services.

4. Unfair allocation of environmental resources lead to further environmental degradation.

If high-ranking officials accept bribes to allow large commercial fishing companies to fish in municipal waters, unfair allocation of marine resources occur. As small fishers do not have the means to compete with the efficient, mechanized fishing equipment of large-scale fishers, they will resort to illegal means that further degrade the environment. One of them is the use of dynamite in fishing wherein large areas of productive reef are destroyed. The attitude that prevails is “Well take them (the fish), before they (the large-scale fishers) do.”thief

What has been done so far to curb bribery?

Acceptance of bribes shows the vulnerability of those tasked to govern and enforce the rules and regulations of a country. Many solutions have been suggested, recommended and enforced including reforms to improve transparency and accountability, legislation to reduce flaws in existing laws, reducing the discretionary powers of public officials, greater awareness among the people, involving citizens in government affairs, and so on and so forth.[2] However, despite these measures, corruption persists in many countries.

The Economic Solution

Based on the resource allocation point of view, the practice of bribery continues because it offers those involved to get more than enough resources to satisfy their wants. The one giving the bribe and the one receiving the bribe both benefit from their transaction but third parties suffer. The negative environmental impacts then are externalities of these transactions. There is a need, therefore, to integrate the externality of environmental degradation as a result of bribery.

In view of developing a research concept using the economic solution of internalizing externalities, economic valuation may be used as an approach to determine if there is a relationship between the amount of bribe and the cost of environmental degradation. Thus, the following questions may be asked:

  • Is there a relationship between the amount of bribe and the corresponding cost of environmental degradation?
  • How much environmental degradation occurs for a certain amount of bribe?

For the benefits gained by both the briber and the bribed (my own terms for brevity), monetary incentives to disadvantaged parties can offset the negative effects of environmental degradation. The point is, the guilty parties should be made to pay for the consequences of their actions. Penalties should be proportionate to achieve environmental justice.

Environmental justice is defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This means fair allocation of natural resources to everyone should be pursued in a democratic society.

Reference

1. Sundström, A. (2013). Corruption in the commons: Why bribery hampers enforcement of environmental regulations in South African fisheries. International Journal of the Commons, 7(2). Retrieved from http://www.thecommonsjournal.org/index.php/ijc/article/download/370/360

2. Winbourne, S. (2002). Corruption and the environment. Retrieved September 11, 2013, from http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PNACT876.pdf

© 2013 September 12 P. A. Regoniel

List of Negative and Positive Externalities of Oil Spill

Many people view oil spills as grossly disadvantageous to everyone. In reality, there are benefits gained by some sectors from disasters like this. Read and find out how could this be so.

There was a lot of concern about wasted lives and property due to the collision of a cargo vessel and a passenger ferry last August 16, 2013 in Cebu in central Philippines. Aside from lost lives due to the accident, there were also concerns on the ill-effects of oil leaked into the environment. The sunken passenger ferry spilled thousands of liters of diesel and bunker oil that affected around 5,000 hectares of nearby coastal areas[1].

The oil spill in Cebu, although locally significant, pales in comparison to major oil spill disasters in human history. Among those that gained worldwide attention were the oil leaks due to a ruptured well in the Timor Sea in 2009 and a similar incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The latter one is considered the worst US environment disaster, second worldwide to the intentional oil spill during the gulf war in 1991[4].

Externality: Cost and Benefit of Oil Spill

These oil spills have both negative and positive externalities. An externality is a cost (negative effect) or benefit (positive effect) to a third-party as a result of an activity, transaction, or event like the oil spill. The third-party is originally not a part of the transaction, activity or event.

Oil spills are usually perceived negatively owing to the overwhelming impact to the environment and people’s livelihood especially those who are natural resource dependent. But viewing it more objectively, benefits accrue to other parties as it opens new opportunities to some sectors. While companies responsible for the disaster incurred millions of dollars to contain the spill and make reparations, benefits accrued to those tasked to do the clean-up, support services, and associated activities.

