Best of our wild blogs: 15 Oct 11

Butterfly of the Month - October 2011
from Butterflies of Singapore

Big snail at Chek Jawa and Kandelia candel on Changi!
from wild shores of singapore

Common Redshank foraging
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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From garden city to urban farms

In a nation of food lovers, there should be room to grow food aplenty
Asit K. Biswas & Leong Ching, For The Straits Times 15 Oct 11;

HERE'S an unthinkable thought for World Food Day tomorrow - could Singapore be self-sufficient in food one day? Surely, an impossible dream - it is too small, its land too expensive, and it's far cheaper to import.

These very same stones were hurled at the issue of water in 1965. But Singapore has gone from almost totally dependent on imported water from Malaysia, to importing 40 per cent today, and by 2061, when its second water agreement with Malaysia expires, self-sufficiency.

Food, however, has never been given the same strategic position as water - gram for gram, it has a far higher value and can be imported from a diverse number of sources. Today, food comes from Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, China and the United States.

Only 738ha, or about 1 per cent, of land is set aside for farming, compared with 12 per cent for roads and 15 per cent for housing.

Cities after all are for vibrancy and dynamism, for buzz and nightlife, and more recently for gambling, high fashion, champagne and car races.

But here are good reasons for Singapore to rethink its urban landscape. For one, global cities are being redefined with urban agriculture seen as a viable, efficient and environmentally-friendly complement to farms.

In 2008, London launched a scheme to turn 2,012 plots of unused land into tiny farms to grow food by 2012. More young people and professionals are taking up farming.

In Milan, a 27-storey apartment complex is now under construction. Named Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), it is the brainchild of architect Stefano Boeri. Each apartment will have a balcony with oaks and amelanchiers to filter air, providing shade in summer; in winter, sunlight will shine through the branches. This is a new collaboration of out-of-the-box-thinking by architects, engineers, botanists and town planners.

Similarly, in Valencia, 96 apartments are being built, with 8m balconies cantilevered in the sky. Residents of Torre Huerta (Orchard Tower) will literally be able to pick oranges and lemons from the sky.

Then, too, issues of food safety and security are increasingly important. Tainted food and food viruses require vigilant checks and accreditation while extreme climatic events have led to wild fluctuations in prices.

In 2007, high food inflation prompted the Government to set aside more land for farming and to give $5 million to support agricultural entrepreneurs. Since then, however, little has been said.

We argue that urban agriculture is not only possible, it provides an alternative and equally exciting vision of Singapore. Three lessons from an impossible dream three decades ago - the water story - may help.

Overcome physical constraints

SINGAPORE was thought to be too small to hold enough water. We overcame this by pushing out into the sea - Marina Barrage is a fresh water lake reclaimed from the sea. We also used all the drains and recycled every drop used.

Land scarcity applies too in agriculture. But why not push upwards into the sky?

A good prototype for vertical farming has already been developed by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and a private company. This 'farm' is a collection of two-storey tall structures, rotating slowly, so the sun shines on each in turn. This increases the yield per metre by five times.

Aside from new technology, old-fashioned urban planning may help.

Nanyang Technological University estimates that 2,331ha of farm land would supply enough greens for Singapore. Meanwhile, the National University of Singapore has estimated that there is a rooftop area of approximately 1,000ha in HDB housing blocks. There are also green spaces in between blocks, the common areas in corridors.

Physically, we can do far better than the 7 per cent of vegetables that we are producing now.

Political champion

FOR innovative food policies to have a place at the table, a political champion is needed. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had said that every policy 'bent at the knee' for water. Food policies too need similar high-level commitment.

The current goals are modest - limited self-sufficiency in eggs, fish and leafy vegetables. The target is to increase production from 23 per cent of eggs, 4 per cent of fish and 7 per cent of leafy vegetables to 30 per cent for eggs, 15 per cent for fish and 10 per cent for leafy vegetables by 2015.

For the longer term, an ambitious target would be to have near self sufficiency in these areas.

