Tag Archives: water

Earth Minute this week on Detroit’s water crisis

The shocking water crisis in Detroit: hundreds of thousands of people being denied access to water. 

The Earth Minute is written and recorded by GJEP Executive Director Anne Petermann in partnership with KPFK. For more on Anne, see her biography on our website and as a speaker in GJEP’s New Voices Speakers Bureau – The GJEP Team

Click here to listen: 


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Filed under Earth Minute, Earth Radio, Water

Human Rights at Risk at the UN–on the Road to the Rio+20 Summit

Note: Unfortunately, those of us at GJEP who have been working with UN bodies including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Climate Convention and the UN Forum on Forests, are not at all surprised by the attempt by the UN to eliminate human rights to food and water from the draft text for the upcoming UN Rio+20 summit in June.  After all, the UN is run by corporations and their greedy henchmen, just as much as governments are.  Since 2004 we have watched the steady decline of civil society’s ability to participate in these UN fora, while at the same time seeing doors open wide to the profit-makers.  This is yet one more example of why we need a peoples’ process–a truly democratic forum that enables communities to come up with real solutions to the crises we face–and kick these corporate SOBs out of the process and right onto their A##.

–Anne Petermann, for the GJEP Team

We – civil society organizations and social movements attending the call of the UN General Assembly to participate in the Rio+20 process – feel that is our duty to call the attention of relevant authorities and citizens of the World to a situation that severely threatens the rights of people and undermines the relevance of the United Nations.

Remarkably, we are witnessing an attempt by a few countries to weaken, or “bracket” or outright eliminate nearly all references to human rights obligations and equity principles in the text, “The Future We Want”, for the outcome of Rio+20.

This includes references to the Right to Food and proper nutrition, the Right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, the Right to Development and others.  The Rights to a clean and healthy environment, which is essential to the realization of fundamental human rights, remains weak in the text.  Even principles already agreed upon in Rio in 1992 are being bracketed – the Polluter Pays Principle, Precautionary Principle, Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR).

Many member states are opposing prescriptive language that commits governments to actually do what they claim to support in principle. On the other hand, there is a strong push for private sector investments and initiatives to fill in the gap left by the public sector.

Although economic tools are essential to implement and mainstream the decisions aiming for sustainability, social justice and peace, a private economy rationale should not prevail over the fulfillment of human needs and the respect of planetary boundaries. Therefore a strong institutional framework and regulation is needed. Weakly regulated markets already proved to be a threat not only to people and nature, but to economy itself, and to nation states.. The economy must work for people, not people work for markets.

From the ashes of World War II humanity gathered to build institutions aiming to build peace and prosperity for all, avoiding further suffering and destruction. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out this collective will, and the United Nations organization was created to make it a reality. Outrageously, this very institution is now being used to attack the very rights it should safeguard, leaving people at the mercy of ?? and putting the very relevance of UN at stake.

We urge member states to bring back the Rio+20 negotiations on track to deliver the people’s legitimate agenda, the realization of rights, democracy and sustainability.

We call on the UN Secretary General to stand up for the legacy of the United Nations by ensuring that Rio+20 builds on the multi-generational effort for rights as the foundation of peace and prosperity.

We urge our fellow citizens of the world to stand up for the future we want, and let their voices be heard.  For that the Rio+20 process should be improved following the proposals we submit below.

On Greater participation for Major Groups

We are concerned by the continuing exclusion of Major Groups from the formal negotiating process of the Rio+20 zero draft.  Unlike in the Preparatory Committee Meetings and the Intersessional Meetings, Major Groups and other Stakeholders have not been allowed to present revisions or make statements on the floor of the meeting.  Nor, we suspect will we be allowed to make submissions or participate fully in the working negotiation group meetings that are likely to follow.  Despite the UN NGLS having compiled a text that shows all the revisions suggested by Major Groups, these revisions to the zero draft have so far not been included in the official negotiating text.

We request that the Major Groups be given the opportunity to submit suggestions and wording which would then be added to the official text for consideration, indication of support or deletion, and potential inclusion by governments.

