Rights of Nature featured in this important document

Published on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 by On the Commons

Our Commons Future Is Already Here

A stirring call to unite the environmental and global justice movement from Maude Barlow

by Maude Barlow

Maude Barlow gave this stirring plenary speech, full of hope even in the face of ecological disasters, to the Environmental Grantmakers Association annual retreat in Pacific Grove, California. Barlow, a former UN Senior Water Advisor, is National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and founder of the Blue Planet Project.

“Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. Such a time is upon us now.”

We all know that the earth and all upon it face a growing crisis. Global climate change is rapidly advancing, melting glaciers, eroding soil, causing freak and increasingly wild storms, and displacing untold millions from rural communities to live in desperate poverty in peri-urban slums. Almost every human victim lives in the global South, in communities not responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. The atmosphere has already warmed up almost a full degree in the last several decades and a new Canadian study reports that we may be on course to add another 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

Half the tropical forests in the world – the lungs of our ecosystems – are gone; by 2030, at the current rate of harvest, only 10% will be left standing. Ninety percent of the big fish in the sea are gone, victim to wanton predatory fishing practices. Says a prominent scientist studying their demise “there is no blue frontier left.” Half the world’s wetlands – the kidneys of our ecosystems – were destroyed in the 20th century. Species extinction is taking place at a rate one thousand times greater than before humans existed. According to a Smithsonian scientist, we are headed toward a “biodiversity deficit” in which species and ecosystems will be destroyed at a rate faster than Nature can create new ones.

We are polluting our lakes, rivers and streams to death. Every day, 2 million tons of sewage and industrial and agricultural waste are discharged into the world’s water, the equivalent of the weight of the entire human population of 6.8 billion people. The amount of wastewater produced annually is about six times more water than exists in all the rivers of the world. A comprehensive new global study recently reported that 80% of the world’s rivers are now in peril, affecting 5 billion people on the planet. We are also mining our groundwater far faster than nature can replenish it, sucking it up to grow water-guzzling chemical-fed crops in deserts or to water thirsty cities that dump an astounding 200 trillion gallons of land-based water as waste in the oceans every year. The global mining industry sucks up another 200 trillion gallons, which it leaves behind as poison. Fully one third of global water withdrawals are now used to produce biofuels, enough water to feed the world. A recent global survey of groundwater found that the rate of depletion more than doubled in the last half century. If water was drained as rapidly from the Great Lakes, they would be bone dry in 80 years.

The global water crisis is the greatest ecological and human threat humanity has ever faced. As Vast areas of the planet are becoming desert as we suck the remaining waters out of living ecosystems and drain remaining aquifers in India, China, Australia, most of Africa, all of the Middle East, Mexico, Southern Europe, US Southwest and other places. Dirty water is the biggest killer of children; every day more children die of water borne disease than HIV/AIDS, malaria and war together. In the global South, dirty water kills a child every three and a half seconds. And it is getting worse, fast. By 2030, global demand for water will exceed supply by 40%— an astounding figure foretelling of terrible suffering.

Knowing there will not be enough food and water for all in the near future, wealthy countries and global investment, pension and hedge funds are buying up land and water, fields and forests in the global South, creating a new wave of invasive colonialism that will have huge geo-political ramifications. Rich investors have already bought up an amount of land double the size of the United Kingdom in Africa alone.

We Simply Cannot Continue on the Present Path

I do not think it possible to exaggerate the threat to our earth and every living thing upon it. Quite simply we cannot continue on the path that brought us here. Einstein said that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. While mouthing platitudes about caring for the earth, most of our governments are deepening the crisis with new plans for expanded resource exploitation, unregulated free trade deals, more invasive investment, the privatization of absolutely everything and unlimited growth. This model of development is literally killing the planet.

Unlimited growth assumes unlimited resources, and this is the genesis of the crisis. Quite simply, to feed the increasing demands of our consumer based system, humans have seen nature as a great resource for our personal convenience and profit, not as a living ecosystem from which all life springs. So we have built our economic and development policies based on a human-centric model and assumed either that nature would never fail to provide or that, where it does fail, technology will save the day.

Two Problems that Hinder the Environmental Movement

From the perspective of the environmental movement, I see two problems that hinder us in our work to stop this carnage. The first is that, with notable exceptions, most environmental groups either have bought into the dominant model of development or feel incapable of changing it. The main form of environmental protection in industrialized countries is based on the regulatory system, legalizing the discharge of large amounts of toxics into the environment. Environmentalists work to minimize the damage from these systems, essentially fighting for inadequate laws based on curbing the worst practices, but leaving intact the system of economic globalization at the heart of the problem. Trapped inside this paradigm, many environmentalists essentially prop up a deeply flawed system, not imagining they are capable of creating another.

