Monday, February 28, 2011

Brazil judge blocks Amazon Belo Monte dam

26 February 2011
SOurce: BBC News

A Brazilian judge has blocked plans to build a huge hydro-electric dam in the Amazon rainforest because of environmental concerns.

Federal judge Ronaldo Desterro said environmental requirements to build the Belo Monte dam had not been met.

He also barred the national development bank, BNDES, from funding the project.

The dam is a cornerstone of President Dilma Rousseff's plans to upgrade Brazil's energy infrastructure.

But it has faced protests and challenges from environmentalists and local indigenous groups who say it will harm the world's largest tropical rainforest and displace tens of thousands of people.

Judge Desterro said the Brazilian environmental agency, Ibama, had approved the project without ensuring that 29 environmental conditions had been met.

In particular, he said concerns that the dam would disrupt the flow of the Xingu river - one of the Amazon's main tributaries - had not been met.

His ruling is the latest stage in a long legal battle over Belo Monte. Previous injunctions blocking construction have been overturned.

The government says the Belo Monte dam is crucial for development and will create jobs, as well as provide electricity to 23 million homes.

The 11,000-megawatt dam would be the biggest in the world after the Three Gorges in China and Itaipu, which is jointly run by Brazil and Paraguay.

It has long been a source of controversy, with bidding halted three times before the state-owned Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco was awarded the contract last year.

Celebrities such as the singer Sting and film director James Cameron have joined environmentalists in their campaign against the project.

They say the 6km (3.7 miles) dam will threaten the survival of a number of indigenous groups and could make some 50,000 people homeless, as 500 sq km (190 sq miles) of land would be flooded.


Bach In The Amazon: Bringing Classical Music To The Rain Forest

25 February 2011
Source: RealWire

London, 25 February 2011. Can music change the world? Greek concert pianist Panos Karan will travel 5,000 miles along the Amazon River to make sure it does. Panos formed Keys of Change, to introduce the world of live classical music to people in remote villages along the Amazon River who might never otherwise have such an opportunity.

Beginning 1st March 2011 Panos will carry a portable keyboard and embark on the first of three adventures down the Amazon. The idea for this project came from the desire to share the empowering effects of music with people that never had a chance to listen to our music before, who at the same time have no preconceptions about it. Panos Karan says about this ambitious project: "Our generation of musicians has reached unprecedented refinement and virtuosity in musical performance, having been taught in specialist schools and conservatoires, by specialist professors, with the aim to share this music in specialist concert halls for specialist audiences. Music, however, and its benefits can be felt by everyone, not just professionals and specialists. A Bach Prelude and Fugue or a Rachmaninov Piano Concerto belong in the Amazon Rainforest as much as on the glamorous stage of Carnegie Hall. Somewhere along those lines the idea emerged to travel as far as it takes to find people that are not infected by the travesty that our classical music can only speak to a specialist few."

Keys of Change founder, 28-year old Panos Karan, was educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He made his professional debut performing at the Southbank Centre at the age of 19. Other notable appearances have included two solo recitals at Carnegie Hall, Hermitage Theatre (St. Petersburg) and the Athens Megaron Concert Hall. In 2009 he recorded Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Orion Symphony Orchestra.

Keys of Change was established in August 2010 with the aim of advancing the lives of children and young people in remote communities around the world through music and education. The Condor Trust for Education, our partner in Ecuador, provides financial support to children in South America, who are desperate to attend secondary school but whose families cannot afford to send them to school. Keys of Change is working together with The Condor Trust for Education in Ecuador and aims to support several children in the Amazon so they can continue their education in secondary school.

Flooding Returns to Peruvian Amazon

27 Feb 2011
Source: Cool Earth

As recently reported by Cool Earth, several Ashaninka communities suffered flood damage to houses and gardens during late January and early February. Reports from the region at the start of last week suggested that the rains were weakening and the river levels dropping. In the last few days, however, the situation has worsened again.

Other areas of the Peruvian Amazon have also been hit. In Madre de Dios, for instance, a hugely swollen river has swept over its banks and devastated the native community of Boca Inambari. Local civil defence authorities are hoping to supply this village with tents, food and blankets as soon as possible, but communications with the thousand strong village are poor at best.

The river Inambari apparently rose 15 feet overnight taking with it over 43 family homes.

The second wave of flooding in the Ene river basin, where the Ashaninka live, has caused more widespread damage impacting on more settlements in the communities where Cool Earth work to avoid deforestation.

According to Jhenny Munoz of the provincial government, there are over 5,000 Ashaninka effected by the most recent rise in Ene and Tambo river levels.

Just yesterday, Munoz put out a call to the citizens of the provincial capital - Satipo - to donate blankets, clothing and food to the villages impacted. Happily, no deaths have been reported, but the municipality is very concerned about the possible post-flood increase in malaria outbreaks and the loss of cultivated land, the main source of subsistence for these communities.

Discover Ecuador: a Nation Poised to Take its Place on the World Stage

Thursday, February 24, 2011
Source: San Francisco Chronicle

Beverly Hills, CA (PRWEB) February 24, 2011

Ecuador is a country filled with historical and natural wonders, from the ancient to modern. In 2010 Ecuador welcomed over 1,044,000 travelers (a 7.9% increase over 2009) from around the world to step into the Earth's equatorial gem, to discover the extraordinary beauty and culture in one of the world's most environmentally diverse destinations. With only 159,300.93 miles2 (256,370 km2), about the same size as the state of Nevada, the country is home to 27 different ethnic groups and four United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites: the City of Quito, Galápagos Islands, Sangay National Park and the Historic Centre of Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca; these are properties that form part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value.

With its four distinctive geographic regions; the Amazon, the Andes, La Costa (the "coastlands") and Galápagos Islands, travelers may visit a spectrum of landscape, people and culture - often within a days drive. From the Amazon, filled with the largest and most species-rich region of tropical rainforest in the world, the Galápagos Islands, a national park and biological marine reserve, to the historical city of Quito, Ecuador offers a unique landscape for visitors to explore. Accommodations for travelers are wide-ranging from bed-and-breakfast homes and five star hotels to luxurious jungle lodges. For the discerning epicurean the culinary journey covers an equally distinct and varied panorama of flavors. Andean potatoes, and lemon marinated shrimp... perhaps with a little Aji - for those who like to spice it up and for dessert, chocolate from the Galapagos; and coffee from the Andes or platter of exotic fruits alongside a llapingacho.

Since its independence from the Spanish colonial empire in 1830, Ecuador has evolved into a progressive, democratic, presidential republic. In 2001 the country adopted the US Dollar as its official currency and in 2008 a new constitution, which includes the world's first legally enforceable Rights of Nature (aka EcoSystem Rights). Helmed by President Rafael Correa, Ecuador, with the support of his cabinet, has taken its place on the global stage. Following President Correa's landslide victory in December of 2006 and assumption of office January 2007 as the 57th electoral national leader, Rafael Correa, a leading economic scholar with a Doctorate in Economics and multiple Masters Degrees in Economic and Economic Sciences was eagerly reelected to a second term with 52% of the popular vote. He was sworn into office for the second time August 10, 2009 marking the first time in 30 years the country with its population of 13,782,329 citizens re-elected their President. President Correa's continued focus is toward political sovereignty, regional integration, and economic relief for the country's poor.

President Correa's drive toward a stabilized, democratic economy has reinvigorated foreign investment and opportunities have subsequently opened in the sectors of renewable energy, hydro electricity, petroleum, mining, agriculture, and manufacturing: particularly the supply of equipment and services to the country's increasing number of domestic manufacturers and its expanding, telecommunications and utility industries.

While Ecuador's main export is crude oil, over the past century many other products have taken and continue to dominate the world stage. From 1880 to 1920 Ecuador was the leading exporter of Cacao in the world (Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion); from 1950 to 1965, it was the leading exporter of bananas, garnering over 25% of the global market (Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales), today both of these products are still leading exports alongside other equally "famous" produce and merchandise including tropical fruits such as the mango, pineapple and papaya; specialty foods such as "Destination of Origin" coffee and seafood including tuna and shrimp; and fresh cut flowers (Over 100 different varieties, including Roses, Orchids, Carnations). Merchandise, such as the coveted straw hat, have found their way around the globe donning the heads of many visitors, vacationing families, celebrities and even the heads of state.

Now a new Ecuadorian force is making their voice heard. As part of the popular and solidarity economy under the current Administration, hundreds of independent crafters from single individuals to small and family run businesses have been encouraged, and have successfully formed partnerships and associations to create voices in the export of their one-of-a-kind handmade textiles, jewelry and handicrafts. The result has been resoundingly positive: these unique products being exported at an unprecedented rate.

Dick Vega, the Trade Commissioner for Ecuador in Los Angeles says, "my country is one of the best kept secrets. We have extraordinary facilities and products, coastal and train access for transportation and security. Our offices are here to support anyone looking to import a product or invest."