We appeal to the UNCSD Secretary General to urgently reverse this state of affairs and to ensure that Major Groups have a seat at the table and a voice in the room where the negotiations are taking place.  Please ensure that at the very least, Major Groups are allowed a formal statement at the commencement of the next negotiating session and at every session where a new draft text is introduced.”

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Corporate Globalization, Food Sovereignty, Green Economy, Greenwashing, Posts from Anne Petermann, Rio+20, Water

KPFK Earth Segment: The Tar Sands Indigenous Day of Action with Chief Erasmus

Global Justice Ecology Project teams up with Margaret Prescod’s Sojourner Truth show on KPFK Los Angeles for a weekly segment on an environmental topic.

This week’s show features an interview with Chief Bill Erasmus, the Regional Chief of the Northwest Territories. He is from the Dene Nation. Regional Chief Erasmus has been elected as a member of the AFN Executive Committee since 1987.  Chief Erasmus was instrumental in working with the National Congress of American Indians as the NWT Vice Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in their passage of the resolution opposing the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline.  He will be taking part in the DC Indigenous day of action on Sept 2, 2011

To listen to the 12 minute interview, click here and scroll to minute 21:40.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Energy, Indigenous Peoples, Pollution, Tar Sands, Water

Photo Essay from Vermont: The Recovery from Hurricane Irene Begins

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.

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

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

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

Orin Langelle and I toured a portion of our home state of Vermont on Tuesday, 30 August to witness and document some of the destruction that Hurricane Irene had left in its wake.  Though it was downgraded to a “tropical storm” by the time it reached Vermont, its torrential rains wreaked havoc around the state.  Where we live, we had been quite fortunate and only lost electricity for twenty-three hours or so.  Other parts of the state were far less lucky.  During our travels, however, we witnessed the resiliency of Vermonters, who tackled their own loss or the loss of their neighbors, not only with fortitude, but also with humor and a very New England-like matter of fact-ness.

The post-flood clean up effort begins in Waterbury, VT

Our journey began at Camp Johnson in Colchester, where the Vermont National Guard is stationed, to see what an official governmental response looked like.  Vermont’s National Guard sustained the heaviest losses per capita of any U.S. state during the occupation of Iraq.  Like many Vermont National Guardsmen, the young soldier we spoke with, Nathan Rivard of Enosburg Falls, explained that responding to the needs of his neighbors during disasters like Irene that was the reason he had joined the Guard.  The response to the storm was, he felt, the real story in Vermont. “It’s people helping people,” he explained.  “Not just the disaster, but how people respond after.”

VT National Guard personnel prepare relief packages

The Vermont National Guard responded while the storm was still raging to help Vermonters caught off guard by the inundation of water.  Before the sun was up on Tuesday morning, thirty FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) tractor-trailers had arrived at the National Guard’s Camp Johnson with water, ready to eat meals, blankets, cots and other supplies.

FEMA personnel prepare temporary shelters

Because of the widespread road damage, however, getting the supplies to the people who need them has been extremely challenging.  With thirteen towns completely cut off from the outside world, National Guard helicopters have been almost the only way to get help in from the outside—either in the form of medical assistance or basic necessities like food and water.

National Guard medical helicopter

The ability of the government to help over the long term, however, is highly uncertain as the number of natural disasters in the U.S. over the past year has severely depleted FEMA’s budget.

[Note:  We asked the VT National Guard what communities in VT were receiving supplies from the Guard  so we could document distribution.  We were never given that information.]

The People Pull Together

From Camp Johnson, we headed to Waterbury, where Vermont’s state offices are located–and sustained heavy flood damage.  Waterbury was submerged under 10 feet or more of water when the Winooski River rose to record flood levels in minutes.  Even the state’s emergency management office succumbed to the flooding waters and had to relocate to Burlington—the state’s largest city.  When Irene hit Sunday, WDEV (Radio Vermont) stayed on the air all day and night with a generator, despite losing power from the grid and their internet connection.  While a commercial station, they remain dedicated to their community.  WDEV provided valuable information to residents about flooding damage and impassable roads during the disaster.  See Democracy Now! for an interview with the WDEV station owner.