Hence, the support of false solutions such as carbon markets, which, in effect, privatize the atmosphere by creating a new form of property rights over natural resources. Carbon markets are predicated less on reducing emissions than on the desire to make carbon cuts as cheap as possible for large corporations.

Another false solution is the move to turn water into private property, which can then be hoarded, bought and sold on the open market. The latest proposals are for a water pollution market, similar to carbon markets, where companies and countries will buy and sell the right to pollute water. With this kind of privatization comes a loss of public oversight to manage and protect watersheds. Commodifying water renders an earth-centred vision for watersheds and ecosystems unattainable.

Then there is PES, or Payment for Ecological Services, which puts a price tag on ecological goods – clean air, water, soil etc, – and the services such as water purification, crop pollination and carbon sequestration that sustain them. A market model of PES is an agreement between the “holder” and the “consumer” of an ecosystem service, turning that service into an environmental property right. Clearly this system privatizes nature, be it a wetland, lake, forest plot or mountain, and sets the stage for private accumulation of nature by those wealthy enough to be able to buy, hoard sell and trade it. Already, northern hemisphere governments and private corporations are studying public/private/partnerships to set up lucrative PES projects in the global South. Says Friends of the Earth International, “Governments need to acknowledge that market-based mechanisms and the commodification of biodiversity have failed both biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation.”

The second problem with our movement is one of silos. For too long environmentalists have toiled in isolation from those communities and groups working for human and social justice and for fundamental change to the system. On one hand are the scientists, scholars, and environmentalists warning of a looming ecological crisis and monitoring the decline of the world’s freshwater stocks, energy sources and biodiversity. On the other are the development experts, anti-poverty advocates, and NGOs working to address the inequitable access to food, water and health care and campaigning for these services, particularly in the global South. The assumption is that these are two different sets of problems, one needing a scientific and ecological solution, the other needing a financial solution based on pulling money from wealthy countries, institutions and organizations to find new resources for the poor.

The clearest example I have is in the area I know best, the freshwater crisis. It is finally becoming clear to even the most intransigent silo separatists that the ecological and human water crises are intricately linked, and that to deal effectively with either means dealing with both. The notion that inequitable access can be dealt with by finding more money to pump more groundwater is based on a misunderstanding that assumes unlimited supply, when in fact humans everywhere are overpumping groundwater supplies. Similarly, the hope that communities will cooperate in the restoration of their water systems when they are desperately poor and have no way of conserving or cleaning the limited sources they use is a cruel fantasy. The ecological health of the planet is intricately tied to the need for a just system of water distribution.

The global water justice movement (of which I have the honour of being deeply involved) is, I believe, successfully incorporating concerns about the growing ecological water crisis with the promotion of just economic, food and trade policies to ensure water for all. We strongly believe that fighting for equitable water in a world running out means taking better care of the water we have, not just finding supposedly endless new sources. Through countless gatherings where we took the time to really hear one another – especially grassroots groups and tribal peoples closest to the struggle – we developed a set of guiding principles and a vision for an alternative future that are universally accepted in our movement and have served us well in times of stress. We are also deeply critical of the trade and development policies of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the World Water Council (whom I call the “Lords of water”), and we openly challenge their model and authority.

Similarly, a fresh and exciting new movement exploded onto the scene in Copenhagen and set all the traditional players on their heads. The climate justice movement whose motto is Change the System, Not the Climate, arrived to challenge not only the stalemate of the government negotiators but the stale state of too cosy alliances between major environmental groups, international institutions and big business – the traditional “players” on the climate scene. Those climate justice warriors went on to gather at another meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, producing a powerful alternative declaration to the weak statement that came out of Copenhagen. The new document forged in Bolivia put the world on notice that business as usual is not on the climate agenda.

How the Commons Fits In

I deeply believe it is time for us to extend these powerful new movements, which fuse the analysis and hard work of the environmental community with the vision and commitment of the justice community, into a whole new form of governance that not only challenges the current model of unlimited growth and economic globalization but promotes an alternative that will allow us and the Earth to survive. Quite simply, human-centred governance systems are not working and we need new economic, development, and environmental policies as well as new laws that articulate an entirely different point of view from that which underpins most governance systems today. At the centre of this new paradigm is the need to protect natural ecosystems and to ensure the equitable and just sharing of their bounty. It also means the recovery of an old concept called the Commons.

