Waterways, Persons & Rights

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The free-flowing Baker River in Chile’s Patagonia region. Permits for a major hydroelectric project on the waterway were revoked in 2014 amid protests. LOUIS VEST/FLICKR

Dams in Patagonia are the gift that keep on giving, in terms of awakening activism and forcing raised awareness of the value of waterways. I first mentioned my experience in Chile here. I came back to the idea a few more times. Thanks to Jens Benohr and Patrick Lynch for this reminder, and for letting us all know where this seems headed from a legal point of view:

Should Rivers Have Rights? A Growing Movement Says It’s About Time

Inspired by indigenous views of nature, a movement to grant a form of legal “personhood” to rivers is gaining some ground — a key step, advocates say, in reversing centuries of damage inflicted upon the world’s waterways.

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A Chilean energy company is seeking permits to restart the building of an unfinished dam along the San Pedro River. CARLOS LASTRA

Chile is a land of rivers. Along its narrow 3,000-mile length, thousands of rivers and wetlands bring freshwater and nutrients down from the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Together, these river systems drain 101 major watersheds that support both terrestrial and marine ecosystems, ranging from arid lands in the north to blue whale nurseries off of Patagonia in the south.

Chile’s second-longest river, the 240-mile Biobío, once tumbled fast and wild through deep gorges and spectacular scenery on its way from the Andes to the sea. The Biobío was one of the world’s great whitewater rafting venues — until the 1990s, when the first of three large hydroelectric dams was built across the river. Over the past two decades, the Biobío dams have flooded more than 13,000 acres, displaced hundreds of families of the indigenous Mapuche people, turned long stretches of this once-unruly river into placid reservoirs, and caused abrupt fluctuations in water levels that have wrecked nesting habitat for native birds and disrupted the river’s natural rhythms. Continue reading

Model Mad, Rollback Pushback

Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, has vowed to fight the federal government’s proposed changes. Credit Eric Risberg/Associated Press

It’s been a while since we’ve addressed our “model mad” theme, despite there being numerous opportunity. We’re continually heartened by the strength of both the public and the private sector to pushback against the current administration’s regressive proposals.

California Strikes Back Against the Trump Administration’s Auto Pollution Rollback

California went on the offensive Tuesday against the Trump administration’s plan to weaken fuel-efficiency rules for cars, laying out a scathing rebuttal that the state’s clean-air regulator said would shape the battle with Washington in the coming months and years.

The state’s target is one of President Trump’s most consequential environmental rollbacks to date, a proposal unveiled last week to let cars pollute more while stripping California of its right to set its own air-quality rules.

The administration’s proposal “is contrary to the facts and the law,” the California document says, before refuting point by point the Trump administration’s arguments for weakening the nation’s long-term goals for making vehicles more fuel efficient and less polluting.

The clash between California and Washington threatens to throw the United States auto market into disarray. Because California has the authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own air pollution rules, and because a dozen other states follow its lead, the dispute could effectively split the nation’s market into two, one side adhering to stringent emissions rules set in Sacramento and the other to weaker federal standards.

Continue reading

Vegetarianism For Footprint Reduction

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Replacing 50% of meat consumption with a vegetarian diet would push back the overshoot date by five days. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty

Our vegetarian diet ambitions are strengthening for all kinds of reasons. Footprint reduction among them. Thanks to our colleague Mathis Wackernagel for his regular reminders of the anything but regular footprint growth humanity imposes on the planet each year:

Earth’s resources consumed in ever greater destructive volumes

Study says the date by which we consume a year’s worth of resources is arriving faster

Humanity is devouring our planet’s resources in increasingly destructive volumes, according to a new study that reveals we have consumed a year’s worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in a record 212 days.

As a result, the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate – has moved forward two days to 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded.

Earth Overshoot Day falls on 1 August this year – marking the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate

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Guardian graphic. Source: Overshootday.org

To maintain our current appetite for resources, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation that makes an annual assessment of how far humankind is falling into ecological debt. Continue reading

Plastic Straws Going, Going, Gone

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Marriott International became the latest company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We did not foresee the straw revolution gaining such momentum so quickly. But we are certainly happy to see it going mainstream, going global, going company-wide:

The days of plastic straws are drawing shorter.

