Environmentalism has become the front line in a global battle for the survival of the natural world, says The Guardian’s environmental news editor, John Vidal, on his retirement.
Two people in particular stand out in his short memoir published Dec. 23: Wangari Maathai from Kenya, and Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria.
Barack Obama and Maathai, 2006. (Wikipedia)
About Maathai: The message she brought was that any debate about the natural world should not just be about science and parts-per-billion of obscure gases, or about genes or kilowatts, but must include developing countries and be rooted in justice, equity and the situation of the least advantaged. She went on to win the Nobel peace prize, and the planting of trees became a worldwide symbol of political hope and community regeneration.
United Nations envoy says the pattern of killings has become an epidemic. (UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré)
Three Central American assassinations in the first three weeks of March 2016, and three more in the summer and fall, underscore the mounting global death toll in the war being waged against peaceful environmental protests by mining, timbering and hydro-electric industries.
The assassinations signal a “growing epidemic” according to a United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
Waterkeeper Alliance president Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has called on the US State Department and international organizations to investigate.
“Ordinary citizens and local communities are increasingly finding themselves at the forefront of the battle over the planet’s natural resources,” Global Witness spokesman Billy Kytes said.
The three Central American activists are among hundreds named and described here on the Environmental History Timeline page Remembering Murdered Environmentalists.
The recent outrage over lead contamination in the water supply of Flint, Mich. reminds us of how much is known about the history of lead poisoning.
In 1786, Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter about the harmful effects of lead. In describing the problem in distilleries and the printing trades, Franklin noted how resistant people can be when it comes to understanding public health and environmental issues.
“You will observe, with concern, how long a useful truth may be known, and exist, before it is generally received and practiced on,” he said.
Although it hardly seems creditable, the useful truth about lead in the form of paint, water pipes, and leaded gasoline is still not practiced.
Lead is the oldest and best known of environmental hazards.For over two millennia, overexposure to lead was known to cause hallucinations and severe mental problems. Continue reading
June 18, 2015 — ROME — Pope Francis has issued an extraordinary environmental statement calling for environmental justice between the generations and dialogue in the international community. In one portion he says: 165. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.
The full statement is found at a Vatican website here. The statement begins: ——————
“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs. ”(#1 Cantico delle creature: Fonti Francescane (FF) 263. )
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters…
Some day soon, an oil & gas industry representative will probably tell a journalist, or a politician, or a concerned parent: “Fracking water is as safe as dish soap. Check out the 2014 University of Colorado study.”
And of course that will be horribly wrong, but very few people will know why.
This is particularly important in light of New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that a state health department study found that fracking is too dangerous for New York state (as reported in the NY Times Dec. 17, 2014.)
At best, people will chalk the difference up to the old adage: For every PhD, there is an equal and opposite PhD. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The energy ladder: Developing nations first use firewood, then move “up” to coal, then kerosene, then a select few might get oil and gas. Eventually, lucky developing nations may work their way “up” to nuclear power.
RECENTLY, Barack Obama stopped US government financing of most overseas coal projects due to climate concerns. The predictable reaction from the energy industry and its friends was expressed in an opinion by Ken Silverstein in the Christian Science Monitor:
“Sorry, Mr. Obama; Africa needs coal.”
The underlying philosophy here is that if a developing country is going to move “up” the energy ladder, it needs to develop basic cheap energy sources first, use them to fuel development, then move “up” to more complex fuels, and then finally move “up” to nuclear power.
If Mr. Silverstein had been talking about communications in this same vein, he would have said: “Sorry, Mr. Obama; never mind the cell phones — Africa needs its telegraphs.” Continue reading
You will observe with concern, Ben Franklin wrote in 1786, how long a useful truth may be known known and exist, before it is generally received and practiced on.
Franklin mentioned lead poisoning as an occupational hazard for printing. Yet 228 years later, we are still grappling with the issue.
The latest event sparking concerns is the conviction of four Associated Octel managers for bribery and conspiring to sell leaded gasoline despite bans. (Octel is now Innospec).
According to the Serious Fraud Office of the UK government: Continue reading
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is signed Oct. 10, 2013, with a thousand delegates from 140 nations adopting an international treaty that controls the use and trade of mercury. The convention was named for the Japanese city that suffered thousands of deaths and injuries from uncontrolled releases of mercury by the Chisso Chemical Co. In the 1950s and 60s, “Minimata disease” was one of the world’s earliest and strongest wake-up calls for environmental protection. And yet, recognition and even minimal compensation in Japan has been a struggle for some 65,000 who have applied for help; only 3,000 have been officially recognized. That number is set to expand following an April 16, 2013 ruling of Japan’s Supreme Court.