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The Bakas, National Forests, and the Conservation Conundrum

Dispute between WWF and Survival International highlights how some conservation efforts continue to displace Indigenous peoples

Complaints about deforestation and human rights abuses in an African nation are so common that, sadly, they hardly make headlines anymore. But when the complaints are leveled at one of the biggest environmental groups in the world – that’s unusual enough to draw attention.

two Baka people sitting in a forestPhoto by Zuzu/FlickrSurvival International alleges that the World Wildlife Fund bears some blame for the harassment and displacement for the Baka people in three national parks that WWF helped create in Cameroon.

Survival International, a nonprofit that campaigns for the rights of Indigenous people worldwide, has lodged a formal complaint this year against World Wildlife Fund for Nature, contending that conservation group bears some blame for the harassment and displacement for the Baka people in three national parks that WWF helped create in Cameroon.

The Baka, a semi-nomadic forest-dwelling Indigenous tribe who live in the tropical rainforests of southern Cameroon, have allegedly been abused and booted off their lands by “ecoguards” funded by the WWF, one of the world’s largest and best-known environmental organizations.

In February, Survival complained that anti-poaching squads, financed and equipped in part by WWF, subjected Baka people in Cameroon ( who are often called “pygmies”) to violence and denied them access to their lands. It alleges that the parks – established between 2001 and 2014 – have “engulfed almost all of the ancestral territory that the Baka had not already lost to the loggers, miners, and farmers.”

The complaint, filed with a Swiss government agency, cites violations of human rights and due diligence provisions of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD. The OECD is a Paris-based consortium made up of 35 countries, including the United States, whose stated mission is to promote the economic and social well-being of people globally. (The complaint was filed in Switzerland because that’s where WWF’s international headquarters is based) It says WWF didn’t make a serious enough effort to understand just how much of the forest area was occupied by the Baka, who traditionally survived on yams, fruit, honey, and wild game from the rainforests, and neither did the conservation group obtain the Baka’s full and informed consent before helping establish the parks.

The OECD says complaints against nonprofits alleging violations of the OECD guidelines are rare. (It usually receives complaints against multinational corporations.) And a grievance by one NGO against another? Unprecedented. A decision on the matter is still pending.

Then in June, Survival issued …more

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G20 Leaders Fail to End Fossil Fuel Subsidies, Again

Lack of action flies in the face of warnings from major insurers, business analysts

At the G20 summit, which ended in China yesterday, world leaders again failed to set a deadline to end fossil fuel subsidies, seven years after they first committed to ending them. Even as G20 governments move to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change, they’re adding fuel to the fire by dumping $444 billion of our money into polluting fossil fuel companies every year, undermining the spirit and the letter of the global climate deal.

word poster calling for removal of fossil fuel subsidiesPhoto by Ron MaderWorld leaders continue to dump $444 billion of our money into polluting fossil fuel companies every year, undermining the spirit and the letter of the Paris climate deal.

We’re nearly out of time to end these subsidies. That’s why we need your help to build people power and put pressure on G20 leaders to Stop Funding Fossils (click here to add your voice).

Each dollar our governments waste on fossil fuel subsidies pushes us closer to climate disaster, and makes the transition to clean energy more difficult by locking us into fossil fuel dependency. What’s more, we’re throwing away money we could use to change the course of history: development experts say that ending regressive fossil fuel subsidies and repurposing them could end as much as 70 percent of extreme poverty worldwide.

Over the past few months, the voices calling on G20 leaders to end fossil fuel subsidies have grown loud enough to rattle the halls of power. In June, G7 leaders urged all countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies no later than 2025, while more than 200 civil society groups from around the world released a statement calling for an even earlier deadline of 2020 for the world’s largest economies – the G20 countries.

It’s not just the usual suspects calling for change: last week, major insurers with $1.2 trillion in assets under management, alongside the UK’s professional body for actuaries, released a statement calling on G20 leaders to commit to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020. Actuaries and insurance companies make a living assessing risk. When they say that fossil fuel subsidies are so risky they threaten our very existence, G20 leaders need to listen. Adding to the chorus, the Bloomberg View editorial board recently called fossil fuel subsidies “the world’s dumbest policy.” We agree.

But now that G20 leaders have again failed to act on fossil fuel subsidies in China, what can we do to make sure they finally wake up and set a 2020 phase-out deadline? Now is the time to push Germany — the next G20 host — to put …more

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US Beekeepers Fear for Livelihoods as Anti-Zika Toxin Kills 2.5m Bees

‘It kills everything’: conservationist warns over threat to other animals

Huddled around their hives, beekeepers around the south-eastern US fear a new threat to their livelihood: a fine mist beaded with neurotoxin, sprayed from the sky by officials at war with mosquitos that carry the Zika virus.

a beekeeper carrying a frame with beesPhoto by Allagash Brewing Around the US, bees and other pollinators contribute an estimated $29bn to farm income.

Earlier this week, South Carolina beekeepers found millions of dead honey bees carpeting their apiaries, killed by an insecticide. Video posted by a beekeeper to Facebook showed thousands of dead insects heaped around hives, while a few survivors struggled to move the bodies of fellow bees.

