Earlier this week, the Brazilian environmental agency (IBAMA) issued the first environmental license for the Belo Monte dam. By doing this, IBAMA gave the first green light for the construction of the world's 3rd largest dam and ignored 25 years of resistance by the Indigenous and riverine communities of the Xingu river basin. Read Zachary Hurwitz's article below. Having attended the Encontro Xingu: Vivo Para Sempre” or “Xingu Encounter: Alive Forever” gathering in Altamira, Brazil in May 2008 with thousands in opposition to the Belo Monte dam, including my friends Zachary Hurwitz, Scott Fitzmorris and the late Glenn Switkes, I know the struggle is not over. I commit to doing everything I can to supporting communities in Brazil to stop this dam. Please join me and my friends at Amazon Watch and International Rivers today! [caption id="attachment_1051" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Sunrise on the Xingu River taken by Scott Fitzmorris"][/caption] Brazilian Government Shoves Belo Monte Down Our Throats Ahead of Campaign Season By Zachary Hurwitz In July 2009, Lula da Silva promised his personal friend and Bishop of the Xingú Dom Erwin Krautler, as well as Professor Celio Bermann of the University of São Paulo, and representatives of affected indigenous and riverine communities that "we will not force Belo Monte down anyone's throat," But on February 1st, the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA did just that, releasing the first of three environmental licenses required to build the Belo Monte mega-dam on the Xingu River. IBAMA’s Provisional License approves the project’s environmental assessment (EIA), written by Brazil’s state-run electric company Eletrobras, while imposing 40 corrective mitigating conditions that will cost R$1.5 billion (US$ 794 million) to implement. In order to mitigate the dam’s social and environmental impacts and obtain an Installation License to break ground on what will be the world’s 3rd largest dam, the construction consortium that wins the project’s auction on March 30th must meet these 40 conditions. Carlos Minc, who is expected to leave his post as Brazil’s Environment Minister this month to run for public office in Rio de Janeiro later in the year, stated that the imposition of 40 conditions proves that Belo Monte is the "most socio-environmentally advanced dam in the history of Brazil." Meanwhile, critics like Raul Telles do Valle of Brazil’s Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA) have been quick to point out the obvious: if an environmental assessment needs 40 conditions to be approved, then it’s most likely one of the worst environmental assessments written in the country’s history. Indeed, it appears the project’s incomplete environmental assessment was rammed through IBAMA simply to obtain the agency’s rubber stamp of approval. In November 2009 two prominent IBAMA technicians were removed from the EIA for voicing their opposition to the poor quality and rushed timeline of the EIA, which they later stated was driven by political pressure from the top. In another case, six IBAMA technicians signed a letter voicing concern that Belo Monte's impacts to the Xingu river basin and riverine and indigenous communities had not been adequately studied, nor had these communities sufficiently participated in public hearings. In September 2009, 40 highly respected international technical specialists and academic experts produced a report that highlighted significant errors in the EIA and the current design of Belo Monte however, the 40 conditions that IBAMA has imposed on the provisional license hardly do justice to the lacuna in the EIA. Instead, the agency has buckled once again - as it did in approving the environmental licenses of the highly controversial Santo Antônio and Jirau mega-dams of the Madeira River Complex in Brazil’s Rondônia state - to a political agenda and timetable that appear to have been determined well before the environmental assessments were ever written. Clearly, Belo Monte’s timetable, and that of 70 other large dam projects planned for the Amazon has been in the works since José Sarney (1985-1990) took office as the first democratically elected president since 1964. The history of patronage, corruption, and fraud that has played out since Sarney distributed strategic posts in Brazil’s "hydroelectocracy" to his supporters has set the stage for Belo Monte’s politically expedited provisional license. Sarney’s bloc of supporters in the country’s electric and corporate sectors, including Dilma Roussef, Lula's Chief of Staff and hand-picked successor for this year’s election, owe their political lives to him want Belo Monte built at any cost. Make no mistake: the provisional license was approved this week-- lacking a complete and rigorous environmental assessment, while denying the people of the Xingú their right to free, prior and, informed consent (FPIC)—because of an election timeline. In part it boosts Dilma Rousseff's campaign for President: a Dilma win would most likely assure a continuation of the marriage between Sarneyists and the PT agenda on social spending that has characterized the Lula administration since 2005. On the other hand, a José Serra win (of the right-wing PSDB) on October 3rd would swing the country's economic policies back to the right, a risk to the PT's social agenda. Meanwhile, Amazon defender and Green Party candidate Marina Silva, running 8% in polls, has criticized Belo Monte for lacking a coherent socio-environmental plan to support the people of the Xingú. Yet both front runners - Serra and Rousseff - have a strong