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What Will Save Our Forests?

Critical Insights from Indigenous Peoples in and around UNCOP17

In this article I wrote for Earth Island Journal earlier this year detailing the fatal flaws of the climate mitigation scheme known as REDD (for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), I quoted World Bank President Robert Zoellick as calling REDD, “the best chance, perhaps the last chance, to save the world’s forests.”

photo of two women conversingphoto courtesy Orin Langelle

Well, I hope I did a fair job of gracefully skewering the Bank president’s arrogant and unfounded assessment of what I perceive as the deranged, colonialist, land-grabbing nightmare scenario that REDD represents. Even if I did succeed in my humble aspiration, an important question remained unanswered: If top-down, financially-incentivized, multilateral-driven climate mitigation programs don’t work, then what does?

In a seminar held this week at the University of Kwazulu Natal – just one of many civil society events coinciding with the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa – representatives of Indigenous Peoples, peasant movements, and women’s movements from many countries shared their perspectives on the most appropriate, equitable, and effective methods of forest conservation and climate change mitigation. They also spoke about the kinds of support they need for these initiatives – the do’s and don’ts of “helping” people protect their forests. Across the board, they agreed that what is needed is recognition of Indigenous territorial rights, autonomy, traditional knowledge and governance systems; land reform, food sovereignty and sustainable alternative livelihood options; and a definitive end to destructive activities like logging, mining, large tree plantations and land grabbing.

(They also had a good bit of ire left over for the “Green Economy,” the brand that global elites have given to their efforts to save the planet without diminishing the 1%-99% greed-versus-need ratio. But that’s another story.)

Out of the aforementioned seminar, the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative (IPCCA) published this declaration, which begins with the perspective that “the harmonious relationship between humans and Mother Earth has been broken. The life of people and Pachamama has become a business.”

Their findings, it turns out, are validated by science, as confirmed by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), which recently published this report showing that the people who best protect forests are – what do you know? – those who have lived in them for generations.

Fiu Mataese Elisara, from Samoa, is the Secretariat of Global Forest Coalition and was part of the IPCCA initiative, and has been speaking to me at length about these issues. (In the interest of full disclosure, Fui is my roommate here in Durban, because I’m working as Media Coordinator for the Coalition. But that doesn’t make my citations of his profound insights any less authentic).

With cocoa-colored skin and a shock of white hair that leads locals to confuse him for a younger version of Nelson Mandela, Elisara is extremely articulate on the question: “It’s a pity that Indigenous Peoples have to submit to these limited approaches to ‘development,’” he says, “when we know, from centuries of experience, that our own biocultural values may very well provide the solutions for the problems of today.”

Fiu traveled to South Africa this week from Samoa, a 48 hour journey. As a member of Climate Justice Now!, this Tuesday he was able to make an intervention into the official COP process (meaning, in Summit-speak, he had the opportunity to make a statement that will be considered in the official negotiating text to be delivered to heads of state here next week). The time allowed for his intervention: one minute.

Talking with me after his one minute of global political impact, Elisara lamented, “Our ways might be considered ‘primitive’ in the eyes of the world, but our methods are not only sacred, holistic, and appropriate to our cultures, they have served us for generations. And they continue to work.”

Being from Samoa, Elisara is especially concerned about climate change, because his is one of fifteen islands in the Pacific under imminent threat of indundation. Some say – and, in the interest of full disclosure, I agree – that this may constitute the single grossest case of cultural genocide the world has yet witnessed.

Nightly, Elisara laments the COP process: “We’re talking about sovereign nations, about whole peoples, wiped off the face of the Earth…And they are talking about business, about making money. We are like a species going extinct.”

Marlon Santi is a Quichua man from Sarayacu, Ecuador, and the former President of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon. In the midst of sensitive political wrangling at home, where financing for forest protection is a contentious issue, Santi has taken a very firm stance against carbon markets, against green capitalism, and against REDD. As part of the IPCCA initiative, and again at a press conference inside the UN COP yesterday, Santi said: “For my people, the forest is sacred. It is life in all its essence. We can protect Pachamama only if this is respected. REDD and other market mechanisms have turned our relationship with forests into a business. As we are targeted, this is not only a new form of climate racism but also represents a false solution which undermines the climate regime.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, Santi pulled me out of a pit of quicksand after canoeing a river in the upper Amazon while visiting his family’s sacred territory in 2001. But this doesn’t diminish the sincerity of my respect for his economic analysis.)

