Archive for September 8th, 2011

A New Beginning | World 5.0


A New Beginning | World 5.0



Posted 07 September 2011,by Jim Prues,  OpEd News,



This is a time of awakening. Something new is in the air. To quote songwriter Joni Mitchell, “Maybe it’s the time of year, or maybe it’s the time of man…” I’ll go with the latter, in spite of the deficiencies in using the word ‘man’ when one means ‘humans.’

It’s no wonder that a protest song [Woodstock] from the 1960’s seem to resonate. Just as the awareness of so many injustices came to light then, awareness of the injustices caused by corporate elitism and corrupt government is now at an all-time high. Then it was the grievances of minorities who couldn’t vote and women not allowed to work outside the home. Of young men being drafted to fight an useless war [Vietnam]. The grievances of the poor, and those whose air or water were polluted by some uncaring corporate interest.

Now minorities can vote, though they are still intimidated and treated poorly. Women can work, just not for the same wage as a man. The U.S. Government now mostly relies on mercenaries, as young men drafted for stupid wars tend to have an attitude problem. And now, along with the host of pollutive practices and polluted places, our financial system has become utterly polluted as well. From the perspective of a citiizen, we’re having our wealth stolen through unfair taxes and unfair policies due to the kleptocracy we now live under. The uber-rich have stolen the wealth of the middle class, using the vehicle of corrupt government.

Okay, so that’s not the new beginning part.

The new beginning is World 5.0, our new operating system, based on the eternal values of Integrity, Justice and Balance. Our goal is restore community and ecology, which we can only do by reconstituting government to be the honest mediator between community and corporate interests. So long as our government is bought off by corporations we have no chance. We also require a healthy Return On Investment [ROI] for our tax dollars, the exact opposite of what we get today.

Ronald Reagan famously said ‘government is the problem,’ which became a conservative mantra. Except that Mr. Reagan omitted one critical word – bad. Bad government is indeed the problem, and it’s as bad today as it’s ever been. We intend to fix that.

Another flagrant abuse of truth is to insist that government is ‘too big’ – big brother trying to take over everything. First of all, the government is not taking over everything – the huge corporations are, using privatization schemes. Our bad government just enables it. Secondly, and more importantly, size is not the critical issue, ROI is. If taxes are relatively high but we have free healthcare, free education, free water and sewage, free Internet access and the like, that’s fine. The value is clear. If we have lower taxes and less social services, that’s fine too. Just so the value is evident. Money spent on wars and the manipulations of empire has a poor ROI for us citizens.

Along with restoring government to serve we, the people, we intent to rebuild communities everywhere. There are a number of strategies for this, but most important is our intent, our decision-making process. Do we eat at a local restaurant or McDonald’s? Do we shop the local hardware store or at Lowes? Where do we bank and keep our savings? Exactly what are we voting for with each dollar we spend? Are we spending our time engaged or lost in the served up distraction?

Non-human communities are in great need of restoration as well. Our trees, mountains and topsoil are all disappearing to feed the gluttonous beast of corporatism. Our land and water are mightily polluted from terrible industrial and agribusiness practices. Our oceans are in a sad state as well, with only ten percent of the large fish stocks we had in 1950. And of course the sea level is rising, proof that our planet is getting warmer.

We don’t have the financial resources to leverage the ‘Citizen’s United’ ruling that allows for unlimited spending on campaigns by corporations [yes, it’s on our list of things to be undone], but we have the potential power of a united and awakened citizenry. We have the power of a new, people-powered movement, based on the idea of World 5.0.

World 5.0 not only offers us a banner for solidarity, it offers us the banner of truth – Life is this Moment. Actually there are Three Truths to Happiness: Life is this Moment. It consists of Eternal Awareness and this constant flux of Energy. These two elemental forces comingle only in the present, which means this moment is all that exists. We don’t live in some one-third past, one-third present, one-third future reality. We live in this moment – we can’t leave! This is the First Truth.

The Second Truth is that Here, of prime concern is our intent: fear or Love. If this moment is our only reality, how we’re feeling and what we’re thinking right now is crucial. What exists emerges from past energy patterns. How we use our intent now creates future patterns. But this Moment is always the leverage point. This is where our intent operates.

And the Third Truth: Only Love makes us happy.

So, with World 5.0, we finally have a way to ground ourselves in present reality, we know where we are. By focusing on how we think and feel now, we learn who we are. And once we understand who and where we are, there seems a much greater likelihood of us getting off our behinds to take a stand against the corporate behemoths and the globalization that has wrecked so many lives and so much of our home planet.

The thing now is to make this idea a movement. And this is clearly our intent. Here’s the poster for the official coming out party for World5.

World 5.0 Rally in Cincinnati Poster by Jim Prues

It’s on the Autumnal Equinox [in the Northern Hemisphere]. It will be held in Cincinnati. If you can attend the event, you contribute to the statement we make. If you donate or pre-order the book, you contribute to the statement we make. If you can’t attend, tune into the live stream from Then you still contribute to the statement we make.

This is indeed a new beginning. We live, we love, we move from here.

Join the movement!

The time is always now. The answer is always love.

Welcome to World 5.0.



Jim Prues is a entrepreneur and small business principal whose interests include writing, music, culture, ecology and the human condition. He’s been captivated by this ‘World 5.0’ idea and is dedicated to its development. He lives in Cincinnati, (more…)

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.



Bolivia: Amazon protest — development before environment?

Bolivia: Amazon protest — development before environment?


Posted 08 September 2011, by Federico Fuentes, Green Left Weekly,


The decision by leaders of the Sub Central of the Indigenous Territory and National Isiboro Secure Park (TIPNIS), to initiate a 500-kilometre protest march on Bolivia’s capital of La Paz capital has ignited much debate about the nature of Bolivia’s first indigenous led-government.

The Sub Central of TIPNIS unites the 64 indigenous communities within the park.

See also
Poverty, inequality in Bolivia — some stats

Much analysis has focused on the supposed hypocrisy of the government headed by Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state. The Morales government has been criticised for pursuing pro-capitalist development and trampling on the rights of its own indigenous people.

Many analysts have also highlighted the contradiction between Morales’ public discourse in defence of indigenous rights and Mother Earth, and the proposal of his government’s to build a new highway that would run through this protected area of the Amazon.

According to Raul Prada, until recently a key figure in the Morales government and now ardent critic, the protests are forcing Morales to choose between “defence of life, of forests, of human beings and the vital cycles of the system of life or the path of narcotrafficking, of corrosive trade, extraction-based dependency, of the highways of dependency on emergent powers [a reference to Brazil ] and the empire”.

However, what the protests have actually revealed is the complicated reality of Bolivia’s social movements. It has shown the deep challenges they face in overcoming centuries of underdevelopment and internal fissures, which both threaten to undermine the process of change underway since Morales was first elected in 2005.


