Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Summer Solstice Sunrise over Stonehenge -- photo: Wikipedia

Above or below the Equator, North or South, Summer or Winter, a very happy Solstice to all.

Here in Acre (Brazil's western-most Amazon state), today is the shortest day of the year. Yes, it's "winter" here. But "winter" is the dry season and the days can get very hot, even hotter than during the "summer" rainy season when it is often cloudy and cooler. Thus, in a curious twist because there is generally more sun and more heat, "winter" in Acre is known as "summer."

You might get a kick out of these "winter temperatures."

Sunday, June 19, 2011


DIAMOND: There are so many societies in which the elite made decisions that were good for themselves in the short run and ruined themselves and societies in the long run….
Similarly, in the United States at present, the policies being pursued by too many wealthy people and decision makers are ones that — as in the case of the Mayan kings — preserve their interests in the short run but are disastrous in the long run.
Jared Diamond, author of the bestseller “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” has a fascinating video discussion of climate change.  Above is the video and below a blog post on it by WWF’s Nick Sundt.

In a new video, Jared Diamond talks about climate change, drawing parallels between modern Americans and the Classic southern lowland Maya – who failed to take the actions that might have avoided the collapse of their civilization. However, unlike the Maya, we have the “unique opportunity” and capacity to “learn from remote places and to learn from places remote in time,” Diamond says. “And among all the things that might incline me towards pessimism, that is the biggest thing that in the end inclines me towards optimism.”

Jared Diamond is a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles, and is a member of WWF’s board of directors.  He is the  Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel; and author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The 11-minute video was recorded in early 2011 by ClimatePrep.org , a site focused on ways people around the world are preparing for and responding to climate change.

Diamond explains that energy and greenhouse gas emissions are among a dozen key groups of environmental problems that confront us and “we’ve got to solve them all.”  In the case of climate change, he explains that we must not only slow its pace by reducing emissions, but we must prepare for its impacts and adapt.  To some extent, we now are “stuck with it”:
“We have to do things to adapt to climate change such as – in California – planting olive trees rather than almond trees.   Then there are things to do for wild plants and animals. What do we do about some chipmunk species living on top of a mountain in the Western United States that thrives on cold temperatures, and the mountain is getting warmer and warmer? So this cold habitat is gradually moving up towards the top of the mountain, and the cold habitat is gradually moving off into the sky where there aren’t any chipmunks. What do we do about all those plant and animal species that are threatened by climate change? …It’s going to require having some either new conservation areas; or species that are now being conserved in Yellowstone National Park will increasingly be getting conserved in Glacier National Park further to the North. In some cases it’s going to require actual transplanting that chipmunk on the top of a mountain rising out of the Great Basin. That chipmunk is going to have to be moved somewhere because that mountain is not going to be suitable for the chipmunk. “
In the interview, Diamond draws lessons from the Mayan experience:
“There are so many societies in which the elite made decisions that were good for themselves in the short run and ruined themselves and societies in the long run. For example, the most advanced society in the New World before Columbus was the Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala and Honduras. They ended up collapsing …. because of a combination of climate change, drought, water management problems, soil erosion, deforestation….So the Mayan kings had strong power.
Why didn’t the Mayan kings just look out the windows of the Palaces and see the forests getting chopped down, soil being eroded down at the valley bottom. Why didn’t the kings say `stop it’? Well the kings had managed to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions – in the short run. Even while the forests were being chopped down, they were still being fed well by the commoners, they were in their wonderful palaces. And the kings didn’t recognize that they were making a mess until it was too late, when the commoners rose in revolt.

Similarly, in the United States at present, the policies being pursued by too many wealthy people and decision makers are ones that — as in the case of the Mayan kings — preserve their interests in the short run but are disastrous in the long run.”
Will we go the way of the Maya?  Diamond is hopeful that we will choose otherwise:
“Today, we have archeologists who tell us about the mistakes that the Maya and the Greenland Norse and the Anasazi made, and we also have archeologists who tell us about the good decisions that the Tokugawa Japanese and the Icelanders made. So we can learn from the past. And then we can turn on our television sets. We can see what it’s like in Somalia. We can also see what it’s like today in Norway or Bhutan. And we can decide: Do we like the lifestyle of Bhutan or do we like the lifestyle in Somalia? Which do we choose to emulate? We have this opportunity to learn from remote places and to learn from places remote in time. No other society in world history has had that advantage. And among all the things that might incline me towards pessimism, that is the biggest thing that in the end run inclines me towards optimism. We have this unique opportunity.”

