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The Keystone XL pipeline is down, but not out

Green Blog - 5 hours 14 sec ago
After receiving a total of 59 votes in the Senate - 45 Republican, 14 Democratic - a bill that would approve Keystone XL came one vote shy of its needed support on Nov. 19, putting a stopper on the troubling project for now. The victory settled the nerves of environmentalists and spared President Obama the task of vetoing the legislation, as he was likely to have done. Though the GOP has vowed to renew the fight to push the project through, those who value the safety of nature and people, including indigenous groups throughout the U.S., can now celebrate a moment of triumph.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., staked her hopes of winning a fourth Senate term on the Keystone measure, engaging in frantic last-minute lobbying, especially trying to acquire the needed votes from her fellow Democrats - the majority of whom, alongside Obama, wholly oppose the bill. "I'm going to fight for the people of my state until the day that I leave," Landrieu claimed. Her efforts were seen by many as unwise, especially as her state - a long-embattled victim of Big Oil in its own right - had nothing to gain from the project's approval, as the pipeline would not go through Louisiana, and would thus create no jobs there. This is a particularly important point, as it rendered her statement rather hollow.

For the Republican Party's part, they will gain an additional eight or more Senate seats in 2015, and are expected to seize that opportunity next year to try and ram the legislation through once more. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who will become Senate Majority Leader in January, said, "I look forward to the new Republican majority taking up and passing the Keystone 'jobs bill' early in the New Year." The GOP's language surrounding the bill, which emphasizes job creation and support for working families, is alarmingly misleading, as several labor unions pointed out yesterday. This is because it will not generate the job numbers that Republicans suggest, and moreover, will pose a risk to the environment that most Democrats, and the President, agree is not worth taking. Nevertheless, the GOP will likely try again in January or February, and might even try and integrate the measure into a broader bill that Obama would find harder to veto.

Landrieu asked, "What is everybody upset about?" from the Senate floor on Nov. 18, adding, "We already have 2.6 million miles of pipe in America." But environmental activists and those affected by the oil industry have been answering that question since the project's inception back in 2008.

"If she wants this pipeline so badly, it can go through her front yard and not any one of ours," said Karthik Ganapathy, communications manager for environmental advocacy group 350 Action. "For somebody that had the Gulf oil spill and the devastation it brought to her state, she should understand how important it is that we don't have these types of environmental disasters," added Art Tanderup, a Nebraska farmer and member of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, a group uniting workers and Native Americans against the pipeline.

Environmental groups are excited about this temporary victory, but it is tempered by an ongoing sense of uncertainty. Still, many believe the President will make the right decision, despite Republican efforts to fight him tooth and nail on this issue. "Since day one, the decision on the Keystone XL pipeline has belonged to President Obama," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "And he has repeatedly said he will reject this pipeline if it contributes to the climate crisis. As there is no doubt that it does, we remain confident that is precisely what he'll do."
Categories: Ecological News

Climate agreement with China kills major rightwing argument against carbon curbs

Green Blog - 5 hours 15 min ago
During President Obama's visit to China, both countries announced a new climate change agreement that effectively takes away one of the right wing's major arguments against action to curb global warming.

For the first time, China has agreed to set a limit on the amount of greenhouse gases it will emit by 2030, increasing its reliance on renewable energy. This is significant for two reasons-one, China is now the largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, and two, the US government and conservatives have used China's previous unwillingness to set such limits as an excuse to avoid any and all binding targets on U.S. emissions. The U.S., as part of this agreement, sets ambitious goals for reductions in carbon pollution by 2025.

The bilateral agreement is also significant because it comes in advance of UN sponsored climate talks in Paris in the fall of 2015, aimed at forging a binding international treaty on climate change.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, notes both the historic nature of the agreement and also its limitations, in his commentary on Huffington Post. He points out that this agreement comes barely more than a month after the giant People's Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21. This massive outpouring set the pace for the upcoming struggles over environmental issues. He also notes that this agreement by itself is no reason to slow down or stop the mass struggle for more aggressive climate action.

And have no doubt that there will bee sharp struggles. Mitch McConnell, the likely new Senate majority leader in 2015, has already announced that he opposes the new deal; that he will oppose the efforts of the EPA to regulate new and existing power plant carbon pollution and that he places a high priority on Congress passing legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Some Democrats propose a vote to approve the Keystone pipeline during the lame duck session to boost the chances of Mary Landrieu winning re-election to the Senate from Louisiana.

The battles over climate change and other environmental issues will play a larger role in electoral and legislative struggles, and we can already see glimpses of splits in the ruling class. A new study confirms that the opposition by conservatives is not some kind of general rejection of science, it is a reaction against the steps needed to find solutions. That reinforces the points made author Naomi Klein in her new book, "This Changes Everything" that right-wing politicians recognize climate change as being a challenge to the capitalist system.

The new agreement will only escalate the intensity of right-wing opposition to any and all steps to tackle climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and all forms of carbon pollution. But it offers renewed hope for a serious international agreement to replace the expired Kyoto Accords.
Categories: Ecological News

Nature Wants Her Carbon Back

Navdanya Diary - 16 hours 57 min ago

by Larry Kopald – Huffington Post, 17 November 2014

Photo: ngkaki via Getty Images

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/larry-kopald/nature-wants-her-carbon-b_b_6173358.html

By looking down, things are looking up.

Here’s a little known fact about climate change: According to NOAA, if we could magically cut all current CO2 emissions worldwide to zero today (a feat even Merlin couldn’t achieve) it would do nothing to stop climate change from continuing to get worse for centuries. Unless we actually draw some of the carbon already emitted back down to earth we are simply telling a 400-pound patient to gain weight a little more slowly.

Amazingly, however, doing so may be significantly easier than reducing emissions. According to a steadily increasing number of studies, it turns out we can blow by the goal of slowing climate change and actually reverse it. While we’ve all been looking to the atmosphere and the amounts of CO2 we emit into it for the answer, the solution itself may be right under our feet. In the dirt.

According to the latest research from Ohio State University’s Rattan Lal, Texas A&M’s Richard Teague, IFOAM’s Andre Leu (as reported in the UN paper “Wake Up Before It’s Too Late” (UN) and the Rodale Institute anywhere from one-third to one-half of manmade CO2 in the atmosphere comes from industrial agriculture. That’s more than all the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels worldwide. How is it possible that with the entire planet focusing on reducing CO2 emissions we’re not even paying lip service to the single largest contributor? (Rodale)

But that’s only half of the story. To makes matters worse, industrial agriculture compounds the problem by preventing soil from reabsorbing that carbon, thus trapping it in the atmosphere.

To understand how, it’s important to remember a few simple facts: There is no waste in nature (she reuses everything); We don’t create carbon (we just move it from place to place); and, nature is literally dying to take back the excess carbon we put into the atmosphere and reuse it to grow us more stuff.

So why isn’t nature doing this? Turns out that our mistreatment of soil is preventing nature from doing what she does naturally and cycling carbon back from the atmosphere. We are literally disrupting the process of photosynthesis — where plants break CO2 molecules apart, release the oxygen and take the carbon underground — by killing the life that should exist in soil that needs that carbon. We do this by spraying it with chemicals, tilling and killing the latticework of fungi, and growing one plant in a field when nature needs variety the same way we need proteins and fats and fruits and vegetables to remain healthy.

Those same studies report that transforming even a small part of industrial agriculture land to healthier, regenerative methods can lead to sequestering more than 100% of current CO2 emissions in just three years. And everything the soil sequesters that’s above what we’re currently emitting will come from — you guessed it — the excess in the atmosphere. That means we are literally beginning to reverse climate change in just a few years. Re-open the pathways, draw down the carbon. (Drawdown)

But haven’t we been told we’ll all starve to death without industrial agriculture? Absolutely, and by some of the same people who tell us the science is still out on climate change. The science shows quite the opposite. In fact, regenerative farming yields are equal to industrial yields in normal weather, and superior to them in stress times of drought and flooding. So we’re not simply reversing climate change, we are creating more food, and more food security. (IFOAM Report)

Currently we have over 400 PPM of carbon in the atmosphere. We have been told we need to stay below 350 to maintain a livable planet. New data, however, report that every 1% of organic matter added to our farming and grazing soil reduces the PPM by 50. Studies have also shown that we could literally return the atmosphere to pre-Industrial Age conditions in as little as twenty years (Drawdown) — the Chinese government studies say it may be forty, but I’d take that deal happily.

The Industrial Revolution lead to explosions in human development, and Industrial Agriculture has enabled us to feed a population that went from one billion to over seven virtually overnight.

But now we know that an unintended consequence of how we fed those people is climate change. Just like it is with how we’ve produced energy. Fortunately, we also now know that we don’t need to continue to use these destructive techniques to feed and power the same amount of people.

Need more proof? Nature’s done this before. During the Cambrian period, and in other volcanic times, the earth saw levels of 600 to as much as 7,000 PPM. And every time, without humans messing up the process, the carbon was reabsorbed into the soil and created an explosion of plant growth. So think abundance, not starvation.

