Around the World
Local News from All Over
Parks congress focuses on protected areas
The fifth World Parks Congress - this year themed "Benefits Beyond Boundaries" - took place in Durban in early September. Two thousand delegates attended the first such congress held in Africa. Topics of discussion included the relationship between communities and wildlife reservations, an issue that has sparked heated debate in recent years.
Livingstone Maluleke, from the Makuleke Community - whose traditional lands abut Kruger National Park - was one of the delegates present at the meeting. "Too many of our communities still do not have secure land titles and are not in a position to... realize the benefits that can come from conservation and tourism," said Maluleke.
Maluleke has recent experience in potential win-win solutions to problems with between parks and local communities. The week before the congress commenced, he helped negotiate a deal between his community, Kruger Park, and tourism firms in which the firm Wilderness Safaris will lease Makuleke land for wilderness lodges, an important source of income to the embattled community. Makuleke locals will be trained as conservation and anti-poaching rangers, as well as gaining perhaps less glamorous jobs in the lodges.
Coral faces extinction
Coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and off Southeast Asia will be gone within 20 years due o rising ocean temperatures, according to British scientists.
Coral organisms are highly sensitive to changes in temperature. The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Nature, say that computer climate change models predict that temperatures similar to those in the coral-killing 1998 El Niño will occur regularly in the future.
The 1998 El Niño killed around 90 percent of the coral in the region. Though the coral is rowing back, a series of warm years could extirpate it in short order. Corals generally don't reproduce until they are five years old or older.
Charles Sheppard from Warwick University told the BBC that he expects coral extinction by 2025 in the Indian Ocean between the equator and 15°S latitude. "That also includes the area of the Indian Ocean which contains a lot of the poorest countries," he said. Reefs in Southeast Asia already face a number of other threats, including pollution and brutal fishing methods.
The BBC's Richard Black indulged in an uncharacteristic and welcome bit of editorializing in reporting the issue, closing his story with "According to some estimates, coral reefs are the main source of protein for around ten million people worldwide. They also attract wealthy Western tourists and provide a natural breakwater against the worst ravages of ocean storms. Unfortunately very little is being done to protect them. If the realisation that some reefs may die permanently within two decades does not act as a spur to action, it is difficult to see what will."
Farmers don't cotton to Monsanto
Indian farmers wrecked a Bangalore research station to coincide with the opening of the fifth Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization in Cancún. The research station was operated by Monsanto, which - through its partner, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. - holds a monopoly on GM cotton seeds in the six Indian states that permit them. At least 29 farmers were arrested. Two Monsanto workers were injured, and a greenhouse was destroyed. The Karnataka State Farmers' Association claimed responsibility for the action.
Government to citizens: no nukes!
The state government of South Australia has placed a full-page ad in The Advertiser, Adelaide's daily paper, urging people to write to the prime minister to object to plans for a national nuclear-waste dump.
Australia's federal government wants to put a repository for low- and medium-level nuclear waste near the South Australian town of Woomera. The ad may raise the level of awareness of the proposal among South Australians: formal public notice was previously limited to an inconspicuous ad that asked for public comment on the site.
State Environment Minister John Hill told Australia's Special Broadcasting Service that polling shows 87 percent of South Australians oppose the dump, yet the federal government is ignoring their concerns.
The hunt for depleted uranium
Germany is sending environmental experts to Iraq under the auspices of the UN. The team will evaluate damage to Iraq's natural resources as a result of two US invasions, the embargo, and the destructive policies of Saddam Hussein.
Environment Minister Juergen Trittin told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the British and the Americans had consented to the mission. "That is significant," said Trittin, "because they will also face some critical questions, such as the impact of using depleted uranium munitions."
Berlin was fiercely opposed to the US-led war on Iraq, angering Washington and severely straining ties between the long-standing transatlantic allies.
The deadly August heat wave that took the lives of at least 11,435 people in France was aggravated by unsafe conditions at that country's 58 nuclear power plants, experts say.
Electricité de France (EdF) said the temperatures of reactor casings in some plants approached the 50°C safety limit and that attempts to cool them had largely failed. The plants were running hot due in part to extreme demand for electric fans and air conditioners. Environment campaigners say the fragile river ecosystems were threatened because nuclear plants were discharging cooling water at more than 30°C, compared with the usual maximum of 24°C - especially problematic as record hot temperatures had already heated river water far past normal ambient temperature.
As the crisis grew and nuclear engineers warned that the plants could not be operated safely under such conditions, nuclear-heavy France faced the prospect of shutting down half its power grid.
We won't log the Louvre, either
Shell Oil has promised not to develop or explore oil and gas resources in World Heritage sites such as the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Tower of London, the Acropolis, Vatican City, the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Palace and Park of Versailles, the Taj Mahal, Masada, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Kremlin and Red Square, and over 700 other sites. Key sites such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge did not make the list.
The announcement follows an identical commitment by 15 of the world's largest mining companies, further proof of mounting global grassroots pressure to reform corporate practices.
"While we commend Shell for scrapping a project in the Sundarbans Forest in Bangladesh, home to the endangered Bengal tiger, it would be generous to call naming World Heritage sites 'no go zones' a conceptual breakthrough," said Ilyse Hogue, Global Finance Campaign Director of Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
Few World Heritage sites hold much oil and natural gas.
The head of a Spanish marine protection agency charged in September that shockwaves from Spanish Navy scientific tests have killed four giant squid - one the length of a bus - off Spain's Asturias coast in September.
