Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Road Trip to Save El Salvador’s Water: A Delegation of Activists From 12 Different Countries on the Fight to Stop Gold Mining in Central America

Polluted Stream photo by Scott Fitzmorris
Polluted stream (Scott Fitzmorris)
by Robin Broad, John Cavanagh, Yes! magazine:

John Cavanagh and Robin Broad wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. 

Robin is a Professor of International Development at American University in Washington, D.C. and has worked as an international economist in the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Congress. 

John is director of the Institute for Policy Studies, and is co-chair (with David Korten) of the New Economy Working Group. 

They are co-authors of three books and numerous articles on the global economy, and have been traveling the country and the world for their project Local Dreams: Finding Rootedness in the Age of Vulnerability. 

Robin is standing in front of a church in Guatemala with some of the other members of the first international delegation on “gold mining and the defense of water in El Salvador.”

We are 44 people from 12 countries who have come to support El Salvador's right to stop environmentally destructive gold mining.

We have come as allies of a coalition called the National Roundtable Against Metallic Mining (“La Mesa”), and we have traveled just across the border to Guatemala because the source of the Lempa River that supplies most of El Salvador's fresh water is here in the Guatemalan hills. Goldcorp, one of Canada's largest gold mining firms, is building a mine here.

The environmental havoc unleashed by this mine will affect not only Guatemalans, but also Salvadorans who depend on the Lempa’s waters as it meanders through El Salvador on its way to the Pacific Ocean.

The fight for water is a fight for life Polluted Stream photo by Scott Fitzmorris Stream polluted with toxic minerals from the Commerce Group mine. Photo by Scott Fitzmorris.

Father Domingo, a Franciscan from El Salvador, has asked delegation members to stand and face the congregation as he gives the guest homily at the invitation of a local Guatemalan priest. You are not alone in your opposition to the Goldcorp mining, Fr. Domingo tells the congregants.

He asks them to look at these friends from all around the world who are supporting them in their opposition to what he calls “the death projects.”

Robin scans the congregation, locking eyes with one after another of the congregants: a young boy strumming a small toy guitar, his parents, a middle-aged man, and a woman surrounded by her mother and teenage daughters.

To be anti-gold-mining is a brave thing in this part of the world. Indeed, just prior to our visit, the Guatemalan government imposed a “state of emergency” near another mine where people were protesting, sending in troops.

The 44 of us in this delegation understand that the struggle against gold mining in Central America is a struggle for water, “for life,” as La Mesa members phrase it.

Among us are professional environmentalists, researchers, writers, students, trade unionists, human rights lawyers, filmmakers, medics, activists, and Salvadorans living abroad who want to do their share for the country of their birth.

Some of us have been involved with this work in El Salvador for years, working as allies of La Mesa. For others, this is their first exposure. The delegation also traveled to two other sites of struggles against global mining companies.

To see the “before” picture of large-scale commercial mining, we travel to Cabañas in northern El Salvador, the site of Pacific Rim Mining’s El Dorado mine.

The Canadian mining company has finished its exploration stage but, buoyed by national sentiment against mining, the Salvadoran government has refused to give the company its desired “exploitation” license.

La Mesa-connected local groups also stand firmly opposed and are doing their best to ensure that mining does not come.

To show our solidarity, we march in front of the Pacific Rim site, standing under the Pacific Rim sign, demanding that CEO Catherine Mcleod-Seltzer end PacRim’s attempt to mine here.

We go to the nearby Cabañas town of San Isidro, the hometown of Marcelo Rivera, whose 2009 brutal murder (his mutilated body was found at the bottom of a deep well) was one of at least four such assassinations.

In San Isidro, we see some of the murals that youth have created in Marcelo’s honor, murals that announce to all who pass that the struggle will not die with the assassinations. A global struggle The struggle is a local one and a national one.

But it is also a global one, as Vancouver-headquartered Pacific Rim has sued the Salvadoran government in the World Bank's investor-rights tribunal, arguing that it must be granted the license to mine.

Some of our delegation then travel to La Union in eastern El Salvador, where Milwaukee-based Commerce Group mined off and on from the 1960s until the government kicked it out in 2006. Here, one uncovers the horrific environmental nightmare that industrial gold mining leaves in its wake.

As the delegation wrote in its report, “We saw the lasting and unmitigated impacts of acid mine drainage in the rust-colored water of the San Sebastian river".

"We heard from local residents that instead of generating wealth for communities, large-scale mining leaves behind poverty and negates the possibility for economically, socially, or environmentally sustainable development".

We also learned of high incidence within the area of kidney failure, cancer, skin problems, and nervous system disorders, such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome. What we have seen in San Sebastian should not be allowed to happen in Cabañas or elsewhere.”

Incredibly enough, Commerce Group is also suing the Salvadoran government at that same World Bank investor-rights tribunal for the right to return to continue mining here - although it should be the Salvadoran government suing Commerce Group for the environmental nightmare.

And some of us travel to Asunción Mita, Guatemala, to Goldcorp’s Cerro Blanco mine. After Sunday mass and meetings with congregants, we drive to the mine site itself, to see the destruction as the mining operations begin.

In the distance, through the fenced perimeter, we can glimpse tunnels dug into the mountainside. We drive by a complex sprinkler-like system, shooting water into the air like some giant water-recreation playground.

It turns out that the tunnels have filled with thermal water, laced with arsenic and other toxic metals. The waste water will then make its way into a nearby river which feeds a nearby lake, and then onward into El Salvador’s Rio Lempa watershed, inevitably wreaking ecological disaster in its wake.

“STOP CERRO BLANCO,” a sign blares at us. We realize that it is a sign from Cerro Blanco’s security force, instructing those who seek to travel inside the vast mining compound to stop.

To those of us on the delegation, however, it seems a rallying cry: STOP CERRO BLANCO, along with Pacific Rim and Commerce Group. Stop mining in these fragile ecosytems where it brings not only ecological destruction but also social conflict and deepening poverty.

