FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Wednesday:  December 17, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in environment (7)

Thursday
Jun282012

Rio+20 and the road ahead (PERSPECTIVE) 

(PHOTO: Protestors in Rio de Janeiro at Rio+20 last week/YnetNewsBy Antonio Patriota

Rio+20 is a landmark for the future. As more than 190 countries gathered in Rio de Janeiro last week for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, we witnessed a historic moment. The recent global crisis shows that old-fashioned views about development are misleading. It is now time to rethink the very foundations of how we consider development, wellbeing and wealth.

Over the past four decades, the world has increasingly realized that our natural resources are under serious pressure.

A growing awareness of the need to ensure sustainability has led a new generation to consider the requirements of sustainable development in its decisions to produce or consume. This is no small achievement. Rio 1992 was a major step forward. Important legal texts on key issues were adopted. These conventions ensured important progress that we must maintain and build on.

We now face a complex challenge. Protecting the environment is not enough. We need to encourage public and private decision-makers to incorporate environmental and social concerns into economic planning and growth strategies. This will require a new thinking from policymakers, experts, business people, project managers and many other public and private actors in order to plan and implement sustainable development initiatives.

From now on, a three-dimensional approach to development is crucial, one that combines social, economic and environmental concerns. Rio+20 is the launch pad for this new development model. This is why one of the main topics of Rio+20 was to build consensus around the need for "sustainable development goals". They offer a blueprint for international cooperation on sustainable development for years to come.

In order to achieve this result, Brazil decided to adopt new methods. Innovative tools for multilateral meetings were introduced, bringing national governments and global civil society together. Through an online platform, more than 1 million votes were cast, expressing views on 10 issues related to the conference. Topics ranged from energy and water to sustainable cities and food security. During four days in Rio, sharing the venue of the summit, experts, businessmen, activists and journalists engaged in live debates and streamlined the proposals that will be handed to the heads of state and government. It was so successful that the United Nations is now considering turning this initiative into a standard practice for future summits.

Rio+20 involves an assessment of the past 20 years and allows for a look into the next few decades. We are confident that this message will echo through the years, fostering new initiatives which can lead to a more sustainable future for all.

-- Antonio Patriota is minister of external relations, Brazil. The views expressed by the author are personal. This commentary originally appeared HERE in the Hindustan Times.

Sunday
Mar182012

Do Environmentalists Lack a Theory of Change? (PERSPECTIVE)

The Cape Town waterfront: Can affluence and a low carbon future co-exist in harmony? CREDIT: M BociurkiwBy Saliem Fakir

Environmentalists in South Africa are largely seen as lone and desperate voices. Often they are perceived to be white and middle-class, but that is changing slowly.

Environmentalists remain at the margins of the mainstream economy and outside of key decision-making channels. Where they cannot control the excesses and harm belched out of the belly of a gluttonous economy, they mop up the aftermath.

They're fire fighting battles range from dealing with issues such as acid mine drainage to rhino poaching and the prevention of shale-gas extraction to exposing heavy polluters.

Despite all of these noble efforts and media wars, environmentalists are losing ground. This is not only due to a lack of resources but also because environmentalists have a tendency to form alliances amongst themselves and only talk to each other.

Take, for example, nuclear energy. The anti-nuclear debate is largely confined to a few environmentalists – some lone figures and others trying to work as an organized formation without any real broad appeal.

Despite some public sympathy, in the more than fifteen years that this debate has been raging, environmental groupings have not been able to build a coherent coalition against nuclear power. 

Winning the nuclear debate requires a broad-based alliance that will have to involve labour, business lobbies, religious groupings, agencies and individuals that work within government, and the public in general.

It’s hard work and can’t be done alone.

To succeed one also needs a broader political programme - a theory of change for the development of a new political economy.

The idea of a new political economy can’t be invented on its own. It has to be worked out by engaging others outside one’s own fold.

