Monthly Archives: April 2015

Earth Day Every Day Message: Double the Native Forest Cover by Brent Blackwelder

When heading for the edge of a cliff, the solution may be as simple as turning around and going in a different direction.

When heading for the edge of a cliff, the solution may be as simple as turning around and going in a different direction.

Earth Day began 45 years ago on April 22, 1970. The first Earth Day mobilized huge numbers of people to become active in efforts to curtail pollution and protect important ecosystems like forests. As we approach Earth Day this year, the founder of the Rainforest Action Network, Randy Hayes, and other visionary leaders are calling for a doubling of the native forest canopy on the earth. They are circulating a petition calling on all people to work together to achieve this goal. (See petition below.)

A powerful reforestation initiative will help achieve the objectives of a steady state, sustainable, true cost economy. Meaningful employment can be increased by planting native trees, restoring natural habitats, and removing unneeded roads. Restoring the natural balance of greenhouse gases can foster a healthy society.

Here is the big economic connection: forests help regulate or moderate the global temperature, which is essential to prevent enormous losses in grain yields–losses that could spawn food riots and wars. Plant ecologists estimate that at high temperatures, every increase of one degree Celsius causes a 10% drop in grain yields. An urgent global effort is underway to hold the increase below two degrees Celsius. This cannot be achieved unless changes are made to save and restore forest cover.

In addition to the threats to grain production from global temperature increases, the dramatic loss of native forest cover is causing devastating harm to the life support systems of our planet. For instance, forest destruction is a major cause of loss of plant and animal species, water loss, desiccation of the land, soil erosion, and sedimentation of fishery habitat. The loss of forests exacerbates climate destabilization, leading to more severe and costly weather disasters now amounting to several hundred billion dollars per year. The destruction of forests is leading humanity away from a sustainable civilization and a prospering true cost economy.

Here are a few facts about what has been happening to forests this century. The World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates 12% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and degradation of forests. About 30% of the world’s forests have been cleared and another 20% degraded. Only about 15% remain in relatively healthy native condition. Global deforestation rates are severe, with 13 million hectares having been lost each year from 2000-2010.

Fortunately, there is hope because experts have identified a huge potential for restoring forest cover equivalent to an area twice the size of China (2 billion hectares). Even in severely degraded zones such as the Loess Plateau in China, some successful measures have curbed erosion and brought back a lush vegetative cover that has improved food security, biodiversity, and local income. Since Earth Day 1970, impressive efforts have been taken to set aside forest lands for parks, wilderness, wildlife, spiritual contemplation, and protection of water supplies. We can build on these.

Across the globe, there is hope because communities with legal rights to at least 513 million hectares of forest, making up one-eighth of the world’s forests, have succeeded in forest preservation. These community forests hold an estimated 38 billion tons of carbon. If these forests that act as carbon sinks were eliminated, there would be a huge increase of carbon released into the atmosphere. WRI calculates that this amounts to 29 times the annual carbon footprint of all passenger vehicles in the world.

One example of the success of forest communities can be seen in the Brazilian Amazon, the largest intact forest in the world. From 2000 to 2012, deforestation was 11 times lower in indigenous community forests that have strong legal recognition and government protection than in other parts of the Amazon.

We are at a crossroads. The courageous step called for in the petition below could help lead us to a future no longer driven by overconsumption of natural resources, technologies that needlessly damage the environment, overpopulation, and political economies that foster problematic consumption.

DECLARATION TO DOUBLE NATIVE FORESTS

To live in harmony with the planet and each other we need the courage to act on a shared vision of a better world. And we need to act NOW.

We, the undersigned, put forth these collective thoughts and invite others to share their visions.

• We know forests are a fundamental expression of the natural world and are key to supporting all life on Earth.

• We have witnessed how the destruction of the world’s forests degrades the quality of human life and undermines the prospects for productive and vibrant economies.

• We know that carbon-rich natural habitats are critical to the restoration of natural climatic patterns.

• We believe we must reverse the frightening concentration of greenhouse gases–now at 400 PPM–and get back to pre-Industrial Revolution levels of 280 PPM.

• We believe that this dramatic mathematical U-turn is our only hope of preventing the blue sky from turning into a toxic furnace.

We, the undersigned, call for:

• A halt to all deforestation.

• A doubling of the native forest canopy in less than two decades.

Furthermore, we call for this with the intent to:

• Increase meaningful employment by planting native trees, restoring natural habitats, and removing unneeded roads.

• Help return the natural balance of greenhouse gases and foster a healthy society.

• Maintain natural functions to purify the air and water and support the web of life.

Finally, we call upon all people–our communities and our business and political leaders–to work together to achieve this goal.

Such a courageous step could help lead us to a future no longer driven by overconsumption of natural resources, technologies that needlessly damage the environment, overpopulation, and political economies that foster problematic consumption.

When heading for the edge of a cliff, the solution may be as simple as turning around and going in a different direction. Native forest protection and restoration is key to this sensible U-turn. A shift to a better world is within our grasp, but we must collectively envision and enact it.

