New report warns of catastrophic consequences for the environment and human health and blames manufacturers for ‘systematic denial of harms’
The idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is a myth, according to UN food and pollution experts.
A new report, being presented to the UN human rights council on Wednesday, is severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms,” “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics,” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralyzed global pesticide restrictions.”
Photo by IFPRI Images
The report says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole,” including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. Its authors said: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.”
The world’s population is set to grow from 7 billion today to 9 billion in 2050. The pesticide industry argues that its products — a market worth about $50 billion a year and growing — are vital in protecting crops and ensuring sufficient food supplies.
“It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
Elver said many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not the food needed by the world’s hungry people: “The corporations are not dealing with world hunger, they are dealing with more agricultural activity on large scales.”
The new report, which is co-authored by Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, said: “While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.”
Elver, who visited the Philippines, Paraguay, Morocco, and Poland as part of producing the report, said: “The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want …more
Marc Ching is best known for saving dogs from slaughterhouses
When a family in Korea discovered their beloved dog, Cheom Hwa, had been stolen, they were inconsolable. The German Shepherd had been with them since she was a puppy. “She is like my family,” the daughter says to Marc Ching, founder of Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation. "I am the only child so she was like my sister.”
It's a nightmare no dog owner wants to have to go through. In Korea, where Cheom Hwa’s family lives, millions of dogs are stolen every year for their meat, and many are suspected to be stolen pets.
Photo courtesy of Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation
“The dog meat trade is big business,” Ching tells Earth Island Journal. “China exports meat to Korea. Cambodia exports to Vietnam.”
Ching, an American animal nutritionist who runs an organic pet food company in California, first heard about the Yulin dog meat festival that’s held every year in southern China only two years ago. The stories sounded so horrific that he had a hard time believing they were true. When he flew to China to see for himself what was going on, the atrocities turned out to be even worse. "What they’re doing is beyond inhumane,” Ching says. “It's pure evil. They’ll boil dogs alive, hang and skin them alive.”
Today, Ching is most known for going undercover into slaughterhouses. By posing as a meat buyer, Ching often manages to get access to the kill floor where cages of whimpering animals are stacked on top of one another. The owner, hoping to make a sale, proudly talks up the facility, explaining their slaughtering process and how many dogs they go through on any given day. All the while, an iPhone in Ching's pocket remains on video mode, surreptitiously recording everything.
If he’s caught, best-case scenario: He loses his phone. A previous trip to Vietnam ended with him beaten and nearly killed.
For Ching, the risk is worth it, even if too many of the dogs end up dying on the way to the veterinary hospital. Most are already close to death by the time he gets to them. In an interview with LA Weekly, he talks about coming across a dog with all four of her legs cut off. She died in his arms.
"You will never see, in my opinion, anything more brutal than the dog meat trade,” Ching says.
In the years since his first trip to China, he’s witnessed more than his share of unimaginable cruelty. The horror …more
In Review: Ice Bear: The Cultural History of an Arctic Icon
Instead of a “natural history” of the iconic polar bear, anthropologist, wilderness guide and author Michael Engelhard has written a cultural history, showing the evolution of the polar bear as an icon through the ages, meaning something different to different generations and cultures. This is a book about human perceptions, dreams and experiences of the polar bear more than about the Ursus maritimus itself.
Photo by Cheryl Strahl
With meticulous details and stories pulled from a wide range of sources, and more than 160 illustrations, the book traces the fraught and intertwined history of humans and this elusive animal.
“Deeply held preconceptions keep us from seeing the true nature of some animals. The polar bear is a prime example,” Englehard writes. “Over the past eight thousand years, we have regarded it as food, toy, pet, trophy, status symbol, commodity, man-eating monster, spirit familiar, circus act, zoo superstar, and political cause célèbre. We have feared, venerated, locked up, coveted, butchered, sold, pitied, and emulated this large carnivore. It has left few emotions unstirred.”
Ice Bear shows how the lure of the unknown, the exotic, is a recurrent theme in human experiences of the polar bear. It tells us how, in Medieval times, the bear was a both a subsistence resource and commodity — its white fur was sought after and wondered at by royalty and those of wealthy standing. Even more famed (and rare) were live bear cubs that explorers managed to bring back (having shot the mother) for animal menageries, where polar bears survived, if not thrived. Bear baiting was also a popular sport, with the bears (both brown bears and, more rarely, polar bears) tied to a rope and set upon by dogs, with betting on who would win the bloody confrontation. Not for the faint of heart!
The people of the Arctic were, of course, well acquainted with the polar bear, which they perceived as both magical and dangerous. A man who killed a polar bear had very high status indeed. Englehard describes how myths and legends of Native peoples also prominently featured the wild predator that they equally feared and revered, and considered a …more
Norwegian sustainable investment manager Storebrand hopes action will encourage other investors to divest from project
Norway’s largest private investor is divesting from three companies tied to the Dakota Access pipeline, a small victory for the Standing Rock movement one week after the eviction of the main protest encampment.
Photo by Leslie Peterson
Storebrand, a sustainable investment manager with $68bn in assets, sold off $34.8m worth of shares in Phillips 66, Marathon Petroleum Corporation, and Enbridge, the company announced Wednesday. The three companies are partial owners of the pipeline.
“We hope that our actions and the actions of other likeminded investors in either divesting or calling for an alternative [pipeline] route will make some sort of an impact,” said Matthew Smith, the head of Storebrand’s sustainability team.
The Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s attempt to halt or reroute the Dakota Access pipeline away from their water source became an international rallying cry for indigenous and environmental activists last year.
