Sanjay of SLOWCOLOR (and Sanjay visited Bhutan!)

I first met Sanjay Rajan at the Bioneers Conference last year, and learned about the company he founded, SLOWCOLOR.

At the San Francisco International GIft Fair (a retailer, wholesale trade show) this weekend, I stopped by to chat with Sanjay and Tricia O’Keefe, at their booth.

In the process of talking about topics near and dear to our hearts and minds, I found out that Sanjay recently visited the country of Bhutan.  My interest in Bhutan stemmed from learning about their belief that happiness should take priority over economic growth (see my post Bhutan Happy – Gross National Happiness (GNH) as an indicator of progress).

Sanjay is HAPPY that he visited the country of Bhutan Photo

I admire Sanjay and the SLOWCOLOR values.  He is a person doing something to make a difference in this fragile world we all share.  With SLOWCOLOR, he is creating a new business model to address poverty and those who are socially disadvantaged, and at the same time, mindful of the health of our planet.

From the SLOWCOLOR website, About Us page:

Mahatma Gandhi said, “…be the change you want to see in the world…” With this sentiment I launched SLOWCOLOR in April 2011.

SLOWCOLOR is a premium, fairly-traded, eco-textile brand based in Boulder, Colorado.Our mission says it all:  We clothe the World in Beauty, Health and Responsibility. Our intent is to become a game changer in the textile industry.

Every fabric we create is handmade and naturally dyed. Always. We create finished goods in fashion and home furnishing and source fabrics to designers and companies under the SLOWCOLOR label.

As a social enterprise we focus on the integrated bottom line:  by paying artisans in India a life-changing living wage, using natural plant and mineral-based dyes and mordants and choosing fibers such as linen that grow naturally pesticide free and are not water intensive, SLOWCOLOR rejuvenates centuries-old fabric dyeing techniques and handlooming traditions, protects the environment and creates fabrics that are healthy for life.  

SLOWCOLOR connects artisan to audience, tradition to global market and health of the planet to consumer choice.

Sanjay Rajan – Chief Co(r)evolution Officer, SLOWCOLOR

As consumers, buyers of products, we have a lot of POWER.   And we can use this power to seek out, support and promote businesses like SLOWCOLOR — who are working to address social inequities, and who are working in ways that do not further degrade our environment.

Click on the photo below to visit the SLOWCOLOR website.

By the way — with the myriad of topics that Sanjay, Tricia and I discussed — I forgot to ask Sanjay further details about his trip to Bhutan!  More on Bhutan the next time I see Sanjay…

Who is Rachel Carson…and the MBARI Open House

On a foggy day last week, Jeff and I walked from the Potrero Rd. entrance to the Moss Landing beach, past the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and towards Phil’s Fish Market & Eatery.

Rather large driftwood — drift LOGS, really, at Moss Landing Beach

On the way back, we decided to take the road and frontage trail, instead of walking back on the beach.  On Sandholdt Road, we noticed this ship, the Rachel Carson, at the Moss Landing Harbor.

We wondered….who is Rachel Carson?

Note: The photo does not do justice to the rather new, shiny ship.

I did not think anymore about the Rachel Carson ship — and these set of photos — until reading the “Your Town” section of today’s Monterey County Herald.  Excerpt:

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute will hold an open house from noon to 5PM Saturday at 7700 Sandholdt Road.

At 12:45PM, aquarium executive director Julie Packard will christen the institute’s newest ship, the R/V Rachel Carson.

Other activities include talks about the expeditions to the Gulf of California and Sargasso Sea, a tour of the labs, a look at ships and undersea robots used in the deep-sea excursions, and workshops where children can build their own remotely operated vehicles.

According to the MBARI website, the R/V Rachel Carson “will serve as a replacement for both the R/V Zephyr and R/V Point Lobos, and will be able to launch both ROVs and AUVs, as well as conduct multi-day expeditions”.

The new research vessel was named Rachel Carson in honor of the American marine biologist and conservationist.  Click here to view a better image for the R/V Rachel Carson, on the MBARI Press Room page.

Rachel Carson wrote the book Silent Spring and is credited with advancing the global environmental movement.  Excerpt from Wikipedia…

Late in the 1950s Carson turned her attention to conservation, especially environmental problems she believed were caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented share of the American people.

Although Silent Spring met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides, and it inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.

The open house also celebrates MBARI’s 25th anniversary.  The presentation schedule is as follows:

  • In the PACIFIC FORUM: Extending MBARI’s reach
    12:00 Volcanoes of the Gulf of California ~ Jenny Paduan
    12:30 Video ~ no speaker during christening of R/V Rachel Carson
    01:00 Volcanoes of the Gulf of California (repeat) ~ Jenny Paduan
    01:30 Monterey Bay: A window to the world ~ Chris Scholin
    02:00 Secrets of the Sargasso Sea ~ Alana Sherman
    02:30 ESP around the world ~ Jim Birch
    03:00 Secrets of the Sargasso Sea (repeat) ~ Alana Sherman
    03:30 ESP around the world (repeat) ~ Jim Birch
    04:00 Exploring the Gulf of California ~ Steve Haddock
    04:30 Exploring the Gulf of California (repeat) ~ Steve Haddock
    12:15 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    01:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    01:30 Deep-sea video
    02:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    02:30 Deep-sea video
    03:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    03:30 Deep-sea video
    04:00 Mysteries of the Deep (live presentation)
    04:30 Deep-sea video

For further details, please visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) website.

Our trail walk back towards Potrero Road…

Foggy Moss Landing Harbor

Beach Sagewort (Artemisia pycnocephala) is the most common, California native plant, found around sand dunes. This one encircled by non-native — and aggressive — iceplants, which do not provide food or shelter to native wildlife.

Reward for lost scientific instrument!

Fish & Wildlife Service employee photo, via Wikipedia

Link to Wikipedia article on Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964)

Carson began her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her a U.S. National Book Award,[1] recognition as a gifted writer, and financial security. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the reissued version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. That so-called sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the surface to the depths.

Some good news on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) for 2015

Back in the year 2000, 189 nations promised to free people from extreme poverty and other deprivations.  This pledge  is the basis for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDG) — a blueprint agreed to by the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions — with a target for the year 2015.

The Eight Millennium Development Goals for 2015 are:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women
  4. Reduce child mortality
  5. Improve maternal health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

Seaside Market, Philippines – photo

With less than 3 years left until the end of 2015, which of these goals have been achieved?

The good news…a report launched earlier this month by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indicated that important targets on poverty, slums and water have been met three years ahead of 2015.

