Category Archives: This Week

This Week (01-07.May.2017)

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.

Report

+ 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.

+ Exxon earned $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016, down from $6.57 billion during the same time period in 2014.

+ 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.

Coal miners react following an explosion in a mine in Azadshahr, in northern Iran, leaving dozens of miners trapped on May 3 Source MOSTAFA HASSANZADEH AFP Getty Images.jpg
“Coal miners react following an explosion in a mine in Azadshahr, in northern Iran, leaving dozens of miners trapped on May 3.” Source: MOSTAFA HASSANZADEH/AFP/Getty Images

⛈🌎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.

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“The remote Haitian town of Rendel had been suffering from an outbreak of cholera, worsened by the destruction of Hurricane Matthew. This photograph captures the plight of patients in an overcrowded clinic in the town.” Source: Merideth Kohut

💊🤒☣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.

Yemen

+ 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. 

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One participant assists another up a hill during the Mud Day Paris 2017 obstacle course in Beynes. Source: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images

+ 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. 

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💦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. 

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“The Los Laureles dam which supplies over one million people in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with potable water. Hot temperatures and deforestation have reduced the water level at Los Laureles to 50 percent of its capacity.” Source: ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

📱🚱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. 

Water tankers await their turn at a filling station near the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield. MAHESH SHANTARAM
Water tankers await their turn at a filling station near the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield. Source: MAHESH SHANTARAM

🌧🚱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. 

UNICEF, Yemen
Children return from school in the Basateen district in Aden, Yemen. The area, which has been hit hard by the conflict, hosts refugee and displaced communities.  © UNHCR/Shabia Mantoo

+ 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.

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“Deported migrant Sonia Lopez and her daughter Lisbeth Borja hug during the “Opening the Door of Hope” event at the US-Mexico border in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico.” Source: GUILLERMO ARIAS/AFP/Getty Images

+ 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.

Yemen refugee

+ 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.

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“A member of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, splashes water at Lake Assad, an enormous reservoir created by the Tabqa dam.” Source: DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP/Getty

💶🏛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.

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“The sun sets behind the Statue of Liberty on April 29, 2017 in New York City.” Source: Gary Hershorn / Getty

🔜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.

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“Indian fishermen look out of a prison cell in Kashmir. Pakistan’s Maritime Security Agency has arrested 30 Indian fishermen and seized five boats for illegally fishing in Pakistan’s territorial waters.” Source: ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images

+ 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?

The Hunted
A side of human trafficking that is not often discussed, the sale body parts forcefully removed from individuals with albinism, has created an environment of fear and objectification for hundreds of men, women, and children in southern Africa. In his essay entitled “The Hunted,” author and photojournalist Daniel Rodrigues, tells the story of individuals with albinism in Mozambique and Malawi.

👣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.

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“A Chinese woman wears a mask to protect from particles blown in during a sandstorm as she walks in the street on May 4, 2017 in Beijing, China. Sandstorms are common in northern China during the spring season and are caused when heavy winds from Mongolia in the north brings sand and pollutants that can blanket Chinese cities and cause air quality to deteriorate.” Source: Kevin Frayer / Getty

+ 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.

+ In the meantime, the rich move to high ground and the poor are pushed out, in a phenomenon being called ‘climate gentrification.

+ 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)
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“An aerial view of the new Apple headquarters on April 28, 2017 in Cupertino, California. Apple’s new 175-acre ‘spaceship’ campus dubbed “Apple Park” is nearing completion and is set to begin moving in Apple employees. The new headquarters, designed by Lord Norman Foster and costing roughly $5 billion, will house 13,000 employees in over 2.8 million square feet of office space and will have nearly 80 acres of parking to accommodate 11,000 cars.” Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty
  • 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)
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“The horn of a bull, during a bullfight at the Maestranza bullring, in Seville, Spain, on May 3, 2017.” Source: Cristina Quicler / AFP / Getty
  • If you’re poor – you may need 20 years with almost nothing going wrong. No pressure. (The Atlantic)
A refugee child from Sudan with disabilities is massaged at Doro refugee camp, in Maban, near Bunj, South Sudan, on May 3. Source ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN AFP Getty Images.jpg
A refugee child from Sudan with disabilities is massaged at Doro refugee camp, in Maban, near Bunj, South Sudan, on May 3. Source: ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN/AFP/Getty Images
  • 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)

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/526857048/526899512

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“16-year-old Lucie Myslikova confronts a a protester at a right wing demonstration on May 1, 2017. The Czech teenager was among some 300 protesters who confronted a rally of the far right Workers Party of Social Justice on May Day in the second largest Czech city of Brno.” Source: Vladimir Cicmanec / AP
  • 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?