Eddie Bedon Orbe, the Consul General for Ecuador Los Angeles continues, "Una de las prioridades del Presidente del Ecuador, Rafael Correa, ha sido la de diversificar e impulsar las relaciones comerciales del Ecuador con otros paises. El Ecuador cuenta con un marco legal claro que da garantias al inversionista de que se respetan sus derechos, que el clima de inversiones es favorable y que nuestro pais es una alternativa para colocar sus capitales. Por todas estas razones, les invito a invertir en Ecuador." ("One of the priorities of the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has been to diversify and boost trade relations between Ecuador and other countries. Ecuador has a clear legal framework that gives guarantees to investors that their rights are respected, that the investment climate is favorable and that our country is an alternative to invest their capital. For all these reasons, I invite you to invest in Ecuador.")

Friday, February 25, 2011

Congo: Earth's Second Set of 'Lungs'

Feb 24, 2011
Source: Our Amazing Planet

The Congo River Basin's rainforests are the second largest in the world, after the Amazon

The Congo River is Africa's second longest river after the Nile. The river flows along some 2,900 miles (4,700 kilometers) from its source in Zambia to the Atlantic Ocean (visible in bottom left corner). Its river system is fed by some 10,000 streams and drains an area the size of Europe.

The expansive rainforests of the Congo basin covers an area of more than 1.5 million square miles (4 million square km), covering parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (visible to the east of the Congo River), most of the Republic of the Congo (visible to the west of the Congo River), Gabon (visible in dark green along the left side), Equatorial Guinea (above Gabon), and southern parts of Cameroon and the Central African Republic.

The size of the Congo rainforests means that they can absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce oxygen that goes back into it. This gas production and consumption has earned the forests the nickname of 'second lungs of the Earth' (the Amazon is the first).

The Congo is home to a wealth of biodiversity – over 10,000 plant species, 1,000 bird species and 400 mammal species, including three great ape species.

Although much of the forest area remains intact, the future of the Congo and the species it supports is put at risk by unsustainable timber and mineral extraction, land clearing for agriculture and the building of roads for timber removal.

Global Service Learning: Morgan West ’13 and Student Team Work with Shaur People of Amazon Rainforest

February 24, 2011
Source: Lafayette College Campus News

Waking up every morning sore, blistered, and bitten may not sound like that much fun, but for Morgan West ’13 (Huntington Beach, Calif.) it was the experience of a lifetime living among the indigenous Shaur people of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.

Through Lafayette’s chapter of Alternative School Break (ASB), West led an interdisciplinary team of students on an intense seven-day service experience over winter break in the rural community of Arutam. This is the 18th year that ASB students have traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad for community service projects. Also during the break, student teams worked in Managua, Nicaragua, Camden, N.J., and Boston, Mass.

The Ecuador trip was organized by FUDECOIPA, a nonprofit community-based NGO whose aim is to create sustainable development in the indigenous communities of Pastaza, the country’s largest province located in the Amazon rainforest. The foundation owns and manages the 2,200-acre Arutam Rainforest Reserve and provides tourism, volunteer, and research opportunities within the reserve and the Shuar community.

Although the students travel with a faculty adviser, the trip is planned and implemented entirely by the students. The team put in a lot of hard work hauling huge wood planks through the rainforest; clearing and leveling forested land; digging trenches, and collecting and planting medicinal plants. The main goal was to complete construction of an ethno-botanical garden. Ethno-botany refers to the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous plants. The garden will provide the basis for a new medicinal garden that will supply the newly constructed community clinic with plants used for the various treatments.

West, a neuroscience major, learned first-hand how the Shuar live, simply and without easy access to technology. She also came to appreciate the intense labor it takes to sustain a community that exists in harmony with nature.

“We were living with and directly interacting and learning about the Shuar culture as they taught us how best to help them. I never learned so much and felt so indebted to a group of people,” West says.

The life lessons that West acquired while in the rainforest will remain with her forever. She “was amazed at the sheer happiness of the people in the community and how they lived and breathed the rainforest. The Shuar community found harmony between human life and the world that we were blessed to be placed on, which I now believe is the key to happiness. This balance and equanimity between self and nature brought happiness and joy to the community. I hope to be able to find this for myself at home, and spread that message to others in hopes that together we can make it a reality for our culture as a whole.”

Other students on the trip included John Bachner ’11 (Marblehead, Mass.), Julia Ben-Asher ’14 (Maplewood, N.J.), Camille Borland ’13 (Verona, N.J.), Giang Bui ’13 (Hanoi, Vietnam), Stephanie Codos ’11 (Warren, N.J.), Emily Defnet ’13 (Pottstown, Pa.), Katie Leto ’13 (Chatham, N.J.), Kelly McNulty ’11 (Dresher, Pa.), Ryan Shroff ’12 (Mumbai, India), Alana Siegel ’13 (Woodbury, N.Y.), and Chris Vinales ’13 (New York, N.Y.). Luis Schettino, assistant professor of psychology, served as the trip’s faculty adviser.

Deforestation Touches Alarming Levels in Amazon Rainforest

Feb 24,2011
Source: GreenPacks

Latest statistics indicate that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil has increased nearly 1,000 percent from the same period last year. The report on the world’s largest rainforest is from the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (IMAZON). It goes in detail and says that 175 square kilometers (68 mi²) of forest were cleared during last December. In December 2009, it had been just 16 km² (6 mi²). It accounts for a rise of 994 percent.

The report further disclosed that areas of Amazon degradation have also increased at an alarming rate. According to it, 541 km² (209 mi²) were degraded in December 2010. But in December 2009, only 11 km² (4 mi²) were affected. This accounts for an increase of 4,818 percent.

Well, the much disappointing trend of the last year is being carried on to this year too.

Last month, 83 km² (32 mi²) of forest were cleared and 376 km² (145 mi²) degraded. This indicates an increase of 22 percent of deforestation and 637 percent of degradation as compared to last year.

The rise in the rates is mostly due to construction of new infrastructure and expansion of agricultural areas. It also confirms the concerns held forward by Institute of Space Research (INP) in Brazil. Necessary steps have been recommended to be adapted to check this, before it takes to more alarming rates.

Kids Concert to Benefit Brazilian Rainforest Replanting, March 6

Source: Topanga Messenger

Kids For Environmental and Social Action (KFESA), a non-profit organization founded and run by kids, will present a fundraising concert at the Topanga Community House (TCH) on March 6, 2 p.m., to benefit entrepreneur Alana Lea and her environmental venture, Rainforest ECO, a project to replant the Atlantic Rainforest (Mata Atlantica) in Brazil.

The Mata Atlantica is the most diverse rainforest in the world, even more so than the Amazon rainforest, from which it is completely separate. It is smaller and less well known outside of Brazil. In its pristine state it stretched from the northeastern tip of Brazil down the entire coast, into Paraguay and Argentina. Now there are only isolated pockets left, 7% in total. The rest has been slashed, burned and destroyed, mainly for cattle ranching, soy and sugar plantations.

Lea decided to move beyond trying to conserve what's left of the rainforest to actually replanting it. Rainforest ECO started a reforestation project called Rainforest ECObank, a cooperative initiative between the Rainforest ECO, USA and the Nativas Viveiros Association of growers in Brazil, a social/environmental business alliance, with the shared goal of reforesting Mata Atlantica. It completed its first gifting of 1,000 trees in 2010.

Proceeds from the KFESA concert will go towards buying and planting 25,000 trees that will reforest about 15 hectares (42.5 acres) when planted during the rainy season in April 2011.

The trees will be donated by an individual who currently harvests seeds for nurseries and who will maintain them for two years at a cost of $250,000. The long-term goal is to begin a carbon credit process to bring in revenue for the people who plant and maintain the trees to further their reforestation efforts. The project will be documented using video and Google Earth.

KFESA was founded in 2004 by Cole Gann, Jack Sehres and Keith Krueger with the goal of bringing awareness and action to the problems of the world.

All proceeds from the concert will directly benefit the Rainforest ECObank project. To learn more or make a donation, visit: Lea will attend the concert and will be available to answer questions regarding the project.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Amazon Deforestation Up 1000% From Last Year

Source: Treehugger

Over the last several years, the rate of forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon had been in steady decline, but the latest data is yet again proving that the problem is far from over. According to figures released today, deforestation in the world's largest rainforest has increased nearly 1,000 percent from the same period the year before, marking the first rise in over two years -- though only time will tell if it is merely a disappointing uptick, or a troubling reverse of trends.

A newly disclosed report from the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment (IMAZON) reveals that 175 square kilometers (68 mi²) of forest were cleared this past December, compared with just 16 km² (6 mi²) reported last year for December 2009, a rise of 994 percent.