Father Domingo has called the flooding of the Cerro Blanco tunnels "an act of God," since it has delayed large-scale commercial mining by Goldcorp here. Robin looks around at her fellow international delegates.

There are activists from Canada, Ecuador, Australia, the United States, Honduras, Panama, and elsewhere joining people from Guatemala and El Salvador.

The delay may well be “an act of God,” but it will be actions of human beings such as these who ultimately determine whether or not mining is halted.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Human Role in Our ‘Angry’ Hot Summer

by Sophie Lewis, University of Melbourne and David Karoly, University of Melbourne

Today we released a study that shows quantitatively that anthropogenic climate change substantially increased the likelihood of the record-breaking Australian summer of 2013.

Indeed, human influences on the climate system increased the chances of our record hot, “angry” summer by more than five times.

Average temperatures across the globe are now 0.8°C warmer than a century ago. This shift in the average climate can lead to substantial changes in the frequency and severity of extreme climate events.

Globally, many of the record-breaking heatwaves and extreme summer temperatures occurring elsewhere have been linked to anthropogenic influences. Our latest analysis of the 2013 extreme Australian summer also demonstrates a strong human influence on the record temperatures.

We started this study with over 20 of the latest generation of climate models being used in an international initiative that undertakes standardised model experiments.

Of these, only the nine models that were best able to capture the observed variations and included runs with just natural climate influences were included in our analyses.

Probability distribution of average temperature variations across Australia in summer from observations (dashed line) and climate model simulations (solid line) for 1910-2005. The vertical lines mark the temperature departures for 1998 summer (the second hottest) and 2013 (the hottest) summer across Australia/ Lewis & Karoly

As above, but showing the shift in the probability distribution for 2006-2020 from climate model simulations including increasing greenhouse gases and other human influences on climate. Lewis & Karoly

Using these remaining nine state-of-the-art global climate models, we investigated changes in the probability of extreme Australian summer temperatures due to human influences.

We compared temperature probabilities in a suite of model simulations of the climate including only natural climate influences (volcanoes and solar radiation changes) with a parallel set of model simulations including natural and anthropogenic climate influences, such as greenhouse gases.

The results were clear. When anthropogenic influences were included in the model simulations, the probability of warmer summer temperatures like 2013 were far higher.

Indeed, it was very likely (with 90% confidence) that human influences increased the odds of extreme summers by at least five times.

The recent record summer was also notable because it occurred at a time when El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions were neutral to weakly La Niña. This typically produces cooler temperatures in Australia.

Previously, six of the eight hottest Australian summers occurred during El Niño years. Our research shows that natural ENSO variations are unlikely to explain the record 2013 heat.

The model experiments also show that these types of extreme Australian summers will become more severe and more frequent in the future, with further global warming.

Extreme summers occur eight times more frequently in the climate model simulations that include human influences, such as greenhouse gases, compared to the simulations with only natural climate variations.

It is now virtually certain that the frequency and severity of hot days will increase. Previous research has also shown that the number and duration of summer heatwaves in Australia has increased over the last 50 years and that heatwaves are occurring earlier in spring and later in autumn.

In some places, the first heatwave of the season is now occurring up to a month earlier than 100 years ago.

During our hot summer of 2013, temperature records were broken on daily through to monthly timescales, as well as for the entire summer.

Although we are rugging up for winter now, on January 7 this year, we experienced our hottest day on record for the entire continent, as we sweltered under a “dome of heat”. The recent record hot summer was also bookended by heatwaves in November 2012 and much of the first half of March.

What will these more severe and more frequent hot summers of the future feel like? Future, angrier summers will likely be characterised by hotter days, and longer and more frequent heatwaves, also covering large parts of the continent.

It is clear that human influences have loaded the climate dice and substantially increased the odds that we will roll long, hot summers. The risk will increase even further for future summers.

Our study demonstrates the substantial human influence on extreme Australian summers when we warm the continent by 0.9°C . Unless concerted global efforts are implemented soon, the long-held goal of remaining below 2°C of global warming will very soon become unachievable.

Warming of up to 4-5°C is possible by the end of the century, and warming of this magnitude would make our recent record-breaking angry summer seem very mild-mannered indeed.

Sophie Lewis is a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

David Karoly receives funding from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science. He is a member of the Science Advisory Panel to the Climate Commission, a member of the Climate Change Authority, and a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Given Australia’s Burgeoning Wood Surplus, Does it Really Need to Log More Native Forest?

by Russell Warman, Online Opinion:

Russell Warman is currently undertaking a Masters in Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania, looking at the global transition of wood production from natural forests to plantations. 

Previously he worked as a forestry policy adviser to the NGOs involved in Tasmania’s forest negotiations, as well as numerous prior jobs in natural resource management and environmental planning.

Australia passed some significant landmarks in wood production last financial year.

The latest quarterly figures by ABARES on wood product statistics showed that in 2011/12, for the first time, Australia produced a larger volume of hardwood logs from plantations than it did from native forests.

Obscured in the figures was another significant landmark; Australia produced as much plantation log as the total volume of logs used to meet national wood product demand.

Nineteen million cubic metres of logs were produced from Australia’s plantations; the same amount of logs used to make the wood products (including sawn wood, wood panels and paper) Australia consumed.

In addition to the plantation logs, 19 per cent (4.5 million cubic metres) of the nation’s log production came from native forests. This was the lowest level ever, and reflects ongoing trends towards plantation wood and declining native forest wood output.

The transition of sourcing wood from natural forests to plantations is not just an Australian phenomenon, it is occurring across the globe. Nor is the process finished or levelling off - Australia’s plantation log supply is forecast to grow significantly based on the current estate.

At the same time two weeks ago that ABARES published these figures, Rob Hampton, the CEO of the Australian Forest Products Association, published an opinion piece entitled “What are we doing to ensure forestry doesn’t follow Ford?”

Its main theme was that wood is a valuable material that has much to offer society and as such is an industry that requires thoughtful support from government.

