Tribes say dams have violated their right to free, prior, and informed consent
In Malaysia, street protests are rare. Indigenous-led street protests are even more rare. That’s why the sight last week of more than 300 Indigenous people wearing matching blue shirts reading “No More Dams” and holding signs demanding “Respect Free Prior and Informed Consent” and “Stop Baram Dam” outside of a major conference was so historic.
On May 22, people from nine different tribes from across the island of Borneo came to Kuching, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, to demand that the Sarawak government abandon plans to build 12 dams in some of the most remote regions of Borneo’s rainforest. The protesters were also demanding that dam-building proponents listen to the voice of affected communities. Their target was the biennial meeting of the International Hydropower Association, the group that represents the most biggest dam builders in the world.
The slogan of this year’s dam convention was “advancing sustainable hydropower.” But communities in Sarawak fear that the proposed dams would be an unmitigated disaster. If all 12 dams were constructed, they would flood more than 2,000 square kilometers of rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people, according to an analysis by International Rivers. Indigenous communities worry about a repeat of the Bakun dam experience. Completed in 2011, the Bakun displaced more than 10,000 people. Communities are deeply unhappy with the terms of the resettlement; many were promised land and cash compensation which they have not yet received. Of those that did receive land, some families only received three hectares of land – far too little to provide for the needs of a family.
The SAVE-Rivers network was the driving force behind the protests at the International Hydropower Association meeting. Through the work of the SAVE-Rivers network, communities from across Borneo have learned about the impact that the Bakun dam has had, both on the communities who were resettled and the communities who now live on the banks of Bakun Lake. By sharing the lessons learned in Bakun, they have organized dam resistance across Sarawak.
Successful ecological restoration projects in Hawai‘i show the potential of repairing damaged ecosystems
The planet’s most endangered forest is not in Brazil or Borneo – it's actually in the good old USA, literally and figuratively clinging to a steep slope in a remote section of the Hawaiian Island of Kaua’i.
When I first visited this mysterious forest in Kaua’i shortly after I began working at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in 1996, I was struck by the fact that so many of its plants were federally endangered species found only on this island. I was also shocked that essentially nothing was being done to protect this priceless ecosystem. Today, I’m happy to report, that’s changing. Biologists and community groups in Hawai‘i are busy trying to restore degraded ecosystems.
The Hawaiian archipelago’s unrivaled level of biological endangerment is largely a product of its extreme geographic isolation. Before humans arrived about 1,000 years ago, very few species were able to colonize these islands. The ones that did evolved into some of the world’s most fascinating and unusual creatures. It’s a common misconception that most or all of these colonists had spectacular subsequent evolution, but in fact only a few did; they were just as susceptible to ecosystem changes. The arrival of humans led to a suite of disturbances – habitat loss and degradation, noxious alien species, exotic diseases – that resulted in ecological catastrophe.
Consequently, three quarters of the United States’ bird and plant extinctions have occurred in Hawai‘i, and one third of the country’s threatened and endangered birds and plants reside within the state. Of the 59 species listed as “endangered” by the Obama administration in the past two years, 48 have been Hawaiian plants and birds. These islands now contain more endangered species per square mile than anyplace else in the world.
Yet all is not lost: There are still 12,000 extant species found only in Hawai‘i, and new species are discovered every year. Moreover, numerous groups are demonstrating that at least some of this biological paradise can be saved. As different as these groups often are, they are united by their desire to proactively manage Earth, both to …more
Light rail might have a certain cool cachet, but buses are the way to go
There has always been something romantic about trains. Think of the passenger rail of a century ago and you likely imagine classy sleeper coaches and fancy dining cars. Even the commuter rail of decades past – streetcars and interurbans – seems to possess a glamorous vibe. Maybe it’s just the fact that everyone dressed better back then, but once upon a time commuters rode in style.
Yet I wonder if our sentimentality for rail is keeping public transit stuck in the past. There seems to be a feeling that buses are “substandard” – second class – when compared to “genteel” rail. This is unfortunate – especially in an age in which mass transit funding is stalled. Our cultural bias for rail over busses is especially counterproductive given that, when we carefully examine the facts, buses are a smarter investment.
Just look at the successes of what’s called Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT.