As far as the remaining goals…here are highlights from the United Nations Development Programme’s article: With three MDG targets achieved, global partnership for development is key to 2015 success

  • Meeting the remaining targets, while challenging, is possible ─ but only if Governments do not waiver from their commitments made over a decade ago.
  • In his foreword to the 2012 MDG Report, Mr. Ban says “The current economic crises besetting much of the developed world must not be allowed to decelerate or reverse the progress that has been made.  Let us build on the successes we have achieved so far, and let us not relent until all the MDGs have been attained”.

There is progress…

The MDG Report says that, for the first time since poverty trends began to be monitored, both the number of people living in extreme poverty and the poverty rates have fallen in every developing region—including sub-Saharan Africa, where rates are highest.

Preliminary estimates indicate that in 2010, the share of people living on less than a $1.25 a day dropped to less than half of its 1990 value. Essentially, this means that the MDG first target—cutting the extreme poverty rate to half its 1990 level—has been achieved at the global level, well ahead of 2015. 

The MDG Report also notes another success: reaching the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of drinking water by 2010. The proportion of people using improved water sources rose from 76 per cent in 1990 to 89 per cent in 2010, translating to more than two billion people currently with access to improved sources such as piped supplies or protected wells.

And the share of urban residents in the developing world living in slums has declined from 39 per cent in 2000 to 33 per cent in 2012.  More than 200 million have gained access to either improved water sources, improved sanitation facilities, or durable or less crowded housing. This achievement exceeds the target of significantly improving the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, also ahead of a 2020 deadline.

The MDG Report 2012 also points out that the world has achieved another milestone: parity in primary education between girls and boys. Driven by national and international efforts, many more of the world’s children are enrolled in school at the primary level, especially since 2000. Girls have benefited the most. There were 97 girls enrolled per 100 boys in 2010—up from 91 girls per 100 boys in 1999.

The report says that enrollment rates of primary school age children have increased markedly in sub-Saharan Africa, from 58 to 76 per cent between 1999 and 2010. Many countries in the region have succeeded in reducing their relatively high out-of-school rates even as their primary school age populations were growing.

At the end of 2010, 6.5 million people in developing regions were receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV or AIDS, constituting the largest one-year increase ever. Since December 2009, more than 1.4 million people were being treated.

“These results”, said Mr. Ban “represent a tremendous reduction in human suffering and are a clear validation of the approach embodied in the MDGs. 

But, they are not a reason to relax.  Projections indicate that in 2015 more than 600 million people worldwide will still lack access to safe drinking water, almost one billion will be living on an income of less than $1.25 per day, mothers will continue to die needlessly in childbirth, and children will suffer and die from preventable diseases. 

Hunger remains a global challenge, and ensuring that all children are able to complete primary education remains a fundamental, but unfulfilled, target that has an impact on all the other goals. Lack of safe sanitation is hampering progress in health and nutrition … and greenhouse gas emissions continue to pose a major threat to people and ecosystems”.   MORE, here…

Related Links and Reports on Millennium Development Goals

Lola Jane’s post – GDP Poor Nations Per Capita Income

Millennium Development Goals Indicators – Official website for the United Nation’s Millennium Indicators.  Click here for country specific data, the Philippines, etc.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012

Summary: Three important targets on poverty, slums and water have been met three years ahead of 2015, says this year’s Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Meeting the remaining targets, while challenging, is possible ─ but only if Governments do not waiver from their commitments made over a decade ago.  Click here to view this report.

REPORT: What will it take to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?  From the United Nations Development Programme, an international assessment, based on a review of 50 country studies.

Click here to view report in PDF Format



Report: Unlocking Progress: MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) lessons from pilot countries

Reviews of MDG progress in various countries have revealed many successes, but also the need for urgent, focused action. In the absence of enhanced efforts, many countries risk missing one or more of the targets by the deadline.This report shares the lessons from 10 pilot countries on efforts taken toward meeting the 2015 MDG deadline.  Click here to view report in PDF format.

Interview with David Suzuki: Was Rio+20 a big failure?

Rio+20 is the short name for the United Nations (UN) Conference on Sustainable Development, which took place on June 20 – 22, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The +20 signifies twenty years since the 1992 Earth summit, also held in Rio de Janeiro.

The UN brought together governments, international institutions and major groups to “agree” on measures to reduce poverty and promote jobs, clean energy, and a more sustainable and fair use of resources.

This is a follow-up to the previous post, and   Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s historic 1992 United Nations speech.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki is the daughter of David Suzuki, a Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist.

David Suzuki is host of the long-running CBC program, “The Nature of Things,” seen in more than 40 countries. He co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, which focuses on sustainable ecology. In 2009, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award. His latest book is called, “Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet.”

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviewed David Suzuki near the conclusion of  the Rio+20 conference.  Below is video of the interview, covering the  “Green Economy” and why the planet’s survival requires undoing its economic model.  Introduction:

As the Rio+20 Earth Summit — the largest U.N. conference ever — ends in disappointment, we’re joined by the leading Canadian scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki. As host of the long-running CBC program, “The Nature of Things,” seen in more than 40 countries, Suzuki has helped educate millions about the rich biodiversity of the planet and the threats it faces from human-driven global warming. Suzuki joins us from the summit in Rio de Janeiro to talk about the climate crisis, the student protests in Quebec, his childhood growing up in an internment camp, and his daughter Severn’s historic speech at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when she was 12 years-old.

“If we don’t see that we are utterly embedded in the natural world and dependent on Mother Nature for our very well-being and survival … then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economies, corporations, markets,” Suzuki says. “Those are all human created things. They shouldn’t dominate the way we live. It should be the biosphere, and the leaders in that should be indigenous people who still have that sense that the earth is truly our mother, that it gives birth to us. You don’t treat your mother the way we treat the planet or the biosphere today.”

It is clear that a shift in how we think about our relationship with our planet needs to happen now, otherwise, just as meetings like the Rio+20, we are doomed to fail.

As David Suzuki points out, we are part of, and depend on nature.  Without clean air, without clean water, and biodiversity to sustain us….how are we going to survive?

If we continue to think and believe we are separate from — instead of a part of, and responsible for the planet’s health —  then indeed, we are looking at our very own extinction.   Let’s take a different path!

Related Links:

David Suzuki FoundationWe work with government, business and individuals to conserve our environment by providing science-based research, education and policy work, and acting as a catalyst for the change that today’s situation demands.

