Category Archives: Environment

Posts about the environment.

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.

The Externalities of Urban Development

Should urbanization and development be always greeted with open arms? Here’s a personal account of the externalities of urban development.

Early this morning as I try to enjoy the refreshing light of dawn in our porch and wait for the sun to shine, I expected to breathe the fresh air to fill my lungs and get ready to face another day. But I was greeted by the putrid smell of methane, presumably coming from a neighbor’s pig business, a block away from home. They buy and hold a large number of pigs and cows to be butchered in nearby market that supplies the increasing meat demand of a growing population in the city. Occasionally, someone surreptitiously leaves a herd of goats to graze at the vacant lot next to our house, taking advantage of the fresh grass shoots that spring up whenever I have somebody mow down the tall cogon grasses that easily burn when withered and dry. In the past, I have to frantically douse the grass fire that pose hazard to our house. And the buffer of mowed area of about five meters lessens the risk. But then again, this herd of goats add stench to the already foul air because of their excrements. Their persistent, irritating calls to each other is a distraction to my writing mood.

This scenario is quite different when we settled in this place 15 years ago. The place was quiet and generally rural. I can breathe fresh air and have a good sleep in the sleepy afternoon – deep slumber in a quiet environment. Only the sweet sound of chirping birds are audible. I long for this kind of atmosphere, but here I am suffering the externalities of so-called urban development.

Indeed, now we have piped-in water, electricity that powers up different appliances that provide information and entertainment, can easily access a mall where I spend a large sum of hard-earned money, modern communication gadgets that rapidly get outmoded as new, more pricey ones arrive with better designs or more ringtones than the previous one, a washing machine that replaced manual clothes washing, an air conditioner to cool off hot, humid days in a concrete house, among others. All these “conveniences” become desired targets of what I call the “active scavengers” – people who come to your house and pick anything they want when you’re away. Once, these guys were rarely a complaint.

sunrise

As more people came in and populate the city, the poorer the quality of life had become for me. I, therefore, list down the price of increased urbanization to the general environment below based on this musing:

  1. Poor air quality
  2. Noise pollution
  3. More expenses to keep up with the demands of modern living
  4. Increased threat to life and property

This list of the externalities of urban development should be long but just to put the point across,  these things made a major impact to the way I live. Are there things I could do to mitigate the effects of these externalities that lower the quality of life in the once peaceful place I used to live? As a thinking animal, adaptation takes the form of fight or flight. I can do something actively to change the environment, or escape the undesirable situation. Correspondingly, the ill effects of externalities listed above can be mitigated thus:

  1. Petition that the livestock holding station be located somewhere else, away from the residential houses
  2. Have my room fitted with sound proofing
  3. Buy only what I really need or live simply
  4. Secure the property area with burglar proof fences

Once, a professor from a British university visited our place. He talked about pollution. What really caught my attention was when he said that in many cities in England, they would like to step back in their development because of the high levels of lead found in the hair of young children. They were exposed to large levels of lead from petrol in the air because of a busy thoroughfare.

Where does this take us? This just means that urban planners must see to it that optimal conditions, not maximal, are maintained for the citizen’s greatest benefit. Urbanization and development must be taken with caution and good planning.

© 2013 December 15 P. A. Regoniel

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

How are Crocodilian Populations Studied?

Crocodiles are an important component of the aquatic ecosystem. To keep track of and manage their populations in the wild, spotlighting surveys are conducted. This article details how this is done.

Recalling those days I used to survey crocodilian population as part of my job, I thought of writing this article for those who are interested on how the population of these magnificent animals are being studied. There’s a rush of adrenaline every time I do the spotlighting survey with my team especially in areas where there are large crocodiles sighted. We do this at night along the river, from 6am to 12 midnight, amidst thick stands of mangroves for greater chance of seeing these nocturnal animals.

Materials for Crocodilian Survey

What materials are required to survey crocodilian population? Here is a list.

  1. A fiberglass boat with an outboard motor
  2. A bright spotlight with a 12-volt car battery
  3. Dark clothing
  4. A 3-meter pole with a diameter of about 1.5 inch diameter

Understanding the Risks of Dangerous Animal Surveys

Is it safe to survey these dangerous animals like the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) in the wild? There are risks of course, but armed with an understanding of the behavior of crocodiles, there is no need to be too apprehensive. As long as you have presence of mind, you can ward off possible attacks.

