A reflection on the ten-year struggle against a joint US-South Korean naval base on Jeju Island
Why do your warships
Sail on my waters?
Why do your bombs drop
Down from my sky?
Why did you burn my
Farm and my town down?
I've got to know, friend,
I've got to know.
— Woody Guthrie
Ten years ago, in the small coastal fishing and farming village of Gangjeong on Jeju Island, South Korea, the Korean government made a deal to construct a joint United States-South Korea naval base. The base would be located at the site of a beautiful volcanic rock plateau called Gureombi. For centuries the villagers in Gangjeong revered this rock formation, protecting it, laying in its warm streams and pools, sharing food, and holding ceremonies there.
Photo courtesy of Joyakgol
Five years ago, against the protests of hundreds — in the village and internationally — police stood guard as contracted workers dynamited this sacred site, beginning construction of the base. From the other side of the razor wires, the villagers watched in despair as a crucial cultural landmark was (almost entirely) blown to bits. Then came the endless procession of cement trucks, dumping load after load of concrete over the mangled remains of Gureombi, smothering memories as well as the habitats of endangered species of crab and frog, destroying the breeding ground for thousands of shellfish and seaweeds, and decimating what was once an important foraging ground for villagers. (Read more about the impacts of the base here.)
Over the course of the resistance, hundreds of people — from international activists to mainland Koreans standing in solidarity with the villagers, to the villagers themselves, including the former mayor and numerous Gangjeong elders — have been arrested for impeding the base’s completion. At times more than one thousand police — many from the mainland — have been sent in to Gangjeong to ensure the construction of the base continued, views of the locals be dammed.
Last year the naval base opened. And in March of 2017, the first US Navy vessel docked at Jeju, followed by a second one just last week.
Why has all this happened? Why have sacred sites and vital habitat been destroyed?
Gureombi, and the villagers themselves, had the misfortune of being in the way of progress.
In this case, progress meant a massive new naval base complete with warships. It also seemed …more
Companies estimate 30 percent chance of damage to the newly discovered ecosystem in event of a spill
Oil companies planning to drill near a vast coral reef at the mouth of the Amazon river have calculated that the unique ecosystem has a 30 percent chance of being affected in the event of an oil spill.
Photo Jeso Carneiro
In February BP told The Guardian it planned to start drilling a block it controls by August 2018. Brazilian company Queiroz Galvão also has a block it expects to start drilling from next year.
The unique reef system astonished marine biologists when its existence was widely revealed last year, and is believed it could be the home for dozens of previously unknown species. (Read Earth Island Journal’s report about the discovery here.) But activists warn that an oil spill could irreparably damage the 1,000 kilometer-long ecosystem before scientists have even had a chance to study it.
“It’s unlike any other reef that we know about,” said Sara Ayech, an oil campaigner at the London offices of Greenpeace. “If the companies drill there’s a risk of an oil spill and if an oil spill hits the reef, then we could see parts of it destroyed before we even document them.”
The Brazilian government has estimated that the Foz de Amazonas, or Amazon Mouth area, could hold 15.6 billion barrels of oil. A consortium of oil companies led by French giant Total, and including BP and Brazil’s state-run oil company Petrobras, snapped up five exploration blocks in the area when they were auctioned off in 2013.
In January, Total said it had begun moving equipment to the Amazon area and planned to start drilling this year. The oil reservoirs it hopes to reach are situated in 1,900 meters of water, nearly 200 kilometers from the coast.
Scientists from Greenpeace examined the publicly-available Environmental Impact Study Total submitted to the Brazilian authorities and found references to the possibility of an oil spill reaching the reef.
Reef structures in the area to be drilled “present possibilities of being impacted by oil,” the study said. In winter that possibility could be as high as 30.33 percent, while in summer, 20.93 percent, the study produced for Total by companies Proceano and AECOM said.
As long ago as the 1970s, scientists suspected the existence of a reef hidden under the murky waters of the River Amazon’s mouth. But it was not …more
We know climate change is affecting the environment, but it’s also threatening people’s health
I’m digging through reports and punditry to make sense of health care reform when I realize that while we’ve been debating single-payer systems and high-risk pools, no one’s talking about the most serious health threat: climate change.
