Archive for May 6th, 2011

Let’s not take our abundance of clean water for granted

Let’s not take our abundance of clean water for granted

posted 03 May 2011, by David Suzuki with contributions from Ian Hanington, Communications and editorial specialist, David Suzuki Foundation, davidsuzuki.org

If you’re reading this in Canada, chances are good that you can go to your kitchen and pour yourself a glass of cold, clean drinking water straight from the tap. If you’ve had a stressful day, you can run yourself a nice warm bath.

That’s not the case in some parts of the world, where a woman may have to walk many kilometres with her children just to fill a bucket with murky water, which she must then carry back over the parched landscape. Canadians who have travelled outside of the tourist resorts in nearby Mexico know that abundant and clean water is never taken for granted there.

In the U.S., climate change is expected to reduce flows in major rivers, including the Rio Grande and Colorado, by as much as 20 per cent this century, according to an Interior Department report. With an increase in droughts over the past several decades, these areas are already experiencing challenges in supplying growing populations with water for drinking, irrigation, power generation, and recreation.

We often take our abundant and clean water for granted here in Canada, but we shouldn’t. To begin, climate change is altering precipitation patterns, increasing drought in some areas and flooding in others, and it’s reducing the amount of water stored in glaciers, snow packs, lakes, wetlands, and groundwater.

At the same time, demand for water and threats to clean supplies are both increasing, as our populations grow and as industry, especially in the energy sector, continues to require greater amounts. Despite technological improvements, the tar sands use considerable amounts of water and pollute rivers and groundwater. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, requires massive amounts of water to extract natural gas from shale deposits, and the process is known to contaminate water supplies. Nuclear power plants also require vast amounts of water.

The consequences of water shortages and contamination are severe and numerous. Many of us remember the tragedy in Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000, when seven people died and as many as 2,300 became ill after drinking from wells containing high levels of E. coli bacteria. It’s an issue that many First Nations people here have to deal with every day. In fact, around the world, water-related illness is one of the leading causes of death, mainly in the developing world. Health authorities estimate that unclean water kills three million people a year, including close to two million children who die of diarrhea because of bad water. Worldwide, researchers estimate that as many as half of the people in hospital are there because of waterborne diseases.

Water shortages also mean less is available for irrigation, which has a severe impact on our ability to grow food. University of Alberta ecology professor David Schindler has argued that “Water scarcity will become one of the most important economic and environmental issues of the 21st century in the western prairie provinces.” A Senate report last year concluded that summer flows in many Alberta rivers are already down by about 40 per cent from where they were a century ago.

We must also consider what will become of people as water becomes more scarce and contaminated. Along with the other issues around climate change, this could trigger massive refugee crises.

Fortunately, solutions exist. As individuals, we can conserve water. Canadians use twice as much water per capita as Europeans and many times more than people in most parts of the world. By raising awareness of our consumption and by installing low-flow plumbing and using landscaping that doesn’t require much water, we can all make a difference.

Governments have a huge role to play as well. To start, metering and disincentives for high water use can help with conservation. But most importantly, governments must tackle the challenge of climate change. Along with the benefits of protecting clean water supplies and human health, addressing climate change will also strengthen the economy. An analysis conducted last year by the Western Climate Initiative showed that addressing climate change and fostering clean-energy solutions could lead to cost savings of about US$100 billion by 2020 for the Initiative’s member states and provinces.

We can’t live without clean water. That’s something we all have to think about.

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2011/05/lets-not-take-our-abundance-of-clean-water-for-granted/

Diversity is Key to Sustainable Farming, So Why’s It So Damn Hard?

Diversity is Key to Sustainable Farming, So Why’s It So Damn Hard?

Posted 06 May 2011, by Sami Grover, treehugger, treehugger.com

As Collin explored in his slideshow of permaculture principles, diversity has to be a central part of any approach to sustainability—especially one that models itself on natural ecosystems. From designing sustainable, integrated farms to utilizing a broad mix of energy sources, it just makes sense to not put all of our eggs in one basket. But in a culture that is more aligned with linear, industrial thinking, diversity also brings with it a level of complexity that many of us are not used to. So is there a way to embrace that complexity without blowing our minds?

