Faculty of Environmental Studies, University Putra Malaysia Articles

on 8 Mar, 11:47
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Xiwen Yeoh

Getting Back to the Main Purpose of Going Environmental

Getting Back to the Main Purpose of Going Environmental
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The title of today’s post might sound weird, but it is what all of us should do because we often tend to accidentally miss out the point of going green when we are pushing for a sustainable cause. As an environmentalist (no matter you are studying or working in any field), we want the best for the environment and we also hope that people around us do the same as well. Besides showering our peers with ‘environmental-friendly behaviour’, we might involve ourselves as the organisers or volunteers for some green events and projects. We want to conserve water by avoiding wastage, we want to encourage the reduction of plastic bag usage, we want to stop the invasion of polystyrene containers to our garbage dump. It seems that the list is endless and we are working hard to attract people’s attention on these issues. The problem is, do we miss the target?

(photo taken during my first fieldwork in UPM)
Just a pile of leaves to capture your attention for awhile, hahaha…


I believe that the following scenes that I describe are somehow familiar:
– an environmental seminar being held in a freezing-ly cold conference room
– lots of free cloth bags being given out as door gift of some events
– people are asked to turn off the tap when not in use but the tap is leaking uncontrollably
– boxes and boxes of mineral water in 500mL plastic bottle provided
– cycling lane being flooded every time after rain
– recycling bins are provided but no one knows exactly what can be recycled and vice versa
– hundreds of flyers are given out as strategy for publicity
– the amount of food provided looks like the main focus of the event

The original motives are good: to attract public attention, to increase the support towards the events, to involve more people directly in green movement. Unintentionally we leave out the small details which can make up a huge number of resources being wasted unnecessarily. I do agree that it might be some kind of give-and-take, but most of the time the resources used do not worth the outcome and can be substituted with a better eco-friendlier choice.

Organising a good environmental event is not an easy task (as what we have experienced), there are lots of things to be considered including the sustainability of the whole event. Plan carefully and look into the details, experiences make us grow better. Cheers!

 

P/S: This article was taken from the Confessions of An Environmental Student.

on 26 Dec, 11:36
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Xiwen Yeoh

What Is Wrong with Mega Dams? – The Baram Dam Project

What Is Wrong with Mega Dams? – The Baram Dam Project
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When we talk about renewable energy, it is about the production of electricity using renewable resources such as sun light and wind, which won’t be depleted. Some people might suggest hydroelectricity which is obtained through the turning of turbines using the gushing of water from a higher elevation (potential energy to mechanical energy to electrical energy) which does not use up any resource as well. The most renowned hydroelectrical dam in China – Three Gorges Dam at Yangtze River which covers an area of 632 square kilometres generates a total of 84 TeraWatts-hours of electricity each year (a typical light bulb requires only 60 Watts to light up).  

The Bakun Dam.
(photo taken from the Sarawak Report website)

 

So far, there are 80 dams in Malaysia (each state has at least one) and most of them are used as the storage for water supply. Out of the 80 dams, only 11 are used for the generation of hydroelectricity. From the period of 2008 until 2020, 12 more hydroelectrical dams are planned to be constructed in Sarawak within the 15 years in order to meet the electrical demand in Peninsular Malaysia and also Sabah and Sarawak. A study on the protest of Bakun Dam project (the flooding of Bakun Dam began in 2010) has pointed out several bad impacts caused by the dam towards the environment (detailed explanation can be found in the report of the World Commissions on Dams – Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making):

  • Loss of habitats for terrestrial species as well as aquatic species despite of efforts made to counteract the collapse of ecosystems
  • The outbreak of water-borne diseases due to deterioration of water quality at downstream
  • Lowering efficiency of hydroelectricity generation due to heavy sedimentation which reduces the volume of the dam

We are told that the environment sometimes has to compromised for the development. I agree with that statement because whenever we do something to the environment, damage will be done, regardless how big or how small the impact is. However, for this case – the construction of dam, it has not been so disagreeable to me because in the name of development, human rights have to give way. The construction of dam often takes up a large coverage of space which is mostly away from the cities to contain a huge amount of water. The construction site probably houses hundreds of native people who rely on that piece of land for a living since the existence of their ancestors. The people previously thriving there will loss their home and also livelihood (although so called a ‘fair’ compensation will be given).

