With the release of the Papal Encyclical on the environment, I am reminded of how indigenous peoples have been offering spiritual and practical guidance on the global ecological crisis for decades. These two statements seem particularly relevant to me:
Our cultural principles include the defense of the right to a dignified life, respect for mother earth and the environment, essential and sacred elements that we should leave as an inheritance to our children, grandchildren and their descendents. Read More »
This map, produced by the Bolivian Documentation and Information Center (CEDIB) shows the country’s national parks, biosphere reserves, and other protected areas in green, and both existing and planned oil and gas concessions. Oil and gas concessions are colored by the corporation involved, while light purple indicates blocks to be auctioned off in the future. The map appeared in CEDIB’s magazine PetroPress in 2013, where it accompanied a longer article.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has renewed his efforts to build a controversial highway through the heart of the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS), a forested park that is home to over 12,000 indigenous people. The central segment of the highway would bisect the territory and accelerate already high rates of deforestation. Protests spearheaded by the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) in 2011 and 2012 postponed its construction, while funding by the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) was withdrawn. The Bolivian government had previously said it would tackle extreme poverty in the territory before mounting any new effort to build the highway.
On June 4, however, President Morales told an audience in his home base of Villa Tunari, Cochabamba, that the project “will be realized.” His remarks followed on earlier statements leading up to the April regional elections and a May runoff that put the highway back on the official agenda. Now, with an overwhelming victory for Morales’ MAS party in Cochabamba and a very narrow win in the Beni runoff, the national government seems committed to restarting the project. In the president’s words,
On the subject of integration, good voices come from the new governors of Beni [Alex Ferrier] and Cochabamba [Iván Canelas]. The Villa Tunari – San Ignacio de Moxos, comrades, will be realized.Read More »
First of all we would like to emphasize that those who sign this letter consider themselves to be friends of the Bolivian people. We applaud what your government has done over the years for the welfare of the people of Bolivia, for the recovery of control over your natural resources as well as for social justice and the redistribution of wealth. We also support the strong stance you and your government have taken on the protection of the environment, with the institution of the Day of Mother Earth and the acts against the exploitation of food resources for purposes other than the nourishment of the people. Moreover, we have been fighting for years, in our countries and internationally, against military and civilian nuclear energy.
In this light, as friends, we have been surprised by the announcement of your government’s plans to start the process of building a nuclear plant in Bolivia.
We believe this to be a move in the wrong direction and we wish to explain why in the following few points. We also hope that this debate can be continued with the participation of the entire Bolivian society. We therefore welcome positions different from ours and are always available to participate in an open discussion with further contributions.
1) That for nuclear energy is a choice without return, and no visible end! No one knows precisely what it costs to dismantle a nuclear power plant, but it is likely to be comparable to the cost of constructing one; no durable solution for the disposal of radioactive wastes has yet been found. These wastes constitute a heavy legacy that is expensive to store and remains deadly for thousands of years.
Last week, a group of scientists and development experts and the Colombian indigenous confederation each urged a fundamental rethinking of the priorities for planning “development”* in the twenty-first century. The technical experts published their perspective in a commentary in the prestigious journal Nature, “Sustainable development goals for people and planet,” while the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia published a report called Another Vision, Indigenous Peoples and the Millennium Development Goals. (coverage from Intercontinental Cry). Both texts are intervening in the global discussion on the next version of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Outside of the United States (where this kind of international planning is treated as purely a foreign policy matter that won’t affect our future), the MDGs are taken as a general yardstick for directing aid and setting policy objectives, with goals like achieving universal access to primary school and eliminating extreme poverty that may change hundreds of millions of lives. Since I write from the USA, however, let’s pretend that this is just an intellectual discussion for how to think about the world. Even from that perspective, the scientists and the indigenous people raise some really important questions.
The Christian Science Monitor has published a gallery of fifty-five photos of the ongoing BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s various effects in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s dramatic and informative even if you’ve been following the spill as closely as I have. Many of the photos, like this one above, also provide a rare sense of the scale of the oil that’s been added to the environment, and the experiment in pollution that is being conducted right now.
Other spill resources:
New York Times’ Oil Spill Trackerinteractive map—Note that the past seven days have seen a dramatic new landfall from Mississippi to Florida
SkyTruth (blog.skytruth.org) attempts to study oil pollution using satellite maps. The site’s early estimates have now been corroborated by the government’s scientific panel’s recent upward revisions in its estimate of the quantity of oil being released.
Sixty days into this disaster, I should have more to say, but there is a massive stream of commentary out there already. I would just add that: 1) The spill adds an entirely set of reasons to limit oil drilling, especially in remote areas, related to safety, disaster response, and local environmental impacts which is different from the climate and global warming issues that have driven the debate. 2) I witnessed some of the appallingly inadequate planning discussions (via public meetings of the Minerals Management Service) a decade ago. There are serious issues for long-term planning here. 3) Those of us thinking about strategies for addressing climate change should get much more serious now about large, but not global, energy policies—like drilling in the Gulf, or airport expansion, or every-increasing miles traveled by cars—instead of only fixating on overarching policy frameworks like carbon markets or taxes.