Wolves Fall Prey to Canada’s Rapacious Tar Sands Business September 18, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Animal Protection, Canada, Energy, Environment.
Tags: alberta tar sands, animal rights, Canada, caribou, conservation, ecology, environment, keystone xl, oil industry, paul paquet, peter kent, pipeline, roger hollander, tar sands, wolves
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On the pretext of protecting caribou, wolves are threatened with a cull. But the real ‘conservation’ is of oil industry profits
Wolves are routinely, baselessly and contemptuously blamed for the demise of everything from marmots to mountain caribou in western Canada. Given that attitude, we at Raincoast Conservation Foundation are appalled, though not surprised, by Canada’s proposed strategy to “recover” dwindling populations of boreal forest caribou in northern Alberta’s tar sands territory. Essentially, the plan favours the destruction of wolves over any consequential protection, enhancement or expansion of caribou habitat.
Clearly, the caribou recovery strategy is not based on ecological principles or available science. Rather, it represents an ideology on the part of advocates for industrial exploitation of our environment, which subsumes all other principles to economic growth, always at the expense of ecological integrity. Owing to the breadth of the human niche, which continues to expand via technological progress, the human economy grows at the competitive exclusion of nonhuman species in the aggregate. The real cost of Alberta’s tar sands development, which includes the potential transport of oil by Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipelines is being borne by wolves, caribou and other wild species.
Consistent with Canada’s now well-deserved reputation as an environmental laggard, the caribou recovery strategy evolved over several years and many politicised iterations, carefully massaged by government pen pushers and elected officials who did their very best to ignore and obscure the advice of consulting biologists and ecologists. So, the government should quit implying that the consultation approach provides a scientifically credible basis for decisions. Apparently, scientists can lead federal Environment Minister Peter Kent to information, but they cannot make him think.
Egged on by a rapacious oil industry, the federal government has chosen to scapegoat wolves for the decline of boreal caribou in a morally and scientifically bankrupt attempt to protect Canada’s industrial sacred cow: the tar sands. Yet, the ultimate reason why the caribou are on the way out is because multiple human disturbances – most pressingly, the tar sands development – have altered their habitat into a landscape that can no longer provide the food, cover and security they need.
The relentless destruction of boreal forest wilderness via tar sands development has conspired to deprive caribou of their life requisites while exposing them to levels of predation they did not evolve with and are incapable of adapting to. Consequently, caribou are on a long-term slide to extinction; not because of what wolves and other predators are doing but because of what humans have already done.
Controlling wolves by killing them or by the use of non-lethal sterilisation techniques is biologically unsound as a long-term method for reducing wolf populations and protecting hoofed animals (ungulates) from predation. Lethal control has a well documented failed record of success as a means of depressing numbers of wolves over time. Killing wolves indiscriminately at levels sufficient to suppress populations disrupts pack social structure and upsets the stability of established territories, allowing more wolves to breed while promoting the immigration of wolves from nearby populations.
At the broadest level, the caribou strategy favours human selfishness at the expense of other species. Implicit is the idea that commercial enterprise is being purchased by the subversion of the natural world, with one set of ethical principles being applied to humans and another to the rest of nature. The strategy panders to the ecologically destructive wants of society by sacrificing the most basic needs of caribou. In doing so, it blatantly contradicts the lesson Aldo Leopold taught us so well: the basis of sound conservation is not merely pragmatic it; is also ethical.
Simply, the caribou strategy is not commensurate with the threats to the species’ survival. What is desperately needed is a caribou strategy designed to solve the problem faster than it is being created. Protecting limited habitat for caribou while killing thousands of wolves as the exploitation of the tar sands continues to expand will not accomplish this goal. Against scientific counsel otherwise, though, politicians have decided that industrial activities have primacy over the conservation needs of endangered caribou (and frankly, all things living).
Tar sands cheerleaders try hard to convince Canadians that we can become an “energy superpower” while maintaining our country’s environment. They are, of course, wrong. Thousands of wolves will be just some of the causalities along the way. Minister Kent and his successors will find more opportunity to feign empathy as Canadians also bid farewell to populations of birds, amphibians and other mammals, including caribou, that will be lost as collateral damage from tar sands development. How much of our country’s irreplaceable natural legacy will Canadians allow to be sacrificed at the altar of oil industry greed?
Paul Paquet is senior scientist with Raincoast Conservation Foundation. An international consultant and lecturer, with numerous university affiliations, he is an internationally recognised authority on mammalian carnivores, especially wolves.
In Paraguay a Familiar Story is Playing Out September 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Environment, First Nations, Genocide, Human Rights, Latin America, Paraguay.
Tags: ayoreo, david attenborough, deforesting, ecology, environment, genocide, human rights, indigineous, Latin America, native rights, paraguay, paraguay environment, roger hollander, sean o'leary, survival international
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In Paraguay, the Ayoreo people are fighting for their very survival. These indigenous people are struggling to save their ancestral home in the Chaco region from cattle companies, farmers and religious sects who are moving into the region and clearing the land. New arrivals do this to make the land suitable for farming and grazing cattle. The combination of burning and then bulldozing the land leaves the region barren.
The Chaco region in southwestern Paraguay is one of the most inhospitable lands in South America; while it composes 60 percent of the country’s area, it is inhabited by only two percent of the Paraguayan population. Popular filmmaker and conservationist David Attenborough has praised the beauty of Chaco calling it “one of the last great wilderness areas left in the world” and called for its protection due to the many plants and animals that inhabit its dense forests.