The place which will be flooded if Baram Dam is constructed.
(photo taken from Hornbill Unleashed blog)

 

I would like to direct the limelight onto this proposed dam project: the Baram Dam (owned bySarawak Energy). According to the data retrieved from Baram Dam Blockade website, if Baram Dam is built, an area of 400 square kilometres of rainforest will be submerged under water, causing up to 20 000 people from 26 villages to be displaced from their original homeland. The protest of the dam construction by native people is being ignored. Fearing that one day Baram will be like Bakun when the dam is constructed, native people at Ulu Baram built blockade from scraps to prevent the entrance of construction machineries. Houses are built at the blockade and people stay there for 24 hours to defend their own land. The blockade has been destructed by the authorities and reconstructed again and again for many times by inhabitants there. When many people in Peninsular living comfortably at homes, these people have to stand up against whatever that tries to get rid of their rights, rights which should have been enjoyed by all Malaysians in this harmonic country.

What it will look like if the dam is constructed (top) and the original view of the river at Baram (bottom).
(images retrieved from Baram Dam Blockade website)

 

We don’t see it with our own eyes, we have never felt the fear of losing our homeland, so we don’t really pay attention on what’s going on on the other side of Malaysia. Just like there is quite some distance between Africa and Malaysia that we barely know about the famine there, or we just ignore it because it has nothing to do with us! But this case happens in Malaysia, in Borneo. The native people are Malaysians too, but why are they receiving such an unfair treatment? Their voices are being covered up by one sided stories from the authorities and they try to get the messages out so that everyone knows the issues over there. The blockade has been there since October 2013, it has been over a year. Is this your first time listening to this story?

Don’t let them fight alone! Even though we can’t physically support them, pass the message around! Share the video! Donate to their cause! Deprivation of human rights is not tolerable!
More information:
Baram Kini blog
Baram Kini youtube channel
The Borneo Project on Vimeo

References:
1) Hydroelectric power: how it works. (2014). In United States Geological Survey website. Retrieved from http://www.usgs.gov/
2) Dan, H., Murphy, B. R., & Klopfer, M. D. (2014). A struggle for power in China: the Three Gorges Dam. New York, NY: National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science.
3) Latifah, A. M. & Les Met. (2014). An ecological evaluation approach for dam project development in Malaysia. Life Science Journal, 11, 225-237
4) Kartini, A. T. K. (2007). Global networks: issues and tactics in the Bakun Dam project. Jebat, 34, 1-16.
5) Baram dam blockade. (2014). In Sarawak Report website. Retrieved. from http://www.sarawakreport.org/

 

P/S: This article is taken from Confessions of An Environmental Student blog.

on 15 Oct, 09:47
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Xiwen Yeoh

Introduction to Emerging Contaminants (ECs)

Introduction to Emerging Contaminants (ECs)
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Water is one of the most vital components in human life that 3.4 millions people die each year due to water-related diseases, which is more than the lives claimed in wars. During the 19th century, one of the water-borne diseases named Cholera spread from Ganges delta in India throughout the world that it created another 6 subsequent pandemics which killed millions of people from all continents. Around 430 – 424 B.C.E., it is believed that Typhoid fever wiped out one third of the population of Athens, bringing the Golden Age of Pericles to an end. Besides the diseases related to water contaminated by bacteria, mosquito-borne diseases such as Malaria and Dengue which are discovered since 2700 B.C.E. and 265 C.E. respectively are also closely-related to our water since mosquitoes require stagnant water to breed. At around 20th century, contamination of water by heavy metals such as lead and mercury is being taken seriously since after the incidents of lead and mercury poisonings. 

Although the risks of the diseases stated above still exist in our world today, there is another rising health threat in our drinking water which should concern us more – the Emerging Contaminants (ECs). The term ECs includes all chemicals present in our water systems in trace amount which are recently discovered using the latest technology that they possess a potential risk to human and also environmental health. These chemical including pharmaceutical products, household cleaning agents, pesticides etc. were not considered as contaminants in the past since their existence in the environment was in the amount which was hardly discoverable.

