The election’s over, now let’s get back to work on climate

Image: Peter Blanchard/Flickr

The election may be over, but there’s no time to be complacent. Canadians voters — and many people too young to vote — demanded that politicians take climate disruption seriously. The parties and candidates listened and, for the first time, climate became a top election issue. Now we have to make sure they all come together to keep their promises and step up their ambitions.

We must hold elected representatives from every party to account, to avoid the usual scenario where parties and leaders concentrate on what will benefit them most before the next election rather than making serious attempts to curtail a problem that spells catastrophe over a longer period if we don’t act quickly and decisively. It’s an inherent weakness in our political systems. Many politicians just want to be seen to be doing something, as long as it doesn’t hurt their re-election chances, rather than demonstrating their commitments in ways that might not show immediate returns.

We don’t have time for political posturing or ego-fuelled divisions. Scientists have warned we have little more than a decade, if that, to bring emissions down to a point where they don’t keep the planet heating for years to come.

Although every major party campaigned with a climate plan, none went far enough. Even if the new government were to adopt the best ideas from other parties, the flaws in our economic and political systems could prevent us from bringing about necessary change. One flaw is the aforementioned election-cycle stasis. In part, that’s what keeps politicians and governments holding onto the status quo, fearing the bold, transformative policies the country and world so desperately need in this time of climate crisis.

Although every day we fail to take decisive action makes it that much harder to address global heating, the benefits of doing so still far exceed keeping the planet livable for humans and other species — although that alone should be enough. Some have argued bizarrely that protecting the very things that keep us alive and healthy is not economically viable. They elevate a recent, human-constructed system created under considerably different conditions than today’s above the natural systems that provide all we need to live, from air to water to food.

That in itself shows our economic systems are failing us and should be altered to fit today’s reality. But even under current economics, doing all we can to slow and halt catastrophic heating will pay many dividends. A recent study in Science by an international group of scientists concludes, “Over the next few decades, acting to reduce climate change is expected to cost much less than the damage otherwise inflicted by climate change on people, infrastructure and ecosystems.”

A report released around the same time by the Global Commission on Adaptation, representing leaders in business, science, and politics, echoes that message. It focuses on adaptation to the now-unavoidable consequences of climate disruption but doesn’t dismiss the need to prevent the crisis from worsening.

“Adaptation is not an alternative to a redoubled effort to stop climate change, but an essential complement to it. Failing to lead and act on adaptation will result in a huge economic and human toll, causing widespread increases in poverty and severely undermining long-term global economic prospects,” according to the report.

Researchers conclude that “investing $1.8 trillion globally in five areas from 2020 to 2030 could generate $7.1 trillion in total net benefits.” Those areas are “early warning systems, climate-resilient infrastructure, improved dryland agriculture crop production, global mangrove protection, and investments in making water resources more resilient.”

The Science study notes we have little time to spare. “The investment is even more compelling given the wealth of evidence that the impacts of climate change are happening faster and more extensively than projected, even just a few years ago.”

We need to do everything to slow and eventually halt the climate crisis and to adapt to the consequences our stalling has already set in motion. The voters of today have spoken, and those who will soon be old enough to vote couldn’t be clearer. We need all political representatives to cast aside their differences and work together to solve this challenge. An election is just the start. SOURCE

As Society Unravels, the Future Is Up for Grabs

As civilization faces an existential crisis, our leaders demonstrate their inability to respond. Theory of change shows that now is the time for radically new ideas to transform society before it’s too late.

Image result for resilience: As Society Unravels, the Future Is Up for Grabs

Of all the terrifying news bombarding us from the burning of the Amazon, perhaps the most disturbing was the offer of $22 million made by France’s President Emmanuel Macron and other G7 leaders to help Brazil put the fires out. Why is that? The answer can help to hone in on the true structural changes needed to avert civilizational collapse.

