This Week in Environmental Justice

⛈🌴🏛 This Week in Environmental Justice ⛏⚖🐟


🌍 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 Non-GMO seeds are being withdrawn from the market, leading to decreased seeds choice.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 population18.8 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

“People queue to fill containers with water from a tank in Sana’a, Yemen.” Source: UNICEF / Algabal 2017

+ 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 least 1449 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.

🏔🌏The Barsha pump, an affordable hydro-powered pump, designed by a local engineer, is helping individuals in Nepal pump water up the Himalayan mountainsides. The engineer, Pratap Thapa, won a $500,000 grant from Securing Water for Food’s Grand Challenge for Development in 2014.

👩‍🌾🏞 India’s coping strategy for climate change will need to begin with water conservation 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.

+ Two researchers at the UN University, Serena Caucci and Kristin Meyer, discuss the dangers that come with one common water conservation practice in many poor areas – irrigating with wastewater. The World Bank and other development organizations, are now prioritizing the introduction of education and technology to treat wastewater for irrigation. (In fact, the theme of this year’s World Water Day was wastewater.)

+ Another potential future for agriculture – using drones to 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?

“Indian nomad youths play in the water with their herd of buffaloes as they cool off in the Tawi River on the outskirts of Jammu on April 20.” Source: Foreign Policy

🏛👣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 targeting of hospitals in Yemen, along with fuel and water shortages, has led to “catastrophic consequences for healthcare.”

+ 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 families will 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.

“A Venezuelan opposition activist is backdropped by a burning barricade during a demonstration against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on April 24, 2017. Protesters rallied on Monday vowing to block Venezuela’s main roads to raise pressure on Maduro after three weeks of deadly unrest that have left 21 people dead. Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up one of the first rallies in eastern Caracas early Monday while other groups were gathering elsewhere, the opposition said.” Source: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images


“This photo, taken April 27, shows people allegedly kept inside a hidden room at the Drug Enforcement Unit of the Manila Police Department’s Police Station 1 in the Tondo area of Manilla.” Source: Foreign Policy

☔☀The Latest in 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.


+ The latest Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA) assessment coordinated by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), indicates that previous projections of global sea level rise by 2100 may be too low. This is attributed, in part, by the faster than expected melting of the Greenland ice shelf.

🛰⛈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. 

🎉Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties🙋📑

  • Climate gentrification is the hottest new trend in Miami (E&E)
  • Emmanuel Macron is everything that Democrats in the US are not. (Foreign Policy)
“A Benedictine sister of the Sainte-Cecile Abbey casts her ballot at a polling station in Solesmes, France, during the first round of the French presidential election on April 23.” Source: Foreign Policy
“Activists from Amnesty International take part in a demonstration to mark the first 100 days in office of U.S. President Donald Trump outside the American Embassy in London on April 27.” Source: Foreign Policy
  • (Great Read) A moving look at a side of war most of us never consider – the fate of thousands of animals locked inside zoos of war-torn cities. (The New Yorker)
  • Homing pigeons may possess the capacity to for cumulative culture. (AAAS)
A collection of great signs from science marches around the world. (Slate)
  • Two pieces on the benefits of AI for diagnostics. (Ie: the future of healthcare, as not seen on C-Span.) (Engadget; The New Yorker)
  • 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)
  • Silicon Valley’s new flying “car.” (New York Times)

✴ A 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)

Oh, and in case you haven’t heard, the Pope gave a Ted talk:



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