A new political economy can only emerge out of a new value system that restrains our addiction to consumption. The growth in shopping malls all around South Africa is testimony to this surge in consumptive behaviour despite the fact that our populace is heavily indebted.

So who is to blame?

Economic models are based on lifestyle choices. The greater the wants, the bigger the size of the economy and rate at which it must grow. Add to this the fact that nations also compete with each other for power, wealth and status in the world.

These wants are not only shaped by the desire to satisfy basic needs, but also by projects of vanity. Thus capitalism thrives because it can exploit our essential needs through a mark-up on the sale of basic necessities and more so because it exploits the human weakness for addiction to a particular lifestyle. Our growth paradigm commits so-called “consumers” to spending more on things they don’t really need.

We live in a world where flawed ideas about modernity drive the growth of new technologies and innovations in ways that are not always best suited to the needs of the planet and all of its people.

All of this unhealthy consumption takes place in the name of finance, jobs and more taxes.

Financial flows from the government purse, investments from government employee pension funds (South Africa’s is among the largest in the world), the decisions of trade union investment arms and the deployment of surplus capital from finance houses and corporations all shape the nature of the economy, where it invests and how.

In the end, the “growth at all costs” approach is the default compromise position between capital, organized labour and government. While capital, labour and government may seem at odds with each other - as they wrangle over the proceeds of wealth creation and its distribution - they are less questioning of the prevailing economic paradigm and the direction it is hurtling us towards.

As a result, contradictions prevail.

Governments perpetuate the dual problem of environmental and labour exploitation as necessary evils by choosing development models that are at odds with their rhetoric of sustainability, poverty alleviation and labour rights.

Firms encourage management and shareholder greed by incentivising the focus on the bottom line such that they end up working against social wellbeing and the planet’s future. They may be investing capital for economic growth, but at the same time, don’t take responsibility for the damage they cause to nature, labour and society.

Trade union investment arms are also not absolved from perpetuating the prevailing system. These investment arms and pension funds could help to shape a new type of economy, if they would just apply their minds to it.

Environmentalists are not entirely innocent either. Many environmentalists are pleased to do philanthropic work or take care of the mop up job when disaster strikes. However, the reduction of environmentalism to a beneficiary of philanthropy and charity demobilises its political relevance and guarantees it’s continued complicity in the prevailing, highly destructive, global economic system.

In this role, environmentalism merely enables the current system rather than disabling it. Without a theory of change, environmentalism is neither able to advance mechanisms for change nor is it able to demonstrate how a transition to a new kind of economy would be better than the existing one.

Thus, instead of just shouting from rooftops, environmentalists require a new theory of change. This can’t be invented through idealising alone but will have to evolve through active engagement with other organized formations where people are encouraged to seek a new ethos and moral compass for the economy.

Without new notions of equality and alliances for change beyond the narrow confines of environmental groupings, new models of economy won’t emerge and environmentalism will continue to remain at the margins, doing its usual mop up jobs, rather than contributing to pro-active change.

How we win a new economic system is partly a function of resistance. It is also the outcome of a new ethic – the ethic of moderation and less affluent lifestyle choices.  Shifts in the way capitalism works will, in the end, largely depend on the transformation of individual consciousness.

This change has to manifest in the real economy. Growth that is wasteful produces greater inequality and weakens the path to inter-generational sustainability.

Thus, the goals of a low carbon future must be melded to goals for better social development. The fight against inequality has to become an intrinsic part of broader environmentalism and in this regard, present-day environmentalists must be challenged to reflect on how embedded and comfortable they are in the current economic system.

Unless we address the central issue - the morality of our economic system - we will continue to trudge along as if the environmental cause is on track, when clearly it is not.

-- Saliem Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town. This article first appeared on the website of the South Africa Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS).  

Thursday
Mar082012

Dredging for Facts on the Barrier Reef (REPORT) 

By Andrew Thomas in Asia 

His tone was plaintive.