One final point — this is not a license to continue polluting and letting nature deal with it. It’s a gift of time. Time to transform into a carbon-neutral society while also dealing with climate change.

Nature wants to do this. In fact, nature needs to do this. If we let her the planet, and we humans, can all breathe easier.

For more information visit The Carbon Underground here.

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Armyworm resistance to GMO crops seen in U.S. -study

Navdanya Diary - Sat, 11/22/2014 - 06:16

by Carey Gillam – Reuters, 17 November 2014

Fall Armyworm – Photo: http://entomology.k-state.edu/images/corn-insects/fall-armyworm-larva-in-ear-of-corn-.jpg

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/17/agriculture-gmo-armyworms-idUSL2N0T719V20141117?irpc=932

Nov 17 (Reuters) – Crop-devouring armyworms are showing increasing resistance in some U.S. farm fields to a popular type of genetically modified crop that should kill them, scientists said on Monday.

The evolution of insect resistance “is a great threat” long- term to the sustainability of the GMO crop biotechnology that has become a highly valued tool for many U.S. farmers, according to Fangneng Huang, an entomologist at Louisiana State University (LSU) and lead researcher for a three-year study.

The study was published on Monday in the PLOS One online journal (www.plosone.org) for peer-reviewed research, after being presented at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting in Portland, Oregon.

The research documents resistance by fall armyworms in the southeastern United States to the Cry1F protein found in many corn products developed Dow AgroSciences and DuPont to fight off the destructive pests.

It is the latest evidence in recent years showing that insects are developing resistance to crops that have been genetically modified to kill them.

Like the “super weeds” that have developed resistance to glyphosate-based herbicide and make it harder for farmers to keep fields from being overrun with weeds, the armyworms are starting to devour corn crops that should repel them, said Dominic Reisig, an entomologist at North Carolina State University.

Armyworms can be a problem for farmers in many U.S. states, but the resistant armyworms have been documented only in some areas of Florida and North Carolina. The range of these resistant armyworms is unknown, researchers said.

They said farmers should plant more non-GMO corn as a refuge and possibly increase the use of pesticides to control the resistance.

Dow and DuPont did not respond to requests for comment.

The GMO corn at issue contains Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) genes. Bt corn, popular with farmers throughout the Americas, has been on the market roughly 18 years. Newer types of Bt corn with multiple modes of action are still showing effectiveness, Huang said.

“We don’t know how long they can last,” Huang said.

Researchers have also expressed concerns about Bt resistance in western corn rootworm.

The study was conducted by researchers from LSU, North Carolina State University, the University of Florida, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia.

Financial support came in part from USDA. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Dan Grebler)

                          
Categories: Ecological News

An open letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand

Navdanya Diary - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 08:41

BioThai Foundation, 30 October 2014

Source: http://www.biothai.net/node/24597*

An open letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand from concerned scientists and academics around the world regarding the open-field testing and commercialisation of genetically modified crops in Thailand

 
A recent attempt by the Thai government to consider allowing for an open-field testing and commercialisation of genetically modified (GM) seeds raises concerns from the Thai National Farmer Council and over thirteen civil society groups, including the Alternative Agriculture Network, the Confederation of Consumer Organisation, Thailand Organic Trade Association, Green Peace Southeast Asia, BioThai foundation, and many others. On the 30th of October 2014, this alliance of civil society groups submitted a letter to the Prime Minister of Thailand urging him to: 1) stop the government from permitting open-field testing of GM seeds until Thailand passes a Biosafety law which enforces accountability in the case of genetic contamination; 2) establish a national committee under the Thai National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) to develop a national strategy to promote sustainable agriculture and organic farming, involving representatives from stakeholders, especially farmer networks, grass-root and non-profit organisations, as well as related parties in the private sector. On the same day farmer groups and their allies also submitted letters voicing the same concerns and demands to Provincial Governors in eleven other Provinces across the country: Chiang Mai, Mahasarakham, Khon Kaen, Yasothon, Surin, Nakhon Sawan, Supanburi, Chachoengsao, Chantaburi, Songkhla, and Pattalung.

As concerned scientists and academics who specialise in the areas of biotechnology, agriculture, food, the environment and development, we support the campaign and urge the Thai government to consider accepting the two demands. Existing academic literature suggests that while it is unproven that genetically modified seeds are higher yielding, there are causes to be extremely concerned by genetically modified crops’ negative ecological, social, health, and economic impact. Under the current intellectual property rights system which allows for monopoly control over genetically modified seeds, farmers may be forced to pay inflated-prices for these patent seeds, not to mention that Thailand risks losing export markets as there is a growing global consumer trend which rejects GM crops. The threat of negative environmental impact and risks of contamination also suggest that genetically modified crops will undermine Thailand’s potential to further develop sustainable agricultural practices such as organic farming.

Since Thailand is a net-exporter of food and an extensive source of biodiversity, possible negative impact from the introduction of GM seeds is a serious concern shared by the global community. We strongly urge the Thai government to withhold its endorsement of GM seeds, and to consider supporting other promising technologies such as marker-assisted plant breeding and agro-ecological production methods. Under the current global context of climate change and food security concerns, research and expansion of ecologically sustainable production should be encouraged by the state.

Yours sincerely,

 

1) Dr. Vandana Shiva : physicist, ecologist, winner of the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology and Navdanya

2) Dr. Tony Weis : Associate Professor, Department of Geography, The University of Western Ontario, Canada, as well as author of The Global Food Economy: The Battle for the Future of Farming (Zed, 2007)

3) Dr. Michel Pimbert : Director of the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, (CAWR), Coventry University, UK

4) Dr. Michael Antoniou : Head of the Gene Expression and Therapy Group, Faculty of Life Sciences, UK

5) Dr. John Fagan : Professor of Molecular Biology, Department of Physiology and Health, Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA

6) Dr. Carlo Leifert : Professor for Ecological Agriculture, Newcastle University, and Academic Director of Stockbridge Technology Centre, Cawood, Selby, UK

7) Dr. Vyvyan Howard : Emeritus Professor of Nano Systems Biology, Centre for Molecular Bioscience, University of Ulster and Managing Director of QuanToxPath Ltd, Coleraine, UK

8) Dr. Nora McKeon : Lecturer at Rome Three University, Italy. She ormerly held a position in the FAO, author of various books such asStrengthening Dialogue with People’s Movements: UN experience with small farmer platforms and Indigenous Peoples (with Carol Kalafatic, UN NGLS 2009)

9) Professor Peter Newell : Professor of International Relations at the University of Sussex, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange (School of Global Studies), UK

10) Dr. Thierry Vrain : former genetic engineer and soil biologist with Agriculture Canada and former supporter of GM crops who now promotes awareness of their possible danger

11) Dr. Steffen Boehm : Director of the Essex Sustainability Institute, University of Essex, UK

12) Dr. Robin Broad : Professor of International Development, School of International Service, American University, Washington, DC, USA

13) Dr. Philip McMichael : Leading scholar in the field of global agricultural and food system and chair of the department of development sociology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, USA

14) Lim Li Ching : Third World Network and Senior Fellow with the Oakland Institute, USA. Co-editor of the book Biosafety First and lead author in the East and South Asia and the Pacific (ESAP) sub-global report of the International Assessment on Agricultural Science, Technology and Knowledge for Development (IAASTD) (2009)

15) Dr. Megan Blake : senior lecturer and director of the MA in Food Security and Food Justice programme, department of geography, University of Sheffield, UK

16) Dr. Peter Drahos : Professor in Law and the Director of the Centre for the Governance of Knowledge and Development in the Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet), College of Asia and the Pacific, at the Australian National University, Canberra. He also holds a chair in Intellectual Property at Queen Mary, University of London.

17) Dr. Tushar Chakraborty : Member of Governing Body & EC, State Council of Biotechnolgy , Government of West Bengal and Principal Scientist & Molecular Geneticist, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, India

18) Professor Terje Traavik : Special Consultant, GenØk-Centre for Biosafety, Norway and Professor Emeritus of Gene Ecology and of Virology, Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT – the Arctic University of Norway

19) Dr. Frøydis Gillund : Researcher, GenØk – Centre for Biosafety, Norway

20) Dr. Ben Richardson : Associate Professor in International Political Economy, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, and author of Sugar: Refined Power in a Global Regime (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

21) Dr. Raj Patel, research professor at the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, USA, and author of various books including Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System

22) Prof. Dr. Joan Martinez-Alier : Professor of Economics and researcher at ICTA, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, Spain and author of Ecological Economics: Energy, Environment and Society (1990)

 

* The names are chronologically ordered and the most updated list of names can be found at www.biothai.org.It should also be noted that the views expressed by these individuals do not necessarily reflect the views of their institutional affiliations.

Photos by Greenpeace Thailand

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Vandana Shiva Talks Food, Inspires Slow Money Crowd

Navdanya Diary - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 07:30

Flour Sack Mama, 19 November 2014

Source: http://floursackmama.com/2014/11/vandana-shiva-talks-food-inspires-slow-money-crowd.html

Should shoppers be able to make informed decisions at the grocery store?  Should farmers be able to save seeds for next year’s planting?  Should we all have more local agricultural choices?  The globe’s widely traveled environmental spokeswoman, Vandana Shiva, who calls India home, says we should. Shiva spoke to Slow Money members at their annual gathering in Louisville, Kentucky, cautioning about GMO foods and promoting what she calls food democracy.