Unfortunately, the core ideas got side-tracked by old industry laments about protecting forests in reserves; it has cost the closure of mills across the country, contributed to holding the industry back, and adds to a negative balance of trade in wood products.

It claimed that Australia once had an industry “the envy of the world”, with “abundant resources” and “access to markets”, but that in the last fifty years the industry has “shrunk to a quarter”.

In these laments the piece highlights an ongoing failing in some of the thinking regarding the wood products industry about the challenges the industry faces in Australia. Its real problems are not resource problems - they are largely manufacturing problems. 
Far from shrinking by three quarters, Australia’s log production has grown over the last fifty years by 130 per cent. Domestic demand has grown by just a third over the same time. Unlike fifty years ago, Australia now harvests more logs than it consumes. It has done so since 1995/96. 
And, as of the last few years, it has harvested more logs from plantations alone than its total wood product consumption requires.

Using the balance of trade figures for wood product to infer that Australia doesn’t have enough wood, and that reservation of native forests has contributed to this, is misleading.

But, on a closer look at the balance of trade in wood products, it does point to the real challenge facing the wood products industry in Australia.

According to ABARES’s Australian Commodity Statistics, Australia imported 6.5 million cubic metres of log equivalent in wood products in 2010/11, but exported 12.8 million cubic metres of log equivalent in wood products.

This represents a trade surplus of more than 6 million cubic metres of logs worth of wood products.

The problem is that these imports cost Australia $4.4 billion but the country only received $2.5 billion for its much larger volume of exports.

The reason for this discrepancy is that Australia’s exports are dominated by lower value-added materials, for example net exports of 1.8 million cubic metres of whole logs and 4.1 million tons of wood chips in 2011/12, while its imports are dominated by higher value-added products, for example net imports of wood-based panels of 330,000 cubic metres and paper and paperboard of 625,000 tons.

Australia’s negative balance of trade in wood product value, similar to the ‘decline’ in the industry, is not about a lack of wood - it is about a where value is added to wood.

Logging more native forests, such as through cancelling reserves, as has recently been considered in Queensland and New South Wales, will only make a very small difference to the nation’s total wood supply.

It will not address ever-declining jobs per unit of wood product brought about by ongoing technical advances in wood processing. Nor will it change the competitive pressure native forest wood faces from more efficiently produced and processed plantation wood.

Nor will it address ongoing declines, nationally and internationally, in per capita wood consumption resulting from the cost saving drive by wood processors to more efficiently utilise what logs they do buy.

Nor will it reduce the competitiveness of internationally processed wood imports. And not only does it avoid confronting these issues, it generates controversy and undermines the industry’s social license, acting as a drag on forward momentum.

If public discourse about the wood products industry continues to focus on old arguments over native forest resource access, there will continue to be a failure to address the real challenges the sector faces. This is unfortunate because, as Ross Hampton noted, wood products do have a lot to offer.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

President Unveils 'Obama Climate Pollution Test' for Future Energy Projects

Keystone XL demonstration, White House,8-23-20...
Keystone XL demonstration (Josh Lopez)
by Philip Radford, Executive Director, Greenpeace, on Huffington Post:

Today, in his speech at Georgetown University, President Obama challenged us to answer the essential question for every future energy policy decision we face - what will the net climate impact be if this project goes forward?

It was a bold, monumental speech, the best by not only this president, but any president to date on the climate crisis.

Greenpeace supporters have told Obama for years that the longer he waited to take sides, the worse climate change would get. Today's speech showed that the time has clearly gotten late enough for him to publicly side with the people, not the fossil fuel industry.

We proudly stand with the President in the fight against carbon pollution, but we know that this fight won't be won with words alone.

The president framed the Keystone decision this way: Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.

Within this frame, it's clear there's no room in our future for the Keystone pipeline, fracking, Arctic drilling, or giving away our public lands to the coal industry.

Each of these projects will have a significant negative climate impact and not be in our national interest.

* Oil Change International reported earlier this year that "the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would, if approved, be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year, comparable to the tailpipe emissions from more than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants." Climate impact? You betcha.

* Fracking? Once you account for the impacts of extraction and not just burning natural gas, the climate impact of methane pollution from natural gas has the potential to be an even more severe driver of climate change than carbon pollution from oil and coal. That means it's a bridge fuel to nowhere.

* In the Arctic, the climate impact isn't as obvious as the impact of Shell's oil rigs on Alaskan islands, but it's coming more and more into focus every summer. If we continue to extract and burn oil and gas from the vulnerable Arctic region, the region itself will continue to disappear at an astonishing rate, short-circuiting our planet's natural cooling system and making the vicious circle of climate disaster much much worse.

* And giving away publicly owned coal for pennies on the dollar? That's a big climate lose. The expansion in US coal exports has the potential to release as much if not more carbon pollution than any other new fossil fuel project in the United States.

As the president said today at the end of his address: And someday, our children, and our children's children, will look at us in the eye and they'll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world? And I want to be able to say, yes, we did. Don't you want that?

Yes, Mr. President, we do. And we're thrilled to know that you do too.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Long Road for Electric Vehicles

English: Three converted Prius Plug-In Hybrids...
Charging at public recharging station (Wikipedia)
by Kristian Handberg, Monash University

After a much-hyped return to the market in 2011, the shine has again worn off electric vehicles.

High profile failures (such as the bankruptcy of charging infrastructure company Better Place) and poor sales of the vehicles themselves have bolstered the opinions of naysayers, who have variously referred to electric vehicles as “welfare wagons” and “green carpetbagging”.

But I would argue that we’re simply at the beginning of a journey: electric vehicle (EV) technology will one day have a meaningful role in a more sustainable transport future.

In line with a report released by the Victorian Government on World Environment Day, I can point to a body of both theory and evidence that allows me to make this claim with confidence.

In 1962 Everett Rogers released his seminal work, Diffusion of Innovations. In it he describes how the adoption of new technologies follows a trademark S-curve - a theory that has been proven to be correct for numerous innovations over the past century.

Electric vehicle technology is on this journey. It is worth remembering that Australia’s first mobile phone and supporting cellular network were launched in 1987.

