Archive for June 7th, 2011

US May tornado damage up to $7 bn: estimate

US May tornado damage up to $7 bn: estimate


Posted 06 June 2011, by Staff, Yahoo!News (AFP),

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Losses from the deadly burst of tornados that swept the US south and midwest late last month could hit as much as $7 billion, a company which estimates catastrophe damages said Monday.

Insured losses from the massive twister that killed a record 138 people in Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, and 150 other tornados that struck during May 20-27, are likely to run $4-7 billion, AIR Worldwide estimated.

The losses include residential, commercial, and industrial properties and their contents, and automobiles, Boston-based AIR said.

The late May storms were only a part of the most deadly and damaging tornado season in the country in 75 years, leaving a swathe of destruction across several states and 523 dead.

“It is also becoming quickly apparent that 2011 will surpass 2008 in terms of insured losses from severe thunderstorm activity. Indeed, the two major outbreaks of this year — the first in late April, the second in late May — are the costliest on record,” AIR’s principal scientist Tim Doggett said in a statement.

An outbreak of dozens of tornados killed 314 people in five states on April 27.

Twenty states suffered damage in the late May storms, AIR said.

“Thousands of buildings were damaged, hundreds more were completely destroyed, and more than a thousand people were injured,” it said.

Ongoing rains worsen record-breaking floods along Missouri River


Ongoing rains worsen record-breaking floods along Missouri River


Posted 06 June 2011, by Mark Guarino, Christian Science Monitor,

Chicago: Heavy flooding along the Missouri River will last throughout the summer, predict federal officials. The surging waters, created by unprecedented weather conditions, have already caused levee failures, and more are expected to come.

The Missouri River and its tributaries in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota are swelling with water. A confluence of factors are driving the rising waters, notably the record heavy snowfall earlier this year in the Rocky Mountain region. Snow accumulation was 140 percent above normal, says Lynn Maximuk, director of the National Weather Service in the central region.

“We do have quite an unusual set of circumstances, meteorologically,” Mr. Maximuk told reporters Monday afternoon.

The unusually heavy snows – combined with ongoing heavy rains, expected to continue all summer – will create a total runoff of some 55 million acre-feet of water, according to projections from the US Army Corps of Engineers. (An acre-foot of water is the equivalent of one foot of water covering one acre of land.)

That’s the highest runoff level since they began keeping records in 1898.

The immediate danger this week comes from heavy storms, expected to move south along the river valley. Meteorologists predict that 2 inches of rain in Montana and North Dakota and up to 3 inches of rain in Omaha, Neb., will fall over the next few days, Maximuk says.

May was the second-wettest month for northern Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota since 1889.

To relieve pressure on the river, the Corps plans to release 150,000 cubic feet per second of water at the Oahe Dam above Pierre, S.D., on Tuesday. The other dams will be opened in succession, remaining open through mid-August.

Kevin Grode, a Missouri Basin reservoir regulation team leader with the Corps, says the amount of water released may increase, depending on the changing climate.

“We are going to be testing the system,” he stresses, “because we’ll be releasing more water than has ever been released before.”

Local officials in some states are criticizing the Corps for not opening the dams earlier, which Mr. Grode challenges. “Conditions in the basin were not as extreme as they are now,” he says. “We did not see a great need.”

Water is already surging at all six of the dams along the river, breaking records at each one. According to Grode, runoff waters are highest at Gavins Point, located near Yankton, S.D. The flow there reached 10.5 million acre-feet, breaking a previous record of 7.2 acre-feet, set in 1995.

While Grode says the dams are all “very safe,” the levee system is more vulnerable – and will likely be stressed throughout the year, he warns. Tributary systems that feed into the Missouri River are also expected to flood.

A levee breach near Hamburg, Iowa, on Sunday resulted in a mandatory evacuation of residents. Corps officials have not yet determined what caused the breach. The National Guard dropped 22 thousand-pound sandbags on the levee, as an emergency measure to keep the water from flowing through the breach. Flooding will stretch two miles inland, officials predict.

Rising river levels have resulted in sandbagging efforts and road closures in virtually every state bordering the river. In Fort Calhoun, Neb., about 20 miles north of Omaha, a nuclear power plant declared an emergency and shut down. The Omaha Public Power District, which operates the plant, said it does not expect any release of radioactive material.

Surging waters can also delay emergency efforts underway to repair the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway in Mississippi County, Mo., which was opened in May to mitigate surging Mississippi waters traveling downstream toward Memphis.

Officials are uncertain how much the flooding along the Missouri River will deepen the waters of the Mississippi River. “Obviously, with more water coming from the Missouri River,” Maximuk notes, “there will be more water in the Mississippi River.”

