Sunday, 6 December 2009

Internet and microhydro power in Buayan

London, England

I have just received perhaps the first email sent from Buayan, one of the communities where GDF is active in Sabah, Malaysia. Sent by Adrian Lasimbang, who works with the indigenous NGO Partners of Community Organisations (PACOS), it was a test of a satellite connection installed as part of an ‘e-Buayan’ that is dissolving the digital divide that once separated the Dusun people of this village from the rest of the world.  Adrian reports that the community is working hard to finish by Christmas (this is a Catholic community) an e-Buayan building that will house a classroom with eight PCs and Netbooks all linked by LAN cables. This will allow training in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to go forward.  These developments follow on the launch of a microhydro power station that is providing the electricity that will power the computers.  What is planned next? There will hopefully be a Buayan website through which community researchers can share the results of their studies on the resource catchment areas and community use zones that are key to maintaining their livelihoods in and around a government protected area.  Then perhaps there will be a community radio that will transmit to households within a 5 km radius.  All of this progress towards enhancing a sustainable community will go to naught if plans to create the Kaiduan Dam on the Papar River proceed: a few steps forward erased by a major leap backward.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Rachel Carson Center

London, England

The Rachel Carson Center launched its new website today. A joint initiative of Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and the Deutsches Museum, the Center is an international think tank whose goal is to ‘further research and discussion in the field of international environmental studies and to strengthen the role of the humanities in the current political and scientific debates about the environment.’ In mid-January, I will be joining 14 others fellows who are taking international, comparative and historical perspectives on topics such as agrarian and post-agrarian landscapes, natural disasters, cultures of risk, and knowledge societies.

I am particularly pleased to be a Fellow at an academic centre named in memory of Rachel Carson. Silent Spring, which I read almost forty years ago, influenced my choice of a career that blends academia, applied research and social awareness. In a few pages in the middle of the book, Dr. Carson evoked the consequences of pesticide use on the biodiversity of a small community in Michigan. East Lansing, my hometown, was the focus of a DDT spraying program initiated in 1954 against the elm bark beetle that was destroying our boulevard trees. By 1959, Prof. Emerson, ornithologist of nearby Michigan State University, discovered a dramatic drop in the robin population. This story, just one of the compelling case studies that Carson evoked, had a particular impact on me as it hit so close to home.