Appreciating food

SINGAPORE imports 90 per cent of all its food. Yet each year, Singapore throws out 570 million kg of food, mainly edible food scraps - one fifth of its supply.

A frugal attitude and self control are needed - order only what we can finish, plan meals so that we do not have to throw out stale food.

These things will take time, judicious investments and enduring policy commitment. Yet, Singapore's edge lies exactly at this praxis - witness its remarkable policy successes in areas as diverse as water, public housing and industrial infrastructure.

We believe that Singapore can add urban agriculture to the list.

The first writer is a distinguished visiting professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and the second is a PhD candidate at the same school.

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As Thailand Floods Spread, Experts Blame Officials, Not Rains

Seth Mydans The New York Times 13 Oct 11;

BANGKOK — As some of Thailand’s worst flooding in half a century bears down on Bangkok — submerging cities, industrial parks and ancient temples as it comes — experts in water management are blaming human activity for turning an unusually heavy monsoon season into a disaster.

The main factors, they say, are deforestation, overbuilding in catchment areas, the damming and diversion of natural waterways, urban sprawl, and the filling-in of canals, combined with bad planning. Warnings to the authorities, they say, have been in vain.

“I have tried to inform them many times, but they tell me I am a crazy man,” said Smith Dharmasaroja, former director general of the Thai Meteorological Department, who is famous here for predicting a major tsunami years before the one that devastated coastal towns in 2004.

The monsoon season this year has brought disaster to Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as Thailand, where 283 people are reported to have died.

Thousands of people have been displaced as typhoons have battered the Philippines, and the country’s steep rice terraces of Banaue are reported to have been damaged by mudslides.

Floods have spread through Cambodia, where the city of Siem Reap is reported to be knee-deep in water, with floodwaters reaching the nearby temples of Angkor.

Thai officials are warning that, in the next few days, Bangkok could be inundated by a combination of heavy floodwaters from the north, unusually high tides and monsoon rains. People in some of the most threatened neighborhoods are building sandbag barriers around their homes and emptying shops of food, drinking water, batteries and candles.

Preparations in Bangkok have become frantic. About 45 miles of sandbags have reportedly been laid to reinforce a dike along the Chao Phraya River, which flows through the city. New flood barriers and drainage canals are being built. People are being told to stay alert.

As the water flows south from the inundated cities of Nakhon Sawan and Ayutthaya, with its submerged brick temples, the local news media have reported that 150,000 sandbags are moving south too, as soldiers truck them from one hard-hit area to the next high-risk point.

As the government rushes to protect some urban or industrial areas by diverting water from them, local officials have faced off over whose towns will be saved and whose will be sacrificed.

In Ayutthaya, two groups of villagers are reported to have battled over a dike that protected one side and condemned the other. As the unlucky residents dug at the dike to send the water toward their neighbors, a gunfight broke out, wounding one of the villagers. In some places, according to news reports, troops have been deployed to protect the dikes.

Among those stranded by floodwaters were 15 elephants, which climbed to the top of a wall a week ago to escape fast-rising water in Ayutthaya. They include seven mothers and their babies and a nine-year-old elephant known internationally for his painting skills with his trunk, said Ewa Narkiewicz, communications director for a group called Elephantstay, a nonprofit agency that cares for retired elephants.

“If proper help does not come soon, the mothers and babies are in grave danger,” Ms. Narkiewicz said. Each animal consumes up to 440 pounds of food a day, but the boats that could be used to ferry bananas, pineapples and sugar cane to them are busy rescuing stranded residents, she said.

Mr. Smith, the meteorologist, said the flooding situation this year had been aggravated by bad water management.

“They miscalculated the water levels and did not discharge water from the dams early enough in the rainy season,” he said. “The dams are almost full now, so they discharge the water at the same time, and all the discharge water comes down to the low-lying areas.”

Those areas become obstacles to the free flow of water, he said, as developers continue to extend their activities.

“They build their estates in low-lying areas that are supposed to be reservoirs,” he said, “and they throw up a dam or a dike, and they block the flow where the water is supposed to go in rainy season.”