“Democratizing the seed supply is so important!” Shiva told the crowd gathered for a Slow Money workshop on GMOs moderated by the Center for Food Safety’s Debbie Barker.  With a doctorate in particle physics and an interest in preserving a way of life for her homeland, Shiva has spent decades studying the science behind GMOs or genetically modified organisms.  She notes they could more accurately be called genetically engineered crops because they are engineered unnaturally in a laboratory with a gene gun, very different from the plant breeding farmers have always done.

“This mix of genes hasn’t been assessed for safety,” Shiva stated.  She went on to explain, “Before genetic engineering, you could not patent a plant. With genetic engineering, the companies say ‘we have invented something new and therefore we are the makers, the owners, creators.’ This, of course, is so inconsistent with the argument being used that a genetically engineered organism is like a non-genetically engineered organism, an assumption called substantial equivalence that is totally cooked up.” Shiva founded the organization Navdanya to protect biological and cultural diversity, making efforts to help farmers save seeds and resist the global transition to a few GMO crops whose seeds they’re not even allowed to save.

GMO crops are being created to make their own pesticide or to withstand heavier and heavier doses of pesticides, which creates concerns for human health, water quality and destruction of fertile soil. Leaders from top environmental and sustainable farming groups listened to the experiences Shiva tells of trying to preserve farm life in India.  She advocates for the return to a more peaceful, nurturing approach to agriculture than what happens in most conventional farming.   At her later keynote speech, Shiva suggested, “I think we need to join our campaigns on GMOs, poisons and pesticides and make them one to get all poisons out of our food system. They didn’t belong there and they should now be removed. That would be the real peacemaking with the planet and our bodies.”

Intl. Programs Director Debbie Barker with Center for Food Safety – Environmentalist, author, Navdanya founder Vandana Shiva

Similar to what Navdanya is doing in India, the Center for Food Safety is standing up for diverse, sustainable food systems.  It not only promotes organic food systems, but it advocates for strong organic standards and consumer protections.  Barker stated during the GMO panel succinctly, “we have a broken food and agricultural system.”  Barker serves as International Programs Director for CFS.

Many who attended the Slow Money conference are entrepreneurs, investors and nonprofit executives who met to discuss the future of food in all its complexities.  However, the Flour Sack Mama blog asked Shiva to speak to the parents out there who simply think they can’t afford to question what’s in low-priced supermarket food.  She encouraged everyone, even if on food stamps (SNAP) to try shopping at the farmers’ market and to pay attention to the quality of food, especially in light of so many chronic health problems occurring in American children.

The scientist who could explain what happens in the laboratory is herself a mother, talking about weaning her child on millet, one of many ancient grains she argues must be preserved in a diverse farming system.  At Navdanya she’s been working on fair trade issues for Indian farmers, trying to preserve their way of life and their dignity.  She lamented, “What the crisis of agriculture and food is reflecting is a crisis in the human condition.” Shiva even talked to the Slow Money crowd about being mindful of what we put on our plate each day. “Every meal, every planting, every season, every harvest has to become the sowing of earth democracy and through it the sowing of food democracy.”

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise detained in Spain following oil protest

Green Blog - Thu, 11/20/2014 - 00:52
The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation in Spain has detained the Arctic Sunrise, a ship operated by Greenpeace International, while an investigation is completed into the peaceful anti-oil drilling protest, which took place in the waters off Canary Islands this past weekend. The protest was violently stopped by the Spanish Navy – resulting in the injuries of two Greenpeace activists.

“The detention of the Arctic Sunrise violates the rights of all people who strive to defend the environment,” said Mario Rodriguez, director of Greenpeace Spain, in a statement. “It’s telling that the Spanish Government would so quickly support the interests of an oil company, Repsol, against a peaceful environmental organisation which stands alongside millions of people who oppose reckless oil exploration.”

An investigation has been launched by the Spanish government against the captain of the Arctic Sunrise, for an alleged “infringement against marine traffic rules”, which is punishable with a fine of up to €300,000. Pending this investigation, Spanish authorities have ordered the ship to be detained until a €50,000 bond is paid. Fortunately, the captain and crew have not been detained.

In a statement, Greenpeace says they find this response “to a peaceful protest against dangerous oil drilling” to be both “unnecessary and disproportionate.”

This incident is sure to bring up bad memories. Just six months ago, the Arctic Sunrise was released by Russian authorities after a nine month long detention for an attempted protest against a Gazprom oil rig. Two freelance journalists and 28 Greenpeace activists were arrested at gunpoint in the Russian Arctic and had to spend three months in jail before being granted amnesty.
Categories: Ecological News

India-US deal on food security in WTO: Postponing the search for a permanent solution

Ground Reality - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 21:42
Just a few weeks back, as the Maharashtra Assembly election results poured in, Uddhav Thakre knew the crucial role Shiv Sena will play in the formation of the Maharashtra government. It was being presumed that Uddhav Thakre would be the next deputy Chief Minister in the new coalition government.
But the moment NCP announced unconditional support to the BJP, Shiv Sena lost the plot. Uddhav Thakre’s bargaining power was reduced to zero. Shiv Sena now sits in the Opposition.
You will ask me why am I narrating from the Maharashtra’s political theatre that the nation has already been a witness to when I am trying to understand the reasons behind all the enthusiasm that has been generated with India managing to seal the deal on food security with the United States at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). As we read in the newspapers, the deadlock over the signing of the landmark Trade  Facilitation Agreement has been broken with India and the US claiming to have “successfully resolved” their differences on the issue of minimum support price to Indian farmers.
Let’s first try to understand what has been achieved. Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitaraman said: “We are happy that India and US have successfully resolved their differences related to the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes at WTO in a manner that addresses our concerns.” At the same time, the minister announced that show would not be making any information publicly available before it is presented to the WTO General Council scheduled to meet on Dec 10-11.
If accepted by the General Council, the bilateral agreement will pave the way for the launch of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) which aims at making simple the cumbersome custom processes, reducing costs and administrative charges in moving goods across countries, thereby making imports quick and easy. This is where the commercial interest of the rich developed countries lie and all out efforts therefore were to bypass India’s objections on first finding a permanent solution to its food security concerns.
To put it simply, the impasse over the multi-billion dollar opening that is expected once the TFA comes into force is now removed. The TFA will come into existence, latest by mid-2015, once all the diplomatic formalities are completed.
India has therefore managed to postpone the permanent solution it was looking for to the vexed issue of paying adequate food prices to its 600 million farmers which is directly linked to ensuring food security for 840 million poor people. But more importantly, like the fate of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra Assembly, India too has lost the bargaining power in the international trade forum.  
The international desperation to finding a solution to India’s concern over food security was directly linked to the launching of Trade Facilitation Agreement. But once the TFA comes into existence, India’s defiant stand on protecting its food subsidies will get dissipated.
I am not saying that what India has managed to wrest from the US is not quite a step forward. After all, the Peace Clause – the period in which no member country can challenge India’s food subsidies at the Dispute Panel – has been extended from the originally agreed period of four years at the Bali WTO Ministerial in Dec 2013 to an indefinite period until a permanent solution regarding this issue has been agreed and accepted. In other words, India can go on paying farmers a minimum support price regardless of the WTO condition of keeping it within the 10 per cent permissible limit allowed as part of the Aggregate Measure of Support under the Agreement on Agriculture.
For the time being it means the US has stepped down from its arrogance and double standards in protecting the massive subsidies that it pays to its minuscule farming population but challenging the subsidy support India or for that matter other developing countries give to their small and marginal farmers constituting bulk of the farming populations. But this may perhaps be because of the larger economic interest for the US that presently lies in aggressively pushing for its exports in the developing countries. As former WTO Director General Pascal Lamy had once remarked: “For all practical purposes, the TFA will for all practical purposes mean lowering the import tariffs in developing countries by another 10 per cent.”
Nirmala Sitaraman has acknowledged that the India-US deal will end the impasse at the WTO and open the way for the implementation of trade facilitation agreement. Since the issue of food security was linked to the approval for trade facilitation agreement, I would have thought the best option for India was to find a permanent solution before making any commitment on signing the trade facilitation treaty. Now with the bargaining power gone, India may not get what it wanted. A sword of Damocles will continue to hang whether we like it or not.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had demonstrated political astuteness by standing firm on India’s question of seeking a permanent solution to its food security concerns by refusing to endorse trade facilitation by July 31. The deadline was breached and India was accused of stalling the international trade negotiations. But Prime Minister stood his ground, and rightly so. He in fact remarked that it was important for him to protect the national interests rather than look for some articles in the foreign media applauding him for going with the global stream.
The issue at stake is the minimum support price that India pays to its farmers. According to WTO, India is allowed to provide a maximum of 10 per cent of the total value of a crop as minimum support price. In case rice, against the permissible limit of 10 per cent, India provides 24 per cent. In case of wheat, it is fast approaching the 10 per cent deadline. Indian price support to farmers is actually hurting the commercial interests of US agricultural exporters. Nearly 33 such export federations are pressuring the US government not to allow any further rise in MSP for Indian farmers. They are keen that Indian farmers will be forced to get out of agriculture once farming become economically viable thereby turning India into a major food importing country. #

Categories: Ecological News

U.S. Senate rejects Keystone XL approval bill by a narrow margin

Green Blog - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 20:26
The U.S. Senate has rejected a bill that would allow the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to be completed. The bill was rejected by a narrow margin, with 59 yes votes and 41 no votes. The bill would have needed 60 votes to pass.

