Top 6 Industries Driving Economic Growth: (1) Federal Government Spending, [Revenue spending in the state is 2:1, the highest rate of return in the country. The federal government provides many of state’s largest employers.] (2) Oil and Gas, [New Mexico is the third-largest net exporter of energy in the U.S.] (3&4) Tourism and Retail, [Growth rate is nearly 20% above the national average] (5) Film, [Motion picture companies spend nearly $400 million in New Mexico annually. The research and tech corridors have enabled the state to expand into animation and graphics.] (6) Customer Service [National customer service centers operating in New Mexico include: Hewlett-Packard, Fidelity Investments, Lowe’s and Gap].
The infamous vistas of the New Mexican landscape inspired the resurgence of Georgia O’Keefe; the dusty shapes changing her perspective on form and generating an entirely new style of expression in the artist’s work. I first saw O’Keefe’s art in person as an undergrad. As a teenager, I had fallen for her detailed interpretations of color, form and movement;her ability to take ownership of a former symbol of female submission and transform it into an unapologetic display of feminine audacity.
The gallery show was the first time I had been exposed to O’Keeffe’s later work. O’Keeffe had begun traveling to New Mexico later in life and moved to the state after her partner past away. The pieces from this time period appeared, at first, to be fundamentally opposed to the sensual curves and colors I had expected to find on display. Instead, these works were minimalist and modern, with broad strokes and earthen tones. Nonetheless, I had found something familiar in her movements. O’Keeffe’s work was about playing with abstraction; exploring the unexamined spaces. She found beauty in both the complex and the simple; in the delicate and the intrusive. O’Keeffe’s work exposed the disregarded nuances of aesthetic elegance, not because something was naturally fascinating – but because it was not.
Our drive through New Mexico was both humbling and empowering. I understood at once O’Keeffe’s decision to leave her New York apartment for these expansive skies.
I found myself absorbed in musings of another life; one in which I became a painter. I thought about how I could have sat in one spot for weeks on end, consumed in the depth of world just in front of my face; losing myself in the texture of the earth and vegetation flying by my car window.
I remembered O’Keeffe’s decision to do precisely the opposite during her time here. That decision began to seem almost brave. She chose to overlook the immensity of detail in the landscape, to trust that there was beauty in the form itself, and to expose the foundation role which the form played in capturing our attention.
I was struck by the human ecosystems here. The communities dotting the side of the highway were predominantly small trailers or makeshift homes. These communities often seemed isolated, usually in groups of no more than a dozen dwellings.
It is tempting to be struck by this secluded, simple life as romantic.
Unfortunately, rural communities in New Mexico are on the front lines of environmental justice issues. In the North of the state, uranium mining threatens water sources. The private water systems in these communities are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act and likely receive no monitoring at all. Contamination is, instead, determined by the resulting impact on community health.
Protests against the mining operations here have become common. The community of Crown Point was organizing one such campaign as we drove through. Crown Point is fighting the return to operation of a uranium mine directly across the road from their community.
I could spend the entirety of this post discussing the impact of uranium mining on communities here. I could say the same for chemical production facilities or industrial dairies.
I could continue on with the topic from my Texas post, and discuss the depletion of groundwater aquifers, which is occurring at alarming rates in Eastern parts of New Mexico.
It was quite interesting to watch the vegetation change with the landforms, as water from the mountain regions began to leave its mark. Perhaps O’Keeffe was onto something there, after all.
Yet, there is one particular challenge facing New Mexico that seems as remarkable as it is disregarded and as delicate as it is intrusive.
In 2015, a NASA photograph of the U.S. Four Corners region revealed a cloud of methane, roughly the size of Delaware, over the Northwest corner of New Mexico.
Researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM), led by Eric Kort, determined the cloud had been primarily caused by the natural gas operations in the San Juan Basin.
Kort’s findings showed that the San Juan Basin may be producing methane emissions roughly equivalent to the entire oil, gas, and coal industry of the United Kingdom.
Methane is a green house gas that is roughly 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide and can cause a host of immediate human health impacts. Natural gas is 95-98% methane.
The UNM research demonstrates that U.S. operations are leaking much more of this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere than operators have been reporting to the EPA. They were not the first (or the second) research team to present these findings.
The state accounts for 10% of the U.S.’s total production of natural gas. New Mexico consumes only about 1/5 of its own production. The majority of gas produced here is transmitted through the Blanco Hub, a major pipeline connection point which trades and transports gas up the West Coast and the Rocky Mountains.
The bulk of pollution from natural gas occurs at the source. This means that those residing in San Juan experience the air and water contamination from 20,000 wells, regardless of how little of that energy they consume themselves.
The San Juan Basin is home to one of the largest proven natural gas reserves in the United States. It is second only to Colorado in proved coal-bed methane reserves.
Also interesting is that the leading operator in the San Juan Basin is PNM Resources, a Michigan-based company that is not all that popular with the locals.
Air contamination from these wells extends beyond the daily inconveniences of foul odors, itchy eyes, and scratchy throats.
The pollutants hanging heavy in the air above the basin have been shown to cause increased rates of infant mortality, birth deformities, chronic respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, stroke, childhood cancer and diminished lung function.
Childhood asthma rates are five times higher near the New Mexico’s oil and gas hubs than the state average. The majority of families living in these hubs, particularly in the San Juan Basin, are disproportionately Native American and Latino/a.
The American Lung Association reported that 1 in 4 New Mexicans was at risk for air-pollution-related illness in 2015; that is equivalent to about 500,000 people.
Communities and regulators blamed the coal for the poor air quality, in step with a national turn away from the industry and towards natural gas. NASA’s findings regarding methane pollution mobilized families here to push for stronger rules on the industry (recorded at 2:1 during a public meeting on the issue, attended by more than 700 residents). These efforts eventually lead to the passage of the Obama administration’s methane legislation.
This bill was narrowly saved from retraction in May by a 51-49 Senate vote, due partially to the lobbying of GOP Senators by lawmakers in the Four Corners region. Two weeks after the vote, the EPA put a 90-day stay on the legislation for review.
This legislation is one of the only federal regulations that monitors natural gas operations at all. Hydro-fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates underground injection wells.
Operations are responsible for reporting their own emissions for compliance with the Clean Air Act and, as mentioned, recent academic studies, suggest that the industry has been dramatically under-reporting.
Of the 49,746 active oil and gas wells in New Mexico, only 26,949 (about 54%) are federally monitored.
Considering how harmful methane is to public and environmental health, in both the short and long term, and reflecting on the numerous federal actions establishing a breathtakingly lenient regulatory regime for the industry, one can’t help but be impressed by the success of the rhetorical campaign for “clean” fossil fuels.
It also demonstrates the responsibility of all those consuming US natural gas, to the communities who are disproportionately impacted by the fuel that powersabout 65% of our electricity. Depending on market mechanisms to regulate an industry requires that the consumer is informed and concerned with the power of their own choices.
Natural gas operations not only leak methane but also a host of other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The San Juan Basin ranks number 8 in the top ten Western Coal-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Power Plants for CO2 Emissions; the Four Corners area is number 4.
The power plants here are two of the most polluting plants in the country. The San Juan Generating Station (SJGS), in operation since the 1970’s, is one of the country’s largest single sources of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.
In 2011, the U.S. EPA ordered the owner of SJGS, PNM Resources, to install pollution controls on the facility’s smokestacks, after years of ignoring these legal obligations. PNM filed a lawsuit against the EPA.
The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the suit the following year and, a year after that, SJGS brought into compliance almost forty years after the passage of the CAA amendments it was violating. The Department of the Interior has just extended the permit for PNM for another 25 years.
“You head down, even on a relatively dark night, (through) Farmington, Bloomfield, Aztec, there’s lots of light, (and you) head down to the Lybrook, Counselor area. It’s really dark, and all of sudden, you see these five fireballs. It’s just crazy,” – Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico Energy Coordinator with the nonprofit San Juan Citizens Alliance, told Laura Paskus of KUNM in September 2015.
New Mexico did pass its own policy aimed at preventing groundwater contamination in 2008 (known as the “Pit Rule) following more than 700 self-reported cases of groundwater contamination by the oil and gas industry inside the state.
Groundwater contamination is a big deal. It is nearly impossible to reverse in any relevant span of time. It is an even greater concern in the Southwest, where average rainfall has decreased and aquifers have already been pumped above recharge rates.
The process of fracking mixes toxic chemicals, many of which are toxic if ingested at any concentration, with large amounts of water. This mixture is injected into wells at very high pressures.
Around 20-40% of this mixture returns to the surface (called flow back water), bringing up with it natural elements in the earth, including barium, arsenic, radium, and salt.
Gas production in the U.S. produces more than two billion gallons of fracking wastewater per day. This water is usually too contaminated to be purified with existing treatment methods.
Fracking wastewater is categorized as “special wastes” by the EPA. This means that it is exempted from regulation as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
The waste water is either re-injected deeper underground or cleaned at a “brine treatment” plant, after which it is dumped into streams. The latter facilities have repeatedly incurred fines for failures to comply with the Clean Water Act. The former, and more common, process threatens groundwater quality and is the primary cause of the recent uptick in earthquakes in the Central U.S.
Records from disparate corners of the United States show that wells drilled to bury this waste deep beneath the ground have repeatedly leaked, sending dangerous chemicals and waste gurgling to the surface or, on occasion, seeping into shallow aquifers that store a significant portion of the nation’s drinking water. …
There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids thousands of feet below the surface. Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking.
Every coal bed gas well uses between 50,000 to 350,000 gallons of water, considerably less than the 2 to 10 million gallons used per horizontal shale well. Yet, this remains an enormous amount of water to consistently use for such a toxic process in a State unsure of how it will access water at all in the near future.
Farmers began selling their water to oil and gas developers during the 2013 drought to supplement their loss of agricultural income that year.
Has the U.S. population truly decided that gas is more valuable than food and water?
For some living in the Basin, however, efforts to push back continue. The San Juan Citizens Alliance is suing the federal government to cease approval of new wells near Chaco Park. The Park is a site of historical significance to local tribes, who claim that the environmental impact of further development has not been adequately studied.
Chaco Park was once the home of the Anasazi, a tribal people that stretched across northwest New Mexico. As billboards and placards for Native American tourist traps became more ubiquitous, I was reminded of Jarrod Diamond’s book, “Collapse,” and his chapter on this intriguing society.
The Anasazi developed a complex agricultural society that flourished for more than five centuries, in a geography where few others had managed to survive before or since.
Diamond uses tree rings and midden analysis to piece together the story of a society that constructed the largest pre-Columbian buildings in North America. The Anasazi’s success was built on the unsustainable and unchecked use of timber. Deforestation caused salinization of the soil and water, destroying the Anasazi’s food supply.
A drought around 1130 A.D. caused a drop in the groundwater table, pressing further strife onto the mini-empire. Some turned to cannibalism and internal warfare. Others simply starved to death. The Chaco Anasazi society disappeared sometime between 1150 and 1200.
How could the most intelligent species on the planet, organized into high-achieving societies, overlook those resources most necessary for their own survival, for the sake of short-term, self-serving gratification?
It struck me the other day that it had been three months since this road trip – and I still had not finished this blog series. I decided to spend the time I would usually spend on my “This Week” posts generating a few more of these. Look out “Part 3: New Mexico,” coming soon. “This Week” will return in June as “This Month”. Thanks for reading. – M
Largest economic industries: (1) Agriculture, [Texas has the most farms of all United States both in terms of number and acreage. Texas also leads the nation in cotton and pecan production.] (2) Aeronautics [Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, the center of NASA, is in Houston.] (3) Defense, [Home to two of the US Army’s largest facilities, Fort Hood and Fort Bliss.] (4) Computer Technology, (5) Mining/Energy [Global leader in energy; Oil, gas, and wind.], (6) Tourism and Retail [The state tourism slogan is “Texas: It’s like a whole other country.”].
We spent the night in Shamrock, Texas, a small town off of “Old Route 66” (and very proud of it).
In the morning, the receptionist lets me mail several postcards free of charge and offers to make stronger coffee for the lobby carafe. Texas and I were off on the right foot – never mind the fact it was freezing cold outside. (Okay, it wasn’t freezing. But it certainly was not a temperature I had anticipated when getting dressed that morning.)
As we reconvened our journey in the daylight, I was awed by the incredible texture that had been added to the environment. Incremental chasms and cracked pieces of land broke up the endless yellow fields, revealing the deep mahogany hues underneath.
The complexity of the shadows dancing across these formations was captivating. I began to grow a bit anxious, as if afraid that one might pass by without my being able to fully experience it.
But they kept coming. Soon these miniature portraits of dramatic prose became the familiar inhabitants of the space outside my window. After an hour or so, I even managed to steal my breath back from the slim wisps of bright blue water trickling through the broken ground.
I was deeply grateful to have a driving partner. Otherwise, I may have parked along the first one I had seen and spent the day meditating on texture and color. Baby Suggs style.
The wisps of water below fields of brittle grass provide an appropriate metaphor for the current state of water in the Texas Panhandle.
Northwest Texas sits above the Southern-most portion of the Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High-Plains Aquifer. The Ogallala is the source of water for millions of people in the United States. It also provides 30% of all the water the country uses agriculture. The Ogallala extends as far North as South Dakota, providing water for eight states and can hold as much water volume as Lake Huron. More than 90% of its water is used to irrigate crops.
“It is hard to overestimate the impact that this bounty of buried water has had on American life. If you snack on popcorn or peanuts, you are probably eating Ogallala water; if you dress in cotton clothing, you are probably wearing it. … The fourteen million acres of crops spread across its flat surface account for at least one-fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest. … If the aquifer went dry, more than 20 billion worth of food and fiber would disappear immediately from the world’s markets.” – William Ashworth, Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the High Plains.
Nowhere is the Ogallala Aquifer more depleted than in the Texas Panhandle (although parts of Southwest Kansas come close). Water levels have dropped more than 150 feet – roughly 70% – since the 1950s. “About half the aquifer’s thickness has dried up” in some parts of Texas, according to Leonard Konikow, a hydrologist with USGS.
