Category Archives: Posts from Jeff Conant

Facing the World Water Forum, We Look Forward and Maintain Hope: A Climate Connections Exclusive

Today begins the World Water Forum in Marseilles, France, a week-long trade-show and platform for the world’s most powerful water corporations to promote their profit-oriented solutions to the global water crisis. The event, which occurs ever three years, has been one of the primary venues pushing water privatization. Alternet published a series of articles I wrote after the 2009 forum in Istanbul, resulting in a Project Censored Award. Colleagues from Italy produced produced a terrific film called H2O: Turkish Connection, that documents the violence that marked that forum.

For the several years when the focus of my work was on water privatization, I had the pleasure and honor of working with La Red VIDA, or InterAmerican Network for the Defense of the Human Right to Water, and its Secretariat, Bolivian water activist Marcela Olivera. Among other projects, Marcela and I, along with our colleagues at Other Worlds and Transnational Institute, worked together to produce the book, Changing the Flow: Water Movements in Latin America – to this day, the best resource for understanding the diverse perspectives of popular movements in Latin America on the water issue. (Note the cover photo, by GJEP’s Orin Langelle, shot at the 4th World Water Forum, in Mexico City: for more on that forum, with photos, see this article I wrote at the time.)

To mark the beginning of this year’s World Water Forum, and the Alternative World Water Forum, March 14-17, Climate Connections is proud to publish the following original commentary from Marcela Olivera.

– Jeff Conant, for GJEP

A Climate Connections Exclusive

Facing the World Water Forum, We Look Forward and Maintain Hope

By Marcela Olivera

The media tells us that 8 million people die every year from illnesses related to water; that more than a billion people lack access to potable water; and that more than 2.4 billion do not have access to sanitation.

These grave numbers, revised upward every three years, are cited by the World Water Council as the reason for convening their tri-annual World Water Forum. While the Water Forum, billed with a strong corporate flavor as an “international multi-stakeholder platform,” has a different character than the annual Conferences of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the results are largely the same: a lot of talking, perhaps even a lot of good intentions, but little action, and universal frustration.

So it is that the Sixth World Water Forum opens today (March 12-17) in Marseille, France. At $1000 for participants from wealthy nations, and about $450 for participants from the ‘under-developed countries,’ the cost of attending makes the forum inaccesible to those who come from the countries of the Global South.

And so it is that every three years those of us who believe this Forum to be illegitimate gather together to denounce it. And every three years, over the course of many months, organizations and movements from around the World come together to hold the Alternative World Water Forum. We have done so previously, in Kyoto in 2003, in Mexico City in 2006, and in Istanbul in 2009. Now, in 2012, in Marseilles, the last details for this year’s convening are being worked out.

The challenges facing our social movements are enormous. The greatest of these challenges is the construction of viable alternatives to the dominant economy and to the regime of natural resource management that is based on extraction, exploitation, and extreme energy.

The questions are clear, the answers diverse and complex. For example, who should convene these fora? If the World Water Council has no legitimate right to push decisions regarding global water issues, does the United Nations? We are struggling to put water in public hands – but is it truly public when the State controls it? Or when it is in the hands of us, the people? How can we create conditions where State-managed water systems coexist with systems developed and managed by the community? How can we get beyond the demagoguery that dominates the discourse of human rights and the Human Right to Water? In the cases of Bolivia and Ecuador, how can we advance the defense of Mother Earth and her natural Rights when the practical demands of running a country within a global economy are in direct contradiction to ecological concerns?

Wherever we are headed, the world continues turning, and it will not stop in Marseille. Throughout the Americas, discontent is on the rise in the face of governments left, right and center, red, green and pink. We are witnesses, not to a series of isolated uprisings, but to a global movement against the unwarranted ambition of the corporate agenda, and in defense of the Commons.

In Chile, the population of Aysén has risen up and put state authorities in checkmate, because the government of Sebastian Piñera remembers them only when it comes time to launch a hydroelectric project.

In Ecuador, March 8, International Women’s Day, marked the launch of the National March for Life and the Dignity of the People. The march, convened by the National Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONAIE) and other sectors, seeks to unmask the neoliberal policies of the Correa administration and the ongoing criminalization of the indigenous peoples’ movement. The march, which began in the province of Zamora and will end in Quito on World Water Day, March 22,  is also in defense of the Constitution of Montecristi and the approval of the revolutionary agrarian law and the popular water law.

Not long ago in Peru, a similar March for Water ended with the alignment of new social sectors following the approval by the government of Ollanta Humala of mining projects in Cajamarca, in the face of widespread resistance and discontent.

In Bolivia, the peoples of the Indigenous Territory and National Park Isiboro Secure (TIPNIS) are preparing their ninth march against the Villa Tunari-San Ignacio de Moxos highway that the Morales government continues to promote as part of the interoceanic corridor to unite Brazil to Chile.

In the United States, the Occupy movement has been evicted from the plazas, but has expanded to the neighborhoods and other public spaces in the form of workshops, gatherings, and assemblies that may easily come to be more of a threat to the authorities, and teh authroitarians, than the simple occupation of public spaces.

Hours before the beginning of the World Water Forum in Marseille, reflecting on what is happening in our countries, I feel a kind of anger that it is an affair like this – a gathering of corporate elites – that brings us together, again. Every three years we unite to delegitimize and denounce this profit-oriented trade fair that is built on our backs by the corporations that make up the World Water Forum. It shouldn’t be this way.

But, I maintain hope: the day will come when we will gather together not to respond to the destructive agenda of the corporate elites, but because we see the way forward, because we have a clear, common agenda; because we are called by solidarity to do so. We will gather together because we will have learned not only from our defeats, but from our victories.

At the end of the day, we will join together because we desire to do so, as brothers and sisters on this planet we call Earth, and because it is our legitimate right.

– Marcela Olivera, Marseille, France, March, 2012

Marcela Olivera is a Bolivian water rights activist, based in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Currently she is a Visiting Global Associate of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University.

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Filed under Latin America-Caribbean, Posts from Jeff Conant, Water, Women

2012: The Year of the Luddites?