“We’re poisoning that harbour.  All the crap we’re stirring up; all the rubbish being spewed out. It’s just too much.”

Ordinarily, when someone uses "we" in that context, they only include themselves as passive (usually resistant) individuals, reluctantly part of a national "we" – against both their better judgement and will.

The man describing to me how Gladstone Harbour was being "destroyed", however, counted himself as an active part of that "we": a hands-on, knowing participant in the harbour’s destruction. 

It’d be instant dismissal if anyone heard him tell me these things, he said, so he wouldn’t speak on camera.  But as a bulldozer driver, helping to clear land for a Liquefied Natural Gas plant on adjacent Curtis Island, he realised he was contributing to what he saw as an environmental catastrophe. 

So why was he doing it? 

He spelt it out, literally: "M-o-n-e-y."

A standard five day week earned him $3,400.  Working weekends, he could nearly double that.  He may have sold out his principles, but at least he’d got a good price. 

Gladstone Harbour – almost exactly half way up Australia’s East Coast – represents, in microcosm, the great Australian dilemma. 

Abundant natural resources have kept the country – both as a nation and as a collection of individuals like that bulldozer driver – economically rich.  While the rest of the developed world struggles through financial crisis, Australia powers on.

But it’s all come at an environmental cost. 

As my TV report makes clear, in Gladstone – as elsewhere – competing claims are made about the extent to which development causes damage.

And it’s hard to know who to believe.

The commercial fisherman who was adamant that dredging was killing the fish - and with them his livelihood - had an interest in one causing the other: where there’s blame, there’s a big compensation claim.

Equally, the head of the port corporation could see the entire development of Gladstone Harbour – worth billions – put on hold if a link was ever proved.  So it’s in his interests to stress that "no evidence" of one has ever been found. 

In journalism, it’s common to build a report around a debate – one person says this for these reasons, another that, for those ones.  What is rare is to see a debate internalised within one bulldozer driver: a tortured environmentalist earning $250,000 a year to clear land, and bury his conscience. 

- Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons License 

Tuesday
Nov222011

The Bad Host: Africa's Biggest Polluter Hosting Cop17 (PERSPECTIVE)

By Glen Ashton

(HN, November 22, 2011) - If we had to choose a country to host the COP17 international climate change negotiations and broker a consensus deal to manage the increasingly urgent matter of human induced climate change, we could not do much worse than choose South Africa.South African fur seals asleep in Cape Town harbour: annual, sanctioned hunts of this endangered species continue. CREDIT: M. Bociurkw

It is not that South Africa won’t be a gracious host. This is a nation renowned for its hospitality and its open, welcoming nature, across all cultures in this multifaceted society.

South Africans are certainly excellent negotiators as well. The country has vast experience reaching negotiated settlements between diametrically opposed sides. This is illustrated both in the recent history of the country as well as in the role it has played in the creation of the African Union and the resolution of numerous conflicts across the continent.

The reason South Africa is an abysmal choice is because of the hypocrisy inherent in having Africa’s biggest and most recalcitrant polluter oversee the world’s most important global climate change negotiations.

The only worse choice to chair COP17 would be the United States. Yet even that is moot. South Africa is so deeply compromised by its requirements to maintain positive perceptions for investment, to appease the Washington consensus and its neo-liberal economic policies, that we cannot realistically hope for this particular tail to wag the dog of international climate change negotiations.

South Africa proclaims its intent to shift to a lower carbon economy yet remains stubbornly committed to development of its coal and other non-renewable energy resources. Its view is so profoundly compromised it perceives natural gas as akin to renewable energy, as outlined in the recently release National Development Plan (NDP). 

If anything, the NDP reveals the absence of a properly considered, integrated energy policy. It emphasises the failures of South Africa’s recent energy white paper, inordinately influenced by major energy consumers and producers. 

South African economic development is founded on the market and corporate friendly lassiez-faire regulation of its emissions and dirty energy. It is responsible for more than 40% of Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the worlds 12th largest emitter, yet only the worlds 25th largest economy. Brazil, with a GDP nearly four times greater than South Africa emits less, as do France, Italy and Indonesia.