In addition to deforestation, areas of Amazon degradation have also increased at an alarming rate. IMAZON notes that 541 km² (209 mi²) were degraded in December 2010. Throughout that month in 2009, only 11 km² (4 mi²) were impacted -- representing an astonishing increase of 4,818 percent.

Unfortunately, while last year ended poorly for the Amazon rainforest, the trend seems to be carrying into the new year. Just last month, 83 km² (32 mi²) of forest were cleared and 376 km² (145 mi²) degraded -- representing increases over last year's rates of 22 and 637 percent, respectively.

The latest figures of devastation confirm concerns outlined by Brazil's Institute of Space Research (INP), which uses satellite imaging to monitor deforestation. Infrastructure projects, like the construction of new dams and highways, and the expansion of agricultural areas are considered the most probable culprits for the dramatic rise in the rates of forest loss. Recent figures released by INP indicate a 10 percent overall increase in deforestation for the period from August 2010 to January 2011.

These findings stand in stark contrast to downward trend in deforestation over the last several years, and are the first indications of an increase in forest loss in more than two. It may be too soon to tell whether or not the latest reports are simply outliers, or if the tides have changed for the largest and most important forest on Earth.

Peru Food Tours with Explorations

Source: openPR

(openPR) - Explorations now offers tours focusing on the foods of Peru. Some call this type of travel a culinary tour or gastronomy tour. They simply call it a Food Tour - travel with a bent on culinary anthropology. Explorations' goal is to provide opportunities to taste some of the worlds best dishes and educate visitors about the foods of Peru from farm to fork.

Looking at food from an holistic viewpoint, the study of a culture’s food can tell a great deal about its history. It speaks to past and present environmental forces, agricultural practices, cultural, political, and ethnic influences from immigration. Peru’s diverse geography and cultures along with a blend of new world and old world foods and flavors has created some of the best cuisine on the planet. Peru offers a diversity of flavor and is truly a foodies delight!

Explorations designs itineraries to educate about how the food is grown and harvested, and follow through with recipes and meal preparation. And of course, also important is the final process - the tasting and eating! Peru, with its varied geography and cultural history is a perfect country for such explorations. Peru is at the forefront of nouv-cuisine, and has gained international recognition for its cuisine.

Explorations has been helping travelers learn about Peru since 1992. Food Tours are an extension of their natural history and cultural tours throughout Peru. Their educational programs include tours into the Amazon with stays rainforest lodges for excellent birding, wildlife viewing, and experiencing the worlds longest Rainforest Canopy Walkway, in addition to small-ship cruises on the Amazon River from Iquitos, Peru. They also explore the Andes with tours to Machu Picchu and Cuzco and have trip extensions to other great destinations in Peru such as Tambopata, Lake Titikaka, Nazca Lines, and Paracas. Plus, they customize stays and itineraries in Lima, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, and more.

Police and army take action against gold mining

Feb 21, 2011
Source: Cool Earth

Around a thousand police and soldiers were ordered to destroy the equipment of illegal gold miners working in the rainforest of the southeastern Peruvian Amazon.

Seven miner's boats were sunk and thirteen more confiscated in the state of Madre de Dios in an action never before seen in Peru, a nation which created a Ministry of Environment less than three years ago.

Dr. Antonio Brack, the Minister of Environment visited the illegal mining area last year and vowed to do something about the devastation being wreaked over the rainforest.

Inland from the main rivers a vast gravel pit replaces what was primary rainforest just 20 years ago and, all along the main rivers, itinerant miners operate from boats and rafts with dredging machinery and diesel powered water pumps.

As well as destroying what many claim to be some of the most biodiverse rainforest in the Amazon, the illicit mining is linked to organised crime and causes other problems like indentured labour, under-age prostitution, money laundering and drug smuggling.

For every gram of gold extracted from the river, 3 grams of highly toxic Mercury are used. This liquid metal makes its way into the rivers, polluting them locally and downstream into the main Amazon watershed. According to Dr. Brack, fish in the area have mercury levels three times higher than the levels approved by the World Health Organisation and estimates are as high as 40 tons a year for the amount released into the air and rivers of Madre de Dios.

The police aim to destroy up to two hundred dredgers over the length of its present operation. No violence has been reported, but the President of the Madre de Dios Regional Government, Luis Aguirre Pastor, expressed unhappiness with the operation and commented that: "past experience tells me that when there is this type of intervention people will rise up."

REDD dawn

Monday, February 21, 2011
Source: Public Service

Erik Solheim, Norway's Minister of the Environment and International Development, reflects on the progress made in efforts to reduce tropical deforestation…

Since the 13th round of climate change talks at Bali in 2007, the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+ in the terminology of the UN negotiations) has moved from laggard to leader in the international climate change negotiations. Major efforts have been carried out by the international community, donor countries and rainforest countries, providing a genuine reason to be both proud and optimistic.

Nonetheless, significant challenges remain. The economic drivers of deforestation are strong. Global demand for timber, palm oil, sugar, soy and beef, and the need to feed three billion more people by the middle of the century, will continue to yield pressure on the forests. The successful reduction of global deforestation rates will rest on our ability to offer significant incentives to actors making land-use decisions. Business-as-usual is not an option – the consequences would simply be too devastating.

First of all, the destruction of tropical forests could cause as much as one-sixth of all global greenhouse gas emissions. While there are uncertainties tied to precise numbers, it is clear that the 2°C target will be impossible to reach without significant reductions in tropical deforestation.

Secondly, forests constitute a safety net for some of the world's poorest people. One billion depend directly or indirectly on forests for their livelihoods. The Congo basin forests, the world's second largest rainforest with an estimated cover of 200 million hectares, provide food, shelter and livelihood for more than 50 million people. They also influence food security in Africa – large-scale deforestation in the Congo basin could affect agricultural production in large areas of Africa south of the Sahara.

Tropical forests contain half of the world's terrestrial species on only 7% of the world's surface area. Biodiversity is the natural capital for sustainable development. According to estimates in the The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report, the measurable cost of the loss of biodiversity is somewhere between €1.5-5trillion a year. In comparison, the total sum of all the financial packages approved by governments worldwide to mitigate the worst financial crisis of the last century was €3trillion per year. Recognising the value of nature to society must become a policy priority.

Today, 17,000 plant and animal species are endangered globally. Life's library is in flames, and make no mistake – extinction is forever. The loss of biodiversity in our age can be compared to previous mass extinctions, but this time human beings are the ones responsible. Moreover, degradation of ecosystems combined with climate change may lead to so-called 'tipping points' – points of no return. These are self-reinforcing mechanisms – for example, the release of massive amounts of methane as a result of the melting of the Siberian tundra – that could make negative developments spin out of human control altogether. According to Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, a loss of 20-30% in the Amazon combined with an average two degree rise in the temperature may lead to the collapse of the Amazon rainforest. In short, it is time the world's tropical forests were bailed out.

The good news is that, while challenging, the prospects of saving the world's remaining rainforests have never looked better. Significant progress has been made. At the recent UN climate change negotiations in Cancún, Mexico in December 2010, the international community agreed on a framework to work collectively to slow, halt and reverse emissions from forests in developing countries. Although several details remain to be confirmed, this is a big step forward. The agreement also includes safeguards to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, stakeholder participation and biodiversity.

At the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan in October it was recognised by 192 countries and the EU that climate change will have a negative impact on biodiversity. It was decided that international efforts to reduce biodiversity loss and mitigate climate change should be more closely linked. Further to this, closer cooperation between the CBD secretariat and international bodies working with climate change should be established. Such a holistic approach to the environmental challenges is crucial for long-term success.

As many have pointed out, there are important risks involved with REDD+, but these must be addressed head on, given the disastrous consequences of a business-as-usual approach. Developing countries will have to improve forest governance to deliver lasting results in deforestation; groundbreaking levels of transparency will be required to verify the results qualifying for REDD+ finance; and financial mechanisms must be established that balance sovereignty over development spending priorities with the demonstrated application of high international safeguards standards.

A broad constituency of forest countries has emerged, eager to get REDD+ off the ground. The multilateral and bilateral initiatives, as well as a plethora of academic institutions and civil society organisations, are creating a global community to support REDD+ action. We are learning and sharing valuable lessons every day. All in all, developments are truly remarkable. Some developing countries – Brazil, Indonesia, Guyana and the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular – are leading the way. For instance, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was 70% lower in 2010 than between 1996 and 2005. This equates to 850 million tons of reduced carbon dioxide emissions. Indonesia, the world's third largest emitter after the US and China, has committed to reducing emissions by 26% from their own funds and by 41% with international assistance. Almost 80% of the emissions in Indonesia come from deforestation and conversion of peat lands. If Indonesia succeeds by 2020, one billion tons of carbon emissions will have been saved, equalling as much as 7% of what is needed on a global basis to reach the two degree target. To support these remarkable efforts, Norway has pledged US$1bn in support to each country, to be paid based on verified results in reaching their goals.