– Jeff Conant, for GJEP

This year, 2012, marks the bicentennial anniversary of the British Luddite movement, which rose up in 1812 in an organized rebellion of‘machine-breaking’ against industrial textile frames and other equipment found to be odious to workers’ dignity. The two-hundredth anniversary will be marked by widespread celebrations of the Luddites’ historic achievement, in the form of galas to be held at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C., Windsor Castle, Rockefeller Center, and Wall Street…wait, no, pardon: my fact-checking department tells me that’s not right. They’ll be held in impromptu squats and occupied factories in devastated rust belt cities like Flint, Michigan and empty granaries amidst the industrial soy plantations of Brazil’s Cerrado and the African Sahel. No, well, not that either…

Indeed, the poor old Luddites, great humanitarians that they were, and harbingers of the two-hundred year industrial blight-to-come, have lived on largely as a negative: anyone who questions the nature of technological progress is deemed a Luddite and summarily dismissed.

Historically, the Luddites, armed with hammers, pistols and a desperation to protect their livelihoods, seized the imagination of the British public in the early-nineteenth century. And they have held on to it. Two centuries later, the word ‘Luddite’ is still familiar all round the English-speaking world, even if vastly misunderstood.

Were the Luddites simply a band of destructive ne’er-do-wells who seriously thought that by smashing the new machines in the factories of the early 1800s they could ‘uninvent’ the technology that threatened to take away their jobs and their social status as elite craftsmen? That is how they are often seen today, and the word ‘Luddite’ is used for anybody who is reluctant to use a computer or a mobile phone. But there was more to the original Luddites.

A number of organizations, especially in the UK, are rising (up) to the occasion and bringing the Luddites back into our awareness. And the timing couldn’t be better: with the effects of industrial capitalism devastating the planetary ecosystem, and now devouring itself in a fit of austerity measures, rebellions, and economic collapse, perhaps it’s time to sit down for a chat with the mysterious Ned Ludd and his cross-dressing band of clandestine saboteurs.

A great resource to start with is Luddite Link; also worth visiting is the British People’s History Museum in Manchester, England, where, thanks to the direct action of a group called Luddites200, the Luddites will be put back in their rightful place in history after a long and silent banishment in obscurity.

Another great resource, for those interested in current issues around technology, is Friends of the Earth Australia’s recent issue of their magazine Chain Reaction. It includes an article by Luddites200 member Dave King and an excellent spread of articles from GM food to geoengineering to Fukushima to synthetic biology.

With the Rio+20 Environment Summit coming up this June, it is a fine moment to assess where twenty years of ‘sustainable development’ have gotten us, on top of two-hundred years of industrial resource extraction and exploitation. While policy-makers and big green NGOs lick their chops over emerging technologies like synthetic biology and geoengineering, technological ruses like ‘climate-smart agriculture’, biochar, and REDD; and while market-minded technocrats lay plans for the ‘green economy’ to promote these technologies and to facilitate trading in ecosystem commodities and services, perhaps we should pause for a long moment and consider the Luddite value of, well, pausing for a long moment.

The Andean Indigenous Peoples’ movements posit an alternative to industrial-progress-at-all-costs; they call it Buen Vivir – living well. The original Luddites, who might rather’ve spent their time lifting a pint after work rather than smashing machines and dodging the authorities, probably would’ve called it the same thing.


Filed under False Solutions to Climate Change, Posts from Jeff Conant, Rio+20, Synthetic Biology

Steve Chu Fulfills Eisenhower’s Darkest Nightmare

In our ongoing coverage of the newly announced second campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs in the industrial Bay Area city of Richmond, California, which will be largely focused on synthetic biology, we bring you this post from Bay Area journalist Richard Brenneman, posted yesterday on his blog, eats shoots ‘n leaves.

– the GJEP team

The headline of the announcement from Julie Chao of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [LBBNL] says it all: “National Labs Seek Closer Industry Ties.”In his farewell address to the nation, Dwight David Eisenhower sounded the now-familiar alarm of the danger of growing power of the military/industrial complex, a power that might be said to have its foundation in Berkeley, a point we’ll take up later.But less familiar to most is that the military and industry were only two of three components of the force force Eisenhower saw gaining ascendancy over the nation.Here’s the part of that same address which rarely, if ever, gets noted [emphasis added]:Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

The Secretary of Energy who is greasing the skids for Eisenhower’s nightmare is Steve Chu, who came to Washington from the helm of LBN, where he played a leading role in landing the $500 million BP grant now being used to build the Energy Biosciences Institute [EBI], where corporate and academic scientists are told to create new crop-based fuels for BP [which gets first dibs on all the research] and other oil giants. Needless to say, the ecological devastation on Africa, Latin America, and Asia will be immense in the land grab that follows any successful development of fuel crops and the microbes to turn them into stuff to fill out tanks.And LBNL will be building a whole new campus on the San Francisco Bay shore in nearby Richmond specifically focused on genetic engineering to develop fuels and other products that will further enrich America’s bloated corporate elite.

With that as preamble, here’s Chao’s announcement:The network of national laboratories run by the Department of Energy (DOE) has spawned countless scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs in the last 80 years. Now with the global economic climate more competitive than ever and the need for energy solutions more urgent, the labs are looking to develop closer ties with industry in an effort to speed up the pace at which discoveries reach the marketplace.To kick off the conversation Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) is hosting the Materials for Energy Applications workshop from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 in Berkeley.

The conference will be an opportunity for representatives from all 17 DOE laboratories to have in-depth discussions with dozens of representatives from the private sector, ranging from startups such as Alphabet Energy to smaller Silicon Valley companies such as Nanosys to major corporations such as Chevron, Procter & Gamble, Honeywell and United Technologies.“In this competitive international environment, we have to make sure that what the labs develop gets quickly into the hands of industry so industry can turn it to the benefit of the country,” said Berkeley Lab Deputy Director Horst Simon. “We need to be better at bridging the gap between the basic research done at the labs and the applied research done by industry.”The goals of the workshop are tri-fold: to increase industry awareness of relevant capabilities within the DOE national laboratories, to deepen the national laboratories’ understanding of the technical challenges facing industry, and to identify and improve paths forward for collaboration.

“Public-private partnerships are absolutely critical to accelerating advanced materials developments, especially in the energy space,” said Theresa Kotanchek, Vice President Sustainable Technologies & Innovation Sourcing at The Dow Chemical Company who is also on the organizing committee for the conference. “Events like the Materials for Energy Applications workshop lay the foundation on which these innovative partnerships can be built.”The idea for the industry-laboratory workshop was formed last year when Secretary of Energy Steven Chu hosted a dinner with senior industry executives and laboratory directors to discuss ways to strengthen the country’s innovation ecosystem. Executives expressed desire to work with the labs but also said it was difficult to access the labs and find the right contacts.Thus was born the idea to hold a series of workshops to enhance mutual understanding and close cultural gaps between government-funded research and private enterprise.