The Commons is based on the notion that just by being members of the human family, we all have rights to certain common heritages, be they the atmosphere and oceans, freshwater and genetic diversity, or culture, language and wisdom. In most traditional societies, it was assumed that what belonged to one belonged to all. Many indigenous societies to this day cannot conceive of denying a person or a family basic access to food, air, land, water and livelihood. Many modern societies extended the same concept of universal access to the notion of a social Commons, creating education, health care and social security for all members of the community. Since adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, governments are obliged to protect the human rights, cultural diversity and food security of their citizens.

A central characteristic of the Commons is the need for careful collaborative management of shared resources by those who use them and allocation of access based on a set of priorities. A Commons is not a free-for-all. We are not talking about a return to the notion that nature’s capacity to sustain our ways is unlimited and anyone can use whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want. It is rooted rather in a sober and realistic assessment of the true damage that has already been unleashed on the world’s biological heritage as well as the knowledge that our ecosystems must be managed and shared in a way that protects them now and for all time.

Also to be recovered and expanded is the notion of the Public Trust Doctrine, a longstanding legal principle which holds that certain natural resources, particularly air, water and the oceans, are central to our very existence and therefore must be protected for the common good and not allowed to be appropriated for private gain. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, governments exercise their fiduciary responsibilities to sustain the essence of these resources for the long-term use and enjoyment of the entire populace, not just the privileged who can buy inequitable access.

The Public Trust Doctrine was first codified in 529 A.D. by Emperor Justinius who declared: “By the laws of nature, these things are common to all mankind: the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea.” U.S. courts have referred to the Public Trust Doctrine as a “high, solemn and perpetual duty” and held that the states hold title to the lands under navigable waters “in trust for the people of the State.” Recently, Vermont used the Public Trust Doctrine to protect its groundwater from rampant exploitation, declaring that no one owns this resource but rather, it belongs to the people of Vermont and future generations. The new law also places a priority for this water in times of shortages: water for daily human use, sustainable food production and ecosystem protection takes precedence over water for industrial and commercial use.

An exciting new network of Canadian, American and First Nations communities around the Great Lakes is determined to have these lakes names a Commons, a public trust and a protected bioregion.

Equitable access to natural resources is another key character of the Commons. These resources are not there for the taking by private interests who can then deny them to anyone without means. The human right to land, food, water, health care and biodiversity are being codified as we speak from nation-state constitutions to the United Nations. Ellen Dorsey and colleagues have recently called for a human rights approach to development, where the most vulnerable and marginalized communities take priority in law and practice. They suggest renaming the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals the Millennium Development Rights and putting the voices of the poor at the centre.

This would require the meaningful involvement of those affected communities, especially Indigenous groups, in designing and implementing development strategies. Community-based governance is another basic tenet of the Commons.

Inspiring Successes Around the Globe

Another crucial tenet of the new paradigm is the need to put the natural world back into the centre of our existence. If we listen, nature will teach us how to live. Again, using the issue I know best, we know exactly what to do to create a secure water future: protection and restoration of watersheds; conservation; source protection; rainwater and storm water harvesting; local, sustainable food production; and meaningful laws to halt pollution. Martin Luther King Jr. said legislation may not change the heart but it will restrain the heartless.

Life and livelihoods have been returned to communities in Rajasthan, India, through a system of rainwater harvesting that has made desertified land bloom and rivers run again thanks to the collective action of villagers. The city of Salisbury South Australia, has become an international wonder for greening desertified land in the wake of historic low flows of the Murray River. It captures every drop of rain that falls from the sky and collects storm and wastewater and funnels it all through a series of wetlands, which clean it, to underground natural aquifers, which store it, until it is needed.

In a “debt for nature” swap, Canada, the U.S. and The Netherlands cancelled the debt owed to them by Colombia in exchange for the money being used for watershed restoration. The most exciting project is the restoration of 16 large wetland areas of the Bogotá River, which is badly contaminated, to pristine condition. Eventually the plan is to clean up the entire river. True to principles of the Commons, the indigenous peoples living on the sites were not removed, but rather, have become caretakers of these protected and sacred places.

The natural world also needs its own legal framework, what South African environmental lawyer Cormac Culllinen calls “wild law.” The quest is a body of law that recognizes the inherent rights of the environment, other species and water itself outside of their usefulness to humans. A wild law is a law to regulate human behaviour in order to protect the integrity of the earth and all species on it. It requires a change in the human relationship with the natural world from one of exploitation to one of democracy with other beings. If we are members of the earth’s community, then our rights must be balanced against those of plants, animals, rivers and ecosystems. In a world governed by wild law, the destructive, human-centred exploitation of the natural world would be unlawful. Humans would be prohibited from deliberately destroying functioning ecosystems or driving other species to extinction.

