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Deadly heat threatens the lives and livelihoods of 1 billion people in India

Mon, 04/24/2023 - 03:00

A year ago, extreme heat waves in India killed dozens of people, slashed crop yields by as much as one-third in some areas, and set a landfill ablaze in Delhi, casting toxic smoke over the surrounding neighborhoods. Temperatures soared 15 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, hitting 115 degrees in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and sparking more than 300 wildfires across the country. Even as power plants burned more coal to provide the power needed to keep people cool, the country experienced a nationwide electricity shortage.

Such scenes will become the norm as extreme heat, driven by climate change, kills crops, starts fires, and endangers people’s health across the globe. New research suggests India is especially at risk — and the government may be underestimating the threat.

There are roughly 1.4 billion people in India, and last year extreme heat left 90 percent of the country vulnerable to public health risks like heatstroke, food shortages, and even death, according to a study Cambridge researchers published last week. Soaring temperatures also could slow the country’s economy and hinder its development goals, the researchers found.

Heat waves are causing “unprecedented burdens on public health, agriculture, and other socio-economic and cultural systems,” they wrote. “India is currently facing a collision of multiple cumulative climate hazards.”

But government authorities have underestimated the danger, the study found. Officials rely on a climate vulnerability assessment, designed by India’s Department of Science and Technology, that indicates a smaller percentage of the country faces high risk from climate change than the new findings suggest. Such a miscalculation could hinder India’s efforts to meet the United Nations’ sustainable development goals, like reducing hunger and poverty and achieving gender equality. 

The study appeared in PLOS Climate just days after at least 13 people died from heatstroke and several dozen were hospitalized following an outdoor event in the western state of Maharashtra. A heat wave last week in other regions of the country forced school closures as daytime temperatures topped 104 degrees Fahrenheit several days in a row. 

At least 24,000 people have died from heat in India in the last 30 years. Climate change has made heat waves there and in neighboring Pakistan up to 100 times more likely, and temperatures are expected to break records every three years — something that would happen just once every 312 years if the climate weren’t undergoing such radical changes.

“Long-term projections indicate that Indian heat waves could cross the survivability limit for a healthy human resting in the shade by 2050,” the authors of the Cambridge study wrote.

With over 1.4 billion people, India is on pace to surpass China as the world’s most populous country this year. As the nation’s heat-caused death count rises, its economy will slow, the researchers project. By 2030, intense heat will cut the capacity for outdoor work by 15 percent — in a country where, by one estimate, “heat-exposed work” employs 75 percent of the labor force. Heat waves could cost India 8.7 percent of its GDP by the end of the century, the Cambridge researchers wrote.

Yet the government’s climate-vulnerability assessment doesn’t account for more intense and longer-lasting heat waves, according to the study. The Cambridge researchers found that all of Delhi — home to 32 million people — is endangered by severe heat waves, but the government says just two of the city’s 11 districts face high climate risk. Overcrowding, lack of access to electricity, water, sanitation, and health care, along with poor housing conditions, could leave Delhi’s residents — particularly those who are low-income — even more vulnerable to heat, the study’s authors wrote, noting a need for “structural interventions.”

The government “hasn’t understood the importance of heat and how heat can kill,” Dileep Mavalankar, director of the Gujarat-based Indian Institute of Public Health, told BBC

Meanwhile, India’s power ministry has asked coal-fired power plants to ramp up production to meet electricity demand, which hit a record high last week as temperatures eclipsed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Deadly heat threatens the lives and livelihoods of 1 billion people in India on Apr 24, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

A common talking point about climate change gets it all wrong, new study says

Fri, 04/21/2023 - 08:00

Common wisdom says that the average person doesn’t care about climate change because they think its effects will unfold in the far-off future or in faraway places. So to get them to do something, you have to make those effects — the floods, the heat, the fires — feel immediate and personal. This point is repeated ad infinitum in tips about how to talk about the climate crisis, in books, articles, and guides for public officials.

While this approach feels right, its success has been “vastly overestimated,” according to a study published in the journal One Earth on Friday. Researchers in the Netherlands surveyed 30 studies to see if emphasizing climate change as a pressing, localized problem would motivate people to support environmental policies, donate to environmental organizations, or switch to lower-carbon practices like cutting down on driving. More than 80 percent of these studies failed to find evidence that the strategy worked.

One problem? The tactic’s premise is misplaced: According to international polls, most people already believe they’re seeing the results of climate change where they live, or at least will soon. 

Spreading messages that say the opposite — that people think of it as a distant threat — could backfire, said Anne van Valkengoed, a coauthor of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher studying environmental psychology at the University of Groningen. If people think that other people think it isn’t a pressing problem, they may be less likely to take action themselves, whether that’s putting solar panels on their home or calling up their elected representatives. It’s simply a matter of fitting in.

Public discussions about climate change can be a minefield of misperceptions. Ambitious, supposedly controversial proposals to take on climate change have widespread support, yet previous research has shown that Americans dramatically underestimate the popularity of such policies. They imagine that only a minority of people favor a carbon tax or a Green New Deal, when it’s really the vast majority.

The myth that most people imagine global warming as a distant concern “could be one explanation of why people tend to underestimate other people’s climate change perceptions,” van Valkengoed said. If action is seen as unpopular, it could dampen organizing as well as politicians’ willingness to pass legislation to tackle emissions.

The new study is the first to evaluate how “psychological distance” — the idea that climate change feels far away in time and space — is being discussed outside academia. It turns out that the belief that the average person is plagued with “psychological distance” has become entrenched. Only 6 percent of guides advising people to talk about the local impacts of climate change — written for scientists, government workers, health experts, transportation workers, and even astronauts — mentioned that the strategy wasn’t backed by solid evidence, according to the new study.

A handbook for public engagement for members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading group of climate experts convened by the United Nations, says that people see global warming as “distant from their day-to-day experiences,” sometimes dismissing it “as a problem that only matters at some point in the future for people who live far away.”

The evidence suggests most people don’t need to be persuaded. “People actually think climate change is happening now, and they are also very aware of the local risks posed by climate change,” van Valkengoed said. In 2019, a poll of 150,000 people in 142 countries found that nearly 70 percent of people worldwide said that climate change posed a concerning risk to their home country in the next 20 years, with 41 percent saying it posed a “very serious threat.”

A large portion of the public has thought of global warming as near-at-hand for decades. In a Gallup poll taken back in 1997 — just two years after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that humans had begun to affect global temperatures — almost half of respondents, 48 percent, thought that it was already happening.

Some communication guides say that using the polar bear to promote concern about climate change made the problem feel distant to many people. Olivier Morin / AFP via Getty Images

So how did the psychological distance of climate change become widely accepted as a fact even though the evidence is thin? It might have something to do with how early studies got misinterpreted. Take one titled “The Psychological Distance of Climate Change” that has been cited more than 1,300 times since it was published in 2011. The researchers found that more than half of people surveyed in the United Kingdom actually thought they’d see the results of climate change where they live — outweighing the number who thought it would mainly affect developing countries. But the paper is often cited as if it found the opposite, van Valkengoed said: “This idea just started living on its own.” 

Susan Clayton, a psychology professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio who was not involved in the new study, praised the research as “rigorous” and that its findings should be taken as a cue to reevaluate “decisions about messaging.”

Psychological distance is not the only common talking point that has drawn criticism in recent years for lacking robust evidence. Countless studies have looked into the question of what emotion — fear, hope, or something else? — will prompt people to take to the streets, eat less meat, or otherwise try to reduce carbon emissions. But the results have been conflicting or inconclusive, with one 2017 paper warning that emotions are not “simple levers to be pulled.”

Kris De Meyer, a research fellow who studies neuroscience and geography at King’s College London, has argued that the whole genre of communication studies has been chasing the wrong thing. A long tradition of psychological research, often ignored in the climate sphere, has found that beliefs don’t drive behavioral change or activism, he told Grist in 2021. In fact, De Meyer says, it usually happens the other way around: Taking action drives beliefs, with people justifying what they’re already doing. Providing a roadmap that shows exactly how to take action effectively is more helpful than trying to manipulate people’s emotions.

One thing in particular tends to motivate people to act differently: “social learning,” the idea that we take cues from others. Think of the famous elevator conformity experiment filmed on Candid Camera in 1962. Surrounded by actors facing the back wall of the elevator, real people awkwardly turned around to blend in. The same principle can be put to use for climate action; installing solar panels on your roof pressures your neighbors to do the same.

The study recommends that researchers, communicators, and officials start talking more about “the finding that many people already perceive climate change as occurring here and now,” leveraging popular support to accelerate the shift to a lower-carbon world. “You want to give people the sense that they’re not alone in combating climate change,” van Valkengoed said. “It’s something that a lot of people actually care about.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A common talking point about climate change gets it all wrong, new study says on Apr 21, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

What could $1 billion do for Puerto Rico’s energy resilience? Residents have ideas.

Fri, 04/21/2023 - 03:30

When the electricity goes out in Puerto Rico, food and medicines spoil. Dialysis machines stop running. Water doesn’t flow, businesses shutter, and schools close. And while the energy grid’s fragility attracts national attention when a hurricane causes a blackout, Puerto Ricans constantly confront outages.

“In the mountains, it only takes a little wind and we are out of power,” said Crystal Díaz, who lives in Cayey, a town about 80 minutes south of San Juan. “We are an 800-family community, and we are without power at least once a week.” The cost of operating her produce-delivery business triples when the electricity fails because she must buy expensive diesel for generators, and sales come to a halt because customers can’t refrigerate food. 

Such frustrations are common throughout Puerto Rico, an archipelago of 3.26 million people where residents have grown tired of an energy system they can’t rely on and a utility that has shown little ability to address the problem. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited last month — her fourth time since October — to hear firsthand from residents like Díaz. They told stories of neighbors having to choose between paying for electricity or buying food, and of mothers scrambling to find fuel to power generators for their children’s medical equipment. 

“No other place in the country has this kind of horrible electric system. It’s just not right,” Granholm told Grist during her recent visit. “This island needs to have a full-on effort to be able to repair the grid.”

President Biden agrees. Two weeks after Hurricane Fiona left the entire archipelago without power last September, he directed Granholm to lead “a supercharged effort across the federal government” to repair the failing grid and accelerate its transition to clean energy. Granholm’s Puerto Rico Grid Recovery and Modernization Team is working with federal and local agencies and six national laboratories to provide resources and technical assistance. It’s also conducting a two-year study, called PR100, on the best path to renewable energy. “We’re doing everything, everywhere, all at once to be able to make this happen,” said Granholm.

Such a transformation will take years, something Puerto Ricans living with the economic and health consequences of unreliable and unaffordable electricity can’t spare. As part of the undertaking, Biden got Congress to approve the $1 billion Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund to deliver reliable, affordable power to the most vulnerable residents as quickly as possible.

The department wants to start disbursing the resilience fund by the end of this year. But first it must determine which communities to begin with, how to serve people with the greatest need, and what strategies will have the widest reach. For that, it has turned to those in the best position to know: Puerto Ricans themselves. 

“Getting into these communities where we haven’t been before and hearing the wisdom of those who live there is so important,” Granholm told Grist after a town hall in the city of Mayagüez. “It’s not going to be done right unless we consult with the people who are here.” 

Residents across the archipelago attended town halls to share their experiences with Puerto Rico’s fickle energy grid. Gabriela Aoun Angueira / Grist

The people of Puerto Rico are already harnessing effective solutions. In packed town halls, intimate home visits, and lively industry round tables, one person after another told Granholm and her Puerto Rico Grid Modernization Team about their visions of decentralized, community-centric energy systems. What they need most, they said, is support to amplify those solutions, and to make sure they reach the people who need them most. 

Puerto Rico’s energy system was already in trouble before the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017. Its infrastructure was aging and ill-maintained, and both the U.S. territory and its public utility declared bankruptcy months before the storm. That kicked off a privatization process in which the utility transferred management of its transmission and distribution to the Canadian-American company Luma Energy in 2021. Its energy generation, which depends almost completely on fossil fuels, will transfer to another U.S. company in July.

Luma promised to fix the failing lines, towers, and substations, but Puerto Ricans say conditions haven’t improved. Thousands protested in frustration last fall, going so far as to leave refrigerators damaged by power outages at the gates of the governor’s mansion in Old San Juan. Even as energy remains unreliable, its cost rises: Puerto Rico’s electricity rates are more than twice the average rate in the U.S. because of fuel imports, and could rise more due to the debt restructuring

The first task in strengthening energy resilience is identifying the residents who need it most. While there are a handful of regions that tend to experience the worst outages, vulnerable households — those in which losing power threatens the health of the elderly or those who rely upon medical equipment — dot the entire archipelago.

A study from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, found that 200,000 households went more than five months without power after Maria. Most were in the mountainous interior of the main island. Roughly 62,000 of them waited 11 months for power. As many as 4,400 people died in the months after the Category 5 hurricane, a staggering number that is linked to the loss of basic services that require power. 

“We need to reimagine what critical infrastructure means,” Marcel Castro, a professor of electrical engineering at the university and an author of the study, said. “If one person would die because of a lack of power, that house is critical energy infrastructure, and it needs to be equipped with alternatives to save that one life.”

Rooftop solar and backup battery systems are a rapid and direct way to answer these needs.  Installation of photovoltaic, or PV, systems across the archipelago has increased tenfold since Maria. But in a place where the median annual income is $21,967, the technology remains beyond reach for many.

A complete system can cost $30,000 to $35,000, but Castro said not everyone needs that. Installing a solar system capable of providing enough power to keep the lights on, the fridge and essential medical gear running, and the phone charged could cost as little as $7,000 to $10,000. 

Microgrids are another attractive solution, and something the town of Castañer has adopted. It is one of many communities nestled in the mountain ranges in the core of the main island, where dense vegetation conflicts with power lines, causing frequent outages. Some of them are only accessible by narrow, winding roads that are impassable after a bad storm. Residents told Granholm they feel forgotten by the government. “When the power goes out, it can be a week to get it back,” said a man at a town hall in the town of Adjuntas. “We have not been a priority.” 

Solar panels on a microgrids in Castañer, Puerto Rico. A woman plugged in her lung therapy equipment at the ice cream shop across the street. Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña

The two grids in Castañer power seven businesses, including a bakery and a grocery store, and two neighboring homes. Business owners benefit from lower electricity bills and the comfort of knowing the backup batteries will keep them open for eight to 10 hours after an outage. Under the microgrid contract, businesses agree to let residents plug in phones and refrigerate medicines during an outage. After Hurricane Fiona cut power to the community last September, a woman powered her lung therapy equipment at the local ice cream shop. 

“We focus on stabilizing communities,” C.P. Smith, president of Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña, which operates the microgrids, told Granholm as they stood in the town plaza. “We energize the businesses, because the people can come and get chilled milk and fresh food.” Smith said the cooperative wants to build six to eight more microgrids in neighboring towns within the next 18 months. 

Models like this provide a most basic line of resilience, but Puerto Rico also needs residential solutions that provide reliable power to those who can’t leave their homes to find it, and to alleviate the burden of outsized electricity bills.

About 40 miles northwest of Castañer in the coastal town of Isabela, the nonprofit Barrio Eléctrico offers residential PV and battery-storage systems as a service. Residents can have one installed for a $25 initiation fee and a $120 deposit. Their monthly electricity bills are reduced by about half. Since they don’t own the infrastructure, if a panel fails or the battery needs to be replaced, they don’t face a repair they can’t afford. The nonprofit has done 36 installations so far. It hopes to do 1,500 by the middle of 2024.

Barrio Eléctrico is able to offer such reduced rates by attracting U.S. investors who can take advantage of federal solar tax credits, which are unavailable to Puerto Ricans. The credits lower the overall cost of financing the systems, and Barrio Eléctrico passes the savings on to residents like Arlyn Pagán, whose system was installed in March. 

Arlyn Pagán tells Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm about the benefits of her new PV system in Isabela, Puerto Rico. Anthony Martinez / Department of Energy

“I am diabetic and asthmatic, and I need power for my breathing machine and refrigeration for my medicines,” she told Granholm in the shade of the yard of a neighbor who had also installed a system. “We are telling everyone it’s the best thing we can do, for our health and our pockets.”

If the Biden administration spent the Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund only on single-family residential rooftop systems, which typically cost $30,000 to $35,000, the billion dollars would only cover about 30,000 homes. Local frustration over the Puerto Rico housing department’s recent chaotic rollout of a voucher program for $30,000 PV systems showed the pitfalls of simply giving away systems piecemeal.