This is the great U-turn we seek.

Signed:

Randy Hayes, Executive Director, Foundation Earth

Eric Dinerstein, Director, Biodiversity & Wildlife Solutions RESOLVE

Don Weeden, Executive Director, Weeden Foundation

Andy Kimbrell, Executive Director, Center for Food Safety

Brent Blackwelder, President Emeritus, Friends of the Earth

Add your signature to this petition at

https://www.change.org/p/citizens-of-the-world-earth-day-2015-declaration-to-double-native-forests

Leave a comment

Filed under Climate, Economy, Environment, Natural Resources, Sustainability

Oiling The Machinery of Climate Change Denial and Transit Opposition by David Suzuki

Cartoon Copyright © 2014 Tom Toles.

Cartoon Copyright © 2014 Tom Toles.

Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

In late January, 50 U.S. anti-government and pro-oil groups — including some tied to the Kochs and the pro-oil, pro-tobacco Heartland Institute — sent Congress a letter opposing a gas tax increase that would help fund public transit, in part because “Washington continues to spend federal dollars on projects that have nothing to do with roads like bike paths and transit.”

The letter says “transportation infrastructure has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” an argument similar to one used by opponents of the transportation plan Metro Vancouver residents are currently voting on. Vancouver’s anti-transit campaign is led by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation — a group that doesn’t reveal its funding sources and is on record as denying the existence of human-caused climate change — along with Hamish Marshall, a conservative strategist with ties to Ethical Oil.

American and Canadian transit opponents paint themselves as populist supporters of the common people, a tactic also used against carbon pricing. Marshall told Business in Vancouver, “I love the idea of working on a campaign where we can stand up for the little guy.” The U.S. letter claims the gas tax increase “would disproportionately hurt lower income Americans already hurt by trying times in our economy.” Both fail to note that poor and middle class families will benefit most from public transit and other sustainable transportation options.

Although many organizations that promote the fossil fuel industry and reject the need to address climate change — including the Heartland Institute, International Climate Science Coalition, Ethical Oil and Friends of Science — are secretive about their funding sources, a bit of digging often turns up oil, gas and coal money, often from the Kochs in the U.S. And most of their claims are easily debunked. In the case of the U.S. Heartland Institute, arguments stray into the absurd, like comparing climate researchers and those who accept the science to terrorists and murderers like the Unabomber and Charles Manson!

In some ways, it’s understandable why fossil fuel advocates would reject clean energy, conservation and sustainable transportation. Business people protect their interests — which isn’t necessarily bad. But anything that encourages people to drive less and conserve energy cuts into the fossil fuel industry’s massive profits. It’s unfortunate that greed trumps the ethical need to reduce pollution, limit climate change and conserve non-renewable resources.

It’s also poor economic strategy on a societal level. Besides contributing to pollution and global warming, fossil fuels are becoming increasingly difficult, dangerous and expensive to exploit as easily accessible sources are depleted — and markets are volatile, as we’ve recently seen. It’s crazy to go on wastefully burning these precious resources when they can be used more wisely, and when we have better options. Clean energy technology, transit improvements and conservation also create more jobs and economic activity and contribute to greater well-being and a more stable economy than fossil fuel industries.

To reduce pollution and address global warming, we must do everything we can, from conserving energy to shifting to cleaner energy sources. Improving transportation and transit infrastructure is one of the easiest ways to do so while providing more options for people to get around.

Those who profit from our continued reliance on fossil fuels will do what they can to convince us to stay on their expensive, destructive road. It’s up to all of us to help change course.

From our friends at the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Leave a comment

Filed under Climate, Politics

Westerners Don’t Appreciate How Amazing Contraception Is by Faustina Fynn-Nyame

Faustina Fynn-Nyame

Faustina Fynn-Nyame

When Alima was 15-years-old she travelled to the Ghanaian capital to work as a head porter in the market, planning to save money to buy household items for her marriage. But girls working in the market often end up sleeping rough. Some end up pregnant because they are raped or forced to exchange sex for somewhere warm to sleep.

Fortunately, Alima heard about our clinic from peer educators who we had trained to raise awareness in the market. She went for counselling with the nurse and decided to take up a method. Alima spoke to our team about what she could do. We made some suggestions, and in the end she chose a five-year implant. Instead of buying crockery with her savings, she decided to go home and enroll in school.

Working in clinics in Ghana and Kenya, I have seen the consequences when contraception is not available. I’ve seen women dying in childbirth, mutilating their bodies or risking their lives with backstreet abortions. In developed countries such as the UK, contraceptive use has plateaued between 60% and 80%. In east Africa, if current trends continue, it will take another 45 years to reach 60%. While in west Africa, where I am from, the same rates will not be achieved for 500 years. That’s the year 2515.

I believe that being able to choose if and when to have children is a basic human right. Economically, it makes sense; for every additional pound invested in contraception, the cost of pregnancy-related care is reduced by £1.47. In fact, just last year a leading economist associated with the Copenhagen Consensus Centre think tank rated investments in sexual and reproductive health as “phenomenal” and described family planning as “inexpensive with clear benefits”.