Through the United Nations' REDD Programme and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility hosted by the World Bank, more than 40 countries receive financial and technical support, and are working to get ready to implement national REDD+ strategies. The Congo Basin Forest Fund, administered by the African Development Bank, is focusing on the particular needs of the Congo basin countries. Through these programmes and the Forest Investment Program, countries are already scaling up their efforts, and the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility's Carbon Fund will become the first multilateral mechanism for paying developing countries for reduced forest emissions.

Tremendous progress has been made since Bali to prepare the world for a global mechanism to reduce tropical deforestation. An integrated multilateral architecture is being created that supports all committed forest countries in their 'readiness' efforts. National strategies are being prepared, and monitoring systems and institutional capacities built. Key countries are pushing rapidly ahead.

Now, adequate, predictable and sustainable medium and long-term funding is needed to deliver and reward large-scale verified results in reducing tropical deforestation. In Bali, the Government of Norway made the pledge to spend up to US$500m. Since then, more commitments for action and financing have been put on the table. Around US$4bn has been pledged for REDD+ before 2012, and a multitude of developing countries are willing to step up their efforts to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. There is every reason to be optimistic. This is an area where we can, and where we already are, achieving significant results – even before a final international climate agreement is settled.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rainforest coming to Bangor Central Elementary March 4

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

BANGOR TWP. — Bangor Central Elementary School's gymnasium will be transformed into a tropical rainforest on Friday, March 4.

The touring group "Live on Stage, The Rain Forest" will have viewers feeling right in the middle of the Amazon region with beautiful sights and sounds as well as exotic birds, jungle cats, monkeys, snakes and more.

The show — which is a comedy — shows at 5 and 7 p.m. at Bangor Central, 208 State Park Drive.

Tickets are $5 per person and are available at the door.

"Live on Stage, The Rain Forest" began in the 1980s when founder and director Mike Kohlrieser and his wife Marcia became increasingly aware of problems in the tropical rainforest. Using his skills as an animal trainer and stage entertainer, Kohlrieser aimed to educate people about the animals facing possible extinction.

"Live on Stage, The Rain Forest" is part of Understanding Wildlife, Inc., a non-profit organization created to educate and inspire individuals to get involved in issues such as those surrounding the rainforest.

Still a Ways to Go, After Historic Ruling Against Chevron

Feb 16, 2011
Source: Inter Press Service

The plaintiffs in the case against Chevron tried in Ecuador, who won a historic 9.5 billion dollar verdict after a nearly 18-year struggle over environmental and health damages caused in a quarter-century of oil operations in the Amazon jungle, are not disheartened by the road still ahead.

Chevron announced that it would appeal the sentence handed down Monday by Judge Nicolás Zambrano in Nueva Loja, the capital of the northeastern Ecuadorian province of Sucumbíos, which found the U.S. oil company guilty of an environmental disaster in the Amazon jungle, as locals have been arguing in legal action that began in 1993.

"This was a trial on behalf of the people, and the beneficiaries are not just the (30,000) plaintiffs but all of the inhabitants of the provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana," some 223,000 people, Juan Pablo Sáenz, one of the members of the plaintiffs' legal team, told IPS.

Chevron tried to shield itself behind two last-minute legal decisions, issued by a court in the United States and by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which were received with a dismissive attitude by authorities in Ecuador.

On Feb. 9, the court in The Hague ordered Ecuador "to take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition within and without Ecuador of any judgment against" Chevron.

The petition filed in The Hague by the U.S. oil giant cited violations of Ecuador's obligations under the United States-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty and international law.

And on Feb. 8, a federal judge in New York issued a temporary restraining order barring the plaintiffs from seeking to enforce any judgment against Chevron in the case.

Although the order expires on Feb. 22, the judge will hold a hearing to decide whether to impose a more concrete injunction, based on what he called "serious questions" raised by Chevron with regard to the enforceability of such a judgment, based on the company's arguments that the ruling was procured by fraud.

That the firm does not plan to rest was underscored by an incident that occurred just after the press conference given Tuesday in Quito by leaders of the Asamblea de Afectados por Texaco (AAT - Assembly of those Affected by Texaco), and some of their lawyers, where they celebrated the victory but also mentioned the fight still ahead.

A man who was likely employed by a private postal delivery service pushed his way through the journalists to reach the head of the AAT, Luis Yanza, with an envelope containing documents, which the activist refused to take.

The messenger then sought out other leaders of the group and lawyers who had dispersed around the room to make statements to the media. But they also refused to take the package.

The envelope contained a summons from a U.S. court. "This is not how we summon people to court in Ecuadorian territory," Yanza told IPS. "We will only accept a summons if it comes through diplomatic or judicial channels, and in accordance with Ecuador's legal order."

Finding no one who would take the package, the carrier put it on the floor and left.

The lawsuit against Chevron was filed on behalf of 30,000 indigenous and mestizo (mixed-race) members of some 80 Amazon jungle communities who are demanding that the company clean up the pollution and pay reparations for the health damages caused by Texaco during eight years of prospecting and 18 years -- 1972 to 1990 -- of oil drilling in the rainforest of northeastern Ecuador.

Texaco was acquired by Chevron in 2001. But even before then, Chevron was operating in the Ecuadorian region in question as a partner of the state-run Petroecuador, after Texaco pulled out.

The trial, which opened Nov. 3, 1993, suffered multiple delays. After nine years in the U.S. courts, it moved to Ecuador in October 2003.

It has been described by environmentalists and legal experts as the environmental "case of the century."

"This was a historic ruling for all humankind," said Alberto Acosta, former president of the constituent assembly that rewrote Ecuador's constitution in 2008 and a former minister of energy and mines.

"This is a clear announcement to all oil and mining companies that the damage they cause to the environment will not go unpunished," he told IPS.

Acosta pointed out that the sum Chevron was ordered to pay was the biggest ever, for the world's worst oil-related disaster, "which was not even surpassed by the Gulf of Mexico" -- the 2010 oil spill that resulted from an explosion of a BP deepwater drilling rig -- or by the 1989 oil spill by the Exxon Valdez tanker on the coast of Alaska.

"The damage caused by Chevron was 10 times worse," he said.

The judge in Nueva Loja ordered Chevron to pay 8.6 billion dollars in fines, clean-up costs and reparations, plus another 10 percent as established by the law on environmental management.

To come up with that figure, Judge Zambrano took into account 100 studies and reports by experts, many of them provided by Chevron itself, according to Pablo Fajardo, the plaintiffs' lead lawyer.

Most of that total, nearly 5.4 billion dollars, is to go towards soil restoration, while 1.4 billion dollars is for health care in response to ailments like cancer, reported by the plaintiffs, 800 million dollars is to establish a long-term health fund, and 600 million dollars is to clean up groundwater.

In his ruling, Zambrano also ordered the company to issue a public apology to local indigenous people for the pollution of the rainforest where they live. If Chevron fails to do so within 15 days of the verdict, the fine will be doubled.

The oil firm announced that it would appeal the ruling, which it described as "illegitimate and unenforceable."

The judgment "is the product of fraud and is contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence," Chevron said in a news release Monday.

The emphasis on the unenforceability of the ruling was met with sarcasm on the part of authorities in Ecuador. In a statement issued Sunday, before the verdict was handed down, prosecutor general Diego García said that any lawyer knows that a first instance court judgment is subject to appeal and thus unenforceable.

Yanza and Quichua indigenous leader Guillermo Grefa from Sucumbíos said the corporation was pressuring the Ecuadorian government of centre-left President Rafael Correa to interfere in the process.

"It's obvious that Chevron is lobbying the U.S. Congress to adopt retaliatory measures against Ecuador, Grefa said.

Fajardo said the company has spent between 800 million and one billion dollars "to defend itself and attack the plaintiffs and their lawyers," while the expenses of the plaintiffs "amount to no more than 20 million dollars," covered by Ecuadorian and international non-governmental organisations and by "the efforts and sacrifices of the affected parties."

But the AAT lawyers are also considering filing an appeal, because they consider the sum insufficient to cover the environmental damages and the cost of the health care needed by people suffering from leukaemia and other kinds of cancer, liver ailments, and respiratory and skin problems, which studies attribute to the pollution caused by the oil company.

"No amount in the world can bring people back to life," Yanza said. "But this amount is inadequate to redress all of the damages caused by the pollution: to the water, to the soil, to life itself. We have to remember that many people died, which is why we believe the amount should be revised."

Sáenz said the second instance court "should take no more than six months, or in the worst case, a year," to hand down a verdict. After that, Chevron would still have the possibility of turning to the National Court of Justice.

"We believe that the end of the trial is near, compared to the nearly 18 years of struggle, and that justice will be done," Fajardo said

First strike against illegal gold mining in Peru: military destroys miners' boats

February 21, 2011

Around a thousand Peruvian soldiers and police officers destroyed seven and seized thirteen boats used by illegal gold miners in the Peruvian Amazon, reports the AFP. The move is seen as a first strike against the environmentally destructive mining. Used to pump silt up from the river-bed, the boats are essential tools of the illegal gold mining trade which is booming in parts of the Amazon.