Scientists have publicly warned that, at the current rate of deforestation, the Amazon is getting dangerously close to a die-back scenario, after which it will be gone forever, turned into sparse savanna. Quite apart from the fact that this would be the greatest human-made ecological catastrophe in history, it would also further accelerate a climate cataclysm, as one of the world’s great carbon sinks would convert overnight to a major carbon emitter, with reinforcing feedback effects causing even more extreme global heating, ultimately threatening the continued existence of our current civilization.

Macron and the other leaders meeting in late August in Biarritz were well aware of these facts. And yet, in the face of this impending disaster, these supposed leaders of the free world, representing over half the economic wealth of all humanity, offered a paltry $22 million—less than Americans spend on popcorn in a single day. By way of context, global fossil fuel subsidies (much of it from G7 members) total roughly $5.2 trillion annually—over two hundred thousand times the amount offered to help Brazil fight the Amazon fires.

Brazil’s brutal president Bolsonaro is emerging as one of the worst perpetrators of ecocide in the modern world, but it’s difficult to criticize his immediate rejection of an amount that is, at best a pittance, at worst an insult. True to form, Donald Trump didn’t bother to turn up for the discussion on the Amazon fires, but it hardly made a difference. The ultimate message from the rest of the G7 nations was they were utterly unable, or unwilling, to lift a finger to help prevent the looming existential crisis facing our civilization.

Why Aren’t They Doing Anything?

This should not be news to anyone following the unfolding twin disasters of climate breakdown and ecological collapse. It’s easy enough to be horrified at Bolsonaro’s brazenness, encouraging lawless ranchers to burn down the Amazon rainforest to clear land for soybean plantations and cattle grazing, but the subtler, and far more powerful, forces driving us to the precipice come from the Global North. It’s the global appetite for beef consumption that lures Brazil’s farmers to devastate one of the world’s most precious treasure troves of biodiversity. It’s the global demand for fossil fuels that rewards oil companies for the wanton destruction of pristine forest.

There is no clearer evidence of the Global North’s hypocrisy in this regard than the sad story of Ecuador’s Yasuní initiative. In 2007, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa proposed an indefinite ban on oil exploration in the pristine Yasuní National Park—representing 20% of the nation’s oil deposits—as long as the developed world would contribute half the cost that Ecuador faced by foregoing oil revenues. Initially, wealthier countries announced their support for this visionary plan, and a UN-administered fund was established. However, after six years of strenuous effort, Ecuador had received just 0.37% of the fund’s target. With sorrow, the government announced it would allow oil drilling to begin.

The Yasuni National Park is now open to oil exploration, following the Global North’s inaction. (Audubon/Neil Ever Osborne)

The simple lesson is that our global leaders currently have no intention to make even the feeblest steps toward changing the underlying drivers of our society’s self-destruction. They are merely marching in lockstep to the true forces propelling our global civilization: the transnational corporations that control virtually every aspect of economic activity. These, in turn, are driven by the requirement to relentlessly increase shareholder value at all cost, which they do by turning the living Earth into a resource for reckless exploitation, and conditioning people everywhere to become zombie consumers.

This global system of unregulated neoliberal capitalism was unleashed in full fury by the free market credo of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, and has since become the underlying substrate of our politics, culture, and economics. The system’s true cruelty, destructiveness, and suicidal negligence are now showing themselves in the unraveling of our world order, as manifested in the most extreme inequality in history, the polarized intolerance of political discourse, the rise in desperate climate refugees, and a natural world that is burning upmelting down, and has already lost most of its nonhuman inhabitants.

How Change Happens

Studies of past civilizations show that all the major criteria that predictably lead to civilizational collapse are currently confronting us: climate change, environmental degradation, rising inequality, and escalation in societal complexity. As societies begin to unravel, they have to keep running faster and faster to remain in the same place, until finally an unexpected shock arrives and the whole edifice disintegrates.

It’s a terrifying scenario, but understanding its dynamics enables us to have greater impact on what actually happens than we may realize.  MORE

‘It Is Our Very Governments Who Are Killing the Earth.’