“This is what’s left of Flowertown Bees,” a despondent keeper says in the video. Company co-owner Juanita Stanley told the Associated Press her farm looked “like it’s been nuked” and estimated 2.5 million bees were killed.

In another Facebook post, South Carolina hobbyist Andrew Macke wrote that he had lost “thousands upon thousands of bees” and that the spraying had devastated his business. “Have we lost our mind,” he wrote, “spraying poison from the sky?”

Around the US, bees and other pollinators contribute an estimated $29bn to farm income. Clemson University’s department of pesticide regulation is investigating the incident.

The program head, Dr Mike Weyman, said that though South Carolina has strict rules about protecting pollinators, county officials were using the neurotoxin, Naled, under a clause exempting them in a “clear and public health crisis”.

More than three dozen people have tested positive for Zika in South Carolina, Weyman said, and officials have made it a priority to prevent local transmissions through the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

“We don’t want one of those mosquitos having a blood meal on an individual we’ve already determined was positive,” Weyman said. “We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that [Zika] is up and running in Florida. If it gets in the mosquito population ... you’re playing catch-up.”

South Carolina’s protocol for Zika infections is to alert local officials of a carrier’s residence, which they “consider a ground zero”, Weyman said. Local authorities then target the local mosquitos in a 200-yard radius, in this case with spray.

Flowertown Bees was listed on local records but not in the state’s voluntary registry of pollinators, according to Weyman. “We know where the big ones are,” he said, “but as you can see this was a fairly large operation and …more

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Could Geothermal Reservoirs Under Salton Sea Save the Colorado River?

Untapped resource could replace power generated at Glen Canyon Dam

President Obama made a historic announcement Wednesday, saying that the federal government is considering investing in the geothermal power in the rock formations under the Salton Sea in Southern California. Considered to be "the most powerful geothermal reservoirs in the world," the Salton Sea announcement could play a critical role in the future management of the Colorado River.

Salton SeaPhoto by Stephen Kallao The Salton Sea announcement could play a critical role in the future management of the Colorado River.

Fifty years ago, Glen Canyon Dam was built above the Grand Canyon, and the Colorado River was enslaved to generate electricity to feed the hunger of the booming southwestern cities and suburbs. The Colorado's pulsing flows had carved and nourished the Grand Canyon for millennium, but that came to a crashing halt when the gates were closed and the water was ponded in Lake Powell. The environmental damage and steady decline of one of our nation's crown jewels has led to many calls for restoration of the natural system through the removal of Glen Canyon Dam.

The dam's ability to provide power has shielded it from any serious attempt to bring it down. Times change though and, over the last 16 years, the historic drought in the Southwest U.S. has drained Lake Powell to historic lows, severely diminishing the potential to generate hydroelectricity from the massive turbines encased in Glen Canyon Dam. Water and electricity managers are scrambling to come up with a plan to prop up the lake above what's called "power pool" so they can continue to generate and sell power. Any such solution is, however, clearly a stop-gap measure to keep the dam operational and is doomed to fail when confronted by the realities of climate change.

Fortunately, Obama's announcement offers a true path to the future.

The Salton Sea announcement could create an opportunity to replace the hydroelectric power generated at Glen Canyon Dam and a path forward to restoring the Grand Canyon. The geothermal reservoirs under the Salton Sea are an untapped resource that could add power to the grid as Lake Powell is slowly drained and Glen Canyon Dam is removed. Lake Powell's water could be put into Lake Mead, its downstream sister, thus keeping one fully functioning hydroelectric facility on the grid. Further, this "geo-hydro power trade" could keep the federal government solvent in its current financial contracts to provide electricity to the Southwest U.S.

The …more

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Obama Makes Climate Change Personal With Call for Action in Home State Hawai’i

President delivers two major speeches on climate change, pleading with politicians to act in the interest of future generations

Barack Obama has issued perhaps his most personal plea yet to overcome the existential threat posed by climate change.

The US president gave two major speeches on climate change in the space of a day, one in Nevada and another in Hawaii, after Air Force One managed to safely dodge two hurricanes lurking in the Pacific.

Papahānaumokuākea national monumentsPhoto by Forest and Kim Starr/FlickrA laysan albatross chick at the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument.Last week Obama created the world’s largest marine reserve by quadrupling in size.

“No nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, is immune from a changing climate,” Obama told an audience of Pacific island leaders in Honolulu.

“I saw it myself in our more northernmost state of Alaska, where the sea is swallowing villages and eating away at shorelines, where the permafrost thaws and the tundra is burning. Where glaciers are melting at a pace unprecedented in modern times. It’s a preview of our future if the climate changes faster than our efforts to address it.”

Obama embraced language that would not be out of place from an environmental group, calling on politicians “to be less concerned with special interests and more concerned about the judgment of future generations”. He lamented the “withering” crops in the Marshall Islands and the fact that the government of Kiribati, another low-lying Pacific nation, has purchased land in Fiji to relocate its people due to the rising seas.