South Africa’s emissions are directly linked to its coal addiction. The greatest local emitter is the secretive parastatal electrical utility Eskom, almost entirely reliant on coal.

The second significant emitter is Sasol, South Africa’s massive oil-from-coal industry. Sasol was originally state-owned but was privatised in 1979. Its Secunda plant is the world’s biggest single point source of CO2 emissions. 

The extent to which the South African state, through Eskom, subsidises energy is neatly illustrated in its incestuous relationship with BHP Billiton, the Australian owned transnational. Billiton pays less than it costs Eskom to produce power in an irrational sweetheart deal. 

South Africa committed to a 34% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and a 45% by 2025. CREDIT: M BociurkiwBilliton’s Mozal aluminium smelter in Mozambique presently pays around 10% domestic consumers are charged in South Africa. Eskom has consistently refused to provide figures for Billiton’s power costs in South Africa. Attempts to gain transparency remain deadlocked in court. Billiton’s role is not insignificant, consuming up to 10% of Eskom’s total capacity. Billiton should be paying for new power plants, not the public.

Eskom has refused to provide any sort of transparent breakdown of costs for its power generation and supply networks in order to enable independent analysis of its operations. This is unacceptable behaviour by a national utility, but Eskom’s corporate arrogance is well established. Further, Eskom has obstinately blocked access to grid infrastructure thus thwarting entry by independent power generators.

South Africa’s failure to adopt renewable energy, despite numerous promises, is just as remarkable. The renewable energy white paper of 2003 committed to 4% of renewable energy (1650MW) by 2013. Not only is this target unattainable, the only installed renewable energy project to date - the Darling wind farm - is tiny (5.2MW), foreign-funded, privately managed and completed despite persistent state indifference.

Eskom’s only planned renewable projects, a 100MW concentrated solar plant and a similar capacity wind farm are only on the cards because their funding of US$240 million was offset against the World Bank’s US$3.4 billion loan granted to build Eskom’s massive coal power station at Medupi. That Eskom’s only renewable projects are the result of World Bank conditionalities demonstrates Eskom’s obstinate reluctance to pursue renewable energy options.

Besides paying lip service to renewables, the SA government committed to a 34% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and a 45% by 2025 during the run-up to the Copenhagen COP15 negotiations. Clearly, considering Eskom’s commissioning of two massive coal power stations, these reduction commitments are now unattainable except through statistical manipulation. 

Eskom’s influence on government policy has undermined any meaningful mitigation of its catastrophic generation policies. Lobbyists from within Eskom and the nuclear industry reactivated the nuclear programme, shelved in 2008 because it was considered unaffordable.

On the other hand the open market has indicated willingness and capacity to immediately install over 11 000 Megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity in the Western Cape Province alone. This has been stymied by government policy decisions to cap wind energy at 4 800 MW. Even this capacity is dependent upon a state-run tender system, with further negative implications.

As if all of these background shenanigans are not enough, the host country’s position as co-ordinator of negotiations is utterly compromised by having both Eskom and Sasol represented on its COP17 negotiation team. The unreality of it all is Kafkaesque. 

The fact that Eskom, Sasol – and consequently the South African government – remain fixated on false solutions like “clean coal technology,” (a contradiction in terms) and “carbon capture and storage,” (another non-starter in terms of practicality and cost) demonstrates the degree to which the host nation’s perspectives are fundamentally compromised.

South Africa cannot, in any way, be taken seriously as an honest broker in the COP17 negotiations. Any failure to broker a fair and binding deal in Durban is symptomatic of the incestuous relationship between Eskom, Sasol and the South African Government, acting in concert as proxies for the polluters of the world.

