Tag Archives: forests

Photo Essay: UN Climate COP: Corporate Exhibitionism (parting shots)

Note:  Anne Petermann and I went to our first UNFCCC COP (Conference of the Polluters) in 2004 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  One  of my first observations was that this was a bizarre trade show–from ‘clean coal’ to ‘clean nuclear’ to a clean way to get fucked.  Smile.  I was not impressed.  Well,  going into the exhibition center was more exciting than the plenaries packed with, for the most part,  suited charlatans. Fast forward to Montreal, Nairobi, Bali, Poznan, Copenhagen, Cancún and now all the way  to Durban, South Africa; and guess what?–the 1% have been and still are in control (for now). But one of the good things that has happened over these years is that the resistance has risen from a couple of handfuls of us to thousands.  It is evident to GJEP that the COP process is nothing more than the rich figuring out how to make more money off Mother Earth and her inhabitants under the guise of addressing climate change.  So this photo essay, with text by Anne Petermann, is my parting shot to this entire unjust, racist, classist, land-grabbing COP crap.  No to the next meeting in Dubai and yes to mobilization for the Peoples Summit during Rio +20.  GJEP will continue to support the social movements, Indigenous Peoples and those who struggle for justice. Please enjoy the trade show photos and note that the last two photos in this series show the discrepancy between the 1% and the 99%.  Orin Langelle for the GJEP Team.

All photos:  Langelle/GJEP       Captions:  Anne Petermann

The Road to Rio.  “Wait, I think we spelled that wrong–isn’t it supposed to be “Greed Economy”?

“Ohm…no Fukushimi…Ohm…no Fukushima…”

” Look into the blank screen… You are feeling sleepy…Join us…join us…join us…repeat after me…I believe in the green economy…Robert Zoellick is a nice guy…REDD will save the forests…The World Bank’s mission is poverty alleviation…”

What the World Bank said…

“Carbon bubble, what carbon bubble?  A ton of carbon is supposed to be cheaper than a pizza.  Isn’t a pizza made of carbon?  It all makes sense to me!”
“With the Green Economy we can even make fabrics out of tree pulp!  Fabulous Fashions From Foliage!  Yummy Eucalyptus unitards! Perky Plantation Pant Suits!  Thank God for the Green Economy!”
“We help cool down climate change by logging tropical forests…What, you gotta problem with that?”

“We magically transform ancient tropical forests into biodiesel plantations!.  Birds love ’em!  (F*#k the orangutans).”

” Oooo…that panda makes me so hot…”

People need nature to thrive–which is why we have to protect nature from them!

“These charts clearly show that it’s the NGOs that are responsible for carbon emissions.  That’s why we have to ban NGOs from the climate talks; if there were no NGOs there would be no climate change.  Listen to me.  I’m a white guy and I know.”

“Screw you anti-capitalist NGO bastards. Market-based schemes like the CDM are the best solution to climate change!  So what if they don’t reduce carbon emissions.  Piss off.”

How the 1% live.  The pretentious Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel in Durban was host to the World Climate Summit, 3-4 December, which was a high-level and high-security event where business, finance and government leaders met to celebrate the glory of their green-ness with events like “The Gigatonne Award” for whatever company’s PR campaign was the biggest pile of “green” manure.

 The following week the corporate conference sponsors offered side events for UN government delegates on the theme of “Advancing Public-Private Partnerships for REDD+ and Green Growth” i.e. how to ensure profit-making as usual in the face of ecological collapse and rising public outrage.

How the 99% live.  This tent was where the delegation met that came to Durban with La Via Campesina, the world’s largest peasant organization.  Their slogan, Small Farmers Cool the Planet, confronts the myth that governments and the UN will take care of climate change for us and promotes the idea that bottom up, small scale, community-controlled and bioregionally appropriate solutions are what is needed. The building behind the tent was where La Via slept and ate meals–not as pretentious as the Southern Sun Elangeni Hotel, but the people were real.

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Filed under Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Geoengineering, Land Grabs, Nuclear power, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, REDD, UNFCCC

La Via Campesina Invites Allies to Share Perspectives in Durban

La Via Campesina, the largest federation of peasant farmers in the world, has brought a delegation of hundreds from across Africa to gatherings in and around the UNCOP 17 Climate Summit. As a federation of smallholder farmers and fisher groups, La Via Campesina opposes the kinds of top-down, market-driven policies promoted by the World Bank and the UN Climate Regime.

