Earth Island Institute logo, tap or click to visit the Institute home page

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News

Latest News

Putting Her Life on the Line to Save a River from Illegal Gold Mining

Goldman Prize winner Francia Márquez’s has been involved in a long struggle to protect the Ovejas River and her Afro-Colombian community

Francia Márquez, 36, grew up in La Toma, an isolated town nestled in western Colombia’s verdant Cuaca Mountains. Established in the early 1600s by escaped slaves, the Afro-Colombian community sits along the Ovejas River and residents depend on the river’s water and fish for sustenance. For centuries, the people of La Toma have built their lives around agriculture and mining, using pick axes to pry gold from the earth, and panning for nuggets in the Ovejas. Today, some 85 percent of the town’s 5,000 residents rely on small-scale artisanal mining for their livelihood.

Francia MarquezPhoto courtesy of The Goldman PrizeThirty-six year old Márquez has been involved in environmental and community activism since the age of 13.

Recently, this remote Amazon region’s mineral riches have gained the attention of outsiders, putting the people, land, and water of La Toma at risk. The situation came to a head in 2009, when the Colombian government gave multinational mining company AngloGold Ashani a permit to mine in La Toma.

Márquez, who has been involved in environmental and community activism since the age of 13, couldn’t stand by as La Toma came under threat. And when the community received eviction orders to make way for mining interests, she decided to fight back.

“I got involved with the community to demand that we had a right as an afro-descendent community to those ancestral lands and that they didn’t have a right to displace us from those lands,” she says. She began studying law in order to better defend La Toma, and helped bring a case asserting that under Colombian law, Afro-Colombians have a right to “free, prior and informed consent” regarding activities that impact their ancestral lands. The court agreed, ruling that the community hadn’t been properly consulted regarding the mining permits.

Ovejas RiverPhoto courtesy of The Goldman PrizeThe Afro-Colombian town of La Toma sits in the Cauca Mountains of southwest Colombia, at the epicenter of the country’s illegal gold mining epidemic. .

But the fight was far from over. La Toma was now on the map for its gold, and illegal miners descended on the region. By 2014, illegal miners were operating an estimated 2,000 backhoes across the entire Cuaca region, including 14 on the banks of the Ovejas River near La Toma. The miners were also clearing forests and digging massive pits, and using mercury and cyanide to extract gold. In the process of all this, they were poisoning the …more

(0) Comments

Rewild Your Child. The Earth Depends On It.

Yes, we need to let our kids muck around in the mud, but we also need to somehow allow nature to seep inside them

This article originally appeared in JSTOR Daily.

Imagine 20 million Americans taking to the streets, rallying in parks and congregating in theaters, schools and universities to protest our treatment of the planet. It’s hard now to picture this, but on April 22, 1970, the date of the first Earth Day, this is exactly what happened. The radical feminist journal Off Our Backs summoned “ecology freaks” and “student militants” to “take to lecture platforms, sidewalks and the streets to demand America change her way of life.” That publication among dozens of others hoped the day would have a lasting effect, but none could have predicted that, an alignment of Earth Day activism with support from the government, would see the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the passage of the Clean Air, Clear Water and Endangered Species Acts soon followed. Forty-eight years later, Earth Day is still an urgent reminder that our planet needs help facing the challenges of a growing population and our insatiable appetite for energy and resources.

child by watersidePhoto by Andrew Newill Children are incredibly adept at blocking out the din of adult-created madness in order to connect with the natural world even if for them it’s a patch of grass in a gritty dog-fouled park.

When my daughter Eve turned three in 2010, Earth Day had become one of the largest secular observances in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people. She has grown up in an environment where recycling and taking public transport are the norm and, like many of her peers, has been plugged into the mindset that it’s crucial to look after our planet. She is ten now and her heightened awareness of the state of the world brings with it a new challenge: how do you talk to your child about ocean acidification, desertification, melting icecaps, plastic in the seas, extreme weather events, and the disappearance of polar bears, rhinos and elephants without filling them with grief and hopelessness. How does one navigate this fine line of teaching a child to respect the environment without passing on the fear of total climate apocalypse?

When she was two, the activity Eve enjoyed more than any other was pottering around our tiny patio in London making “soup” in an old yogurt pot. She would chuck soil, dead leaves, petals and anything else that may have blown in from …more

(0) Comments

30 percent of Great Barrier Reef Coral Died in ‘Catastrophic’ 2016 Heatwave

Extent and severity of 'mass mortality' event documented in report has shocked scientists

Scientists have chronicled the “mass mortality” of corals on the Great Barrier Reef, in a new report that says 30 percent of the reef’s corals died in a catastrophic nine-month marine heatwave.

photo of bleached coralPhoto by ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Mia HoogenboomThe extent of the coral die-off recorded in the Great Barrier Reef was significantly greater than historical bleaching events. Scientists discovered that different corals have markedly different responses to heat stress, with some experiencing catastrophic die-offs while others proved more resilient. 

The study, published in Nature and led by Professor Terry Hughes, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, examined the link between the level of heat exposure, subsequent coral bleaching, and ultimately coral death.