At around $11,000 in today’s terms, the Walkabout TM was about the size of ten smartphones and had an hour of talk time between recharges.

Seven years later the one millionth subscriber joined the network, and by 2007 subscriptions outnumbered people in Australia - 20 years after launch and not without some challenges along the way.

An important feature of this theory relates to the early adoption phase before the technology provides a financial return for adopters. During this phase, uptake is driven by the social prestige accrued by “early adopters”; after all, people are human rather than reliably rational economic beings.

Early adopters make purchase decisions the majority would view as crazy, so this phase of new market development is often portrayed with disdain for the innovation. In this phase you’ll hear a lot about high prices, low sales and proof that the innovation is a bad idea.

The longer-term view would recognise this as an unavoidable stepping stone in the adoption of new technology. Continued investment, innovation and effective marketing are required to move along the adoption curve, particularly in the lead-up to the “take-off point” for mainstream market adoption.

In the case of electric vehicles we may already be in sight of take off. California, the most advanced electric vehicle market in the world, benefits from investment by both state and federal governments who offer purchase subsidies.

Combined with the effects from global investment in design and manufacturing, Californian car-buyers can now get behind the wheel of an electric vehicle for the same price as a gasoline (petrol) equivalent.

Californians buy one in three plug-ins sold in United States, despite buying only one in ten vehicles overall.

Electric vehicle sales are increasing as awareness and understanding grows about their suitability for most driving tasks.

At the start of this year the US Department of Energy compiled sales numbers that showed plug-in vehicles are well ahead of those of hybrid vehicles when compared at the same point in time from their introduction to the market.

The good news doesn’t end there. After years of being pilloried as a prime example of the Obama administration’s cleantech incompetence, high-end electric vehicle company Tesla recently paid back their US Government loan nine years ahead of schedule.

Investors clamouring for a piece of the action drove Tesla shares up to the point where the company valuation was 25% of General Motors.

And this momentum seems unlikely to stall. Industry reports suggest that 19 new plug-in models from 15 manufacturers are scheduled to be introduced to the US market in 2013-14.

The increased availability of public charging infrastructure, especially in workplaces, will convince more and more car buyers to say “goodbye to gas”.

But what of Australia, where plug-in vehicles sales appear to be stuck in neutral?

Hope exists for our infant electric vehicle market, primarily through the spill-over benefits from uptake elsewhere. As more plug-ins are sold globally, costs will come down - so long as manufacturers bring their products to our shores.

Economic modelling from the Victorian Government has shown the most prudent path to be one where other markets bear the “first-mover” costs before we make the switch to electric vehicles once they make financial sense.

But the real world is not an economic model and so more needs to be done to protect and enhance our economic competitiveness.

Mandating the installation of electric vehicle charging circuits in new housing developments is a low-cost intervention that the same modelling shows makes sense right now.

For around $100 in parts and about the same amount in labour, a new home can be made EV-ready for about one-tenth the cost of a retrofit. If building rating schemes clearly recognised this, it could convince developers to make these installations where otherwise they are not.

Commitments such as these may help persuade vehicle manufacturers to bring plug-in models from their global portfolio into the Australian market.

And if we’re going to be car dependent, let’s make it easier to move towards lower cost, more environmentally friendly vehicle options.

Kristian Handberg also works for DiUS Computing, an Australian technology company who's portfolio includes an electric vehicle charging system.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, June 24, 2013

Looking Back From 2030: How the Climate War Was Won

Al Gore
Al Gore
by John Wiseman, University of Melbourne and Gerald Frape, University of New South Wales

Minimising serious debate about climate change risks and solutions looks likely to be a key feature of the Australian media’s approach to the 2013 election campaign.

There are however two powerful reasons why this silence is profoundly disturbing and misguided.

Evidence of the likelihood and risks of global warming beyond 4 degrees continues to grow. As IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde bluntly notes: “unless we take action on climate change future generations will be roasted, toasted, fried and grilled”.

And as momentum towards a decarbonised global economy continues to build so to do the economic and social opportunities for Australia of being a first mover in the impending transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The recently launched University of Melbourne research report, Post Carbon Pathways, shows that the key features of the post carbon economy road map are now widely understood.

We need rapid replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy; rapid reductions in energy consumption and improvements in energy efficiency; and the drawdown and sequestration of carbon into sustainable carbon sinks.

The biggest roadblocks preventing a rapid transition to a post carbon future are now clearly political rather than technological.

This leads to the increasingly crucial and urgent question: how might the transition to a just and resilient post carbon future actually occur at sufficient speed and scale? One way to approach this most difficult puzzle is to conduct the following thought experiment.

“Imagine it is 2030. Imagine we now live in a world in which the transition to a just and resilient post carbon society has occurred so there is now real hope that catastrophic climate change will be avoided. How did this happen?”

Here are some of the ways in which leading international climate and energy researchers interviewed for the Post Carbon Pathways project responded to this challenge.

