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Posts Tagged ‘biodiversity’

The BioDaVersity Code

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

A great animated parody of the Da Vinci Code, which explores the web of life. For more information about the film and what you can do to take action go to

Celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity - 2010

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010


Over the next three months young people throughout New Zealand can write messages about biodiversity and attach them to a giant kākāpō.

This is a chance for New Zealand youth to let world leaders know how they feel about biodiversity and what needs to be done to protect it. All the ‘feather’ messages collected through Words on a Wing will be taken to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 10th meeting in Japan in October.

For more information go to the Department of Conservation website.

Also, UNESCO, DOC, NIWA and Forest and Bird are running a biodiversity photo competition and there is a youth category (with cash and other prizes). Visit to learn more. Entries must be received by 30 July 2010.

More info about the International Year of Biodiversity here.

Drug Money - the real cost

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

By Ian Blythe

opium-poppiesWhile taking drugs isn’t new, the incredible growth in the illegal drug trade is! Despite all the risks involved, it has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, and news seems to be spreading of the mula that can be made. It comes down to simple economics: the greater demand the higher the price. Drugs are in great demand and prices are high. But what is the real cost?

It begins with poverty
All drugs have been on a journey. That journey starts with a need and ends with a want. The crop growers or farmers at the start of the production chain are generally poor and desperate for income. They need money to feed their families and pay their bills, just like everybody else. Illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and cannabis are more profitable than legal crops such as wheat. A plot of land planted in wheat will earn a farmer $100 while the same plot planted in opium poppies could be worth $4000! Where poverty is found so are plantations for an array of drugs. For example:

  • Coca leaf, which is turned into cocaine, is cultivated in Peru and Bolivia, countries where, according to the World Bank over half the population live below the poverty line.
  • 92% of the world’s heroin derives from poppy plantations in Afghanistan, which was ranked 173rd of 178 countries in the UN’s 2004 Human Development Index.
  • 70% of the cannabis used in Europe comes from Morocco, where 14% of the population live on less than $2 a day.

Unfortunately the cultivation of drugs doesn’t stop the stop the cycle of poverty. While providing a source of income, it can be dangerous work and farmers find that because they are working in an illegal occupation they have no power and can’t fight for fair pay or better working conditions. They can easily be exploited by traffickers and gangs.

Bad for people, bad for the earth
clearedlandDrug cultivation can have a disastrous effect on individuals and communities, but it also has huge ecological implications. To grow poppies or coca leaves means that farmers need to have fertile soil, warm conditions and a private open field. So they end up cutting down or burning trees to make room. Not just a few trees though, millions of hectares of tropical forest have been cleared, just to keep up with the demand. The use of large quantities of pesticides, weed killers and fertilisers to maximise production leads to a loss in biodiversity, polluted soil and contaminated waterways. The topsoil is often left infertile by the end of the season and it can take up to three seasons to return to its original fertility. So the farmers continue to clear new areas of forest.

Who IS benefiting then?
The profit margins for the traffickers and drug dealers are HUGE. With the farmers only receiving 1% of the street value of many drugs, there is a lot of money to be made along the way. Cocaine bought in Columbia worth $1500 per kilogram could be sold on the streets of America for as much as $66,000 a kilogram. This part of the drugs journey is usually controlled by gangs or criminal cartels. Drug trafficking, estimated to account for 8% of the all global trade, has given organised crime immense power and wealth, but with this much money at stake, competition is fierce and often ends in violence.

Customer relations
The drug’s journey ends with want. With 180 million regular drug users around the world this want creates significant demand. Drug addiction is complex, but at it’s core it about a user’s physical and emotional dependence on their drug of choice. Addiction creates a secure market for suppliers and keeps the prices high. Lucrative returns and future prospects of an even higher income keep people involved in the industry

Big pond, little fish
buying-drugsEverybody involved in the chain of production and distribution is accountable for the vast effects of this industry. Society is very fast paced and everybody is looking for instant gratification - kiwis are no different. We are not a major drug producer, but Aotearoa New Zealand is home to an increasing number of users. In the last couple of years there has been a steep increase in usage of Methamphetamine, more commonly known as “P”. As “P” is problematically addictive the spread was inevitable. But P isn’t the only drug we’re using. Cannabis is the most readily accessible drug, as it is not only cheap as chips, but very easy to cultivate. Per capita Oceania (an area that includes us, Pacific Island Nations and Australia,) has the highest level of cannabis users in the world.