The preservation of forested areas is not only vital to sustaining the region’s biodiversity; the survival of the Ayoreo people also depends upon it. It is not simply a matter of the Ayoreo people moving somewhere else. The territory called Eami in their language, is tied to their history and very identity and thus valued as sacred. As one of the members of the Ayoreo point out, “Our history is etched in every stream, in every waterhole, on the trees…our territory expresses itself through our history because the Ayoreo people and our territory are a single being.”
While the Ayoreo people were legally awarded some disputed land by the Paraguayan government, two Brazilian beef corporations, BBC S.A and River Plate S.A are refusing to hand over the land until they are sufficiently compensated. These companies are seeking permission to clear a large area of land bordering on the Ayoreo’s. This will mean fencing the Ayoreos in to a smaller area, marginalizing them even further. Although many Paraguayan officials support expanding the cattle and farming industries throughout the Chaco as a means to boost the economy, the long-term damage to the nation from both a human rights and an environmental perspective would be catastrophic. The practice of slash and burn agriculture will only bring short-term benefits at the expense of Paraguay’s ecology and the destruction of the Ayoreo people.
The Ayoreo-Totobeigosode, a sub community of the Ayoreo, is one of the last uncontacted groups in the world, Brazilian beef corporations, wealthy farmers, and Mennonite communities seeking remote areas in which to live a life based on a literal translation of the bible are encroaching on the Ayoreo lands. In the 1950s, the Ayoreo people lived in an area 2,800,000 hectares; now they claim only 550,00 hectares – a loss of nearly 80 percent. According to the BBC, over 1 million hectares have disappeared since 2007. Moreover, the new arrivals into the Chaco region have brought diseases, such as measles that were previously unknown to the Ayoreo people.
Both BBC S.A and River Plare S.A have been caught twice by satellite imagery of illegallyclearing protected forestryin Chaco. Yaguarete Pera, another Brazilian cattle corporation in the region was found guilty of deforesting the region and concealing evidence of the displace Ayoreo’s former presence. No stranger to controversy, Survival International awarded Yaguarete Pera their 2010 ‘Greenwashing Award’ for “dressing up the wholesale destruction of a huge area of the Indians’ forest as a noble gesture for conservation.”
Survival International issued a report to the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on 10th August, 2011 stating that the Ayores-Totobeigosode face the “imminent danger” of extermination. There are only 5,600 Ayoreo Indians left today with about 3,000 living in Bolivia and 2,600 in Paraguay. The Ayoreo people were lured out of their homes and into modern society with promises of a better life; many were dragged out forcibly. As Aquino Picanerai, a member of the Ayoreo recalled, “they brought us to the world of the white people and locked us up in this concentration camp.” Lacking the necessary skills to thrive in modern society and disenchanted with their situation, these indigenous people have since returned to their more traditional way of life. Others rejected modernity from the start, opting never to leave the forest, hoping to remain hidden and unmolested from the outside world. Sadly this will not be the case. Rising beef profits and the availability of cheap land continues to bring speculators seeking fortunes into the region.
Certain government officials in Paraguay have expressed the need for investment and claim that the human rights and deforestation situation has been exaggerated. Paraguay’s weak laws facilitate the wholesale destruction of the forest. Under current Paraguayan laws an individual or corporation is allowed to clear forest on up to 75% of its land. They may then sell the remaining 25 % to another entity who is entitled to clear 75% of that plot. The process leads to the complete destruction of that land. Last year, Paraguay’s congress failed to pass a law that would have placed a ban on deforestation in the Chaco region.
In an attempt to explain public silence on injustices being perpetrated in the Chaco region, Benno Glauser, the Director of Iniciativa Amotocodie explains “public opinion has no opinion on the matter”. The Chaco is at the periphery of a country of little international importance. Even in Paraguay, the Chaco does not embody the homogenous Guaraní society composing the majority of the population – more than 98 percent of Paraguayans are either mestizo or of primarily European descent. In contrast, the wilderness of the Chaco is sparsely populated by indigenous tribes and religious isolationists. In the public discourse, the cause to save the Ayoreo remains an obscure impediment to economic development. If this matter continues to fall on deaf ears then the allure of profits at the expense of humanity will prevail.
Tags: alberta, anthropocene, biodiversity, carbon cycle, coastal dead zones, david suzuki, earth summit, ecology, environment, nature, ozone depletion, pogo, roger hollander, syncrude, tar sands
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Humanity is facing a challenge unlike any we’ve ever had to confront. We are in an unprecedented period of change. Exponential growth is causing an already huge human population to double in shorter and shorter time periods.
When I was born in 1936, just over two billion people lived on the planet. It’s astounding that the population has increased more then threefold within my lifetime. That staggering growth has been accompanied by even steeper increases in technological innovation, consumption, and a global economy that exploits the entire planet as a source of raw materials and a dumping ground for toxic emissions and waste.
We have become a new kind of biological force that is altering the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale. Indeed, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen has suggested that the current geologic period should be called the Anthropocene Epoch to reflect our new status as a global force — and a lot of scientists agree.
As noted in a recent Economist article, “Welcome to the Anthropocene,” we are altering the Earth’s carbon cycle, which leads to climate change, and we have sped up by more than 150 percent the nitrogen cycle, which has led to acid rain, ozone depletion, and coastal dead zones, among other impacts. We have also replaced wilderness with farms and cities, which has had a huge impact on biodiversity.
