Missing that Blaze of Glory

fallFriends here just returned from Canada, a marathon road trip from Ontario to the east coast in just five days — through the land of fall colours. It’s mid-October, and the trees are at the height of their glory in eastern Canada, and I have to admit — I miss being there to see it. My friends very thoughtfully brought me home a handful of crimson maple leaves, which I promptly arranged in a quirky display around a tin of maple syrup at the centre of the dining room table.

The landscape here, both natural and human, is gloriously beautiful in many respects, but there really doesn’t seem to be much in the way of fall colour. Yesterday, I noticed to my surprise that the trees along the boulevard on my street are maple trees. Leaves are starting to fall, but they’re not red, or yellow, or orange… the leaves sort of turn brown and fall off, as though they just got tired and gave up. Why is that, I wondered? What’s the difference?

This article in today’s Toronto Star (“The Hues, The Hows, and The Whys”) helps explain the phenomenon, though scientists admit that there hasn’t been much research into the subject. Bavaria’s fall weather — grey skies and relatively mild temperatures — seems to be the culprit.

“ALGONQUIN PARK—First clue. On one side of the road through Algonquin Park the maples glow red. On the other, they’re on fire. The blazing side is the north, which gets more rays from a southward-creeping sun.

Second clue. Algonquin, one of the first spots in the province for the yearly transformation of fall foliage, is an elevated region often hit by the earliest cold snaps.

Third clue. Peel apart any two fallen red maple leaves that are stuck together. If one leaf shows green where it was attached, then the other shielded it from the sun.

The picture is Lake Massawipi in the Eastern Townships (“l’Estrie”) in Quebec, near the place I spent my summers as a child.

Continue reading “Missing that Blaze of Glory”

Bamboo Flowering Puts India on Famine Alert

An entire region of India is bracing itself for the next wave of flowering of an indigenous bamboo — something that happens only every 50 years. The last time it happened, in the 1950’s, the event triggered famine and thousands of deaths in the area.

Vast areas of the region are covered in the bamboo, which is produced from an underground stem. After flowering, which happens all at once, the plants die back and have to start over again from seed.

Here’s the problem:

“The flowering produces so much fruit that it causes an explosion in the rat population.

However the flowers soon die, leaving the rats without abundant food from the bamboo. At this point, they begin attacking human crops and food stores.

Apparently, removing the bamboo is not a viable solution; there’s just too much of it, and more importantly,

“Bamboo is used for almost everything over there – their housing, their products, their livelihood supplies.

“The answer is not to get bamboo out of there and replace it with something else, because it’s so culturally tied up with the lives of the people there.”

…Read the article

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Planet Dustbowl

Here are a couple of articles which, individually, are quite disturbing, but when considered as part of a greater trend, are downright alarming. Will the next generation of wars be fought over water instead of oil? I’m apprehensive about the future for our peaceful nation Canada, a country blessed with 1/3 of the planet’s freshwater — a country also known for one of the highest individual water consumption rates in the world, I might add, as well as an unseemly fondness for four-wheel drive vehicles.

Dust from Four-Wheel Drive Vehicles ‘Choking the Earth’

Dust produced by four-wheel drive vehicles in the past 50 years is threatening to choke the globe, according to research published today.
The process of what experts have dubbed “Toyotarisation” – the growing number of off-road vehicles disturbing the earth’s surface – could have severe consequences for human health, coral reefs and climate change, according to a leading desert expert.

“They destabilise the desert surface… the increase in annual dust production – with parts of North Africa seeing a 10-fold rise in the past 50 years – and the growing frequency of dust storms gave rise to a “magnitude” of environmental consequences.

Asia Faces Water Catastrophe

FARMERS are driving Asian countries towards an environmental catastrophe, using tube wells that are sucking groundwater reserves dry, it was reported today.

…water tables are falling so dramatically that within a short time, some landscapes could become arid or even be transformed into desert, it said, quoting scientists at a worldwide water conference.

In the case of India, smallholder farmers have driven 21 million tube wells into their fields and the number is increasing by a million wells per year.

“Nobody knows where the tube wells are or who owns them. There is no way anyone can control what happens to them,” Tushaar Shah, head of the International Water Management Institute’s groundwater station, based in Gujarat, said.

In China’s north plain, that country’s breadbasket, 30 cubic kilometres more water are being extracted each year by farmers than are being replaced by the rain, New Scientist said.

Groundwater is used to produce 40 per cent of the country’s grain.

The tube-well revolution, whose technology is adapted from the oil industry, has also swept water-stressed countries like Pakistan and Vietnam, where precious underground reserves are likewise being depleted, New Scientist said.

“Vietnam has quadrupled its number of tube wells in the past decade to one million, and water tables are plunging in the Pakistani state of Punjab, which produces 90 per cent of the country’s food.”

Urban agriculture out of control

At a time when urban agriculture is being advocated in North American cities as a path to sustainable living, it’s good to be reminded of the dangers of automatically applying our solutions worldwide with a broad brush dipped in Western values. We can not stand in judgement or hope to be of any assistance to others without a deep understanding and respect for the unique challenges other countries and societies face:

Zimbabwe: Urban Farming Threatens Harare Water Sources:

“Takawira Mubvami, a scientific programme co-ordinator with Municipal Development Programme (MDP) said ….urban agriculture (is) being practised ‘willy-nilly’ causing environmental degradation and pollution. ‘It
is difficult to stop because of urban poverty but as an organisation we are advocating for sustainable urban agriculture policies,’ said Mubvami.

A study by the Environmental and Development Studies (ENDA-Zimbabwe) three years ago also noted that urban agriculture posed a serious threat to the urban environment.

‘All sites (visited areas) had unacceptable levels of erosion. In addition, almost 90 percent of Harare’s farmers use chemical fertilisers and nearly a third of ‘off-plot’ cultivation takes place near streams, swamps – leading to water pollution through runoff and leaching,’ said the study.”

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a strong advocate of *sustainable* urban agriculture. It’s just good to be reminded of the importance of humility in seeking solutions to a better world.

More on urban agriculture:

RUAF: Resource Centre on Urban Agriculture and Forestry

City Farmer: Canada’s Office of Urban Agriculture

Cities Feeding People Program