Jenny Clad, former Executive Officer of Al Gore’s Climate Project tells a story of evidence and education:
Little by little, every year, the evidence, the increased education of the public, of the politicians, the work from businesses. All of this inch-by-inch is going to have the effect of making the deniers and those who profess to do nothing and put more money into drilling oil, digging out coal, more and more marginalised.
Amory Lovins, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, focuses on the transformational power of creativity and innovation:
As we look back on this now, one wonders what all the fuss was about. We used to think that catastrophic climate change was a big problem because we supposed that it had to be solved by difficult treaties between national governments. But that assumed - quite wrongly - that the solutions would be costly and painful rather than attractive and profitable, for the simple reason - now so blindingly obvious in hindsight - that it was so much cheaper to save the fuel than to buy it in the first place, let alone burn it. So as the economic logic gradually overcame the dogma that it must not have been cost-effective to save energy or we’d have done it already, we really unleashed the dynamism of individual choice and corporate and social innovation.
The scenario raised by Climate Reality Project Co-ordinator, Kevin Curtis, is all about courageous political leadership:
How we got there is a collection of acts of leadership by leaders who emerged to seize the moment. Who just said “no we cannot let our climate be so fundamentally changed. We can’t afford what that’s going to do.” It’ll be consumers demanding new products, it’ll be companies providing new products, it’ll be the media. It’ll be people from all walks of life demonstrating true leadership, taking on the status quo, taking on a sense of negativism and “it’s too late-ness”. It won’t be coordinated, it won’t be controlled, it will just happen and it will happen if all of us in the next five years get the word out.
For Club of Rome member and Chair of Safe Climate Australia, Ian Dunlop:
The trigger is going to be some sort of natural disaster that wakes people up. Before long the community will wake up to what is occurring and demand action along the lines that … “we have been looking at the problem for 30 years and done virtually nothing. Now we have to really start moving”. The pressure will then come on the business and political worlds for real action. It will require different leadership from anything we’ve seen before as we will have to move to a war-footing.
John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, draws together all these threads of evidence, innovation and leadership:
One driver is that, very sadly, disasters will happen. Hurricane Katrina changed a lot in America. The second thing is leadership. What Merkel did with the German experiment [driving a rapid shift from nuclear and fossil fuel energy to renewables] is happening because Merkel had the guts to say she was wrong. This type of leadership will be necessary, maybe in China, maybe in the United States, maybe in Australia even. The third thing is social innovation. For example I just went to a region in Germany where people say “We want to have energy supply completely done on a communitarian basis. We the citizens will buy the power plants. We will buy the networks and the grids. We will do it”.
If none of these scenarios sound totally convincing to you - here’s the challenge. Looking back from 2030 what were the actions that led to a real chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change? And what role did you play in this story?

John Wiseman is Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

Gerald Frape is a sessional lecturer at the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of New South Wales
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Disciplined and On-Message, Wind Farm Opponents are a Force to be Reckoned With

Not opposed to renewables, but… (Will Grant)
by Will J Grant, Australian National University

There’s a longstanding critique of the environmental movement which argues that somewhere along the road between the fight against the Franklin Dam and the fight for a carbon price everything changed.

Environment campaigners cleaned up. Suited up. Lost their soul.

Protesters at yesterday’s anti-wind turbine rally in Canberra appeared to have followed a similar path.

I went along to the Stop These Things anti-wind turbine rally (Stop These Things is an excellent, excellent name by the way) as someone interested in both the role of science in the anti-wind turbine movement, and as someone interested in the dynamics of protest politics more generally.

But these academic motivations mask the fact that I also like to quietly troll my political opponents, and this looked like an occasion for a little mischievous fun.

I’ll admit it: I am in favour of wind turbines - subject to appropriate planning and environmental control - and I hoped that those against them would unveil a litany of strange opinions and bizarre connections.

What struck me was a rally that was, in essence, a disciplined repetition of modern greens politics.

Where I and the assembled media looked for signs screaming “Ditch the Witch”, “Green Genocide” and “9/11 was an Inside Job”, every sign and t-shirt I saw was remarkable in its discipline, remarkably politically correct.

Not one sign attacked Julia Gillard. Not one talked of grand conspiracies. Not one denied the scientific consensus on climate change.

Instead I saw “Wind turbines forced us to leave our homes” and “Yes solar … No wind farms”, and community based arguments such as “Collector says no to wind farms”. There were some antagonistic examples (“Stop the spin” and “sWINDle”) but even these were relatively innocuous.

Certainly, the protestors pointed to a constellation of problems - health effects, impacts on birds, lack of reference to native title, high supposed costs and low supposed power generation - but none strayed from a tightly permitted pattern.

Among the speakers, a similar pattern was repeated. None - even the arch climate change fool Alan Jones - brought up or denied the science on climate change.

There were some slips and odd moments - Alan Jones trotted out a neat little parable about how the Soviets used to send the people to the gulags, but now we send the gulags to the people; the Citizens’ Electoral Council sought, once again, to convince me that the Pentaverate were using wind turbines to depopulate rural Australia.

But in the main, people were - to use the modern marketers’ term so clearly in evidence in the planning - remarkably on message.

Much of the reporting of the rally has talked of it as a failure. The Herald Sun reported that “Alan Jones has lost a battle of the ‘wind wars’… failing to draw large crowds”, The Weekly Times Now called it a “flop”.

The Age leapt on Alan Jones’ acceptance that “There aren’t a lot of people here”. Photos have gone around comparing the rally with a pro renewables rally held at roughly the same time, showing a 10:1 difference in attendance. I’m not so sanguine.

We can assess these duelling rallies by attendance, by media coverage, by the passion of the attendees. Such measures are vaguely useful, but they miss out on what has happened here.

This rally showed skilled political organisation, connected directly with key on-the-ground communities.

You could describe Stop These Things as an astroturf organisation guided by skilled political operators in the Institute for Public Affairs, in turn connected with a wider array of anti-environmental industries.

Many others have done so, and I don’t particularly care to add to that discussion here (indeed, critiques like this are often used in precisely the wrong way: to damn the group in their potential supporters’ eyes, rather than change our own behaviour. The potential supporters of Stop These Things couldn’t care less about the IPA).

What I do want to say is that those in favour of renewables should recognise groups like Stop These Things for the skilled - and dangerous - political operators they are.

In essence, the anti-wind turbine movement already has the near ineluctable force of nimbyism on its side: I don’t want them near me because they make me sick/ruin my sleep/kill birds I like/ruin my view/trample the lands of my ancestors/make me pee funny/make my neighbour rich.

(Scientific friends, please note that I am making no argument about the veracity of these claims, except to say that those who believe such things certainly do believe such things).

Stop These Things is now adding a layer of networking, guidance, strategic support and, potentially, funding.

You could call this nimbyism 2.0 … or you could just call this just another strand of modern environmental political activism.

Here’s the thing: unless those in favour of wind turbines recognise and deal with this threat, networks like Stop These Things will add significantly - and perhaps ruinously - to the risk profile of every potential wind farm development.

