Bio-mimicry at its Best!

Bio-mimicry is a term that refers to ways in which human beings use ideas derived from nature in order to come up with environmental friendly and sustainable solutions to the different challenges that we face in the world today.

And so today I thought I should share with you one of the projects that has REALLY  inspired me.

Harvesting Water out of Thin Air

In Africa, a large percentage of women and children are walking long distances and spend most of their time in search of what has now come to be known as the blue gold-Water.  More than 300 million people in Africa lack clean water. What really breaks my heart is that even after all this, the kind of water collected is murky, muddy and very polluted….water that is unsuitable for human consumption. Their health is endangered by micro-organisms in the water. Babies are often sickened when women must mix infant formula using the dirty water.

This situation has driven an MIT graduate student is to work to make water available for the world’s poor by refining the tools and techniques of fog harvesting.

His idea was inspired by a beetle found in the Namibian Desert on the west coast of Africa. This beetle, whose scientific name is Stenocara gracilipes  has found a distinctive way of surviving. When the morning fog rolls in, the Namib Beetle, collects water droplets on its bumpy back, then lets the moisture roll down into its mouth, allowing it to drink in an area devoid of flowing water.
What nature has developed, Shreerang Chhatre wants to refine, to help the world’s poor. Chhatre is an engineer and aspiring entrepreneur at MIT who works on fog harvesting, the deployment of devices that, like the beetle, attract water droplets and corral the runoff. This way, poor villagers could collect clean water near their homes, instead of spending hours carrying water from distant wells or streams. In pursuing the technical and financial sides of his project, Chhatre is simultaneously a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering at MIT; an MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management; and a fellow at MIT’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship.

Access to water is a pressing global issue: the World Health Organization and UNICEF estimate that nearly 900 million people worldwide live without safe drinking water. The burden of finding and transporting that water falls heavily on women and children. “As a middle-class person, I think it’s terrible that the poor have to spend hours a day walking just to obtain a basic necessity,” Chhatre says.

A fog-harvesting device consists of a fence-like mesh panel, which attracts droplets, connected to receptacles into which water drips. Chhatre has co-authored published papers on the materials used in these devices, and believes he has improved their efficacy. “The technical component of my research is done,” Chhatre says. He is pursuing his work at MIT Sloan and the Legatum Center in order to develop a workable business plan for implementing fog-harvesting devices.

Read Full Story

Advertisements

Green Quotes!

Only when the last tree has been cut down,
Only when the last river has been poisoned,
Only when the last fish has been caught,
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

Cree Indian Prophecy

Merging Art with Nature

One of the most common ways in which people use to express their feelings and thoughts is through Art. There are various forms of art in which one can choose to express him/herself and this includes music, performing arts like acting and acrobatics, through graffiti, and even through drawing and creating  pieces of art images.

Environmentalists have now decided to take the knowledge of nature to another new and exciting level, Environmental Art.

Environmental Art is one of the-not so widely known-forms of expressing oneself. It offers an opportunity for one to reflect, meditate and get inspiration from the beautiful and natural art surroundings, and this is what we has come to be termed as interactive observation.

Environmental art first emerged in the 1960’s in response to the environmental movement and the quest for a green revolution. It is now one of the best ways of enhancing our relationship with nature, understanding how the environment works and also helps in reclaiming damaged environments. It helps us to be appreciative of nature and its diversity.

Environmental art can be in exist in various forms. It can be made from recycled objects, or it can be in form of land art.

Gas Station made from Recycled Materials

One way in which one can decide to best portray environmental art and especially Environmental Land Art during events such as weddings, where landscaping is done in such a way as to create shapes of different wild animals and objects.

Fatal Quest for Self Destruction

We human beings are not responsible for our existence. By the time we become self conscious we are already many years old. Likewise, human kind became conscious of its existence in the world many millennia after the world had been in existence. The world we find ourselves in is not our own; we are a tiny part of it. Other creatures and inanimate things are as much as part of the world as we ourselves. It is an error on our part as creatures to conduct ourselves in this world as if we, members of this generation, are the only creatures that matter, and we are the owners of the world.

We are in a serious ecological crisis, a crisis into which we have plunged ourselves. The intelligence with which we human beings are endowed has turned us into careless plunderers of the fruits of creation. Human kind is on the verge of self destruction through technological inventions and innovations that undermine rather than enhance the various components of creation that make life on earth possible.