“Lotteries and giveaways are not sustainable, and they are not just,” said Jorge Gaskins, board president of Barrio Eléctrico. “In the event of another Hurricane Maria blackout – some of us will live and some of us will die?”

Advocates of projects like those in Castañer and Isabela say federal money can go much further by funding community-driven models that can use the financing to boost their reach. “We need to lever the money from the federal government, so that every dollar that comes in, we can do $3 worth of projects,” said Jose Monllor, financial advisor for the Cooperativa Hidroeléctrica de la Montaña.  

Nor will the money have much effect if it is used only for hardware. More than half the homes that Barrio Eléctrico visits need repairs or other improvements. Thousands of homes throughout Puerto Rico still bear the damage of hurricanes. Another University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez study found that 75 percent of the homes in a neighborhood near campus had roofs too storm-wrecked to support panels or were missing altogether. 

“If you only give money for PV but not roofs, you exclude three-quarters of the people here,” Agustín Irizarry, a professor who was part of the study, told Granholm during a visit to the university’s Microgrid Laboratory. He also said there will need to be a robust workforce-training effort, something that has been hampered by education cuts imposed by the bankruptcy debt restructuring.

The impact of energy-resilience funding will be limited if it does not also address the need to train a clean-energy workforce. Paola Pagan / Barrio Eléctrico

There’s another challenge that implementing a program like this will face: A 125-year colonial relationship with the United States and chronic inaction by local and federal governments have fostered hesitation, if not outright mistrust, of government assistance. In every town hall, people raised those concerns. “How do you measure that this was really for the people?” a woman asked Granholm in Adjuntas. “Because in my experience, other interests enter that don’t care about people.”

“We need to earn your trust,” Granholm responded. “The proof will be in the pudding.”

The department plans to start seeking proposals by summer, and begin funding them by the end of the year. If the resilience fund fulfills its promise, it will help bring energy sovereignty to people across the archipelago. That would save lives. It would also relieve people of the anxiety of wondering when the next interruption will come.  

A woman in Castañer told Granholm just how life changing that can be. Norma Medina had lived in her house for 48 years. It was now connected to one of the microgrids. “During Hurricane Maria, we suffered a lot,” she said. “Now I can sleep in peace.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What could $1 billion do for Puerto Rico’s energy resilience? Residents have ideas. on Apr 21, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

A new bill in Oregon could target environmental protesters as terrorists

Fri, 04/21/2023 - 03:00

A bill that could stifle environmental protests has emerged in an unlikely place: the Democrat-controlled Oregon state legislature. Lawmakers in the Beaver State are considering a bill that could make “disruption of services” provided by so-called critical infrastructure, which includes roads, pipelines, electrical substations, and some oil and gas infrastructure, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines. The bill labels such activity “domestic terrorism.”

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Representative Paul Evans, and other proponents argue that the legislation is necessary to adequately punish extremists who may seek to damage facilities that provide essential public services. The bill appears to be a direct response to the 2020 racial justice protests that turned violent in Portland and the breach of the state capitol in Salem by far-right protesters the same year. A recent report by the Oregon Secretary of State claims that the state has experienced one of the highest rates of domestic violent extremism in the country and that critical infrastructure “continues to be a high-risk target.”

“What happens when someone decides that for a fun evening they’re going to go out and destroy an electrical substation that cripples a community for a day, a week?” Evans said during a committee hearing. “The fact is we have some gaps in the way in which we approach those sorts of crimes.”

But existing state laws already make trespassing and property damage criminal offenses, and environmental and civil liberties advocates are concerned that decreeing “disruption of services” to be domestic terrorism could result in charges for nonviolent protesters who may block a road, bridge, or oil and gas site during a protest.

“That’s stuff that could happen at ordinary protests,” said Nick Caleb, an attorney with the environmental nonprofit Breach Collective. Caleb said that this bill may not have received much traction prior to 2020, but that the violent events of that year changed the calculus for many lawmakers. “Suddenly there’s enough Democrats that also think labeling things as terrorism will have an effect on stopping that type of disruptive activity,” he said.

The bill is still in the early stages of consideration. It successfully passed out of a state House committee and has received a hearing, but it has several more hurdles to clear in both chambers before it can become law.

Read Next Welcome to Utah, where pipeline protests could now get you at least five years in prison

As state legislatures kick into high gear this year, many other states are proposing and passing similar legislation. In the last few months, state legislatures in Georgia, Tennessee, and Utah have all passed bills that increase penalties for interfering with or damaging critical infrastructure. A number of other states — including Minnesota, Illinois, North Carolina, and Oklahoma — have similar legislation pending.

Over the last six years, at least 19 states have passed this kind of critical infrastructure law. The bills were first proposed after the 2017 Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline received national attention. In response, primarily Republican lawmakers explicitly cited the Standing Rock protests as the impetus for the legislation. But this year, lawmakers have mostly pointed to a more recent spate of attacks on electrical substations in North Carolina, Washington, and Oregon as the reason such critical infrastructure bills are needed.

Advocates in Oregon have pointed to other events in Georgia as an example of the ways in which a domestic terrorism bill could be used to target protesters. Georgia lawmakers first expanded the state’s definition of domestic terrorism in 2017 to include crimes committed with the intent to “alter, change, or coerce the policy of the government.” Since then the law has been used to target environmental activists protesting the construction of a police training center colloquially referred to as “Cop City.” Of the roughly two dozen protesters arrested under the law, arrest warrants showed that several were being charged with domestic terrorism even though they weren’t alleged to have engaged in any specific illegal activity other than trespassing.

“There was a stated reason for why the [Georgia] law was passed — to target mass shootings,” said Sarah Alvarez, a staff attorney with the Civil Liberties Defense Center. “Now it’s being twisted to apply to environmental protesters who haven’t harmed anyone. That is the concern that I have when I look at the Oregon bill.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A new bill in Oregon could target environmental protesters as terrorists on Apr 21, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Indigenous Maasai ask the United Nations to intervene on human rights abuses

Thu, 04/20/2023 - 12:48

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, and Native News Online.

In Tanzania, the Indigenous Maasai face an ongoing, violent campaign to evict them from their lands and make way for protected conservation areas and hunting reserves. This week, the Maasai are in New York to ask the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, to tell Tanzania to stop taking their cattle, remove its security forces, establish a commission to investigate disputed lands and displaced people, and allow international human rights monitors to visit without restrictions. 

“We, the Maasai people of Loliondo and Ngorongoro in Tanzania, are fighting against the Tanzanian government and wildlife trophy hunters who are threatening our livelihood, culture, ancestral wisdom, legacy, and basic human rights,” Edward Porokwa, executive director of the Pastoralists Indigenous Non Governmental Organization’s Forum, said. “There is no justification for this crisis created by the government.”

The Maasai land conflict in Tanzania is focused on two main areas: the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Loliondo. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts over half a million visitors every year for safaris to see the park’s “Big 5” game — elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, and rhinoceros. Around 80,000 Indigenous Maasai call the park home, but have faced decades of government efforts to push them off their land.

In a statement delivered at the Permanent Forum, Porokwa said that, since June 2022, the government has closed four nursery schools, nine water sources, and six mobile health clinics. The government says that Maasai are voluntarily leaving the area for resettlement sites, but the Maasai say that they are essentially being forced out. “It is a forceful relocation by ensuring that people don’t get the basics,” Porokwa said. “They are there to die.” 

And in Loliondo, which is legally demarcated Maasai village land, state security forces shot at Maasai in a violent campaign to drive them from their lands last June. In the attack, dozens of Maasai were injured and many fled across the nearby border to Kenya for medical attention. At least two dozen others were arrested, while some were not permitted to leave their homes. 

Last June, nine United Nations experts raised concern about forced evictions and resettlement plans, but the Maasai representatives at the United Nations say that the government has not changed its approach. 

The Maasai say that since June 2022, Tanzania has taken or killed over 600,000 of their cows and demanded over $2.5 million in fines for grazing. This is all part of what Maasai say is a massive campaign to destroy their pastoralist way of life. 

At the Permanent Forum, a representative from the Tanzanian government pushed back on the Maasai’s claims, pointing to the East African Court of Justice’s 2022 dismissal of an eviction case brought by the Maasai, stating that the Maasai could not prove their claims about violent evictions. The Oakland Institute, a US-based nonprofit that advocates for Indigenous rights, called the ruling a “shocking blow to Indigenous land rights.” Tanzanian representatives at UNPFII declined to comment on the matter.

In January, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights conducted a monitoring visit to investigate the situation. But Maasai community organizations say that at every step, the visit was controlled by the government. Commission representatives were shepherded around by state security forces who intimidated Maasai and excluded them from some meetings. Some Maasai waited for hours to speak with the Commission, only for them to never show up. While the Commission’s final report on the visit did express concern about the situation, it also commended Tanzania’s commitment to protecting human rights. The Commission also recommended starting new consultations with the Maasai, as well as addressing their concerns about the resettlement program. 

In December, José Francisco Calí Tzay, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples was scheduled for a week-long visit to Tanzania, but the visit was indefinitely postponed. Maasai leaders believe that the visit was scuttled out of concern that the Special Rapporteur would not be given full access to investigate. At the Permanent Forum, Calí Tzay called for a halt to the evictions and for the government to consult with the Maasai, but did not address the postponed visit. 

With few options remaining, the Maasai have turned to the Permanent Forum to raise their concerns. Briane Keane is the director of Land is Life, an international organization that works with Indigenous peoples, including providing travel funding, medical assistance, and security assessments to the Maasai. Keane says that the United Nations is an important platform for the Maasai. “It’s a place where they can be heard. The government of Tanzania is not listening,” he said. 

The Maasai hope that international pressure may convince the government to finally listen to their concerns. But speaking out on the international level also comes with risks for the Maasai. Several leaders who spoke out against government abuses were forced to flee the country for their safety

“Indigenous peoples are the most among the most criminalized peoples of the world,” said Keane. “There’s people being thrown in jail. There are threats. So it’s very dangerous work sticking up for your rights when you’re as marginalized as the Maasai are in Tanzania.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Indigenous Maasai ask the United Nations to intervene on human rights abuses on Apr 20, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

UN: Protecting Indigenous health also protects the environment

Thu, 04/20/2023 - 08:30

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, and Native News Online.

This year’s United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is focusing on human, territorial, and planetary health. The Permanent Forum is in its 22nd session. 

A recent report, “Indigenous Determinants of Health,” is a culmination of 20 years of work that the Permanent Forum has been doing. It was released this session. The Permanent Forum lasts two weeks and consists of interventions, which are essentially calls to action, and side events on various issues.  

Many Indigenous leaders have spoken about how planetary health and the health of Indigenous people and communities are intertwined, becoming ever more important as the world experiences irreversible damage caused by climate change. 

A report like this by the U.N. is the first of its kind. 

The study was meant to inform non-Indigenous policymakers about how to approach health and wellness for Indigenous communities and to fill the gap in U.N. literature that previously did not address the holistic, historical, and political aspects that encompass Indigenous health, in comparison to other minority groups.  

This report was in some sense a response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a U.N. agenda that seeks to “end poverty and hunger, realize the human rights of all, achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources,” according to its website. The agenda has 17 concrete goals to achieve by 2030. 

“The past seven years, however, have shown the urgent need for guidance on — and a proper understanding of — Indigenous Peoples’ needs, separate from the general minority and diverse population approaches,” the report states. “The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic highlighted the entrenched inequities faced by Indigenous Peoples in all 17 Goal areas and how the severe lack of cultural competence within the 17 Goals negatively impacts Indigenous Peoples’ health.”

The report uses the framework of the World Health Organization’s definition of social determinants of health, meaning the social, political, economical, and cultural factors that affect a person’s health. One specific example would be the lack of access to grocery stores on the Navajo Nation and how not having access to fresh foods impacts a person’s health.  

“We tend to look at measures like poverty or poor educational attainment or inadequate housing as determinants of bad health outcomes,” Dr. Donald Warne, one of the authors of the report and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Indigenous Health, told ICT. “But we also know that there are strengths as well, particularly with Indigenous cultures. We know that language preservation, cultural connectedness, participation in ceremony, are actually protective of health. We want to think of Indigenous determinants of health as not just the causes of health disparities, but the sources of strength to overcome some of those challenges.” 

The Indigenous determinants of health runs parallel to this definition by acknowledging the unique challenges, worldviews, and political status of Indigenous nations. More importantly this report is a call to action.       

“This study is intended to create tangible outcomes for Indigenous peoples at the local level. Everything we do here should be focused on improving the health and wellness of our local Indigenous peoples through these interlinked determinants of health, whether it be climate change, planetary and territorial health, mental health, maternal and child health, primary care, and more,” Geoff Roth, Standing Rock Sioux descendant and elected member of the Permanent Forum, said in his speech at the U.N. headquarters.

There are 37 other recommendations that could be immediately implemented on the collaboration between Indigenous nations and local health agencies. It ranges from reinforcing Indigenous identities to supporting and protecting the use of medicinal plants. 

“My role was mainly on the intergenerational holistic healing component and there’s 15 recommendations just within that one component,” Warne, who is Oglala Lakota, said. “A couple of things that I think are very important is to recognize that as a medical educators, we are not doing a good job in medical education and public health education, or really any health science, in understanding the impact of historical trauma, the impact of colonization, and the need for more trauma-informed care.”

Next month at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Brazil will present a resolution that acknowledges Indigenous peoples’ right to health care and to govern their own health care facilities. The World Health Assembly is composed of 194 member states that address global health emergencies. Brazil’s resolution will also call for the World Health Organization to create a plan that addresses Indigenous peoples’ health by next year. 

“We ask you to encourage your member states to support this resolution that will be offered by Brazil at the upcoming World Health Assembly in Geneva,” Roth said. 

Member states, meaning countries like the United States and Canada, are represented by an appointed delegate to the U.N. For example, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield represents the United States in the U.N. General Assembly, the policy making arm of the organization.   

Ultimately this report seeks to explain that Indigenous health encompasses more than just access to care. 

“Member states must recognize that there are unique determinants of health specific to Indigenous peoples, our cultures, histories, political status, spirituality, and our current experience,” Stacy Bohlen, executive director of the National Indian Health Board, said. “All Indigenous peoples’ interactions and connections to spirituality, social life, and environmental elements are substantively distinct from those of all other populations around the globe. Indigeneity as an overarching determiner of health is the foundation of our work.”

“One of the strongest suggestions that we make is that the [World Health Organization] and [Pan American Health Organization] incorporate the concept of Indigeneity as an overarching determinant of health in all of their work, policies, body of knowledge, and initiatives,” Roth said. “As such, Indigeneity would encompass all of the specific circumstances included in the Indigenous determinants of health study that we are presenting today.”

The Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, which represents youth from all seven regions of the U.N., has called on the Permanent Forum and General Assembly to create permanent intergenerational, Indigenous advisory groups for all bodies of the U.N., including the World Health Organization, make violence against Indigenous women a thematic mandate, meaning a specific issue of human rights, and encourage member states to support traditional health practices in accordance with the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights.

“Create binding resolutions in regards to climate actions,” Lahelo Mattos, a member of the youth caucus, said. “Climate change is indeed one of the largest threats to the peace and security of all nations and peoples.”

Lahelo Mattos, 23, was flanked by a handful of her peers from the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, one hand on her shoulder, as she addressed hundreds of people from around the world on Tuesday. 

“For Indigenous peoples, wellness is defined through the interconnectedness and balance of physical, mental, cultural, and spiritual health,” Mattos, a Native Hawaiian, said in her speech. “We urge the General Assembly to include the rights of Indigenous people as a social determinant of health as Indigeneity is a determinant of health. Returning lands and waters, lands and waters stewardship, and honoring the rights of Indigenous peoples improves human and planetary health and is a solution to the climate crisis.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline UN: Protecting Indigenous health also protects the environment on Apr 20, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

In Peru, forest communities are fighting to regain ownership of protected land

Thu, 04/20/2023 - 03:45

This story is part of The Human Cost of Conservation, a Grist series on Indigenous rights and protected areas. It was supported by The Pulitzer Center, and is published in partnership with Indian Country Today.

On the morning of July 27, 2022, a small coalition of Shipibo fishers and local farmers living inside a protected area in the Peruvian Amazon steered their boats across a still and glittering lake. They were bound for the town of Junín Pablo, where the regional government had installed a guard post several years prior as a base from which to monitor the area. Upon arrival, they set up camp along the shore beside the offices, with signs reading “No more corruption” and Don’t fine us for defending our rights.” Over the course of a week, hundreds of people joined from the surrounding towns to peacefully demand the exit of the park administration.

