Biogas guzzlers: Karachi’s public buses to run on cow poo

Cow poo-fueled buses are part of an effort to clean the city’s air. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 02 January 2019

Biogas guzzlers: Karachi’s public buses to run on cow poo

  • New bus system will start operating in 2020
  • Clean bus network will cater for 320,000 passengers daily

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to freshen its air and cut planet-warming emissions, the Pakistani port city of Karachi will introduce cleaner-running buses powered by a decidedly “unclean” fuel: cow poo.
With funding from the international Green Climate Fund, Karachi will launch a zero-emission Green Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, with 200 buses fueled by bio-methane.
Locals said the new bus system — due to start operating in 2020 — would help reduce air pollution and street noise, but doubted whether it would have enough buses to resurrect the city’s ailing transport system.
“(Karachi’s) public transport system has totally collapsed and most people have to use online taxi-hailing services (and) auto rickshaws,” said commuter Afzal Ahmed, 45, who works as a medical sales representative.
After management problems forced the Karachi Transport Corporation to fold some two decades ago, Chinese-imported buses running on compressed natural gas fell into disrepair and were taken off the road, worsening public transport woes, he noted.
Malik Amin Aslam, adviser on climate change to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, said the BRT system was the first transport project the Green Climate Fund had approved, and would bring “multiple environmental and economic benefits.” It would not require operating subsidies, he added.
The cheap, clean bus network will cater for 320,000 passengers daily, and will reduce planet-warming emissions by 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over 30 years, according to project documents.
The BRT will consist of a 30-km (18.6-mile) corridor that will benefit 1.5 million residents, adding 25 new bus stations, secure pedestrian crossings, improved sidewalks, cycle lanes and bike-sharing facilities.
The Green Climate Fund, set up under UN climate talks to provide finance to developing countries to help them grow cleanly and adapt to a warming climate, will provide $49 million for the Karachi project out of a total cost of $583.5 million.
The other major funders are the Asian Development Bank and the provincial government of Sindh, where Karachi is located.
WASTE ON TAP
The BRT system, to be rolled out over four years, will have a fleet of 200 hybrid buses that will run on bio-methane produced from manure excreted by Karachi’s 400,000 milk-producing water buffaloes, and collected by the authorities.
The project will prevent about 3,200 tons of cow manure entering the ocean daily by converting it into energy and fertilizer at a biogas plant, and will save more than 50,000 gallons of fresh water now used to wash that waste into the bay, Aslam said.
Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO of Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, a policy think-tank, said calculating the overall impact on the environment was complex, as the buses would be introduced in stages.
Pakistan’s authorities often lack maintenance budgets, he noted, highlighting the risk the buses could break down and not be repaired.
“Pakistan has a history that it does not utilize donors’ project funding at an optimum level,” he said.
But if all goes well, Sheikh said the project, as the country’s first green BRT system, would lay the foundation for “climate-smart urban transportation systems” in other places.
It could shake up approaches to public transport among policy makers and planners, serving as a model for other cities, including Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Faisalabad, he said.
CLEANER AIR
Pakistan needs to launch such projects in big cities to discourage personal vehicle use, thereby easing traffic emissions and smog, and improving air quality and public health, Sheikh added.
He recommended setting a target for 70 percent of the urban population to use public transport.
Another way to ease air pollution would be to import better-quality petroleum fuels for vehicles, he added.
“We are importing low-grade fuel, and our refineries have capacity to refine only third-grade fuel,” he said.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer, said previous BRT projects in Pakistan’s large cities had not focused on environmental sustainability.
Planners should start connecting transport systems with wider urban development, Alam said.
“We need to introduce transport-oriented urban design by encouraging the use of public transport and discouraging the use of private vehicles to reduce emissions,” he said.
Zia Ur Rehman, a Karachi-based journalist covering civic issues, noted that the Sindh provincial government had run less than 50 buses in the city in the last 10 years, while private buses and mini-buses had dwindled from 25,000 to 8,000.
One reason is that buses were torched during strikes and at times of political upheaval, he said.
The new bus system alone was unlikely to resolve the city’s transport problems, but would be “a short-term relief for commuters and also help in reducing... air pollution,” he added.