First came the World War 1 (1914-1918) which was followed by the World War 11 (1939-1945). Both wars paint a grim picture of what all this meant to man and his environment. Missiles were launched, bombs detonated, grenades set and machine guns used to kill men in massive numbers. The environment suffered too. Though silently destroyed, it did regenerate as the rule of nature dictated. So much time has elapsed and this war has evolved to what is now known as terrorism. Enmity between nations over resources, religion, race and tribe has generated a new wave of dreaded fear among the peoples.

And though overlooked, death has penetrated the agricultural sector. In ancient times, man obtained his food through hunting wild game and gathering plant materials. His population was low and his activities had little impact upon the environment. Though farming is being practiced all over and especially in the rural areas, hunger has still been on the rise for the last decade. And important as it is, man is losing interest in the sector which is now being commercialised as a business venture. Among the factors that determine access to food by man is money.

A wealthy person has access to lots of foodstuffs, gets fatter and fatter by the day, becomes vulnerable to all sorts of diseases, has access to quality medical services and solves the ‘obese’ issue by getting access to a local gym in order to fit into societal size eight requirements. Always on the scale curious on whether the ‘appropriate’ size has been reached. On the other side of the world is a very poor person so poor that even access to food becomes a huge struggle day in day out. Some even die because of lack of it. Over-reliance for food donations here becomes the norm, and wrinkled skin, weak and a lesser than eight body sizes is what they’ve got to show for it. While this is happening, poverty is driving man to clear forests to get firewood, practise poor farming methods to over-cultivate his land in an attempt to increase food production. The result? Well, you guessed it right-desertification.

The industrial agribusiness sector has become the main consumer of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and worse still, the 12 most dangerous chemicals. Both sides of the coin have negatively impacted the environment. With the current advancement in science and technology as well as the continuous increase in population, we are producing so much waste that the environment is almost becoming over-saturated. Over-consumption has led to a massive waste problem on open spaces. Landfills are already filled up, our rivers and lakes have become centres of pollution. In an attempt to solve this situation, some have even gone to the extent of dumping such toxic waste in the deep oceans. And while urbanisation is growing faster by the day, taller buildings, sky scrapers, expansion of road, communication infrastructure, traffic jams are occupying everywhere. Land pollution, water pollution, air pollution, noise pollution, what more has man left to pollute?
This has spelt doom for the aquatic life beneath. Small and big animals, microscopic and macroscopic plants, all have been endangered. Some animals have been forced to relocate as the quest for survival continues. The land animals and plants have not been spared either; wild animals have been sought after in the national parks, national reserves and in other unprotected wild environs and killed for their products such as their skin, hide and tusks. Wild plants have been choked up to death by invasive plants or overexploited for sale as medicinal or for beauty.

While the quest for more energy led to the industrial revolution which has brought about so many different innovations and inventions, the result of this has turned out to be the biggest threat for man’s survival here on earth. Forests are disappearing, and fast. Pristine mountain tops are being stripped of coal in an attempt to speed up the industrialization process which has become the top most priority for all nations as the atmosphere becomes choked up with GHG.

There is much to be done to turn the tide on the decline of the environment. The challenge now is for the African governments, institutions, organizations and the general public to awaken to the realities of just how fragile our earth actually is.

Tana River Crested Mangabey

Tana River Primate Reserve, which was gazetted in 1976 and established in 1978, has been identified as one of the endangered ecosystems in Kenya. The Reserve is located 350km east of Nairobi and 240km north of Mombasa in Tana River district of coast province. It is home to a large number of animal species such as Nile crocodile, Python, Monitor Lizard, butterflies, baboons, cheetah and lots of antelope species. More than 300 species of trees have been recorded in this reserve, a complex mix of pan-African rain forest species, East Coast forest species plus 10 rare woody plants of which 5 are endemic.

Deep in this reserve, we find the reason behind the reserve’s establishment, its the Tana River Crested Mangabey.

The Mangabey is a white monkey. Its body is between 17 and 25 inches long, and its tail is between 15 and 30 inches long. The technical/scientific term of the Mangabey is Cercocebus galeritus.

