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Not So Sweet

Members of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s own political party are opposing his plan to raze a swath of rainforest for a sugarcane plantation.

A Ugandan development company called the Mehta Group is proposing to cut down some 17,540 acres of the Mabira Forest – a nature reserve since 1932 – to make way for sugar fields. The plan has generated heated controversy in Uganda. In March, protests against the sugar proposal roiled the capital city, Kampala. At least four members of parliament were arrested during marches.

A week later, the state-owned and usually Museveni-friendly newspaper New Vision reported that a survey of parliamentarians showed three-quarters of lawmakers opposed the sugar proposal. Ugandan political analysts say that President Museveni has rarely faced opposition to his policies during the course of his 20-year presidency.

photo of a man demonstratingEuan Denholm / ReutersGovernment plans to give away part of the Mabira Forest Reserve have ignited
protests in Uganda.

“Even members of the majority National Resistance Movements (Museveni’s party) were solidly against the proposal, with 72 percent saying they would vote ‘No,’” New Vision reported.

Museveni has said the sugar plantation will provide jobs to a growing population of mostly poor peasants, and that the country should balance ecological protection with the need to industrialize the economy. Critics of the plan say that the sugar estate – which will consume
nearly one-fourth of the nature preserve – will destroy a fragile ecosystem, spark soil erosion, hurt nearby agriculture, and spur the pollution of Lake Victoria.

Opponents of the sugar plantation also question the economic wisdom of sacrificing valuable hardwoods for vulnerable topsoil. The Ugandan National Forest Authority estimated that the sugar plantation would produce about 35,000 tons of cane annually, which, if sold at current world prices of $300 per ton, would earn about $11 million a year. By comparison, the estimated value of sustainably harvested hardwoods in Mabira is about $167 million. Additionally, millions of dollars have been invested in ecotourism lodges near the forest.

“My timber comes from that forest,” John Katangole, a local carpenter, says. “If they take it away, I will cease being a carpenter. How am I supposed to live?”

— Reuters, 4/23

Feed the Birds

During the 1990s, people living along Lake Nakuru in Kenya’s scenic Rift Valley relentlessly cut down the forests lining the lake, part of a slash-and-burn campaign to make way for farmland. But when the trees disappeared, the area’s rainfall diminished, causing the lake to shrink. And that, in turn, spelled disaster for the huge flocks of flamingos on which the region’s tourist economy depended.

Once the world-famous heartland of the majestic birds, the lake turned into a dead zone. Flamingo carcasses littered the lakeshore. Sickly birds struggled to stand upright. Stray dogs preyed on the reduced flock. An area once known for its scenic beauty had become another depressing symbol of deforestation.

photo of flamingos photos.comWhen the famous flamingos of Lake Nakuru disappeared, so did the tourists, battering the local
economy. With reforestation, the birds are making a comeback.

“It was wrong to cut the trees, but we had to,” says Jane Macharia, who, like so many others, razed the forest to make farmland when she came to Nakuru 10 years ago with no money and no means to produce food. “We burnt them all when we started farming. I needed land to survive.”

Erosion from farming, combined with the effects of global warming, made the lake virtually uninhabitable for the flamingos. The flock of millions was reduced to some 10,000. When the flamingos disappeared, so did the European and American tourists. The local economy was hammered.

“After all the destruction of the forests, the rivers had no water and all the flamingos were dying,” Charles Muthui, a senior warden at the Lake Nakuru National Park, says. “The business of this region depends on visitors. Destroy the forests and you destroy Lake Nakuru. Then no flamingos, and no tourism – we know all about that.”

This awareness has spurred a local campaign to restore the region’s forests. In the last two years, Nakuru locals have committed themselves to replanting the forest that they destroyed as an act of desperation in times of poverty. In 2007 alone, community groups have planted some 3,000 trees. They know that restoring the entire forest will take decades. Already, however, there are signs of progress: Flamingos are returning in droves to the sapling-dotted plains.

“Now is the time to make it right,” Macharia says.

— Reuters, 4/23

Nuke Africa?

Southern Africa is facing power shortages caused by droughts that have lowered water levels in the dams that power hydroelectric stations, crippling the region’s economic growth. The resulting power shortages are slowing investment and threatening expansion plans of local companies.