interest in building Belo Monte and many more mega-dams in the Amazon to keep hydroelectricity profits flowing into industry and government coffers. These establishment candidates – and their devotees like Environmental Minister Carlos Minc – will undoubtedly continue to play lip service to “sustainable development,” while offering wholly inadequate mitigation schemes; 40 conditions for a Provisional License will not prevent impending disasters like Belo Monte. The strength and unity of the Xingú River’s inhabitants, as well as the Brazilian and international environmental movement, have delayed Belo Monte since the José Sarney administration took power 25 years ago. As we watch the provisional license being shoved down the throats of the people of the Xingú, and as light continues to be shed on Lula's ties to the Sarney political machine, it's more important than ever to stop Belo Monte. The people of the Xingú, the Amazon, and the world depend on it. We cannot wait for more politicians to take office only to buckle under pressure. The time to stop Belo Monte for good is now. Zachary Hurwitz has a Masters degree in Geography from the University of Texas, Austin, and has worked on energy issues in the Amazon Basin since 2006.
Thanks to a big push from Avaaz yesterday, there are now over 150,000 people who have signed a petition telling Chevron's new CEO John Watson to clean up the oil giant's toxic legacy in Ecuador, and around the globe. It is undeniable that the world wants to change Chevron. People from all over the globe are signing this petition, people young and old, from so many backgrounds. We've had celebrities, musicians, investors, and Chevron employees standing up and demanding change from one of the largest corporations on the planet. As the new leader of the 3rd largest oil company in the world, CEO John Watson can right the wrongs of his predecessors and transform his company into one that cares. 150,000+ are saying "Enough is enough. Energy shouldn't cost lives." From Ecuador to Richmond,CA to Burma and everywhere the oil giant operates in-between they leave a trail of environmental devastation, human rights abuses, and a legacy of health problems. 150,000+ say ENOUGH to Big Oil destroying our environment and the health of our communities. Chevron, and their Big Oil cohorts, spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists and political contributions to buy off politicians and destroy policies that would be good for our climate and our future. 150,000+ people say ENOUGH to Chevron's control of our government and our democracy. To truly change Chevron and the oil industry, we are going to need to be 150,000 x stronger and louder and more powerful than we ever have been before. Our communities, our climate, our planet, and our future depend on it. You in? Learn more from our friends at Amazon Watch!
As many of you know, there is lawsuit that has been going on for over 16 years to get Chevron to own up and clean up its toxic legacy in Ecuador. The lawsuit is on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorean people who are suffering and dying because of Chevron's refusal to the do the right thing. The legal team working on behalf of the impacted people in Ecuador has a great blog called The Chevron Pit which is a great source of information about the case, Chevron, and the people seeking justice. They've just launched a powerful new series featuring the first of many personal stories about how the oil contamination left behind by Texaco has impacted the people living near the oil company’s former oil sites. Chevron purchased Texaco in 2001. The first story is about Modesta Briones, who passed away not long after she and her husband, Segundo Salinas, gave an interview to author Lou DeMatteis for his book Crude Reflections. The story and images are powerful, and as they say, speak so much louder than words. Every year that Chevron does not clean up Ecuador more people will get sick and die. We can, and we must, Change Chevron
In April 2008, I participated in an international fact-finding team that traveled throughout the Malaysian state of Sarawak to document reports that Indigenous communities were being systematically deprived of their land and other basic human rights through collusion between the state government and oil palm companies. Sadly, this practice has not stopped despite more than two years of efforts by Indigenous advocates and supporting groups like RAN. Yesterday, I learned that the state Land and Survey Department demolished 25 homes in Sebauh, near the city of Bintulu (on Malaysian Borneo). The state claims that the homes were illegally built on state land, but the department moved forward with the destruction despite the fact that the community’s land rights claim is still pending in the courts. (Sarawak’s legal system is bogged down with such cases, and they drag on for years. Our fact-finding team found multiple instances where homes or crops were demolished despite on-going legal disputes.) The now homeless community members report that state officials intentionally destroyed all of their possessions during the demolition. In response, about a hundred community members have set up a blockade to prevent the rest of their homes from being bulldozed. We’ll continue to monitor this situation and let you know what you can do to help. In the meantime, this is another reminder that we need to make sure that any palm oil that goes into the products we buy is produced in a manner that respects both the environment and human rights. Go to TheProblemWithPalmOil.org to take action and learn more.