This is, quite interestingly, exactly the strategy of diametrically opposed groups like, who have sought to undermine the fossil fuel industries by casting them as a risky long term investment. City people rallying in favour of wind power simply isn’t going to affect that calculation at all.

While the Stop These Things rally networked slowly under the shadow of Parliament House, the rival pro-renewables rally ran with the Twitter hashtag #actonfacts. I’m with them in spirit, but this is a deeply flawed approach. Why?

Here’s a fact: we don’t act on facts. None of us do. Not Richard Dawkins, not Christopher Hitchens, not me, not you, not Meryl Dorey and not the activists in Stop These Things.

If we want to support the uptake of renewable energy, then we’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better than simply demanding that people do what the scientists tell them.

Will J Grant does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Reprieve, But the Great Barrier Reef Remains on Death Row

Satelite image of the Great Barrier Reef
Satellite image of the reef (Wikipedia)
by Tim Stephens, University of Sydney

The Great Barrier Reef may have been spared the indignity of being listed as a World Heritage Area “in danger” this week, but the Reef’s woes are just beginning.

There are 962 properties on the world heritage list. Most of these are protected for their cultural values, while many, like the Great Barrier Reef, are protected for their natural values.

Thirty-eight sites have been placed on the world heritage “in danger” list in recognition of the damage they have sustained or risks they face.

The World Heritage Committee agreed to postpone their review of the Great Barrier Reef to 2014, as the Queensland and Federal governments prepare reports into coastal development. But it isn’t just coal and ports that are the problem.

It is only a matter of time before the Australian government and the international community will have to face up to reality. Climate change is fundamentally challenging the way we go about protecting the environment.

To protect the reef, look beyond the coast

Managing the Reef now can buy time while a global response is hammered out to deal with climate change and ocean acidification. But the Federal and Queensland governments don’t seem to recognise time is running out.

In fact, neither does the World Heritage regime itself. It remains based on a somewhat dated view about how natural environmental assets should be protected.

The 1972 World Heritage Convention, which defined how and what can be listed as World Heritage, is built on the premise that sites are best protected by conservation at the site. Historically this made sense.

The Convention is one of the earliest environmental treaties, and concluded at a time when the main threats to world heritage were highly localised. It is a bit like a museum, seeking to preserve certain outstanding illustrations of cultural and natural property for future generations.

What it doesn’t do is account for natural change, or the much more serious threat of human-induced change. World heritage properties cannot be frozen in time.

In the current geological epoch, which we can think of as the Anthropocene, the greatest single threat to many world heritage properties is climate change.

Back in 2004 a report from University of Sydney found the Howard government’s failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and to support international initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions was one reason among several why the Great Barrier Reef might be included on the “in danger” list.

We mustn’t let the current debate about development hide the reality of climate change.

World Heritage can’t address this. That is for other regimes, chiefly the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to resolve. What World Heritage can do is draw attention to global threats that major environmental assets face. Its “in danger” listing process is a key mechanism to achieve this.

For well over a decade there has been discussion over whether the Great Barrier Reef should be placed on the “in danger” list. The main reason for this is the dawning realisation the Reef will be severely damaged by rising sea temperatures from climate change.

2012: development the new threat

The recent discussions about the reef have focused on the range of developments proposed for the Queensland coast, such as new or expanded ports to facilitate coal exports.

This is based on a 2012 report from UNESCO and the IUCN. It warned Australia the reef would be placed on the “in danger” list unless this development was curtailed or properly assessed.

The report set out 14 detailed recommendations for getting the protection and management back on track. These included:
  • no new port development outside existing port areas
  • an independent review of developments at Gladstone and Curtis
  • an independent review by internationally recognised and widely respected scientific experts of the overall planning, protection and management of the Reef
With official endorsement by the World Heritage Committee in 2012, it was clear the committee was keeping watch on the Reef, and that a brake had to be placed on coast developments.

On a positive note, the report observed that the actual management of the Reef was world-class, and considered the “gold standard” for conserving large marine areas.

2013: still on the brink

In February 2013 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority responded to the 2012 report and its recommendations. Several aspects of the Government’s response have been subject to significant criticism, particularly in respect to Gladstone Harbour.

Media reports earlier this week indicated that discussions at the 37th Session of the World Heritage Committee turned on whether Australia was satisfying a host of “priority issues” for protecting the reef.

These have been identified by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the IUCN, but not yet made public.

At the 2013 World Heritage session officials were satisfied that Australia was meeting some but not all of their recommendations. They gave Australia further opportunity before 2014 to show that it is meeting the Convention obligations.

There’s an ultimatum of sorts on development - any new coastal development with an impact on the Reef’s heritage values will be considered a violation.

The June 2013 decision of the World Heritage Committee has, like the 2012 decision, again preserved the status quo for the Reef. While recognising the threats to the Reef, those have not yet risen to a level that would allow the Committee to list the property on the “in danger” list.

Without a move on climate change the reef will remain “in danger”, and not just on the World Heritage list.

Tim Stephens has undertaken consultancy work for Greenpeace and Australians for Animals in respect of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Gagged by Big Ag

by Ted Genoways, Mother Jones:

Horrific abuse. Rampant contamination. And the crime is … exposing it?

English: "Female pigs used for breeding (...
English: "Female pigs used for breeding (called 'breeding sows' by industry) are confined most of their lives in 'gestation crates' which are so small that they cannot even turn around. The pigs' basic needs are denied, and they experience severe physical and psychological disorders." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shawn Lyons was dead to rights - and he knew it.

More than a month had passed since People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had released a video of savage mistreatment at the MowMar Farms hog confinement facility where he worked as an entry-level herdsman in the breeding room.

The three enormous sow barns in rural Greene County, Iowa, were less than five years old and, until recently, had raised few concerns.

They seemed well ventilated and well supplied with water from giant holding tanks. Their tightly tacked steel siding always gleamed white in the sun.