Lola Jane’s on the Environment tipping point – are we living in an age of irresponsibility?  Post on the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) recently published 5th Global Environment Outlook – a 525 page report analyzing the world’s environmental situation.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki Revisits Historic ’92 Speech, Fights for Next Generation’s Survival

From Democracy Now —  a daily, independent global news hour, with Amy Goodman & Juan González:

In 1992, 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki became known as “the girl who silenced the world for six minutes” after she addressed delegates in Rio de Janeiro during the summit’s plenary session. We air Cullis-Suzuki’s historic address and speak to her from the Rio+20 summit, which she comes back to now as a veteran international environmental campaigner and mother of two. “Twenty years later, the world is still talking about a speech, a six-minute speech that a 12-year-old gave to world leaders,” Cullis-Suzuki says. “Why? It is because the world is hungry to hear the truth, and it is nowhere articulated as well as from the mouths of those with everything at stake, which is youth.”

“I’m only a child, yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong—in fact, 30 million species strong. And borders and governments will never change that. I’m only a child, yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.  In my anger, I am not blind, and in my fear, I am not afraid of telling the world how I feel… click here to view the video transcript.

More on the environment tipping point

More on the environment tipping point, from

Now that the zombie apocalypse appears to have calmed down, we have a different end-of-the-world situation to deal with. A study published in the science journal Nature this week finds that human activity is pushing Earth toward a planetary shift wherein “widespread social unrest, economic instability and loss of human life could result.”

Graph of land use as a quantification of a potential planetary state shift Anthony Barnosky, et al./Nature, via Mother Jones

According to paleoecologist Anthony Barnosky and his 21 co-authors, the human population is ecologically influencial enough to transform the planet into a state heretofore unknown in human experience. The study draws from more than 100 scientific papersmore

Environment tipping point…are we living in an age of irresponsibility?

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently published their 5th Global Environment Outlook – a 525 page report analyzing the world’s environmental situation.

And… it is no surprise that the situation does not look good.  Excerpt from the report by Jenny Barchfield (AP) via SFGate, UN report warns environment at tipping point:

…In a 525-page report on the health of the planet, the agency paints a grim picture: The melting of the polar ice caps, desertification in Africa, deforestation of tropical jungles, spiraling use of chemicals and the emptying out of the world’s seas are just some of myriad environmental catastrophes posing a threat to life as we know it.

“As human pressures on the earth … accelerate, several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded,” the report says. “Once these have been passed, abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur, with significant adverse implications for human well-being.”

Such adverse implications include rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts, and the collapse of fisheries, said the report, which compiles the work of the past three years by a team of 300 researchers.

The bad news doesn’t end there. The report says about 20 percent of vertebrate species are under threat of extinction, coral reefs have declined by 38 percent since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions could double over the next 50 years, and 90 percent of water and fish samples from aquatic environments are contaminated by pesticides.  

I don’t know about other print newspapers, but ours (The Monterey County Herald) had this news on Page 7, on June 7, 2012.

If our home —  the beautiful planet, Earth — is “being pushed towards their biophysical limits”, then this news deserves more attention.

If indeed, catastrophic changes are looming, then should this news be on the FRONT PAGE?

Our home is on the verge of major disaster, and we put the news on page 7???

We do not want to think about this, so do we just ignore this information…to our own peril?

It’s time to wake up everyone.  This is the collective problem of all inhabitants of our fragile planet!

Is it possible to CHANGE the health of our planet and to stop and reverse these distressing environmental trends?

From UNEP executive director Achim Steiner:  “This is an indictment.  We live in an age of irresponsibility that is also testified and documented in this report.

“In 1992 (when the first of the agency’s five reports was released) we talked about the future that was likely to occur. This report 20 years later speaks to the fact that a number of the things that we talked about in the future tense in 1992 have arrived,” Steiner said. “Once the tipping point occurs, you don’t wake up the next morning and say, `This is terrible, can we change it?’ That is the whole essence of these thresholds. We are condemning people to not having the choice anymore.”

Steiner called for immediate action to prevent continued environmental degradation, with its ever-worsening consequences.

“Change is possible,” he said, adding that the report includes an analysis of a host of environmental preservation projects that have worked. “Given what we know, we can move in another direction.”

Here is the newspaper article about the UN report, on page 7 of our  Monterey County Herald.

Are you thinking what I am thinking…is this all there is?  Come on, Monterey Herald!

Does the placement of this article speak to how we all feel about the environmental problems we collectively face?  To bury the already tiny mention, in the middle of the newspaper?

If you care at all about the state of the world we leave behind for our children and grandchildren, then we have no choice but to take responsibility for the problems we have caused, and act now…before we reach the tipping point.

Do you think there should be more coverage about this report?  Who is responsible for addressing these  environmental threats?

U.S. Secretary of Defense speech to 2012 Naval Academy graduates: Important work of modernizing historic alliances with Japan, Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand

I am posting sections of a recent speech by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, delivered to graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy on Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

It is related to my earlier post(s) on activities and potential flashpoints in the South China Sea area (e.g., the China – Philippine dispute over the Scarborough Shoals).  Excerpt:

…America is a maritime nation, and we are returning to our maritime roots.  One of the key projects of your generation will have to face is sustaining and enhancing American strength across the great maritime region of the Pacific.

America’s future prosperity and security are tied to our ability to advance peace and security along the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean and South Asia. 

That reality is inescapable for our country and for our military, which has already begun broadening and deepening our engagement throughout the Asia-Pacific.  One of your great challenges as an officer in the Navy will be to ensure the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region for the 21st century. 

We need you to project America’s power and to reflect America’s character:  to serve on ships and submarines, to fly planes, and to train and operate throughout the region. 

We need you to do the important work of strengthening and modernizing our historic alliances with Japan, with Korea, with Australia, with the Philippines, with Thailand. 

We need to you to build robust partnerships throughout the region; with countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia; with Vietnam, Singapore, India and others.    

We also need you to strengthen defense ties with China.  China’s military is growing and modernizing.  We must be vigilant.  We must be strong.  We must be prepared to confront any challenge. 

But the key to peace in that region is to develop a new era of defense cooperation between our countries – one in which our militaries share security burdens to advance peace in the Asia-Pacific and around the world. Tomorrow I depart on a trip to Southeast Asia.  And later this year, I will visit to China for the first time as Secretary of Defense.

I’ll tell all of these nations that the United States will remain a Pacific power, and I’ll tell them why: because of you.  Because during your careers many of you will be headed to the Pacific. There and across the globe, the Navy and Marine Corps must lead a resurgence of America’s enduring maritime presence and power. 