The extent and severity of the coral die-off recorded in the Great Barrier Reef surprised even the researchers. Hughes told Guardian Australia the 2016 marine heatwave had been far more harmful than historical bleaching events, where an estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of corals died.

“When corals bleach from a heatwave, they can either survive and regain their color slowly as the temperature drops, or they can die,” Hughes said. “Averaged across the whole Great Barrier Reef, we lost 30 percent of the corals in the nine-month period between March and November 2016.”

The scientists set out to map the impact of the 2016 marine heatwave on coral along the 2,300km length of the Great Barrier Reef. They established a close link between the coral die-off and areas where heat exposure was most extreme. The northern third of the reef was the most severely affected.

The study found that 29 percent of the 3,863 reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef lost two-thirds or more of their corals.

Hughes said researchers were also surprised at how quickly some corals died in the extreme marine temperatures.

“The conventional thinking is that after bleaching corals died slowly of ... starvation. That’s not what we found. We were surprised that about half of the mortality we measured occurred very quickly.”

The study found that “Initially, at the peak of temperature extremes in March 2016, many millions of corals died quickly in the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef over a period of only two to three weeks.”

“These widespread losses were not due to the …more

(0) Comments

Coming to the Rescue of the Endangered Philippine Eagle

Can captive breeding and community-based conservation save this great raptor?

The Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), endemic to the Philippines and one of the world’s largest and heaviest eagles, continues to face the threat of extinction due to ignorance and deforestation.

philippine EaglePhoto courtesy of HCruz985/Flickr rOne of the world’s largest and heaviest eagles and the only blue-eyed raptor on Earth continues to face the threat of extinction. Only about 400 pairs of these raptors remain in the wild.

“At least one Philippine eagle is killed every year because of shooting,” laments Jayson Ibañez, research and conservation director of the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF), a non-government organization based in Davao City in southern Phillippine. Ibañez says that deforestation due to timber poaching and slash-and-burn farming also significantly endanger this rarest of eagles.

Only an estimated 400 pairs of Philippine eagles remain in the wild, landing the raptor on the “critically endangered” list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Preventing the Philippine eagle population from dwindling further remains a tough battle, with pessimists decades ago disparaging its conservation as a “lost cause.”

This formidable challenge gave birth to the Philippine Eagle Center, a volunteer and donor-dependent organization formed by the foundation 30 years ago. The center is dedicated solely to the conservation of the majestic bird with a seven-foot wingspan — and the only blue-eyed raptor on Earth.

The eight-hectare center, on the outskirts of Davao City, made history in 1992 when it successfully hatched Pag-asa, the first captive-bred Philippine eagle.

True to her name, Pag-asa — which means “hope” in Filipino — gave the center's personnel the courage and inspiration to continue pursuing what was once deemed the impossible dream of breeding and hatching Philippine eagles in captivity. The center has successfully bred 28 Philippine eagles since the birth of Pag-asa, who turned 26 in January.

Pag-asa remains a resident of the center where she “symbolizes the breakthrough in Philippine eagle conservation in the country,” says Amira Madrazo, PEF’s communications officer. The raptor wasn’t released to the wild for the center’s worker and the public to be reminded that breeding eagle in captivity is not impossible, Madrazo adds.

Simulating a tropical rain forest environment, the center offers visitors a glimpse of the country’s forest ecosystem. The facility is located at the foothills of Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak.

“Our goal is to help increase the Philippine eagle’s population," says Dennis Joseph Salvador, executive director of the foundation. "We employ natural breeding methods and artificial insemination. The …more

(0) Comments

Poland Violated Law by Logging UNESCO-protected Białowieża Forest, Court Rules

At least 10,000 trees are believed to have been felled in the ancient forest since 2016

The EU’s highest court has ruled that Poland’s logging in the UNESCO-protected Białowieża forest is illegal, potentially opening the door to multi-million euro fines.

photo of Bialowieza Forest Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Poland Logs cut and ready for removal from Poland's Białowieża forest. The EU's highest court ruled that Poland's logging in the ancient forest violates EU laws.

At least 10,000 trees are thought to have been felled in Białowieża, one of Europe’s last parcels of primeval woodland, since the Polish environment minister, Jan Szyzko, tripled logging limits there in 2016.

Greenpeace says that as many as 100,000 conifers and broad-leaved trees in the lowland forest may have been lost.

Poland had claimed that the chainsaws were needed to excise a spruce beetle outbreak but, in a damning ruling, the EU judges found that Poland’s own documents showed that logging posed a greater threat to Białowieża’s integrity.

A minimum fine of €4.3 million — potentially rising to €100,000 a day — could now be levied against Poland unless the tree felling is stopped.

James Thornton, the chief executive of the green law firm ClientEarth, said: “This is a huge victory for all defenders of Białowieża forest. Hundreds of people were heavily engaged in saving this unique, ancient woodland from unthinkable destruction.”

The EU’s environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, tweeted: “Protecting biodiversity paramount. We welcome the Polish Govt’s recognition & look forward to implementation.”