Yesterday we were invited, along with several of our friends and colleagues, to participate in a working session with La Via Campesina at their encampment near a highway overpass miles from the official summit.

Forthcoming, we hope to report on what La Via itself is doing here in Durban. For now, here are some snapshot portraits of GJEP’s allies and what they had to say yesterday. (Reporting: Jeff Conant. Photos Orin Langelle/GJEP)

“The talk now on the table at the COP is to base the Green Climate Fund on private investment. But if there is an investment, they need a return. What does that mean, a return on investment? It means the corporations, the private sector, and the financial industry want to set up the Green Climate Fund in a way that returns money to them. That’s why we call it the Greedy Corporate Fund.”

Lidy Nacpil, Jubilee South


“They say we are talking about the transition to a Green Economy – that capitalism has to turn green. This is like saying that a tiger is going to become a vegetarian.”

Lucia Ortiz, Rede, Brazil


“Before you trade anything, you have to determine, whose property is it? Before they can trade seeds, they have to determine, ‘who owns that seed?’. Some corporations own that seed. Well, who owns the carbon dioxide in the air? That’s what they are working out in the carbon markets and at these UN climate conventions. That’s why we call the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the World Trade Organization of the Sky.”

Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network


“More than half of the gases that cause global warming come from the industrial food system. They say the industrial food system feeds the world. It’s bad food, it’s toxic food, it’s not very nutritious, but they say, ‘we are feeding the world,’ so we have to live with it. Well guess what? They’re lying. The industrial food system produces 30 percent of the food. The other 2/3 is produced by small farmers and fishers. Now they say they will stop using all the oil. Don’t believe them. They will use every drop of oil. But with that excuse, they say now, they will make green fuels. They will make fuels out of biomass. What is biomass? It is forests, it is fields, it is your harvest. They want to use all of this to make their fuels.”

Sylvia Ribeiro, ETC Group


“The FAO and others have reduced agriculture to counting carbon and putting a price on it. The value of the carbon is added to the value of the water and the crops that could be grown on the land, and this makes it appealing to investors, which leads to land grabs. But today, a ton of carbon is worth about 3 euros – less than a pizza. This may explain the somber mood of the talks in Durban.”

Rachel Smolker, BiofuelWatch


Renaldo Chingori Joao, Member of the International Coordinating Committee of la Via Campesina, Mozambique

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Filed under Biodiversity, Bioenergy / Agrofuels, Climate Change, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, Geoengineering, Green Economy

GJEP on KPFK Pacifica Los Angeles This Week: Climate Change, Forests, and the Keystone Pipeline

Global Justice Ecology Project partners with Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth show on KPFK–Pacifica Los Angeles radio show for a weekly Earth Minute on Tuesdays and a weekly 12 minute Environment Segment every Thursday.

This week’s Earth Minute discusses the impacts of climate change on bark beetles, which are wiping out vast expanses of conifer forests in North America.  On this week’s Earth Segment, Kari Fulton, of Environmental Justice Climate Change discusses the recent announcement that the decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would be  “postponed.”

Text from this week’s Earth Minute:

At the upcoming UN climate conference in Durban South Africa later this month, protecting forests will once again being looked to as the solution to climate change.  Meanwhile a tiny beetle, assisted by warming temperatures, is devouring coniferous forests across North America.

Since the 1990s, bark beetles have killed 30 billion trees in North America. Climate change is expanding the range of the beetles and increasing their numbers, while human activities–such as wildfire prevention and logging the best and strongest trees–has further assisted the beetle epidemic.

But instead of stepping back to evaluate what’s causing this forest crisis, the timber industry is moving ahead with plans to turn these trees into wood chips to be shipped around the globe for so-called “renewable” electricity production.  While this will supposedly help replace fossil fuels and mitigate climate change, it will also result in bark beetles spreading into and destroying new conifer forests–which will, in turn, worsen climate change.

For the Earth Minute and the Sojourner Truth show, this is Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project.