But the PETA hidden-camera footage shot by two undercover activists over a period of months in the summer of 2008, following up on a tip from a former employee, showed a harsh reality concealed inside.

The recordings caught one senior worker beating a sow repeatedly on the back with a metal gate rod, a supervisor turning an electric prod on a sow too crippled to stand, another worker shoving a herding cane into a sow's vagina.

In one close-up, a distressed sow who'd been attacking her piglets was shown with her face royal blue from the Prima Tech marking dye sprayed into her nostrils "to get the animal high."

In perhaps the most disturbing sequence, a worker demonstrated the method for eutha­nizing underweight piglets: taking them by the hind legs and smashing their skulls against the concrete floor - a technique known as "thumping."

Their bloodied bodies were then tossed into a giant bin, where video showed them twitching and paddling until they died, sometimes long after.

Though his actions were not nearly as vicious as those of some coworkers who'd been fired immediately, Lyons knew, as the video quickly became national news, that the consequences for him could be severe.

As we sat recently in the tiny, tumbledown house he grew up in and now shares with his wife and two kids, Lyons acknowledged - as he did to the sheriff's deputy back then - that he had prodded sows with clothespins, hit them with broad, wooden herding boards, and pulled them by their ears, but only in an effort, he said, to get pregnant sows that had spent the last 114 days immobilized in gestation crates up and moving to the farrowing crates where they would give birth.

Lyons said he never intended to hurt the hogs, that he was just "scared to death" of the angry sows "who had spent their lives in a little pen" - and this was how he had been trained to deal with them.

Lyons had watery blue eyes that seemed always on the verge of tears and spoke in a skittish mutter that would sometimes disappear all the way into silence as he rubbed his thin beard.

"You do feel sorry for them, because they don't have much room to move around," he said, but if they get spooked coming out of their crates, "you're in for a fight."

To read further, go to:
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

GMO and Monsanto Roundup: Glyphosate Weedkiller in our Food and Water?

FoEE logo
FoEE logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Colin Todhunter, Global Research:

“Historians may look back and write about how willing we are to sacrifice our children and jeopardize future generations with a massive experiment that is based on false promises and flawed science just to benefit the bottom line of a commercial enterprise.”

So said Don Huber in referring to the use of glyphosate and genetically modified crops. Huber was speaking at Organic Connections conference in Regina, Canada, late 2012.

Huber is an emeritus professor in plant pathology at Purdue University in the US and has worked with the Department of Homeland Security to reduce the impact of plant disease outbreaks.

His words are well worth bearing in mind given that a new study commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe (FoE) and GM Freeze has found that people in 18 countries across Europe have been found to have traces of glyphosate in their urine (1).

Friends of the Earth Europe commissioned laboratory tests on urine samples from volunteers in 18 countries across Europe and found that on average 44 percent of samples contained glyphosate.

The proportion of positive samples varied between countries, with Malta, Germany, the UK and Poland having the most positive tests, and lower levels detected in Macedonia and Switzerland.

All the volunteers who provided samples live in cities, and none had handled or used glyphosate products in the run-up to the tests.

The Influence of the Biotech Sector on Safety and Regulation Although ‘weedkiller in urine’ sounds alarming, Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, says the levels found are unlikely to be of any significance to health because they are 300 times lower than the level which might cause concern.

Alison Haughton, head of the Pollination Ecology Group at Rothamsted Research, said that if FoE and GM Freeze want their work to have scientific credibility and provide a genuine contribution to the debate on pesticide residues, they should submit their work for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Valid points, you might think.

But FoE believes that there is sufficient evidence to suggest environmental and health impacts from glyphosate warrant concern.

It wants to know how the glyphosate found in human urine samples has entered the body, what the impacts of persistent exposure to low levels of glyphosate might be and what happens to the glyphosate that remains in the body.

New research published in the journal Entropy sheds disturbing light on such concerns (discussed later in this article). In 2011, Earth Open Source said that official approval of glyphosate had been rash, problematic and deeply flawed.

A comprehensive review of existing data released in June 2011 by Earth Open Source suggested that industry regulators in Europe had known for years that glyphosate causes birth defects in the embryos of laboratory animals.

Questions were raised about the role of the powerful agro-industry in rigging data pertaining to product safety and its undue influence on regulatory bodies (2).

In the same vein, FoE says there is currently very little testing for glyphosate by public authorities, despite its widespread use, and authorities in Europe do not test for glyphosate in humans and tests on food are infrequent.

Glyphosate was approved for EU-wide use in 2002, but FoE argues that the European regulatory agencies did not carry out their own safety testing, relying instead on data provided by the manufacturers.

Of course there are certain scientists (usually with links to the agro-industry) who always seem to be strident in calling for peer-reviewed evidence when people are critical of the biotech sector, but then rubbish it and smear or intimidate the scientists involved when that occurs, as has been the case with Dr Arsad Pusztai in the UK or Professor Seralini in France.

It is therefore quite revealing that most of the data pertaining to glyphosate safety came from industry studies, not from peer-reviewed science, and the original data are not available for independent scrutiny.




To read further, go to:
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, June 10, 2013

3 Global Cities That Are Doing Bike Shares Right (And One’s in Texas!)

Melbourne Bike Share station outside Southern ...
Melbourne Bike Share station outside Southern Cross railway station (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
From China to San Antonio, cities are using rental bike programs to create healthier commutes. 

Here are a few insights from some of the world’s best programs.

Imagine having access to a bike no matter where you are in town, or what time it is.

You grab a rental bike from the nearest rack, then ride to the store or meet your friends across the city or commute to work.

After reaching your destination, you leave your mount at another docking station for someone else to use. What if this was a standard part of every major city?

Bike share programs are gaining popularity worldwide as an easy, effective way to get more people riding. The programs are especially common in Europe, and almost all have proven successful in getting their population pushing pedals.

Increased bicycle use means cleaner air, less gasoline use, improved traffic congestion, and safer communities. And, in light of the U.S. obesity epidemic, bike share programs have drawn attention as a way to get Americans exercising.