Marriott International on Wednesday became the latest big company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. The giant hotel chain said it will stop offering plastic stirrers, too.

It said the environmentally friendly move could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws and about 250 million stirrers per year. Marriott said its hotels will “offer alternative straws upon request.” Continue reading

Norway’s Plastic Innovation

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Infinitum recycling plant in Fetsund, Norway. Worker Michael Gebrehiwet is sweeping up paper from the bottles. Photo: Elin Høyland Photograph: Elin Høyland for the Guardian

Thanks to Matthew Taylor and colleagues at the Guardian for this news:

Can Norway help us solve the plastic crisis, one bottle at a time?

A bottle deposit hub on the outskirts of Oslo has had a stream of high-level international visitors. Can its success be replicated worldwide?

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Infinitum runs Norway’s deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans. Photograph: Elin Høyland for the Guardian

Tens of thousands of brightly coloured plastic drinks bottles tumble from the back of a truck on to a conveyor belt before disappearing slowly inside a warehouse on the outskirts of Oslo.

As a workman picks up a few Coke bottles that have escaped, Kjell Olav Maldum looks on. “It is a system that works,” he says as another truck rumbles past. “It could be used in the UK, I think lots of countries could learn from it.” Continue reading

Wilderness, Massive Infrastructure Projects & Changing Global Norms

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Construction of the second phase of the Chinese-financed Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya crosses through Nairobi National Park, as pictured here in June. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to William Laurance for this informative opinion essay that gives a bit of hope for wilderness preservation:

Is the Global Era of Massive Infrastructure Projects Coming to an End?

The world’s wild places have been badly carved up by decades of roadbuilding, dam construction, energy exploitation, and other megaprojects. Now, as the financial community, environmental groups, and local citizens increasingly oppose big infrastructure development, the tide of environmental destruction may be turning.

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Malaysia’s former Prime Minster Najib Razak, third from left, looks at a model of the China-backed East Coast Rail Link in 2017. Malaysia has since canceled the project due to mounting costs. AP PHOTO

We are living in the most explosive era of infrastructure expansion in human history. To meet the United Nations’ development goals, we would need to invest tens of trillions of dollars in new roads, railways, energy ventures, ports, and other projects by 2030 — dramatically amplifying an infrastructure tsunami that is already shattering the world’s biologically richest ecosystems. But this great wave of infrastructure development is suddenly looking shaky — and it might just be the best outcome for nature and humanity alike. Continue reading

Technology To Battle High Seas Ecological Crimes

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China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea account for well over two-thirds of high seas fishing. Photograph: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

If you are trying to watch what you eat for sustainability and impact, Justin McCurry, in Tokyo writing for the Guardian, has this story to keep in mind:

The ‘dark fleet’: Global Fishing Watch shines a light on illegal catches

Low light imaging data being used to expose unregulated and unreported fishing on the high seas

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These vessels (indicated with blue boat icons) in the Natuna Sea off Indonesia were detected by VIIRS, and are suspected to not be using VMS. The red lines indicate VMS tracks from the same day.

New data is being used to expose fleets of previously unmonitored fishing vessels on the high seas, in what campaigners hope will lead to the eradication of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

Global Fishing Watch (GFW) has turned low light imaging data collected by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into the first publicly available real-time map showing the location and identity of thousands of vessels operating at night in waters that lie beyond national jurisdiction. Continue reading

Water, Power & Discontent

Early last year an article in the Guardian reminded me of work I had done in Montenegro in an earlier decade. The work was among the most impactful in my life, both professionally and personally, but the reminder was more a warning than a celebration. Something similar just happened with work I carried out in the region Rachel Dixon, a travel writer for the Guardian, brought to my attention with the film above, mentioned in this article:

Adventure in Albania: kayaking in one of Europe’s final frontiers

With wild rivers, mountains and Unesco sites aplenty, Albania is emerging as an exciting Mediterranean destination – but its wilderness could be devastated by huge dam-building projects

