What's Up With the Rainforest: More Hope, Less Blame

Celebrations of Earth Day has garnered some more of the world's attention to the environmental crisis threatening the health of the global community and our planet, but we must not forget that working towards a sustainable future is a responsibility that will require dedication all 365 days of the year. And while some corporations have jumped on the eco-bandwagon in an attempt to attract the green consumer, we would like to call attention to the unsung heroes. The individuals, communities, and national leaders who have continually shown a dedication to environmental activism, not driven by profit or personal gain, but by the mission of ensuring we have something to celebrate in the decades to come. We, along with our partnerRainforest Alliance, encourage you to join them, because even though there may be little acclaim for the individual in doing the right thing for the planet, your efforts will lead to rewards that extend far beyond your time.

Our first story reviews a documentaryClimate of Change, which takes a "refreshingly positive look at the future of our planet," revealing the impact actions from committed individuals and small groups from around the group are having on the health of our planet. And in doing so, provides the ingredients we need to take the next step for a better tomorrow -- "passionate young people, quiet heroes and, most importantly, hope."

Education is essential for equipping the younger generation with the knowledge of how to prevent a history of destruction from repeating itself, but also provides the perfect opportunity to instill activism and concern for the broader community from the very beginning. As seen in South Carolina, where a "Save the Rainforest Club" at Ebinport Elementary School doesn't just teach students about the rainforest, it encourages them to take action -- raising thousands of dollars at events such as "Earth Day Birthday" where club members sold recyclable bags they made themselves, auction off pictures they made in the club and sell bookmarks.

Another young individual trying to do his part is 12-year-old Koa Halpern, who is challenging us all to give up fast food as a way to decrease the stress on the environment the fast food industry has created. Wise beyond his years, this passionate young man started the organization Fast Food Free, along with the Web site fastfoodfree.org, in order to encourage and educate individuals to make this pledge for a healthier lifestyle and planet.

Next, an interview with Bianca Jagger, who after spending the last 30 years as a human rights, social justice and environmental protection advocate has proved time and again her dedication to the planet. Jagger's discussion of her latest mission in Niyamgiri not only gives a candid insight into a region where "multinational mining giant Vedanta's operations are threatening the tribals with extinction" but will prompt you to ask yourself, "Are we willing to endanger individuals survival, in order to enable corporations to exploit our natural resources?"

In the Republic of Korea, we see individuals being recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) with a Champion of the Earth award for their leadership in the fight to preserve biodiversity and combat climate change. President Bharrat Jagdeo was one of these recipients, being acknowledged specifically for his ability to recognize the scope of green economy benefits, in terms of not only battling climate change but also "in terms of development; employment; improved water supplies and the conservation of biodiversity."

While its obvious that there are many individuals taking action towards fixing the devastating actions of our past, we end with a look at what we need to accomplish in the next 40 years in order make the future a change for the better. Let's not waste the can do energy Earth Day has rejuvenated. Our planet needs more than just 24 hours of R&R so we urge you to stay informed on the latest issues and visit us on Facebook to connect with fellow activists. 

Weekly Mulch: Citizens Lead Cochabamba Climate Negotiations

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Environmental advocates from around the world gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, this week and resolved that, a year from now, they would hold a world’s people referendum on climate change to marshal support for the rights of the planet.

“Although it is hoped that some states will cooperate, the participation of governments will not be essential to the referendum, as civil society organizations are to plan it according to their own lights and the traditions and customs of each local area,” reports Franz Chavez for Inter Press Service.

The conference’s democratic, citizen-oriented format starkly contrasted with March’s United Nations-led summit in Copenhagen. The conference at Cochabamba emphasized inclusion and a diversity of voices, providing an antidote to processes like the U.N. climate negotiations, where smaller countries were excluded from key discussions.

No official United States delegation attended the conference, but this week, the country held its own celebration of the environment: the 40th annual Earth Day. On Thursday, arguments over climate change were put on pause, as environmental leaders recognized both accomplishments and the unfinished business of cleaning up the air, land, and water.

“Environmentalism isn’t such a mysterious thing anymore. People are looking more at environmental values as being things that are tangible and relate to how we live our lives,” Pete Carrels of the South Dakota Sierra Club told Public News Service.

The mystery, now, lies in finding a way to shore up defenses against old environmental hazards—dirty water, dirty air, diminishing resources—and to agree on a path towards a low-carbon future that avoids the worst calamities of climate change.