Brazilian Indigenous Leader Speaks Out On Deforestation in the Amazon

Benki Piyãnko in his village, Apiwtxa, explaining about his work with agroforestry systems

Benki Piyãnko in his village, Apiwtxa, explaining about his work with agroforestry systems
Benki Pyãnko is a community leader from Apiwtxa, an Ashaninka community situated in the Amazonian state of Acre, Brazil. He has led projects to defend his community from deforestation and to defend Ashaninka rights and culture in the indigenous territory of Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia. His community’s sustainability projects were awarded an Equator Prize by the U.N. in 2017.
As TIME reported in its recent special climate issue, the fires from the Amazon seen across the skies of Brazil in August “helped illuminate something the world can no longer ignore.” On the front lines of the fight to protect the land is 46-year-old Benki Pyãnko, who has experienced these significant — and devastating—changes to the environment firsthand. A ambassador of the Ashaninka people, Pyãnko has led environmental and reforesting projects in his community of Apiwtxa, inhabiting the indigenous territory of Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia in the Brazilian state of Acre, located close to the border with Peru and covered by the Amazon rainforest. There are around 3,000 Ashaninka people living across four indigenous land areas in Brazil, and over 120,000 Ashaninka living over the frontier in Peru. Pyãnko’s Apiwtxa community won the United Nations Equator Prize in 2017, a prize honoring indigenous communities, for its reforesting initiatives and defense of Ashaninka rights and culture. As part of the Flourishing Diversity Summit at University College London, Pyãnko was one of several indigenous leaders invited from around the world to gather and share their experiences of protecting their environments. TIME spoke with Pyãnko about the solutions that indigenous people can offer to tackle climate change, and what lessons the rest of the world can learn from them.
Where we live, there is still a great deal of richness as far as forests, animals, plants. These species still exist because of the way we guarded and tended the forest since around 1986 when we began this work of preservation. Our people still maintain our culture very protectively and very well, but with all that we have protected, we also carry great worry, because of all that surrounds us where we live. People who use the forest hunt animals to a great extent, take part in logging activities, and deforest the forest to make way for pastures. Our rivers cannot exist without the forest, our animals cannot live without the forest, and we ourselves depend on these plants and animals for our consumption, for our existence.

Deforesting was one of the greatest catastrophes that happened in our territory. People felled our forests, and that made our rivers very dry. There were many species of fish that disappeared, as the forest has been cut down, many kinds of animals also disappeared, or disappeared from that region at least. We have experienced a lot more heatwaves now, almost unbearable heatwaves. There would be rains during the summer time as if it were winter time, and also dryness during the rainy season. There’s been growing lightning storms and hurricane storms that would come and uproot many trees. We had great floods that caused many animals to die, and even people. Because of climatic changes, there are many species of trees whose fruits are borne before the correct time of the year. All the people who live in the forest realize that over the last 30 years, the changes have been very significant.

It is man who has been perpetrating all this disaster. We see mining and oil business coming into our area and invading our rivers. There were gold mines, with many areas of the forest burned or logged, and we have seen many industries moving into the area that pollute the air, significantly. We see all the rubbish created by these industries, not only plastic but also cans and all the waste being thrown in our rivers.

All our worry about the destruction that is happening makes us take our message as indigenous peoples to the whole world, speaking about these problems. Our environment, our natural fruits, animals and plants are the security of our lives. And if we don’t take care of all these species, of this richness of nature, we are heading towards a great catastrophe that may affect us in a very deep way. That’s why my work as a leader is to try to show people how we can change this attitude, and we can change all of this. That’s why I have come out of my village to go outside and show to other people with my projects what can be done to protect our environment. MORE

European Green Deal portfolio handed to EU vice president, in major elevation

Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans has been named executive vice president responsible for strategy to make the EU climate neutral by 2050

Frans Timmermans (Pic: Flickr/PES Communications)

Climate action is getting a promotion in the next European Commission, with the portfolio assigned to one of three executive vice presidents.

Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans was nominated on Tuesday to develop the “European green deal” over the next five years. He is to directly manage the climate change directorate (DG Clima) and coordinate efforts across agriculture, health, transport, energy, cohesion and environment.