Some of the cultural differences arise from their fundamentally divergent missions—labs are engaged in more basic, long-term research while the private sector is looking to innovate for more business-oriented purposes.“We have recognized over time there are very different cultures and missions between the labs and private industry, making alignment of interests sometimes difficult,” said Cheryl Fragiadakis, director of technology transfer at Berkeley Lab. “I think the direct face-to-face communication will really help improve the understanding of the two cultures. Also, many people in private industry do not know how open the labs really are.

”Simon added that many companies don’t realize how much intellectual property is available for licensing at the national labs: “We need to make sure our industry colleagues know that each lab has a technology transfer department and that there are literally hundreds of inventions ready to be licensed,” he said. Simon said he would also like to see joint public-private R&D projects come out of the workshop.

The Materials for Energy Applications workshop will include a panel on “Technology Gaps Ripe for Industry Collaboration” and poster sessions on areas such as lightweight materials, low-power electronics and carbon capture and sequestration. “We’re trying to do new things in areas such as photovoltaics, batteries and energy efficiency technology for buildings. All these depend on developing new materials,” said Simon. “This is one of the strengths of national labs; in particular, in the materials science area, the five nanoscience research centers created in early 2000s—including the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab—have developed a lot of new ideas.”The second workshop in the series will be hosted by Oak Ridge National Laboratory on the topic of modeling and simulation. It will take place March 7-8 in Austin, Texas.

Industry has responded positively, and representatives from at least four dozen companies will be attending the Berkeley workshop. “To effectively leverage our capabilities we must rapidly connect the talent with the energy opportunities and overcome barriers to collaboration,” said Ned Niccolls, Senior Consulting Materials Engineer at Chevron who is also on the organizing committee. “These are key to U.S. competitiveness, and to help meet the huge scale of the world’s future energy demands.”Chu will give a keynote address on Feb. 1. From Berkeley Lab, Lab Director Paul Alivisatos and Molecular Foundry Director Omar Yaghi will give keynotes on Jan. 31. Speakers from industry include Michael McQuade of United Technologies, Steve Koonin of the Institute for Defense Analyses, and Vinod Khosla, whose venture capital firm Khosla Ventures has invested in dozens of cleantech startups. Several other venture capital firms will also be attending.An added benefit of these workshops is that they will spur the national labs to work more closely together rather than in isolation of each other. “In the past, integration of the labs has been lacking,” Simon said. “Now we’re doing more to stress the lab complex as one system, and there’s a new collaborative spirit. Improved industry collaboration is just one way the national labs can help strengthen the country’s technology base.”

But the story gets stranger…

To read the full post by Richard Brenneman, go to Eats shoots ‘n leaves

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering, Land Grabs, Posts from Jeff Conant, Synthetic Biology

Mexico’s “Ambitious” Climate Bill Follows on the Heels of US-Mexico “Understanding”

     On January 19, Mexico and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on Emissions, Climate Change and Forests and to work together to build the “green economy.”  The announcement, captured on video, includes a pronouncement that “a REDD+ system will be designed and established to use the voluntary market for carbon credits for forest areas, particularly in California.”
     The news comes just prior to a vote in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies (the equivalent of the House of Representatives in the U.S.) to approve a new “General Law on Climate Change.”
    In the blog post below, the carbon-market pioneer Environmental Defense celebrates the pending legislation, and makes the point that “the current version [of the Mexican climate bill] provides some ambitious, albeit not obligatory, goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.”
    The obvious question, then, is, if reducing climate pollution is not obligatory under such laws, what is it, precisely, that makes them ambitious? Toward what end are they ambitious? Toward reducing emissions and stabilizing the climate? Or toward furthering the market and building new financial instruments out of ‘ecosystem services’?
    As Chris Lang put it in this article about the Nature Conservancy (a Business-friendly NGO that promotes carbon marketeering in tandem with Environmental Defense), these groups find forest offsets more important than actually reducing emissions — because forest offsets are good for big business, even if they are bad for forests and the climate.
    As Mexico and the U.S. develop a model carbon-market partnership, and as the subnational agreement between Chiapas and California moves forward, it will be important to keep in mind just what kind of ambition is driving these agreements, and who stands to benefit from this ambition.
    — Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Mexico’s Congress looks to pass climate change law this spring

By CHRISTINA MCCAIN, Environmental Defense Fund, FEBRUARY 1, 2012

Climate change is likely to be high on the agenda of Mexico’s Congress when it returns to session today, and the world will be watching as the 15th largest emitter of global greenhouse gas emissions considers what would be the country’s first comprehensive law to curb climate change.

The “General Law on Climate Change” has already made successful inroads in Congress, having passed Mexico’s Senate with an overwhelming majority in early December. This spring, the Senate-approved version of the bill is anticipated to be considered in Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.

The bill’s language states its intention is to: “favor the transition towards a competitive, sustainable economy with low carbon emissions, consequently generating environmental, social, and economic benefits.”

The bill is still subject to change in the Chamber of Deputies from the language approved in the Senate. However, the current version provides some ambitious, albeit not obligatory, goals for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, as well as promising paths to achieve these goals through promoting renewable energy, ratcheting down of fossil fuel subsidies, and reducing emissions from land-use change.


Filed under Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests and Climate Change, Green Economy, Latin America-Caribbean, Posts from Jeff Conant

Another Wild Weekend in Oakland: Occupy 2012 is Here

Special report by Jeff Conant, Global Justice Ecology Project, from the streets in Oakland

January 29, Oakland CA – What began as a plan to occupy a vacant city building, with the stated intention of transforming it into a community center, became another in a series of street battles between Oakland police and Occupy supporters that ended with hundreds jailed and the city center under siege.

Hundreds marched from Oscar Grant Plaza at noon on Saturday, becoming thousands as the police and several local sheriffs departments responded rapidly, and with force.

Some 400 people were arrested throughout the day, including several journalists; several Occupiers entered City Hall and burned an American flag; two broadcast media vans were attacked by demonstrators. The Oakland Police Department, even as it faces Federal receivership for its long history of abuse, reacted with teargas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and the first reported appearance of an enormous tank, corralling marchers, and engaging in arbitrary arrests, sometimes with excessive force.

The next night in Oscar Grant Plaza, in the chill outdoors beneath high-rise office buildings, hundreds gathered to hold the biweekly Oakland General Assembly, to debrief, and to support those in jail. There may have been as many opinions about the day’s events as there were people in the plaza.

One supporter said she’d been against Saturday’s plan from the start, and had voted against it.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she said, “I think we need to do building takeovers. But this one was poorly planned and badly executed.”