But you also cannot underestimate the significance of contraception in giving girls and women control over their lives and futures. When girls have the choice, like Alima, they have children later. This means they can finish their education, become financially independent and contribute to society. They can space their births further apart, which means healthier lives for them and their babies.

Women in Africa want contraception. While the west waffles on about providing aid for family planning, Africans are asking for it. I met one woman called Hawa in a remote village in Kenya who knew about contraception but was living far from a clinic. She hadn’t been able to use it and was struggling to feed her five children. She was very angry and felt her life could have been very different if only she had access to contraception. Women and men see the importance of making our own choices and determining our own future. It’s not the west telling us to do something.

In my jobs as country director for Marie Stopes in Kenya and Ghana, I have met amazing girls and women whose stories make my heart swell. Women like Miriam who, after having four children one after the other, was at risk of becoming homeless when her husband became too ill to support them. Then she met one of Marie Stopes’ community workers and decided to use a copper IUD to protect her for years to come. We were also able to put her in contact with a women’s microfinance company that helped her find the money to set up a kiosk selling tinned food, soft drinks and biscuits. She told me : “Now I am using contraception I am finally in control of my life. Instead of begging on the streets, I can go to work and look after myself, my husband and my children.”

Yet 225 million women around the world who don’t want to get pregnant are not using any form of contraception, with some areas much worse affected than others. As a result, every day, around 800 women are dying from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. When a mother dies her children’s best hope for survival dies with her.

As someone who has lived and worked in clinics from Brixton to Accra, the main difference I see is that women in the UK are empowered. They can take control of what happens to their body and what they want from their futures. In countries such as Ghana and Kenya that agency is not there. But the women in Kenya and Ghana are brave because they are challenging the status quo. I meet girls with hope in their eyes and ambition in their voices, who give me the sense things can really change. They are challenging what their mother and grandmother, religious leader and husband tells them. Their husband may not be happy about their choices, he may even beat her until she’s black and blue but they are determined to create real change.

Women in the UK have such an advantage and they don’t even know it. They are far more educated about contraception and can make more informed choices. We need to make sure that girls the world over have the same opportunities.

See: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/23/westerners-dont-appreciate-how-amazing-contraception-is

Leave a comment

Filed under Family Planning, Women's Rights

Who says a better world is impossible? By David Suzuki

This glass house eco home was designed at Stuttgart University so that it produces more energy than it uses, thus feeding into the national grid.

This glass house eco home was designed at Stuttgart University so that it produces more energy than it uses, thus feeding into the national grid. High tech sustainable solutions aren’t far off in the future–they’re available now.

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

It’s ironic that anti-environmentalists and renewable energy opponents often accuse those of us seeking solutions of wanting to go back to the past, to living in caves, scrounging for roots and berries. They’re the ones intent on continuing to burn stuff to keep warm — to the detriment of the natural world and all it provides.

People have used wind and solar power for thousands of years. But recent rapid advances in generation, storage and transmission technologies have led to a fast-developing industry that’s outpacing fossil fuels in growth and job creation. Costs are coming down to the point where renewable energy is competitive with the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry. According to the International Energy Agency, renewable energy for worldwide electricity generation grew to 22 per cent in 2013, a five per cent increase from 2012.

The problem is that much of the world still burns non-renewable resources for electricity and fuels, causing pollution and climate change and, subsequently, more human health problems, extreme weather events, water shortages and environmental devastation. In many cities in China, the air has become almost unbreathable, as seen in the shocking Chinese documentary film Under the Dome. In California, a prolonged drought is affecting food production. Extreme weather events are costing billions of dollars worldwide.

We simply must do more to shift away from fossil fuels and, despite what the naysayers claim, we can. We can even get partway there under our current systems. Market forces often lead to innovation in clean energy development. But in addressing the very serious long-term problems we’ve created, we may have to challenge another “impossibility”: changing our outmoded global economic system. As economist and Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs wrote in a recent Guardian article, “At this advanced stage of environmental threats to the planet, and in an era of unprecedented inequality of income and power, it’s no longer good enough to chase GDP. We need to keep our eye on three goals — prosperity, inclusion, and sustainability — not just on the money.”

Relying on market capitalism encourages hyper-consumption, planned obsolescence, wasteful production and endless growth. Cutting pollution and greenhouse gas emissions requires conserving energy as well as developing new energy technologies. Along with reducing our reliance on private automobiles and making buildings and homes more energy-efficient, that also means making goods that last longer and producing fewer disposable or useless items so less energy is consumed in production.

People have changed economic systems many times before, when they no longer suited shifting conditions or when they were found to be inhumane, as with slavery. And people continue to develop tools and technologies that were once thought impossible. Things are only impossible until they’re not. We can’t let those who are stuck in the past, unable to imagine a better future, hold us back from creating a safer, cleaner and more just world.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. Go to DavidSuzuki.org

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Economy, Energy, Environment, Leadership, Politics, Sustainability