Attempts to counterpose the “developmentalist” policies of the government against the “communitarian” logic of the indigenous marchers fails to take into account the long running tensions that underpin the dispute.

For more than 500 years, Bolivia’s indigenous majority have seen their natural resources and wealth continuously pillaged by foreign powers (Spain, Britain and the United States).

The wealth ripped out from this small Andean nation helped fuel the growth of global metropolises such as London. But its local indigenous peoples were forced into a life of extreme poverty and oppression.

Despite sitting upon the second largest gas reserves in South America, and at one time supplying almost 50% of the world’s tin, Bolivia is general considered the second poorest country in the Americas.

The disaster created by imperialist domination not only impact on the livelihoods of ordinary Bolivians. Through the super-exploitation of its wealth, Bolivia’s economy was subsumed into the world market in a subordinate position.

Its economy revolved around the interests of foreign capital rather than the needs of its people.

To ensure this subordination, the Bolivian state was dominated by foreign interests. The local white oligarchy was entrusted with running it.

The state was successful in putting down numerous internal revolts. But it was ineffectual in asserting any real sovereignty over Bolivia and integrating its far flung regions into a dynamic national economy.

One consequence of this was that since independence, Bolivia has lost more than half of its national territories to neighbouring countries.

This included losing its access to the Pacific Ocean to Chile in the 1879-1883 Pacific War. This has cost Bolivia more than US$30 billion since 1970.

Rolling ‘social revolution’

The onset of neoliberalism in the 1980s worsened the situation. It fuelled what one US embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks called “the country’s rolling ‘social revolution’”.

The cable, dated May 17, 2006, noted that US-imposed neoliberalism led to increased poverty, unemployment, and rural migration towards underdeveloped cities. This left “new urban dwellers clamouring for access to basic services”.

Worsening poverty levels, the cable said, had a “clear rural-urban, a growing regional, and a distinctly racial dimension”.

The cable also noted “growing ethnic consciousness has fed ‘indigenous’ resentment of the dominant ‘white’ minority and the political system that allegedly sustained it”.

“In combination, these factors have undermined the faith of many Bolivians in the old economic and political order”. It said this led to increased support for the Morales government, whose largest support base came from those identified in the US cable as most affected by neoliberalism.

This was the basis for Morales’ election and the displacement of Bolivia’s white elites from their traditional positions of power in the state.

In particular, Morales support base is among the indigenous majority, dividing into 36 peoples that live in the highlands to the west and lowlands to the east.

The two, larger indigenous peoples are the Quechas (2.5 million people) and Aymaras (2 million people). Bolivia’s total population is close to 10 million.

These two peoples have predominately been based in the west.

But the process of internal migration by Aymaras and Quechas indigenous campesinos seeking land in the east (commonly referred to as “colonisers”), has steady increased their numbers in the lowland.

It has also contributed to nearly doubling the size of the city of Santa Cruz in the east over the past 20 years. It is now home to 1.2 million, making it the largest city in Bolivia.

At the same time, rural-urban migration has fuelled the growth of the mostly indigenous city of El Alto, on the outskirts of La Paz.

Its population skyrocketed from around 400,000 in 1992 to current estimates of more than a million.

This overwhelming indigenous city, key to the successive overthrow of two neoliberal presidents, is another heartland of Morales support.

Morales, himself an Aymara, grew up in the altiplano (highlands)> He later moved to the largely Quechua coca-growing region of the Chapare, nestled in the centre of the country.

In the mid-’90s, the Chapare became a battleground of the US “war on drugs”. The cocalero (coca-growers) movement, head by Morales, was the backbone of a rising anti-imperialist movement.

Together with predominately Aymara and Quecha campesinos who made up the country’s largest rural-based organisations — the Sole Union Confederation of Bolivian Campesino Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), the Union Confederation of Bolivian Colonisers (CSCB), and the National Federation of Bolivian Campesino Women “Bartolina Sisa (FNMCB-BS) — the cocaleros formed what today is commonly known as the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) in the mid-’90s.

It is important to note that as a result of the land reform carried out by Bolivia’s 1952 National Revolution, most of the indigenous peoples in the west were granted access to small land plots (via private deeds).

The traditional union model of organising was imposed upon their traditional communitarian organisation.

This further fractured the communitarian bonds that had already begun to be undermined by centuries of colonialisation.

The result, however, was a certain fusion of elements of both within these organisations.

In the east, where the indigenous population was smaller, land reform was never implemented.

Instead, the east, centred around Santa Cruz, gradually became the new economic motor of Bolivia. This was due to its huge gas deposits and the rise of powerful latifundistas<.em> (large landowners).

This part of Bolivia is home to the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of the East (CIDOB), which unites organisations from 34 of the 36 groups of indigenous peoples. It represents about 500,000 people.

CIDOB and the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (CONAMAQ), which unites some indigenous communities in the altiplano, took part in the founding meetings of the MAS.

But the two groups never became organic components of this “political instrument”.

Instead, relationships were maintained between these organisations in two ways. First, the different campesino and indigenous groups came together to form the Unity Pact. And second, various CONAMAQ and CIDOB leaders, such as its current president Adolfo Chavez, were elected as MAS parliamentarians.


At the same time, conflicts between these groups have emerged at different times.

At the root of some of these divergences have been the differing visions between the lowland indigenous movements, with their strong ties to NGOs and the church and their focus on the environment and indigenous control over territory and natural resources, and those of the highland campesino movements.

The highland groups political and anti-imperialist outlook was heavily influenced by the 1952 National Revolution and the 1980s mass emmigration of mine workers into the countryside in search of work.

These differences have played out in TIPNIS over the past decades, especially since “colonisers” from the west began settling in the area as of the ’70s and ’80s.

After a historic march by the indigenous peoples of the east in 1990, then president Jamie Paz Zamora declared the 1.2 million hectares that comprise TIPNIS an ancestral territory of the Mojeno, Yuracare and Chiman peoples.

However, this move was unable to put an end to the constant disputes between local indigenous communities and indigenous “colonisers” who have moved in to occupy land for agriculture.

This led to a state of semi-permanent confrontations.

The conflict only subsided after a demarcation agreement was signed in 1992 between Marcial Fabricano, then head of the Sub Central of TIPNIS, and Morales, as head of the cocalero federation that includes the “colonisers” in the southern part of TIPNIS.

The agreement gave existing colonisers the right to land currently occupied while halting further invasions.

These differences were also reflected in the roles played by the various organisations during the period of social rebellion that began in 2000.

US interference

As the uprising against neoliberalism grew in strength, overthrowing a neoliberal president in 2003, US imperialism sought to use money to increase divisions within the indigenous movements.

In late 2005, investigative journalist Reed Lindsay published an article in NACLA that used declassified US documents to expose how US government-funded agency USAID was used to this effect.

USAID was already planning by 2002 to “help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS or its successors”.