“I’m for diversity of tactics,” she said. “Not futility of tactics.”

The man next to her, not surprisingly, had a different take. Preferring to remain anonymous, he summed up the day’s events as “semi-productive chaos.”

The productive part, he said, hinged on “thousands of people mobilized and freed from patterns of immobility and fear.”

As an attempt to occupy a building and create a community center, he said, “it was a spectacular failure. But we need failures. With every one, we’re learning.”

For this writer, the most poignant assessment had come the night before, around midnight on Saturday, when downtown Oakland was still tense. Police had cordoned off several blocks and surrounded Oscar Grant Plaza, as demonstrators continued to be loaded in buses to Santa Rita County jail, 40 miles away.

There in the nearly empty plaza, a small group of Iraq Veterans Against the War had gathered to keep watch on the police, who stood with helmets and batons along the perimeter. Several of their friends had been swept up in the arrests.

Dottie Guy, Iraq War vet, at Oscar Grant Plaza. Photo: Jeff Conant

I asked one of the group, an African American woman named Dottie Guy, what had brought her out. She flashed a smile.

“Where else am I going to be?” she said. “I need to be here.”

Dottie had crossed the Bay from her home in San Francisco, but was originally from Virginia. She’d joined the National Guard in 2000, as a way to get to college, she told me.

“After 9-11 happened, I was called up,” she said. “I never expected to go Iraq.”

Dottie served her tour of duty, and by the time she was stateside, she was fed up. Now, together with an apparently growing number of service veterans, she’s a regular supporter of the Occupy movement.

I asked her again if she could clarify what it was that compelled her to join this movement.

“I took an oath to defend and protect the Constitution,” she answered. “They didn’t let me do it in Iraq, so I’m doing it here.”

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Independent Media, Occupy Wall Street, Politics, Posts from Jeff Conant, Videos

The ‘wind rush’: Green energy blows trouble into Mexico

A few months ago, I received a call from a reporter at the Christian Science Monitor, who’d been referred to me, he said, because of my experience in Mexico, and because I’ve been working, with Global Justice Ecology Project, on exposing the problems that can accompany apparently ‘green’ development – specifically REDD, the Clean Development Mechanism, Biofuels, and carbon trading. The reporter was researching an article on wind farms on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. He’d heard rumors, he told me, that there was a downside to these wind farms, but he hadn’t yet gotten hold of anyone who could clearly explain why in the world – aside from the standard concerns of bird-deaths and noise pollution – anyone would oppose wind power.

I told him I’d heard of the Oaxaca project, and was aware there were big issues, and I referred him to some sources in Mexico, including Wendy Call, whose terrific book on Tehuantepec, No Word for Welcome, I recently reviewed for Orion Magazine.

I said I had no personal connection to the Tehuantepec wind project but I would hazard a guess that the issue was this: who gets the electricity, and who pays the social costs? Do the local farmers and fishers want enormous turbines installed on their ancestral lands? What happens when big, moneyed interests colonize an area where the culture has been relatively intact for centuries?

As we spoke, I went online to search who would own the electricity from the wind farms, and what I found essentially answers all of these questions: the biggest shares of investment in the project, and the biggest shares of energy coming out of it, belong to Walmart and Coca-Cola. From a point of view that questions the need, at this stage in the deepening climate crisis, for more crap plastic products and more hyped-up sugar water, that says it all.

The CSM reporter, Erik Vance, did find what he was looking for, and has just produced several in-depth articles on “the wind rush”, including the very illuminating and well-considered article one we cross-post below.  – Jeff Conant, for Global Justice Ecology Project

The ‘wind rush’: Green energy blows trouble into Mexico

    • Green energy’s big success is a rude awakening in the isthmus of Mexico.

By Erik Vance, Correspondent

January 26, 2012 – The Isthmus of Tehuantapec, Mexico‘s narrowest point, is a powerful wind tunnel of air currents whipping through the mountains that separate the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Here, on the Pacific side, the wind shapes everything from the miles-long sandspits of Laguna Superior to the landscapes of the indigenous people’s hearts.

Howling constantly through thatched roofs, the wind is powerful enough at times to support a grown man leaning back as if in a chair. Gales average 19 miles per hour, slapping waves over the bows of fishing skiffs and sandblasting anyone standing on the beach.

The wind is “sacred” in this village, says indigenous Huave fisherman Donaciano Victoria. “We believe that the wind from the north is like a man and the wind from the south is like a woman. And so you must not disrespect the wind.”

To read the rest of the article, go to The Christian Science Monitor.

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Filed under Climate Change, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Independent Media, Latin America-Caribbean, Posts from Jeff Conant

Genetic Engineering Gets Extreme. Now Comes Synthetic Genetic Modification

The San Francisco Chronicle’s January 23rd article, “UC picks Richmond for Lawrence Berkeley lab campus” praises the possible benefits of the expanded Lawrence Berkeley National Lab may bring to the city of Richmond.  But Richmond residents may be surprised  to discover that a high-risk facility working with a new set of potentially dangerous, insufficiently regulated technologies has just been invited into their community.

Much of the research to be conducted in the lab will be about an emerging technology — synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is an extreme form of genetic engineering, attempts to create self-replicating organisms with synthesized DNA – organisms not previously found in nature. The risks this research poses to worker safety, public health, and the environment are poorly studied and poorly regulated.

This article, cross-posted from Gaia Health, cites some of the concerns about synthetic biology, and refers back to an article I posted here last week.  — Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Baby, Genetically EngineeredGenetic Engineering Gets Extreme. Now Comes Synthetic Genetic Modification

You thought genetically modified organisms could be dangerous? Hold on, because synthetic genetic engineering is taking it to a whole new level. It goes beyond inserting genes from one life into another by manufacturing DNA never imagined in nature—by creating synthetic DNA from non-living materials.


Synthetic genetic engineering – synthetic biology or SynBio – is, literally, the creation of synthetic life. It’s the manufacture of lifeforms or the modification of living organisms using non-biological materials. It’s a step beyond genetic engineering, in which the DNA from one organism is implanted into another. The DNA itself may be manufactured, literally created in a lab.

SynBio is, in fact, a combination of several technologies and types of science, including biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, nanotechnology, and engineering.

It’s also, in line with computer science, sometimes called bio-hacking, a term that evokes much of what it’s about. The purpose is to decrypt the biological code so that it can be redirected to other uses—a bit like breaking into a computer, taking control of its processor, and giving it directions to do something different from its original purpose.