Crocodiles are generally shy and wouldn’t attack a boat with bright spotlight at night as the only source of light. Unless it’s a very big male that tries to defend its territory from intruders. In fact, the use of the spotlight by crocodile hunters almost decimated wild crocodilian population in many parts of the world. Their tell-tale red eye reflection give a clue of their presence, either floating along in the river or basking along the riverbanks.

fiberglass boat
The author with croc survey buddies back in the early 90s.

Why is the spotlight approach an effective tool in surveying crocodilian population? It essentially causes “blindness” to crocodiles when light is focused directly towards their eyes. They cannot see who’s behind the spotlight and will be confused. This is the reason why the spotter needs to wear a dark clothing so that there will no visible object that the crocodile  can aim its nasty, hard clamping jaws that bites with a force equivalent of two tons.

What is the 3-meter pole for? This is just a precaution in case a crocodile attacks for some reason. You can use this to jab on the body of the crocodile and cause it to land somewhere else. They easily tire with sustained effort.

One of the reasons for attack is when someone approaches a nest or mound made up of leaves and mud that contains the crocodile’s eggs. Maternal instinct dictates that the female crocodile has to protect its young. Crocodile spotters should avoid these areas which are usually found in the freshwater portion upstream.

Spotlighting Survey

How does spotlighting survey work? Well, it’s simple. The spotter, holding the spotlight, stays in front of the boat and scans the horizon. He also gives direction to the boatman. Placing the eyes at spotlight level, it is easy to spot the crocodiles because their eyes reflect a gleaming red. The number of crocodiles could then be counted.  To get their population density, you just have to divide the number of sightings by the number of kilometers covered by the survey.

man-eating crocodile
A 17.5 foot man-eating crocodile culled out of its habitat.

If you want to compare the density of crocodile population between or among rivers, looking at the density will give you useful information for management purposes. Management means removing “problem crocodiles” like the one at left photo and maintaining the population at levels that do not threaten the human population. This management approach is applicable only to man-eating crocodiles. There are many other kinds of crocodiles in the world.

Why Should the Crocodile Population be Conserved?

Crocodiles are an essential part of the aquatic ecosystem. They are known to enrich the waters through their excretions and secretions. Their body wastes enhance algal growth that serve as abundant food for herbivorous fishes thereby powering up the river food web.

Scientists once discovered that overhunting of crocodiles led to the significant reduction of fish population in nutrient poor rivers of the Amazon. Also, a study in Africa showed that once crocodiles were hunted aggressively for their hide. As a result, the population of hippopotamus surged and upset the balance of the aquatic and nearby grassland ecosystem. Thus, these highly resilient reptiles reminiscent of the dinosaur age 200 million years ago should be conserved.

© 2013 October 29 P. A. Regoniel

Sustaining Resource Conservation: Economic and Moral Incentives

What motivates people to conserve or protect natural resources? Is it always the economic incentive? Read on to find out.

The previous days with a documentary film crew brought me once again in close contact with nature and ponder why great efforts have been made to keep the natural environment intact in those areas that we visited. These include the awesome Underground River, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature found in Puerto Princesa, west of the Philippines; the  Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour forest where local folks entertain tourists while navigating a brackish water river flanked by a well-preserved mangrove forest; and yesterday in a rather unique 200 meter plus stretch of family protected coral reef in Snake Island.

Mindful of the plight of these naturals wonders of nature, I explored answers to the following questions:

  1. What were the major reasons for conservation and protection,
  2. Who are the major players and their roles, and
  3. What are the prospects of sustainability of these natural resource-oriented activities?

Three levels of conservation were examined: city government, community, and family.

Economically-Driven Incentive to Conserve: City Government and Community Level Conservation

The driving force behind the first two tourist attractions, i.e., the underground river and the pristine mangrove forest, is mainly economic. The underground river, serving as an tourist attraction, is city government managed while the mangrove paddle boat tour featuring the tall mangrove trees and mangrove wildlife is a community-based sustainable ecotourism project.

The community of Sabang, tour operators, inns and hotels, tourist guides, souvenir shops, and other tourism-oriented service providers benefit a lot from the revenue brought in by tourists willing to spend their money for the mainly aesthetic benefits given to them by the underground river. The enjoyment of limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites that form impressions like the holy family, the dragon’s head, “the highway”, the cacao fruit, among others make visits to the underground river worthwhile.

underground river
Underground River entrance in Sabang, Puerto Princesa.