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Bishop Erwin Kräutler
Last December Catholic Bishop Erwin Kräutler received one of the 2010 Right Livelihood Awards for his work on behalf of Brazilian indigenous peoples in a ceremony before the Swedish Parliament. This honor is widely considered as the "Alternate Nobel Prize."
CNN - 16 June 2011 -- Brazil's Catholic Church is the latest to publicly oppose a controversial revamping of the country's "Forest Code," which activists say would cause an environmental disaster.
On Friday, Brazil's Catholic Church announced that it would count on its 12,000 parishes to circulate a petition against the reforms, the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency reported [in Portuguese].
"We urge our communities to participate in the process of reform of the Forest Code, mobilizing social forces and promoting a petition against the devastation," the statement said.
Bishop Kräutler (pictured above) has been an unwavering ally of indigenous peoples and social movements opposed to Brazil's Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River for over two decades. He accepted his award in a moving speech on behalf of all who work for social justice among the indigenous peoples of Brazil. At this critical juncture as the Forest Code moves into the Senate and toward President Dilma and as violence against people and nature is accelerating in Amazonia, his extraordinary speech gains even greater poignancy:

Speech by
Bishop Erwin Kräutler
6 December 2010

Mister Speaker, Hon. Members of Parliament, dear Recipients of the Right Livelihood Award, Excellencies, dear Friends,

In this very special and unique moment I traverse the Atlantic Ocean in thoughts and emotions. I am leaving Stockholm for the southern hemisphere and embarking on the majestic Amazon, sailing up river to reach one of its major tributaries, the Xingu River. For forty-five years I have journeyed with the peoples of that region. They are the indigenous peoples who have lived there for thousands of years. They are the river people who have their homes on the river banks. They make their living from fishing and small family farming. They are the thousands and thousands of families who have migrated from all the States of Brazil in search of better living conditions during the last decades.

They are the people to whom I dedicate my life, they are the people whom I love and I know and they are the people who love me. The reason for that is simple: 45 years ago, in 1965, when I came to Brazil, to Amazonia, to the Xingu, they realized that I did not come in search of wealth or advantages. I came to serve these daughters and sons of God. They are women and men who journey with me. Together we defend their dignity, human rights and our environment, our common home on mother earth. Eco - logy - from the Greek οἶκος – means: "home"! These people know very well that they will not survive if Amazonia continues to be disrespected and razed. And they know that planet Earth will suffer irreversible consequences by this cruel destruction. This will be the true apocalypse.

It is a fact that those who are against the unscrupulous destruction of environment, against those, who have not the slightest respect for the human being, against those who seek immediate and incredible profits, who oppose the ambitions of many politicians and entrepreneurs, put their lives at risk. Slander, defamation and death threats are the weapons to frighten and silence those who raise their voices against the aggressions to human dignity.

This is one of the reasons why the Public Security Authorities decided to put me under the protection of the Military Police of the state of Pará on June 29th, 2006. These authorities consider themselves responsible “for the physical integrity of the bishop of the Xingu”. From that day on, armed military police accompany me wherever I am and go in my home-region around the Xingu. This evening, they have a day off.

I accept the Right Livelihood Award in the name of those who fight with me today, on behalf of the indigenous peoples, Amazonia and human rights. I accept it also in the name of the dozens of people who have given their lives, whose blood has been spilled and who were brutally assassinated because they opposed the systemised destruction of Amazonia. Among these murdered, I cite two people, who worked with me side by side.

US-American born Sister Dorothy Mae Stang lived twenty-three years on the Transamazon Highway and was murdered there in 2005. I remember my first meeting with her in 1982 very well. She said: “I want to work among the poorest of the poor.” It wasn’t the first time that someone spoke to me this way, and I told her several things to give her an idea about the reality at the Xingu. To my amazement, she didn’t ask any further question and started to live in the midst of the poor. From time to time she returned to Altamira, to get in contact with representatives of the administration to demand the rights of the farmers or denounce abuses and threats from land robbers or large land-holders.

It didn’t take that long for the first threats to appear. The self-called “owners” of the lands began to slander and defame her. This difficult, tiring and most exhausting life, Dorothy lived until that fateful Saturday, February 12th, 2005, until seven thirty in the morning, when she was shot. This crime was programmed in minute detail. Those responsible for her death were not those men who were convicted and who are in jail. It was the 15th of February 2005 when I buried Sister Dorothy. Never in my life have I felt my heart so invaded by so many sentiments. Even today I cannot describe what I really felt at that moment.

The second person I want to remember here today is Ademir Alfeu Federicci called “Dema”. For many years a new category of conquistadors has appeared in Amazonia. They are the notorious land grabbers who usurp public lands. They use paramilitary forces to defend their interests. They use political and financial influence to maintain their ownership of immense areas of land. The families of small farmers are targeted by these so-called proprietors. One of these victims was Dema. Ademir Alfeu Federicci rose up against these proprietors. As a community leader, he always defended the rights of the small farmer and fought for better days for the rural man and woman.

On August 23rd, 2001, Dema wrote a letter in support of the investigative work the Federal Police was doing on the land grabbers. Two days later he was brutally shot in his home in Altamira. He fell down in front of his wife Maria da Penha. His last words were: “Maria, take care of our children!” Then he passed away. Until today the investigation of Dema’s murder has not been completed. He was killed, because he raised his voice against the hydroelectric project of Belo Monte.

