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Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Issues > Summer 2006 > Around the World

Around the World

Local News from All Over

 

AFRICA

Deporting wildlife

protestors in Kenya youthforconservation.org Kenyans protest plans to export hundreds of wild animals to Thailand

Opposition is growing among Kenyans to a plan to export 300 wild animals to the Chiang Mai Night Safari Zoo in Thailand, intended as a gesture of goodwill by President Mwai Kibaki. In exchange for the animals, Kenya would receive approximately $1 million that would go into a revolving conservation fund. Thailand would send elephants trainers to Kenya along with veterinarians and some assistance in training the tourism police unit. “We were angered by the casual manner in which the government dismissed our concerns over the translocation, and we strongly believe that Kenya’s wildlife should remain in the wild, in Kenya, for the benefit of all Kenyans. They are part of our magnificent national heritage,” says Steve Itela, of Kenya’s Coalition against Exportation of Wildlife to Thailand.

The plan has had no environmental impact assessment (EIA) carried out as required in Kenya’s Environment Management and Coordination Act.

Tourism is one of Kenya’s largest industries, accounting for 20 percent of the nation’s GDP. This industry is based on “safari” experiences, with a unique emphasis on wild animals in wild places. Kenyan activists point out that establishing a safari park in Thailand could affect their tourism industry, a model of ecotourism. Kenya has a total ban on hunting wild game: The nation’s animals are widely revered as national assets and fellow residents.

Activists have collected over 15,000 signed petitions from Kenyans and friends of Kenya who oppose the sale. The petitions have been presented to President Kibaki, who responded by reducing the number of animals involved from 300 to approximately 150.
youthforconservation.org

ANTARCTICA

Japan versus whales

The latest conflict between protesters and Japanese whaling vessels occurred January 15 when a grenade-tipped harpoon was targeted near Greenpeace activists off Mawson Coast, part of the Australian Antarctic Territory, about 2,000 nautical miles southwest of Perth.

The harpoon from a Japanese whaling ship landed just ahead of a Greenpeace inflatable, killing its target. Canadian activist Texas Joe Constantine became entangled in the harpoon line and was thrown into the bloodied water near the freshly killed minke whale. Greenpeace expedition leader Shane Rattenbury said that Constantine, who was wearing a polar survival suit, was unharmed.

“Before this happened, we had prevented them from killing this whale for about an hour,” said Rattenbury. “I think tensions have been rising across the last few weeks and the fleet is frustrated at not getting clear shots at their targets [because of our intervention].”

Greenpeace is campaigning for a network of marine reserves covering 40 percent of the world’s oceans to protect ocean life from further destruction and allow the world’s oceans to recover from past exploitation.

Although the official English-language Web site of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs remains silent on confrontations occurring at the other end of the world, it can’t be anything but concerned over a public opinion backlash.
Dale Mills

ASIA

Choptax

People in China use 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks every year. Most of them are made of wood, and so disposable chopsticks account for the logging of about 25 million full-grown trees each year – for a product used for perhaps half an hour before being discarded.

As if that weren’t bad enough, China is a major exporter of disposable chopsticks, having shipped about 180,000 tons of the implements to other countries.

“It’s basic math. If one Chinese [person] consumes two pairs of wooden chopsticks a day, how many trees have to be chopped down? A large portion of those chopsticks are shipped overseas,” Yang Dabin of the Chinese NGO Friends of Nature, told The Independent.

But a new grassroots campaign has prompted Beijing to introduce a tax on the disposable chopsticks beginning in April 2006. The tax is part of the Communist Party’s latest Five-Year Plan.

“We are losing our forest resources at an alarming rate to a rapidly growing economy. We cannot make people replace their wooden furniture with steel and switch to electronic newspapers. But we can have a law to make people pay for using disposable chopsticks. Or we can switch permanently to steel, aluminum or fibre chopsticks,” Yang said.
National People’s Congress deputy Nan Shunji lauded the move. “We have wasted a lot of natural resources at our dinner tables,” she said.
The Independent, 3/22

 

Good move, Vietnam

Vietnam has enacted far stricter controls on sulfur content in diesel fuel and gasoline for both transport and industrial use. The previous allowable level of sulfur in fuel was .5 percent: The new maximum level is one tenth that. The move, which is strongly opposed by fuel importers, is intended to cut air pollution.

