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Mozambique: Slashing and Burning

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mozambique-by-douglas-drake

I recently spent three months cycling through Mozambique, in a range of temperatures from sweltering to incinerating. In addition to the obligatory saddle sores and sun burn, it provided some great insights into the country and the people.

Visiting different national parks and conservation related projects was the overarching aim of the trip. However, reality saw the bulk of my time spent cycling along roads, with varying degrees of tarmac and consistent volumes of litter.  What was past the litter was most telling, which for large stretches of the country was burnt or burning land.

Slash and burn agriculture is used extensively across Mozambique, to the point where it is clearly visible when protected areas of land begin and end. Forested land is clear cut and then burned; the layer of ash created then provides rich nutrients for a few years of farming. Once the nutrients are used up, another area of forest gets the same treatment, with habitat loss, air pollution and soil erosion all occurring. In essence the practice works for the short term but longer term – especially in light of a population growing at 3.8% a year – is unsustainable and hugely ecologically damaging.

Not only is slash and burn agriculture a long term issue, it is symbolic of far deeper problems within Mozambique, which raises questions of why the struggling general population would even care.  The title of the World Bank’s recently released bi-annual report on Mozambique sums it up well: ‘Mozambiqe Economic Update: facing hard choices’. Conflict, drought, low commodities prices and a depreciating currency are all highlighted as plights for the country.

Cycling through Mozambique it is easy to see slash and burn at the coal face. What is not so conspicuous is the fact that it permeates from the upper echelons of politics and international institutions such as the IMF.   Two examples are indicative. In 2012 offshore natural gas was discovered, so following the textbook, in swept the oilmen and bankers. Credit Swiss and Russian lender VTB, motivated by high commissions, helped the government raise $2.2bn in loans – not insignificant for a country with a GDP of $16bn – most of it done secretly. An additional $850m was raised to fund a state owned tuna fishing company.  In both cases the money was squandered and the resultant debt scandal has hammered the currency, leaving people in one of the world’s poorest countries facing annual food inflation of 40%.

Even assuming the money had not been wasted, both deals stink of slash and burn. Look to Nigeria and Angola for examples of fossil fuel resources making international institutions rich, whilst keeping general populations locked in poverty and corruption.  There is also a dark irony in the export of more commodities being seen as a long term solution, whilst simultaneously being peddled as a reason for the countries current economic woes.   That is before you even look at future reductions in fossil fuel use and fish stocks which will be driven by climate change and overfishing.

But perhaps worst of all is the reality that the exporting of natural gas and tuna will hurt the general population, not benefitting them in the short or long term. Fish is a staple part of the Mozambican diet and fishing a major source of employment. Increasing commercial fishing in an already overfished area, relocating fisherman and drilling offshore will undoubtedly have significant negative effects. Once gas and fish is then exported, all evidence suggests that revenue will be plundered and benefit a very small minority – much like the original debt – and not be spent addressing real and important issues like slash and burn agriculture.

Like much of Africa, Mozambique needs to turn a food deficit into a food surplus. With a reported 30%-40% of crops such as maize being wasted, it is obvious that investment in storage and transport infrastructure is required. This along with education and governance – to prevent practices such as slash and burn – is where private and public institutions should be focused.

Having spent a few nights at the beautiful Nzou Camp in central Mozambique, surrounded by African Paradise-Flycatchers and beautiful forests, it was all the harder leaving on a road surrounded by what was previously the same dense woodland. In its place, a carpet of black and dusty threadbare stumps, rolling as far as the eye can see. Sadly, that is the just the real slash and burn’s little brother.

Written by Douglas Drake

Aspiring adventurer, writer and environmentalist. Having sold his soul for a few years, Doug is now pursuing his true passions in life which revolve around animals and the natural world.  With a background in business and finance it is likely Doug’s articles will tilt that way.

Environment

Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations

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green housing techniques

Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?

The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.

New Construction Options

One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.

In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.

The Simple Retrofit

From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?

Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.

Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.

Big Innovations

Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.

In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.

Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.

It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.

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Environment

How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions

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Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Public Health Crisis

It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.

Eco-Friendly Vehicles

It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.

Used Cars

Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.

Public Perception

With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.

Progress

The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.

With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.

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