Category Archives: Environment

Ecuador condemned at the new Tribunal for the Rights of Nature in Paris (Mongabay)

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José Gualinga, a Sarayaku leader, testifies at the Tribunal about his people’s successful efforts to halt seismic testing for oil in their territory. Photo by Karen Hoffmann.

Last weekend, while the official COP21 negotiations were going on north of Paris at a site called Le Bourget, leaders of indigenous nations in North and South America were in Paris calling for justice for what they say are ongoing violations of the rights of the earth itself.

The “rights of nature” were recognized in the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010, designed as an alternative to the COP meetings. The declaration, which gave rise to the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, created “a manifesto for earth justice,” in the words of the president of the current tribunal, Cormac Cullinan, author of Wild Law. The book, published in 2003, lays out a case for granting legal rights to communities and ecosystems.

The first such tribunal was held last year in Quito, Ecuador, and its second session was almost a year later in Lima, Peru.

Among the cases heard by this tribunal, several dealt with oil exploitation in Ecuador — a country that, ironically, was the first to include the rights of nature into its 2008 constitution. One of these cases focused on Yasuní National Park.

Yasuní is a UNESCO World Heritage Preserve and a biodiversity hotspot. Nowhere else are there more documented species of mammals, birds, amphibians and vascular plants. As one presenter noted, in one tree in Yasuní, one can find 94 species of ants; one hectare holds more tree species than the US and Canada together.

But Yasuní also sits above the largest oil reserve in Ecuador – 846 million barrels – presenting a threat to the people and animals living in it. More at Mongabay.com>

Elections in Brazil: a win for Rousseff, and China

It’s become a cliché to liken this Brazilian election to a telenovela. Yet it does seem a fitting analogy for a campaign season that saw one of the candidates die in a plane crash and his vice-presidential candidate — environmentalist Marina Silva — then soar in the polls, only to come down equally suddenly after some of the most negative attack ads in the country’s political history. Pro-business candidate Aécio Neves and incumbent Dilma Rousseff were neck-and-neck going into Sunday’s second round, but in the end, Rousseff claimed victory, albeit by a slim margin.

Of all the candidates, the one with the most dramatic story was Silva, who would have been Brazil’s first black president. The daughter of rubber tappers in the Amazon, illiterate until age 16, she rose through the ranks in Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (PT) to become his minister of the environment. However, she differed with her party on several key issues, including the building of massive hydroelectric dams in the Amazon region — a major part of the PT’s platform for energy independence. In the current election, she was the running mate of PSB candidate Eduardo Campos, whose sudden passing thrust her into the spotlight.

After Silva was defeated in the first round of elections on October 5, it looked to her supporters as though their hopes of a more environmentally friendly, progressive Brazil were dashed. Worse yet, to many, she shot back at the PT’s negative campaigning by publicly endorsing Neves, a pro-business governor from Brazil’s wealthy, white south.

Neves and Rousseff, who was chief of staff under Lula and has carried forward his policies in her three years as president, faced off in the second round. In the end, slightly more than half of Brazilians preferred the status quo, and Rousseff claimed victory with 51.6% of valid votes.

So what will Rousseff’s win mean for the environment, and for Brazil’s relationship with its number one trading partner, China?

Read more at China Dialogue >

PHOTO/ Mismatch: why are human rights NGOs in emerging powers not emerging? (openDemocracy)

Anti-Belo Monte graffiti in Altamira, Brazil. Karen Hoffmann/Demotix.

My photo of anti-Belo Monte graffiti in Altamira, Brazil, was used in this openDemocracy story by Lucia Nader, who is Executive Director of Conectas Human Rights, a Brazil-based NGO with national and international projects. (“Belo Monstro” and “Eletromorte” are plays on words: The consortium building the mega-dam is called Eletronorte, and “morte” means “death” in Portuguese.)