Jadder Mendoza, Misquita from the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, said at the same press conference, “In Latin America and the Global South, we’ve been classified as poor, while the rest of the world is developed. But the countries that are developed are where the majority of emissions come from. Conversely, in our countries, we have poverty, hunger, and low indices of development – and we have the lowest emissions.”

Mendoza emphasized that the “developed” world and the “under-developed world” have patently different understandings of what development means. “The development agencies have all been capitalizing and building experiences around the knowledge of our communities. There’s been an important capitalization of our cultures, but done with a folkloric, anthropological approach. When we think about development, we need to think about what development means. For us, development is not understood in terms of consumption patterns. It is also about finding happiness in our lives.”

“In the same vein,” he said, poignantly referring to REDD, “protecting the environment is not about taking a picture of nature and putting it in a museum.”

Tom Goldtooth, a Diné and Dakota man and Director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, is one of the strongest voices out there against REDD and in favor of community forest management. Yesterday afternoon, he spoke before a gathering of southern African peasant farmers under a tent near a highway overpass, miles from the UN COP, about his concerns with forestry schemes, like REDD, that are based on carbon market speculation.

“Before you trade anything, you have to determine, whose property is it? Before they can trade seeds, they have to determine who owns that seed. Some corporations own that seed. Well, who owns the carbon dioxide in the air? That’s what they are working out in the carbon markets and at these UN climate conventions. That’s why we call the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the World Trade Organization of the Sky.”

(More disclosure: when I was stranded with colleagues on the side of the road in an unappetizing Durban neighborhood shortly after his talk, Goldtooth swooped up in a rental car and saved us from almost-certain robbery of our laptops and cameras. But that doesn’t make my respect for his tireless efforts on behalf of threatened Peoples any less sincere.)

You may have noticed by now that while I have again condemned market-driven climate mitigation schemes, I failed utterly to elaborate on what, in fact, the alternatives are. For this, I offer two defenses:

One: It’s all here, in the IPCCA declaration.

And two: With possibly-well-meaning global technocrats, pathological corporate vampires, and blood-sucking financial industries digging their claws into the planet’s dying flesh until whole peoples are driven extinct, and racing against armageddon to turn everything under the clear blue sky into a commodity, the best thing we can probably do for forests, and for the people who live in them, is to simply leave them alone.

Jeff Conant, writer and social justice activist
Jeff Conant is author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health and is Communications Director at Global Justice Ecology Project.

