We Need To Need Less

I recently watched the Leonardo di Caprio documentary on climate change called The 11th Hour. Have you seen it? Like many of these films it starts with a depressing list of everything that's going wrong and moves on through an alarming list of possible global warming disaster scenarios.

What we did wrong, whose fault it is, what's going to happen to us, will the human race will go extinct... aargh! It's all too much but luckily the film doesn't end there, it concludes with some positive ideas on what we can do about it all.

The current crisis is not a problem of too much carbon dioxide or soil erosion or pollution, it's not the population explosion, it's not the exploitation of our natural resources, the near extinction of nearly all our major animal species... all of these things are just the symptoms of what is really wrong.

The root cause of all these problems is cultural. The deterioration of our planet is an outward mirror of an inner condition. The way we think is the problem. Our culture of growth and materialism has displaced all other concerns especially those of nature. After the industrial revolution, nature came to be treated as a resource that was considered endlessly abundant. We now know that this is not true.

The gifts of nature such as clean drinking water and food are about to run out. We need to change our thinking back to when nature was a partner, when the rights of the natural world were considered as important as the rights of a person. We have to change how we define who we are; it's not about what we have, it's not about what we do, it's not about what others think of us. We are part of the earth and what happens to it, happens to us.

This could be our finest hour, this could be the generation that is remembered for doing what was necessary to save the future.

Or it could be the end of our civilisation. It all depends on what we are willing to do. What does it take for humankind to change its ways? We need to make people aware, we need to slow down, we need to need less. What are you willing to forgo because it's the right thing to do? What are you willing to do? Quality of life should be the goal, not growth. However the corporate economics which govern our way of life rely on growth. If we continue to grow so unsustainably, we will lose all quality of life. It's not just the huge corporations that are addicted, it is us as consumers. We've lost touch with the world and so we try to replace that sense of beauty and belonging with things.

The lessons we need to learn on how to survive and how to fix that which we have broken are to be found in nature if we'll just listen in time. The technologies which mimic nature are available, they make us less dependent on fossil fuels, they're just not supported in a way that makes them affordable.

We have to show that support. Every time you buy an object you're saying, 'I approve of this company, I approve of how this was made, I approve of what's going to happen to this when I throw it away' But do you approve? Or have you just not taken the time to ask?

The problem of climate change is huge, but small personal action, however inconsequential it may seem, remains important. It's important because everybody making a change adds up to something meaningful, because shifting the way we act and live is part of the solution in the long term, because if we act in that way we will demonstrate to our leaders that we do care.

With the onset of global warming and its many disasters, environmentalism has become a unifying human issue. We as citizens, consumers and communities have the opportunity to change by being willing to change our daily habits.

We're lucky enough to live in a place where we can actually make a difference. A small town where people know each other and small actions can have an impact. Ask yourself what you can do to stop the disaster, what you can do to make a difference. And if you can't think of anything, give me call I have lots of ideas... Lisl Bennett 0793938803.

Termites foretell climate change in Africa's savannas

Using sophisticated airborne imaging and structural analysis, scientists at the Carnegie Institution's department of global ecology mapped more than 40,000 termite mounds over 309 square kilometres in the African savanna.

They found that their size and distribution is linked to vegetation and landscape patterns associated with annual rainfall. The results reveal how the savanna terrain has evolved and show how termite mounds can be used to predict ecological shifts from climate change.

The research was published in the September 7, 2010, advanced online edition of Nature Communications. Mound-building termites in the study area of Kruger National Park in South Africa tend to build their nests in areas that are not too wet, nor too dry, but are well drained, and on slopes of savanna hills above boundaries called seeplines. Seeplines form where water has flowed belowground through sandy, porous soil and backs up at areas rich in clay.

Typically woody trees prefer the well-drained upslope side where the mounds tend to locate, while grasses dominate the wetter areas down slope.

"These relationships make the termite mounds excellent indicators of the geology, hydrology, and soil conditions," commented lead author Shaun Levick at Carnegie. "And those conditions affect what plants grow and thus the entire local ecosystem. We looked at the mound density, size, and location on the hills with respect to the vegetation patterns."

Most research into the ecology of these savannas has focused on the patterns of woody trees and shorter vegetation over larger, regional scales. Work at the smaller, hill-slope scales has, until now, been limited to two-dimensional studies on specific hillsides.

The Carnegie research was conducted by the Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO)-a unique airborne mapping system that operates much like a diagnostic medical scan. It can penetrate the canopy all the way to the soil level and probe about 16,190 hectares per day. The CAO uses a waveform LiDAR system (light detection and ranging) that maps the three-dimensional structure of vegetation and, in this case, termite mounds and combines that information with spectroscopic imaging—imaging that reveals chemical fingerprints of the species below. It renders the data in stunning three-dimensional maps.

"We looked at the vegetation and termite mound characteristics throughout enormous areas of African savanna in dry, intermediate, and wet zones," explained Levick. "We found that precipitation, along with elevation, hydrological, and soil conditions determine whether the area will be dominated by grasses or woody vegetation and the size and density of termite mounds."

The advantage of monitoring termite mounds in addition to vegetation is that mounds are so tightly coupled with soil and hydrological conditions that they make it easier to map the hill slope seeplines. Furthermore, vegetation cover varies a lot between wet and dry season, while the mounds are not subject to these fluctuations.

"By understanding the patterns of the vegetation and termite mounds over different moisture zones, we can project how the landscape might change with climate change," explained co-author Greg Asner at Carnegie.

"Warming is expected to increase the variability of future precipitation in African savannas, so some areas will get more, while others get less rain. The predictions are that many regions of the savanna will become drier, which suggests more woody species will encroach on today's grasslands. These changes will depend on complex but predictable hydrological processes along hill slopes, which will correspond to pattern changes in the telltale termite mounds we see today from the air."

The research was funded by a grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation. The Carnegie Airborne Observatory is supported by the W.M. Keck Foundation and William Hearst, III. SANParks provided logistical support.

By Lisl Bennett

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