Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond's CollapseDid you know that great Indian civilizations like Maya and Anasazi went down primarily due to environmental disasters like erosion and aridity?

Did you know that the Sumerians in Mesopotamia, such a creative and influential society, collapsed due to the salinization of the soil?

Did you know that improper irrigation practices brought at least one third of all agricultural land in Australia into an unusable state for at least 100 years, again due to salinization?

Do you know why the biggest island of the world Greenland is named “green land” at all? Is there anything green about this island of ice and snow? But it was quite green with lush forests and pastures; a paradise-like place until the 13. century before the Norse people with Scandinavian origins decimated its forests and transformed the island into a desert of ice. The Norse people were initially not aware of the fragility of Greenland’s ecology with extremely slow growing trees. They expected the same robustness and recovery power of Norway from their new environment. Continue reading

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Impressions from my Bolivia journey in 2007, part 1

Hot water lake in Robore, Bolivia

Hot water lake in Robore, Bolivia

Impressions from my Bolivia journey in January 2007, organized by the retired Swiss biologist Robert Guggenbühl. Our travel group consisted of botanists, nature lovers and some passionate aquarium hobbyists. Passing from places like St Cruz, Robore, Trinidad, Magdalena and Bella Vista the primary purpose of this journey was observing, filming and photographing the rich habitats of Bolivia alongside some lakes and rivers.

To my surprise, some aquarium keepers in the group used this opportunity for catching lots of fish. I was surprized because I could not reconcile this activity (bio-piracy) with love for nature. Actually, I should know very well that many aquarium keepers are not truly nature lovers. They are simply seasoned fish keepers with the attitude of a stamp collector. Many of them does not care about biodiversity, ecology or evolution at all. I would understand collecting some interesting specimens for scientific purposes, but catching hundreds of wild fish (without paying anything to local people) to keep them in private aquariums is another matter.

Bolivia is the most beautiful country I have ever seen. It has such a rich diversity of natural resources; rain forests, savannah, mountains… But the pace of the destruction of rain forests is depressing. Some locals in Magdalena told us that the consequences of this habitat distruction can already be seen everywhere. The dry seasons get longer (nowadays almost five months; it was three months before) and the water level drops further in the dry seasons. Some farmers complain about aridity and water deficiency in the dry season; a problem, which was never heard before.

Tunç Ali Kütükçüoğlu, 30. April 2010, Zürich

You can download all of the 19 original photos presented above from www.tradebit.com. Size of original photos: 3072×2304 pixel, 3.5-5.9 MegaBytes (Canon PowerShot A710IS). Feel free to print or publish them as long as you keep my name stamp on the photos.

Impressions from my Bolivia journey in 2007, part 1
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Impressions From My Bolivia Journey In 2007, Part 1

Impressions From My Bolivia Journey In January 2007. A Selection Of 19 Photos…

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Take clean-tech one step further: A self-sufficient life style

What is cleantech? Cleantech in the narrow sense includes green technologies like:

  • Renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels)
  • Green buildings
  • Energy efficient and low emission transportation
  • Biomaterials like bioplastic
  • Water filtration

With cleantech in the narrow sense one still means manmade technologies. For example solar panels, photovoltaic (PV) modules, high efficiency heat pumps and so on. The forerunners of cleantech industries are as always industrialized countries like Germany, Japan, China, Denmark and USA.

There is no real paradigm change in the narrow sense meaning of cleantech; some older technologies are replaced by their more energy efficient and more environmentally friendly counterparts. It could also be regarded as general improvement in technology.

Luckily, especially for people living in less industrialized countries, there is a wide-sense meaning of cleantech which also covers the technologies of nature. Cleantech in the wide sense means all kinds of solutions, manmade or natural, that improve the quality of life, save energy and protect nature. In that wide sense, cleantech is a real paradigm shift because one is not looking for only manmade equipment and machinery for a better life. This paradigm shift reminds me the transition from the classical economy to ecological economy.