Meanwhile in Sabang River, tall mangrove trees that make one wonder how long they have been there, occasional encounter with a mangrove snake “sleeping” on a clump of leaves or a python nestled in a hollowed part of a mangrove branch, brackish water fishes, eel, among others, leave tourists spellbound. Their experience is further enriched by tour guides giving an entertaining trivia of information about the mangrove ecosystem.

This continuous inflow of monetary benefits encourage the local people to keep their environment in a state conducive enough to attract visitors. As long as the natural environment is maintained, they will have a continuous source of income. Economic sustainability is assured.

But what if the main motive of conservation is a personal conviction to do so in respect to marine life? How sustainable is it?

Moral Conviction: Family Level Conservation

Mang Felix is probably an unsung hero of conservation who, by his own inner, moral conviction, protected a reef patch as out of moral conviction. He settled with his family in the north end portion of Snake Island, a sandbar which gradually built up through the natural process of sedimentation. Although he initially joined a group of illegal fishers that destroyed most of the highly productive coral reefs of Honda Bay in the 1970s to 80s, he thought that coral reefs are homes to fishes and therefore must be spared from destructive fishing practices.

He built his makeshift house next to a 200-meter stretch of coral reef in  the later part of the 1980s. He rallied the support of his family of eight to keep illegal fishers from that narrow, fringing reef at the west side of their home. Even members of his family are not allowed to fish in that zone.

After roughly 23 years, the small fringing reef became a refuge for different kinds of fishes. Schools of sea mullet (banak) frequent a part of the protected area. Reef fishes live undisturbed in branching and tabulate corals.

The family benefited as they need not fish from far areas and spend a lot on fuel. They fish just around the protected zone, enjoying the spillover effects.

house on sand
The house of Mang Felix bounded by mangroves planted by his family.

As a healthy coral reef abound with marine life, many fishers in nearby barangays took interest in whatever potential yield that reef could give them. They have an easily accessible fishing ground but were prevented from exploiting it because of the gregarious and adamant protection the family gave to that reef. They begun to question the right of Mang Felix and his family to protect that reef, who at a certain point of time were recognized as informal caretakers that kept the reef intact from opportunistic fishers.

There had been several attempts to dislodge the simple home in that part of Snake Island but the family remained steadfast and held on to it justifying their existence by sheer adherence to sustainable fishing methods and never “touching” the reef and admonishing others to do the same. Recently, however, their passive fish corral (tangkal) located a few hundred meters from their house was removed by government authorities for some reason. As a result, more than 50% of their livelihood source was lost.

When asked how Mang Felix would sustain protection in the future, he said that one of his sons will continue the legacy and resist whatever attempts there may be to separate them from the reef which had become a part of their lives.

Discussion

Nature conservation and protection have been the focus of government, non-government or private sectors in view of sustaining the goods and services that the natural environment is able to provide. Sustainability is always the underlying principle in such initiatives. Without the prospect of maintaining the integrity of natural resources and enjoying the benefits these can give, the future generations will have to suffer the consequences: loss of revenue from non-extractive economic activities like ecotourism, depletion of natural food sources, chronic poverty and hardship for small fishers and farmers as their catch dwindled, among others.

The two situations described above show how organized groups and even a family can protect natural resources. While large-scale and medium-scale ecotourism ventures appear to be more sustainable, small-scale attempts to maintenance of natural resource integrity should not be ignored. Family-based protection, when done by many people (see Successful Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation Project) , could be more effective especially when there are enforcement problems as a result of corruption, lack of dedicated personnel, or funds to patrol the vast seas and isolated forest lands.

Conclusion

While economic benefits are strong incentives to protect natural resources, personal conviction and sheer love for nature can assure resource sustainability.

© 2013 October 25 P. A. Regoniel

Transaction Cost: Unaccounted and Underestimated Expenses Often Overlooked

The resolution of unfair distribution of wealth entail cost. This is referred to as transaction cost. This article clarifies this concept in view of understanding how one’s actions can affect a great number of people.

In times when controversy arises due to faulty transactions or market failures, the cost associated with it is usually unaccounted for or underestimated. People tend to overlook the significance of transaction cost hence incur expenses which should have been better avoided.

But what is a transaction cost? If you search the internet for a definition of this concept, you will notice that there is no consensus on what it really means. In fact, Korolyova devoted a paper in an attempt to explain it.

Transaction Cost Defined

According to the Business Dictionary, transaction cost is the cost associated with exchange of goods or services and incurred in overcoming market imperfections. Examples include communication charges, legal feeds, informational cost of finding the price, quality, and durability, transport cost, among others.