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org This commentary first appeared on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS)

Thursday
Sep012011

Magnitude of Social Exclusion Higher in Areas Hit by Environmental Disasters (REPORT)

An elderly Ukrainian woman photographed near Chernobyl by Olena Serbyn-Sullivan. Credit: M. Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS (HN, September 1, 2011) - The magnitude of social exclusion is 15 percent higher in areas affected by environmental disaster than in areas where such disasters have not occurred, according to a new study.

The Social Exclusion Survey, produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), finds that, from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster to the depletion of the Aral Sea, these events have an impact on the social fabric of the affected communities.

The report found the impact is significant and disproportionately felt by young people.

Addressing which type of exclusion is more prominent, the report found that in areas with environmental damage, it is economic exclusion that accounts for the biggest share (38 percent) of the social exclusion index, as opposed to exclusion from social services in non-affected areas.  One way to interpret this is that environmental disasters hit the economy by disrupting production linkages and forcing qualified workers to migrate. Investments are also likely to decline.

An interesting finding from the survey is that environmental disasters might also have unexpected positive externalities. Exclusion from participation in civic and social life contributes least to social exclusion in affected areas. This might seem counter intuitive but, as the recent case of the tsunami in Japan has shown, environmental disasters encourage people to rely on informal networks and community action. 

The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 was the most severe in the history of the nuclear power industry, causing a huge release of radionuclides over large areas of Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Today in the affected region, many people still complain of health problems and the disaster is linked, in part, to the mistrust in government in Ukraine.

The Aral Sea was once the fourth biggest inland sea in the world, but widespread mismanagement of resources that started in the sixties caused water levels to drop to alarmingly low levels. The sea is literally dying.

- UNDP, HUMNEWS staff

 

Wednesday
May252011

Exploiting the Commons - Time to Change Course (PERSPECTIVE)

The poor are the most heavily impacted by exploitation of the environment, argues Ashton. CREDIT: HUMNEWSBy Glenn Ashton

The business of exploiting the natural resources of the world for profit continues at an ever-increasing rate. While people are the generally unwitting drivers of exploitation and damage to natural resources, the real driver is laissez faire capitalism, as pursued by the dominant corporate-political nexus.

We all rely on our collective natural resources – water, air, soil, natural diversity – to keep us alive. This is the natural commons of the planet, the common property of all living organisms, which happens to include humans. The commons includes the biosphere, the living aspect of the planet that sustains the web of life upon which we are each individually and collectively dependent. 

We each have a collective interest and ownership of the commons. The commons is on loan to present generations from future generations yet to be born. Accordingly we individually and collectively bear responsibility to maintain the natural commons in a condition that is as pristine and unspoiled as possible.

The reality is that large commercial entities rely on exploiting the commons to provide the resources and services from which they profit. In doing so the commons is exploited for private gain. Any and all negative impacts on the commons are externalised. Thus the real long-term cost and impact of exploiting the commons is indirectly borne by every living species that inhabits our biosphere. Degradation of any single aspect of the common space inevitably has knock-on impacts in this interconnected world. 

Pollution of the air, water, land or destruction and exploitation of biodiversity are today taken for granted. These collective impacts are now exhibiting such a massive impact on the collective planetary organism, that life as we know it is in distinct danger of unravelling.

James Martin, who predicted the Internet and cell phones in the 1960's, is founder of Oxford University's 21st Century School. He hired the world's top brains to predict future scenarios. Their collective conclusion was that, should we continue as we are there will be a few breeding pairs of humans left at the poles by the end of this century. This may seem extreme to us in our comfortable cocoon, but the everyday reality of extinction faces not only humanity but many other species of life on earth.

Water resources are under extreme pressure in many parts of the developing world. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWSCorporations engage with the public through advertising and public relations to sell as much of their product as possible. On the other they insist that they have green credentials. The inherent contradiction of these claims is visible to anyone prepared to look.

Through carefully devised psychology, through which they justify their impacts as essential to our collective well being, industry does its utmost to portray itself to society as benign. This is now commonly termed “greenwashing,” the whitewashing of negative environmental impacts.