The Keystone XL pipeline is an extremely controversial project. If constructed, the pipeline will transport dirty oil from the tar sands in Western Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands is considered to be the world’s most polluting fuel and its production process is highly energy-intensive and causes widespread environmental damage. Besides wrecking the climate, environmentalists also claim that the pipeline would be a danger to local ecosystems and pollute water sources along the way it’s built. NASA climate scientist, James Hansen has said that the pipeline will be “game over for the planet.”

Proponents of the bill has said that the pipeline will generate thousands of jobs and secure U.S. energy independence. But critics say these claims are overstated and that the pipeline would bring no energy independence, no cheap gas and no lasting jobs.

Environmental organisations are now calling for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL project once and for all.

“The bill would have turned Congress into a permitting authority, overriding environmental law, and giving a green light to a pipeline project that would worsen climate change and threaten water quality,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “The Senate did the right thing to reject the misguided bill, and now the president should do the right thing and reject the pipeline.”

“Since Keystone XL has always been President Obama’s decision, this vote was never anything more than an empty gesture of political theatre,” 350.org Executive Director May Boeve said. “Rather than letting Congress continue to pantomime for Big Oil, President Obama should step up and reject this dirty tar sands pipeline once and for all.“

This vote does not mean the end for the Keystone XL project. Republicans, who will control both chambers of the new Congress from January, has promised to re-examine the project and put it up for a vote once more.
Categories: Ecological News

USA – New Report Finds Farmers Harmed by Decline in Nation’s Public Seed Supply

Navdanya Diary - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 07:20

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, 31 October 2014

Source: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/2014-seeds-breeds-proceedings/

Everything starts with seeds. Whether you’re an organic farmer looking for seeds that will work with your specific organic growing practices or looking for wheat varieties adapted to your specific growing climate, seeds are the foundation of every piece of food we put on our plate and central to everything crop farmers do.

The continued growth of sustainable and organic agriculture and local, healthy food systems across the country – along with farmers’ ability to meet the challenges of climate change and food security – depends on this critical first building block.

That’s why NSAC is very excited about a much-anticipated analysis of the state of our country’s plant and animal breeding infrastructure and seed supply that was released today, marking the first such analysis in over ten years. The proceedings from the Summit on Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture were published today by the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), a farmer-based non-profit organization based in Pittsboro, NC and an NSAC member group.

In the proceedings, RAFI and other key stakeholders within the agricultural research community express their increased concerns about farmers’ limited access to seed, the narrowing of our country’s agricultural plant and animal genetic diversity, consolidation within the seed industry, the decline in public cultivar development (i.e. developing new crop varieties for the public good that can continue to be shared and improved by farmers and researchers), and how these trends are impacting farmers’ abilities to confront the unprecedented challenges of climate change and global food security.

There has been a steady decline in our nation’s public investment in public sector breeding programs housed primarily within our nation’s land grant university system and USDA research facilities. Over the past 20 years alone, we have lost over a third of our country’s public plant breeding programs. This slow atrophy of public funding to support improved plant varieties means that farmers have been left with fewer and fewer seed choices over the years and are ill-prepared to meet 21st century needs.

For example, farmers in many regions of the country currently rely on seeds that were bred for other regions of the country or that no longer meet changing climatic growing conditions and pest and disease pressures. Without renewed funding for the development of publicly available plant varieties, our farmers will be at a competitive disadvantage and struggle to meet the future challenges related to climate change and food security, and less able to take advantage of economic opportunities within the value-added, artisanal, organic, and local and regional food markets.

Key Findings On Our Seed Supply

The report released today outlines seven major challenges that have contributed to the decline in the supply of publicly available and regionally adapted seed varieties and animal breeds. Click here for a downloadable PDF of the key findings. These key findings include:

  • Shrinking Public Funding For Developing Better Seeds – Federal funding has been the lifeblood of public breeding programs that develop new, improved seed varieties and animal breeds, but funding has declined steeply. This has decimated breeding infrastructure and capacity at our academic research institutions, meaning we have fewer people actually doing the research to develop new publicly available varieties that farmers can use.
  • Fewer Seeds Means Less Biodiversity And Resiliency – As fewer crop varieties are developed and offered by commercial seed companies, farmers have been left with fewer seed choices. Fewer seed varieties in the public marketplace translates into less biodiversity on our nation’s farms. This makes our entire food production system more vulnerable to disease, pests and climate change – and means farmers struggle to access the best-adapted seeds for different regions.
  • Concentrated Seed Ownership Limits Farmer And Consumer Choice – A handful of giant chemical companies control more and more of our nation’s seed stocks (“germplasm collections”) and breeding infrastructure – and, in turn, controls our current and future seed supply. They focus on seeds they can sell the most of, big acreage commodities such as soybeans, and neglect crops with a smaller market like small grains, fruits and vegetables, organic crops, cover crops, and regionally adapted grain and oilseed varieties of major commodities. Three firms now control over more than half of the global seed market, up from 22 percent in 1996.
  • Restrictive Patents Prevent Seed Sharing And Strip Farmers Of Control – Big seed companies use restrictive patents and licensing agreements to restrict the use of the seeds they develop. This means farmers often can’t save or share their own seeds with other farmers, and even other plant breeders have trouble improving seeds bred by others. This means farmers and researchers have fewer choices for the seeds they can use, share, and improve.
  • Almost No Public Seed Developers Are Left – The number of professionals who develop seeds and breeds – public breeders – continues to decline, and universities and public institutions are losing ground on training future professionals who will be needed to address the needs of the next generation of American farmers and ranchers. For example, there are only five public corn breeders left, down from a peak of 25 in the 1960s.
  • Few Regional Partnerships – There is a need for new and innovative partnerships to address more regionalized and farmer-driven approaches to developing new varieties that meet the needs of farmers in responding to growing markets and challenges.
  • Aging Seed Storage Systems Mean The Loss Of Public Seed ‘Brain Trust’ Forever – Our country’s public seed stocks are stored in “germplasm collections” that have been critically under-funded and under-staffed, forcing triage decision-making regarding which seeds will be kept up to date and viable for planting. Every seed we fail to preserve represents a loss of that genetic diversity forever, and this diversity may hold the answer to future challenges the next generation of farmers will face.

Next Steps for Action

In response to these mounting challenges, the proceedings put forth the following key recommendations for action in order to revitalize public breeding programs and begin to make progress in getting new varieties out to farmers. These recommendations are also available as a downloadable PDF.

  • National Plan to Restore Funding and Capacity – Develop a comprehensive national plan to restore funding and institutional capacity and support for public breeding programs at our nation’s land grant institutions.
  • Encourage Biodiversity for Resilience – Address the vulnerability of our agricultural systems by encouraging and rewarding agro-biodiversity on farms and in our commercial seed choices, in order to increase resilience against shifting and unpredictable climatic conditions and ensure farmers can choose well-adapted seeds.
  • Increase Seed Availability for Farmer Choice – Empower farmers to save and share their seeds, encourage the development of more independent regional seed companies who can help farmers respond to local and regional market demand and climate conditions, and address the negative impacts of consolidation and concentration in the ownership of seeds, including the enforcement of antitrust laws.
  • Reform Patent and Licensing Laws – Increase farmer and researcher access to and innovation in the development of improved varieties, and take steps to reverse the negative impacts of utility patents and restrictive licenses.
  • Expand the Number of Current and Future Breeders – Increase the number of public breeders in each U.S. climatic region with a focus on renewed institutional capacity to support the next generation of public plant breeders.
  • Create Innovative Partnerships to Spur Innovation – Develop new partnerships and models to address more regionalized and participatory approaches that more deeply involve farmers in the breeding process.
  • Democratize Access to Seeds for Public Benefit – Strengthen our country’s seed storage systems (public germplasm collection and storage) by revitalizing long-term funding to protect this critical ‘brain trust’ of seeds and increasing germplasm access and sharing at both the national and international level.
  • Increase Public Awareness of the Importance of Seeds – Develop a national campaign to educate the public and policymakers on the values and benefits of public plant breeding and linkages to climate change, dangers of genetic uniformity, role of public investments, demands for nutritious and local foods, and the need for regionally adapted seeds.

Summit Background

The proceedings released today capture the discussion from a two-day summit held in Washington, DC in March 2014. The summit brought together over 35 breeders, researchers, farmers, academics, and representatives of germplasm banks and non-profit organizations to discuss the state of our nation’s seed supply and develop recommendations for reinvigorating public breeding research and increasing seed availability in the country.

