This Week in Environmental Justice
🌏🏦⛏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”...
+ Responses from Dragon Capital, Indonesia Infrastructure Finance, Vietnam Investment Group, and Raiffeisen Bank International have also been provided via BHRRC. Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, BDO Unibank, Energy Earth, Three Gorges and the China-ASEAN Investment Cooperation Fund are among those accused in the report who did not respond.
🏆🌳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 populations could unleash 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 Review report 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 Monitor for 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 experiencing high rates of diarrhea, 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 permits without 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 around 107,000 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.
Shabia Mantoo, a spokesperson at UNHCR’s Sanaa office, told Al Jazeera:
[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 quality regulations.
+ 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.
+ 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.
+ New Orleans is worse off than Miami.
+ 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.
🛩One more way climate change will impact our lives – in-flight turbulence. (First world problem?)
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)
- It might also help if your (just a little) crazy. (MM.net)
- 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)
- Wanted: Paradigm shift. David Rothkopf on asking the right questions about the future in this excerpt from his new book The Great Questions of Tomorrow.
- 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?