On top of that, according to the Economist, a “single engineering project, the Syncrude mine in the Athabasca tar sands, involves moving 30 billion tonnes of earth — twice the amount of sediment that flows down all the rivers in the world in a year.” As for those global sediment flows, the article goes on to point out that they have been cut by nearly a fifth, eroding the Earth’s deltas “faster than they can be replenished,” thanks to the almost 50,000 large dams built in the world over the past half-century.
We now occupy every continent and are exploring every nook and cranny of the Earth for new resources. The collective ecological impact of humanity far exceeds the planet’s capacity to sustain us at this level of activity indefinitely. Studies suggest it now takes 1.3 years for nature to restore what humanity removes of its renewable resources in a year, and this deficit spending has been going on since the 1980s.
For the first time in human history, we have to respond as a single species to crises of our own making. Until now, this kind of unified effort only happened in science fiction when space aliens invaded Earth. In those stories, world leaders overcame human divisions to work together against the common enemy.
Now, as comic strip character Pogo said in the ’70s (appropriately, on a poster created for Earth Day): “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Humans have long been able to affect the environment, but never before on such a scale. In the past, even people with primitive tools and weapons had impacts on local flora and fauna, as Tim Flannery outlined in The Future Eaters, and Jared Diamond described in Collapse. Diminishing resources forced people to come to grips with the need to sustain their resources or to move in search of new opportunities.
The only way to come to grips with the crises and find solutions is to understand that we are biological creatures, with an absolute need for clean air, clean water, clean food and soil, clean energy, and biodiversity. Capitalism, communism, democracy, free enterprise, corporations, economies, and markets do not alter those basic needs. After all, those are human constructs, not forces of nature. Similarly, the borders we throw up around our property, cities, states, and countries mean nothing to nature.
All the hopes that meetings such as the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and the climate conferences in Kyoto in 1997, Copenhagen in 2009, and Cancun in 2010 would help us resolve major ecological challenges will be dashed as long as we continue to put economic and political considerations above our most fundamental biological, social, and spiritual needs. We humans may be heavy hitters, but we must remember that nature bats last.
Ecuadorian Court Rules Against Chevron in Historic Case February 17, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Latin America.
Tags: contamination, ecology, Ecuador, environment, indigenous, indigenous peoples, indigenous rights, Latin America, oil, roger hollander, sofia jarrin, standard oil, texaco
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(LOOK FOR THE DOCUMENTARY “CRUDE” AT A LOCAL THEATRE OR ON DVD)
|Written by Sofía Jarrín|
|Tuesday, 15 February 2011 22:08|
|The military procession travelled from the end of the pipeline to the highlands of Ecuador, to celebrate the country’s first barrel of crude oil extracted from Lago Agrio, Sucumbios province, on July 26, 1972. Ecuador’s military running the government, dictatorship-style, was honoring the signed contract with Texaco Petroleum Company to fulfill the promise of economic prosperity and development for the small Andean country. Many present during the official ceremony dipped their hands in the thick substance to signal the beginning of a new era. That first barrel of crude oil is still sitting in a corner of the Military School “Eloy Alfaro” museum.
Forty years later, a court in the same small town of Lago Agrio, ruled against the oil company requiring Texaco, now Chevron Corporation, to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon and permanently affecting the lives of thousands of villagers in the area. According to the plaintiffs, the environmental contamination left by the company in a span of 26 years is ten times worse than the Gulf of Mexico spill.
“We can tell our neighbors and those affected that justice exists. They can dream again of drinking clean water, not with oil residue like we’ve had to drink until now. We can dream that the cleanup of the land can begin and dream of a better way of life,” said Guillermo Grefa, an indigenous Amazon leader.
The residents of Sucumbios spent the last 18 years seeking justice for the environmental damages suffered in their territories by Texaco’s oil exploration. These are mostly indigenous people who before the oil company moved in, were hunters, gatherers, subsistence farmers who depended on the rivers as their main water source. Now the region has the highest incidence of cancer in the country, with an excess of deaths among men from all types of cancer 3.6 times higher in the villages closest to the oil fields, according to a study published in the Occupational Environmental Medicine journal. Child leukemia is three times the national average as well.
Worse stories can be found on the book Las palabras de la selva (The jungle speaks), a psychosociological report on the impact of Texaco’s oil exploration on the Amazon communities of Ecuador published by the Institute of Development and International Cooperation Studies. Based on ground analysis and oral testimonies, the researchers found that 72.4 percent of the population were affected by the land and water pollution generated by the oil fields, although most lacked information about what could be harmful to their health, such as eating dead, contaminated fish. From those interviewed, 87.8 percent reported to have lost their crops and 22.1 percent were forcibly displaced. Indigenous tribes went into a process of “forced acculturation” that meant to many, the loss of spiritual and cultural relations they once had with the rainforest. The introduction of money, alcohol and new diseases forever changed their way of life.
The researchers also found out that sexual violence was also a recurring problem, and despite cultural restraints of shame and silence around these issues, one in seven people said to have known personally, including the names of the victims and incidents details, cases of sexual violence against indigenous women and girls allegedly perpetrated by Texaco workers and settlers.
Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco drilled 399 oil fields in an area as big as 1 million acres (430.000 hectares) and extracted as many as 1,500 barrels of crude oil with a profit of around $30 billion. In the process, Chevron has admitted that Texaco dumped over 18.5 billion gallons of toxic water into streams and soil in the rainforest – about 4 million gallons daily at the height of its operation. According to the Amazon Defense Front, Texaco administered over 900 unlined, open-air waste pits out of the jungle floor and filled them with deadly toxins that were run off via a piping system into nearby streams and rivers. The company also burned or vented millions of cubic meters of natural gas into the atmosphere without adequate controls.
In a confidential memo dated July 17, 1972, Texaco gave specific instructions to its operational base in Ecuador by stating that “only major events as per Oil Spill Response Plan instructions are to be reported”, further clarifying that a major event is that “which attracts the attention of the press and/or regulatory authorities.” That was just the beginning of a series of attempts by Texaco and its parent company since 2001, Chevron, to shadow the truth about the environmental damage inflicted during a time when little regulations existed.
During the length of the trial, the company was accused of constantly manipulating the facts and other acts of corruption, among which the worst was likely the creation of a fake lab in Ecuador to make an “independent assessment” of the environmental damages that surprisingly contradicted the plaintiffs findings. Chevron also held an extensive lobbying campaign in the United States to pressure the Bush administration to force Ecuador to drop the case. There are accusations of case materials that have mysteriously disappeared, and confirmed death threats against the lawyers who represented the affected communities.
The case, Aguinda v. ChevronTexaco, began on November 3, 1993, when 30,000 people from Ecuador’s Amazon filed a class action suit against Texaco in New York federal court. The trial was then forced to move from New York to a local court in Ecuador in 2002, alleging that any decision required national jurisdiction.
In Ecuador, two local judges were removed from the case under direct pressure from Chevron which accused the courts of being corrupt, unfair, and inadequate. This forced each incoming judge to review tens of thousands of documents, as Ecuador’s legal proceedings rely on written instead of oral statements. The third, Nicolás Zambrano, was considered to be a more conservative judge, but he finally ruled against Chevron ordering the company to pay $8.6 billion in damages and twice that amout if they refuse to “publicly apologize to the victims of the Ecuadorian Amazon for the crimes committed.”
“No amount of money will give their lives back and the damage caused by the pollution. However, this amount is not enough to remediate what has been affected,” said Luiz Yanza, co-founder of the Amazon Defense Front. “We have to remember that water, life, the earth were damaged. That many people died. That is why we believe that amount must be reviewed.”
The plaintiffs have announced they will appeal the decision to demand the $27 billion they think is needed to repair the damages done to the environment and improve people’s health in the region. Chevron Corporation has also vowed to appeal, calling the court’s ruling the product of fraud, and is leaning on a recent jurisdiction by a New York judge that blocked any award from this case for 28 days citing the “company [is] of considerable importance to our economy.”
In a statement released by Pablo Fajardo, one of the best-known attorneys representing the indigenous tribes said that rather than accepting responsibility, Chevron continues its campaign of warfare against the Ecuadorian courts.
“We call on the company to end its polemical attacks and search jointly with the plaintiffs for common solutions. We believe the evidence before the court deserves international respect and the plaintiffs will take whatever actions are appropriate consistent with the law to press the claims to a final conclusion,” he said.
Image from www.ChevronToxico.com.
Coal-Fired Power Stations Are Death Factories. Close Them. February 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
Tags: antarctic, antarctic ice sheet, artic sea ice melts, australian government, carbon cap, carbon dioxide, clean coal, climate chnge, coal, coal-fired power, coral reefs, ecology, ecosystems, environment, fossil fuel, fossil fuel emissions, gas, german government, global warming, Gordon Brown, greenhouse gas, james hansen, methane, Obama, oil, pollution, roger hollander, sea levels, species extermination
A year ago, I wrote to Gordon Brown asking him to place a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in Britain. I have asked the same of Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, Kevin Rudd and other leaders. The reason is this – coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet.
The climate is nearing tipping points. Changes are beginning to appear and there is a potential for explosive changes, effects that would be irreversible, if we do not rapidly slow fossil-fuel emissions over the next few decades. As Arctic sea ice melts, the darker ocean absorbs more sunlight and speeds melting. As the tundra melts, methane, a strong greenhouse gas, is released, causing more warming. As species are exterminated by shifting climate zones, ecosystems can collapse, destroying more species.
The public, buffeted by weather fluctuations and economic turmoil, has little time to analyse decadal changes. How can people be expected to evaluate and filter out advice emanating from those pushing special interests? How can people distinguish between top-notch science and pseudo-science?
Those who lead us have no excuse – they are elected to guide, to protect the public and its best interests. They have at their disposal the best scientific organisations in the world, such as the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences. Only in the past few years did the science crystallise, revealing the urgency. Our planet is in peril. If we do not change course, we’ll hand our children a situation that is out of their control. One ecological collapse will lead to another, in amplifying feedbacks.
The amount of carbon dioxide in the air has already risen to a dangerous level. The pre-industrial carbon dioxide amount was 280 parts per million (ppm). Humans, by burning coal, oil and gas, have increased this to 385 ppm; it continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.
Earth, with its four-kilometre-deep oceans, responds only slowly to changes of carbon dioxide. So the climate will continue to change, even if we make maximum effort to slow the growth of carbon dioxide. Arctic sea ice will melt away in the summer season within the next few decades. Mountain glaciers, providing fresh water for rivers that supply hundreds of millions of people, will disappear – practically all of the glaciers could be gone within 50 years – if carbon dioxide continues to increase at current rates. Coral reefs, harbouring a quarter of ocean species, are threatened.