To listen to the Earth Minute, Click here: earth-minute-11_15_11

To Listen to the Earth Segment with Kari Fulton of Environmental Justice Climate Change being interviewed about the recent Keystone XL Pipeline decision, click here and scroll to minute 48:45.

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Filed under Climate Change, Earth Minute, Energy, Indigenous Peoples, Natural Disasters, Posts from Anne Petermann, Tar Sands, UNFCCC

Earth Minute: White House Protest Against the Tar Sands: Honor Treaties–Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline

Global Justice Ecology Project partners with Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth show on KPFK–Pacifica Los Angeles radio show for a weekly Earth Minute on Tuesdays and a weekly 12 minute Environment Segment every Thursday.

This week’s Earth Minute discusses the Indigenous Peoples’ protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project that occurred in Washington DC on Sunday, November 6th.  To listen to this week’s Earth Minute, click here.

Text from this week’s Earth Minute:

This past Sunday, thousands of people traveled to the White House to protest the massive pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from the devastated boreal forests of Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. President Obama will decide if the pipeline project can proceed in early 2012.

While the US is obligated to honor the Treaties it made with the Lakota and other indigenous nations, there has been virtually no consultation regarding the environmental impact of this massive pipeline that would endanger their lands.

At the DC rally, Cree/Métis Tantoo Cardinal, stated, “I was raised in the Fort McMurray area, the heart of the current tar sands projects. We are all protectors of the land and water. If you were to see with your own eyes the incredible destruction of our ecosystem, you’d understand that blind greed is destroying our land, water, and way of life.”

If approved, US based Native Nations in solidarity with First Nations from Canada have sworn to stop the pipeline.

For the Earth Minute and the Sojourner Truth show, this is Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Earth Minute, Energy, Indigenous Peoples, Posts from Anne Petermann, Tar Sands, Water

We’re not Giving Up the Fight to STOP GE Trees!

Note: We sent out this press release in response to a court decision to allow the planting of 260,000 genetically engineered eucalyptus trees across seven U.S. states.  We are vowing to continue to fight to stop the commercial approval of these disastrous GE trees–and all GE trees.  Please support this crucial work to stop this disaster before it is too late.  Send a donation today.

For Immediate Release                                                             October 26, 2011

Legal Setback Will Not Deter Action to Stop Engineered Eucalyptus Trees

Court Rules Secret Genetically Engineered Tree Test Plots Do Not Need Environmental Oversight

Miami, Florida–On October 7, 2011, the 11th Circuit U.S. District Court for Southern Florida ruled that the planting of more than a quarter of a million genetically engineered (GE) non-native eucalyptus trees can proceed in secret test plots across seven southern states. [1] The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed against the USDA, which approved the test plots. The suit to stop the dangerous GE tree test plots from moving forward was filed on July 1st, 2010 by six organizations: Center for Biological Diversity,  Center for Food SafetyDogwood AllianceGlobal Justice Ecology Project, the International Center for Technology Assessment  and Sierra Club.

While the October 7th court ruling approved the test plots, it left the door open for future challenges to the large-scale commercial planting of these trees.

“We are not at all discouraged,” stated Dr. Neil Carman of the Sierra Club. “Although it denied our claims, the court noted that the agency and industry will have to address the potential harmful impacts of GE eucalyptus trees in any proposed commercial approval. We will remain vigilant andfully involved in this process to ensure these issues are addressed and prevented.”

The ruling favors ArborGen, the corporation that designed the GE trees and hopes to sell half a billion per year for planting in the U.S. South. [2] The court’s decision was made despite serious concerns raised, not only by environmental groups, but by government agencies including the Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council, the Georgia Department of Wildlife, and the US Forest Service. These concerns include documented impacts of eucalyptus trees, such as water depletion, displacement of wildlife, invasiveness and firestorms. These concerns are magnified because these GE eucalyptus trees have been engineered to tolerate cold so they can grow and spread outside of their natural geographic boundaries.

Because of these serious concerns, during the USDA comment period on the test plots, nearly 20,000 people demanded the GE eucalyptus trees be rejected.

In their comments to the USDA recommending the GE eucalyptus test plots be rejected, the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division explained the wildfire concerns, “The leaves of eucalyptus trees produce large amounts of volatile oils [allowing] accumulation of highly combustible fuels. Consequently, dense eucalyptus plantations are subject to catastrophic firestorms. Once ignited, these fires would grow vigorously, potentially spreading to other properties.” [3] Georgia, one of the states targeted for these plantations, is currently experiencing exceptional drought.

“ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus trees are an ecological nightmare,” added Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project, which has offices in Vermont and Oakland. “Eucalyptus are so invasive, they’ve been likened to Kudzu, the non-native vine that has devoured parts of the U.S. South. [4] But eucalyptus are worse-they are flammable kudzu. Growing them in plantations across millions of acres from Texas to South Carolina, which ArborGen’s parent companies International Paper and MeadWestvaco hope to do, could lead to horrific wildfires. The last thing drought-prone Texas needs is more fuel for wildfires.”

October 20th was the twenty-year anniversary of the Oakland, California firestorms, which burned 1,520 acres and destroyed more than 3,800 dwellings. The economic loss was estimated at $1.5 billion. The presence of highly combustible eucalyptus trees contributed greatly to this catastrophic firestorm. [5]

The U.S. Forest Service also submitted comments to the USDA noting that GE eucalyptus will require twice as much water as other forests in the South, “whether it is planted or invades native forests.” Stream flow, the Forest Service added, “would be about 20% lower in eucalyptus plantations than pine plantations.” [6] Eucalyptus plantations would worsen the droughts plaguing the U.S. South.

The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division added, “Eucalyptus plantations will be extremely inhospitable environments for native flora and fauna.” “…we have serious concerns about potential impacts on hydrology, soil chemistry, native biodiversity, and ecosystem functions,” the state agency said.

The Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council also recommended rejecting ArborGen’s request for GE eucalyptus test plots based on their potential for invasiveness. “Invasive plants negatively affect our native species…” E. grandis, one of the parent species of this GE hybrid, is a known invasive in Florida, South Africa, New Zealand and Ecuador. The Florida agency further warned that the cold tolerance trait of the GE eucalyptus increases the threat of invasiveness. “If sterility of the [GE eucalyptus] is not permanent and 100% … the [GE eucalyptus] itself may acquire the ability to become invasive across the southeastern U.S.” [7]

“It’s a sad state of affairs that the courts ignored the communities, organizations and landowners of the South who have serious concerns about the impacts of these trees and want to see them stopped,” said Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director at Dogwood Alliance, a plaintiff in the case. “The decision opens the door for ArborGen’s Frankentrees to release seeds into the wild. Neighboring landowners are not even aware of the threat, since there’s no requirement that the company disclose the locations of the GE eucalyptus trees. This is an outrageous failure of oversight.”

Contacts: Scot Quaranda, Dogwood Alliance: +1.828.242.3596
Neil Carman, Sierra Club: +1.512.663.9594
Anne Petermann, Global Justice Ecology Project, STOP GE Trees Campaign +1.802.578.0477
[1] http://globaljusticeecology.org/files/10-06-11%20GE%20Euc%20Decision.pdf The seven southern states include Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.

[2] Rubicon’s 2009 annual report to shareholders.  Email anne@globaljusticeecology.org to receive the PDF of Rubicon’s shareholders report.  The reference to ArborGen producing half a billion GE eucalyptus annually for biofuel production in the US South can be found on page 8.


[4] A Charlotte Observer Editorial called GE eucalyptus trees, “The kudzu of the 2010s.”

[5] http://www.sfmuseum.org/oakfire/overview.html

[6] Comments submitted by the U.S. Forest Service expressing concerns about the impacts on water from the GE eucalyptus planting can be found in the Environmental Assessment, Appendix III


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Filed under Biodiversity, Climate Change, Corporate Globalization, False Solutions to Climate Change, GE Trees, Greenwashing

Court loss won’t stop environmentalists’ battle against modified-eucalyptus trees

Environmentalists are vowing to continue their fight against genetically engineered “frankentrees” after losing a test case in Florida earlier this month.

“We’re not terribly discouraged,” said Anne Petermann, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project and the coordinator of the STOP GE Trees Campaign.

“We’ll wait until the next stage of the regulatory process and intervene there,” said Mike Stark, communications director for the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that aimed to block field tests of genetically modified eucalyptus trees across the South.

