Author Archives: angelo@percorso.net

Ukraine proposal to position energy companies at the center of climate action

At the COP23 in Bonn, Germany, international climate change negotiations are well underway now prime ministers have joined the negotiations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron.

On November 5th, during roundtable discussions on non-market approaches to implement the Paris Agreement (under article 6.8 of the PA), the Ukrainian delegation rolled out a proposal for the creation of a new permanent structure that would be called Committee for Future. This committee would place energy companies directly between the international climate negotiations and their national implementation.

Global emissions

The Ukrainian presenter of the proposal stated that, “the Committee for the Future functions in between the global UNFCCC and national [climate plans and] allows direct participation of the corporates. U.S. energy majors and other non-state actors will be brought to the UN table.”

Observers and civil society groups have raised the flag that the approval of this proposal would mean the direct positioning of the fossil fuel industry into the center of implementation of the very agreement that is meant to decrease global emissions.

“This is an extremely dubious proposal,” states Oksana Aliieva, Program Coordinator at the Heinrich Boell Foundation Ukraine, “the proposal is very real, but the language used is unspecific and no finer details are given. Which companies would be involved in this committee has not been specified.”

When asked afterwards by the Ecologist, the Ukrainian delegation stated to have no knowledge of the proposal, despite a Ukrainian delegate officially presenting it during COP23 and no official denouncement of the proposal from the Ukrainian government.

To what degree the bold proposal of Ukraine has been orchestrated by the U.S. government is hard to asses. In the lead-up to COP23, the U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry struck a $80 million dollar deal  to ship 700,000 tons of thermal coal to Ukraine by the end of the year.

Final week

Creating a committee of transnational energy giants that have the final call on the implementation of climate regulations in the country would mean an effective way of keeping the Ukrainian fossil fuel market free from constrains.  

Within the UNFCCC negotiations, Ukraine also operates within the Umbrella group, a negotiating body containing the U.S. and many other fossil fuel exporters including Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia and Norway.

“Whether the U.S. is really behind this powerplay can’t be confirmed at this stage. The Ukrainian government is perfectly possible to come up with such abusive structures themselves,” states Iryna Stavchuk, from the Ukrainian NGO Ecoaction.

Additionally to the initial presentation, it is rumored that the Ukrainian Environment Minister may also formally introduce the initiative elsewhere in the course of the final week of COP23.

Although it is still unclear when the announcement will be made and what agenda item it will be under, Ukrainian observers told The Ecologist they believe the Committee for the Future will be taken up as an informal note in the technical negotiation body – the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice or SBSTA – where it will most likely receive little attention until the next negotiations take place in 6 months time.

This Author

Arthur Wyns is a tropical biologist passionate about biodiversity and climate change action. He’s been involved in research teams all over the world, and now works with Climate Tracker as a campaign manager.

 

COPtimism: Why arts and culture hold the key to positive climate action

For those of us following the climate narrative, it is perhaps only natural to for us to have turned our heads toward Bonn and COP 23 over the last two weeks and placed our faith in this unique conference to provide the leadership and inspiration we need to move towards a society that holds environmental sustainability as a core value.

But what if the key to positive climate action and the leadership we require to implement a global framework of ecological integrity lies embedded in the very fabric of our culture?

What if the solutions we seek to the climate challenge run like a golden thread, weaving through our societies and emerging not simply from individual or even collective action, but in the form of a tectonic shift from within our deeply ingrained cultural narratives?

Constantly trying

Despite an increasing sense of urgency building around the subject, two-thirds of people don’t remember ever having a conversation about climate change. Ever. This statistic implies that what we are faced with is not just the task of finding solutions to our climate challenges, but the need to address the cultural climate surrounding environmental action and engagement.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what hinders climate progress, but it almost feels that an atmosphere of passivity and disempowerment may have lodged itself into our culture when it comes to the condition of our environment.

Even using the word ‘environment’ implies a sense of detachment, as if the natural world is somehow ‘out there’, separated and detached from us humans – oddly, ‘nature’ doesn’t seem to include homo sapiens.

We have yet to embed within our society a cultural narrative of ecology in the purest sense of the word: an unspoken, global agreement and an understanding that all life on Earth interconnects, exists beyond human-made hierarchies and structures, and that every single action we take as individuals, communities and nations will impact the entire ecosystem (including us) as a whole.

In the context of our partnership with Arts Council England and our #COPtimism campaign, which seeks to build on the abundant optimism of the Paris Agreement, we at Julie’s Bicycle are constantly trying to think what might be an appropriate response to this question of disconnect between cultural engagement and the climate challenge.

Influence policy

This, then, is where our artists and creatives may hold the key to the great climate issues of our time: by utilising their gifts as storytellers, cultural custodians and curators of our social narratives.

Earlier this month on 7th November, Julie’s Bicycle in collaboration with Arts Council England released the Sustaining Great Art report with the latest quantitative and qualitative analysis on Arts Council England’s Environmental Programme, which demonstrated not just impressive emissions reductions but also the incredibly inspiring responses of some of England’s most iconic arts and culture organisations.

