Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Law of Mother Earth: Behind Bolivia's Historic Bill

What a lovely concept, I think we would have to go back to Pagan times to find such a like minded philosophy.

The Law of Mother Earth: Behind Bolivia's Historic Bill
22 April 2011
by: Nick Buxton

Indigenous and campesino (small-scale farmer) movements in the Andean nation of Bolivia are on the verge of pushing through one of the most radical environmental bills in global history. The "Mother Earth" law under debate in Bolivia's legislature will almost certainly be approved, as it has already been agreed to by the majority governing party, Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS).

The law draws deeply on indigenous concepts that view nature as a sacred home, the Pachamama (Mother Earth) on which we intimately depend. As the law states, “Mother Earth is a living dynamic system made up of the undivided community of all living beings, who are all interconnected, interdependent and complementary, sharing a common destiny.”

The law would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration. Bolivia's law mandates a fundamental ecological reorientation of Bolivia's economy and society, requiring all existing and future laws to adapt to the Mother Earth law and accept the ecological limits set by nature. It calls for public policy to be guided by Sumaj Kawsay (an indigenous concept meaning “living well,” or living in harmony with nature and people), rather than the current focus on producing more goods and stimulating consumption.

In practical terms, the law requires the government to transition from non-renewable to renewable energy; to develop new economic indicators that will assess the ecological impact of all economic activity; to carry out ecological audits of all private and state companies; to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to develop policies of food and renewable energy sovereignty; to research and invest resources in energy efficiency, ecological practices, and organic agriculture; and to require all companies and individuals to be accountable for environmental contamination with a duty to restore damaged environments.

The law will be backed up by a new Ministry of Mother Earth, an inter-Ministry Advisory Council, and an Ombudsman. Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5 million-strong campesino movement CSUTCB, which helped draft the law, believes this legislation represents a turning point in Bolivian law: "Existing laws are not strong enough. This will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional, and local levels."

However, there is also strong awareness among Bolivia's social movements—in particular for the Pacto de Unidad (Unity Pact), a coalition of the country's five largest social movements and a key force behind the law—that the existence of a new law will not be enough to prompt real change in environmental practices.

A major obstacle is the fact that Bolivia is structurally dependent on extractive industries. Since the discovery of silver by the Spanish in the 16th Century, Bolivia's history has been tied to ruthless exploitation of its people and its environment in order to transfer wealth to the richest countries; poet and historian Eduardo Galeano’s famous book Open Veins draws largely on the brutal story of how Bolivia's exploitation fuelled the industrial expansion of Europe. In 2010, 70 percent of Bolivia's exports were still in the form of minerals, gas, and oil. This structural dependence will be very difficult to unravel.

Moreover, there is a great deal of opposition from powerful sectors, particularly mining and agro-industrial enterprises, to any ecological laws that would threaten profits. The main organization of soya producers, which claimed that the law “will make the productive sector inviable,” is one of many powerful groups who have already come out against the law. Within the government, there are many ministries and officials that would also like the law to remain nothing more than a visionary but ultimately meaningless statement.

Raul Prada, one of the advisors to Pacto de Unidad, explained that the Mother Earth law was developed by Bolivia's largest social movements in response to their perceived exclusion from policy-making by the MAS government, led by indigenous President Evo Morales. They have generally supported MAS since its resounding election victory in 2005, but were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of progress. Rather than merely expressing their concern, these movements—comprised mainly of indigenous and farming communities—are pro-actively developing a series of new laws. Their first priority was the passage of the Mother Earth Law, based on a commitment made at the historic global Peoples Conference on Climate Change held in Bolivia in April 2010. To some surprise, the diverse movements soon developed a consensual agreement that was supported by MAS legislators.

Raul Prada notes that, even with significant pressure from social movements, transitioning to an economy based on the concept Vivir Bien will not be easy. “It is going to be difficult to transit from an extractive economy. We clearly can't close mines straight away, but we can develop a model where this economy has less and less weight. It will need policies developed in participation with movements, particularly in areas such as food sovereignty. It will need redirection of investment and policies towards different ecological models of development. It will need the cooperation of the international community to develop regional economies that complement each other.”