Africa’s ongoing energy crisis is possibly the continent’s biggest and most imminent threat to economic growth. In many countries across southern Africa, power cuts and blackouts have become commonplacedue to the increasing gap between energy generation capacities and demand. With climate change threatening the future of clean, renewable hydropower, many African nations are now contemplating a shift to nuclear power.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is on record as saying the country’s uranium deposits would greatly enhance the country’s rural electrification program.

There are currently 440 nuclear reactors worldwide, consuming an estimated 171 million pounds of uranium annually. In 2005, all of the world’s uranium mines combined produced only approximately 102.5 million pounds. The deficit has driven up the price of uranium.

More than 30 percent of the world’s uranium deposits are found in Africa. Consequently, a number of European, American, and Australian companies are scrambling to establish uranium mines and nuclear reactors in the region.

The latest African countries to join the booming global uranium trade are Tanzania, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Guinea, Zambia, Madagascar, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Uganda, and Algeria. South Africa ranks fifth in world uranium reserves and 16th in electrical energy generation

Concerns have been raised over whether African countries can pursue uranium enrichment without becoming involved in the illicit trade of weapons- grade material, since uranium enrichment involves technology that veers dangerously close to that used for making nuclear weapons.

“African countries are in dire need for development, so if uranium mining emerges as a strategic area of focus to help with their development agendas, they will seize the opportunity, especially now that the demand for uranium is soaring,” observed Dr. Nyambe Nyambe, a consultant at Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

Nyambe conceded that uranium enrichment and the construction of nuclear reactors in Africa would necessitate stringent Environmental Impact Analyses (EIAs) and would demand environmental management strategies to prevent contamination of the air, land, and water with radiation and other forms of pollution.

“Mining experts will tell us that they would extract uranium from underground rocks using environmentally benign chemical processes,” says Nyambe. “This may be true, but one has to be cautious to treat every case as unique. As with mining in general, contamination posed by uranium mining could be controlled if the design is done correctly. EIAs would be needed, but one wonders about the extent to which pollution can be avoided, given the troubled history of mining in general and uranium mining in particular.”

Nyambe gave an example of the poor environmental management systems of the present mines of cobalt, copper, lead, and zinc, which are scattered around southern Africa. Noting that the Zambian town of Kabwe remains severely contaminated from old mines, Nyambe cautioned: “We will have to work 200 percent better than we have done so far to curb contamination.”

— The Statesman, 4/12


Making Waves

Scientists had predicted that the Aral Sea would totally disappear by the year 2020. Now, against all odds, it looks like restoration efforts have started the sea on a dramatic comeback.

photo of a dwelling in drifted sand, ruins aroundReutersThe Kazakh village of Karateren lies covered in sand. The draining of the Aral Sea has been called the worst
man-made environmental disaster of the 20th century.

Over the past 40 years, the Aral, located between Kazakhstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the south, had shrunk to nearly a quarter of its original size. Today, after four decades of depletion, the sea is showing signs of life. Experts say the northern part of the sea has returned to 40 percent of its original size.

The Aral Sea was once the fourth-largest body of inland water in the world. During the 1960s, Soviet central planners diverted the two main rivers feeding the sea – the Amu-darya and the Sir-darya – to irrigate cotton fields. As a result, Uzbekistan became one of the largest cotton producers in the world.

But agricultural success came at a heavy cost – the sea began to shrink, the local fishing industry collapsed, and the region’s climate began to change. The air became saturated with chemical dust and salt left behind as the increasingly polluted sea retreated, contributing to the misery of the local population. Ailments – such as cancer, anemia, and allergies – became widespread, causing the average life expectancy in the area to plummet from 64 years to 51.

The Aral disaster has been described as the worst human-caused environmental catastrophe of the 20th century.

Water levels fell to the point that the sea split into two separate bodies of water – the Northern Aral and the Southern Aral.

Over the past 15 years, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on environmental efforts to save the rapidly depleting sea. Kazakh government leaders and World Bank officials say that the Northern Aral, which is in Kazakhstan, stands a good chance of revival. However, even by the most optimistic estimates, the complete recovery of the sea is highly unlikely. The larger Southern Aral, located in Uzbekistan, has largely been left to diminish further as initial recovery efforts focus on the north.