In reality, greenwash has become the status quo. Its practitioners realise precisely how they dishonestly portray their destructive practices as “green.” The massive PR industry, involved in both spin and advertising, work only to hoodwink us, the public. And in order to feel okay we want to believe the lies. 

In this regard South Africans are essentially more vulnerable than most other nations because of our high levels of inequality and poverty. 

The motivation for exploitation of the commons is portrayed as an ongoing attempt to create employment, to provide services for those attempting to escape the poverty trap, to create wealth and prosperity for all. The alternative, we are reminded, is too awful to contemplate.

The reality is somewhat different. The garden path we are being led down is actually creating the circumstances which are truly too awful to contemplate. The commons has been so badly eroded that the well being of future generations has already become irrevocably compromised. 

We need to ask whether we are going about things the right way. 

We grow our food in ways that waste water, that pollute water and that erode the land. The very practice of intensive, industrial agriculture is ultimately a destructive practice, from the level of soil biodiversity at the bottom, to the impacts on mega-biodiversity above. The external costs and impacts on our collective commons are far higher than the benefit we reap from the crops we harvest.

Our ways of providing energy destroy the very fabric of the land. Mining coal creates acid mine drainage, polluting water sources. The atmosphere is a dumping ground for greenhouse and noxious gases and poisons. We are left with heaps of slag and biologically sterile waste. While the health impacts are borne by all, the poorest are least able to cushion themselves against these impacts on the natural world.

It has become increasingly difficult for the common man to decide just who the good guys are. For instance the very organisation that is tasked with monitoring and managing the impacts of these activities on our collective commons, which maintains the global database of threatened species, a huge organisation known as Conservation International (CI), is funded directly by some of the worlds most pernicious polluters.

ArcelorMittal, BHP Billiton, BP, Cargill, Chevron, Coca-Cola, De Beers, Goldman Sachs, Kraft Foods, MacDonald’s, Monsanto, Newmont Mining, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Rio Tinto, Shell, Walmart and many other major corporations fund CI. The contradictions in accepting funding while promoting conservation were recently pointed out in an excellent article by Chris Lang.

Other reputable conservation organisations like the World Wildlife Fund are funded by a similar list of corporate partners. Coca-Cola, IBM, HP, Toyota, Walmart, IKEA, Cargill, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and many others are directly involved in funding this self-appointed conservation organisation. 

This is not to say that organisations like WWF and CI are evil or that their motivation is to undermine our collective commons. The real issue is that these supposed guardians of the global commons, of our collective biosphere, are profoundly compromised through their ties to industry, just as our governments are more responsive to corporate interests than to those of their citizens. 

These organisations cannot truly claim to provide actual, meaningful or sustainable solutions to the problems of deforestation, of over fishing, of global warming, or to change the global industrial agricultural paradigm if they are so compromised by their funders. WWF is even involved in a programme called the Roundtable on Sustainable Soy that benefits major agricultural entities like Monsanto and Cargill, while simultaneously destroying our common biodiversity.

Even groups like Greenpeace, portrayed as radical environmental campaigners are compromised by their intrinsic ties to the exploitative economic system. Of course all of these organisations will howl against these allegations but what else are they to do? Yet it is notable that more radical groups like Earth First and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are gaining a broader credence that ties in with the forceful arguments made by thinkers like Derrick Jensen, Joanna Macey and Vandana Shiva.

While the poorest are the most profoundly impacted, those protesting the exploitation are largely relatively wealthy and well educated. This creates a major disconnect about who speaks for who. Do the poor and exploited actually have any voice at all in this debate? The reality is that they are effectively gagged by many of very same organisations that claim to speak for them. Consultation and stakeholder agreements are tools to placate wealthy interests while the “bottom billion” or two remain outside the negotiation tent, as do most other species on earth.