The greatest danger hanging over our children and grandchildren is initiation of changes that will be irreversible on any time scale that humans can imagine. If coastal ice shelves buttressing the west Antarctic ice sheet continue to disintegrate, the sheet could disgorge into the ocean, raising sea levels by several metres in a century. Such rates of sea level change have occurred many times in Earth’s history in response to global warming rates no higher than those of the past 30 years. Almost half of the world’s great cities are located on coastlines.
The most threatening change, from my perspective, is extermination of species. Several times in Earth’s history, rapid global warming occurred, apparently spurred by amplifying feedbacks. In each case, more than half of plant and animal species became extinct. New species came into being over tens and hundreds of thousands of years. But these are time scales and generations that we cannot imagine. If we drive our fellow species to extinction, we will leave a far more desolate planet for our descendants than the world we inherited from our elders.
Clearly, if we burn all fossil fuels, we will destroy the planet we know. Carbon dioxide would increase to 500 ppm or more. We would set the planet on a course to the ice-free state, with sea level 75 metres higher. Climatic disasters would occur continually. The tragedy of the situation, if we do not wake up in time, is that the changes that must be made to stabilise the atmosphere and climate make sense for other reasons. They would produce a healthier atmosphere, improved agricultural productivity, clean water and an ocean providing fish that are safe to eat.
Fossil-fuel reservoirs will dictate the actions needed to solve the problem. Oil, of which half the readily accessible reserves have already been burnt, is used in vehicles, so it’s impractical to capture the carbon dioxide. This is likely to drive carbon dioxide levels to at least 400 ppm. But if we cut off the largest source of carbon dioxide – coal – it will be practical to bring carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm, lower still if we improve agricultural and forestry practices, increasing carbon storage in trees and soil.
Coal is not only the largest fossil fuel reservoir of carbon dioxide, it is the dirtiest fuel. Coal is polluting the world’s oceans and streams with mercury, arsenic and other dangerous chemicals. The dirtiest trick that governments play on their citizens is the pretence that they are working on “clean coal” or that they will build power plants that are “capture-ready” in case technology is ever developed to capture all pollutants.
The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death. When I testified against the proposed Kingsnorth power plant, I estimated that in its lifetime it would be responsible for the extermination of about 400 species – its proportionate contribution to the number that would be committed to extinction if carbon dioxide rose another 100 ppm.
The German and Australian governments pretend to be green. When I show German officials the evidence that the coal source must be cut off, they say they will tighten the “carbon cap”. But a cap only slows the use of a fuel – it does not leave it in the ground. When I point out that their new coal plants require that they convince Russia to leave its oil in the ground, they are silent. The Australian government was elected on a platform of solving the climate problem, but then, with the help of industry, it set emission targets so high as to guarantee untold disasters for the young, let alone the unborn. These governments are not green. They are black – coal black.
The three countries most responsible, per capita, for filling the air with carbon dioxide from fossil fuels are the UK, the US and Germany, in that order. Politicians here have asked me why am I speaking to them. Surely the US must lead? But coal interests have great power in the US; the essential moratorium and phase-out of coal requires a growing public demand and a political will yet to be demonstrated.
The Prime Minister should not underestimate his potential to transform the situation. And he must not pretend to be ignorant of the consequences of continuing to burn coal or take refuge in a “carbon cap” or some “target” for future emission reductions. My message to Gordon Brown is that young people are beginning to understand the situation. They want to know: will you join their side? Remember that history, and your children, will judge you.
Ecuador: Mining Protests Marginalized, But Growing January 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Latin America.
Tags: amazon, CONAIE, ecology, ecuador mining, ecuador mining law, indigenous rights, jennifer moore, large scale mining, latin america environment, Rafael Correa, roger hollander, transnational mining, water rights
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|Written by Jennifer Moore www.upsidedownworld.org|
|Wednesday, 21 January 2009|
On Tuesday, nation-wide protests over large scale metal mining called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) demonstrated growing, broad-based participation. Roughly 12,000 people from indigenous, environmentalist, human rights, campesino and rural water organizations participated in diverse actions across eleven provinces of the small Andean nation.
Taking place only a few days after the popular President Rafael Correa celebrated two years into his first mandate, government and media reactions aimed to diminish the day’s significance. The press and government insisted that protests were poorly attended trying to infer that national consensus has been reached over a new mining law.
Ecuador has been an oil producer for over forty years. Although large scale metal exploration has been ongoing since the early 90s, no project has yet reached production. Mining activities are currently suspended until the new law is passed.
Attempts to minimize conflicts aim to clear the path for largely Canadian transnational corporations to bring gold and copper finds into production. Future mining revenues are promoted as the next source of state revenue for recently expanded social programs.
Thousands protest in the central highlands
Particularly strong participation took place in the central highlands where around 9,000 indigenous people shut down transportation along the Panamerican Highway in the provinces of Cotopaxi and Tungurahua.
In Cotopaxi, men and women of all ages maintained blockades in high spirits animated by jokes and even laughter as they faced police and angry bus drivers. These demonstrations passed without serious incident.
While Cotapaxi is not the focal point of major mineral exploration, indigenous people in the area showed solidarity with communities in other parts of the highlands and the Amazon affected by large-scale metal mining. Defence of their right to water, enshrined in Ecuador’s newly approved constitution, unites them.