Here are lists of positive and negative externalities based on reports about the oil spill in Cebu[1], Timor Sea[2][3], and the Gulf of Mexico[4][5].

Negative Externalities of Oil Spill

  1. Fishing opportunities for thousands of fisherfolk lost due to mangrove contaminationdead fish
  2. Reduced marine productivity due to disruption of the food chain
  3. Opportunity cost due to government dispatch of ships and aircraft to conduct clean-up operations
  4. Loss of marine and coastal wildlife (e.g. fish, birds, turtles, sea snakes, mammals)
  5. Loss of tourism revenue (affects surfers, beach goers, sports fishing, SCUBA diving)
  6. Loss of ecological function of marshlands and mud flats
  7. Lost income for tourism industries
  8. Decline in aquaculture production (e.g. seaweed farms, fish cages, shellfish beds)
  9. Oil price hike due to lost oil production
  10. Health costs for those engaged in clean-up operations

Positive Externalities of Oil Spill

  1. Research opportunity – universities dispatched research ship to collect samples and analyze toxicity of water; monitoring project
  2. Containment technology development – improved devices or techniques to contain oil spills in extremely high pressures underwater
  3. Local materials development to contain oil spills (e.g. coconut husks, sawdust, chicken feathers, and hair)
  4. Increased profit from sale of dispersants and chemical compounds that break the oil into smaller molecules
  5. Work for thousands of workers addressing the spill
  6. Income from treatment and storage of retrieved oil
  7. Consultancies for oil spill experts
  8. Better oil field operation practices to prevent future disasters
  9. Thousands of scoopers and respirators sold to the benefit of manufacturers
  10. Income from rentals of portable toilets and bedrooms

Conclusion

While these lists of the negative and positive externalities of the oil spill are not exhaustive, these highlight the importance of viewing things objectively. These negative and positive externalities may be valued to see the overall impact of the disaster.

It must be pointed out, however, that the expected net benefits from oil spill will likely be negative because the effect of the oil spill to the environment can last for years. And the natural environment as life support systems is priceless.

References

1. Rappler. (2013, August 19). Oil spill: Cebu under state of calamity. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.rappler.com/nation/36787-oil-spill-cebu-under-state-of-calamity

2. Al Jazeera. (2009, October 30). Timor sea oil leak continues. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2009/10/200910307564274566.html

3. Arup, T. (2009, November 3). (2009, November 3). Mud to be used to stop oil rig fire today. In The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.smh.com.au/environment/mud-to-be-used-to-stop-oil-rig-fire-today-20091102-htfp.html

4. Dell’Amore, C. (2010, May 13). Gulf oil leaks could gush for years. In National Geographic Daily News. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/05/100513-science-environment-gulf-oil-spill-cap-leak/

5. BBC News. (2010, May 30). Gulf of Mexico oil leak ‘worst US environment disaster.’ Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/1019433

© 2013 August 30 P. A. Regoniel

Household and Government Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change

Flooding has been a perennial problem in many countries. This is made worse by climate change. How do households and governments adapt to these events?

I could not access the internet for the past two days due to service interruption probably caused by the strong typhoon code named ‘Maring” and southwest moonsoon referred to as ‘Habagat’ by the locals. The heavy fall of rain inundated many parts of northern, central, and southern Luzon in the Philippines affecting many residents living in those areas. The rising tide and release of impounded water in large hydroelectric dams worsened flooding in areas where the waters flow.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the calamity affected more than 1.7 million people where 17 died, 41 got injured and 5 persons were missing[1]. Many of these people stayed in evacuation centers after the raging waters submerged their houses and damaged their belongings.

Significant changes may have been made to mitigate the effects of flooding because the death toll this week is lesser compared to that of Typhoon Ondoy or Ketsana in 2009 that caused the death of more than 300 persons[2]. Apparently, the people as well as the government may have learned to adapt from experience and prepare for such disasters which seem to get worse.

