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Is the Lima Deal a Travesty of Global Climate Justice?

Poorer countries likely to reject agreement in Paris next year if onus falls on them rather than those largely responsible for global warming

At one point on Saturday night it looked quite likely that the Lima climate talks would collapse in disarray. Instead of the harmony expected between China and the US following their pre-talks pact, the world’s two largest economies were squaring off; workmen were dismantling the venue; old faultlines between rich and poor countries were opening up again and some countries’ delegations were rushing to catch their planes.

Activists wearing masks of world leaders in a boatPhoto by Percy Ramirez/OxfamCountries may technically still be on track to negotiate a final agreement in Paris next year, but the gaps between them are growing rather than closing and the stakes are getting higher every month.

In the end, after a marathon 32-hour session where everyone stared into the abyss of total failure, a modicum of compromise prevailed. Some deft changes of emphasis in the revised text and the inclusion of key words such as “loss” and “damage” proved just enough for diplomats to bodge a last-minute compromise. There were cheers and tears as the most modest of agreements was reached. The Peruvian president of the UN climate change convention, or COP20, could say without irony: “With this text, we all win without exception.”

Not so. Countries may technically still be on track to negotiate a final agreement in Paris next year, but the gaps between them are growing rather than closing and the stakes are getting higher every month.

We have now reached the point where everyone can see clearly that whatever ambition there once was to respect science and try to hold temperatures to an overall 2C rise has been ditched. We also know that developing countries will not get anything like the money they need to adapt their economies and infrastructure to climate change and that those countries that have been historically responsible for getting the world into its current climate mess will be able to do much what they like.

As it stands, 21 years of tortuous negotiations may have actually taken developing countries backwards on tackling climate change. From an imperfect but legally binding UN treaty struck in 1992, in which industrialized countries accepted responsibility and agreed to make modest but specific cuts over a defined period, we now have the prospect of a less than legally binding global deal where everyone is obliged to …more

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Recycled Plastic Clothing: Solution or Threat?

Research shows that synthetic clothing sheds plastic microfibers, which end up back in oceans

Celebrity music mogul Pharrell Williams recently unveiled his latest project: He’s the face for G-Star Raw for the Oceans, a clothing line made out of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Since the collection’s launch in September 2014, Raw for the Oceans has received a huge amount of media attention, and the clothes have been distributed to G-Star Raw shops around the world. On the clothing line’s website, the makers claim that Pharrell’s collection uses “the world’s first high performance eco-yarn.”

Oil Train BlockadePhoto by Bo Eide Plastic and other ocean trash on a beach in northern Norway.

The concept of transforming recycled PET bottles into clothing is not new. During the last five years, a significant number of clothing companies, businesses, and environmental organizations have started spinning plastics into fabric in an effort to tackle global plastic pollution. But there’s a slight problem with this approach. Research now shows that microfibers — tiny synthetic threads less than 1 mm in size — could be the biggest source of plastic in the ocean. If this is the case, recycled plastic clothes could be doing more harm than good.

Dr. Mark Browne, an ecologist and postdoctoral fellow at the National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, has been studying plastic pollution and microfibers for 10 years now. He explains that every time a synthetic garment — one made of manmade rather than natural fibers — goes through the spin and rinse cycle in a washing machine, it sheds a large number of plastic fibers. Most washing machines don’t have filters to trap these miniscule microfibers, and neither do sewage plants that are responsible for removing contaminants. So every time the water drains from a washing machine, plastic filaments are swept through the sewers and eventually end up in the ocean.

In 2011, Browne published a paper in Environmental Science & Technology stating that a single synthetic garment can produce more then 1,900 fibers per wash. Fleeces seem to lose the largest number of filaments, but even sleek synthetic fabrics like nylon shed. When you think about how many times you wash a t-shirt or a pair of pants, the statistics become staggering.

To measure the extent of this problem, Browne and a team of researchers collected effluent samples from marine and freshwater sites …more

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The Leaders of Tomorrow Can’t Wait Any Longer to Act

I don't want to be remembered as part of a generation that saw the signs and did nothing as their planet was destroyed

My name is Hallie Turner. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I am a 12-year old climate activist and member of the iMatter Youth Council.

Hallie TurnerTwelve-year-old Hallie Turner finds the lack of opportunities for kids her age to do anything
about climate change frustrating.

I got involved with climate activism almost by accident. The topic came up at dinner one night in fourth grade. I had heard about climate change and knew it was bad, but I had never fully understood it. The next time I went to the library, I discovered Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth. Just as iMatter’s founder Alec Loorz was inspired by Al Gore's documentary, I was inspired by the book. Deciding to read that book was one of the most important decisions I have ever made.