Announcing the line-up in a webcast press conference, commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she wanted to create a “flexible, agile” team to deliver on the bloc’s priorities.

“At the heart of it is our commitment to become the world’s first climate neutral continent,” she said of Timmermans’ role. “Those who act first and fastest will be the ones who grab the opportunities of the ecological transition.”

In a mission letter to Timmermans, von der Leyen tasked him with proposing a climate neutrality law within his first 100 days in office. At the same time he should plan to deepen the EU’s 2030 emissions reduction target to 50% from 1990 levels. Under the Paris Agreement, countries are expected to submit updated national contributions by 2020.

Further raising 2030 ambition to 55% should wait until 2021, contingent on action from other major emitters through international negotiations, von der Leyen indicated.

Frans Timmermans @TimmermansEU

We need an ambitious Green New Deal for Europe, which shapes the future for our children and ensures their health, prosperity and security on a green and thriving planet.

Pascal Canfin, a centre right Renew Europe MEP and chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, said he “welcome[d] the new organisation of the European Commission… the ecological transition is dealt with as a priority”.

Ska Keller @SkaKeller

A welcome step forward to have a female president and a proposal for a gender-balanced @EU_Commission that has as a priority. We are happy to work constructively with the new commission to save the planet. We have no time to waste! (1/3)

Timmermans has emphasised his personal commitment to tackling climate change. “Green is not the sole property of the Green Party,” the socialist said during a TV debate in April.

“It is very welcome to have someone who has tried to position himself as such a green candidate to have a chance to demonstrate it,” said Suzana Carp of Sandbag.

Perhaps Timmermans’ biggest challenge will be to get sceptical eastern member states on board with faster emissions cuts. He has a tense relationship with the governments of Poland, Hungary and Romania, after clashes over the rule of law.

Part of his assignment is to establish a “just transition fund” to ease the pain for regions economically reliant on coal mining or heavy industry.

Lagarde: European Central Bank should ‘gradually eliminate’ carbon assets

The two other nominees assigned executive vice president status are Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager and Latvian conservative Valdis Dombrovskis.

Vestager is be responsible for making Europe “fit for the digital age”, while Dombrovskis engenders “an economy that works for people”. Both build on responsibilities they held in the last commission.

In her previous role as competition commissioner, Vestager ruled on several state aid cases relating to energy, generally promoting a shift to cleaner sources. Dombrovskis advocated for green finance standards to mobilise investments in the clean economy.

A draft list of commission postings leaked ahead of the announcement sparked some concern by omitting the environment. Rules to promote biodiversity, clean air and water have historically been a major part of the commission’s workload. In the final version, environment and oceans went to Lithuania’s Virginijus Sinkevičius.

Analysis: How Trump’s climate U-turn exposed the limits of European power

Comment: How von der Leyen could make a carbon border tax work

The youngest of the proposed intake aged 28, Sinkevičius comes from the Farmers and Greens Union, which runs to the right of the European Greens and has been silent on climate issues in Lithuania. But he told national broadcaster LRT climate action presented opportunities, adding “I hope that Lithuania will not shy away from climate change”.

Kadri Simson of Estonia is in line for the energy brief, Romania’s Rovana Plumb gets transport and Poland’s Janusz Wojciechowski will be responsible for agriculture.

They have been tasked with contributing to the green deal from their respective sectors, including work to bring international shipping into the EU carbon market and reduce free allowances for aviation.

While trade does not officially fall under Timmermans’ climate cluster, von der Leyen has asked commissioner Phil Hogan to design and introduce a carbon border tax – a complex and controversial tool to level the playing field with climate laggards. “You will use our trade tools to support sustainable development,” she wrote in a letter outlining his mission.

The assignment of candidates put forward by each member state to jobs is subject to approval in the European Parliament. Lawmakers start scrutinising nominees at committee level later this month and vote to confirm or reject them in October. SOURCE


Did McKenna do everything she could?