5188‘Go, go, go!” The white-water rafting guide shouted orders from the back of the boat and our five-strong crew paddled hard to stay on course. We were tackling a stretch of the Vjosa, a 270km river that begins in Greece (where it is called the Aoös) and flows through Albania and into the Adriatic just north of the city of Vlora. I was on a recce trip for a new southern Albanian break with Much Better Adventures, which specialises in long weekends to wild places in Europe and North Africa. But this trip was not just a fun adventure – rather just part of a campaign to save the river, which is under threat from proposed dams. A documentary film, Blue Heart, out this month, will highlight the fight to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, with help from ecotourism…

The film, and the article, have to do with the power of water. And the power of humans in deciding what to do with water. Not all reminders can be pleasant. This one is bittersweet. One sweet part is the call to action.

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Step 1: Register your interest in hosting a screening

We are aiming to host hundreds of screenings of Blue Heart globally in 2018 to raise awareness of the plight of the people affected in the Balkan region. If you are interested in hosting a screening, please complete the form below and a member of our team will get back to you ASAP.  Please note the film is 40 mins long and we recommend that you allow at least 20 mins for a post screening discussion. Continue reading

Karen Washington, Food Activist

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‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading

Zero-Waste Shopping

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Bulk food bins at Hetu, an all-bulk / zero-waste grocery store in London. (Photo credit: Celia Ristow)

Thanks to Cathy Erway and colleagues at Civil Eats for this story on where and how the boundaries of shopping waste-reduction is being pushed:

Zero-Waste Stores Ask Shoppers to Bring Their Own Everything

As record amounts of plastic waste pollutes the planet, some grocers are helping shoppers do without.

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Ekoplaza’s plastic-free aisle. (Photo credit: Ewout Huibers)

Tom and Katrin Helmick live in New York’s Hudson Valley region with their 2-year-old son. They cook and grow vegetables in their backyard during the summer months, bring reusable totes to the grocery store or farmers’ market, and never buy plastic bottled water. Although they try to avoid buying foods that come in non-recyclable packaging, their landfill waste bin still receives a hearty diet of disposable baby food pouches and “lots of thin plastic,” says Tom.

“When we do buy grocery store meat, I hate that it still comes wrapped in Styrofoam. That’s why I love going directly to the source for our meat from a farm nearby that is simply vacuumed-packed,” says Tom. “We find it ridiculous that three people can create so much waste,” adds Katrin. Continue reading

Commerce, Conscience & Conservation

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Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, with its chief executive, Rose Marcario, in the tin shed where he once forged and hammered metal. The outdoor-clothing company has mixed commerce and activism since the early 1970s. Credit Laure Joliet for The New York Times

Since the early days of this platform we have linked to stories about this company many times, and its founder in particular is in our pantheon of role models. During these seven years we have also studiously avoided linking to stories involving politics, other than highlighting activism that holds public officials accountable. This story below borders on  too much politics, but I find the company’s position not only acceptable, but as usual about this company, aspirational. Thanks to David Gelles for this story about how Patagonia has supported grass-roots environmental activists for decades and how it is suing the president in a bid to protect Bears Ears National Monument:

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Patagonia employees at the Ventura, Calif., headquarters, where there are picnic tables in the parking lot, on-site day care and easy access to the beach.CreditLaure Joliet for The New York Times

VENTURA, Calif. — The offices of Patagonia occupy a low-slung complex of stucco buildings in this sleepy beachside town in Southern California. There are solar panels and picnic tables in the parking lot, day care with a jungle gym by the main lobby and easy access to the beach, where employees surf during lunch break. It is a corporate Eden of sorts, where idealistic Californians run a privately held company that sells about $1 billion of puffy down jackets and organic cotton jeans each year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 7.06.08 AMBut on an unseasonably hot and windy Monday morning in early December, Patagonia headquarters were transformed into something that quickly resembled a war room. There were emergency conference calls with Washington lawyers. Court filings were prepared. Web designers remade the company’s home page.