The trees in question were developed by Arborgen, a joint venture of Memphis-based International Paper, MeadWestvaco Corp. and New Zealand-based Rubicon Ltd.

Industry expects the fight to continue.

Eucalyptus trees are not native to North America. They grow much quicker than native trees, but typically do not survive freezing temperatures. Arborgen has aimed to engineer hybrids that survive freezing weather and are sterile.

International Paper is interested in developing plantations of the fast-growing Australian hardwood throughout the southeastern U.S. to provide pulp for making paper and raw materials for biofuel refiners.

In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to allow the planting and flowering of 260,000 genetically engineered hybrids of eucalyptus trees at 28 test sites in seven southeastern states.

The Sierra Club blasted the decision as tantamount to commercial approval. Joining with the Center for Biological Diversity and four other environmental organizations, they challenged the approvals in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that they violated federal environmental regulations and decision-making rules.

On Oct. 6, U.S. Dist. Judge K. Michael Moore ruled against the environmentalists on every count. He rejected the argument that the large number of plantings allowed amounted to commercialization, then dismissed several of the environmentalists’ objections as irrelevant to a process for allowing limited scientific tests.

Reports from the Government Accountability Office and the USDA’s Office of Inspector General that criticized the department for poor management of field tests of genetically engineered organisms “have no bearing on this matter,” he ruled, because they did not address the specific field tests proposed for eucalyptus trees, but “only the agency’s handling of genetically engineered organisms generally.”

Stark said the next step would be to wait until the USDA takes up Arborgen’s petition to deregulate the genetically engineered eucalyptus hybrid. Deregulation would allow anyone to plant the hybrids anywhere without regulatory review.

“We would expect them to call for public comment and do an environmental impact statement,” which would give environmentalists more opportunities to intervene, he said.

“This has prepared us for that process,” Petermann added.

Biotech companies expect environmentalists to object when they seek to deregulate a product in order to commercialize it.

This lawsuit, however, troubled the whole biotech industry, said Nancy Hood, director of public affairs and sustainability for Arborgen, “because they were challenging scientific trials, not commercialization or commercial plantings.”

“It was really extreme,” she said. “It was like saying, ‘We aren’t interested in science.'”

While the battle in court was fought over differing interpretations of arcane federal regulations, the real battle is between two very different, but equally speculative, views of the future.

For the timber and forest industries, genetically engineered eucalyptus offers a way for timber-related companies and communities to survive and compete with Brazil and supply the pulp needed to meet demands for paper and the feedstock to produce biofuels to power America’s transportation system.

“Proceeding with the field trial research is critical to determine if these highly productive hardwood trees can become a new sustainable source of wood for pulp and paper, and for renewable energy — including biopower and biofuels — in the southeastern United States, where many communities depend on the timber and emerging renewable energy industries for their livelihoods,” said Tom Ryan, senior manager public relations, International Paper.

That assumes that biofuels will compete effectively with oil sands, natural gas and electricity to power the cars of the future.

For environmentalists, genetically engineered eucalyptus is a 21st century kudzu vine, an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

Petermann said that International Paper has said it wants to plant 42 million acres of eucalyptus forest in the southeastern U.S. Since eucalyptus trees take up twice as much water as do pine trees, that would reduce the water levels of nearby streams by 20 percent while layering the ground with highly flammable leaf litter and depriving native wildlife of food, she said.

If the engineered sterility isn’t 100 percent effective and eucalyptus trees spread into the wild and displace native species, it would be worse. Larger areas would become forested with trees that don’t support native wildlife, and that burn more readily than native species and siphon water out of streams, she said.

Either way, she said, it would be disastrous for the environment and for all the companies and communities that rely on hunting, fishing, bird-watching and other forms of nature tourism for their livelihoods.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, GE Trees

The Unconquered, in search of the Amazon’s last uncontacted tribes-A Review

Review by Orin Langelle for GJEP

Note: Global Justice Ecology Project’s Anne Petermann and I went to Washington, DC last month to meet with friends and colleagues who were in town for the fall meetings of the infamous World Bank.  We arrived in Union Station and hopped on the Metro to Dupont Circle where we met Janet Redman, from the Institute for Policy Studies, at a local restaurant.

