May 222018

Today is designated as International Day for Biological Diversity (or World Biodiversity Day) by the United Nations: a day for the promotion of biodiversity issues. The International Day for Biological Diversity falls within the general scope of the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. In this larger initiative of international cooperation, the topic of biodiversity concerns stakeholders in sustainable agriculture; desertification, land degradation and drought; water and sanitation; health and sustainable development; energy; science, technology and innovation, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building; urban resilience and adaptation; sustainable transport; climate change and disaster risk reduction; oceans and seas; forests; vulnerable groups including indigenous peoples; and food security. The critical role of biodiversity in sustainable development was recognized in a Rio+20 outcome document, “The World We Want: A Future for All”.

From its creation by the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly in 1993 until 2000, Biodiversity Day was held on December 29 to celebrate the day the Convention on Biological Diversity went into effect. On December 20, 2000, the date was shifted to commemorate the adoption of the Convention on May 22, 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, and partly to avoid the many other holidays that occur in late December. The theme of the Day in 2018 is: Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity

Coinciding with the observance of International Day for Biological Diversity, on May 2011 the Indonesian Forestry Minister inaugurated the Ciwalen Canopy Trail that is 120 meters (390 ft) long and 60 metres (200 ft) wide at an elevation of 30–40 meters (98–131 ft) above the ground at Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, West Java, to accommodate five to ten people in one trip to experience biodiversity first-hand.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), biodiversity typically measures variation at the genetic, the species, and the ecosystem level. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10% of earth’s surface, and contain about 90% of the world’s species. Marine biodiversity tends to be highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

Rapid environmental changes typically cause mass extinctions. More than 99.9% of all species that ever lived on Earth, amounting to over five billion species, are estimated to be extinct. Estimates on the number of Earth’s current species usually range from 10 million to 14 million, of which about 1.2 million have been documented and over 86% have not yet been described. More recently, in May 2016, scientists reported that 1 trillion species are estimated to be on Earth currently with only one-thousandth of one percent described. Think about it for a minute: it’s possible that only .001% of all living species have been documented. I hope that boggles your mind. It is tribute to the vast ocean of ignorance about living things that we swim in, yet we claim to be oh-so-knowledgeable. Maybe in future centuries this period will be known as The Age of Scientific Ignorance (assuming Homo sapiens survives that long).

The Earth is about 4.54 billion years old. The earliest undisputed evidence of life on Earth dates to at least 3.5 billion years ago, during the Eoarchean Era after a geological crust started to solidify following the earlier molten Hadean Eon. There are microbial mat fossils found in 3.48 billion-year-old sandstone discovered in Western Australia. Other early physical evidence of a biogenic substance is graphite in 3.7 billion-year-old meta-sedimentary rocks discovered in Western Greenland. More recently, in 2015, what were called “remains of biotic life” were found in 4.1 billion-year-old rocks in Western Australia.

Since life began on Earth, five major mass extinctions and several minor events have led to large and sudden drops in biodiversity. The Phanerozoic eon (the last 540 million years) marked a rapid growth in biodiversity via the Cambrian explosion—a period during which the majority of multicellular phyla first appeared. The next 400 million years included repeated, massive biodiversity losses classified as mass extinction events. In the Carboniferous, rainforest collapse led to a great loss of plant and animal life. The Permian–Triassic extinction event, 251 million years ago, was the worst; vertebrate recovery took 30 million years. The most recent, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, occurred 65 million years ago and has often attracted more attention than others because it resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing biodiversity reduction and an accompanying loss of genetic diversity. This reduction, called the Holocene extinction, is caused primarily by human impact, and if I were to put my finger on the single most important event I would name the Industrial Revolution as the villain of the piece. The reduction in biodiversity can be attributed to a number of causes such as increased pollution, climate change, destruction of habitats etc., but they all lead to one principal cause: the expansion of industrialism. Fossil fuels used in industry and transport pollute and produce greenhouse gases, habitats are constantly destroyed in the service of agribusiness monoculture and industry, and so forth.