Climate change is believed to be the primary cause of typhoon severity in the past few years. Despite the controversies associated with climate change, I adopt the side of those practicing the precautionary principle, i.e., it is better to adopt a policy that addresses an environmental problem than having to suffer the consequences of not taking action. Thus, I incorporate climate change in the following subtitles on people and government’s adaptation to large-scale flooding as a result of climate change.

Household Adaptation to Climate Change

While hundreds of people frantically moved to evacuation centers in response to early warnings from NDRRMC, still many others stuck it in their homes saying they are already used to these events and had, in fact, undertaken measures to adapt and survive. Residents even enjoyed the storms, frolicking, jumping in waist deep waters, and laughing it out while taking certain precautions by wearing hard hats and life vests (see video).

Of course, their behavior exposes them to yet another danger, i.e., leptospirosis (a disease caused by water contaminated by excrements of rats or other animals), the possibility of raging waters once the nearby dam releases excess waters in the reservoir, alienation from nearby sources of food if rains continue, exposure to toxic substances that may go with the waters, among others.

Other household adaptations to flooding include adding second floors to homes, modified transportation vehicles, makeshift rafts, thigh high boots, plastic bottles connected together, airbeds deployed as rafts, rubber boats, among others. Many of these household level flood adaptations are inexpensive, largely makeshift, or temporary solutions to flooding.rubber boat

I have not seen a household flooding adaptation on the long-term such as a house on log I saw many years ago in a periodically flooded marsh of Agusan. Of course, having a log house in the middle of the city is absurd but I believe households can come up with long-term solutions to their problems. Relocation to elevated areas, after all, appears to be the best thing households can do. This may mean they will have to forgo their life in the urban centers and live in the hills.

Government Adaptation to Climate Change: Critique and Suggested Solutions

If communities cannot effectively  adapt to flooding, then the government must take steps to aid its citizens. Disaster relief operations always follow calamities like this. This approach, however, is at best palliative. Prevention is always a better approach than cure.

While flooding is a natural event, the government can still do something about it. It can be avoided or minimized to some extent by good environmental planning and action. Good planning and policy can prevent costly impacts of flooding.

In an effort to prevent the costly impact of typhoons, administrators and planners are looking into the contribution of poor drainage, indiscriminate throwing of non-biodegradable wastes as well as buildings that block waterways, and even corruption as unsolved problems that impact on effective flood management.

Poor drainage

Planners in government believe that making infrastructures that promote drainage can help alleviate the problem on flooding. Without incorporating ecological principles, however, this may just be a hit-and-miss approach.

In reality, there is a limit to what a good drainage system can do because Metro Manila was historically a marshland. Flooding is a natural process in wetlands. Cities built on wetlands destroyed a very important ecological function, i.e., flood control[3]. Nature must take its course and repeat the same process (i.e. flooding) when loaded with lots of rainfall. This requires environmental planning that accommodates the role of marshlands: clearing the waterways, leaving existing wetlands as it is, or developing subdivisions away from the natural courses of water.

This entails much cost but the benefits may be weighed against the costs. The impact of climate change appears to worsen each year and investments along this line can prevent future tragedies.

Indiscriminate throwing of wastes that block waterways

Blocked waterways reduces the speed by which water flows to low level areas. Tons of plastic or non-biodegradable wastes still clog the drains. This is made worse by buildings blocking the waterways. This means that in general, many of the citizens still do not adopt good practices in disposing their solid wastes, and city zoning policies are not being followed.

While an appeal to the public to stop them from throwing wastes indiscriminately may work, economic incentives in the form of fines, seems to be a better option. This also requires a vigorous information and dissemination campaign (IEC) to educate the people about the impact of their action to the environment and themselves.