Along the Inambari River in southeastern Peru, illegal gold miners clear floodplain forests and blast riverbanks looking for gravel deposits that may hold the precious metal. When found the gold is amalgamated with toxic mercury, which often ends up in the river, contaminating fish. According to Peru's Environment Minister fish in the area have mercury levels that are three times higher than the amount approved by the World Health Organization.

Furthermore, from the government's perspective, it cannot tax the illegal mining operations, even when miners strike it rich.

The illegal gold trade also produces numerous social problems, according to the BBC, including drug trafficking, indentured labor, and child prostitution.

The operation, the first of its kind in Peru, aims to destroy 300 large pieces of mining equipment on the Inambari River.

Caltex and the law of the jungle

Source: News24

Caltex, your friendly neighbourhood petrol dealers, have a dirty little secret they’d rather you not hear too much about.

Last week, a judge in the small Ecuadorian jungle town of Lago Agrio fined the US oil giant Chevron more than $8bn for causing devastating environmental damage in a million acre oil concession of remote Amazon rainforest.

“So it’s not really Caltex, is it?” you might think, but Caltex is just the brand name of Chevron in South Africa. It’s the same company. “But it’s not really a secret either!” Well, judging by the scant exposure the story has received in the mainstream press, it might as well be. Unpleasant things that happen in some God-awful, swampy Latin American backwater simply don’t get a lot of media coverage. It’s actually not little either, but it sure as hell is dirty!

The relevant timeline looks approximately like this:

• 1964-1990: the US oil company Texaco is the sole operator in the oil field, extracting crude oil from some 327 wells.

• 1992: Texaco leaves Ecuador.

• 1993: The original lawsuit is filed against Texaco in New York.

• 2001: Chevron (aka Caltex) merges with Texaco, taking on the company’s liabilities in Ecuador.

• 2003: After Chevron succeeds in having the case transferred out of US courts, it is re-filed, as a class action suit on behalf of 30 000 residents, in Ecuador.

• 2011: After more than 17 years and numerous allegations of bribery, espionage, delays, dirty tricks, evidence-tampering and cover-ups, the Ecuadorian court hands Chevron one of the largest environmental fines on record.

Between 1972 and 1990, Chevron (then Texaco) deliberately dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste sludge, containing carcinogens and other toxins, into rivers, streams and unlined pits. Just to be clear: this was not a case of accidental leakage or negligence as in the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but hazardous waste, intentionally pumped into the Amazon ecosystem.

Along the way Chevron also managed to spill millions of gallons of crude oil and left behind as many as 1000 open waste pits that continue to leak dangerous pollutants into the air, soil and groundwater. And all of that in an area where the locals are dependant on river water for cooking, fishing, drinking and cleaning.

The impact has been devastating, effectively destroying large tracts of rainforest, damaging crops and killing farm animals. The health of the local population has plummeted, with the risk of cancers, miscarriages and birth defects all on the increase. Indigenous communities and their traditional way of life have been decimated.

Chevron has called the court ruling a “product of fraud”, “illegitimate and unenforceable”. The company has never accepted responsibility for its dirty legacy in Ecuador and it is not about to do so now, promising the plaintiffs a “lifetime of litigation”. In their final argument before the court, they claimed that no negligence was established or damage proven by the plaintiffs. According to them neither the environment nor a single human being has been harmed.

Of course they would respond that way. What precedent would it set, after all, if a bunch of semi-civilised Third-Worlders could successfully sue a multinational corporation?

What the company, which in 2010 tripled its second quarter profits to $5.4bn compared to a year earlier, has done, is spend millions on lobbying and PR efforts to clean up its public image. Among other things, Chevron launched their “We Agree” ad campaign - you may have seen it on DSTV - portraying themselves as concerned, eco-conscious and socially responsible corporate citizens.

Don’t believe a word of it! Until they face the music and pay their fair share of what’s necessary to fix the problems they have caused in Ecuador, all of that remains transparently cosmetic. And for every tank-full of Caltex with Techron® - that’s the magic petrol additive that injects your car with an army of tiny little people who tirelessly scrub and clean your engine as you drive - you also get a glob of oily, ugly, smelly and deadly rainforest pollution.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

WWF calls for more intensive beef production in Brazil

22nd February, 2011
Source: The Ecologist

In an interview with the Ecologist, WWF Brazil CEO Denise Hamu says increasing productivity can help combat deforestation in the Amazon

More intensive beef production can limit deforestation in Brazil where the space used to rear cattle is ten times what you see in other countries, according to WWF Brazil CEO Denise Hamu.

The majority of deforestation in the Amazon is being driven by the spread of cattle ranches with one report estimating that 40 per cent of Brazil's cattle are currently kept within the confines of the Amazon, where illegally occupied forest land is available cheaply. In total, cattle occupy around 80 per cent of land already in legal use in the Amazon.

But speaking to the Ecologist this week, Hamu says 'scaling up' beef production in Brazil would reduce the pressure to clear rainforest. 'This doesn't mean we are going to put them in jail but it means we need to review our productivity parameters and how we can really get into the market without deforesting,' she said.

She said protecting against deforestation would only work if it was driven by consumers refusing to buy products that come from unknown sources.

'Sometimes we tend to expect that governments are going to solve everything but if the society doesn't engage and doesn't realise that we are part of the problem and part of the solution - no matter how many laws, how many protocols we sign in the multilateral world - we won't change anything,' said Hamu.

Europeans also needed to understand the Amazon could not remain idyllic and untouched, she said. 'Here in Europe, there are many enlightened people, but they say, how come we are managing the forests? They still have this very old fashioned idea that you cannot touch.'

Peru ends illegal gold mining

Sunday Feb 20, 2011
Source: Press TV

View of an illegal dredger being burnt by the Peruvian army in the Amazonia, in the Madre de Dios region on Feb 19, 2011. AFP Photo

The Peruvian military has cleared-out illegal gold mining along the country's south-eastern Amazon region in a move aiming to protect the environment.

The government sent about 1,000 security forces to the region of Madre de Dios to destroy the illegal operations, the state-funded BBC reported.

At least seven dredging boats used to extract gold from the river bed were discovered and set on fire or sunk by the forces.

Illegal miners are reportedly able to make up to USD 30,000 per day without paying taxes on their gold extractions.

Eighteen tons of gold is extracted from the region every year, according to government officials.

These activities have caused serious damage to biodiversity in the region, located in the Amazon rainforest along the Interoceanic Highway linking Peru and Brazil.

Three times the amount of mercury is used to extract every gram of gold, a condition which leads to the release of more than 40 tons of toxic metal into the environment and the poisoning of the food chain.

Deforestation of the area for mining, as well as agriculture, has caused at least 18,000 hectares of the rainforest to be transformed into desert, Peru's Environment Minister Antonio Brack said.

Many migrant workers are lured to the area in search of work. Child prostitution, money laundering, slavery and drug-trafficking are also caused by the increased in illicit cash and activities.

Environmentalists say the government has known for years of the destructive and illegal activities in the region, but has previously failed to act.

Escaping The Rainforest

February 22, 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal

When we think of the men who mapped the New World's rivers, we tend to conjure up schoolbook scenes like Hernando de Soto crossing the Mississippi and Henry Hudson sailing into New York Harbor. And though these celebrated seekers may not have found what they were looking for—gold, the northwest passage to Asia—they were spurred on by the hope of discovering something great. But the first man to trace the premier river of earth, the Amazon, was only trying to find his way home.

Francisco de Orellana was born around 1511 to a prominent family in the hardscrabble region of Spain known as Extremadura, home to a flotilla of other explorers, including Hernán Cortés, Vasco Núñez de Balboa and Francisco Pizarro, the conqueror of the Incas. As a teenager, Orellana shipped out to the New World, where he fought with distinction, and lost an eye, in the conquest of Central America and Peru. In 1541, when Gonzalo Pizarro (half-brother of Francisco) crossed the Andes in search of the fabled cinnamon forest of La Canela and the golden treasure of El Dorado, he took Orellana, his distant cousin, as second in command.

Ten months into the expedition, they had found little cinnamon and no gold. Subsisting on boiled saddle leather, the men were grumbling of mutiny. So when an Indian captive told them of a place with plenty of food just a few days downriver, Orellana volunteered to lead a scouting party. On the day after Christmas he left camp with 57 men, some quarter of the total force, along with the only boat and most of the canoes, weapons and tools. He promised to return in 12 days.

What Orellana didn't know was that the river in question was a tributary of the Amazon, which rises in the Peruvian Andes and courses 4,000 miles across South America to the Atlantic Ocean, through the deepest rainforest on the planet. Only a few days into the mission, Orellana realized that the powerful current would make for a difficult return. But instead of retracing his route or waiting for Pizarro to catch up, he pressed on.