Five Facts about the Global Drug Trade

  1. 92% of the world’s heroin derives from poppy plantations in Afghanistan
  2. The income of those involved in growing drug crops is 1% of their drugs street value
  3. Millions of hectares of tropical forest in South America have been destroyed in the cultivation of coca (used to make cocaine)
  4. 180 million people worldwide use illegal drugs regularly
  5. Drug trafficking is estimated to account for 8% of all global trade

The circumstances may seem overwhelming, but there is a lot you can do to help!

  • First you need to get motivated, so get informed and dig a little bit deeper. Check out the Learn More section.
  • After you feel motivated you need to get empowered - get involved with some of the local organisations working in this area. The New Zealand Drug Foundation not only produces lots of resources, but they run events too. Community Action on Youth and Drugs project (CAYAD) run projects all around the country, call your local council to see what’s going on near you.
  • Next you have got to live it, talk about the REAL COST of drugs with your friends and stand firm for what you believe in.


Global Bits - The Trafficking trap
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime -The World Drug Report
New Zealand Drug Foundation

This article was originally published in Jet Magazine.

DRUGS: Nobody’s is winning the war

Tuesday, October 10th, 2006

Phoebe Borwick and Amy Donohue

opium poppiesThe trade behind cocaine (or coca, as the plant of origin is known) and heroin (which comes from opium poppies) is a global issue. An estimated four million people depend on income derived from the cultivation of illicit drug crops. In the year 2000, the global drug trade was estimated at a value of US$400 billion. It’s an issue worth more than the price of feeding the planet over the same period of time.

From the rainforests of South America to the remotest parts of Afghanistan to Pete Doherty’s honker, we trace the journey of the most profitable crops in the world.

From the dark ages…
Way back when we were still running around with leaves covering our lower regions, South Americans chewed the leaf of the coca plant. Often incorrectly considered a narcotic, cocaine is actually a stimulant and when chewed suppresses hunger, while increasing strength and energy.

Cue the Spaniards arriving in South America and branding coca a plant that the devil invented for the total destruction of the natives’. Or, that’s what one prominent Catholic artist declared.
They changed their minds a bit when they discovered it really did stimulate quite nicely thus legalising it and charging a nifty little tax for their own economic benefit. For a time, coca was even the main source of income for the Roman Catholic Church. Sneaky, sneaky!

…to today…
Ironically, the two most fatal drugs are still legal today and taxed to the hilt by governments around the world. Alcohol and tobacco kill more people than illicit drugs every year and are both widely accepted and available.

The very fact that other drugs are illegal increases the profit to be made. With criminals running the show, the prices skyrocket.

…to leafy fields…
Cocaine is an economical crop for farmers not only because of its high selling cost and ever-present demand, but its quick maturation period. Within one to two years of planting the seed, the coca plant’s leaves will be ready to harvest with a drying period of only six hours. And opium poppies have an even quicker yield.

…to environmental destruction…
More than 30 years ago, the US came up with the superhero tactic to rid the world, and especially their own country (where the demand was coming from), of the evil empire of narcotics. They called it the War on Drugs.
george bush
The most widespread method of destroying the coca plant in the 90s, and the opium poppy still today, was to manually pull up every single plant in a field. Time consuming and tiring, there must have been an easier way?

Consequently, air eradication with herbicides became rather popular. In as little as ten days after spraying, the plants are stripped bare of their leaves and within around 70 days, the plant will be completely dead. RIP, indeed. US-sponsored Plan Colombia was, to effect, an aerial fumigation of this country — the second most ecologically diverse in the world. Spraying caused poisoning and environmental damage.

Herbicides have been linked to diarrhoea, hair loss and skin rashes on children. Also, legal crops like bananas, coffee and pineapples are often destroyed along with the coca plant. Yes, we have no bananas. Not quite the lycra and rippling muscles the US had envisaged. In Afghanistan, post the US-led invasion, local and international troops are enlisted in eradicating poppy crops — as are schoolchildren in some provinces. This is dangerous work.

