I first remember hearing about the Sumatran Elephants when I was in elementary school. Even back then, they were considered endangered species. Throughout the years, the situation has worsened. This year, they were placed on the “Critically Endangered Species” and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature stated that they are at a risk of becoming extinct by the end of the decade. These large yet serene creatures are found appropriately in the Sumatran forests of Western Indonesia. Despite their grand size, they are actually the smallest of all Asian elephants. With a lifespan of approximately seventy years, they were at one time spread across the entire forests however, currently subpopulations are scattered in a small area of the forest. Living in the lowland areas of the verdurous trees, near the rivers, Sumatran elephants usually eat up to two hundred kilograms of food each day! Talk about having a voracious appetite. The main threat to their survival comes from the destruction of their habitat. The conditions became so severe that the species has lost almost half of its population in one generation. Sumatran forests have the worst deforestation rate in the world, and it is mainly result of paper, pulp and palm oil industries. Currently, only about 2400-2800 elephants are left. Not only are the elephants’ habitat encroached upon, other species, such as the orangutans, are prone to such threats as well.
The issue of balancing economic development with habitat and biodiversity conservation is brought to light with such cases. The DeforestACTION group focuses on spreading awareness about the dire impact of habitat destruction in these areas and works with the local communities to mitigate the problem. There are several interesting ways for youth who are passionate about this issue, to get involved. For instance, you can sponsor rainforest land or an orangutan or host a DeforestACTION day at you school or community center to get the locals involved.
Last week, the result of a study which examined the best and worst places for women amongst the G20 countries, was released. Some of the results of the study, I found to be rather surprising. The countries were assessed in six categories which included, domestic violence laws, access to education and health care, professional opportunities, women’s’ rights and political participation. Experts from a wide cross-section of the global society were involved; for instance, representatives from United Nations Women, International Rescue Committee, Plan International, Amnesty USA, Oxfam International and various academic organizations were part of the examination process. The list reveals the range of global development levels, but some interesting anomalies bring to light other issues that are relevant determinants of social problems.
Canada bagged the first spot followed by Germany and the United Kingdom in the second and third spot, respectively. Germany’s has a female head of state, as well as the average life expectancy of women in the country is approximately 83 years. Access to health care, progressive laws and occupational opportunities are the main factors contributing to Canada’s position. Australia ranked fourth; however, I was surprised to find out that gender related gaps in salary are prevalent in a developed nation such as Australia. And in France which took the fifth spot, women were underrepresented in the full time labour force. The United States, while being the leading modern economy that revels in being the face of contemporary society, still faces regressive debates on contraception which compromise women’s rights. Approximately, 23 million women in the USA do not have health insurance.
What saddened me the most was to find India in the nineteenth position, making it one of the worst places for women in the world. As I have ties to that country, I wouldn’t say I was surprised. There is still stark disparity been urban and rural areas. According to the Center for Research on Women, 45% girls are married before they turn 18 years old and the United Nations Populations Fund revealed that in 2010, there were over 56,000 maternal deaths in the country. I can tell from firsthand experience that while women’s rights in the metropolis have progressed, the harsh reality is evidenced by the statistics. Education and women empowerment is a key factor in the progress of development. This study emphasises the existent problem of gender disparity, the recognition that there is still a long way to go for women’s rights in a society where patriarchal traditions and culture is still pervasive.
The image of Earth taken from the space reveals a predominantly blue planet; after all, 71 percent of it is covered by water. Oceans, the most diverse ecosystem in the world are home to a large array of species that scientists are still continuing to discover. I think that the vastness of the blue waters and the extensive pervasiveness of life that we don’t quite see are demonstrative of this planet’s beauty. I definitely wish to scuba dive off the shores of Maldives one day; however until now, I’ve only been exposed to this world within our world through Planet Earth videos and my biology textbooks. It’s a strange coincidence that I was studying the chapter on Water Systems for my Ecology exam when I found out that today was World Oceans Day. Despite its physical immensity, because most of us are not exposed to these water bodies on a regular basis, it is easy to become oblivious to their importance. The natural services that such a large ecosystem provides including regulation of climate, deflection of winds, food, and biodiversity, are invaluable to life on land. And it is no surprise that all these ecosystems are inevitably connected, that is to say that what happens in the oceans, has a direct impact on us and our habitats. Today, these oceanic bodies are subjected to a variety of human influences that interferes with its ability to carry out its natural functions. For instance, they have served as dumping grounds for toxic and hazardous industrial and municipal wastes. In recent years, industrial mismanagement and oil spills have become a serious threat to marine life. All these factors which result in contamination of the marine environment infect the habitat and disrupt the food chain. When we think of coral reefs, beautiful, vibrant colourful abstract structures come to mind. These aesthetically pleasing species serve as sources of food, jobs and coastal protection, however, the growing practice of coral reef harvesting has been threatening their survival. They are harvested for numerous economic reasons such as, for jewelry, construction material, and limestone usage. However, their existence provides a much larger benefit to the environment and supports economy through ecotourism. Moreover, the impact of climate change is evident in the oceans as rising temperature of water bodies has lead to coral bleaching and an alteration in the oceanic chemistry.
