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Why Is the FBI Harassing Activists in Cascadia?

Surveillance increases alongside environmental activism in the Pacific Northwest

This article originally appeared at

In August 2014, two activists with the environmentalist group Rising Tide spent a week riding the backwoods highways of Idaho monitoring a megaload — a big rig hauling equipment for processing tar-sands oil that’s wide enough to take up two lanes of road, too high to fit under a freeway overpass, can be longer than a football field, and can weigh up to one million pounds.

 MegaloadPhoto by Nicholas Brown A megaload in Missoula Montana. Megaloads are often moved at night to avoid traffic, questions, and complaints.

They had no idea that they would soon be wrapped up in a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe that encompassed three states and several environmentalist groups.

Helen Yost of Moscow, Idaho, and Herb Goodwin of Bellingham, Washington, have spent years travelling through the bioregion of Cascadia to halt megaloads, from Washington and Oregon to Idaho and up through Montana. They are used to harassment from law enforcement. That week, Goodwin said, the two were stopped on average twice a night, by law enforcement agencies ranging from state troopers to local police in Moscow and Standpoint, Idaho.

Usually carrying equipment to upgrade and expand tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada, megaloads make a torturous crawl along rural roads at night to avoid traffic, questions, and complaints. But activists like Goodwin and Yost have been remarkably successful at organizing the people in mountain country. In August 2013, more than a hundred people in Idaho participated in a four-day mobile blockade of a megaload on US 12 headed for the Nez Perce reservation. The Nez Perce Nation said the megaloads threatened treaty-reserved resources, historic and cultural resources, and “tribal member health and welfare.” Tribal chair Silas Whitman was one of the blockaders arrested, while activists from Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT), the group Yost helped form, played important support roles.

Rising Tide North America’s network, spun out of the Earth First! grass-roots environmentalist movement in 2005, now spans the Cascadia bioregion, with chapters in Seattle, Spokane, Olympia, Bellingham, and Vancouver, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Moscow, Idaho; Missoula, Montana; and Vancouver, B.C. In the last six months, network members have collaborated on an average of a blockade per month, and have helped to spearhead the movement against fossil-fuel …more

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2014 Was the Hottest Year on Record

The past year was the 18th consecutive year in the US in which the annual average temperature was above normal

Climate scientists from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the 2014 global temperatures today, and the news they delivered is a blow to climate deniers who argue that climate change-driven global warming isn’t happening.

The scientists revealed that 2014 was the hottest year in 134 years of record keeping, with seven of 12 months equaling or tying with previous global records for that month. In addition, seven consecutive months set new records for surface ocean heat, and December 2014 was the 358th consecutive month in which the combined global land and ocean surface temperatures was above average.

In the US the past year was the eighteenth consecutive year in which the annual average temperature was above normal. And 13 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century; the other two took place in 1997 and 1998, strong El Niño years. February 1985 was the last month where global temperature fell below the twentieth century monthly average.

“When we have major El Niños, there is a redistribution of heat from ocean to the atmosphere, so when you have an El Niño event you have very warm conditions,” said Thomas R. Karl, direcotr of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. “This year we did not have significant El Niño.”

On a more local level, Alaska, Arizona, California, and Nevada all had their hottest year since records were kept. Denmark and Sweden had their warmest years on record, and Finland had its second warmest. Parts of Australia and Eastern Siberia also saw their warmest years.

“People are always asking, why do we think this is going on,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He said that they looked at multiple variables including volcanoes, weather patterns such as El Niño, land-use change, and greenhouse gas emissions. Of the latter, he said, they found a correlation between increases in emissions and higher temperatures.

“While the ranking of individual years can be affected by chaotic weather patterns, the long-term trends are attributable to drivers of climate change that right now are dominated by human emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said. “The trends are continuing so we anticipate further records.”

In response to a question about whether the findings had caused the scientists to make any personal …more

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Major Disease Outbreaks are Inevitable in Our Increasingly Connected World

In Review: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

The next big human epidemic may not come from your neighbor’s sniffles – it may come from a cave, a tree in a tropical forest, or a duck pond. Spillover poses this unique quandary: Diseases in wildlife are now able to spread across the whole human race, and if you catch one of these bugs, you are likely to die from it.

I burial boys, gli operatori incaricati di sepellire i morti di Ebola nel cimitero allestito a Kenema - foto di Luigi Baldelliphoto by Luigi Baldelli by Medici con lAfrica Cuamm, on FlickrAs we have seen with the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa, our modern transportation systems are excellent ways for virus or bacteria to roam throughout the world, invading new hosts and wreaking havoc.

