The Philippines has been hit by 24 typhoons in the past year but the power of Haiyan was off the scale, killing thousands and leaving millions homeless. Is there even worse devastation to come?
Just as the world was beginning to take in the almost unimaginable devastation wrought by typhoon Haiyan, a young Filipino diplomat, Naderev Sano, was getting ready to lead his country's negotiations in the UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland. Yeb, as he is known, is a scientist and head of his country's national climate commission and had flown out of Manila just hours before the vastness of Haiyan had become apparent.
Photo by Nove foto da Firenze
By Monday morning, Sano knew that the Philippines had been struck by possibly the strongest storm ever measured, killing many thousands of people and making millions homeless. He took the floor and, in some trepidation in front of the delegates of 190 countries, gave an extraordinary, passionate speech in which he clearly linked super typhoon Haiyan to manmade climate change and urged the world to wake up to the reality of what he said was happening from latin America to south east Asia and the US. He lambasted the rich countries, and dared climate change deniers to go to his country to see for themselves what was happening.
When he sat down, sobbing, he was given a standing ovation.
This was not just diplomatic theatricals or righteous grandstanding by a developing-country diplomat about the snail-like speed of the climate talks, which have dragged on for years and are not likely to conclude until 2015. What few people in Warsaw knew until Sano had nearly finished his speech was that even as he was addressing the UN, his brother was digging people out of the rubble of the ruined city of Tacloban and he and his family still did not know the fate of other relatives.
Normally stone-hearted diplomats broke down, and Sano, who calls himself a "revolutionary" and a "philosopher" on Twitter [@yebsano], said later he would go on hunger strike for the whole of the two-week meeting. In the last 24 hours he has been joined by 30 activists.
Just as significantly, his speech has reopened the growing debate about whether the extreme weather events seen around the world over the past few years, including Hurricane Sandy, the melting of the Arctic sea ice and …more
Recent vote opens up South American country to large-scale mining
A new mining law in Uruguay has unleashed a debate in the South American country between those who say Uruguay could benefit economically from big mining projects and those who say the environmental and social costs are too high.
Photo by Mac Armstrong
Zamin Ferrous, a British mining company, wants to tap Uruguay’s impressive iron reserves. The company estimates that Uruguay has 2.5 billion tons of iron, the eighth-largest reserves in the world. But, until this September, no one could mine those minerals, because doing so would require creating an open-pit mining zone of 55 square miles, and legislation had capped mining projects at four square miles. Then, on September 3, the Uruguayan legislature passed the “Large-scale Mining Law,” which removes size limits and thereby opens the country to large-scale mining projects.
According to its proposal, Zamin Ferrous hopes to invest $3 billion — the largest foreign investment in Uruguay’s history — in a project to extract 18 million tons of iron per year during the next 12 to 15 years.
Zamin Ferrous didn’t respond to requests for comment, citing a “lack of time resources,” but Alfredo Asti, a delegate to Uruguay’s General Assembly who helped draft the new mining legislation, says the project would be a source of tax revenue, employment, and a higher standard of living for the people in the iron-rich Valentines region. Zamin Ferrous’ taxes would depend on the international price of iron, and the government would invest 30 percent of that revenue in education and environmental programs and would set aside the remaining 70 percent as a special fund for future generations. “It’s an investment in the future,” Asti says.
Uruguayan environmentalists see the matter differently. They worry about the environmental and public health consequences of a project unprecedented in size in the tiny country.
Víctor Bacchetta, of the Movement for a Sustainable Uruguay, says Zamin Ferrous would dig five pits, four of them about 1,000 feet deep with a surface area …more
A brief introduction from an Earth First! organizer
In 1998, I found myself traveling among Earth First! activists and living in an Oregon road blockade. Beyond the blockade were a series of treesits designed to protect an ancient forest from industrial logging. It was the first movement that I really felt a part of, though I have to admit that I was skeptical about any potential for victory. But the feeling was right, so I stuck with it. Today, you can go to where that grove of giant Douglas fir trees near Fall Creek is still standing and see the results of our actions for yourself.