So at the heart of it our existing system is broken. We, together our institutions, are too compromised to truly care for the commons. Changing our system is assumed to be a quixotic quest. Yet there are certainly other, better ways of doing things than continuing down the road we are being led down by governments, dictated to in turn by the lords of corporate and free market ideology. 

Many hoped, in a perverse kind of way that the global economic crisis of 2008 would prove so disruptive to the dominant economic model that something new would be able to emerge. That was not to be. However our model of endless growth, founded upon continued externalisation of its environmental impact will certainly founder, probably sooner rather than later. We cannot continue as we are. 

So surely we must begin to adapt our systems, now? We must explore ways that are utterly different to our dominant, exploitative economic model. New economics, the zero growth model, green capitalism, triple bottom line accounting and so on are all ideas that have been floated. But are they enough? 

These are not questions we have much time to contemplate. They should be placed at the top of our list of priorities. The alternative is simple – the extinction of people, along with the systems that sustained them. Surely examining our rather uncomfortable predicament can no longer be postponed? It can certainly no longer be sidetracked by the oligarchy that controls the corporate-political nexus. 

Perhaps a real starting point would be to meaningfully redistribute the ill-gotten gains from the 1% at the top that control nearly half of the worlds wealth and to use this to begin to apply first aid to an ailing world and society? It is not only the poor who are staring down the barrel of desperation but increasingly the exploited middle and emerging middle classes as well. 

At its root this discussion is not only about class or structure, it is one that affects us all; together with every living thing that shares our world. It must be prioritised. Our failure to embrace fundamental change condemns our children to a world closer to hell than to heaven.

Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society. Some of his work can be viewed at www.ekogaia.org. This article first appeared on the site of the South Africa Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS)

 

Tuesday
Jun082010

Ban Ki-moon marks World Oceans Day by Drawing Attention to "Terrible Toll" Mankind Having on Oceans, Seas

(HN, June 8, 2010) Marking the second World Oceans Day today, the UN Secretary General said humans activities - from over-fishing to piracy - are taking a "terrible toll" on the world's fragile marine ecosystems.The sea lion and her pup, off the BC coast, are becoming more vulnerable to human activities. Credit: Michael Bociurkiw

Said Ban Ki-moon: "Human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas. Vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as corals, and important fisheries are being damaged by over-exploitation, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, destructive fishing practices, invasive alien species and marine pollution, especially from land-based sources.  Increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.

"Oceans are also affected by criminal activity.  Piracy and armed robbery against ships threaten the lives of seafarers and the safety of international shipping, which transports 90 per cent of the world’s goods.  Smuggling of illegal drugs and the trafficking of persons by sea are further examples of how criminal activities threaten lives and the peace and security of the oceans."

The idea for World Oceans Day stemmed form the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the United Nations General Assembly had subsequently decided that that day would be celebrated every 8 June, starting in 2009. This year’s theme is “Our Oceans: Opportunities and Challenges”.

The oceans are essential to food security and the health and survival of all life, power our climate and are a critical part of the biosphere. They cover 71% of the Earth's surface and contain 97% of the planet's water. The official designation of World Oceans Day is an opportunity to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.

This year's commemorations have taken special significance in the wake of the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bill Mott, director of The Ocean Project, a network of 1,200 organizations worldwide working to help promote World Oceans Day and to communicate with the public about conservation issues, said of the BP oil spill. "I think this is going to create a whole new generation of people who are much more aware of how we are all connected to the ocean in so many ways," he told MSNBC.com.

The Secretary General said one of the most long-standing and effective international instruments to protect the oceans and seas is the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As part of the UN observance of the event, a roundtable discussion is being held at UN headquarters in New York and the city's legendary Empire State Building will be illuminated in white, blue and purple to signify the entirety of the oceans - from the shallows to the darker depths."

In Nairobi, the UN Environment Programme is commemorating World Oceans Day at its headquarters with the screening of Ωcéans, a film by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud film. The documentary is designed to raise awareness of the need to protect our oceans.