Diversity and Resilience
We know for a fact that ecosystems rely on an astoundingly broad community of plants, animals, microorganisms and fungi to keep functioning. The more diverse the system, the better, because if one species gets hit by disease, famine or some other form of shock, there are other elements playing a similar role in the system that can pick up the slack. This is what is often referred to as resilience—the ability of a system to adapt and reorganize itself in the face of shocks.

Complex Networks of Relationships
But in reality it is not just the diversity of species, but also the diversity of useful relationships between those species, that builds resilience. You could have 10,000 different species of monkey in one rainforest, but if they all played the same—or very similar—roles within the ecosystem of that forest, the diversity would not contribute to resilience. It’s not the individual points of diverse elements, but rather the network of complex interrelationships between those elements, that ultimately builds a web that is so hard to break.

I got to pondering this after an insightful conversation with a client about the importance of complexity in organizations and social structures. Because we live in a culture that is so invested in linear, reductionist and industrial thinking, it can be hard for any of us to wrap our heads around what it takes to live with, and even encourage, complexity.

When Is Complexity Too Complex?
To take a specific example, often when I’ve seen permaculture enthusiasts make plans for sustainable, working commercial farms using the permaculture model, they focus on the idea of developing as broad a range of crops and income streams as possible in an effort to build resilience. But, it seems to me (as a non-farmer, it must be said!) that unless we view this effort through the lens of complexity as well as diversity, we run the risk of spreading ourselves too thinly and coming away with nothing.

The fact is that a commercial farm will need to not just grow a broad range of crops, but to find a way to harvest, process, and eventually get those crops to market (a decidedly linear process). From an economic standpoint, unless you can establish a useful relationship between your crop and a potential market, your diversity of crops only leads to a harder system to manage without contributing to the resilience of your overall system. (There’s a reason conventional farmers like crops that all ripen at the same time.)

Diversity & Complexity in Marketing
Many of the popular alternative methods of marketing are, of course, actually attempts at embracing complexity from economic standpoint. Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) or other subscription models are a great way for farmers to make use of a diverse harvest without needing to market each crop separately. But there must always be a balance between building in enough diversity and complexity to promote resilience, and always keeping in mind the ability of the system—or more precisely the folks stewarding that system—to harvest and utilize the crops that are grown.

(Of course if you are developing perennial polycultures for food production alone, but not commercial food production, then this is less of a concern. You pick and eat whatever comes along.)

In short, a diverse and complex food production system needs to also make an effort to bypass linear forms of marketing and economics, and instead fully embrace its position in that complex system known as the human community. You can’t shoe horn the production from a diverse permaculture model of food production into the linear systems of the supermarket shelf. But then why would you want to?

As I said above, I am no farmer. I would love to hear from sustainable farmers out there who are already embracing complexity. Not just sitting at their computer writing about it.

More on Permaculture, Perennial Agriculture and Complex Food Production
Permaculture Design Tips for Perennial Polycultures
How a Campus Lawn Became a No-Dig Garden
Awesome Tour of a Permaculture Allotment

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/05/diversity-key-sustainable-farming.php

Portable tech might provide drinking water, power to villages

Portable tech might provide drinking water, power to villages

Posted 03 May 2011, by Emil Venere, Purdue University News Service, purdue.edu

A cartoon illustrates the potential uses of a new theoretical type of mobile technology that would use an aluminum alloy to convert non-potable water into drinking water while also extracting hydrogen to generate electricity. Such a lightweight, portable system might be used to provide power and drinking water to villages and also for military operations. (Jerry Woodall, Purdue University)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Researchers have developed an aluminum alloy that could be used in a new type of mobile technology to convert non-potable water into drinking water while also extracting hydrogen to generate electricity.