“The challenges we face in our U.S. and global food systems urgently require us to shift our focus toward building greater resilience into our agricultural systems,” says Michael Sligh, the Just Foods Program Director with the Rural Advancement Foundation International. “Our current systems are too genetically uniform and have far too short cropping rotations – thus leaving our agricultural systems very vulnerable.”

The proceedings include eight scientific papers authored by well-known breeders and researchers in the field, including Bill Tracy, a sweet corn breeder with the University of Wisconsin; Major Goodman, a corn breeder with North Carolina State University; Michael Mazourek, a vegetable breeder with Cornell University; David Ellis, the head of the Genebank Unit at the International Potato Center in Peru; and Charles Brummer, the Senior Vice President Director of Forage Improvement at the Noble Foundation.

The former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, also presented a paper discussing the unique opportunities for galvanizing public and political support for this issue.

NSAC and RAFI are both members of the Seeds and Breeds for 21st Century Agriculture Coalition, a collaborative that advocates for increased support for public sector plant and animal breeding research.

Both the full report and an executive summary are available for free download online.

Stay tuned for future blog posts in this series as NSAC delves into the importance of seeds to sustainable and organic farming, access to local and healthy food, biodiversity and food security, and climate change.

                          
Categories: Ecological News

The U.S. Congress could pass pro Keystone XL bill today

Green Blog - Wed, 11/19/2014 - 00:00
It has become the defining environmental battle in the US. And on Friday the Republicans fresh from the midterm elections victory voted on a bill directing the Obama Administration to direct the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project. It was comfortably passed. Today the bill will be voted on in the Senate and if approved it will land on Obama’s table where he would be expected to veto it. In the last week Obama has made the strongest signals yet that he is against the pipeline when he questioned how many jobs it would actually create and if Americans would actually see any benefit of the extra oil.



Advocates of the pipeline claim that it will create growth and thousands of jobs while making US more energy independent, while the opposition, such as former NASA scientist James Hansen and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben claims it will be game over for the climate if the pipeline were to be built. Opponents also say that it actually won’t create a lot of jobs, only 35 permanent jobs and Americans would not benefit from it as the oil it is transporting will be shipped to China and other Asian markets from Texas refineries. Below video released by the Sierra Club explains why they insist the pipeline is such a bad idea.



The Senate vote will also show how much Democratic support Obama has for his environmental policies. The Democrats still control the Senate and will do so until January when it will be Republican controlled. If all Democrats vote against the bill, it will be defeated easily but it is expected to be a lot closer meaning some Democrats will support the bill. One such Democrat is Mary Landrieu, who as a Keystone XL supporter, is expected to vote for the bill. Landrieu is currently locked in an election battle as her Louisiana seat was too close to call at the midterms election and will face a runoff election against Republican Bill Cassidy on the 6th December who sponsored the pro Keystone XL bill.

On Monday protesters gathered outside Landrieu’s house in protest against her stance on the pipeline:



While Obama has said he would use his veto power should the Senate approve the bill, it is clearly a risk that environmentalists does not want to take. Furthermore it could showcase cracks in the Democratic party.

We will post the result of the Senate vote here when available.
Categories: Ecological News

Bill McKibben: The IPCC still underestimates the situation

Green Blog - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 23:17
Bill McKibben, Co-founder of 350.org and – dare I say it – one of the most famous climate activist, has given his opinion about the latest IPCC assessment report on climate change. In the text, which was published in The Guardian, McKibben says that scientists have given us the clearest warning of the dangers of global warming yet.

“At this point, the scientists who run the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change must feel like it’s time to trade their satellites, their carefully calibrated thermometers and spectrometers, their finely tuned computer models – all of them for a thesaurus. Surely, somewhere, there must be words that will prompt the world’s leaders to act.

This week, with the release of their new synthesis report, they are trying the words “severe, widespread, and irreversible” to describe the effects of climate change – which for scientists, conservative by nature, falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola. It’s hard to imagine how they will up the language in time for the next big global confab in Paris.”

McKibben warns (and rightfully so) that the IPCC documents “almost certainly underestimates the actual severity of” climate change and the situation we're in.

And this is important to know. The IPCC operates on consensus among the member nations of the United Nations, which means that the words chosen in documents and reports from the IPCC will undoubtedly reflect political compromises. Another problem is that the IPCC’s reports are based on science that is already several years old. David Spratt, an Australia-based climate blogger, pointed out just this for Al Jazeera. “The cutoff date is three to four years before it’s published, meaning this report is the extent of climate science in 2010 — and a number of things have happened since then,” Spratt said. McKibben writes that “it’s a particular problem with sea level rise, since the current IPCC document does not even include the finding in May that the great Antarctic ice sheets have begun to melt. (The studies were published after the IPCC’s cutoff date.)” As such, the IPCC reports should be viewed as conservative estimates and statements of climate change.

Despite this, McKibben says that we should continue to fight for climate action and that a lot of progress have been made – although we need to do much more.

“Breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry won’t be easy, especially since it has to happen fast. It has to happen, in fact, before the carbon we’ve unleashed into the atmosphere breaks the planet. I’m not certain we’ll win this fight – but, thanks to the IPCC, no one will ever be able to say they weren’t warned.”
Categories: Ecological News

Naomi Klein: "Only mass social movements can save us"

Green Blog - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 03:11
Despite endless conferences, treaties and solemn promises, greenhouse gas emissions have risen 61% since 1990, and the rate of increase is accelerating. As Naomi Klein tells us in her new book, This Changes Everything, we are now experiencing an “early twenty-first century emissions explosion.”

The reason for this ominous failure, she shows, is that the present capitalist profit system itself is incompatible with climate and environmental stability. Our only hope is the rise of mass movements with the combined goals of saving the environment and achieving social justice.

This Changes Everything is a rich resource of fact and argument: it’s a book that every climate justice activist should read, use and share.

‘The Right is right’

Klein begins with a 2011 conference of prominent and well-financed U.S. climate deniers, whose main objection, she discovered, was not to the science of global warming but to the radical implications of actions to rein it in. Such measures require “heavy-duty interventions: sweeping bans on polluting activities, deep subsidies for green alternatives…. Everything, in short, that these think tanks … have been busily attacking for decades.” For many conservatives, she adds, quoting Australian scholar Robert Manne, climate science is “an affront to their deepest and most cherished basic faith: the capacity and indeed the right of ‘mankind’ to subdue the Earth and all its fruits and to establish a ‘mastery’ over nature.”

These hard-core rightist ideologues, Klein concludes, understand the significance of climate change better than most of those in the political center, “who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless.”

The free market trumps climate

Mainstream political leaders like Barack Obama and (grudgingly) Stephen Harper, acknowledge the climate crisis and tell us they are responding to it. For 35 years they have claimed to be working to reduce carbon emissions. Klein leads off her extended analysis of their record – and that of their allies among pro-establishment environmental NGOs – by describing the devastating impact of the trade treaties that now bind the governments of all major states.

“Green energy programs – the strong ones that are needed to lower global emissions fast – [are] increasingly being challenged under international trade agreements,” Klein says. Major powers are launching lawsuits against each other’s wind and solar energy programs citing the provisions in these plans encouraging local sourcing of green energy equipment.

The U.S. has launched such suits against India, challenging its ambitious solar energy program, and against China, over wind power. And yet, with brazen hypocrisy, Washington denounces China and India at the United Nations for not doing enough to cut emissions, claiming this as an excuse for U.S. inaction.

The people of Ontario fell victim to such an attack, Klein notes. The province’s climate action plan, the Green Energy Act, created 31,000 jobs in the local solar and wind power industry between 2009 and 2014, but when it was challenged by the European Union and Japan as a violation of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, “the province wasted little time in nixing the local content rules.”

The renewable energy programs in question represent the governments’ attempts, inadequate to be sure, to carry out promises made during world climate negotiations. Yet they are being snuffed out by these same governments on the basis of trade treaties.

“The trade and climate negotiations closely paralleled one another, each winning landmark agreements within a couple of years.” World Trade Organization negotiations concluded in 1994; the Kyoto protocol on reducing carbon emissions was adopted three years later. The treaties are two solitudes — each seemed to “actively pretend that the other did not exist.”

Yet it was clear from the start which treaty would prevail in case of conflict. The Kyoto protocol “effectively functioned on the honour system,” while the WTO agreement was “enforced by a dispute settlement system with real teeth,” often enforcing harsh penalties.

Thus asymmetry was built in from the start: trade deals were the foundation of the new “globalized” world order, while climate agreements have been little more than public relations exercises.

Globalization’s dirty underside

The trade system has other less obvious but more damaging climate impacts. Food production, for example, accounts for between 19% and 29% of world carbon emissions but the treaties have “helped to entrench and expand the energy-intensive, higher-emissions model of industrial agriculture around the world.”

Similarly, the massive shift of manufacturing to low-wage less-developed countries, with inefficient energy industries, has led to an increase in emissions. Swedish researcher Andreas Malm points to “a causal link between the quest for cheap and disciplined labor power and rising CO2 emissions.”

