Ghost Forest brings attention to rainforest threat

A Ghost Forest is stalking Europe.

Giant trees from Ghana have appeared in Copenhagen, Trafalgar Square in London, and now Oxford. It’s called the Ghost Forest Art Project, and it’s an innovative way to bring the plight of the world’s rainforests to public attention.

Artist Angela Palmer wanted to share her concern with the public about tropical rainforests, which are disappearing fast. An area the size of a football pitch vanishes every four seconds, and most are never replaced. Not only does this reduce biodiversity and nature’s way of absorbing atmospheric carbon, but it leads to soil erosion and long-term economic problems. Since Europe is a major consumer of rainforest wood, and there are no rainforests in Europe, Palmer decided to bring the rainforest to Europe.

She hauled a collection of stumps from the commercially logged Suhuma forest in western Ghana all the way to Europe. Ghana lost 90 percent of its forest due to overlogging before the government got serious about conservation. Now the remaining forest is being logged in a sustainable manner under strict supervision. The stumps mostly fell due to storms, but three were actually logged. To offset the carbon footprint of shipping these behemoths hundreds of miles, Palmer contributed to a project that distributes efficient stoves to Ghanaian villages. These stoves use less wood than traditional stoves and reduce the need for cutting.

First stop was Copenhagen, just in time for last year’s UN Climate Change conference. This was followed by a visit to Trafalgar Square before the trees were installed in front of Oxford University’s famous Museum of Natural History. A fitting display for 2010, which is the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. Next year will be the Year of Forests.

I’ve seen this exhibit in person and I have to say the stumps are truly awe inspiring. Their sheer size, and the realization that they were once alive, made me think about our place in this world. My four-year-old was impressed too, and I hope that some of these giant trees will still be standing when he’s my age.

Image Courtesy Ghost Forest.


Namibia clamps down on poaching in national parks

There’s been a rise in poaching in Southern Africa in recent years. Hunters are killing rare animals and selling their pelts, ivory, and other body parts to a multibillion dollar international network of dealers. The southwestern African nation of Namibia, however, has managed to avoid this trend.

This is due to strong criminal penalties and new measures implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, with help from the United Nations. Namibia earns six percent of its GDP from people visiting the parks, which are rich in wildlife and beautiful scenery. Protecting the environment is a smart financial move in this developing nation, and because of this the government has more than tripled the parks’ budget in the past four years. Other African nations like Niger and Chad are hoping to cash in on the profitable safari business too, and are also cracking down on poaching.

The ministry has been hiring more staff to patrol the parks and supplying them with training and equipment. In Etosha National Park the government is setting up a radio communications system and has supplied the staff with boats so they can reach a part of the park that is cut off during the rainy season. This area didn’t get many patrols before and poachers had been taking advantage of this.

Etosha is one of Africa’s biggest and most popular national parks. Covering 22,750 square kilometers, it is home to lion, elephants, rhino, zebra–all in high demand on the illegal animal market–and hundreds of other species.

Stevie Wonder named UN Messenger of Peace

Stevie Wonder is singing a new tune. Okay, not literally, but he has just taken on a new role: UN Messenger of Peace.

Blind since birth, Wonder will support the United Nations’ work, specifically to advocate for people with disabilities, through planned public appearances, interaction with international media, and humanitarian work.

The winner of 25 Grammy awards, Wonder may be best known for his singer-songwriter career. But he has long been an activist — spearheading the campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday in the U.S., advocating for ending apartheid in South Africa, as well as writing and performing songs to benefit humanitarian issues.

Wonder is the latest of the celebrity UN Messengers of Peace — there are 11 in total — including George Clooney (peacekeeping), Michael Douglas (disarmament), and Charlize Theron (ending violence against women).

“I recognize that he has consistently used his voice and special relationship with the public to create a better and more inclusive world, to defend civil and human rights and to improve the lives of those less fortunate,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement.

UNESCO adds sites to World Heritage list, and drops one too

The UNESCO World Heritage List has just gotten a lot longer. Officials meeting for the 33rd session of the World Heritage Committee have added more than two dozen sites of great cultural, historical, or natural value to the list, and they’re considering more.

Among the new entries are an aqueduct in Britain, a stately home in Belgium, and a sacred Buddhist mountain dotted with monasteries in China.

Two lesser-visited countries got sites onto the list. The ruins of Loropéni in Burkina Faso, a massive thousand-year-old fort that guarded the Saharan gold trade, was added, as well as Cape Verde’s Cidade Velha, a 15th century Portuguese colony that was the first major station for the transatlantic slave trade. Cidade Velha includes a fort, ruins of houses, and a grand cathedral, the slave traders being devout Christians.

There have been some losers too. Several sites have been moved to the endangered list, and the Germany’s Dresden Elbe river valley was dropped from the list entirely after “developers” put a four-lane highway through it. Ironically, the old city of Dresden was Germany’s most historic city, but was leveled by Allied bombing during World War Two. The nearby historic landscape dotted with castles and palaces escaped damage, but now the Germans have destroyed that themselves. Nice going, guys.

UNESCO’s website is posting up-to-date information on new additions and changes.

Trivia questions: What does UNESCO stand for? And what World Heritage site is pictured above? Click “Read More” to find out.


1. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

2. That Chomsi Stupa, Mount Phu Shi, Luang Prabang, Laos. This center for Buddhist learning contains a giant gold statue of the Buddha and was a religious center for the first capital of Laos when it was built in 1804. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1995.

United Nations takes a stab at eco-friendly travel with Green Passport campaign

With 900 million international travelers in 2007 alone, the strain of tourism on the environment is becoming more and more apparent. Travel has such an impact on the global climate that the United Nations launched its Green Passport campaign this past weekend at the Berlin Tourism fair. Intended to inform travelers on how to consciously plan and execute their holidays in the greenest way possible, Green Passport is the UN’s attempt at raising tourists’ awareness of how they can positively affect sustainable development through their travel choices.

Launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the internet-based campaign, available in English, French and Portuguese, will hopefully offset the effects that the growing industry has on the global environment. “By browsing the Green Passport web site consumers will be able to find practical tips to help them reduce their environmental and social footprint while they are on vacations. Tourists will discover that traveling green is not as hard as they imagined,” said Stefanos Fotiou, head of UNEP’s tourism unit.

The Green Passport website is designed to look fun and user-friendly, and you can even submit your own green travel tips. Browsing through the website it’s easy to see the UNEP did their travel homework, they have links to popular sites like Seat61 — the train traveler’s bible. But Green Passport isn’t just about greening your travel transportation, a large part of the program is focused on traveling responsibly. In other words, educating yourself about your destination and culture before going and while there, respecting the local population and customs.

My favorite quote from the online passport however, has to be this one: “And remember, when appropriate, balloons, horses, donkeys, sailboats and dog sleds are also transport solutions.” Never doubt the UN’s sense of humor.