The downfall in 2003 of president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada triggered a step-up in this subversive activity.

A particular target was CIDOB.

The group was in a crisis after Fabricano was accused of profiting from illegal logging and he accepted the post of vice-minister of Indigenous Affairs under Sanchez de Lozada.

Through USAID funding to the Brecha Foundation, an NGO established by CIDOB leaders, the US hoped to further mould the organisation to its own ends.

Referring to comments made by Brecha director Victor Hugo Vela, Lindsay notes that during this time, “CIDOB leaders allied with Fabricano have condemned the cultivation of coca, helped the business elite in the department of Santa Cruz to push for region autonomy and opposed a proposal to require petroleum companies to consult with indigenous communities before drilling on their lands”.

The CSUTCB (divided between followers of Morales and radical Aymara leader Felipe Quispe), CSCB, FNMCB-BS and organisations such as the neighbourhood councils of El Alto (Fejuve), and to a less extent worker and miner organisations, were at the forefront of constant street battles and insurrections.

CIDOB, however, took an approach marked by negotiation and moderation.

It was not until July 2005 that CIDOB renewed its leadership, in turn breaking relations with Brecha.

CIDOB was not the only target for infiltration.

With close to $200,000 in US government funds, the Land and Liberty Movement (MTL) was set up in 2004 by Walter Reynaga.

As well as splitting the Movement of Landless Peasant’s (MST), one wing of which operated out of his La Paz office, Lindsay said Reynaga, like Vega, tried to win control of the “MAS-aligned” CONAMAQ.

All these groups came behind the campaign to elect Morales in 2005.


Since then, the Morales government has taken important steps towards breaking Bolivia’s dependency on foreign capital. His government has nationalised Bolivia’s gas reserves and refused to follow International Monetary Fund-diktats.

The government has also moved quickly to tackle the urgent and deeply felt needs of its base.

Data collated by the Unit of Analysis of Social and Economic Policies (UDAPE), a government think tank from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), show just how much progress has been made.

Poverty levels have fallen from 60.6% in 2005 to 49.6% in 2010.

The biggest drop came in rural areas (77.6% to 65.1%). Extreme poverty also fell from 38.2% in 2005 to 25.4% in 2010.

In 2005, the wealthiest 10% received 128 times the amount of income than the poorest 10%. By 2009, this had been reduced to 60 times.

Recent figures from the IMF back these findings and indicate that 1.1 million Bolivians were lifted out of extreme poverty between 2007 and 2009.

Along with tackling poverty, another priority of the first Morales administration (2006-2009) was focusing on the needs of indigenous communities in the lowlands.

This was seen as essential in nurturing social movements that could help counteract the attempts by the right-wing opposition, centred in the east, to overthrow his government.

In regards to TIPNIS, Morales directly intervened in 2006 to expel colonisers who had occupied further lands in the TIPNIS. Many of them were associated with the cocalero federation he still headed despite becoming head of state.

In 2009, the 64 indigenous communities of the TIPNIS, about 12,000 people all up, were finally handed over the title to over 1 million hectares of land. The remaining 200,000 hectares went predominately to the roughly 100,000 colonisers present in the south of the park.

Former vice-minister of land Alejandro Almaraz, who together with Prada is a key spokesperson of a group of former government members turned dissidents, explained in a July 29 interview posted by Rebelion that of the 25 million hectares of land redistributed under Morales until the end of 2010, 16 million was handed over as communitarian lands belonging to original indigenous owners.

In comparison, the campesino sector received less than 3 million hectares in the form of individual or family titles.

Crucially, the unity forged between indigenous peoples of the east and west, and urban and rural areas, was critical to defeating the September 2008 coup attempt by the right-wing opposition sectors in the east.

It was also vital to Morales record re-election vote of 64% in the December 2009 elections.

‘Industrial leap forward’

A big part of Morales’ election campaign was his promised “industrial leap forward”.

Speaking to supporters in El Alto at his campaign closing rally, Morales emphasised industrialisation, the physical integration of the country and social inclusion as key goals of his second government.

The MAS’s election program included a section entitled “roadway revolution for an integrated country”.

This focused on the need to expand and build key highways that could integrate isolated regions, and help promote economic development at the local and national.

Among the proposed roadways was one that would link the northern department of Beni with Cochabamba.

Some have criticised this highway. They point to the fact it is part of the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America, a Brazilian-led project to economically integrate the continent, as proof of Bolivia’s subordination of Brazilian “sub-imperialism”.

Brazil is footing 80% of the bill for the disputed highway.

Others have noted that the highway is critical to breaking the department of Beni’s dependency on Santa Cruz.

At the moment, all agricultural products must go via Santa Cruz to the east before being able to be transported westward.

The proposed highway would directly connect Beni to Cochabamba. This would reduce costs for agricultural producers (and consumers) and travel distance from 848 kilometres to 306 kilometres.

Given Beni’s status as the largest meat producing department, this would break the hold that Santa Cruz-based slaughterhouses have on imposing meat prices.

This is one of the reasons why important sections of the Santa Cruz elite are opposing the highway.

Also, criticisms of subordination to Brazilian interests have not been made in regards to the many other roadways being funded by Brazil as part of IIRSA. These are strongly supported by the communities that will benefit from greater access to transportation and basic services.

In fact, on August 15, the same day marchers from TIPNIS headed off to La Paz, two other protests were held in the important MAS strongholds of El Alto and Potosi.

These protests included in their demands access to basic services, and the building of more factories and highways.

In many ways, these protests reflect the increased tensions the MAS government has faced since defeating the right-wing coup attempt and winning re-election.

Various sections of its base, feeling their time has come, are now protesting to demand the government turn its attention towards them.

In all these cases, the demands have been for more, not less development.

In some cases, this has led to increased conflicts within the different social movements. This is reflected by the divisions within the Unity Pact over the push by campesino organisations to redirect government attention towards this sector in its land reform program.

Highway dispute

This is also true in regards to TIPNIS. The various indigenous and campesino movements that are part of it are far from united in their opposition to the roadway.

The main campesino groups (comprised of indigenous peoples), and leaders from the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), have declared their support for an eventual highway, while maintaining that any final plan take into consideration the needs of local indigenous communities.

Important indigenous organisations have also stated similar positions.

Despite the presence of CONAMAQ leaders such as Rafael Quispe in the march against the roadway, its affiliate organisations from La Paz and Potosi have rejected opposition to it.

The Indigenous Council of Communities of the South (CONISUR), which groups indigenous communities in the south of TIPNIS as well as colonisers that inhabit those areas have come out in support of an eventual roadway.

The Yuracare Indigenous Council, that unites the Yucare, Mojeno and Trinitario peoples, has as well.

All these groups have highlighted the benefits the highway will bring in regards to access to basic services, ability to sell products and travel.

Attempts have been made to equate these organisation’s positions with their vested interests in accumulating land.

