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Planting Resilience to Climate Change

In Honduras, coastal communities are embracing native plants as a means to mitigate climate impacts

Aurelia Arzú inspects the cocoplum patch and reaches in to pluck the ripest fruits. It’s early in the year, and the season is just beginning, so the bush is loaded with edible, plum-sized fruit ripening from yellow to pink in the unrelenting afternoon sun.

Arzú bites into the cocoplum, quite literally eating the fruits of her labor. Together with other local Garifuna women, she planted cocoplum, seagrape, and other native coastal plants on and around the sand dunes in an effort to halt their advance and prevent further displacement of Santa Rosa de Aguán community residents.

photo of Honduras native plantsphoto Sandra Cuffe Aurelia Arzú inspects a cocoplum bush planted by local Garifuna women, selecting the ripest fruit to eat.

“It fills me with pride to see this and to know that the women helped protect our community,” says Arzú, looking out at the burgeoning vegetation.

Arzú's footprints crisscross the sandy expanse, tracing a path from the Caribbean Sea lapping at the northern coast of Honduras to the dunes now dotted with cocoplum and seagrape. Twenty years ago, the area looked nothing like this. Where there are now dunes, there used to be houses. One of the three main streets in Santa Rosa de Aguán once ran roughly where a narrow beach now separates the dunes from the sea, says Arzú.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch and subsequent flooding altered the landscape and coastline. A year or so later, wind whipping in from the sea began to shape sand dunes, and the dunes started to advance into the community. Between the flooding, altered coastline, and blowing sand, hundreds of local residents were displaced, forced to relocate to other settlements and communities. The advancing sand swept through a row of houses, as well as the entire northwestern tip of the community. Today, however, the vegetation planted around the community by Garifuna women helps hold the dunes at bay and creates a natural barrier offering some protection from future storms and coastal erosion.

Honduras has the distinction of being one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. In the face of such great risk, Santa Rosa de Aguán is just one of several coastal communities taking action to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. Their solution isn't high-tech or even high-cost: it's native plants and trees.

Honduras tops the list of countries that have been most vulnerable to extreme weather events over the past two decades. Each year, Germanwatch, …more

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The US Is Unprepared to Clean Up Arctic Oil Spill

Coast Guard issues warning as House considers opening Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling

For months now America’s climate denying President, Donald Trump, has been manoeuvring to open up the Arctic to oil drilling, in another act of defiance against his predecessor, Barak Obama.

photo of coast guard in Arctic Photo by Coast Guard News A US Coast Guard icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. The Coast Guard has warned that the US is unprepared to clean up oil in the icy Arctic waters.

Back in April, Trump signed an executive order to extend offshore oil and gas drilling to large parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.

“We’re opening it up…. Today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs,” Trump said as he signed the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.

The executive order instructed the Interior Department to re-examine policies put into place by Obama, who in one of his last acts as President had restricted offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic until 2022. Obama had banned drilling in both areas saying they were “simply not right to lease.”

As Trump signed the order his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, told reporters “We’re going to look at everything. A new administration should look at the policies and make sure the policies are appropriate.”

Last month, the White House made further attempts to overturn the Obama administration’s five-year plan forbidding oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Interior Secretary Zinke said in a speech: “There’s a consequence when you put 94 percent of our offshore off limits. There’s a consequence of not harvesting trees. There’s a consequence of not using some of our public lands for creation of wealth and jobs.”

Then earlier this month, the Trump administration granted Italian oil company Eni the right to drill exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska. As InsideClimate News reported “Eni’s leases were exempt from Obama’s ban because the leases are not new.”

In response, Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up.”

And now in a devastating uncompromising rebuke to Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the head of the US Coast Guard has agreed with the Center for Biological Diversity: The United States cannot successfully clean up an oil spill in the Arctic.

Admiral Paul Zukunft, who was the Federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil …more

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Pennsylvania Nuns Build Chapel in Middle of Cornfield in Effort to Block Pipeline

Catholic order files religious freedom lawsuit to keep Atlantic Sunrise pipeline off their land

Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania are resisting plans to build a $3 billion pipeline for gas obtained by fracking through its land by creating a rudimentary chapel along the proposed route and launching a legal challenge, citing religious freedom.

photo of climate march Photo by Mark Dixon Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania have built a chapel and filed a legal challenge to stop the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline, which passes through their land. A local activist group, Lancaster Against Pipelines, has pledged to mount a vigil at the chapel if the nuns lose their case.

The Adorers of the Blood of Christ order has filed a complaint against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in a bid to keep the pipeline off their land. The nuns’ lawyers argue in court papers that a decision by FERC to force them to accommodate the pipeline is “antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers.”