The report found that, not only are more arts organisations involved in the climate movement than ever before, but that the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions have reduced substantially in the last five years.

These results are driving a profound transformation in the sector’s economy, with the £11 million worth of savings resulting from sustainable initiatives helping to generate new jobs, services and products, all of which is reflected in the way cultural organisations relate to one another.

New artistic and organisational collaborations are springing up and creative climate action is beginning to reach well beyond the cultural sector, even going so as far as to influence policy.

Empathy and cooperation

The range of responses from the sector is both inspiring and ever-growing. They demonstrate the power of planting a small acorn of hope in fertile earth and remind us not to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of our task, but instead to exercise patience and fortitude in encouraging the growth of a flourishing and impactful civic movement.

Even more crucially, the report highlights the vast collection of artistic outputs and responses that are inviting audiences to think about their role in the climate challenge, with 73% of National Portfolio Organisations either already producing or planning to produce work exploring environmental themes.

A recent report from the University of Kent and University of Lincoln demonstrating how arts and culture can promote empathy and cooperation throughout communities, bridging the gap between a person’s own experience and the experiences of others.

It then becomes clear that arts and culture have the capacity to influence our perceptions of the natural world, and the responsibilities we bear in creating and upholding an ethical relationship with non-human life on Earth.

Culture and the arts can therefore radically and palpably help to reframe our relationship with our ecology, becoming a crucial stakeholder in the global mission to take positive climate action.

Impact our lives

In a study into the links between climate change narratives and national identity, COIN concluded that, “[to] be effective, mass public communication of climate change needs to be inclusive and speak to people’s common sense of belonging”.

The artistic and cultural output of any given society has an immense capacity to create, foster and build upon that sense of community and belonging which is so vital to all aspects of sustainable living.

Given that our societies and communities, certainly here in the West, are becoming increasingly divided and isolated from each other, it would seem that the arts sector needs supporting and celebrating for their unique role as cultural hosts and communicators more than ever before.

What is happening across the country – in theatres, venues, festivals and museums, with artists, curators, green champions and chief executives – is itself a rich story that needs to be heard. Climate leadership is in the ascendant; creativity is combining with action to accelerate this exciting movement of change.

Art so often acts as a social commentary and, as environmental sustainability becomes an increasingly necessary aspect of our daily lives, it is vital that art and culture tell the story of climate change and how it can impact our lives.

This Author

Alison Tickell is founder and CEO of Julie’s Bicycle (@JuliesBicycle) and can be followed at @JB_Alison

 

How The Resurgence Trust is building for the future

Having recently celebrated 50 years as the UK’s beacon for environmental and spiritual wellbeing and the arts – North Devon based magazine Resurgence – more recently called Resurgence & Ecologist – is now eager to fortify and expand its output for the next 50 years and beyond, starting with the establishment of a new home. 


To this end, Resurgence is launching a ‘Building for the Future Crowdfunder’ campaign to raise funds to secure a new home, to go Live at 12pm on Wednesday 15th November.


An evening reception celebrating the launch will be hosted by Resurgence trustee and acclaimed ceramicist Sandy Brown at 7.30pm at the Sandy Brown Museum in Appledore, near Bideford. The evening will feature a talk by Satish Kumar about the project and music from talented local Blues singer Courtney Rose, with Baz Bix on guitar.


Far-reaching impact


Many leading thinkers and change-makers who contribute to the magazine are rallying to support the campaign. Author and playwright Michael Morpurgo says: “It is time Resurgence had a home of its own! No publication has done more to raise awareness of the dangers to the environment of our throw away society.


Now we need to make it secure for the next 50 years.” And calling Resurgence “the spiritual and philosophical heart of the ecological movement”, Tony Juniper, President of Wildlife Trust UK, says: “I hope that there will be widespread support for Resurgence as it seeks to secure a new home.”


Guided by Satish Kumar, who edited the magazine for 43 years – Resurgence has evolved from humble beginnings into an educational charity and movement for positive change with far-reaching impact.


Major renovation


Today, the Resurgence Trust not only publishes Resurgence & Ecologist magazine and its two websites (resurgence.org and theecologist.org), but also serves as a wider educational platform for sustainability, social justice, spiritual wellbeing and the arts, and has established an expanding calendar of popular festivals and events in the UK.


For the past 35 years, Resurgence’s small hard-working team has operated from a tiny barn conversation in Satish Kumar’s garden in the village of Hartland, North Devon. As the Trust’s work continues to expand, along with its staff, the charity needs a new home to safeguard its future and growing activities.


The ideal space for the new Resurgence headquarters is the recently-closed Small School in Hartland, which was founded by Satish Kumar in the early 1980s, integrating ecological and spiritual principles into the curriculum.  The school’s buildings, centred around a beautiful 19th century chapel, are in need of major renovation, as Satish Kumar explains.