As Earth Island Journal reported in its Summer 2008 issue, BRT systems were pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil and Bogota, Colombia, two cities that boast some of the most heavily used yet low-cost transit systems in the world. The basic idea behind BRT is to redesign the street to separate buses from private automobile traffic so that the public transportation moves more quickly and is therefore more attractive than driving. Some Curitiba and Bogota BRT lines have higher ridership than New York City subway lines.
Given that building a light rail system can cost up to 10 times as much as creating a BRT system, why are American cities still so focused on rail?
In recent years there has been something of a rail renaissance in the United States. Los Angeles has a new subway, as well as its Metro Rail surface streetcars. In the last decade new light rail systems (or significant expansions of existing systems) have opened in places like Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, and Houston.
Arguments in favor of light rail usually center on improvements in quality of life, better neighborhood safety, and smarter urban growth. Streetcars like those in Portland’s South Waterfront Neighborhood and a newly planned line in Downtown Los Angeles are seen as tools …more
Organizers celebrate huge global turnout and say they will continue until Monsanto and other GM manufacturers listen
Organizers say that two million people marched in protest against seed giant Monsanto in hundreds of rallies across the US and in more than 50 other countries on Saturday.
"March Against Monsanto" protesters say they wanted to call attention to the dangers posed by genetically modified food and the food giants that produce it. Founder and organizer Tami Canal said protests were held in 436 cities across 52 countries.
Genetically modified plants are grown from seeds that are engineered to resist insecticides and herbicides, add nutritional benefits, or otherwise improve crop yields and increase the global food supply. Most corn, soybean and cotton crops grown in the United States today have been genetically modified. But some say genetically modified organisms can lead to serious health conditions and harm the environment.
The use of GMOs has been a growing issue of contention in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labelling of genetically modified products even though the federal government and many scientists say the technology is safe.
photo Rob Campbell, Flickr CC
The "March Against Monsanto" movement began just a few months ago, when Canal created a Facebook page on 28 February calling for a rally against the company’s practices. "If I had gotten 3,000 people to join me, I would have considered that a success," she said Saturday. Instead, she said, two million responded to her message.
Together with Seattle blogger and activist Emilie Rensink and Nick Bernabe of Anti-Media.org, Canal worked with A Revolt.org digital anarchy to promote international awareness of the event. She called the turnout "incredible" and credited social media for being a vehicle for furthering opportunities for activism.
Despite the size of the gatherings, Canal said she was grateful that the marches were uniformly peaceful and that no arrests had been reported.
"It was empowering and inspiring to see so many people, from different walks of life, put aside their differences and come together today," she said. The group plans to harness the success of the event to continue its anti-GMO cause.
"We will continue until Monsanto complies with consumer demand. They are poisoning our children, poisoning our planet," she said. "If we don’t act, who’s going to?"
Monsanto, based in St Louis, said on Saturday that it respects people’s rights to express their opinions, but maintained that its …more
In Review: The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct
There are few spectacles of nature as fascinating as a long line of leafcutter arts marching along a well-beaten trail, each of them carrying a piece of a leaf many times their own size, making a tight and well ordered column of flashing green. As you would guess, there’s more happening in that scene that mere foraging. What you’re seeing is a highly choreographed common endeavor, one of the more complex biological organizations on the planet.
The subtitle of Bert Hölldobler and EO Wilson’s latest book on ants says it all: “civilization by instinct.” These two well known authorities on ants tell the story of the leafcutters in exacting detail, and in the process reveal how the line of troopers in the woods is nothing short of epic.
Hölldobler and Wilson received a Pulitzer Prize for their extensive 1990 book, The Ants. Their newest book, The Leafcutter Ants, is essentially an expanded chapter from that larger work. Thoroughly researched and well documented, the newer book is suitable for lay reading and experts alike. But the references tend to get in the way of the reading, and the wealth of Latin names used to describe the behavior of different species of leafcutter ants – found in both the New World and the Old World tropics and subtropics – can become a bit difficult to remember. Fortunately, the written descriptions of ant behavior and organization are bolstered by excellent black and white photographs and diagrams, as well as a handy glossary of terms. Overall, this is a book that is as captivating as the ant farm you might have spent hours watching as a kid.