Bike share programs involve short-term and convenient bike rental, typically in metropolitan areas. Some programs require riders to become members, not unlike joining the public library - but others don’t.

Bikers pay by the hour, day, or month to borrow bikes from racks throughout the city for short trips. This makes it easy, efficient, and cheap for people who might otherwise drive.

Most public bikes tend to be big and sturdy compared with road bikes, sometimes with chain guards, fenders, and storage racks.

Successful bike share programs exist all over the world, so it’s hard to pick just a few to spotlight.

That being said, San Antonio, Texas; Lyon, France; and Hangzhou, China all have successful bike share programs very different from one another, so they each show us a different side of what it takes to create a successful bike-share culture. 

San Antonio: Putting public money behind bikes

In March 2011, San Antonio launched a bike-sharing program called San Antonio B-Cycle. This program was funded primarily through stimulus money from an energy conservation program at the U.S. Department of Energy, which wants to improve transportation efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

But B-Cycle also got a grant from an initiative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Communities Putting Prevention to Work. That program allocated $373 million in grants to U.S. communities that proposed projects designed to prevent chronic diseases.

Because many chronic illnesses are tied to obesity, some of the funded proposals were based around the promotion of exercise.

As the third most overweight city in the United States, San Antonio was a logical place to put this money to work. Over 30 percent of the population there is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bike-share programs used the funds from Communities Putting Prevention to Work primarily as seed money for four of them and continue to operate with support from federal funding, nonprofit assistance, and membership and usage fees.

The San Antonio Office of Sustainability estimates that, since its inception in 2011, users have made 120 trips per day and burned a total of 14.5 million calories. That’s the equivalent of about 13,000 cheese pizzas. 

Lyon, France: Focusing on commuters

Lyon, France, operates a bike share program called Velo’v, which exemplifies how efficient bikes can be as a way for commuters to get to work.

The program facilitates 16,000 trips per day, and that number doubles when public transportation workers go on strike. Only in France would this statistic be so important.

Before joining, 96 percent of Velo’v members had never ridden a bicycle in the city before, according to David Holtzman’s book Bike-Sharing.

A study that appeared in the journal Transportation Research in 2010 described an experiment in which scholars put GPS chips in Lyon’s public bikes and examined how they were used. They found that rental bikes actually go faster than cars in rush hour traffic. 

Hangzhou, China: Integrating bike share with public transit

Hangzhou hosts a bike share program that is a truly part of the city’s public transportation. Hangzhou used to hold the record for the largest bike share program in the world, but is now second to another Chinese city, Wuhan, which boasts 90,000 bikes in its fleet.

Hangzhou has just fewer than 70,000, but both programs are rapidly growing. The branch of the city’s transportation agency which administers the program projects that by the year 2020 the city may have 175,000 rental bicycles.

Rental stations are located conveniently at bus stops, with one every hundred meters on main roads. There is a required deposit of 200 Yuan (about $32.00), which is returned to the subscriber when he or she returns the bike.

The first hour of riding is free. After that, it’s only 1 Yuan ($0.15) for the next hour and then 2 Yuan for the third.

While the bike share program was primarily intended to improve traffic congestion and pollution, we can learn from it about how to make a city where bicycling is standard.

If physical activity is not considered a chore, and bike riding a basic part of daily commuting, we could see much more biking, and therefore healthier communities.

Kristin Hugo wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Kristin is an online intern at YES! and a graduate of the program in journalism of California State University at Northridge.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, June 1, 2013

21 Years of the UK Fair Trade Movement

Display of Fairtrade products at the Derbyshir...
Fairtrade products (Wikipedia)
by David Robert Bowen

The UK's Fair Trade Foundation has been going since 1992, originally set up by CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Traidcraft, the World Development Movement and the National Federation of Women's Institutes.

In 1994 the organisation's first three products arrived on the shelves of the shops. The world looks considerably different these days.

Now there are at least 4,500 products proudly bearing the logo, as diverse as clothing, gifts, homewares, foods, drinks and cosmetics.

Impressive statistics

The statistics are impressive. From a standing start fifteen years ago the organisation is now recognised spontaneously by 72% of the British public.

On the ground, where the movement has its greatest and most immediate effect on people's lives, over seven million people across Africa, Asia and South America already benefit from fair, responsible practices and principles.

Fair trade mosques, towns and schools ...

Did you know towns can achieve fair trade status? The first was Garstang in Lancashire, back in 2000.

Now there are more than 450 towns, 100 universities, 3000 or more schools, a whopping 5041 churches and synagogues and one fair trade mosque. Which means the message is reaching entire communities, not just individual consumers.

And it's obviously inspiring large groups of people from different backgrounds to embrace the future of our environments, and the people who live in them, more closely than ever before.

Going fair trade bananas!

Love bananas? One in four bananas sold in Britain are fair trade. In fact we're spending more on responsibly sourced goods than ever, a 5.5% increase on 2012 with several hundred million pounds spent every year.

You'll find fair trade goods on almost every conceivable kind of product, from hats, accessories and jewellery to salad bowls, glassware, shoes, chocolates, ceramics, furniture... the list really is endless.

No unfair exploitation

The trend is so strong that numerous dedicated businesses have been set up to sell goods that have been produced without exploiting people, animals or the environment. Once the territory of eccentrics and hippies, it has gone mainstream.

Along with natural products, organic produce, recycled wares, locally produced items with low transport miles and goods made sustainably, the movement is fast becoming one of the main drivers for UK consumers. And as demand grows, the choice is becoming even wider.

Ethical gifts come to the fore

It's only spring, but retailers are already making plans for Christmas 2013.

If the trend continues there's no doubt this year's festive season will prove a bumper time for the ethical gifts sector, whose portfolio of products is growing at a steady pace along with the well-being and happiness of millions upon millions of people, everywhere on the planet.

Here's to the next 21 years ... cheers!

For a comprehensive range of Fair Trade ethical gifts, visit Green Tulip, the UK's leading online eco gift shop.

Article Source:

Enhanced by Zemanta