It wasn’t a business crisis that had mobilized the company, however. It was politics. Continue reading

Plastic Reduction Success Story

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A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags by 85%. Photograph: Stuart Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo

We never tire of reporting on efforts at plastic-reduction, so thanks to Juliette Jowit and the Guardian for this update:

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Scientists find an estimated 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in the same timeframe as charges were introduced in European countries

A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe. Continue reading

Junto Clubs For 2018 & Beyond

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The Junto Club outgrew into the American Philosophical Society.

This historical reference is not typical of posts on this platform, except for when one of our contributors was in the midst of historical coursework that led to riffs like this; and then during his archival research that led to riffs like this.

We are riffing now from a current need (to put it mildly) for better conversation, with hindsight to a widely respected man’s approach at a time full of contentions. Thanks to Andrew Marantz for this brief note, whose accompanying illustration below belies the seriousness of the situation. Click the image to the left above to go to a historical archive with more background on this Talk of the Town item below:

Benjamin Franklin Invented the Chat Room

Conversation clubs, inspired by the Founding Father, have never felt more necessary.

180409_r31846webIn 1727, when Benjamin Franklin was twenty-one, he and a few friends—among them a scrivener, a joiner, and two cobblers—formed a conversation club called the Junto. They met on Friday evenings at a Philadelphia alehouse. “The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company,” Franklin wrote in his autobiography. The United States was not yet the United States, but already he sensed a civility problem. His solution: structured, secular chitchat, “conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory.” Continue reading

A Question Worth Asking About Yosemite

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There is an intentional lack of exterior signage for the new Starbucks at Yosemite national park. Photograph: Courtesy of Starbucks

Thanks to Freddy Brewster, the former Yosemite trail guide who raised the question, and thanks to the Guardian for airing it:

Yosemite’s secretive Starbucks: cafe opens in park, to delight and dismay

A new Starbucks provides convenience and caffeine to visitors, but to many it represents a trend of commercialism and 25,000 people petitioned to stop it from opening

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Australian visitor Tom Collin sips a coffee from the new Starbucks at Yosemite, part of a major remodeling effort inside the 128-year-old national park. Photograph: Gabrielle Canon for the Guardian

It looks and feels just like any of the other roughly 27,000 Starbucks locations that have opened around the world. The green apron-clad barista makes tall, grande and venti coffee concoctions that are handed over in familiar mermaid-endowed cups.

But from the parking lot outside – where there is an intentional lack of Starbucks signage – the world-famous Yosemite falls can be heard through the patter of an early spring rainstorm. Continue reading

Keeping It In The Ground?

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“Keep it in the ground” activists protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on February 17, 2018 near Belle Rose, Louisiana. Travis Lux/WWNO

Under the current circumstances in the USA (you know what we mean) it is not straightforward to consider optimism obvious. But stranger things have happened. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for reminding us that when times get tough, the tough tough it out on behalf of us all:

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Activist Cherri Foytlin vows to physically block construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana.
Travis Lux/WWNO

The United States oil business is booming and the country could soon be the largest crude oil producer in the world. Despite this record-breaking production, climate change activists campaigning to move away from fossil fuels say they are making progress.

Here’s the idea underpinning the ‘keep it in the ground‘ movement: to address climate change, activists say known reserves of fossil fuels will have to be left untouched instead of burned. In the meantime, they want countries to transition to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. Continue reading

Starbucks Taking Some Responsibility

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Thanks to the Guardian’s consumer affairs correspondent, Rebecca Smithers, for this:

Starbucks trials 5p takeaway cup charge in attempt to cut waste

People buying hot drinks in cardboard cups in 35 London branches will pay ‘latte levy’

Starbucks will be the first UK coffee chain to trial a “latte levy” – a 5p charge on takeaway coffee cups – under plans that aim to reduce the overuse and waste of 2.5bn disposable cups every year.

In the latest offensive in the war against plastic waste, the chain said it hoped the move, starting on Monday, would help change behaviour and encourage customers to switch to reusable cups instead. Continue reading

A Pro-Environment Form Of Apartheid

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Jonathan Watts, over at the Guardian, has this news:

Britain and Europe must ban palm oil in biofuel to save forests, EU parliament told

Forest peoples affected by plantations urge EU to enact ban despite diplomatic opposition

If Britain and other European nations are to fulfil forest protection goals, they must ban the use of palm oil for biofuel and tighten oversight of supply chains, a delegation of forest peoples told parliamentarians this week.