Catherine McKenna believes she has done everything she could to fight climate change

Catherine McKenna, the federal minister for the environment and climate change, speaks during an event in Toronto, Ont., on Aug. 27, 2019. Photo by Cole Burston.

She remembers the momentum: the gathering of countries, the urgency, the ambition, the instruction to work closely with Barack Obama’s U.S. administration, the stunned applause when she stood at the podium and said that “Canada is here to help.”

…Almost as soon as Canada got serious about the climate change emergency, McKenna and her government began fighting provinces over its plan to uphold its Paris commitments by putting a price on pollution.

“It was a different time, and we got an ambitious agreement because the world really did come together,” McKenna told National Observer in her Toronto ministerial office on Aug. 27. “And then look what happened.”

“Everyone’s always talking about how I’m fighting. I don’t want to fight them. I want to fight climate change. But I’m not going to step back in the face of governments that aren’t going to do what they need to do” – Catherine McKenna

The fight at home got more intense as conservative premiers started winning elections. Scott Moe took over from fellow conservative Brad Wall as premier in Saskatchewan in January 2018. Doug Ford ran Kathleen Wynne out of town in Ontario in June 2018, and promptly dismantled her government’s cap and tradeclimate policy. Jason Kenney returned Alberta to conservative government in the summer of 2019, after the oil and gas province’s one-term experiment with Rachel Notley’s NDP and their first serious climate plan.

These conservative governments and others in Manitoba and New Brunswick are ramping up their fight against carbon pricing, both in court and in the media, as federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer prepares for his own anti-carbon-pricing electoral battle at the ballot box.

Left to right: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer. File photos by Alex Tétreault

In spite of the shifting and often ferocious political winds, McKenna has gone full throttle on a file that hadn’t been tackled seriously by Canada in 20 years. While often derided as “Climate Barbie,” she has had “this one historic shot” — as one environmentalist put it — to lead the Justin Trudeau government’s efforts to chart the way to a low-carbon future for one of the world’s worst polluters.

But has she done enough?

“As frustrating as this is, the reality is just too important,” an animated McKenna said in reflecting on her first four years in public office. “Everyone’s always talking about how I’m fighting. I don’t want to fight them. I want to fight climate change. But I’m not going to step back in the face of governments that aren’t going to do what they need to do.”

“We just have to figure out how we move forward,” she added. “You just grind away.”

‘Unprecedented, yet highly insufficient’

Progress has been undermined by the government’s failure to regulate absolute emissions from Canada’s largest emissions-producing sector: oil and gas.

The Trudeau government has approved two contentious pipeline projects: the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline, which would carry oil from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest and beyond, and the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs from the tarsands to the ports of British Columbia and which Ottawa bought from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion in 2018.

It has also approved the $11.4-billion Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, at the mouth of British Columbia’s Skeena River, which would threaten the migration of sockeye salmon through the Skeena estuary.

Along the way, conservation experts say protections for species at-risk has not been as stringent as it should be at a time when the world is facing the greatest biodiversity crisis in its history.

Graphic by Alastair Sharp and Fatima Syed 




Amazon fires: why ecocide must be recognised as an international crime

Simon Surtees says the burning Brazilian forest is redolent of the plot of Lord of the Flies; Stefan Simanowitz writes that it’s time ecocide joined genocide as a named crime.

Eliane Brum’s passionate attack on the Amazon clearances is well made (In the burning Amazon, all our futures are now at stake, 23 August). In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, the war between Ralph and Jack leads to the burning of the jungle. The boys are rescued by a naval crew attracted by the smoke and flames. But it is worth noting that Golding had to be persuaded by his editor to change the ending, which was considered a bit bleak for the 1950s, when it was written. He would have been quite happy for readers to take in the consequences of their selfishness and stupidity; the destruction of the place where they live. How he must be chuckling now.
Simon Surtees

 In 1944, Winston Churchill described German atrocities in Russia as “a crime without a name”. Later that year, the term “genocide” was coined. Today the Amazon rainforest – the lungs of the world – is ablaze, with thousands of fires deliberately lit by land-grabbers keen to clear the forest for logging, farming and mining. This destruction, which has increased massively since Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s deregulated deforestation, threatens an area that is home to about 3 million species of plants and animals and 1 million indigenous people.

