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Plastic Loom Fuses Tradition and Modernity

How two young Egyptians are reinventing plastic bags

The old adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” could be the motto for the project Reform Studio.

Mariam Hazem, one of the project founders, explains why she collects plastic bags: “Statistics show that the number of plastic bags on the globe is growing by a million each minute. A June 2012 report by the GIZ Society for International Cooperation and SWEEP-Net states that 11 percent of solid waste in the Middle East and North Africa consists of plastic.

photo of plastic loomPhoto by Sabry Khaled Reform Studio helps to keep the traditional craft of weaving with the handloom alive.

Reform Studio is headquartered in El-Tagamo El-Khames, one of the more refined quarters of Cairo. Visitors are immediately struck by the unique, colorful seating arrangements. The “El-Qahwa” (‘the coffee’) chair collection has an authentically Egyptian flair as it mimics the chairs in traditional coffee shops; except that the seats are not made of wood, but of plaited plastic bags. The “Gramaz” set (derived from ‘grandmas’), on the other hand, is more modern, inspired by an old chair that used to belong to Mariam’s grandmother. It takes 50 plastic bags to manufacture one chair for the “Ahwa” collection, a piece from the “Gramaz” collection requires three times as many.

It all started with the revolution

Mariam Hazem and Hend Riad, both 25 years old, are the masterminds of Reform Studio. They originally came up with the concept for their graduation project at the Faculty of Applied Arts at the German University in Cairo in 2014. Today, their idea has evolved into a brand. Their products are available at six stores in Cairo and one in London.

photo of plastic loomPhoto by Sabry Khaled Chairs from the Ahwa collection. Their upholstery is made from plastic bags.

“After the onset of the revolution on January 25, 2011, we were highly motivated, we wanted to be part of the change,” says Mariam. “We wanted to find a solution to one of Egypt’s most serious issues: the all-pervading trash,” Mariam adds. So the two researched the topic and talked to some trash men and scavengers around Cairo. They learned that people mostly get rid of plastic by burning it, because it does not decompose. Therefore, Mariam and Hend …more

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Amid Showdown, Thai Officials Begin Removing Big Cats from Infamous Tiger Temple

Day 3 of rescue operation leads to awful discovery: 40 dead tiger cubs and other animal parts

So it has come to pass — following several months of stand off, the infamous Tiger Temple has been closed down as Thai wildlife officials and veterinarians undertake a monumental operation to relocate the remaining 137 tigers from the temple in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi province to wildlife sanctuaries across the country.

Wildlife officials with a tranquilized tigerPhoto by Edwin Wiek/Wildlife Friends Foundation ThailandAt least 40 tigers have been removed from the controversial temple since Monday.

According to the Bangkok Post, since Monday, when the rescue operations began, at least 40 tigers have been removed from the temple. Ten other tigers had been rescued from the temple in January and February following new, incriminating reports that the temple — which has long been dogged with controversy — had been speed-breeding and trafficking tigers since at least 2004.

As I write this, Day Three of the rescue operation is underway. Sadly, the day brought the gruesome discovery of 40 dead tiger cubs stacked in a freezer at the temple. Officials also found several other animal parts including deer horns, a bull’s skull and animal intestines in held containers. According to local Thai media reports, some of the cubs appear to have died recently. Photos posted on Twitter by reporters on the scene seem to indicate that some of the cubs were only a few days old.

Thai wildlife officials say they are looking into who’s responsible for the cubs death and might file separate criminal charges. Monks at the temple, who have denied all trafficking allegations in the past, have not commented on this latest finding yet. Officials also found six hornbills, a protected species, at a monk's residence.

The Buddhist temple, Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Yanasampanno, draws thousands of tourists from across the world every year to hang out with its large population of “pet” tigers that numbered 147 in January. This extremely lucrative operation — the temple makes some $3 million annually off of the tourists — is based around claims that the first tigers to arrive at the temple were rescued from poachers and all the big cats currently housed there live freely and peacefully with the temple’s monks, who are actively engaged in conservation and rescue work.

But wildlife activists have for years accused the Tiger Temple …more

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Why Was the Gorilla Harambe Killed at the Cincinnati Zoo?

Grief and outrage over 17-year-old great ape's death

Many people worldwide already know about the shooting of a 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla named Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo to save the life of a four-year old child who fell into the gorilla's cage. The boy apparently told his mother he wanted to meet Harambe and crawled under a rail and over the wall of the moat. As usual, my inbox was ringing constantly with different reports of Harambe's killing, some might call it an execution or a murder. Indeed, the title of Peter Holley's essay in the Washington Post is called "‘Shooting an endangered animal is worse than murder’: Grief over gorilla’s death turns to outrage." 