Imagine you’re a farmer who’s invested cash and time in a poppy field. How would you feel if you saw it being literally stamped out? Might make you want to protect your only chance of making a living. Where’s that gun that’s been lying around since the war? Further problems arise as more coca plants and poppies are eradicated. Demand for the drug remains constant (or grows) while there are fewer crops, resulting in the existing crops becoming more lucrative. More farmers then begin to grow the plant to take advantage of the price increase. What a conundrum!

…to poverty…
With secrecy comes vulnerability and international drug rings are not covered by fair trade agreements. Globalisation of the drug trade has led to even greater exploitation of the crop farmers along with cheaper and easier international trafficking. The globalisation of the drug trade forms a connection between organised crime, small arms, terrorism, human trafficking and all kinds of criminal and seedy life.

In 1999, nearly 80 per cent of opium cultivation took place in Afghanistan. Chances are, a gram of coke purchased in the US, Europe or New Zealand comes from a coca bush grown in the Andean countries. In fact, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru account for more than 98 per cent of the world supply. Already in poverty, working with poor soil and unempowered to change their circumstances — not to mention the influence of drug lords and anti-government groups — farmers often have no choice if they want to keep food on the table.

Yet, the War on Drugs is not being won. The US’ efforts to strip Latin America and Afghanistan of their coca and poppy crops are also stripping the livelihood of millions. While thrill-seekers in the west demand the drugs, and their governments react by trying to stop the supply, farmers will continue to grow the illicit crops unless they are offered a real alternative way to make a living.

….to terrorism…

Yes, that’s right. Terrorism. Stop or they’ll shoot (up). The links between terrorism, drugs and war are extensive and very real. In 2001, just weeks before two planes barrelled into the Twin Towers, the US pledged a further $1.5m to plump out the reported $140m in ‘humanitarian’ aid it sent to Afghanistan. Why?

Because western methods of enforcing drug cultivation laws proved ineffective, but groups with violent means available to them could whip out grenades and guns willy nilly, without a thought for morality. The Taliban was limiting drug production by threatening to shoot farmers of illicit crops. Thus, they were held in high American esteem until everything went to custard on September 11.

But the corruption ran deeper. After the attacks, the Taliban turned tail to force farmers to grow the poppies. They, and other anti-government organisations, act as trafficking middlemen and a defence force, making profit out of the trade and protecting drug smugglers with weaponry and vehicles.

Still wanna get high, butterfly?
So, you still down with shovelling that candy up your nose this Friday? Are you quite content to continue your involvement with one of the world’s deadliest industries? You don’t need to rent Traffic, Requiem for a Dream or Maria Full of Grace to understand the true repercussions of your habit on the developing countries of the world. And if you still don’t get it, then you must be wasted. Go blow your nose and have an OJ.


Afghanistan country profile
Colombia country profile
Drugs: an overview
Drug Policy Alliance is America’s leading organisation working to end the war on drugs.
The worldwide collective of committed scholar-activists at Transnational Institute
Illegal Drugs: Scourge or Globalization’s Great Equalizer? by Baylen J. Linnekin

This article was originally published in Tearaway magazine as part of the Global Focus project.

NZ trying to force GE on the world?

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

Cameron Walker

barley fieldNew Zealand nearly became the only country of the 132 nations who are party to the Cartagena Protocol to block an agreement on labeling GE organisms traded between nations. The Protocol is an international agreement that allows nations to decide whether to regulate the introduction and trade of genetically engineered (GE) crops or seed if they believe it will endanger traditional crops, biodiversity or indigenous farming communities.

Should we have labels for Genetically Engineered food?
At the Second Meeting of Parties to the Cartagena Protocol’ in May 2005 in Montreal, New Zealand and Brazil vetoed any decision on labeling traded GE seed and crops. Every other country at the meeting supported clearly labeling imports of crops or seeds that are known to be GE “Does Contain GMO” (genetically modified organisms). NZ and Brazil insisted on a much weaker and vague label “May Contain GMO”. At the Third Meeting of Parties to the Cartagena Protocol’ Brazil completely dropped its opposition to the proposals. Brazil’s Environment Ministry even declared that within four years they would have the proper procedures to test all exports for GE content and then label them as so. Only after rather tense pressure from other nations, and an international email protest campaign, did the New Zealand delegation change their stand on the final day of the conference.