We were there to meet Scott Wallace who recently sent me a pre-release copy of THE UNCONQUERED–In Search of the Amazon’s last Uncontacted Tribes.  It was the first time I had met Wallace and I had just started reading his book.  From the beginning I found the book hard to put down.  At the restaurant, I learned a good deal about Scott.  Prior to his book, he had written articles for National Geographic.  But before that, amongst other assignments, he was a journalist in Central America, who reported on the wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. One thing that I didn’t find out until later, towards the end of the book, was that, thanks to Wallace, there were now only two degrees of separation between Osama bin-Laden and myself.  (More on that later…)

But before the review—below–is a trailer that sets the stage for the book. The grey bearded gentleman in the trailer is Sydney Possuelo and the writer, of course, is Wallace.  Possuello is the main character documented by Wallace in The Unconquered.  But in all fairness it could be said that the main characters of this book are the ones not seen.  The undocumented indigenous tribes of the Amazon jungle.

I’ve worked full-time for social justice for the past four decades, but the last thing I want to do, after my work day is done, is bring home more reality.

For this reason, over the past ten years I’ve read more fiction than non–just because fiction is an escape from dealing with the harsh political and ecological realities of our world today.

So when author Scott Wallace sent me THE UNCONQUERED –In Search of the Amazon’s last Uncontacted Tribes, I said “shit,” more reality to deal with.  After reading a few pages, though, I realized that Wallace had set the hook and was reeling me in to a world that most people will never experience or even think about–and that his way of story telling was something special.  This is not just a book of nonfiction, nor is it an adventure novel.  Wallace has made it both—and fascinating. Hopefully, THE UNCONQUERED will capture the imagination of anyone who reads it, and encourage him or her, while enjoying a lively narrative, to understand the injustices indigenous peoples’ experience, from the past until this day.

THE UNCONQUERED documents Sydney Possuelo’s effort to protect, from his point of view, uncontacted indigenous tribes in the Amazon from the onslaught of civilization.  It is also a story of Scott Wallace, who left his family, relationship and everyday life, to set off on a journey into one of the most isolated spots of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.  Through the eyes of Wallace, the book also tells the story of the indigenous people of the region.  A people who have chosen to live in their territory, in their ancient culture, and to avoid the death trap of the White Man, that in the Americas can be traced back over 500 years.

Possuelo was the head of Brazil’s FUNAI’s (National Indian Foundation) Department of Isolated Indians.  He led thirty-four people in a grueling three month expedition into the depths of Javarí Valley Indigenous Land in a seemingly conflicted effort to consciously not contact or study the isolated inhabitants of The People of the Arrow (flecheiros), but to explore the proximity of their territory—in an effort to document their territory in order to keep intruders out of their territory, to protect their way of life from outside invasion.

The richness of the Amazon brings all types of fortune hunters, from gold diggers to rubber barons to illegal loggers.  They set upon the Amazon with a vengeance, pilfering what the Amazon offers. With their invasion come diseases that, along with outright murder, decimate the indigenous populations.

Prior to Possuelo’s involvement in FUNAI, the agency did not have a good reputation when it came to helping indigenous peoples.  FUNAI’s idea was to make contact with the natives, pacify and then assimilate them, in order to move them out of the way and open up their lands to development and exploitation.

When Possuelo became the head of the FUNAI’s Department of Isolated Indians, Wallace writes:

“Though not explicitly articulated at the time, Possuelo’s new policy had the immediate effect of sequestering millions of acres of the most species-rich, biodiverse lands on the planet, placing them, at least theoretically, beyond the reach of those looking to exploit their riches.  The survival of isolated tribes depended…on intact forests that could provide the Indians with all their necessities: food, water, shelter, security.”

Needless to say all those who sought to make profit from indigenous lands reviled Possuelo—and the missionaries didn’t like him either.

The main purpose of Possuelo’s no contact policy, was to protect the Indians from disease, due to their extreme vulnerability to foreign contagions.  One needs only to look at history for proof.  Wallace relates that Christopher Columbus’ contact with the Taino people resulted in their extinction within sixty years.  Modern demographic studies indicate their population could have been as high as eight million at the time.

More death from disease came to South America with Pizarro (small pox) and subsequent invasions by Europeans. The isolated tribes that still exist are just as vulnerable as ever.