The five-year drought that hit the Southern US escalated the depletion rates. Municipalities in the Panhandle turned to groundwater after surface water sources began to dry up and farmers needed to pump more water to compensate for declining rainfall.
The Texas Panhandle once took most of its drinking water exclusively from Lake Meredith. As these sources dwindled in the early 2000s, residents turned underground.
Water levels in the Panhandle dropped 1.87 feet from 2012 to 2013, one of the “five or ten worst drops in the district’s more than 60-year history,” according to hydrogeologist Bill Mullican.
Municipalities in the Panhandle began turning back to Lake Meredith in 2014 after unusually heavy rains filled the once-empty lake with 2.8 billion gallons a water. That may sound like a lot – but it was 4 % of Lake Meredith’s usual haul. Water experts and residents alike were torn. The region had taken six times that amount from the Ogallala in 2013. Where do you turn when there are no good options?
Other residents opposed the return to surface water because low water levels likely meant high levels of sediment. Unfortunately, a 2002 study from the University of Texas at Austin found that groundwater in the Panhandle contains high fluoride, arsenic (linked to pesticides used in cotton production), and nitrate levels and has been contaminated by abandoned oil fields.
Lake Meredith has continued to recover, but at 24.9% of its former life, it still has a long way to go. Nonetheless, the website of the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife states “that 97% of the area’s water needs are dependent upon groundwater.”
Much of the depletion in the Southern Ogallala can be tied to agricultural production. Texas produces much of the country’s wheat, corn (for grain – meat production), sorghum (for grain-meat production), hay, pecans, rice, and soybeans. The state’s number one crop, cotton, is a particularly water intensive crop. Texas also leads in beef production, another major water user, particularly when temperatures increase.
[“U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists.” – That was 1997!]
Farmers here produce food for the entire country and they use a lot of water to do it. In Ogallala Blue, William Ashworth asserts that groundwater mining “is not an accident here; it is a way of life … it is also a way of death.”
Texas is a “right to capture” state. This means that landowners have the right to pump groundwater from wells on their property, “without malice or consideration for the water supply for neighboring wells.”
This approach to water supply fails to take into account that no single well is really an individual source of water, but rather one straw in a larger common source. (In this case, it’s a common source for 97% of the water needs for the region, millions of users to the North, and the food supply for much of the nation.)
The water law system in Texas is further complicated by the division of regulating authority between nearly 100 conservation districts, each with the power to create their own set of rules.
The traditional conception of property rights and local governance that goes along with this type of system is, perhaps, what one might expect to find in Texas. When one buys a piece of land, one buys all of the resources on that land – and, in this case, under it. It is, after all, how the law interprets other resources, such as timber or oil.
Texas tax code further interprets water as a “depleted asset.”
This means, generally speaking, that as a property owner uses the water under their property, the value of their property is declining. Thus, the IRS provides a tax break pegged to the amount of water they have used that year, in order to compensate for the loss of value in their property.
The large amounts of water that one must use to qualify for the tax break likely could only have been used for economic activities. (Ie. agriculture.) The water was a tool used to produce a good which, in turn, produces a profit.
The US government (taxpayers) is (are) effectively subsidizing the water used by Texas business persons (farmers) to produce goods (food). In my opinion, this does not seem to fit into a conservative model of limited government.
It is, however, exactly how the US tax code treats oil and gas resources.
A tax break that pays higher dividends in proportion to the amount of water used is probably not encouraging conservation.
ProPublica has an excellent article explaining the tax break in more detail. I found this excerpt particularly interesting:
Hasn’t the federal government spent billions subsidizing conservation and the protection of the West’s groundwater, in part by building dams and encouraging people to use the water in rivers instead? Why would they forfeit federal tax dollars to do the opposite?
We called the IRS, and they initially shared our doubts. Not because they cared much about groundwater (it’s a tax agency!) but because they said they were pretty sure no such deduction was legal. They pointed us to section 613 of the tax code, and it couldn’t be more explicit: For the purposes of deducting the depreciating value of minerals, the definition “does not include soil, sod, dirt, turf, water, or mosses.” Ok, who would ever have thought of deducting mosses or sod? But anyway. That left us really confused.
Right, there were, after all, those farmers in Texas who seemed to have benefited from what the IRS said was not possible.
We encouraged the IRS to check again. They did. And then they found the provision they thought didn’t exist — right there in the text for Revenue Rule 65–296. An IRS spokesperson laid out for us the specifics: “Taxpayers are entitled to a cost depletion deduction for the exhaustion of their capital investment in the ground water extracted and disposed of by them in their business of irrigation farming specifically from the Ogallala Formation.”
Seems like some follow-up questions were in order.
For sure. We asked for clarification. The IRS said it would try to explain. Most importantly, they wanted to say it wasn’t quite as crazy as it sounded. The deduction is only available for one small part of the country — an area that includes parts of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado. And it should only apply if people are using water from a source that is running dry anyway.
But wait, what? You get a break when you use resources that are already in danger of vanishing?
Yes, that’s why it is what’s called a depleted asset.
Conservation is precisely what one would expect the farmers to want to do, presuming they would like to preserve their way of life in the Texas Panhandle, for themselves and for their children.
At the same time, their motivations for continuing to over-pump are understandable. It’s the same reason that further evidence of the impacts of climate change motivates apathy, rather than action.
There’s a two-year-old in the back of our minds that’s still there that we’ve learned to overrule that wants to have their one marshmallow now rather than wait for two marshmallows. Very few people on this planet want to destroy planet earth. It’s just that our other agendas get in the way of things that might have a longer time horizon. – Tima Bansal, executive director of the Network for Business Sustainability in London
Transitioning to “Postdepletion”
Industrial-scale extraction from the Ogallala didn’t start until after World War II. For the Texas Panhandle, recent estimates predict depletion will occur around 2050, about a hundred years later. The Ogallala took 10,000 years to fill. Geologists estimate that it will take 6,000 years to refill naturally.
Despite these realities, residents and farmers in the Panhandle resisted efforts to impose pumping limits during the drought. They organized to create a moratorium on enforcing the new water use rules that were passed. These grassroots efforts went so far as to influence the replacement of the general manager and four out of the five board members for the water district.
Other farmers in the Texas Panhandle – and across Kansas – have begun experimenting with dryland farming methods which use only rainfall to produce crops. Several innovative technological practices are being tested in publically funded common agricultural zones. There has been funding to provide and train farmers to use technologies that allow for monitored drip irrigation.
The funding of such projects is not without controversy. On one side, the tax base is reluctant to spend money on these programs while many families are struggling with the loss of economic production. On the other, many argue that these projects will not be enough to save the Ogallala and sustainable farming will still need more water than they will have.
Many of these critics are turning away from the idea of “managed depletion” and putting their hopes in an inexhaustible resource – Wind.
It might surprise you to learn that Texas has the largest installed wind capacity (20,320 MW) of any state in the country.
Farmers across the panhandle turned to wind after Texas became the second US state to pass a renewable portfolio standard in 1999. (A renewable portfolio standard is a policy which requires a certain amount of energy to come from renewables.)
Texas also invested in high-voltage power lines to connect the windy regions with its growing cities. Today, Texas has more than double the wind generation capacity of any state and has two projects set to begin construction in the Panhandle.
For farmers, the wind industry offers an opportunity to use their land for a less uncertain purpose.
Texas also has the largest wind industry workforce of any US state.
Wind speeds across the Texas Panhandle average between 7.5 and 9.5 miles per second.
In December of 2015, Texas set a new record for powering 40% of its electricity with wind power for 17 hours straight.
There are arguments that the federal government ought not to be picking sides in the energy market; that the US taxpayer should not be subsidizing fuel. Yet, this argument overlooks the billions of dollars in tax breaks that the federal government grants the oil and gas industries because their raw product is classed as a depleted asset. The wind cannot offer producers such subsidies.
Does the fact that it can never be depleted make it a less competitive energy source? Not in Texas.
As we neared the New Mexico border, the landscape changed once more. The yellow grass became almost white, interspersed with light greens and small shrubs. The land grew increasingly cohesive and the reddish hues of the Texas dirt softened into a dusty scarlet.
Water had left her mark and the relative difference was striking. I was hooked.
“I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study and the passionate possession of all Texans.” – John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley
🌏🏦⛏A coalition of NGOs, led by Inclusive Development International, released a report alleging the investment of millions of dollars by various banks and investment groups in regional companies linked to land grabbing, forced evictions, and other human rights abuses in Southeast Asia.
+ The International Finance Corporation responded, via the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, stating “shared concern” for the negatively impacted communities. IFC claims that there are “many factual inaccuracies in the report.”
As it has been communicated to IDI on numerous occasions during the report compilation, many of the sub-projects mentioned either pre-date or fall outside the scope of IFC’s investment with the financial institutions (FIs) mentioned. In many other cases, the FIs have no exposure to the projects cited…
In leveraging our reach and scale through financial intermediaries, however, IFC cannot have the same level of oversight of the sub-projects supported by our FI clients as with our direct investments. But this work is a development imperative, and we are committed to supporting our clients and reducing the E&S risks in our portfolio. As part of this ongoing process, we are making some important additional improvements to the way we work, as our CEO, Philippe Le Houérou explains in his blog “Re-examining our work with financial institutions”...
🏆🌳The Goldman Environmental Prize winners for 2017 have been announced! And the winners are:
mark! Lopez (USA): For convincing California to provide lead testing and clean up a three-decade-old toxic site in East Los Angeles
Prafulla Samantara (India): For fighting for the Dongria Kohndh’s land rights and protecting the Niyamgiri Hills from open-pit aluminum ore mining.
Rodrigue Magaruka Katemba (Dem. Rep. Congo): For documenting bribery and corruption behind efforts to drill for oil in a World Heritage Site and Africa’s oldest national park.
Uros Marcel (Slovenia): For stopping Lafarge Cement from burning petcoke, a very dirty loophole to the EU’s carbon incentive strategy
Wendy Bowman (Australia): For successfully protecting her community – and her family farm – from the environmental destruction of coal development. Wendy is an octogenarian. 🌺
Rodrigo Tot (Guatemala): For leading his community to a landmark court decision, ordering the government to issue land titles to the Q’eqchi people, and protecting their land from destructive nickel mining.
+ The government and the mining companies have ignored the Guatemalan Court’s ruling. Rodrigo Tot is taking his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. [Precedent setting.]
🌊🌐Members of the grassroots indigenous Ngäbe-Buglé group in Panama continued their efforts against the Barro Blanco hydroelectric dam project, calling on the international community to address actions violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The group referred to the environmental impact statement, which failed to acknowledge the existence of three communities which would be flooded by the projected.
+ The International Labor Organization, echoing Allen Blackman’s findings two weeks ago, has released a new report arguing that decent work opportunities and access to decision making for indigenous populationscouldunleash a powerful tool in the fight to manage climate change.
🏛🛢💸US District Judge David Hittner has found Exxon Mobil guilty of releasing more than 10 million pounds of pollutants and violating the Clean Air Act 16,386 times. The case was originally brought by Environment Texas and the Sierra Club in 2010 and applied to infractions occurring from 2005 to 2013. Exxon was charged $19.9 million for the violations.
+ A coalition of environmental organizations sued the Trump administration, charging that his recent executive order to expand offshore drilling in the Arctic exceeds his constitutional and statutory authority.
⛈🌎UN OCHA’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Carribean released their Year in Reviewreport for 2016. The report centers around the natural disasters, droughts, and diseases that impacted more than 10.6 million people in the region last year.
💊🤒☣Preventing the next plague or pandemic may require a greater focus on microbes that travel through animals – particularly those domesticated for companionship and food supply. Prevention seems to be key at the moment, as the world’s leading health experts and activists agree – the global system for responding to infectious disease is broken.
+ In the US, key government positions are still unfilled, including a new director for the CDC. HHS and NIH funding is on track for a major reduction in funding, as is the State department and foreign aid.
+ Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, and Suriname have reported suspected and confirmed yellow fever cases. Brazil alone has reported over 3,000 cases and a fatality rate of 34%.
+ Melting ice at the poles may also release bacteria that have been frozen for centuries. Humans have never come in contact with these microorganisms and their potential to spread disease ought not to be overlooked.
Spotlight of Food and Water
📣Yemen is now the largest food security crisis in the world.📢
“I am shocked to my bones by what I have seen and heard here in war- and hunger- stricken Yemen. The world is letting some 7 million men, women and children slowly but surely, be engulfed by unprecedented famine. It is not a drought that is at fault. This preventable catastrophe is man-made from A to Z,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) after a five day visit to Sana’a, Aden and Amran in Yemen.
“This is agigantic failure of international diplomacy. Men with guns and power inside Yemen as well as in regional and international capitals are undermining every effort to avert an entirely preventable famine, as well as the collapse of health and education services for millions of children.
“Nowhere on earth are as many lives at risk. We are not even sure that the main humanitarian lifeline through the port of Hudaydah will be kept open. The Saudi-led, Western-backed, military coalition has threatened to attack the port, which would likely destroy it and cut supplies to millions of hungry civilians. The severe access restrictions to Yemen by air, sea and land has caused economic collapse in a country of 27 million people,” said Egeland.
+ Food and Agricultural Organization director José Graziano da Silva discusses how the FAO is prioritizing “rural livelihoods” strategies and seeking to empower farmers to rebuild their own communities.
+ Xavier Duvauchelle, Handicap International’s desk officer for the East African region, tries to explain the scale of suffering being experienced by the population of the countries on the verge of famine.
It is difficult to comprehend the extent of suffering across the region right now. Twenty million people in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria, are facing critical levels of food insecurity. This is a terrifying number–the equivalent to the populations of New York, London, and Paris! Every day, for months, each of these 20 million people has been trying to find enough food to sustain themselves and their loved ones. Tragically, in some areas people are already dying from starvation and related diseases.