Photo by Elizabeth Brossa
The same is true for a dozen-or-so other timber sales that were contested in the area. And in places where native forests were lost to the saws, we made sure they were not forgotten – images of us standing on massive stumps became burned into brains around the world. Rather than stifling us with sadness, these losses became fuel for our fight. It was only in hindsight that I realized our publicity generated through daring protests also played a role in changing the actual language people were using to talk about ecosystem protection, and as a result, the public policy surrounding forestry.
More than that, our experience in the backwoods gave us the skills, analysis, and affinity groups we needed to descend on Seattle a few years later and derail the global economy's WTO meeting with blockades throughout the city center.
A very similar scenario is playing out across the US right now, visible in the rise of direct action campaigns against energy corporations and their infrastructure. The clearest example I can point to at the time of writing this is a tree canopy occupation on Andarko's proposed fracking site in Pennsylvania's Loyalsock State Forest. But that campaign, which has been playing out in various installments since summer, is one of many where radical activists have recently taken to the woods and stood in the way of pipeline construction, fracking wells, tar sands and coal mining sites.
Greenpeace video shows 'Arctic 30' being arrested after activists’ attempt to board Gazprom oil rig
The scene could have been from a fast-paced action flick — a helicopter hovers over a ship out at sea, a rope is flung down to the deck, masked gunmen drop down... Except, the gun-battle or violent action sequence that should have followed, doesn’t. The protestors standing on the deck simply stand around with their hands up in the air, waiting to be arrested.
Greenpeace International today released dramatic, previously unseen footage of the Russian security forces boarding and seizing control of the environmental outift's ship, Arctic Sunrise, following a group of Greenpeace activists’ direct action protest attempt.
The activists had tried to board the massive oil platform, the Prirazlomnaya, in the Russian Arctic, in the early hours of September 19, in order to hang a banner from the platform protesting oil drilling in the ecologically fragile Arctic region. (Read Greenpeace-USA executive director Phil Radford’s account of the incident here.)
Nations like Russia and Iceland, and oil giants like Shell Oil, are pushing to scale up oil drilling in the Arctic, while the climate scientists are going blue in the face trying to convince governments and people that we need to scale back our fossil fuel use.
The footage of the Russian forces’ takeover, shot on 19 September, also shows the ship being towed towards Murmansk, Russia where the 30 people on board are still being detained. The activists were charged with “piracy,” though charges against them have now been scaled down to “hooliganism.” As of today, they’ve spent 52 days in captivity.
Photo © Will Rose/Greenpeace
"As you can see on the video, it appears to us that the Greenpeace International crew are clearly displaying non-resistance. They are doing their utmost to signal their peaceful intention and the best way to do that is to show yourself in full, with raised arms. They are not the actions of hooligans or pirates, as the authorities allege," Vladimir Chuprov, senior campaigner at Greenpeace Russia said in a statement accompanying the video’s release.
Russia has so far snubbed calls to set the activists free. Yesterday Russian officials failed to show up at a hearing on the issue by the …more
Film Review: Lion Ark
Lion Ark is a film about a daring rescue operation that liberated 25 lions from bondage. But not, to use another Biblical analogy, from “way down in Egypt land” – rather, from circuses in Bolivia. This engrossing documentary combines elements of Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama Schindler’s List, the 1966 lion movie Born Free, and the recently released nonfiction film about marine mammals in captivity, Blackfish.
Images and video courtesy ADI
This well-made advocacy doc, that recently won the Audience Choice Award in the documentary category at the San Diego Film Festival, has an “as-it-happens” feel and unfolds like a tension-filled drama. Lion Ark features members of Animal Defenders International, an animal rights organization. who go undercover to expose the poor living conditions and violence allegedly inflicted upon lions and other animals at Bolivian circuses. There is some harrowing footage of animals being abused that appears to be shot clandestinely and that many viewers may find hard to watch. (These behind-the-scenes exposé shots are hallmarks of ADI campaigns against the use of animals in entertainment and laboratory experiments.) The film also has some picturesque cinematography of natural scenery and wildlife.
Thanks to ADI’s “Stop Circus Suffering” initiative in South America, the Bolivian government (under the progressive rule of President Evo Morales, who, for some reason, is never mentioned onscreen) has banned the use of wild animals in circuses. However, when the new law to protect these mammals goes unenforced, the Defenders take direct action. The film follows the activists who, acting in league with government officials, begin tracking down the seven or so circuses scattered around Bolivia and stage a series of nationwide roundups of 25 captive lions.