Their combined flows could lead to more flooding in southeast Missouri and southern Illinois, where local waters levels are still elevated from similar flooding in May.

The Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth Is Our Roadmap to a Liveable Future

The Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth Is Our Roadmap to a Liveable Future

“It is time for humankind to humbly accept that we have arrived at the precipice of reckless living, exploitation and destruction of Mother Earth.”

Posted 06 June 2011, by Nnimmo Bassey, AlterNet,

The following is excerpted from the recently released book, The Rights of Nature: The Case for a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, produced by the Council of Canadians, Global Exchange and Fundacion Pachamama. This book reveals the path of a movement driving transformation of our human relationship with nature away from domination and towards balance. This book gathers the wisdom of indigenous cultures, scientists, activists small farmers, spiritual leaders and US communities who seek a different path for protecting nature by establishing Nature’s Rights in law and culture. In addition to this excerpt, the book includes essays from Vandana Shiva, Desmond Tutu, Thomas Goldtooth, Eduardo Galeano, and many others. Copies of the book may be obtained through Global Exchange.

The prime anchor of the proposed Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is that every element in Nature is interdependent and one cannot ignore the rights of the other without consequences. A grasping of this truth brings clarity to the fact that the Earth herself is finite and limited. It also helps us to grasp that if the resources of the Earth were used sustainably there would be enough to sustain every creature and living being in a continuously renewing manner.

Mahatma Ghandi rightly said that there is enough on Earth to meet everyone’s need, but not enough to meet everyone’s greed. This saying gets to the root of the matter. The interconnectedness in Nature demands that we deal respectfully with the bounties of Nature as well as with every other person. This is the pathway to sustainability.

The inordinate desire of man to dominate, accumulate and destroy has led to the emergence of many catastrophic events on Earth including climate change, hunger, disease, and a multiplicity of conflicts. The spirit of competition negates every element of solidarity and builds an insatiable taste for natural resources. To sustain this track of plunder, policy makers and their think tanks adopt delusory platforms that insist that humans can always find a fix for everything and therefore do not need to see the limits that exist on the highway of unrestricted exploitation.

The United Nations, in a bid to provide a socio-political environment in which minimum rights can be respected, has proclaimed a number of rights including the important Universal Declaration of Human Rights and more recently the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and now water has been declared a human right. The declaration of water as a human right is a milestone in the life of the august body. However, when the vote on the human right of water was taken, it is instructive to note that 41 countries abstained from raising their flags. These abstentions signalled the unpreparedness of some people to recognize the sanctity of life since water is such a basic element both in our make-up as humans, and a necessary element for the survival of all living beings. An Arab saying states, “The greatest crime to commit in a desert is to find water and to hide it.” Anyone who uses water as a tool for subjugation, exploitation and strangulation of others commits a heinous crime against humanity.

After acceding to water as a human right, it is time for the world to take the next necessary step to proclaim the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. This, in a manner of speaking, is the mother of all rights.

The urgency for this Declaration cannot be overstressed. Man’s exploitation of Mother Earth has left indelible scars that may never be healed. The actions of man through deforestation and the over-exploitation of water resources, for example, have caused the drying up of water bodies. Man-made climate change further compounds the situation. Massive accidents resulting from extractive industry activities, as well as other acts, show the limit to how man can exert control over the monsters that we create. Genetic engineering of crops, including the patenting of seeds and production of infertile seeds to secure control of the food chain on the altar of profit, hasten biodiversity and erosion. Highly depleted sources of fossil fuels have today led to the creation of false solutions including agro-fuels that are encouraging land grabs across Africa and other regions, raising the spectre of further conflicts in the midst of other crises.

Respecting the Rights of Mother Earth would make clear to all that over-exploitation of the Earth’s resources and the destruction of our environment are nothing short of criminal, and that those who engage in these acts should have their day in the dock of an environmental crimes tribunal. The Declaration recognizes that: “To guarantee human rights it is necessary to recognize and defend the rights of Mother Earth and all beings in her in line with existing cultures, practices and laws. Declaration also empowers human beings and institutions to defend the rights of Mother Earth and of all beings;” and seeks the establishment of “precautionary and restrictive measures to prevent human activities from causing species extinction, the destruction of ecosystems or the disruption of ecological cycles.” This is the holistic declaration needed to halt our reckless slide.