On the other hand, based on textbook definition, About.com lists the components of transaction cost into 1) search costs, 2) negotiation costs, and 3) enforcement cost. Search cost is the cost incurred in locating information for a potential exchange, negotiation cost is the cost associated to forge an agreement on the terms of exchange, and enforcement cost is the cost of enforcing the agreement.

These definitions are a bit complex especially to an economics neophyte. To simplify matters, Turkcebilgi.com’s examples offer a better perspective of what transaction cost really means.

Transaction cost is:

  • the commission paid to brokers by a stock buyer or seller of stock.
  • the cost of buying a banana, excluding the price of the banana itself, such as the time, energy and effort you exerted to find the kind or price of banana you prefer, cost of transportation from your house to the store, the time you spend in the queue, the effort you made in paying, etc.

Budget conscious mothers tend to overlook this cost. Typically, they tend to spend a lot of time haggling the prices of goods with the vendor whenever possible, walk around in circles trying to find the cheapest price of a pair of shoes, dress, jewelry, among others. They forget the cost in time (opportunity cost), effort (all those energies equate to calories of energy from food to power the walk), and transportation cost to the male with the cheapest goods in town.

Hidden Transaction Cost in Controversial Transactions

negotiation

Based on the definitions provided above, transaction cost may be defined as the costs incurred in the instance of doing business. Let me expand discussion on this subject further to cover a recent controversial issue: the politics of the resource allocation  I recently wrote about. The original transaction involves misuse of public funds, which in business, can be equated to failed market transaction.

As the controversy rages on, lots of energies are expended to pursue the case. I felt I need to write about the high cost involved in this issue and identified these costs as transaction costs that for me unnecessarily becomes a burden to taxpayers.

As the investigations are going on, while concerned government agencies are hot on heels on the alleged perpetrators of misused government funds, costs are incurred. Specifically, the transaction costs associated with the pursuance of this case include the following:

  1. Provision of security, escorts, housing, medical treatment, etc. to the whistleblowers,
  2. Going after the principal suspect and accessories to the crime,
  3. Hearings plus more security costs to keep the suspects unharmed,
  4. Attorney’s fees for both the defendant and the plaintiff,
  5. Privileged speeches and investigations to clarify issues or shed light on some lawmakers’ involvement,
  6. Time, money and effort of people who go to the streets to protest the misuse of pork barrel funds, among others.

These are the transaction costs but these costs can also be treated as externalities of the misallocation of government funds, particularly royalties from sale of natural gas. Unless the issue is resolved soonest, transaction costs will incrementally go up. Had not the major issue arose, no cost would have been incurred for its resolution. Had there been fair distribution of wealth a big portion of which come from natural gas, there would not have been no transaction costs to correct the unfair distribution of proceeds.

How to Minimize or Get Rid of Transaction Costs

How should those involved in transactions reduce or eliminate the associated costs? Firstly, they should be made fully aware that there are costs involved in facilitating transactions. As cases like the misuse of funds can drag for years, a speedy resolution must be made to avoid incurring more expenses. It is obvious, and there are many evidences available to pursue the merits of the case. The problem appears to be that creative dodges made by defendants (as they have enough money to spend) can keep the wheel of justice from moving swiftly. This will entail more cost at the expense of the public.

If it is just a simple transaction of buying, say, a banana, buy that heck of a banana the first time you see it. If there will ever be a difference between the one you bought and the cheapest one available, you have saved time anyway. Time is more important than that negligible savings on price. Five minutes of valuable time spent with your children or loved one is way too important to miss.

© 2013 October 9 P. A. Regoniel

Politics of Resource Allocation: The Case of the Pork Barrel Funds

What is resource allocation? How is it practiced? What are suggested solutions to ensure fair distribution of wealth? Here’s an analysis of a recent case.

Resource allocation has always been a contentious issue in many countries. That is primarily because the allocation of a country’s wealth depends heavily on politicking, lobbying, or manipulating funds to serve self-interests among those involved.[1,2] This is a controversial process termed as the politics of resource allocation.

The intention of an efficient allocation of resources should have been needs-based, i.e., putting funds where they are greatly needed such as to help uplift chronically poor citizens or address emergencies caused by both anthropogenic or man-made disasters or natural calamities.

The recent issue on a celebrated, well-crafted scam that funneled public funds to questionable non-government organizations in the Philippines highlights inefficiency and inequitability in resource allocation by those involved. For years, the resource allocation framework has allowed bribery to take place, partly because there are loopholes or flaws in its implementation. For this reason, the problem should be addressed as a systemic case, not personality-based, as the issue is being pursued at this time. One person cannot do all those illegal maneuvers without cohorts to make it happen. As the common idiomatic expression says, “It takes two to tango.”