Significantly, climate agreements measure emissions in the country where products are manufactured, not where they are consumed. Thus about half of China’s carbon emissions are export-related. By outsourcing, rich countries have in effect exported their emissions.

Betrayed by Big Green

Unfortunately some major environmental groups supported the new trade deals. When the NAFTA treaty was debated in the early 1990s, a strong coalition of unions and environmental groups rallied to lead a massive opposition to the deal, and “for a time it even looked as if they would win.” At that point, proponents of the deal tacked on two “toothless” side agreements, one for labor and one for environmentalists.

“The labor movement knew better than to fall for this ploy,” Klein says, but leaders of many large environmental organizations capitulated. Some groups held firm, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Sierra Club, but U.S. President Bill Clinton was still able to claim that “groups representing 80% of national [environmental] group membership have endorsed NAFTA.”

Klein devotes many pages to a much-needed exposé of Big Green, the conservative environmental groups. Over time, she demonstrates, many NGOs and foundations fell under the domination of the extractive corporations whose power they were set up to contest, and now contribute to greenwashing oil-industry operations. The Nature Conservancy, for example, partners with BP and JP Morgan in fracking development, and has even drilled its own gas well in the middle of one of its Texas nature preserves.

Toward solidarity-based trade

“It is not too late for a new kind of climate movement to take up the fight against so-called free trade,” Klein says, calling for transfer of resources and green technology to developing countries and measures to support, not penalize renewable energy.

She could also have pointed to the success of mass hemisphere-wide opposition in quashing the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), one of the most dangerous of these schemes, a movement in which she played a prominent role. Although she doesn’t mention it, that campaign contributed to the formation of what might be called the anti-FTAA, a trade and cultural alliance based on solidarity – the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), which includes Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Klein criticizes the dependence of majority-indigenous Bolivia on exports generated by extractive industries. However, as Klein herself says elsewhere of many indigenous peoples’ deals with extractive industries, they face “a paucity of good choices”; at present extraction may be essential to maintenance of sovereignty. Westerners who want poverty-stricken natives to swear off extraction for the world’s sake must ask, she says, “What are we going to do for them?”

Despite their poverty, some ALBA nations have registered significant climate achievements, such as Nicaragua’s program to produce 70% of its electricity by renewable energy. Indeed, ALBA’s very existence is step forward along the path Klein outlines.

Stranded assets

The sense of unreality surrounding world climate negotiations is reinforced by Klein’s observations on oil and gas corporations’ balance sheets. To maintain stable share prices, Klein notes, these companies must demonstrate that they have sufficient untapped reserves to replace current wells when their production declines. “It is this structural imperative that is pushing the industry into the most extreme forms of dirty energy,” she says.

Currently, the total amount of carbon in oil, gas, and coal reserves is valued at about $27 trillion – more than half again as much as the annual GDP of the United States. How much of that can be burned without launching the world into uncontrollable global warming? The best available estimates cited by Klein indicate that 80% of fossil fuel reserves – worth roughly $20 trillion – must be left in the ground if the currently accepted goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius is to be achieved.

Alternative sources of energy are available – that’s not the problem. The “loss” of these fossil fuel resources will make life better, not worse – that’s not the problem either.

The problem, Klein says, is that “we need to keep large, extremely profitable pools of carbon in the ground – resources that the fossil fuel companies are fully intending to extract.” The $20 trillion in unusable fossil fuel reserves is written into corporate balance sheets as “assets” and sustains their share value. Oil company executives defend not the public but their shareholders’ wealth – which means defending their ‘right’ to extract without limit.

To this end, corporations mobilize their immense wealth and social influence to block any move to reduce the burning of their product – fossil fuels. Under their influence, when governments act at all, it is to encourage use of renewable energy rather than to restrain the rise of carbon emissions. The oil industry and its many corporate allies have maintained a blockade against measures to rein in rising emissions for 25 years and are in no mood to change course.

A troubling imperative

Averting climate disaster, Klein tells us, “will mean forcing some of the most profitable companies on the planet to forfeit trillions of dollars of future earnings by leaving the vast majority of proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground. It will also require coming up with trillions more to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.” And these radical measures must be taken “democratically and without a bloodbath.” This means we must oppose unfettered capitalism –the profit-based economic and social system that wages war on our climate.

This requirement poses a question that Klein finds troubling. When has there ever been a transformation that intruded on capitalist property to such an extent – moreover, a change “demanded from below, by regular people, when leaders have wholly abdicated their responsibilities”? In the West, she says, the transformative social movements have been for human rights – for blacks, women, gays, she says. “But the legal and cultural battles were always more successful than the economic ones.”

As a precedent, she points to the movement in the nineteenth century to abolish slavery, particularly as it developed in the United States. The weight of slave capital in the U.S. economy then was comparable to the weight of stranded fossil fuel investment today. For many decades the slave-owners maintained full control over the U.S. state. But ultimately a mass movement broke that control and abolished slave property forever. And this was done democratically, although only at the cost of a protracted civil war.

Klein’s analogy has merit. However, it is also worth considering the precedent of socialist revolutions, even if they did not occur “in the West.” One such revolution took place only 90 miles from the U.S., in Cuba. In the 1990s, Cuba carried out the world’s most successful reduction of fossil fuel dependency. Despite a damaging U.S. blockade, the Cuban revolution continues to display creative vigor, most recently in the country’s role as world leader in on-the-ground response to the Ebola virus epidemic.

The experience of twentieth century socialist revolutions, while troubled, is surely relevant to what we must now accomplish in the face of a systemic crisis of capitalism triggered by climate change. It is hard to see how the fossil fuel stranglehold can be broken without popular ownership and control over dominant industries. This case is made in three books on ecology and socialism that I’ve listed below.

Mass social movements

Klein’s book has a single overriding strength: a comprehensive analysis – much broader than can be indicated here – that demonstrates that a movement to overcome the climate challenge must confront the prevailing economic and political system, and for that it must be massive, broad, and militant. A substantial and inspiring part of her book is devoted to first-hand accounts of what she calls “Blockadia” – grassroots movements on every continent that are directly challenging the fossil fuel industry’s destructive projects.

A movement on the climate issue alone cannot win, she says. Climate activism must link up with “the unfinished business of the most powerful liberation movements of the past two centuries, from civil rights to feminism to Indigenous sovereignty.” “Climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all of these still living movements.”

Calls for such a fusion are increasingly frequent. The liberation movements Klein mentions – and labor, too – were in evidence at the great People’s Climate March of 400,000 in New York on September 21 and in the surrounding conferences, as well as in parallel actions in Canada and around the globe. Naomi Klein’s book is an inspiring contribution to this movement, which is increasingly becoming identified with the goals of climate justice and system change.

“Only mass social movements can save us now,” Klein concludes. “If that happens, well, it changes everything.”


This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein (Alfred A Knopf, 2014), reviewed by John Riddell.
Categories: Ecological News

Greenpeace boats violently rammed by Spanish Navy during peaceful protest, one activist hospitalised

Green Blog - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 00:12
Two Greenpeace activist have been injured following a peaceful demonstration against oil drilling in the waters off the Canary Islands. In a dramatic video, released by Greenpeace, you can see how the Spanish Navy deliberately and repeatedly rammed the small boats with the activists at full speed. The video shows how the military vessels partly climbs up on the small boats.

It was during one of these collisions that a 23 year old Italian activist was seriously injured when she was knocked overboard and had her leg broken. You can hear her scream in agony in the video. A diver from the Spanish Navy eventually jumps in and save her. The activist was then taken to a hospital in Las Palmas by a navy helicopter, and is reportedly in good condition. A fellow activist received minor injuries and was treated on board the Arctic Sunrise.

"We're thankful that no one else was seriously injured, and outraged at the unjustified use of force," Greenpeace writes in a comment to the incident. "It's another reminder of the lengths governments will go to protect the oil industry from peaceful protesters."

Greenpeace were protesting against controversial drilling plans just outside the waters of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, two of the Canary Islands. The environmental organisation has sided with locals who are worried that oil drilling could cripple the marine environment around the islands, and ultimately the tourism industry. The activist were heading towards a drilling vessel belonging to the oil company Repsol when they were violently stopped by the Spanish Navy.

A spokesman for Spain’s Ministry of Defence blamed the incident on Greenpeace. In a comment to The Spain Report, the spokesman said that Greenpeace "were committing a crime" when they came close to the Repsol ship. “There are government orders on protecting the prospecting ship and they will be followed.”

Juande Fernández, head of protest actions for Greenpeace Spain, said the incident was “an act of violence by the Spanish Navy”. Fernández also promised that, despite this incident, they would continue to protest against oil drilling in the Canary Islands.