Mother Earth has been kind to us. We have been nothing short of prodigal in our relationship to her and to one another. The path we have beaten for ourselves is one that leads to annihilation. But it is not too late to pause, correct our ways and take the right route. We have come to a major crossroad and the sign is clear. A choice must be made. If we choose to work for the sustenance of life as we know it, we must all demand the urgent Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Climate Challenge

Without any doubt, climate change is a signal challenge to humankind and all of Mother Earth. Indeed, climate change demands a change of all humans and our societies. Based on peculiar reasoning, rather than fighting climate change, many policy measures being put forward and promoted are aimed at making profit out of the crisis. Rather than retracing from the path that stokes the atmosphere with more carbon, we appear determined to continue in the same mold that created the problem in the first place.

It is known that climate change has been triggered by the mass of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that these have been released mainly through the burning of fossil fuels and other anthropomorphic activities. Rather than moving into renewable energy modes of production, wars are being fought to secure supplies of crude oil and gas. Rather than reducing consumption levels, people are fighting to maintain their current and increased levels of utilization of polluting fuels. In fact, it appears that the carbon utilization level of a nation is the key measure of how advanced a nation is. The right to pollute continues to negate the right to life. There is a critical need and demand for climate justice, that the atmosphere must be decolonized, and the historical ecological (and climate debt) must be paid.

The climate challenge places heavy burdens on vulnerable communities that contribute little or nothing to the crisis and that are often not even aware of the causes of the catastrophes they are condemned to confront. Some people refer to freak weather events as “acts of God,” whereas they are basically caused by man’s actions that upset the balance in Nature and unleash reactions that we cannot resist and can hardly contain. The proposed Declaration rightly states in Article 2(2) that, “each being has the right to a place and to play its role in Mother Earth for her harmonious functioning.” The Rights of Mother Earth are not limited to things that we conveniently label as “living things.” Every element in Mother Earth is living, has a right and deserves to be respected.

The systemic roots of climate change cannot be denied. The model of civilization that is hinged on uncontrolled development will only compound the crisis. Wasteful consumption means higher energy needs; it ignores efficiency and elevates people’s capacity to buy what they want, and not what they need.

Negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change continue to gloss over the role of industrial agriculture in climate change. When agriculture is mentioned, the slant is usually that agriculture contributes so much to climate change. We hardly hear the truth that the culprit is industrial agriculture with its dependence on chemical fertilizers and predominantly monoculture modes. Meanwhile small-scale farmers continue to utilize local knowledge developed over centuries of practice on agro-ecological models that respect the environment, socio-economic and cultural systems.

While the official negotiations on climate change continue to drag, the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth issued “The People’s Agreement” at the end of the conference in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010. The agreement clearly took into consideration the Rights of Mother Earth as the true context for tackling climate change. The people spoke loudly and it is time for governments to listen.

The climate challenge requires binding targets for emission reductions and these cannot be met through the so-called carbon offsetting methods, or through the voluntary emission reduction targets such as what is suggested in the Copenhagen Accord. Those measures merely promote business as usual and set the stage for unacceptable temperature increases. As the Bolivian government consistently states, “the need to establish an adequate limit to global warming and that with an increase in global warming of two degrees Celsius, there is a 50 per cent chance that the damage caused to our Mother Earth would be totally irreversible.”

The dominant proposals being officially put forward to combat climate change are all based on market forces. Rather than redirect civilisation from its carbon path and leave fossil fuels in the soil or in the holes where Mother Earth has put them, the world promotes the drilling of oil in pristine and delicate environments and continues to intensify destructive mining activities. By these means waterways are polluted onshore and offshore. Aquatic lives are poisoned with toxic chemicals including crude oil dispersants, smothered under drilling mud, and killed by seismic explosions. The extraction of fossil fuels increases deforestation and destruction of terrestrial habitat. The major factor behind the persistence of this mode of civilisation is profit at the expense of life.

When a slight attempt is made to move from fossil fuel propulsion, it has been into moving within the same industrial logic of refineries, pipelines, gas stations and combustion engines through agro-fuels. We hear talk of ethanol made from crops being held up as a clean and renewable energy source. Little attention is paid to the fact that the entire set up is the same as that driven by fossil fuels. Little attention is paid to the fact that agro-fuels compete with food crops for arable land and remove farm labour from producing food for hungry populations. Even when it is said that the crops cultivated are not staples and are grown on marginal lands, this turns out to be another way of marginalising the poor so as to meet the needs and greed of others. As mentioned earlier, agro-fuel production has triggered land grabs in places such as Africa that reveal the immoral bent of man in seeking to maintain consumption patterns that are unjust, unsustainable and grossly infringe on the Rights of Mother Earth.