Sustainable partners


“We want to make a new home for Resurgence in this much-loved space, continuing the spirit of the Small School and building a centre for education and the arts for future generations.


“The school buildings are in urgent need of renovation and unless we can find the funds, the Small School charity may be forced to sell the buildings. We want to save them from further decline and establish a thriving centre to serve the local community and continue our educational work in the wider world.”


The Resurgence ‘Building for the Future’ Crowdfunder campaign has set a target of raising £100,000 to cover the cost of renovating and restoring these historic buildings, working with sustainable partners to achieve Resurgence’s vision.


Solidarity and commitment


In addition to converting the Small School into a new home for the Resurgence Trust to continue to produce its magazine, websites and events, the new centre will be used to develop a range of exciting educational and community projects.


Tim Smit, co-founder, the Eden Project, says: “Resurgence has been a tremendous force for good. “It is absolutely vital that it is properly protected to thrive for another fifty years. I urge everybody to make a contribution as an act of solidarity and commitment.”


Peace and stability


Satish Kumar says: “Please visit Resurgence’s ‘Building for the Future’ Crowdfunder campaign page, which details lots of exciting rewards and incentives for those who wish to support the cause, and give whatever you can to help Resurgence continue to grow its work.


“At a time when issues of peace and stability, the threat to our environment, social dislocation and division have rarely been so important, the work of Resurgence is a beacon of hope. Please help us to keep it alive, to help the process of building the better, more sustainable world we all want. A heart-felt thank you to all who support us.”

 

Uncontacted people are still being massacred in the Amazon




Uncontacted people, like these pictured in iconic aerial photos released in 2011, are the most vulnerable people on the planet © Survival

Lewis Evans

15th November 2017

Massacres like that reported to have taken place recently in the Amazon are sadly neither new nor uncommon. For uncontacted tribal peoples, the colonial era continues, as bandits and extractive industries, abetted by a corrupt government, inflict violence and plunder on them. LEWIS EVANS puts this brutality into context, and examines potential solutions.


Ten indigenous people – including women and children – were murdered in the Javari Valley region of the Amazon in September this year, according to reports. Their bodies were alleged to have been mutilated and dumped in a river. The attack was believed to have been carried out by gold miners, two of whom were later recorded bragging about it in a local bar. 


This is not the story of some conquistadors or rubber tappers in the colonial era. This happened in 2017 – just weeks ago – in the present-day Republic of Brazil. Despite all of the apparent “progress” that humanity has made over the past few centuries, whole populations of indigenous peoples are still being systematically annihilated by land invaders and colonists. 

 

Extremely vulnerable

 

Outside indigenous rights circles, many people are still amazed at the very existence of uncontacted tribes. The popular assumption is that that era is over: the entire world has been colonized and brought over into the industrialized mainstream.

But as extraordinary aerial photos released by Survival International in 2008 and again in 2011 revealed, this simply isn’t the case. There are people, in the Amazon and elsewhere, who choose to reject contact with the mainstream.

 

They are not backward and primitive relics of a remote past. They are our contemporaries and a vitally important part of humankind’s diversity.

 

Uncontacted tribes are living self-sufficient and diverse ways of life, hunting, foraging, growing food in gardens and holding on to their own languages, mythologies, and perspectives on the world. They have every right to carry on doing so, and we in the outside world have a deep responsibility to ensure that they are able to.

Of course, not everyone shares this view. There have always been people willing to forcibly contact isolated tribes. Whether it’s evangelical missionaries determined to impose their theology, or opportunist land grabbers looking to make a quick buck, there is a long and bloody history of genocidal violence against tribal people.

Uncontacted tribes are extremely vulnerable not only to violence from outsiders who want to steal their land and resources, but also to diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance. It makes uncontacted tribes the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. 

 

Agribusiness lobby

 

Recently contacted people still suffer from serious infections, which can wipe entire peoples out. The Ayoreo in Paraguay are still battling a mysterious TB-like illness which was introduced by ranchers in the 1990s.

As shocking as it is, violence like that allegedly inflicted on the Indians last month is not unprecedented. It probably isn’t even that uncommon.

 

Survival has been warning for years of “hidden genocides” taking places in the depths of the Amazon. Evidence of this often emerges long after the fact. Here at least, we were able to see clearly the horror that many uncontacted people face, and the fate that could face many other tribes without robust protection of their lands.

 

All uncontacted tribal peoples face catastrophe unless their land is protected. Without this, many risk going the way of the Akuntsu, a small Amazonian tribe now reduced to just four members after brutal violence by ranchers in the 1980s.

Dismayingly, the current Brazilian government is unwilling to provide such protection. President Michel Temer and his administration are very closely tied to the country’s all-powerful agribusiness lobby – the big landowners who dominate the country’s lucrative agricultural industries. The government has made extensive cuts to FUNAI, the government agency responsible for protecting indigenous lands. 