The call for urgent, concrete action comes amid an increasingly heated diplomatic row over the issue between the EU and the governments of major palm-producing nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Costa Rica.

The European parliament voted last April to prohibit sales of biofuels made from vegetable oils by 2020 in order to meet its climate goals. This was followed by a related vote last month. Whether and how this might be implemented is now being considered by the European Commission and member states.

Continue reading

Ask Whole Foods About Wonderful

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How wonderful is that?!? An organization that has been digging into the question of where all that fracking water is going in recent years. Thanks to Food & Water Watch, one of the most vigilant watchdogs helping the public become aware of fracking’s potential dangers, for asking questions that we all have reason to care about. And since the answers are not so wonderful, they are choosing perfect market-based locations to ask regular folks whether they are aware of the very cozy relationship between fracking waste water and the food we eat. Even some certified organic foods, it turns out. The image above is from their current press release:

PomWashington, D.C. — Are families around the country—and around the globe—eating California produce grown with toxic water from oil drilling? If they consume Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus or Sutter Home wine, they almonds_bottommay well be. Those companies grow some of their products in four water districts in California’s Central Valley that buy wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies’ drill sites. Now, Food & Water Watch is announcing a campaign to ban the practice, which threatens our food, farm workers and the environment, with a new documentary by noted filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and a campaign video capturing shocked reactions from people who previewed the video last week in front of Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas. [continued below]

Thanks to WNYC for this half hour in which we learned about the study. For a decade-old but still profile of the wonderful couple who we hope will come clean on this, take a look here:

fiji_bottle_top…Lynda and her creative team immediately set to work promoting the water’s “untainted” origins. (Fiji Water comes from an aquifer on the island of Viti Levu.) The bottle’s label was retooled: the image of a waterfall (Lynda: “Surface water? Yuck!”) was replaced with a bright-pink tropical flower and palm fronds, and the company’s slogan was changed from the ho-hum “Taste of Paradise” to the more direct “Untouched by man. Until you drink it.” Since the makeover, sales have improved by three hundred per cent…

Rich, as the saying goes. Continue reading

A Community Of Immigrants Prevails

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Coogan’s faced a rent increase so extreme that it could not be misconstrued as a negotiating ploy. The response from the neighborhood was swift and overwhelming. Animation by Christopher Hopkins-Ward

Jim Dwyer, a New York Times reporter who we have only had reason to feature once in these pages, should have remained on our radar once we saw his attention to one of our heroes, Chuck Feeney. In particular, if we had snooped around one year ago after reading that article, we would have found this. Interesting fellow, beyond his journalistic talents. But he dropped off our radar, and for the last year we have probably missed many stories that would fit in these pages. Case in point, he wrote a story a couple weeks ago that failed to capture our attention.

And what a failure, though we might be forgiven the mistake. In the early paragraphs he mentions that the bar at the center of the story is closing because its landlord, a hospital, has plans for the building where the bar is located. That sounds not only ho-hum, but perhaps like progress; hospitals are the most communitarian of institutions, right? We correct that now:

Coogan’s, an Uptown Stalwart, Makes Its Last Stand

Divesting Scales With Leadership

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 5.25.34 AMThanks to the Guardian for giving Bill McKibben the space to put the New York City decision in perspective:

Over the years, the capital of the fight against climate change has been Kyoto, or Paris – that’s where the symbolic political agreements to try and curb the earth’s greenhouse gas emissions have been negotiated and signed. But now, New York City vaulted to leadership in the battle.

On Wednesday, its leaders, at a press conference in a neighborhood damaged over five years ago by Hurricane Sandy, announced that the city was divesting its massive pension fund from fossil fuels, and added for good measure that they were suing the five biggest oil companies for damages. Our planet’s most important city was now at war with its richest industry. And overnight, the battle to save the planet shifted from largely political to largely financial. Continue reading