In Climate Connections, Jeff Conant describes it like this:

Synthetic DNA is used to fabricate biological building blocks – often called “BioBrick” – capable of being combined in many different ways. “Parts” are assembled into “circuits” which are inserted into a “chassis” to create designer microbial factories that can be “booted up” to manufacture proteins or detect molecules that nature herself may never have dreamed up.

SynBio is the act of treating life as if it were simply a form of mechanical object.

Separation from Reality

The Lie at the Heart of Making Biofuel from Sea Algae” reports on an extreme disconnect from reality. Yasuo Yoshikuni, the CEO of a company that hopes to sell its genetically engineered bacteria to eat brown sea algae and excrete ethanol, makes the nonsensical claim that brown sea algae will absorb the effluent from factory farms. As that article explains, the truth is the opposite: Brown sea algae is killed by agribusiness effluent. To be able to make such a claim requires divorce from reality.

That is the true danger of SynBio. The belief that we humans—or at least those few who are among the chosen or developers of technology—are exempt from the laws of nature. The belief that we can behave as if we have no connection to the planet from which we come is the worst kind of hubris. We’re seeing it already in genetic engineering.

Known Risks of Genetic Engineering

Genetically modified corn is an endocrine disruptor. It’s causing infertility to the point of destroying Agribusiness’ pig factory farms, severely harming cattle reproduction, and is strongly suspected in human fertility problems. Genetically modified crops are failing suddenly. Superweeds, a direct result of genetically modified crops, grow to huge sizes and at accelerated rates. Genetically modified foods are literally changing us by changing our gut biota. Farmers in India are committing suicide in the thousands because they’ve lost their ability to farm after trying genetically modified crops. The toxins from genetically modified foods are showing up in virtually all pregnant women and their fetuses.

These are all unintended effects of genetic engineering. Yet, the promoters of it wear blinders to the damage. They hide behind the profanity of misused science.  They make claims like, “No one has ever proven …” In their arrogance, they completely ignore the Precautionary Principle.

The Unknown Risks

What might be the unintended consequences of genetic engineering’s offsping, SynBio?


And that, of course, is the problem. We’re just beginning to see the extent of the harms in genetic modification. Warnings were given. Studies were done. But they were ignored in favor of fraudulent industry-controlled fabrications. For the most part, they still are. Those paying attention are not the regulators, who have been bought out by the profiteers.

The Money

There’s serious money behind SynBio. Pouring resources into are primarily the Big Three of Big Pharma, Big Chemistry, and Big Oil. These are, of course, deeply interrelated arenas, as chemistry and pharmaceuticals both are tied to petroleum as the basis of the bulk of their products. So, what they’re doing is taking over and pushing the next big area of Big Business. (It should come as no surprise that the Bill Gates Foundation is right in there with them, by the way.)

It’s being pitched as “cool science”, described by Jeff Conant as:

… an enthralling world of lucrative, cutting edge research spearheaded by outsized young vanguardists sporting an aura of entrepreneurial genius, an element of mad scientist, and a dash of rock star.

All their energy is in service to the profits of multinational corporations. We should have no illusions about it. The entire field of SynBio is being harnessed to serve the interests of profits. Any benefits to humanity will exist only in terms of those profits. Any harms will be ignored and, as we’ve seen with genetic engineering, covered up.

Gaia Health is not against the concept of SynBio. It may be able to provide benefits to humanity. However, as it’s now constituted, that’s not its purpose. Its purpose is to create profits for multinational corporations. As we’ve seen again and again, when profits become the motivating force behind anything, then it’s routinely corrupted. The harms from pollution, distortion of society, alienation of people, loss of the natural world, and so much more are too high a price. As a rule, the benefits are seen only by the relatively wealthy of the world. The poor gain little and suffer greatly.

We all are suffering from the harms of genetic engineering, and virtually the only people benefitting from it are the elite—the one percenters who rake in the ill-gotten winnings. A benefit here and here may trickle down, but at a price that society needs to consider. The future of us all is hanging in the balance of genetic engineering alone. And now, we have SynBio bearing down on us, too.

What travesties might come of rampant SynBio? We don’t know. But we do know that, whatever they are, as long as SynBio is conjoined to profits, they won’t be considered.

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering, Posts from Jeff Conant, Synthetic Biology

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, DOE, and UC Berkeley’s New Bay Area Bio-Lab is Creeping into the News: But What’s the Untold Story?

by Jeff Conant, Global Justice Ecology Project

January 19, 2012 – Last September, Climate Connections ran a letter of concern from the Council for Responsible Genetics and the Alliance for Humane Biotechnology about a massive new research facility being planned for the San Francisco Bay Area, as a second campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL). The announcement of the lab site was expected by late last year, but has been postponed until early 2012.

Meanwhile, concerns continue to run high among those who are aware of the lab’s implications; a few weeks into 2012, we are beginning to see word about the lab in the local news. Most reports reliably mention Lawrence Berkeley’s having spawned 13 Nobel Laureates, and being former home to Steven Chu, Obama’s Energy Secretary. Reports also commonly give an uncritical nod to LBNL’s role as a pioneer in private-sector funding for University research, and note, without much particular interest, that such funding has launched a generation of scientist-impresarios on incredibly lucrative business careers.

What isn’t mentioned so clearly, or is left out altogether (as in this article from the East Bay Express) is that the new lab will focus on synthetic biology – a new, high-powered field of research that combines the tools of biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, and nanotechnology, with the corporate entrepreneurial spirit of big pharma and a sort of hypermodern replay of the old advertising adage, “better living through chemistry”.

Nicknamed “Extreme Genetic engineering” or “Biohacking,” synthetic biology, (or syn-bio) goes Genetic Engineering one better: rather than moving individual genes from one species to another, syn-bio engineers entirely new genetic sequences and constructs novel microbes programmed to behave as industrial machines that can, for example, eat biomass (plants) and excrete anything from pharmaceuticals to vanilla extract to rubber to jetfuel.

Synthetic DNA is used to fabricate biological building blocks – often called “BioBricks” – capable of being combined in many different ways. “Parts” are assembled into “circuits” which are inserted into a “chassis” to create designer microbial factories that can be “booted up” to manufacture proteins or detect molecules that nature herself may never have dreamed up.

KQED’s recent report Six Bay Area Cities Play the Waiting Game describes the cities’ anxious vying for the new lab, which comes with such difficult-to-consider factors as the need for two new freeway entrances, two new BART stations, and concern over the rising waters of San Francisco Bay. A prior KQED report from December 2011, Biofuels Face a Reality Check, addressed the problems in scaling up biofuel/agrofuel production, as they play out through two of the key Bay Area labs.