Nancy, a young woman from the community of San Juan, emphasized the importance of access to clean water for indigenous communities. “In San Juan, we already have poor access to water. Without water, what can we do?”
President of the CONAIE Marlon Santi pointed out that the “majority of mining concessions are on indigenous and campesino lands.” He also challenged President Correa’s program of “change,” saying that “the people who grow potatoes, who grow maize, who live in the Amazon and the mangroves, we are where change is coming from.”
Santi added that today’s mobilizations shows that the opposition to mining is not relegated to “four nobodies,” as Correa has charged.
Protesters violent and subversive
However, while government declarations and media coverage downplayed the day of action, they also portrayed activists as subversive and police as victims.
The President and the Minister of Government Fernando Bustamante were quoted by various national press saying that the indigenous confederation is trying to destabilize Correa whose popularity hovers around 70%. These unfounded allegations are based on the fact that the national indigenous movement has played an important role in the overthrow of two past governments, most recently in 2001.
The CONAIE emphatically denies that this was part of their objectives. Rather, the day of action was carried out in the spirit of building alliances between urban and rural organizations, as well as indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Demands focused on the need for greater democracy and respect for the collective rights of communities.
But media coverage emphasized injuries and arrests, emphasizing injuries sustained by eleven police in isolated confrontations with protesters. Police forces were more than doubled Tuesday and came into conflict with activists during efforts to reopen highway transportation north of the capital and in the Province of Imbabura.
“At the end of the day, we are always painted as the bad guys,” says Janeth Cuji, Director of Communication for the CONAIE. The CONAIE reported ten arrests as well as two hospitalized with injuries. They added that several buses of activists were held back from attending demonstrations taking place in Quito and denounced heavy police presence saying that “repression and detentions aim to silence voices in defence of life.”
Various Ecuadorian human rights and urban-based organizations also denounced the detentions. They expressed their solidarity with demands for debate over the country’s dependence on extractive industries considering the social and environmental costs of large scale metal mining.
A long term struggle
Tuesday’s mobilization is also seen as just one more step in lengthy struggles by communities already affected by large scale mining.
These groups, many of which have been struggling against mining at the local level for years, first coalesced in a national movement shortly following Correa’s inauguration in 2007. Their key aim was that Correa declare Ecuador free of large scale metal mining. Most recently, ongoing efforts have taken place in protest of the new mining law which they say privileges transnational companies.
Within the last two weeks in the South of Ecuador, three days of road blockades were sustained in the Province of Azuay followed by a six day hunger strike in the provincial capital of Cuenca with participation from the highlands and the Southern Amazon. Demands focused on dialogue with the government and reiterated opposition to gold and copper mining in headwaters in high wetlands (paramos) and Amazonian rainforests. As a result of these earlier actions, two activists remain imprisoned and many others face charges.
Yet despite further anticipated repression this week, around 2,000 people from across the province joined a peaceful march Tuesday. A wider range of organizations and communities participated than has been seen for about a year and a half. The demonstration concluded with a pampamesa, or a mass communal lunch, in the city’s central park.
Nidia Soliz from the Peoples’ Health Movement of Cuenca outlines some persistent concerns with the new law.
She observes that it gives top priority to mining activities by declaring them a public utility in all phases of development, guaranteeing access to infrastructure, water, and energy for companies which could come in conflict with needs of local communities and lead to expropriation of their land. She concludes, “The bill pertains to an economic objective of the government, as well as the greater interests of multinational organizations and transnational mining companies, regardless of possible impacts on remarkable biodiversity and headwaters, as well as community health and well being.”
Despite growing dissent, the government says community needs will be met and that the new mining law is ready for final approval this week. But hopes that those involved will simply accept that decisions around mining are already made is wishful thinking. Instead, it appears that a broader movement based upon the defence of water, nature and collective rights now enshrined in the country’s constitution is emerging to continue the struggle for more profound changes in Ecuador.
Daniel Denvir contributed reporting from Cotapaxi. Photos are by Daniel Denvir, Klever Calle and Carlos Zorrilla.
One Man’s Bid to Aid the Environment December 24, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
Tags: activis, amy goodman, Bush, civil disobedience, conservation, democracy, development, direct action, ecology, economics, edward abbey, environment, gas companies, iww, land grab, Obama, oil companies, protest, public lands, roger hollander, salt lake city, tim dechristopher, utah, utah phillips
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Posted on Dec 23, 2008
By Amy Goodman
Tim DeChristopher is an economics student at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He had just finished his last final exam before winter break. One of the exam questions was: If the oil and gas companies are the only ones who bid on public lands, are the true costs of oil and gas exploitation reflected in the prices paid?
DeChristopher was inspired. He finished the exam, threw on his red parka and went off to the controversial Bureau of Land Management land auction that the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called “the Bush administration’s last great gift to the oil and gas industry.” Instead of joining the protest outside, he registered as a bidder, then bought 22,000 acres of public land. That is, he successfully bid on the public properties, located near the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Dinosaur National Monument, and other pristine areas. The price tag: more than $1.7 million.
He told me: “Once I started buying up every parcel, they understood pretty clearly what was going on … they stopped the auction, and some federal agents came in and took me out. I guess there was a lot of chaos, and they didn’t really know how to proceed at that point.”
Patrick Shea, a former BLM director, is representing DeChristopher. Shea told the Deseret News: “What Tim did was in the best tradition of civil disobedience, he did this without causing any physical or material harm. His purpose was to draw attention to the illegitimacy and immorality of the process.”