In order to stop such wanton destruction in Brazil and around the world, it is surely time to recognise ecocide – destruction of the environment or ecosystem – as an international crime. It should not be necessary to name something for it to become real but, as with genocide, a word can help encompass the enormity of a horror that might otherwise be too great to imagine.

Stefan Simanowitz
London  SOURCE


The Amazon Is Dying and Bolsonaro Is Fanning the Flames

This is why we need an Ecocide Law

The darkened sky in Sao Paulo, Brazil is picture on August 19, 2019. Residents reported black rain, while studies by two universities confirmed that the rainwater contains fire residues.
The darkened sky in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is pictured on August 19, 2019. Residents reported black rain, while studies by two universities confirmed that the rainwater contains fire residue.ANDRE LUCAS / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

The Amazon rainforest is the largest rainforest on planet Earth. Generating half its own rainfall and holding 20 percent of all the world’s rivers within its borders, it covers an area two-thirds the size of the contiguous 48 United States, and produces 20 percent of the oxygen in the world’s atmosphere.

There are more than 1,100 tributaries of the Amazon River alone, with seventeen of them longer than one thousand miles. The rainforest also creates “flying rivers,” — massive streams of airborne moisture that develop above the canopy and move with the clouds and rainfall patterns across the entire continent of South America.

Many scientists believe the Amazon is the most important source of biodiversity on the planet, and statistics back that up. It contains thousands of species of birds and trees, an estimated 2.5 million species of insects, and at least 3,000 species of fish in the Rio Negro alone, with new species being discovered all the time. A new species is discovered, on average, every other day.

And now, the Amazon is on fire. Wildfires are incinerating the rainforest at a record pace, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE as it is commonly referenced). INPE recently stated that there has been an 80 percent increase in wildfires in the Amazon, compared to the same period from last year.

Smoke from the burning rainforest has blotted out the sky over Sao Paulo, a city more than 1,700 miles from the fires, while satellite imagery shows smoke from the fires having spread all the way to the Atlantic coast, covering half of Brazil, and even covering parts of Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

Crossing Thresholds

Thomas Lovejoy has worked in Brazil’s Amazon since 1965, but he is the first to say that “we’ve barely scratched the surface” in terms of our understanding of that rainforest, as he told Truthout during an interview in 2017. He was director of the World Wildlife Fund in the U.S. for 14 years, and has been given the nickname “the godfather of biodiversity,” having coined the term “biodiversity” himself. One of his reports, alone, led to more than half of the Amazon rainforest being put under protection.

During our interview, Lovejoy gave dire warnings of things to come, including the heartbreaking wildfires we are seeing now….

Bolsonaro: The Tropical Trump

According to INPE, deforestation across the Amazon had already accelerated by 60 percent in June, compared to the same time period last year, as radical right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s horrific environmental policies began to take effect.

Last month, Greenpeace labeled Bolsonaro and his right-wing government a “threat to climate equilibrium,” while the World Wildlife Fund, like many scientists, has warned that if the Amazon reaches a tipping point, it could become a dry savannah and will no longer be capable of supporting much of the wildlife that exists there today.

Instead of sequestering carbon and generating water and rainfall, the Amazon will instead become a net emitter of carbon, and the planet will lose most of its oxygen-producing function. Meanwhile, the loss of the Amazon’s biodiversity will be beyond devastating for the planet. MORE


Bolsonaro expresses ‘love’ for Amazon as it burns, offers no policy shift

Last Stand for the Garden of Eden

Howler Monkey

The riot of roads exploding across our planet—bringing with it tsunamis of habitat destruction and biodiversity loss—at times seems almost unstoppable.

But there are some places so special, such as Manu National Park in Peru, that should remain free of the Pandora’s box of disruption that roads bring.