“It was the only way to get anyone to listen,” said Jeremías Cruz Nunta, a member of the Shipibo-Konibo Indigenous community and head of the Indigenous and Peasant Defense Front for Imiría and Cauya Lakes, a committee formed to protect the local waters. Since the toma, or the taking of the post, nine months ago, the group has monitored the entrance to the lagoon with a rotating shift of guards to restrict the entry of government officials. “We had to do something drastic to get people to pay attention.”

The guard offices that were built by the regional government in the town of Junín Pablo have sat abandoned since the toma, or taking of the post, on July 27, 2022. Grist / Blanca Begert

For years, the Shipibo have protested the protected area, submitting formal complaints to ask that the supreme decree used to establish it be annulled and that the land be given over to the communities to manage. Despite their claims that the park was established illegally, in violation of their territorial rights, the administration had carried on its operations. 

The Ucayali regional government introduced the Lake Imiría regional conservation area, or ACR Imiría (for área de conservación regional), more than a decade ago. The objective was to conserve over 300,000 acres of the Amazonian wetland ecosystem, which had been threatened by illegal logging and fishing, as a park. But the park overlapped with six Indigenous territories, as well as with nine small, untitled hamlets populated by self-described “mestizos” — farmers of mixed descent who migrated to the area from other parts of the Amazon or the Andes Mountains.

Shipibo leaders and their lawyers argue that authorities failed to follow legal protocols of consulting the community and instituted rules that restricted the livelihoods of those within its borders, limiting fishing, farming, and timber harvest to only what families can personally use, but not sell.

“Cutting trees over 10 centimeters is prohibited, as is fishing over 50 kilos,” said Abner Ancon, who lives in Caimito, one of the five titled Indigenous territories that dot the edges of the lake, and whose community has led the resistance against the park. The administration’s efforts to develop replacement income streams through artisanal craft collectives and native fruit cultivation have fallen flat. “In 12 years, there hasn’t been a single benefit for the population,” said Daniel Cruz Nunta, Jeremías’s brother and a Shipibo fisherman who has lived in Caimito all his life.

Meanwhile, the area has increasingly become a focal point for timber poaching, land trafficking, and commercial fishing, contrary to the park administration’s stated conservation aims.

A view of Lake Imiría from the town of Caimito. Grist / Blanca Begert

Since the creation of the United States’ national park system in 1872, protected areas like the one at Lake Imiría have been the cornerstone of the global conservation movement, exported around the world and adopted by governments from Kenya to Chile to Indonesia. The model assumes that ecosystems function best in isolation from humans, walling off or severely restricting local peoples’ access to nature in a practice often referred to as “fortress conservation.” But Indigenous communities and their allies have long decried the way this conservation strategy regularly forces local people from the places they have lived in and stewarded, often in a way that protects biodiversity even more effectively, for centuries. 

Today, as nations look for land to set aside in the name of climate action and carry out a global agreement to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and waters by 2030, Indigenous communities have been sounding the alarm about an increased risk of dispossession. In Peru — one of the world’s top sellers of forest carbon credits, where over 31 percent of protected areas overlap with Indigenous territories — the ACR Imiría is just one place where Indigenous land rights and state-run conservation have come into conflict. 

The Área de Conservación Regional Imiría overlaps Shipibo land — only some of which is legally recognized through land titles. The dark green areas on the map, both shaded and outlined, represent land titled to the Shipibo. They live all across the Ucayali, in territories much smaller than their original ancestral lands. Grist / Maria Parazo Rose

The Shipibo residents of Caimito talk about the ACR Imiría as another threat to their autonomy and land rights — instead of as an ally against deforestation.

Linda Vigo, a lawyer in the nearby city of Pucallpa who represents the Shipibo communities around Imiría, has documented the steps that the regional government took since it first introduced the ACR in 2010 and again when it approved the park’s first master plan in 2019. She says the park was established illegally, with inadequate and incomplete community consultation, in violation of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the International Labor Organization Convention 169, both ratified by Peru. 

“If there are 700 people [in a community] and 30 signed, that’s not consent,” said Vigo. “This ordinance has been issued without prior consultation, so we are asking for its annulment.”

The Ucayali River is a primary source of the Amazon River. It forms high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, at the confluence of the Urubamba and Apurímac, and winds its way north for almost 1,000 miles, flowing through dense forest, nature reserves, farmlands, and small towns. Eventually, it joins with the Marañon to form the largest river in the world. Halfway along its route, just before it reaches the port city of Pucallpa, the Ucayali River feeds Lake Imiría, a sparkling lagoon filled with swamp forest islands and abundant diversity of birds and fish. 

“The Shipibo have always lived along the banks of Ucayali,” said Ancon. “This is our area.” His grandparents moved to the forests around Imiría from another part of the river in the 1930s and set up Caimito, the first settlement in the area. The community received an official title from the Peruvian government in 1975

Ancon is standing on his porch along the lake’s shore. It’s election day, last October, and people — Shipibo and their neighbors from all around the area — have come to town to vote. Children jump off boats into the muddy water, grandparents rest in the shade, and fishermen clean their catches along the shore.

But for the serene surroundings — the dense forest at the edge of town, the undeveloped vista across the water — it’s easy to forget that this village of about 200 families, replete with two general stores, a small school, and a health post, sits inside a protected area.

The Defense Front for Imiría and Cauya Lakes set up a guard post in the hamlet of Unión Vecinal to monitor the entrance to Lake Imiría. Here, Haylens Gomez Arevale, vice president of the Defense Front, cooks fish from the river for lunch. Grist / Blanca Begert

Well before the ACR was created, local communities contended with loggers, commercial fishers, outside farmers, and cocaine cultivators invading their territories or setting up shop in the surrounding forests. The Amazon has a long history of extractive booms, but starting in the 1960s, Peru increasingly pushed the colonization of the jungle through decades of building roads and export hubs, subsidizing the migration of Andean farmers to the region, and handing over contracts to foreign industrial operations.

“Our grandparents found this area uninhabited, full of fish and forest animals,” said Daniel Cruz Nunta. But over the years, pressures on the forests and rivers ramped up. Big boats entered the lake, “failing to discriminate over the size of the fish they harvest,” according to Luis Ojanama Tenazoa, who arrived in 1978 as one of the first inhabitants of Bella Flor, an untitled hamlet on the lake.

In recent decades, Shipibo communities around Lake Imiría, especially Junín Pablo, have dealt with ongoing cocalero, or cocaine farmer, invasions. Farmers associated with cartels as well as others from poor areas of the Andean Mountains, like Ayacucho and Hunacayo, enter, set up camp far from population centers, and clear hundreds of hectares of primary forest.

Elva Cruz Nunta, from the Shipibo community of Caimito, walks on the edge of a former cocaine plot within the Caimito territory. The plot was established by settlers and later removed by the regional government, which has done some work to eradicate the former cocaine farms but has yet to address the full extent of the issue. Grist / Blanca Begert

In the 1990s and early 2000s, in response to local conflicts with commercial fishing boats that increasingly depleted the lake, the government began the process of creating a communal reserve, a national conservation category that designates Indigenous and local peoples as legal co-administrators. But in 2005, as Peru was in the process of decentralizing forestry and environmental management, the authorities recommended that a regional conservation area would be more appropriate and adapted plans to fit the new regime, shrinking the park’s footprint to accommodate overlapping land concessions on the borders of the park. Unlike the communal reserve model, the ACR technically does not require that Indigenous peoples be co-administrators; in their early petitions, the communities asked why the plan had changed.  

The early draft management plan for the ACR laid out broadly articulated goals to conserve and restore local ecosystems. But residents say the situation has only gotten worse since the establishment of the protected area. 

In some cases, regional officials have actively conspired with industrial farmers inside the park. A 2021 investigation by Mongabay confirmed that since 2017, German Mennonites from Bolivia cleared over 2,470 acres of primary forest in the Masisea district around Lake Imiría; 2,156 of those were inside the titled Shipibo territories of Caimito and Buenos Aires. In a scheme that is currently being investigated by Ucayali’s’s environmental prosecutor, the Ucayali ministry of agriculture sold the land to the Mennonites as agricultural land, knowing that it was primary forest.

German Mennonites used industrial farming equipment to clear over 2,470 acres of forest forest in the Masisea District around Lake Imiría since 2017 through a land-trafficking scheme enabled by regional authorities. Grist / Blanca Begert

Shipibo residents say that the administration has done little to curb illegal fishing and land trafficking, choosing instead to focus on the practices of the Indigenous communities and smallholder farmers. 

In 2016, Caimito resident Sorayda Cruz Vesada was on her way to the market in Pucallpa to sell a 33-pound (15-kilogram) paiche, a large fish native to the Amazon, when she was reported by park guards and apprehended by police on a city street. She had planned to sell her catch to buy school supplies for her daughter.

“People were standing around, shouting at the police, coming to my defense,” she said. Nevertheless, she was brought into custody and issued a fine of 1,500 soles, the equivalent of $400. Later, she received a summons to regularly appear at the station in Pucallpa. With her husband ill and unable to help work the farm, fishing was the main form of income for Cruz Vesada, as it is for most Shipibo people. Now, financial and legal complications have thrown her life into a tailspin. 

“Enough already with the ACR — it needs to be completely abolished,” said Cruz Vesada, citing some other examples of people who have been fined or arrested for violating park rules in their territories. A family in a neighboring community had four logs of timber confiscated that they were going to sell down the river. Others have been forbidden from expanding their farms.

Sorayda Cruz Vesada sits outside her home in Caimito. She was fined by the ACR Imiría administration for selling paiche in Pucallpa. Grist / Blanca Begert

The park management plan lays out a strategy to compensate for these lost income opportunities through alternative livelihood development, but residents say the projects have been wholly ineffective. 

Programs to reforest the area, to grow and sell aguaje and camu camu, native fruits, or to develop what Jeremías Cruz Nunta called “some miniscule program for a small group of women to sell artesanias,” or crafts, failed to bring in income that made a difference in people’s lives — same with programs to raise paiche in enclosed fisheries that never seem to go anywhere. 

In 2020, while Shipibo communities were struggling under fishing restrictions that some say made it hard to feed their families, they learned about efforts from the Ucayali Department of Fisheries to develop commercial fishing in Lake Imiría in coordination with the ACR and the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, which has been working in the area since 2018.

A representative from USAID said the program was part of an effort to formalize fishing in the area, which would allow Shipibo and local communities, as well as outside fishers, to sell fish from the lake legally through government-approved fishing associations. But Shipibo and local residents objected to the fact that the project would allow large fishing associations from Pucallpa to extract quantities of fish that they said were unsustainable and should be protected for local livelihoods which, prior to the ACR, had been more easily and directly accessible. Studies on fish populations that the regional government undertook to support the project have not been made publicly available.

For Caimito residents, the commercial fishing initiative was a tipping point. They decided to reactivate their own Indigenous Guard to protect their forests and waters. “We would paddle out and ask the fishing boats what they were doing in the lake,” said Elvira Pandura Mafaldo, a member of the local guard. Not long after, they were on their way to Junín Pablo to seize the guard post. “Our ancestors always fought for their territory — the communities know how to protect their land.”

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Noé Guadalupe, the former head of Ucayali’s environmental authority who finished his term in January, disagrees with the Shipibo’s assessment. “Were it not for the ACR this place would be overrun with cocaleros,” he said in his office in Pucallpa last October. 

Guadalupe has a lot of explanations for why conservation and livelihood development have failed within the ACR. The government does not have enough money to hire adequate staff, and the ministries of agriculture, fishing, economic development, and forestry are too siloed and underfunded to address issues like deforestation and public works holistically, he said, while also acknowledging corruption in some areas of the government. (The park administration, under the ministry of the environment, makes reports to the agencies, but does not enforce all the laws itself.) 

As for the claim that the ACR was established unlawfully and should be handed back to the communities, he said that’s a decision that would be made over his head. In August, after the toma, or the taking of the guard post, Guadalupe went to a meeting in Caimito and signed a form along with COSHICOX, the Shipibo Konibo Xetebo Council, and ORAU, the overarching Indigenous federation of Ucayali, acknowledging that the communities would retain control of the park offices and take their proposal up with the national government. “There’s no conflict here,” he said. “But they’re making the wrong decision.” 

A lack of transparency over where the park’s budget goes has also created a sense that the communities are being swindled. The ACR Imiría’s public-funded budget is a little over $3.5 million for the period of 2019 to 2023, but it has also drawn over $1 million from USAID. USAID spending is not publicly available and the public database that regional officials indicated contains records of the park’s management plan spending was down at the time of publication. 

Guadalupe says that of the four pillars of the park’s management plan — infrastructure, capacity building, reforestation, sustainable livelihood development — approximately 60 percent goes to infrastructure for park guards. But residents say the expenses for a small wooden office and five employees don’t seem to add up, and they haven’t seen research or tourism, other components of the plan, happening in the area. “We know money is coming in,” said Jeremías Cruz Nunta. “But where is that money going?”

“The authorities are getting in their name what the communities are supposed to get,” said his brother Daniel.

From left: Brothers Jeremías and Daniel Cruz Nunta, along with Hicler Rodrigues Guimaraes, sit on a porch outside a home in Caimito. Grist / Blanca Begert

Roberto Espinoza, a consultant for AIDESEP, the umbrella federation representing Indigenous communities in Peru, described the expansion of protected area conservation in the Amazon since the 1990s as a way for the government to gain access to millions of dollars of international funding in partnership with Western nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs. “When they see that there’s international money for conservation, that’s when the state moves,” said Espinoza. “It’s a very deformed system.”

This same dynamic could still be at play in the fight over who gets to manage Lake Imiría. “I can’t tell you the original reason for setting up the park,” said Matías Pérez Ojeda del Arco of the Forest Peoples Program, a nonprofit that advocates for the rights of forest-dwelling people. “But I can tell you that the reason why [the regional government] wants to hang onto it now has a lot to do with REDD+ money.” 

REDD+ — short for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation — refers to the United Nations mechanism that allows companies and governments of high-polluting nations to offset their carbon emissions by paying for forest conservation, mostly in the tropics. For years, Ucayali has been working on developing a jurisdictional program, where the regional government would be paid to reduce deforestation across their entire area. In the winter of 2021, Ucayali officials signed a deal with the Swiss oil company Mercuria to sell credits through jurisdictional REDD+.

Though the deal is being contested by the national government on the grounds that local governments can’t trade carbon credits before a national accounting program is established, it demonstrates the eagerness on the part of local officials and companies to bring in REDD+ finance. Communities around Lake Imiría say they have been approached by individuals and organizations looking to set up payment for carbon schemes, but so far none exist in the ACR Imiría. 

“Everyone is worried about the Amazon, but they don’t give money directly to Indigenous people who have always cared for it,” said Hicler Rodrigues Guimaraes, a member of the Shipibo Indigenous Guard, a new intra-regional organization of Shipibo land defenders that has been supporting the resistance against the ACR as one of its causes. “When I was 16, we didn’t have these problems with deforestation and also with NGOs trying to make money off our forests.”

At a time when rhetoric at the international level emphasizes Indigenous conservation leadership more than ever before, recent research shows that, of global funding specifically earmarked for Indigenous and local communities, only 17 percent actually goes to projects that name a specific Indigenous group.

Pucallpa, the capital city of the Department of Ucayali, sits on the banks of the Ucayali river. A colonial outpost in the 1500s, it functioned as a small, rural trade hub until the arrival of a highway in 1945 turned the settlement into a bustling port city. From the second rubber boom during WWII to the illicit timber and cocaine markets of today, Pucallpa has served as a center from which to exploit the resources of the rainforest. In town, trucks carrying hardwoods from deep within the Amazon rumble along dusty roads past wooden houses and big glass shopping malls on their way toward the highways that connect the jungle to the coast. Tourists come through on their way to ayahuasca retreats with the Shipibo communities in the forest.

Driving from Masisea to Caimito along a dirt road, originally built for logging, through a secondary forest. Grist / Blanca Begert

From the ports of Pucallpa, there are two ways to get to Caimito. One involves traveling up the Ucayali river and entering the Lake Imiría lagoon from the northeast by boat. The other requires taking one of the twice-daily boats to Masisea, a larger town along the Ucayali, and then driving about an hour into the village.

When the river is low, the route through Masisea is the only option. Along the way, the boat passes lumberyards and floating oil stations; families fishing along the riverbanks; large barges loaded with Amazonian hardwoods like shihuahuaco and pumaquiro; and farmers tending to rice fields in the flood plains.