The Adorers, an order of 2,000 nuns across the world, have made protection of the environment central to their mission. The plan for the pipeline “goes against everything we believe in — we believe in the sustenance of all creation,” Sister Linda Fischer, 74, told the Washington Post.

The 183-mile Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is “designed to supply enough natural gas to meet the daily needs of more than 7 million American homes by connecting producing regions in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states,” its website says.

It is an extension of the Transco pipeline, which runs more than 10,000 miles from from Texas to New York, and will carry gas extracted from the Marcellus shale region since fracking was permitted by the state.

photoname Photo by Adorers of the Blood of Christ A section of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is planned to run under land owned by
the Adorers. Earlier this month, the nuns dedicated an outdoor chapel at the site.

Williams, the company building the pipeline, wants to pay farm owners to allow it to dig up land, install the line, and return the land to farm use. It has offered compensation for lost crops and regular inspections to ascertain if the pipeline affects agricultural output.

About 30 landowners who refused to do a deal with Williams now face being forced to comply by …more

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Northernmost Population of Italian Wall Lizards in North America Discovered in Boston

Species is the first known lizard to make its way to the city

On a warm, sunny, late June afternoon, Colin Donihue, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University in the department of organismic and evolutionary biology, spots a greenish-colored lizard scrambling into a large compost pile in the Fenway Victory Gardens, a seven-and-a-half-acre public gardening area in Boston. He carefully stalks the reptile, then moves into position with his lizard noose — a collapsible, 14-foot-long graphite pole with a loop of thread on the end.

photo of Italian wall lizardphoto Tim BeaulieuColin Donihue holds an Italian wall lizard in a public gardening area in Boston. The species is the first known lizard to live within the city.

Siting the lizard in a pile of dead twigs and branches, Donihue slowly maneuvers the tip of the pole toward the skittish animal. While he had spotted a few other lizards earlier, he was unable to get close enough to catch them. The pole trembles a bit, but he manages to slip the tiny noose over the lizard’s head. As he lifts the animal off the compost pile it flops around wildly like a fish on a line. As Donihue gently wraps his hand around the feisty creature, it opens its jaws wide to try to bite him before eventually settling down.

“All right, it’s a male,” proclaims Donihue. “Podarcis siculus, the Italian wall lizard.”

The lizard is quite colorful, mostly green on its back with a line of dark brown patches down the middle and along its sides, and a whitish belly. He can tell it’s a male by its relatively large size, as well as its triangular-shaped head and wide jaws.

Had Donihue caught this lizard in Italy or adjacent Mediterranean countries, its natural home range, or even in New York City or Greenwich, Connecticut, where they’ve been introduced and have managed to thrive for many years, it would have been no big deal. But this is the first time these animals have ever been documented in Massachusetts. In fact, there are no known lizards of any type in Massachusetts, so this is quite a surprising discovery. “It’s really incredible that they’re this far north,” says Donihue. "This is their northernmost range in North America and certainly the coldest climate they're found in."

Elizabeth Bertolozzi, vice president of the Fenway Victory Gardens, had emailed Donihue photos of lizards she had seen in her garden plot last fall, which he identified as Italian wall lizards. “I first found out about them in an email …more

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California Lawmakers Extend Controversial Climate Program

Environmental groups divided on bill, which extends state's carbon market to 2030

California lawmakers extended the state's climate legislation Monday night, in what is being considered a victory for Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to lower greenhouse emissions.

The legislation, a package of bills that extends California's plan to address climate change, passed with a supermajority in both the Assembly and the Senate, insulating it from any legal challenges. The bill passed the Senate 28-12 and was approved 55-21 in the Assembly. Eight Republican lawmakers in the Assembly voted in favor of the bill, and three democrats voted against it. In the Senate, one Republican joined the Democrats voting for the legislation.

photo of oil refinery Photo by Thomas Hawk Environmental groups have divided on the bill, which will extend California's cap-and-trade program to 2030.

Brown's signature on the bill will extend the world's second-largest carbon market to 2030.

"Tonight, California stood tall and once again, boldly confronted the existential threat of our time," Gov. Brown said in a statement. "Republicans and Democrats set aside their difference, came together and took courageous action. That's what good government looks like."

However, as Inside Climate News reported, not everyone is celebrating:

When Brown last week announced the legislation to extend the program, three vocal factions emerged: Republicans pleaded with the governor to back away from the proposal, saying it would hurt California's economy. Progressive environmental groups—including may representing polluted minority communities—bashed the proposals as a giveaway to polluters, particularly the oil industry. Other influential environmental groups applauded the legislation, saying it represented a reasonable balance that represented the best change for moving the program forward.

State Sen. Andy Vidak, speaking in opposition to the bill, said the laws represented a "regressive" tax that would not make any impact on climate change. "We could shut down the entire state of California and it would have no effect on the global climate," Vidak said.