My alarm went off at 6:15am this morning and the excitement of butterflies in my stomach reminded me that the launch date had finally arrived! After four hours of sleep and months of preparations, I met up with 41 local Twin Cities community members concerned about palm oil's contribution to tropical deforestation, global climate change, the rights of indigenous communities, and the survival of threatened species like the orangutan. Specifically in question: the corporate ethics of one of the most trusted American food giants based right here in Minneapolis, MN - General Mills. Why is the maker of such powerful brands as Cheerios, Haagen Dazs, Progresso soups, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury - that cater mostly to parents and kids across the U.S. - stalling on taking action to protect our world's forests increasingly threatened by big Agribusiness' industrial palm oil plantations? What will it take to get them to listen? I know of one thing that got their attention- a massive, bright yellow 30 x 70 ft. banner getting unfurled in the snowy, wintery morning light at their Headquarters in Golden Valley, MN! At 11:11am 42 people inspired by the prospect of getting General Mills to wake up and be a leader in the food industry held the huge message: "Warning: General Mills Destroys Rainforests" up high in the air for General Mills executives watching from their desks above to see. And that they did! [caption id="attachment_5330" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="General Mills: Take Action!"][/caption] Our campaign launch was an effective way to inform General Mills that we don’t have any time to waste – we need them to take action now as a company with a unique ability to affect the palm oil marketplace, both by changing its own consumption habits and by publicly taking a stand against rainforest destruction from palm oil. So why General Mills, you may be asking? General Mills has a very close relationship with Wayzata based Cargill, Inc. and purchases all of their palm oil from them, among other commodities. Cargill is the most powerful agribusiness and commodity trading group in the world, and as the largest privately owned corporation in the U.S., it’s also among the most secretive companies on earth. It owns plantations in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, where it grows oil palm on freshly cleared rainforest land. It is also a major global trader of palm oil and the biggest importer of palm oil into the United States. Over 100 of General Mills’ products in total contain palm oil. By purchasing from Cargill, General Mills is directly contributing to the destruction of Indonesian rainforests. We’re asking General Mills to stop buying palm oil from Cargill and we need your help – please take action by sending an email to General Mills CEO Ken Powell! [caption id="attachment_5331" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="General Mills at a Crossroads"][/caption] Be part of the solution: Join RAN in pressuring General Mills to become an advocate for change in the palm oil industry! Check out Mongabay’s article highlighting our action! For more information, visit theproblemwithpalmoil.org. UPDATE: On September 22, 2010, eight months after the launch of this campaign, RAN welcomed the release of General Mills' new palm oil policy, one of the strongest palm oil policies to date. The food company pledged to "help ensure our purchases are not associated in any way with deforestation of the world's rainforests." General Mills committed to source 100 percent of its palm oil from responsible and sustainable sources by 2015, to support the call for a moratorium on peat forest conversion, to require Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from impacted communities, and to cancel contracts with controversial suppliers deemed such during an audit.