 

Deep forests 

 

Brazilian politicians have not done nearly enough to prevent massacres like that which reportedly took place last month. As far as they are concerned, it seems, indigenous people and their right to their land are at best a nuisance, at worst a roadblock to profit that needs to be forcibly removed.

 

This flies in the face of Brazil’s constitution and international law. It’s also fundamentally immoral – allowing the genocide of entire peoples and the carving up of the Amazon for the enrichment of a few vested interests.

But there is some hope. Where uncontacted peoples’ land rights are respected, they continue to thrive. We know there are more than a hundred such tribes around the world, for example, and since the flurry of attention they’ve received over the last nine years, a swelling global movement calling for their land rights has emerged.

 

Bringing together indigenous organizations, environmental and human rights activists, A-list actors like Gillian Anderson and Sir Mark Rylance, and energetic members of the public around the world, more and more people are raising their voices and pressing governments to act for uncontacted tribes.

 

And the pressure has told. In April 2016, the Brazilian minister of justice was pressurized into signing a decree to demarcate land for the highly vulnerable Kawahiva tribe, who are living on the run in the deep forests of Matto Grosso state. 

 

Contemporary societies 

 

It’s in all our interest to prevent the annihilation of uncontacted tribes. Their knowledge is irreplaceable and has been developed over thousands of years. They are the best guardians of their environment, and evidence proves that tribal territories are the best barrier to deforestation.

Survival International is doing everything it can to secure uncontacted tribes’ land for them, and to give them the chance to determine their own futures. It’s a fight we’ve been leading since 1969.

 

Tragedies like that which reportedly took place in the Amazon are certainly demoralising, and it is shattering to have to hear about incidents we were unable to prevent. But we won’t give up until we have a world where tribal peoples are respected as contemporary societies and their human rights protected.  

 

This Author

 

Lewis Evans is a campaigner at Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights. 

 

Land Lines: capturing our relationship with the natural world

What’s your favourite book about the natural world? Perhaps you have a vivid memory of a well-loved children’s book, or maybe a recent reconnection with the natural world through the popular Wainwright nature writing prize shortlists. 

Whatever your favourite book, whether poetry or prose, imagined or studied, a new project wants to hear from you. The ‘Land Lines’ project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), explores British nature writing from the late eighteenth century onwards. 

Our relationship with the natural world is ever shifting, for better and for worse, and Land Lines aims to help us understand these changes, and how they may be reflected in the books and poems we choose to read. You can participate by nominating your favourite book before 30th November.

Wonder and ponder

To celebrate the Land Lines search for the nation’s favourite nature books, and to widen and deepen our connection with the natural world through books, The Ecologist is launching a new series of nature-inspired book reviews.

As part of this ‘Learning from Nature’ series, we will be highlighting books from tens or sometimes hundreds of years ago alongside the latest nature writing.

What can we learn from the voices and sights that have been framed for us on the page? Can discovering new lenses on the natural world — whether personal or objective — help us to conjure a future that defies current imagination?

Can these books offer tools to connect our individual experiences of nature with our desire to share with others? — What might happen if we do that? 

Among the many books on my own list of favourites, I’ve been enjoying an old book of poems by Walter de la Mare. He reminds me that to truly understand the natural world and humanity, we need to look, wonder and ponder both the grand scenes and fleeting moments: 

Eyes bid ears

Hark:

Ears bid eyes

Mark:

Heart bids mind

Wonder:

Mind bids heart

Ponder. 

Politics and community

With the aim of looking, wondering and pondering, in the coming weeks and months we’ll feature books by authors from around the world and through the ages — from landmark books like Silent Spring, to African nature poetry; from essays and novels to Latin American folk tales.

As well as looking through their lens on the wonders of the natural world, we’ll explore how they help us think about injustice, politics, community, environmental degradation, and more.

And we’d love to hear from you! If you have a book you’d like us to consider for review, please let us know on our Facebook page, or on Twitter and mark it #EcologistNatureBookReview 

You can find the Land Lines project on Twitter, @LandLinesNature

This Author

Elizabeth Wainwright is The Ecologist‘s Nature Editor. She also co-leads the global community development charity, Arukah Network. She is based in Exeter, UK. @LizWainwright 

 

English beaches reach high water mark in cleanliness tests

 

English beaches have passed water quality tests again this year – with 98.3 percent making the grade. More than 400 beaches and lakes have reached the water quality standards and 92 percent were awarded the ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ rating.

 

This success builds on the dramatic improvements made to water quality in the last two decades and almost equals the best year on record despite the wetter summer. It’s been another good year for Cornwall with all bathing waters meeting the standards.

 

In Teignbridge, Devon, all bathing waters have met the excellent standard. This is a fantastic result and reflects all the work that has been carried out by partners and the Love your beach group.

 

Iconic seaside 

 

The results announced today will be proudly displayed at beaches and shared online for prospective visitors to check. Holidaymakers and swimmers who visit the English coastline continue to benefit from the efforts of water companies to protect bathing waters and from the joint work by councils, regulators, farmers and campaign groups to make further improvements.