Our teams in East Africa are genuinely afraid because we all remember the food crisis in 2011 that that resulted in 271,000 deaths. The latest statistics and our own experience on the ground show that we are now facing a much larger disaster. I would say that without drastic intervention we will witness a level of human suffering unlike anything we have seen for the past 70 years.
+ Alex de Wall, from the International Peace Institute, explains why the sudden grip of famine over a major part of the global populations evolved out of the international disconcern with the very methods that had nearly eliminated famine. Famine, de Wall argues, is a social crisis, not an environmental one. (See the UN Food Programme/UNDP research thread below for a rebuttal).
In fact, in the seven decades since World War II, the numbers of people who die from famines has fallen spectacularly. The drumbeat of 10 million starving every decade has faded to a small fraction of that toll, and the near-elimination of famine mortality is one of the great achievements of our time. But O’Brien is correct that we are at a historic turning point: The global decline in famines and famine deaths has suddenly halted and is being reversed; not because of climate or natural disaster, but because of war and atrocity.
There were many reasons for the under-recognized success in reducing famines: growing prosperity in Asia, the end of totalitarianism and wars of annihilation, and the control or elimination of killer diseases such as smallpox and typhus that killed millions of malnourished children. But credit also belongs to the international humanitarian response system. Twenty years ago I criticized the ”humanitarian international” for failing to deal with the political causes of mass starvation, but today it is clear that a professional and effective—and more politically aware—humanitarianism played its part in the near-conquest of famine.
🌽⛽Bangladesh, a grain importer, is planning to use some of its domestic grain to produce ethanol. The reduction in emissions by a densely populated country already producing “little in the way of climate-changing emissions” is admirable, but it is also concerning. The move could raise food prices, warn economists and environmental experts. Grain is a necessary foodstuff for both the Bangladeshi people and the animals they eat.
💹🍞The World Food Programme has released the Market Monitorfor April 2017, assessing the trends in staple food and fuel prices for 70 countries.
💦The National Water Resources Committee of Myanmar met this week to discuss coordinated efforts to address flood and drought conditions induced by climate change.
+ Rohyingya refugees living in refugee camps along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border are experiencinghigh rates ofdiarrhea, fever, and stomach pain due to the scarcity of clean drinking water. The dam that was being used by residents of the camp for fresh water has dried up.
📱🚱Bangalore has been called the ‘Silicon Valley’ of India – and, according to an official at the city’s Water Supply and Sewerage Board, their groundwater levels are approaching zero. Rapid urbanization into the tech hub strained a limited – and leaky – municipal water system. Adding intensity to the problem, Bangalore has been hit by drought every year since 2012.
🌧🚱In the southeastern Colombian city of Mocoa, mudslides buried 6 neighborhoods and killed 328 people last March. Exactly one month later (April 29th), Action against Hunger Spain reports:
“Although local solidarity and humanitarian organizations have managed to meet the immediate needs of the nearly 17,000 people affected, the population continues to rely on water distributed in tanker trucks. …69 (people) are still missing”
+ The Government of Colombia put out a press release on the work being done by the Water Vice-Ministry, the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management, Aquas Mocoa, and EPM to restore water service to Mocoa. The release describes the laying of polyethylene tubes to transport “raw but good quality water” as contingency measures while the new aqueduct is being built.
📢The US EPA is seeking feedback on “reducing regulatory burden” until May 15th.
Consistent with Executive Order 13777, EPA is seeking public input on existing regulations that could be repealed, replaced or modified to make them less burdensome. As a part of this effort, we will be accepting written public comments through May 15, 2017, at docket EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190…. Please visit www.epa.gov/aboutepa/office-water-feedback-reducing-regulatory-burden … for details.
+ A steering committee of about a dozen farmers will discuss the future of the Ogallala Aquifer in southwest Kansas on this Tuesday (May 8th) and is seeking participation from LEMA water rights holders.
🏞The Washington State Senate passed legislation that will allow rural counties and agencies to issue building permitswithout reviewing how the future property could impact senior water rights. Supporters say the previous standards, set by a state Supreme Court ruling, placed “undue burdens” on rural areas, “inhibiting landowners and stifling economic growth.”
😔Thousands of residents of Flint, Michigan have been told that they could lose their homes if they don’t pay outstanding water bills. The city has ended a program that was paying the majority of those charges, given the water still contains high amounts of lead.
+ Lead is not the only concern for the US water supply. Sylvia Lee, PhD, from Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, has found that hormones, antidepressants, and amphetamines are a persistent presence in the six stream sites in Baltimore, MD.
Lee’s coauthor, Emma Rosi, PhD, also of the Cary Institute, says that her group’s experimental design is a good way to understand the effects of one pollutant on a controlled ecosystem, since all streams are virtually identical in design and experience the same environmental conditions, save for the added pollutant. However, she notes, it’s a closed-loop system, unlike real streams that receive a continuous supply of new microbes from upstream. That limits the duration the experiment can run, because the microbes that have been collected die over time.
While previous studies have looked at whether drugs are present in bodies of water like streams and ponds, this is one of the first that systematically examines the biological implications of their presence. Because much about the effects of amphetamines on nonhuman life are unknown, Lee recommends we do more “scientific research to further investigate the ecological consequences of these and other emerging contaminants to better understand [their] environmental effects.”
Perdue Farms, one of the largest chicken producers in the US, is trying to find the right kind of slow-growth chicken breed to fill the demand from the sustainable food market. Get this: chickens that live longer, actually taste better. #ProChicken
+ The persistence of horrendous working conditions in slaughterhouses suggests that the US poultry – and beef – industry is less inclined to make such reforms.
+ The US dairy industry has proven more resistant to the sustainable nutrition trend – and more adept at leveraging their political clout. Peter Whorlskey looks into why that organic milk you’re buying may not actually be organic.
Human Rights Update
“With the war, it has been very difficult to study and we don’t even have textbooks. We just have to share one book among us all.”
– Afrah, a 12-year-old Somali refugee living in Sana’a, Yemen.
+ It may seem odd to consider, but Yemen has a long history of refugees flowing into the country. In 2012, Yemen received around107,000 refugees from Syria alone. Today, refugees continue to flow into Yemen, predominantly from Africa. The UNHCR estimated that, at least, 117,000 refugees arrived in 2016. Yemen is currently home to 270,000 refugees and asylum seekers.
[Those fleeing into Yemen] are aware there is a conflict, but I just don’t think they know how bad it is. … Yemen is a very generous country and people have traditionally sought protection here. …They don’t have enough information. They are misled by smugglers and traffickers about what lies ahead,” she said. “They are making incredibly dangerous journeys across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and then arriving in the middle of a warzone.
+ The UNHCR has begun a campaign to raise awareness of the conditions inside of Yemen. A song, entitled “Dangerous Crossings,” features prominent Somali, Ethiopian and Egyptian artists, who warn potential refugees of the dangers of sea crossings to Yemen. (Touching and beautiful.)
“To leave like this is tragic / To stay away heart-breaking / But despite the risks, the desperate tide rises / Like an unlucky child fallen from the nest / Far from home and everything familiar / How many tears will you cry?”
+ Fighting and famine inside Yemen has also mobilized significant return flows into Africa. Yemeni’s themselves have also fled their country in record numbers, after largely remaining inside their country since the start of the conflict in 2014.
+ The UN World Food Programme has found that each 1% increase in food insecurity in a population compels 1.9% more people to migrate. Furthermore, their research indicates that food insecurity is a significant cause for the “incidence and intensity” of armed conflict. Their new report, At the Root of Exodus: Food security, conflict, and international migration, is a must read.
+ In case you were wondering, “climate resilience is key to avoiding future food crises,” according to research by the UNDP.
💶🏛James Cockayne takes a look at the mandate of the ‘International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011’, (commonly known as the ‘IIIM’) established by UN General Assembly Resolution 71/248. Cockayne discusses whether the IIIM offers hope for justice in Syria and the number of obstacles – including voluntary funding – it will need to overcome.
🔜How will China’s role in global development and governance change as the US retreats? Brook Larmer discusses how China’s historical solidarity with developing countries and their focus on economic development over human rights could generate a new type of world order/colonialism.
(Namibia) offers a glimpse of what may be the largest global trade-and-investment spree in history. Driven by economics (a hunger for resources and new markets) and politics (a longing for strategic allies), Chinese companies and workers have rushed into all parts of the world. In 2000, only five countries counted China as their largest trading partner; today, more than 100 countries do, from Australia to the United States.
The drumbeat of proposed projects never stops: a military operating base, China’s first overseas, in Djibouti; an $8 billion high-speed railway through Nigeria; an almost-fantastical canal across Nicaragua expected to cost $50 billion. Even as China’s boom slows down, its most ambitious scheme is still ramping up: With the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — its name a reference to trade routes — President Xi Jinping has spoken of putting $1.6 trillion over the next decade into infrastructure and development throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The scheme would dwarf the United States’ post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe.
☠⚖Speakers at the Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights (JKCHR) conference stressed the need to alert the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the events in occupied Kasmir. The participants believe that India has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
+ Fifteen years after the creation of the world’s most ambitious court, is the ICC capable of administering impartial justice amid political change and shaking funding sources?
👣Residents of the Chocó departments continue to be displaced by territorial disputes between Colombia’s ELN guerrillas and “disarmed” paramilitary – what ABColombia is now calling “neoparamilitary.” The State Ombudsman’s office has estimated mass forced displacements of around 4,000 people and other atrocities.
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
🌊🐛☑Three European researchers have identified one possible method for addressing the world’s plastic addiction – caterpillars. Their paper in Current Biology this week cataloged the ability of wax-moth caterpillars to break down the methylene bridges in polyethylene. Polyethylene is a persistent component of most plastics. The caterpillars consumed the compounds faster than other “plastic ingesting” assistants.
+ Adrian Giffiths is testing an exciting new way to manage the tons of plastics in the world’s oceans. The CEO of Recycling Technologies has developed a machine that can turn petroleum-based products back into petroleum.
📈☀ The Risky Business Project, co-founded by Michael Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Thomas Steyer, put out a new report on investing in the clean energy economy. (It is also formatted in a visually engaging way which is, in itself, worth taking note of.)
This report examines the opportunities for American businesses and investors in a clean energy economy. It presents technology choices and outlines near- and medium-term investment opportunities across nine U.S. census regions. It finds that lowering climate risk by building a clean energy economy is technically and economically achievable using commercial or near-commercial technology.
⌛The crack in the Larsen C ice shelf, which sits on the east coast of the Antartic Peninsula, has grown 50 miles since 2011. The scientists monitoring the crack, now 111 miles long and more than 1,000 feet wide, have identified a “branch,” split from the main crack in the direction of the ocean. Already 9 miles long, only 12 miles of ice is preventing the entire chunk from splitting off.
The ice shelf itself — which can be thought of as a kind of floating ledge jutting out from the edge of the continent — is resting on the surface of the ocean and wouldn’t contribute to any sea-level rise by itself if it were to break off. But ice shelves generally serve as a kind of stopper at the edges of glaciers, stabilizing and containing all the ice behind them. When they break, they have the potential to unleash a flood of ice from the continent that can significantly contribute to rising sea levels.
🛢🐟 Meanwhile, in the US Arctic, companies will now be able to conduct extractive energy exploration operations in marine sanctuaries. The “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” also opens up waters in federal waters in the Atlantic and Pacific.
+ The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia stayed litigation against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan rule for 60 days. The EPA has not asked the court to return the legislation back to the agency but requested guidance on whether to send the regulation back altogether.
+ With all the roll-back happening on US environmental regulations, Daniel Sullivan, from Resources for the Future (RFF), weighs the costs and benefits of air qualityregulations.
+ RFF also put out a new report this week on the design and implementation strategies for a national carbon tax for the US, including an interesting approach to the interplay between state and federal actors.
😣🤦♀️The US EPA has removed the organization’s climate change website, which has existed since the 1990s. An archived page is still available here.
+ Climate change denial may be a psychological necessity for those living in Miami, where scientists at NOAA have assessed that the city will be swallowed by the sea, the only question that remains is when.
+ Check out Climate Central’s “Surging Seas” tool, which creates visualizations of sea level rise under two different climate scenarios.
🔬Swarms of tiny bugs have invaded Louisiana’s coast. The microscopic insects are feasting on Roseau sugar cane, a critical local crop. Entomologists in the area are scrambling to determine what the bug is and how to combat it.
Climate change is expected to affect your life in some surprising ways in the coming decades. From worsening pollen allergies to lowered sex drives, raising the planet’s temperature by continued greenhouse gas emissions has wide-ranging impacts — but did you know that global warming may also make your plane ride significantly bumpier?…
“Climate change is strengthening the north-south temperature difference that drives the jet stream,” according to Dr. Paul Williams of the University of Reading in the UK. “A stronger jet stream is less stable and means more clear-air turbulence,”
Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties
A new argument for renewable fuel standards – the resulting weight reduction of the automobile may result in fewer fatalities from car accidents. Full study here. (The Washington Post; The National Bureau of Economic Research)
That still may not be enough to convince Daniel Simmons, the new head of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), that the mandate of his office is worthwhile. (The Washington Post)
Two words: Apple-picking robots. (MIT Tech Review)
The psychological benefits of wasting time – and why you are actually being less productive if you resist. (Quartz)
If you’re poor – you may need 20 years with almost nothing going wrong. No pressure. (The Atlantic)
Evan Osnos discusses how the US President could very well be deemed unfit for office. It turns out, the 25th Amendment considers “pathological inattention” to qualify as a mental illness that impairs the ability of an individual to perform the duties of the Presidency. Go figure. (The New Yorker; NPR – below)
Steve Paulson tribute’s one of the physic’s world’s greatest minds, Dr. Roger Penrose, and his theories on human consciousness. (Nautilus)
As I wondered why Penrose keeps hammering away at his theory on consciousness after all these years, I asked him if he thinks there’s any inherent meaning in the universe. His answer surprised me. “Somehow, our consciousness is the reason the universe is here.” So does he think there’s intelligent life—or consciousness—somewhere else in the cosmos? “Yes, but it may be extremely rare.” But if consciousness is the point of this whole shebang, wouldn’t you expect to find some evidence of it beyond Earth? “Well, I’m not so sure our own universe is that favorably disposed toward consciousness,” he said. “You could imagine a universe with a lot more consciousness that’s peppered all over the place. Why aren’t we in one of those rather than this one where it seems to be a rather uncommon activity?