The Rainforest Action Network team that is running for human rights in Ecuador at this Sunday’s Chevron Houston Marathon was just kicked out of the marathon’s Expo by Chevron Marathon Managing Director Steven Karpas! The runners had paid for a table to distribute “I’m Running for Human Rights” stickers and information about Chevron’s refusal to clean up over 18 billion tons of toxic oil sludge they are responsible for in the Ecuadorean rainforest. At approximately 10 a.m. this morning, Managing Director Steven Karpas told the Rainforest Action Network team, “higher ups at Chevron are freaking out” and threatened to arrest the peaceful runners. Police then ejected the runners from the city-owned and operated building for exercising their right to free speech. “We are outraged that Chevron would deny marathon participants the right to run for what they believe, in our case, human rights in Ecuador,” said Rainforest Action Network runner Maria Ramos. “It is sad that the Chevron Houston Marathon - which raises awareness and money for many important causes - would deny the rights of participants to appease a corporate sponsor that is clearly ashamed of its human rights record.” When asked for a reason for their ejection, Steven Karpas told the runners they were being removed for “protest activities.” The Rainforest Action Network team’s objective at the Expo was not to protest, disrupt the Expo or dampen other runners experience at this important race. The runners merely wanted to sit at their table and invite other runners to run with them for human rights. Undeterred, the RAN running team stood outside the entrance and gave the stickers to runners going into the Expo. A really cool group of around 30 local high school students took the "I'm running for Human Rights" stickers and promised to wear them in the race on Sunday. Yay! Ready to "freak" Chevron some more? Go to our brand new campaign website, www.ChangeChevron.org, and let Chevron's new CEO John Watson know they've got to start respecting human rights.
An article from Patricia Best in this week's Macleans magazine offers a peek into how RBC is responding to RAN's campaign. Here's a peek into how RAN is responding to RBC. But first a note to set the record straight. RBC Spokeswoman Katherine Gay claims in the Macleans article that our research into RBC financing activity in the tar sands is "broken and distorted", citing criticism from unnamed NGOs. Unless she considers Bloomberg to be a buch of crackpots, she has some explaining to do. Our deal-by-deal breakdown of loans reported by Bloomberg shows RBC to have issued served as lead arranger for
$14.3 billion (USD) in credit to companies operating in the tar sands since 2007 and earned more than $84 million (USD) in debt and equity underwriting fees (see updated details on these numbers here). Gay claims RBC has "less than $2 billion" invested in the tar sands. We're still waiting on the math.
Now for a bit of background. With help from activists across Canada, RAN has been crashing the tar sands party at Canada's biggest bank for the last year and a half. We leafleted, we made signs, we staged die-ins and we even appealed to the CEO's wife with our "Please Help Us Mrs. Nixon" stunt. For most of that time, RBC gave us the cold shoulder. Then last month things changed. We sent a letter to CEO Gord Nixon offering to "turn the page in the New Year" in exchange for RBC updating its human rights and the environmental standards. A quick reply from Nixon dismissed action on human rights but offered that "we may indeed be able to have a productive discussion" on new environmental standards for its lending in the tar sands.
Today we confirmed a meeting with the Bank's COO Barbara Stymiest in late February. If basic issues like Indigenous rights stay off the table, we don't anticipate any breakthroughs. But since she does have the power to make big changes at the bank we offered a "no surprises" agreement in return for the face-time. We won't be pulling any punches, but we also won't be showing up to the bank's branches and speaking events unannounced. At least not for the next few weeks.
Meantime, we're eager to hear reactions to the article from all sides in the comments.
Who knew that leg stretching and laps could challenge the CEO of one of the world's largest and most powerful corporations? I arrived in Houston, TX yesterday (yeehaw!) to run for human rights in Ecuador at this weekend's huge Chevron-sponsored Houston marathon. We have a rad team of people who are running the marathon for Emergildo Criollo, an Indigenous Ecuadorean man who has had to bury two children and nurse his wife through cancer because Chevron refuses to clean up their toxic legacy in Ecuador. Over 18 billion tons of toxic sludge was DELIBERATELY dumped into the Ecuadorean Amazon (on people's home, in their water, etc) in one of the largest environmental disasters of all time. Emergildo's family drank, fished, and bathed in the water that Chevron has refused to clean up. Check out this great, short video made by our friends at Amazon Watch about the crisis in Ecuador. While we're in Houston, besides running, Rainforest Action Network advocates will drop “Change Chevron” banners along the race route, distribute “I’m Running for Human Rights” stickers to runners at the Marathon expo, and host a free screening of Crude – the critically acclaimed documentary about the crisis in Ecuador – for Chevron employees and the Houston community. Stay tuned for more marathon and changing Chevron fun. Chevron wants the world to believe they are company that cares - and they sponsor community events like marathons and concerts- to hide their real, dangerous impacts on communities around the world. I feel it is important to bring the voice of people and communities that are literally dying because of Chevron's deadly operations to these events. That's why at the Chevron Houston marathon on Sunday I'll be running for Emergildo and the over 1,400 Ecuadoreans who have died because of Chevron's negligence. ****This is cross-posted on ItsGettingHotinHere.org***