Harambe the gorillaPhoto by Mark DumontLet's remember in head and heart that Harambe was killed for being forced to live in a cage for some human's, not his own, benefit, and because it was thought he might harm the child for coming into his home.

Who's to blame and what can be done to avoid such unnecessary killings?

Opinions vary widely about whether or not the boy's parents are to blame and should be charged for negligence, and whether Harambe should have been killed, as there is essentially no evidence that the gorilla was going to harm the child. As I watched footage of the event I was reminded of an incident at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo in which a female western lowland gorilla named Binta Jua rescued a three-year old boy who fell into her enclosure.

We can also ask if the zoo is to blame. Why was the boy able to get under the rail, had zoo workers practiced the sorts of rescues brought on by these events, why wasn't Harambe tranquilized? 

Moving forward, caretakers, who are responsible for the day-to-day well-being of the zoo's residents and who form personal relationships with them, must be involved in preparing for emergency situations such as this. It's these people "on the ground" who know the animals the best and who regularly communicate with them. They also could well be the people who could communicate the animal out of danger so it could be a win-win for all involved. Harambe, like all other gorillas and numerous other zoo-ed animals, are highly intelligent and emotional beings who depend on us to respect and value their by Marc Bekoff – May 31, 2016

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Australia’s Censorship of Unesco Climate Report is Like a Shakespearean Tragedy

The iconic Great Barrier Reef is clearly at risk from climate change, so why would Unesco agree to censor its own report?

That quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet comes to mind: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

The lady in question is the Australian government, which some time in early January saw a draft of a report from a United Nations organization.

coral in the Great Barrier ReefPhoto by Tchami/FlickrLeaving the Great Barrier Reef out of the report is like writing about the risks of oil drilling without mentioning the Deepwater Horizon.

The report, provisionally titled “Destinations at Risk: World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, outlined how many world heritage sites around the world were being compromised by the impacts of climate change.

One of the sites highlighted in the draft report was the Great Barrier Reef. The Australian government doth protest, and Unesco obliged.

As Guardian Australia revealed last week, all mentions of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, the Northern Territory’s glorious Kakadu national park and Tasmania’s forests were then removed from the report.

All this, as the reef’s worst recorded case of mass coral bleaching makes headlines around the world

So why the whitewash?

In a statement to Guardian Australia, the Department of the Environment made two arguments to justify the request for censorship and neither of them makes any sense.

Firstly, the government argued the title of the report “had the potential to cause considerable confusion”.

The title Australia objected to was “Destinations at Risk: World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”. The report was finally published as World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate.

The department said the UN world heritage committee had only last year agreed not to place the reef on its list of sites “in danger”.

If the reef then appeared as a case study in a UN report about world heritage sites “at risk” this might confuse people, the department claimed.

But the reality is that the reef is both “at risk” and “in danger” from the impacts of climate change – the government’s own science agencies have warned them of this multiple times, not to mention scientists at leading universities around the world.

The only confusing aspect is how a report about world heritage sites and climate change now omits one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders that has become a …more

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A Legacy of Fighting for Justice

Lawyer behind youth climate change lawsuit comes from a family that’s championed social and environmental causes for generations

On the morning of March 9 2016, 21 young plaintiffs, aged 8 to 19, crowded into a courtroom in Eugene, Oregon, to sue the United States government for failing to protect their environment by allowing continued fossil fuel development that was leading to potentially catastrophic global warming. Their efforts were set in motion by a law professor whose family has been fighting for social and environmental justice for well over a century.

little girl holding a sign saying I want a better worldPhoto by Viewminder/FlickrAcross the US, youth groups are suing governments, demanding that their rightto a pollution-free environment be respected.

The group behind the current lawsuit, Our Children’s Trust , believes that Earth’s atmosphere is a legacy that each generation must protect for the next, and that the US government must not allow any actions, public or private, that might abuse this common heritage. Specifically, they cite increasing carbon pollution as the greatest threat to our atmospheric trust. Similar lawsuits in Massachusetts and Washington have received favorable rulings in court.   

Based on this idea of a trust violated, young activist organizations such as iMatter (which began as Kids vs. Global Warming, a project of Earth Island Institute) have organized demonstrations around the world. They mobilized during the recent Paris climate talks, whose positive steps forward were, in the children’s opinions, far less than what is needed. They want to force the US government, through the courts, to respect their rights to a pollution-free environment. 