Once the floodwaters reach Bangkok, they will pour into a city that has lost its natural defenses: a huge network of canals that have been filled in — or clogged with garbage — as the city has become an overcrowded behemoth.

“Our city plan is inefficient,” Capt. Somsak Khaosuwan, director of the National Disaster Warning Center, said by telephone.

“The weather hasn’t changed that much,” he said. “We always have more water in the rainy season. But if we don’t have integrated water management, we will face this problem again next year.”

Man and nature are increasingly estranged, he said, and their coexistence is becoming a battle. “This is the sign that we should preserve the forest,” he said. “We’ve hurt nature for a long time, and right now it seems that nature wants to pay us back.”

Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.

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Indonesia: Fifteen Indonesian lakes in critical condition

Antara 14 Oct 11;

Semarang, C Java (ANTARA News) - Environment Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta said there was a total of 15 lakes in different parts of Indonesia that were now in critical condition and urgently needed to be rehabilitated.

"The lakes are located in various parts of the country such as Lake Rawa Pening in Central Java and Lake Toba in North Sumatra," the minister said after opening the second National Conference on Indonesian Lakes (KNDI) here on Friday.

He said that the efforts to restore the lakes critical conditions would be made in the short and long terms schemes.

In the short term, the lakes for example would be cleaned from water hyacinth plants because the trash from hyacinth was big so far and affect the water supply of lakes.

He said that the handling of Central Java`s Lake Rawa Pening whose condition was very critical would be prioritized and be done immediately, of course with the assistance of the local government.

The minister on the occasion also appreciated the Batam authorities` step to increase the number of its dams from the previous five reservoirs to seven dams. Thus, the need for water of the local people would be met until 2013.

"Now Batam has added two dams to its reservoirs so that it now has seven dams. I appreciate the step and hope that other regions will follow suit," the minister said.(*)

Editor: Heru

Lake Jatiluhur fishes die of oxygen shortage : official
Antara 15 Oct 11;

Jatiluhur, W Java (ANTARA News) - The mass fish deaths in Lake Jatiluhur, Purwakarta district, West Java, over the past several days was due to shortage of oxygen, a fishery official said.

"The death of the fishes was due to oxygen shortage following the drop of the water level of the reservoir," Komaran, head of fishery and animal husbandry service of the Purwakarta, said here on Friday.

The fish deaths occurred in a number of sections of the lake such as in Blok Cibinong, Kaleosan and Pasirjangkung. "Golden fishes which were ready to be harvested died in the shallow sections of the Lake due to drought," he said.

"The fishes are sick in the first place and then they die due to lack of oxygen," Danu, a fish breeder, said.

He said his fishes were safe because the location of his fish breeding activity was located in the relatively deep section.

Komaran said the mass fish deaths occurred in several parts of the Lake whose depth was not enough for fish, due to depreciation of the water volume of the lake.

He said that fishermen were accustomed to tfish deaths and they knew how to prevent then.

Reverse currents in Lake Jatiluhur often caused the death of thousands of tons of fish which happened at the peak of the rainy season at the end of the beginning of the year. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

Over 21 pct of RI`s population still without clean water
Antara 13 Oct 11;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Some 60 million people or 21.16 percent of Indonesia`s 230 million population still have no access to clean water, Deputy National Development Planning Minister Lukita Dinarsyah Tuwo said here on Thursday.

These people`s clean water needs must be met in order to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) target in the clean water and sanitation sectors by 2015, he said.

"This means clean water infrastructure development should be accelerated," Tuwo said at a national conference on drinking water and sanitation affairs or KSAN here.

KSAN data showed that until the end of 2009 the national coverage of drinking water sources was only 47.71 percent, while the feasible basic sanitation facilities only reached 51.19 percent.

"This is of course very alarming considering that the MDGs target in the water supply and sanitation sectors is to reduce by 50 percent the number of the population who have no access to drinking water sources and basic sanitation by 2015," he added.