This Week (24-30.April.2017)

⛈🌴🏛 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.

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🏛🌽🍎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

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“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.

Famine

+ 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.

displacement

💦🛰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?

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“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.

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“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

 

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“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

☔☀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.

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+ 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)
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“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
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“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)
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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)

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)

This Week (16-23.April.2017)

🌳💦🥑This Week in Environmental Justice ⚖⚒🌿

🌎🌱⚖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 that granting 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.

A dog hopes to be rescued in a destroyed area after mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Manizales,
“A dog hopes to be rescued in a destroyed area after mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Manizales, Colombia, on April 19, 2017.” Source: The Atlantic

+ 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.

💣🍽 Yemen Update:

  • Half of Yemen’s population lacks clean water, sanitation, and hygiene services
  • Seven million people are 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.
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“A boy rides a donkey carrying plastic containers full of water in an impoverished coastal village on the outskirts of the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, on April 17.” Source: Foreign Policy

👣⚒ 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.

🌎👣⚒ 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.

Solar panels in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China, on April 18, 2017.
Solar panels in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China, on April 18, 2017. Source: Foreign Policy

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.”

Residents view the first iceberg of the season as it passes the South Shore, also known as Iceberg Alley, near Ferryland Newfoundland, Canada, on April 16, 2017.
“Residents view the first iceberg of the season as it passes the South Shore, also known aIceberg Alley, near Ferryland Newfoundland, Canada, on April 16, 2017.” Source: The Atlantic

🏔⏳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.

Preliminary DMS image of the new rift in Greenland_s Petermann Glacier, directly beneath the NASA Operation IceBridge aircraft. Gary Hoffmann, NASA
NASA satellite image of the new crack on Greenland’s Peterman Glacier. Source: The Washington Post

+ 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.

+ The White House budget proposal would cut all four of NASA’s climate-related satellite missions, including the one which took the Greenland photographs.

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.

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“A Sri Lankan resident walks through damaged homes at the site of a collapsed garbage dump in Colombo on April 16, 2017. Hopes of finding anyone alive under a collapsed mountain of garbage in Sri Lanka’s capital faded as the death toll reached 23 with another six reported missing, police said. Hundreds of soldiers, backed by heavy earth moving equipment were digging through the rubbish and the wreckage of some 145 homes that were destroyed when a side of the 300-foot (90-meter) high dump crashed on April 14.” Source: The Atlantic

Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties

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.

This Week (03-09.April.2017)

🌳🚲 This Week in Environmental Justice ⚖🌱

⚓🏝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.

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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.

🌎🚢Earthjustice filed a request to halt all funding for harborside development and freight operations near Oakland, California, to the civil rights officials at the federal departments of Transportation, Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency, on the grounds that such development has violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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.

COLOMBIA-ENVIRONMENT-BOTERO-PROTEST
“Environmentalists in Medellin, Colombia, protest high pollution levels on March 29 after the city declared an environmental emergency.” The government issued a red alert, banning heavy transport during peak hours. The cloudy rainy season has inundated Medellin’s deep valley in fatal smog. Statistics reported  suggest that the air pollution in the city has caused six times more deaths than gun violence, though it is not clear what time frame the numbers a drawing from. Epidemiologist Elkin Martinez produced a study indicating that 3,000 people died of causes related to air pollution in Medellin last year – that’s one every three hours. Photo source: Foreign Policy

🌎💦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.

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“Women cry over the coffin of a relative killed by a mudslide caused by heavy rains, at the cemetery in Mocoa, Colombia on April 3.” Source: Foreign Policy 

How common are landslides in Colombia?