Corruption

Corruption was factored in the flooding prevention equation because a sizable part of the 10 billion pesos in Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF (widely know as pork barrel funds) was diverted to questionable projects of non-existent non-government organizations (NGOs). Only a handful of corrupt officials benefited from such allocations through kickbacks and commissions of up to 45%[4]. A large amount of these funds were earmarked to fund flood control projects.

The government is hot on the heels of the culprits although there are evidences that this corrupt practice have been going on for decades despite rules, regulations and policies that aimed to lower the incidence of this age-old practice. Corruption has been culturally ingrained and became a ‘normal’ part of people’s lives since time immemorial.

A friend and I once brainstormed to find out the underlying cause of corruption. We created a problem tree and arrived at the root cause — GREED.

Thus, the solution to this problem lies at the very foundation of one’s value system. Change must come from within the person.

Conclusion

Successful adaptation to climate change entails effective responses at household or community levels backed by a supportive government. The nature of this adaptation could be short-term or long-term. Well-informed government policies on climate change adaptation strategies appears most critical in providing long-term solutions to avert tragic consequences.

References

1.   Reyes-Palanca, Z. (2013, August 23). ‘Maring’ leaves 17 dead, 41 injured. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.journal.com.ph/index.php/news/top-stories/56739-maring-leaves-17-dead-41-injured

2. Agence France-Presse. (2009, October 9). Death toll from Ondoy rises to 337. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/nation/10/09/09/death-toll-ondoy-rises-337

3. Novitzki, R., Smith, R., and J. D. Fretwell. Wetland functions, values, and assessment. Retrieved August 23, 2013, from http://water.usgs.gov/nwsum/WSP2425/functions.html

4. La Viña, T. (2013, August 6). Investigating the pork barrel scandal. Retrieved August 23, 2013 from http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/08/06/investigating-the-pork-barrel-scandal/

© 2013 August 23 P. A. Regoniel

Number Coding Scheme: Is It a Good Idea?

Is the number coding scheme implemented in Metro Manila a good policy to reduce traffic congestion? Probably not. Read on to find out why.

The number coding scheme is up again in Metro Manila, this time adding another day ban on the last number of a vehicle’s plate for a specific range of time, i.e., from 10am to 3pm. Is this a good idea at all?

If the intention of the number coding scheme is to reduce the number of vehicles to avoid road congestion, I would say this is a stop-gap measure. In the long term, this would worsen urban pollution as unexpected results can come out of it.

Unexpected Results

I remembered encountering this number coding scheme idea in the textbook authored by English[1] while preparing my lectures for introductory environmental economics students. According to a study conducted in the country (I misplaced my book so I cannot exactly remember the country) that implemented the number coding scheme, the policy produced unexpected results. Instead of decongesting the roads, the opposite took place — more vehicles roamed the streets.

The researchers tried to find out why this happened. They discovered that those who can afford to buy another car did so, to avoid the limitation and the inconvenience of not being able to use their cars on days their plates are banned from the streets. Thus, the roads got all the more congested and air pollution in that city worsened. The added pollution is an externality.

warning

Source: xkcd

Perverse Incentive

In economics, the unexpected result or the undesirable result of a policy is referred to as a perverse incentive. It is never the intention of the number coding scheme to add more vehicles on the road. It occurred because the planners did not foresee that the scheme would encourage vehicle owners to buy another vehicle. They would not give up their convenience, or probably their dire need to use their vehicles daily.

I am not not aware if the Metro Manila Development Authority conducted any study to find out if indeed the number coding scheme had a significant impact on regulating traffic in the major thoroughfares of Metro Manila. It would be interesting to know if the number coding scheme as an incentive was not, in reality, a perverse incentive in the case of the Philippines.

If no study was done to evaluate the impact of the former coding scheme, then obviously, the additional day ban on vehicle plate number is just another guessing game. As I browse feedback on the number coding scheme, I landed on a site that lists the coding scheme as another stupid law.

Perhaps graduate students in numerous universities in Metro Manila may be interested in pursuing this issue as their research topic.