The Belo Monte Project appears to be sacrosanct, unquestionable and assumes the air of being a veritable historical subject. Human beings, families and communities are no longer protagonists of their own history. They were not heard, they were silenced before the project was planned and elaborated in Brasilia, a project that never took into consideration the legitimate rights and preoccupations of the population of the Xingu. All those who are quoting this project are immediately labled as “enemies of progress”, or “against development”.

It is amazing, when we think of the size of Amazonia (a little more than half the size of the whole Brazil), that the principal problem has to do with the ownership (possession) and use of land. The majority of the other problems have their roots in this principal problem:

- Rural violence is linked to the concentration of land ownership and the most shameful impunity with which the criminals are honoured. They kill and nothing happens! If they are arrested, they will be released the next day! If they are convicted, they are circulating freely on the streets on the next day .
- There is a lack of public policy that encourages the preservation of Amazonia, this gigantic biome. Amazonia is “unique” its biodiversity is “exceptional”! Nothing in the whole world exists that is comparable to this region, the marvel of God`s creation. Brazil is responsible for the largest part of this biome, Amazonia.
- Another huge problem is the trafficking of human beings. Young people of both sexes are lured with the promises of a better life and ample wages into the exterior. They are caught in the international network of prostitution! They dream of waging a better life, they have dreams for the future. But they are forced to live in the hell of slavery and brutality.

Child-prostitution in Amazonia is often organized by people from the upper strata of society. They are politicians, business people or merchants. They lure, promise, use and abuse and nothing happens to these sexual criminals - corruption is their language.

This award has been given to me because of my commitment on behalf of the indigenous peoples, their human rights and dignity. I have always found a specific mission in defending these people, who are the survivors of centuries of massacres. In the decade of the 1980’s in the context of the National Constituent Assembly, we considered it our goal to implement indigenous rights in the Federal Constitution. It was essential to encourage the indigenous peoples’ own leadership to assume their own protagonist action and to write their own story. We started to build an “alliance” between the indigenous peoples and organizations of the non-indigenous society.

Tonight, I take the opportunity to call the international community’s attention to the pain, despair and insecurity of the Guarani-Kaiowá people in South Mato Grosso. The indigenous people are confined to small areas, their young people see no prospect for their future and the suicide rate among them is alarmingly high. Factory owners who use modern slave labour are treated like heroes by the official administration. I am totally worried about the violation against the Guarani-Kaiowá. The current government is ignoring this cruel genocide in progress before their eyes. But we must not close our eyes to these crimes!

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury! I gratefully accept the award on behalf of all these women and all these men who have been together with me in this struggle and who have never lost. I would like to thank all those, who have supported me during the last years, and those who have proposed my work to the Right Livelihood Award jury. I would like to express my deep gratitude for the Right Livelihood Award. I am honoured with the award at a moment, when our struggle on behalf of the indigenous people, dignity and human rights are taking on new dimensions and greater importance in the face of the development projects that threaten Amazonia. Those anti-ecological projects of enterprise will have a huge and destructive impact on everyone sitting here in Stockholm this evening, on all people living on earth.

I am honoured to accept this award by the Right Livelihood Foundation as international recognition and support of our total commitment to this work. I promise to continue for as long as God grants me life.

Thank you very much!

Friday, June 17, 2011


Greenpeace is currently targeting Barbie doll’s parent company, Mattel, with its Barbie got dumped campaign — promising to aggressively campaign against the company if it doesn’t work to address deforestation in its production of the doll.

In an interesting twist from our Oregon Forest Defender past, Rolf Skar -- the Greenpeace campaigner featured in the video -- followed me as the lead campaigner of the Siskyou Project and later went on to bigger things. We are thankful for the passionate efforts of Rolf and his Greenpeace colleagues.

Mattel Responds to Greenpeace Barbie and Deforestation Stunt, Promises ...

Care2.com (blog) - Jennifer Mueller - ‎Jun 19, 2011‎
After last week's banner-dropping stunt at Mattel headquarters by Greenpeace, deforestation concerns began dominating the discussion over at Barbie's Facebook page. It got so bad that Mattel temporarily shut down the page to comments.


chile-patagonia dam protest
Protesting last month in Santiago, Chile. Government approval of a plan for a dam in a pristine part 
of the country has brought thousands to the streets.  Photo: Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Plan for Hydroelectric Dam in Patagonia Outrages Chileans
re-posted from the NY Times - June 16, 2011

SANTIAGO, Chile — A white gas mask hanging from her neck, Paula Bañados strode side by side with 30,000 other marchers through this capital one recent Friday, a determined look on her face.

“Patagonia without dams!” Ms. Bañados, 19, shouted with the others, pumping a fist in the air.

“The government is saying we will be left without energy, but it’s a lie,” she said. “They are just trying to scare us. But we won’t be scared away, because we know we’re right.”

By the time Ms. Bañados reached Chile’s presidential palace, some demonstrators had begun hurling stones and pieces of wood at the armored police vehicles. As sirens blared, the police responded by firing water cannons on the crowd, driving protesters back.