This kind of legal framework is already being established. The Indian Supreme Court has ruled that protection of natural lakes and ponds is akin to honouring the right to life – the most fundamental right of all according to the Court. Wild law was the inspiration behind an ordinance in Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania that recognized natural ecosystems and natural communities within the borough as “legal persons” for the purposes of stopping the dumping of sewage sludge on wild land. It has been used throughout New England in a series of local ordinances to prevent bottled water companies from setting up shop in the area. Residents of Mount Shasta California have put a wild law ordinance on the November 2010 ballot to prevent cloud seeding and bulk water extraction within city limits.

In 2008, Ecuador’s citizens voted two thirds in support of a new constitution, which says, “Natural communities and ecosystems possess the unalienable right to exist, flourish and evolve within Ecuador. Those rights shall be self-executing, and it shall be the duty and right of all Ecuadorian governments, communities, and individuals to enforce those rights.” Bolivia has recently amended its constitution to enshrine the philosophy of “living well” as a means of expressing concern with the current model of development and signifying affinity with nature and the need for humans to recognize inherent rights of the earth and other living beings. The government of Argentina recently moved to protect its glaciers by banning mining and oil drilling in ice zones. The law sets standards for protecting glaciers and surrounding ecosystems and creates penalties just for harming the country’s fresh water heritage.

The most far-reaching proposal for the protection of nature itself is the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth that was drafted at the April 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia and endorsed by the 35,000 participants there. We are writing a book setting out our case for this Declaration to the United Nations and the world. The intent is for it to become a companion document to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every now and then in history, the human race takes a collective step forward in its evolution. Such a time is upon us now as we begin to understand the urgent need to protect the earth and its ecosystems from which all life comes. The Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth must become a history-altering covenant toward a just and sustainable future for all.

What Can We Do Right Now?

What might this mean for funders and other who share these values? Well, let me be clear: the hard work of those fighting environmental destruction and injustice must continue. I am not suggesting for one moment that his work is not important or that the funding for this work is not needed. I do think however, that there are ways to move the agenda I have outlined here forward if we put our minds to it.

Anything that helps bridge the solitudes and silos is pure gold. Bringing together environmentalists and justice activists to understand one another’s work and perspective is crucial. Both sides have to dream into being – together – the world they know is possible and not settle for small improvements to the one we have. This means working for a whole different economic, trade and development model even while fighting the abuses existing in the current one. Given a choice between funding an environmental organization that basically supports the status quo with minor changes and one that promotes a justice agenda as well, I would argue for the latter.

Support that increases capacity at the base is also very important, as is funding that connects domestic to international struggle, always related even when not apparent. Funding for those projects and groups fighting to abolish or fundamentally change global trade and banking institutions that maintain corporate dominance and promote unlimited and unregulated growth is still essential.

How Clean Water Became a Human Right

We all, as well, have to find ways to thank and protect those groups and governments going out on a limb to promote an agenda for true change. A very good example is President Evo Morales of Bolivia, who brought the climate justice movement together in Cochabamba last April and is leading the campaign at the UN to promote the Rights of Mother Earth.

It was this small, poor, largely indigenous landlocked country, and its former coca-farmer president, that introduced a resolution to recognize the human right to water and sanitation this past June to the UN General Assembly, taking the whole UN community by surprise. The Bolivian UN Ambassador, Pablo Solon, decided he was fed up with the “commissions” and “further studies” and “expert consultations” that have managed to put off the question of the right to water for at least a decade at the UN and that it was time to put an “up or down” question to every country: do you or do you not support the human right to drinking water and sanitation?

A mad scramble ensued as a group of Anglo-Western countries, all promoting to some extent the notion of water as a private commodity, tried to derail the process and put off the vote. The U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand even cooked up a “consensus” resolution that was so bland everyone would likely have handily voted for it at an earlier date. But sitting beside the real thing, it looked like what it was – an attempt, yet again, to put off any meaningful commitment at the UN to the billions suffering from lack of clean water. When that didn’t work, they toiled behind the scenes to weaken the wording of the Bolivian resolution but to no avail. On July 28, 2010, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to adopt a resolution recognizing the human right to water and sanitation. One hundred and twenty two countries voted for the resolution; 41 abstained; not one had the courage to vote against.

I share this story with you not only because my team and I were deeply involved in the lead up to this historic vote and there for it the day it was presented, but because it was the culmination of work done by a movement operating on the principles I have outlined above.