As graduates of the Naval Academy, you’ve earned much and you’ve been given much. And now, as Navy and Marine Corps officers, your nation will ask you to give much of yourselves to service to this country.  It is about giving back to this country.  That’s what service is all about.   ...Click here to read the entire speech…

This post is military-related, and I am a veteran of the U.S. Air Force…and what I am thinking of is continued PEACE for the Asia-Pacific region, and the world.  Yes…a balanced, peaceful world, and safety for these young graduates, and future military leaders.

And that the power and might of the American military, partnering with other countries in the region, will prevent an escalation of violence, especially as China continues with its aggression towards the Philippines, and their territorial claims in the resource-rich South China / West Philippine Sea area.

Not the Bananas! More on the ongoing Philippine – China disputes

The latest on the Philippine – China dispute involve Philippine bananas and new, stricter inspections from Chinese ports — resulting in a lot of rotten Philippine bananas.

Chinese authorities claim they found pests in banana shipments coming in from the Philippines.

So…who put those bugs in the banana imports….really?!?

After Japan, China is the Philippines’ second largest market for bananas.

Read more about the impounded bananas — and other Philippine fruits now facing extra quarantine measures and new scrutiny from China, from an article at (here).

And somewhat related, here is a banana and container port article I posted earlier this year: What’s in the Box

Scarborough Shoal disputes: Chinese travel agents suspend tours to the Philippines

China’s news outlets report that Chinese travel agencies are suspending or rescheduling summer trips and tours to the Philippines, due to recent tensions in the South China / West Philippine Seas.

Beijing travel agent Dun Jidong is quoted as saying “Safety is the prime concern in the travel business. We’ve learned there might be anti-China activities in the Philippines, which means a lot of uncertainty. To ensure the safety of our clients, we have suspended all tours to the Philippines. And we will monitor the situation as it develops.”

On Thursday, China’s National Tourism Administration website told Chinese tourists to avoid “unnecessary” travel to the Philippines and warned those who are already there to be mindful of their security.

Anti-China protesters carry placards and shout slogans in front of the Chinese embassy in Makati City on Friday. PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

Excerpt from a Manila Times report:

Maria Victoria Jasmin, DOT undersecretary, said that as of Thursday, 10 tour operators from Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou have cancelled flights to the Philippines…

The DOT said that China ranks fourth in the country’s top tourist market and had an 8.4-percent share in the total visitor arrivals for the January to March, 2012 period or over 96,455 tourists.

Last year, at least 243,137 Chinese tourists visited the Philippines, making up 6.21 percent of the total tourist arrivals.

The Philippine Travel Agency Association earlier said that the country’s top three markets are Korea, the United States and Japan.

During a press briefing, Philippine Malacanang Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “We are going to certainly assure our Chinese friends of their safety”.

He added “Sa totoo lang, ang dami naman nating mga Chinese dito (the fact is, there are so many Chinese here). You would not know if they are from the mainland or from the Philippines. We have very good relations in terms of cultural exchange and our relations with China have been very good on a cultural level, on a familial level. So there is no reason for our Chinese friends and the Chinese Embassy to worry about the safety of their nationals”.

Scarborough Shoal Standoff: Strong words from Chinese Vice Foreign Minister

It does not look like the China – Philippines standoff over Scarborough Shoals, and territorial claims over the South China Sea / West Philippine Sea area, is anywhere close to being resolved.

Below is an excerpt from a report today, by Brian Spegele of the Wall Street Journal, with strong statements from the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying:

China said it was pessimistic about resolving a standoff with the Philippines in the resource-rich South China Sea and was prepared for tensions there to escalate further.

The remarks, delivered during a meeting Monday between Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying and Manila’s charge d’affaires in Beijing, Alex Chua, marked a significant uptick in the heat of the rhetoric as relations between China and one of Washington’s closest allies in the region continue to deteriorate.

Mr. Chua was summoned by China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency, as part of a long-running dispute around what is known as the Scarborough Shoal in English and Huangyan island in Chinese, in the southeastern part of the South China Sea. Xinhua said it was the third meeting in less than a month between the two sides.

“It is obvious the Philippine side has not realized that it is making serious mistakes and is stepping up efforts to escalate tensions instead,” Ms. Fu said in a statement on the website of China’s Foreign Ministry. “It is hoped that the Philippine side will not misjudge the situation and not escalate tensions without considering the consequences.”

A spokesman for the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs, Raul Hernandez, said in a statement that the Philippines was taking a “new diplomatic initiative” that it hopes will defuse the situation, but declined to provide details.  More…

And so the Scarborough Shoals standoff and tension continues, and China reportedly now has four government ships in the area — in addition to eight fishing vessels.  The Philippines has one coast guard vessel, and one Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel.

Do you need to catch up on why there are disputes over these South China Sea territories?   Visit the BBC News Q&A: South China Sea disputes, to learn more (e.g.,  possible natural gas reserves and the large amount of natural resources in this area).

Also, here is a link to my original article on the latest flare-up over the Scarborough Shoal area.

Meanwhile, here in the states, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met with Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie at the Pentagon yesterday, May 7, 2012.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta welcomes Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie to the Pentagon, May 7, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

It was the first U.S. visit by a Chinese defense minister in nine years.

Liang has been visiting U.S. military bases and meeting with U.S. military leaders to discuss U.S.-Chinese cooperation in areas of mutual interest.

Excerpt from the American Forces Press Service news article by Cheryl Pellerin:

Liang’s visit occurs at a time when the armed forces of both nations seek to expand cooperation, improve understanding, build trust and reduce differences.

“The United States and China are both Pacific powers, and our relationship is one of the most critical in the world,” Panetta said at a news conference with Liang after their meeting.

“In my meeting with General Liang, I expressed my commitment to achieving and maintaining a healthy, stable, reliable and continuous [military-to-military] relationship with China,” the secretary said, adding that at Liang’s invitation he will visit China within the next few months.

“We share many interests across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond,” Panetta added, “from humanitarian assistance to concerns about weapons of mass destruction to terrorism to drug interdictions to trade to counterpiracy.”

…“As you all know,” Panetta said, “the U.S. Department of Defense recently released a new defense strategy, recognizing that no region is more important than the Asia-Pacific for our country’s future peace and prosperity.”

Liang spoke through an interpreter, describing the purpose of his visit as being “to implement the important agreement reached by President Hu Jintao and President [Barack] Obama on developing the China-U.S. state-to-state and military-to-military relationship.”   More…

Latest on the China – Philippines standoff: Meeting of Philippines Foreign Secretary del Rosario and Defense Secretary Gazmin in Washington D.C.

The Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were in Washington D.C. yesterday, April 30th, 2012  to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

It was a historic first “2+2” or bilateral meeting of U.S. and Philippine defense and foreign affairs leaders.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, far right, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Filipino Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, far left, and Filipino Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario pose for an official photo before a meeting at the State Department in Washington, D.C., April 30, 2012. DOD photo by Glenn Fawcett

After the meeting, they made statements for the media, and then took a few questions from the press.

Included in this post are parts of the introduction from Secretary of State Clinton, press questions, and answers from Philippine Foreign Secretary del Rosario as well as Philippine Defense Secretary Gazmin on the Scarborough Shoal standoff, and the Philippines’ position.

Please see the earlier post on this topic for the definition of UNCLOS.

Introduction from Secretary of State Clinton:

…Today we held the first ever 2+2 meeting between the United States and the Philippines, a testament to our shared commitment to write a new chapter in the partnership between our two countries.

With the growing security and economic importance of the Asia Pacific, the United States is actively working to strengthen our alliances, build new partnerships, and engage more systematically in the region’s multilateral institutions.

At the heart of this strategy is our effort to deepen and broaden our alliance with our friend and treaty ally, the Philippines. This alliance is rooted not just in a deep history of shared democratic values but in a wide range of mutual concerns. And today we had a chance to cover a number of them.

First we discussed our bilateral military cooperation. Our alliance has helped keep both of our countries secure for more than 60 years, and it has been a bulwark of peace and stability in Asia. Today the United States reaffirms our commitment and obligations under the mutual defense treaty.

We also discussed steps we are taking to ensure that our countries are fully capable of addressing both the challenges and the opportunities posed in the region in the 21st century. We need to continue working together to counter violent extremism, to work on addressing natural disasters, maritime security, and transnational crime.

 Press Question / Answer:

PRESS QUESTION: Mr. del Rosario, the standoff at the Scarborough Shoal is into its fourth week now. Did you get an unequivocal assurance from the U.S. it will come to the aid of the Philippines if shots are fired? And what was the type or form?

Also, short of shots being fired, how do you see the endgame of Scarborough being played out if China cannot be persuaded diplomatically to withdraw its vessels from the area?

SECRETARY DEL ROSARIO: Those are several questions rolled into one, my friend, but let me begin from your last question.

We do have a three-track approach to endeavoring to solve the problem that we currently have with China in the Scarborough Shoal. It encompasses three tracks.

The first track is the political track. We are pursuing the ASEAN as a framework for a solution to this problem through a code of conduct that we are trying to put together and ultimately approve. Hopefully that will quiet the situation.

Secondly, we are pursuing a legal track, and the legal track involves our pursuing a dispute settlement mechanism under UNCLOS. There are five of them. We think that we can avail of one or two of those mechanisms, even without the presence of China.

Thirdly, we are pursuing a diplomatic approach, such as the one that we are undertaking, which is to have consultations with China in an attempt to defuse the situation.

In terms of U.S. commitment, I think the U.S. has been very clear that they do not get involved in territorial disputes, but that they are firm in terms of taking a position for a – towards a peaceful settlement of the disputes in the South China Sea towards a multilateral approach and towards the use of a rules-based regime in accordance with international law, specifically UNCLOS. They have expressed that they will honor their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.

PRESS QUESTION: My question is for Secretary Gazmin. Secretary, in light of the current Chinese-Philippines standoff in Scarborough Shoal, what kind of assistance have you asked to bolster Manila’s ability to patrol its waters and to deter what you call intrusions?

SECRETARY GAZMIN: Thank you for the question. The assistance we have sought is to help us bring the case to international legal bodies, so that the approach is the legal rules-based approach in resolving the issue in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.

It is worth reading the full remarks after the meeting, from the U.S. Department of State website (visit here).

Secretary Clinton was scheduled to leave for Bejing the evening after the meeting, so it will be interesting to see what develops in the next few days.

It certainly is a sensitive topic for the U.S. – China, as well as Philippines – China relationships, not to mention other countries that have an interest in the South China Sea, and China’s territorial waters claims.

UNCLOS and the China – Philippines standoff over Scarborough Shoal

China, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam each claim competing sovereignty over areas in the South China Sea.

You may have heard about the current standoff between China and the Philippines, near the Scarborough Shoal area.  Here is an excerpt from a BBC News article yesterday – China needs a ”consistent policy” on the South China Sea:

China’s claim includes almost the entire South China Sea, well into what the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea recognises as the 200-mile-from-shore Exclusive Economic Zones of other claimants.

That has led to occasional flare-ups and to competition to occupy islands, reefs and sandbars.

The latest incident sparked when a Philippines warship found eight Chinese fishing vessels at the Scarborough shoal – which both sides claim – when it was patrolling the area on 8 April.

When navy personnel boarded the Chinese fishing vessels, they found a large amount of illegally-caught fish and coral, Manila said.

Two Chinese surveillance ships then arrived in the area, preventing the navy from making arrests.

Attempts to resolve the stand-off have not yet been successful. The Philippine warship has been replaced by a coast guard vessel and the Chinese fishermen have gone, but two Chinese vessels remain there.

China has also expressed anger at the annual US-Philippines military exercises, due to run until 27 April.

This year they are taking place off Palawan, near the disputed Spratly islands which both Manila and Beijing claim. The joint exercises involve some 7,000 troops, including more than 4,000 from the US.

With China asserting its claims more aggressively the US has been strengthening old friendships in the region, says the BBC’s John Sudworth reporting from the South China Sea on the exercises.  Read more…

I’ve heard something about this  “200 nautical miles” rule before, but did not know the history.  Apparently, it is based on the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), an international agreement also known as the Law of the Sea Treaty.

Looking at the map above, it seems rather clear — especially regarding the Scarborough Shoals — that this area belongs in the Philippine “exclusive economic zone” under UNCLOS definitions.  China is claiming a very large area as “territorial waters”.

The current UNCLOS III treaty came into force in 1994,  replacing earlier treaties UNCLOS I and UNCLOS II (though the concept of national rights of a nation’s coastlines dates back to the 17th century).

UNCLOS III covers exclusive economic zones (see below graphic), navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, continental shelf jurisdiction, deep seabed mining, protection of the marine environment, scientific research, and settlement of disputes.

United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)

Related Links:

United Nations – Oceans and Law of the Sea: Historical Perspective on UNCLOS

East Sea (South China Sea) Studies – All for one, one for all: promoting economic activities in the South China Sea, by Nazery Khalid.