The Industrial Revolution had a gigantic impact on all world cultures in a cascading domino effect. For example, factories in Britain in the 19th century needed raw products for manufacture which led to massive global colonization and imperialism, which, in turn led to slavery and enforced labor, deforestation, land clearing, and other impacts that caused the destruction of habitats – not to mention the fact that the factories consumed millions of tons of fossil fuels which polluted the air and created significant carbon dioxide emissions. Soon the rest of the world was following Britain’s lead, and we are living in the wake of that fundamental shift in vision of how we want the world to be. This means that individual efforts to reverse the trends that are causing a loss in biodiversity are feeble – at best – and probably (in my ever-humble opinion) doomed to fail in the long run. We want to eat our cake and have it. We want all the modern technology we have now – and more – and yet we want to (somehow) not pay for it with non-renewable resources. I do not see how that is possible. My dismal prediction is that Homo sapiens will be one of the species driven to extinction along with the millions of others, but, of course, I have no idea when that will come about.

Certainly, we should do our level best to convert to renewable energy sources, shift to sustainable foods, and the like, as much for ethical reasons as anything else. But I do not believe that these changes will have a lasting effect on the inevitable outcome. To put it bluntly: Homo sapiens is not a sustainable species. In other posts, I have spoken many times about thinking holistically when making decisions about what to eat or wear, what energy sources to use, and all the rest of it. You can’t avoid eating meat because of the cruel ways that farm animals are raised, but drink coffee produced by slave labor. You can’t avoid wearing animal products, but wear synthetic materials that can be as damaging, if not more so, to the environment. In any case, this is not a matter for individual change, but for cultural change on a global level: and that is simply not going to happen. As long as some people are making piles of money from processes that are destructive of the environment and biodiversity, nothing will change until it is too late (if it is not too late already).

All that said, there is no need to contribute to species extinction personally, even if the final outcome is unavoidable. We can still take personal responsibility for our actions. Therefore, I strongly advocate eating organically produced foods (if they are genuinely organically produced, and not simply claimed to be by devious marketers, as they are so often in the US), which do not use pesticides that endanger a number of species; to avoid eating species that are endangered, or whose consumption endangers other species (as in the case of Pacific mackerel and tuna); and to be aware, holistically, of the effects of certain diets.

The food groups that are underused in the West, seaweeds and insects, are frequently vaunted as “sustainable” but I want to raise a note of caution here. No species is by definition sustainable.  If a particular insect or a particular seaweed is suddenly touted as “nutritious and sustainable” and there is a run on it because it has become a new fad, it is quite likely that global stocks will be depleted in short order, causing shock waves throughout the food chain. Seaweeds and insects have not been hanging about for millennia waiting for some human cultures to discover them as food. They have been eaten by other species for that time as their major food sources. They are also invaluable environmentally. It has recently been shown that seaweeds absorb more far more carbon dioxide than terrestrial plants, and, therefore, overusing them would have as significant an effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels as deforestation.

Rather than give you a recipe today, in light of these warnings, I am going to suggest a fundamentally important rule, namely, to maintain biodiversity, diversify your diet. You do not need to eat the same foods all the time to maintain your usual balance of fats, protein, and carbohydrates. I hope this blog has already made you aware of the incredible diversity of ingredients in the world. Today’s challenge, therefore, is to eat something today that you have never eaten before. It doesn’t have to be spiders or grasshoppers or kelp. It can be goat or squab or wild mushrooms. You can even use your normal recipes, just with different main ingredients. The point is to break out of eating the same foods all the time because by doing so you are contributing to a reduction in biodiversity. There are tens of thousands of edible species in the world, most of which are more readily available than you might think. Take advantage of them all.

Mar 222015



World Water Day has been observed on 22 March since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared 22 March as “World Day for Water.” This day was first formally proposed in Agenda 21 of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. Observance began in 1993 and has grown significantly ever since. For the general public to show support, people are encouraged not to use their taps throughout the whole day. The day has also become popular on Facebook and Twitter.

The UN and its member nations devote this day to implementing UN recommendations and promoting concrete activities within their countries regarding the world’s water resources. Each year, one of various UN agencies involved in water issues takes the lead in promoting and coordinating international activities for World Water Day. Since its inception in 2003, UN-Water has been responsible for selecting the theme, messages and lead UN agency for the World Day for Water.