 

The results have been heralded as a huge success despite the summer rain. Rainwater that runs off through urban areas and agricultural land into the sea can result in a temporary dip in water quality. This means water quality will fluctuate slightly each year depending on the weather.

 

Everyone has a part to play in protecting iconic seaside resorts by taking simple actions to keep beaches clean.

 

Huge success

 

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “Maintaining such high water quality standards at English beaches is a huge success and a credit to all those individuals and organisations working hard to keep our bathing waters clean. 

 

“Water quality has improved significantly over the last two decades – but to protect and enhance water quality even further we will need everyone to take the small actions that will help.”

 

Visitors to beaches and local communities are urged to clear up and not leave mess on the beach. Every business and household can ensure they don’t contribute to pollution on beaches by not pouring fats down drains and not flushing wet wipes.

 

Cleanest class

 

In 2017 the public were also able to see more information online about water quality at any bathing beach.

 

Cllr Phil Bullivant, Teignbridge District Council’s executive member for recreation and leisure, said: “The beach is a great place to be at any time of the year and I am delighted to see that Teignbridge’s bathing waters have been awarded these results for the 2017 season.

 

“Teignmouth in particular has benefited from significant investment resulting in massive improvements to bathing waters and this is something we are really proud of. Back in 2014 it was at risk of being classed as poor and now it’s been awarded Excellent, the highest, cleanest class so this is really fantastic news.

 

“Bathing water standards need constant attention so there’s always more work to be done. We’ll keep working to improve our environment and make sure people who live and visit can enjoy keep enjoying them.”

 

This Author

 

Brendan Montague is Editor of The Ecologist website. 

 

 

 

Undercover footage exposes exporters involved in Peru’s biggest timber scandal

The falsification of official documents has long been an open secret in laundering illegal timber from Peru’s Amazon, but no exporter has ever been exposed on camera explaining how it is done. Not until now, that is, after Global Witness has just released footage of three exporters caught up in Peru’s biggest timber scandal.

The Yacu Kallpa was the only ship transporting timber directly out of Peru’s Amazon to the USA. In September 2015 a shipment was blocked on arrival in Houston because much of it was suspected to be illegal, and then its very next shipment, leaving Peru in early December, was detained in Mexico before it could even make it to Houston. Peru’s forest inspections agency, OSINFOR, later concluded that more than 96 percent of the timber onboard was illegal.

Good faith

The footage just released, recorded on undercover camera, features three of the 11 exporters involved in the shipment that was detained in Mexico. All three – Corporación Industrial Forestal’s (CIF) Adam Andrews, Inversiones WCA’s William Castro and Sico Maderas’ Dante Zevallos – admitted that documents are frequently falsified and timber regularly laundered.

Arguably the most revealing remarks are made by Zevallos, who goes into considerable detail about how official documents to extract and transport timber from one area are often used for timber from somewhere else, where permission to operate has not been granted. Sometimes this includes national parks and other “protected natural areas”, reserves inhabited by indigenous peoples in living in “isolation”, indigenous communities, or other, unassigned areas.

Zevallos told Global Witness undercover: “I can easily know it’s [the timber] not coming from a good source, because if we all bought the way we should, no one would buy a plank. So even though I knew the timber I was buying probably had this origin, I wasn’t worried, because I had [the documents]. I was a buyer in good faith.” Asked if that was what happened with the Yacu Kallpa shipment in late 2015, Zevallos replied, “Yes, all of it.”

Blocking imports

Why does this footage matter? One, it exposes the central problem with Peru’s timber sector which is that the official documents mean little or nothing and the exporters themselves know this, despite what they claim publicly.

The most important documents to be falsified are transport permits and operating plans – the latter which have included 10,000s of faked tree locations and sometimes even faked villages.

Two, Peruvian prosecutors in Iquitos and two other Amazon towns are currently investigating the late 2015 Yacu Kallpa shipment. CIF’s Andrews and WCA’s Castro are among those being investigated, but Sico’s Zevallos isn’t.

The footage is potentially crucial evidence in securing successful prosecutions because it reveals how the exporters knew or could have presumed to know some or most of their timber was illegal. Under Peru’s Penal Code, that constitutes a crime and is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Three, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) recently announced it is blocking imports from one of the other exporters involved in the Yacu Kallpa scandal: Inversiones La Oroza.

Source of livelihood

That decision has caused considerable controversy in Peru, and was made on the basis of Oroza exporting illegal timber on the Yacu Kallpa earlier in 2015. If the USTR suspends timber from Oroza, shouldn’t it suspend timber from CIF, WCA and Sico too?

Oroza isn’t among the exporters caught on Global Witness’s undercover footage, but does feature in an accompanying report, titled “Buyers in Good Faith.” Oroza transported more timber on the Yacu Kallpa in late 2015 than any other company.

