Planet Watch

International: campesinos hold worldwide day of action

Campesino groups around the world planned more than 250 activities to mark the International Day of Campesino Struggles on April 17, according to the international rural workers movement Vía Campesina. The day of action—which was announced at the International Campesino Conference held in Mali last Nov. 14-17—was intended to bring attention to the need for carrying out agrarian reform, for stopping the concentration of land in the hands of wealthy landowners, and for maintaining agricultural production based on campesino farming and the principles of food sovereignty. A special focus this year was to be opposition to monoculture for export and to the production of bio-fuel crops.

US imperialism hands off the asteroids!

See, this is the problem with movies like Avatar (and V for Vendetta and Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Matrix and—much to this particular point—Total Recall). Avatar creator James Cameron was just recently in the Amazon, grandstanding against construction of the Belo Monte dam (a cause we of course support). Now the Wall Street Journal informs us that Cameron, along with Google heavies Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, is among the "investor and advisor group" of Planetary Resources Inc—which aims to start mining the asteroids. No, this isn't a joke. The company's press release boasts the scheme will "overlay two critical sectors—space exploration and natural resources—to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP" and "help ensure humanity's prosperity." Speaking to Forbes in less politically correct terms, company co-founder Peter Diamandis openly said, "I'm trying to start a gold rush." The idea being that "greed" is the "only way it's going to happen irrevocably."

Ottawa plays China card in North American pipeline wars

The Canadian government released details April 17 of a plan to dramatically "streamline" (as press accounts put it) public oversight for big energy and mining projects, capping the timeline for federal reviews and ceding more regulatory oversight to the provinces. The "Responsible [sic] Resource Development" plan would impose a 45-day limit to decide whether federal environmental review is necessary after a new project is announced, and then limit such reviews to two years. The number of agencies allowed to participate in such reviews—now numbering 40—would be limited to three: the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the National Energy Board and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. It would also allow the provinces to conduct such reviews in place of these agencies, if they meet the standards of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Resources Minister Joe Oliver made clear that an intended beneficiary of the reform is Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would ship oil from Alberta's tar sands fields to Canada's West Coast—and has been meeting stiff opposition from environmentalists and First Nations in British Columbia. (Dow Jones, CTV, April 17)

Quebec: Innu women march against hydro mega-project

A group of 40 women of the Innu indigenous nation in northern Quebec have launched a 900-kilometer cross-country march on Montreal to protest the provincial government's Plan Nord, a multibillion-dollar mega-project that would open the north to mining and energy companies. The group, originally made up 14 women, left Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam near Sept-Îles nearly two weeks ago. They plan to reach Montreal on April 22, Earth Day, to join planned protests against the Plan Nord. The march was launched after a protest blockade of a road running through the Uashaunnuat Innu reserve was broken up after five days by provincial police on March 9.

National Intelligence director: water conflicts threaten global stability

The Director of National Intelligence released a report drafted with the Defense Intelligence Agency last month warning that competition for increasingly scarce water in the next decade will fuel instability in strategic regions around the world. "These threats are real, and they do raise serious security concerns,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech at the State Department, which requested the report. Depleted groundwater for agriculture, which uses 70 percent of water, could contribute to price spikes such as those last year that have led to international food riots in recent years. "Many countries important to the United States will experience water problems—shortages, poor water quality, or floods—that will risk instability,” the study found. "North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will face major challenges coping with water problems." (Bloomberg, March 22)

EPA places first greenhouse gas limits on new power plants

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on March 27 proposed the nation's first Clean Air Act standard for carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. Under the standard, greenhouse gas emissions from new coal-fired plants would be reduced by about 50% over the life of the plants. The rule only concerns new generating units that will be built in the future, and does not apply to existing units already operating or units that will start construction over the next 12 months. The proposed standard follows a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts vs EPA that greenhouse gases are air pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

Climate lessons in Maya collapse: study

Unsettling findings. From e! science news, Feb. 23:

Classic Maya civilization collapse related to modest rainfall reductions
A new study reports that the disintegration of the Maya Civilization may have been related to relatively modest reductions in rainfall. The study was led by Professors Martín Medina-Elizalde of the Yucatan Center for Scientific Research in Mexico and Eelco Rohling of the University of Southampton in the UK. Professor Rohling says: "Our results show rather modest rainfall reductions between times when the Classic Maya Civilization flourished and its collapse — between AD 800-950. These reductions amount to only 25 to 40 per cent in annual rainfall. But they were large enough for evaporation to become dominant over rainfall, and open water availability was rapidly reduced. The data suggest that the main cause was a decrease in summer storm activity."

Meanwhile, the oceans are dying...

Lest we forget. From Radio Australia, Feb. 21:

Marine species at risk as oceans acidify
British scientists say the current level of carbon dioxide emissions will wipe out about 30 per cent of the world's marine species by the end of the century. Much of the carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning is being absorbed by the world's oceans, causing them to acidify. Scientists at Plymouth University in England have examined underwater volcanoes, where carbon dioxide bubbles naturally, to see how marine life copes in acidic water.

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