Editor: Priyambodo RH

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Indonesia: Sumatran tiger attacks Bengkulu villager

Antara 15 Oct 11;

Bengkulu (ANTARA News) - A Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) attacked and injured Iwal (40), a resident of Pino Baru, Cawang village, Lubuk Sandi sub district, Seluma District, Bengkulu Province, on Wednesday (Oct 12) at 4 am local time.

Iwal was injured in his leg and thigh but he managed to free himself from the animal`s claws and run to safety, Sukirman, Iwal`s neighbor, said here on Friday.

He was attacked by the tiger when he was working in his coffee garden located inside the Bukit Sanggul protected forest area.

Sukirman said Iwal had managed to reach a nearby hut after being attacked by the wild animal.

At around 7 am, Sukirman arrived at the location and helped take him to M Yunus Bengkulu Regional Public Hospital.

Around three weeks ago, at the same location, a young man working as a coffee planter, was killed by a tiger.

The local Natural Resource Conservation Agency (BKSDA) is now dealing with the wild animal attack case.

At least 10 man-versus-tiger conflicts occurred in Bengkulu province in 2011 causing the death of one person and one tiger, a local nature conservation official said.

"We have recorded 10 conflicts between humans and tigers that happened in areas between villages and forests," Amon Zamora, the head of the Bengkulu Nature Conservation Agency (BKSDA) said in Bengkulu last September.

The conflicts had occurred among other things in the border area between Air Ipuh forest and Malin Deman sub district, Muko Muko District, he said.

The tiger population in the wild in Sumatra is believed to have dwindled to only 400 heads due to illegal logging in industrial forest areas, a Greenpeace activist said.

"We from Greenpeace urges all industrial forest companies, especially those operating in Riau Province, to stop their illegal logging activity for the sake of our grand children in the future," Rusmadya, a Greenpeace forest campaign coordinator , said recently.

Because their habitats have been destroyed, the wild animals often enter villages and come into conflict with villagers, he said. (*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

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Australia: Private hands shape the future for species

Tom Arup The Age 15 Oct 11;

It's been three years since Peter and Emma Ashton packed up their lives and headed to the outback to work on the frontline of conservation.

The Ashtons manage the 63,000-hectare Boolcoomatta Reserve in South Australia for owners Bush Heritage. They are helping to rid the former sheep station of feral species such as foxes and rabbits, removing old fencing and maintaining the historic buildings, some built in the 1870s.

With the property located 100 kilometres west of Broken Hill, their two young children are home-schooled most of the week. Recently, they have been caring for a young red kangaroo, ''Priscilla'', who they found struggling without a mother on the property.

Peter Ashton, a ranger for Parks Victoria for 13 years, says they were looking for a challenge and a unique experience, and had a window to seek it before the kids got too old.

''When we first got out here, we sort of thought, 'What are we doing?' But now, its pretty natural,'' he says, driving through the expansive arid scrubland environment.

Tomorrow the Ashtons and Boolcoomatta will host Bush Heritage's 20th birthday party. Heritage's aim is to raise money through donations, buy properties and manage them as private environmental reserves.

For the anniversary, Heritage science and monitoring manager Dr Jim Radford has prepared a report on the environmental gains made across the group's properties, including increased protection for 73 threatened animal and 92 threatened plant species.

The report also outlines major gains made at Boolcoomatta - where The Saturday Age travelled this week with help from Bush Heritage - after Heritage bought the property in 2006. Cleared of sheep grazing after 150 years, scrubland bird numbers are rebounding, including white-winged fairy-wrens (up 235 per cent), rufous field wrens (up 395 per cent) and redthroats (up 655 per cent). In March, Peter Ashton was the first person to see a yellow-footed rock wallaby on the property since 1924.

Heritage had modest beginnings. In 1990, Greens leader Bob Brown used $49,000 he won with the Goldman environmental award on a down payment for a property slated for woodchipping in the Liffey Valley in Tasmania. Heritage was formed a year later around the resulting campaign to find the other $200,000 to buy the property outright.

Ten years later, Heritage remained a small operation - led by chief executive Doug Humann, who joined in 1997 - whose yearly turnover was well under $500,000 and just 3000 hectares in reserves.