We took the time to establish the common principles that water is a Commons that belongs to the earth, all species, and the future, and is a fundamental human right not to be appropriated for profit. We advocate for the Public Trust Doctrine in law at every level of government. We set out to build a movement that listens first and most to the poorest among us, especially indigenous and tribal voices. We work with communities and groups in other movements, especially those working on climate justice and trade justice. We understand the need for careful collaborative cooperation to restore the functioning of watersheds and we have come to revere the water that gives life to all things upon the Earth. While we clearly have much left to do, these water warriors inspire me and give me hope. They get me out of bed every morning to fight another day.

I believe I am in a room full of stewards and want, then to leave you with these words from Lord of the Rings. This is Gandalf speaking the night before he faces a terrible force that threatens all living beings. His words are for you.

_“The rule of no realm is mine, but all worthy things that are in peril, as the world now stand, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair, or bear fruit, and flower again in the days to come.

For I too am a steward, did you not know?”_ —J.R.R. Tolkien

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Ecuador in crisis

Published on Thursday, September 30, 2010 by Agence France Presse

Ecuador in Turmoil as President Denounces ‘Coup Attempt’

QUITO — Ecuador’s government declared a state of emergency Thursday saying rebel troops and police were staging a coup, after seizing the main airport and storming Congress in a mutiny over pay cuts.

About 150 renegade troops seized a runway at Ecuador’s international airport in the capital of the South American nation, as dozens of police protested against a new law which would strip them of some pay bonuses.

President Rafael Correa, 47, a leftist ally of his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, swiftly denounced what he called a coup bid.

“It is a coup attempt led by the opposition and certain sections of the armed forces and the police,” Correa, who has governed the country since 2007, told local television.

“If anything happens to me, they will be responsible,” he added, after seeking refuge in a hospital, blaming sections of the opposition and troops loyal to former president Lucio Gutierrez for the unrest.

As tear gas was used on the streets of the capital to try to beat back crowds of police protestors, the government declared a state of emergency and vowed to use all means to restore order.

Correa has vowed he will not bow in face of the protests.

“No, I will not step back if they want to seize the barracks, if they want to leave the citizens defenseless and betray their mission,” Correa told soldiers from Quito’s main regiment earlier as he sought to calm tensions.

“If you want to kill the president, he is here. Kill him if you want. Kill him if you can. Kill him if you are brave enough, instead of hiding in the crowd,” he said in an impassioned speech.

But tempers flared at the barracks, and the president had to leave when scuffles broke out and tear gas exploded near him. Overcome by the fumes he was taken out by stretcher to the nearby hospital.

Correa was said to be meeting late Thursday with a delegation of the renegade police, after army chief Ernesto Gonzalez called on them to end their uprising.

Gonzalez said that “troops would analyze the situation and since we are in a state of emergency, if it is needed we will intervene.”

But there were conflicting reports with the Vice President Lenin Moreno saying that Correa was being held inside the hospital, by rebel police who were trying to kidnap him.

Security Minister Miguel Carvajal told reporters the armed forces “have received instructions to maintain public order and guarantee the rights of citizens.”

Dozens of police units took over government buildings in the country’s other two main cities, Guayaquil and Cuenca, and Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino blamed the insurrection on “sectors aiming to overthrow the government.”

The unrest, which recalled a military-backed coup against the elected president in Honduras last year, rocked Ecuador’s neighbors with many leaders swiftly coming out in his support. Its closest neighbors, Peru and Colombia, swift closed their joint borders with Ecuador.

The main regional group, the Organization of American States (OAS), maintained that a coup was underway and in emergency talks was drawing up a resolution urging all sides to avoid violence.

The White House expressed “full support” for Correa and called for a peaceful end to the crisis, while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged all sides to refrain from violence.

Correa was said to be considering dissolving Congress and holding snap elections to resolve the political crisis.

Dozens of Correa supporters were meanwhile descending on the hospital where the president had sought refuge, vowing to rescue him. “Down with the coup, down with the enemies of the people,” they chanted.

The leftist Correa was re-elected last year to a second term at the helm of the country of some 14.5 million people.

Since taking power in 2007, Correa has proven controversial because of his close ties to regional leftists like Chavez.

The US-educated economist took a tough stance with investors and refused to repay foreign debt, in moves welcomed by supporters who blamed the effects of the economic crisis on unbridled free-market policies.

His reelection was seen as giving some stability to the world’s leading banana exporter that has seen three of its previous presidents — between 1996 and 2006 — ousted before the end of their terms.

Here is live coverage (in Spanish) of what is happening Ecuador on TeleSUR TV:

© 2010 AFP
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Ecuador Preserves!

 

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‘Leave the Oil In the Soil’ – a song

Here are the lyrics to a song I just wrote, inspired by the great work of many people in Ecuador and around the world. The chorus is from Accion Ecologia, an Ecuadorian NGO instrumental in helping to preserve the Yasuni National Park.