— Radio Free Europe, 4/11; Radio Liberty, 4/11

Water War

Thousands of Chinese villagers clashed with police in April over access to irrigation water, leading to at least one death and five injuries.Authorities used water cannons and tear gas to break up an angry protest in the village of Bomei in the southern province of Guangdong.

According to the South China Morning Post, villagers used homemade weapons, including petrol bombs, to keep more than 1,000 police officers from tearing down a sluice gate villagers had built in September to divert water to their fields. Residents were enraged when the local government declared the sluice illegal.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has warned that rural unrest threatens national stability. On average, there were 230 protests a day last year, most caused by disputes over land seized by developers in collusion with corrupt officials. Environmental concerns also have sparked angry protests.

— The Guardian, 4/14

Wonder Where the Lions Are?

Hundreds of new guards and closed-circuit TV cameras will soon be used to protect rare Asiatic lions threatened by poachers and villagers.

photo of a male and a female lion asleepphotos.comLions sleep more easily knowing that people are
working to protect them from poachers.

The government of Gujarat, the location of India’s Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, set up an Asiatic Lion Protection Cell after 10 lions were found dead earlier this year. Six of the lions had been killed by poachers. Police say poachers kill the lions to sell their bones in Chinese markets. The bones are used for traditional Chinese medicine, while lion claws are worn by some men as virility enhancers.

Twenty-one lions have died over the last five years after falling into open wells in the park, raising questions about the safety of the wild animals and the conservation system in the 540-square- mile sanctuary.

“We will have to make the sanctuary an exclusive lion zone. It is their last natural abode and India has to protect it,” says conservationist R.M. Patel.

— Reuters, 4/9

Gandhian Advice

Maneka Gandhi, the former environment minister of India, says that India has a long way to go before it must cut back on its energy use. While criticizing the US for not joining the Kyoto protocol, Gandhi says that India does not have to reduce its emissions since the country has a relatively small carbon footprint.

Per capita energy consumption in India is already among the lowest in the world,” Gandhi said during an April press conference at the European Parliament. She recently chaired the Energy Globe Awards, which is hosted by the European Parliament.

“There is very little to cut back,” Gandhi said, pointing out that in 2005 India consumed 520 kgoe (kilogram of oil equivalent) per person, compared to the world average of 1,731 kgoe; the European average is 4,282 kgoe.

Asked about the US position on Kyoto – in which Washington says it won’t cut carbon emissions unless India and China do likewise – Gandhi replied: “I am quite certain that America is using us just as an excuse. All of the countries in Asia and Europe still use less energy and have less CO2 emissions than the US. So for the US to say we will not join the Kyoto Protocol unless India and China join is ridiculous.”

Gandhi said that coal-fired electricity production will likely increase in India, but that the country could at this junction move toward r solar and wind power. “I think we could head off the CO2 crisis. Otherwise we are going to go smack-bang into it.”

The environmental activist said that she is not in favor of nuclear energy for India, since she is worried about the country’s lack of regulatory standards.

“It is always shrouded in secrecy…At the moment there is a big debate going on nuclear energy in India. My personal view is that we can’t handle it,” Gandhi said.

As for other environmental issues, Gandhi said that India and would likely follow Europe’s lead, placing a large responsibility on European lawmakers.

“Our bureaucrats who usually don’t know what to do pinch from European laws and it has a very strong trickle down effect. So if you made the right laws, we would too.”

Earthtimes.org, 4/12; Indo-Asian News Service, 4/12

Dump the Dump

In March, hundreds of residents of Gummidipoondi, India and surrounding villages occupied the proposed site of a landfill that would be used for dumping 35,000 tons of hazardous industrial wastes. The villagers were opposing the project’s location – about 550 yards from the nearest village – saying that it violated the Indian Supreme Court’s “sanctified site” guidelines and that the wastes would poison subsurface and ground water, affect agriculture, and threaten public health.

About 115 companies – including Ford, Hyundai, Nokia, and Chennai Petroleum – are members of the Industrial Waste Management Association (IWMA), the organization that was granted permission to construct the dumpsite. About 40,000 tons of industrial waste collected from IWMA members’ factories would be dumped on the site.

The project, launched in 2004, has faced strident protests from environmentalists and residents, who say the construction is being carried out without the permission of the local government and against the wishes of the people.