The European court of justice ruling follows reports of imminent Polish concessions in a separate dispute between Warsaw and Brussels over the independence of its judiciary and free media.

EU officials though stressed that Białowieża was a “very separate” case, adding that the commission would now closely monitor Poland’s response to the verdict.

“If they comply with the judgment, no problem,” one EU source told The Guardian. “If they don’t, we have a possibility to go to a second infringement procedure that may end up in fines.”

A government statement said that Poland would soon propose a “compromise solution” for Białowieża, after a new protection plan had been prepared.

photo of Bialowieza Forest Photo by Frank Vassen Białowieża is one of the last remaining fragments of the primeval forest that carpeted Europe 10,000 …more

(0) Comments

Cape Town Nurtures its Water Supply in Anticipation of Taps Running Dry

If the South African city can’t avert ‘Day Zero,’ it will be the world's first metropolis to run out of water

Upon entering the South African city of Cape Town via the Cape Town International Airport, you can immediately see that something is amiss.

If you need to use the restroom before heading out from the airport, you will notice that, while you may be able to flush the toilet, the taps in the washbasins have been switched off; waterless hand sanitizer has been provided as an alternative. This is just one of countless measures being taken across the city to address Cape Town’s current drought — the worst in over a hundred years.

Cape Town panoramaPhoto courtesy of Tim Chandler Table Mountain, the flat-topped plateau that overlooks Cape Town, captures onshore winds coming off the South Atlantic Ocean and helps produce rainfall that fill local rivers and aquifers. But a prolonged drought has severely depleted its water supply.

Rental car clerks wearing T-Shirts emblazoned with “Water Warrior” inform customers that cars have not been washed due to the water crisis.

Many businesses display signs noting their use of grey water or other non-potable water for various functions.

Hotels discourage guests from removing the bucket placed in shower enclosures so staff can utilize captured water for other purposes. Locals take five-minute showers and limit toilet flushes whenever possible.

The drought has dealt a blow to businesses in a world-renowned city that relies on tourism as a key source of income — and in a region where agriculture is still a major sector of the economy. The construction industry has also slowed, and contractors are starting to look into the legal ramifications of project delays for which the causal factor is nature.

Residents, too, are trying to adjust to a new water-weary lifestyle in Cape Town, where usage is restricted to 50 litres per person per day. Any usages exceeding the various restrictions incur a steep tariff, with costs reaching almost nine times the pre-drought price of water. These water restrictions, which have been in place since February 1, have done much to avert a full on crisis thus far — but if the drought does not abate, the city says taps may need to be switched off.

According to Cape Town's website, “Day Zero is the day that almost all of the taps in the city will be turned off and we will have to queue for water at approximately 200 sites across the peninsula.” Estimations for when Day Zero might occur have fluctuated, with projected dates pushed back …more

(0) Comments

Mike Pompeo Is a Disaster for the Planet. Why Do Democrats Back Him?

We must pressure Democrats who have backed the CIA director nominee to change course

Ignorant, dangerous, and absolutely unbelievable.” This is how Mike Pompeo, then the nominee for CIA director, described the idea that climate change threatens our nation’s security in his 2017 Senate confirmation hearings. It’s also how our generation and many to come will remember any senator who votes to confirm Pompeo as our next secretary of state.

photo of Mike PompeoPhoto by Gage SkidmoreMike Pompeo accepted nearly $1.5 million from fossil fuel companies between 2009 and 2017.

Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Pompeo to replace the former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson signals loud and clear that he wants fossil fuel barons to continue running our government and state department. Infamous as the “congressman from Koch,” Pompeo is the top all-time recipient of Koch Industries campaign contributions; he accepted nearly $1.5 million from the fossil fuel companies between 2009 and 2017.

In exchange for these payments, he used his tenure in the House of Representatives to stymie progress on climate action, curry favors for big oil and gas, and regularly spread misinformation and lies about climate science to help pad the Koch brothers’ pocketbooks.

There’s no doubt that Pompeo, widely recognized as a militant climate denier and “yes man” to the president, will pick up where Tillerson left off in gutting the department’s climate diplomacy programs and opening the fragile Arctic to drilling for oil and gas that humanity can’t afford to burn.

And though it seems unthinkable that any secretary of state could be worse for the planet than the former CEO of Exxon, Pompeo is even more extreme than Tillerson in his climate denialism and his opposition to the Paris climate agreement (from which Tillerson urged Trump not to withdraw).

What’s more, as warming global temperatures spawn extreme weather events, fuel mass migration, exacerbate humanitarian crises, and undercut global stability, Pompeo’s anti-Muslim and anti-woman stances, war-hawkishness, and abysmal record on human rights will further endanger billions of people who are hit first and hardest by climate impacts.

With only a few years left to avert catastrophic warming, every single vote to confirm Mr Pompeo is a vote to protect profits of big oil billionaires and destroy the lives and livelihoods of millions around the world. …more

(0) Comments

Older →

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author

Subscribe
Today

Four issues for just
$15 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!

 

0.2436