Such a technology might be used to provide power and drinking water to villages and also for military operations, said Jerry Woodall, a Purdue University distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering.

The alloy contains aluminum, gallium, indium and tin. Immersing the alloy in freshwater or saltwater causes a spontaneous reaction, turning the water into steam and generating hydrogen and aluminum tri-hydroxide until the aluminum is used up. The hydrogen could then be fed to a fuel cell to generate electricity, producing potable water.

“The steam would kill any bacteria contained in the water, and then it would condense to purified water,” Woodall said. “So, you are converting undrinkable water to drinking water.”

Because the technology works with saltwater, it might have marine applications, such as powering boats and robotic underwater vehicles. The technology also might be used to desalinate water, said Woodall, who is working with doctoral student Go Choi.

A patent on the design is pending.

Woodall envisions a new portable technology for regions that aren’t connected to a power grid, such as villages in Africa and other remote areas.

“There is a big need for this sort of technology in places lacking connectivity to a power grid and where potable water is in short supply,” he said. “Because aluminum is a low-cost, non-hazardous metal that is the third-most abundant metal on Earth, this technology promises to enable a global-scale potable water and power technology, especially for off-grid and remote locations.”

The potable water could be produced for about $1 per gallon, and electricity could be generated for about 35 cents per kilowatt hour of energy.

“There is no other technology to compare it against, economically, but it’s obvious that 34 cents per kilowatt hour is cheap compared to building a power plant and installing power lines, especially in remote areas,” Woodall said.

The unit, including the alloy, the reactor and fuel cell might weigh less than 100 pounds.

“You could drop the alloy, a small reaction vessel and a fuel cell into a remote area via parachute,” Woodall said. “Then the reactor could be assembled along with the fuel cell. The polluted water or the seawater would be added to the reactor and the reaction converts the aluminum and water into aluminum hydroxide, heat and hydrogen gas on demand.”

The aluminum hydroxide waste is non-toxic and could be disposed of in a landfill.

The researchers have a design but haven’t built a prototype.

Writer:  Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Source:  Jerry M. Woodall, 765-494-3479, woodall@ecn.purdue.edu

Related Web sites:

School of Mechanical Engineering

http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/research/2011/110503WoodallWater.html

Lifebook Leaf laptop concept with solar charging panels

Lifebook Leaf laptop concept with solar charging panels

Posted 06 May 2011, By Jayanti Anubhav, Design Buzz, designbuzz.com

Since the time of the invention of this techo-revolutionary product which ended up as a part of our daily lives, laptops have come a long away from being complicated machines to the beautiful accessory to make a statement. We are spoilt with choices with this sleek gadget now. So, when the whole world is into green revolution, to do the bit for saving the mother Earth, how could Laptops be left behind. The result to go green with the laptops is the Lifebook Leaf concept by American designers Laura Karnath and Carl Burdick. The concept was shortlisted from over 1000 designs in recent Designboom competition “a life with future computing” organized in collaboration with FUJITSU.

The designer duo who use the recent technologies in eco friendly manner are all set to change the face of laptops forever with the solar charging panels with amorphous solar cells located on the back of the device. To charge efficiently all you have to do is open it flat upside down, or if you are outdoors it will naturally keep charging. The OLED touchscreen has rubberized interiors to prevent scratching on the screen so no need to worry about that. The polycarbonate exterior shell, sealed completely and featuring a waterproof zipper when shut, provides protection from water damage, a leading cause of laptop failure. That’s not enough, there is a small OLED panel on the back to show alerts and messages while charging.

The Lifebook Leaf has 4G module for communication with three cameras on the top of the laptop for 3D photography and also depth sensing to control the Leaf through gestures.

In designer duo’s own words:

With our collective environmental crisis beginning to spiral out of control, designers can no longer design products which rely on energy and resources as if those things were limitless. the ‘Lifebook leaf’ is an attempt to deal with these realities by utilizing recent advances in solar cells, flexible OLED displays, and advanced durable materials to create a highly efficient, solar powered laptop which is totally divorced from the infrastructures of the past.