Palawan-based blogger Alex Pronove’s latest post: Sun-Tzu – The Art of War, and President Aquino (and the standoff at Scarborough Shoal)

Country of origin for tilapia fish sold locally

This is a follow-up to the post Tilapia – top aquaculture fish.

I was curious about the country of origin of tilapia fish sold locally (Monterey County, California).  Here is a sample:

Sign – seafood counter at Phil’s Fish Market, Moss Landing, CA

Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing had whole tilapia fish available (but no fillets) at the time of my visit.  However, their pricing sign did not indicate country of origin.  When I asked for assistance — near the bar and entrance — they did find out quickly, and told me their whole tilapias were farm-raised, from Canada.

There is room on the sign to write the country of origin, so it seems easy enough for Phil’s to let customers know where their tilapia is sourced.

Whole tilapia and other fish for sale at Phil’s Fish Market, Moss Landing

If you visit Phil’s website, the home page states “In our continuing commitment to protect the environment & provide the highest quality seafood available, we now partner with Safe Harbor, a comprehensive seafood safety certification program.”  

Safe Harbor Certified Seafood are tested for mercury, radiation, industrial pollutants, use of hormones, and unregulated aquaculture   For more on Safe Harbor, click here.

As far as I can tell, Safe Harbor is strictly a testing program for fish safety — to eat, which is great!.  But individual restaurants or fish markets still need to be mindful of fish sustainability practices (e.g., Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program) along with being a Safe Harbor partner.

Fresh tilapia fillets – Whole Foods

The fresh tilapia fillets at Whole Foods (top photo) are from Ecuador and label indicates “fresh farmed, responsibly raised, hormone & antibiotic free”.

Whole Foods fish counters had these Marine Stewardship Certification signs, indicating “third-party certified sustainable fishing”.

Whole Foods Market Marine Stewardship

They had frozen tilapia fillets available (bottom photo), also from Ecuador, and marked “no antibiotics, no preservatives, no added hormones”.

Frozen tilapia fillets – Whole Foods

At the Asian Market in Marina, tilapia was available in the freezer section only, and marked “Product of Taiwan, R.O.C.”.

Frozen tilapia fillets at the Asian Market – Marina

Frozen tilapia fillets country of origin info – Asian market

The chain grocery store, Save Mart, sold farm raised, previously frozen tilapia fillets, marked “Product of China”, as well as frozen whole tilapia, also marked “Product of China”.

Save Mart – previously frozen tilapia fillets

Whole tilapia fish – Save Mart

I did not find any tilapia from U.S. based fish farms —- not surprising, as the Seafood Watch Report from Monterey Bay Aquarium indicated less than 10% of tilapia consumed in the U.S. are from U.S.-based, tilapia fish farms.

As you can see from the photos, there is a big difference in tilapia price between the stores.  Only Whole Foods had tilapia sourced from areas marked as “Good Alternatives” on the Seafood Watch program — i.e., Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras.

Please visit the original post “Tilapia – Top Aquaculture Fish” for more information on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program.

And let me know if you see tilapia from U.S. fish farms (rated “Best Choice” from Seafood Watch) for sale at our local markets, or restaurants.

Update: I did find U.S. farmed tilapia fish, view the post here – Found! USA Farmed Tilapia.

Who’s happy now?

Here is a surprising chart on happiness and GDP, from the Economist.

Well, actually, it may not be that surprising.  Happiness — and most of us know this instinctively anyway — is not related to wealth.  Poor and middle-income countries were the happiest!

The top 3 on the chart are among the most populated countries in the world (Indonesia ranks #4, India #2 and Brazil is #5 in world population).  Indonesia and India also rank among the poorest countries in the world, based on per capita income.

DESPITE the economic gloom, the world is happier than it was before the financial crisis set in (according to a recent poll from Ipsos which surveyed 19,000 adults in 24 countries). 77% of respondents describe themselves as “happy”, three percentage points higher than in 2007. Those countries who report themselves as being the happiest tend to be in poor and middle-income countries, while the gloomiest are in rich countries (the figures for Italy and Spain were 13% and 11%).

With all our information connectivity, do you think people in poorer nations will be less happy as they learn of higher living standards in other parts of the world?  Or is it because poverty is somehow linked to leading a more spiritual life, and thus being content and happy?

Sometimes I do wonder…it seems the more you know about the world, the more sad it can get.

Are you happier now than last year…happier as you get older?

Americans eating less meat

My friend Jean (The Local Nomad) started a semi-vegetarian diet.  She is eating meat only twice a week, and going ovo-lacto vegetarian for the other five days of the week.

And it turns out she is part of a growing trend of Americans eating less meat.  According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans are now eating about 10% less meat, compared to 8 years ago.  In 2004, Americans consumed 184 pounds (83kg) of meat per person/per year.  Year 2012 projections are down to 168 pounds of meat per person/per year.

Highlights from a report from Janet Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute:

  • U.S. meat consumption has peaked — and for a society that lives high on the food chain, this new trend could signal the end of meat’s mealtime dominance.
  • Higher prices combined with a weak economy led people to put less meat in their grocery carts.
  • Corn, the primary livestock feed, has been in high demand by fuel ethanol producers  Increases in corn prices affects the cost of producing meat, milk, and eggs.
  • Cultural factors and attitudes about meat are changing. Rather than considering meat requisite at every dinner or an indication of wealth, many people are deliberately choosing to eat less meat than before, often citing concerns about health, the environment, and the ethics of industrial meat production.
  • Given livestock’s large climate and resource footprints, this “peak” in meat-eating is good news.

To read the full report and view more data charts, visit the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) website or click on the EPI banner below.

Also, here is a link to an article by Mark Bittman of the NY Times – We’re Eating Less Meat. Why?

World’s Top 10 Merchandise Trade Countries

Okay, this is the last data chart  — at least for a while —- from the Bureau of Transportation Statistic’s report on America’s Container Ports: Linking Markets at Home and Abroad.   So, is it obvious yet, that I find this sort of data interesting?