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By Nestor
The composition of dry air at sea level is approximately 78% Nitrogen, (N), 21% Oxygen, (O), and this amounts to 99% of our atmosphere. The remaining 1% is made up of about 10 other gases of which Argon, (Ar), is 0.9%, Carbon Dioxide, (CO2), is about 0.031%, Neon, (Ne), is 0.0018%, Helium is 0.00052%, (He), Krypton, (Kr), is 0.00011%, Xenon (Xe) is 0.0000087%, Hydrogen, (H), is 0.00005%, Methane, (CH4 an Alkane) is 0.0002%, Nitric Oxide, (NO) is 0.00005%, Ozone, (O3) is 0.000002% in winter and 0.000007% in summer.
This detailed listing of the atmospheric gases is given for the readers to appreciate the approximate volumes of gas that make up the present atmosphere and it can be clearly seen that both CO2 and CH4 are really in short supply as %’s of the atmosphere. This has not always been the ratio of gases in the atmosphere. It is predicated that 4,500 million years ago the Earth’s atmosphere was chiefly Hydrogen and Helium and by 4,000 million years ago it was mainly Carbon Dioxide, Water Vapour and Ammonia.  Water vapour is an important hot house gas.
Details of just how all this mixture of gases came about is a topic probably better left for a further article, but it is available in the 500 page simply understood book by Allan Yeomans, available from Coffs Outlook for $50, plus postage, titled, “Priority One-Together We Can Beat Global Warming”.  Nestor thanks Allan for the right to use his book.  The following brief comments on the “origin of the earth” are mostly taken from a fine Australian book called the Encyclopedia of Earth published in 2008 by Hinkler Books Proprietary Limited which is a book conceived and produced by Weldon Owen Proprietary Limited. It is to that Encyclopedia that many of these comments are indebted. Also, to be acknowledged is the Internet Wikipedia.
Now with apologies to all those who believe in the truth of such Biblical histories as Genesis, reference has to be made to our astronomers and scientists who believe that the universe’s origins go back some 13.7 billion years to what is referred to as the “Big Bang”.  Our small Sun and its planets including our Earth and much of the universe saw its beginnings about 4,600 million years ago when our present, Sun, a star, to which we owe all life, became the centre of our universe as one of many planetary systems that go to make up the Milky Way.
Our Sun, with a diameter 109 times that of the earth, is an ordinary star, and a massive nuclear reactor made up of Hydrogen 71% and Helium 27%, other gases 2%. The constant nuclear fusion of Hydrogen to Helium, and the energy so produced, radiates us with life giving energy, white light, cosmic dust and powerful magnetic fields. It was not until the blue green algae Cyanobacteria appeared about 3000 million years ago when our atmosphere was mostly 75% Nitrogen and 15% Carbon Dioxide that development of photosynthesis occurred and free oxygen that we must breath started accumulating in our atmosphere.
The variety of methods that scientists have used to make assessments of the past air and sea temperatures and compositions has included the study of such things as oxygen isotopes in calcite and aragonite shells and it has been found that there is a surprisingly accurate relationship with the Earth’s cold and warm cycles and CO2 content in the air, when they occurred on our planet. Numerous studies of other radioactive isotopes have also allowed accurate dating from their “half -lives”.  This is known as “Radiometric Dating”.
PHOTO Lithified stromatolites on the shores of Lake Thetis (Western Australia). Stromatolites are formed by colonies of single celled organisms like cyanobacteria or chlorophyta. These colonies of algae entrap sedimentary grains, thus forming the draped sedimentary layers of a stromatolite.  Archaean stromatolites are the first direct fossil traces of life on Earth, even though little preserved fossilized cells have been found inside them. The Archaean and Proterozoic oceans [1800 to 3500 million years ago] could have been full of algal mats like these.  Coupled with these stromatolites came photosynthesis to form oxygen.  Living stromatolites are easily seen at Hamelyn Pools on the way to Shark Bay in WA 280 km North of Geraldton. 
You have all heard of the “Periodic Table” at high School and University and like me you probably did not really understand it. It was not until I read “Priority One” at age 76 that the penny finally dropped. From the Aylward/Findlay book entitled S.I. Chemical Data, there are now 114 chemicals listed in the Periodic Table which have about 298 stable isotopes and 20 stable radioactive isotopes, which in fact gives a total of 323 individual chemicals and this does not count the unstable isotopes. These chemicals may only differ by one Neutron to make them different.  As can be seen the researching of groups of elements for a PhD makes this a very lucrative field of endeavour.  The advantage to us is that we are able to learn more and more about just what has gone into the development of our planet, called Earth.  And more are being found.  Two more have been announced recently.
Since about 1980 much has been made of the need to take action in order to reduce the amount of CO2eq [the “eq” is added to encompass all Green House gases in the air such as water vapour the main one, carbon dioxide, all nitrous and nitric oxides, methane, carbon monoxide, and several others] going into our atmosphere.  Historical readings from less than 1 million years ago show, from the Vostok ice cores, that over the past 800,000 years the CO2 content of the atmosphere oscillated between 190 and 290 ppm and since 1900 has risen quickly to 400 ppm.   
Is this increasing volume of CO2 or say a level of 2,000ppm a danger to the race called Homo Sapiens ? ?    Nestor cannot find answers to this conundrum   Little research seems to be available on this issue.  It is to be remembered that the genus called Homo has only been around for 2 million years and Homo Sapiens for about 200,000 years.  It is estimated that our aborigines have been in Australia for 40,000 yrs. 
In 2007 the United Nations drew up a complete list of the carbon dioxide production from “the burning of fossil fuels” by some “215” different countries throughout the world. That listing is available on the Internet and shows some very interesting figures. It converts those metric tonnes of gases into the percentages produced by each country.
The first 13 countries produce the following :- China 22.3%, the United States 19.91%, the European Union 14.04%, India 5.50%, Russia 5.24%, Japan 4.28%, Germany 2.69%, Canada 1.90%, United Kingdom 1.84%, South Korea 1.72%, Iran 1.69%, Mexico 1.61%, Italy 1.56%. The remaining 202 countries all produce less than 1.5%, and this includes Australia. Of the 215 countries in the world listed, only 10 have some sort of variety of carbon taxation system and none as high as ours is.  India has set $1 per ton.  10 out of 215 is a small percentage.
Going back some 600 million years and shown in the graph below are the assessed CO2 atmospheric gas contents, with a black line, and the assessed average global temperatures using a blue line. As can be seen the CO2 contents have been as high as 7000 ppm about 520 million years ago. The only other time that the CO2 content was close to the present value of about 400 ppm was during the Carboniferous Period, some 285 to 310 million years ago when the coal deposits were laid down.  The clever methods used have given good and reliable results for CO2.
It follows, as a natural conclusion, that whatever process is proposed to ameliorate CO2 input to our Atmosphere, has to be something that is clear to the total world’s population so that they can understand any, and all, proposals for action.
The world’s Atmosphere, without any doubt, is a global concern for its 7 billion people. At present the average world-wide temperature is about 15 degrees centigrade. To melt all ice it only has to rise to near to 20 degrees centigrade, and to put us into an “ice age” it only has to drop to about 10 degrees centigrade.
Global Temperature and Atmospheric CO2 over Geologic Time in the graph below :