This photo shows the high water mark from the flood in Waterbury

By Tuesday, volunteers and neighbors were pouring support into the community.

At the first house we came to on Elm Street, one of the streets where the flooding had been the worst, a group was sharing stories about the scene on Sunday.  Their front yard was heaped with ruined debris.  The home’s owner explained to us that the water in the apartment he rented downstairs had been up to his shoulders.  He explained that he wouldn’t even be able to start dealing with the damage to the house until the insurance agent arrived—which wouldn’t be until Friday.

But, he emphasized, the outpouring of support had been amazing.  Restaurants were donating food to the relief effort, and a bus full of “Youth Build” participants had arrived earlier that day to pitch in.  “If you didn’t know there was a flood, you’d think it was a block party,” he explained with a smile.

Inside the house, it was easy to see just how destructive the flood had been.  Kitchen appliances were covered in mud, while at one end of what had presumably been the living room, a happy birthday sign still hung.  In another room, mud covered baby toys littered the floor.

A Happy Birthday sign still hangs on the wall

Cars did not fare well either during the flood.

Around the corner on Randall Street, the activity of clearing homes of debris and salvaging what could be salvaged was still under way.

Huge dumpsters lined the street and debris was being piled according to type with electronics in one pile, hazardous materials (mostly paint, stain and household chemicals) in another, and everything else going in the dumpsters.

We came across one woman who picked up a white jug and sighed, “this was an antique,” as she poured muddy water out of a gaping hole in its side.  “Oh well,” she said.  “It’s just stuff, right?” then chucked it into the dumpster.  “Bye.”

For some people the loss was clearly overwhelming.  Others got to work cleaning what could be cleaned.

Coming up the road we encountered three intrepid children, helping out the best they could by giving out bottles of water.  They were very serious about their job, asking everyone they met if they wanted something to drink.

Among the ruins were tarps laid out with items that had been salvaged and washed, drying in the sun.  Many people managed to tackle the mess with a positive attitude.

From Waterbury, we headed down Route 100—one of the hardest hit roads in the state.  Not far down the road, we came to Moretown, were the Mad River had lived up to its name.

Bridge over the Mad River, severely damaged by the flood

The Mad River, now back to its calm, pristine self, had become a raging torrent on Sunday, shutting down Route 100B and flooding the Village Cemetery.

Workers repair the bridge over Route 100B in Moretown

The cemetery fence was buckling under the weight of the flood debris that was caught in its chain links and many headstones had been flattened—including those of the entire Philemon Family (dating back to 1865) and Bulkley Family (dating back to 1822).

Across the street, another home was half-hidden by debris with a lonely pair of mud-covered rubber boots testifying to the people that had lived there.

Further down Route 100, on the border of Waitsfield and Warren, the Mad River had taken out half of the road.

Nearby, American Flatbread, a unique and very popular Mad River Valley institution featuring an outdoor bonfire, indoor clay flatbread oven and walls covered with Bread and Puppet art, had also succumbed to the raging mud.  As we passed, teams of people were pitching in to help clean out the mess.

Our final stop on Route 100, where we could go no further, was at the border of Warren and Granville.  The road was washed out.  Route 100 further to the south was closed due to water, and Route 125, the only link to the west, was also impassable.  This left the towns of Granville, Hancock and Rochester, all located along Rte 100, cut off from the outside world.

At the roadblock we spoke with some electrical workers who were trying to get to the town of Rochester.  They had been talking with the road worker at the wash out to see how they might travel south.  “We’re based in South Royalton,” one electrical worker explained.  “We’ve been trying to get to Rochester all day. They’re without power and we’re trying to get in to fix it.  We tried to get to Rochester from the South but couldn’t get in. Now we’re trying to get in from the North, but that’s not working either.  We’re going to try some small dirt roads now to see if we can get around these wash outs.”