Instagram: ELIXIR_OF_HIDDEN_RISK

Many people might have heard about heavy metal contaminations, but not many in Malaysia are aware of the danger of these chemicals and their existence in the drinking water which is thought as clean and safe. Me and my coursemates are required to educate the public about ECs by any methods such as social media and campaigns. My group, Group 3 decided to use Instagram as a media by posting photos with facts regarding ECs, hoping that we can reach more people especially younger generations who are actively using Instagram. Elixir means a legendary potion which can prolong life or to turn something into gold. We chose the name Elixir of Hidden Risk because water is the potion of life that every living organisms can’t live without, however, there is a hidden risk that has crept upon us and we shall get ready to face whatever that is coming by getting to know more about it.

Please follow us on Instagram and give us a like in order to support our cause. Feel free to comment and ask questions too. We are more than happy to clear your confusion as much as we can. Sharing is caring!

References

http://www.who.int/en/
http://water.org/
http://www.news-medical.net/
http://www.cdc.gov/
http://www.denguevirusnet.com/
http://www.medscape.com/

 

P/S: This article is taken from Confessions of An Environmental Student.

on 13 Aug, 12:34
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Xiwen Yeoh

The Cove – Review

The Cove – Review
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This is the second documentary that I watched and decided to write a post about it. In my the other blog I wrote a post regarding extracted information from the documentary The Inconvenient Truth, the facts behind global warming. When I am trying to do the same to The Cove, I found difficulties in doing so because The Cove is more like a real life action movie of a group of activists risking their life to reveal the truth behind dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan rather than a collection of facts. This documentary was awarded the Oscar Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2010 as they brought attention of the world towards inhumane treatment towards dolphins especially the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan.

Beautiful cove of Taiji.
(Image taken from Tiffany&Ink blog)

 

We often see the dolphin shows on TV where the dolphins leap out of the water gracefully and interact cheerfully with their trainers. This dolphin show trend was not popular until the release of Flipper TV Series in 1964 which was about story of a bottlenose dolphin named Flipper and Ricks family. Since then, dolphin captivity became more common and makes a lot of money from the audiences. However, people do not know the suffering of dolphins behind the show just like other animals in the circus. Ok this might not be the focus of the documentary but the dolphin slaughter which is covered up by the Japan government. Yes we slaughter cows, pigs, poultries, fish etc. for food but the secret slaughter of dolphins is just so unreasonable since their meat is not suitable to be consumed and they have high intelligence, even higher than dogs and cats (many people around the world are mad at dog meat trade in China). There is no big protest towards dolphin slaughter in Japan because people do not know about the blood spilled at the cove in Taiji.

Pristine sea stained red with blood.
(Image taken from Digital Journal website)

 

During the seasonal migration of dolphins passes by Japan in September, that is when the hunting season for dolphins begins. The hunters scare the dolphins to the shore by creating noise and trap them there until the next day when the dolphin trainers will come and select the ones they want. The rest of the dolphins will end up bleeding to death at the cove, out of everyone’s sight. The number of death can be up to 23 000 each year. It was a very risky and tough work of the team leading by Louie Psihoyos in uncovered what has been happening behind the beautiful cove of Taiji by using hidden cameras and hydrophones. My heart was in my mouth when they were carrying out the mission in the dark because if they were caught, they would be dead. The team also did surveys on the streets and found that hunting dolphins as the Japanese culture was just a lie to make things seem rightful. The consumers in Japan are even tricked to buy dolphin meat which is sold as high quality whale meat. If you watch the documentary you can see things done by the Japan government to hide away the ugly side of Taiji.

Dolphin meat? Whale meat?
(Image taken from National Geographic website)

 

I do not hate Japan because of things they have done in the past and the dolphin slaughter, but the lies they have told to the world make me feel disgusted towards the Japan government. Since animals are given to human as food, slaughtering of animals is normal but unnecessary killing is just a sin that is unforgivable (of course when people see the scenes in the normal slaughter house they will be disgusted as well). They kill because they can.