The most biodiverse place on Earth

To wake at dawn under the forest canopy in Manu National Park is to experience Life.  Every niche, nook, and cranny is filled with it.

The deep chorus of howler monkeys in morning pounds through your chest.  Over 800 species of birds fill the trees.  Alligator-like caiman roar in the oxbow lakes, while endangered giant otters gather in playful gangs.

Jaguars are almost common here—some 6,000 of the giant cats are thought to prowl about the Park—and are one of 13 different cat species in this global biodiversity hotspot that just might be the most profound expression of life on Earth.


Manu National Park is the glistening gem in Peru’s protected area network.  The 1.7-million-hectare World Heritage site in the Texas-sized province of Madre de Dios (“Mother of God” in Spanish), is the only park in South America that protects the entire watershed of a major Amazonian tributary, from the high Andes to the Amazonian lowlands.

No roads run through it…

Travel within Manu is by boat or by foot. Uncontacted indigenous people still live there despite the depredations a century ago by a wealthy rubber baron, Carlos Fitzcarrald.

With no access to Manu, Fitzcarrald dismantled an entire steamship and had it portaged through 12 kilometers of unchartered rainforest to the Manu watershed—in the process killing hundreds of indigenous people.  The survivors fled and their decedents remain in voluntary isolation today as uncontacted peoples.

Still no road runs through Manu.  But that could soon change.


Until now

A new road is being built illegally to the mouth of the Manu River.  This will sweep to the notorious, illegal gold mining fields near Boca Colorado—an environmental and social travesty so bad it drew the ire of Pope Francis.  In a 2018 visit to the region, he decried the illegal gold miners and their “devastating assault on life”.

Mining, illegal loggers, and “agro-industrial monocultivation,” the Pope said, all threaten territories where indigenous people live.  These activities follow roads that slice and dice Earth’s ecosystems.

Nothing on Earth rivals road-building as a threat to nature.  Not even climate change.

The road to Manu began encroaching on the region in the 1960s.  It left the adjacent forest in tatters from illegal logging and wildlife poaching—with thousands of giant otters, jaguars, and black caiman killed annually.


Despite some setbacks, the fatal road’s expansion continues. Politicians with ties to illegal gold mining are pushing it hard.  And the governor of Madre de Dios, himself a former illegal miner, clamors for the road—now a mere 100 kilometers away from the mouth of the Manu River.

By hook or—more likely—by corrupt crook, this road will continue to assault Eden unless the world wakes up and acts decisively. If completed, it is expected to cause the loss of over 43,000 hectares of rainforest—the equivalent of 100,000 football fields.


The illusion of economic growth

The road is popular with local villagers because of the high cost of boat transport and the allure of quick economic growth.

But just scratching the surface reveals an alternative truth.  Just take the section of the road that has been there for 30 years.  It has led to negligible economic progress.  Any wealth generated by illegal resource extraction has bled to outsiders.

Elsewhere in the world, poorly planned roads in remote regions have to led, not to economic growth, but to increased local poverty as outside encroachers and foreign investors gobble up most of the profits.

This is a knife

As tragic as the Manu Road is, it is a mere scratch compared to the horrendous damage that will be inflicted by the newly approved Iñapari-Puerto Esperanza road on the northern boundary of Manu.

Approved a month before the visit of the Pope, this 277 kilometer-long road will slice straight through one of the greatest untamed rainforest tracts in the world, centered on Alto Purus National Park.


Using estimates of forest loss from the nearby Inter-Oceanic Highway in Peru (itself an economic and environmental disaster), the Iñapari-Puerto Esperanza road will destroy an incredible 275,000 hectares of primary forest.

Renowned ecologist John Terborgh, a member of ALERT, with 40 years of experience in Madre de Dios, says it might cost 100 times less to buy out the 1,200 or so residents of Puerto Esperanza and set them up with stately homes in the city, than to construct this deadly road.

