Are my friends dying?February 7, 2011
This winter seems to be characterized by radical temperature swings and unusual weather patterns. Three weeks ago there were spring like conditions and all the snow melted in just two days. That was followed by one week of heavy snow and blizzards and now we have warm weather again and all the snow is melting again.
In the evening I made my obligatory daily walk with the cats. Princess Min Ki and Cindy walked with me, Rosy followed us in some distance.
As I wrote in other blog posts before, my home is on the edge of a forest with only a small road between the garden fence and the trees. The road is not much frequented, it often takes hours before another car or tractor is passing by. With that little traffic the danger that my cats get killed by a car is fortunately very slim, one could say even miniscule. Most people know, that this is cat land and they slow down their cars as they pass the house. I have even seen, that people stopped the car to let the cats cross safely.
The cats cross the road quite often, because they spend much of their time in the wood. They prefer the wood to any other areas who could be suitable play and hunting grounds. There is a field on one side of the house and when we moved to this place the cats first went into the field because they were used to fields. The house where we lived before was surrounded by meadows and fields, the nearest forest was some two kilometers away. There were also some twenty fruit trees around our former home, but that didn’t constitute a forest.
So the cats first inspected the field but after only a few days they decided that the forest was a much more interesting place and they abandoned the field completely. I am sorry for the farmer, but I understand the cats and I’m also glad that they don’t go into the field anymore because with all the pesticides and fertilizers used in modern agriculture the fields are heavily contaminated with toxic chemicals and the mice of course are contaminated as well (and the corn of course is contaminated as well but that is another story altogether).
I’m glad that the cats eat now the “organic mice” from the forest and it appears that the changed diet is indeed very beneficial for their health.
As I just wrote, the house where we lived before was surrounded by meadows and fields, the nearest forest was some two kilometers away. Sometimes, when I made an extended walk with the cats, we reached this forest and they were intrigued and excited and sniffed around and looked under every bush. Princess Min Ki occasionally climbed up a tree and made herself comfortable high up in the crown and after waiting for some minutes I had to leave and go back without her because the other cats were getting inpatient and demanded to go home. (Appealing to a cat to come down from a tree is completely hopeless unless one has enough time and patience to negotiate.)
Princess Min Ki is an intelligent cat, but her geographical orientation is lacking: she easily could get lost in an unfamiliar place. Min Ki grew up on a farm and stood there for the first two years of her life and she didn’t visit any other place, that is probably the reason for this particular shortcoming. When she moved to us and started to participate in the walks her main talents and interests were already established, her “formative years” were over.
Our brain has an astounding high plasticity and can change and be reconfigured through all our life, but the main structures are build in the early years, the formative years of our life. Building new structures and developing new talents is possible at any age though it becomes increasingly challenging and laborious the older we get.
All my experience shows me that the same rule applies to the cat brain.
The first time, when I had to leave Min Ki in the forest, I brought the other cats home and then immediately rushed back and went to the exact spot where she had climbed up the tree. I called her and I didn’t have to wait long before she showed up, meowing and rubbing around my legs. I was very relieved and told her how glad I was that we had found each other again and Min Ki told me “meow, meow” and after that we went home together.
This happened several times and when I realized, that Princess Min Ki always stayed in the same spot I sometimes left her over night there and only fetched her the next morning. These nights in the wood were for sure also contributing to her decision to make the adjacent forest her main territory as we settled in our new home. She had already some “forest experience” and she could introduce and advice the other cats and especially her “step daughters” Cindy and Wendy to the new environment.
Looking back the last years and taking stock it becomes very clear, that the most significant development in my life were the regular walks with the cats. It started in 2005 when I walked around the house in the evening to check, if everything was okay. The house where we then lived was an old and remote farmhouse, the only neighbor was another farm some 50 meters away. It made sense to go around the building at the end of the day to make sure that the barn doors were closed and no tools or chairs or other things were left outside.
The cats in the evening usually had gathered around a big old nut tree and when they saw me walking around the house they followed me. We had four cats then, Harry, Lizzy, Rosy and Paul (unfortunately Rosy is the only cat that is with us still, Harry and Lizzy died and Paul didn’t want to come with us when we moved). I always had a close relation with the cats and I spent a lot of time with them, especially with Lizzy, who was disabled (she had her left leg amputated). I told about Lizzy in the blog post When Lizzy died and I will write more about her in forthcoming posts.
First I was quit baffled when the four cats followed me all around the house. But as this became their routine also on the following days I tried to find out how far this could go and I increased the circle and walked around the fruit trees and subsequently a short way into the meadows. The cats still followed me. They also started to follow me when I made a short walk across the meadows in daytime and in the next weeks the walks became longer and longer.
I mentioned the cat walks already in the post Walking with the cats and I will write more and reveal further details in the future. Writing about cats though was not my original plan when I started with this text. First and foremost I wanted to write about forests.