Container ship passing the city of San Francisco on a rainy day in late March, 2012. Photo:


The U.S., China, Germany and Japan lead the pack respectively, and 10th is Belgium…hmmm, Belgium?  Section report notes:

  • Looking ahead, the volume of containers that U.S. seaports will handle in the coming years will be determined mainly by how much the United States continues to rely on imported manufactured goods, which countries it trades with the most, and which products it imports rather than produces domestically.
  •  Globally, the United States ranked second in container traffic in 2009, a position it has held since China took over the lead position in 1998.
  • Nonetheless, the United States remains the world’s leading trading nation, accounting for 11 percent of total world merchandise trade in 2009 (figure 5 above).
  • U.S. total imports ranked first, account­ing for over 13 percent of global imports in 2009. With 9 percent of total global exports, however, the United States lags both China, the new leading world exporter, and Germany (WTO 2010). 
  • n 2009, China became the top world exporter, with 10 percent of the value of traded merchandise. Overall, though, the United States remained the world’s largest economy, accounting for 24 percent of world GDP in 2009 (see table below).

 Notes for above table

  • (a) World 2009 GDP is an estimate that includes projections by the International Monetary Fund for some countries.
  • KEY: TEU = twenty-foot equivalent unit. One 20-foot container equals one TEU, and one 40-foot container equals two TEUs.
  • SOURCES: TEUs, world estimates, 1995–1999: Containerisation International Yearbook (London: Informa Group, Inc., 1997–2001); 2000–2009: U.S. Department of Transportation,Maritime Administration, based on Containerisation International Online,, as of Oct. 5, 2010. TEUs, U.S. estimates, 1995–2009: American Association of Port Authorities, Industry Statistics; 1995–2009,, as of Sept. 16, 2010.
  • GDP: World estimates from International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database,, as of Sept. 16, 2010; U.S. estimates from U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis,, as of Sept. 16, 2010.

Here is a link to the full 52 page report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (

Philippine plastic garbage problem

If this photograph from Joshua Mark Dalupang, published with the Guardian’s article “Tide of plastic bags that started wave of revulsion”  does not convince you about the plastics problems in the Philippines….well, I don’t know what else will.

Plastic pollution in Manila Bay, the Philippines. Other countries including South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and China have introduced bans on single-use plastic bags. Photograph: Joshua Mark Dalupang / EPA

It truly is sad — and at the same time revolting — to see this anywhere, let alone my dearly loved Philippines, especially that plastic bags are a preventable type of pollution.

Are there programs in place to address this…or at least projects in the works?  If you live in the Philippines, in Manila or other large cities with this problem (and solutions), please comment — and especially if you live in a city that has banned plastic bags.

Note: Plastics never fully biodegrade: the estimates above refer to the time it takes for plastics to break down into smaller pieces. Graphic from

We really have to ask ourselves — is the convenience of single use plastic bags worthwhile, when we know the resulting pollution it creates?   We already know that it does not biodegrade fully — and as you can see from the above photo, rarely recycled.

What do you think happens to these plastic bags?   Where does the plastic end up?  In an ocean environment, these bags

  • will break down into smaller and smaller pieces
  • absorb other toxic substances
  • is ingested by wildlife and creatures living in our oceans (sea turtles mistake these bags as jellyfish and accidentally ingest the bags)
  • then enters the ocean wildlife food chain — including OUR food chain when we eat seafood

I posted an article titled Plastic Rich / Plastic Poor, after reading Susan Freinkel’s book, Plastic, A Toxic Love Story.  The book is about the history of plastic and our love of plastic products, and delves into — among other fascinating topics — the problem of plastic bags and plastic waste.

Related posts:

September 30, 2014 – California the first U.S. state to ban single-use plastic bags

Francis-Malasig-photo-philippine plastic trash problem

Click on the photo for more on the Philippine trash problems —  River of trash photo by Francis Malasig via 5Gyres

Also See on the “burden of civilization’s excess” for more on Philippine plastic trash problems, and on those now ubiquitous plastic stacking chairs adding to trash in the Philippines (or click on Francis Malasig’s photo above)

Resources and information on plastic bag bans at the end of my post “12 Minutes” (twelve minutes is the average use time of a plastic bag).

Link to article about Susan Freinkel’s book, Plastic, A Toxic Love Story and photographs of plastic packaging at a typical seaside market in the Philippines

Trash and plastics vortex now the size of Texas (about the North Pacific trash gyre)

Top 7 container ports in the U.S.

This is a follow-up and related to my earlier post, “What’s in the box?” (about what is in all those container boxes on trucks or on rail cars, on container ships we see as we drive over the bridges around the Bay Area, or even by freeways near the rather huge, and very busy Port of Oakland).

Port of Oakland, San Francisco Bay, California – Photo source U.S. NOAA: Photograper – Rich Bourgerie, Oceanographer, CO-OPS, NOS, NOAA

First, some definitions (adapted from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technologies Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, available at

  • Container: A large standard-size metal box into which cargo is packed for shipment aboard specially configured oceangoing container ships. It is designed to be moved with common handling equipment to enable high-speed intermodal transfers in economically large units between ships, rail cars, truck chassis, and barges using a minimum of labor. Therefore, the container rather than the cargo in it serves as the transfer unit.
  • Container Ship:  A cargo vessel designed and constructed to transport, within specifically designed cells, portable tanks, and freight containers, which are lifted on and off with their contents intact.
  • Container Port: A harbor with marine terminal facilities for transferring cargo between container ships.

Seattle, WA Port – Photograph Source: US NOAA

The top 7 ports in the US, based on the latest data and report from the Bureau of Transportation Statics, are:

  1. Los Angeles, California
  2. New York/New Jersey (not sure why they combine these)
  3. Long Beach, California
  4. Savannah, Georgia
  5. Houston, Texas
  6. Oakland, California
  7. Norfolk, Virginia

Wow — three of the top 7 ports are located in the state of California.  The report states

  • West coast ports as a region grew the fastest of any port region between the mid-1980s and 2009, but since 2007 the region has experienced the sharpest decline in container traffic.
  • Between 2007 and 2009, total TEUs  (20-foot equivalent units—a measure for counting containers) handled by west coast ports declined 22 percent, compared with 13 percent decline for east coast ports and less than 1 percent increase for gulf coast ports.

#9 Port – Port of Charleston, South Carolina. Photo by Rich Bourgerie, Oceanographer, CO-OPS, NOS, NOAA

And here are the rest — the TOP 20

 U.S. Waterborne Foreign Containerized Trade Handled at

Leading U.S. Container Ports: 2008–2009

(By thousands of metric tons)

RANK in 2009

U.S. Customs Port

Year 2008

Year 2009

Percent Change 2008-2009


Los Angeles, CA





New York/New Jersey, NY/NJ





Long Beach, CA





Savannah, GA





Houston, TX





Oakland, CA





Norfolk, VA





Seattle, WA





Charleston, SC





Tacoma, WA





Miami, FL





Baltimore, MD





Port Everglades, FL





New Orleans, LA





San Juan, PR





Philadelphia, PA





Jacksonville, FL





Wilmington, NC





Portland, OR





Wilmington, DE




Interested in the nitty-gritty details?  Here is a link to the full (52 pages) report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (, where I learned…

  • The majority of container ship calls to the United States are made to a relative few ports.
  • The top 10 U.S. container ports accounted for more than three quarters (77 percent) of container ship calls.