The Mad River near Granville--not so mad anymore

While the record devastation around Vermont has been catastrophic to many communities, the spirit of collective teamwork that we experienced on our journey gave us a hopeful glimpse of what is possible and the mountains that can be moved when people pull together.  As we head into the uncertain future of escalating climate chaos and extreme weather, this spirit may be the one thing that enables communities to come together to find local, small scale, ecologically sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.


Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, Natural Disasters, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle, Posts from Anne Petermann, Water

Bubble-wrapping nature against corporate greed

Note: This blog post was written by Meera Karunananthan of the Council of Canadians about the strategy meeting on the Rights of Nature held this past weekend in San Francisco.  GJEP Executive Director Anne Petermann was one of the attendees.

–The GJEP Team


Cross-Posted from Rabble-CA, AUGUST 2, 2011

As an environmental justice campaigner in North America, sometimes I feels like I am operating in a bubble.

I am in San Francisco in the midst of a national “debate” on the U.S. debt, in a bubble at the Global Exchange headquarters where environmental activists have gathered from across the country to discuss the need for a paradigm shift with regards to our relationship with the environment.

Three months after the launch of the book The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, by the Council of Canadians, Global Exchange and Fundacion Pachamama, a meeting took place in San Francisco this weekend to discuss next steps including joint strategies for the climate talks in Durban and the Rio + 20 Earth Summit in 2012.

Convened by Global Exchange, the meeting brought together representatives from organizations working to advance the rights of nature in communities around the world. Among them, la Fundacion Pachamama, an organization that played a central role in making Ecuador the first country to officially recognize the rights of nature within its constitution.

While Natalia Greene of Pachamama talked about the challenges of implementing this ground-breaking legislation, the rights of nature has created the space for communities to demand greater protection for the environment in a country with powerful foreign oil and mining interests. Although the Ecuadorean government has been inconsistent in its recognition of environmental rights, communities like the Waorani have been successful in keeping Brazilian oil giant Petrobras out of the Yasuni rainforest, one of the most biodiverse forests on earth by getting the government to establish a “no extraction zone” within an area containing rich oil deposits.

Constitutional change seems light years away in countries like Canada and the United States.

As the U.S. corporate media scrambles to determine who won the national debt debate in Washington, there is little doubt about who is losing. The wealthiest Americans will see little change, while the rest of the country deals with trillions of dollars in cuts to social programs or “entitlements” as the Republicans refer to them.


In the midst of these discussions on how to protect corporate profits while slashing programs to protect vulnerable segments of society, the case for communities to develop strategies against corporate destruction of the environment is even more poignant.

There have been 125 municipal ordinances recognizing the rights of nature that have enabled communities to stand up to corporate destruction of their land, air and water. Most recently, Pittsburgh stopped hydraulic fracturing by passing a community bill of rights. It is what, Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund refers to as stripping corporations of their privileges. CELDF and Global Exchange have worked with communities across the United States to challenge corporate-friendly policies at the state and federal levels.

Rights of nature and water

Applied to water, the rights of nature approach calls for the protection of natural cycles of lakes, rivers, aquifers against harmful human activity. Many of the municipal ordinances have been used to protect surface and ground water from irreversible damage through hydraulic fracturing, groundwater extraction, toxic sludge spreading and other large scale industrial projects. In addition to ordinances banning harmful activities, there have been bills promoting sustainability enabling community to set forth policies promoting food sovereignty and self sufficiency. Santa Monica’s bill of rights has enabled water recycling and grey water use, which would otherwise be illegal according to state law, says Shannon Biggs of Global Exchange.

Last week, the Council of Canadians and its allies celebrated the one-year anniversary of the official recognition of water as a human right at the United Nations General Assembly. In our work to see this right implemented in national legislation, we will stress the need to recognize the human as a component of the natural world. Water is fundamental to all life and beyond human consumption; it is central to the rights of all other species to exist and flourish. As we have emphasized on numerous occasions, the right to water and sanitation will need to take into account the sustainable use of watersheds to ensure the protection of lakes, rivers, aquifers and the species that depend on them. We reject anthropocentric approaches and shortsighted measures to address water and sanitation needs like desalination which poses a threat to oceanic life.