Thousands of people traveled to encampments established near the site of the proposed river crossing in North Dakota. The camps saw frequent clashes between activists, law enforcement, and private security guards as the “water protecters” engaged in civil disobedience to attempt to halt construction.
In addition to the protest encampments, opponents of the pipeline have waged divestment campaigns against the pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners. Using the slogan Defund DAPL, activists have also urged individuals and institutions to move money out of banks that are financing pipeline construction, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
The Seattle City Council voted this month not to renew the city’s contract with Wells Fargo over the bank’s involvement with the pipeline project, removing $3bn from the bank’s coffers. Other cities are considering similar moves.
On Tuesday, the indigenous activist Jackie Fielder helped lead a protest at the San Francisco board of supervisors, which she is hoping to persuade to divest from DAPL-connected banks.
“The thing about the No DAPL movement is that it’s everywhere,” Fielder said. “We have the economic power to show companies that when they finance an environmentally racist project and hire private security and collude with law enforcement, their bottom line will suffer.”
Budget cuts in Wisconsin highlight the challenges faced by public land managers across the US
In 2016, I was able to visit Kettle Moraine State Park, one of many beautiful parks in southeastern Wisconsin. Watching the fog peel over the surface of Pike Lake from an observation tower, it seemed pristine, but a closer look told a different tale. From the soda can floating on the surface of the lake to the branches the most recent storm had left on the trail, small signs of decline had begun to surface. Luckily for park visitors, someone would be by to fix these problems shortly. A year earlier, that person would probably have been a state employee. But by the time of my visit, due to budget cuts to the state park system, it was likely to be a volunteer.
Photo courtesy of Good Free Photos
In a story that has received little attention outside the state of Wisconsin, in May of 2015, the State Legislature of Wisconsin agreed to Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to cut all tax-generated funding to state parks, which in 2015 amounted to more than 4 million dollars. This funding stream decreased gradually in 2015 and 2016, and ended completely at the start of 2017, effectively eliminating almost 28 percent of the system’s previous operational budget.
“Wisconsin parks are an essential part of our state not just because of the recreational value of a preserved area of land that can be used by all, but also because of their economic impact on the state,” says State Senator Jon Erpenbach, who fought the budget cut back in 2015. “State park visitations have increased by 12 percent since 2002, while the state’s share of funding has continued to decrease. Why do people visit Wisconsin? Because this state is beautiful and our parks are the centerpiece of that beauty. Shortchanging parks shortchanges our economic potential.”
Over the past few years there have been budget cutbacks for state parks across the US, which have resulted in a reduction in management staff, lack of new equipment, and shorter visitor center hours. In 2016, general funding for Wyoming’s Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources was cut by 7.18 percent. As a result, park employees have struggled with loss of staff. Last year, funding to Connecticut’s state parks was reduced by 10 percent, and …more
Public information film unseen for years shows oil giant had clear grasp of global warming 26 years ago but hasn't acted accordingly, say critics
The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of a century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered.
However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.
Photo by Lee Jordan
Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990,” the film noted.
“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
A separate 1986 report, marked “confidential” and also seen by The Guardian, notes the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but nonetheless states: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”
The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were remarkably accurate, according to scientists, and Shell was one of the first major oil companies to accept the reality and dangers of climate change.
But, despite this early and clear-eyed view of the risks of global warming, Shell invested many billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and on exploration in the Arctic. It also cited fracking as a “future opportunity” in 2016, despite its own 1998 data showing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas was incompatible with climate goals.
The film was obtained by the Correspondent, a Dutch online journalism platform, and shared with The Guardian, and lauds commercial-scale solar and wind power that already existed in 1991. Shell has recently lobbied successfully to undermine European renewable energy targets and is estimated to have spent $22m in 2015 lobbying against …more
Study of industry that calls itself "world leader" finds that vessels Illegally discard a third of their catch
Biologists Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson crisscross southern New Zealand’s scenic Akaroa Bay looking for the world’s smallest dolphins until Slooten spots a stopped 30-foot motor catamaran. We approach gingerly and find a dozen tourists in the water wearing wetsuits. The grey and black dolphins, no bigger than an 8-year-old child, are checking them out, their characteristic round dorsal fins slicing up though the water as they come up to breathe every two minutes. The tourists watch in hushed silence. Dawson photographs the dolphins to identify them later.
Photo by Photo courtesy of Liz Slooten
These Hector’s dolphins, unique to New Zealand’s shallow coastal waters, are friendly to humans, enjoy sex outside of reproduction and almost never fight, explains Slooten with a tender smile. Like Dawson, she is a professor at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, near the southern tip of New Zealand. The couple has been studying these dolphins for the past 32 years, during which they have seen their numbers plummet as thousands upon thousands drowned after getting caught in gill nets and towed trawl nets used by fishermen. Though their use is legal, these kinds of nets trap and kill, in addition to marine mammals and turtles, many more fish than the fishermen can sell.
“We’ve seen the species fragmenting into smaller and smaller isolated populations,” says Slooten.
One of these, a subspecies called Maui’s dolphin that’s been separated from the rest for 16,000 years, has only 50 to 60 adults thinly spread over 400 miles off the western coast of the North Island, down from 2,000 individuals in 1970. It has become the world’s rarest dolphin. “It’s heartbreaking because it’s so easily avoidable,” Slooten says. The rest of the population, a slightly larger sub-species known as Hector’s dolphins, has fallen from a probable 50,000 to an estimated 10,000.
Since 2012, the International Whaling Commission, along with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), dozens of nonprofits and the country’s opposition parties have been calling on the New Zealand government to ban all nets in the Maui’s habitat. The US has listed the Maui dolphin as critically endangered and the Hector …more