Other protests took place in several more Chilean cities. In what has become a surprising national movement, organizers have mounted large protests for several weeks since a government environmental commission in May approved the $3.2 billion HidroAysén dam complex in a pristine region of Patagonia, known for breathtaking glaciers and lakes, that draws thousands of tourists a year.

The protest movement, which has resulted in 28 police officers’ being injured and more than $100,000 in damage to public property, has rattled the government of President Sebastián Piñera. His approval rating fell to 36 percent in May from 41 percent in April, in part because of the outcry over HidroAysén, according to Adimark, a Santiago-based research group.

While the government supports expanding hydroelectric power production, more than 60 percent of Chileans are against HidroAysén, polls show. After the commission’s decision, now the fight turns to the 1,912-kilometer (about 1,200-mile) transmission line yet to be approved. Many Chileans consider Patagonia a national treasure, and the battle to stop the project has inspired people to join the anti-dam cause to an extent that other environmental protest movements in South America have not.

HidroAysén is an especially tense subject in Chile because the country, more than its neighbors, is struggling to secure energy supplies to keep up with its economic growth. Chile will need to double its electricity capacity generation over the next 10 to 15 years, according to government officials and private energy analysts.

Chile has little oil or natural gas of its own. Importing gas became unreliable after Argentina began reneging on its commitments to ship gas to its neighbor starting in 2004. After the earthquake in Japan this year, Chile’s mining and energy minister, Laurence Golborne, said it would be “very difficult” now to build a nuclear plant, given fears that the quake raised about Chile’s own earthquake-prone geology.

Government officials say more energy is needed to raise the economic level of poorer Chileans, and to lower electricity prices, which in southern Chile average about twice those in Brazil.

More energy also will be needed to expand Chile’s mining sector — the engine of Chile’s economy, said James Brick, an analyst with Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy.

Brazil has embraced hydroelectric power, which produces about 80 percent of the country’s electricity. Chile produces about 40 percent of its energy from hydroelectric power. But HidroAysén, a planned complex of five dams on two rivers, would produce 18,430 gigawatts a year, which was about 35 percent of Chile’s total consumption in 2008. It would also flood a large part of a region dominated by national parks and reserves, say people opposed to the dams.

“This project is the tip of the spear to convert our Patagonia into a true service patio for energy generation,” said Luis Rendón, coordinator of Acción Ecológica, an environmental group.

Those opposing the dams say the government should focus on improving energy efficiency and boosting capacity for nonconventional renewable fuels like wind, solar and geothermal power.

“Compared to Brazil or Argentina, Chile is doing very little to incentivize renewables,” said Roberto Román, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Chile. “In 5 to 10 years, solar options will be cheaper than HidroAysén.”

Foreign nongovernmental organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council and International Rivers have helped fund the protest movement. Douglas Tompkins, an American who has acquired more than one million acres of land in Chile, much of it in Patagonia, has helped develop the movement’s publicity campaign.

“Chile has no energy policy,” Mr. Tompkins said. “Retrofitting homes is where energy policy has to begin.”

Government officials say energy efficiency, and electricity generation from wind and energy, while important, will not be enough to stem a shortfall beyond 15 years. Without a nuclear-energy option, hydroelectric plants will be critical to slowing an expected increase in coal-fired production, said Mr. Golborne, the energy minister.

While “there is no energy supply problem facing our government,” Mr. Piñera said recently, “if we don’t make decisions today we are condemning our country to a blackout near the end of this decade.”

But those who oppose the dam say Mr. Piñera is showing signs of the kind of corporate-government economic concentration that has defined past Chilean governments. An Italian-Spanish-Chilean consortium owns HidroAysén, and the majority stakeholder, Endesa Chile, owns most of the water rights to both rivers the dam would affect.

Last year HidroAysén sponsored advertising that alarmed many Chileans, including one television commercial in which the lights go out while doctors are performing an operation. (In recent weeks the consortium has put out advertising seeking to better explain the project.)

Daniel Fernández, HidroAysén’s chief executive officer, criticized dam opponents’ “information distortion” tactics, including statements by the writer Luis Sepúlveda that the transmission line would carve a path of “23,000 soccer stadiums, one after the other” through Patagonia. Mr. Fernández said the line would carve a much narrower footprint.

Mr. Fernández said the project would flood about 14,600 acres, making it the “most efficient dam project in the world.” A dam project in Argentina, Condor Cliff, he noted, would flood more than seven times that — about 111,000 acres of Patagonian sheep-herding land — and has not caused a public outcry there.

The notion of any disfigurement of the Aysén area has nevertheless fueled the protests, which have become a forum for Chileans to express a general “uneasiness” with the government, said Alberto Mayol, a sociology professor at the University of Chile. On Thursday, there was another large march in Santiago, with crowd estimates of between 70,000 and 100,000, this one to protest the state of public education.

The battle against the dam will be a long road. HidroAysén does not expect to propose the transmission line until December, or to have final approval until about 2013. The first dam could be operating by 2019, the last by 2025, Mr. Fernández said.