I know what global warming is doing to our ecosystems. My Twitter feed is a stream of climate disaster revelations. Given the serious implications droughts, floods, and fires pose to our health, shouldn’t climate change be part of the health care discussions?
Photo Tomás Fano
Howard Frumkin thinks so. He is a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health, and, by his measure, climate change is the greatest public health threat of our time.
Here’s his perspective on how climate change fits into the latest governmental health care battles.
Stephen Miller: What’s your sense of where we’re at with the current health care bill?
Howard Frumkin: Obamacare isn’t perfect. It’s a cumbersome system. It was a lot better than the status quo; tens of millions of people who were not insured got insurance. The Republican plan would undo that. It’s grotesquely unjust. If you view health care as a right, then it’s exactly the wrong way to go. We do need to reform Obamacare, we need to reduce costs in the system and enhance quality, and we need to achieve universal access.
What kind of health care bill is needed in a world with a changing climate?
In general, preparing to protect people from the effects of climate change means we need a robust health system. That means we need strong health departments that have the ability to do epidemiologic surveillance and do disaster preparedness. And do good communication and education. We need a medical care system that is available to everybody.
Climate change as a risk aggravator — or risk multiplier —makes those things all the more necessary. Anything you do to undercut those things in either the public health system or the clinical care system makes us less able to respond to climate change.
So, if you restrict the level of clinical care that’s available to people, and that’s exactly what these proposed Medicaid cuts would do, then all of the adverse health effects of climate change will hit the population. The poor people who will need medical …more
Proposed prison would have been terrible for prisoner health and local wildlife, say advocates
Last month the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew its request for funding for construction of a maximum-security prison atop a former mountaintop-removal coal-mining site in eastern Kentucky.
The proposed $444 million facility, planned for Letcher County, has faced ongoing opposition from environmental and human rights organizations who have expressed a wide range of concerns about potential ecological and health impacts of the project. “Building this prison would have been terrible for the health of prisoners, the surrounding community, and all the wildlife in the area,” Lori Ann Bird, environmental health program director with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said. (Read Earth Island Journal and Truthout’s special investigation into America’s toxic prisons.)
The Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of people held in US detention facilities, pointed to the history of mining-related pollution in the area — including contamination of drinking water that could be used for the prison. The Human Rights Defense Center also noted the ongoing risk posed by more than a dozen active gas wells near the proposed site, as well as possible radon intrusion linked to coal mining in the area.
Photo by Dennis Dimick
In a comment filed in response to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) 2015 environmental impact statement for the facility, opponents also cited impacts on the local community — including potential water pollution from the prison itself — as well as on nearby habitat and wildlife. Two federally endangered species, the Indiana bat and the gray bat, are found in the region, as are some 60 other species with varying levels of state and federal protections.
“It’s a pretty huge step toward victory,” Panagioti Tsolkas, cofounder of the Prison Ecology Project, a program of the Human Rights Defense Center, said of the DOJ’s decision to abandon the plan.
Both the Prison Ecology Project and the Center for Biological Diversity point to growing local opposition, in conjunction with a coordinated campaign by advocates, as triggering the withdrawal. “This has been a tremendous effort by a lot of diverse groups coming together to oppose this prison, and shows the powerful impact we can achieve when the community comes …more
World's plastic binge 'as dangerous as climate change,' say campaigners
A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20 percent by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.
New figures obtained by The Guardian reveal the surge in usage of plastic bottles, more than half a trillion of which will be sold annually by the end of the decade.
The demand, equivalent to about 20,000 bottles being bought every second, is driven by an apparently insatiable desire for bottled water and the spread of a western, urbanized “on the go” culture to China and the Asia Pacific region.
More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300 billion a decade ago. If placed end-to-end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun. By 2021 this will increase to 583.3 billion, according to the most up-to-date estimates from Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.