What makes dogs so special? Science says love

Updated 20 February 2020

What makes dogs so special? Science says love

  • Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts
  • Although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect

WASHINGTON: The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.
But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.
Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in “Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”
The animal psychologist, 59, began studying dogs in the early 2000s, and, like his peers, believed that to ascribe complex emotions to them was to commit the sin of anthropomorphism — until he was swayed by a body evidence that was growing too big to ignore.
“I think there comes a point when it’s worth being skeptical of your skepticism,” the Englishman said.
Canine science has enjoyed a resurgence in the past two decades, much of it extolling dogs’ smarts.
Titles like “The Genius of Dogs” by Brian Hare have advanced the idea that dogs have an innate and exceptional intelligence.
Wynne, however plays spoilsport, arguing that Fido is just not that brilliant.
Pigeons can identify different kinds of objects in 2D images; dolphins have shown they understand grammar; honeybees signal the location of food sources to each other through dance; all feats that no dogs have ever been known to accomplish.
Even wolves, dogs’ ancestor species known for their ferocity and lack of interest in people, have shown the ability to follow human cues — including, in a recent Swedish study, by playing fetch.
Wynne proposes a paradigm shift, synthesizing cross-disciplinary research to posit that it is dogs’ “hypersociability” or “extreme gregariousness” that sets them apart.
One of the most striking advances comes from studies regarding oxytocin, a brain chemical that cements emotional bonds between people, but which is, according to new evidence, also responsible for interspecies relationships between dogs and humans.
Recent research led by Takefumi Kikusui at Japan’s Azabu University has shown that levels of the chemical spike when humans and their dogs gaze into each other’s eyes, mirroring an effect observed between mothers and babies.
In genetics, UCLA geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt made a surprising discovery in 2009: Dogs have a mutation in the gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans — a condition characterized by intellectual limitations and exceptional gregariousness.
“The essential thing about dogs, as for people with Williams syndrome, is a desire to form close connections, to have warm personal relationships — to love and be loved,” writes Wynne.
Numerous insights have also been gleaned through new behavior tests — many devised by Wynne himself and easy to replicate at home with the help of treats and cups.
One involved researchers using a rope to pull open the front door of a dog’s home and placing a bowl of food at an equal distance to its owner, finding that the animals overwhelmingly went to their human first.
Magnetic resonance imaging has drilled down on the neuroscience, showing that dogs’ brains respond to praise as much or even more than food.
But although dogs have an innate predisposition for affection, it requires early life nurturing to take effect.
Nor is the love affair exclusive to humans: A farmer who raised pups among a penguin colony on a tiny Australian island was able to save the birds from marauding foxes, in an experiment that was the basis for a 2015 film.
For Wynne, the next frontiers of dog science may come through genetics, which will help unravel the mysterious process by which domestication took place at least 14,000 years ago.
Wynne is an advocate for the trash heap theory, which holds that the precursors to ancient dogs congregated around human dumping grounds, slowly ingratiating themselves with people before the enduring partnership we know today was established through joint hunting expeditions.
It’s far less romantic than the popular notion of hunters who captured wolf pups and then trained them, which Wynne derides as a “completely unsupportable point of view” given the ferocity of adult wolves who would turn on their human counterparts.
New advances in the sequencing of ancient DNA will allow scientists to discover when the crucial mutation to the gene that controls Williams syndrome occurred.
Wynne guesses this happened 8,000 — 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, when humans began regularly hunting with dogs.
What makes these findings important, beyond advancing science, is their implications for dogs’ welfare, he argues.
That means rejecting brutal, pain-based training methods like choke collars based on debunked understandings of “dominance” popularized by celebrity trainers who demand dog owners become “pack leaders.”
“All your dog wants is for you to show them the way,” says Wynne, through compassionate leadership and positive reinforcement.
It also means carving out time to meet their social needs instead of leaving them isolated for most of the day.
“Our dogs give us so much, and in return they don’t ask for much,” he says.
“You don’t need to be buying all these fancy expensive toys and treats and goodness knows what that are available.
“They just need our company; they need to be with people.”