Ultimately, though, this is a challenge far bigger than Bolivia, says Prada: “Our ecological and social crisis is not just a problem for Bolivia or Ecuador; it is a problem for all of us. We need to pull together peoples, researchers, and communities to develop real concrete alternatives so that the dominant systems of exploitation don't just continue by default. This is not an easy task, but I believe with international solidarity, we can and must succeed.” yes magazine

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

One Year On Gulf Round Up: Democracy Now

"A Sea in Flames": Ecologist Carl Safina on First Anniversary of Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Blowout

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the worst maritime oil spill in U.S. history. Last year on April 20, the Deepwater Horizon rig, leased by oil giant BP, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and releasing nearly 200 million gallons of oil, tens of millions of gallons of natural gas and 1.8 million gallons of other chemicals. A year later, how much has changed? Carl Safina, author of the new book, A Sea in Flames, reviews BP, Halliburton and TransOcean’s role in the disaster and reflects on how little the government has done to prepare for another offshore drilling accident. Watch/Listen/Read

Voices from the Gulf: "One Year Later, We’re in the Same Situation as Last Year"

One year after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, residents of affected coastal communities have reported health ailments that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. Fishermen and shrimpers have reported record losses in sales and fear the spill will cause long-term damage to marine life and the economy of the region. Many residents report problems with receiving compensation claims from BP. We’re joined by David Pham of Boat People SOS, a national Vietnamese American organization working with fishing communities impacted by the BP oil spill in Alabama, and Tracie Washington, president of the Louisiana Justice Institute in New Orleans. Watch/Listen/Read

Deepwater Drilling Resumes Despite Unclear Impact of BP Spill: "It is All about Hiding the Oil, Not Cleaning It Up"

Many scientists remain concerned that chemical dispersants used during the BP oil spill recovery effort may have damaged marine habitats, affecting many endangered species. We're joined by Kieran Suckling, director of the Center for Biological Diversity. Watch/Listen/Read

Death Toll from BP Spill Still Rising as Residents Die from Spill-Related Illnesses

"We’ve had many deaths of humans directly attributed to this disaster," says investigative journalist Dahr Jamail. "I recently spoke with Dr. Mike Robichaux, a doctor in Louisiana who’s treated scores of people. And he said, if we do not have federal government intervention immediately to deal with this and start treating people and start really cleaning this up appropriately, we’re going to have a lot of dead people on our hands." Watch/Listen/Read

Father of Deepwater Horizon Victim: The Blowout Was “Inevitable” Due to BP’s Lack of Safety Precautions

One year ago today, 28-year-old Gordon Jones was one of 11 workers killed aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded April 20. Today we speak to his father, Keith Jones, who has been critical of the operators of the rig. Watch/Listen/Read

- - - - -

BP's Secret Deepwater Blowout
19 April 2011
by: Greg Palast, Truthout and Buzzflash

Only 17 months before BP's Deepwater Horizon rig suffered a deadly blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, another BP deepwater oil platform also blew out.

You've heard and seen much about the Gulf disaster that killed 11 BP workers. If you have not heard about the earlier blowout, it's because BP has kept the full story under wraps. Nor did BP inform Congress or US safety regulators, and BP, along with its oil industry partners, have preferred to keep it that way.

The earlier blowout occurred in September 2008 on BP's Central Azeri platform in the Caspian Sea.

As one memo marked "secret" puts it, "Given the explosive potential, BP was quite fortunate to have been able to evacuate everyone safely and to prevent any gas ignition." The Caspian oil platform was a spark away from exploding, but luck was with the 211 rig workers.

It was eerily similar to the Gulf catastrophe as it involved BP's controversial "quick set" drilling cement.

The question we have to ask: If BP had laid out the true and full facts to Congress and regulators about the earlier blowout, would those 11 Gulf workers be alive today - and the Gulf Coast spared oil-spill poisons?

The bigger question is, why is there no clear law to require disclosure? If you bump into another car on the Los Angeles freeway, you have to report it. But there seems no clear requirement on corporations to report a disaster in which knowledge of it could save lives.