Once in Masisea, it is an hour’s moto-taxi drive to Caimito, through banana and cacao farms, stretches of second-growth forest, and cleared areas where people from Masisea are raising cattle. About half an hour in, Guimaraes points through a thin veil of trees to something unlike anything else on the landscape. A vast cleared expanse, planted with hundreds of acres of orderly soybean rows. “Mennonites,” he says. From the GPS on his phone, it is clear the deforestation is inside the boundaries of Buenos Aires, one of the Shipibo communities that lies within the ACR Imiría.

A boat pulls a raft piled with Amazonian hardwoods along the Ucayali River. Grist / Blanca Begert

In late October, months after taking the guard house, the hamlets and Shipibo communities around Lake Imiría held a meeting to vote on the future of the ACR. The majority supported its elimination.

Álvaro Másquez, a lawyer with the Instituto de Defensa Legal who is representing the Shipibo, thinks there is a strong case to be made that the protected area was established illegally in violation of Peru’s Law of Prior Consultation. 

But late last year, a special commission sent by the regional government to study the consultation process for approving the ACR management plan concluded that the regional environmental ministry had followed the protocols as established in law. Soon after, according to Másquez, Peru’s national environmental ministry signaled that because the park was originally established a year before Peru codified its Law of Prior Consultation, the government was not obliged to follow it. But Peru was already bound to respect the right to consultation by international law at the time, says Masquez, and the next step will be the courts.

As the Shipibo fight to get their territories excluded from the park, they don’t want to lose the access to government funding that comes with being a conservation area. Many hope to establish a new type of “Indigenous ecological area,” managed by local communities who could receive state and international funding directly, instead of having it go to park administrators. Másquez is also looking into conservation categories that already exist in the law and could align with the communities’ aims. “We still have to have a dialogue about what the rules would be,” said Jeremías Cruz Nunta. “But we don’t want to impede money from the government.” 

The agreement to protect 30 percent of the world’s land and water established at the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in December is set to be implemented through “systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, recognizing Indigenous and traditional territories.” Some Indigenous groups and advocates lamented that it did not include Indigenous titled lands as their own distinct conservation category. If the Imiría coalition succeeds in petitioning for a complete overhaul in park management, they could establish a model for how “other effective area-based conservation measures” might actually be led by Indigenous peoples as the primary beneficiaries and rights holders. But they have a lot stacked against them, including local NGOs, USAID, tumultuous regional and national politics, and an influx of carbon-credit cash on the horizon, raising the stakes of who owns the forest.

Whether through Congress or the judiciary, Masquez doesn’t think any major legal changes will happen anytime soon. The country is currently in a political crisis. In December, the national Congress was dissolved and the President of the Republic, a teacher from the Andes with peasant farmer roots, was ousted. People long outraged with Peru’s corrupt political class took to the streets, rioting. Protests are ongoing, with the death toll over 60 amid accusations against the army for using excessive force, especially in the impoverished south of the country. “You can imagine that environmental issues are not a priority on Peru’s urgent political agenda,” said Másquez.

Since the toma, Lake Imiría’s residents have been stuck in limbo. The Defense Front continues to limit the entry of NGO project staff while the communities determine the best course of action to recuperate their lands. Meanwhile, discord among the ranks in the other Shipibo communities, which Caimito residents say was sown by local NGOs and USAID, has broken down the more unified front that existed over the summer. “Many are still analyzing the situation,” said Samuel Sanchez Magin, a Junín Pablo resident.

Jeremías Cruz Nunta sits at the front of a motorized canoe on his way to visit towns across Lake Imiría. Grist / Blanca Begert

Crossing the open waters of the lagoon on a small motorized canoe, ducks and ibis fly over the marshes. Herons perch on branches in the flooded broadleaf forests. At some point, the boat enters a labyrinth of wetlands with channels so narrow that it can barely pass; Jeremías Cruz Nunta uses a paddle at the bow to clear space. 

Eventually, the shoreline of Unión Vecinal comes into view. Six people stand around a campfire boiling rice and cooking boquichico, a native fish. One couple and a man introduce themselves as farmers from Santa Rosa de Chauya; they traveled two hours from the connected lake the day before to take their shifts guarding the entrance from outside fishers and administrators who would seek to enter.

Santa Rosa de Chauya, like Union Vecinal, is one of the nine untitled hamlets in the area. Without any legal land rights, the residents exist in a highly tenuous position when it comes to making a living from the land they live on and gaining services from the state. Lake Imiría sits in a part of the Peruvian Amazon where Indigenous communities often find themselves in intense conflict with peasant farmers who, often with government support, migrate to their regions in search of affordable land. But the fight against the ACR has led to a collaboration and a strengthening of ties between the Shipibo communities that support the resistance and their mestizo neighbors, whose land use impacts pale in comparison to some of the larger threats in the region. “They’re some of the strongest supporters of the cause,” said Cruz Nunta.  

Explore more from Grist’s series on The Human Cost of Conservation:

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In Peru, forest communities are fighting to regain ownership of protected land on Apr 20, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

The GOP donors behind a growing misinformation campaign to stop offshore wind

Thu, 04/20/2023 - 03:30

Last month, House Republicans pushed through an energy package to rival President Joe Biden’s landmark climate law, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. The GOP legislation — pronounced “dead on arrival” in the Democratically controlled Senate by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — aimed to ease restrictions on oil and gas production and repeal key emissions-slashing provisions in Biden’s climate spending bill. 

The bill is unlikely to become law, but it sheds light on Republicans’ uneasy relationship with renewable energy — and specifically, with offshore wind. The legislation featured a few last-minute provisions that reflect disagreements among congressional conservatives on the future of offshore wind. Some GOP lawmakers say, without evidence, that the emerging industry has caused a recent surge in whale deaths, while others support wind development in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Meanwhile, major Republican donors are behind a growing misinformation campaign to slow the sector down. The organized opposition may present new obstacles to the future of offshore wind, a clean energy source identified by the Biden administration as critical to the energy transition. 

Offshore wind turbines, which can soar up to three times the height of the Statue of Liberty, take advantage of the higher wind speeds at sea to produce more electricity per turbine than onshore wind. Although the U.S. only has two offshore wind farms in operation, in other parts of the world the sector is robust and mature. China, the United Kingdom, and Germany hold a combined 172 offshore wind farms

Biden has pinpointed offshore wind as a critical renewable energy source for hitting U.S. climate targets. The administration wants to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power generation by 2030, enough to power 10 million homes. Most offshore wind projects in development are located along the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic coasts

But those projects have faced controversy in recent months. Since December, 30 dead whales have washed ashore along the Atlantic coast. The recent events follow a disturbing pattern that began in 2016, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, describes as an “unusual mortality event.” 

Republicans have claimed that the deaths are linked to offshore wind development. Amendments in the House energy bill would have required the Government Accountability Office to study the potential impacts of offshore wind on tourism, military activities, and marine wildlife. “Like the canary in the coal mine, the recent spate of tragic whale deaths shed new light and increased scrutiny to the fast-tracking of thousands of wind turbines off our coast,” said Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, at a hearing in March. 

But according to NOAA, a federal agency that conducts marine research, offshore wind is probably not at fault for the casualties. “At this point, there is no evidence to support speculation that noise resulting from wind development-related site characterization surveys could potentially cause mortality of whales, and no specific links between recent large whale mortalities and currently ongoing surveys,” NOAA’s website says. 

Instead, the agency states that “the greatest human threats to large whales” are vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. Examinations of about half the humpback whales stranded since 2016 attributed 40 percent of the deaths to either of the two causes. (The other half of the beached whales were too decomposed to analyze.) 

A few bigger trends could be behind the increase in whale mortality. One is climate change — warming waters have pulled small fish closer to shore, which also draws in whales hunting food. Fishers looking to catch those same fish tend to follow closely behind, leading to a greater risk of collision between boats and whales. 

Another obvious source of whale and vessel strikes is the growing global shipping industry. In 2020, almost 15,000 ships sailed through the Port of New York and New Jersey alone. “Collisions involving ships and whales tend to occur around areas with the greatest commercial shipping traffic,” according to NOAA

To reduce collision risk, the agency and major environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council advocate for tighter restrictions on vessel speed. But Republicans’ proposed policies have made no mention of this evidence-based solution for protecting whales and other wildlife.

Representative Jared Huffman, a Democrat from California, points out that Republicans have failed to throw their weight behind other previous proposed bills to protect whales. “But this interest in whales just suddenly springs up when offshore wind is starting to take off and threaten fossil fuels,” he told E&E News

Protestors at a “Save the Whales” rally called for a halt to offshore wind development on February 19, 2023 in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Kena Betancur / VIEWpress / Getty Images

In addition to drawing criticism from Republicans in Congress, offshore wind has also inspired opposition from multiple campaigns by local nonprofit groups claiming that the industry harms whales. But some of these are actually backed by powerful oil and gas interests, including the fossil fuel billionaire Koch brothers and other major Republican donors. 

Fast Company traced funding for nonprofits like Protect Our Coast New Jersey, Save Our Beach View, and the Long Beach Island Coalition for Wind Without Impact — anti-wind groups claiming to be grassroots — back to the Caesar Rodney Institute. The think tank receives money from industry groups including the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the American Energy Alliance. 

Recent lawsuits launched against offshore wind projects have also been linked to fossil fuel entities. In 2021, attorneys at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of fishing companies challenging Vineyard Wind, the first major offshore wind project off the coast of Massachusetts. The Austin-based foundation counts among its funders Charles Koch, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips — all major Republican donors.

Another lawsuit brought against Vineyard Wind is led by the Nantucket Residents Against Wind Turbines, another purportedly grassroots campaign that is backed by David Stevenson, a director at the Caesar Rodney Institute. 

Stevenson also leads a group called the American Coalition for Ocean Protection, which supports efforts to launch a lawsuit aiming to stop a Dominion Energy offshore wind project off the coast of Virginia.  

Democratic lawmakers have drawn attention to the vested interests behind anti-wind sentiments. “I am 100 percent convinced that fossil fuel is funding some of the opposition,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, told Axios. “Any clean energy, they want to find ways to hobble and harass.” 

Despite the organized efforts from Republicans’ fossil fuel donors, not all Republicans in Congress oppose offshore wind. Some conservative lawmakers, particularly from states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, just want to make sure their states can cash in on incoming wind lease sales. Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, said to Axios that he opposes bans on the offshore wind industry. His own website highlights the inclusion of a provision in the GOP energy bill to ensure that 50 percent of federal lease revenues from offshore wind lease sales go to coastal states. 

Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, delivers a victory speech during an election party on December 10, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images

Megan Milliken Biven, a former staffer at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the founder of the climate and labor advocacy organization True Transition, said that support isn’t a surprise. Her experiences with offshore industries on the Gulf Coast indicate that politicians on the coast of Louisiana are “very enthusiastic about offshore wind — Republicans and Democrats alike.” 

That bipartisan support owes to the decline in oil and gas jobs in the state, including offshore jobs. Over the past decade, Louisiana’s oil and gas sector has become much more efficient, requiring fewer wells to extract more fossil fuels. “The service companies, the shipyards, the vessels — all these companies that used to serve oil and gas have less contracts,” Biven said. “Wind is the way to make sure that these companies stay viable. They see their future in offshore wind.”

A report from the University of Delaware found that the growing U.S. offshore wind industry holds an estimated $109 billion in potential profits to supply-chain businesses this decade. 

So far, Republican opposition hasn’t blocked offshore wind growth. The Biden administration proposed the first offshore wind lease sale areas in the Gulf of Mexico in February. Offshore wind off the coast of Texas and Louisiana could power as many as 1.3 million homes. Eight states have set formal offshore wind procurement goals totalling 40 gigawatts by 2040 — enough to power roughly 12 million homes. And 18 projects in development in U.S. waters have already reached the permitting phase.

Yet it also doesn’t seem like the nagging lawsuits and criticism will blow over any time soon. Biven says approaching attacks on offshore wind requires building an effective counternarrative. “It’s always about who is telling the better story,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to mobilize people around a yes than a no.” 

One easy “yes” for the average American is good-paying jobs. If offshore wind companies manage to provide “a good job that’s providing for their families, they’re paying local taxes, they’re contributing to their local church, they’re going to defend it,” Biven said. She says people could easily mobilize around the economic and job benefits of a growing offshore wind industry — but only if the federal government takes concrete measures to make those benefits an on-the-ground reality. 

“We have an abundant resource to power our homes and our communities,” Biven said. “Do we want to take advantage of that or do we want to sit on our thumbs for another few decades because someone has manipulated us?”

Editor’s note: The Natural Resources Defense Council is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The GOP donors behind a growing misinformation campaign to stop offshore wind on Apr 20, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

1 in 3 Americans breathe unhealthy air, new report says

Thu, 04/20/2023 - 03:15

A new report by the American Lung Association found that more than one in three Americans were exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution between 2019 to 2021. Released on Wednesday, the 24th annual State of the Air report grades Americans’ exposure to two of the nation’s most pervasive air pollutants: ground-level ozone, an air pollutant that forms smog, and particle pollution, also known as soot. 

The report found that while overall smog and soot pollution continues to decrease across the U.S., racial and geographic disparities are rising. As climate-fueled wildfires and drought increase and intensify, more people living in the West face potentially deadly particle and ozone pollution compared to their Eastern counterparts.

People of color were found to be 64 percent more likely than white people to breathe unhealthy air, compared to 61 percent in last year’s report. They are also 3.7 times more likely than white people to live in a county that received the American Lung Association’s lowest rating for all three pollution metrics that the group examined: ozone pollution, annual particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution. The report’s ratings were informed by national air quality standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Last year, people of color were 3.6 times more likely to live in a county that received a failing grade on all three measures.

Paul Billings, national senior vice president of public policy for the American Lung Association, said that those findings reflect the continued impact of systemic racism. Pollution sources ranging from refineries to highways are disproportionately sited in communities of color — a persistent legacy of racist housing policies such as redlining. “The benefits of clean air have not been equally shared, and in fact, we’re seeing in this report an even wider disparity than we saw last year,” he said. 

Ozone causes what experts describe as a “sunburn of the lungs,” causing shortness of breath and wheezing and increasing the risk for asthma and respiratory infections. And particulate matter pollution bypasses the human body’s natural defenses to enter the deepest part of the lungs. Even short-term exposure to fine particles — those smaller than 2.5 microns across, also known as PM 2.5 — can lead to a host of health harms, including asthma attacks and heart attacks. 

The number of people experiencing 24-hour spikes in particle pollution rose to the highest levels reported in the last decade. Close to 64 million people lived in counties with failing grades for those daily spikes, according to the report. “That’s nearly a half a million more than we saw in last year’s report,” said Billings.

One major contributor is more frequent and intense wildfires linked to climate change, which spew smoke and fine particles.

Billings said that when the American Lung Association started issuing its State of the Air reports 24 years ago, the organization noticed a much broader spread of communities across the U.S. experiencing high levels of pollution. Now, because of wildfires and increasingly hotter and drier weather, Western states are dominating the lists of top 25 cities most impacted by pollution. 

California cities make up four out of the top five in the lists of cities most impacted by annual particle pollution and ozone pollution. 

“We really see this marked shift, and a lot of that we think is due to climate change, not only for the wildfires but also the hot conditions that create the opportunity for ozone formation,” said Billings. 

Ozone forms when nitrogen oxides and other pollutants “cook” in the sun through a series of chemical reactions. According to the EPA, ozone is more likely to form “on warm, sunny days when the air is stagnant.” 

Those hotter days have become more frequent as a result of climate change, leading to “the number of unhealthy ozone days being higher than it would otherwise be,” the report says. “Simply, climate change is undercutting the progress we would have made.”

In response to these challenges, the American Lung Association and other public health groups are calling on the EPA to further limit ozone and particle pollution by significantly strengthening national ambient air quality standards under the federal Clean Air Act passed in 1970. The agency is currently reviewing both the particulate matter and ozone standards. 

Billings said tightening those limits would fulfill the central promise of the Clean Air Act to provide everyone with clean, healthy air. “While we’ve made progress — no question about it — here we are more than 50 years later looking in the rearview mirror, and we still have more than 1 in 3 living in this country, living in a county that has unhealthy air,” Billings said. “No child born in 2023 should have to breathe air pollution that can make them sick.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline 1 in 3 Americans breathe unhealthy air, new report says on Apr 20, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

In the wake of historic storms, Māori leaders call for disaster relief and rights

Wed, 04/19/2023 - 11:00

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, Mongabay, and Native News Online.