Why build it?  Beyond its catastrophic environmental impacts, the road will likely destroy some of the last uncontacted tribes in Earth, and will have dubious economic benefits for locals.  MORE

Indigenous-managed lands have the greatest biodiversity, says UBC-led study

Adopting Indigenous practices could help improve traditional conservation efforts


As human activities such as deforestation, overfishing, and emitting greenhouse gases continue to devastate the planet, the forecast is bleak for its species. More than one million types of plants and animals worldwide are currently facing extinction: a number that is between 1,000 and 10,000 times greater than the natural rate.

A new UBC-led study suggests that Indigenous-managed lands may play a critical role in helping species survive.

Researchers sampled land and species data from three of the world’s biggest countries—Canada, Australia, and Brazil. The study was the first to compare biodiversity and land management on such a broad geographic scale.

The scientists discovered that the total numbers of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles were all greatest on lands managed or co-managed by Indigenous communities.

The second highest numbers of species were present in protected areas like parks and wildlife reserves, with the least amount of biodiversity apparent in randomly selected areas that were not protected.

“This suggests that it’s the land-management practices of many Indigenous communities that are keeping species numbers high,” said lead author Richard Schuster, the Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellow at Carleton University, who undertook the research while at UBC. “Going forward, collaborating with Indigenous land stewards will likely be essential in ensuring that species survive and thrive.” MORE

Teck’s Frontier oilsands project heads to McKenna for review

Workers are pictured next to heavy machinery in an undated photograph in a Teck Resources document about its Frontier oilsands project.

A massive new oilsands project is inching closer to getting built in Alberta, despite serious concerns about its detrimental effect on bison herds and the rights of Indigenous people living nearby.

Only the federal environment minister’s approval stands in the way of Teck Resources’ $20-billion, 260,000-barrel-per-day Frontier project, which would be the first new open-pit petroleum-mining construction in the country’s oil patch in many years.

But approval this year will be a tricky undertaking, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government struggling in its eagerness to present itself as capable of both protecting the environment and boosting the economy.

A joint review panel from the Alberta Energy Regulator and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency last week deliveredits verdict on the Frontier project to the minister, Catherine McKenna, who must now choose whether to approve or reject the project before an October election or risk not getting to make the decision at all.

That extensive report says the 292-square-kilometre site north of Fort McKay is in the public interest despite “significant adverse project and cumulative effects on certain environmental components and Indigenous communities.”

A map showing the location of Teck Resources’ Frontier project. Photo supplied by company


“We find that the project is likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects to wetlands, old-growth forests, wetland- and old-growth-reliant species at risk, the Ronald Lake bison herd and biodiversity,” it says.

The Ronald Lake bison is a small population of disease-free wild bison that Indigenous Peoples in the area hunt for food. According to the report, the animals’ range includes the project’s almost 30,000-hectare footprint, and there is concern the project could prompt the herd to move northward into Wood Buffalo National Park, where they could come into contact with herds known to carry bovine tuberculosis or brucellosis.

“It would have significant consequences for the herd and the asserted rights, use of lands and resources, and cultural practices of Indigenous communities who are connected to the herd,” the report says.

McKenna to review panel’s verdict

McKenna thanked the panel for “their diligent work through an exhaustive review process” in a statement supplied by her office, which repeated assertions that the government was serious about protecting the environment, fighting climate change, and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, as well as supporting good jobs and economic opportunities for middle-class Canadians.

Teck says the project will create 7,000 jobs during construction and require up to 2,500 workers during operation.

A schematic of Teck Resources’ planned operation at its Frontier project in northern Alberta. Photo from company website

The company, Canada’s largest diversified miner, mostly produces copper, metallurgical coal and zinc worldwide, but has recently built some Canadian oil and gas exposure. It expects the project to produce about 3.2 billion barrels of bitumen over four decades of life. The company expects to pay around $12 billion in federal taxes during that time, as well as $55 billion to Alberta in taxes and royalties and $3.5 billion in municipal property taxes.

If McKenna decides the risks outlined in the report are too great, it will be up to cabinet to determine whether those effects are justified. The federal government has until Feb. 28 to make its decision. MORE


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