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.

A children's bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima,
From last week’s mudslide in Peru: “A children’s bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru, on March 24, 2017.” Source: The Atlantic

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.

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“Indian office-goers walk past a wall displaying a mural in Mumbai on April 3.” Source: Foreign Policy

🌅👤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.

//fave.api.cnn.io/v1/fav/?video=tv/2017/04/04/exp-gps-0402-last-look-rivers.cnn&customer=cnn&edition=domestic&env=prod

👣 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 2017UNHCR, 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.

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“Displaced Somali children wait for food aid at a distribution center outside Mogadishu.”   Source: Foreign Policy

🔬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.

Scientists at the University of Manchester have published a study in the journal Nature Nanotechnology which builds off previous findings that graphene-oxide membranes offer potential efficiencies in water filtration.

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.

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AeroFarms’ patented aeroponic growing system. Source: AeroFarms

+ 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.”

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“Grow what you need. Know what you eat.” Source: neoFarms

+ 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.

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Taken in the aftermath of the August 2013 attack using chemical weapons. Source: Manu Brabo – Associated Press

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.

It is not just Assad’s first sarin attack which makes the reaction of today’s U.S. leaders so perplexing but also the evidence that Assad has continued to use chemical weapons since the 2013 deal.

The OPCW believes that Assad has attacked large numbers of civilians with chlorine weapons, which are also 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?

Donald Trump
Source: Reuters

Unilateral U.S. response options in Syria are limited, particularly by the support the regime receives from their Russian allies.

US drone operations in Syria have expanded “in both scope and intensity” over the last six months, including the March 16th strike on a mosque complex in al-Jinah.  Drone strikes, particularly in Syria and Yemen, have been notoriously lacking in transparency and accountability. Over the past 30 months, the nonprofit research organization Airwars have estimated that US strikes have killed at least 91 civilians, with overall casualty rates likely far higher.

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.

U.S. Warships Fire Tomahawk Missles At Syria
“The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fired one of the 59 cruise missiles the United States shot at a Syrian military airfield in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed scores of civilians Tuesday.”  Source: Foreign Policy

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.

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“An unverified photo shared widely on social media shows Jammeh and Obiang admiring what appears to be Jammeh’s new farm in Equatorial Guinea.” Source: Foreign Policy

⚖ 🗺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)
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Hillside community in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico on April 4. “The Crime Prevention Secretariat started the mural-painting initiative to motivate young people from communities under pressure of violence.” Source: Foreign Policy
  • 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)
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“Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France perform at the International Skating Union World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki on April 2.” Source: Foreign Policy

…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.

Finally, one long read/valuable resource: Science and technology experts describe the societal challenges that they think matter in 2017 and beyond. (BBC Future)

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/forget-about-climate-change/

This Week (27.March-02.April.2017) **New Concept Design**

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.

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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.’  

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“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.”

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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

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“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
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Photos of the luxurious interior of Blue Origin’s spaceship. Source: Mashable
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“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

This Week (19-25.March.2017)

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.

What I’m Reading

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

By: Geoff Colvin

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…

Oil Companies Cool on Arctic Drilling. Trump Wants It Anyway.

ROBBIE GRAMER; Foreign Policy – The Cable

The Keystone Pipeline Is Approved, But There May Not Be Enough Demand To Build It

ADELE PETERS; Fast Company

The Arctic just set a grim new record for low levels of sea ice

Chris Mooney; The Washington Post


More on US policy and society…

How Millennials Will Forever Change America’s Farmlands

Kimbal Musk; Fortune

The White House calls climate change research a ‘waste.’ Actually, it’s required by law

Chris Mooney: The Washington Post

CORPORATIONS IN THE AGE OF INEQUALITY

Harvard Business Review

Q&A: Garry Kasparov on the press and propaganda in Trump’s America

Michael Judge; Colombia Journalism Review

Americans are learning from Trump that much of their democracy was run on the honor system.

Trump Lays Plans to Reverse Obama’s Climate Change Legacy

CORAL DAVENPORT; The New York Times


Tech…

These Google Street View cars just got a new job — spotting harmful methane leaks in big cities

Chelsea Harvey; The Washington Post

A History and Future of the Rise of the Robots

David Dixon Jr.; Hackernoon


Global governance…

 

Realists, Not Globalists: What U.S. Critics Get Wrong About the U.N.