Neeraj Negi, an evaluation officer of the World Bank, explains that funds are allocated based on a resource allocation framework, the creation of which depends on the composition and influence of the members. A lot of lobbying occurs during the process of building the framework, but in the end, the fund provider takes the upper hand. The resulting resource allocation framework may or may not truly respond to the intended purpose.[3]

Existing Resource Allocation Framework

A system governs allocation of scarce resources to constituents. This is referred to as the resource allocation framework. It guides the distribution of a country’s wealth in view of uplifting the living conditions especially of the poor sectors of society who lack opportunities to improve their lot.

Since there are problems arising from the current allocation framework in the Philippines, it should be faulty. Why is the resource allocation framework faulty?

To make clear this issue and to view things systematically, let me represent the current resource allocation framework in the country using the following diagram created using XMind.

allocation of pork barrel funds
Representation of the pork barrel fund allocation.

This representation of the resource allocation scheme for non-government organizations alone, though simple, reflects the reality as reports, observations, and public knowledge show. The left side represents the informal arrangements made by dishonest politicians while the right side of the framework represent those who stay true to their sworn duties as public officials.

If the funds were used for infrastructure, contractors and suppliers usually give 40 to 50% ‘discounts’ for their services or products either as traditionally practiced or as a result of coercion. The evidences of these undesirable practices are easily seen:

  • roads that get narrower than planned or get potholes in less than a year,
  • bridges that easily collapse upon the slightest gush of flood waters,
  • low quality educational materials,
  • inadequate health services,
  • politicians or government administrators who become instant multi-millionaires despite a humble background,
  • no improvement in the lives of marginalized communities despite funds ‘allocated for their benefit’,
  • and many more.

What are suggested solutions to the resource allocation problem?

It took whistleblowers to expose such inappropriate management of funds as their predecessors did in the past. Why do events like these recur? That’s because the allocation system stays the same. The popular solution from well-meaning sectors of society is to scrap the pork barrel funds. But is this the real solution?

It is likely possible that resource allocation will remain laden with corruption even if these funds change hands; such as giving concerned government agencies a hand on fund management once allocated for lawmakers’ discretionary use. The solution appears to be the exercise of transparency in all dealings and an agreed upon resource allocation framework that truly addresses the needs of the people.

As for the corrupt politicians, the citizens must be discerning enough to vote those who are capable of giving rein to their carnal desires and selfish interests. Thanks to a democratic society; there is always hope in sight. Despite its failings, there is always room for improvement.

References

1. Shoham, J. (2001). Taking the politics out of resource allocation: the Kenya experience. Retrieved September 26, 2013, from http://fex.ennonline.net/14/taking

2. Palawaniswamy, N. and N. Krishnan (2008). Local politics, political institutions, and public resource allocation. Retrieved September 26, 2013, from  http://www.ifpri.org/publication/local-politics-political-institutions-and-public-resource-allocation

3. Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. (2008). Neeraj Negi: The Politics of Resource Allocation: Lessons from the GEF Experience. Retrieved from http://www.cornell.edu/video/neeraj-negi-the-politics-of-resource-allocation

© 2013 September 27 P. A. Regoniel

Facts About Small Animals in the Intertidal Zone

Have you been to an intertidal zone? If you look closely in pools of water that remained as the tide ebbs, there are interesting organisms living there. What organisms do you expect to find? Here is a list of some interesting ones – the baby animals of the intertidal zone.

the intertidal zone
The intertidal zone bounded by mangroves and the open sea.

Which part of the coast is the intertidal zone? As the name connotes, it is that part bounded by the highest tide and the lowest tide. This area can vary between places as the coasts have different configuration and slope. Those with steep inclines tend to have smaller intertidal zone. It is here where people of the coastal communities derive sustenance when fishing in the deeper waters does not give them enough food for the day.

The intertidal zone is an interesting part of the coastal ecosystem. A rich diversity of life exists here, among which are the young stages of marine organisms.

Let me tour you through the intertidal zone by showing some of the common animals found in this important part of coastal ecosystem. A walk through the sandy and rocky shores can be an entertaining activity as you will find a lot of interesting animals if you are keen enough in spotting them.

Babies of the Intertidal Zone

Here are the animals I’ve found in my short walk along the beach at low tide in a coastal area with an extensive intertidal zone. In one of my articles, I call them babies of the intertidal zone as many of the marine organisms here are the early life stages of the mature ones.