Vietnam is Asia’s second-largest gasoline and diesel importer. In tightening its standards, it is joining an increasing number of its neighbors in clamping down on sulfur emissions.
Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem signed the sulfur control directive March 7.
Reuters, 3/27

Not charming

In the East Indian village of Padmakeshpur, nearly two-thirds of the families make their living by snake charming. The practice, however, is not so charming to wildlife rights activists.

The king cobras and pythons used in the performances are rare species, and activists allege that the snake populations are being depleted in the wild due to their capture by snake charmers. Because the charmers rely on their age-old tradition to earn their
living, wildlife officials are currently determining ways to provide the performers with alternative livelihoods while also establishing rehabilitation facilities for the snakes.
channelnewsasia, 3/20

Not horny

The high price of rhino horn, a popular ingredient in traditional Asian medicines, has taken a high toll on Sumatran rhinos in Borneo. A recent survey was able to find only 13 of the animals in the state of Sabah.

Strong protection measures have recently been established to protect the Sumatran rhino, a species at high risk of extinction through intensive poaching. WWF-Malaysia has partnered with four other organizations to launch “Rhino Rescue,” a five-year project that also involves poaching deterrent measures. The total population of Sumatran rhinos worldwide is estimated to be less than 300.
ENS, 3/20

Talk about your consumer footprint

In 2001, the Indonesian government banned all log exports in order to protect its rapidly dwindling forests. Despite these efforts, however, rare Indonesian wood has been found in flooring products in several American home-improvement stores.

Merbau, a hardwood known for its luxurious dark tones, continues to be smuggled out of Indonesia at an alarming rate. According to an Environmental Investigation Agency report, timber that would ultimately be worth $600 million at the retail level was being exported from Papua each month. US law does not prohibit the sale of products made from illegally cut timber.

Although none of the companies found carrying merbau products have broken any laws, the investigation asserts that neither had they made much effort to ascertain the origin of the wood. Lowe’s and Home Depot have recently discontinued the sale of merbau products from their stores.
Washington Post, 3/22

AUSTRALIA

Black tar down

A seized North Korean freighter once used to import heroin into Australia, slated for target practice by the Australian Air Force, is raising concerns of potential pollution of the New South Wales coast.

p>The 3,800-ton ship, the Pong Su, was towed from Sydney Harbour to a position 80 miles off the coast. The Australian Department of Environment and Heritage gave its blessing to the sinking of the ship. But Brett Devine, a marine salvage specialist, was quoted in the Australian media as fearing that protection of the marine environment was given short shrift in preparing for the exercise. Devine said the Pong Su still had significant quantities of oils and greases aboard when he examined it prior to transport.

“A lot of the paneling had been ripped off the walls exposing all the insulation,” Devine told the Australian newspaper The Age. “I also observed spare pistons caked in grease and hydrocarbons. Nobody had removed any wiring, machinery and equipment, which would all have oil and grease on them. All of that will come out of the ship if sunk at sea.”

Regardless of environmental concerns, Australian F-111 fighters bombed the Pong Su on March 23, sinking it.
The Age, 3/23

NORTH AMERICA

Greenland defrosts

Map showing retreat of glacier over 150 yearsNASA The retreat of Jakobshavn Glacier, Greenland's fastest moving glacier, from 1850-2003

“If the trends we’re seeing continue and climate warming continues as predicted, the polar ice sheets could change dramatically,” said Jay Zwally, lead author of a new, comprehensive NASA satellite survey. “The Greenland ice sheet could be facing an irreversible decline by the end of the century.”

The survey, published in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of Glaciology (www.igsoc.org), combines new satellite mapping of the height of the world’s great ice sheets and previous NASA airborne mapping of the edges of the Greenland sheet – nine years of Antarctic data and 10.5 years from Greenland – to pinpoint where the ice sheets were thinning and where they were growing.