Technology is hoisted as the silver bullet that would solve all the evils pushed forward by the carbon economy. This is the logic that speaks of carbon sequestration and even holds forth such an oxymoron as “clean coal.” It is also this logic that breeds ideas such as the seeding of the atmosphere to reflect and thereby cool the Earth and seeding of the oceans to create carbon sinks.

Where technology does not provide the answer, other false solutions are brought up through mechanisms that allow the polluter to continue to pollute while performing penance by investing in so-called carbon sinks elsewhere in the world. In this guise, one such concept is Reduce Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD). Through this, speculators and carbon traders pounce on community forests and exclude peoples from their territories and access to their means of livelihood. Little attention is paid to the huge gaps in the REDD proposal. First, it merely seeks to reduce deforestation in the short term, whereas the world urgently needs to stop deforestation. It has no inherent mechanism to ensure that any deforestation being reduced is not merely deferred only to happen in the future. Neither does it have a way of tackling deforestation in any particular territory in a holistic way. This means that deforestation may be reduced in one region while it is being accelerated in another.

The Declaration of the Right of Mother Earth demands a paradigm shift and a conscious effort on the part of man to own up to our errors and settle on amending our patterns of production and consumption. The respect of Nature and socio-cultural contexts would have far-reaching implications and would result in the building of healthy societies where harmony is maintained and the rights of all beings are respected.

At the heart of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth is the much needed assertion, promotion and protection of the sovereignty of peoples and other beings on Earth to grow in mutually beneficial relationships and support systems. For humans it would promote food sovereignty, energy sovereignty and sovereignty over territories and resources. It would truncate destructive exploitation, build resilience and strengthen the defence of all rights. This Declaration will provide the essential tool for the growth of global solidarity to take humankind into a civilisation based on sustainable principles.

In sum, the seeds of the real strategies to tackle climate change are embedded in the proposed Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. It is time for humankind to humbly accept that we have arrived at the precipice of reckless living, exploitation and destruction of Mother Earth and that even if water is found on other planets only the very rich may make it there. And we must accept that even those who make it there may need more than one lifetime to make the distance. We have only one Earth, the blue planet floating in space. The future security of nations will be based on the global solidarity, and not competition and domination. As one environmental and social activist said, “Without local, regional and global solidarity and vice versa the substantial transformations in the bosom of humanity will never be made.”

The machine of war will not provide security. And the vast resources being poured into the building of machines of war would be better invested in works to repair the open wounds on Mother Earth. It is time to tackle the structural causes of climate change on the principles of equity and justice. The Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth provides the manifesto and a roadmap to a liveable future if we must be rescued from the brink of runaway climate crisis. It is time to stand up to support this cause.


Nnimmo Bassey is the Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria and Chair of Friends of the Earth International. He is one of Africa’s leading advocates and campaigners for the environment and human rights. He was awarded with the Right Livelihood Award in 2010.

Book by farmer and rocker Chuck Leavell advocates smart, green growth

Book by farmer and rocker Chuck Leavell advocates smart, green growth

‘Growing a Better America’ offers lessons on how the United States can keep growing without sacrificing the environment.

Posted 06 June 2011, by John Platt, Mother Nature Network,

There’s a core theme running through “Growing a Better America,” the new book by Mother Nature Network co-founder, tree farmer and Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell: America will always continue to grow, but there’s no reason why we can’t be smart and sustainable about that growth.

“The growth is going to be what it’s going to be,” says Leavell, speaking from a rehearsal studio in New York City. “But what we can do is guide that growth and give people options.”
“Growing a Better America” presents numerous examples of this smart growth, including planned communities, intelligent design for our homes, reducing carbon emissions and waste as ways of saving money, and using biomimicry to learn from nature.
“We did a lot of research, and I compliment my co-writer J. Marshall Craig on that,” says Leavell. “We wanted to come up with a way we can guide our growth and grow with forethought and care for the environment.”

The impetus for the book, says Leavell, came when he gave a speech about what he calls the invisible forest health crisis: “the loss of natural lands due to growth and development.” As he writes in the book, his home state of Georgia is losing on average 54 acres of natural land per day, adding up to 19,000 acres a year. “I gave a statement in that speech: Are we going to grow rapid, rampant and reckless, or can we grow in a way that is smart, strong and sustainable?”