Market mechanisms

Much of the discussion focused on the tensions between market mechanisms that call for the environment to be regulated by pricing mechanisms and the rights of nature paradigm. An earth-centred approach does not allow corporations to pay to pollute or abuse the environment. In recent years, corporations have partnered with environmental NGOs to promote such strategies as water offsets enabling multinationals like Coca Cola to gain PR points by destroying the environment in one part of the world while promoting conservation efforts elsewhere, proclaiming themselves “water neutral.” Water offsets, carbon trading and other market mechanisms have attempted to artificially quantity environmental damage by downplaying the impacts of damaging local ecosystems.

Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project refers to this as “corporations trying to maintain business as usual by co-opting green discourse.”

So perhaps the strategy is not to step outside the bubble to attempt dialogues with those who will continue to strengthen the mechanisms of global capitalism that are responsible for the environmental crisis, but to expand and strengthen our bubble. To create bubbles in the form of no extraction zones, local bills of rights and municipal ordinances that keep corporate greed out of our communities.

Meera Karunananthan

Meera Karunananthan is the national water campaigner at the Council of Canadians.

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Filed under Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Corporate Globalization, Greenwashing, Water

July Photo of the Month: Cree Women, Whapmagoostui Quebec 1993

First Nations Gathering, Whapmagoostui, Quebec, Canada  1993
Photo: Langelle

Eighteen years ago, in July of 1993, Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle were invited by Cree Chief Mathew Mukash to visit Cree territory to document the effects of, and resistance to, Hydro-Quebec’s damming of rivers on their traditional lands to provide electricity to Canada and the US.

In the above photograph, Cree elder women listen intently during the First Annual Whapmagoostui (Great Whale) Gathering on the banks of Hudson Bay near James Bay.  At this gathering, Cree and Inuit peoples came together to discuss their resistance to Hydro-Quebec’s plans to expand their hydro-electric projects by building a new dam on the Great Whale river.

Many stories were told during this gathering about how First Nation Peoples are enduring the plundering of their land and about their struggle to protect it.

One testimony described how the Cree who lived on their ancestral island of Fort George were relocated to flimsy houses in the prefabricated town of Chisasibi on the mainland, when Hydro-Quebec built a massive dam on the La Grande river, threatening their Fort George island home.  Since the relocation, the Cree in Chisasibi have been plagued by a high rate of alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide.  Some people in the community developed symptoms of mercury poisoning from eating fish from their traditional fishing areas, due to mercury leaching out of the flooded soil and into the new reservoirs.

“Cree culture has a lot to offer in the area of nature, which is something very much needed in the world.  In western society, everything is segregated.  That is what is ruining the world.  People have to think more holistically about their actions.  Everything comes down to ‘how much money can I make from this.’  Until this changes, all this talk of environmental protection is bullshit.”      — Cree Helen Atkinson


Orin Langelle, GJEP’s Co-director/Strategist, is currently working on a book of four decades of his concerned photography.  From mid-June to mid-July Langelle worked on his book as an artist in residence at the Blue Mountain Center in New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Also check out the GJEP Photo Gallery, past Photos of the Month posted on GJEP’s website, or Langelle’s photo essays posted on GJEP’s Climate Connections blog.

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Filed under Climate Change, Energy, False Solutions to Climate Change, Indigenous Peoples, Land Grabs, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle

Earth Minute with Anne Petermann: Happy World Water Day!

“We need water for life. Water can teach us how to live in harmony with each other and more lightly on this earth.”

-Maude Barlow

Listen to this week’s Earth Minute on KPFK Radio’s Sojourner Truth Show. Global Justice Ecology Project’s executive  director, Anne Petermann, brings attention to World Water Day.

Click here to listen!

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Miriam Torres on KPFK Radio’s Sojourner Truth Show

Listen to Thursday’s show on KPFK Radio’s Sojourner Truth program which featured Miriam Torres,  the Southern California Program Director for the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water. Miriam discusses discrimination in the U.S. concerning the lack of access to clean drinking water in southern Californian communities and how this issue relates to public health, pollution and environmental racism.

Click here to listen!

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