Today, June 8th was designated as World Oceans Day by Canada during the 1992 Earth Summit. It has been celebrated and organized on a global scale through the partnership between the Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network, and in 2008, it was officially recognized by United Nations. The theme for this year is“Youth: Next Wave of Change” which is in keeping with the message of spreading awareness about the fascinating marine world. So as I go back to studying for my ecology exam, I hope to gain more scientific knowledge on this subject.
I recently watched a very interesting TED talk by Charles Leadbeater, a London-based researcher at Demos, a think tank focused on power and politics. He spoke about “Education Innovation in the Slums.” The education system in developing and industrialized nations is rapidly transforming in wake of the globalization wave. What I found especially interesting in his lecture was his opinion on the drivers of innovation. He said that radical innovation comes from necessity. In newly industrialized countries like India and Brazil where the demand is high and where traditional practices don’t work, new ideas are sparked out of need. Not only in the realm of education but also in areas of health care and government policies. The amateur education innovation that Leadbeater refers to has a strong technological component. The marriage of education and technology creates an interactive, accessible, and practical learning experience for students. The role of social entrepreneurship in this area is highlighted in his talk as he credits local not-for-profit organizations and socially ethical businesses of spearheading the movement. These groups organize schools in local communities and make new technology like computers available in villages and developing cities of these countries. Initiatives like Teach for India and Pratham, both successful non-governmental organizations working to provide education to underprivileged children, are a manifestation of this pioneering plan. A vital point that he emphasized was considering transforming the nature of the education system so that instead of having a stringent curriculum that would restrict and push away students, a flexible framework with targeted areas of study would allow prospective students to develop interest. For kids living in difficult financial and societal conditions, motivation is pertinent for retaining their interest in school. Similarly as their needs are different, practical application of knowledge is key in allowing them to see the connection between the real world and their textbooks. By making the payoff of education clear and highlighting that the rewards can be reaped not far in the future, but every day, children can be successfully encouraged. Thus, the issue is not merely establishing a cohesive education system but also how to draw children’s interests. The use of games, developing the ability to question, and experiential learning make the process engaging, fun and effective for students. The availability of computers in cyber cafes in countries like Kenya, India and Peru promote self-learning and sustain innovation in the local communities. The model of education in general should transition from standardized schools to personalized learning which encompasses multiple types of intelligence. The common thread mentioned by Leadbeater throughout all his case studies was the role of local leaders and socially conscious entrepreneurs in establishing educational institutions in their respective communities.
A form of self-teaching is TED talks themselves, as they are a platform for global thinkers to display their research. As vitual learners, we are invited to explore connections between various fields of studies, and learn about new ideas and fresh perspectives. I encourage you to browse through their vast collection of videos and check out the ones you find interesting.
Today, June 5, 2012 is World Environment Day. It began 40 years ago in 1972 with the first United Nations Conference on Human Environment. Whether it is Earth Hour, Earth Day or occasions like International Day of Biodiversity, the inherent message of taking care of the planet remains intact. Especially in the context of current affairs, environment seems to be of utmost importance considering the interdependent nature of geopolitical, scientific, economic and social welfare. The rapidity of environmental degradation has been evident since the onset of industrialization. Environmental problems span a wide variety of areas including climate change, deforestation, biodiversity preservation, protection of endangered and extinct species, water and air pollution and resource depletion. This year the theme of the Day is “Green Economy.” The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) began this initiative in 2008 to aid countries in integrating the value of natural capital in their current economic framework. Investment in green economy aims to secure technological advancement of renewable energy resources, increase environmental consciousness, reduce environmental impact of projects and promote the practice sustainable development. The ten sectors that this plan focuses on are buildings, fisheries, forestry, transport, water, agriculture, energy supply, tourism, waste and manufacturing. Due to the disparities in the level of development amongst developed, industrialized and developing countries, the implications and adoption of such a financial mechanism would be different. Thus, political and corporate will necessary to ensure the practice of social and ecological responsibility.
Today, people are standing in solidarity all over the world, from recycling drives in India and activists in Philippines protesting against genetically modified products to students planting trees in Libya; the movement is global and widespread. Similar to the boundless nature of environmental issues, the movement has to be collective, collaborative and cooperative. In order for this to happen, environmental education and awareness is vital.