In "River of Darkness," Buddy Levy recounts Orellana's headlong dash down the Amazon. Like Mr. Levy's last book, "Conquistador," about the conquest of Mexico, "River of Darkness" presents a fast-moving tale of triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds. But for Orellana, unlike Cortés, the journey was born of desperation rather than greed or a yearning for glory. And a horrific voyage it was, beset by starvation and near-constant battles with the native peoples— including most famously (and apocryphally) a ferocious race of female fighters known as Amazons, after the warrior women of Greek mythology. Though impromptu, the expedition was one of the most amazing adventures of all time. In the words of a contemporary, it was "something more than a journey . . . more like a miracle." On reaching the Atlantic, eight grueling months later, Orellana had lost 14 of his 57 men—three in battle and 11 to illness or starvation.

Gonzalo Pizarro didn't fare so well. Of the nearly 200 soldiers left in the main party, only 80 managed to straggle back over the Andes to Quito (in present-day Ecuador), "so pale and disfigured," according to one observer, "that they were scarcely recognizable." Pizarro fired off a letter to his sovereign, Charles V, branding Orellana "a rebel" who had perpetrated "the greatest cruelty that ever faithless men have shown." But Orellana sailed to Spain and, spinning stories of rich kingdoms along the river, persuaded the monarch to overlook his unauthorized escapade in the rainforest.

Mr. Levy does likewise. For his sources, he draws mainly on personal accounts of the survivors, especially the report of Dominican missionary Gaspar de Carvajal, which was co-written by Orellana. Far from impartial witnesses, the priest, the captain and their companions had good reason, as Mr. Levy says, "to justify Orellana's actions and protect him . . . from any accusations of treason or desertion." Yet Mr. Levy accepts their testimony at face value, as an attempt "to chronicle and record the events as accurately and with as much detail as possible."

Other observers over the years haven't been so generous. Why, they ask, didn't Orellana turn back while he still could? Why didn't he leave messages for Pizarro, who was following behind? A second group sent downriver managed to find a cassava plantation and return with provisions—why couldn't Orellana have done the same? Some historians have even decided that, from the moment he left camp, Orellana had no intention of rejoining the starving company. But focused on adventure more than reflection, Mr. Levy rushes along almost as resolutely as Orellana himself without lingering over the moral ambiguities of his hero's predicament.

In the end, the river passed its own judgment. Approaching the Amazon from the Atlantic side two years after returning to Spain, Orellana floundered in the tangled delta and never found the main course. Of the nearly 350 men in this second expedition, only 44 survived. The captain himself sank into delirium and died on the river's banks in November 1546. Then, nearly a century later, Portuguese explorer Pedro Teixeira again traced the Amazon—upstream, the direction his predecessor had found impossible.

But, as Mr. Levy says, Orellana was the first to navigate "the most sprawling, complex, grand, and voluminous river in the world. He discovered peoples and places no European had ever seen or even imagined . . . [and] previously inconceivable plants and animals." He "opened a last frontier, a river portal to an uncharted new world." And so, whatever had impelled him on his journey, Francisco de Orellana had managed to accomplish something great after all.

$8bn payback for 'Amazon Chernobyl'

Feb 21 2011
Source: Mail & Guardian Online

An Ecuadorian judge has ruled that Chevron was responsible for widespread contamination of the country's Amazon basin and fined the company $8-billion. The oil firm blasted the ruling as a "fraud".

Pablo Fajardo, the plaintiffs' lawyer, told Associated Press that the judgment at the provincial court of justice of Sucumbios in Lago Agrio was "a great step that we have made towards the crystallisation of justice", but complained that the fine was too small -- far below the $27,3-billion sought by the plaintiffs -- and they may appeal.

The epic and bitterly fought lawsuit over the "Amazon Chernobyl" has been going on for 18 years. It was brought on behalf of 30 000 people whose health and environment were allegedly damaged by chemical-laden waste water dumped by Texaco's operations from 1972 to 1990. Chevron bought Texaco in 2001.

The lawsuit alleges that Chevron should be held responsible for $27-billion in damages resulting from illness, deaths and economic loss suffered by the Amazon residents. The case was the subject of 2009's award-winning documentary, Crude, and has attracted celebrity supporters including Sting, Trudie Styler and Daryl Hannah.

The case goes back to the 1970s when Texaco partnered the government oil company PetroEcuador to drill wells. Texaco ended its Ecuadorian operations in the 1990s and was assigned responsibility for cleaning up sites proportional to its share in the project.

The company spent $40-million on the clean-up and argues that it was legally released from further claims or liabilities. But the suit claims the clean-up failed to address faulty drilling practices by Texaco that caused damage to wide areas of jungle and harmed indigenous people.

The case has triggered a slew of related legal actions in the United States and international courts and has led to an arbitration case in The Hague. This month Chevron lawyers sued a group of trial lawyers and consultants, claiming they were organising a campaign to rig the Ecuadorian court system in a bid to win billions in the pollution claim.

judgment against Chevron
Last week an international arbitration panel in The Hague ordered Ecuador to "take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition within and without Ecuador of any judgment" against Chevron in the case. Chevron had claimed that Ecuador was violating the terms of a 1997 trade pact with the US.

A 2009 US state department report, "Investment Climate Statement for Ecuador", stated: "Systemic weakness and susceptibility to political or economic pressures in the rule of law constitute the most important problem faced by US companies investing in or trading with Ecuador." The report claimed "corruption is a serious problem in Ecuador" and that "the courts are often susceptible to outside pressure and bribes".

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chevron Slammed With $8.6 Billion for Ecuador Spill

February 16th, 2011
Source: Triple Pundit

This week saw another step towards a final resolution to an environmental drama that has been playing out in courtrooms, oilfields and indigenous villages across the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin for over eighteen years. Judge Nicolás Zambrano in the tiny oil town of Lagos Agrio ordered Chevron to pay $8 billion in damages for environmental devastation in the region that came about due to faulty drilling practices going back as far as the 1970’s. The judgment also orders the company to publicly apologize for its actions or face higher fines.

According to the plaintiffs, the now-defunct Texaco, which was purchased by Chevron in 2001, took shortcuts, eliminating the costly deep injection of oil contaminated wastewater, opting instead to simply dump billions of gallons of toxic sludge into hundreds of shallow pits that invariably leaked over time into the ponds and streams that in many cases served as the water supply to thousands of villagers..

According to Rainforest Action Network, more than 1400 Ecuadoreans have died as the result of the spills and 30,000 more continue to be at risk. Texaco first struck oil in the region in 1967 and began drilling in 1972 in partnership with the local company PetroEcuador.

Amazon Watch, who supported the plaintiffs said of the verdict, “Today’s case is historic and unprecedented. It is the first time Indigenous people have sued a multinational corporation in the country where the crime was committed and won.”

Chevron promptly issued a statement, calling the verdict “illegitimate and unenforceable.” They intend to appeal and apparently have no plans to pay the fine.

Quietly, though, they were probably celebrating. Not only have they managed to postpone accountability for these alleged actions for close to twenty years, but they have also seen the dollar amount of the judgment against them fall significantly from the $27 billion that was sought in the original action. Chevron shares rose $1.22 on the news to $96.95. Chevron earned a net profit of $19 billion last year.

They might have been a little surprised to learn that the plaintiffs were also planning to appeal the verdict. Pablo Fajardo, attorney for the plaintiff told the BBC, “this is an important step but we’re going to appeal this sentence because we think that the damages awarded are not enough considering the environmental damage caused by Chevron here in Ecuador.”

The case was the subject of a story on 60 Minutes in 2009 and was also the basis for the documentary film Crude by Joe Berlinger, which refers to the spill as the “Amazon Chernobyl.” Berlinger found himself harassed by Chevron representatives demanding that he hand over material used in making the film in an apparent effort to suppress the film’s distribution. These events in Ecuador have also been the subject of some interest to me personally ever since I read the book Savages by Joe Kane back in 1995, and inspired portions of the novel Vapor Trails that I co-authored with Roger Saillant.

In the past couple of years, Chevron has taken to playing hardball in the case, secretly filming meetings and interviews in hopes of exposing corruption among the plaintiffs and suing a large number of witnesses for conspiracy to extort money from the company. They did manage to get one judge to resign, but their legal counter-insurgency fell apart when it was revealed that the man behind the secret recordings was a convicted drug trafficker.

In the wake of the BP spill, it is becoming increasingly clear that pressure on oil companies to respect the environments they operate in is increasing and that massive lobbying, PR campaigns and legal bullying are no substitute for responsible behavior throughout the process and accountability when things go wrong.

RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.