Sen. Vidak is not alone in speaking out against the bill. The extension of AB 398, the state's cap-and-trade program, is being criticized by more than 50 California leading environmental organizations for making concessions to industry and consulting with the oil and gas lobby. The extension on the cap-and-trade program has very few changes. It still allows big polluters to continue buying permits to emit more greenhouse gases and bars some separate regulations on refineries.

"This bill makes a bad cap-and-trade system even worse," Adam Scow, California director for Food & Water Watch. "It was written with oil …more

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Putting the Climate Necessity Defense in Front of Juries

By denying climate activists the right to present their cases to a jury, judges are cutting democracy out of political trials

Political activists challenging the ascendancy of President Donald Trump are increasingly availing themselves of the criminal legal system as a means of defending their ideas and confronting government repression. From Inauguration Day protesters who have pledged to go to trial to combat unprecedented felony charges to climate campaigners seeking ratification of their anti-fossil fuel industry actions through the climate necessity defense, courtroom activism has become an important front for the grassroots opposition. But cases from the climate movement suggest a worrying trend: judges are denying climate activists the right to present their cases to a jury, effectively banning discussion of the world’s most pressing crisis from the courtroom.

photo of civil disobedience against Keystone XL Photo by John Brusky Climate activists protested the Keystone XL pipeline in 2014 by engaging in a civil disobedience action in front of the White House. So far, US judges have have not allowed activists to present evidence of climate change to juries when defending themselves in court.

Building on a healthy tradition of criminal trials as political showdowns and relying on American’s fascination with the criminal process, the new wave of protester-defendants seeks to use the jury trial as a supplement to our broken electoral and lobbying systems. They’re in good company. In 1733, a jury refused to convict New York newspaper editor John Peter Zenger for violating a law that made it a crime to criticize the royal governor; the case was foundational in developing freedom of the press. In 1969, the infamous Chicago Seven conspiracy trial against political activists involved in protests at the Democratic National Convention served as a crucial dramatization of the cross-cutting political and cultural attitudes of the day.

In political trials as in others, juries play an essential role. They provide a check against the bias of prosecutors and judges. They democratize an otherwise elitist and hard-to-understand forum. They give citizens the opportunity (or at least the obligation) to engage in a major part of civic life.

Crucially, juries guarantee that defendants, including political activists, will be judged by their peers rather than by faceless bureaucrats or punitive authoritarians. The Sixth Amendment requires that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury." In Chambers v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to present evidence to a jury was a basic requirement of due process. Availing themselves of …more

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New Documentary Brings Viewers Beneath the Waves to See the Coral Bleaching Crisis

In Review: Chasing Coral

One of the difficulties of challenging climate change deniers, as well as with building public support and momentum for climate action, is that some of global warming’s most devastating effects occur out of the public eye in corners of the planet usually inaccessible to most people. As the old saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.” But then again, as another truism puts it: “What you don’t know may kill you.”

photo of coral bleachingphoto courtesy of Chasing CoralChasing Coral takes viewers underwater to witness the impact climate change is having on coral reefs.

To make what seems invisible visible — and with the hope of spurring robust climate action — photographer James Balog and filmmaker Jeff Orlowski have traveled far and wide, bringing with them innovative cameras and audiovisual recording equipment to render the remote nearer. For his award-winning 2014 documentary Chasing Ice, Orlowski and the Extreme Ice Survey made far-flung expeditions to Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska, using state of the art time lapse cinematography to irrefutably document glacial melt due to global warming. For his latest film, Orlowski transitioned from the Arctic to the tropics, setting his sights on coral reefs.  

Chasing Coral was actually the idea of former London adman Richard Vevers, who was alerted to ocean issues when he noticed during diving trips that the Weedy Sea Dragon, a beloved species he observed during deep sea diving, was disappearing. Learning that Elkhorn Coral, which was commonplace in the Caribbean, had been “virtually all wiped out,” as he puts it in the film, stiffened Vevers’ resolve to do something about these dramatic changes taking place underwater. After watching Chasing Ice, Vevers had an epiphany about the connection between melting ice and coral bleaching, saying, “It dawned on me that we were doing exactly the same thing, but with coral reefs.”

Vevers approached Orlowski with the notion of filming an underwater counterpart to Chasing Ice, and a team of technicians, cinematographers, and coral experts was assembled to explore the coral bleaching phenomenon, which is caused by warming waters, in the northern and southern hemispheres. The intrepid Orlowski and a crew of Argonauts embarked on Oceanic odysseys to find out what’s happening to the planet’s reefs — and why.

Orlowski took his cutting edge cameras beneath the waves in American Samoa, Australia, Bermuda, Hawaii, Bahamas, New Caledonia, the Florida Keys, and some 30 other countries and territories to make Chasing Coral. The result is …more

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