A certain degree of caution must be exercised to avoid stepping on the following organisms which play important roles in the maintenance of a healthy coastal ecosystem.

brittle star
A baby brittle star.

1. Baby Brittle Star

Brittle stars feed on almost anything its mouth and tentacles can handle. It is basically omnivorous, meaning, feeding on both small plants and animals. Along with the starfishes, the brittle stars prevent the excessive growth of algae in the coral reefs. Too much algae can suffocate corals and kill them.

The feeding habit of brittle stars prevents the build up of organic materials in the benthic zone or the bottom part of the sea that includes everything solid such as sediments, rocks, coral fragments, mud, among others.

Brittle stars are also known to feed on other animals without necessarily killing them. This type of interaction is referred to as mutualism – both organisms benefit from each other. The brittle star scavenges materials from the host organism, and in turn, the host is cleaned up of excessive organic matter that can be harmful to its health.

The picture of the baby brittle star shown here shows its approximate actual size. When handled, they easily disintegrate because the tentacles are very fragile. Brittle stars, however, are able to regenerate their tentacles easily.

2. Baby Eel

baby eel
A baby eel.

The baby eel is almost indiscernible behind an outcrop of dead coral and sand as the sun reflects light on the surface of the water. Its spotted skin renders it almost unrecognizable as it lies motionless and ready to escape once disturbed.

Eels form part of the intertidal zone food chain. Being predators, they control the population of their prey thus achieve balance in the ecosystem. The specific food eaten by eels can be determined through a study of their stomach contents.

Eels are an important food source to man. These are also used traditionally as food, in fact, a very important part of the diet and social interaction in some coastal communities when shared as part of tradition.[1]

3. Baby Lobster

baby lobster
A baby lobster.

Just like the eel, this baby lobster referred to by locals as “pitik” finds refuge at the junction of a dead coral and sand. It does not really look like the mature one but it does grow into a lobster according to the local guide.

Lobsters are essentially scavengers, meaning, they feed on particles of organic matter. Thus, it serves as a nutrient recycler in the coastal ecosystem. Other marine organisms feed on it as well humans who find the lobster’s meat tasty.

Due to the high demand for lobster, its population has seen a decline in many tropical countries. Recently, lobsters served in restaurants are smaller. This indicates an overfished marine resource. Most of the mature ones have been harvested.

4. Baby Sea Urchin

baby sea urchin
A baby sea urchin.

This baby sea urchin appears rather cute. It looks like a white tennis ball that floats about.

sea urchin
Another baby sea urchin with spines.

Some species of sea urchins are edible and can be consumed directly right after they are gathered. Some species are spiked and can cause discomfort when accidentally stepped upon (see right photo).

Just like the other marine organisms, sea urchins help maintain balance in the coastal ecosystem as part of the food chain. When left unchecked by predators such as starfishes, too many sea urchins can wipe out seaweeds and erode reefs.[2] This will change the productivity of the coastal zone thereby reducing the capacity of the ecosystem to provide services such as provision of food and livelihood to resource dependent communities.

5. Baby Spider Conch

spider conch

Spider conch, locally called “ranga-ranga,” are a favorite among gleaners.  They are marine mollusks that graze on fine red algae [3] thus are also help achieve ecosystem balance.

Aside from consuming this mollusk as food, the shells are used in making shellcraft. As a result, their population continue to decline through the years. If this situation persists for a long time due to unregulated harvesting, cascading effects to the coastal ecosystem will be sustained. Nobody knows what that will be, and research will be able to provide the answers.

The above featured marine organisms are just selections from the diverse array of life in the intertidal zone. When unfortunate events like oil spill occurs, these animals are certainly affected. Based on the ecological roles and economic importance of these organisms, you will be able to appreciate how such events can prove to be disastrous to resource dependent communities in the coastal areas.

References

1. Kavanagh, S. (2011, May 30). “Eels were life to our people”: traditional ecological knowledge of eels as food, medicine, community and life among participants in the Mi’kmaq food and ceremonial fishery in Cape Breton, NS. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.integrativescience.ca/uploads/articles/2011May-Kavanagh-Integrative-Science-eels-Mikmaq-fisheries-aboriginal-ESAC.pdf

2. Dunlap, H. and T. Monaghan. (2008). Sea urchin. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://tolweb.org/treehouses/?treehouse_id=4881

3. Tan, R. (2008, September 12). Spider conch. Retrieved September 23, 2013, from http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/mollusca/gastropoda/strombidae/lambis.htm

© 2013 September 23 P. A. Regoniel

What is the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?