In Madrid, the Socialist Party (PSOE) has called the incident "intolerable" and demanded that Defense Minister Pedro Moreno are to "urgently" explain the Spanish Navy's behaviour for the parliament.
Categories: Ecological News

Seedy business

Navdanya Diary - Sun, 11/16/2014 - 22:28

by Najma Sadeque - The Nation, 6 November 2014

(Photo: AFP)

Source: http://nation.com.pk/columns/06-Nov-2014/seedy-business

Throughout history, superpowers that outstayed their welcome eventually turned unscrupulous trying to hang on. The most recent one in the last century directly shaped and manipulated global institutions forcing most countries into submission. The instruments used were the World Bank/IMF, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and certain divisions under the UN such as World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), that between them keep South countries entrapped economically, financially and socially.
Because our education system is so archaic, uninformed and narrow in scope, and corporate media and government being selective of information for their own reasons, people don’t even learn about the primacy of seed to survival, livelihoods, technology and economies.
We’ve had a seed bill since 1976 when no worries existed about gene-tampering. It made citizens sovereign over their seed; the public sector alone was responsible for seed development and registration. Now multinationals like Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont Pioneer, are doggedly divesting us of our ownership and rights. And enough influence has been bought or acquired over the last decade to make that possible.
In 2003, Pakistan drafted an amendment, not in the public interest, but that of multinational seed corporations to manipulate and compromise our indigenous seeds and patent them as their own. In 2004, India acted similarly, but continues resisting. Around the same time, President Bush began pushing hard for GM seeds entry into South countries. Coincidence? Not at all. It was all according to master plan integrating USA’s hegemonic with corporate interests. It was repeatedly blocked by outraged protests worldwide of peasants, farmers associations, other stakeholders and informed civil society who were never consulted.
The issue has again re-emerged in Pakistan as the Seed Bill 2014, awaiting federal approval – despite the 18th amendment that made agriculture a provincial subject.
Whichever grain we eat is also reproducible seed in itself. It’s easy to contaminate natural seeds by donating or exporting GM seeds to a country, mingling it with local seeds before wide distribution. This makes it easier for corporations to claim payments or ‘damages compensation’ for subsequent crops and re-use” of supposedly patented seed.
The modus operandi of takeover was carefully planned to the last detail complete with dirty tricks of the trade, by professional global consultants specializing in financial, economic, and valuation services – the multi-billion dollar Arthur Andersen Consulting Group, the same that faced court when convicted for obstructing justice by shredding explosive documents concerning their notorious client, Enron Corp, in 2002.
But long before this happened, an Anderson Group representative revealed at a 1999 biotech industry conference how they made the Monsanto plan. Anderson’s asked the corporation for its objectives in the next 15-20 years. Monsanto’s dream was a world in which 100 percent of all commercial seeds were genetically modified and patented… by Monsanto! In other words, a world in which most natural seeds were extinct or out of reach of government and ordinary citizens, making the entire world dependent on Monsanto and its ilk, to be able to eat. It was no conspiracy theory as often alleged. It’s a matter of historical record, documented by many, but skimmed over by ignorant or self-serving politicians, and suppressed by the US corporate media.
Anderson provided Monsanto with a step-by-step blueprint. To gain maximum outreach and muscle, Monsanto bought up seed companies from all over North America and elsewhere, picking up almost 25% of the world’s seed companies.
But key to the master plan was the influencing of target governments — politicians, technocrats, and journalists. That was easy. All it took was lavish wining and dining, foreign junkets and other off-the-record rewards. Virtually all our agricultural scientists and institutions seem to have converted into blind followers of the genetically modified, without ever having done any worthy research, development or comparative studies with traditional indigenous agriculture.
Consequently, most agricultural scientists sound like they’ve always been in Monsanto’s service rather than government, unabashed by being displayed on Monsanto’s website. They facilitated GM (Bt) cotton, whether actively or by turning a blind eye, to miraculously dominate 80% of Pakistan’s cotton fields. Officialdom never turned a hair nor conducted an investigation.
The idea was to flood the market and farmfields with spurious, imported or unofficially or officially-released seed, so that people are overwhelmed and helpless to correct the situation, giving up instead. The coast is then clear for formal corporate takeover of a country’s seeds.
Another biotech company at the conference confidently displayed projections of the global decrease of natural seeds due to GM intervention, predicting that within 5 years, 95% of all seeds would be genetically modified (the remaining 5% natural seed would still be required from which to source fresh genes, since man cannot create new genes or life forms, only change its appearance or composition). The projections were not too far off the mark with the highest-selling commercial crops.
However, not everything went according to plan. While many governments including USA were corrupted and most of the world’s farmsoils were seriously damaged within a couple of decades — citizens did not take it lying down, and some governments (not ours) began to fight back. Today, increasingly, Americans want nothing to do with Monsanto, which is why it started seeking greener pastures abroad. Most of Europe now rejects GM. So does Africa where Monsanto in league with USAID sought to contaminate local seed, by entering in the guise of food aid. Other countries are joining the ranks.
Most of our agri-scientists have never had farmers’ hands-on experience of the natural world and traditional knowledge, let alone having comprehended their day-to-day lives in social and livelihood contexts. Corporate-conditioned views resist regulation and testing of imported seeds for risk of foreign crop pests and infestations. Corporate claims are unquestioningly accepted as final unalloyed truth. Our Department of Plant Protection and Quarantine is so dated and deficient in equipment and technical skills, anything can slip easily through our borders.
We have no Biosafety laws in Pakistan. The National Biosafety Centre (NBC) that came under the Ministry of Climate Change no longer exists. There’s no entity to deal with risk assessment and evaluation of GMOs. And yet the government feels competent to push through a seed bill that will allow public research institutes – owned by Pakistani citizens — to be handed over to multinationals complete with intellectual property rights over basic, indigenous seeds, for them to superficially tinker, patent and brand-name as their own.
If ‘Naya’ Pakistanis are serious about ending corruption and bringing justice and a better life to the masses, they’ll have to salvage agriculture and indigenous seed instead of just looking for embezzled finances. Currently, the governing sinking ship is simply trying to stay afloat long enough to sell off what’s left of Pakistan’s sovereign assets – such as OGDCL – before fleeing abroad.

The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at  Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Students talk about the A-Z of Agroecology Course at Navdanya

Navdanya Diary - Sat, 11/15/2014 - 04:49

Students talk about the A-Z of Agroecology Course at Navdanya from Becket Films on Vimeo.

In September 2014, filming for our documentary, The Seeds of Vandana Shiva, we spent a few weeks with Dr. Shiva in Northern India. She was on her farm, Navdanya, for the annual A-Z of Agroecology course which takes place from September 1 to September 31 each year. One day we checked in with several of the participants, who share their thoughts about the A-Z course in this clip. For more about our film, go to vandanashivamovie.com.

More information: http://seedfreedom.info/a-z-of-agroecology-and-organic-food-system/

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

Scientist, food activist lauds Vt. GMO law

Navdanya Diary - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 00:12

Times Argus, 4 November 2014

Stefan Hard / Staff Photo Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva speaks about the effects of GMO crops in her home country of India and other developing countries Monday in a lecture attended by more than 200 at Vermont Law School in South Royalton. Shiva said she strongly supports Vermont’s new GMO labeling law.

Source: http://www.timesargus.com/article/20141104/NEWS03/711049935

SOUTH ROYALTON — An anti-GMO activist said Vermont’s new labeling law is the only choice Americans have if they wish to oversee the bioengineering industry.

A wall-to-wall, standing-room-only crowd packed Vermont Law School’s Chase Center on Monday night to hear a lecture from Vandana Shiva, an anti-GMO activist who sang the praises of Vermont’s GMO labeling law.

“I’ve come all the way to congratulate this law school,” Shiva said. “What you’ve done in Vermont and what the law school has done is — in our times, in the year 2014 — path breaking.”

A physicist by training, Shiva is the author of 20 books, including “Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply.” She was drawn to issues surrounding agriculture following the Bhopal disaster of 1984, when pesticide gas vented by Union Carbide killed thousands.

On the world stage, Shiva is a controversial figure whose assertions have not always aligned with science. While she didn’t make the claim Monday night, in the past she has cited high suicide rates among farmers in India being due to the farmers having to purchase expensive GMO seeds.

The science journal Nature found no correlation between buying GMO seeds and rising suicide rates among Indian farmers, and according to the medical journal The Lancet, suicide rates among farmers in India are one-third the rates among the unemployed and those employed in professions not related to agriculture.

However, Shiva’s claim that GMO crops do not result in higher yields is supported by a 2009 study from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Shiva called GMO crops “Descartes’ ultimate victory, when food is measured by weight and yield, instead of by taste and nutritional quality.”

“It’s not producing nutrition. It’s producing commodities for trade and profit,” Shiva said.

Shiva asserted that GMO fertilizers are borne out of war efforts, made in the same facilities that once made explosives. Noting the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Shiva claimed the CIA distributed potentially explosive fertilizers to keep up with efforts by the Soviet Union.

“It’s an anti-food system based on the mentality of warfare and the tools of warfare, and of course it can’t make peace with the Earth,” Shiva said.

Shiva noted a central paradox to companies that produce GMO seeds: A GMO seed is “novel” and therefore proprietary, while at the same time a part of nature, leaving the creator of the GMO blameless for any negative effects — either environmental or nutritional — that the modified food might have.