The Mangabey is a social monkey and spends very little time in the branches. These monkeys scour the forest floor of food that drops from of is sheltered by the trees. Their groups consist of numerous females, their offspring and up to approximately six adult males.

The Tana River Primate Reserve is the only habitat on earth where the Crested Mangabey lives.

Unfortunately, this animal species is one of the endangered species in Kenya mainly due to the degradation of this habitat as a result of human beings removing the timber, increased crop cultivation, forest fires and changes in the flow of the Tana River. In 1978, the Kenyan Government created the Tana River Primate Reserve to try to sustain the Mangabey. Experts estimate that approximately 1,200 Mangabey monkeys still live on earth.

Certainly this is one of  the best places to visit for game watching, bird watching, endangered primate watching, and this include the Tana River Red Colobus and also for nature walks for viewing plant biodiversity.

Importantly though is the need  to take action, be it by supporting organizations dedicated to conserving such species, by raising awareness or by planting a tree because as human beings, we have the duty of protecting other species.

Mapping the Future

Environmental Conservation and Management has never been made easier than in the 21st century. The use of satellite imagery and information & communication technology has enabled many scientists, researchers, managers, planners, community leaders and communities to map out, plan and monitor the status of existing natural resources and other developmental activities, a move that has propelled the implementation of sustainable development strategies in many countries around the world.

Among ways in which the environment has utilized information technology is the use of tools such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Geographical Positioning System (GPS) and the use of web based tools such as Google Earth. These tools have gone a long way to enable spatial data to be collected, managed and analyzed with regard to resources, landscape features, and socio-economic characteristics of an area in both space and time.

For instance, in Laikipia District, conflict between smallholder farmers and raiding elephants from Kenya’s second largest elephant population is a substantial problem. Elephants threaten the livelihoods of poor farmers while human population growth, the expansion of cultivated areas and increased water scarcity exert pressure on elephant habitats. Elephants are shot bringing conservationists into the picture. The human elephant conflict is becoming an issue of political and economic significance and land rights debates are flaring up. It is this challenge that led to the development of the groundbreaking GPS (Global Positioning System)-GSM (Global System for mobile Communication) elephant collar technology by a Kenyan Organization called Save the Elephants. This is a technology that uses Safaricom Communication Network to track the movement of elephants and other animals. This technology has gone a long way to control and prevent crop-raiding elephants, alleviate poverty and promote environmental management and conservation.

The indigenous Ogiek community has also not been left behind. Since 1997 the Ogiek community has been involved in litigation against the Kenyan government several times concerning their eviction from the Eastern Mau Forest and the resettlement into this area of farmers from other parts of the country. So far, their claims have been dismissed. Lack of concrete information pertaining to their territorial claims has contributed to this unfavorable outcome. A project to map the ancestral territories of 23 Ogiek clans in the Eastern Mau forest with the help of aerial photographs and use of a participatory mapping approach was launched in 2005. The Ogiek representatives will use the resulting Ogiek People’s Ancestral Territories (OPAT) Atlas as an information and negotiation tool in the context of litigation bringing claims against the government.

The Mekong River Commission Secretariat also carried out a GIS –based topographic classification and analysis in order to back up land use and land cover recommendations for the entire lower Mekong Basin. These recommendations aim to protect water and soil resources in the upper reaches of tributaries and regularize surface runoff in the basin. At the same time the secretariat established a forest cover map on the basis of satellite images and aerial photographs. The overlay of both data layers allows identification of critical areas in terms of soil and water conservation, there by enhancing regional priority setting for natural resource management.

Other ways in which ICT can be used is in mapping out weed invasions in a given area, for exploration of oil, land use patterns, changes in forest cover and to map out biodiversity hot spots among others.

Currently, the newest tool in the market is what we call G-Plates, the software that enables both the visualisation and the manipulation of plate-tectonic reconstructions and associated data through geological time.

As you can therefore see, integration of information and technology in environmental matters, what I would love to call Environmental Information and Communication Technology (EI&CT) or in simple terms, Conservation Geography, has proven to be one of the most powerful and ideal technologies for analyzing the impact of development and consumption of natural resources. These tools will also aid in finding a common ground among all the competing interests around the globe.

Numbers!

TWO THIRDS –  

More than two-thirds of all the fresh water used by people around the world goes to agriculture , … and much of this agricultural land  is flat-out wasted.