The technical problems of biofuels, KQED reports, are being worked out by scientist-impresario Jay Keasling, the founding director of the Bay Area-based Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), and by Chris Somerville, Director of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI). JBEI was founded 5 years ago with a $125 million grant from the Department of Energy, with the mission of creating cellulosic biofuels; EBI, also run by UC Berkeley, LBNL, and the Department of Energy, was started with a $500 million grant from British Petroeleum.

What we don’t learn from these two news reports, is the link between the Biofuels issue and the soon-to-be-announced new campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Indeed, almost nowhere in the news do we learn the proposed purpose of the lab. Even the project developers, it seems, are hesitant to make known the actual purpose of the lab, though clever neighborhood residents like Zelda Bronstein are wise to their PR plans as revealed through the developer’s polling tactics.

Synthetic biology is pitched as “cool science” – an enthralling world of lucrative, cutting edge research spearheaded by outsized young vanguardists sporting an aura of entrepreneurial genius, an element of mad scientist, and a dash of rock star.

But, while there are a handful of very compelling star scientists at work in synthetic biology, the image of a hip, personality-driven industry provides a convenient smokescreen for some of industry’s most recognizable brand-names. Just as the British Empire’s scientific expeditions were underwritten by the Crown under the auspices of the British Royal Society, this new avenue of research – which has its own aspect of imperial pursuit, in the need for feedstocks of sugarcane and tree cellulose – is largely underwritten by the fossil fuel industry, big pharma, and the chemical complex.

Jay Keasling’s flagship company, Amyris, funded by Total, Mercedes-Benz, Bunge and the Department of Defense, is but one example; another Bay Area firm, Solazyme, works with Chevron and the US Navy; while Synthetic Genomics, also in the Bay Area, partners closely with ExxonMobil. Indeed, the entire project of synthetic biology, while often portrayed in the science press as the project of a few charismatic front-runners, is financed by the deep pockets of the world’s largest, and most destructive, industries.

As a new and largely unregulated lab science, synthetic biology also comes with a host of health and safety concerns for lab workers and local communities. As labor advocate Steve Zeltzer asked in a recent broadcast on Berkeley’s KPFA radio, Is Our Health And Safety Under Threat from A Synthetic Biotech Laboratory In The East Bay?

Journalist Richard Brenneman is also following the issue, having uncovered a recent Wikileak concerning Amyris, an agrofuel firm spawned at UC Berkeley, run by Jay Keasling, and perpetuated with a hefty cash infusion from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation (as well as the aforementioned fossil fuel giants and the US Government). Brenneman also covers the problems facing Barack Obama’s Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, who, as Director of the Lawrence Berkeley labs, played a key role in landing UC Berkeley the $500 million BP agrofuel program.

Over on the east coast, an applied sciences and engineering campus in New York City promises “$6 billion in economic activity,” “More than $1 billion in private capital investment on the site,” “Nearly 8,000 construction jobs,” “Thousands of well-paying permanent jobs in diverse fields,” and an “Estimated 400 new companies.” But these grand pronouncements are nowhere accompanied by a transparent discussion of the nature of the research and its implications.

In late March of this year, the San Francisco Bay Area will host a critical dialogue about synthetic biology and the new lab. In the meantime, let’s hope that the word spreads beyond the blogosphere, and that the press begins to ask the right questions – like, what is synthetic biology, and how wise is it to build a synthetic bio lab on an earthquake fault in a major metropolitan area?

It’s good that the media is beginning to dole out news on the proposed new lab; but unless we dig beneath the cool surface of this experimental science funded by the old guard of the fossil fuel, big pharma, food and finance industries, we’re likely to get lulled into a quick complacency about this new, heartily green-washed industry that is neither safe, nor sound.


Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering, Green Economy, Greenwashing, Posts from Jeff Conant, Synthetic Biology

“Peasant Farming Can Cool Down the Earth”: An Interview with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, Executive Director of Mouvement Paysan de Papaye, Durban South Africa, December 2011

While in Durban for COP17, I interviewed several members of La Via Campesina; following is the third of the three interviews published on Climate Connections, this one with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, a peasant leader from Haiti. – Jeff Conant, for GJEP

“Peasant Farming Can Cool Down the Earth”: An Interview with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, Executive Director of Mouvement Paysan de Papaye, Durban South Africa, December 2011

Made up of 150 organizations in seventy countries, and with more than 200 million members, La Via Campesina holds the claim to being the largest movement of peasant farmers and artisanal food producers in the world. La Via Campesina brought an international delegation to United Nations COP17 in Durban, South Africa, that included a caravan of some 200 African farmers, and regional representation from Mexico, Haiti, and elsewhere.

As a grassroots movement, La Via does not participate directly in the United Nations climate summits. But, like a peasant army stationed outside the gates of a walled city, they tend to establish a presence nearby, to monitor the negotiations, to build alliances, and to make their presence known.

La Via Campesina was born as a movement in 1993, but traces its roots much further back. Alberto Gomez, the national director of UNORCA makes it clear in this interview that the movement’s roots are entwined with the long history of agriculture, land reform, and social movements throughout the ages.

In keeping with its struggle to maintain what Gomez calls “a permanent agriculture” – the diverse forms of peasant farming that continue to resist “the industrial, agrotoxic agriculture that turns the entire world into a supermarket” – La Via Campesina gives voice to a theme that has been fundamental to societies throughout the ages, but which has become a site of struggle over centuries of enclosures of land and entire peoples: food sovereignty, the ability of a people to feed themselves.

Ricado Jacobs, with the Food Sovereignty Campaign in South Africa, points out in this interview that the most recent threat to food sovereignty – which in many ways is also the most ancient threat to food sovereignty – is land grabbing. But, Jacobs points out, land grabbing now takes a different form: “It’s no longer one colonial power coming over on ships. Now it’s China, it’s the Arab states, it’s Goldman Sachs. So we need to take a different approach to address the challenge.”

One such approach, Jacobs says, is direct action: occupying land and reclaiming it for peasant agriculture. “You cannot talk about climate justice without addressing this kind of redistributive justice. Where are we going to practice agro-ecology if we don’t take land?”

As Chavannes Jean-Baptiste points out in the interview that follows, climate justice and the proliferation of false solutions to the climate crisis, such as “Climate Smart agriculture,” carbon markets, and REDD, are a primary concern for La Via Campesina. La Via promotes food sovereignty, Chavannes says, not only to resolve the food crisis, but also the climate crisis.