The intrepid organizers raid the Bolivian big tops, often at great risk to their selves, and seize the imprisoned beasts who appear to have been living in deplorable conditions inside of bare, filthy, cramped cages. The lions, which are among the world’s largest land predators, …more
New report names the world’s top 10 toxic hotspots
In a new report released by Green Cross Switzerland and the US-based Blacksmith Institute, ten cities recently received an unflattering distinction: They pose the world’s most toxic threats to human health.
Photo by Stanislav Lvovsky
Ranging from an e-waste site in Ghana, to an artisanal gold mining region in Indonesia, to a cluster of tanneries in Bangladesh, these “Top Ten Toxic Threats” highlight a global struggle with toxic pollution. The sites were chosen from a growing list of more than 3,000 toxic sites worldwide identified by the Blacksmith Institute. They were selected on the basis of the toxicity of pollutants present, pathways to exposure, and the number of people at risk.
Toxic pollution can cause serious damage to human health. It’s a known cause of cancer, cognitive impairment, organ damage, and respiratory problems. Globally, toxic pollution is estimated to threaten the health of 200 million people.
“Pollution has a health toll comparable to HIV, malaria or tuberculosis,” says Dr. Stephan Robinson, unit manager for Water and Legacy at Green Cross Switzerland. “But while… there are global programs with billions of US dollars to roll [these threats] back, there are not yet similar initiatives to fight pollution.”
“Informal battery smelting is by far the biggest issue in our database [of 3,000 toxic sites],” says Bret Ericson, senior program director at the Blacksmith Institute. And artisanal gold mining is the second biggest issue worldwide.
In Dzerzhinak, Russia, which is included on the toxic 10 list, the consequences of a long history of chemical manufacturing and improper waste disposal has been particularly grim: The life span for local residents there is 47 years for women and 42 years for men. In the Niger River Delta in Nigeria, about 7,000 oil spills since 1976 have led to increased levels of cancer and respiratory disease among residents as well as markedly higher incidences of illness among local children.
Toxic sites are most common in low- and mid-income countries where mining and manufacturing industries are prolific, environmental regulations are lax, and funding for environmental remediation is scarce. “By and large, high-income countries have dealt with this problem,” says Ericson. “[In the United States] we take it for granted that we have an EPA.”…more
Want GMO labeling? Then drive a wedge between Big Food and Big Ag.
They’re still counting the votes in Washington, but it appears that people in the Evergreen State have voted down Initiative 522, a measure that would have required a label for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. (Mail-in ballots could turn the tide, but it seems unlikely.) Food system reformers look to be 0-for-2 in their efforts to require GMO labeling, having lost a similar referendum last year in California. A defeat in Washington would force “good food” activists to step back and reevaluate their strategies for creating a more transparent food system. Among other takeaways from the latest food fight, it seems to me there is a key lesson embedded in the 522 experience: If you want GMO labeling, then find a way to drive a wedge between Big Food and Big Ag.
Figures via Maplight.
Like California’s GMO labeling measure that was on the ballot last year, the fight over Washington’s 522 was characterized by massive campaign spending. According to figures compiled by the watchdog group Maplight, supporters and opponents of the initiative raised close to $30 million to fund their efforts, making the 522 campaign the most expensive ballot initiative in the Washington’s history. Most of that money poured in from out-of-state, as partisans on both sides turned Washington into a proxy battleground for the larger contest over the kind of food we eat, and how much we know about that food. Not surprisingly, the industrial food interests vastly outspent (and therefore out-advertised) the folks fighting for greater food transparency. Dr. Bronner’s, the Organic Consumer Association and fellow travelers raised $7.7 million in support of GMO labeling, while Monsanto, DuPont and others raised almost three times as much, about $22 million, to defeat the measure.
The important story here revolves around who, exactly, gave to the GMO-labeling opposition. Along with Monsanto and DuPont, some of the top donors to the “NO” campaign are Dow Agroscienes, Bayer, and BASF. All of these companies are major seed producers that have a direct stake in genetically modified crops. All five are members of the Biotechnology Industry Organization. These seed and chemical companies comprise much of the roster of Big Ag’s usual suspects.
Now look at the rest of the NO donors, …more