My first reaction to what I read was, “Wow. This can't be real.” I couldn't believe that an issue that big could exist, that we had caused all these horrible things to happen to our planet.

My second reaction was, “Why doesn't everyone know about this?” The pictures were there, the facts were there. It was so obvious to me, a nine-year-old, that this issue was severe. Why wasn't this being talked about every day? Why was nothing being done about this? And how could people deny that climate change was happening?

My third thought was that I wanted to get involved. I started doing more research about the issue. I wanted to do something right then and there.

In today's busy lifestyle, I think it's good just to take a step back and think “Wow. I'm insanely lucky to live on this astounding, spectacular, ever-changing planet. There's only one Earth, with so many wonderful species and habitats and people and ideas and creations. It's a privilege just to be here.” We live on such a beautiful planet and have been blessed with opportunities to make it even MORE amazing. We have so much capacity to do MORE with what we've been given. And yet some of us still refuse to listen. Some of us still won't take action when the jaw-dropping pictures and facts are staring us right in the face.

This is what inspired me. But as I did more research, I became increasingly frustrated about the lack of opportunities for kids my age …more

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Baja’s Iconic Surf Spot is Under Threat

Surfers and environmentalists have launched a campaign to have the San Miguel beach and watershed protected as a state park

San Miguel in Baja, California, is said to be where the first wave was surfed in all of Mexico. The area also contains one of the last intact riparian corridors in all of northern Baja — the San Miguel watershed.  This critical riparian ecosystem leads up to the beach, bringing with it sand and rocks that pile up and create a rock land formation that provides perfect conditions for a classic, long wave that wraps around the beach. The waves draw thousands of surfers to the area every year.

San Miguel BeachPhoto by courtesy of Surfing for ChangeThe San Miguel watershed leads up to the beach, bringing with it sand and rocks that pile up and create a rock land formation that provides perfect conditions the classic waves here.

The watershed, additionally, is also critical habitat for a number of native and endemic species, an important source of drinking water for local residents, and provides a needed open space for the beachside community of Ensenada. But like every other beachfront area, the San Miguel watershed and the iconic waves it helps create face a slew of pressing threats such as continued urban development, sand mining, and trash dumping.

In the face of these threats, a coalition of local and international environmental and surfing groups are backing an initiative by the Mexican environmental organization Pronatura Noroeste, to preserve 58 hectares of the San Miguel beach and watershed as a state park. “We have the chance to do something proactive, and protect something before it needs saving”, says Nik Strong-Cvetich, Executive Director of Save The Waves Coalition, one of the groups supporting the park initiative. (Other groups include SurfEns, Wildcoast and the Bahía de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve.)

As part of this campaign, former Brower Youth Award winner Kyle Thiermann and his organization Surfing for Change have created a short documentary that explores the connection between the health of the San Miguel watershed, the quality of the classic wave here, and the campaign launched by surfing and environmental groups to protect the area.

Through the campaign, Save The Waves and World Surfing Reserve local partners will be trying to deliver 10,000 signatures to the Governor of Baja California to show local and international support for creation of the San Miguel State Park. Save The Waves will also demonstrate …more

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The Lone Green Warrior

How one man transformed an isolated, barren sandbar in northeastern India into a lush, wildlife sanctuary

It's 3:30 a.m. Jadav “Molai” Payeng, and his wife and three children wake-up and get busy milking, feeding, and bathing their 90-odd cows and buffalos. By 8:00 a.m. the milk is put in containers to be ferried to the nearby town of Johart in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. After a brief nap and early lunch, the children leave for school, while Payeng pulls out his bag of seeds and saplings and canoes to the nearby Mekhai islet. “This is my new plantation site of about 500 hectares,” he says. After a brief pause, he muses, “This should keep me busy for another 30 years.”

Oil Train BlockadePhoto by Jitu KalitaJadav Payeng planting a sapling.

Payeng, 54, is no ordinary man. He belongs to the Mising tribe of northeast India, and lives on Majuli Island in Assam. He is a dairy farmer by profession but a green crusader by passion. Since 1979, Payeng has been planting trees to save his river island from vanishing due to soil erosion. To date, he has planted a forest of 550 hectares, larger than New York City's Central Park, on an islet off of Majuli island. The forest is called “Molai Sanctuary” — Molai is Payeng’s nickname — and provides refuge to varied wildlife, including several rhinoceros, elephants, and tigers.

Majuli is located in the middle of Brahmaputra River, in northeastern India. It is the world's largest river island, and is home to about 200,000 people. Over the last 100 years, Majuli has experienced severe soil erosion due to monsoon flooding and excessive sediment discharge of fine silt and clay from the island caused by low-magnitude seismic events. As a consequence, since 1914, Majuli's surface area has shrunk from 733 square kilometers to 522 square kilometers. Scientists say that climate change may have contributed to intensified flooding in recent years, accelerating the rate of erosion. Now, much of the riverbank has been reduced to barren sandbar islets, and scientists fear that in 15 to 20 years, Majuli could shrink and be completely submerged by the river.