Late Carboniferous to Early Permian time -me (315 mya — 270 mya) is the only time period in the last 600 million years when both atmospherice -ic CO2 and temperatures were as low as they are today (Quaternary Period ). Temperature after .R. Scotese CO2 after R.A. Berner, 2001 (GEOCARB III)
The only electricity generation system known to NOT produce CO2 as a “by product” that causes so called pollution is “Nuclear”.  Irrespective of the dramas in Japan recently, the radiation exposure was NOT a result of something wrong with the nuclear generators themselves but the result of physical damage as a result of a very large earthquake. 
There is little doubt that the location of these generators was poorly chosen in 1970. The latest “Type 4” units for nuclear power station generators are far superior to any of the previous 442 or so units around the world, most of which are still working.
Type 4 nuclear generators cost about the same as a modern gas fired generator.  Like T1 hydro power station in the Snowy scheme all nuclear stations should be placed in similar “Underground Halls” similar to T1, then when they are closed, they can, if need be, be simply buried in concrete by pouring concrete down the air conditioning ducts from the surface.
Studies and research have indicated that the human being can live an extra 5 years if the body receives up to 100 milliSieverts [mSv] per year.  A Sievert is a measure of absorbed dose equal to one joule of energy absorbed per kilogram.  The sun gives us about 3 mSv per year, and flying to and from Disneyland gives us 8 mSv.  It is a truth that we actually live in a world being bombarded by radioactivity and we need it for survival.  The claim that the world would be better off without any radiation or what is called the NIL radiation hypothesis is Harry Potter science.
Our lives are more at risk from poor diet and lack of exercise than radioactivity.  For much greater detail please refer to “Priority One”.
If Type 4 units are installed as our source of electrical power to replace old coal and gas fired power stations any of our world commitments for CO2 reduction would be met immediately.  For this to happen there must be changes in the understanding of nuclear power by our pollies, political parties and the people in the community.  Again “Priority One” clarifies this matter.
The current rate of increase in hot house gases in Australia is calculated by CSIRO to be 2% per year of the year 2000 levels.  This means that by 2050 the increase amounts to 76%.  It is obvious therefore that claims that the carbon tax will reduce by 80% the greenhouse gas production of Australia by 2050 has a very poor, doubtful and questionable, logical and mathematical foundation.

By E. Armstrong on Sun, December 04, 2011 at 4:54 pm

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