🌍 An Earth Day essay by Kristin Myers on why the key to poverty reduction is finding sustainable ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Elsewhere, Namati’s CEO Vivek Maru argues that the path to addressing climate change lies in empowering the individuals on the front lines.
🌊⛈A report from the Government of Myanmar ranked the country 42nd out of 171 countries that are most at risk of natural disaster events while ranking as 15th highest in the world for lack of readiness to respond to such events. The latter statistic is likely linked to Myanmar’s shortcomings in transportation infrastructure and electricity.
🌴🏛 Landmark verdict from an Indonesian court has ordered the provincial government of Central Kalimantan to review the permits of palm oil companies associated with the massive forest and peat land fires in 2015. The case was filed in 2016 by Indonesian citizens with the support of Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI).
⚖🐟A Chinese court has announced that it will accept a case brought by a fish farmer against two steel companies and local environmental authorities. Feng Jun says that the authorities have allowed the companies to operate despite falsifying environmental-impact assessment reports. Thousands of tons of toxic waste have been dumped into the Baoqiu River from these operations.
🏛🌽🍎Monsanto has been found guilty of violating the Human Right to food, health, a healthy environment, and the freedom to conduct indispensable scientific research, by the Monsanto Tribunal in The Hague. The Tribunal was convened by a global civil society commission. The judge’s legal opinion held that:
Monsanto’s activities have caused and are causing damages to the soil, water and generally to the environment, thereby reducing the productive possibilities for the production of adequate food. …
Monsanto is also interfering with the right to food by denying peasants access to means. Famers in countries that adopted GMO crops have seen their seeds choice restricted41. Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to decreased seeds choice. …
Another relevant dimension of the right to food that was exposed by the witnesses is the impact of GMO seeds on their property rights. … i.e., farmers who have not bought or used Monsanto’ seeds in their fields but which nevertheless become contaminated by GMO seeds47.
In this connection, the Tribunal agrees that seeds patents “are in contradiction with the principle of human right to food which guarantees access to nutrition, the basic need for every human to exist.
The Tribunal also proposed the need for a ‘crime of ecocide‘ within international law.
🌍⛏ 👣Mediation talks are expected to begin next week between Kumba Iron Ore the residents of Dingleton, South Africa, a town on the Northern Cape. The mining company has asked the entire town to relocate to a town 25 km away. 25 families remain in Dingleton and are refusing to move, claiming Kumba is not complying with the International Finance Corporate Guidelines. The company is demanding over R1.6 million (US$118,613) from residents who refuse to relocate.
+ The Ikara Community in Edo, Nigeria has brought the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NDPC) before the House of Representatives. Residents are demanding N11.736 billion (US$37,286,798) in compensation for crude oil pollution and degradation in its swampland and waterways.
💦🏔👣Spotlight on Food and Water 🐄🛰🏊
🍽☠👣 At the Food and Agriculture Organization’s UN Council session this week, the conversation centered around the dire situation of famine. FAO Director, General José Graziano da Silva addressed the opening session with a call to action for to assist those facing famine in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and Nigeria. “20 million people could starve to death in next six months. …Famine does not just kill people, it contributes to social instability and also perpetuates a cycle of poverty and aid dependency that endures for decades.”
[Not to mention increasing displacement into Jordan, with the Kingdom already facing major stress on its water resources from the substantial refugee population they have already welcomed.]
Director Graziano da Silva’s full remarks:
+ In Yemen, nearly 70% of the population – 18.8 million people – are in need of humanitarian and protection assistance, while 17 million people are now estimated to be food insecure. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report indicates that this number has increased by three million in nine months.
“The crisis in Yemen is not only characterized by conflict but also by natural disaster-induced large-scale displacement and complex external migration flows and mobility patterns.” – International Organization for Migration
+ One in three households is in urgent need of food in South Sudan.
+ In Nigeria’s Borno state, 300,000 children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in the next year.
+ More than five million people in Ethiopia are in need of food assistance.
+ A village teacher on the Kenyan coasts describes how students sometimes have only water “spiced with a pinch of salt” as a meal. The rate of malnutrition in Kenya is above emergency levels. Now the wells are pumping only salty water.
+ Although not yet “considered a trend,” the recent increase in piracy activities off the coast of Somalia may be linked to the famine threatening the country.
+ Oxfam is calling for a commitment from donor’s to fund the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan, a nationwide ceasefire, and a condemnation of all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including the appointment of an impartial commission to investigate alleged crimes. The US is among the 25 UN member states that have failed to provide more than $5 million for aid operations, far less than 50% of their “fair share,” according to Oxfam. The US is on this list for two years in a row and that is not likely to change given current budget cuts to foreign aid.
+ Save the Children reports that none of the money appealed for by the UN to provide education for Yemeni children has been delivered. Teachers have not been paid in six months. At least1449 schools have been bombed, with more than 1660 having closed during the conflict.
💦🛰FAO also released the beta version of their new Water Productivity Open Access Portal (WaPOR). The portal monitors water productivity through open sourced remote sensing monitors to create visualized data reports on agriculture water productivity in Africa and the Middle East. Assessments and “computation-intensive caluculations” are powered by Google Earth Engine.
👩🌾🏞 India’s coping strategy for climate change will need to begin with waterconservation practices in agricultural production methods. Government officials say that this is already happening and that long-term plans are in place to continue these efforts.
+ Another potential future for agriculture – using dronesto increase crop yields, save water, and reduce crop damage.
🐄🏊The Shenandoah Valley’s waterways in Virginia have taken on 410,198 tons of animal manure – or 13,302,607 pounds of phosphorus, according to a 2014 report by the VA Dept of Conservation and Recreation. So why are children still swimming there?
🏛👣Human Rights Update💣🏥
💣👧Human Rights Watch published a report this week that suggests the use of anti-personnel mines by Houthi and Saleh forces in Yemen. H.E. Thomas Hajnoczi, Ambassador of Austria to the UN in Geneva who presides over the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, has called for urgent action to protect the civilian population.
+ The ICRC is providing puppet shows in classrooms in Palestine’s Gaza Strip, teaching children about safe behavior around Explosive Remnants of War (ERW). Unexploded ordnances from the 2014 conflict have already caused 16 deaths and injured 97, including 48 children.
🏛 The ICRC also cosponsored the 15th annual International Humanitarian Law Moot Court in Hong Kong, China this week. This year, the question is “all about new technologies,” including drones and cyber technology, as well as the newest crime codified in the Rome Statute, the use of expanding bullets.
🔫🗣Myanmar held a three-day regional national-level dialogue in the Shan State capital of Taunggyi this week. The dialogues are a mandatory component of the national ceasefire agreement, signed late last year.
The eight NCA signatories are the Karen National Union (KNU), RCSS, Chin National Front (CNF), Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO), Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council (KNLA-PC), All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) and Arakan Liberation Party (ALP).
Among them, only the ALP has not been allowed by the government to hold public consultations, citing the instability due to the ongoing conflict in Arakan State.
+ The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) is leading an ethnic-based political dialogue that remains at a stalemate. The RCSS was expected to attend the regional dialogue.
Shan politicians have said that they have no specific expectations of the government-led national dialogue, as they feel it is being “rushed.” Four hundred people have been invited to the event, and the preparation time for Sunday’s dialogue is four days—in contrast to extensive pre-consultations carried out by Shan civil society groups and the RCSS.
📱👣 A new smartphone application, produced by advertising agency Grey Malaysia in partnership with UNHCR, provides an interactive window into life as a refugee. “Finding Home” recreates the OS of a smartphone and immerses the user in the personal journey of a fictionalized refugee character. (Interestingly, the character is a young Rhoyinga girl.)
“The refugee story is often a deeply personal one, and difficult for people to understand. It is easy to forget that behind the statistics and the politics of any refugee crisis, are individual human beings with real stories of pain and fear, but also of hope and strength,” said Richard Towle, UNHCR Representative.
👣🌎Displacement in Rio is increasingly caused by the systemic removal of the cities poorest residents to the periphery. A new 20 minute documentary by Reuters explores the human cost of Rio’s growth by following one of these residents. (Teaser:)
🔫🚧The impact of decades of violence in Colombia on civil society, communities, and families continues to be felt in daily life, says Medicos sin Fronteras.
+ The ELN has allegedly attacked the Caño limón Coveñas pipeline in Guamalito, in the Norte de Santander department. Crude oil (it is not clear how much) has spilled into Cimitarra creek, the drinking water source for residents of the El Carmen municipality. At least 700 familieswill be affected by restrictions on access to water. Schools in the area have suspended classes.
+ Clashes over territorial disputes between the ELN and FARC have displaced 182 people from four villages (Guayabal, Piscindé, Isla Long and Long Lap) in the Nariño department. The situation has resulted in overcrowding and increased pressure on WASH systems in other parts of the municipality.
+ Meanwhile, the Unidad para las Victimas celebrated the paving of the main road, as part of the reparation measures promised to one Nariño municipality, La Cruz, which has been particularly impacted by guerilla violence. The event included an exhibition of female entrepreneurship.
☔☀Environmental Science, Policy, and Management🌊⚖
☔🏫A bulletin by Redhum puts the latest death toll for the “winter wave” of heavy rains and landslides in Colombia at 360. 217 harsh weather events occurred in 168 municipalities, with the departments of Putumayo, Caldas, Antioquia, Cauca, Santander, and Chocó having been most affected. 10,300 families are estimated to have been impacted. 100 people are still missing. Approximately 60 aqueducts were affected in some way and 900 homes have been destroyed.
+ In Peru, 2,500 schools have been affected by recent flooding. The Government of Peru estimates that nearly 28,000 students are receiving classes in temporary classrooms, with permanent locations expected in six months.
🌬☀The minimum coverage of summer Arctic ice has fallen by half in the last 30 years; its volume has fallen by three-quarters. Not only does has this pace led to the prediction that the Arctic will be ice-free by 2040 but it also renders the sea an actor itself in increasing global temperatures. Arctic ice is also a crucial habitat for several subspecies of seals.
🛰⛈A study examining satellite records of storms across the African Sahel, found that intense storms there have tripled in frequency since the 1980’s.
⚖⛏Meanwhile, US Congressional Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz are leading the charge against the Antiquities Act. Whether a sitting president has the power to rescind a national monument established by their predecessor, appears to be an unsettled legal question. The broader question involves the rationality behind the push for development of public lands at a time when the production values are declining relative to conservation and recreation values.
+ Characteristically dis-concerned with or oblivious to legal boundaries, President Trump has vowed to “end another egregious use of government power” and “return control to the people.“
+ The greatest threat to environmental management and conservation in the US may be the advancement of legislation permitting climate denial in K-12 education.
If you are in the Seattle area, please consider joining the AVEDA Artwalk for Water, May 7th at 7:00pm. More information.
A new study suggests that a single injection of an old (affordable) drug could address a leading cause of deaths linked to child births. (The Washington Post)
Artificial wombs have been successful in raising fetal lambs. The invention could offer new questions and possibilities for the care of premature infants. (MIT Tech Review)
About one in 10 births in the U.S. are premature, or at least three weeks before a baby’s due date. Of those, around 30,000 each year are critically preterm, or younger than 26 weeks. Babies born that early risk lung problems as well as delays in physical development and learning.
Currently, premature babies are placed inside an incubator that warms them and protects them from germs. Partridge says placing babies inside the new device, which imitates a woman’s uterus, could lower the risk of death or long-lasting problems by allowing babies to finish developing.
Physicists at Washington State University have created a fluid with negative mass. (BBC)
Last week, I included an article from Wait But Why on the promises of Elon Musk’s new venture, Neuralink. Antonio Regaldo of MIT argues that one ought not to be so quick to believe the hype. (MIT Technology Review) James Wu and Rajesh Rao also got in on the act, discussing the (many) implications of the technology. (Futurism)
Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, the Pope gave a Ted talk:
✴ And, last but not least, one long(ish) read discussing whether the days of falsifiability have gone the way of the ‘home phone.’ David Weinberger asks what machine learning means for how we practice science. Excellent/Mind blowing essay. (Backchannel)
🌎🌱⚖The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a series of meetings on human rights violations against environmental defenders in Panama this week. In what has become a familiar affair in the developing world, international and government leaders reportedly stressed that the meetings address the topic(s) they approved, rather than the structural system of development or individual development projects (ie. the Barro Blanco dam) which they are already entangled with.
+ In Chile, activists have received death threats after producing a report that avocado production in the country is draining water resources at the expense of local residents.
+ Alan Blackman of Resources For the Future, argues thatgranting legal rights to indigenous communities for the land they historically control can be an invaluable tool in the management of environmental problems, including deforestation and biodiversity loss.
👋🍌The Lao government has ordered the shutdown of multiple environmentally destructive Chinese banana farms. The ban will close the operations when their contracts expire and forbid new contracts. Provincial authorities must now decide how to rehabilitate the heavily polluted land – preferably in ways that provide occupations for local villagers.
+ Indigenous communities on an island in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province have succeeded in revoking a Chinese company’s mining license through the Supreme Court. The mine covered nearly half the total area of the island and was met with opposition as soon as it obtained a license in 2014. The residents of the local fishing communities report that the mining company had already damaged their environment, including clearing forest areas and destroying coral reefs, before operations had even begun.
+ Following orders to shut down gold mining operations in Maramato, Colombia, Gran Colombia Gold has filed a US$700 million lawsuit under the Colombian-Canadian free trade agreement. The government to cease its plans of flattening a mountain to create an open pit mine after the company failed to consult with local residents, in accordance with Colombian law. The court’s decision will set a big precedent in a country betting a major chunk of its economic development on mining while only selectively enforcing any regulations at all. Ensuring peace and rule of law may require market diversification.