This is in line with recent moves by the CSUTCB to shift the government’s land reform policy away from prioritising collective indigenous titles towards providing individual or family titles to its traditional base.

There are elements of truth (and exaggerations) to this claim, but this should come as no surprise.

The same CSUTCB, and other campesino organisations which led the protests between 2000 and 2005, have always defended this position. This is shown by the history of conflict in TIPNIS.


And it is also true that the demands of the Sub Central of TIPNIS, and in particular CIDOB, are far removed from any notion of communitarianism.

Although initially focused on opposition to the highway, protesters presented the government with an original list of 13 demands, then extended to 16, on the day the march began.

Among those were calls for indigenous peoples to be able to directly receive compensation payment for offsetting carbon emissions.

This policy, know as REDD+, has been denounced as the privatisation of the forests by m any environmental activists and the Peoples’ Summit of Climate Change organised in Bolivia in 2010.

Another demand calls for the replacement of functionaries within the Authority for Control and Monitoring of Forests and Lands (ABT).

This demand dovetails with the allegations made by Morales against CIDOB leaders, and never refuted, that they want to control this state institution.

Much focus has been made of the potential environmental destruction caused by a highway that would open the path to future “coloniser” settlements.

But these arguments have only focused on one side of the equation.

Much has been made of a study by Bolivian Strategic Research Program that concluded that 64.5% of TIPNIS would be lost to deforestation by 2030 as a result of the highway.
Few, though, have noted that the same study found that even without the highway 43% of TIPNIS would be lost if the current rate of deforestation continues.

The biggest cause of this is the illegal logging that continues to occur, in some cases with the complicity of some local indigenous leaders and communities.

An environmental impact studies by the Bolivian Highway Authority have found the direct impact of the highway on TIPNIS to be 0.03%.

But this has to weighed up with the fact that the highway would provide the state with access to areas currently out of its reach.

This would enable not only access to services, but a greater ability to tackle illegal logging and potential narcotrafficking in the area.

At the same time, the government has asked the indigenous communities of TIPNIS to help in drafting legislation that would impose jail terms of 10 to 20 years on those found to be illegally settling, growing coca or logging in TIPNIS.

Meeting the needs of the majority

What becomes clear is that far from some polarised debate between “indigenous communitarianism” and the government’s savage “developmentalism”, there is more in common than there is differences between both sides of the debate.

One the one hand, there is the progressive sentiment of wanting to defend cultures and access basic services. On the other, a scramble for control over resources (land, forests, gas).

In this context of competing interests, the Morales government has made clear its intention to construct a highway in the region.

This has included the option of having the highway go around TIPNIS if this is economically and environmentally feasible — although no such alternative has yet been proposed.

In doing so, its decision (right or wrong) has been based on prioritising what it sees as the basic needs of the majority, which if not met risks losing support for the government.

At the same time, it has predicating any final route (of which at the moment there are eight options) on a process of consultation with all communities affected.

This stress on dialogue and willingness to consult all those involved has being a running theme in the government’s approach.

In the place of repression (as would have occurred under pre-Morales governments) police have provide protection.

Also, 20 high-level government ministers, vice-ministers and presidents of state institutions have travelled to the remote areas to listen to community leaders in meetings open to all march participants.

One complication that has come relates to the issue of who gets to be consulted. The marchers have ruled out the right of the colonisers, and even some indigenous organisations, to take part.

A further complication has been the increasingly hostile nature of the debate.

From the government’s side, it has strongly denounced the role of NGOs, USAID and opposition forces from Santa Cruz in fomenting the protests, as evidenced by their offers to provide financial support to the marchers.

Some have noted that opposition forces would like to see sections of the indigenous movement come out opposing the elections of judiciary authorities scheduled for October.

This is a far-reaching scope of this step, which would transform a traditional corrupt judiciary dominated by the old right-wing parties into a popularly elected institution.

It would no doubt lead to indigenous people occupying posts they were previously barred from.

This makes it obvious why such forces are seeking to undermine the vote.

Some CIDOB and CONAMAQ leaders, and the group led by Prada and Almaraz, have come out against the election of the judicial power.

Dangerous positions

Iti s dangerous to deny, or downplay, the presence of forces such as USAID, NGOs and anti-Morales parties in this dispute — fishing around to win support among disgruntled sectors of Morales bases.

Only the most naive could imagine this was not the case, particularly as there is ample evidence to back up such claims.

However, just as dangerous is the actions of the government that have created an atmosphere were mutual denunciations and accusations take precedence over the much more necessary debate regarding Bolivia’s future.

This has been made worse by the sexist remarks of Morales himself, who called on the “colonisers” to “seduce the Yuracare and Trinitaria women, so that they don’t oppose the road”.

The same is also true of attempts by critics to portray support for the highway as somehow equivalent with support for “narcotrafficking”.

This is a common attack made by the US against the Morales government, and before that the cocalero movement.

On the surface, the issue of TIPNIS revolves around whether the economic interests of uniting Beni and Cochabamba, and the benefits it will bring regarding access to services and ability to sell agricultural products, override those of the local indigenous communities and their ancestral lands, or whether a comprise can be found that takes both factors into account.

But behind this specific issue lies a deeper debate of how Bolivia can promote an economic system that can navigate through the difficulties of overcoming centuries of underdevelopment while respecting Mother Earth.

Such a debate is essential. The current situation provides an opportunity for all involved to open a path in that direction.

This debate can, and should, entail protests such as those occurring now. These could aid in tackling some of the developmentalist mentality prevalent within sections of the government.

But to be successful, this will require going beyond fragmented organisations mobilised behind individual or sectional interests. It will require a movement united behind a radical program for change.

Otherwise the risk is that such fissures within the movement for change become openings for a return to the right.

[Federico Fuentes edits .]

From GLW issue 894


The season to be stupid

The season to be stupid


Posted 07 September 2011, by Larry Barnett, Public Citizen – Sonoma Valley Sun,



America’s extended political primary process has been dubbed the “silly season,” but given the pronouncements of this year’s Republican candidates, “stupid season” is a more appropriate moniker. The various GOP candidates talk trash about everything from the TARP bailout to the recent budget fiasco, but they’ve reached new heights of stupidity in their attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA, just in case you don’t recall or are too young to know it, was formed on July 9, 1970 through executive order by President Richard Nixon, the conservative anti-communist Republican who by today’s standards would be considered one of the 20th century’s leading liberals. That fact has not stopped nearly every Republican presidential aspirant from calling for an end to the EPA and a halt to all new environmental regulations, simply some of the stupidest recommendations we’re bound to hear in the year ahead.