In February, Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand, bringing devastating floods and powerful winds, destroying homes, displacing thousands, and killing at least eleven people. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called it “the most significant weather event New Zealand has seen in this century.” Around 70 percent of destroyed homes were occupied by Indigenous Māori, but Māori leaders say that they have been left out of recovery services and funding. 

“Because climate events have gotten more and more intense, it’s at a point of our communities will either get wiped out through more storms or have to choose to leave their homelands,” Renee Raroa, a Ngati Porou Māori representative from Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti in eastern New Zealand, said. “We’re running out of options.”

With the frequency and severity of storms increasing, along with other climate impacts like rising sea levels, Māori peoples are facing increasingly dire climate crises and calling on the United Nations for help. At the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, Māori representatives called on New Zealand to include Māori people in disaster recovery plans, provide support for Indigenous-led climate initiatives, and fully implement the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – a nonbinding resolution that affirms international Indigenous rights. Māori representatives also called on the U.N. to pressure New Zealand to support Indigenous land rights.

“Cyclone Gabrielle exposed the human rights dimensions of climate change disaster,” said Claire Charters, Māori Indigenous Rights Governance Partner at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission. “Māori rights must be part of all climate change and emergency policy and law.”

The Māori say neglect in the aftermath of the storm is just the latest violation of their human rights by the New Zealand government that could be solved by a national action plan to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In 2019, Indigenous leaders and the New Zealand Human Rights Commission began discussions to do just that, but talks were postponed last year, with the government saying that the general public needed more awareness of the plan and its purposes. 

But Māori leaders say that the plan fell victim to political maneuvering, with politicians unwilling to tackle a contentious issue ahead of elections. With limited room to work at home, they say bringing their concerns to the U.N. can get conversations moving again in the national system. “We can add pressure back home by being here and by having our public statement heard on the global stage,” Raroa said. 

“We must ensure that Māori are centered in the discussions on mitigation and adapting to climate change, and that Indigenous knowledge is more deliberately considered,” a representative from New Zealand’s government said in a statement delivered at the Forum. The representative also highlighted the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but did not mention any steps to implement it. 

Hannah McGlade, an Indigenous Noongar member of the Permanent Forum from Australia, says that New Zealand’s reluctance to actually implement the declaration is common around the world. The U.S., Canada, and Australia have also been called out at UNPFII for their lack of action to implement the human rights standards. “We do see too great a gap between the declaration principles and the actions and conduct of countries globally,” McGlade said. “There has to be proactive commitments made through the plans.”

Meanwhile, as Māori continue to rebuild their own communities, they are also developing climate and environmental programs based on Indigenous traditions and practice, including reforestation and invasive species control. To fully realize these programs, the Māori say they need both more funding and more freedom to make land use decisions. 

“We’re going to make the right choices for our land, so just provide the resources to help us get better,” Raroa said. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In the wake of historic storms, Māori leaders call for disaster relief and rights on Apr 19, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

How do you tackle microplastics? Start with your washing machine.

Wed, 04/19/2023 - 03:45

As environmental challenges go, microfiber pollution has come from practically out of nowhere. It was only a decade or so ago that scientists first suspected our clothing, increasingly made of synthetic materials like polyester and nylon, might be major contributors to the global plastic problem.

Today a growing body of science suggests the tiny strands that slough off clothes are everywhere and in everything. By one estimate, they account for as much as one-third of all microplastics released to the ocean. They’ve been found on Mount Everest and in the Mariana Trench, along with tap water, plankton, shrimp guts, and our poo.

Research has yet to establish just what this means for human and planetary health. But the emerging science has left some governments, particularly in the Global North, scrambling to respond. Their first target: the humble washing machine, which environmentalists say represents a major way microfiber pollution reaches the environment.

Late last month a California State Assembly committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 1628, which would require new washing machines to include devices that trap particles down to 100 micrometers — roughly the width of human hair — by 2029. The Golden State isn’t alone here, or even first. France already approved such a requirement, effective 2025. Lawmakers in Oregon and Ontario, Canada have considered similar bills. The European Commission says it’ll do the same in 2025.

Environmental groups, earth scientists and some outdoor apparel companies cheer the policies as an important first response to a massive problem. But quietly, some sustainability experts feel perplexed by all the focus on washers. They doubt filters will achieve much, and say what’s really needed is a comprehensive shift in how we make, clean and dispose of clothes.

The wash is “only one shedding point in the lifecycle of the garment. To focus on that tiny, tiny moment of laundry is completely nuts,” said Richard Blackburn, a professor of sustainable materials at the University of Leeds. “It would be much better to focus on the whole life cycle of the garment, of which the manufacturing stage is much more significant in terms of loss than laundering, but all points should be considered.”

Today, some 60 percent of all textiles incorporate synthetic material. Anyone who’s worn yoga pants, workout gear or stretchy jeans knows the benefits: These materials add softness, wicking and flexibility. Under a microscope, though, they look a lot like plain old plastic. From the moment they’re made, synthetic clothes — like all clothes — release tiny shreds of themselves. Once liberated these fibers are no easier to retrieve than glitter tossed into the wind. But their size, shape, and tendency to absorb chemicals leaves scientists concerned about their impacts on habitats and the food chain.

Anja Brandon is an associate director for U.S. plastics policy at the Ocean Conservancy who has supported the California and Oregon bills. She concedes that filters won’t fix the problem, but believes they offer a way to get started. She also supports clothing innovations but said they could be years away. “I for one don’t want to wait until it’s a five-alarm fire,” she said.

Studies suggest a typical load of laundry can release thousands or even millions of fibers. Commercially available filters, like the PlanetCare, Lint LUV-R and Filtrol, strain the gray water through ultra-fine mesh before flushing it into the world. It’s the owner’s job, of course, to periodically empty that filter — ideally into a trash bag, which Brandon said will secure microfibers better than the status quo of letting them loose into nature.

Washing machine filters containing microfibers. Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Washing machine manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe have pushed back, saying the devices pose technical risks, like flooding and increased energy consumption, that must be addressed  first. University experiments with these filters, including an oft-cited 2019 study by the University of Toronto and the Ocean Conservancy, haven’t found these issues, but it’s not a closed case yet: Last year a federal report on microfibers, led by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, called for more research in this vein.

Manufacturers also argue that microfibers originate in a lot of places, but washers are a relatively modest one. As self-serving as that sounds, people who study the issue agree there’s a huge hole in the available science: While we know clothes shed microfibers throughout their lives, we know surprisingly little about when most of it happens.

Some evidence suggests that the friction of simply wearing clothes might release about as many microfibers as washing them. Then there are dryers, which some suspect are a major source of microfiber litter but have been barely studied, according to the federal report. There is also limited knowledge about how much microfiber pollution comes from the developing world, where most people wash by hand. (A recent study led by Hangzhou Dianzi University in Hangzhou, China pointed to this knowledge gap – and found that hand-washing two synthetic fabrics released on average 80 to 90 percent fewer microfiber pollution than machine-washing.)

To Blackburn, it’s obvious that most releases occur in textile mills, where it’s been known for centuries that spinning, weaving, dyeing and finishing fabric spritzes lots of fiber. “Where do you think it goes when we get it out of the factory?” he said. “It goes into the open air.”

He calls filter policies “totally reactionary,” arguing that they would at best shave a few percentage points off the total microfiber problem. But there is one area where Blackburn is in broad agreement with environmentalists: In the long run, tackling the issue will take a lot of new technology. No silver-bullet solution has appeared yet, but a slew of recent announcements reveals a vibrant scene of research and development attacking the problem from many angles.

Antonio Hugo Photo

Some best practices already are known within the industry. For example, more tightly woven clothes, and clothes made of long fibers rather than short ones, fray less. But for years, popular brands like Patagonia and REI have said what they really need is a way to experiment with many different materials and compare their shedding head to head. This has been tricky: Microfibers are, well, micro, and there’s no industry standard on how to measure them.

That might be changing. In separate announcements in February, Hohenstein, a company that develops international standards for textiles, and activewear brand Under Armour revealed new methods in this vein. Under Armour is targeting 75 percent “low-shed” fabrics in its products by 2030.

These approaches would at best reduce microfiber emissions, not eliminate them. So another field of research is what Blackburn calls “biocompatibility”: making microfibers less harmful to nature. California-based companyIntrinsic Advanced Materials sells a pre-treatment, added to fabrics during manufacturing, that it claims helps polyester and nylon biodegrade in seawater within years rather than decades. Blackburn’s own startup, Keracol, develops natural dyes, pulled from things like fruit waste, that break down more easily in nature than synthetic ones.

New ideas to dispose of clothes are also emerging, though some will cause arched eyebrows among environmentalists. This year U.S. chemical giant Eastman will start building a facility in Normandy, France that it claims “unzips” hard-to-recycle plastics, like polyester clothes, into molecular precursors that can be fashioned into new products like clothes and insulation. Critics charge that such “chemical recycling” techniques are not only of dubious benefit to the environment, they’re really just a smokescreen for fossil-fuel corporations trying to keep their product in demand.

Lest anyone forget about washing machines, there’s R&D going after them, too. In January Patagonia and appliance giant Samsung announced a model that they claim cuts micro plastic emissions up to 54%. It’s already rolled out in Europe and Korea. At around the same time, University of Toronto researchers published research on a coating that, they claim, makes nylon fabric more slippery in the wash, reducing friction and thus microfiber emissions by 90 percent after nine washes. In a press release the researchers tut-tutted governments for their focus on washing-machine filters, which they called a “Band-Aid” for the issue.

One continuous thread through all these efforts, of course, is that everyone is working with imperfect information. The emerging science on microfibers – and microplastics in general – suggests they’re a gritty fact of modern life, but doesn’t yet show the magnitude of their harm to humans and other species. For the moment environmentalists, policymakers and manufacturers aren’t just debating whether to put filters on washing machines, but whether we know enough to act. In 20 years, when scientists know a lot more, it’ll be easier to judge whether today’s policies represented proactive leadership on an emerging environmental problem — or a soggy Band-Aid.

Editor’s note: Patagonia is an advertiser with Grist. Advertisers have no role in Grist’s editorial decisions.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How do you tackle microplastics? Start with your washing machine. on Apr 19, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

As states replace lead pipes, plastic alternatives could bring new risks

Wed, 04/19/2023 - 03:30

Across the country, states and cities are replacing lead pipes to address concerns over lead-contaminated drinking water, an urgent health threat. But environmental advocates are concerned that a popular alternative piping material could pose its own dangers.

A new report released Tuesday by the advocacy group Beyond Plastics warns that pipes made from polyvinyl chloride, or PVC — a kind of rigid plastic commonly used in construction — can leach hazardous chemicals into drinking water, making them a “regrettable substitution” for lead pipes. The authors urge state and local policymakers to consider non-plastic alternatives like copper and stainless steel.

“Communities that opt to replace their lead service lines with plastic pipes may well be leaping from the frying pan into the fire,” Judith Enck, Beyond Plastic’s president and founder and a former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, wrote in an introduction to the report.

Co-published with the nonprofits Environmental Health Sciences and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, the report is a response to the bipartisan infrastructure law that the Biden administration enacted in 2021. Of the $1 trillion in federal funding authorized by the law, some $15 billion was directed to state and local efforts to tear out lead water pipes. Lead transferred from these pipes into drinking water can lead to neurological and reproductive damage, seizures, hypertension, and more, as demonstrated by the public health records of Flint, Michigan, the site of the 2014-2016 water crisis. But the EPA offered no guidance on what to replace those pipes with, leaving local governments to determine the answer for themselves.

PVC is often considered an appealing option, thanks to its low cost. But research suggests that a concerning stew of chemicals can make its way from PVC piping into the drinking water it conveys. Among these chemicals are hormone-disrupting organotins and vinyl chloride, the key building block for PVC and a known human carcinogen. 

It’s unclear exactly how much of these chemicals gets transferred from PVC pipes into people, but experts say they can be harmful even at very low doses. “PVC is a horror show,” Bruce Blumberg, a professor of development and cell biology at the University of California Irvine, told the authors of the report. 

Additional chemicals that have been found leaching from PVC pipes include benzene, styrene, tetrahydrofuran, methylene chloride, and other volatile organic compounds. These compounds, which may be released into drinking water when PVC pipes are exposed to high heat, are variously linked to cancer, immune suppression, or damage to the nervous and reproductive systems.

Meanwhile, Beyond Plastics says existing systems to protect the public from PVC-related contaminants are inadequate — and potentially compromised by industry influence. The EPA doesn’t have legally enforceable drinking water standards for the vast majority of chemicals used commercially by humans, including organotins, and those that it does regulate are usually tested for at water treatment plants, before water travels through the pipes that lead to people’s homes.

To ensure pipes are safe, the EPA relies on NSF, an international nonprofit formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation. NSF sets its own standards for how much of certain chemicals are allowed to leach from PVC pipes, and charges pipe manufacturers for a certification saying their products meet those standards.

Enck raised concerns about conflicts of interest in the standard-setting process, not only because NSF gets industry funding from those piping certification fees but because industry representatives sit on the NSF committees that propose and vote for water quality and exposure standards. (Public health experts also sit on these committees, but one former member told Beyond Plastics that their voices were “absent or very quiet.”)

“Shouldn’t this be the role of government?” Enck said. “We would not expect a coal plant to certify whether they’re complying with air pollution laws.” She also noted that NSF typically only tests for leaching chemicals on a short-term timeframe, potentially failing to capture what happens as PVC sits in the ground over years and decades.

NSF did not respond to Grist’s request for comment. The EPA said it has supported the development of NSF’s plumbing safety standards and that they require evaluations to ensure chemicals that leach into drinking water are “below levels that may cause potential adverse human health effects.”

Beyond Plastics says more toxicological data is urgently needed to characterize the full chemical consequences of using PVC pipes. But in the meantime, the organization urges policymakers to consider piping made of simpler, less chemical-laden materials, like copper or stainless steel. These pipes cost more than PVC — but they would only increase the total cost of replacing lead pipes by about 5 percent, according to Beyond Plastics.

Plus, there are nonmonetary costs of plastic to consider, including its carbon footprint and the toxic air pollution caused by its production. In February, the Norfolk Southern train derailment in Ohio highlighted yet more risks as it spewed vinyl chloride and other plastics-related chemicals into the air and soil of East Palestine.    

“There are very serious impacts,” Enck said. “Plastic is not cheap when you take everything into account.”

This article has been updated to include a comment from the EPA.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline As states replace lead pipes, plastic alternatives could bring new risks on Apr 19, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

The first natural-gas ban in the US just got shot down

Tue, 04/18/2023 - 13:47

When the city of Berkeley, California passed the country’s first ban on the use of natural gas in new buildings in the summer of 2019, environmental advocates celebrated the move as an important precedent for other cities to follow. And follow they did: There are now at least 99 similar ordinances in place across the country, the vast majority of which require appliances like stoves and heaters to be electric. But on Monday, a federal appeals court threw many of those bans into question.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that Berkeley’s ban is preempted by a federal law, and is therefore illegal. The decision marks a victory for the California Restaurant Association, the organization that sued the city shortly after it passed the ordinance banning the use of natural gas in new construction, claiming that such a measure would damage the restaurant industry.

“Many restaurants will be faced with the inability to make many of their products which require the use of specialized gas appliances to prepare, including for example flame-seared meats, charred vegetables, or the use of intense heat from a flame under a wok,” the lawsuit read.

But advocates argue that those concerns are dwarfed by a growing body of research that has found natural gas use in buildings not only releases huge quantities of greenhouse gasses, but also threatens people’s health. Studies have found that gas stoves are responsible for approximately 13 percent of childhood asthma cases in the U.S.; they also leak the potent greenhouse gas methane and the cancer-causing chemical benzene even when they’re turned off.

“This ruling should be seen as the latest attack on these [natural gas bans] and, by proxy, the latest attack on the body of scientific evidence that’s been accumulating on the health and climate impacts of natural gas usage in the building sector,” said Seth Shonkoff, the executive director of the nonprofit research institute PSE Healthy Energy, in Oakland, California. 

The Ninth Circuit’s ruling overturned the decision in 2021 of a lower court which upheld Berkeley’s ordinance. At question in the case was whether the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act takes precedence over Berekley’s ordinance. That law, passed by Congress in 1975 in response to a major oil crisis, was intended to increase domestic energy production and supply. 