                                 LEAVE THE OIL IN THE SOIL

Planet heating up, what are we gonna do, knowing we need to shift past oil.

Future generations will thank us, when we leave the oil in the soil.

Cool it down, slow it down, take time to lend a hand.

‘Leave the oil in the soil and the coal in the hole, and the tar sands in the land.’  

A country in South America has a solution for global warming

It’s an ancient path, taught by the masters, called ‘do nothing’ and ‘not harming.’

We’re busy, we’re stressed, we’re overworked, running around all the time.

Step off of the path and into the forest, rest easy in a vortex sublime

Leave the oil in the soil…

From conscious consumers to engaged citizens, got to stand up and claim our power

Our way to freedom our way to balance is to let the green truth flower.

Hey there Huarani tribe living isolated in the jungle

You’ve got a right to live free from modern greed and the great consumerist bungle.

Amend the constitution, give rights to nature, ensure the thrival of us all

Give the ecosystem standing in a court of law, and we evolve beyond the fall

It began with oil spilled on top of the soil, and the people forced to choose

Between a corporate giant from out of town, and a people with everything to loose.

CHORUS: ‘Leave the oil in the soil, The coal in the hole, and the tar sands in the land.’ 3x)

                           ****************************

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Cool it down, slow it down

I thought you might be interested in the following article. -Nels

Greenpeace ‘Shuts Down’ Arctic Oil Rig

Environmental campaigners slip through security boats to scale Cairn Energy oil rig in dawn raid

by Severin Carrell and Bibi van der Zee

Greenpeace claims to have shut down offshore drilling by a British oil company at a controversial site in the Arctic after four climbers began an occupation of the rig just after dawn.

[Cairn Energy's Stena Don oil rig is scaled by Greenpeace campaigners to prevent it from drilling off the coast of Greenland. (Photograph: Will Rose/Greenpeace)]Cairn Energy’s Stena Don oil rig is scaled by Greenpeace campaigners to prevent it from drilling off the coast of Greenland. (Photograph: Will Rose/Greenpeace)

The environment campaigners said the four protesters evaded a small flotilla of armed Danish navy and police boats which have been guarding the rigs in Baffin Bay off Greenland since the Greenpeace protest ship Esperanza arrived last week.

The rigs are operated by the Edinburgh-based oil exploration company Cairn Energy, which last week prompted world-wide alarm among environmentalists after disclosing it had found the first evidence of oil or gas deposits under the Arctic.

Several multinational oil companies, including Exxon. Chevron and Shell, are waiting for permission from Greenland to begin deep sea drilling in the Arctic’s pristine waters.

Campaigners claim this led to a dangerous rush to exploit one of the world’s last major untapped reserves in one of its most fragile locations. The US Geological Survey last year estimated there may be 90bn barrels of oil and 50tn cubic metres of gas across the Arctic.

The campaign group said: “At dawn this morning our expert climbers in inflatable speed boats dodged Danish Navy commandos before climbing up the inside of the rig and hanging from it in tents suspended from ropes, halting its drilling operation.

“The climbers have enough supplies to occupy the hanging tents for several days. If they succeed in stopping drilling for just a short time then the operators, Britain’s Cairn Energy, will struggle to meet a tight deadline to complete the exploration before winter ice conditions force it to abandon the search for oil off Greenland until next year.”

The occupation comes after a nine-day stand-off between Greenpeace and the Danish navy, which has sent its frigate Vaedderen to the area, deploying elite Danish commandos on high-speed boats to patrol a 500m exclusion zone around the rigs.

Last week the Danes warned the Esperanza it would be forcibly boarded and its captain arrested if it breached the security zone. After Greenpeace launched its helicopter to take photographs, the security area was extended to include a 1,800m high air exclusion zone.

Greenpeace argues that the Arctic drilling programme is extremely perilous because of the sea ice and intense weather conditions in the region, and claims it is one of the 10 most dangerous drilling sites in the world. The Baffin Bay area is known as “iceberg alley”. Last week, it filmed a support vessel trying to break up an iceberg using high pressure hoses.

It says the risks posed by this operation go “far beyond” the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico; in the Arctic an oil spill would destroy the region’s vulnerable and untouched habitats, while the cold water would prevent any oil from quickly breaking up. Any emergency operation to tackle a disaster would encounter huge technical and logistical problems in such a remote area.

Cairn Energy was targeted by climate protesters who occupied the grounds of the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters near Edinburgh last week. Cairn’s offices in the city centre were smeared with molasses to symbolise oil.