In writing about the details of the expedition, Wallace doesn’t gloss over the tensions between those on the journey and Possuelo—tensions that could have easily led to rebellion–nor does he leave out his own sometimes-painful feelings and actions. It’s quite revealing of who Scott Wallace is.

Wallace’s candid, yet evocative style projects a vivid imagery for the reader and allows a deeper insight into the characters and the situations they encounter. On first view of the expedition participants, Wallace describes them as resembling “a war party returning from a raid:  Apocalypse Now meets The Last of the Mohicans.”

On Possuelo:

“He seemed oblivious of the preposterous figure he posed, clad only in his floppy hat and a skimpy Speedo, over which his ample gut spilled.”  He then quotes Possuelo arguing that one of the reasons the rainforest was still intact was because, “the Indians formidable reputation had served as a powerful deterrent for decades, perhaps even centuries. ‘Personally I like them like this—violent,’ Posseulo said.”

And on himself, as drops of psychedelic buchité were administered to his eyes:

“I let out a roar.  It felt like my eyes were scorched with sulfuric acid.  Everyone howled with laughter.  It took several minutes for the burning to subside.  I opened my eyes and looked around…I beheld a different forest than the one I’ve been marching through for the past four days.  It was no longer a two-dimensional, monochromatic screen of dull browns and greens.  Everything stood out in sharp, almost psychedelic relief…The colors seemed to vibrate…I wasn’t hallucinating exactly; it was more like looking at the jungle through a 3-D View-Master.”

But Wallace is not merely an adventure junky–far from it. Wallace discusses his fears, his missteps and falls in the jungle, and other personal details that reveal a man who has fortitude but is also frightened in an enormous rainforest, isolated, surrounded by unfriendly creatures from anacondas to jaguars to devouring ants to crocodiles—not to mention the potential contact with The Arrow People and a possible shower of poisonous arrows raining down on the expedition.  One small mistake could have been his last.

Critics ask Possuelo if he thought he was depriving indigenous peoples of civilization.  Possuelo asserts that if any of them really wanted to make contact, all they had to do was come downriver.

Other critics are sure to say that here is another white man thinking he can save the indigenous peoples because of his feelings of superiority—or guilt.  This thought did bother me a bit, but then I recalled a situation where indigenous friends and colleagues asked me to please talk to another white person who said some things they found disrespectful.  They impressed upon me that white people should take care of their own when they fuck up.  So it could be said that Possuelo was taking care of the whites that were trying to get into the jungle to exploit its riches.  But it’s really not my role to judge.

Possuelo had no fondness for the white invaders.  Even though law protected the Javarí Valley Indigenous Land he and others fought for, Possuelo knew that laws and land could be over-ruled by a change of government in Brasilia.  Maybe he had no right, but he told the contacted indigenous people of the Javarí Valley:

You must say NO to the white man!  Tell him:  We don’t want loggers, we don’t want fisherman, we don’t want hunters here! The fish are here for us to eat!  For us—the Matis, The Marubo, the Kanamari, the Korubu, and yes, the Arrow People, too!  The monkeys are for us. The boar, the tapir, the turkeys—they are for us!  Tell the white man to stay out!  Tell him:  We don’t want you here anymore!

In my opinion, if humans are to have a future on this planet and if the Amazon basin is to remain the lungs of the earth and if the indigenous peoples have crucial knowledge most people in the rest of the world don’t, then the capitalist exploiters looking for the last tree to cut down, the last gold to mine to dig, or the last fish to catch, would be well advised to stay out of the Amazon.  And just about everywhere else.

So back to the question about Osama bin-Laden’s relation to me.  In The Unconquered, Wallace mentions the idea of the six degrees of separation that connect us all in some special way.  But what of The Arrow People and other uncontacted—are they somehow connected to the rest of us conquered by civilization?  As for the two degrees of separation between bin-Laden and myself, Wallace had a close friend who interviewed bin-Laden in an Afghan cave in 1996, making Wallace one degree separated and now since I’ve met the author only two degrees of separation.  Strange things to contemplate in this day and age.