Take water purification issue in an aquarium (biological filtration of the fish waste) as an example. A manmade cleantech (narrow sense) solution to this problem is an energy efficient water filter. A better solution would be using marginal plants for water purification, the technology of nature (cleantech in the wide sense). You see, cleantech in the narrow sense often means hightech, whereas in the wide sense it often means lowtech. Continue reading

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Indoor plants for water purification and nitrate reduction in aquariums

Ecology of the Planted Aquarium written by Diana Walstad is one of the books which inspired me most for low-tech natural aquariums. Diana Walstad explains why emergent plants are better water purifiers than the submerged water plants as follows (in chapter 9, the aerial advantage):

Umbrella papyrus (Cyperus alternifolius) in a lowtech natural aquarium (see biotope in my room)

Umbrella papyrus in a lowtech natural aquarium

In comparison to fully submerged plants, emergent plants are characterized by:

  • Much faster growth (in terms of real growth measured by dry biomass)
  • More efficient use of carbon dioxide (CO2) and light (aerial CO2 is not limited by the dissolved CO2 in water)
  • More efficient oxygenation of the root area
  • Enhanced biological activity in the root masses of floating plants

With emergent plants, or plants with the aerial advantage, Walstad means all sorts of plants whose leaves are not submerged in water. These can be land plants, amphibious plants like Anubias and Echinodorus species, floating plants like duckweed and water hyacinth, water plants with emergent leaves like water lilies and lotus.

Emergent plants receiving preferably natural sunlight can purify water much better than the most high-tech manmade filter can do. The faster a plant grows the faster it purifies water. Keeping emergent plants for water purification is almost mandatory in order to keep sensitive fish like Apistogramma species. The services of emergent plants can hardly be replaced by hightech filters and tedious maintenance work like frequent water changes.

Besides amphibious plants like Anubias and Echinodorus species I use a number of common indoor (room) plants in my aquariums for water purification. That is, for reducing all kinds if organic and inorganic contamination such as ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, phosphate etc. You may find below an image gallery of these plants. Most fast growing and robust indoor plants suitable for hydroculture can be used in aquariums or tropical ponds for water purification. Continue reading

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Wild form angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Columbian angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

Columbian angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)

As a student in Turkey I was every time taken aback when I read in aquarium books and magazines that angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) was one of the most popular aquarium fish. All the selective-bred angelfish races I saw in aquarium shops like the smoke angelfish, white sailfins, triple colors and so on, looked so sluggish, artificial and unhealthy. I thought “people have strange tastes!”.

I change my mind radically when I began to keep natural races like Peru altum, and another natural form with Columbian origins, which I named Columbian angelfish. They are absolutely beautiful, interesting and healthy fish, of course, if kept under proper conditions. The iridescent metallic greens and blues concentrated on the head are best seen under natural sunlight. You will find here an image gallery of these natural races including the red back angelfish kept by a friend.

In my personal experience, Peru altum is a sensitive fish. It requires higher temperatures and frequent live food. I bought eight young Peru altum (2-3 months old) seven years ago and put them into my large community aquarium. At the beginning they all grew well. But after several months, as the dominant fish made themselves noticeable, the subdominats became stressed and sickly, and began to die one after another. At the and only the most dominant pair survived. And the same story happened to me twice. I guess, Peru altum is in nature either not a gregarious fish in the breeding season, or each pair requires a large territory which might cause problems in a home aquarium.

The Columbian angelfish is -maybe not as majestic as Peru altum- is also a very beautiful fish. And it is robust. I had bought eight young fish and all grew well and healthy. Because they are not (yet) spoiled by artificial breeding they are also good parents. Really a joy to watch in a large aquarium. A 400-liter (100 US gallons) tank should be the minimum size for a group of 6-8 adult fish.

The red back angelfish is also a sensitive race concerning water conditions and food, but they are apparently more gregarious then the Peru altum. What I heard, they can grow quite big in a large aquarium. Many hobbyists think red back is the most beautiful race, but I find Peru altum most beautiful, Columbian angelfish most enjoyable to watch.

Tunç Ali Kütükçüoğlu, 13. December 2009, Zürich

I would appreciate if you share your experience with these angelfish races.

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