The American Gas Association celebrated the federal court’s decision, calling it a “huge step” that would “safeguard energy choice for California consumers and help our nation continue on a path to achieving our energy and environmental goals.” The statement echoes the argument, used by many fossil fuel companies, that natural gas is less carbon-intensive than coal and is therefore an ideal “transition fuel” if the country is eventually going to run on clean energy. Many scientists and policy experts have ridiculed this argument, noting that renewables have become more economically viable, and that natural gas facilities are still major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Municipal gas bans in buildings could deal a financial blow to the fossil fuel industry. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the use of gas in residential and commercial structures accounted for 8.2 trillion cubic feet in 2021. In comparison, utilities used approximately 11.3 trillion cubic feet to power the grid. If the trend of cities taking up gas bans in buildings continues, companies like ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips may have to rethink their business models. 

Environmentalists said that the Ninth Circuit’s decision won’t necessarily upend other cities’ efforts. Matt Vespa, an attorney at the environmental group Earthjustice, told the Washington Post that Berkeley’s rule prohibited gas lines in new buildings, whereas many other cities achieve natural gas bans by introducing tough efficiency standards into their building codes. Nonetheless, according to Vespa, 26 of the 75 California cities with gas bans could see their rules overturned by the federal court’s ruling. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The first natural-gas ban in the US just got shot down on Apr 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

In Sweden, a proposed iron mine threatens a World Heritage Site — and the culture that made it

Tue, 04/18/2023 - 03:45

This story is co-published with Indian Country Today and is part of The Human Cost of Conservation, a Grist series on Indigenous rights and protected areas.

The rivers that run through the steep valleys and rocky cliffs of the Laponian Area are fed by crystalline alpine lakes and glacial streams. Many of the forests that tower over the land have stood for more than 700 years and teem with wildlife. In the spring and summer, when the midnight sun traces wide circles across the bright blue sky, crowberries blanket the meadows and yellow globe flowers dot the snow-capped peaks.

In those warm months, this region in the far north of Sweden provides a bounty for large migrating herds of reindeer: grass, birch, and herbs. Snow patches in the high mountains provide relief from insects on hot days, and the verdant lowland provides ample grazing as the nights cool. When winter arrives, rivers and marshes ice over, and the reindeer venture south beyond the Laponian Area along well-worn pathways, traveled by generations of Sámi reindeer herders, to winter grazing lands. This migration of both the reindeer and the Sámi who tend to them, reveals an ancient relationship with the land that persists to this day.

“It is the variation of landscape that makes the area so good,” said Helena Omma, who is Sámi and president of the Association of World Reindeer Herders. “Reindeer use all these landscapes during different times and conditions.”

An aerial view of Stora Sjöfallets National Park and a Sami village. The area belongs to “Laponian Area,” a UNESCO world heritage site. Maria Swärd / Getty Images

Nestled deep in the heart of Sápmi, the traditional homelands of the Sámi, the Laponian Area covers nearly 4,000 square miles. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, considers it a place of “exceptional beauty” and its stewardship by Sámi hunters, fishers, and herders “an outstanding example” of traditional land use. That combination of natural and Indigenous values was essential in the agency’s decision to declare it a World Heritage Site. 

Since earning that designation in 1996, Sámi leaders and the Swedish government have, for the most part, enjoyed a successful and cooperative relationship managing the area. But an iron mine, recently approved on land barely 20 miles south of the Laponian Area’s border, is straining that collaboration. If the British-owned Kallak mine is built, it will impede the migration of reindeer to critical winter grazing lands and sever routes Sámi families and villages have relied upon for centuries. 

“We need the lands outside of Laponia to ensure that the Sámi culture within Laponia can survive,” said Omma, who is also co-chair of the Laponiatjuottjudus Association, the administrative body that oversees the World Heritage Site. “We want to protect the land because the reindeer need the land, and we need the land.”

A teenage Sami boy stands with a reindeer in the snow at the Sami village of Ravttas near Kiruna, Sweden. Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket via Getty Images

To protect the Laponian Area, their culture, and their livelihoods, Sámi leaders say Sweden must stop the mine. By threatening their way of life, they argue, the mine threatens the Laponian Area’s status as a UNESCO site.

These tensions highlight growing international concerns about UNESCO’s treatment and inclusion of Indigenous communities in establishing and managing World Heritage Sites. Although this occurs around the world, it is perhaps most explicit in Thailand and Tanzania, where violent evictions and killings define relations between Indigenous peoples, governments, and the U.N. agency’s reputation.

The issue, which has unfolded over decades, could grow more widespread. World Heritage Sites, which are protected by the United Nations, are rich with biodiversity, making them a small, but essential, part of the successful implementation of the global conservation program 30×30. That ambitious effort calls for setting aside 30 percent of the world’s land and sea for permanent protection against development by 2030. Given that Indigenous territories comprise almost 20 percent of Earth’s land and shelter almost 80 percent of its remaining biodiversity, human rights experts worry that a history of systemic mistreatment of Indigenous peoples coupled with so rapid a timeline could be detrimental — even deadly — if it does not specifically include and respect those communities and their knowledge. 

“UNESCO cannot turn away from its obligations,” said Lola García-Alix, senior adviser on global governance at the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, or IWGIA, a human rights advocacy organization. “States can, but not UNESCO, and we should not allow it to do so.”

When Sweden sought World Heritage Site status for the Laponian Area, its application was based solely on the region’s natural beauty. UNESCO rejected that application, saying Laponia’s splendor was not unique enough to warrant protection. However, the committee said the inclusion of its cultural values in a subsequent application could reopen the process. The country followed that guidance, and in 1996, with essential help from Sámi reindeer herders, secured the land’s protection. It remains just one of a few World Heritage Sites with an internationally recognized connection to living Indigenous cultures, effectively making the Sámi true stakeholders with authority over its management. 

Maria Parazo Rose / Grist

The Laponian Area is one of the 1,157 World Heritage Sites worldwide. The U.N. established UNESCO in 1959 after Egypt proposed building a dam that would flood the valley containing the Abu Simbel temples and other antiquities. The campaign saved those treasures, leading to similar efforts in Italy, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Today, 167 countries have at least one place on the list, ranging from iconic locales like the Taj Mahal and Chichen-Itza to smaller gems like the Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley in Andorra, which provides, in the words of UNESCO, “a microcosmic perspective of the way people have harvested the resources of the high Pyrenees over millennia.”

Such a designation often brings a boom in tourism. Worldwide, these sites attract some 8 billion visitors per year and generate as much as $850 billion in revenue. But the infrastructure needed to handle those tourists often strains the very places and ecosystems UNESCO hopes to protect. Angkor Wat, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1992, in Cambodia, for example, saw tourism increase 300 percent between 2004 and 2014 alone. Beyond the on-site human impact, places like the Great Barrier Reef, near Australia, and the city of Venice, Italy, face mounting threats from climate change

Tourists lead reindeer through the snow at the Sami village of Ravttas near Kiruna, Sweden. Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Yet many of these cherished places could prove essential to the planet’s survival. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which advises UNESCO, estimates that two-thirds of natural World Heritage Sites are crucial sources of water, while those in tropical regions store nearly 6 billion tons of carbon. These locations make up more than 1 million square miles of protected terrain and represent approximately 8 percent of all protected areas worldwide. However, only 48 percent of them are considered by the Union to have effective protection and management while nearly 12 percent raise serious concern.

Sámi communities tended the Laponian Area centuries before the Kingdom of Sweden in 1532. That kind of history is not uncommon across the UNESCO system; many World Heritage Sites are near, or overlap, traditional Indigenous territories. What is uncommon is how it has been managed.

It took more than a decade after its inscription as a World Heritage Site to establish Laponia’s oversight board, Laponiatjuottjudus. “It started when I was a child, in ’96, ” said Omma. “It was a 15-year-long struggle where the Sámi’s really worked hard to get a majority on the board, to create consensus-based decision-making processes, and to get reindeer herding rights respected within the Laponia site. It was a long, long struggle against authorities.”

Today, Laponiatjuottjudus is legally responsible for managing the entire region. Representatives of nine Sámi villages work with local and county officials and the national Environmental Protection Agency to manage and maintain the area. Decision-making is grounded in Sámi cultural values and the collaboration has been so successful that the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples lauded the relationship.

A Sami man from the Vilhelmina Norra Sameby uses his snow scooter during a 2016 reindeer herding near the village of Dikanaess. JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP via Getty Images

But Indigenous peoples worldwide have long raised concerns about violations of their rights within UNESCO sites. Three U.N. special rapporteurs on the rights of Indigenous peoples — independent human rights experts appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights — have reported recurring problems at World Heritage Sites, including a lack of Indigenous participation in the nomination, declaration, and management process of sites; significant restrictions on access to resources and sacred sites; and harassment, criminalization, violence, and killings of Indigenous peoples.

As a United Nations agency, UNESCO must comply with international obligations, including the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Traditionally, the challenge has been doing so in countries where the government regularly mistreats, or even refuses to recognize, Indigenous peoples and declarations of their rights. The United Nations has no punitive tools for dealing with such cases, and UNESCO can only threaten to delist a site — something that has happened only twice in the last 50 years, and never as retribution for human rights violations. 

Putting aside that serious shortcoming, UNESCO fails to consider Indigenous communities in even the most fundamental tasks, like telling people the land they’ve lived on for centuries is slated for conservation.

“Many Indigenous peoples are not aware that there will be a World Heritage Site perhaps until they are in a World Heritage Site,” said García-Alix of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. “They have never been informed. Information is not publicly available.”

A reindeer herd is rounded up in Laponia, Sweden. The Laponian area is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arctic Images via Getty Images

Currently, 186 proposed World Heritage Sites are pending review, and although UNESCO’s website states that fact, it offers no details about how they are considered. Evidence suggests the process is increasingly politicized. One study found that political or economic factors played heavily in cases in which the World Heritage Committee ignored recommendations that it decline designation or defer a decision pending additional information. 

In other cases, the body seemingly overlooks any consideration of the communities impacted by its decision. Such was the case in 2021, when the World Heritage Committee ignored reports of human rights violations in Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex, and inscribed it to the World Heritage List despite pleas from the Indigenous Karen communities within the park, a U.N. human rights panel, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to defer the nomination.

“Kaeng Krachan is a stain on the whole U.N. system,” said García-Alix. “It raises questions about the accountability of UNESCO as a U.N. organization.”

Maria Parazo Rose / Grist

The Karen have for hundreds of years lived as gatherers and farmers in what is now known as the Kaeng Krachan Forest. In 1981, the Thai government named the area a national park and began relocating the Karen communities from the upper Bangkloy to the Pong Luik-Bang Kloy in 1996. In exchange for voluntarily leaving their traditional homeland, they would receive land to farm and financial support. 

Many of them agreed, but upon arriving at their new homes, some families found only sandy, rocky land unfit for farming. What’s more, the support the Thai government promised never arrived, or very little did. The Karen immediately demanded authorities follow through on their promises. When good land and support failed to materialize, communities faced two options: return home or migrate to towns looking for jobs.

A 2021 photo shows the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex in Thailand. The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex was added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s UNESCO World Heritage List on July 26, 2021. Wang Teng / Xinhua via Getty Images

“When we talk with the Karen people who live there, they say that they are not against the World Heritage Site, but their concerns and issues need to be resolved,” said Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri, who is Mien and chairs the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Thailand. “The land issues remain. That’s why they decided to go back to their homelands again.”

The Karen have tried to return home at least three times. Each time, Thai authorities responded with violence, harassment, and forced evictions. Park officials have burned homes and rice barns, confiscated ceremonial items, seized fishing nets, and arrested Indigenous residents and activists.

Timeline of the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex

1981: Kaeng Krachan National Park is created, leading to the displacement of Karen peoples from their homelands.

1996: Nearly 60 Karen families are forced to move from their homes to Pong Luek Bang Kloi village. After promises of farmable land fail to materialize, some people move back home. 

2010: The Thai government passes a resolution on “the restoration of Karen’s way of life,” directing park officials to protect the Karen community and not arrest them for traditional practices, but implementation is weak.

2011: Park officials lead a group of armed soldiers to Bang Kloi village, burning and destroying nearly 100 homes and forcing Karen peoples to move, once again, to Pong Luek-Bang Kloi village.

2021: In January, roughly 85 Karen people return to their homeland in Chai Phaen Din village. In February, park officials threaten fines and prosecution for trespassing. Throughout the spring, Karen peoples are forcibly detained and relocated to Pong Luek Bang Kloi village.

2021: In July, the Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex is designated as a World Heritage Site.

2021: On March 5, the court issues warrants of arrest to 30 Karen villagers; 22 people are arrested and imprisoned. On March 7, all are temporarily released from imprisonment. The legal case has been ongoing.

At least two human rights defenders have been killed. Tatkamol Ob-om, who was helping the Karen report illegal logging and human rights abuses, was shot by an unknown assassin in 2011. Three years later park officers arrested Por La Jee “Billy” Rakchongcharoen, who assisted affected villagers to file a legal complaint against park officials over the destruction of Karen housing. He vanished until 2019, when Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation identified his remains after discovering a burnt skull fragment in an oil barrel at the bottom of a reservoir. This had no impact on the World Heritage Committee’s decision to add the site to the list.

Rattanakrajangsri says there will be a review of the site’s World Heritage status every five years. “If the independent study shows that the situation is not getting better, and on the contrary, is getting worse, I think that it sends a strong message to UNESCO and other conservation agencies,” he said.

Such abuses, and what appears to be a history of indifference to them, go back decades. The Maasai of Tanzania have faced repeated violent evictions from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a UNESCO site since 1979. The Maasai, mobile pastoralists much like the Sámi, have moved through the region for centuries, and although UNESCO has insisted that it never called on Tanzanian authorities to expel them from the park, it has done little to address the tens of thousands of Maasai who have been forced from their homelands, injured, and even shot and killed. In the last year alone, nine U.N. human rights experts and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature have called on Tanzanian officials to halt relocation until consulting with the Maasai. Human rights defenders have demanded UNESCO sever ties with the Tanzanian government.

“The World Heritage Committee is closely monitoring the state of conservation of the mentioned properties,” said a spokesperson for the World Heritage Centre. “Including the issues related to the rights of the Indigenous peoples.”

The agency could begin to address such injustices by establishing a mechanism under which Indigenous peoples and human rights watchdogs could bring evidence of violations to its attention, said Nicolás Süssmann, conservation and Indigenous peoples project director with Project Expedite Justice, a human rights organization. He also says UNESCO could be more open and clear in its handling of human rights complaints.

“The consequences cannot just be removing or firing an eco-guard who conducted an operation,” he said. “This is not a problem of rogue eco-guards. This is a problem with a conservation model that is incompatible with Indigenous peoples.”

But that conservation model has been the global standard for more than a century, and with more than 100 countries expressing support for 30×30, Süssmann and other human rights experts say the situation will get worse. “You can say you respect Indigenous peoples,” said Süssmann, “but when you have a deadline and you’re used to doing things without Indigenous peoples’ real, and meaningful, involvement, you’re not going to change the way you do things if you don’t have to.”

Read Next How the world’s favorite conservation model was built on colonial violence

Süssman says this is especially true when you read the fine print: Under 30×30, countries don’t have to preserve 30 percent of their own lands and waters by 2030. The plan calls only for preserving 30 percent of the world’s land and waters by then. “Nobody is going to demolish a couple of buildings near Central Park to make it bigger,” said Süssmann. “They’re going to get that 30 percent from other parts of the world.”

Much of that land will, almost inevitably, encompass Indigenous territories, which make up nearly a quarter of the planet. In 2016, human rights experts estimated that 50 percent of protected areas worldwide encompassed traditional Indigenous lands covering more than 6 million square miles. Today, protected areas comprise nearly 9 million square miles – an area roughly the size of China, India, Mongolia, and the United States combined. To reach 30% by 2030, more than 15 million square miles must be protected – an area nearly the size of Russia.

All told, protected areas represent just 16 percent of the Earth’s surface, and while there is no disagreement that safeguarding biodiversity is critical to planetary survival, advocates say failing to make human rights foundational to global conservation efforts may continue to drive evictions, violence, and killings in Indigenous territories.

“World Heritage Sites, which are U.N. protected areas, at the minimum, should be the ones who respect and protect Indigenous people’s rights,” said García-Alix. “If I have to be diplomatic: UNESCO has a lack of sensitivity about human rights issues, particularly when it comes to World Heritage.”

Beyond ensuring Indigenous rights and traditional knowledge are respected, such arrangements could advance UNESCO’s preservation goals and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. 

