On Monday, February 15, a dozen activists and several kids with Rainforest Action Network's rockin' Twin Cities chapter visited General Mills' Golden Valley Headquarters with a very special Valentine's Day delivery! General Mills buys palm oil from Cargill Incorporated, the largest importer of palm oil in the United States. Kids and youth from around the country made over 100 valentines for General Mills reminding the cereal giant to have some LOVE for the world's rainforests and stop doing business with Cargill, one of the world's worst drivers of deforestation and displacement of Indigenous peoples in Indonesia. Kids want to enjoy General Mills cereals like Cheerios and Lucky Charms without killing rainforests. They shouldn't have to choose. While General Mills did their best to 'Betty Crocker' the situation with cupcakes, juice, and their own schmoozer, RAN-Twin Cities chapter members weren't fooled. General Mills claims they are doing everything right, but we know that's not the case. For more info, check out our posts about rainforest destruction caused by Cargill, General Mills' palm oil supplier. A spokesperson was present to go over General Mills stance on palm oil, but our chapter stayed true to the sentiments expressed in the Valentines we delivered from kids around the country: "General Mills: Break Your Contract with Cargill, Not Our ♥'s!" Watch our quick new commercial about General Mills' role in rainforest destruction and join the call-in to General Mills today! Join thousands of other activists and make the call now. Way to go Twin Cities!
[caption id="attachment_5715" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Photo courtesy of Kelsey Chapman"][/caption] On Saturday February 13th at 3:00 p.m. dozens rallied outside of RBC’s main branch in Vancouver (1025 West Georgia St) to protest the Olympic sponsor’s record as the top financier of the Alberta tar sands, an affront to Indigenous rights and the nation’s fastest growing source of water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. This rally was coordinated with the combined efforts of the Rainforest Action Network, Council of Canadians and the Indigenous Environmental Network. The protest is the latest in a yearlong campaign to convince RBC to meet industry-best environmental and social standards. Participants view RBC’s efforts to enhance its reputation through its $110 million (CAD) sponsorship of the Olympic games as incompatible with its significant financial support of Canada’s most polluting industry. According to Bloomberg, RBC has led underwriting for over $16.9 billion (USD) in lending to companies operating in the tar sands since 2007—more than any other bank around the globe. [caption id="attachment_5712" align="alignright" width="175" caption="Photo courtesy of Kelsey Chapman"][/caption] Representatives from several First Nations impacted by tar sands developments led the rally. Speakers included First Nations from the Cold Lake Region, Lubicon Cree First Nation, Wetsuweten First Nation, and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations. The representatives brought forward stories of the impacts of the tar sands and tar sands infrastructure on Indigenous rights, treaties and livelihoods. In addition, we were very grateful for special speakers including Macdonald Stainsby of Oilsands Truth and Clayton Thomas Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network. The toxic burden of the tar sand’s disproportionally impacts Canada’s First Nation’s communities, yet RBC refuses to recognize international standards for Indigenous rights. By bankrolling the tar sands, RBC is mortgaging Canada’s clean energy future and jeopardizing the health of all Canadians. “The Royal Bank of Canada is being put on notice, our network will not stop until RBC adopts a socially responsible banking policy that does not include investments in dirty fossil fuels like Canada’s tar sands,” says Clayton Thomas-Muller, Indigenous Tar Sands Campaigner of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “RBC must respect Indigenous Peoples right to Free, Prior and Informed consent on all investments impacting our lands, culture and rights.” [caption id="attachment_5712" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Photo courtesy of Kelsey Chapman"][/caption] "The Royal Bank of Canada, a National Partner for the 2010 Games, is directly involved in the Alberta tar sands, one of the most environmentally destructive projects in the world," says Council of Canadians Prairies Regional Organizer Scott Harris. "The Royal Bank is a major financier of tar sands projects and is also a sponsor of the Torch Relay. Ironically, their ad campaigns for the relay ask individuals to make a "green pledge" by volunteering to carry the torch." The Council of Canadians is campaigning for a tar sands free future, which includes no new approvals in the tar sands and a halt to any development infrastructure designed to increase the capacity of tar sands exploitation." [caption id="attachment_5716" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="photo courtesy of Kelsey Chapman"][/caption] Mining oil from tar sands requires churning up huge tracts of ancient boreal forest and polluting so much clean water with poisonous chemicals that the resulting waste ponds can be seen from outer space. The health impacts to Alberta’s First Nation communities are severe, with cancer rates up in some communities as much as 400 times its usual frequency. In addition, communities living near oil refineries face increased air and water pollution from tar sands oil, which contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel and five times more lead than conventional oil. For more information on RBC and the tar sands, visit: http://www.ran.org/tarsands See how RBC's tar sands financing stacks up to other banks in our earlier post: "Banks Ranked and Spanked on Tar Sands"
In today’s “Chevron is a dirty liar” news: The oil giant pulls another dirty PR trick and lies to avoid paying $27 billion to clean up their toxic legacy in Ecuador. For years, the people of Ecuador have been trying to get Chevron to clean up the billions of gallons of toxic waste and unlined oil pits that were left to poison their water, their land, and their community. Chevron has used dirty tricks and tactics every step of the way during the decades-long legal challenge to force them to clean up Ecuador. They’ve hired dirty PR, legal, and lobby teams; forced the case to move around the globe; fabricated a story to discredit the original Judge; and filed endless motions that are eventually denied but nevertheless succeed in further draining the plaintiff’s resources and delaying a judgment. As Steven Donziger, a legal advisor for the 30,000 Ecuadoreans who are suffering because of the 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste Chevron refuses to clean up, says: “Chevron is again trying to strong-arm the court by misrepresenting facts. This is part of an underhanded attempt to derail a trial Chevron is losing based on the voluminous scientific evidence.” Today’s trick? To claim in a press release to their investors it had “newly discovered” evidence that the court-appointed Special Master who conducted a damages assessment, Richard Cabrera, owns a remediation company in Ecuador that stands to benefit from a clean-up should the plaintiffs win the case. The filing is the 29th official motion Chevron has made to the court to disqualify Cabrera but the court has never accepted Chevron’s arguments. Carbera, working with a team of 14 scientists, found that Chevron could be responsible for $27.3 billion in damages. Pablo Fajardo, who grew up in the contaminated region and is now the lead Ecuadorian lawyer in the case, took a moment to dispel some of today’s Chevron lies and half-truths: * Cabrera disclosed to the court that he owned a clean-up company beforehis appointment as Special Master. This fact was properly cited by the court as one of the reasons he was qualified to do the damages assessment. * Chevron thought so highly of Cabrera’s qualifications that it accepted him as a court-appointed expert in an earlier part of the case and paid his fees as required by court rules. * The fact Cabrera’s company is qualified to bid on clean-up contracts offered by Ecuador’s state-owned oil company is irrelevant. That company, Petroecuador, is not a party to the case against Chevron and would have no role in any eventual cleanup. * Cabrera by virtue of his role in the case would be barred from having a role in a future clean-up. To Chevron, this is all about money and pulling out every dirty trick in the book to avoid taking responsibility for the devastation they have caused. For the people of Ecuador this is about so much more than money. This is about the children who are getting sick and dying because they are forced to drink poisoned water. This is about justice for the 1,400 people who have died of cancer. And for the families who were unfortunate enough to build their homes on dangerous oil pits that Chevron (then Texco) lied about properly cleaning up. This is about their right to drink clean water. A right that Chevron denies with every lie and legal trick. Chevron- when will the lies end and the clean up begin? Visit www.ChangeChevron.org to become part of the movement to change Chevron. Cross-posted from www.ItsGettingHotinHere.org.
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.