Science writer David Quammen introduces us to the complicated origin and spread of “zoonosis” – diseases which originate in animals but can be passed along to humans. Some are well known, like AIDS and Ebola. Others are more rare and perhaps not as dangerous.

And of course, as with all good ghost stories, Quammen notes that there may be more contagions out there, incubating in animal populations, that can jump the human/animal barrier and cause frightening symptoms, suffering, and death. Especially since the human population is increasing and many people are moving into previously untouched habitats, such as tropical forests, which can be rich breeding grounds for germs and viruses.

And as we have seen with the recent Ebola outbreak in Africa, our modern transportation systems are excellent ways for virus or bacteria to roam throughout the world, invading new hosts and wreaking havoc.

 In Spillover, David Quammen follows researchers on the trail of
different zoonosis back to the origin of the outbreaks in remote places.

Quammen describes a number of zoonosis, including SARS, bird flu, and Lyme disease, which he has been tracking for years as a journalist for the National Geographic and other publications.

In Spillover, he follows researchers on the trail of different zoonosis back to the origin of the outbreaks in remote places – from …more

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The Second Great Sardine Crash May Have Ended, but It’s Not Over

Ripple effect of dwindling sardine populations may be felt by other marine species for years to come

The Galapagos archipelago, a breathtakingly beautiful cluster of 19 islands and more than 100 rocks and islets off the coast of mainland Ecuador, was designated a United Nations World Heritage site in 1978. It is home to thousands of animal species that live in, or depend on, the sea. One of the most beloved is the blue-footed booby, known for its brilliant colors and penchant for elaborate dance. Now it appears that the Galapagos may lose its most iconic species. In April 2014, a team of researchers from Wake Forest University announced that blue-footed boobies had nearly stopped breeding, putting the survival of the species in grave danger.

 SardinesPhoto by Adam Fagen, on Flickr Scientists believe that a recent sardine crash may be having widespread impacts on local and migratory species dependent on the Pacific Ocean.

Researchers from University of California reported similar findings about another shorebird 2,000 miles from Galapagos. While conducting a survey of Mexico’s Natural Protected Areas, they discovered that the endangered California brown pelican was largely absent from its primary nesting grounds. Like the boobies, they had nearly stopped breeding. Meanwhile, marine scientists from NOAA had been studying the unprecedented illness of thousands of sea lions on California coastlines.

Are marine animals experiencing a streak of mysterious bad luck? Perhaps. But perhaps it’s not as mysterious as it may seem. Blue-footed boobies, California brown pelicans, sea lions, and a number of other species have something in common: Their natural diet is comprised largely of Pacific sardines, which have suffered the worst population crash since the mid-1900s, leading scientists to posit that the sardine crash may be having widespread impacts on local and migratory species dependent on the Pacific Ocean.

Where did all the sardines go?

In 1948, this question was posed to ocean biologist Ed Rickett, who was investigating the most famous sardine crash in history, which began in 1946. He responded, “They’re in cans!” Today’s scientists don’t think the answer is so simple, as sardine populations are known for following a boom-and-bust cycle. However, they don’t deny that rampant fishing played a significant role in the mid-century crash, and have found that cool water temperatures triggered a natural decline in the 1940s, which was greatly exacerbated by overfishing. It would take four decades for the population to …more

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Obama Moves to Cut Methane Emissions by Almost Half

EPA to cut oil and gas industry methane emissions by 45% by 2025

President Barak Obama will unveil a plan to cut methane emissions from America’s booming oil and gas industry by as much as 45 percent over the next decade in an attempt to cement his climate legacy during his remaining two years in the White House.

The new methane rules – which will be formally unveiled on Wednesday - are the last big chance for Obama to fight climate change.

Gas flare in parklandPhoto courtesy of WildEarth GuardiansGas flare at fracking site near Colorado's Pawnee National Grassland. It's yet not clear whether the new rules would apply to existing oil and gas installations in addition to future sources of carbon pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to cut methane emissions by up to 45% from 2012 levels by 2025, White House officials told campaigners during a briefing call. But it was not clear whether the new rules would apply to existing oil and gas installations, in addition to future sources of carbon pollution, which could weaken their effectiveness in fighting climate change.

“It is the largest opportunity to deal with climate pollution that this administration has not already [been] seized,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defence Council.

Methane is the second biggest driver of climate change, after carbon dioxide. On a 20-year timescale, it is 87 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas. US officials acknowledge that Obama will have to cut methane if he is to make good on his promise to cut US greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, and by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025.

“It is the largest thing left, and it’s the most cost-effective thing they can do that they haven’t done already, and all the signs are there that they intend to step forward on that,” Doniger said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to roll out a combination of regulations and voluntary guidelines for the oil and gas industry, people familiar with the plan said. The rules represent Obama’s first big climate push on the oil and gas sector, after moving to cut emissions from power plants and, during his first term, cars and trucks.