Complaining that the EPA is a “job-killer,” candidates such as Perry and Bachmann ignore that poisoned water is a “people-killer.” Over 80,000 man-made chemicals have been released into the environment since 1800, most never studied or in any way regulated, including their aggregate effects on health as they combine into new compounds. Current testing reveals high levels of fire-retardant chemicals (applied on furniture during manufacture) in the bodies of pregnant women, prompting concerns about its effects on babies. PCBs, dangerous long-lasting compounds that were commonly used in electrical transformers, were banned by the EPA years ago but are still found when blood and tissues are tested. Despite the dangers posed by industry’s wide-spread use of untested chemicals, it’s evident that the GOP has decided that attacking the EPA makes political sense.

The strange irony in all this, of course, is that these GOP candidates have families and children, surely love them and want to protect them from harm. If it was discovered that one of Rick Perry’s or Michele Bachmann’s daughters had been chemically-poisoned and had developed cancer, I have no doubt that candidates Perry and Bachmann would be heart-broken, and the same is true for every other candidate who’s bashing the EPA, which is what makes this particular silly-season so stupid. Such pandering tactics, foolish and insincere, may resonate with those who enjoy bashing government as evil, but in the end damage serious debate and defy common sense. Only the insane would advocate that it’s fine to poison babies.

The GOP says its argument is economic, but that’s nonsense. Nobody is against creating jobs, but workers need to be safe and the public protected from the unscrupulous. When industry and environmental regulation is weak, the greedy exploit opportunities; China’s job market is booming and it’s GNP is setting records, but at what cost? Most of the counterfeit pharmaceuticals reaching American consumers, and there are a lot of them, come from poorly regulated China.

When Rachel Carson wrote her ground-breaking 1962 book “Silent Spring” revealing that the pesticide DDT was killing bird populations and persists in the environment for many years, it was a wake up call. I remember my mother “fogging” our screened-in porch with DDT while we kids, shrouded in mist, hooted and hollered with excitement. My mother did not know about the danger, nobody did. Thank goodness that some years later Nixon created the EPA and shame on the GOP for making it their whipping boy.



Larry Barnett lives and works in Sonoma where he also served three terms on the city council and was twice Mayor. His company, Epiphanet Web Development has been creating website solutions since 1996. Larry currently serves on the board of directors of two regional Shambhala Buddhist organizations, has been married for 35 years and is looking forward to the arrival of his second grandchild. His writing appears in print in several Bay Area publications as well as online.
e-mail Larry



Public Citizen

The opinions expressed here are the views of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Sonoma Valley Sun.



Sault woman helps give Kenyans a ‘hand up’


Sault woman helps give Kenyans a ‘hand up’


Posted 07 September 2011, by Elaine Della-Mattia, The Sault Star (Sun Media Corporation),

Posted 23 hours ago

Earlier this year, Lisa Portelli took a working vacation that changed her outlook on life.

For three weeks, she was a member of a group involved in hands-on projects to help people in Africa.

“It completely changed my whole way of thinking. It really touched me because there is a whole different way of life there,” the Sault Ste. Marie resident said.

Portelli, 27, spent her time in a small town in Kenya, much of it working with young people and helping improve their school and lifestyle.

She describes Africa as a beautiful continent filled with corruption and poverty, which Canadians are not used to.

“In Canada, everyone goes to school. We have government support and people have a chance at things, but over there, there are so many inequalities that it’s a real eye-opener,” she said.

During her March visit to Africa, Portelli spent a lot of her time helping renovate two rundown schools. The group repaired broken windows, made bookshelves and donated books, upgraded kitchen facilities and filled cupboards with supplies. They also built a chicken coop to help provide healthier meals for the children, who often eat one meal of beans and rice.

“I just loved working with the kids and helping make things better for them,” she said.

Portelli’s experience, through, was so rewarding that she plans to return — this time for three months — sometime in the new year.

WOW Safari’s mission, as a non-profit organization, is to connect successf ul North American women seeking significance with significant African female leaders seeking sustainable solutions for their society.

While Portellli is still in the early planning stages of her next trip, she’s working on project ideas to help with renewable energy or developing a grey-water pond.

“My goal is not to give hand outs, but to provide hand ups to help educate and improve the lifestyle of the locals,” she said. “I know I’ve taken away more than anything, I have given and I want to get involved in a project that will improve their lifestyle and teach them something that will help create a sustainable environment.”

Her colleagues at the Ministry of Natural Resources Aviation Centre have helped her raise money for various projects.

Some money and supplies, such as needles and thread for embroidery projects, have already been sent back to Africa to help some women make a living.

“Africans have lots of hope and joy for every little thing that they have and receive,” she said. “We have a lot of material wealth and we’re miserable compared to them.”

Anyone wanting to donate to one of the African projects through Wow Safari, or learn more about participating in one of their trips, can do so at




New citizens group debates gas drilling


New citizens group debates gas drilling



Posted 06 September 2011, by Deana Carpenter, The Almanac (Observer Publishing Company),



 The Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission, a group organized as an alternative to Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee, held the first of five meetings Aug. 31 at South Fayette Middle School. More than 100 attended the meeting, which lasted more than three hours.“The Marcellus Shale play is a very, very big thing,” said Dan Surra, a former state representative from Elk County, and co-chairman of the committee. He said that the governor’s advisory committee met and produced a report, but “many felt the governor’s committee didn’t tell the entire story.”

Surra said he and former state representative and committee co-chair Carole Rubley wanted to assemble a panel of experts in their fields as well as accept public comment for a report the committee will submit to the governor in the fall.

The committee, which includes representatives from several environmental groups and universities as well as the League of Women Voters, heard testimony from Ned Mulchay, executive director of Three Rivers Waterkeeper; Joe Osborne, legal director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP); Deron Gabriel, South Fayette Township Commissioner; and Pam Judy, a Greene County resident whose home is located near a compressor station.

Mulchay talked about the issue of waste water at drilling sites, saying while companies do disclose the chemicals in the water used for fracturing the wells, “the mixture of the water is unknown.” Mulcahy said sometimes chemicals that were part of the actual shale can get into the frack water, in addition to the chemicals used for fracking. He said as the well generates waste water, “It’s left to sit in open pits.”


Mulchay said chemicals can change with each drill site, and said “the concentration of the recipe is not (disclosed).” He said chemicals are then allowed to end up in surface water. “Current treatment facilities don’t likely remove all the chemicals,” Mulchay said.Deron Gabriel, a commissioner in South Fayette Township spoke about the issues facing municipalities who are trying to come up with rules to regulate Marcellus Shale drilling. South Fayette passed a strict ordinance last November, banning drilling in residential and conservation zoning districts. That ordinance is now being challenged by Range Resources.

Gabriel said at the meeting that Marcellus shale drilling is a “very heavy, industrial activity,” and the township passed the ordinance after hearing consistent testimony from “100s of residents.” He added many municipalities are looking at the challenge by Range Resources as a “test case.” As for the ordinance, Gabriel said, “We still feel we’re acting in our best interest.”