Orin Langelle is the Co-director/Strategist for Global Justice Ecology Project.  He is a contributor to many publications, including recent work for Z Magazine, Race, Poverty and the Environment, Earth Island Journal and others.  He is currently compiling four decades of his concerned photography for publication and is a member of the National Writers Union and the International Federation of Journalists.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Latin America-Caribbean

GJEP’s Short Video on REDD in Chiapas Chosen for Native Spirit Film Festival

We’re proud to announce that the short documentary video Global Justice Ecology Project produced this past Spring, Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+, (watch film below) is being shown this week in London as part of Native Spirit Film Festival. The festival is a season of films, performances and workshops celebrating the cultures of Indigenous Peoples across the Earth, founded and counselled by Indigenous people, as a platform to promote the voices of Indigenous cultures and the protection of their rights.

According to the festival’s program, which you can download here, the themes for this year are “defending culture in the face of modern development, responding to climate change, reconnecting with the land, the power of storytelling, cultural identity, guidance from the Elders and voices of youth, and finding a sense of belonging within the community.”

While our entry in the festival is a humble ten-minute documentary, the process of producing this short video, we think, was exemplary.

Komen Ilel's Fuyumi Labra (left) and Angél Galán (forefront) with GJEP's Communication Director,Jeff Conant (right) relax in Amador Hernandez before they begin a documentary overflight of the Lacandon jungle. photo: Langelle/GJEP-GFC

When Orin Langelle and I traveled to Chiapas this past March to investigate the emerging impacts of REDD+, we met with a small film collective, Komen Ilel. Two members of Komen Ilel, Angél Galán and Fuyumi Labra, excited about our project, volunteered to accompany us on a trek into the jungle. Because of the nature of our visit to the remote community of Amador Hernández, even as we began our two-day trek, there was no certainty that Angél and Fuyumi would be allowed to film. Indeed, due to a long history of outsiders taking disrespectful advantage of the villagers, there was no certainty that our colleagues, or their cameras, would be allowed to even set foot in the village.

After a ten-hour drive from San Cristóbal de las Casas to the military-occupied village of San Quintín, where the road ends at the border of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, our small crew was met by representatives from Amador Hernández. They took us to a nearby village to spend the night before traveling further into the jungle.

There, we spoke, formally at first, and then with more ease. Our goal, we said, was to interview the villagers about any concerns they might have about REDD+ as it was manifesting there in the Lacandon jungle. The young man speaking for the village said that their concern, above all, was to let the world know of a particular injustice they were suffering: a year previous to our visit, the government had cancelled all medical service to the village. Several children and elders had died as a direct consequence.

After some length of discussion, it became clear that the two concerns were one: the negation of medical services appeared to be part of the government’s strategy to pressure Amador Hernández to negotiate for relocation, in large part due to the need to demarcate the borders of the Montes Azules Reserve for a forest-carbon inventory.

With this revelation, we asked the village representative: could we bring our film crew and capture some interviews on film. Our documentary work, we said, might help the village to demand restoration of its right to health, and to its territory. He agreed that this was a good idea, but whether we would be permitted to film was a question for the village assembly.

The next morning we hiked fifteen kilometers, through the Lacandon’s black, boot-sucking mud, and arrived at the village by afternoon. After darkness fell, an assembly was called, and we – Orin, Angel, Fuyumi, and myself – were invited to attend, and to speak. To the forty or fifty Tseltal Mayan campesinos gathered in the dusty half-light of a bare solar-powered bulb we presented ourselves and declared our intentions. Our words, translated into Tseltal, were batted around the assembly, fed into the age-old process of lajan laja, or consensus-building.

Finally, the assembly decided that, yes, we could conduct our interviews, and yes, we could film anything we wanted. The only condition on their part was that, aside from whatever other material we would produce, we make sure that their primary concern – the withdrawal of medical services – be addressed, so the world would know.

It is to Angel and Fuyumi’s credit that the short video they produced for GJEP does precisely what the Amador Hernández community assembly requested – it tells the story of the withdrawal of health services, while making it clear that this concern is directly linked to government efforts to remove the village due to the demands of impending carbon deals.

We are extremely pleased and proud to have had this short video chosen as a selection in this year’s Native Spirit Film Festival.

— Jeff Conant, for GJEP

Amador Hernandez, Chiapas: Starved of Medical Services for REDD+

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Filed under Biodiversity, Carbon Trading, Chiapas, Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Latin America-Caribbean