On a cold winter evening in 1999, Humann flew from Hobart to Melbourne to meet a woman who was thinking of helping Heritage. Humann met her at a cafe on Smith Street and she told him she was going to write a cheque but wanted the gift to remain anonymous. The cheque was made out for $1.3 million.

Heritage used some of the donation to buy the 60,000-hectare Carnarvon Station in central Queensland in 2001, with the help of a Commonwealth grant. Humann says Carnarvon brought Heritage prominence to attract other donors and buy more properties.

Since then Heritage has expanded dramatically and owns almost a million hectares over 33 reserves. It is now aiming to protect 1 per cent of Australia by 2025.

The growing number of private conservation reserves held by a number of groups such as Heritage and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy have now become a significant plank in efforts to halt Australia's disturbing decline in biodiversity and high species extinctions. From a low base a decade ago, private reserves -such as those owned by Heritage - have grown to 3 per cent of the reserve system. New opportunities are also opening up via the ability to generate carbon credits through the land management.

Heritage's 20th year will also be Humann's last at the helm. After 14 years, he says it is time for a personal change.

Back at Boolcoomatta, Emma Ashton says the family will think about leaving in a year or two.

''There are no weekends out here'' she says, ''that's what I'll miss … the days just kind of roll into each other.''

Peter Ashton agrees.

''I'll miss the freedom of it all,'' he says.

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Leading NGOs lobby for guidelines to protect 'land grab' victims

Organisations petition FAO's committee on world food security for new rules to protect communities affected by land grabs
John Vidal 14 Oct 11;

Victims of "land grabbing" have joined 800 of the world's leading environment and development groups to press the UN to establish strong guidelines to protect communities affected by large-scale land investments.

Countries meeting at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome this week are due to adopt a voluntary code on 17 October in response to growing alarm about the scale of international investments being made in poor countries, and the alleged human rights abuses that have followed.

La Via Campesina, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth International and more than 800 other organisations presented a petition against land grabbing to the chair of the FAO's committee on world food security.

"Mounting evidence shows that land grabbing violates human rights and is placing the survival of billions in peril, while corporations and private interests reap the benefits. We urgently need governments to oppose land grabs. They must instead enforce binding human rights instruments and take responsibility for their companies' actions abroad," said Friends of the Earth International's food sovereignty co-ordinator, Kirtana Chandrasekaran. "Ensuring communities access to land and investing in local small-scale food producers is essential to feed the world sustainably in the future."

The EU is leading calls for human rights to be emphasised in the guidelines, but observers said the US was resisting attempts to place too many conditions on large-scale acquisitions.

Faliry Boly, secretary general of Sexagon, a peasant organisation in Mali, said: "Agribusiness projects such as the ones comprising thousands of hectares do great harm and are profoundly illegitimate. We call on parliaments and national governments to immediately cease all massive land grabs current or future and return the plundered land."

The meetings to establish voluntary guidelines take place as a new United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) analysis paper shows that British companies are the third largest investors after China and Saudi Arabia buying, or leasing, more than 1m hectares of land in Ethiopia, Angola, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, Ukraine and Sierra Leone. China has acquired 6.5m hectares, and Saudi Arabia 5.5m.

The paper, from the Unep's global environmental alert service, attributes the rush for land partly to a lack of water in some countries. "The desire to capture water resources to irrigate farmlands has motivated the rush for land," it says. "Middle Eastern states are among the biggest land investors in Africa, driven not by a lack of land, but a lack of water. Between 2004 and 2009 Saudi Arabia leased 376,000 hectares of land in Sudan to grow wheat and rice following declining underground domestic water. China and India have leased thousands of hectares of farmland in Ethiopia; both countries have well-developed irrigation systems but, in the case of China, for example, moving water from the water-rich south to northern China is likely to cost more than leasing land in Africa."