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste is the Executive Director of Mouvement Paysan de Papaye (MPP), the oldest peasant organization in Haiti, and, in Chavannes’ words, “possibly the oldest in the world.” MPP is the Haitian member of La Via Campesina. I interviewed Chavannes in Durban, South Africa, in English – not his native language – on December 11, just  after the closing of COP17.

Jeff Conant: What are you doing here Durban during United Nations COP17?

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste: I am here with the Via Campesina delegation in Durban. La Via Campesina is promoting food sovereignty as the way not only to resolve the food crisis, but also the climate crisis. There are a lot of studies to show that peasant agriculture, agro-ecological production, can cool down the earth. Around the world, La Via Campesina is fighting against industrial food production, which is responsible for more than 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. We are fighting against agrofuel production, and agribusiness consortiums like Monsanto that are destroying the soil, and the biodiversity with pesticides and GMOs, and killing native seeds in developing countries. A lot of peasant organizations and NGOs came to Durban to say no to REDD, no to agriculture in the negotiations, and no to the carbon market.

JC: What is the struggle of peasant farmers in Haiti?

CJB: In Haiti we are fighting against agrofuel production, jatropha plantations, and GMO seeds. It’s a big struggle because industrial agriculture wants to kill peasant agriculture, to kill our native forests with REDD, REDD+, the carbon market, and other false solutions. Now a Brazilian company is planting jatropha to produce agrodiesel. We see this as a big land grab, and we’re fighting it.

Haiti is a very small country, and about eighty percent of Haitians are peasants. After independence we had about thirty percent of our native forests left, and now we have less than two percent. Climate change in Haiti is a major problem – the environment is in very bad shape. We can go six months without rain, and then we have flash floods, where we lose crops, animals, houses… We have between one and three hurricanes every year; in 2008 we had three hurricanes in three months, destroying everything.

Haiti used to be sovereign in food production. Now we produce only 40 percent of our food. Every day we depend on food from the Dominican Republic, and from the USA, where farmers receive a lot of subsidies, and are dumping a lot of their cheap food on us. Haiti was self-sufficient in rice, and now we import eighty percent of our rice. With rice flooding in from the U.S., small farmers in Haiti can’t afford to produce.

Right now our big fight is to defend native seeds. For more than 200 years, peasants in Haiti have produced seeds to plant; now we are working to select and preserve seeds. We are using natural pesticides, we have seed banks, we use organic methods to produce food. We are doing a lot of work with soil conservation, water management, reforestation, and now we have a program to help families produce enough food around the home, to have food for the family and put the rest into the local market.

But the problem now is that the government, after the earthquake, has a plan to give a lot of land to a big corporation from Asia, to make an Export Processing Zone, to produce goods for export. The point is to use the labor of our workers; the Export Zone agreement pays very low wages, and the workers can’t defend themselves, because no laws apply.

JC: Here in Durban the Clinton Foundation held a high-profile to promote REDD carbon forestry projects. We know that Clinton is deeply involved in Haiti, and has been for a long time. If you could speak to Mr. Clinton, what would you say?

CJB: Bill Clinton has this project, he’s trying to take our land and to give it to this big corporation from Asia. So the message we would send to Mr. Clinton is, we don’t want your project promoting REDD, we don’t want your agribusiness projects. We need our land to produce food, we need our land to rebuild native forest. So we would ask Mr. Clinton to keep his money. We don’t want him to kill our country. The Haitian people know what the Haitian people need.

JC: How do you see the relationship of La Via Campesina to the United Nations Conference of Parties?

CJB:La Via Campesina always goes to all the places where the UN, the G8, or the WTO, or anyone else are making decisions about our lives. Because it is a question about our lives, and it’s a question of the destruction of the planet. We are very concerned because small farmers represent about three billion people, producing about seventy percent of the food for all of the world’s seven billion people. The United Nations process is not about the climate crisis, it is about big business, because the rich countries with their big corporations want to put all the world’s resources into the market. This is why it is very important for La Via Campesina to be spokespeople for the peasant sector – to be the peasant voice.

So we are here to say NO to the false solutions: industrial agriculture, land-grabbing, carbon markets, REDD, REDD+. We are here to say we don’t want agriculture on the table of the negotiations because agriculture is too important for life for it to be a business. We can’t put agriculture on the table where the big corporations are discussing how they can continue to pollute the planet and get more money. We are here to say agro-ecology can cool down the planet, to say that food sovereignty is the way to resolve the climate crisis. The biggest problem for the climate is industrial agriculture. With agro-ecology we can produce food for the world, develop local markets, and cut off the industrial process. The studies are very clear: industrial agriculture and the industrial food system are responsible for 57 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

JC: We have just heard this term “Climate smart agriculture” – a new approach being pushed here in Durban. What can you tell me about this?

CJB: This is a new term that we have heard here, where the President of South Africa was very forceful about the need to put agriculture on the negotiating table. But we know this did not come from Jacob Zuma [the President of South Africa]. It came from the World Bank. They call it smart agriculture, where they want to use GMO seeds, to plant tree plantations, to use soils in the carbon market, to put agriculture in the carbon market. All of this is very, very bad news. This is why we say here in Durban that this is not a conference to resolve the climate crisis; it is a conference to see that the companies make more money.

JC: So, what is the point of coming to the COP?

CJB: When we see the situation in the world we could say it’s impossible to do anything. But here in Durban I saw a lot of people coming, from the US, from the EU, from all over the world, to say, the planet is not for sale. Nature is not for sale. A lot of organizations from around the world give me hope that we can resolve not only the climate situation, but that we can change the capitalist system that is fighting everyday to make more money. It is a very long struggle – the next meeting is the Rio+20, and the same companies will be there to promote green capitalism, and what they are calling “the green economy.” We know this is just the next project to help transnational capital to make more money, so we will be there. Why? Because they are making decisions about our lives.


Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Durban/COP-17, Food Sovereignty, Green Economy, Land Grabs, Posts from Jeff Conant, REDD

2011 Top Ten Articles on Climate Connections

Note:  The following are the top ten articles from Climate Connections from 2011 according to those the number of views each received.  Several of these are original articles/photos from GJEP’s Jeff Conant, Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle, and were also published in magazines, over the wires and cross-posted in other websites/blogs over the past twelve months.  We have posted them in reverse order, from number 10 through number 1.