Global Witness wrote to them with a series of arguments alleging why it knew or could have presumed to know its exports were illegally sourced, but representative Luis Ángel Ascencio Pomasunco responded with the standard defence that the timber had the correct documents approved by the regional government.

The release of this footage is very timely, as the world’s political leaders meet in Bonn, Germany, for the latest United Nations climate talks. Given that Peru’s Amazon is one of the biggest tropical forests on the planet, it has a potentially crucial role to play in combatting global warming.

One major way of fulfilling that role is to meet its comparatively ambitious forest conservation commitments for zero net deforestation by 2020, and to work towards the long-term sustainable management of its vast Amazon region – home and source of livelihood for several million people.

Doing that includes ensuring that powerful, illegal operators in the timber sector, whose influence extends to the absolutely most remote parts of Peru, are punished and that exporters or other buyers are unable to hide behind falsified official documents. The game is now up. Zevallos et al can no longer seriously claim they are “buyers in good faith.”

This Author

Laura Furones is the campaign director, Peru, for the environment and social justice charity Global Witness.

 

How do we stop the next Dieselgate? With Sustainable Development Goals and environmental standards

Dieselgate” happened after governments – with decent intentions -pushed manufacturers towards diesel engines in cars as a way of cutting their carbon emissions.

We needn’t have had the disaster of air pollution that resulted – the manufacturers chose to cut costs rather than emissions of dangerous gases and particulates – but the issue nonetheless highlights an important topic that needs to be addressed whenever we talk about climate change: the other impacts of the choices we make.

The scandal came to my mind when I was at a session last week at the Bonn climate talks, where the chemistry industry was setting out its flag for what it had done to tackle climate change.

Organic matter

It reminded me a lot of an earlier session with the International Marine Organisation, where there was talk of polished propellers, cleaner hulls and computer-guide routing – things that save companies money and nibble at the edges of the giant mountain of carbon reduction we need to climb. Here we got slightly more efficient processes and LED lightbulbs.

What was presented as a flagship was the Nitric Acid Climate Action Group, funded by the German government, which is offering free help to companies in 32 countries to cut the emissions of the highly potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide from chemical plants, which are chiefly producing nitrogen fertilisers.

The first question that might be put to that, as it was from the audience, was whether subsidising big, often multinational, companies who should be making these steps anywhere was the best way to proceed. Good question.

But there’s an even more fundamental issue here. When the end product, nitrogen fertiliser, is used on the ground, recent research has shown that it produces far more nitrous oxide emissions than had been thought.

And even more than that, it damages soil health and fertility, by reducing the organic matter in the soil and the availability of organic nitrogen. An old Dutch proverb says that fertiliser is good for the father and bad for the sons.

Getting people thinking

Counting emissions of this product shouldn’t end at the factory gate. It needs to consider the full costs of its production (which is unavoidably high energy) and use.

Now the industry will say, as a Canadian representative did when I put these points, that we need the fertiliser to grow food. But we need to keep growing food for many decades, indeed centuries, and destroying the soil, as industrial agriculture is doing, is not the way to do that. 

When I asked the panel how we could prevent climate change decisions having disastrous impacts in other areas, Dr Arunabha Ghosh, from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in India, gave what I thought was a good answer: we should ensure every decision is guided by checking against the Sustainable Development Goals – the 17 aims covering essentials of human life and environmental survival – which we are aiming to achieve by 2030. “Every action and policy has to be consistent with these,” he said.

An alternative, more industry-focused answer came in a later discussion with the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), in the form of ISO14001, a system of certification of environmental standards that builds in “integrated systems thinking” with a focus on resilience and resource efficiency.

I have some doubts whether that goes anything like far enough or fast enough, but it is a start, with about half a million company users worldwide. And it is getting people thinking in the right way.

Politics and economics

For while climate change is a pressing, existential issue for the human race, it isn’t the only one. Choking our planet with plastics, poisoning it with pesticides and herbicides and trashing its soils are all pushing right at the limits of what this Earth can absorb.

We cannot afford most of the products that the people in that room in Bonn are now producing. Cutting their emissions risks making it appear they can continue (and often cuts their costs at the same time). It may be the worst possible thing to do.

As a speaker from the brilliant Via Campesina global farmers’ group said in another session: “Climate change is a systemic problem of politics and economics. It can’t be solved with new technology.”

This Author

Natalie Bennett is the former co-leader of the Green party. She is in Bonn with the Green Economics Institute. She tweets at @natalieben.  

 

Rural Nepal tackles climate change with green schemes

Rural Nepalese villages are putting a number of innovative green measures in place to safeguard their future.

Landlocked within the rocky Himalayan region, Nepal is extremely vulnerable not only to climate change but to various natural disasters.

In April 2015, the country was left devastated by an earthquake that measured up to 8.1 in magnitude (within the most severe earthquake class bracket) and killed nearly 9,000 people.

Rainwater harvesting

According to the United Nations Programme in Nepal, there were more the 27,000 deaths in the country between 1971-2007 due to natural disasters – that’s an average of two deaths a day.