Luis Laria, president of marine protection agency CEPESMA, says that loud blasts from the Spanish Navy ship Hesperides were responsible for the deaths. The giant squid, Architeuthis dux, is the world's largest invertebrate, living at depths of up to 6,500 feet. One of the squid found in September was more than 35 feet long. Last year, three of the deep-sea giants washed up in the same area, and scientists suggested a range of causes from military operations to global warming.
Good news for sea turtles?
Endangered and threatened sea turtles have a new lease on life now that a new federal rule is in effect in the Gulf of Mexico.
Scientists with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for the management of ocean fisheries, expect that annual deaths of endangered leatherback sea turtles will decline 97 percent and that annual deaths of threatened loggerheads will decrease 94 percent as a result of the new protections.
NOAA Fisheries issued a rule in February requiring US shrimp fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic to use larger turtle excluder device (TED) openings in their nets. Shrimpers in the South Atlantic were required to start using the larger TEDs April 15. The new rule went into effect in the Gulf of Mexico in August, six months after the new protection announcement.
TEDs act as escape hatches for sea turtles. Current TEDs are too small to allow mature sea turtles - particularly leatherbacks, loggerheads and greens - to escape from shrimp nets. All sea turtles in US waters are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Of the approximately 8,000 letters sent to NOAA Fisheries on the rule during the public comment period, 93 percent (some 7,700) supported additional protections for sea turtles.
Don't empty that trash
Just by setting up a Yahoo! Groups email list, Tucson, Arizona's Downtown Don't Waste It, a "nonprofit program offering work to disadvantaged Tucsonans, and recycling services to downtown businesses," has conceived a virtual full-time garage sale with a twist: all goods are free. The idea is spreading fast: at press time, there are 11 Freecycle lists in the US and Canada.
Listmembers post notices when they want to search for or pass along furniture, salvage items, other goods - even pets, with Freecycle's proviso: "keep it legal & be lovingly careful." Tucson's list had 1,725 messages between May and September, 2003. Freecycle even recycles its member intro letter and good advice; to start a list in your area, see www.freecycle.org
Indonesian wood sneaks past US border
In August, a shipment of tropical old-growth hardwood from Indonesia labeled "RIL verified" slipped unnoticed into the United States through the port of Hampton Roads in Norfolk, Virginia. The wood arrived as part of a reduced-impact logging (RIL) pilot program, a partnership between US corporate interests, USAID, and Indonesian timber barons, and is the latest marketing ploy to greenwash the sale of lauan, an endangered Indonesian hardwood also marketed in the US as meranti.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri called in 2002 for a moratorium on logging in Indonesia until processes are put in place to protect endangered rainforests and secure the rights of indigenous people to their ancestral homelands. US NGOs agree. "US ports should be closed to Indonesian wood until their rainforests are protected and human rights are respected," said Rainforest Action Network's Jennifer Krill.
The shipment was logged from PT Suka Jaya Makmur, a cut-block nearly twice the size permitted under a 1999 Indonesian law. The holding company, Alas Kusuma Group, has ties with the former dictator's regime and his timber cartel, members of which remain players in the country's corrupt timber trade. The RIL program doesn't require PT Suka Jaya Makmur to protect endangered forests within its concession, or to ensure prior and informed consent of local communities before logging their ancestral land.
Small-scale coffee farmers are cheering a decision by Procter & Gamble, the largest coffee seller in the US, to sell Fair Trade Certified coffee products through its Millstone division.
The announcement came in response to dialogue with shareholders about the company's practices, as well as consumer and NGO pressure. With P&G's announcement, advocacy groups agreed to suspend their campaigns against the corporation, and the shareholders withdrew a resolution they had filed on the issue.
"With world market prices as low as they are right now, we see that many coffee farmers cannot maintain their families and their land anymore. We need Fair Trade now more than ever," says Jerónimo Bollen, director of Manos Campesinas, a Fair Trade Certified coffee cooperative in Guatemala.
Over the past three years, the price of coffee has fallen almost 50 percent, and now hovers near a 30-year low. Unable to cover their costs of production, small farmers cannot earn the income necessary to support their families. Fair Trade Certified coffee guarantees farmers a minimum of $1.26 a pound for their harvest. Last month, the International Coffee Organization composite indicator average price for green coffee was 52 cents a pound.
Bank to fund Peru drilling project
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) approved financing in September for the controversial Camisea fossil fuel project in the Peruvian Amazon. Camisea's critics contend that support for the project is paving the way to indiscriminate destruction of one of the world's most pristine rainforests and threatens the physical survival of isolated indigenous populations.
The project includes plans to drill inside an indigenous reserve and a proposed industrial plant near the Paracas Marine Reserve.
"IDB member governments made a critical mistake," said Aaron Goldzimer of Environmental Defense. "The project is out of step with international standards and now the IDB has demonstrated it is at the bottom of the international financial community in its environmental and social safeguards."
The US government announced its decision to abstain from a positive vote, yet without a clear "no" vote from the US, other voting members felt a sufficient consensus was in place to approve the project.
The IDB delayed consideration of the project twice due to outstanding concerns. On August 28, these concerns led the US Export-Import Bank to reject $214 million in financing on the grounds that Camisea did not meet the bank's environmental standards. Two US companies, Hunt Oil and Halliburton, stand to benefit from the IDB's decision. The IDB's largest shareholder is the US, with 30 percent of the vote.