Are you confused or unsatisfied with current definitions to differentiate preservation from conservation? Here is a step-by-step approach to deciphering the nature of these concepts.

While the terms preservation and conservation have been used almost alternately when talking about environmental issues or matters, there is a distinction between these two words. Preservation is different from conservation.

How are these two resource management approaches different from each other? This article aims to clarify these two concepts in the light of available definitions and practices.

Definition of Preservation

Merriam-Webster defines preservation as ‘to keep safe from injury, harm or destruction.’ The term preservation was derived from Latin prae– + servarePrae- is the archaic variant of the prefix pre– which means before, earlier or prior to. Servare is the present infinitive of servō, which means ‘watch over, maintain, protect, keep, guard, save, or store.’ Therefore, the two Latin words taken together and to encompass all the descriptions of preservation means:

  • to watch over,
  • to maintain,
  • to protect,
  • to keep,
  • to guard,
  • to save, and
  • to store.

Based on these definitions, in the environmental context, preservation calls for a ‘no touch’ policy, to keep whatever existing natural resources there are, to its present condition. The emphasis is on maintaining the integrity of the natural resource. Strict protection implied for a defined period anticipates the value it can give to present, as well as, future generations.

hunting effect
hunting effect Consequence of overhunting.

As a matter of government policy, for example, it may set aside and declare a forest as a protected area. One of the features of a protected area is the core zone. The core zone is that specific area with defined boundaries where no use is allowed at all. This area then gets preserved and able to carry out its ecological functions. Thus, it can serve as a natural water reservoir, habitat for wildlife, erosion prevention, flood control, carbon storage, oxygen production, buffer against storms, maintenance of soil fertility, among others.

A game preserve is another example. People are prohibited from hunting game in that region to allow a species with a depleted population to recover. Hence, it is a ‘no take’ zone in view of making it available in the future.

To synthesize everything, preservation, therefore, can be defined as a natural resource management approach advocating non-utilization of a natural resource. This approach views a sustainable flow of benefits that can be enjoyed at present or protecting a resource for future use.

Definition of Conservation

Using Merriam-Webster’s definition, conservation means ‘to keep (something) from being damaged or destroyed.’ This word sounds similar to preservation. But another definition says, ‘to use (something) carefully to prevent loss or waste.’ The latter appears to be a better definition that distinguishes conservation from preservation.

In other words, conservation does not only aim to keep natural resources from being damaged or exploited but to use them optimally. There is the incorporation of the ‘wise use’ policy in this natural resource management approach. Benefits accrues while resources stay the same. Resources are used sparingly or wisely so that they are still available in the future. Conservation emphasizes the use of the natural resource.

The resources subject to conservation may be renewable or non-renewable. For example, you can say ‘conserve water’ or ‘conserve oil or fuel’ but you do not say ‘preserve water’ or ‘preserve oil or fuel.’ Water is a renewable resource whereas oil or fuel is non-renewable or exhausted with use. The use of the latter resource relates to pollution.

Another good definition of Merriam-Webster is that conservation is ‘planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.’ This definition adequately captures the role of man as a resource manager. This definition suggests that conservation is a broader concept compared to preservation. A planned management can incorporate preservation, protection, wise use, maintenance and reduction of the ill effects or negative externalities associated with its use.

Conservation, therefore, can be succinctly defined as a natural resource management approach that seeks to attain sustainable or prolonged use of natural resources with minimal environmental impact.

The two approaches described reflects philosophies in natural resource management. While there may be a difference in terms of the approach, the result is to achieve a sustained enjoyment of benefits.

© 2013 September 21 P. A. Regoniel

Cite this article as: Regoniel, Patrick (September 21, 2013). What is the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation? [Blog Post]. In SimplyEducate.Me. Retrieved from https://simplyeducate.me/2013/09/21/what-is-the-difference-between-preservation-and-conservation/

Things You Don’t Know About the Black Wasp

Reading this article will help you understand why we should treat the black wasp with respect and appreciation. Black wasps play an important ecological role.

Chances are, when a black wasp enters your home and buzzes its way around, you will try to swat it with anything you can lay your hands on. They are known for their painful sting. In fact, a worker at home once unwittingly disturbed a black wasp’s nest attached to a mango leaf. She sustained three to five stings on her face and had to be hospitalized.

However, after reading this personal discovery about the black wasp’s nest, your behavior towards it will change. Black wasps have important ecological role.