Greene County resident Pam Judy spoke about what it’s like to live near a compressor station, saying she has a first-hand account of “why I believe local governing bodies must regulate (the industry).” Judy said she lives about 780 feet from a compressor station and is down-wind from the station. She said that she and her family have smelled a kerosene-like smell as well as experienced sore throats, nose bleeds, dizziness and vomiting. She said if left unregulated at local levels, “the industry will leave a path of destruction.”

Citizens were also allowed to make testimony to the commission and that portion of the meeting lasted more than two hours, with several residents of South Fayette and the surrounding area, including Westmoreland and Butler counties, speaking for their allotted three to four minutes. Most spoke overwhelmingly in favor of stricter regulations on the oil and gas industry.

“Pennsylvania needs to slow down shale gas and support local oversight,” said Cynthia Walter, who was in favor of local communities having the right to set limits on drilling.

Keith Mcdonough, of the Friends of South Fayette organization, said the township is now faced with another battle with the challenge from Range Resources. “The industry has decided to make (South Fayette) a test case, he said. “How do we fund this fight?” He added, “If we don’t have the funding to fight this, it would be a sin.”

Lisa Malosh of South Fayette said she thought the meeting was very informative and helpful. She added that from what she heard at the meeting it was clear that not enough research has been done to say there are no long-term health effects from drilling.

The Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission will hold four additional meetings across the state. The commission will meet Sept. 6 in Philadelphia; Sept. 13 in Williamsport; Sept. 14 in Wysox; and the week of Sept. 18 in Harrisburg. The meetings, including the one in South Fayette, are sponsored by Clean Water Action, the CLEAR Coalition, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, Keystone Progress, Penn Environment, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, The Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and the Pennsylvania Sierra Club.

Related articles:

Sides face off on gas impact fees

Cable network to videotape Marcellus Co-op hearing

Pipeline safety expert urges residents to be proactive

PT to vote on gas drilling ban

LWV to host Marcellus speaker




Nobel Laureates join the ranks against Keystone XL


Nobel Laureates join the ranks against Keystone XL


Posted 07 September 2011, by ,Grace Scott The Hook (The Tyee),



A group of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates has written a letter urging the Obama administration to stop the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the latest in a string of protests aimed at stopping the construction of the oil pipeline that would stretch from Alberta to Texas, which activists and scientists are saying could have dire environmental effects.

Nine laureates, including the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, signed the letter released today by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which comes days after a two-week stint of public protests against the construction of the pipeline occurred outside the White House.

More than 1,250 were arrested between August 20 and September 3 as demonstrators called on U.S. President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, initiated by TransCanada, which would create a 3,200-kilometre-long pipeline carrying 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day from northern Alberta tar sands to Texas refineries.

The letter released today addressed Obama directly; “(We) ask you to do the right thing for our environment and reject the proposal to build the Keystone XL…”

The Tyee has been following the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which has fostered a complicated debate between environmentalists, scientists, the oil industry, and the Obama government, who will be making a final decision on whether or not to give the pipeline the go-ahead in November.

Today’s letter voiced concerns about the environmental destruction the pipeline could cause along its path. “All along its prospective route, the pipeline endangers farms, wildlife and precious water aquifers — including the Ogallala Aquifer, the U.S.’s main source of freshwater for America’s heartland.”

The Canadian Press reported in late July, “A recent independent study by a University of Nebraska water resources engineer suggested that Calgary-based TransCanada has underestimated the number and volume of leaks that could occur along the pipeline and had not fully assessed the impact of spills on water supplies in the U.S. heartland.”

However, the U.S. State Department released a final environmental impact study a little over a week ago, stating that the Keystone XL pipeline would have no significant impact on the environment its route traverses.

In an interview with the Canadian Press published today, Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said he hopes that facts determine President Obama’s decision — not politics. “The pipeline’s proponents, (Doer) added, are hoping politics don’t come into play as U.S. President Barack Obama embarks on a re-election campaign that aims to vilify congressional Republicans.”

Grace Scott is completing her practicum at The Tyee.



Speech: Te Whakaruruhau Maori Women’s Refuge, Hamilton – Turia


Speech: Te Whakaruruhau Maori Women’s Refuge, Hamilton – Turia


Posted 08 September 2011, by Voxy News Engine, Voxy (Digital Advance Limited),



Te Whakaruruhau Maori Women’s Refuge, Hamilton

Opening of their new whare

Hon Tariana Turia, Associate Minister of Social Development and Employment

Thursday 8 September 2011; 10am

Twenty five years ago Te Whakaruruhau was established as the first Maori Women’s Refuge in Aotearoa.

Ever since those early days, Te Whakaruruhau has been known as breaking new ground, providing the leadership and the inspiration for working with whanau in a way which would best result in wellness and wellbeing.

And so I am absolutely delighted, having shared the journey over the years, to now be here with you all, celebrating the opening of your new safe-house.

I have to say, I have a special fondness for Whakaruruhau.

I have the utmost respect for the women who have shaped the culture, the environment and the approach followed in the safe house model.

I mihi in particular to Ruahine Albert and Ariana Simpson who are both wonderful beacons of hope in a field which might otherwise be shrouded in despair. They are both staunch champions of the human spirit who have done so much to encourage those working in family violence to place their faith in whanau. Tena korua.

What has always impressed me about Whakaruruhau is that it is driven by the needs of whanau.

I was told a story the other day about the Unit Manager of Te Ao Marama – the Maori Focus Unit at Waikeria Prison. He was amazed that at hearings of the New Zealand Parole Board Whakaruruhau workers had supported the male prisoners – the first time he’d ever seen women’s refuge workers in such a role.

I was not at all surprised – it was exactly what I would expect of Whanau Ora – taking the needs of the whanau into account; knowing that we are only as strong as our most vulnerable members.

Whakaruruhau has been a pioneer in supporting women to achieve their visions within the context of their whanau.

You have been able to wrap programmes and services around the women, that fit their own unique circumstances. Agencies of the state have been invited in when needed – and just as importantly – the women have been able to go out on their own, when they are confident and prepared to do so.

But it is not just the wider needs of whanau that Whakaruruhau take into account, it is also the holistic care of the women and the children who stay in the safe houses, or attend the programmes and services.

It is about providing them with practical support as well as someone walking alongside them; advocating for them; actively encouraging them to determine their own destiny.

And I think it is an interesting coincidence that today is also International Literacy Day – and that the theme for 2011 is ‘building peace in the minds of men and women’.

It is a wonderful challenge – how do we build peace in the minds of men and women? How do we foster whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, wairuatanga? How do we create peace in our homes, in our lives, in our workplace?

And inevitably I come back to this concept of whakaruruhau – and a very dear friend of mine – the late Irihapeti Ramsden.

Irihapeti introduced the health profession to the concept of te kawa whakaruruhau – cultural safety – showing us how the awareness of our attitudes and practices helped to empower nurses to care better for patients from other cultures.