+ Gold mining has impacted water supplies across Colombia. The international Committee of the Red Cross put out a short release on the work they have recently started in north-eastern Antioquia. [For more on other impacts of gold mining on communities in Colombia, scroll down to the Human Rights Update.]
💦🥑Spotlight on Food & Water💉☀
☀🌍🍽 Kenya, in its second year of drought, is experiencing “very late onset” of the “long rains” typical of March to May. An estimated 2.6 million people are acutely food insecure and the government is warning that this figure may reach 4 million by mid-April.
A dimension to also monitor is Kenya general elections, which the country will conduct in August 2017. While the country has experienced violence with varying impact in previous elections, there is need to continue monitoring the situation as the upcoming elections have shown signs of intense competition that could result in violent conflicts.
+ The late rains are also worsening an already traumatic situation in Somalia. The drought has already damaged crops and livestock, increasing the possibility of famine in 2017, even if the Gu rains hit normal levels later this season. Disease outbreaks are already being reported, including measles and cholera, and have the potential spiral out of control in these environments.
As of 7 April, WHO reported a total of 43,215 cases of acute watery diarrhea (AWD)/cholera in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. These numbers are set to rise with the onset of the rainy season. For Somalia, the cumulative Case Fatality Rate (CFR) for 2017 is far above the emergency threshold of 1.0 per cent, in Middle Juba (14.1 per cent) and Bakool (5.1 per cent) regions due to increasing malnutrition and overcrowding in camps and towns. Efforts are ongoing to control a scabies outbreak in SNNP and Oromia regions in Ethiopia. The increase in the number of suspected measles cases, close to 4,000 cases mostly in Somalia, is of serious concern.
+ Cholera has already spread across three counties in South Sudan’s Jonglei province. This is the longest running outbreak since South Sudan’s founding in 2011.
+ Deteriorating water supplies may begin to motivate attention from business users around Africa’s Great Lakes, as the remaining water has become too polluted for profit margins. Professor Eric Odada, from the University of Nairobi, makes the case that this could finally push the private sector to begin taking water conservation and protection seriously.
☔ In Colombia, at least 2,260 people in 10 Manizales’ neighborhoods are still without gas, energy, and water services after they were suspended last week during heavy rains caused approximately 40 landslides.
+ The landslides and heavy rains in Peru are now estimated to have affected approximately 1.2 million people. 120,000 households are food insecure at the national level.
Half of Yemen’s population lacks clean water, sanitation, and hygiene services
Seven million peopleare facing famine
48,000 people displaced by conflict on western coast since January, with three million people displaced in the last two years
Incidents of gender-based violence have increased by more than 63% since the conflict escalated
The number of children killed in conflict increased by 70%, and nearly twice as many children were injured and recruited into the fighting, since March 2016 compared to the same period the previous year.
👣⚒ Human Rights Update ⚖
✊🇻🇪 Photo essay in The Atlantic documents the “mother of all marches” in Venezuela this week, where thousands of protestors assembled against the Maduro administration/regime.
“Demonstrators rally during the so-called “mother of all marches” against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 19, 2017.”
“Demonstrators clash with riot police during the so-called “mother of all marches” in Caracas on April 19, 2017.”
“Thousands of anti-government protesters march along a highway in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 19, 2017. Opponents of President Nicolas Maduro called on Venezuelans to take to the streets to march against the embattled socialist leader.”
“Demonstrators clash with riot police in Caracas on April 19, 2017. “
“Demonstrators wade across the Guaire River as they run away from security forces during anti-government protests in Caracas on April 19, 2017.”
“A demonstrator throws back a tear gas grenade while clashing with riot police in Caracas on April 19, 2017.”
🌎👣⚒ Communities in the Chocó province of Colombia have been displaced by renewed violence by ELN groups, who seem to have clashed with the (supposedly disarmed) paramilitary groups present in the province. The paramilitary groups have provided networks of “security” for the mining operations in Chocó. Killings of Indigenous people have been reported in the departments of Chocó, Cauca, and Nariño, affecting the Wounan, Nasa and Awá Indigenous Peoples.
+ Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, is investigating human rights violations in the Cesar coal region of Colombia, where thousands of people have been murdered and tens of thousands driven from their land. The majority of European coal imported from Colombia comes from this region. Vattenfall is expected to present a proposal as to how energy and mining companies can compensate victims of “blood coal” and continue on with their operations.
New in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
🌎🌊Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, examined reefs in Hawaii, the Florida Keys and the U.S. Virgin Islands and found that the seafloors around these declining reefs are eroding. The study examined seafloor depths since the 1930s. “Think of the reefs as kind of natural speed bumps,” said oceanographer David Zawada, one of the study’s co-authors. “Take that away, this wave energy, more of it is going to be able to migrate in closer to shore.”
🏞 ⚖ 💰Nonnavigable U.S. waterways remain under the uncertain jurisdiction, as the Trump administration has directed the EPA to review the broadly contested “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule. While there are a number of legal and environmental challenges to the WOTUS legislation, the administration has specifically ordered the review to concern itself with consistency to “promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and respecting states’ rights.”
🏔⏳A team of scientists from Canadian and U.S. universities has documented the first case of large-scale river reorganization to result from human-caused climate change. The retreat of Kaskawulsh Glacier in Canada’s Yukon territory has caused a rerouting of the meltwater away from the Kluane and Yukon River. The fresh water flows are now ending up in the saline Pacific Ocean instead of the Bering Sea. The scientists claim that, although events had occurred in the planet’s geological past, this event is, to their knowledge, relatively so sudden as to be labeled “geologically instantaneous.”
❄🛰⌛ Stef Lhermitee of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands alerted NASA to a new crack in Greenland’s Petermann Glacier this week, after examining satellite images. NASA performed an airborne mission over Petermann and found the crack is in an unusual location toward the middle of the ice. The crack has the potential to intersect with a crack on the glacier’s eastern side.
+ Bloomberg published the first of a three-part series on the economic, political, and humanitarian impacts of a melting arctic. There is more at stake than meets the eye.
+ It’s not just the Northern arctic that’s melting. Two other studies were published in Nature this week discussing the discovery of an extensive network of lakes and rivers transporting liquid meltwater across Antartica. One paper discusses the possibility that one specific drainage system in question, may have stabilizing effects on the ice shelf.
Those missions are aimed not only at helping scientists learn more about key parts of the climate system and how global warming is changing them, but also at practical matters such as monitoring the health of the nation’s coastal waters and providing earlier warnings of drought stress in crops.
+ One industry that has and would certainly continue to benefit from such data – insurance. Great piece in the NYT Magazine this week discussing how flood insurance has become big business on the U.S.’s eastern coast.
👾💃🏘 Another great essay in the Times Magazine addresses why we are still denying a phenomenon even as we are experiencing it. As a society, we came to think of climate change as some binary disaster. Instead, it has become more akin to an encroaching disturbance of the status quo. As a result, Mooallem argues, we are consistently adapting to this new normal through a social process of “generational environmental amnesia.”
There are, however, many subtler shifts in our awareness that can’t be as precisely demarcated. Scenarios that might sound dystopian or satirical as broad-strokes future projections unassumingly materialize as reality. Last year, melting permafrost in Siberia released a strain of anthrax, which had been sealed in a frozen reindeer carcass, sickening 100 people and killing one child. In July 2015, during the hottest month ever recorded on earth (until the following year), and the hottest day ever recorded in England (until the following summer), the Guardian newspaper had to shut down its live-blogging of the heat wave when the servers overheated. And low-lying cities around the world are experiencing increased “clear-sky flooding,” in which streets or entire neighborhoods are washed out temporarily by high tides and storm surges. Parts of Washington now experience flooding 30 days a year, a figure that has roughly quadrupled since 1960. In Wilmington, N.C., the number is 90 days. But scientists and city planners have conjured a term of art that defuses that astonishing reality: “nuisance flooding,” they call it.
Kahn calls our environmental generational amnesia “one of the central psychological problems of our lifetime,” because it obscures the magnitude of so many concrete problems. You can wind up not looking away, exactly, but zoomed in too tightly to see things for what they are. Still, the tide is always rising in the background, swallowing something. And the longer you live, the more anxiously trapped you may feel between the losses already sustained and the ones you see coming.
☣🗼🐠 BP’s operations in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil fields leaked natural gas for (at least) four days and crude oil for three days. “There have been no injuries and no reports of harm to wildlife,” BP spokesman Brett Clanton said Saturday. It is unclear how that could be the case, given the significant amounts of methane in natural gas.
+ Oil and gas are not the only contaminants threatening Arctic waters. Garbage, including billions of small plastic pieces, is being channeled into Greenland and Barents Seas by strong ocean currents.
Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties
The UK marks its first day of coal-free power since the industrial revolution.
What we know, first and foremost, is that it hardly matters what Trump says because what he says is as likely as not to have no relationship to the truth, no relationship to what he said last year during the campaign or even what he said last week. What he says bears no relationship to any consistent political or policy ideology or world-view. What he says is also likely to bear no relationship to what his top advisers or appointees have said or believe, making them unreliable interlocutors even if they agreed among themselves, which they don’t. This lack of clear policy is compounded by the fact that the president, despite his boasts to the contrary, knows very little about the topics at hand and isn’t particularly interested in learning. In other words, he’s still making it up as he goes along.
Long read – but plenty of pictures: Tim Urban explains the awesomeness of Elon Musk’s new business venture.
⚓🏝An ambitious new report by the International Focus Programme on Environmental Law and the European Law Students Association (ESLA Malta) presents a number of daring – and exciting – proposals for the future of environmental law in Malta. The report’s recommendations include recognizing the legal personality of land – (see below for current examples of this in India and New Zealand) – and the incorporation of the Human Right to Water into the legal code.
This coming week is “IFP Week,” during which ELSA Malta and the IFP are focused on raising awareness about the importance of environmental law, including the relationship between a safe and healthy environment and the realization of human rights.
Title VI bars discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. The City and the Port of Oakland are charged with expanding operations within a consistent “pattern of neglect and systemic disregard for the health and wellbeing of West Oakland’s residents.”
The complaint, filed on behalf of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), alleges that the diesel emissions generated in and around the port have resulted in air pollution levels in the predominantly non-white communities that are 90 times higher than the state average. The population of West Oakland has experienced frequent and severe respiratory and cardiovascular issues. The life expectancy for these communities is nearly a decade less than the rest of Oakland.
🌎💦Mudslides hit Colombia and Mexico this week, with death tolls of 254 and 39 respectively. Hurricane Earl had been downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached the Mexican states of Puebla and Veracruz on Thursday. Nonetheless, torrential rains over the weekend brought “a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours.”
+ Mocoa, the capital of the remote Putumayo province in Colombia’s Amazon basin, was struck Saturday morning while the town’s 40,000 inhabitants slept. Extremely heavy rainfall dramatically raised the levels of the Mocoa River and its tributaries. The water systems overflowed their banks, and mud and debris inundated entire neighborhoods, sweeping away homes and vehicles. At least 43 children are among the dead, with approximately 300 families displaced and many more still missing.
Reasonably common, although this one was particularly deadly. South America is considered a hotspot for landslides. In November, nine people died in a landslide in El Tambo, about 90 miles from Mocoa, during a landslide that followed heavy rain; the previous month, six were killed in another near Medellin. In 2015, a mudslide in Salgar, about 60 miles southwest of Medellin, killed more than 80.
Scientists say that factors such as heavy rains, deforestation, dense human populations, and informal housing can heighten the risk of landslides. Santos has blamed climate change for contributing to the disaster in Mocoa, a view echoed by Martin Santiago, the U.N. chief for Colombia.
“Climate change is generating dynamics and we see the tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency, and magnitude of these natural effects, as we have just seen in Mocoa,” he said.
Adriana Soto, regional director of The Nature Conservancy and a former Colombian environment minister, told Caracol Radio that she believed climate change was a factor, as well as the construction of housing near rivers, and deforestation, which reduced the landscape’s natural resilience to slippage. “When the basins are deforested, they break down. It is as if we remove the protection for avoiding landslides,” she said.
Spotlight on Food and Water
💧🌡What if we changed the way we have come to think about climate change? What if we left behind the single-narrative of climate change being entirely about carbon dioxide emissions, to consider a more comprehensive approach? Such an approach would include, among other things, the impact of water management on Earth’s climatic systems.
+ Alternatively, Rob Jackson argues we should “forget about climate change” and promote the low-carbon economy through security, health, and employment motivators.
🌅👤An unusual and innovative new way countries are protecting rivers sacred to religious and indigenous populations – granting rivers legal personhood. Three rivers, the Ganges among them, have been assigned legal “parents” to protect the water bodies.
👣 Drought-Driven Displacement in the Horn of Africa – IDMC Internal Displacement Update – Issue 14
“More than 444,000 people were displaced directly or indirectly in relation to drought in Somalia between 1 November 2016 and 24 March 2017. More than 187,000 people were displaced between 1 and 24 March. The largest movements were to Baidoa in Bay region (more than 82,000 people), Mogadishu (more than 79,000) and Gaalkacyo (as many as 24,000) (UNHCR, 24 March 2017; UNHCR, 24 March 2017). More than 4,000 people, mostly women and children from Bay, Gedo and Middle Juba regions, crossed into Ethiopia in early 2017 because of drought (OCHA, 31 March 2017). Somali families told “harrowing stories of abandoning their weak cattle, of being forced to leave their homes to search for food and water”. A mother of ten from Gedo province said: “I lost ten goats. One day they just started falling and dying. I decided to move away, as I feared that my children would start falling and dying too” (Norwegian Refugee Council, 29 March 2017).