It's one of these desolate sandbar islets, named Aruna sapori, that Payeng set forth to transform into a lush green paradise. It all began back in 1979 when Payeng was a teenager and the annual monsoon brought hundreds of snakes …more

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Where Public Tap Water Begets Wilderness

New York City and Boston’s watershed management programs preserve rural landscapes while providing clean water to urban areas

Environmental disasters oozing from man’s follies are all too familiar. But what about the environmental serendipities? The unexpected habitats where souls and eagles soar? Some of those places can be found by following the water back from your faucet to its source.

Pepacton Reservoir, NYPhoto by s58y/FlickrToday, the New York watershed protects 1972 square miles of land and the Boston watershed protects another 156 square miles — a combined landmass considerably larger than Yosemite National Park, and one which is a valuable habitat for moose, fishers, and bears.

Before New York and Boston were baseball competitors, they shared a certain wisdom about the design of their drinking water supplies. To Boston’s west sits the Quabbin and Wachusetts reservoirs. North of New York City stretches that great metropolis’ water sources — the Croton and Catskill-Delaware watersheds. Gravity is a good friend to these port cities. Both receive their water, largely unfiltered and un-pumped, from protected watersheds in the hills.

Back in the nineteenth century, stagnant, foul water and a spate of dysentery could lose you an election. Angry communities clamoring for water made nasty headlines and pushed politicians to direct engineers and urban planners to find safe water sources. With populations booming in the 1800s, Boston and New York looked to their hinterlands to quench their growing thirst.

Development of rural water sources wasn’t a walk in the park. Rural communities don’t tend to be enamored with ceding control of their natural resources to satisfy insatiable urban areas on a seemingly never-ending trajectory of expansion and encroachment. New York and Boston’s rural neighbors were no exception. And for good reason. Many of these communities were flooded to create reservoirs, and fences were erected to keep people out of protected watersheds.

Leaving aside that ill will for a moment, the immediate consequence of tapping distant source water was a steady, healthy flow to the cities, far from urban contaminants. Slower to emerge, were expanses of wilderness, which surfaced as flooded rural towns rotted under reservoir silt. Today, the New York watershed protects 1972 square miles of land and the Boston watershed protects another 156 square miles — a combined landmass considerably larger than Yosemite National Park, and one which is a valuable habitat for moose, fishers, and bears. These watershed protection programs are stitched together with a mosaic …more

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Protesters Continue to Block Gates to Methane Storage Facility in Upstate NY

With 92 arrests to date, We Are Seneca Lake campaign is gaining momentum

For six weeks, We Are Seneca Lake campaigners have braved freezing weather in western New York to block expansion of a methane storage project adjacent to Seneca Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. Campaigners believe the storage project threatens to contaminate Seneca Lake, which provides drinking water to 100,000 people in upstate New York. With 92 arrests for trespassing while blocking the gates to the storage facility, the campaign seems to be picking up steam.

Oil Train BlockadePhoto by We Are Seneca LakeCampaigners block the gates to the Crestwood methane storage facility in upstate New York in cold November weather.

The We Are Seneca Lake movement took shape on October 23 when protesters blocked the gates to Texas-based energy company Crestwood Midstream’s storage facility north of Watkins Glen, NY. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) authorized Crestwood to begin expansion of its methane storage facility beginning on October 24.  After legal efforts to stop the expansion failed, opponents began a civil disobedience campaign, and the first 10 campaigners were arrested on October 29.

We Are Seneca Lake Organizers have good reason to be concerned. Besides serving as a source of local drinking water, Seneca Lake supports the two primary pillars of the local economy: tourism and wine-making. The region also supports an historic salt industry, fed by salt deposits surrounding the lake. When Crestwood purchased a local salt plant in 2013, the company also acquired nearly 90 caverns created in the salt mining process. These caverns currently have the capacity to store 1.5 billion cubic feet of methane gas and LPG. Crestwood, hoping to turn the Seneca Lake into a regional hub for natural gas transportation and storage, hopes to expand storage capacity to 2 billion cubic feet, with long-term plans to expand capacity to 10 billion cubic feet. 

“This is a really compelling story about people who care about a lake that provides drinking water for 100,000 people, that literally turns water into wine, and people who are standing up for water and wine against a Houston-based trespasser who has come into our community not with the intent of living peacefully among us, but with the stated intent to its investors and to the [Securities and Exchange Commission] of turning Fingerlakes region into ‘a hub for the transportation and distribution of natural gas …more

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