Why do people oppose GE?
Many farmers around the world, especially in developing nations, oppose the introduction of GE crops because the technology will give multinational chemical companies, such as the USA’s Monsanto, immense power over their livelihoods. Monsanto, which produces the majority of the World’s GE crops, has strict global patent protection over its products. Farmers are strictly prohibited from saving seeds from year to year, and must pay a large license fee for use of the seeds. Furthermore, Monsanto has developed GE technologies, such as the infamous “Terminator” seed that do not reproduce, thus saving seeds is made impossible. Most of the World’s farmers (who make up half of the World’s population) rely on saving seeds from year to year in order to afford to grow food.
rice farmer
An example of transnational corporations against local farmers
In 1998 Monsanto launched court proceedings against the Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser for breaching copyright of their patented canola seed. Unbeknown to Schmeiser, GE canola seeds from a neighbouring farm had blown onto his land and contaminated his crop. Neighbouring farmers rang Monsanto’s special toll-free snitch line when they noticed Schmeiser’s canola did not wither when he sprayed it with Monsanto’s Roundup spray. The seeds were specifically engineered to be resistant to Roundup. After many years of costly legal proceedings Canada���s Supreme Court ruled in Monsanto’s favour. Monsanto’s antics managed to put a farmer from a rich nation under incredible financial strain. Imagine if this happened to a poor peasant in the developing world!

What is the environmental impact?
GE crops have also had a huge environmental impact. The introduction of herbicide resistant crops has come hand in hand with the evolution of noxious herbicide resistant weeds. This has meant farmers have been forced to use greater amounts of herbicide. A hard hitting 2004 investigation in the New Scientist revealed that in parts of rural Argentina herbicide resistant weeds were forcing farmers to use so much herbicide that toxic clouds were drifting over villages and making children terribly ill.

What’s important in NZ politics?
While members of the National Party were holding the government to task over an MP’s alleged behaviour 20 years ago, the Green Party was taking the Labour government to task over its despicable stand against Third World farmers. Green MP Nandor Tanczos said “We have been the object of international condemnation for some time for being one of the only countries to block agreement. Now to our shame we stand alone in wanting to deny developing countries the protection of a robust international standard”.

The involvement of the USA
He also believes New Zealand appears to be a “stalking-horse” for the United States, who is not party to Cartagena, in blocking consensus on the agreement. The US Government has put huge pressure on other nations to allow GE crops through intellectual property rights clauses in trade agreements. Laws pushed through by the US Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in the early stages of the occupation of Iraq even specified that Iraqi farmers have no right to save patented seeds. Monsanto and other American biotech corporations are large donors to both the Democrat and Republican Parties.
Should we be wary of Terminator Seeds?
Even though New Zealand fortunately changed its position late in the conference our government has also been trying to undermine international controls on “Terminator” seeds. When Monsanto first announced to the World they had developed this technology in the 1990’s Asian and African nations called for an immediate global ban. Not long afterwards in 2000 a de facto moratorium was put in place by nations meeting at a UN Convention on Biological Diversity Conference.

NZ support for Terminator seeds?

In February 2005 NZ and Canada caused international outrage when they attempted to overturn the moratorium. Environment Minister, Marion Hobbs said “New Zealand has no firm view on the merits of new organisms involving seed sterilisation [Terminator] technology but supports their case-by-case assessment rather than a blanket ban”. In January 2006, at a preliminary meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Spain, New Zealand and Australia repeated the idea that there should be a case by case’ assessment of Terminator technology.

NZ Parliament debate on GE issues
In Parliament Nandor Tanczos asked Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters:

Is the Minister aware that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not regard genetically engineered terminator technology as either good or bad, even though it is specifically designed to make plants sterile so that farmers cannot replant their seeds; and hence will jeopardise food security for millions of people?