The leaves the ants carrying are not, in turns out, their food. Rather, those bits of leaf are destined to be laid down and “farmed” as a growing bed for fungus, the ants’ principal food source. The leaves are transported to elaborate nests that stretch for many feet underground, with chamber upon chamber dedicated to this form of insect agriculture. The complexity of this process is mind-boggling, but it occurs without the intelligence we ascribe to such activity in “higher” animals and humans.
The book works through all aspects of the biology and behavior of leafcutter ants. Some species have more advanced organization than others. For example, one species not only …more
Oil and gas industry campaign contributions a bi-partisan affair
As fracking has made its way through several states, those concerned with its inherent dangers have vehemently voiced their opposition to the practice, but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. While communities across the country have pleaded for bans and long-term moratoriums on the practice, many state leaders have pushed forward with weak regulations, most of which have been created through consultation with industry. It’s obvious that industry, with its misleading promises relating to new jobs and improved local economies, has serious influence when it comes to state-level politics. But just how much influence do they have?
While it’s pretty evident that the oil and gas industry has long had strong support from within the Republican Party, what might not be obvious is how much financial support the industry has given to the Democrats, specifically to Democratic governors. As revealed in our new report, The Democratic Governors Association’s Dirty Energy Money, some of America’s biggest oil and gas companies have donated approximately $3,555,281 to the Democratic Governor’s Association (DGA) since 2008.
If you’ve been following fracking news closely over the past few years, you’ll be rather familiar with most of the key donors, which include the American Petroleum Institute, ExxonMobil, Dominion Resources, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Shell Oil, CONSOL Energy, Encana Oil & Gas, Chevron, Koch Industries, ConocoPhillips, Chesapeake and the American Gas Association. Most of these companies have much to gain from Maryland and New York if their governors help to approve fracking. And now it’s clear that the DGA has already gained quite a bit from the strong influence of the oil and gas industry.
With its campaign to keep America addicted to fossil fuels, the industry has recently turned to Maryland, where it has been infiltrating the political process in the Old Line State. Its goal is simple: to get Maryland’s leaders to approve fracking and begin granting drilling permits. Despite public opposition to fracking and concerns that more comprehensive study is needed before lifting the current moratorium, things have been moving rather quickly in Maryland.
Last April, the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, appointed by Gov. O’Malley, issued a draft report warning that fracking could have significant negative impacts in Maryland, echoing the concerns of many fracking …more
Species are disappearing before we even know what exactly they are
If you’re a regular reader of Earth Island Journal or other environmental news sites, you probably know that plant and animals species around the globe are going extinct at the fastest rate in human history. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, we are losing species at up to a thousand times the natural rate. Many experts now agree that Earth is heading for, or already experiencing, a mass extinction – the sixth in nearly half a billion years. The last mass extinction occurred about 65 million years ago when the dinosaurs, among the 76 percent of life forms at the time, were wiped out. Now, scientists believe, between 0.01 to 5 percent of the world’s species are lost every decade.
Flickr user John Fowler photo, CC lisence
The reasons are many: encroaching urban development, pollution, hunting and illegal trade, expanding invasive species, climate change, and in many cases a perfect storm of few of the above. To help bring attention to the extinction crisis, in 2002 the United Nations declared May 22 "The International Day for Biodiversity." The idea is to raise public awareness about how maintaining the planet’s biodiversity – the mosaic of creatures that makes up ecosystems – is essential.
Hopefully awareness will be raised, because there’s another associated problem confounding biologists: It appears many species could be gone before they were even known to science.
One of the less known aspects of the biodiversity crisis is the lack of scientific knowledge needed to even understand the extent of the problem. So far, researchers have documented about 1.5 million species. Every year nearly 18,000 more are added to the scientific corpus. But there’s still a long way to go, even in evaluating the knowledge gap itself. Estimates of the overall number of species on Earth range between two million and 100 million.
In short: We don’t know exactly how many species we share the planet with, so it’s difficult to know exactly how many we are losing.
The systematic classification of all species is done within the scientific field of taxonomy. Identifying and cataloguing species is key for a host of research and professional fields from medicine, to agriculture, to conservation. Taxonomists identify plants and animals, ascribe them to the appropriate hierarchic group (species, genus, family and …more