At Cochabamba

“Bolivian music, indigenous ceremonies and the Bolivian army’s honor guard were on hand to greet the first indigenous president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales,” Democracy Now! reported from Tiquipaya, the town just outside Cochabamba where the actual conference is being held.

In a stadium crowded with fifteen thousand people, President Morales opened the event Tuesday morning with exhortations to choose life for the planet. Franz Chavez of Inter Press Service reports:

“The stadium, ablaze with the multi-coloured traditional garments of different Andean and Amazonian native communities and the flags of people from different countries around the world that contrasted with the cold formality of presidential summits, served as the stage for Morales, of Aymara descent, to call for an “inter-continental movement” in defence of Mother Earth.”

You can get a sense of the atmosphere in this GRITtv report or the below video from Yes! Magazine.

Too many cooks?

One of the main goals of the summit was to draft a “universal declaration of rights of Mother Earth,” envisioned as a complement to the United Nations declaration on human rights. There were also 17 working groups that dealt with issues like climate migrants, the Kyoto protocol, and technology transfer. Any conference participant could participate in up to five working groups.

The open format was, at times, chaotic. Cormac Cullinan, an environmental lawyer from South Africa who provide the baseline text for the declaration of rights, told Democracy Now! that on one day of the conference four hundred people were contributing revisions to the text. Another day, that number jumped to one thousand.

“The challenge is to make sure we integrated all the different comments and point of view,” he said. “We’re essentially expressing an entirely new world view from an indigenous perspective in legal language.”

Many voices, but what are the solutions?

Elizabeth Cooper affirms this emphasis on a diversity of voices in a report for Yes! Magazine. “This issue of valuing the knowledge and abilities of indigenous peoples and those from the South was an undercurrent to the rest of the afternoon as it is to the Summit as a whole,” she writes.

But this scale of participation also meant that conversations could veer from essential topics. Also at Yes! Magazine, Jim Shultz asks, “If forcing rich countries to pay a climate debt is a dead end, what is the plan to move “climate debt” from a catchy idea to a real proposal with a chance of delivering some results?”

“At a workshop today on that topic, there was an abundance of declarations about why climate debt is important, but few ideas of how to make it real,” he reports.

The need

There’s a need, though, for people to participate in these discussions, even if the conversations don’t take a smooth and tidy course. At The Nation, Naomi Klein writes that “Bolivia’s climate summit has had moments of joy, levity and absurdity. Yet underneath it all, you can feel the emotion that provoked this gathering: rage against helplessness.”

At a conference like Copenhagen, the worries and priorities of smaller countries were ultimately excluded from the debate. In Bolivia, Klein explains, glaciers—the water source for two major cities—are melting. Yet that problem did not earn the country a place in the Copenhagen discussions that could determine its fate. Cochabamba’s goals were, in part, to reestablish a more democratic system for decision-making about climate reform.

As Regina Cornwell documents at the Women’s Media Center, left to its own devices, international bodies like the United Nations easily exclude interested groups from the conversation.

“In early March, just as the entire area of Manhattan around the UN was crawling with women wearing their blue Conference for the Status of Women tags, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a “High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing” composed exclusively of men,” she writes.

Earth Day 2010

The conferees at Cochabamba traveled to Bolivia because they saw a gap in leadership after UN climate talks at Copenhagen crumbled. The ideas developed this week could prompt the world’s leaders towards brave action on climate change. Strong leadership can make the difference between real change and status quo.

At The Nation, John Nichols reflects on the leadership of Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who helped create Earth Day. Nelson, was “a bold progressive who recognized the need to make the health and welfare of human beings, in the United States and abroad, a priority over the profits of multinational corporations,” he writes. Nelson’s vision for Earth Day was to produce an outpouring of empathy for the environment “so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy.”

It worked. The first Earth Day is credited with driving action on the environmental institutions that still protect Americans today: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today’s leaders

Today, other leaders are fighting the same fight as Nelson did. At Cochabamba, these climate leaders, profiled by Colorlines, are marshaling their communities to push back against global warming, as are these conference-goers. They lack official titles but are leading nonetheless. Young people, like those honored by the Brower Youth Award, are coming up with amazing ideas to ensure a healthy future for the planet, reports LinkTV. At The Progressive, Winona LaDuke explains how native communities are working to produce a new energy economy.

And all over the world, individuals are working to minimize their impact and the impact of their societies on the environment. AlterNet suggests “five ways you can help save life on earth,” and Care2 has two other suggestions: eat less meat and reduce use of water bottles.