The designers are also hoping that with the advancement in solar technology they will be able to use an efficient CPU for the generation of excess power allowing the Leaf to charge other devices via USB.

http://www.designbuzz.com/entry/lifebook-leaf-laptop-concept-with-solar-charging-panels/

Worship of Mother Earth

Worship of Mother Earth

Devotees gather at volcano site

Posted 04 May 2011, by Ariti Jankie, Trinidad Express Newspapers, trinidadexpress.com

A unique spiritual tourism destination is in the making at the south-western district of Cedros.

Sacred and surrounded by nature, the venue attracted more than 25 community groups in a day of prayer held this year on Easter Sunday.

Balki, or Volcano Puja, is a ritual worship ceremony that has been in existence for over 120 years. It was started by poor farmers who performed ritual worship to Mother Earth to stop the volcano from erupting.

BalkiPuja evokes Mother Earth and seeks her blessings to prevent disasters and the possible disruption of life in the small agricultural village.

Over the past few weeks the finishing touches were made to a shrine adjacent to a bubbling mud pond that is the mouth of the volcano.

Located at Columbus Estate, two miles into the forested region, the volcano is one of at least 20 known mud volcanoes in South Trinidad, including one in the sea at Mayaro.

Tents were erected to accommodate 12 altars. Nine mandirs of the Cedros district and many other groups took part in the day’s activities.

Filled with passengers, maxi taxis travelled the narrow lanes into the interior past Manmohansingh Park up hills and unto valleys with thick vegetation on both sides. The sound of the tassa drums herald the beginning of the day’s worship as the drummers led the way down the hill to the puja site. Five women carried murtis (images of a divinity) upon their heads and followed the drummers in a procession to the puja ground.

Men, women and children dressed in bright, festive, rainbow colours carried flowers, fruits, grains water, milk and sweets for offerings while others began preparing food and pundits took their places at the altars to begin the rituals.

RookminSukbir has been performing the puja since the age of seven. She is 69.

She said the puja started more than 120 years ago and both her father and grandfather took part in the worship.

“The people of this area have witnessed miracles as a result of this puja,” she said in an interview at the puja ground.

She said one woman gave birth to eight boys and wanted a girl child.

“She performed Balki puja and a girl child was born. Other women who were childless received the blessing and gave birth and many were cured of illnesses by using the mud from the volcano,” she said.

Thirbhawan Seegobin, former president of the Sanatan Dharma MahaSabha and founder/president of the Hindu Festivals Society, said that Hindus perform the puja for many reasons.

“They pray for the success of their children in examinations, economic prosperity, good health, the removal of diseases and illnesses and astrological disorders,” he said.

He said that Hindus were a ritual-oriented people and women from nine villages in the area came together to perform the annual puja.

“In other districts, women perform a bheak (begging) ceremony and use the offerings in the puja,” he said, adding that the worship is known as Kali Mai puja.

He said that Balki puja is a combination of Kali Mai and Dharti Mata (Mother Earth) worship.

Seegobin, a building contractor, has been working with southern groups over the past few years. He said permission was given for the use of three acres of land to the society for the purpose of creating the Balki Devi shrine. The society spent more than $300,000 to develop the roadway and park and is planning to have the area further developed as a spiritual tourism site for local as well as foreign pilgrims.

Among the groups present was the Santa Rosa Karena Community, the lone Amerindian group who also took part in the day’s rituals. They set up an altar in the circle of bedis (Hindu altars). A spokesman for the group said more people should get involved in a day of worship to the earth.

“In the very least, an awareness of the environment would be promoted,” he said.

He said the cultures of the nation provided a rich heritage and those who looked would find many similarities in the different races and religions.

As the conch shell blew and cymbals chimed to the rhythm of the ancient Vedic chants, bamboo poles were planted and the congregation assembled at the mouth of the volcano to make offerings and prayer for peace and calm. A cultural programme took place alongside the puja and gave several groups the opportunity to sing sacred songs and play music.

Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Cultural Cooperation, Madan Mohan Sharma, said that he was deeply impressed by the reverence of the people.

“The type of devotion and the approach to worship is rare and I felt privileged to take part in the puja,” he said.

He placed the murti of “Durga riding the lion” upon his head and joined four others who carried the murtis along with the congregation in the performance of “pradakshina” (circling the volcano). A jhandi (a bamboo pole with a flag) was planted at the mouth of the volcano and the murtis immersed to complete the prayer.

Prasad (a sweet) and lunch were distributed and mandir groups were given the opportunity to socialise. A foot track led to the sea and many took the chance to bathe.

Local writer Ashram Maharaj has been documenting the puja over the years and said that more people were recognising the need for prayer in light of recent global tragedies.

He said that despite tremendous development in science and technology, man remained helpless against natural disasters and in puja recognised a superior force.

A Balki Devi Mandir Committee has been formed with Deo Cadill as president.

He said that religious trees would be planted and the area further developed as a sacred resort for anyone who wished to visit.

“This project means a lot to the people of Cedros. We have been a forgotten people for too long and we will continue to seek assistance from government to further enhance the area,” he said adding that so far developmental work at the site has been funded by the efforts of the HFS.

http://www.trinidadexpress.com/featured-news/Worship_of_Mother_Earth-121297094.html

Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation

Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation

Posted 05 May 2011, by Staff, Biodynamics Farming and Gardening Association, biodynamics.com

The Biodynamic Initiative for the Next Generation (BING) is a new project of the Biodynamic Association which creates opportunities for the next generation of farmers, apprentices, educators, activists, and others inspired by biodynamics to connect, share, and learn from one another.

BING brings young people together through several channels of communication, including an e-newsletter, a forthcoming social networking platform, local meet-ups, and regional and national events and gatherings.

BING was launched through the Biodynamic Youth Gathering at the National Biodynamic Conference in 2010. Over 50 people attended this initial gathering, traveling from all over the country and abroad to meet each other and share their ideas. This was a wonderful debut for BING! For a full overview, check out Paula Manalo’s blog post on the event.

http://www.biodynamics.com/bing

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND OIL DRILLING: INTERVIEW WITH NNIMMO BASSEY

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND OIL DRILLING: INTERVIEW WITH NNIMMO BASSEY

Posted 05 May 2011, by Susie Kim, Prospect, journal of International Affairs at UCSD, prospectjournal.ucsd.edu

On April 2, Clinton Global Initiative University commitment makers and a panel of professionals gathered at the University of California San Diego to discuss a plenary session titled “Scarcity and Crisis: Food, Water, and Energy, as a Right and a Conflict Driver.”

Julia Häusermann, an international human rights lawyer and founder of Rights and Humanity, mediated the event and introduced the accomplished panel: Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International; Joshua Newton, a Ph.D candidate at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and consultant for the UNESCO and the Organization of American States; and Jamie Statter, the senior commitment associate for issues pertaining to energy and environment at the Clinton Global Initiative.

The panel addressed how the human rights discourse can be helpful in addressing crises and how food, water, and energy scarcities are interrelated and drive conflict. Each of the speakers also shared some of the strategies that they have pursued in addressing these conflicts that were proven to be successful.

Nnimmo Bassey, who works on environmental justice issues in Nigeria, spoke about his work in building global movements by connecting local communities in places such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe. He suggested that the solution to food, water and energy crises will take place on a community level and that such solutions require recovering sovereignty for people in terms of food, water and energy.

Jamie Statter highlighted that the solutions to these crises occur at the human level. She informed the audience that major global issues such as the transition from a dirty energy economy to a cleaner one serve to create opportunities for clean water and food for people around the world and result in local solutions. Statter also highlighted the importance of addressing the core issues of dependency on energy and the continual degradation of the environment in pursuit of energy.