— The Indian Express, 3/21


Tread Lightly

According to a recent Stockholm Environment Institute study, the Findhorn Foundation’s ecovillage in Moray, Scotland has recorded the lowest ecological footprint ever seen in the developed world. The results clearly demonstrate that it is possible for communities to have a low environmental impact while retaining a high quality of life.

photo of a neighborhood, solar panels and a windmill evidentCourtesy Findhorn FoundationWindmills and modest homes make Findhorn ecovillage green.

The community’s food, home, and energy footprints were found to be 37 percent and 21.5 percent of the national average, respectively.

Community-level energy generation, local organic food, energy-efficient house design, low levels of commuting, and sharing of resources were found to be the major factors.

Jonathan Dawson of GEN-Europe explained how the community was able to achieve these remarkable results: “A high number of people eat food that is locally grown, organic, and vegetarian – and this makes a big difference to the size of the footprint. In addition, many residents live in energy-efficient houses, and the ecovillage’s four wind turbines not only provide for the community’s own needs, but make it a net exporter of electricity.”

Findhorn’s other energy-saving factors include shared washing machines, communal dining, and local employment, which cuts commuting and has reduced the community’s car mileage to just six percent of the national average.

Findhorn’s footprint would have been even lighter had it not been for the number of international guests who jump on jets and buses to visit the retreat. So, please, don’t go visit.

Global Ecovillage Network, 4/20

Divided on the Dam

The Brandenburg Gate, which once separated East and West Berlin, again stood as a dividing point in March; environmental and human rights activists demonstrated at the landmark to oppose the German government’s plans to fund construction of the Ilisu hydroelectric dam on Turkey’s Tigris River.

photo of a ruined cliff dwelling, a man standing in the picture looks smallReuters/Umit BektasThe massive Ilisu dam project, Turkey’s second largest if completed, would swallow up more than 80 villages
and hamlets by the time of its planned completion in 2013.

The Ilisu hydroelectric power project, the largest planned in Turkey, will create a reservoir of more than 100-square miles. Supporters project that the 1,200-MW dam will meet Turkey’s increased energy demand and promote economic growth. The total budget for the project is roughly two billion euros ($2.7 billion US); 800 million euros ($1 billion US) have been allocated to resettle the nearly 55,000 people (mainly ethnic Kurds) whose homelands will be flooded, to protect cultural assets, and to repair the environmental damage.

Although the plans to assist those negatively affected by the project are modeled on internationally acknowledged standards developed by the World Bank, activists are not convinced that the proposed compensation will suffice.

“The people in southeast Turkey have experienced enough grief with mega-dams,” says Ercan Ayboga from The Initiative to Save Hasankeyf. “We affected people want to have a say in our future and do not want the Turkish or the German government to decide what is good for us.”

International Rivers Network Policy Analyst Ann Kathrin Schneider concurs with Ayboga. “This project violates international standards and international law. The German government will share responsibility for the environmental and human rights impacts of this dam.”

Further, NGOs assert that the project could possibly lead to disputes with neighboring Iran and Syria over water supply. It would appear that the Turkish government is anticipating conflict. Turkey is considering plans to deploy 5,000 soldiers to guard the dam site for the “security of the construction work,” according to the Kurdish press agency Firat.

ENS, 3/14


Recharge or Recycle

Environment Canada finds that Canadians recycle only about two percent of their batteries, which means that thousands of tons of battery waste is ending up in landfills.

In recent years, the number of batteries sent to landfills has increased sharply due to the growth of personal electronic devices. By 2010, Canadians will throw out an estimated 495 million rechargeable and non-rechargeable batteries, up from 347 million in 2004.

Batteries contain a range of heavy metals that can leach from landfills into drinking water supplies. For example, lead inside the batteries is known to impair intelligence in children; mercury can damage the human nervous system; and nickel, zinc and manganese all have some toxic properties.

“The number of consumer batteries discarded is increasing dramatically with an increased demand for consumer electronics and the rapid rate at which new electronic products which require batteries are being introduced into the market,” the report says.

The report cast doubt on the effectiveness of voluntary programs that encourage battery recycling. Many towns and retailers have recycling systems, but the participation rate is low.

“Producer responsibility” legislation that requires manufacturers to recover and recycle their products is necessary, environmentalists say. Manitoba already has such a program, and a number of provinces are developing proposals to deal with electronic waste.