Please subscribe to our news blog on this page or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

–The GJEP Team

10. A Broken Bridge to the Jungle: The California-Chiapas Climate Agreement Opens Old Wounds (April 7) GJEP post

Photo: Jeff Conant

By Jeff Conant, Communications Director at Global Justice Ecology Project

When photographer Orin Langelle and I visited Chiapas over the last two weeks of March, signs of conflict and concern were everywhere, amidst a complex web of economic development projects being imposed on campesino and indigenous communities without any semblance of free, prior, and informed consent. Among these projects is a renewed government effort to delimit Natural Protected Areas within the Lacandon Jungle, in order to generate carbon credits to be sold to California companies. This effort, it turns out, coincides with a long history of conflicting interests over land, and counterinsurgency campaigns aimed at the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), as well as other allied or sympathetic indigenous and campesino groups.  Continue article

photo: Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters. caption: Officials in protective gear check for signs of radiation on children...

9. Nuclear Disaster in Japan; Human Health Consequences of Radiation Exposure and the True Price of Oil  (March 15) Cross-posted from Earthbeat Radio

Nuclear power plants across Japan are exploding as the country struggles to cool them down and recover from the massive earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Joining host Daphne Wysham to discuss the latest on the disaster is Damon Moglen. Damon is the director of the climate and energy program for the Friends of the Earth.  Continue article

8.  Today’s tsunami: This is what climate change looks like (March 11) Cross-posted from Grist

March 11 tsunami leads to an explosion at Chiba Works, an industrial (chemical, steel, etc.) facility in Chiba, Japan.Photo: @odyssey

So far, today’s tsunami has mainly affected Japan — there are reports of up to 300 dead in the coastal city of Sendai — but future tsunamis could strike the U.S. and virtually any other coastal area of the world with equal or greater force, say scientists. In a little-heeded warning issued at a 2009 conference on the subject, experts outlined a range of mechanisms by which climate change could already be causing more earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic activity.  Continue article

7.  2011 Year of Forests: Real Solutions to Deforestation Demanded (February 2) GJEP post

As UN Declares International Year of Forests, Groups Demand Solutions to Root Causes of Deforestation

Insist Indigenous & Forest Peoples’ Rights Must Be at the Heart of Forest Protection

New York, 2 February 2011-At the launch of the High Level segment of the UN Forum on Forests today, Mr. Sha Zhukan, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs will declare 2011 “the International Year of Forests.” Civil society groups advocating forest protection, Indigenous Rights, and climate justice are launching a program called “The Future of Forests,” to ensure that forest protection strategies address the real causes of global forest decline, and are not oriented toward markets or profit-making.

Critics from Global Justice Ecology Project, Global Forest Coalition, Dogwood Alliance, Timberwatch Coalition, BiofuelWatch, and Indigenous Environmental Network charge that the UN’s premier forest scheme: REDD… Continue article

6. Chiapas, Mexico: From Living in the jungle to ‘existing’ in “little houses made of ticky-tacky…” (April 13) GJEP post

Selva Lacandona (Lacandon jungle/rainforest)

Photo Essay by Orin Langelle

At the Cancún, Mexico United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) last year, journalist Jeff Conant and I learned that California’s then-Governor Arnold Swarzenegger had penned an agreement with Chiapas, Mexico’s Governor Juan Sabines as well as the head of the province of Acre, Brazil.  This deal would provide carbon offsets from Mexico and Brazil to power polluting industries in California—industries that wanted to comply with the new California climate law (AB32) while continuing business as usual.

The plan was to use forests in the two Latin American countries to supposedly offset the emissions of the California polluters.

Conant and I took an investigative trip to Chiapas in March.  When we arrived… Continue photo essay

Overview of the March. Photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

5. Photo Essay: Global Day of Action Against UN Conference of Polluters (COP) in Durban (December 3) GJEP post

3 December 2011–Thousands of people from around the world hit the streets of Durban, South Africa to protest the UN Climate Conference of Polluters.

Photo Essay by Orin Langelle/Global Justice Ecology Project and Anne Petermann/Global Justice Ecology Project-Global Forest Coalition. Continue photo essay

4. Showdown at the Durban Disaster: Challenging the ‘Big Green’ Patriarchy (December 13) GJEP post

GJEP's Anne Petermann (right) and GEAR's Keith Brunner (both sitting) before being forcibly ejected from the UN climate conference. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

Dedicated to Judi Bari, Emma Goldman, my mother and all of the other strong women who inspire me

An action loses all of its teeth when it is orchestrated with the approval of the authorities.  It becomes strictly theater for the benefit of the media.  With no intent or ability to truly challenge power.

I hate actions like that.

And so it happened that I wound up getting ejected from one such action after challenging its top-down, male domination.  I helped stage an unsanctioned ‘sit-in’ at the action with a dozen or so others who were tired of being told what to do by the authoritarian male leadership of the “big green’ action organizers–Greenpeace and  Continue article

3. Photo Essay from Vermont: The Recovery from Hurricane Irene Begins (August 31) GJEP post

Route 100--this and other washed out bridges and culverts cut off the town of Granville, VT from the outside world

As of Tuesday, 30 August 2011, there were still thirteen towns in the U.S. state of Vermont that were completely cut off from the outside world due to the torrential rains of Hurricane Irene.  This was because roads like Route 100, which runs north and south through the state, sustained catastrophic damage to its culverts and bridges for many miles.    In all, over 200 roads across the state were closed due to wash outs from the heavy rains that pelted the state for nearly twenty-four hours on Sunday, August 28.

Text: Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

Photos: Orin Langelle, Co-Director/Strategist, Global Justice Ecology Project  Continue photo essay

2. Environmental Destruction, Effects of Climate Change to Worsen in Philippines (January 6) Cross-posted from


MANILA – The year 2010 should have been an opportunity for the new administration to implement fundamental reforms to protect the environment and national patrimony, especially since during the former administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the state of the environment of the country has gone from bad to worse. Continue article

1. Permafrost Melt Soon Irreversible Without Major Fossil Fuel Cuts (February 22) Cross-posted from IPS News

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 17, 2011 (IPS) – Thawing permafrost is threatening to overwhelm attempts to keep the planet from getting too hot for human survival.

Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, as much as two-thirds of the world’s gigantic storehouse of frozen carbon could be released, a new study reported. That would push global temperatures several degrees higher, making large parts of the planet uninhabitable.

Once the Arctic gets warm enough, the carbon and methane emissions from thawing permafrost will kick-start a feedback that will amplify the current warming rate, says Kevin Schaefer, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado. That will likely be irreversible.  Continue article

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, Durban/COP-17, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests and Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean, Natural Disasters, Nuclear power, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, Pollution, Posts from Anne Petermann, Posts from Jeff Conant, REDD, UNFCCC