Joshua Newton explained that it is difficult for climate change discourse to trickle down to the local level and described several success stories of grassroots movements that work up from the local level to the global level.

Prospect sat down with Nnimmo Bassey after the plenary session to hear about his work on environmental justice in Nigeria and discuss his thoughts on ways to address food, water, and energy crises.

PROSPECT: What is the security situation like in the Niger Delta?

BASSEY: [It is] a bit better than it was a year ago, but [it is] a place you still have to be careful about when you go. The levels of violence have reduced, but it is still insecure. To me, the biggest violence is not the violence that comes from the barrel of the gun, but the violence from environmental pollution because it is killing people, and that has not stopped.

PROSPECT: Some activists have understood the environment as a place where we live, work, and play. What does environmental justice mean to you and why?

BASSEY: Environmental justice simply means that we have to recognize the right of nature, the rights of people who live in dignity within the environment. This means that the environment must support their livelihoods and their everyday experiences, and that the essence of nature must be recognized not just as a commodity to be commercialized, but as life itself. Nature is life, and we are part of nature. So environmental justice is also a means of standing against destructive forces, forces of exploitation, forces that deny the rights of the people to enjoy the benefits of what the natural environment.

PROSPECT: What are your thoughts regarding the Shell company saying that most of the environmental destruction comes from people siphoning oil.

BASSEY: It is not true. When it comes to crude oil theft, the oil companies are the last to be transparent. There have been some audits from sectors in Nigeria, and we hear from government officials that a company like Shell would never agree to reveal how much oil they are actually pumping from the wells. They talk about people stealing crude oil. If we know how much is being extracted and how much is being exported, then we can know how much is being lost. But they will not give information on what is extracted so we cannot really say what is lost. We see the pollution. It is not like there are people stealing pockets of crude oil, but there are big crude oil thieves within industry connections, political connections—and that is what we should be talking about.

PROSPECT: In some of your work you try to link local communities that largely face similar issues such as oil drilling by companies like Shell. What are the difficulties in linking communities with such different cultures yet similar struggles?

BASSEY: Getting people [together] from vast distances is problematic, but the beauty of it is that people don not learn about other peoples’ contexts and cultures until they meet face to face, and so cultural exchanges are very vital in breaking down barriers that are erected amongst people by distance and national policies. For movement [and] building people have to be face to face, to march together, to share the pains together, to see things for themselves, and they [then] learn that something happening to someone far away in the world can happen to them.

PROSPECT: Human rights activists have been able to make some advancement in reducing the role that the diamond trade plays in conflict areas with the Kimberly Agreement. Do you think that it is possible or even feasible for activists and communities in oil rich areas like Southern Sudan or Equatorial Guinea to seek a similar agreement against companies that show little corporate responsibility in ensuring environmental safety and sustainability?

BASSEY: There is no way oil extraction can ensure environmental safety or can be sustainable: the entire oil industry and oil process is violent and does not support anything that is peaceful. These days we have less and less accessible oil. Companies are drilling further into deeper waters, going to very fragile ecosystems where they ought not to drill, going to nature reserves. It is clear these are things that are against natural conventions, laws, interests of the people. I do not really see how oil can be seen as sustainable or how it can be compensated or how we can compensate people for the environmental destruction because revenue that oil brings is not enough to restore the environment that oil destroys.

PROSPECT: In your talk, you spoke about the need to trace where food, water, and energy crises start to global economic policies. How can we be critical of systemic economic policies and address such policies while remaining realistic about our ability to impact them?

BASSEY: Well I think that to look at things realistically, if we must ensure the survival of mankind, the survival of the planet, we have to rethink that paradigm of development that we are currently following, which means we have to interrogate the capitalist mode of development, reduction and consumption, because these are the root causes of the crisis we are having. We cannot keep thinking about the same paradigm if we want to serve the earth.

PROSPECT: How can we address the root causes of water, energy, and food crises when most activists do not actively interrogate the role of capitalism in the continuous exploitation of environments and lives?