US regulations have dramatically reduced the amount of mercury in batteries, and the European Union has even stricter laws in managing battery disposal, though the EU also has a problem with electronic waste. Canada is benefiting from those regulations, but some counterfeit products still contain large amounts of mercury.

Canada’s Conservative government says it is committed to reducing the amounts of chemicals that jeopardize human health and the environment. “We are concerned that large amounts of products containing toxic substances are throw in our landfills every day,” Environment Minister John Baird says in a statement. “The results of this study will help Environment Canada challenge the battery industry to improve the recovery and recycling of batteries.”

— Toronto Star, 4/9

Forests (Unfortunately) Expanding

Among environmentalists, an increase in trees is usually reason for celebration. But the surprisingly fast expansion of northern Canada’s boreal forests is cause for concern, as the forest growth is an indication of climate change’s ecological dislocations.

A new study in the Journal of Ecology reveals that Canada’s tundra is disappearing at a rapid rate as forests of spruce and shrubs push into once-frozen landscapes. Scientists have long predicted that warming temperatures would lead to a northward movement of forests. The recent research shows that ecosystem changes are happening far more quickly than expected.

photo of a young caribouphotos.comClimate change is displacing caribou from their
traditional habitat in the Canadian tundra.

“The conventional thinking on treeline dynamics has been that advances are very slow because conditions are so harsh at these high latitudes and altitudes,” Ryan Danby, the study author and a biologist with the University of Alberta, says. “But what our data indicates is that there was an upslope surge of trees in response to warmer temperatures. It’s like it waited until conditions were just right and then it decided to get up and run, not just walk.”

The forest expansion could have several negative consequences. Caribou and wild sheep – whose populations are already declining in the Yukon – will be forced farther northward as the tundra habitats fragment and disappear. That migration will, in turn, impact the Indigenous populations that rely on the animals for food.

Also of concern is the likelihood that the new trees will create a “negative feedback loop.” As the treeline advances, the reflectance of the land surface declines, since trees absorb more sunlight than the tundra. That light energy is then remitted to the atmosphere as heat, spurring warming and further fueling the advance of the treeline.

Danby’s research team used tree rings to date the growth and death of spruce trees and to track the changes in treeline vegetation. They discovered that on warm, south-facing slopes, the trees advanced as much as 278 feet in elevation. Tree density grew as much as 65 percent on north-facing slopes.

“These results are very relevant to the current debate surround climate change because they provide real evidence that vegetation change will be quite considerable in response to future warming, potentially transforming tundra landscapes into open spruce woodlands,” Danby says.

— ENS, 3/6


A South Dakota state circuit court judge has blocked a uranium exploration permit that would have allowed a Canadian mining firm to drill exploratory wells in a region of the Black Hills held sacred by Native Americans. The judge sent the permit back to the SD Board of Minerals and Environment after the board admitted they sent the state archaeologist to the wrong site. The drilling is on hold until a valid permit is granted, although mine opponents want an injunction until their appeal challenging the mining plan can be heard.

ACTion for the Environment and Defenders of the Black Hills (DBH) filed the appeal in the state circuit court, under the SD Administrative Procedures Act, after a fruitless hearing before the SD Board of Minerals and Environment on January 17 and 18. The groups were appealing the Board’s decision granting a permit to Powertech Uranium Corp., a Canadian company, to drill 155 deep exploratory wells in the southwestern Black Hills. The company already has 4,000 wells in the area. The Black Hills are considered sacred to members of the DBH and other Native American nations in the region.

The two organizations filed the appeal under due process and equal protection provisions of South Dakota laws and the US Constitution. Some of the issues raised in the appeal include: The permit was signed by the Board before the plaintiffs were given the opportunity to present their objections; the Board failed to consider the plaintiffs’ written exhibits; the Board failed to provide Lakota language interpreters for two of the elderly members of the DBH, making it impossible for the Board to understand the concerns of the elders; and the Board‘s practice of allowing the mining company to present data on the quality of the underground water when the mining process itself will contaminate the water. This practice presents a conflict of interest, as it would be in the mining companies’ best interest for the water to be already contaminated with uranium and radioactive materials.

Legal counsel is being provided by the Oglala Sioux Tribe, which has already experienced pollution from past uranium mining projects in the southwestern Black Hills.