The president also suggested that he will devote his energies to dealing with climate change after he leaves the White House. He said he was pleased with last year’s landmark climate accord in Paris but “I will push to build on that record for as long as I occupy this office and even after I leave it.”

It is expected that the US and China will jointly ratify the Paris agreement at the G20 meeting, to be held next week in Hangzhou. The commitment of the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases will provide a hefty shove to getting all major economies to sign up by the end of the year.

The urgency of a worldwide effort to lower emissions has been underscored by a year of alarming climate data. Every month since October last year has set a new record for warmth, according to Nasa, with July being the hottest single month since records began. Heatwaves and drought have ravaged areas as diverse as …more

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In Nairobi, Lions on the Loose Raise Questions About Living Next Door to Big Wildlife

Nairobi National Park’s unique location makes it attractive to both conservationists and development proponents

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valleyOn a hot February day in Nairobi, the Whatsapp group for my residents’ association chimed an urgent message: Lions had escaped from  Nairobi National Park. Living a few miles from the park, we were advised to stay home.

Not long after the two lionesses made their way safely back, my Whatsapp pinged again. This time it showed a video taken out the car window of a bushy-maned male lion running in panic alongside the busy highway on the other edge of the park.

Photo by Peter StewardThe park, that’s bordered on three sides by human settlements, is the largest national park in the world that lies within a capital city, and the only one to house big wildlife.

In the seven years I’ve lived in Nairobi, these are the first instances of wandering lions, yet in recent months the incidents have quickly multiplied. It’s not a coincidence. Work on a highway through the corner of park has been distressing and disorienting wildlife. It is believed that the activity is confusing the lions to the point that they flee the park, winding up panicked and aggressive in densely populated urban areas. Though it’s far from Kenya’s first instance of human-wildlife conflict, the rampaging lions are rapidly becoming the most visible example of the problem  — one that demands an effective response.

In a sense, it was inevitable. Nairobi National Park is the largest national park in the world that lies within a capital city, and the only one to house big wildlife, featuring not only lions but rhinos, giraffes, zebras, buffalos, antelope of all kinds, and even a few shy leopards. Fenced on the three sides that border human settlements — with Nairobi’s skyscrapers clearly visible in the distance — the park empties into a vast wild savannah on the fourth, unfenced side. This is by design, as wild animals need to follow traditional migration routes or they stop being wild. But recent development inside the park environs threatens to bring this delicate balance to an ugly end, and nowhere is this more in evidence than with the wandering lions.

I live a few miles from the park, but hundreds of thousands of people live in the Kibera slum that lies literally a stone’s throw away from it. The park is home to about 40 lions, separated from their human neighbors by a fence that …more

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Montana’s Newest State Park Signals Shift from Extraction to Recreation-Based Economy

In a state once dominated by mining and logging, outdoor recreation is now a bigger revenue generator

A pine-covered bluff rises above the Upper Clark Fork River in the heart of Milltown State Park, the latest addition to Montana’s state parks system. At the foot of the bluff, the Blackfoot River — of A River Runs Through It fame — surges into the westerly waters of the Clark Fork, having started its journey in the Scapegoat Wilderness, more than 75 miles away.

 Mike Kustudia at Milltown State Park Gabriel FurshongMilltown State Park manager Mike Kustudia hopes that the park, that’s situated on a former superfund site, can serve as a sort of outdoor museum, capable of documenting the seismic shifts in Montana’s economy and environmental standards.

The river’s banks are emerald green in mid-June, and a carpet of native grass, willow and young cottonwoods cover the floodplain. Native bull trout have returned to waters downstream and, earlier this spring, croaks of chorus frogs filled the ears of anglers. Bald eagles and osprey, fishing from far above, are routine sightings.

A viewer unschooled in Montana history might never suspect that just eight short years ago these verdant shores were buried in toxic mine tailings, piled with sunken logs, and drowned at the foot of a massive dam built in 1908 to generate electricity for the Western Lumber Company. The dam owner was a billionaire Copper King named William Clark, whose attempt to purchase a seat in the US Senate resulted in a constitutional amendment requiring popular election of US Senators.

In Clark’s time, the Treasure State’s future was frequently determined by men who had the resources to unearth its vast natural wealth. From 1886, when the first sawmill was established in Milltown, until 1981, when the Anaconda Copper Mining Company’s (ACM) smelter shut down, this stretch of the Clark Fork, between the mining town of Butte and the logging town of Missoula, was transformed into an industrial corridor, scarred with clear cuts and steeped in heavy metals.

“When the Clark Fork and Blackfoot were dammed, it was considered the best thing you could do to a river,” explains park manager, Mike Kustudia, whose grandfather worked for 39 years in the ACM’s lumber mill, across the Blackfoot River from Clark’s mill. “There’s a great quote from Clark,” he says, “I have it written down but it’s something like, ‘We have these resources and as an empire we need to develop them and those who follow can take care of themselves.’”

An ironic smile appears through Kustudia’s salt …more

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