Peters responded:

I am aware of what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s policy is. I am also very much aware that when such conventions or other agreements and treaties apply, and in fact exist—unlike the question’s imputation—then those matters will be decided by domestic policy, at which point I say that the Minister for the Environment and Minister of Agriculture should have been asked the question in the first place.”
yellow crop in field
Winston Peters’ avoidance of The Green MP’s questions was so bad that Act leader Rodney Hide (hardly a Green fan) raised a point of order with Parliament’s Speaker. The next day in Parliament Peters once again showed he did not take the extremely important issue of Terminator technology when fellow NZ First MP Doug Woolerton asked him if he was aware of any other substances that effect sterility. Peters answered “The answer is yes, for it is generally accepted that smoking cannabis has an impact on driving capacity, on mental capacity, on social capacity, and on the issue of sterility, which was the primary question asked yesterday. It can be a real terminator.”

Can we be proud of the NZ government’s international profile?
Some members of the Labour Party at university I’ve met claim that under the Labour led Government NZ has been a good international citizen, especially for standing up to the US by keeping out of the Iraq invasion. Unfortunately our government seems just as happy to undermine international agreements as the Bush Administration. We have a government in power that seems to not care about the majority of the World’s population.


Apple photo by Holly Greening, others from stock.xchng

Save happy valley

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Hannah Newport

view of happy valley
Ok, so we all like a nice toasty fire in the winter - “put your feet up dear, there’s a good lass”. But that’s no reason to go around killing native animals, now… is it?

Almost a decade ago now, somebody thought so. Travel, if you will, your mind to the West Coast of the South Island. Picture a remote red tussock wetland, pristine and ecologically unique. Imagine this place: an almost predator-free home to thirteen threatened species. This lovely image of nature you hold is a reality; it is Happy Valley.

However, mining company, “Solid Energy”, are not tempted by the view. Nor by the excitement of kiwi-spotting opportunities. Beneath the surface is what draws their gaze. Since 1998 Solid Energy has had their eye upon the coal that lies underneath Happy Valley, and have been taking steps to plunder this resource. As those of you who know about mining ambitions will know, the resource consent process is a long and tiresome one. Yet Solid Energy, to their credit, dear souls, has persevered.

Fear not, people said to each other; most felt confident that the sheer stupidity of the corporation’s plans would result in rejection. It soon became clear, however, that the five million tons of coal — over $950 million in value — lying beneath Happy Valley was pretty persuasive.

Happy Valley is a state owned area, but Solid Energy’s promise of funding for future conservation projects has put a stop to any objection that the Department of Conservation may or may not have made. A long and lengthy court case did not result in a good outlook for the delicate ecosystem that is Happy Valley.

Solid Energy has cleared all the legal barriers and is going full steam ahead with its plans.

But how can this be? I hear you ask. The Valley is home to thirteen endangered species. Thirteen!

Included in the long list of native species living in the Valley is the endangered carnivorous land snail Powilliphanta patrickensis, a beautiful and ancient creature. It is said to date back to Gondwanaland, making it older than the very coal it now lives above.

The Great Spotted Kiwi, one of the rarest varieties of our shy friend, faces a similar risk. Forest & Bird warn that kiwi may be extinct on the mainland in 15 years, while Solid Energy continues to threaten its sanctuary in Happy Valley. The sad fact is that the delicate wildlife balance held in Happy Valley cannot be ���restored” after mining, as Solid Energy intends.

To many across Aotearoa, it is absurd that such an important wildlife area could be forsaken. And, most infuriatingly, all for yet more climate-destroying fuel! Fuel which is not, in fact, intended for keeping us toasty in the winter. Rather, the coal under Happy Valley is destined for steel production in China and will ultimately pump into the atmosphere 12 million tons of carbon dioxide.
campaign banner
Something must be done, you may well cry! It is this very anger and outrage at Solid Energy’s plans that has led to an uprising of environmentally-minded folk across our country. The ingeniously named Save Happy Valley Coalition was established in April 2004; a combination of members of every major environmental organisation in New Zealand, including Forest & Bird, Greenpeace and even the Department of Conservation, as well as other individuals who care.