About 4,000 people attended the most recent march to protest the dam last Friday. A mix of young and old waved Chilean and Socialist flags. Children riding their parents’ shoulders chanted, “Patagonia without dams.”

There was no violence or property damage, as there had been at earlier protests. “Welcome to a new Patagonia protest,” shouted organizers perched atop a flatbed truck, their message carried over several large speakers. The truck led the march with an organizer barking orders into a microphone for when to stop and start, and when to chant.

“For us Chileans, natural resources are the most precious thing we have,” said Víctor Cesped, a 21-year-old architecture student at the University of Chile who was taking part in his fourth protest. “The Patagonia is a source of pride, something very dear to our hearts.”

Aaron Nelsen and Pascale Bonnefoy contributed reporting.

Check out Caroline Lewis' in-depth analysis of this incredible grass-roots movement at UPSIDE DOWN WORLD.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Peru's President-elect Ollanta Humala and Brazil's ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

As trans-continental development fever spreads back and forth from Atlantic to Pacific and beyond supported by new infrastructures of roads, bridges, ports, dams and transmission lines, there is also a trans-national politics emerging.

Trans-continental highway linking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Lima, Peru

Peru's economy has grown between 6 and 7 per cent annually for the past several years, mostly as a result of its booming mining industry, "but the time has come to move to the social-inclusion stage that allows everyone, and not just the elite, to enjoy the benefits of this growth," President-elect Ollanta Humala recently told a told a news conference in Brasilia.

For this, he may follow the pattern set by Brazil's super-star Lula. Indeed, the US-based Brookings Institution reports that Brazil's Labor Party (PT), in an uncharacteristic form of cross-boundary political influence, sent advisers to help Humala remake his electoral image from a Chavez-like radical to a Lula-like Left-Centrist.

Humala, in finding his own best way, may draw additional inclusion lessons from Brazil's extremely controversial (and Lula-backed) Belo Monte Dam that has demonstrated the difficult politics and devastating consequences of mega-dams that run roughshod over local people and nature. For example, deforestation in May, which is on the rise again in Brazil, was highest in the municipality of Altamira, Para, where the controversial Belo Monte dam is to be constructed. Perhaps, future Peruvian planners will learn as well that both local people and local land-use change will have to be included in planning for national development.

Regarding Brazil's determined effort to ignore local concerns at Belo Monte, Amazon Watch reports:

Brasilia, Brazil – 16 June 2011 - Local communities and NGOs delivered a petition to the Organization of American States’ (OAS) human rights body today claiming that Brazil has steamrolled human rights in its rush to fast-track construction of the controversial Belo Monte Dam, slated for construction on the Xingu River in the Amazon interior. The petition, signed by representatives of indigenous communities and other populations threatened by the dam, denounced the Brazilian government and called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to declare human rights violations and order the Brazilian government to cancel the project and pay damages.

Two weeks ago the Brazilian government defied IACHR’s demand that Brazil halt the dam’s licensing process. Brazil instead granted Belo Monte’s installation license, clearing the way to commence construction despite blatant non-compliance with social and environmental protections.

NGO and legal groups expect the Commission to determine that the Brazilian government has violated the rights of local peoples, and will recommend compensation. If the government continues to ignore the IACHR, the case could go to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which could formally condemn the Brazilian government for violations of its international obligations.

In a more hopeful sign from Peru, Mongabay reports:
16 June 2011 - Three years of sustained community opposition have brought down plans for a massive dam on the Madre de Dios River in Peru. Yesterday the Peruvian government announced it was terminating the contract with Empresa de Generación Eléctrica Amazonas Sur (Egasur) to build a 1.5 gigawatt dam, known as the Inambari Dam. The dam was one of six that were agreed upon between Peru and Brazil to supply the latter with energy.

"Although this resolution does not prevent the construction of all dams in the Inambari Basin, it is very important .... The resolution states that all future proposed projects must be subjected to prior consultation with local communities," said Aldo Santos, from local NGO SER (Rural Educational Services), in a press release. 

The cancellation follows a month long strike by 2,000 people against the dam as well as mining and oil projects in the region.

Sunday, June 12, 2011



Finding the balance between Brazil's twin goals of doubling the size of its cattle herd and seriously reducing deforestation and carbon emissions may be as challenging as getting a cow to do what the elephant pictured above is doing.

Mongabay reports on a new study:
Despite environmentalists' efforts to combat "rainforest beef" in the 1980s, pasture expansion for cattle is still the primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, says a new report produced by Brighter Green.

While Brazil's investments in agribusiness have made it an agricultural powerhouse—the country is now the world’s third-largest exporter of farm commodities after the US and the European Union—unfortunately, two of the Brazil’s key products, cattle and soy, are still driving deforestation as well as economic growth. According to Brighter Green’s report, researchers estimate that cattle ranching caused 65-70 percent of land clearing in the Amazon between 2000 and 2005.