BASSEY: I think that a lot of the activists are working on the rights-based platform, and if you are campaigning and working to ensure the rights of the people for the access to these resources, rights of land, you can look at the systemic causes of the problems. You cannot just tackle the symptoms and hope that you are going to solve the problem. That is something that needs to be interrogated, and I believe that a lot of people are doing that, but whether or not you can translate that into policy, that is where the challenge is: that is where we need to challenge our work.

Photo Courtesy of Sosialistisk Ungdom – SU

By Susie Kim
Staff Writer

On April 2, Clinton Global Initiative University commitment makers and a panel of professionals gathered at the University of California San Diego to discuss a plenary session titled “Scarcity and Crisis: Food, Water, and Energy, as a Right and a Conflict Driver.”

Julia Häusermann, an international human rights lawyer and founder of Rights and Humanity, mediated the event and introduced the accomplished panel: Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International; Joshua Newton, a Ph.D candidate at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and consultant for the UNESCO and the Organization of American States; and Jamie Statter, the senior commitment associate for issues pertaining to energy and environment at the Clinton Global Initiative.

The panel addressed how the human rights discourse can be helpful in addressing crises and how food, water, and energy scarcities are interrelated and drive conflict. Each of the speakers also shared some of the strategies that they have pursued in addressing these conflicts that were proven to be successful.

Nnimmo Bassey, who works on environmental justice issues in Nigeria, spoke about his work in building global movements by connecting local communities in places such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and Europe. He suggested that the solution to food, water and energy crises will take place on a community level and that such solutions require recovering sovereignty for people in terms of food, water and energy.

Jamie Statter highlighted that the solutions to these crises occur at the human level. She informed the audience that major global issues such as the transition from a dirty energy economy to a cleaner one serve to create opportunities for clean water and food for people around the world and result in local solutions. Statter also highlighted the importance of addressing the core issues of dependency on energy and the continual degradation of the environment in pursuit of energy.

Joshua Newton explained that it is difficult for climate change discourse to trickle down to the local level and described several success stories of grassroots movements that work up from the local level to the global level.

Prospect sat down with Nnimmo Bassey after the plenary session to hear about his work on environmental justice in Nigeria and discuss his thoughts on ways to address food, water, and energy crises.

PROSPECT: What is the security situation like in the Niger Delta?

BASSEY: [It is] a bit better than it was a year ago, but [it is] a place you still have to be careful about when you go. The levels of violence have reduced, but it is still insecure. To me, the biggest violence is not the violence that comes from the barrel of the gun, but the violence from environmental pollution because it is killing people, and that has not stopped.

PROSPECT: Some activists have understood the environment as a place where we live, work, and play. What does environmental justice mean to you and why?

BASSEY: Environmental justice simply means that we have to recognize the right of nature, the rights of people who live in dignity within the environment. This means that the environment must support their livelihoods and their everyday experiences, and that the essence of nature must be recognized not just as a commodity to be commercialized, but as life itself. Nature is life, and we are part of nature. So environmental justice is also a means of standing against destructive forces, forces of exploitation, forces that deny the rights of the people to enjoy the benefits of what the natural environment.

PROSPECT: What are your thoughts regarding the Shell company saying that most of the environmental destruction comes from people siphoning oil.

BASSEY: It is not true. When it comes to crude oil theft, the oil companies are the last to be transparent. There have been some audits from sectors in Nigeria, and we hear from government officials that a company like Shell would never agree to reveal how much oil they are actually pumping from the wells. They talk about people stealing crude oil. If we know how much is being extracted and how much is being exported, then we can know how much is being lost. But they will not give information on what is extracted so we cannot really say what is lost. We see the pollution. It is not like there are people stealing pockets of crude oil, but there are big crude oil thieves within industry connections, political connections—and that is what we should be talking about.

PROSPECT: In some of your work you try to link local communities that largely face similar issues such as oil drilling by companies like Shell. What are the difficulties in linking communities with such different cultures yet similar struggles?