Here are some dolphins facts extracted from the documentary:

  • In the wild, dolphins can travel 40 miles per day.
  • Instead of sight, sonar system is dolphins’ main sense in ‘seeing’.
  • Due to their sensitivity towards sound, dolphins get stressed up when the surrounding is too noisy.
  • The language people used to communicate with dolphins is a version of American sign language.
  • Breathing is a voluntary movement for dolphins (unlike human, we breath automatically) which requires conscious effort.
  • Dolphins are self-aware, they can understand how to manipulate circumstances, how to interact with people and how to use their imagination in creating innovatively.
  • During the Greek era, harming a dolphin could lead to death sentence as dolphins were known to save humans’ lives.
  • Two animal rights activists, Jenny May and Jane Tipson got murdered because they tried to stop dolphin traffics.
  • Dolphin meat is heavily loaded with mercury (20 times higher than recommendation by World Health Organisation), a heavy metal which contributes to Minamata disease.

 

Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins. Bottlenose dolphin is the one common in dolphin shows.
(Image taken from Horizon International Solutions site)

 

Take your time and watch the movie. Brace yourself for some unpleasant feelings. For your information, the effort of old Ric to rescue the dolphins is still going on. You can check out this website to find out more.

P/S: This article is taken from my blog.

on 29 Jul, 13:29
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Xiwen Yeoh

History of Animal Welfare

History of Animal Welfare
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[Disclaimer: The informations below are taken from an online course named Animal Behaviour and Welfare from Coursera by a team of animal behaviour and welfare researchers, educators and veterinarians from Edinburgh with some online researches by myself. For this one it was prepared by Jill MacKay from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and The Jeanne Marchig International Center for Animal Welfare Education]

Timeline of Animal Welfare Development

Pre-history

1) Burials of dead animals showed the importance of animals in their life.

  • mummified cats in ancient Egypt
  • dog buried like human in the cemetery

2) Many animals were involved in religions.

  • in Buddhism animals should not be harmed
  • cows are sacred animals in Hinduism

3) Animals were presented in ancient arts.

  • cave paintings
  • animal stone sculptures

More informations:

(Image taken from Enhebrando website)


500 Before Common Era – The Greeks

1) Pythagoras

  • believer in animism that animals have soul like human beings
  • advocated a vegetarian lifestyle

2) Aristotle

  • animals are below human because animals can’t reason
  • animals can be used without being treated like human

3) Emperor Ashoka

  • established some of the first animal laws
  • the fifth pillar of Ashoka stated a series of edicts

 

More informations:

0 – 1500s Common Era

1) Judeo-Christian ethics (the Bible)

  • 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.    – Genesis 1:26
  • 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.  – Genesis 9:3-4 

2) Rene Descartes

  • animals have no soul, they are just machine
  • he experimented on animals in a cruel way to prove his theory

3) Thomas Aquinas

  • there are different levels of soul

More informations:

Practising Resurrection website

Examiner.com website

Thomistic Philosophy website

(Image taken from Tracey Broome’s blog)


1600s Common Era – Early Legislation

1) An act against cruelty towards horses and sheeps in Ireland, 1635

  • do not plow or work horses by the tail
  • do not pull the wool off living sheep

2) An act against cruelty towards animals kept for man’s use in Massachusetts, 1641

  • animals should not be starved or treated cruelly

 

More informations:

 

1700s Common Era 

1) Immanuel Kant

  • the way a man treats an animal reflects his heart
  • men’s duties towards animals are just indirect duties towards humanity

2) Jeremy Bentham

  • father of Utilitarianism (theory: the moral worth of an action is determined by its outcome)
  • the ability to suffer (not reason) should be the benchmark of how we should treat animals

 

More informations:

Examiner.com website

 

1800s Common Era

1) Charles Darwin

  • all species originated from a common ancestry through natural selection
  • believe animals could suffer

2) William Wilberforce

 

More informations:

(Image taken from Aramark website)