Reference:

1. Field, B. 1997. Environmental economics: an introduction. 2nd edition. New York:
McGraw Hill. 490 pp.

© 2013 July 15 P. A. Regoniel

Competing for Water in Nangalao Island

One of the critical environmental issues that hound small islands is water scarcity. However, not only is the water scarce in such locations but also difficult to access, owing not only to environmental factors but also the attitude of people living on those islands. The experience of a community of fishers living in Nangalao Island is a case in point. 

Impact Assessment

On April 30, 2013, I was one of a composite team of field workers who visited the island of Nangalao, about an hour boat ride from San Miguel poblacion in the municipality of Linapacan in Palawan Province. When the 20-passenger outrigger boat hit the shallows, we have to transfer to a smaller boat towed to the beach by a local fisher until we can step out right to the sand and avoid getting wet.

We have to duck through ropes and wires strung across rows of randomly built houses which occupy most of the beach front. The local government has no zoning scheme so the buildings and houses were in disarray. We have to snake our way through to get to the barangay hall.

My main concern in visiting the place was to assess the impact of a foundation’s various programs implemented in the community for the past six years. The main goal of those programs is to help uplift the living condition of the marginalized fisherfolks whose fishing activities have been affected by the operation of a natural gas project.

What caught my attention was a lady carrying a pail of water across the basketball court, in such a hurry and in an attempt to avoid bumping into teenagers playing on one side of the court.  Thereafter, I saw another group of people carrying plastic containers from the same place the lady appeared. Obviously, they were fetching water from a nearby source.

Network of Water Pipes

This observation puzzled me because I have seen a network of large, black PVC water pipes at the left side of the barangay hall. I asked one of the local government officials to verify if indeed those pipes were intended to distribute water. As expected, he affirmed but noted that those pipes were empty because water flow from source was so weak to fill those pipes for household use.

I thought I would visit the water source to confirm. I asked for a guide to accompany me to the site, which, I discovered, lies two kilometers away.

Water availability is a very important factor to consider when evaluating the productivity of communities. Without water, it will be difficult for people to grow crops and of course, drink clean water to quench their thirst, among other household requirements. How can life be sustained without water?

Thus, I decided to walk all the way to the water source located uphill. That will also be good exercise for me after a few days out of my regular running routine.

The Water Source

The residents obtained water from two sources: one located about a kilometer away from the main cluster of houses, and the other nestled almost on top of a barren hill. My guide, together with another field worker, climbed up the rugged and steep hill devoid of vegetation. A recent fire razed dry cogon grasses (Imperata cylindrica) including a section of the PVC pipes which once funneled water downhill.

What we saw was a surprising, and pitiful scene. Young boys wait patiently for their turn to fill small water containers, with just a stream of water akin to that of a urinating animal. What can you expect in a bald mountain with rocky substrate that cannot hold much water?

scarce water
Boys patiently wait for their water containers to fill at the main water source in Nangalao.

Quarrel on Water Use

We saw a round, cement cistern located a few meters from the fetching area. I climbed by the side wanting to know how much water was in store. I saw the same stream of water from another pipe embedded on the side of the hill barely kept up with water drawn from it.

During rainy days, local folks say the cistern is almost full. Then I said, they don’t need to walk all the way then to the main source.

At that point, the guide told me that this was the situation before. The water pipes had already supplied the water needs of the underlying houses several years back. But residents living next to pipes in the upper elevations diverted the flowing water into their farms. They punched holes in the exposed plastic tubes and got the water for free. As a result, very little water trickled down the line. There were altercations between affected parties. Ultimately, the barangay chairman decided to stop operating the local government’s water services.

Now, everyone took the brunt of the decision. Not only is the water scarce but a natural resource of contention. Access to it is difficult and time consuming (see Opportunity Cost).

If you are a consultant for community development, what would you recommend?

© 2013 July 13 P. A. Regoniel