 Using his experiences running a tree farm in Georgia with his wife, artist Rose Lane, and as a musician, touring with acts like the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, Leavell has assembled a book with Craig that presents the many challenges we face, as well as solutions.
“We wanted to show people that there are ways to grow sustainably,” says Leavell.
One of the primary examples in his book is the Georgia town of Serenbe, located 30 miles outside of Atlanta. Founded by restaurateur Steve Nygren, Serenbe was designed to create a green community that benefited both its residents and the environment. “Steve owned this property in the country, and he saw growth coming,” says Leavell. “He asked, are we just going to have houses thrown up without a thought?” Instead, Nygren preserved 80 percent of the region as green space while creating an efficient, farm-to-table community that uses energy wisely and raises much of its own food. “The houses are EarthCraft standard. They’re well insulated and have the best appliances that use the least amount of energy. The businesses are all walkable, and there are miles and miles of hiking trails. It’s intelligently designed and a healthy lifestyle that encourages people to walk and enjoy and get into nature. It’s a wonderful model.”
The book also profiles numerous businesses, like another Georgia company, the industrial carpet maker, Interface, Inc. “Interface CEO Ray Anderson is a remarkable man,” says Leavell. “He’s made a commitment to himself and his company to have a zero carbon footprint by the year 2020.” In the process, the company has already dramatically reduced its use of raw materials, electricity and water, and saved a lot of money in the process.
Examples like Anderson prove Leavell’s point: “Going green actually makes money. It creates green in two ways. It saves natural resources and it puts money in our pockets.”
He says many businesses in the U.S. are “making really sincere efforts to be aware of the environment and lower their footprints. Many of them are setting the standard. But we need more businesses and manufacturers to join this effort. If you look at what these companies are doing, you can do it, too.”
Leavell calls himself a patriot, saying his book reflects his love of America. “I’m so proud to be an American. Our country has led in so many ways.” But in his travels around the world, he sees things we should be doing more of: solar, wind energy, high-speed rail and more. “These are remarkable things we should be doing here.”
What’s the take-away of “Growing a Better America”? “It’s a critical juncture,” says Leavell. “Now is the time. If we address the issues we’re facing now, I think we can grow in a good way, and in a careful way.” Yes, there are challenges, but there are also viable solutions, and they aren’t political. “The environment doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” he says. “It’s one environment. It’s up to us to care for it and up to us to neglect, abuse and ruin it. We have to do this in an American way, not a partisan way.”

BioRegional at Rio+20


BioRegional at Rio+20

Securing a sustainable and equitable future through One Planet Living at Rio+20

 Posted 06 June 2011, by Staff, One Planet Communities,

For many years it has been BioRegional’s ambition to participate in Rio+20 to showcase sustainable solutions to the world and inspire individuals, organisations, businesses and governments to adopt the one planet living framework to achieve sustainability.

Our aims…

Globally, we want the world to achieve one planet living by 2030. To make this happen we have developed a campaign towards Rio+20 with two simple aims:

1. To ensure that the Rio+20 treaty and policy package delivers solutions to overcome the barriers to one planet living.

2. To ensure that during the Rio+20 process 40 countries from both the global south and north commit to producing plans to enable their citizens to achieve one planet living by 2030.

In our experience many people find one planet living an easy way to understand sustainability and Rio+20 is the perfect opportunity to let it “float up” and be used more widely. We are offering it as a banner for the world to get behind where we can herald real life stories of sustainability and offer scale-able solutions and tools to help everyone to act. All countries need to make a plan to achieve one planet living within the limits and timeframe that science and morality tells us is necessary- the Rio+20 process gives us the platform to stimulate this sort of national one planet living uptake.

Working with partners…

The One Planet Communities programme is creating a network of earth’s greenest neighbourhoods, where it is easy, attractive and affordable for people to live a healthy, happy lifestyle within a fair share of our planet’s resources. These real-life projects provide invaluable case studies that inspire and motivate governments to realise that sustainable living can be achieved, they offer a glimpse of the future to which the world can aspire.

We are calling for our partners to join us on the Rio+20 platform in June 2012 to present to the world their real-life projects and encourage individuals, organisations, businesses and governments to make one planet living commitments to achieve sustainability.

Planned activities…

To achieve our aims, over the next 12 months BioRegional will also be…

  1. convening a high level dialogue to draw out global solutions to barriers to one planet living and submit them in time for consideration in the “zero draft” of the treaty.
  2. developing prototype national one planet plans with progressive countries and locally-based organisations from both the global south and north.
  3. enabling others to achieve one planet living by offering tools and advice, building on BioRegional’s existing toolkit which has been used in more than 50 countries.
  4. launching a public campaign using real life one planet living case studies, as inspiration for people to make their own personal one planet living commitments and to let decision makers know what they are expecting from them.

We would like to invite our partners to join us at each stage of this campaign to secure a sustainable and equitable future through One Planet Living at Rio+20…