Defendblackhills.org, 4/12


Cold Comfort

With climate change making the planet increasingly hot, perhaps the fashionable getaway of the future will be to icy landscapes instead of tropical resorts.

photo of penguins on ice, blue sea in the backgroundphotos.comEnvironmentalists fear that the growing number of visitors to Antarctica will disturb wildlife.

That could be one of the conclusions of the sharp increase in tourism to Antarctica. This year, some 30,000 people are expected to travel to the cold continent, a quadrupling from a decade ago. Another 37,000 people will visit Antarctic waters on boat trips without venturing ashore.

Increasingly, tourists who travel to Antarctica to observe penguins, seals, and seabirds are visiting – not just in small research parties, as in the past – but on giant cruise ships, according to a report in the The Guardian. Earlier this year the 100,000-ton Golden Princess became the biggest cruise ship to enter Antarctic waters. The 3,700- passenger liner – complete with a casino, five swimming pools, and miniature golf course – is just one of many luxury ships that now pass by Antarctica as part of longer voyages. Passages on Princess Cruises, which operates the Golden Princess and Star Princess that visit Antarctica, can cost as much as $5,600 US.

The spike in tourism is starting to have a harmful impact on the area’s delicate ecosystems. Environmentalists fear that the growing number of visitors will disturb wildlife, trample rare mosses and lichens, and, perhaps accidentally introduce non-native species to the unique bioregion. There is also a risk that the growing ship traffic could result in accidents that cause oil spills. In January the Norwegian MS Nordkapp ran aground at a spot called Deception Island, spilling a small amount of fuel.

John Shears of the British Antarctic Survey says the incident was a “wake-up call.” He says that a larger spill of heavy fuel closer to the shore would endanger thousands of penguins.

“It would be very, very difficult to clean up the coast and also to do something about the wildlife that got coated in fuel,” Shears says. “Nature is a great healer and will clean everything up over time, but because heavy fuel is so persistent it could be several years before the environment righted itself.”

Tourism on the continent is regulated by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, which sets detailed guidelines. But participation is voluntary, and there are at least two tour operators who are not members. A 1961 international treaty established Antarctica as natural reserve devoted to peace and science.

Advocates who are working to strengthen the rules governing tourism in the region also point out that the growing cruise line traffic carries another environmental consequence – speeding up global warming, which is disproportionately affecting the planet’s polar regions.

“The Antarctic is a global warming hot spot,” Shears says. “There have been temperature rises of 3°C over the last 30 years, which has resulted in widespread melting of glaciers and ice shelf collapse. … When those ships set sail in the Antarctic, they’re burning fuel, so they’re adding to emissions and helping cause climate change.”

— The Guardian, 4/30

Diabolical Cancer

Tasmanian devils may soon be relocated to Maria Island near Australia to avert their extinction by a contagious cancer.

“The path to extinction is looking pretty certain on Tasmania,” said William Karesh of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, who organized a workshop in Australia to help the government and biologists develop a plan to save the devils.

Cancer among Tasmanian devils was first noticed in the mid-1990s in the island’s northeast, where 90 percent of the animals have since died. The disease is spreading south and west, and scientists estimate that within five years, there will be no disease-free population in Tasmania – the only place in the world where the devils exist outside zoos.

The move, which state and federal governments are expected to approve within weeks, is controversial because scientists can only guess at the impact the introduced carnivores will have on the uninhabited island’s ecology.

Luke Hunter, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s great cats program, said the plan did not strike him as overly risky since Maria Island is similar to the devils’ natural habitat.

“Devils maybe never got (to Maria Island), but it’s not a stretch of the imagination that they can survive there,” says Hunter, who is an expert on animal translocation programs. Since devils are primarily scavengers, they are unlikely to threaten other animals on the island, he says.

Maria Island would be the first of several islands to become quarantined colonies of wild devils, which are currently not found on any of the thousands of Tasmanian islands.

Advocates hope that if devils are wiped out on the Tasmanian mainland, the disease will die along with them, and the relocated animals can then be safely reintroduced to their original home.

— AP, 4/11


Saying No to Soy

In March, the Brazilian government closed a large soy processing and shipping facility in the Amazon rainforest because the plant did not complete an environmental impact assessment. The closure of the plant, which is owned by agribusiness giant Cargill, marks a victory for rainforest protection, say activists with Greenpeace, who have campaigned for years to shutter the operation in the forest’s Santarem region.

photo of combine harvesters in a large fieldReutersBrazil has become the world’s second largest producer of soy, often at the expense
of the rainforest.