The trees are my friends
When I lived in Vienna I began very early to explore the Viennese Woods, which are surrounding the western outskirts of the city like a crescent. Vienna is situated on the western edge of a basin and the Viennese Woods are situated on gentle slopes that are a branch of the foothills of the Alps. The area covers some 1,350 km2 and is accessible by a network of marked walking and hiking paths.
I think I was 16 years old, when I made my first daylong walk in the woods. Car traffic was not heavy in this days and had not reached the devastating proportions that most city dwellers today have to accept as a fact of life. There were not much cars around, the air was not thick with exhaust fumes and the streets were save to cross. I nevertheless hated the place, for me it was a desert of asphalt and concrete.
So I started early in the morning, boarding the tram and traveling to the terminal on the northern outskirts of Vienna. From there I walked in the woods around the town till I arrived at a tram stop on the southern outskirts. I was always exhausted and stiff from the daylong walk and glad when the tram finally arrived — and even more glad when I was able to sit down on a free seat.
The days in the Viennese Woods became indispensable for me, they were my escape from the dreadful realities of life. The walks in the woods were my church service, with the tree canopy being the church and the twiddling of the birds being the sermon. I met other wanderers on my walks but often I was walking alone for hours and sometimes I just stopped and stood still and I listened to the whispering of the leaves and the soft and strange sounds of the animals that inhabited the forest.
The Viennese Woods are legally protected and in 2005 they were designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. This is a designation for areas with a special cultural and natural landscape. Vienna with its two million inhabitants is now partially situated in a Biosphere Reserve and that is indeed something special and unique anywhere in the world. The woods include 15 nature reserves and 4 nature parks and according to recent studies the area offers living space for 2,000 plant species and 150 species of breeding birds, including some endangered animals.
Sometimes some people make something right but unfortunately that happens not too often. Most of the forests on this planet are not protected, they may be a habitat for even more species than the Viennese Woods, but they are nevertheless cut down and destroyed at an alarming rate.
When I started making music I chose the artist name “Mato”, because Mato is the portuguese word for jungle and Mato Grosso is a state of Brazil which is covered by the Amazon forest and the Pantanal, a biologically-rich wetland.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most bio diverse regions on earth. It is home to 10 percent of the world’s mammals and 16 percent of the world’s known land-based plant species. The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, it encompassing areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia as well as the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru.The Amazon Basin contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.
The Amazon forest has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet”, because it provides the essential service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. The jungle is soaking up more than one-quarter of the world’s atmospheric carbon and is producing more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen.
In November the Mato Grosso state assembly passed a bill that substantially reduces protections for the rainforest and the Pantanal. The bill, which was approved by nineteen votes to one, aims to replace the current ecological zoning system after three years of consultations with a wide range of (mainly corporate) stakeholders. The bill reduces areas set aside for conservation by 73 percent and calls for a 67 percent (16 million hectare) increase of areas zoned for agriculture intensification. The bill reduces the legal forest reserve (the proportion of land ranchers and farmers in the Amazon must maintain as forest) from 80 percent to 50 percent and allows the planting of sugar cane in parts of the Pantanal and Amazon, where it is currently prohibited.
More than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects live in the tropical rainforests. One hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants and at least 3000 fruits are found there. (The western consumer uses only 200 of these fruits, compared to the indigenous people, who are using over 2,000.)
At least 80 percent of the developed world’s diet originated in the tropical rainforests, including fruits like avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bananas, guavas, pineapples, mangos and tomatoes; vegetables including corn, potatoes, rice, winter squash and yams; spices like black pepper, cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugar cane, tumeric, coffee and vanilla and nuts including Brazil nuts and cashews.
The biodiversity of the rainforests is severely threatened because the forests have been subjected to heavy logging and agricultural clearance throughout the 20th century. Rainforests once covered 14 percent of the earth’s land surface; now they cover not more than 6 percent and experts project that the last remaining areas could be consumed in less than 40 years.
Most rainforests are cleared by chainsaws, bulldozers and fires (an estimated number of 2,700 million acres are burned each year), the destroyed area is then used for farming and ranching operations, attracting corporate giants like Mitsubishi Corporation, Georgia Pacific, Texaco and Unocal.
As the area covered by forests around the world is shrinking, large numbers of species lose their habitat and are driven to extinction. The destruction of virgin rainforests causes between 200 and 600 species extinctions per day.
There are various attempts to save the rainforests but according to a recent published study, climate change will wreck any of these efforts. The research, undertaken by some of Britain’s leading experts on climate change, shows that even a complete stop of deforestation and carbon emissions would fail to save the Amazon jungle, the destruction of which has become a powerful symbol of human impact on the planet. Up to 85 percent of the forest could be lost if spiraling greenhouse gas emissions are not brought under control. Even under the most optimistic climate change scenarios, the destruction of large parts of the forest is irreversible.