The Mud Nest and Its Contents

Yesterday, when I glanced at the sill of the small screened bathroom window, I noticed a solitary black wasp circling around its nest of mud. I watched it while it makes its way inside the small opening on top of the nest. A few moments later, it flew away.

inside black wasp nest
Fig. 1. The mud nest of black wasp and its contents.

Anticipating that the mud nest will grow in time, I decided to remove it but not after finding out what’s inside that small mound. I carefully removed the nest, starting from the bottom and placed it on a folder to take a picture of its contents.

I was surprised to see that the small mound was full of living creatures. See Figure 1 at right.

There are at least three species of living organisms in the picture. From the left, are two black wasp larvae (the smaller one is yellow-green and the bigger one, light chocolate-brown), a pale red colored caterpillar of an unknown species, and three orange-spotted caterpillars of another species. There’s another one not included in this picture because its life juice was sucked out by the black wasp’s larva; but that one is visible in the video below.

Relationship Between Organisms in the Mud Nest

How do these organism’s interact inside that cramped space of mud? Initially, I thought all of them were developing larvae of the black wasp. But then a question came up in my mind, “how can the larva survive without food in that closed chamber of mud?” Then it dawned to me that the longer ones are actually caterpillars that serve as food for the two plump black wasp larvae.

Also, several months ago, I swatted a wasp and off fell a caterpillar from it. That gave me the idea that the black wasp brought these caterpillars into the mud chamber after laying its egg which then hatches into a larvae. The larva attaches itself to the paralyzed caterpillar and then sucks it dry. That’s a simple hypothesis, and I verified this by bringing the bigger larva close to the caterpillars and see if indeed it will attempt to feed on the caterpillar. The video below shows how it behaved.

[youtube=https://whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNyKBF84FHQ&rel=0]

The video verified my observation that the wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar until it has enough food ingested for the pupa stage. The proportion seems to be that for each larva in a chamber, two caterpillars were allocated by the mother wasp.

The Black Wasp’s Egg

I peered inside the hole of the unbroken chamber. It is difficult to take a picture through the small hole, so I cut it in half to show a cross-section. Inside is a small egg attached by an almost invisible thread onto the roof of the chamber, hanging there and moving to and fro as I positioned it for a close up picture (see Figure 2). In other descriptions of wasp species, the eggs are laid after food is made available. This species lays the egg first, then finds food in time for the newly hatched larva.

black wasp egg
Fig. 2. The black wasp egg inside a chamber made of mud.

Notice that there is only one egg inside the 1.5 mm thick chamber and there are no other holes anywhere inside it. The top part has a 5 mm opening, enough to squeeze in a caterpillar of specific size, and of course, the black wasp. This means that the wasp chooses a prey with a circumferential size small enough to fit through the hole. This indicates species specificity, meaning, the black wasp is choosy of its prey.

Once the food is deposited, the wasp covers the hole and builds another one to repeat the process until the nest becomes large enough to form a colony. The developing larva inside is safe from ant attack.

Implications of the Findings

This personal encounter draws out many questions that researchers in the biology of the black wasp can explore further:

  1. Which butterfly species do the caterpillar that serve as prey of the black wasp belong? Are they considered pests to farms (since caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters)?
  2. How long will it take for the black wasp’s egg to hatch?
  3. How does the pupa of the black wasp look like?
  4. How long does each stage of the life cycle take?
  5. Why is the black wasp’s egg suspended in the chamber instead of on the floor?
  6. What specific material is the mud nest made up of and how are the materials glued together?

Many more questions can be asked from the observation. These questions arose as gaps in knowledge because the information provided is a one-shot deal. It is akin to a case study. These are exploratory questions based on a single case.

From these questions, the following hypotheses may be tested:

  • The black wasp’s feeding habit can help regulate pest population in farms.
  • The black wasp suspends its egg to give it just the right temperature to allow hatching inside the chamber.
  • The black wasp uses wet mud to build the nest.
  • The life cycle of the black wasp coincides with the life cycle of the prey.

A review of literature will now be more meaningful as you learn things and compare what you have found. In so doing, you can design and carry out a more systematic and rigorous research.

It’s fun discovering and learning things through actual encounter. Using a little wit to deduce relationships between things can help you appreciate how intricate and wonderful life is in this world.

Are all these arrangements a matter of accident or evolution? There must be an Intelligent Being who is responsible for all these wonders.

© 2013 September 17 P. A. Regoniel