Five months prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP's Chief of Exploration in the Gulf, David Rainey, testified before Congress against increased safety regulation of its deepwater drilling operation. Despite the company's knowledge of the Caspian blowout a year earlier, the oil company's man told the Senate Energy Committee that BP's methods are, "both safe and protective of the environment."

Really? BP's quick-dry cement saves money, but other drillers find it too risky in deepwater. It was a key factor in the Caspian blowout. Would US regulators or Congress have permitted BP to continue to use this cement had they known? Would they have investigated before issuing permits to drill?

This is not about BP the industry Bad Boy. This is about a system that condones silence, the withholding of life-and-death information.

Even BP's oil company partners, including Chevron and Exxon, were kept in the dark. It is only through WikiLeaks that my own investigations team was able to confirm insider tips I had received about the Caspian blowout. In that same confidential memo mentioned earlier, the US Embassy in Azerbaijan complained, "At least some of BP's [Caspian] partners are similarly upset with BP's performance in this episode, as they claim BP has sought to limit information flow about this event even to its [Caspian] partners."

In defense of its behavior, BP told me it did in fact report the "gas release" to the regulators of Azerbaijan. That's small comfort. This former Soviet republic is a police state dictatorship propped up by the BP group's oil royalties. A public investigation was out of the question.

In December, I traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, to investigate BP and the blowout for British television. I was arrested, though, as a foreign reporter, quickly released. But my eye witnesses got the message and all were too afraid tell their stories on camera.

BP has, in fact, never admitted a blowout occurred, though when confronted by my network, did not deny it. At the time, BP told curious press that the workers had merely been evacuated as a "precaution" due to gas bubbles "in the area of" the drilling platform, implying a benign natural gas leak from a crack in the sea floor, not a life-threatening system failure.

In its 2009 report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), BP inched closer to the full truth. Though not mentioning "blowout" or "cement," the company placed the leak "under" the platform.

This points to a cruel irony: the SEC requires full disclosure of events that might cause harm to the performance of BP's financial securities. But reporting on events that might harm humans? That's not so clear.

However, the solution is clear as could be. International corporations should be required to disclose events that threaten people and the environment, not just the price of their stock.

As radiation wafts across the Pacific from Japan, it is clear that threats to health and safety do not respect national borders. What happens in Fukushima or Baku affects lives and property in the USA.

"Regulation" has become a dirty word in US politics. Corporations have convinced the public to fear little bureaucrats with thick rulebooks. But let us remember why government began to regulate these creatures. As Andrew Jackson said, "Corporations have neither bodies to kick nor souls to damn."

Kicking and damning have no effect, but rules do. And after all, when international regulation protects profits, as in the case of patents and copyrights, corporate America is all for it.

Our regulators of resource industries must impose an affirmative requirement to tell all, especially when people, not just song lyrics or stock offerings, are in mortal danger. truthout

Monday, 11 April 2011

Tsunami Debris Floats Towards US West Coast

It's not the west coast of America that's going to be the problem, it's all this junk joining the Pacific gyres and turning an already ecological disaster into a nightmare of rubbish.

Japan earthquake and tsunami debris floats across the Pacific toward the US west coast (27Pics)
April 9, 2011

The tsunami was caused by an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale on March 11, 2011. This image by Sadatsugu Tomizawa shows the tsunami waves hitting the coast of Minamisoma.

"It is very large and it's a maritime hazard," Lieutenant Anthony Falvo, deputy public affairs officer for the US Navy's 7th Fleet

The largest "island" of debris stretches 60 nautical miles (69 miles) in length and covers an expanse of more than 2.2 million square feet, according to the US Navy's 7th Fleet, which is closely monitoring the floating rubbish.

A graphic depicting the predicted location of the Japan debris field as it swirls towards the U.S. West Coast. Scientists predict where the first bits of rubbish will wash up.

- - -

Man Made Continent of Trash a Fantastic Story

The Gyre contains a floating continent of Plastic debris the size of Texas. Captain Charles Moore was on his way home from a sailing trip, Los Angeles to Hawaii when he decided to cut across the area, little traveled by seaman on his way back to California. Moore explains the Gyre as a Spiral that moves in a clockwise rotation created by ocean currents.

This spiral traps debris in its current and holds them in place.