And so I think about health literacy; about financial literacy; about cultural competency; about reading the world – reading ourselves.

How do we change the mindset of all our people, to believe in their own power and potential; to really focus on our strengths and our own solutions?

What we have seen with the momentum generated by Whanau Ora is that whanau potential is ripe for transformation.

We have the highest of hopes for our whanau; knowing that their vision for tomorrow has every chance of leading our nation forward.

What we must do now – whether at Whakaruruhau or in our own whanau – is to ensure our future is anchored on the solid foundation of our own aspirations, our own experience.

And then we must set our direction onwards, to grow the model, to normalize Whanau Ora, and to establish our own incentives for ensuring our whanau are the very best they can be.

I have a keen interest in encouraging us all to see the world through the whanau lens – to assess any opportunity, any intervention as to what impact it will have on whanau.

I want to congratulate you all for an amazing quarter century of commitment to our whanau.

You might have heard the saying – anyone can make a noise; but what we want is to make a difference.

In your own unique way, Whakaruruhau must be celebrated for your resilience; your dedication and the investment you have made in whanau wellbeing.

You have certainly made the difference – and I thank you for helping us all lift our eyes to the possibilities and the potential.

Tena tatou katoa



The Earth is Not Ours, We Merely Borrow it From Our Children: Lessons from the Maya Q’eqchi

The Earth is Not Ours, We Merely Borrow it From Our Children: Lessons from the Maya Q’eqchi


Posted 30 August 2011, by Saul Paau Maaz, RH RealityCheck,



This fall, world population will reach 7 billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines population and environmental change from various perspectives and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, Saúl Paau Maaz explains how his people, the ancient Mayans—and their indigenous descendants in Guatemala—saw the profound interconnectedness of human reproduction and stewardship of natural resources, and practiced respectful restraint. But traditional ways are being destroyed, and new solutions are needed.

All of the articles in this series, Seven Billion People, can be found here.

Growing up in the deep, lush jungle of Petén, under an endless green canopy, I learned that human life and the natural world are inseparable. My parents and grandparents taught me that people are just one element of Mother Nature; her protection and care is our responsibility.

For generations, my people, the Maya Q’eqchi’, have inhabited the Petén, which has always been sacred for its forests, which shelter a diverse array of animals and plants. The wealth of those forests extends well beyond Guatemala’s borders: in fact, researchers describe them as the Americas’ “third lung” because of their oxygen production.

But today, my homeland is in trouble. Its biological wealth is threatened by drug farms, road building, cattle ranching, forest fires, and rapid population growth. Multinational companies are destroying the forests, as are sprawling human settlements. The jungle where I was born is now a disaster area, plundered and exploited.  Every year, 100 to 150 square miles of forest are lost. In less than three and a half decades, Petén’s forest cover has shrunk from 90 percent to 50 percent of the land mass.

It Hasn’t Always Been this Way

Traditional Mayan wisdom taught us to care for the environment and to limit human numbers and impact. Before building a house, planting a crop, or bringing new life into the world—indeed, before making any changes to nature—we must first ask permission from the creator and shaper of the universe, and find the appropriate nawal—the cosmic, natural energies that each of the 20 days in the Mayan calendar represents.

Nawales are essential to Mayan cosmogony, our spiritual narrative.  Each person is born with a nawal that determines their temperament, their role in society, and even their daily actions.  The Mayan people interpret the nawales’ communication in all things, including the timing of dreams, the presence of certain animals, movements of air or planets, bird songs, and other sounds. For these reasons, the Mayan people maintain a great respect for nature.

For our elders, respect for nature meant careful stewardship of the environment. When I was a child, my parents taught me how to grow crops and protect the forest. The Maya Q’eqchi’ people practiced a sophisticated form of field rotation. They also took care to walk 30 minutes or more outside of their community to plant their crops. This protected the forest that sheltered our homes, and ensured a steady supply of firewood. It also preserved the forest animals and the sacred mountains.

The Maya Q’eqchi’ also practiced a traditional form of family planning, based on the phases of the moon.  The seven-day period which starts on the first day of a woman’s menstruation was understood as a time when sexual relations are permitted. After those seven days, there is a fertile period which lasts from the eighth day until the 19th day.  From 19th day until the next menstruation, partners can have sexual relations with little risk of becoming pregnant.  Because of this traditional wisdom, there are elders today who have only had three or four children during their entire reproductive life, though they have never used any western contraception.

Sex is sacred to indigenous people; sexual activity should not be had every day. The right nawal, or the right day for fertilization, has to be considered carefully by both the mother and father. If the series of fertile days are not in harmony with the energies for fertilization, birth, and destiny of a new life, sexual relations should not take place.

Traditional Wisdom Forgotten

In recent decades, however, the traditional Mayan wisdom about family planning and environmental stewardship has largely been forgotten. Colonization, cultural and linguistic genocide, the forces of capitalism, and the western thinking that now pervades our people have all weakened the traditional knowledge of the indigenous people.

The decline of traditional knowledge has taken a toll on the environment, and on reproductive health.  Indigenous Guatemalan women have, on average, eight children, often with no proper medical attention before, during, or after each birth. High fertility can mean poor health and lower life expectancy for both mothers and children.

And high fertility, combined with rapid industrialization and internal migration, means rapid population growth. In my homeland of Petén, the population has grown from 24,000 to 500,000 in just four decades, and is expected to reach 650,000 this year.

As our numbers have grown, our way of life has become impoverished—culturally and economically. The Maya Q’eqchi’ have suffered a loss of identity and loss of respect for the forest and Mother Nature.  Two thirds of our people live in extreme poverty, existing on only two dollars a day; one fifth live on less than one dollar a day.  Nearly half of children between the ages of one and five years old are chronically malnourished, a fact that has repercussions for their physical and intellectual growth. Their intellectual growth is similarly stunted: There is little access to formal education.

We face an uncertain future. The rainy seasons have profoundly shifted, which has led to increasing hunger and declining economic conditions. The floods are powerful, unexpected, and uncontrollable, which profoundly affects the well-being of our communities.

Solutions Are Both Modern and Traditional

Some of the answers to these new problems come from the modern world: education, and, in particular, sexual and reproductive health education and services. For example, education for woman and girls is key.  Fundación Propetèn (the Pro-Petén Foundation) found that illiterate women have an average of nine children.  In comparison, women with three to six years of education have an average of five children; women who have completed 16 years of education have an average of three; and women who have completed 18 years of education or a college degree have two children on average.  In addition to lower fertility, education has been shown to have a positive impact on women’s social, economic, and cultural life. This is why we advocate access to education for all.

