This Week in Environmental Justice

⌛🌳This Week in Human Rights & the Environment🐝🍀


🌲🐄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.

Deforestation in the Paraguayan Chaco. Source: Eye on Latin America

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.

+ The Business & Human Rights Resource Center has compiled materials on a treaty scenario that could ensure the primacy of human rights in international trade and investment policies.

⚖📜 Ten years ago this week, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark 5-4 decision, MASSACHUSETTES et al. v. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY et al., ruled that the EPA has a responsibility to regulate greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act – whether or not its political appointees desired to do so.

The Supreme Court held that:

…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. …

+ In “Trump v. Earth,” The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson discusses the legacy and implications of the decision, with a bit of emotional leniency toward the Obama AdministrationRobinson Meyer provides a deeper dive into the history of environmental policy in the US since the Nixon era.

Trump Budget Proposal Threatens EPA's Chesapeake Bay Clean-Up Program
Ducks swim in the Chesapeake Bay as the Sandy Point Shoal Lighthouse looms in the Distance, on March 17th in Skidmore, Maryland. “Under President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, which focuses on reducing pollution in the bay, would be eliminated.”  Source: Foreign Policy

+ 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,  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.

🔥 Wildfires continue to tear across the southern US this week. Thought-provoking NYT headline: Ranchers call wildfires ‘Our Hurricane Katrina.’  

“Firefighters work to put out a forest fire in Valparaíso, Chile, in a picture released on March 12.” Source: Foreign Policy

🛬⚖ 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.

🌴💰🔫Honduran farmers are suing International Finance Corporation, the business-lending arm of the World Bank Group, via EarthRights International, for indirectly financing “death squads.” The IFC supported the Dinant Corporation, a palm oil conglomerate, during a bloody land war in which the Dinant allegedly hired “paramilitary death squads and private assassins” to push back the local farmers.

Dinant_Facebook Post5

(A): Human Rights Update

👣🌍European leaders seek to stem the flow of so-called “economic migrants” from Eritrea. Yet, as Eritrean migration is also linked to systemic human rights abuses, drought, and severe malnutrition, it is unclear that the prevention of such migration through targeted policy will be compatible with the Refugee Convention.

👎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.”

“A boy eats out of a ladle on March 10 at his home in Ngop in South Sudan’s Unity State, where 10,000 people face starvation and another million are on the brink of famine.”                      Source: Foreign Policy

⚖🗺 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.

Last week marked the two-year anniversary of U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention into Yemen. Source: Foreign Policy

💉🌏President Rodrigo Duterte is unphased by calls for an ICC inquiry into his brutal crackdown on drug dealers and users in the Philipines. An article from the Philipino news agency argues that events in the country lack the “widespread and systemic” targeting of a specific demographic necessary for crimes against humanity. Duterte’s anti-drug war reached 8,000 casualties this week.

⚖ 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.

Relatives mourn over the body on an Iraqi child, killed in an airstrike targeting Islamic State (IS) group jihadists, West Mosul on March 17, 2017.  (Source: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

(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.

🦑🐋A few great pieces on the fellow species with which we share this planet this week. The Guardian explores the peculiar minds and breathtaking sense-of-self found in cephalopods (octopuses, cuttlefish, etc.), as discussed by Harvard’s Peter Godfrey-Smith’s in his new book. Bill Gates chats about another type of odd and remarkable life form, microbes, with Ed Young, author of I Contain MultitudesUnfortunately, one of the most intelligent of our fellow lifeforms here on Earth was slaughtered en masse this week during Japan’s annual Antartic expedition.

“A baby manatee swims near its mother in the zoological park of Beauval in France on March 15.” Source: Foreign Policy

🏳🗽Politico reports on the rise of organizational self-censorship regarding such inflammatory phrases as “climate change” in U.S. Energy and State Departments.

🐤🏭Stagnant electricity demand, along with the falling cost of renewables, has Asia’s biggest economies reconsidering plans for new coal plants and closing down existing operations.

+ In Montenegro, non-profit CEE claims that the Pljevlja lignite power plant is causing respiratory damage among locals. Montenegrin Electric (EPCG) responds.

+ 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

+ 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.

Mass soybean harvesting at a farm in Campo Verde, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo Alf Ribeiro.
Mass soybean harvesting at a farm in Campo Verde, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Source: Alf Ribeiro

+ 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.

The Colorado, Utah. Source: Deseret News

+ 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.

Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties

“An installation protesting the death penalty stands outside the General Board of Church and Society near the U.S. Supreme Court on March 15 in Washington.” Source: Foreign Policy
Photos of the luxurious interior of Blue Origin’s spaceship. Source: Mashable
“A man walks past graffiti depicting a protester throwing a petrol bomb on March 17 in Athens, Greece.” Source: Foreign Policy

That’s it! 

“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.”

– Theodore Roosevelt


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