“More than 20,000 people were displaced by drought in Garissa and Turkana counties in Kenya between 1 January and 31 March. Another 5,000 people fled violence relating to cattle rustling in Baringo county during the same period, and more than 30,000 Kenyans with their cattle migrated to Uganda in search of water and grazing pastures. One hundred people who had received UNHCR support to return to Somalia arrived in Kenya’s Dadaab camp in March (OCHA, 31 March 2017).
“In South Sudan, conflict and drought contributed to displacement. “Spreading violence first led people to abandon their homes and villages, but sustained hunger with little hope of harvests to ease their suffering sent them on the long, risky walks to safety far away.”Nyawich Bangot, who fled Unity state, said: “There were so many random killings: men were killed randomly, even children were killed randomly. Our houses with our food stored inside were all destroyed, food we grew with our own hands to keep us going during the hard times” (UNHCR, 10 April 2017).”
💦 The Blackfeet Water Compact and Settlement Act will be up for a vote in the coming week in Montana. The Compact establishes the quantity of water rights officially allocated to the Tribe (approx. 1,200,000-acre feet, including wetlands) and confirms the authority and jurisdiction over water-related issues on Blackfeet Reservation. The settlement also provides $421 million in funding for water-related projects. The Blackfeet began negotiating this agreement in the 1980s.
+ The Navajo Generating Station in Arizona is set to close in 2019, raising questions and tensions regarding how its water rights will be redistributed. The coal plant draws 34,000-acre feet of water annually Lake Powell and the Colorado River watershed. The Navajo Nation seems to have expected the water to be returned to them, while the authorities do not seem willing to confirm whether that will be the case.
🌲🚵💧Protests continued in California over Nestlé’s operations in the San Bernadino National Forest. Local activists have been challenging the Swiss corporation’s legal authority to pipe water out of the national forest without paying a fee for the water rights.
“In other words, Nestle receives millions of gallons of water that rightfully belong to the citizens of California at nothing,” (local activist and organizer Glen Thompson told USA Today.) “The water is on National Forest Service land, it belongs to all people. This is everyone in California’s water. …And an international corporation is stealing it and selling it back to us for billions.”
Nestlé’s permit for drawing water in San Bernardino National Forest expired in 1988. The company says they requested a renewal and received no word from the Forest Service. Gene Zimmerman, the forest supervisor who was in charge at the time, has since done paid consulting work for Nestlé. The Forest Service has cited lack of resources and a heavy workload when being asked about its failure to renew the requested permit.
Nestlé has recently turned down a proposal that the company be prohibited from drawing water from the national forest under certain conditions, such as the unprecedented five-year drought from which California has only begun to recover. Nestlé owns Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Ozarka, Poland Spring, Zephyrhills, Nestlé Pure Life, Perrier, San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.
Nestlé’s bottled water operations include Arrowhead, Calistoga, Deer Park, Ice Mountain, Ozarka, Poland Spring, Zephyrhills, Nestlé Pure Life, Perrier, San Pellegrino and Acqua Panna.
🍽🌍Foreign Policy produced a photo article to capture the desperation in Somalia, where six years of drought and civil war have already killed more than a quarter-million people. The government declared a state of emergency last month after 110 people starved to death or died from drought-induced diarrhea in one 48-hour period.
🔬Exciting possibilities for addressing the global food and water crisis also made the news this week. Graphene, a thin layer of latticed carbon which is both the lightest and the strongest compound that humans have discovered on Earth, may provide a key to efficient desalination technology.
The Manchester team has found that building walls of epoxy resin around the graphene membrane allow the atoms to stay dry when underwater. Previously, membranes would absorb water when submerged, rendering the material unable to perform its intended function of catching tiny salt molecules.
This is just the beginning of experimenting with this technology. The major challenge when working with this most impressive compound continues to be scaling. Fortunately, a discovery earlier this year shows encouraging potential in this area as well.
🥗🏙Another promising approach – indoor verticle farming. The weekly podcast produced by the journal Nature discussed (@ 06:55) how diminishing groundwater resources worldwide are being impacted by food production and pressures from the international food trade system.
Worldwide, agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of fresh water withdrawals, according to UNESCO. So the possibilities of hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic farms, each of which uses substantially less water than traditional methods, are wonderfully exciting. What model these new farms will take is still very much undetermined and will be an interesting trend to watch in the world market. One firm, known as
+ One firm, known as Urban Crops, has created a largely automated system for verticle farming, which uses hydroponics and UV-treated water recycling systems, to produce more food with approximately 5% of the water required for certain crops. (5% was a figure estimated for the production of oak leaf lettuce.) Urban Crops boosts faster plant growth with less risk of contamination using their systems, which they are planning to sell to food-production operations for a profit. Their systems can be installed just about anywhere, allowing urban communities to make use of unused buildings or otherwise forgotten spaces.
+ AeroFarms, a New Jersey-based verticle farm that has become one of the biggest names in the business, boasts the world’s largest indoor verticle farm. The owner, a former agricultural researcher, has created an aeroponic system which avoids common problems in the industry (ie. keeping the water supply nozzles clean). AeroFarms is seeking to be an economically competitive supplier of fresh and local produce.
+ A third model offers the sale of module verticle farms for “in-home” gardening. Neofarms, a European-based start-up, is seeking to replace window herb-baskets with a fridge-freezer sized system that will allow households to grow their onw salad vegetables for “about two euros (£1.71/2.13) per week (at current) energy costs.”
+ A common criticism of indoor farming regards the use of constant electricity, as opposed to the free energy source of the sun. These criticisms seem to overlook dramatic price reductions in solar energy costs, as well as the inaccurate pricing of water itself – which is an underpriced resource whose conservation is well worth industry disruption.
Human Rights Update
✈⚖By now, everyone has likely heard about the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, perpetrated by the Assad regime. At this time, the death toll stands at approximately 85 people, including 20 children. The victims of the attack, nearly all of which were likely non-combatants, displayed the torturous symptoms linked to sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent, according to the World Health Organization.
[Warning: High levels of subjectivity ahead.]
One boy was filmed suffocating on the ground, his chest heaving and his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Photographs show dead children lined up in rows on the floor or piled in heaps in the back of a vehicle, their clothes ripped from them by rescuers who used hoses to try to wash the chemicals from their bodies. Other images show victims foaming from their mouths or writhing on the ground as they struggle for air. Hours after the attack began, witnesses say, regime warplanes circled back over the area and dropped bombs on a clinic treating survivors.
The horror of these attacks was somewhat less surprising than the response of politicians in the U.S., many of whom seemed to be realizing the brutality of the Assad regime for the first time.
Sarin gas is a horrifying weapon of war and is banned under the Chemical Weapon Convention, as well as international customary law. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has an informative resource regarding the history and evolution of the Convention, which may be useful in sorting out the rhetoric swirling around the recent attack.
While the U.S. was the last major power to resist the creation of a ban on chemical weapons, they did eventually sign the Convention, along with 83 other countries.
Which made the famous “red line” which former US President Obama drew “in the sand” when it came to chemical weapons use in Syria, not only understandable but logical, in terms of ensuring compliance with the international legal order in which the U.S. holds a large stake. Unfortunately, as nearly all of you also know, President Obama backed away from his line in the sand, after the Assad regime, in what was likely a test of the U.S. leader, gassed more than 1,400 people, almost 500 of which were children, outside Damascus in August 2013.
Instead, the U.S. made a deal with Assad, to remain out of the Syrian conflict if he allowed for the OPCW to destroy his weapons stockpile. Russia was tasked with ensuring the Syrian regime not seek to buy or produce more chemical weapons.
The OPCW believes that Assad has attacked large numbers of civilians with chlorine weapons, which arealso banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Doctors and activists in Syria have reported a sharp increase in chemical attacks since mid-December, with the Syrian network for Human Rights having recorded nine separate strikes in 2017 alone.
The promises of U.S. and Russian officials to punish the Syrian regime for such breaches have failed to materialize.
In February, Russia once again blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to sanction military and intelligence chiefs connected to the country’s chemical-weapons programme. A similar fate doubtless awaits the latest attempt by Britain, France and America at the Security Council. Hours after the attack, the three countries demanded a resolution ordering the Syrian government to hand over all flight logs, flight plans and the names of air-force commanders to international inspectors. Russia, however, called the resolution “unacceptable.”
This is all in addition to numerous other likely war crimes and crimes against humanity which the Assad regime, along with their Iranian and Russian allies, have made “business-as-usual” in the Syrian conflict. It is a seemingly reasonable assumption that U.S. executive and foreign policy officials have been aware of all of this while stating that they had no intention to seek Mr. Assad’s removal from power.
“If the world wanted to stop this, they would have done so by now,” a woman who gave her name as Om Ahmed said in a telephone interview (to the Washington Post). “One more chemical attack in a town the world hasn’t heard of won’t change anything.” Then her voice cracked. “I’m sorry. My son died yesterday,” she said. “I have nothing left to say to the world.”
Somehow, the recent attack has been seen as so unique that it has made the U.S. President – maybe – change course.
Three defense officials told BuzzFeed News they cannot begin to craft a military response, if that is what Trump wants, without a clear understanding of what the president wants to see happen in Syria. Does he only want the Assad regime to stop using chemical weapons? Does he want regime change? Is he seeking a negotiated settlement? Or were Trump’s comments simply rhetoric?
In other words, is it time to take the current President of the United States both seriously and literally?
Unilateral U.S. response options in Syria are limited, particularly by the support the regime receives from their Russian allies.
The drone program in Syria was initially designed to target the Khorasan Group, an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the region. The US no longer refers to this group, whose core members have allegedly been killed, with seemingly little impact on the strike rate or al-Qaeda’s strength in Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra has rebranded itself as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and is gaining influence in the region as Assad’s “luck” continues to rally.
All U.S. military strikes have been carried out under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed by Congress just days after the 9/11 attacks. The Pentagon says the same is true of the anti-Islamic State campaign, even though the group broke with and has fought al Qaeda. In Syria, the United States makes use of an expansive definition of so-called associated forces of al Qaeda — a phrase that was not included in the AUMF, but that has been adopted by the Pentagon and successive U.S. administrations. More than 15 years after 9/11, it could now apply to thousands of fighters in the Syrian civil war, many of whom may care little about striking the West.
It would appear that now the AUMF has been contorted to apply to the Assad regime, as the administration launched an attack on the air base from which the planes carrying the sarin weapons originated, through independent executive action.
The U.S. has called the bombing of the air base near Homs as a “proportional response.” Ironically, two planes took off from the airbase and carried out air strikes on rebel-held areas in the eastern Homs countryside, the day after the U.S. strike.
Syria continues to raise many important questions for world leaders. Questions including (but in not limited to): What justifies unilateral action? Is there any remnant of an international responsibility to protect left in the post-Libya era? How and by whom are heads-of-state held accountable?What justifies a restructuring or review-of-mandate of the UN Security Council? And for U.S. leaders: Is the War Powers Resolution of 1973 officially irrelevant?
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, prior to implementing President Obama’s decision to make a deal with the Assad regime in 2013, stated: “It matters if the world speaks out…and then nothing happens.” Indeed.
✂💵Details of MONUSCO’s mandate renewal emerged this week. The UN mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo is facing sharp budget cuts, likely initiated by a decrease in US funding for the UN. MONUSCO is the UN’s largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation. The cuts, which come as the DRC faces a new surge of violence in the interior of the country, include the reduction of 3,000 soldiers.
These cuts are not expected to affect the mission too dramatically, as MONUSCO is rarely fully staffed, to begin with. The reductions are more of “a bad signal at an awkward time,” as the DRC President, Joseph Kabila, holds on to office after 16 years of power. His second (and -theoretically- final) term ended last year and experts are doubting the likelihood of pending elections later this year as violence has increased in the country.
+ If things go South for President Kabila, he could always request to join former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh at his Equatorial hideaway. Jammeh, who is currently under investigation by his successor for corruption and abuse, has become a sort of “dictator-in-residence” at the lavish Mongomo home of Equatorial Guniea’s dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Mongomo appears to offer an escape from national and international law, as well as from the troops of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in exchange for some light farm work.
⚖ 🗺Canada is stepping up its negotiations with South Africa after the key block country expressed its desire to leave the court early last year. South Africa wants the court to recognize diplomatic immunity of head-of-states, in the name of national sovereignty, arguing that failure in this area threatens its position as a “peaceful mediator” of African conflicts. On Friday, the Hague will hear South Africa’s defense for its failure to arrest President al-Bashir last year, with Canada pushing for a compromise.
+ PGA Secretary-General Dr. David Donat Cattin wants the UN Human Rights Council to recommend North Korea be referred to the ICC for the country’s “systematic attempt to eliminate individuals who are not part of the North Korean regime.”
Environmental Science and Management
🐡🐟🐠Researcher Dario Valenzano, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in Cologne, Germany, has published findings from a “first-of-its-kind study” examining the role of gut microbiomes on aging. Valenzano and his colleagues found that older fish live longer after consuming microbes from the poop of younger fish.
👥🐘Fascinating article regarding human-elephant conflict and methods of peaceful coexistence in Asia and Africa.
Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties
Two studies out of Weil Cornell Medical College and Emory Univerity use brain scans to differentiate subtypes of depression and to map responsiveness indicators for different treatments. Their findings are very early indicators that the future could hold more individualized approaches to treating depression. [Timely, given the recent spike in U.S. suicide rates.] (Vox)
The White House has informed the ABA they will not seek review of lower judicial candidates prior to nomination, a tradition started by President Eisenhower in 1952. Only George W. Bush has passed on ABA’s review. (ABA Journal)
The ABA gave its highest rating to Neil Gorsuch, who has been confirmed as the newest Supreme Court justice, filling the longest Supreme Court vacancy in U.S. history. (The Atlantic)
…we invariably look up to people once they have made it. Not before, or in the process of, doing so. Successful people are typically well groomed, confident, charismatic — all carrying that aura of inevitability only hindsight can give. People in the process of (trying to) become successful, on the contrary, are tired, overworked, underslept, insecure, worried about a million things and, frequently, certain that they are never going it make it. Becoming the Tesla Elon Musk doesn’t work without first becoming the x.com Elon Musk and then PayPal Elon Musk.