Most plastic bottles used for soft drinks and water are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is highly recyclable. But as their use soars across the globe, efforts to collect and recycle the bottles to keep them from polluting the oceans, are failing to keep up.
Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7 percent of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean.
Between 5 million and 13 million tons of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, and by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Experts warn that some of it is already finding its way into the human food chain.
Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year. Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel, and shellfish. Last year, the …more
North Carolina project turns plastic bags into bedrolls
Recycling fanatic Tori Carle used to put all kinds of plastic out for recycling, including plastic bags. Then she became the city recycling educator in Greensboro, North Carolina. In that position, she learned that plastic bags and other plastic film wreak havoc in the recycling sorting process. Plastic bags frequently get tangled in the rotating machinery at materials recovery facilities, which sort mixed recyclables into various saleable commodities. Workers must stop the machinery almost a dozen times every day to remove the tangles. Sometimes the bags even break components of the machines.
Photo by Wastebuster, Flickr
Not long after, Carle discovered from the website Pinterest that plastic bags can be used to make plastic yarn, called “plarn,” which can then be crocheted for use in a variety of different projects.
When it comes to recycling plastics, most of the public focus is on shopping bags. Yet shopping bags are just one type of plastic film Americans acquire on a regular basis. Bread, frozen vegetables, cotton balls, newspapers, and dry-cleaning all come in various types of plastic bags. And almost any of it can be used to make plarn.
In the spring of 2016, Carle approached her boss with a novel educational idea: to organize the first of what turned out to be several workshops at library branches where she would teach people how to make plarn. To her surprise, 21 people showed up. According to Carle, the workshop participants had a number of questions for which she as yet had no answers: “Are we finishing anything to completion today, or are we working on something small we can continue working on at home? Do you have a pattern for it?” In response to their questions, Carle began to search Pinterest for plarn projects that could be easily replicated. One project in particular — posted by members of an Arkansas church who had who had successfully used plarn to crochet bedrolls for the homeless — excited the entire group.
In addition to tackling plastic pollution, the idea addresses a real and serious need. When people sleep on the ground, even if they have a sleeping bag, half of their body remains in contact with a surface colder than their body temperature, which can lead to hypothermia. While experienced campers know to use an insulating …more
Restoration will be delayed by decades if dichloromethane emissions are not curbed, research reveals
The restoration of the globe’s protective shield of ozone will be delayed by decades if fast-rising emissions of a chemical used in paint stripper are not curbed, new research has revealed.
Atmospheric levels of the chemical have doubled in the last decade and its use is not restricted by the Montreal protocol that successfully outlawed the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) mainly responsible for the ozone hole. The ozone-destroying chemical is called dichloromethane and is also used as an industrial solvent, an aerosol spray propellant and a blowing agent for polyurethane foams. Little is known about where it is leaking from or why emissions have risen so rapidly.
Photo by Time SHeerman-Chase
The loss of ozone was discovered in the 1980s and is greatest over Antarctica. But Ryan Hossaini, at Lancaster University in the UK and who led the new work, said: “It is important to remember that ozone depletion is a global phenomenon, and that while the peak depletion occurred over a decade ago, it is a persistent environmental problem and the track to recovery is expected to be a long and bumpy one.”
“Ozone shields us from harmful levels of UV radiation that would otherwise be detrimental to human, animal and plant health,” he said.
The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, analysed the level of dichloromethane in the atmosphere and found it rose by 8 percent a year between 2004 and 2014. The scientists then used sophisticated computer models to find that, if this continues, the recovery of the ozone layer would be delayed by 30 years, until about 2090.
The chemical was not included in the 1987 Montreal protocol because it breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere, usually within six months, and had not therefore been expected to build up. In contrast, CFCs persist for decades or even centuries.
But the short lifespan of dichloromethane does mean that action to cut its emissions would have rapid benefits. “If policies were put in place to limit its production, then this gas could be flushed out of the atmosphere relatively quickly,” said Hossaini.
If the dichloromethane in the atmosphere was held at today’s level, the recovery of the ozone level would only be delayed by five years, the scientists found. …more