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Standing Rock: Images and Notes From the Field

The Dakota Access Pipeline has rallied Native Americans tribes like no other issue in recent history

Mni Wiconi” – pronounced “Min-nee wi-chon-ey,” roughly translates to “Water of life” or “Water is life” and this rings sacred and true to the tribes that rely on the Missouri River as a source of water for themselves and their land. This water has now been threatened, as the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which would pump up to half a million barrels of crude oil under the Missouri River, directly under their life supply.

Watter in a gallon pastic bottlePhoto by Sara Lefleur-VetterA gallon of Missouri River water bears the mantra: “Water of life” or “Water is life.”

Time and time again we’ve seen the environmental disasters that follow big oil, displace people and animals. The movement at Standing Rock Reservation, where members of over 200 tribes have set up a massive encampment, the largest gathering of different Native Americans in history, is calling for a ban on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Mainstream media calls them “protestors” but they prefer the term “water protectors.” Many of the folks here have quit their jobs to be a permanent fixture of this movement, leaving behind their families and the comforts of home to live in a tent and off the grid.

In the early hours of Friday, September 9, tribal elders and war veterans led a march from the encampment to the blockade and the burial site of their ancestors that’s now been reduced to a pile of dirt, hardly resembling the sacred site it was just days before the bulldozers arrived for the $3.8 billion pipeline. They led a pipe ceremony at the site followed by a drum and dance where hundreds held hands, chanting and praying in solidarity.

Lakota chief Arvol Looking HorsePhoto by Sara Lefleur-VetterChief Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, and leader of the Lakota Sioux Nation, observes a drum-circle near the construction blockade at Standing Rock.

“Would you like to put down your sacred camera over there with my things?” Asked the man to my left. “I think we will dance now.”

The elder to my right sobbed as he sang. I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the middle of something momentous. At the end of the ceremony, the man to my left unclasped hands with me and told me “good job,” as we turned to leave.

On the news you've probably seen the brave Dale “Happi” Americanhorse lock himself to construction equipment for six …more

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Women and Gender Issues Missing from the Conversation at IUCN Conference

For sustainable conservation, women’s reproductive health and rights need to be guaranteed

The clock is ticking and global environmental problems are mounting, with droughts, biodiversity loss, and acidic oceans and much more taking a toll on the planet.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Congress, currently taking place in Hawai’i, is tackling this growing list of threats to the environment.  The IUCN is recognized for its Red List of Threatened Species, an “inventory” of the world’s plant and animal species. The latest list was just released, and of the more than 82,000 species assessed by the IUCN, nearly 30 percent are threatened with extinction.

women holding banner at a protestPhoto by Max Phillips/Jeremy Buckingham MLCWhen women’s needs are met, they are able to better manage resources and support sustainable communities.

The conference theme is “Planet at the Crossroads.” The question facing the world today is, which direction will humanity choose, business as usual or saving the planet? Fortunately, there are some solutions to more effective conservation that today’s environmentalists are beginning to realize are too important to ignore.

Women at the Center

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One of these solutions is to empower women and girls. Investing in women’s rights will allow women — who bear the larger brunt of environmental degradation and climate change — to deal with the increasingly severe environmental problems affecting communities worldwide.

This means ensuring education for women and girls, providing access to healthcare (including voluntary family planning services), recognizing greater land rights, reducing and eradicating gender and economic inequality, ending child marriage, and improving economic opportunities. When women’s needs are met, they are able to better manage resources, confront the effects of climate change and handle climate mitigation and adaptation, and support sustainable communities.

The IUCN Congress will conclude with a series of commitments, or motions, to help devise a conservation agenda for the coming years. Yet despite increasing awareness and commitments on how women’s empowerment benefits nature, women and gender issues are conspicuously absent from the final motions presented in Hawai’i.

“It’s absolutely shocking that none of the IUCN motions include any mention of women and gender,” says A Tianna Scozzaro, conference attendee and director of the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program, “especially given that gender inequalities, environmental degradation, and climate impacts hit women first and worst.”