BASSEY: Getting people [together] from vast distances is problematic, but the beauty of it is that people don not learn about other peoples’ contexts and cultures until they meet face to face, and so cultural exchanges are very vital in breaking down barriers that are erected amongst people by distance and national policies. For movement [and] building people have to be face to face, to march together, to share the pains together, to see things for themselves, and they [then] learn that something happening to someone far away in the world can happen to them.

PROSPECT: Human rights activists have been able to make some advancement in reducing the role that the diamond trade plays in conflict areas with the Kimberly Agreement. Do you think that it is possible or even feasible for activists and communities in oil rich areas like Southern Sudan or Equatorial Guinea to seek a similar agreement against companies that show little corporate responsibility in ensuring environmental safety and sustainability?

BASSEY: There is no way oil extraction can ensure environmental safety or can be sustainable: the entire oil industry and oil process is violent and does not support anything that is peaceful. These days we have less and less accessible oil. Companies are drilling further into deeper waters, going to very fragile ecosystems where they ought not to drill, going to nature reserves. It is clear these are things that are against natural conventions, laws, interests of the people. I do not really see how oil can be seen as sustainable or how it can be compensated or how we can compensate people for the environmental destruction because revenue that oil brings is not enough to restore the environment that oil destroys.

PROSPECT: In your talk, you spoke about the need to trace where food, water, and energy crises start to global economic policies. How can we be critical of systemic economic policies and address such policies while remaining realistic about our ability to impact them?

BASSEY: Well I think that to look at things realistically, if we must ensure the survival of mankind, the survival of the planet, we have to rethink that paradigm of development that we are currently following, which means we have to interrogate the capitalist mode of development, reduction and consumption, because these are the root causes of the crisis we are having. We cannot keep thinking about the same paradigm if we want to serve the earth.

PROSPECT: How can we address the root causes of water, energy, and food crises when most activists do not actively interrogate the role of capitalism in the continuous exploitation of environments and lives?

BASSEY: I think that a lot of the activists are working on the rights-based platform, and if you are campaigning and working to ensure the rights of the people for the access to these resources, rights of land, you can look at the systemic causes of the problems. You cannot just tackle the symptoms and hope that you are going to solve the problem. That is something that needs to be interrogated, and I believe that a lot of people are doing that, but whether or not you can translate that into policy, that is where the challenge is: that is where we need to challenge our work.

Photo Courtesy of Sosialistisk Ungdom – SU

http://prospectjournal.ucsd.edu/index.php/2011/05/environmental-justice-and-oil-drilling-interview-with-nnimmo-bassey/

Pollution near school affects student’s results

Pollution near school affects student’s results

Posted 05 May 2011, by Staff, Times of India, timesofindia.indiatimes.com

A new study has warned that air pollution from industrial sources near public schools jeopardizes children’s health and academic success.

The researchers found that schools located in areas with the state’s highest industrial air pollution levels had the lowest attendance rates – an indicator of poor health – as well as the highest proportions of students who failed to meet state educational testing standards.

The researchers examined the distribution of all 3,660 public elementary, middle, junior high and high schools in the state and found that 62.5 per cent of them were located in places with high levels of air pollution from industrial sources.

Minority students appear to bear the greatest burden, according to the research.

A research team led by Paul Mohai of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment and Byoung-Suk Kweon of the U-M Institute for Social Research found that while 44.4 per cent of all white students in the state attend schools located in the top 10 per cent of the most polluted locations in the state, 81.5 per cent of all African American schoolchildren and 62.1 per cent of all Hispanic students attend schools in the most polluted zones.

“Our findings underscore the need to expand the concept of environmental justice to include children as a vulnerable population,” the authors said.

“There is a need for proactive school policies that will protect children from exposure to unhealthy levels of air pollution and other environmental hazards,” they added.

The study was recently published in the journal Health Affairs.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/health/Pollution-near-school-affects-students-results/articleshow/8169376.cms