The company argues it is there at Greenland’s invitation, to help bolster and strengthen the island’s economy. It also insisted its drilling operations obeyed some of the world’s strictest environmental and safety regulations. “We’ve put procedures in place to give the highest possible priority to safety and environmental protection,” it said.

It emerged last week that BP had withdrawn from applying to join in the Greenland oil exploration programme, a direct consequence of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Sim McKenna, one of the Greenpeace climbers on board the Cairn rig, said: “We’ve got to keep the energy companies out of the Arctic and kick our addiction to oil, that’s why we’re going to stop this rig from drilling for as long as we can.

“The BP Gulf oil disaster showed us it’s time to go beyond oil. The drilling rig we’re hanging off could spark an Arctic oil rush, one that would pose a huge threat to the climate and put this fragile environment at risk.”

Morten Nielsen, deputy head of Greenland police, said the four protesters would be arrested and prosecuted. “The position of the Greenlandic police is that this is a clear violation of the law, the penal code of Greenland. The perpetrators will be prosecuted by the Greenlandic authorities,” he said.

“But what we intend to do, how and when, is an operational detail it wouldn’t be smart to advise Greenpeace about.”

Speaking from the island’s capital, Nuuk, Nielsen confirmed that the police had rescue vessels close by the protesters in case any fell into the water, which was only a few degrees above freezing. He denied the police and navy had been outwitted by the protesters setting off at dawn.

“We have to evaluate the downside of any interception,” he said. “The highest value we have to preserve is life and if the result of intercepting the Greenpeace activists would bring the police or for that matter the activists’ lives in jeopardy, we are not going to intercept right now.”

In a separate development, two protesters on trial in Copenhagen for terrorism-related offences during the UN climate summit last December have been cleared. Of the nearly 2,000 people arrested, a small number which includes 13 Greenpeace activists, are still awaiting trial.

The original charges facing Natasha Verco and Noah Weiss included organising violence and significant damage to property and carried a maximum 12-and-a-half-year sentence. Those charges were subsequently reduced to less serious offences, but today a court in Copenhagen cleared the pair entirely.

Verco, who was arrested while riding her bike near the Copenhagen lakes and held in prison for three weeks, said: “I’m so happy, it’s so wonderful… The whole experience has been appalling, terrifying, something I never expected. To be imprisoned for three weeks on the most ridiculous accusations, and then to have to wait for nine months to be acquitted, it’s made me see Denmark very differently.”

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
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More Rights of Nature upheld in the courts!

Vedanta Mine Plan on Sacred Tribal Mountain Halted by Indian Government

Tuesday 24 August 2010

by:   |  Earth’s Newsdesk | Report

Vedanta’s controversial bauxite mine on the Dongria Kondh’s tribal land has been stopped, after four years of protests by local peoples supported by Survival International and a wide range of affinity campaigns, including most recently by EI’s Earth Action Network.

Controversial plans to develop a bauxite mine on sacred tribal land in India [search] have been cancelled by India’s environment ministry. The Dongria Kondh’s – an indigenous tribe who have lived since time immemorial around the mountain Niyamgiri in the Indian state of Orissa – demands have been met, and the area will remain wild, lush and sacred. Multi-national company Vedanta’s existing aluminum refinery in the area had polluted local rivers, damaged crops and disrupted the lives of the local tribe; and will now not be able to expand six-fold. This is a Dongria Kondh victory first and foremost.

The project has been delayed by four years because of the Dongria Kondh’s intense opposition locally – including the brandishing of bows and arrows – as well as from environmental and tribal rights group. Globally, a loosely coordinated campaign sought to persuade multi-national Vedanta’s shareholders and financiers to distance themselves from the company. This is their magnificent victory as well – for Survival International and Amnesty International, various celebrity activists such as Bianca Jagger and Michael Palin, and numerous other loosely affiliated affinity campaigns, including most recently from Ecological Internet working with the Rainforest Information Centre.
“Yet again global people power has come to the aid of small, intact communities battling the ecosystem destroying economic growth machine. The Dongria Kondh’s amazing efforts should be placed in the context of a global people’s power movement to protect and restore ecosystems, and wrest control of land from industrial and speculative capitalism,” asserts Dr. Glen Barry, Ecological Internet’s President.

“We are pleased to have contributed EI’s Earth Action Network’s [1]support – some 200,000 protest emails sent from nearly 100 countries [2]in a matter of weeks. I do not think it accidental that victory was achieved immediately after me and EI’s network, with John Seed and the Rainforest Information Centre, launched our protests. We got exactly what we wanted from this timely, well-organized and locally coordinated cyber protest – Ecological Internet’s specialty!”