1900s Common Era

1) Karl Marx

  • man is described as an animal
  • pet ownership was banned in many communist countries

2) Animal Liberation written by Peter Singer

  • speciesism, animals are exploited because they are not the same species as human beings
  • animals share equal moral status as human beings

3) Animal Machines written by Ruth Harrison

  • reveal the reality faced by the farm animals due to intensive farming
  • encouraged humane slaughter of animals

4) The Case for Animal Rights written by Tom Regan

  • animals are subjects of a life, not mere biological beings
  • introduce Kantian (Immanuel Kant) thought

5) Welfare Frameworks

  • Five freedoms (freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom from fear and distress; freedom to express normal behaviour)
  • Life worth living concept

 

More informations:

Farm Animals Welfare Council

Green, T. C. & Mellor, D. J. (2011). Extending ideas about animal welfare assessment to include ‘quality of life’ and related concepts. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 6, 263-271.


P/S: This post was taken from my blog.

on 18 Jul, 00:52
link by
Xiwen Yeoh

Silent Spring – Review

Silent Spring – Review
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The original edition of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson published in 1962. (image taken from The Manhattan Rare Book Company website)

The term ‘Silent Spring’ literally means the season spring which is quiet, without the chirping of birds. Before I read this book, all I knew about it were it was written by Rachel Carson, a female scientist (a marine biologist to be exact, I found out about this later) in the era when men were dominant and it brought about a green revolution by getting the attention of the public about pesticide pollution.  So after I heard about this book a few times from my lecturers for the last two semesters, I thought I should read it at least once because it ignited the people’s green awareness towards the environment at the time when there was no such thing as green movement.

Supported with a lot of scientific evidences from various research institutes and departments, Silent Spring has pointed out the dark side of pesticide usage despite of the ‘convenience’ claimed by the manufacturers and sellers. Pesticides including herbicides, insecticides and fungicides exist for only one purpose, to kill off so called ‘pests’. At that time people did not realise how strong the poison was that almost all living organisms regardless of species were wiped out in a short period of time. Detailed data was embedded in the book stating the damages pesticides had given rise to towards the plants, insects, birds, fish and even human beings. At the beginning of the book, various types of pesticides were introduced, followed by their effects on living organisms and finally the carcinogenic impacts on human beings. The processes that initiated the effects were described scientifically in a simplified way that normal people would understand it. For those who studied biology, they will understand instantly about the processes which involve generation of energy in cells, inhibition of nerve functioning, carcinogenic agents etc.

The author, Rachel Carson who died of breast cancer two years after the publication of Silent Spring. (image taken from The Pop History Dig website)

This book was not written to deny the usage of pesticide or to call for banning of pesticide but to acknowledge the people about what they were actually facing and to propose better alternatives to replace the unnecessary massacre of all living things directly or indirectly as the poison travelled and accumulated in body fat down the food chains. Biological control using the natural prey-predator and host-parasites relationships has been proved effective and cheap. If immediate treatment has to be done, direct applying of chemical at the affected spots will be better than vast spraying which contributes to the non-point source pollution when the air or water carries the chemicals to the other parts of our world. It is tragic when people had to pay for what they had not done, and not even known because the bitter truth was coated with sugar so that no one would question the true colour of pesticides.

Carson used simple language in delivering her concerns and scientific facts so that general public would understand what’s going on in the perspective of science instead of stuffing the whole book with hard-to-digest scientific terminologies. Informations and knowledge are difficult to reach when they are just available in journals or reports which are accessible only by people in the academic and research fields who are only a small fraction out of the whole human population. The real danger often lies in people’s ignorance when we don’t even know what is threatening us. The efforts Carson made was a leap towards grassroot movement when people began to realise that the whole situation was being manipulated by certain parties for the political and economical benefits where human rights were not being taken care of.

Bashfulgrass on the field.

 

P/S: It is quite enjoyable to read the Silent Spring because the words used are truly beautiful as if I am reading a literature full of knowledge. I will certainly read the whole book for the second time and extract the informations chapter by chapter. Although it might take some time, do read and digest it. (The post was taken from my blog)

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