Brazil is advancing dual goals--the protection of its rich biodiversity and economic expansion--without integrating its policy, according to Brighter Green. The study finds that Brazil may be unable to meet its climate change goals through rainforest protection while simultaneously allowing clearing in the Amazon for cattle pasture and soy cultivation. (Read full article)

Two more recent reports here and here are raising concerns about the cross-purposes of holding the line against more deforestation and the desire for expanded agricultural production. Bottom line is that the two policy lines are not integrated but instead each is pursued as if it was a special interest.

Offering a prime example of the non-synch between agricultural and climate goals, Mongabay has posted a further analysis of how recent Forest Code revisions may cost Brazil the ability to meet its international commitments.

The search for a sustainable balance between cows and conservation (all well as seeking an end to the violence) has been going on in Brazil for over 20 years. Chico Mendes explained just days before his assassination in 1988, that he wanted to "demonstrate that progress without destruction is possible", but progress has been bloody both for people and the forest, and the goal of balance remains elusive.

Nowadays, the dream of "progress without destruction" is part of the Brazilian political litany and is often voiced by Brazil's world renown agricultural organization Embrapa which promises that new techniques can vastly increase production without further deforestation. Restoration and utilization of Brazil's vast amount of degraded land (largely exhausted cattle pasture) is key to the goal of increasing production without increasing deforestation.

However, it must asked why would Brazilian farmers and ranchers invest in improved techniques that can be costlier in the short run if they can legally or illegally (and less expensively) grab more fertile land from the forest for expanded production? This question is the great subtext behind the current struggles over both the Forest Code and its enforcement. Indeed, it is also the reason that only about ten percent of Brazilian farms are in compliance with the present Forest Code.

Brazil has a long history of non-enforcement of its deforestation ban, especially in local contexts that favor the powerful landowners and the general economics of agricultural expansion. The Federal Government has stepped up efforts to reduce deforestation only in recent years as it sought the green mantle of a global leader in meeting the challenge of reducing carbon emissions and protecting biodiversity. This effort has, in turn, triggered a ruralista reaction in Congress to legally increase the amount of allowed deforestation and give amnesty for past illegal deforestation.

Unfortunately, the intense internal contradictions of pursuing conservation and development have produced a "Bloody June" in Amazonia with 5 murders of environmental activists in the past few weeks. Sadly, despite increased efforts by a special team of Federal police, another "execution" was reported in the past few days.

In Brazil, the Forest Code sets the boundaries. If ecologically appropriate limits on deforestation can be enforced, the dream of having both conservation and expanded production becomes quite possible, perhaps even probable. But, in the absence of operationally firm limits on deforestation, achieving the dream of "progress without destruction" will be like trying to get a bull to balance on a ball.

[NOTE: For very contrary views, check out this video tribute to the Brazilian farmer from BASF and this propaganda video prepared by Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA) for presentation at last December's climate meetings in Cancun.]

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Deforestation in Capixaba, Acre, Brazil

At last, there is good news to report in the effort to save the Amazon forest from the inexorable march of chainsaws, cattle and ruthless agricultural expansion. Compared to recent disheartening reports of murders of activists, passage of a terrible Forest Code by Brazil's House of Deputies, and the "go-ahead" given to the Belo Monte monster dam, the past few days have brought forth news that seems almost heavenly.

Thursday, June 09, 2011



Paul Gilding says,"YES" there will be a Great Disrupttion but the crisis will have a good ending.

[Update 9 June 2011: Joe Romm has provided a more extensive exposition on the Friedman column (below) and video interviews with Paul Gilding at Climate Progress.]

Here is Tom Friedman's NY Times column about it:
You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

“The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.” “When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many “planet Earths” we need to sustain our current growth rates. G.F.N. measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, using prevailing technology. On the whole, says G.F.N., we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. “Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem,” says Gilding.

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

It is also current affairs. “In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” China’s environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, said recently. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development.” What China’s minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that “the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact.”

We will not change systems, though, without a crisis. But don’t worry, we’re getting there.

We’re currently caught in two loops: One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability. At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff. So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories. More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet.

But Gilding is actually an eco-optimist. As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. “How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”

Sounds utopian? Gilding insists he is a realist.

“We are heading for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”

I'm reading Gilding's book now. It's definitely worth pondering.

Friday, June 03, 2011


Amazon Watch has organized a "Cause" at Facebook:

"This has been a time of tragedy in the Amazon. This week the Brazilian government green-lighted construction on the monstrous Belo Monte Dam despite searing local, national and international opposition. Yet despite the initiation of this criminal operation, I can assure you that the battle to defend the Xingu River and its people is far from over.

"I have just returned from the Brazilian Amazon, where Chief Raoni gathered with hundreds of Kayapo warriors, indigenous leaders from 18 ethnicities, and leaders from the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS).

"This is the last chance we have to paralyze Belo Monte's construction," Renata Pinheiro told the indigenous assembly. "The future of the Xingu is in your hands, indigenous peoples and social movements. You succeeded in stopping Belo Monte for 30 years – now more than ever we need to strengthen our resolve, joining forces to stop the beginning of construction."

"It's now more important than ever that we take this campaign to the next level.