Linking Conservation and Health

Another solution is linking conservation and health initiatives. The development model, known as population, health, and environment (PHE), has great potential. The PHE …more

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The Profanity of the Profanity Peak Wolf Pack Massacre

The only realistic solution to this conflict is to retire the grazing allotments on public lands

The recent killing of six members of the Profanity Peak wolf pack in NE Washington in retribution for the loss of a few cattle is emblematic of what is wrong with public land policy. As I write, trappers are out to kill the remaining pack members- including 4-month old pups.

night photo of young wolves in a forestphoto by Protect the WolvesTrappers are currently hunting down the remaining pack members, including four-month-old pups.

What is significant about the destruction of this pack is that the Profanity Peak wolves roamed national forest lands. These are our lands.  They belong to all Americans and are part of our national patrimony.  

Currently private commercial businesses such as the livestock industry are allowed to use public lands if they do not damage, degrade and impoverish our public lands heritage. Clearly the killing of this pack violates that obligation and responsibility.

What is particularly egregious about the on-going slaughter of the Profanity Pack is that it was essentially a preventable conflict. Had the rancher, whose cows invaded the wolf pack’s territory, been required to use other public lands, or better yet, simply lease private pasture, there would have been no livestock losses, hence wolf deaths.

Placing cows on top of a wolf pack territory is analogous to, and irresponsible as leaving picnic baskets or coolers out in a campground. In most national parks, if you leave a cooler or other food available to bears, you are fined for this careless behavior. We don’t blame the bear if it happens to eat that food. But when it comes to the livestock industry, we essentially allow four-legged picnic baskets to roam at will on our lands, and should a predator – be it a coyote, cougar, bear or wolf – kill one of those mobile picnic baskets, we don’t hold the rancher responsible, we kill the public wildlife.

This represents the wrong priorities.

We expect different behavior from people using public resources. I can, and do, mark up and highlight passages in books that I own in my personal library, but it would be inappropriate for me to mark up or otherwise damage books in a public library.

In a similar manner, we should expect different consequences for livestock owners who willingly use public lands (at almost no cost I might add) for their private commercial interests. In this case and others like it across the public lands of the West, we should expect ranchers …more

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Plans for New Coal Plants Have Dropped 14% Globally, Shows New Study

Largest drop recorded in China and India as both nations begin to move away from coal

The amount of coal power capacity under development worldwide saw a dramatic drop in the first half of 2016, mainly due to shifting policies in Asia, according to a survey by CoalSwarm's Global Coal Plant Tracker.

Overall, the “coal plant pipeline”—the total amount of coal-fired generating capacity in pre-construction planning—dropped from 1,090 gigawatts (GW) at the beginning of 2016 to 932 GW in July. The total reduction, 158 GW, or 14% of the previous total, is nearly equal to the entire coal-fired generating capacity of the European Union (162 GW).

The largest drop in the pre-construction pipeline was recorded in China (114 GW), followed by India (40 GW). Both countries recently announced major policy moves away from coal.

In April, China announced sweeping restrictions aimed at proposed coal-fired power plants in 13 provinces. In June, India’s Ministry of Power issued an assessment stating that no further power plants would be needed in the next three years, and “any thermal power plant that has yet to begin construction should back off.”

In Southeast Asia, several countries have taken steps toward reducing or delaying new coal power capacity. In March, Vietnam revised its Power Development Plan VII, canceling or postponing 23 GW of planned coal plants. Indonesia's RUPTL 2016-2025, covering all power development in the coming decade, showed a rescheduling of over 7 GW of proposed coal power capacity to later years. In July, Philippines Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez announced new plans to prioritize renewable energy over coal in the permitting process.

Despite the global reduction in the coal power pipeline, the level of capacity still in planning and construction worldwide is enough to exceed the global carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5°C. Further, a new report from the IEA shows 6.5 million deaths a year from air pollution, with coal a main factor.

Regional Totals

Among world regions, East Asia continues to have the highest amount of capacity under development in all status categories* except permitted proposals, followed by South Asia:

Altogether there are 932 GW of pre-construction coal proposals (announced, pre-permit, and permitted) and an additional 350 GW under construction.

While slowing in East and South Asia, coal proposals ticked up in Africa and Eurasia. Egypt in particular has been aggressively pursuing new coal plants as an alternative to natural gas. Proposals also increased in Mongolia, mainly for mega coal projects to export power …more

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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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