The concept of an atmospheric trust doctrine, as their legal argument is often called, was the brainchild of Mary Christina Wood, a University of Oregon Environmental Law professor. Wood worked with teams of young Americans to develop the idea, and a strategy for taking it both to the streets and to the courts. 

As Mary explained in an interview with Yale Environment 360: “The litigation just takes this well known, ages-old principle that government is trustee of our crucial resources and applies it to the atmosphere and to the climate in particular. The reason it’s important is because the political branches of government are doing next to nothing to address this crisis, which is threatening the future survival and welfare of the youth of this nation and future generations. …more

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Adventures of a Greenpeace Captain

The inside story of the Arctic 30, life in prison, and what it means to be free

In September 2013, Greenpeace activists made their way toward a giant oil platform in the Russian Arctic, intending to hang a banner highlighting the perils of oil development in the fragile Arctic ecosystem. They were stopped by armed Russian Federal Security Service members. The following day, Russian soldiers boarded the deck of the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, detaining all 30 people onboard at gunpoint. The 30 crew members and journalists were taken to Murmansk, where they were charged with piracy. (Read the Journal’s article on the Arctic 30 here.) Peter Willcox, Captain of the Arctic Sunrise, was one of the Arctic 30. The following is an excerpt from his new book.

photo of Arctic SunrisePhoto by John CookPeter Willcox was Captain of the Greenpeace ship Artic Sunrise when he was detained by Russian soldiers as part of the Arctic 30.

Maggy had been watching a live Greenpeace feed in our home in Maine, anxiously awaiting the moment when my head would pop out from behind the huge prison door. Just before I walked out, the video feed was lost and she missed the big moment. She didn’t know I was out until I called her from the car to tell her I was drinking Alexander’s brandy.

While I was relieved to be out of jail, during the car ride from Kresty Prison to the hotel my joy was tempered by worrying about the reception I would receive there from the Arctic 30 who had been released before me. Would they blame me for their incarceration? I had certainly made decisions that contributed to our arrest and the arrest of the ship, but then again, not one of us had anticipated the muscular response from the Russians. As I exited the car and walked into the lobby of the hotel, my concern grew. Would they vent their anger at me, or would I just get the cold shoulder?

The first people I saw were my shipmates Sini, Camila Speziale, and Alexandra “Alex” Harris. They saw me in the same instant and immediately moved toward me with their arms raised. I realized the three were all opening their arms to me. Seconds later we were in a group hug. Their shoulders were anything but cold. It was the best I had felt …more

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Environmentalists, First Nations Vow Summer of Action Against Trans Mountain Pipeline

Canadian regulators’ OK of the tar sands pipeline expansion draws flack from activists

Environment and Indigenous rights organizations are indicating it’s going to be a long, hot summer of civil disobedience in British Columbia following a National Energy Board report released last week recommending conditional approval of Kinder Morgan’s $5.4 billion Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project that allow for the transport of nearly a million barrels of bitumen per day from Alberta’s tar sands oil mines.

people holding Trans Mountain protest bannerPhoto courtesy of SumOfUsThe decision didn’t come as much of a surprise, given that the National Energy Board members were hand-picked by former prime minister, and friend of the oil patch, Stephen Harper.

“All this has accomplished is to escalate this issue and exacerbate an already volatile situation,” says Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Chiefs. “In many ways, it’s a call to arms for the multitude of Indigenous groups and other interests.”

Phillip was one of 130 people arrested on Burnaby Mountain during a multi-day protest over Kinder Morgan’s plan back in 2014, and he sees more of the same in the coming months. “That was the first of many,” he says. “There’s no question it is going to be a long, hot summer.”

And Phillip is far from the only one who has made such claims. Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, has said he is prepared to get arrested to stop the project. Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson has also said he does not want to see the pipeline approved, going as far as calling the NEB hearings a “sham.”

Kinder Morgan, the largest energy infrastructure company in North America headquartered in Houston, Texas, is proposing to expand the existing Trans Mountain capacity to 890,000 barrels per day by twinning the pipeline, reactivating 193 km of existing pipeline and adding new and modified facilities, including an expanded marine terminal in Burnaby. If approved, the project would increase tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet seven-fold.

The 533-page report detailing the NEB recommendation follows 686 days of public hearings on the proposal. The recommendation comes with a list of 157 conditions that must be met prior to approval. The government has seven months to reach a final decision.

“Taking into account all the evidence, considering all relevant factors, and given that there are considerable benefits nationally, regionally and to some …more

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