🌲🐄Talks between Paraguaguayan government representatives and indigenous Ayoreo leaders began this week, with the goal of negotiating land rights in the Paraguayan Chaco. The Ayoreo, who live the Chaco in western Paraguay, are the last uncontacted population outside of the Amazon. Their territory, which includes some of the most biodiverse lands in the country, has experienced the highest rate of deforestation in the world.
This destruction inspired Ayoreo leaders to contact a local organization, GAT, in 1993, and submit a formal land claim. Since then, vast swaths of the forests have continued to be destroyed, primarily by the foreign cattle industry, and a TB-like disease has been introduced into the Ayoreo population.
The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR)issued precautionary measures in February 2016, ordering the Paraguayan government to halt all further deforestation and to protect the Ayoreo. After the government failed to comply with that order, GAT submitted a formal request to the IACHR, that land be returned to the Ayoreo. The talks, which will include monthly meetings for one year, to be overseen by a UN official, are the result of this request.
🛳🌫🌬🏥Atmospheric chemist Qiang Zhang of Tsinghua University in Bejing led an international team in the investigation of 2007 emissions data across 13 global regions- encompassing 228 countries and linking four state-of-the-art global data models. (2007 was the last year comprehensive information was available.) Concentrating on the particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), the team found that these particles were linked to 3.45 million premature deaths worldwide.
Most notably, their research concluded that 762,400 of those premature deaths (22%) could be blamed on emissions that resulted from producing goods and services in one region that were consumed in another. International trade has effectively outsourced the human health impacts of manufacturing from importing states to those producing the goods and services. Zhang’s team found that a total of 2.53 million deaths were attributable to production processes, including manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture.
Another 12% of premature deaths linked to PM2.5 resulted from air pollution that originated in a country other than that in which the death occurs. [It turns out air pollution is unphased by borders, immigration agents, or physical barriers. Go figure.]
In terms of non–trade-related pollution, the team found that particulate matter emitted in China can be linked to more than 64,800 premature deaths in other regions, including more than 3100 in Western Europe and the United States. China’s East Asian neighbors also suffer by being downwind, with 30,900 premature deaths there traced to air pollution carried through the atmosphere. On the other hand, trade-related deaths resulted in the opposite imbalance: The consumption of Chinese-made goods in Western Europe and the United States likely caused more than 108,600 premature deaths in China.
Zhang’s team has reportedly told news outlets that “there is some evidence that the polluting industries have tended to migrate to regions with more permissive environmental regulations…” The scientists have suggested that this evidence point to a tension between national efforts to improve air quality while attracting foreign investment and propose a tax on pollutant emissions that would be shared globally by consumers. Another possible solution proposed was to introduce improved pollution control technology in China, India, and the US.
…While the statute conditions EPA action on its formation of a “judgment,” that judgment must relate to whether an air pollutant “cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” §7601(a)(1). Under the Act’s clear terms, EPA can avoid promulgating regulations only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation as to why it cannot or will not exercise its discretion to determine whether they do. It has refused to do so, offering instead a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, including the existence of voluntary Executive Branch programs providing a response to global warming and impairment of the President’s ability to negotiate with developing nations to reduce emissions.
These policy judgments have nothing to do with whether greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change and do not amount to a reasoned justification for declining to form a scientific judgment. Nor can EPA avoid its statutory obligation by noting the uncertainty surrounding various features of climate change and concluding that it would therefore be better not to regulate at this time. …
+ The Intercept uses the story of a rural Louisiana town to report on what the Supreme Courts tried to convey a decade ago: An increase in air pollution leads to an increase in deaths and illness, particularly for low-income, youth, and elderly populations. The EPA, Sharon Lerner writes, was created to provide these disproportionally vulnerable communities with leverage to control their exposure to toxic pollution largely attributable to powerful chemical companies otherwise out of their reach.
+ David Wolfe at Fortune writes about the impacts of President Trump’s orders on economic competitiveness and on how the business community is responding.
What Americans need now is for their leaders to allow and facilitate this transition. When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, political leaders did not attempt to squash this innovation to protect those industries producing lamps run on gas or whale oil. When Henry Ford came up with a more efficient way to manufacture cars, he was not thwarted by political leaders obsessed with protecting the horse-and-buggy industry.
+ Does the US exit from climate change leadership hand the baton to China? What impacts will that have on environmental rights and justice issues surrounding conservation? China continues to finance new coal plants in Southeast Asia, even as it shuts down its own, suggesting that the country’s recent climate change policies may have been adopted for little more than instrumental reasons.
🛬⚖ International Rights Advocates is asking for support for their pending case against DynaCorp International, set to go to trial on April 3, 2017. The trial follows a 15-year effort by IRA to hold the defense contractor accountable for the unlawful aerial spraying of Ecuadorian communities and farms during Plan Colombia.
We represent over 2,000 people who had their families injured and their farms destroyed when DynCorp unlawfully sprayed them with the chemical poison used in Plan Colombia to attempt to eradicate coca cultivation in Colombia. As part of Plan Colombia, a US military and aid initiative explicitly aimed at combatting drug cartels and left-wing insurgents in Colombian territory, DynCorp was hired to carry out aerial spraying on coca crops in Colombia – but substantial evidence shows DynCorp’s spraying had a devastating impact on food crops and negatively affected the health and mental wellbeing of Ecuadorans living in the vicinity of the spraying.
👎Meanwhile, President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan has reportedly begun relocating groups within the country by ethnic groups and redrawing state borders. WPR discusses the risks of genocide from this grotesque strategy of “population engineering.”
⚖🗺 Great work by Stephane Ojeda, Deputy Head & Legal Advisor of the ICRC in New York, argues for the application of international humanitarian law to the terrorist and other non-state groups that are increasingly becoming inseparable from major ongoing inter- and intra- national conflicts.
🕵✈Trump has significantly broadened the CIA’s authority to conduct covert drone strikes, dramatically changing US policy towards the weapons program. The CIA and the Pentagon, the latter having held primary responsibility for drone strikes under the Obama administration, have very different cultural attitudes and standards with regards to classifying drone strike targets.
⚖ ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is also concerned that war crimes are being committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence between local militias and Congolese forces have killed many civilians. Kidnappings and summary executions – including that of two UN researchers – have also been reported.
(B): The Latest in Environmental Policy, Science, and Management
🌾🌡Climate scientists have known for some time that the Earth’s planetary systems will translate small changes in one part of the planet’s ecosystem into a self-perpetuating cycle of change across multiple – or all – of the remaining planetary systems. Ian Johnston uses recent research out of the Potsdam Institute on Climate Impact Research to demonstrate this phenomenon via air current circulation patterns.
+ Environmentalists in Kenya have been issued a court hearing later this month, in which they will seek to block the installation of a 1,000 MW coal plant at Lamu, a U.N. World Heritage site. The plant is expected to impact the surrounding coral reefs and community mangrove orchards, as well as the local beach tourism industry.
+ Meanwhile, the EIA reports that less than 70,000 jobs are currently linked to coal in the US. (Apparently, the coal industry has employed fewer people than Arby’s, as early as 2014.) More than 650,000 US jobs are currently linked to renewable energy, including wind, solar, and biofuels. (Oh yeah – and a US judge has denied tribal water rights to ensure the construction of a pipeline that Duke University postdoc Mark Paul says does not make economic sense.)
Spotlight on Food and Water
🥀☠ Grim forecasts for Somalia – from the Economist Espresso ‘In normal times the gu rains, which run from late March until May, would begin this week. But these are not normal times. Though rain fell in patches last week, forecasts are not hopeful. Another failed rainy season would be devastating for a region that has now endured two successive droughts. Locals say the past year has been the worst in living memory. The UN warns that half the population needs assistance; it has called for $864m from donors. In the breakaway northern region of Somaliland, around 80% of livestock—the backbone of the economy—have died. Elections scheduled for March have been postponed. In the south, Islamist militants continue to sabotage humanitarian efforts. A shaky new administration in Mogadishu, the federal capital, controls only patches of territory. Famine has yet to be declared, but conditions in some areas are worse than in 2011 when 260,000 Somalis died.’
+ The drought is affecting a larger swath of the country than the 2011 drought which killed 260,000 people. Humanitarian groups estimate that 6.2 million people are in danger of acute food security and looming famine.
🍔🌳MUST READ new report by the global environmental organization, Mighty Earth, analyzes the depths of the global meat supply chain. The report, cleverly titled “Mystery Meat,” found over 1 million square kilometers of Amazonian ecosystems in Brazil and Bolivia have been deforested for soy crops to produce animal feed for Burger King’s meat production operations. Covered by NYT and the Guardian, the Business & Human Rights Resource Center has acquired comments from the companies targeted in the report, which also includes Bunge, Cargill, and ADM.
+ Brazil has launched a new program, SINAFLOR, aimed at tracking and preventing the flow of illegally sourced timber into the legal market.
+ Cargill and ADM had another claim against their operations dismissed this week – a twelve-year investigation into the trafficking of children working on cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire. Nestle was also a named defendant in this class action lawsuit, brought by human rights organization, Mali and Global Exchange in a California federal court. A judge found that the plaintiffs could not sue over forced labor in Côte d’Ivoire because “they could not prove that there was conduct by the companies in the US linked to the wrongdoing overseas. The plaintiffs will appeal.”
🐄🕉💵India has quietly become the world’s largest exporter of meat – but the Hindu government is worried that the industry, which is dominated by water buffalo meat, is concealing the illegal slaughter of cows. The industry has become the country’s largest generator of foreign currency. Meanwhile, Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), argues that the pastoralism practiced in India aligns the interests of meat-eaters, rural development, and environmentalists.
🌎💧Stanford has created a ranking system for accountability mechanisms regarding the transfer and use of water rights by states in the Colorado River Basin. Colorado sits at the top of the list, with Arizona on the bottom.
+ Utah and the Navajo Nation ended thirteen years of negotiations over Colorado river water rights this week, introducing legislation which recognizes tribal rights to 81,500 acre-feet of water annually. “The Navajo communities in Utah currently use only a fraction of the water allocated in the settlement.” The agreement provides over $200 million in state and federal funding for water projects in the nation and the Navajo would be able to lease the water.
+ A coalition in Oregon has filed a legal challenge opposing the water rights for a proposed 30,000-head factory-farming operation near the Columbia River. If completed, the dairy would be one of the nation’s largest confined animal-feeding operations and would pose a threat to ground and surface water, air quality, and public health.
The scale of this project is stunning. Lost Valley Farm would produce more biological waste than most Oregon cities and consume more water than most factories,” said Lauren Goldberg, a staff attorney for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Oregonians value clean water and strong salmon runs. Factory farms like Lost Valley fly in the face of those values.
The latest challenge comes on the heels of more than 6,000 public comments filed with the state’s environmental and agriculture agencies urging denial of the facility’s proposed water pollution permit. Lost Valley Farm would produce roughly 187 million gallons of manure each year and use over 320 million gallons of water annually, raising questions about the risk of manure pollution and long-term impacts to the Umatilla Basin and Columbia River as water becomes scarcer due to drought and climate change.
“Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
Running a bit behind on this post this week… Took on two new contracts and life has been beautifully busy.
This week I have been thinking about work after automation. Although I am eager to share my thoughts on this issue, I am reminded of Noam Chomsky’s statements regarding the inability to convey complex thoughts in short soundbites. As my time is limited at the moment, I will have to return to this topic at a later time.
Like many publications in the self-help genre, “Talent…” can be read in a few hours with a steady “I-read” process (ie. You can/should skim it and be able to walk away with about as much of what is important as you may have if you had read the book in its entirety.) Colvin’s underlying – and not unimportant – lesson, is that deliberate practice is the key to learning any new skill.
Deliberate practice is characterized as the breaking down of a subject/skill/goal into its most basic components, identifying the aspects of those components that are just out of the reach of one’s existing capacities, and spending hours of intensely focused practice repeating those very specific components. Colvin suggests that high achieving minds spend 3-5 hours a day, usually broken up by breaks.
He goes on to discuss methods for implementation and provides reasoning, examples, etc.
A more artsy narrative of this same premise is Josh Waitzkin’s memoir-esc book, “The Art of Learning.” [Note: I don’t suggest listening to the audiobook during car rides. We listened to Waitzkin’s self-narrated audiobook on our recent cross-country road trip. The only downside was that his voice is remarkably soothing and I often found myself drifting off to sleep (as the passenger, of course). As a result, it took much longer to make it through the book than it would have otherwise and I often found myself rewinding the track, feeling as if I had missed something.]
For an abridged discussion of how to apply these principles to general learning, as opposed to mastery, check out Josh Kaufman’s Ted Talk.
A short story about how poor emotional intelligence could negatively impact millions in our global community…
Friday’s order for reparations is a landmark step for the tribunal, set up in 2002 to prosecute the world’s worst crimes, and marks the first time that monetary values have been placed on the harm caused by such crimes.
The court asked the Trust Fund for Victims, set up under the tribunal’s founding guidelines to support victims, to consider using its resources to pay for the reparations and to come up with a plan for the court by late June.
According to the treaties that establish governance of the European Union (EU), lawmakers must aim to achieve sustainable development, with an eye towards attaining a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. The treaties also set key principles of European environmental policy, which bind EU institutions and member states.
Decentralization also gives rise to a serious problem of consistency in the application of European environmental law. In this context, judicial review plays a critical role in effective application: judges must balance environmental protection with creation of a level-playing field in the internal market and, ultimately, the protection of individual rights.
Aggrieved parties can bring actions for judicial review before European courts. However, legal standing requirements before European courts raise significant compliance difficulties for individuals and environmental organizations. The vast majority of cases involving EU environmental law are decided by national courts. After EU rules have been incorporated into the domestic laws of member states, national courts may decide legal questions under them just as they do for any other national law.
Great piece discussing changes in climate change policies in the US from a Middle Eastern perspective.