A rapidly expanding body of science shows that working with Indigenous communities can accelerate conservation efforts. Legal recognition of Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest have led to increased reforestation. Studies show that the world’s healthiest forests often stand on protected Indigenous lands, and sustainable pastoralism, like that of Maasai or Sámi herders, offers benefits ranging from preserving soil fertility to maximizing genetic diversity. Formal recognition of territory and rights also creates legal pathways to stopping the development of extractive industries: Indigenous resistance to fossil fuel projects in North America is thought to have stopped or delayed the creation of greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25 percent of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. That resistance, however, is often criminalized by state authorities.

Humans have shaped and sustained landscapes for more than 12,000 years, and Indigenous communities continue to care for the territories that have sustained them for generations. Embracing and applying that knowledge – and the understanding that Earth is an interconnected system of physical, biological, cultural, and spiritual networks that extend beyond borders — could go a long way toward addressing the climate crisis. In some cases, like the Kallak iron mine, it even means the difference between life and death.

Read Next How protecting the Earth became an excuse for murder

“We know how this will affect our culture and our livelihoods,” said Omma. “But it’s very common that our knowledge is viewed as opinions, not as knowledge.”

Human rights experts continue to urge Sweden to stop the project, and the World Heritage Centre says a report on its potential impacts will be presented to the World Heritage Committee at its annual conference this September. The committee will then offer recommendations to the Swedish government. For the Sámi, there can be one way forward.

“You can’t coexist with a mine,” said Omma. “It’s not possible.”

But to Indigenous communities like the Sámi, the issue is so much bigger than one mine. Truly protecting a place goes beyond preserving its landscapes and historic sites. It must include the protection, respect, and participation of the people who have, for millennia, lived in good relation with that land and know, perhaps better than anyone, how to protect it for future generations.

“Protection of land is good,” said Helena Omma, “if Indigenous peoples are part of that protection.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In Sweden, a proposed iron mine threatens a World Heritage Site — and the culture that made it on Apr 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

A toxin banned decades ago is found in one of the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean

Tue, 04/18/2023 - 03:30

The Atacama trench in the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Peru and Chile is one of the deepest places in the world and researchers found that a globally banned toxin exists there –– tens of thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface. 

The trench, which is 26,000 feet below sea level, is one of several ocean trenches at that depth and a new study is shedding light on the presence of PCBs, or Poly-Chlorinated Biphenyls, in that area. 

“No one would expect to find pollutants in such a place,” said Professor Ronnie N. Glud, a co-author of the study and a professor of biology at the University of Southern Denmark.

PCBs are a group of substances that were first manufactured in 1930. The compounds were mainly used for building construction and electrical equipment but their health impacts only became clear decades after they were originally manufactured. Much like “forever chemicals,” the group of chemicals are man-made compounds that don’t break down over time. 

The toxins are also carcinogenic and known to cause reproductive issues, which led to their ban in the U.S. in 1979 and eventually worldwide in 2001. Today, they linger in the soil and cause problems when people are exposed to the compounds.

The fact that PCBs are still present, 50 years after the ban took place, in one of the more remote areas of the world is intriguing to researchers. 

“It is thought-provoking that we find traces of human activity at the bottom of a deep-sea trench, a place that most people probably perceive as distant and isolated from our society,” Glud said in a press release. 

In the ocean, as on land, they still pose a threat to living organisms. A 2018 study found that half of the world’s killer whale population is threatened by PCBs. 

While PCBs have been found in other places in the ocean, they have not been found as deep as the Atacama trench. Other toxic substances like mercury and black carbon, which is made of soot and smog, had also been found in trenches–– but those other compounds are still being manufactured unlike PCBs which have been out of production for decades. 

PCBs, like other pollutants, are not water-soluble, which means they don’t break down in water. The researchers found that the PCBs reached the ocean’s underground through multiple routes, including through plankton that had ingested the PCBs and then died, sinking to the bottom of the trench.

After contaminants like PCBs have made their way into the ocean, often they become a part of the sedimentation cycle through which rocks are formed and broken down. This complex geological cycle might explain why a contaminant from over 50 years ago which was banned 20 years ago is not only present in the deepest layers of the ocean, but is actually increasing in concentration. 

PCBs have only recently reached the deepest trenches, according to Glud. “Concentrations have not yet peaked,” he said. “We may see higher concentrations in a few years.” 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A toxin banned decades ago is found in one of the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean on Apr 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Grist’s Temperature Check podcast to premiere third season

Tue, 04/18/2023 - 03:00

Beyond daily reporting, Grist takes on ambitious multimedia projects, including our Temperature Check podcast that will debut its third season on Tuesday, April 25.

Temperature Check is a podcast about the people leading climate action and climate solutions, featuring stories that show the pathways to a more sustainable, equitable future. 

This season, the theme is pivot points: How does a special education teacher nearing retirement become a renowned environmental justice advocate? What leads a climate journalist to become an electrician, or a corporate executive to create a mobility justice nonprofit? 

Each episode shares the behind-the-scenes story of how a person made a change in their life or career to work towards climate justice. Every week, we’ll feature an inspiring and illuminating tale of what happens when you make the choice to get involved. From Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” to Chicago’s bike paths, and from the Navajo Nation to Hollywood, meet an incredible array of people making change in their communities.

“The six people we’re featuring in this season of Temperature Check are so different from each other, but what they all have in common is a journey to figuring out how they could fight on behalf of their community,” said Jess Stahl, editor for creative storytelling. “I hope that hearing these stories reminds listeners that the climate crisis is about people, and that people have the power to take action.”

You can listen to Temperature Check on Grist, or subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes will drop weekly.

Listen to the trailer, and tune in for the first episode of Season 3 on April 25.

Grist is a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Grist’s Temperature Check podcast to premiere third season on Apr 18, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

The largest global gathering of Indigenous leaders begins today at the UN. Here’s what you need to know.

Mon, 04/17/2023 - 03:45

This story is published as part of the Global Indigenous Affairs Desk, an Indigenous-led collaboration between Grist, High Country News, ICT, and Mongabay.

Indigenous peoples have long argued that they have done little to contribute to climate change but that they’re the most affected and are expected to make steep sacrifices to fix it. Funding for green energy projects continues to skyrocket despite clear and growing threats to Indigenous peoples’ lands and rights. Indigenous leaders persistently express concern over global conservation programs that remove communities from their traditional territories, while record numbers of environmental, Indigenous, and land defenders are killed. 

That context is sure to inform conversations at this year’s United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, which opens its 22nd session today in New York with a key thematic focus: Indigenous peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health, and climate change. An advisory agency with the United Nations since 2000, UNPFII is one of only three U.N. bodies that deal specifically with Indigenous issues, with a major focus on advocating for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, a nonbinding resolution that affirms international Indigenous rights but is irregularly followed or applied by nations, and sometimes even by U.N. agencies. UNPFII offers Indigenous peoples, leaders, organizations, and allies an opportunity to raise specific issues to the agency in the hope of winding those issues through the international system to world leaders and policy makers.

“We are going to the U.N. because in our countries they are not hearing us,” said Majo Andrade Cerda, Kichwa member of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus from Ecuador. “It’s a way for us to say we are still alive, because we don’t know when the states and the extractive industries are going to kill us. We are threatened every day.” 

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to loosen around the world, the forum will be conducted completely in person for the first time in four years at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. And while travel costs can be immense for many Indigenous leaders, forum members say that in-person is generally more productive as many communities have struggled with poor internet connections. It also offers a rare chance for collaboration and networking among Indigenous peoples around the world. More than 2,000 participants have registered to attend this year.

According to forum members, past virtual and hybrid sessions have seen a lower number of attendees. Cerda hopes that more women and youth will be here this year, noting that their voices are critical and often overlooked. “Women are the holders of the ancestral knowledge,” she said. “We want to live in our communities, in our lands, for the rest of our lives and for the future generations.”

One key report on Indigenous determinants of health will be discussed this session. Based on a study conducted by forum members in 2022, it highlights factors that influence Indigenous health outcomes, including food systems, intergenerational trauma, access to traditional foods and plants, and sovereign rights. The authors recommend the U.N. and member states adopt a raft of strategies and programs, including incorporating Indigenous traditions in health assessment, offering medical services in Indigenous languages, and launching national awareness campaigns to combat misdiagnoses of Indigenous health issues. How to get those recommendations adopted by world leaders will be the biggest question. Attendees are expected to address specific health concerns from their communities, which will inform the recommendations that the forum ultimately makes to U.N. agencies and member states.

“Our goal with this report was to provide a structure and a framework to not only define what Indigenous determinants of health are, but to also provide a guide for U.N. agencies and stakeholders, as well as member states and countries, on how you approach health with Indigenous people,” said Geoffrey Roth, a Standing Rock Sioux descendent, one of the report’s authors, and an elected member of the permanent forum.

Last year in its final report, UNPFII called on member states and U.N. agencies to create and implement mechanisms that would better protect Indigenous peoples’ rights and territories, specifically calling out the United States and Canada to create action plans to actually implement the UNDRIP within their borders. Both countries have signed on as supporters of the declaration, but have not braided its recommendations into law and regularly violate the declaration’s principles. For example, in the U.S. a major copper mine is on track to destroy Oak Flat, a sacred area to the Apache, with the backing of the Biden administration. For years, it has faced resistance from tribal nations and Apache Stronghold, a coalition of Indigenous leaders, activists, and allies. Last month, President Biden approved ConocoPhillips’s Willow project in Alaska, an oil-drilling project, despite some local Indigenous communities’ opposition and climate concerns. In Canada, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have been protesting the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their lands for years, facing violent reprisals and arrests

In the previous session, forum members and Indigenous leaders also highlighted the importance of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent — an international human rights standard that gives Indigenous communities control over development projects that impact them. Last year, Sámi leaders flagged a major wind-energy project in their traditional reindeer-herding territories that was established illegally and without their consent. That project sparked protests in Norway last month, culminating in the shutdown of multiple ministries by Sámi and environmental activists for nearly a week. Norwegian representatives have apologized for violating the Sámi’s human rights, but the windmills are still operational

Since the last session, Indigenous representatives say their advocacy sparked some progress. Agencies within the U.N., like the World Health Organization, will host side events on Indigenous women and mental health, issues raised at the Forum last year. However, more concrete recommendations, including calling on the United States to grant clemency to Indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier, have gone unheeded. “We do not have more power to really push them to come and to do the things in the right way,” Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an Indigenous Mbororo forum member from Chad, said. “It is their responsibility. It is their mandate to work with the Indigenous peoples.”

This year’s UNPFII also marks the anniversary of a 100-year fight waged by Indigenous leaders for influence at the international level. In 1923, Chief Deskaheh of the Iroquois League went to the League of Nations in Geneva to advocate for Indigenous sovereignty but was turned away. In 1925, Maori leader T.W. Ratana was also blocked from the League of Nations, where he hoped to protest the breaking of a treaty that affirmed Maori control over their lands in New Zealand.  

Establishing UNPFII has been an important victory, but the forum still has no enforcement power over other U.N. bodies and little sway with member states. This year may see another shift in the forum, however. This session, the president of the U.N. General Assembly, H.E. Csaba Kőrösi, will hold a hearing on “enhanced participation” — a move that could put UNPFII and Indigenous nations on the same level as member states and allow participation in major meetings, like the General Assembly. Currently, that ability does not exist for forum members and other Indigenous leaders without a specific invitation from member states to major meetings, agencies, or hearings. “I wish that we could move forward on that conversation and find a meaningful way for tribal nations to be respected and have a voice within the U.N. system,” Roth said. 

R. Múkaro Agüeibaná Borrero, member of the Guainía Taíno Tribe and president of the United Confederation of Taíno People, who has attended every session of the permanent forum since it began in 2000, acknowledges that progress at the forum can seem slow, but believes that their efforts pay off in the long term. “We know that the struggle is long, but as Indigenous peoples we know we have to be in that struggle for the long haul,” Borrero said.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The largest global gathering of Indigenous leaders begins today at the UN. Here’s what you need to know. on Apr 17, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

Massive transmission line will send wind power from Wyoming to California

Mon, 04/17/2023 - 03:30

After a nearly two-decades-long permitting process, a 732-mile transmission line capable of sending power from what will be the largest onshore wind farm in North America to western states got a green light last week.

The Bureau of Land Management, or BLM gave final approval to begin building the $3 billion TransWest Express high-voltage transmission line. The infrastructure project will deliver three gigawatts of power from the 600-turbine Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project, which broke ground this year in a former coal-mining community in Wyoming, to grids in Arizona, Nevada, and California. That’s enough energy to power about 2 million homes.

“This is the biggest interstate transmission line that will be built in the West in decades,” said Kara Choquette, communications director at TransWest Express, LLC. “It’s not just about sending Wyoming wind to California solar, but how do you blend all these sources together. The physical infrastructure to connect diverse renewable resources will be there.”

The 18-year wait for this transmission line is a reminder of how complicated permitting processes can slow the country’s transition to clean energy. 

Projects built on federal lands are subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which dictates the environmental review process. NEPA does not include time limits for when environmental reviews must be completed. Also, transmission lines often cross multiple states, inviting opportunities for opposition and bureaucracy from multiple jurisdictions. The TransWest Express crosses four states, through both public and private lands, and required approvals from various federal, state, tribal, and local agencies, as well as some determined property owners

While there is bipartisan support for permitting reforms that could speed up NEPA processes or consolidate the number of decision-makers, substantive changes have not yet materialized. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia tried to pass a permitting reform bill last fall that would have transferred some state authority to the federal government on major projects, but it stalled, despite support from Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

House Republicans included permitting reform in the Lower Costs Energy Act, the energy bill that they passed last month. Its other provisions were so antithetical to clean energy goals that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said the bill was a “nonstarter” in the Senate but indicated that he wanted bipartisan discussions on permitting reform to continue. 

While streamlining approval of interstate projects could help the U.S. meet its climate goals faster, it can’t be done at the expense of environmental review and community input, said Jeremy Firestone, an expert on wind energy at the University of Delaware. “If we are going to do this transition,” he told Grist, “we need to be open and transparent and provide good information about the environmental and social effects, and the positive attributes of these projects as well, like the fact that they’re going to replace fossil fuel generation.”

The TransWest Express could be particularly impactful for California, which has a goal of achieving 100 percent clean energy by 2045. To meet that goal, the state would need to retire fossil fuel sources like natural gas and coal plants while simultaneously accounting for increased power demand from sources like electric vehicles. In a 2021 report, the state said it would have to triple its grid capacity by 2045. 

Adding transmission capacity of this scale will be essential to converting the nation to completely carbon-free power sources. “It’s like your veins,” Firestone said. “If you’ve got your heart pumping blood, you’ve got to get it to where you want to use it.”  

Construction on the TransWest Express will start this year. TransWest Express LLC, a subsidiary of Anschutz Corp., which also owns the wind farm project, said it expects to complete the project by 2028.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Massive transmission line will send wind power from Wyoming to California on Apr 17, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

What happens when a Black enclave is built by Big Oil

Sun, 04/16/2023 - 06:00

This story was originally published by Capital B and is republished with permission.

When Tara Bettis is at her home in Beaumont, Texas, the 57-year-old doesn’t need a clock to know what time it is. Her body instinctively knows based on the pitches of whistles and bells ringing from her neighbor’s property: a massive, land-gobbling oil refinery and chemical plant owned by ExxonMobil. 

“Everybody knows the whistles — the ones in the morning, the one that lets you know it’s 12 o’clock,” said Bettis, mimicking the sound, bellowing out a resounding “whooo-whooo.” 

“But you never want to hear one blow in the evening, past five or six or seven — especially late, late at nighttime,” she explained. “They blow those whistles then, that means there was an explosion.” 

The bells, smells, and fires lighting the midnight sky from her neighbor are only expected to become more of a nuisance for her and her 82-year-old mother, daughter, and two grandchildren. In February, the plant completed a $2 billion expansion — the biggest project in the U.S. in over a decade. The 68 percent refining capacity increase makes the plant’s production capabilities the seventh-largest in the world

Despite a historic focus on environmental injustices by the Biden administration, ExxonMobil leaders last year cited his administration’s calls for the country’s oil companies to ramp up production as one of the motivators behind completing the project. A recent forecast by the Energy Information Administration found that petrochemical projects ushered in during the first two years of Biden’s administration will not allow the country to reach a 50 percent drop in domestic greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 as once targeted by the administration.

Residents surrounding the ExxonMobil refinery in Beaumont, Texas, regularly experience foul smells and industrial fires that disturb everyday life. Adam Mahoney/Capital B

The irony underscores decades-old circumstances that have worked to engorge and disappear Black communities across the country. Beaumont is one of the first Black strongholds in Texas. Oil helped attract Black residents to the city in the early 20th century, ushering in a new level of economic stability, but now it’s left a majority-Black community captured under its reign. 