And care they do! The campaign effort has been present in almost every part of Aotearoa, including posters, postcards and demos. More recently, direct action has been taking place in Happy Valley itself, with an occupation planned to last indefinitely.
The theory behind this is that if Solid Energy really wants the coal, they’re going to have to face some very strong-minded people before they can get to it.

So despair not! And if you think it’s important to speak out against Solid Energy, join the voice that is doing just that.

More information can be found at

Visiting the Jungle

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

Mariana Gledhill from Wellington, N.Z spent 7 months, in 2005, in Peru doing voluntary work. She shares her experiences.

Hi all

I am travelling right now and I have so much to talk about but not much time to say it.

There have been a few questions recently:

When am I back in New Zealand? 14 October (I went into Miraflores today and changed the ticket all by myself. It was funny because I was speaking Spanish and all of the Lan staff were speaking English).

Have I met a gorgeous Latin spunky guy? No.

How is my Spanish? Better, but it still has room for improvement. Apparently I was dreaming in Spanish the other night, about cockroaches. But I do not remember this.

I have finally been to another zone of Peru (Peru has 3 zones, coast, mountain and jungle). The jungle was great… it’´s not rainforest. It could have been once, but I don’t know. The area I went to is used for growing coffee (really good coffee) and bananas. BananasSomeone told me that there are two varieties of banana and that bananas are going to die out because of lack of diversity. I don’t think so!!! I have encountered 6 types of bananas here. Some are huge… about as long as the length of my arm up to my elbow. Others are tiny and can fit in my hand. There are ones that are orange inside, and red ones too.

I will be going to the mountains soon…. I have not visited but I have already had altitude sickness from the trip to the jungle (it went over mountains you see!) I could not hear for half a day from it…. feo!

See you all later


Nature’s Pain

Friday, April 9th, 2004

By Callum Gay, Kate Thompson, Bella Shewan, Blaise Ramage, Courtney Richards and Paul Zoubkov

Reading the environmental facts is like being subjected to one of those infomercials that just won’t shut up. Every time you think it’s over, it starts up again with more bad news.

Did you know?

  • An area of rainforest roughly the size of a rugby field is hacked down every second.
  • Your average domesticated cat eats more protein per day than a person in Africa.
  • Ninety percent of all large fish have disappeared from the oceans in the last fifty years.
  • And — YES! — the ozone hole is larger than Russia and China combined.
  • According to international pollution standards, one fifth of the world’s population breathes air that is unsafe
  • An estimated 500,000 plant and animal species will become extinct in the coming decades
  • Every year an area of land the size of New Zealand turns into a desert due to deforestation and poor agricultural practices
  • The world’s population grows by 90 million people per year — or 240,000 each day
    Six and a half million tonnes of litter are dumped into the sea every year
  • Nearly half the world’s rivers are going dry or are badly polluted. Eighty percent of major rivers in China are so degraded that they no longer support life
  • Some 60-70 million people die of hunger each year.
  • Around 80 percent of what we produce in NZ is thrown away after one use

Don’t Give Up

The state of the environment can be pretty hard to get your head around. BUT the world isn’t completely stuffed yet. It sustains us: it gives us life. We have an obligation to future generations to do the best we can. And theres heaps we can do.

You CAN make a difference!

USE WISELY: Conserve energy, avoid using disposables, recycle materials, and try to walk and cycle instead of using the car.

SHOP WISELY: Support companies that are enviro-friendly, buy goods with the least amount of packaging and always ask yourself, Do I really need it? What makes me want to buy it?’ Make your own stuff!

RAISE AWARENESS: Talk to your mates or whanau about environmental issues. Organise an awareness-raising event or campaign — maybe a concert, public talk or demonstration.

GET POLITICAL: Pressure city council, government and your local members of parliament to make positive change. If you’re 18 you can stand in elections!

JOIN OTHERS: Volunteer with organisations like Greenpeace, or join a global network of concerned and active young people

GO FOR IT! Learn more about the issues, and realise that you can do plenty. Every little bit helps!

This article was written as part of the Global Focus a collaborative project of Tearaway Magazine and the Global Education Centre. It was first published in Tearaway magazine and is reprinted here with their permission

Illustrator: Gavin Mouldey