For more inspiration, check out the climate rally on Sunday, April 25 on the Mall in Washington, DC; organizers are promising the largest climate rally ever, along with an awesome line-up of speakers and performers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Green products, green energy

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Ed. note: This week’s Mulch is pint-sized and will run on Monday rather than Friday. We’ll be back to our regular schedule next week.

Some people live off the grid, eat local food, and have an energy footprint so minuscule that even the canniest hunter couldn’t track them down. But the rest of us buy from supermarkets, get our energy from at least in part from traditional sources like coal, and occasionally forget to turn off the lights when we leave the house. For those of us who are still living with one foot in the old energy world, here are a few helpful hints about what you should buy and what the consequences of shifting to “clean energy” sources like natural gas and nuclear energy are.

Green consumption

Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty points out a useful tool for correcting any misconceptions about how green a company actually is. It’s an assessment that graphs public perception of a company’s environmentalism against its practices. Besides making sure you’ve got the right idea about Starbucks or Nike, Whitty writes, “You can also get a pretty good sense of how sectors perform in relation to other sectors: food and beverage, bad overall; technology, better overall.”

One of the biggest energy expenditures that many of us indulge in is airplane travel. Just one flight can enlarge your carbon footprint dramatically. Although flying may never be truly green, Beth Buczynski reports at Care2 that one airline is moving in the right direction. British Airways is planning the first “sustainable jet fuel” plant.

The plant will make a biofuel, which generally has plenty of drawbacks, but this one sounds pretty good. The company says it will source its raw materials from local waste management facilities and produce relatively harmless waste products.

Hot air from natural gas companies

But the hazards of many “clean energy” sources make going off the grid sound better and better. More and more information is coming out about the environmental hazards that accompany the mining of natural gas, one of Washington’s new energy fascinations. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report on natural gas late last week, and Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that Halliburton, a major player in this industry, admitted to using 807,000 gallons of diesel-based chemicals in the extraction process, which involves pumping large amounts of water deep into the ground.

“Even though the natural gas industry is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, it’s still required to limit the amount of diesel used in fracturing, under a December 2003 agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency,” Sheppard writes. “Halliburton and BJ Services appear to have violated the agreement, according to yesterday’s disclosure.”

That doesn’t inspire confidence in these companies’ assurances that their techniques will not contaminate water sources.

Another meltdown

Nuclear power sounds better than ever to the government, investors, and even some environmentalists. If you need a rundown of the issues involved in nuclear energy production, Grist’s Umbra Fisk has answers to questions like “is nuclear really better than coal?”

One of the strongest objections to nuclear power, however, is the financial risk of investing in nuclear infrastructure. “Nuclear power offers all the fiscal risks of a “too big to fail” bank, with the added risk of being too dangerous to fail as well,” writes Sam McPheeters for The American Prospect.

“And although current nuclear defenders love to crow about the free market…the industry operates with an exponential financial handicap over all other energy technologies, gas and coal included,” McPheeters explains. “Factor in overruns, plant cancellations, and chronic mismanagement, and the only genuine advantage nuclear holds over renewable energy sources is that its infrastructure currently exists.”

Maybe it’s time to invest in solar panels after all.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Yes We Can Stop what the LA Times Calls "a Dubious Deal on Offshore Oil Drilling"

At a hearing last week of the California State Lands Commission, which I chair, we passed a resolution critical of an effort to bypass our independent jurisdiction in approving new oil drilling proposals.

An editorial in last weekend's Los Angeles Times buttresses my position and explains what's at stake:

"[In late January,] the Lands Commission rightly rejected the plan on a 2-1 vote, and that should have been the end of it. [...]

Admittedly, the state could use the money. But that's not a good enough reason to subvert the authority of the Lands Commission, sell California's coastline in exchange for empty promises, ignore the wishes of Santa Barbara residents and dismiss the outcome of a long process of analysis and public hearings. The Lands Commission, in fact, was created in 1938 to bring more transparency to the awarding of oil leases after a scandal involving the Department of Finance."

National and state implications over the flip...

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Luke Cole (1962-2009): An Appreciation

It is with broken heart that I report the death of one of this nation's most important and innovative environmental attorneys.

Luke Cole graduated with honors from Stanford, and cum laude from Harvard Law School. He could have done anything. He could have gone to work for any law firm in the country, and made a fortune. Instead, he moved to San Francisco and co-founded the non-profit Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. As described on their website:

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