In Greenland, ice losses along the southeastern coast were countered by an increase in ice depth high in the interior, due to heavy snowfall. But other recent studies have shown accelerated losses in parts of Greenland. Last month a NASA study that included observations through 2005 reported a speed-up of ice flow into the sea from several Greenland glaciers. Zwally suggested this may reflect a change in just the last few years, as his survey ended with 2002’s data: “We don’t know how long [gains and losses] will be approximately in balance with each other or if that balance has already tipped in favor of the recently accelerating outflow from glaciers.”

The survey documented extensive thinning of the West Antarctic ice shelves, with a net loss of ice from the combined polar ice sheets between 1992 and 2002 and a corresponding rise in sea level. The ice sheets had a major net loss of ice due to thinning of the ice shelves and increased outflow from West Antarctica, which outweighed the gains in snow and ice in the East Antarctic ice sheet and in other parts of West Antarctica. Some ice shelves around the Antarctic Peninsula have totally disintegrated, allowing ice from the land to move into the ocean faster.

Annually, the Greenland ice sheet gained approximately 11 billion tons of water, while Antarctica lost about 31 billion tons, for a net loss of ice to the sea. But “the contribution of the ice sheets to sea-level rise during the decade was smaller than expected, just two percent of the recent increase of nearly three millimeters (0.12 inches) a year,” Zwally said. “Current estimates of other major sources of sea-level rise do not make up the difference, so we have a mystery on our hands. Continuing research using NASA satellites and other data will narrow the uncertainties.”
NASA, 3/8

Trash to gas

SCS Energy, a division of SCS Engineers, has been awarded contracts to design, construct, and operate two 3.2 megawatt (MW) landfill gas-fired power plants in Medford, Oregon, and Atlanta, Georgia. Contracts call for SCS to design and construct the projects on a fast-track basis to meet deadlines embodied in the clients’ power purchase agreements, and provide five years of operation and maintenance services at a guaranteed price.

As of March 2006, SCS Energy had installed nine landfill gas-fired projects and three digester gas-fired projects on a design/construct basis. The firm has also designed six landfill gas-fired power plants that were built by independent constructors, and operates nine biogas-fired power plants with an aggregated generation capacity of over 15 MW.
SCS, 3/12

Bank defaults

One month ahead of the World Bank’s annual meeting, a key internal study has slammed the Bank’s work on trade liberalization.

The study by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), released on March 22, concludes that the World Bank’s strategies on trade did not deliver on employment and poverty reduction. The IEG called the Bank “overly optimistic about the immediate and universal benefits of more open trade.”

“These findings confirm our daily experience. Policies to open markets have benefited the world’s largest corporations, but have a devastating impact on millions of the world’s poorest people,” says Alberto Villarreal of Friends of the Earth Uruguay.

The 270-page report analyzes the World Bank’s trade work from 1987 through 2004, including lending and technical assistance. It concludes: “trade-related projects did not adequately attend to the poverty and distributional outcomes.”

The evaluation was carried out by the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), an autonomous body reporting directly to the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank that assesses the effectiveness of the Bank’s development efforts.

Liberalized international trade is leading to social disruption, environmental damage, and hunger, especially in developing countries. Small-scale farmers are particularly vulnerable to market opening pressures, and often forced from their land when it is converted to plantations or planted with crops for export.
FOE, 3/26

Bison under attack

The Montana Department of Livestock (DOL) and National Park Service are once again capturing America’s last wild bison, with hundreds rounded up in March near Yellowstone National Park. These actions are based on unfounded fears that bison will transmit the livestock disease brucellosis to cattle.

The DOL did not test its captured bison for exposure to the disease. It is uncertain if the National Park Service intends to test the buffalo they’ve captured for exposure to brucellosis.

There are no cattle within 40 miles of West Yellowstone. In Gardiner, approximately 150 cattle graze on private land owned by the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), adjacent to Yellowstone’s northern boundary, located within North America’s largest wildlife migration corridor.