An increase in climate change and the future risks presented by natural disasters place an urgency of Nepalese villages to become more resilient and adaptable to environmental change.

Agriculture and energy are the two main areas where villagers are implementing a mix of traditional and innovative measures to combat this, including clean energy projects, organic farming methods, recycling schemes and the creation of a self-sustaining eco-village.

“We have rainwater harvesting, solar energy and use cow dung and urine to create organic pesticides,” begins Bishwo Raj Adhikari – the creator of the Annapurna Eco-village.

“There used to be lots of chemical usage and artificial fertilisers in my village but we have started a campaign to lower the use of chemicals, which is helping our soil and improving our lifestyle.”

More mosquitos

Bishwo and his family set up the village, which is located at the foot of the Himalayas’ Annapurna range, in 2004 as a lodge for trekkers as well as a meditation and yoga retreat for tourists who want to escape the city and experience a little nature but it is fair to say that the village is much more than a tourist get-away.

The family have created an impressive farm, growing a variety of fruits, vegetables, coffee and sugar cane, whilst using their livestock’s waste to create organic pesticides and fertilisers.

A trained porter and trekker for over 20 years, Bishwo knows the Himalayan region intimately and explains how the environment in which he has spent a large part of his life has change significantly over the years.

Bishwo says that in traditionally cooler regions like the lower Mustang district, he has started seeing an increase in different species, which are typically drawn to warmer climates.

“I see more mosquitos now in Jomsom when I go trekking as well as more leeches and snakes. This has changed a lot since 1991 when I started as a porter.”

First stopover

Climate change is also having a negative effect on region’s crops, according to Bishwo, who says Hemja village, which is famous for its orange groves, nowadays has trouble growing orange trees at all.

Tourism is also playing a part in this environmental change as well as a lack of environmental awareness among some of the villages – particularly when it comes to littering.

There are no bins available along the trekking routes and there are no formal recycling schemes in place within the communities, which leads to many tourists and locals frequently littering plastic bottles and packaging along the trekking route.

Bishwo and his family have set up a recycling scheme at their village to tackle this and are reaching out to nearby families, schools and hospitals to increase environmental awareness and encourage people to reduce their waste.

Elsewhere, an innovative scheme to tackle littering is taking place in the picturesque village of Ghandruk, which is a popular first stopover for trekkers on their way to Annapurna.

Micro hydropower 

Local mothers, with help from The Alternative Energy Promotion Centre and the Annapurna Conservation Project, have begun to sell filtered jars of water to locals and trekkers.

The scheme has had a number of benefits. Not only does it utilise the electricity created by the region’s Bhurgyu Khola Micro Hydropower for the filtration system but it reduces the need for plastic water bottles and empowers the local women, who run the business.

Other clean energy initiatives in the region have been making headway. The United Nations Development Programme in Nepal is now well in to its Renewable Energy for Rural Livelihood project, which started in 2014.

The scheme, which runs until 2019, was set up to provide electricity through renewable energy schemes to the 30 per cent of rural Nepalese households, who have no access to power.

Among its achievements is the completion of 423 micro hydropower plants across Nepal, which collectively have a capacity of 9.1MW and have connected over 94,131 households.

Nature and climate

The RERL scheme has also installed two biomass gasifiers in Sarlahi District, on the south west border of Nepal, and has plans to build further hydropower plants and solar PV systems across the country.

Clearly there is plenty of scope for Nepal to lead the way on clean energy, with an abundance of mountains and hills as well as the potential to replicate some of the green initiatives that are already taking place in certain villages.

Bishwo hopes that his eco-village can become a model for other Nepalese families in the region. With further support from the government Bishwo believes that green schemes “could save Nepal’s culture, nature and climate”. “

This Author

Robyn Wilson is a freelance journalist currently writing and travelling across Asia. She is a former news editor at Construction News. She blogs at Weird Fishes and tweets at @RobynFWilson.

 

No more individual vs collective action: we need both to protect our climate

An article by Martin Lukacs in The Guardian argued that to fight climate change we must stop being preoccupied with how we personally live, and instead must tackle corporate power collectively.

“While we busy ourselves greening our personal lives, fossil fuel corporations are rendering these efforts irrelevant,” he wrote. “The breakdown of carbon emissions since 1988? A hundred companies alone are responsible for an astonishing 71 percent. You tinker with those pens or that panel; they go on torching the planet.

“The freedom of these corporations to pollute – and the fixation on a feeble lifestyle response – is no accident. It is the result of an ideological war, waged over the last forty years, against the possibility of collective action.”

Our own terms

Lukacs smartly argues that neoliberal ideologies stand in the way when collective action is needed more than ever. Neoliberalism has exalted the individual at the expense of our collective bonds: we are encouraged to think of ourselves as consumers, not citizens.