Global warming/climate change will not only effect the jungles but forests of all kind all over the world.
Trees in the western United States are dying twice as quickly as they did three decades ago. Ecologists found that a wide range of tree species were dying including pines, firs and hemlocks and the trees were dying in all altitudes. The changes will have serious long-term effects including reducing biodiversity and turning forests into a source of carbon dioxide as they die and decompose. That could lead to a runaway effect, speeding up climate change.
So the worlds wise leaders are taking action and are discussing schemes like Carbon Trading and REDD (Reduced Emissions From Deforestation). These schemes propose longterm goals rather than instant action, it is talked about reducing deforestation rates by half until 2050. Instant action is avoided because it could hurt economic recovery (the term “economic recovery” is widely used to camouflage the real goal of increasing corporate profits).
The World Bank is spear-heading the set-up of a 250 million US$ “avoided deforestation” pilot project to pay governments for not turning forests into plantations. There is also a bigger plan for a mega-fund called the Global Forest Alliance, a partnership between the World Bank, logging and plantation companies, science institutes, business donors and large conservation NGO’s such as WWF, Nature Conservancy Council and Conservation International.
Such proposals deal with symptoms rather then with the fundamental problem that we emit 50 percent more emissions than are absorbed by carbon sinks and with the undeniable fact that some ecosystems are on the verge of collapse.
It seems inevitable, that the finance industry and global corporations will hijack these schemes and make a lot of money without any positive environmental impact. Goldman Sachs and other investment banks have already set their eyes on Carbon Credits. It is very telling that Blythe Masters from JP Morgan, who developed the credit default swap scam is also behind the creation of carbon capture programs. Leave it to Wall Street to find a way to extract a profit from pollution!
Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) is chaotic and the theft of carbon credits in Austria and the Czech Republic has forced a shutdown of the scheme in January. Stealing carbon credits will be for sure the next big win for banks and other organized crime syndicates.
The legitimacy of the 100 billion US$ carbon-trading market has been called into question after the world’s largest auditor of clean-energy projects was suspended by United Nations inspectors. SGS UK had its accreditation suspended after it was unable to prove that its staff had properly vetted projects that were then approved for the carbon-trading scheme, or even that they were qualified to do so.
When our leaders are thugs and wimps, and in the pockets of big business, what can we do?
Planting trees and else…
The “Billion Tree Campaign” is a worldwide tree planting initiative facilitated by the UN Environment Program. The campaign strongly encourages the planting of indigenous trees and trees that are appropriate to the local environment. By the end of 2009, more than 7.4 billion trees had been planted by participants in 170 countries.
Kenyan environmentalist and politician Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 has spearheaded the Green Belt Movement, which aims to provide financial support for women in rural areas. She was arrested a numbers times for organizing projects to plant trees. Her tree planting projects are copied by activists in many other countries.
There are hundreds private or public initiatives around the world (MillionTreesNYC, “Tree the Town” in Texas, Chicago Tree Initiative, Marylanders Plant Trees, W1W Tree Planting Initiative, Plant-a-Tree by Wild Asia, Tree People), to name just a few.
Beware of corporations who use these projects for whitewashing: BMW has launched a Green Tree Program in Beijing in conjunction with China Green Foundation and will be planting trees in the Banan District in Chongqing in west China. I would only consider this as sincere if BMW would stop selling BMW and Mini cars and instead start to produce bicycles and rickschas. TopTree of CFH and Palm Utilities are other examples of corporate goodwill gestures.
All these public, private or corporate sponsored initiatives will not be able to restore the lost forests and avoid a catastrophic ecological breakdown.
To make up for the loss of trees over the past decade, 130 million hectares (or 1.3 million square kilometers), an area as large as Peru, would have to be reforested. Accomplishing that would mean planting about 14 billion trees every year for 10 years in a row, the equivalent of every person on Earth planting and caring for at least two seedlings annually.
Achim Steiner, one of the organizers of the UN campaign, acknowledged this:
“The Billion Tree Campaign is but an acorn, but it can also be practically and symbolically a significant expression of our common determination to make a difference in developing and developed countries alike. We have only a short time to avert serious climate change. We need action.
We need to plant trees alongside other concrete community-minded actions and in doing so send a signal to the corridors of political power across the globe that the watching and waiting is over — that countering climate change can take root via one billion small but significant acts in our gardens, parks, countryside and rural areas”.
Steiner also suggested various other actions people can take to mitigate climate change including driving less, switching off lights in empty rooms, and turning off electrical appliances rather than leaving them on standby.
My personal additions to these proposals are written down in my blog post The most creative solution
One last suggestion: Don’t lose hope!