From Lucia’s piece: “There is a perverse see-saw effect in place within the BRICS countries. In Brazil, as the government grows in prominence and companies become more global and voracious, human rights NGOs face a sustainability crisis and find their budgets shrinking. Are these two developments connected?” More >

Wildcat Wells in Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve Bring New and Unstudied Risks (Earth Island Journal)

BY KAREN HOFFMANN – MAY 1, 2014

Regulatory agencies aren’t carefully assessing the impact of ramped up oil and gas exploration in southwest Florida, say critics

When you think of oil drilling, South Florida probably doesn’t immediately come to mind. But rising oil prices are bringing increasing oil and gas exploration projects to southwest Florida, home of the Everglades, and they are already putting environment at risk.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently slapped a $25,000 fine on the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Company for injecting unapproved acid into Florida’s vulnerable underground limestone formations in the middle of Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. Yet the DEP recently approved another request by Dan Hughes to drill near another protected areas — the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge — despite vehement opposition from residents and environmental groups.

Big Cypress National PerservePhoto by Marcel Hujser

Of all the new drilling proposals, the one seeking to drill the federally protected Big Cypress Natioanl Perserve has created the most furor.

Though oil drilling seems at odds with South Florida, which is known for its wildlife parks and agricultural reserves, fact is, drilling has been going on in this region ever since Humble Oil bored its first well in Collier County in 1943. The US Geological Survey’s most recent estimates show that there are about 370 million barrels of undiscovered oil in South Florida. Energy companies are eager to get that oil out of the ground.

Most of the recent drilling applications have been for exploratory wells — “wildcats” in industry parlance. First, companies drill an exploratory well to see if there’s any oil. If there isn’t, they plug it up and move on. If there is, they drill another well to inject the wastewater, called brine, into the ground.

These injection wells are the main threats to the environment. From Ohio to Texas, they have a record of leaking. The US Environmental Protection Agency notes that brine from oil and gas extraction may contain “toxic metals and radioactive substances” and “can be very damaging to the environment and public health if it is discharged to surface water or the land surface.”

But Florida’s permeable geologic formations present new and unstudied risks as well. Because of the porous limestone that makes up the southwest Florida’s bedrock, it’s possible that the wastewater could migrate upward into the groundwater that millions of Floridians drink.

Given these concerns, you might assume the EPA and DEP would carefully study the environmental impacts before issuing a permits for such wells — especially in environmentally sensitive areas. But this is Florida (cue the chirping cicadas), where it seems, anything goes. . The Big Cypress National Preserve, incidentally, is already home to 11 wells.   More at Earth Island Journal >

The Guardian/Earth Island Journal: Where have all Florida’s sea cows gone?

“Karen Hoffman’s dad, Pete Hoffman, and dog, Bubba, check out a manatee swimming past their home by the Intracoastal Waterway.” (Earth Island Journal)

The West Indian manatee is an example of evolution optimizing for one thing: taking time to slow down and munch the seagrass. They have no natural predators, just humans and their boat propellers. Individual animals can be identified by the unique pattern of scars on their backs. Their thick skin has kept them going, but maybe not for much longer.

Florida’s manatees are on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species because “the population is estimated to decline by at least 20% over the next two generations due to anticipated future changes in warm-water habitat and threats from increasing watercraft traffic over the next several decades.”

But even slow or no-wake zones and better boater education may not be enough to save the Florida manatee. Another kind of man-made threat – runoff and pollution – is destroying their seagrass beds. More manatees died last year in Florida than ever before recorded.

I came home for the holidays to South Florida, where my parents live on the Intracoastal Waterway. Every year around this time, we see many manatees go past the house, heading south to warmer water.

But this year, I was puzzled. Where were all the manatees? Then I read about the record die-off in the state of Florida in 2013 – 829 dead manatees, out of an estimated total population of 5,000. That’s more than one in six of all the manatees in the state. And 173 of the dead were breeding-age females, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Institute.

Read more at The Guardian > (Sadly, they took out the picture of Dad and Bubba and replaced it with “professional” AP/Reuters photos. You can’t have everything.)

