Much has been said about the great political upheavals that swept through the Middle East in 2011 – some for good and some for nought – but less attention has been paid to the state of our environment. We have stepped up to the plate by collecting 10 of the year’s most popular stories – from blood-clotting meat glue to Gaddafi’s tragic fall and giant plumes of gurgling methane that could accelerate planetary warming – in order to inspire our readers to keep on fighting the good fight on nature’s behalf. Step on in for a wonderful overview of 2011 and please accept Green Prophet’s heartfelt wishes for a more mindful 2012.
Thousands of people have shared the meat industry’s dirty little secret with their friends and family, and for good reason. This sinister powder glues together scraps of beef, chicken and other meat to make it appear more palatable to consumers, and once the pieces are put together, not even trained butchers can tell the difference. Most chefs use the Activa RM brand, which is transglutaminase mixed with maltodextrine and sodium caseinate – a milk protein. The European Parliament banned “meat glue” in 2010, as it is known to cause blood clots.
Nobody was more surprised than us how curious international readers would be to see pictures of naked Israelis, but this is our second most popular story of 2011. 1,000 Israelis gathered for a Spencer Tunick photoshoot designed to raise awareness of the Dead Sea’s fragile ecological state. All kinds of controversy ensued with close-up images leaked and criticism leveled at the artist’s methodology. Neverthless, with all the attention this little photo received, the Dead Sea has been etched into the consciousness of many people – and that was exactly the point.
Although Abu Dhabi has taken enormous strides this year towards a greener future – even shaming the White House by putting solar panels on an important municipal building – every so often a “face palm” story emerges that completely skews the Emirate’s reputation. This is one of them. In a misguided effort to be eco-friendly, the Mercedes pictured above was designed to run on biofuel, which would have been admirable if the car wasn’t also made out of solid white gold! Click the title to learn more about this dubious development.
Our fourth most popular story is also one of our scariest. Scientists have long worried that a warmer planet would melt ice and permafrost in the great white north, under which lies layer upon layer of plant debris that has not yet decomposed. If this debris is exposed, it will release nearly 2 trillion tons of carbon, or worse, methane into our saturated atmosphere. Already Russian scientists have discovered hundreds of pools of gurgling methane up to 1,000 meters in diameter bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster was a planetary wake-up call that some countries heard – such as Germany – and that others plum ignored, including Egypt and Turkey (although there’s a chance a recent earthquake has convinced the latter to reconsider their nuclear ambitions). Apart from the tar sands in Canada, this was the planet’s worst environmental calamity this year and it’s still unknown how it will impact on the world environment. Dr. Helen Caldicott thinks the fallout will be worse than Chernobyl, but really, only time will tell.
This is probably the most disturbing image we posted on Green Prophet this year, and it received a lot of attention. A hammerhead shark and all 45 of her pups were found dead at the Deira fish market in Dubai – a shocking testament of how poorly the Gulf country’s marine life is protected. Soon after this story we toured the United Arab Emirates to talk about The End of a Line – a powerful movie that depicts the severe state of the planet’s marine ecosystems, and witnessed firsthand tasteless dried shark fins on sale.
It’s impossible to get through a roundup of 2011 stories without mentioning Gaddafi – Libya’s eccentric leader who turned rogue and eventually died at the hands of his own people. But we had to wonder, will the one really great project he initiated fall to pieces now that he’s gone? Began in the early 1980s and built at a cost of more than $33 billion USD, the GMMR project involved pumping “fossilized” water from depths of more than 500 meters, purifying it, and then sending it to the country’s most populated, dry areas. Nobody really knows for certain, but it seems possible that without funds or a proper civil administration, this project has reached a near standstill.
While we were touring the United Arab Emirates to bring you on-the-ground coverage, we managed to snap a pile of exclusive images of the much touted Masdar City. A source of intrigue since its inception, as well as derision, we were impressed by the construction that has been completed. Of course, the project has not met its zero-carbon or zero-waste ambitions and has been scaled back several times, but there’s a lot to be said for the futuristic earth-colored buildings that create a most welcome microclimate despite the extraordinary desert heat.
No story in 2011 received as much support from its nationals than this one. Ethiopia has long been the very epitome of poverty, a situation that the country is eager to change with a series of dams that will provide hydroelectricity. One project – the Grand Renaissance Dam – will be Africa’s largest dam and threatens Egypt’s longstanding and unfair monopoly of the Nile River. Until now, the country’s leaders have not properly considered this particular project’s environmental integrity, though we reported today that Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia are forming a team of experts who have at least committed to conducting a year-long study starting next month.
Even as the country reeled under the weight of transition, Egypt still managed to open its very first solar thermal plant this year and we managed to stop by for a visit. Located just 90km south of Cairo, Kuraymat is a 150 MW Integrated Solar Combined Cycle (ISCC) power plant that has been feeding energy into the grid since July, 2011. Click on the title for more details and to see a host of our exclusive images.
That’s a wrap folks. Happy New Year!