And so we are told to tackle climate change with our personal cash (if we can afford it) and not our community. Being a ‘green’ consumer might help us to feel less guilty, but it is only collective action that will effectively tackle the climate crisis, Lukacs says.

I agree with him, yet it’s not helpful to suggest that fixing the climate crisis involves a battle of us vs them, goodies vs baddies, or a choice between collective or individual. If we are to fix the crisis we need human stories that remind us who we are, what we love, and how we’re connected, so that we can generate sustained collective action.

I recently read one of these stories in Paul Kingsnorth’s Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist. Author and former ‘green activist’ Kingsnorth became an environmentalist “because of a strong emotional reaction to wild places, and the world beyond the human”.

But disillusionment struck, and Kingsnorth chose a life of self-sufficiency instead. He now nurtures his own small patch of nature with his family – far from the hands of “our obsession with climate change” which builds solar farms and wind farms and machinery that allows us to “sustain human civilisation” of approaching 10 billion on our own terms.

Empire-resistors

Kingsnorth echoes Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said: “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilisation”. But rather than protest to ‘save the world’ as his younger self so passionately did, Kingsnorth decided to help create new stories for our time – to understand where we’ve come from, and where we might be headed – even if that means facing a dark abyss.

So Kingsnorth and colleague Dougald Hine created the ‘Dark Mountain Project’ in 2009, with the ‘Uncivilisation’ manifesto at its core, which consists of eight guiding principles, e.g:

“Principle 2: We reject the faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of ‘problems’ in need of technological or political ‘solutions’…

“Principle 4: We will reassert the role of story-telling as more than mere entertainment. It is through stories that we weave reality.”

True to the manifesto, Kingsnorth highlights story and myth in Confessions. Looking at ancient drawings in a cave in France, or at the English green men who resisted the Norman conquest of their ways of life, Kingsnorth takes us through mysterious landscapes of nature-lovers, storytellers and empire-resistors.

Tackle the crisis

He conjures EF Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful when he talks about people who dwelt as part of nature, not separate from it. He encourages giving a voice to wilderness (which might have something to say to us, if only we would listen).

This individual ‘small’ (which includes stories of his family’s composting toilet, and his scything practice) feels romanticised against the behemoth of climate change, politics, and collective activism. But rather than see small as escapism (which he has been criticised for), Kingsnorth sees it as necessary. It’s where we call home, and learn to love a place.

His stories of place and connection sparkle with an individual inspiration that can only lead to collective action. It reminds me of the solitary stories of Annie Dillard as she explores her beloved patch of wild in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, decades ago.

Yet those stories have no doubt catalysed countless individual and collective responses that continue to protect the natural world. And so any argument that presents the solutions to climate change as an individual vs. collective choice feels too simplistic, not whole enough.

I read Lukacs’ piece with a fire — Let’s fight! Let me at ‘em! — but then a tiredness descends that I recognise from so many articles I have read before; the tiredness that comes with being told there is a ‘better’ way of solving the climate crisis; that comes with the thought that we spend so much time talking about the right and wrong way to tackle the crisis that we mistakenly feel we’ve actually done the work, when all we’ve done is talk.

Corporate powers 

And to suggest that individual efforts simply make us feel “happier and healthier” downplays the fact that these efforts add up, and corporations must respond. We cannot disconnect small actions from mass movements. Each fosters understanding of and commitment to the other.

Kingsnorth’s Confessions, and other heart-led stories and people I come across, blow the cobwebs out of that dichotomy of either / or; his words are poetic yet essential, contemplative yet cutting.

Kingsnorth (and alongside him, authors like Annie Dillard, Rebecca Solnit, Robert Macfarlane and many others) calls us to look honestly into the void  – individually and collectively, assessing the helpfulness of a blindly optimistic future versus a hopefully mysterious, unknown one. It’s ok not to know what comes next – but we don’t need to do that alone.

Through nature and wonder; through communities like the Dark Mountain project and by asking the right questions, we can tentatively and bravely say we don’t know what’s in store, but we’re willing to look, and to celebrate the uniqueness of our individual strengths and stories, as we walk there together.

It doesn’t have to be either / or. So let’s tackle the corporate powers collectively.

Understanding and alternatives

But let’s also leave space for those stories and practices that sparkle and shout to us, which call us to care in the first place. When we get face-to-face with those corporate powers, I think it is these stories, our shape, and our sense of place that will help us hold our ground, and link arm-to-arm with our neighbours.

And we must not forget that corporate powers are made up of millions of humans; they are not distinct from us — they are also our neighbours.

They are us, just as we are all nature. If we reject the false dichotomy of individual vs. collective, then maybe we’ll work to uncover the stories that bind us, and the empathy, understanding and alternatives that could save us – and I mean the ‘us’ that includes humans as part of nature, not separate from it.

This Author:

Elizabeth Wainwright is the Ecologist’s Nature Editor. She spends her time between Devon, London, and wild spaces. She also co-leads a global community development charity, Arukah Network. You can read the full Dark Mountain manifesto here.