Richard Gowan; World Politics Review

Seeking Accountability in Yemen: Why the Truth Is So Hard to Get

Fatima Bhojani; Foreign Affairs

Great article addressing how institutional structures and actions seem to be insufficient the face of Yemen’s crisis. For further context and background on Yemen, click here.

HISTORY’S GUIDE TO CONTESTED LIBERALISM

A. BRADLEY POTTER; War on the Rocks


In the courts…

EU will take UK to International Court if it refuses to pay £50bn divorce bill, ‘leaked document’ says

Rob Merrick; Independent

In a first, International Criminal Court awards Congo war crimes, victims $250 each

AFP; The New Indian Express [See also: Marlise Simons; New York Times]

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.


Global Environmental Policy…

Discretion and Judicial Review in European Environmental Law

José Carlos Laguna de Paz; RegBlog

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.

Is environmental law a luxury or a necessity?

Rashmee Roshan Lall; The National

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.


Africa…

The Global Gag Rule: America’s Deadly Export

JILL FILIPOVIC; Foreign Policy

Liberia’s ‘Hail Mary Pass’ to Save Its Failing School System

The Editors; World Politics Review

Can Mozambique’s Latest Attempt at Peace Succeed?

Carrie Manning; World Politics Review

Social and environmental impacts of mega coal power projects in Egypt

Business and Human Rights Resource Center


Some things to think about…

Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a person?

Julian Savulescu; Quartz

Survival of the Friendliest

KELLY CLANCY; Nautilus


Taking action…

Climate change is happening now – here’s eight things we can do to adapt to it

Missy Stults; The Guardian

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.

Quick Reads to Sound Smart at Parties…

Advice From Pussy Riot: How to Defy Putin and Trump

NADYA TOLOKONNIKOVA; Foreign Policy

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.

Why American Farmers Are Hacking Their Tractors With Ukrainian Firmware

Jason Koebler; Motherboard (VICE)

Marijuana raids are more deadly than the drug itself

Christopher Ingraham; The Washington Post – Wonkblog

THE GIG ECONOMY CELEBRATES WORKING YOURSELF TO DEATH

JIA TOLENTINO; The New Yorker

Tech community “dumbfounded” by Mnuchin’s dismissal of AI impact on jobs

Kim Hart; Axios

International trade talk dominates Cinnamon Ridge Farms Ag Summit

JOHN DAVID; WQUAD8

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.

French Presidential Debate



Exploring my new home:

In between meetings in Tacoma this week, I noticed the potential for beautiful views in the distance. I decided to take a few minutes and drive toward the water.

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Chicken Update:

The chicks are doing a stunning job growing their “big chicken” feathers.

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…And standing in line for water.

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This Week (12-18.March.2017)

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?

What I’m Reading:

Zeitoun.

Dave Eggers; McSweeney’s

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.

What SCOTUS Nominee Neil Gorsuch’s Interpretation of Chevron Could Mean for Environmental Administrative Law

Philip J. McAndrews; Georgetown Law Review

“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.”

Conservative Fantasies, Colliding with Reality

Paul Krugman; New York Times

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?

How America Lost its Faith in Expertise (And Why That’s a Giant Problem).*

Tom Nichols; Foreign Affairs

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.  

*All emphasis in this section has been my own.

What I’m Watching:

Servant of the People

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.


What I’m Listening too:

The World Next Week

Robert McMahon & Jim Lindsay; CFR

A weekly podcast staple.

My Damn Mind

This American Life; NPR

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.

Why is My Life So Hard?

Stephen Dudner; Freakonomics Radio; WNYC

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.

Adventure Workout

Discovery Park in Seattle

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.)

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Chicken Update:

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The Hens.

 

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The Chicks (11-8 days old)

Awesome discoveries on the web this week:

Data USA

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.

Busuu

The new language learning social media site that seems to have evolved out of Lang 8.

The Observatory of Economic Complexity

Another awesome data visualization site focused on international trade data.