Monday, September 08, 2008

Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink

I've been looking at the pictures of flooding in Haiti like the one below. (This one is from the Lambi Fund of Haiti.)

It brought to mind this picture of night time lights of the world (circa 2000). Why?

Does this picture of the change between 1993 and 2000 make it clearer?

Legend for image
Nighttime lights percentage

new lights

high intensity increased

low intensity increased

high intensity unchanged

average intensity unchanged

low intensity unchanged

low intensity decreased

high intensity decreased

extinct lights

See the increase in lights in Haiti? Those aren't, for the most part, city lights; those are charcoal making operations.

Haiti is 97-98% deforested. The trees have been cut down to make charcoal. Why would they do something that sets up a vicious cycle of erosion and flooding?

In the early 1990s, I heard an interview with a woman in the Dominican Republic on NPR. She spoke about the health hazards and dangers of cooking with charcoal. Yet, she had no choice. She said that she used to cook with a kerosene stove, but kerosene became too expensive and she reluctantly switched to charcoal.

I made the connection immediately. That woman and I are in competition for petroleum products. There is no way she can earn enough in DR to outbid me. I think about her, and billions of other people, every time I fill up my gas tank and feel very guilty about my lazy habits. I get so angry when I look around me at gas stations and see the gas guzzlers and their unthinking drivers. Don't they know? Don't they care?

Fortunately for the Dominican Republic, their government did care. Their military actually guards forests to prevent further deforestation. They managed to save 30% of their forests. Consequently, the flooding and death toll has been lighter in the Dominican Republic than in neighboring Haiti.



  1. Anonymous22:14

    "Don't they know? Don't they care?"

    Grace, you already know the answer to that question.

    Yes, they do know. But no, they don't care.

    Or no, they don't know. And if the did, they wouldn't care.

    Too many Americans are like that, and proud to be like that, believing it's their Christian god-given right.

    Those of us who don't share their sense of entitlement to squander Earth's resources are within our rights to despair.

  2. It looks like the increase in lights on Hispaniola is mostly on the east or Dominican Republic side, not on the Haitian side.

    This makes sense if industry is responsible for the lights: the DR has probably had an improving standard of living 1993 to 2003 with corresponding increase in nighttime illumination (lots of new lights there). Haiti has not, in all likelihood. Also, charcoal making is a low temperature process, so unless the map includes IR emissions, then I doubt that it shows low tech, wood fired industry like charcoal making.

    Puerto Rico has a similar increase, but it looks like they are in the category of "low intensity increased" instead of new. I don't have a plausible reason for that.

  3. The data comes from OLS, a visible and IR instrument.

    If the charcoal making operations are of sufficient density within a pixel, they will show up. Burning of sugar cane fields also show up.