In Beijing, the Chinese government promised it would bring back “blue skies”. In Washington, president Donald Trump’s administration offered its first federal budget, which indicated that clean air and water were optional in the drive towards greater economic growth.
How is it that environment regulation seems to have become a luxury, if not an outright indulgence in America, while China appears set on a course less harmful to its natural resources and to the health and well-being of its people?
The short answer is that the American president may feel he can afford to be cavalier. The United States has had decades of fairly strict, if somewhat patchily enforced, air and water regulation. The basis of its sweeping 1972 Clean Water Act was the Federal Water Pollution Control Act from nearly 30 years before. The 1970 Clean Air Act expanded and strengthened a previous law, 15 years older.
China offers important lessons as a Trump-led America begins to roll back environmental regulations. If public discontent can force the authorities to change course in a country like China, which brooks little dissent, it will surely have hurricane force in the US. Especially with flooding on the rise in Miami, Florida and rising sea levels at Virginia’s Norfolk Naval Station, the biggest naval installation in the world.
In any case, president Trump is fighting a battle that has already been waged and won. Almost no one but policy dinosaurs can challenge the idea that environmental protection is good. A study by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which Mr Trump accuses of “over-reach” and plans severely to cut, found that the costs and benefits of the Clean Air Act from 1970 to 1990 were disproportionately in favour of cleaner air. Total costs over that time period were roughly $500 billion but the health and other benefits were 44 times more, roughly $22 trillion. In 2010, the EPA said that the environmental benefits to Americans from the Clean Air Act exceeded their costs by a margin of four to one.
Numbers provide ballast but we don’t really need them to know what’s right. It is right and proper for economic activity to be sustainable, for businesses to pollute as little as possible, for the people who live in their vicinity to have the right to health, and for governments to champion that basic cause through regulation and enforcement.
It went on to say the estimated health benefits from the introduction of the Clean Air Act “are more than 100 times greater than the employment costs of the regulation”.
In fact, environmental regulation has actually been a force for innovation in clean technologies. This holds true in 2017 America as well. Blue-green Alliance, a partnership between US labour unions and environmental groups to expand “green economy” jobs, recently said that Mr Trump proposal to reverse clean energy standards would adversely affect a new slew of American jobs — 570,000 by 2030, all engaged in bringing about a new, fuel-efficient, green-energy future. Prepare for a season of heavy weather over Mr Trump’s proposals.
If you still doubt the need for action to adapt to the consequences of climate change, don’t just listen to me – listen to the US military, world business leaders, or the majority of Americans. Given that climate leadership is unlikely to come from the US federal government under Trump, many are asking, what can I do to prepare for climate change? Here are eight initial actions that individuals, as well as governments, could take immediately to prepare.
We shouldn’t panic or be afraid, but instead commit to solving these injustices. That is power. When I was in jail with my friends for nearly two years, we tried our best to be a pain in the ass for Putin. We went on hunger strikes and protested any way we could.
That’s not to say it was easy. I would look around and realize how dire my situation truly was, but I would stop and think about how I could improve the lives of people around me. It’s only then — when you start to find a solution — that you will feel good again. Even in the darkest times, helping others is power.
How the agricultural community in Iowa depends on international trade and what their immediate concerns are under the Trump administration.
What I’m Watching…
Years of Living Dangerously, Season 1
This week I finished the first season of Showtime’s timely and innovative approach to providing global context and perspective on climate change. Highly, highly recommend this series for anyone interested in global development or who wants a little more evidence/explanation of climate change science. The series does a great job of combining science, human experience, and technology to convey the urgency and hope of this challenge.
This week I have been reflecting on the difference between sympathy and empathy. I have been overwhelmed by the breadth of space I have found between the two types of experiences. Sympathy tends to provoke stressful emotions – such as worry, sadness, and fear. Empathy, in stark contrast, pulls my emotional state to an entirely different realm.
Feeling empathy may cause me to share in the exhaustion or frustration of a long-term challenge, but it overwhelming provides the sensation that the drivers of these emotions, while deeply ingrained and difficult to access, remain within my reach. I, as the individual I am empathizing with, am in control of my emotional state and have the capacity to change the circumstances of my life.
In other words, Neither myself nor the individual in question is reduced to victimhood. I feel capable of empowering the individual, because my ability to experience more than on perspective of the situation provides additional vantage points, and empowered myself.
Sympathy, in contrast, is built on the victimization of the individual. It reduces the sympathizer to “savior” and the only means of assisting the “victim” becomes taking matters into one’s own hands. If one is without the time or means to do so, worry, guilt or even shame can build from within. In contrast, sympathy can also build consension, if one does not feel the responsibility to help, but simultaneously does not allow oneself to understand the validity of the other’s perspective. Through this lens, the other is seen as a victim and is blamed for letting oneself become a victim.
Empathy demands vulnerability. It requires that we risk the pain of understanding another individual’s point of view of their own circumstances and place in the world; to consider, for a moment, that there exists a perspective that may contrast with our own, that remains a perfectly valid understanding of the same reality.
Vulnerability is not a trait that metastasizes easily within the culture we have built for ourselves in the United States.
From here, it is interesting to consider whether policy toward the poor and marginalized, both domestically and internationally, has been built out of empathy or out of sympathy?
Do we empower communities to find alternative solutions by allowing ourselves to see the world from their eyes? Or do we provide our own lens for their challenges and feel sorry that they do not have what we have? (Nevermind that we, ourselves, are not satisfied with what we have.) Do we claim superiority as the sympathizer and presume that, from our vantage point, we already have the answers for those in pain? Do we presume that they must want what we have? Or do we blame them for not already having found a way to achieve what we have achieved for themselves? Do we dismiss them as “lost” or “incompetent” for not sharing our experiences and perspectives?
A third-person memoir of Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun is a piercingly human account of how preconstructed paradigms of purpose and fear naturally evolve to outweigh reason in times of crisis. Dave Eggers, an accomplished author and philanthropist, illustrates how our everyday expectations rest on the smallest decisions of ordinary human beings, often unaware of the larger impacts or context. The book is provoking from beginning to end, consistently challenging the reader’s own assumptions. I really fell into this book and the author’s engaging descriptions of human emotion as a function of past experiences. This work isolates the characteristics of the human condition that makes climate change so dangerous. As natural disasters become more common (and uncontrolled migration continues), the breakdown of law and order will likely occur organically, and with great momentum.
“In the (likely) event that the fate of the CPP is decided by the Supreme Court and the (less likely) event that Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation process concludes before the case is heard, “Justice” Gorsuch would be in a fairly small minority on the bench to outright reject the application of Chevron deference in his analysis of the CPP’s final rule, and it is not clear how successful Judge Gorsuch would be in persuading a majority of justices to overturn Chevron.”
For those of us who wouldn’t mind a bit more compromise and efficiency out of government, Krugman’s diagnosis is somewhat haunting in its accuracy. What happens when our leaders forget that their talking points were based on polling from hyper-partisan gerrymandered districts – not realistic national governance strategies?
I have read maybe six or seven articles sporting almost identical titles since the 2016 US election – and I almost moved past this one. But Nichols goes deeper into the topic than simply analyzing the populist themes defined by a lack of trust in established institutions. He addresses a single component of these trends, and it is one I have also found baffling. How can people feel so strongly about a subject which they know so little about?
… Public Policy Polling asked a broad sample of Democratic and Republican primary voters whether they would support bombing Agrabah. Nearly a third of Republican respondents said they would, versus 13 percent who opposed the idea. Democratic preferences were roughly reversed; 36 percent were opposed, and 19 percent were in favor. Agrabah doesn’t exist. It’s the fictional country in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. Liberals crowed that the poll showed Republicans’ aggressive tendencies. Conservatives countered that it showed Democrats’ reflexive pacifism. Experts in national security couldn’t fail to notice that 43 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats polled had an actual, defined view on bombing a place in a cartoon.
I have become frustrated with this phenomenon as it relates to public opinions on climate change. I have listened to individuals passionately deny any possibility of human causation, just before drawing a blank when asked what a core sample is. Rather than asking questions, visiting a museum, or doing research beyond their social media feed, social norms have reinforced a trust in the emotional disposition to reinforce the reality that one wishes to be true. It is the intensity of the beliefs that is so puzzling to me; how can one be so invested in an idea which they have invested so little time in forming?
It’s not just that people don’t know a lot about science or politics or geography. They don’t, but that’s an old problem. The bigger concern today is that Americans have reached a point where ignorance—at least regarding what is generally considered established knowledge in public policy—is seen as an actual virtue. To reject the advice of experts is to assert autonomy, a way for Americans to demonstrate their independence from nefarious elites—and insulate their increasingly fragile egos from ever being told they’re wrong.
The larger discussions, from what constitutes a nutritious diet to what actions will best further U.S. interests, require conversations between ordinary citizens and experts. But increasingly, citizens don’t want to have those conversations. Rather, they want to weigh in and have their opinions treated with deep respect and their preferences honored not on the strength of their arguments or on the evidence they present but based on their feelings, emotions, and whatever stray information they may have picked up here or there along the way.
Reading this gave me slight pause; Nichols’ diagnosis of the general public sounds a lot like the memes now rapidly posted predominantly by a certain demographic on my own social media about millennials. The phenomenon extends past any age delineation, however. By deriving identity from victimhood, have people in the US chosen a path away from the attitudes which once defined our culture as explorers? (Although, I am sure there are many populations who would not be saddened by this change of heart.)
Hofstadter argued that this overwhelming complexity produced feelings of helplessness and anger among a citizenry that knew itself to be increasingly at the mercy of more sophisticated elites. “What used to be a jocular and usually benign ridicule of intellect and formal training has turned into a malign resentment of the intellectual in his capacity as expert,” he noted. “Once the intellectual was gently ridiculed because he was not needed; now he is fiercely resented because he is needed too much.
This relationship between experts and citizens rests on a foundation of mutual respect and trust. When that foundation erodes, experts and laypeople become warring factions and democracy itself can become a casualty, decaying into mob rule or elitist technocracy. Living in a world awash in gadgets and once unimaginable conveniences and entertainments, Americans (and many other Westerners) have become almost childlike in their refusal to learn enough to govern themselves or to guide the policies that affect their lives.
This is a collapse of functional citizenship, and it enables a cascade of other baleful consequences. Meanwhile, Americans have developed increasingly unrealistic expectations of what their political and economic systems can provide, and this sense of entitlement fuels continual disappointment and anger. When people are told that ending poverty or preventing terrorism or stimulating economic growth is a lot harder than it looks, they roll their eyes. Unable to comprehend all the complexity around them, they choose instead to comprehend almost none of it and then sullenly blame elites for seizing control of their lives.
Nichols draws on Bertrand Russel to provide a public prescription for assessing expert opinions with “a combination of skepticism and humility.”
The skepticism that I advocate amounts only to this: (1) that when the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain; (2) that when they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert; and (3) that when they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.
As Russell noted, “These propositions may seem mild, yet, if accepted, they would absolutely revolutionize human life’’—because the results would challenge so much of what so many people feel most strongly.
I originally heard of this Ukrainian series in Katherine Jacobsen‘s Foreign Policy article back in December 2016. I have just started watching it this week. Servant of the People (or “of the Nation” depending on the translation) portrays the experiences of a fictional Ukrainian President, and his attempts to lead the country with virtue and idealism. He is faced with events that mirror political life in Ukraine, with the notable exception of the current conflict with Russia and the annexation of Crimea. The show pokes fun at the country’s corrupt elites and demonstrates “what politics could be.” According to FP, the show is hit in Ukraine. You can catch it on YouTube here and set-up English subtitles. Or you can wait for Netflix and the Fox remake. I have found the first few episodes quite amusing and very informative. It is as if one has the opportunity to learn the (albeit, generalized) hopes of a culture for their future, as well as the obstacles they perceive to be holding them back. It is also shot in Kiev, so for those of us who have never been to the city, it also provides a bit of insight into small inner-workings of life there.
This episode delves into several remarkable ways our mind influences our relationship with reality. The first act follows a young man through a delusional state, convinced he is a body-double for President Obama, and in immediate danger. It ends with the man shot in the chest, at point blank range, by a police officer while in a hospital. This portion is a very interesting look at life through the eyes of a manic individual. It then moves into a discussion of how armed police officers ended up surveilling hospitals and mental institutions, and how they are trained. The second act is a discussion with Slate founder Michael Kinsley. Kinsley advocates for denial as a strategy for dealing with chronic or terminal illness, providing his own battle with Parkinson’s disease as an example. In general, I find ways that we can reverse engineer our own mental life to be fascinating. That being said, if you are limited on time, I’d recommend only listening to the first act.
Discusses recent experimental research of Tom Gilovich (Cornell) and Shy Davidai (The New School) that seeks to explain our social tendency to focus on headwinds, seemingly making our path harder than anyone else’s, and to ignore tailwinds, which may be providing unique advantages. This was particularly interesting when it came to addressing gratitude and resentment among current social demographics in the US, not to mention the implications it draws as to how one should reevaluate their own perceptions.
I tried to stick to the Loop Trail – but I could not resist the water and the views. The park offers a variety of options for short bursts of cardio, with dirt, sand and paved trails, not to mention sturdy built-in staircases for days. The website advertises the Loop Trail as 2.8 miles – however, I do not know how one would maintain a consistent run for that amount of time, due to constant changes in the trail. One would need to have visited several times to be able to navigate the path, as it splits several times without immediately visible directions. (And, at points, without direction at all.) There was a pleasant light drizzle for the duration of my workout which provided almost meditative sounds for my run on the back end of the trail. (It also kept the population of fellow visitors down – I do not know if it would be usable for fitness purposes at all during times of higher traffic.)
I found this site while researching my recent post on Oklahoma’s environmental management strategies. Data USA has built comprehensive visualizations of public data. Created by Deloitte, MIT, and Datawheel, the site provides a one-stop-shop for easily digestible profiles of US states and cities. You can even compare profiles like I did for Tulsa and OKC while writing my post.