There is a long tradition of disrupting land development in Utah. In his memoir, “Desert Solitaire,” Edward Abbey, the writer and activist, wrote: “Wilderness. The word itself is music. … We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination.”
Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang” inspired a generation of environmental activists to take “direct action,” disrupting “development.” As The Salt Lake Tribune reported on DeChristopher: “He didn’t pour sugar into a bulldozer’s gas tank. He didn’t spike a tree or set a billboard on fire. But wielding only a bidder’s paddle, a University of Utah student just as surely monkey-wrenched a federal oil- and gas-lease sale Friday, ensuring that thousands of acres near two southern Utah national parks won’t be opened to drilling anytime soon.”
Likewise, the late Utah Phillips, folk musician, activist and longtime Utah resident, often invoked the Industrial Workers of the World adage: “Direct action gets the goods.”
More than just scenic beauty will be harmed by these BLM sales. Drilling impacts air and water quality. According to High Country News, “The BLM had not analyzed impacts on ozone levels from some 2,300 wells drilled in the area since 2004 … nor had it predicted air impacts from the estimated 6,300 new wells approved in the plan.” ProPublica reports that the Colorado River “powers homes for 3 million people, nourishes 15 percent of the nation’s crops and provides drinking water to one in 12 Americans. Now a rush to develop domestic oil, gas and uranium deposits along the river and its tributaries threatens its future.”
After being questioned by federal authorities, DeChristopher was released.
The U.S. attorney is currently weighing charges against the student. DeChristopher reflects: “This has really been emotional and hopeful for me to see the kind of support over the last couple of days … for all the problems that people can talk about in this country and for all the apathy and the eight years of oppression and the decades of eroding civil liberties, America is still very much the kind of place that when you stand up for what is right, you never stand alone.”
His disruption of the auction has temporarily blocked the Bush-enabled land grab by the oil and gas industries. If DeChristopher can come up with $45,000 by Dec. 29, he can make the first payment on the land, possibly avoiding any claim of fraud. If the BLM opts to re-auction the land, that can’t happen until after the Obama administration takes over.
The outcome of the sales, if they happen at all, will probably be different, thanks to the direct action of an activist, raising his voice, and his bidding paddle, in opposition.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 700 stations in North America.
© 2008 Amy Goodman
Distributed by King Features Syndicate
From Ecuador: Good and Evil December 22, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
Tags: alfred palacio, amazon, chevron, cofan, condaleezza rice, ecology, Ecuador, Evo Morales, exxon valdez, George Bush, global bonds, Greg Palast, Hugo Chavez, IMF, Latin America, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, occidental petroleum, oxy, petroleum, quechua, quito, Rafael Correa, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., roger hollander, texaco, Venezuela, wolfowitz, World Bank
A Conversation with Ecuador’s New President
by Greg Palast http://www.gregpalast.com/a-quechua-christmas-carol/ (no date)
[Quito] I don’t know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his father.
I’m not Barbara Walters. It’s not the kind of question I ask.
He hesitated. Then said, “My father was unemployed.”
He paused. Then added, “He took a little drugs to the States… This is called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in a jail.”
He continued. “I’d never talked about my father before.”
Apparently he hadn’t. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.
Correa’s dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was the original “banana republic” – and the price of bananas had hit the floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.
“My mother told us he was working in the States.”
His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.
At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.
“We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these children who are cold almost every night.”
It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.
Or maybe there was something else to it.
Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the streets. He’d won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, the owner of the biggest banana plantation.
Doctor Correa, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in Europe. Professor Correa as he is officially called – who, until not long ago, taught at the University of Illinois.
And Professor Doctor Correa is one tough character. He told George Bush to take the US military base and stick it where the equatorial sun don’t shine. He told the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which held Ecuador’s finances by the throat, to go to hell. He ripped up the “agreements” which his predecessors had signed at financial gun point. He told the Miami bond vultures that were charging Ecuador usurious interest, to eat their bonds. He said ‘We are not going to pay off this debt with the hunger of our people. ” Food first, interest later. Much later. And he meant it.
It was a stunning performance. I’d met two years ago with his predecessor, President Alfredo Palacio, a man of good heart, who told me, looking at the secret IMF agreements I showed him, “We cannot pay this level of debt. If we do, we are DEAD. And if we are dead, how can we pay?” Palacio told me that he would explain this to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and the World Bank, then headed by Paul Wolfowitz. He was sure they would understand. They didn’t. They cut off Ecuador at the knees.
But Ecuador didn’t fall to the floor. Correa, then Economics Minister, secretly went to Hugo Chavez Venezuela’s president and obtained emergency financing. Ecuador survived.
And thrived. But Correa was not done.
Elected President, one of his first acts was to establish a fund for the Ecuadoran refugees in America – to give them loans to return to Ecuador with a little cash and lot of dignity. And there were other dragons to slay. He and Palacio kicked US oil giant Occidental Petroleum out of the country.
Correa STILL wasn’t done.
I’d returned from a very wet visit to the rainforest – by canoe to a Cofan Indian village in the Amazon where there was an epidemic of childhood cancers. The indigenous folk related this to the hundreds of open pits of oil sludge left to them by Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, and its partners. I met the Cofan’s chief. His three year old son swam in what appeared to be contaminated water then came out vomiting blood and died.
Correa had gone there too, to the rainforest, though probably in something sturdier than a canoe. And President Correa announced that the company that left these filthy pits would pay to clean them up.
