Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Bamboo and Technology

Notions of using bamboo as a building material are well known. For centuries bamboo has been used for constructing homes, making flooring and making thatching for roofs. When I first went to Thailand I spent several weeks living in a small bungalow on concrete stilts made mostly of bamboo. This was probably my earliest exposure to just how useful bamboo was.

Since the industrial revolution and the preference for using steel and concrete for building many developing countries still use bamboo to make scaffolding for larger construction projects. It is strong, easy to transport or make locally and most importantly bamboo is cheap.

Over the last 30 years or so, people have begun to worry more about indoor air quality as well as making homes more environmentally friendly. For primarily these two reasons bamboo flooring was introduced to a large worldwide market. Today, bamboo flooring is found in many homes and is an important sustainable flooring option. Sales of bamboo flooring have increased since the more durable and harder strand woven bamboo flooring has been available.

Another fairly well known bamboo technological innovation is the bamboo bicycle. Bamboo has a tensile strength of 52,000 pounds per square inch. This makes it more than strong enough to be used as the frame for a bicycle.

What is less well known is that Thomas Edison made his first lamp filament from carbonized bamboo. Another surprising bamboo fact is that Alexander Bell used a bamboo stylus for the first ever phonograph. Bamboo is hard enough and can be made into a fine enough point to be used to amplify sound. However, diamond was later found out by Bell to make a better stylus.

What these bamboo and technology facts help to illustrate is the diverse properties of the plant. It is strong, flexible and can be worked like wood. It can be compressed into strand woven bamboo. Since bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world it should be obvious that we need to incorporate it more into technology, especially as other natural resources become scarcer. Indeed, as the price for various natural resources rise bamboo will no doubt come to the mind of new scientific pioneers in the mold of Edison and Bell. 

Friday, 30 March 2012

Deforestation in Brazil in 2011 and forward

The forests are still being cut away for logging, land clearance and commercial farming. The future still looks gloomy for the enormous bio-resources that forests represent. Corruption, pollution, corporate greed and population growth all have their villainous parts to play in the tragedy that is the loss of the world’s forests. However, a few small positives can be drawn from last year (2011). One of those positives can be found by looking at Brazil. This note of optimism must be tempered with fear of all the good work being undone by unscrupulous money concerns.

The Brazilian government has continued its trend of slowing down the rate at which the Amazon is being cleared. In 2011 just over 6,000 square kilometers of rainforest was cleared. This is terrible, but represents a 75% reduction in forest clearance since 2004. Brazil has been dramatically slowing down deforestation since 2004. It is time that the media gave a little recognition to the efforts of the Brazilian authorities and ask how best the developed world can help to support the Brazilian effort.

A corollary success for Brazil has been to improve agricultural efficiency. The soy and cattle industry rather than just proceeding through slash-and-burn techniques has been forced to develop better methods of production. The resulting efficiency has made these sectors at last profitable (and less destructive).

However, Brazilian politics is at a fragile point. Revisions to the Forest Code that are in the Brazilian parliament threaten to undermine all the good work so far achieved. The monied interests behind deforestation have assassinated environmental activists and have lobbied parliament to make crucial changes to the law to allow more deforestation. Only the new President Dilma Rouseff can stop the eco-wrecking revisions through using the Presidential veto. The revisions to the Forest Code if they went through would result in more carbon being released into the atmosphere than the total carbon output for the whole world for a year.

The Brazilian public is behind Dilma and the environmental movement in the country. 19% voted for the Green candidate Marina Silva in the last election. Are the President and the Brazilian public any match for the big corporations?  We can all play our part in supporting the Brazilian rainforest. One of the things we can do is to buy more bamboo products as substitutes for hardwood products; not least we can buy strand woven bamboo flooring instead of hardwood flooring that comes from a rainforest.