In addition to the UN member states, a number of NGOs promoting clean water and sustainable aquatic habitats have used World Day for Water as a time to focus public attention on the critical water issues of our era. Every three years since 1997, for instance, the World Water Council has drawn thousands to participate in its World Water Forum during the week of World Day for Water. Participating agencies and NGOs have highlighted issues such as that a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water for drinking, and the role of gender in family access to safe water.

The theme for 2015 is Water and Sustainable Development which consolidates and builds upon the themes of previous World Water Days in order to highlight water’s role in the sustainable development agenda.

These themes are taken from the official website with my commentary in italics.

Water is health

Clean hands can save your life

It has long been a well known fact that keeping your hands clean is one of the most important, if not the most important, way to prevent contracting infectious diseases. As a pastor I used to shake everyone’s hand on the way out of church and then immediately wash my hands.

Water is nature

Ecosystems lie at the heart of the global water cycle.

Obviously you cannot have an ecosystem without water. ALL living things require water to survive. Some, such as cacti and camels, are ingenious at storing water in dry ecosystems, but they still need it.


Water is urbanization

Every week, one million people move into cities.

The endless migration of people to cities puts an increasing, and at present unsustainable, burden on lakes, rivers, and reservoirs which are frequently polluted.


Water is industry

More water is used to manufacture a car than to fill a swimming pool.

Industry has a complicated relationship with water resources. It has an insatiable need for water which is used for a variety of purposes, such as for cooling. But then it returns the water to rivers and lakes. All would be well if it were clean upon return, but often it is not.

Water is energy

Water and energy are inseparable friends.

Among other things, water is an important source of energy via hydro-electric power. Niagara Falls, for example, provides vast quantities of electricity that serves the eastern seaboard f the U.S. and Canada. Hydro-electric is eminently sustainable.


Water is gender

In many cultures women are responsible for the family water supply.


Water is food

To produce two steaks you need 15 000 liters of water.

Here is a table of the quantity of water needed to produce various foods (click to enlarge).


Sometimes I struggle to find a recipe linked to the theme of the day. No worries on that score today: just the opposite. Too much! I figured that the most obvious use of water in cooking is in making soup – generally speaking, my favorite class of food; spring, summer, autumn winter. I am never happier than when my kitchen is redolent of rich savors from a bubbling pot on the stove. So, I recommend you make your favorite soup today. Mine is an Indonesian chicken soup – soto ayam (which translates as “chicken soup). There are almost infinite varieties, but the basics are the same. You serve a chicken broth, piping hot, spiced with shrimp paste and turmeric and containing noodles and chunks of poached chicken. Each diner gets a bowl and then adds toppings from a selection, such as, green onions, sliced hard-boiled eggs, crispy fried onions and/or garlic, cilantro, and sambal oelek. Here’s my rough recipe guidelines from memory, as ever, with only loose ideas about quantities.


©Soto Ayam

In a big stock pot poach a small chicken with a stalk of lemon grass, 1 tablespoon of ground turmeric, a hunk of blachang (dried shrimp paste), 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander, and a piece of fresh ginger until the meat is just tender. This usually takes me about 50 minutes. Remove the chicken, return the broth to a boil and cook a sufficient quantity of noodles for the number of diners. Cellophane noodles are the commonest in Java and Bali, but it’s your choice. I’ve often used ramen.

Strip the chicken meat from the bones. When the noodles are cooked, make up deep bowls of broth with noodles and chicken. Provide your guests a choice of toppings for them to add as they wish. The standards are crispy fried onions, sliced boiled eggs, and sambal oelek, a fiery sauce made with fierce red chile peppers and tomato (which I have often found at supermarkets in the U.S). There are no limits, however. Other favorites include cilantro leaves, bean sprouts, and sliced boiled potatoes.

You can buy crispy fried onions, but they are easy to make. Slice onions coarsely and spread them with salt in a sieve. Let the moisture drain out, then pat them dry with paper towels. Heat deep frying oil to 300°F and fry the onions until they are deep golden. Drain on wire racks. They can be stored in airtight containers, so you can make big batches. You can do the same with sliced garlic.