"Take a stand, stop this monstrous project by joining the Cause on Facebook "Stop the Monster Dam: Protect the Xingu River and its People". Your donation today will support the travel of indigenous leaders to Brasilia and Altamira to make their voices heard."

Xingu Alive Forever! Xingu Vivo Para Sempre!

Please join the cause.

Also, please note that the avaaz.org petition is still active. If you have not signed it you can do it now here.


Dams in Amazonia
The Amazon Basin is being targeted for large hydroelectric projects. 60 dams are planned in Brazil, 
and more in neighboring countries Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. See full map database.

Across the Amazon Basin the pressing question is whether much-desired energy, fuel and food production can be increased without triggering cultural or ecological devastation. The environment of Amazonia is not an "empty" wilderness. It is inhabited by forest-dependent local people and thousands of species that have maintained a long-term relationship with each other. This ecological balance of people, production and forests is vital to the whole world and is being challenged by modern forces of development.

Thursday, June 02, 2011



Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?

This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.

A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.

And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.

The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Poem via Panhala

Peoples of the Xingu Vow Last Stand

Kayapó warriors demonstrated their great opposition to the impending Belo Monte Dam project which would change their way of life forever. photo - Amazon Watch

Alexei Barrionuevo of the NY Times reports the view from Sao Paulo:
SÃO PAULO, Brazil, June 1, 2011 — Brazil’s environmental agency gave final approval on Wednesday for a giant hydroelectric power plant in the Amazon rain forest that has been at the center of a protracted battle between the government and environmentalists over the fate of indigenous people.

After three decades of planning, the environmental agency, Ibama, granted a license to the North Energy consortium for the dam, which will be the world’s third largest, capable of producing 11,200 megawatts of electricity.

Opponents said they would not give up the fight against the Belo Monte dam, which they said would flood a large part of the Xingu River basin, affecting local fishing and forcing tens of thousands of indigenous people from their native lands.

“We will not cede an inch,” said Antônia Melo, the coordinator of Xingu Vivo Para Sempre, a group based in Altamira, a city that will be partly flooded. “Our indignation and our strength to fight only increases with every mistake and every lie of this government.”

Belo Monte became a priority for the previous government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who contended that the plant was critical to Brazil’s future energy needs. His successor, President Dilma Rousseff, has remained committed to the project.

The license was granted by the environmental agency after “robust technical analysis,” the government said in a news release. The North Energy consortium will pay $1.9 billion for “social-environmental measures,” to help people affected by the dam’s construction and to offset environmental effects, an agency spokeswoman said. The government itself has committed $314 million, she said.

Conservationists have become increasingly critical of Brazil’s efforts to protect the Amazon rain forest. Brazil’s deforestation numbers increased sharply over the past nine months, and the lower house of Congress last week approved a revision of the Forest Code that would open up protected areas to deforestation while granting amnesty to agribusiness developers for previous forest-clearing. The Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

“The government has an important choice — to go back to a future of wasteful publicly funded mega-projects and frontier chaos, or ahead, to the future of a sustainable and equitable green economy leader, with rule of law, good governance and a secure natural and investment environment,” said Stephan Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The $17 billion dam, which is expected to start producing electricity in 2015, would divert the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch in Pará State. Environmental groups say it will flood more than 120,000 acres of rain forest and settlements, displacing 20,000 to 40,000 people and releasing large quantities of methane. The Ibama spokeswoman put the number of displaced people at 20,000 but insisted that no indigenous people would be removed from their lands.

“This is a tragic day for the Amazon,” said Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch. “Despite all the promises the dam builders are making around mitigation and compensation, this dam is going to spell disaster for the local people.”

Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch reports from ground zero:
Blended into the deciduous forests of Mato Grosso in Brazil's Upper Xingu River basin, the village of Piaraçu is as much a home to the Kayapó people as a symbol of their fortitude, forged by sustained cultural and political struggle for rights and territory. It is also where, after decades of indigenous resistance against the damming of the Xingu, the Kayapó are leading last ditch attempts to defend the river, its peoples, and its forests from the impending Belo Monte Dam Complex.

In Piaraçu for three days, I had the honor of participating in an extraordinary, inspiring, and historic gathering of 320 indigenous representatives from 18 ethnicities from the Xingu basin and beyond. We were joined as well by leaders of the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (MXVPS), who brought news from endangered communities of Altamira. Called by the legendary elder Kayapó Chief Raoni Metyktire, this assembly aimed to discuss the impending human rights and environmental disaster that is the Belo Monte Dam on the Lower Xingu – in particular the menace it represents to Brazil's indigenous peoples – and ways for its opponents to forge a single and unified force to resist its construction.

The days and nights of the Kayapo meeting were marked by fierce speeches denouncing Belo Monte and its government protagonists, punctuated by the spontaneous and colorful dances of different groups that demonstrated the rich cultural diversity of those in attendance. Their bodies streaked with intricate body paint designs and adorned with beads, feathers, and bright headdresses, leaders and warriors brandished long battle clubs and bows, shaking them defiantly at the government that has chosen to dismiss them, ignoring their pleas and trampling on their rights. As the meeting progressed, the piercing songs of men and women grew in intensity, matched by their anger and thirst for justice and recognition, bearing witness to the power of these people, who are committed to overcoming severe and escalating threats to their way of life.