The below 8 grants distributed over the last few months through RAN's Protect-an-Acre program and through our role as an advisor to Global Greengrant Fund support frontline community efforts to defend their land and rights in forest regions in Africa, South America and Canada and at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen. Protect-an-Acre La Fundacion de Proteccion Ambiental Waira Samay Yawayry $3,000 to support the Kichwa community of Rucullacta’s campaign to stop oil exploration on their territory in the Ecuadorian Amazon, through workshops to raise awareness, legal actions and non violent direct action. Traditional U’wa Authority $2,500 to support a grassroots mobilization of U’wa community members in defense of their territory in the cloud forests of northeastern Colombia against imminent gas extraction activities, also facilitating a delegation of civil society allies, civilian government officials, and international media. Read the press release. [caption id="attachment_5220" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Photo: Daniel León/Censat"][/caption] Rainforest Action Network Ghana $3,000 to support a project to build the capacity of Pokuase communities in southern Ghana to help protect the imperiled Gua Koo Forest Reserve, 50 acres of intact forest that is part of a larger forest ecosystem in the region. [caption id="attachment_5221" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="RAN Ghana members with Pokuase youth"][/caption] Global Greengrants Fund Indigenous Environmental Network $5,000 to support an Indigenous delegation to Copenhagen for the UN COP 15 climate negotiations to strategically and forcefully ensure that the rights and perspectives of Indigenous peoples on climate change are reflected in the eventual climate agreement. See video of IEN members' participation in Copenhagen (scroll down the page). Defenders of the Land $4,000 to support the 2nd annual Defenders of the Land gathering to forge a new Canadian First Nations network to build a movement for self-determination and control of traditional lands and resources. [caption id="attachment_5222" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Group photo from the gathering"][/caption] Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia $5,000 to support Secoya and Cofan communities to help address immediate health needs brought about by pollution caused by Chevron in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Fundacion Shiwiar Sin Fronteras $3,000 to support the Shiwiar-led Ikiam Expedition ecotourism project, which seeks to raise funds and increase international awareness towards the goal of legalizing an additional 100,000 hectares of traditional territory, while generating hope and self-reliance. Learn more about the project. Green Concern for Development $3,000 to mobilize 7 communities in opposition to a Cameroun-based palm oil company’s plan to develop plantations on the Bakassi Peninsula, recently transferred from Nigerian to Cameroon control after a UN-brokered agreement, that would deforest 3,000 hectares of land occupied by Indigenous peoples and negatively impact mangroves critical to the local fishing economy.
[caption id="attachment_5144" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Action at Ontario legislature supported by RAN"][/caption] Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation, located in the Boreal Forest of Ontario, Canada - 200 km from the nearest road - just won its fight to say "no" to mining exploration company Plantinex. RAN has supported KI with grants through our Protect-an-Acre program and through our role as an advisor to the Global Greengrants Fund. Platinex has finally given up its staked claims to land near the KI community in exchange for a financial settlement with the provincial government of Ontario, Canada. Last year KI's chief and five councilors were jailed for refusing to allow platinum mining exploration that would threaten the health and livelihood of their Indigenous community in the heart of North America's wildest forest. This became one of the highest profile Indigenous land rights and environmental justice struggles in Canada. KI's supporters helped to organize a huge coalition of environmental, human rights, Indigenous, labor, student, and social justice organizations in support of KI and other communities calling for moratoria on industrial extraction on their territories. In May of 2008 First Nations community members and 300 supporters occupied the front lawn of the Ontario legislature for 3 days demanding justice, and culminating in a national day of action for Indigenous rights with 4,000 people marching in the streets of Toronto. Ontario has since rewritten the Mining Act, committed to community led landuse planning in the Far North that will require First Nations consent, and to protecting an area half the size of California in the Northern Boreal Forest. It is primarily the work of these communities (and their supporters) that has created the political and economic necessity for this change. The work goes on as these communities continue the process of asserting their sovereignty, re-claiming their territories and livelihoods, healing their people, and caring for the earth. They are setting a bold example for the whole world to follow. You can support communities like KI by supporting Protect-an-Acre.