The paper also outlines the potential ecological consequences of large-scale farming and growing biofuel crops. "Monoculture has been widely accepted as the most efficient type of large-scale agriculture," it says. "High yields may result, at least for a time, but growing one crop, such as biofuels, over a large area for several years has a number of negative environmental impacts. Studies in Malaysia and Indonesia have shown that 80%-100% of fauna species in tropical rainforests cannot survive in oil-palm monocultures due to increased pressures from various crop diseases and pests, often requiring large-scale use of chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. In addition, increased fertiliser use to safeguard crop yield may increase pollutant levels in downstream waters and nitrous oxide emissions.

"Semi-mechanised sorghum and sesame production in Sudan illustrates the risks of large-scale farming and holds lessons for current investors. In an agro-ecological environment comparable to Australia, where yields are four tonnes per hectare, sorghum yields are only 0.5 tonnes per hectare and have been stagnant or declining."

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Greenpeace slams Indonesia after deportation

(AFP) Google News 14 Oct 11;

JAKARTA — Greenpeace on Friday accused Indonesia of waging a vendetta against the environmental group, after the head of its British branch was denied entry to Jakarta to campaign against deforestation.

Greenpeace UK director John Sauven was blocked by immigration officials on arrival at Jakarta international airport Thursday evening and was sent back that night to Britain.

"Parts of the government want to attack Greenpeace," the environmental group's Indonesia forestry campaigner Bustar Maitar told AFP. "It's obvious that some government officials are involved," he added.

In recent years, Greenpeace has run several campaigns against Indonesia-based Sinar Mas, a privately owned paper and palm oil giant which environmental groups accuse of illegally logging swathes of carbon-rich and biodiverse forests.

Greenpeace campaigns have seen the likes of Unilever, Kraft, Burger King and Barbie maker Mattel cut supply chains from Sinar Mas companies, including Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world's largest paper makers.

"Immigration never gave us any official notification that Sauven's visa had been rejected. We are still trying to find out why he was deported," Maitar said.

The Human Rights and Justice Ministry did not respond immediately to AFP requests for comment. But a spokesman told the Financial Times that Sauven was deported for portraying Indonesia "in a negative light through bad campaigns".

Several Greenpeace activists and journalists were deported in 2009 as the environmental group campaigned on Sumatra's Kampar Peninsula, where private paper company APRIL has allegedly been destroying carbon-rich peatland.

Greenpeace's campaign ship the Rainbow Warrior was denied entry into Indonesia in 2010.

Greenpeace says its campaigns support President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's pledge to cut Indonesia's carbon emissions by up to 41 percent by 2020, largely through reducing deforestation.

Deforestation in Indonesia is among the fastest in the world and accounts for up to 80 percent of the country's carbon emissions, according to Indonesia's National Council on Climate Change.

Greenpeace accuses Indonesia after director refused entry
Reuters 14 Oct 11;

JAKARTA Oct 14 (Reuters) - Indonesia is trying to undermine Greenpeace's work in halting deforestation in the archipelago of 17,000 islands, the environmental group said on Friday, a day after its head was blocked from entering the country.

Over the past few weeks, Greenpeace, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last month, said there had been accusations about the legal status of its Indonesia office and the source of its funding and small demonstrations outside its Jakarta office.

Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven was blocked from entering the country on Thursday, despite having a business visa, Greenpeace said.

"Over the past few months, there have been a number of attempts to undermine our work in Indonesia to halt the country's spiralling deforestation rates," it said in a statement on its website.

"It has been challenging for Greenpeace staff and volunteers there to say the least."

Sauven had planned to discuss plans with the campaign team in Jakarta, visit deforested areas in Sumatra province and take part in discussions with officials and Indonesian companies.

The Indonesian immigration office was unavailable for comment.

Indonesia is seen as a key player in the fight against climate change and is under intense international pressure to curb its rapid deforestation rate and destruction of carbon-rich peatlands.

A year ago, Greenpeace accused palm oil giant Sinar Mas Agro Resources and Technology (SMART) of clearing peat land and forests that sheltered endangered species.

The palm oil producer said in February it would work with the government and a non-profit body to improve its forest conservation policies.