Original story in the Earth Island Journal >

Standing Up for Indigenous Rights in Brazil (The Platform)

 

A Kamaiurá cacique in the village of Ipavu on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Xingu Indigenous Territory in Mato Grosso, Brazil.

25th anniversary of Constitution sees massive mobilisation across country and around the world

Night is falling in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Territory. In the centre of a thatch-roof hut stands Raoni Metuktire, cacique (chief) of the Kayapó people. All day long, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the territory, other indigenous leaders have been speaking on everything from the need for better education to the dangers of the Belo Monte mega-dam being built in the Amazon.

The third largest dam in the world, Belo Monte will flood 500 square km and dry up 100 km of river. The particular section of the river most affected is home to communities of the Kayapó, Juruna and Arara tribes, among others, and a total of 20,000 people will be displaced. Belo Monte, one of dozens of giant dam projects planned for the Amazon region, typifies the Brazilian government’s preference for development over conservation.

Raoni begins a war dance and a low chant that builds to a crescendo. He speaks forcefully, in the Kayapó language.

His nephew Megaron Txucarramãe, himself a highly esteemed Kayapó leader, translates: “I want you to feel strong, you are great! I want to see you fighting!”

The wooden disk in Raoni’s lip punctuates his exhortation. The gathered tribes, from the Arara to the Xavante, painted in ink made from the genipapo fruit, loudly cheer their assent.

Chief Raoni Village 2 - River

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A famous picture of Raoni has lately made the rounds on the internet. In it he sits, head in his hands, overcome by emotion. The photo is usually captioned something like: “Chief Raoni cries for his forest.”

The photo points to an essential truth – Brazil’s tropical forest is being destroyed at an accelerating rate, and Raoni is a legendary and outspoken defender of indigenous rights. But the picture is not what it seems. According to the Daily Kos, the actual explanation for Raoni’s display of emotion is that he has just been reunited with a member of his family.

The danger of facile Facebook memes like this one is that they distort reality. In this case, the picture could be considered to rob Raoni of his agency. It harkens back to the “crying Indian” ads of the 1970s in the U.S. (The actor in which, incidentally, was an Italian-American in makeup and a wig, and which may have contributed to more pollutionthan it prevented.) Such images depict natives as passive victims, taking it lying – in Raoni’s case, sitting – down, while the bad white guys take their land and pollute their water.

The story is, of course, based on five centuries of truth. And in countries with any surviving indigenous populations, it goes on today. According to the NGO Survival International, a proposed Brazilian constitutional amendment would give Congress the power to participate in the demarcation of indigenous lands. A bill currently under discussion would open up indigenous land for army bases, mining, dams and other industrial projects, and another would open up indigenous reserves to large-scale mining for the first time. More at The Platform > 

Must-watch: “Open Pit”

Screened this for the first time yesterday and it generated a lot of discussion, so I thought I’d share. It’s powerful and very well done. Highly recommended. Plus, the whole thing is available to watch free online:

Open Pit from River of Life on Vimeo.

Accolade Award winning Feature Documentary “Open Pit” is a tour de force of investigative journalism and guerilla filmmaking that reveals the vicious face of “dirty gold” in Peru. A film by Gianni Converso. Produced by Daniel Santana and Gianni Converso.

In the heart of Cajamarca, Newmont Mining Corporation operates the Yanacocha Gold Mine, one of the largest Open Pit mining operations in the world.

Using the cyanide leach process, Newmont Mining has come to define “dirty gold” for a generation of Campecinos – the indigenous people who have lived at the top of the Peruvian Andes since the Inca civilization.

Faced with devastating mercury pollution, heavy metals and acid mine drainage, the people of Cajamarca fight a desperate battle to defend their water resources, their families – and their way of life.

Backed by money from the International Finance Corporation and The World Bank, Newmont Mining enforces their business model through corruption, intimidation and violence.

Open Pit is a tour de force of investigative journalism and guerilla filmmaking that reveals the vicious face of “dirty gold” in Peru.