A 2006 report by Greenpeace, “Eating up the Amazon,” uncovered the devastating effects of soy production in the world’s largest rainforest. At least eight percent of the open space in the Amazon’s Santarem region is being used for soy cultivation. Much of the soy is processed into chicken feed and then shipped to Europe, where it is fed to chickens sold in fast food outlets.

“This is important … for the Amazon rainforest and for its people,” Paulo Adario, Greenpeace’s Amazon Campaign coordinator, says. “We trust that Cargill will respect this decision and conduct a broad environmental impact assessment, which will result in concrete measures to minimize the impacts of its port and soy expansion in this region.”

When Cargill requested a license to build the $20 million port, the company did prepare an environmental control plan. But that document only covers accident response and does not fulfill Brazilian law’s requirement to analyze the impact of Cargill’s agricultural activities in the Amazon. In 2000, Brazilian judges granted an injunction to suspend operations at the Cargill port.The company has spent the last seven years appealing the decision, but lost each appeal.

The shutdown of Cargill’s Santarem plant occurred at the request of the Brazilian Environmental Agency, which called on the federal prosecutors to “inspect and immediately stop the operations of the Cargill port as well as condemn the North American multinational for illegal operation.”

Greenpeace campaigners are hoping the plant closure marks a new era of environmental governance in the region. The group is now turning its attention to grain storage facilities located in the transition zone between the grasslands of the Cerrado and the Amazon forests in the state of Mato Grosso, where deforestation for soy production is occurring most rapidly.

— ENS, 3/29

President Rails Against Chevron

No, that’s not a headline from The Onion.

The president in question is Rafael Correa, the leftist leader of Ecuador, who in April endorsed a long-standing legal battle against ChevronTexaco when he lashed out at the oil giant for failing to clean up damage done to the country’s Amazon region.

While leading journalists on a tour of the oil pit operation that Texaco ran from the 1960s through the 1990s – and where the company’s subsidiary dumped an estimated 18 billion gallons of oily wastewater during the course of operations – Correa said that the company’s ecological crimes surpassed that of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

photo of serious looking women demonstrating in front of an oil rig in a tropical location. they are holding photos of childrenAmazonWatchResidents of the Ecuadorian Amazon have been plagued by health problems due to
Chevron/Texaco’s improper oil disposal.

“Let the whole world see the barbarity that Texaco has committed,” Correa told the assembled journalists and supporters as he chatted with a farmer, 76-year-old Manuel Salinas, who says that his land was ruined by the oil runoff. Since being elected in 2006, Correa, 43, has marked himself as part of the new wave of Latin American populists, frequently lashing out at neoliberal economic policies and lambasting multinational corporations. “The damage caused is incredible. It is irreversible.”

Squatting down to pick up a handful of greasy dirt, Correa summed up the situation with a soundbite: “Soil with oil, friends. … But it would seem that what happens in the Third World doesn’t matter.”

Ecuadorian and North American environmentalists – led by the organization Amazon Watch – have been working for more than a decade to compel Texaco (which merged with Chevron in 2001) to pay for cleaning up the former drilling site near the town of La Victoria. The campaigners first tried to bring a case before a US federal court, but were unable to do so for lack of legal standing. In 2003, they launched a lawsuit in Ecuador. The plaintiffs – 30,000 Amazon Indigenous people and settlers – are seeking $6 billion in damages.

As the case slowly moves its way through the Ecuadorian courts, advocates have maintained a grassroots campaign to convince Chevron to settle the case. The day before Correa visited the oil site, Amazon Watch campaigners, accompanied by leaders of the Secoya tribe, addressed the ChevronTexaco shareholders’ meeting to call on Chevron executives and stockholders to settle. “Our struggle is not for money,” Humberto Piaguaje, a Secoya member, told the shareholders. “We want you to give us back our lives. We want you to let us live in peace and harmony with nature.”

Correa’s criticism of ChevronTexaco could help decide the case, which is scheduled to conclude next year. Correa has said that his government supports “affected populations” and would help the plaintiffs collect evidence.

A Chevron lawyer told the AP that he was “sorry the president has taken sides.” Funny – Chevron executives never seem sorry when the US president takes their side.

— AP and Reuters, 4/28

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