But the clock is ticking. Any new EPA regulations would have to be finalized by the end of 2016 – and Republicans …more

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Guns, Farms, and Oil: How Colombian Tribes are Being Driven to Extinction

At least 1,800 Indigenous people have been killed and 84,000 more displaced in Colombia in the past 10 years

The tin-roofed, off-the-grid clinic at Chuscal – deep within the U’wa tribe’s reserve in the mountains of northeast Colombia – is packed with patients on a stormy afternoon. There aren’t enough chairs to go around, and some of the sick are sprawled out on the cracked floor tiles. Most of them are without shoes. Many waiting to see the doctor are young U’wa children, here to be treated for malnutrition, their bellies swollen taut with hunger. Other common maladies include tuberculosis, dysentery and leishmaniasis, a parasite spread by sandflies which enters through the skin to attack internal organs. Several families will sleep in the Chuscal clinic tonight when it closes, because they’ve lost their homes to the civil war violence that rages through this remote region, and have nowhere else to go. 

photo of a womanphoto by Jeremy KrytAn U’wa mother waits to see a doctor in the reserve’s lone, tiny clinic at Chuscal. Due to lack of funding, basic health care is hard to come by, especially in far-flung parts of the reserve.
Click or tap this photo for a slideshow of images from Colombia.

“We’re short of everything,” says Eusebio Carceres, the head nurse at the tribe’s lone healthcare outpost. “Antibiotics, vaccines, lab equipment – we’re even short of clean drinking water,” he says, as thunder shakes the flimsy roof, “because the oil spills have poisoned so many sources around here.”

The U’wa are one of Colombia’s most iconic, high-profile tribes, famous for their decades-long struggle to prevent Big Oil from drilling in or around their reserve. Hollywood celebrities like James Cameron have publicly endorsed their cause, but fossil-fuel extraction efforts continue to pose an Avatar-esque quandary for the U’wa. Despite years of tribal protests, Texas-based Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) still runs the Caño-Limon pipeline through their reserve, and Oxy’s local partner operates a pair of gas wells on land the U’wa say is part of their ancestral territory. A recent surge in bombing attacks by insurgents – with the most recent blast coming on November 27 – is the latest crisis to engulf the tribe’s cloud-forested homeland. Bombs made from farm chemicals and detonated by cell phone have repeatedly ruptured the Caño-Limon over the last year, causing oil spills that foul delicate riverine ecosystems, tainting the watersheds that support local communities. The U’wa say several …more

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Chimpanzees in the Shadow of a Lion-Shaped Mountain

Human-chimpanzee conflicts threaten the survival of our closest living relative in Sierra Leone

In a small village in central Sierra Leone, an elderly woman I know as “Granny” sits in front of a thatched roof hut and hums while weaving a grass mat. She is surrounded by a cultivated garden of mangos, bananas, and pineapples. The mangoes are ripe and ready to pick. The bananas and pineapples will follow soon after. Beyond this garden is a thick wall of forest.

 Tacugama Chimpanzee SanctuaryPhoto by bobthemagicdragon, on Flickr A chimpanzee at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone. The majority of chimpanzees in Sierra Leone live outside of protected areas.

Granny's singing is suddenly interrupted. Something is moving in the forest. She puts her weaving down, stands up, and stares into the trees. The movement has stopped and the forest is still. Granny sits back down and resumes her weaving. This time, however, silently.

Granny lives in a village that I encountered on my first trip to Sierra Leone. I was there to study how chimpanzee calls are affected by the specific acoustics of each habitat. While looking for chimpanzees in a riverine forest, my team and I stumbled upon a clearing with several nests visible from the road. We drove to the nearest village, called Maroki, and were met by the chief. When we asked if there were chimpanzees in the area, he excitedly reported that they had “many chimpanzees.” In fact, he said, beaming, they had just killed two a few days ago! At this, we decided to stay in the village. Over the next few weeks we explored, searched for chimpanzees, and got to know the villagers.

Now, years later, as I stand just a few meters away, Granny weaves in the garden and the movement in the forest returns. Three large male chimpanzees emerge and enter the garden so silently that Granny doesn't hear them. They walk slowly, in a single-file line, and move closer to her. These chimpanzees are part of a group that occupies a forest fragment beside the village. The group has a population density that is unusually high for chimpanzees. The results of an early census, which we conducted soon after our arrival, revealed a density of two chimpanzees per square kilometer. Limited food resources in the forest fragment points to a population that is not sustainable in this habitat. They do …more

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