Bettis has lived through a handful of explosions in her lifetime, but feels “blessed” they’ve never blown her neighborhood, Charlton-Pollard, away. The neighborhood is 95 percent Black, while the total one-mile buffer around ExxonMobil is about 75 percent Black.

She’s been scared of the refinery since her family first moved to her home when she was just three years old. She’s seen the refinery’s reach grow exponentially; watched the company buyout, demolish, and then build on top of the homes of her childhood friends; contaminate the river where she and her family spent Sundays crabbing and where the city gets a share of its drinking water; and has seen nothing substantial come from two civil rights complaints brought by residents to the federal government. 

“Growing up here when all those houses were still here, we had the best time,” she said while sitting on the porch of her newly built home. She still lives on the same lot she grew up on, but hurricane damage recently required her family to knock down the original property and erect a new one.

“But oh my gosh, I’ve always been scared. When I was coming up as a teenager, they used to let off a smell that would actually knock me out,” she said. 

She fears that her lifelong exposure to pollution may potentially lead to future health complications for her and maybe even her grandchildren. Air pollution and toxins can live in your body for years, leading to serious health effects: One-third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease are due to air pollution.

Despite no one in her household being a smoker, she and her parents all developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a severe illness that damages the lungs and makes breathing difficult. Residents in her neighborhood are diagnosed with COPD at a rate twice as high as the U.S. average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We truly live our life in hazard,” she said, but her father, proud of the home he built for his family, vowed to never sell.

‘Why do you want to up and kill us?’ 

Even before the expansion, the 120-year-old, 2,700-acre refinery was routinely one of the world’s largest polluters. Since 2000, ExxonMobil’s Beaumont operations have dumped more than 500 million pounds of pollution into the air. In 2020, the plant’s air pollution was its highest in 14 years, despite a global consensus about the ways pollution may exacerbate the severity of COVID-19 infections. The rise in toxins reversed years of progress resulting from an Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit against the plant in 2005 that led to a consent decree and fine.

And since 2010, the plant has been responsible for 70 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the equivalent of the total emissions of 2 million Americans over that same time. In total, 14 industrial sites within Beaumont’s city limits have released 200.2 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions over that time. 

The emissions, in no small part, help drive the increasing severity of storms that hit the area, including Hurricane Harvey, which damaged hundreds of Beaumont homes in 2017. Four feet of water inundated the city, as residents went without drinking water and electricity for days, and the ExxonMobil refinery dumped more than 10,000 pounds of unpermitted pollution in the air. 

Chris Jones, president of the Charlton-Pollard neighborhood association, describes the area as an industrial horseshoe; on one side of the neighborhood is the Port of Beaumont; on the other is ExxonMobil, the city’s power plant, and the largest hydrogen storage facility in the world; and on the last adjacent side sits a railway, which carries petroleum and other toxic chemicals. Crisscrossing throughout the neighborhood, under homes and churches, is a significant network of gas pipelines.

It’s one of just two neighborhoods in Texas that the state’s environmental agency has noted for simultaneously having unsafe levels of the cancer-causing chemicals of benzenehydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide. Subsequently, residents in the Charlton-Pollard neighborhood are 15 percent more likely to receive a cancer diagnosis than other Beaumont residents and 45 percent more likely to have a stroke in their lifetime. The neighborhood’s excess lifetime cancer risk from air pollution is 390 percent higher than the EPA’s acceptable risk

Joseph Lartigue’s roof has been damaged since Hurricane Harvey hit nearly six years ago. He hopes to be able to demolish the property and rebuild in the near future. Adam Mahoney/Capital B

In more ways than one, Charlton-Pollard residents are trapped — by those health outcomes and the racism, poverty, industrial actors, and severe weather events that compound them. While the industrial companies around them make billions, one-third of Charlton-Pollard residents live in poverty. 

“The city and these companies want to make this whole area industrial; it’s been that way since I was a young man,” said Jasper Jones, Chris’ father and a former worker at the ExxonMobil refinery. “I don’t want to speak against industry in this country, but it’s the public that supports these industries and the ones they’re making money off of.”

“So why do you want to up and kill us [with this pollution]?” he said, sitting with two neighbors on a humid March day. “I’ve watched all the Caucasians [in Beaumont] get the chance to get up and go, but this predominantly Black neighborhood is left here abandoned as people in their 30s and 40s have strokes and die from cancer.”

A community erased and neglected

The U.S. oil industry grew out of Beaumont. The city’s Spindletop oil field, discovered in 1901, was the world’s largest for decades. It helped solidify a trillion-dollar industry and accelerated America’s stronghold over the global economy. 

The booming industry attracted Black families escaping poverty and sharecropping throughout the U.S. South. In Beaumont, they found a semblance of stability, the opportunity to work toward owning a home, and a job that paid well. A community blossomed, lined with churches, schools, grocery stores, and a club that regularly attracted the likes of James Brown. But most of the community’s amenities have been gone for at least three decades, Chris Jones says. 

When the city’s population peaked in 1960, the city was two-thirds white. But in the years since, Black residents have become the majority. Over the past 60 years, spurred by white flight, the Beaumont area has lost thousands of residents and become the state’s slowest growing area as Texas’ population has grown by 200 percent.

“We can’t just point fingers at ExxonMobil because it’s not the only industrial entity encroaching on this historical Black neighborhood,” said Chris Jones, who estimates that in the past three decades, the Port of Beaumont, ExxonMobil, and other local industrial companies have bought out at least 100 lots, paying as little as $11,000 for certain properties. The diminished population, he says, has made collective organizing around the inequalities underpinning his community nearly impossible. 

“It’s the elected and appointed officials that have neglected this area and decreased property values to make it attractive to large industries. It’s [Texas’s environmental agency] for letting us consume contaminated water and breathe polluted air. It’s the banks and insurance companies.” 

“The erasure and neglect is intentional,” he said, “and we’re losing our lineage with it.” 

The decision to leave isn’t so simple 

Jobs at plants in the community used to be accessible to under-educated workers. Not anymore, as many full-time petrochemical jobs require a college degree and have become increasingly digital

While the energy industry is still the largest employer, residents say Black representation in the plants has dwindled. Today, Black workers in the oil and chemical plants surrounding Beaumont are much more likely to be contract employees than full-time workers, thus not receiving the stability of regular pay and the protections from constant physical health threats. 

At ExxonMobil in Beaumont, 60 percent of workers are contract employees. In 2021, 650 Beaumont plant workers participated in the largest oil worker strike in four decades. While the union secured a 2 percent to 3 percent annual raise guarantee, it could not reverse a practice that allows the company to unilaterally alter or eliminate benefits, including pensions, health plans, and disability.

The battle highlighted the oil and chemical industry’s constantly expanding reach in Beaumont, influencing nearly every facet of daily life, from which streets get paved roads and streetlights to how long residents are expected to live; Black residents in the city have a life expectancy that is roughly eight years shorter than the average Texan. 

There are only two ways to escape, residents say; you have flood or wind insurance and a hurricane floods your house or sends a tree crashing through your roof; or one of the area’s many industrial companies decides they want to expand and offers to buy you out of your land. But many residents don’t have insurance because they’ve lived in these homesteads for generations, meaning they’ve owned their homes long before certain mortgages required insurance. 

On the left: Chris Jones and his father, Jasper Jones, stand outside their home, which sits two blocks from the ExxonMobil refinery. On the right: A single house sits on an otherwise-abandoned street next to the ExxonMobil refinery. Photos by Adam Mahoney for Capital B.

And home property values, diminished by the industrial horseshoe, make a payout worth little to nothing in the grand scheme. Nearly 70 percent of homes in the neighborhood are worth less than $80,000 compared to less than 12 percent of homes across the country. 

The conundrum behind leaving lingers on the mind of many in the neighborhood, especially because these houses are their homes where generations of their families have lived.  

On a weekday morning in March, Joseph Lartigue stood outside tinkering with his truck as a string of blue tarp tucked around his roof swayed with the breeze, a product of damage from Hurricane Harvey six years ago. Despite the long-lasting damage, the regular train bells that wake him up at 4 a.m., and the constant smell of “cat litter” from the refinery, Lartigue has no desire to leave. 

“A lot of people around me have died out or left their house and moved away, but I’m not gonna leave. I’m gonna build a new house, and I’m gonna stay here,” said Lartigue, whose neighbor, his first cousin, passed away from cancer as a “young man.” 

Lartigue has a special place in his heart for Beaumont. Migrating there from Louisiana in 1984, he was searching for well-paying jobs that didn’t exist back home, and he found one at a local hospital. In the end, he says, it’s about being practical about his options and the livability of the rest of the country. “[Beaumont] is not the place it was 30 years ago, but there are positives and negatives in every community,” he said, “but land everywhere has gotten to [be] so expensive.” 

So some landowners have decided to hold on to their land, regardless of whether a hurricane or wear and tear required them to knock down their homes. Almost every day, Bettis says, a group of four to five men set up a card table and hang out on an empty lot they own across the street from her house. “They won’t ever sell their property to [Exxon]Mobil because they saw people didn’t get paid what they were supposed to get paid,” she explained. “So every day they get together over there, and they play dominoes and cards and have a good time.”

That reverence for remaining in the community fits the “mood of the neighborhood,” said Donald Ray Berry, a 64-year-old Beaumont native who worked as a contractor for the plant for 27 years. “We’re laid back. We don’t need a bunch of activity,” he said. “We’re blessed to have a home. I don’t really worry about if the power goes off or about a stinky smell. We’re old school. We got generators. I know how to close and raise a window and how to turn on a fan.” 

Donald Ray Berry has called Beaumont home for his entire life and has no desire to leave, he says, sitting outside his home one block from the ExxonMobil refinery. Adam Mahoney/Capital B

Since Veronica Leslie moved into her new home last year, she spends every morning on her porch enjoying a cup of coffee as smoke stacks rise above her. She didn’t move far, just 20 yards or so from the original home she lived in for nearly 50 years, which is now an empty lot owned by ExxonMobil. Hurricane Harvey’s wind crumbled the wood structure like it was a piece of paper, she said. She decided, with the city’s support, to build her new home on the empty lot next door because she could only afford to rebuild a home in the neighborhood with the money she received from a state recovery program. 

Leslie raised her children in the neighborhood, but the now-retired woman would gladly leave — if someone would buy her property. When ExxonMobil bought out dozens of properties in the neighborhood in the early 2000s, Leslie says the company “jumped over” her and “went and got the houses next door.” 

I don’t know why God left me here,” said the 72-year-old, who believes she could only afford to live in a mobile home if she was able to sell her property. 

Understanding that there isn’t going to be a savior coming in to buy her home, Leslie turns her attention to making it as livable as possible. “I’ve been blessed, even with [ExxonMobil] sitting right under my nose. I grew up here, my parents lived and worked here,” she said. “It’ll continue to be home.” 

The history of the community deserves preservation, Jones says as he gave a tour of some of the community’s last-standing landmarks, including a 155-year-old African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the region’s first Black founded religious institutions.  As he rode down a street with just one property left standing, the former site of a day care center, Jones stomped on the brakes as he passed the lot before he reversed and jumped out of the car. 

In recent years, the Port of Beaumont has turned Charlton-Pollard’s day care center into an overfill lot. Adam Mahoney/Capital B

“You see this, or am I tripping?” he yelled. A stack of rail tracks sat uncovered on the property now owned by the Port of Beaumont. Tears swelled in his eyes as he mumbled about the potential carcinogens and herbicides they may have been sprayed with. 

“Another battle to fight.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What happens when a Black enclave is built by Big Oil on Apr 16, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News

This dime-sized battery is a step toward an EV with a 1,000-mile range

Sat, 04/15/2023 - 06:00

This story was originally published by Inside Climate News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory and the Illinois Institute of Technology have created a solid-state battery that could be used to vastly expand the range of EVs, and it could unlock the ability to use batteries on short-haul aircraft and heavy trucks.

But for now it’s a lab-scale battery cell, about the size of a dime.

I spoke with two of the leaders of the research this week.

“I was doubtful in the beginning,” said Larry Curtiss, a senior chemist at Argonne.

He has been at the lab for more than 40 years and knows from experience that initial results might not be repeatable. But he and his colleagues from the two Chicago-area institutions found that their work could be replicated, with the results published in February in the journal Science.

Before I go on, some battery basics:

Most EVs today run on lithium-ion batteries. When the batteries are charging, ions flow from one side (the cathode) to the other side (the anode), and then reverse when discharging. The ions make this trip by passing through an electrolyte, which is a liquid or gel.

In solid state batteries, the electrolyte is solid, often a ceramic material. The overall battery can hold more electricity per unit of mass than current lithium-ion batteries for a variety of design reasons.

Automakers and battery manufacturers are working to develop solid-state batteries. They see the potential for longer ranges due to higher energy density, and the batteries would be safer because they are less flammable than current lithium-ion systems.

The design at Argonne and Illinois Tech is a version of a lithium-air battery, a category that has been around for about a decade but hasn’t yet had a commercial breakthrough.

In this specific battery, the anode is made of a solid form of lithium. The “air” part comes from outside air that flows in through tiny holes in the cathode. Oxygen from the air reacts with lithium ions that have passed through the solid electrolyte. The electrolyte is made from a combination of ceramic and polymer materials—a solid that still allows for the passage of ions.

To understand what makes this battery different, it helps to know that in previous lithium-air batteries each oxygen molecule would react with one or two electrons.

In this new battery, each oxygen molecule reacts with up to four electrons.

Think of this like when you’re unloading a trunkful of grocery bags from the car. It’s a lot more efficient if you can carry four bags on each trip as opposed to one or two.

So why are the oxygen molecules in this battery reacting with more electrons? It’s complicated, and the researchers are still in the process of answering that question. But the most likely answer is that the combination of materials results in an environment that cajoles the oxygen to have the four-electron reaction.

The real world implications of the technology are substantial, with the potential for batteries that could power an EV for 1,000 miles on a single charge. That’s a lot, even when compared to other designs for solid state batteries, and it’s three to four times more than most current EVs. 

Mohammad Asadi, a chemical engineer at Illinois Tech, was another leader of the team that developed the battery and a co-author of the paper.

“It’s all about the chemistry and energy density,” he said about what makes this battery special.

For him, one of the most exciting aspects of this research is the potential to develop batteries for use in maritime transport and aviation. Those modes of transportation need so much energy that battery packs have been impractical because of the substantial size and weight that would be needed.

When looking at the potential for cars, the battery could be used for EVs with super long ranges, but I don’t see that as the most practical use. A better use would be in helping to make EVs that have much smaller battery packs than today but can still have substantial ranges. This would reduce a car’s weight and its cost.

But this is early stage research that’s probably a decade or so away from hitting the market, if it ever hits the market. One of the initial challenges would be turning the lab-scale cell into a prototype, which would be about 100 times larger.

In the meantime, automakers and battery manufacturers are just a few years from releasing the first cars with solid state batteries.

Toyota said last year that it would have a solid-state battery by 2025, but it would be in a gas-electric hybrid as opposed to an all-electric vehicle. The decision not to build an EV is a head-scratcher, but it is in line with Toyota’s continuing fondness for hybrids.

Every major automaker is working on solid-state batteries, either in-house or through partnerships with battery manufacturers like QuantumScape and Solid Power. The plans vary, but they point toward having a few EVs with the batteries on the market within about five years, and having a lot more on the market in the early 2030s.

Nissan set a goal two years ago to ramp up solid state battery production at a pace to begin selling an EV with the technology by 2028, and a company executive said last month that the company is on track to hit that goal.

But there also is some skepticism about the prospects and timetables. The chairman of CATL, the global leader in EV battery market share, said last month that his company was having a difficult time developing a solid-state battery. China-based CATL is a supplier for Tesla, among others, and it has been able to expand its battery ranges and reduce costs while still using liquid electrolytes.

The rush of development activity by the auto industry, and the continuing research at places like Argonne and Illinois Tech, shows the promise of solid-state batteries to help make EVs much more attractive to consumers.

In the near future, EVs are likely to be less expensive than equivalent gasoline vehicles, and EVs should be able to travel for longer on a single charge than gasoline models can go on a single tank.

Or, as Curtiss puts it, solid-state batteries “can make the cars cheaper as well as go farther.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline This dime-sized battery is a step toward an EV with a 1,000-mile range on Apr 15, 2023.

Categories: H. Green News


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