Moore estimates that plastic started showing up in the 1950s and has grown to an alarming size, thousands of miles across.

The plastic is submerged just below the surface, undetectable from satellite images because of the reflection caused by the water.

Garbage had historically broken down in the oceans until plastic came along. more

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Profit Before Planet

Profit Pathology and the Disposable Planet
7 April 2011
by Michael Parenti

Some years ago in New England, a group of environmentalists asked a corporate executive how his company (a paper mill) could justify dumping its raw industrial effluent into a nearby river. The river - which had taken Mother Nature centuries to create - was used for drinking water, fishing, boating and swimming. In just a few years, the paper mill had turned it into a highly toxic open sewer.

The executive shrugged and said that river dumping was the most cost-effective way of removing the mill's wastes. If the company had to absorb the additional expense of having to clean up after itself, it might not be able to maintain its competitive edge and would then have to go out of business or move to a cheaper labor market, resulting in a loss of jobs for the local economy.

Free Market Uber Alles

It was a familiar argument: the company had no choice. It was compelled to act that way in a competitive market. The mill was not in the business of protecting the environment; it was in the business of making a profit, the highest possible profit at the highest possible rate of return. Profit is the name of the game, as business leaders make clear when pressed on the point. The overriding purpose of business is capital accumulation.

To justify its single-minded profiteering, corporate America promotes the classic laissez-faire theory, which claims that the free market - a congestion of unregulated and unbridled enterprises all selfishly pursuing their own ends - is governed by a benign "invisible hand" that miraculously produces optimal outputs for everybody.

The free marketeers have a deep, all-abiding faith in laissez-faire, for it is a faith that serves them well. It means no government oversight, no being held accountable for the environmental disasters they perpetrate. Like greedy, spoiled brats, they repeatedly get bailed out by the government (some free market!) so that they can continue to take irresponsible risks, plunder the land, poison the seas, sicken whole communities, lay waste to entire regions and pocket obscene profits.

This corporate system of capital accumulation treats the Earth's life-sustaining resources (arable land, groundwater, wetlands, foliage, forests, fisheries, ocean beds, bays, rivers, air quality) as disposable ingredients presumed to be of limitless supply, to be consumed or toxified at will. As BP has demonstrated so well in the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, considerations of cost weigh so much more heavily than considerations of safety. As one Congressional inquiry concluded, "Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense." more Truthout

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Nature's Great Events - The Great Feast: Download

Includes some brilliant Humpback footage, and the devotion shown by the mother for her calf is thoroughly, as equally the scene where a mother sea lion loses her pup in a violent summer storm is, as mentioned, truly heart-rending. Never let it be said that animals are not possessed of feelings akin to those of ourselves.

Nature's Great Events - The Great Feast

Every summer in the seas off Alaska humpback whales, sea lions and killer whales depend on an explosion of plant life, the plankton bloom. It transforms these seas into the richest on Earth. But will these animals survive to enjoy the great feast?

The summer sun sparks the growth of phytoplankton, microscopic floating plants which can bloom in such vast numbers that they eclipse even the Amazon rainforest in sheer abundance of plant life. Remarkably, it is these minute plants that are the basis of all life here.

But both whales and sea lions have obstacles to overcome before they can enjoy the feast. Humpback whales migrate 3,000 miles from Hawaii, and during their three-month voyage lose a third of their body weight. In a heart-rending scene a mother sea lion loses her pup in a violent summer storm, while another dramatic sequence shows a group of killer whales working together to kill a huge male sea lion.

In late summer the plankton bloom is at its height. Vast shoals of herring gather to feed on it, diving birds round the fish up into a bait ball and then a humpback whale roars in to scoop up the entire ball of herring in one huge mouthful.

When a dozen whales work together they employ the ultimate method of co-operative fishing - bubble net feeding. One whale blows a ring of bubbles to engulf the fish and then they charge in as one. Filmed from the surface, underwater and, for the first time, from the air, we reveal how these giant hunters can catch a tonne of fish every day.

In Swallowed By a Whale, cameramen Shane Moore and David Reichert were filming bait balls when a 30 tonne whale roared past, within feet of them, swallowing the entire bait ball.

Timed out.