Hanging Around in the Rainforest

February 17, 2011

Biologists are fascinated by tropical rainforests partially because they contain all sorts of biological oddities found nowhere else on earth. One example in the Amazon are ant-gardens, which are plants growing out of ant nests that are attached to vines and trees, resembling nothing so much as potted plants hanging from a ceiling.

These natural pots and the plants that grow in them are very common in the rainforest and are entirely brought together by ants, but why? Dr. Elsa Youngsteadt, an insect biologist at Sigma Xi, discusses the careful ant engineering that goes into ant-gardens.

Special report: Catastrophic drought in the Amazon

Friday, 4 February 2011
Source: Independent

A widespread drought in the Amazon rainforest last year caused the "lungs of the world" to produce more carbon dioxide than they absorbed, potentially leading to a dangerous acceleration of global warming. Scientists have calculated that the 2010 drought was more intense than the "one-in-100-year" drought of 2005.

They are predicting it will result in some eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide being expelled from the Amazon rainforest, which is more than the total annual carbon emissions of the United States. For the second time in less than a decade, the earth's greatest rainforest released more carbon dioxide than it absorbed because many of its trees dried out and died.

Scientists believe that the highly unusual nature of the two droughts, which occurred in the space of just five years, may be the result of higher sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic, which could also be influenced by global warming caused by the release of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Anglo-Brazilian team of researchers has emphasised that there is as yet no proof that the two highly unusual droughts in the Amazon are the direct result of rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, but the scientists have warned that the world is gambling with its future if it fails to curb fossil fuel emissions.

Simon Lewis of Leeds University, the lead author of the study, said: "If greenhouse gas emissions contribute to Amazon droughts that in turn cause forests to release carbon, this feedback loop would be extremely concerning. Put more starkly, current emissions pathways risk playing Russian roulette with the world's largest rainforest.

"Two unusual and extreme droughts occurring within a decade may largely offset the carbon absorbed by intact Amazon forests during that time. If events like this happen more often, the Amazon rainforest would reach a point where it shifts from being a valuable carbon sink slowing climate change to a major source of greenhouse gases that could speed it up. Having two events of this magnitude in such close succession is extremely unusual, but is unfortunately consistent with those climate models that project a grim future for Amazonia."

The study, published in the journal Science, analysed satellite data on rainfall across two million square miles of rainforest during the 2010 dry season. The scientists were able to make a direct comparison with an earlier study of the 2005 drought, which also looked at the effect of the low rainfall on the growth of trees.

In the 2005 drought, the scientists estimated that the rainforest turned from a net absorber of about two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to an exporter of some five billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is almost as much as the 5.4 billion tonnes emitted annually by the US.

However, the drought last year was more widespread and more intense than the earlier drought, with a far bigger impact on the growth and death of trees, which is why the scientists expect the overall release of carbon dioxide from dead and decaying organic matter to reach eight billion tonnes.

"The extent of the 2010 drought was much larger than in 2005. In 2010, the Rio Negro river, which is the biggest tributary to the Amazon, was at its lowest level since records began at the start of the 20th century, so we have independent evidence of these droughts," Dr Lewis said.

Normally, the cycle of droughts that hit the Amazon affect northern areas of the region and are associated with the natural el Niño phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. However, the 2005 and 2010 droughts occurred further south and may be linked with higher sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, the scientists said.

"In 2005, the spatial pattern of the drought affecting the south and southwest of the Amazon was very different from the usual droughts that impact the Amazon every five to seven years associated with el Niño events, which tend to affect the north-east. When climatologists investigated why, they associated it with Atlantic sea-surface temperatures," Dr Lewis said.

"In 2010 we see a drought with a very similar spatial pattern, again affecting the south and the south-west of the Amazon basin, and very similar to 2005, and we know that the Atlantic sea-surface temperatures were anomalously high, but the work has not been done yet to say definitively that that is the cause. Our best hypothesis at the present time is that this 2010 drought was associated with Atlantic sea-surface temperatures, but we have to wait until those scientific papers go through the peer-review process before we can say that more concretely."

Peter Cox, of Exeter University, who analysed the 2005 drought, said: "The droughts in Amazonia in 2005 and 2010 were both associated with unusually warm ocean temperatures in the tropical North Atlantic. This tends to draw the region of most intense rainfall further north and delays the wet season in Amazonia."

Chevron asks Ecuador judge to clarify ruling

Thu Feb 17, 2011
Source: Reuters

(Reuters) - Lawyers for Chevron Corp on Thursday requested clarification of a recent court ruling in Ecuador that ordered the U.S. oil company to pay $8.6 billion in damages for contaminating the Amazon.

Indigenous farmers in Ecuador's jungle region say the company is responsible for polluting a Rhode Island-sized swath of rainforest through faulting drilling practices in the 1970s and 1980s.

Judge Nicolas Zambrano of Sucumbios provincial court on Monday ruled that Chevron contaminated the jungle. He ordered the California-based company to pay the $8.6 billion, one of the biggest environmental judgments ever.

"Chevron presented at 8 am today its request for Judge Zambrano to clarify and expound upon specific points of his February 14 ruling," company spokesman James Craig told Reuters.

Chevron had considered appealing the ruling on Thursday but will now do so after the judge responds.

"The filing today has the same effect as an appeal in that it suspends the enforcement or execution of the verdict," Craig said. "The judge must resolve our request for clarification of his ruling and, upon doing that, the company will have 72 hours to file its appeal."

Zambrano's tiny courtroom is in a rundown building in an Amazon town called Lago Agrio near the Colombian border. He will start to study Chevron's 31-page request on Monday, court officials told Reuters.

Resolution of the case could be years away, and few analysts expect the company to pay anything soon, if at all. Chevron's stock price was not hit by the February 14 ruling, as investors had widely expected the verdict.

However, investors and the petroleum industry are watching to see if Chevron will have to pay massive damages, setting a precedent that could fuel other big lawsuits against oil companies accused of polluting countries around the world.

Chevron says it is innocent of the charges and that the 17-year-old legal saga is being driven more by greedy trial lawyers than concern for the environment.

Lawyers for the 47 named plaintiffs in the lawsuit meanwhile say they will file papers later on Thursday before a three-judge panel at the Lago Agrio court in a bid to increase the damages award.

Plaintiffs say Texaco wrecked wide areas of Ecuador's jungle by dumping drilling waste into unlined pits and leaving them to fester, an accusation that the company denies.

Chevron inherited the case when it bought Texaco in 2001. It says the company cleaned up all pits it was responsible for before turning them over to Ecuador's state-owned oil firm, Petroecuador, which still operates in the area.

In its request for clarification of the ruling, Chevron wants to know more about the formula that Zambrano used to come up with his damages assessment.

The company is also asking the judge if he viewed outtakes from the 2009 documentary "Crude" that were subpoenaed by Chevron as part of U.S. court proceedings related to the case.

The company says the clips, which did not appear in the film, show evidence of fraud on the part of the plaintiffs.

(Reporting by Victor Gomez, writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Dave Zimmerman)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chevron found guilty, ordered to pay $8.2 billion in epic oil contamination fight

14 February 2011

It was the environmental legal battle that some believed would never end (and they may still be right). But today in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, after 18 years of an often-dramatic court case, Chevron was found guilty of environmental harm and ordered to pay $8.2 billion in damages, however the oil giant says it will appeal the ruling. The lawsuit was filed by indigenous groups in the Ecuadorian Amazon who argue that poor environmental safeguards from Texaco in the 1970s and 80s led to widespread oil contamination and high rates of diseases, including cancer, among the populace. In 2001 Chevron purchased Texaco and inherited the legal fight. For its part, Chevron has dubbed the ruling "illegitimate" and with an appeal will drag the case on longer.

Following the ruling, the plaintiff's lead attorney, Pablo Fajardo, issued a short statement saying that his plaintiff's "provided the court with a great quantum of scientific and documentary evidence that Chevron deliberately and in violation of all industry norms discharged billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest and into the water supply relied on by thousands of Ecuadorian citizens."

Despite the likelihood of the legal battle continuing past this ruling, environmentalists and human rights groups called today's verdict 'historic'. It is the first time indigenous people have won a suit against a multinational corporation in the country where the damage occurred.

"Today’s ruling in Ecuador against Chevron proves overwhelmingly that the oil giant is responsible for billions gallons of highly toxic waste sludge deliberately dumped into local streams and rivers, which thousands depend on for drinking, bathing, and fishing," two organizations Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch said in a joint release.

According to the plaintiffs, Texaco buried toxic oil waste in crude shallow pits that eventually leached into the Ecuadorian Amazon's river system, contaminating drinking water and resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 people. The full suit was for $27 billion in damages.

For its part, Chevron has argued that Texaco, which drilled in conjunction with local company Petroecuador for decades, spent $40 million cleaning up oil over three years and in return was released from any possibility of lawsuit. However, the plaintiffs have argued that agreement was illegal.