What’s in the box?

We have all seen the container boxes on trucks or on rail cars, on container ships as we drive over the bridges around the Bay Area, or even by freeways near the rather huge, and very busy Port of Oakland.

APL Post-Panamax container ships, Location: San Francisco, California - Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USA

Ever wonder what is inside all these containers?

Well, of course, just about anything you can think of  —- from toys, shoes and clothing, giant flat-screen televisions, printers and computer equipment, auto parts, to wood and paper products —- most headed to our big box stores.

Can you guess the top 3 commodities by weight (not by value), coming into America’s container ports?

The answer is

  1. Furniture (and parts of furniture)
  2. Bananas or plantains, fresh or dried
  3. Worked monument stone, art

Remember, the question is by weight, so….. furniture is heavy, and that makes sense as #1…and so are monuments and stone products at #3 —- think items made from granite or those pretty stone statues and water fountains we buy for our gardens.

But….bananas are #2…really?  I had no idea Americans were such big banana eaters!

#2 in top 10 commodities by weight, inside containers coming into USA

Below is the Top 10 chart

Top Commodity (by weight – in thousands of metric tonnes) of US Container Imports

Commodity Description

Year 2008

Year 2009

Jan to June 2010

Percent Change 2008-2009

Furniture and parts





Bananas and plantains, fresh or dried





Worked monument, stone, art, granule





Parts and accessories for motor vehicles





Coal, briquettes, and ovoids from coal





Beer made from malt





Oil, not crude, from petroleum and bitum mineral





New pneumatic tires or rubber





Seats (except barber, dental, etc.) and parts





Glazed ceramic flags and paving and hearth tiles





All other commodities





Top 10 commodities





Top 10, percentage of all commodities




TOTAL all commodities





SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, based on data from U.S. Department of Commerce, Foreign Trade Division, USA Trade Online, available at (report dated January 2011)

My notes:

  • There was a decrease for all commodities in the period covered by the report, with the exception of…BANANAS and oil
  • And another surprise…lots of beer “made from malt” coming in, right after coals, briquettes, but before oil “not crude, from petroleum“.

Yes, we have bananas for sale!

Here is a link to the full (52 page) report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics titled America’s Container Ports: Linking Markets at Home and Abroad (

Interesting information on this detailed report:

  • Trends in container shipping are directly related to patterns in overall international trade, which is a primary contributing factor in the Nation’s economic
  • Despite recent economic uncertainties and fluctuations in annual merchandise trade, the United States remains the world’s largest trading Nation, with the world’s biggest economy.
  • Today, 1 container in every 11 that carries global trade is bound for or originates in the United States, accounting for 9 percent of worldwide container traffic.

Most Craved Food in the World

Do you know what it is?


Chocolate Cake for your Chocolate Craving

—Article updated December, 2014—

The Spaniards brought cacao trees (the source of chocolates) from Mexico to the Philippines towards the end of the 17th century.

Today, you can still find cacao trees growing in the backyard of Filipino homes  — or in the case of the picture below,  right next to a home, so you can climb out the window to the tree to pick your cacao pods…or escape out of the house to the street.

Cacao Tree – The seeds from the light green color pods (which will ripen and turn into a reddish color) are what is dried, roasted and then ground to make chocolate tablets.

Here is a photo I took of cacao seeds drying by the side of the road.  The size and shape are like almonds.

After drying, the seeds are ground up and pounded with wet sugar (and in earlier times, grounded with toasted rice flour or Philippine pili nuts).  The paste is rolled and formed into tablets that are easier to store and dissolve for later use.

And in parts of the Philippines, if you do not have a cacao tree on your property or do not want to mess with opening up the pods and drying seeds, you can go to the market to buy the quantity you need.

Cacao seeds for sale, price difference by size / quality.  Photo

Can you imagine buying cacao seeds like this here in the U.S.?  And roasting your own seeds to make home-made chocolate?  Actually, that may be fun for true chocoholics….

Chocolate is native to Central America and was introduced to Spain in the early 16th century, in Italy and England in the 17th century and in Germany in the 18th century

unripe cacao tree pod

Chocolate “beans” come from the fruit of the cacao tree.  The pods grow on the branches and trunks of the tree.

These days, about 70% of cocoa produced in the world come from African countries and human rights issues continue to plague cacao plantations.  Big chocolate producers must lead in changing these conditions by creating and enforcing policies that address how cocoa farms run (see the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate).

Large scale chocolate production is dominated by

  • USA-based companies Mars, Hershey and Mondelēz International Inc (Cadbury brand)
  • Switzerland-based Nestle and Chocoladenfabriken Lindt & Sprüngli AG
  • Japan-based Meiji Holdings and Ezaki Glico Co Ltd

Above data source: International Cocoa Organization

Although most cocoa is produced in Africa, only 1% of chocolate is actually made there.  The company Madecasse is doing something different and creating a whole new category of chocolates…actually growing / sourcing  AND making chocolate bars in the country of Madagascar.  Their chocolate products are sold internationally and through their website.  

As always, a blog post leads me to learn more!  Although I started this post when I learned about the most craved food in the world — and wanting to share my cacao seed photos and information on why cacao trees grow in the Philippines — the next time I have a chocolate bar craving, I’ll definitely consider where and how the cacao is sourced.

Also see Equal Exchange Fair Trade Chocolates and look for chocolates from Fair Trade producers.

I’m happy to see that Costco is making a statement about their chocolate source for their Kirkland brand.  On their box of 70% Chocolate Truffles, a statement about their cocoa starts with:

…Costco is proud to support a cocoa program that improves crops, helps farmers and reduces the environmental impact of farm operations.   Our goal is to procure cocoa beans that are traceable, of high quality, and grown in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

And since Costco is the 2nd largest retailer in the U.S. (after Wal-Mart) and the 3rd largest retailer in the WORLD, their cocoa sourcing policies will certainly make an impact for cacao farmers.

Champorado – chocolate rice porridge

Champorado – chocolate rice porridge

Related post:

Champorado origins – a chocolate rice porridge and favorite Filipino breakfast