In June this year, Greenpeace attacked toy manufacturers which it accused of using packaging produced by Indonesian paper firm Asia Pulp and Paper, which it accused of destroying rainforests. (Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Greenpeace Rainbow sails again

Richard Black BBC News 14 Oct 11;

If only ships could tell stories...

Whose would you like to listen to first? HMS Victory? Titanic? The Beagle? A chorus from the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria?

If you wanted something a little more contemporary, you could do worse than listen to the Rainbow Warrior, the flagship of the Greenpeace fleet since 1978.

Its story would be a tour d'horizon around some of the toughest battles since environmentalism was invented: against whaling and nuclear testing, in support of the conservation of Antarctica, against coal burning, in relief of tsunami and nuclear test victims, in support of marine reserves, and - most recently - against deforestation and the rampant exploitation of bluefin tuna.

The Rainbow Warrior could be your guide for the environmental age.

In cocking an ear, though, you'd have to deal with three voices of varying vintages.

The original ship, a converted British trawler, came to the most violent of ends in 1985 when it was blown up by French special forces in New Zealand, in an attempt to scuttle the Greenpeace campaign against French H-bomb tests in its Pacific colonies.

As Greenpeace put it at the time, the ship was sunk but not the rainbow... and so the second Rainbow Warrior came into service.

Now it's being retired, and the third vessel in the series has just left port in Germany.
Green rainbow

Rainbow Warrior 3 is bigger, faster, greener and in better communication with the outside world than either of its predecessors.

It should be able to go most places under sail, for example. It's equipped with "black" and "grey" water systems to minimise fresh water requirements, and features a helicopter landing deck for the first time.

The question facing Greenpeace, though, as it celebrates the launch, is how the vessel should best be deployed in support of various environmental goals.

The biggest issue of all for the organisation is climate change.

But how do you use a ship to unblock a political process that appears to be winding itself into a tighter and more convoluted ball every time it convenes?

Combating whaling was a cinch by comparison.

Only a few countries did it by the time Greenpeace entered the battle, and each had only a few vessels.

So frustrating them at sea was a relatively simple thing to do; and in the earliest days, the footage filmed during the fray was spectacular and novel enough to make a huge contribution to the organisation's cause.

Atomic bomb testing, as well, was the domain of just a few nations.

And sailing close to the mushroom clouds, evacuating islanders who'd felt the ash rain down from a colonial power half a world away, was again a sure-fire way to win in the court of public opinion - even if the French government had not guaranteed itself a defeat by its cack-handed resort to force in Auckland.

The modern tuna campaign carries echoes of the old whaling years, though the emotions it raises in public hearts may not be as fierce.

But climate change? It's a truly tough one.
River of fire

Some while back, I was talking about priorities for environmental groups with someone who was in virtually at the beginning of it all.

The thing is, she said, that the easy victories have all been won.

When you had chemical pesticides turning spring silent, when you had rivers catching fire because of all the pollutants in them, when you had pictures of whales covered in blood dripping from their half-exploded heads - how could you not, eventually, win?

But persuading people to increase energy efficiency, drive a bit less, curb flying, swap their economies to alternative fuels - in a context that involves every single country in some way or other - well, that's tough.

One place the Rainbow Warrior 3 might be going soon, I guess, is Indonesia.

If it were feasible, Greenpeace might want to sail it up to the door of President Yudhoyono and ask why the organisation's UK director, John Sauven, was refused entry to Indonesia and deported earlier this week - despite having a valid visa.

Mr Sauven's trip was connected to highlighting deforestation in Sumatra. Mr Yudhoyono said last month he would dedicate the final three years of his presidency to fighting deforestation.

You might have thought their stars were aligned.

The on-going loss of tropical forests, and the implications that has for climate change, biodiversity, rural livelihoods and water supplies illustrates the reason why environmental groups are still very much needed, despite the successes of the past.

One wonders, though, what tales Rainbow Warrior 3 will have to tell at the end of its working life - and how much of a dent it'll manage to make on the less tractable issues that head today's agenda.

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