Shiva also noted the lack of laws in the United States governing genetic engineering, and said Vermont’s GMO labeling law is the only recourse the public has to oversee the industry.

“This challenge will make a difference to the whole world,” Shiva said of the GMO labeling law.

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

 

 

 

                          
Categories: Ecological News

IPCC: ‘Severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts’

Green Blog - Sat, 11/08/2014 - 01:52
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two major reports on November 2 – a 116-page Synthesis Report (pdf), summarizing the key findings in the three working group reports issued earlier in the year, and a 40-page Summary for Policy Makers (pdf), which summarizes the Synthesis report.

This is the strongest and most unequivocal statement of scientific certainty we’ve seen from the IPCC since the first assessment report in 1990, but even so, bear in mind that the IPCC operates on consensus, and the actual wording undoubtedly reflects political compromises, so the report should be viewed as a conservative statement.

Also read: Near zero emissions needed by 2100 to avoid climate catastrophe

The Summary for Policy Makers identifies 18 key conclusions under four headings. The numbering below is by me, but the text is taken directly from the IPCC document.

Observed changes and their causes
  • Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.
  • Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.
  • Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
  • In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Impacts are due to observed climate change, irrespective of its cause, indicating the sensitivity of natural and human systems to changing climate.
  • Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions.
Future climate changes, risks and impacts
  • Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.
  • Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise.
  • Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.
  • Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped. The risks of abrupt or irreversible changes increase as the magnitude of the warming increases.
Future pathways for adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development
  • Adaptation and mitigation are complementary strategies for reducing and managing the risks of climate change. Substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades can reduce climate risks in the 21st century and beyond, increase prospects for effective adaptation, reduce the costs and challenges of mitigation in the longer term, and contribute to climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development.
  • Effective decision making to limit climate change and its effects can be informed by a wide range of analytical approaches for evaluating expected risks and benefits, recognizing the importance of governance, ethical dimensions, equity, value judgments, economic assessments and diverse perceptions and responses to risk and uncertainty.
  • Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts globally. Mitigation involves some level of co-benefits and of risks due to adverse side-effects, but these risks do not involve the same possibility of severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts as risks from climate change, increasing the benefits from near-term mitigation efforts.
  • Adaptation can reduce the risks of climate change impacts, but there are limits to its effectiveness, especially with greater magnitudes and rates of climate change. Taking a longer-term perspective, in the context of sustainable development, increases the likelihood that more immediate adaptation actions will also enhance future options and preparedness.
Adaptation and mitigation
  • Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. Effective implementation depends on policies and cooperation at all scales, and can be enhanced through integrated responses that link adaptation and mitigation with other societal objectives.
  • Adaptation and mitigation responses are underpinned by common enabling factors. These include effective institutions and governance, innovation and investments in environmentally sound technologies and infrastructure, sustainable livelihoods, and behavioral and lifestyle choices.
  • Adaptation options exist in all sectors, but their context for implementation and potential to reduce climate-related risks differs across sectors and regions. Some adaptation responses involve significant co-benefits, synergies and trade-offs. Increasing climate change will increase challenges for many adaptation options.
  • Effective adaptation and mitigation responses will depend on policies and measures across multiple scales: international, regional, national and sub-national. Policies across all scales supporting technology development, diffusion and transfer, as well as finance for responses to climate change, can complement and enhance the effectiveness of policies that directly promote adaptation and mitigation.
  • Climate change is a threat to sustainable development. Nonetheless, there are many opportunities to link mitigation, adaptation and the pursuit of other societal objectives through integrated responses. Successful implementation relies on relevant tools, suitable governance structures and enhanced capacity to respond.
Categories: Ecological News

IPCC: Near zero emissions needed by 2100 to avoid climate catastrophe

Green Blog - Sat, 11/08/2014 - 01:34
On November 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released two major reports on climate change, a 116-page Synthesis Report and a 40-page summary for policy makers. These reports represents the most comprehensive assessment on climate change to date and summarizes the work conducted by more than 800 scientists and three major climate reports – respectively laying out the causes, impacts and solutions to global warming – issued earlier in the year.

In this assessment report, the IPCC warns that climate change will inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” for humans and the natural world unless rapid action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The report shows how human activities are unequivocally responsible for global warming and details the severe impacts of climate change across the globe. IPCC notes that climate change is already responsible for an increased risk of extreme weather and severe heatwaves around the world. The report, which is meant to influence politicians and policy makers into action, warns that climate change will result in more and powerful hurricanes, more frequent droughts and floods, rising sea levels, food shortages and violent conflicts across the globe.

It’s a grim picture the report paints. But we could avoid the worst effects of climate change if we act now. Thankfully, as IPCC notes, there are options available for us to both adapt to a changing climate and implement mitigation activities to curb the most severe impacts of global warming.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” said R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change.”

The goal is to stop the average global temperature to rise beyond 2C – but with the current trend we will badly exceed that target. To make sure we reach this goal the world needs to attain near zero emissions by 2100.

“We have little time before the window of opportunity to stay within 2C of warming closes,” Pachauri warned. “To keep a good chance of staying below 2C, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 percent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100. We have that opportunity, and the choice is in our hands.”

Despite this, many countries remain hesitant to limit their greenhouse gas emissions claiming that climate action will damage their economies. IPCC refutes this and claims that ambitious mitigation programs and policies would only reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percent with the global economy still growing by 1.6 to 3 percent per year. But obviously, the costs will increase if we wait for too long.

“Compared to the imminent risk of irreversible climate change impacts, the risks of mitigation are manageable,” said Youba Sokona, who worked on the report. “The longer we wait to take action, the more it will cost to adapt and mitigate climate change.”

So what now? As we currently have no global framework on how to deal with the climate crisis such a treaty will need to be devised and agreed on. The first step towards such a global agreement will take place in Peru this December. A two-week long climate summit will be held in Lima where negotiators from around the world will try and find common ground on everything from emission targets, carbon credits and the North vs. South divide. Next up is to draft and sign a global agreement on how to tackle climate change. Hopefully this will happen in Paris in 2015. But if previous climate summits have shown one thing it’s that this process won’t be easy, and that it’ll most likely end in a failure or too weak targets.

Hopefully this assessment report will do its work and influence policy makers to realise the dangers of unchecked climate change and the benefits of taking climate action.

Also read: Eighteen key conclusions from the summary report issued this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Categories: Ecological News

Rare rhino death as poaching worsens

Green Blog - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 19:07
The extremely rare northern white rhino - a subspecies of white rhino - may soon disappear. One of the last males, a 34 year-old rhino named Suni, died from natural causes on Oct. 17, at a nature reserve in Kenya, leaving just six northern white rhinos (only one of them male) remaining worldwide. Its close cousin, the southern white rhino, is also severely threatened. The low numbers are themselves largely a product of the relentless rhino poaching that occurs across Africa, and which has driven the animals as a whole to the brink of extinction. And the problem is getting worse.

Back in 2009, Suni was one of eight of its species at the Kenyan Ol Pejeta Conservancy as part of a last-resort effort to save its kind. To date, these rhinos have not fared well in captivity. But after all, experts point out, it's not as though they're exactly doing too well in the wild: according to some conservationists, a free-roaming rhino is killed for its horn every nine hours.

"It's a shame the [northern white rhino] subspecies got to that point," said Matthew Lewis, the World Wildlife Fund's senior program officer for African species conservation. Corralling surviving rhinos in that type of nature reserve represents "the worst-case scenario in trying to bring back a subspecies. Its story is a fantastic lesson on what not to do, and how we need to avoid getting to this point with other rhinos."

So what to do? The answer, most would say, is to continue to support efforts to stop poaching, which is the primary cause of the decline of rhinos, as well as elephants and other animals. "That we've lost the subspecies is a statement of just how bad off animals are across Africa," said Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist at North Carolina's Duke University. "It's a measure of the fact that rhinos are being massively poached and in trouble wherever they are. It also means we're losing this distinctive, important animal within the savanna ecosystem. It's not just another charismatic animal; it's also a species that has a very clear ecological role, and we need to be very worried that we lost that."

Large demonstrations took place Oct. 4 in 136 different cities, with activists calling for an end to rhino and elephant poaching, and seeking to draw greater attention to the issue in the eyes of the public. "There's a lot of talk, but we need to see more action," said Simon Jones, founder of nonprofit group Helping Rhinos. "We need more rangers on the ground and we need more campaigns in countries where ivory and rhino horns are sold."

Among those actions was a march that took place that day in Johannesburg, South Africa. One of the organizers, Dex Kotze, remarked, "We have to do this for future generations. The youth today are making a statement globally, in 136 cities, that it's their heritage that is being killed. South Africa, home to the world's largest rhino populations, has seen at least 700 killed so far this year. We are also here protesting against the political leaders of the world, who do not have the guts and political will to make appropriate changes in their laws."

Organizers there debuted a list of objectives, which included the demand for a global ban on the trade in ivory and rhino horns, stricter penalties for poachers who are caught, and better, more coordinated international cooperation in stopping what has arguably developed into a flourishing underground criminal industry.
Categories: Ecological News
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