Young people also need accurate information about sexuality and reproductive health.  As a community health worker, I have lobbied at a regional level to incorporate and promote sexual and reproductive health education in schools for children and young people between the ages of 12 to 18. I have also worked to promote youth organizations and training programs on community leadership, HIV, migration, and population and environment at the Fundación de Universidad Pública (Public University Foundation) in my village. Service delivery is also crucial: for the last nine years, I have trained rural health workers and traditional midwives to provide quality reproductive health services, including modern methods of family planning.

Other answers come from traditional wisdom. The Council of Mayan Elders is working to promote a return to the agricultural practices of our ancestors and to preserve ancient knowledge of natural medicine and human reproduction in keeping with nature and the earth.

Fundamentally, we can try to live by this native saying: “The Earth is not ours; we merely borrow it from our sons, daughters and grandchildren.” Caring for the Earth is our responsibility if we want a better, fairer world and thus, a better life.



Pointing Toward the Future: How Environmental and Women’s Rights Groups Can Work Together to Solve Global Problems

Pointing Toward the Future: How Environmental and Women’s Rights Groups Can Work Together to Solve Global Problems


Posted 07 September 2011, by Dr. Carmen Barroso, International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (IPPF/WHR) and Carl Pope, Sierra Club, RH Reality Check,



This fall, world population will reach seven billion people at a time of accelerated environmental disruption. This article is part of a series commissioned by RH Reality Check, with Laurie Mazur as guest editor. The series examines the causes and consequences of population and environmental changes from various perspectives, and explores the policies and actions needed to both avoid and mitigate the inevitable impacts of these changes.

Here, RHRC asks two experts, Dr. Carmen Barroso, Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region, and Carl Pope, former Executive Director and current Chairman of the Sierra Club, to explain the connections between environmental and population issues and how the movements can work together.

All of the articles in this series can be found here.


RHRC: When did you start to see the synergy between environmental and population issues?


I remember when we didn’t see them. In the 1980s, I was living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo developing a sex education program with local women’s organizations.  True to our feminist lineage, we were advocating for women’s right to decide in matters relating to sex and reproduction. Working in the context of Brazil’s left movement, our sex education also included a critique of population control, which was a prevalent symbol of imperialism at the time.

Our concern was both with coercive practices, such as sterilization without consent, and with the notion that population stabilization could somehow be interchangeable with a fair global economy, the “new economic order,” as it was called then.  At that time, there was considerable tension between social justice-oriented feminists and environmentalists who championed population control.

Today, more than thirty years later, environmentalists and reproductive rights movements share a lot more commonalities, rather than differences, in our approach and commitment to justice and autonomy. In fact, IPPF’s governing council recently adopted a policy on climate change and sustainable development.We know that population growth is just one of the several drivers of environmental problems, but we can’t ignore its connection.


In the late 1960s, I was working to advance family planning methods in small villages in Bihar, India as a Peace Corps employee.  I was struck by the fact that so much of the challenge of enabling villagers to make decisions about family size had to do not with their “ignorance” or “lack of interest” as often described by government bureaucrats, but with the indifference of that bureaucracy and the lack of genuine access to either education or health care.

Informed by that experience, Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program works to increase access to voluntary family planning services, as part of a larger framework of access to education and health care, and a broader and more inclusive role for women. The Club, however, realizes that population size is just one peice of the population/environment puzzle.  The way we consume and use natural resources and the underlying social inequities of resource distribution and consumption are the other side of that coin.  We believe we can be mindful of our global environment while simultaneously improving the lives of men, women, and children worldwide.


RHRC: Why do you think a comprehensive, rights-based approach is the way to go?


 Laurie said it best in her opening post for this series:  Ensuring women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, is central to meeting the flock of “Black Swans” that are headed our way.  When you empower individuals and families with the information and services they need to decide on all aspects related to reproduction and sexuality, you fundamentally create more sustainable and just communities.

Over the last few decades, notions about the relationship between population, sustainability and human rights have advanced significantly. At the center of this evolution was the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994. In Cairo, 179 governments placed human rights, specifically sexual and reproductive rights, at the center of population policies.

While governments have been slow to implement the Cairo consensus, this vision must guide development efforts going forward. That means securing reproductive health and rights for the millions worldwide who lack access, so that they can choose if, when, and how many children to have.



 Empowering individuals, particularly women who are most vulnerable, is a proven silver bullet in addressing the “Black Swans.” Once education and outside employment for women become available and even accepted as pathways out of poverty, families face a choice: Have a smaller family and treat each child as a long-term investment by educating them, or have a larger family and run the risk that each child will get less schooling and have fewer economic prospects.

In addition, women who bring in income have more say in family decision-making, and they opt for still smaller families. All over the globe women are choosing to have fewer children.

Therefore, it is our global responsibility to secure access to voluntary family planning services for all as a means of advancing both reproductive choice and sustainable development.


RHRC: Why do you think environmental issues have not been high on the agenda of reproductive rights advocates and vice versa?


As I said earlier, just a few decades ago economic justice and individual rights seemed incompatible, and the two movements were at odds.  It’s funny, when I was working with women’s groups in Sao Paulo, we tried out a cartoon depicting two women. One of them said: Did you see the TV last night? They said we are poor because we have too many children. The other responded: That is nonsense. They should distribute income instead of the pill.

In today’s interconnected world, however, there is no denying the intersection of environmental and health and rights issues. Still, collaboration remains a challenge. On the one hand, the reproductive rights movement fears being co-opted by the small faction of the environmental movement that would advocate for the curtailment of individual rights if it benefited the environment. On the other hand, I think some in the environmental movement fear being associated with reproductive rights, which remain contentious is some political arenas.  And, as always, the silo-ed approach to funding and the competition it creates is also an obstacle to working together.



I agree that we sometimes let the fear of the small factions among us who don’t want to work together, silence the critical masses that agree on our issues.  If the reproductive rights movement and the environmental movement could work together, both movements would gain leverage in their ability to reach out into new arenas. The strength of two is double the strength of one, so to speak.

As the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club supports the highest levels of funding for voluntary family planning services both in the United States and worldwide, a comprehensive approach to sex education, and sustainable development policy initiatives. We also work aggressively to end unsustainable practices such as deforestation and fossil fuel use because we recognize that addressing environmental degradation includes curbing rampant consumption. 


RHRC: What can the two movements can do to overcome this history and work together to advance common goals?


From my perspective, the most important things the two movements can do is to listen and learn from each other. There is power in numbers, and I have no doubt that both movements would achieve more victories through collaboration.

The other opportunity I see is the fact that today’s generation of youth—the largest ever—seems to approach advocacy differently. They are less influenced by the silos or  labels like feminist, gay rights activist, environmentalist. The bottom line for this new generation is justice and rights for all. They want better income distribution, an end to climate change, AND the pill.



Exactly. Our planet will be home to 7 billion people this year, with 50 percent of those people being under 25. The youth are demanding access to family planning, education,health care, and economic opportunities for all, as well as an end to climate change, and a sustainable, just world.

We as a united movement should view the demands of the youth as the watchwords for our advocacy.