But it’s not just any company he was challenging. Chevron’s largest oil tanker was named after a long-serving member of its Board of Directors, the Condoleezza. Our Secretary of State.
The Cofan have sued Condi’s corporation, demanding the oil company clean up the crap it left in the jungle. The cost would be roughly $12 billion. Correa won’t comment on the suit itself, a private legal action. But if there’s a verdict in favor of Ecuador’s citizens, Correa told me, he will make sure Chevron pays up.
Is he kidding? No one has ever made an oil company pay for their slop. Even in the USA, the Exxon Valdez case drags on to its 18th year. Correa is not deterred.
He told me he would create an international tribunal to collect, if necessary. In retaliation, he could hold up payments to US companies who sue Ecuador in US courts.
This is hard core. No one – NO ONE – has made such a threat to Bush and Big Oil and lived to carry it out.
And, in an office tower looking down on Quito, the lawyers for Chevron were not amused. I met with them.
“And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?” Rodrigo Perez, Texaco’s top lawyer in Ecuador was chuckling over the legal difficulties the Indians would have in proving their case that Chevron-Texaco caused their kids’ deaths. “If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude – which is absolutely impossible.” He laughed again. You have to see this on film to believe it.
The oil company lawyer added, “No one has ever proved scientifically the connection between cancer and crude oil.” Really? You could swim in the stuff and you’d be just fine.
The Cofan had heard this before. When Chevron’s Texaco unit came to their land the the oil men said they could rub the crude oil on their arms and it would cure their ailments. Now Condi’s men had told me that crude oil doesn’t cause cancer. But maybe they are right. I’m no expert. So I called one. Robert F Kennedy Jr., professor of Environmental Law at Pace University, told me that elements of crude oil production – benzene, toluene, and xylene, “are well-known carcinogens.” Kennedy told me he’s seen Chevron-Texaco’s ugly open pits in the Amazon and said that this toxic dumping would mean jail time in the USA.
But it wasn’t as much what the Chevron-Texaco lawyers said that shook me. It was the way they said it. Childhood cancer answered with a chuckle. The Chevron lawyer, a wealthy guy, Jaime Varela, with a blond bouffant hairdo, in the kind of yellow chinos you’d see on country club links, was beside himself with delight at the impossibility of the legal hurdles the Cofan would face. Especially this one: Chevron had pulled all its assets out of Ecuador. The Indians could win, but they wouldn’t get a dime. “What about the chairs in this office?” I asked. Couldn’t the Cofan at least get those? “No,” they laughed, the chairs were held in the name of the law firm.
Well, now they might not be laughing. Correa’s threat to use the power of his Presidency to protect the Indians, should they win, is a shocker. No one could have expected that. And Correa, no fool, knows that confronting Chevron means confronting the full power of the Bush Administration. But to this President, it’s all about justice, fairness. “You [Americans] wouldn’t do this to your own people,” he told me. Oh yes we would, I was thinking to myself, remembering Alaska’s Natives.
Correa’s not unique. He’s the latest of a new breed in Latin America. Lula, President of Brazil, Evo Morales, the first Indian ever elected President of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. All “Leftists,” as the press tells us. But all have something else in common: they are dark-skinned working-class or poor kids who found themselves leaders of nations of dark-skinned people who had forever been ruled by an elite of bouffant blonds.
When I was in Venezuela, the leaders of the old order liked to refer to Chavez as, “the monkey.” Chavez told me proudly, “I am negro e indio” – Black and Indian, like most Venezuelans. Chavez, as a kid rising in the ranks of the blond-controlled armed forces, undoubtedly had to endure many jeers of “monkey.” Now, all over Latin America, the “monkeys” are in charge.
And they are unlocking the economic cages.
Maybe the mood will drift north. Far above the equator, a nation is ruled by a blond oil company executive. He never made much in oil – but every time he lost his money or his investors’ money, his daddy, another oil man, would give him another oil well. And when, as a rich young man out of Philips Andover Academy, the wayward youth tooted a little blow off the bar, daddy took care of that too. Maybe young George got his powder from some guy up from Ecuador.
I know this is an incredibly simple story. Indians in white hats with their dead kids and oil millionaires in black hats laughing at kiddy cancer and playing musical chairs with oil assets.
But maybe it’s just that simple. Maybe in this world there really is Good and Evil.
Maybe Santa will sort it out for us, tell us who’s been good and who’s been bad. Maybe Lawyer Yellow Pants will wake up on Christmas Eve staring at the ghost of Christmas Future and promise to get the oil sludge out of the Cofan’s drinking water.
Or maybe we’ll have to figure it out ourselves. When I met Chief Emergildo, I was reminded of an evening years back, when I was way the hell in the middle of nowhere in the Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the Chugach Native village of Chenega. I was investigating the damage done by Exxon’s oil. There was oil sludge all over Chenega’s beaches. It was March 1991, and I was in the home of village elder Paul Kompkoff on the island’s shore, watching CNN. We stared in silence as “smart” bombs exploded in Baghdad and Basra.
Then Paul said to me, in that slow, quiet way he had, “Well, I guess we’re all Natives now.”
Well, maybe we are. But we don’t have to be, do we?
Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of the earth. I listened back through my talk with President Correa. And I can assure his daughter that she didn’t have to worry that her dad would forget about “the poor children who are cold” on the streets of Quito.
Because the Professor Doctor is still one of them.