******************

The project had been thrown into doubt last week when a government inquiry said that mining would destroy the way of life of the area’s “endangered” and “primitive” people. The four-person committee also accused a local subsidiary of Vedanta of violating forest conservation and environment protection regulations. Because Niyamgiri Mountain is an important spiritual place, it had not thus far suffered the deforestation and degradation experienced by similar areas in India but contains an elephant reserve with Sambar, Leopard, Tiger, Barking Deer, various species of birds and other endangered species of wildlife. With the announcement, the area is free (for now) from the planned Vedenta bauxite mine.

Jairam Ramesh, India’s minister for environment and forests, said today that the government will issue what is termed a show-cause notice and take action against Vedanta. The news sent Vedanta’s shares down almost 6%, wiping almost £300m off the value of the business. “There are very serious violations of environment act and forest right act,” Ramesh told Bloomberg. “There is no emotion, no politics, no prejudice in the decision. It is purely based on a legal approach.” Vedanta, which can appeal against the decision, had wanted to expand its existing refinery in the area, generating a six-fold increase in capacity.

Survival campaigner Dr Jo Woodman said: “This is a victory nobody would have believed possible. The Dongria’s campaign became a litmus test of whether a small, marginalised tribe could stand up to a massive multinational company with an army of lobbyists and PR firms and the ear of government…. Incredibly, the Dongria’s courage and tenacity, allied with the support of many people in India, and Survival’s supporters around the world, have triumphed.”

This is the second time Ecological Internet’s Earth Action Network has recently achieved major conservation successes in India. Last year, also working with John Seed and the Rainforest Information Centre, Ecological Internet was able to single-handedly achieve major Asian elephant migration corridor protections [3].

[1] Earth Action Network’s current alerts are found athttp://www.ecoearth.info/shared/alerts and you can subscribe to new alert notifications at: http://www.ecoearth.info/shared/subscribe/ and on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ecointernet

[2] Action Alert: UPDATE: India’s Dongria Kondh Tribal Way of Life Threatened by British/International Vedanta Mining –http://forests.org/shared/alerts/send.aspx?id=india_mine

[3] Action Alert: Critical Elephant Corridor in India to be Severed –http://forests.org/shared/alerts/send.aspx?id=india_elephants
 

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Great News!

Great News!

Ecuador has agreed not to drill in the pristine Yasuni National Park, located in the Amazon Basin in eastern part of the country, in exchange for a trust fund of 3.6 billion dollars, to be given to the country. 

This is being hailed as a historic step, signifying a completely different model of development. By agreeing not to drill for oil, Ecuador is protecting the world’s atmosphere and its inhabitants from the pollution of some 846 million barrels of oil.

The United Nations Development Program states: “This project is the first in the world to prevent the emission of such gasses in a quantifiable and verifiable manner.”

By not drilling in the National Park, the country is keeping 400 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released.

The decision respects the wishes of the Huarani people to remain in the rainforest jungle isolated from modern society, and from the corruptive influences of rainforest exploitation and development.

Interest from the fund will be invested in social and renewable energy projects, all aimed at respecting the “rights of nature” clause in Ecuador’s constitution, which states, “Every person, people, community or nationality will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the constitution.”

Accion Ecologica, an Ecuadorian NGO put it this way:                                                                                                                                                                                                                               “Leave the oil in the soil

The coal in the hole

 And the tar sands in the land.”

I can already hear a song about this, gliding over the rainforest…      – ND August 20, 2010

http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52378

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Santa Fe Update on “The Rights of Nature”

Thank you all that have supported and encouraged me in this new project! I am very grateful and am looking forward to a great season of composing, filming and writing the folk opera “The Rights of Nature”.

I am presently in Santa Fe, working on the web site and getting ready to go to Ecuador. Donations are coming in. There is a donation button on every page, if you would like to donate, support and be a part of this exciting project.

Learning blogging from Melissa, who is teaching me all kinds of tricks, has opened up a whole new experience on collaboration, new media and communication. I am going to try to blog three times a week to keep you updated. Please keep in touch as I learn how to navigate the blogosphere. 

I am meeting next week with interested friends and potential collaborators who have an interest in the project and have ideas and contacts for me. This is an ideal project if you are looking to support a creative, artistic, environmental  performance piece that has the opportunity to travel the world, and be performed at all levels of society.

Contact me directly or just send in a donation. The plants, animals and humans will thank you. 

Gracias a la vida, Nelson (808) 987-2731 nelsondenman@gmail.com

Posted in Ecuador, Santa Fe | Tagged , , | 3 Comments