Chevron has stated in the past that if it lost the case, it would simply refuse to pay damages. Since the company doesn't have any assets in Ecuador, judges in other nations would have to hold up the ruling to hold Chevron accountable.

After the ruling came down, Chevron released a statement arguing that the verdict was "the product of fraud and is contrary to the legitimate scientific evidence."

"United States and international tribunals already have taken steps to bar enforcement of the Ecuadorian ruling. Chevron does not believe that today's judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law," the oil company's statement continues.

Chevron also said "it intends to see that the perpetrators of this fraud are held accountable for their misconduct."

Charges of fraud have also been leveled at Chevron for alleged involvement in a fake video scheme to catch a presiding judge in 2009 accepting bribery. Taken by an Ecuadorian Chevron contractor and an American felon the video led to the judge recusing himself, although no bribe was accepted. While Chevron says it played no role in producing the video, critics have accused the oil-giant of trying to wreck the legitimacy of the trial. After the video was taken, the Chevron contractor involved in the video was moved to the US and provided for by the company.

"Rather than accept [their] responsibility, Chevron has launched a campaign of warfare against the Ecuadorian courts and the impoverished victims of its unfortunate practices. We call on the company to end its polemical attacks and search jointly with the plaintiffs for common solutions," the plaintiff's lead attorney, Pablo Fajardo, concluded.

The ruling didn't have any immediate impact on Chevron's stocks, which rose today by 1.3%.

Rare Amazon Tribe Nearly Extinct from Deforestation

Source: Treehugger

It was the 'civilizing' spirit of colonialism which first drove the Awa-Guajá from their settlements along the eastern shore of Brazil and into the Amazon rainforest. There, under self-imposed isolation from a world that's changing so rapidly around them, they live in remarkable harmony with nature -- going as far breastfeeding animals alongside their own children. Nowadays, colonialism has given way to developmentalism, and the bearers of 'civility' to loggers and businessmen. But for the Awa-Guajá, perhaps there is little difference; both signal the destruction of their land and their very way of life.

After a century fleeing from logging and development, today the Awa-Guajá are among the most threatened cultures on Earth and one of the last two surviving nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes in Brazil. Most remarkable is their incredibly intimate relationship with the forests and its wildlife. In their matriarchal society, from the age of puberty onwards women are encouraged to suckle monkeys and other animals alongside their own children, an act considered sacred by tradition.

Beyond what has been garnered from the limited contact of a few outsiders, little more is known about their culture or language. To them, equally little is known about us. They don't know that there are 6.7 billion of us out there who have long abandoned our native ways of life.

It was only recently, with the pressure of indigenous rights organizations, that the tribe was first contacted in order to move them into a reserve intended to protect them from outside forces. Logging interests in the region, however, have thus far refused to retreat from their territory, further dwindling their chances of survival. Now, with an estimated 360 members, many of whom have are classified as 'uncontacted', the Awa-Guajá face near-certain extinction.

According to a report from Brazil's National Indian Foundation made available to the NGO Survival International, 31 percent of the forest in indigenous reserves has already been illegally logged. Also, as they come in contact with outsiders, they are highly susceptible to diseases, like the flu, to which they have developed no resistance and that could prove fatal in contracted.

Deforestation of the Awa-Guajá's land, seen in red, between 1996 and 2010. (Photo: Survival / Funai / Disclosure)

Contacted members of the tribe report of food shortages due to the loss of their habitat, bringing with it hunger and starvation. Loggers and ranchers continue to encroach upon their territory, creating situations that occasionally result in violence. Some reports even suggest that disgruntled plantation owners have offered money to those who kill an Indian. And despite threats of legal action, the threats faced by the Awa-Guajá persist, says Survival International.

A federal judge ruled in June 2009 that all invaders must leave the Awá territory within 180 days. However, some of the ranchers have appealed against the ruling which has been suspended, and illegal logging and invasions are increasing.

Deforestation and the encroachment of development throughout the Amazon not only threatens the region's lush biological treasures -- but the rich cultural ones as well. There was once a time when spreading 'civilization' to people throughout the world was thought commendable, though in this day an age perhaps we have much more to learn from them about what it means to be human.

A denuded forest may one day regrow; the decimated culture that called it home sadly will not.

Ecuadorean Court Finds Chevron Guilty of Polluting Amazon Rainforest

Feb. 16, 2011
Source: Between The Lines

Interview with Andrew Miller, advocacy coordinator with Amazon Watch

On Feb. 14, a judge in the Ecuadorean town of Lago Agrio ruled that U.S.-based oil giant Chevron was responsible for polluting an area of the Amazon rainforest the size of Rhode Island and must pay $8.6 billion in damages, including ten percent of the total to an organization formed to represent the plaintiffs comprised of indigenous farmers and other residents of the area.

Chevron reacted by declaring that the verdict was fraudulent, "illegitimate and unenforceable," and is appealing the case. The plaintiffs are also appealing, maintaining that remediation will cost much more than the $9 billion awarded by the court.

ANDREW MILLER: It really means a number of different things. One is that Chevron is guilty, in the eyes of the Ecuadorean court system, of essentially environmental crimes of destroying huge swaths of the Ecuadorean Amazon, of polluting water, of causing damages to tens of thousands of people on the ground, is one thing it means. It's really only one step in a multi-decade process. The court trial started almost two decades ago, 18 years ago, and we anticipate it will go on for probably a number of more years. But it is an important step, and it's especially crucial for people on the ground who've been making these accusations against Chevron for many years. And of course Chevron has been saying people are lying and it's just a big shakedown, so the Ecuadorean courts have come down on the side of the community. That's the local implication.

I think the broader implication is one of corporate accountability, environmental justice and human rights. Our hope is that one, this gives the space for communities to hold companies accountable, and two, hopefully it also leads to a change in corporate culture, to a kind of preventative corporate culture, where expenses are made, costs are taken on the front end in order to avoid having multi-billion dollar lawsuits down the road.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You could see the destruction, right? You could see the oil gushing up and so on. How much of the evidence related to human health costs? Did people die, were a lot of people sickened, and that was part of what was presented in court?

ANDREW MILLER: Yeah, that was absolutelypart of the evidence has to do with the fact that people are consuming water and have been consuming water and bathing in it and preparing their food in it, and eating fish that swim in it for decades now, and we've seen the rise of any number of different kinds of skin diseases and cancer that never existed previously. Chevron says this is just bad sanitation, but you can assume it's been bad sanitation for centuries, for millenia, and what's changed of course is the oil operations in the region. So there are different estimates of the number of people who died from oil-related diseases; one of the numbers is around 1,400 people. So that was some of the information that was presented.

A lot of the evidence were soil samples -- tens of thousands of soil samples that were done in the different drilling sites and sites where toxic wastes were dumped. If these were in the U.S., they would be considered Superfund sites, and there are hundreds of these around the forest. And the judge and the plaintiffs and Chevron sent scientific teams to do sampling, and it's actually that evidence, which includes evidence provided by Chevron's team, which the judge used to come down with this verdict.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What's the square mileage of the area that's been despoiled?

ANDREW MILLER: It's an area about the size of Rhode Island, so it's a pretty significant size. It's also worth mentioning that this is a particularly bio-diverse part of the world -- the area where the Andes come down and hit the Amazon, it's a biodiversity hot spot. This site is also part of the headwaters of the Amazon River, and pollution that's created in this area flows down-river and unfortunately is added to other pollution from other oil drilling sites in northern Peru, for example. There have been a number of recent oil pipelines breaking and spilling into the river, and then you have different kinds of mining going on, like informal mining. So all of these toxic elements are actually being added into the Amazon River and flow downriver, so all the millions of people that depend on these waters are being exposed, directly or indirectly, to these contaminants.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Andrew Miller, I know that Chevron is going to appeal, but I've heard that the plaintiffs are also appealing, saying the ruling isn't nearly enough. Is that correct?

ANDREW MILLER: Yeah, that is correct. We're likely to see appeals on both sides. There are a number of estimates that have come out previously. There was a court-appointed expert who set the damages at $27 billion, and there were other international experts who came, saw the situation and actually placed the estimated damages at tens of billions of dollars. Essentially what we're talking about -- and the primary demand of the communities -- is a real remediation of the soil; remediation of the water sources and water they can drink, and health care. So we're not talking about communities that are going to get big cash infusions and each individual member is going to get millions of dollars as part of this. What we're really talking about is how to remediate the situation, which is very fragile and which is going to be very difficult. And how to ensure that these communities have access to fresh water and to health care to address the health issues they've been facing.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Andrew Miller, the Washington, D.C. advocacy coordinator with Amazon Watch, a San Francisco-based organization that works with indigenous groups in the Amazon to defend their rights, often against U.S.-based multinational companies. Miller explains that the litigation has already gone on for 18 years, and that this court ruling will likely not be the end of the case, but nevertheless is still a significant milestone in the pursuit of justice and compensation.