There has never been a documented case of wild bison transmitting brucellosis to cattle, even where bison and cattle have co-existed for decades (Grand Teton National Park). Bulls, calves, yearlings, and non-pregnant buffalo pose no risk of transmitting brucellosis, while pregnant buffalo pose merely a theoretical risk.

In recent weeks, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has been saying that capture and slaughter along the Park’s western boundary (where Montana is the lead agency) is “not the direction we want to go.” Schweitzer has recently told the media that he would like to remove cattle from the bison’s critical winter range by purchasing easements.

“We’ve been hearing all about Governor Schweitzer’s supposed increased tolerance for bison,” said Dan Brister of the Buffalo Field Campaign. “Either the DOL doesn’t care what the Governor thinks or Schweitzer’s ‘increased tolerance’ is mere rhetoric.”

Since fall, bison management activities have eliminated almost 1,500 wild bison from America’s last wild population. Winter has been hard on wildlife this year and the mortality rate is reportedly extremely high. Bison try to access lower-elevation habitat for winter survival and spring calving, yet state and federal agents prevent them from doing so. Yellowstone’s bison, America’s only continuously wild herd, now number fewer than 3,500 animals.
Buffalo Field Campaign, 3/22

SOUTH AMERICA

Diverse dirt does good

The future of sustainable agriculture around the world depends on diverse communities of soil organisms, according to a $26 million soil research project unveiled in March at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-8) in Curitiba, Brazil.

Improved crop yields are being enjoyed by some developing-world farmers who have turned to soil bacteria and fungi rather than artificial fertilizers to boost harvests.
The improvements are some of the first fruits of a project involving Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Mexico, and Uganda, implemented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with co-financial support of Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

The project, co-ordinated by the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Institute (TSBF-CIAT), is also aimed at cataloguing the variety of below-ground life forms from worms and beetles to fungi and bacteria.

Experts believe this represents the biggest source of untapped and unknown life on Earth and thus a potential source of new drugs and industrial products.

Boosting yields using naturally occurring soil organisms may reduce the need to clear more forest for agriculture, thus helping to conserve the forest and its biodiversity both above and below ground.

Three years into the project, researchers are also unearthing thousands of unfamiliar species, many of which are likely new to science.

“When people think of where new species might be found,” said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, “they tend to think of the rain forests, mangroves or locations like mountain tops – not millimeters beneath their toes.”

The research, which has also involved the 70 students in “taxonomic training and national capacity building,” is clearly demonstrating how land management affects the diversity of soil organisms and thus soil fertility.
UNEP, 3/22

Brazil to save more forest

In other COP-8 news, as cabinet ministers from more than 90 nations arrived in Curitiba, Brazil announced plans to expand protection of the Amazon rain forest.

Brazil’s Environment Ministry said in late March it would declare about 80,000 more square miles of the rain forest a protected area in the next three years.The project is part of the Amazon Protected Areas Program, which has banned development in some regions and created sustainable development zones in others to preserve the Amazon region, which covers 1.6 million square miles in Brazil and extends into Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela.

During three days of high-level talks at the COP-8, cabinet ministers face a major test of their commitment to provisions of the 1993 treaty as well as their support for the Global Fund for the Environment.

“In a sense we are at a crossroads,” said Greenpeace’s Marcelo Furtado. “If concrete measures don’t emerge from this conference, the convention could lose its credibility.
“If that happens, pressing environmental issues could end up being dealt with at other forums like the World Trade Organization, where economic considerations take greater priority.”

Organizers said 93 government ministers were expected to participate in the conference.
MercoPress, 3/27

Uruguay pulp mills on hold

The European pulp company Grupo Empresarial Ence SA has halted the construction of a $500-million pulp mill on the Uruguay River for 90 days while Argentina and Uruguay study the environmental effects to a river in both countries. Finland’s Metsae-Botnia Oy has put its $1.1-billion pulp plant in the area on hold as well.

“The governments will be able to establish during that time that the pulp mill follows the best available technologies and the highest standards of environment impact,” said an e-mailed statement from Ence. The presidents of Argentina and Uruguay, Nestor Kirchner and Tabare Vazquez, are discussing the possibility of a commission to analyze impacts of the mills.
Bloomberg, 3/21

   

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