As the dominant indigenous group of the Xingu basin, the Kayapó have a history of bold and victorious confrontation with outside forces, gaining them hard won legal recognition for their ancestral lands, which make up an enormous mosaic of demarcated territories spanning a long stretch of the Xingu River and its tributaries. Traditional guardians of their forests and rivers, the Kayapó were the driving force behind the defeat of the Brazilian government's first plans to dam the Xingu – known then as the Kararaô Complex – in 1989.

Yet 21 years later the Xingu River and its people are imperiled like never before, this time by the Belo Monte Dam Complex, slated to carve the world's third-largest dam into the heart of the Amazon. The Kayapó are keenly aware that the Belo Monte Dam will not be a stand-alone project, despite dubious government pronouncements, but rather will initiate a process that drives a series of massive cement walls up the Xingu, strangling up the river basin, wiping out fish stocks so central to local diets while decimating surrounding forests and communities. This life-giving river is sacred to its indigenous peoples and its healthy flow – free of dams – is imperative to those who gathered in Piaraçu.

Nowhere was the urgent need for courageous Kayapó leadership more apparent than in the statements of Antônia Melo, Sheyla Juruna, and Renata Pinheiro of the MXVPS. Bringing news from the frontlines in the struggle to stop the Belo Monte Dam, their powerful testimonies illustrated the ominous situation on the ground in the city of Altamira: the "monster" Belo Monte is at their doorsteps. The construction consortium NESA has rented out nearly all of the city's hotel rooms, cars, and boats, furiously contracting laborers to initiate project works. An enormous shipment of cement was recently delivered, undoubtedly destined for the dam's work camps. Farmers and riverine populations are being driven from their homes, paid a pittance for their lands. The only thing delaying construction is Mother Nature herself: unseasonably heavy rains have made the initiation of NESA‘s criminal operations impossible.

In such a grim reality, the Movement is straining against what Antônia Melo calls "psychological torture" as the city spirals into increasing chaos of violence, disorder, and misery brought on by the failure of overburdened social services.

"This is the last chance we have to paralyze Belo Monte's construction," Renata Pinheiro told the indigenous assembly. "The future of the Xingu is in your hands, indigenous peoples and social movements. You succeeded in stopping Belo Monte for 30 years – now more than ever we need to strengthen our resolve, joining forces to stop the beginning of construction."

It is clear that the Brazilian institutions charged with policing socio-environmental norms – like the environmental agency IBAMA and the indigenous foundation FUNAI – have reneged on their role, yielding to the belligerent demands of higher government offices to authorize the project. Now all the stands between the Xingu and the bulldozers are the people themselves.

Yet the messages of the leaders in Piaraçu were not meant to dispirit, they were crafted to inspire. The stirring presence of such powerful groups speaking in one voice – large contingents of Kayapó from Mato Grosso and Pará, the assembly of Juruna, Enawene Nawe, Arara, Bororo, Xavante, Cinta Larga, Terena, Bakairi e Fulni-ô, among others ethnicities – forged an undeniable and collective will to resist. And this was the objective of the assembly: to make a last stand.

"I came here to join with you, my indigenous brothers and sisters, and to leave feeling stronger," said Sheyla Juruna. "We need to fight together to strengthen our union, defend the rights of our peoples, to show the government that we exist and we must be respected! We are the owners of the Xingu - we will not allow it to be destroyed."

Presiding over the assembly were two forceful leaders of the Kayapó of Mato Grosso: Megaron and Puiu Txukarramãe. After days of deliberation, debate, and affirmation, they demonstrated a keen understanding of the significance of their role in leading the next phase of resistance to Belo Monte. And with the commitment of the MXVPS and its Brazilian and international allies, as well as the leaders of the diverse indigenous groups assembled in Piaraçu to back Kayapó's leadership, it was clear that grassroots resistance was far from over.

"We need to continue to unite. We are few, but we are strong," said Chief Megaron Txukarramãe. "We need to fight together with our allies, organizations that represent Brazilian indigenous communities, and together with the 11 ethnicities [from the Xingu Basin] that are ready to struggle against any construction that will bring suffering to the people of the Xingu."

What was made clear in the Piaraçu assembly is that Belo Monte is not simply a disaster for the Amazon but an announcement of future disasters for the rainforest's rivers and communities. It is also a very real assault on the rights of all of Brazil's indigenous peoples, including the right to be consulted and have a say over decisions that effect their lands, resources, and way of life. Called to defend these fundamental rights from further attack, the Kayapó know they will need to urgently lead resistance with the same success as two decades before.

"We will fight until the end to preserve our river and our lands," avowed Puiu Txukarramãe.

Here is the full press release from International Rivers and allied organizations.