Friday, May 28, 2010

Volcanos, Environment and Photos, oh my!!!!!

It's been a while since I posted images, so as a follow up to the post commemorating the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, here is a link to "20 Most Incredible Volcanic Satellite Images."

And the Guardian has a posting showing 15 photos that competed for Environmental Photograph of the Year in 2008. And 25 more from 2009.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Deep Horizon Fiasco: Fluid dynamics and its Environmental Legacy

The PBS Newshour has provided this ticker as a means of making running comparisons of the various estimates of the amount of spilling from the Deep Horizon well. By sliding the bar, you can adjust the estimated leak rate and get updated estimates of the total magnitude of the spill. By way of comparison, the 1969 spill near Santa Barbara California was 3 million gallons while the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill totaled 10.8 million gallons. (Is it just me, or do others find the 20 year periodicity between major US spills coupled with the increasing magnitude of the spill kind of creepy?)

While BP obviously has reasons to minimize the estimate, the small estimates were erroneously given credit by the US government when NOAA released its first estimate based on satellite photographs of the Gulf.

As we all know, oil floats on top of water and, based on that idea, NOAA thought they could estimate the magnitude of the spill by measuring the size of the oil slick that the satellite photographed.

In making that assumption, NOAA estimators overlooked the findings of a 2004 NRC report which predicted that the oil in a deepwater blowout could break into fine droplets, forming plumes of oil mixed with water that would not quickly rise to the surface.

That is precisely what has happened. Last week a research ship documented the existence of a massive underwater plume the existence of which totally invalidates the assumption on which the NOAA estimate was based.

The possibility that the oil would not rise to the surface is explained by fluid dynamics, as shown in the video below. The main factors involved are a) whether a spill is released in the form of a turbulent jet, or is under less pressure and b) the density of the surrounding water, due to temperature and salinity. In the first experiment the spill is released in the form of a turbulent jet and forms an underwater plume. In the second experiment the spill is not a jet and rises to the surface.

And, as the recently released video of the leaking Deep Horizon well shows, the leak is a highly pressurized jet. Precisely the situation one would expect to create an underwater plume. Serious geeks can read the explanation by Robert Faulkner, a polymer scientist, who has been at the forefront of theorizing the behaviour of the plumes from the Deep Horizon accident.

The location of the oil in the water column is important not only because it affects estimates of the total spill but, more crucially, because it suggests that the environmental legacy of the Deep Horizon spill may be different than expected. Rather than the goo-slathered birds and animals that washed ashore after the Exxon Valdez spill, the greatest impact of BP's spill will be out of sight and more insidious — what biologists call "sublethal effects."

According to an article by Craig Welsh, the Seattle Times Environmental reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Exxon Valdez accident,

The Exxon Valdez spill became a sort of wetlab for marine toxicologists, and researchers spent years learning how the complex suite of chemicals that make up oil — particularly polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — can affect ocean creatures. Most visible were the birds and otters that died from hypothermia when oil coated their fur or feathers, or were poisoned after ingesting petroleum while grooming.

But equally hard hit was a transient pod of killer whales. Several of the whales died later, presumably from inhaling toxic vapors or eating oiled seals. More troubling still: No whale from the pod has reproduced since.

Other disturbing things happened below the surface. Pink salmon and herring could swim away, but the eggs they deposited in nearby streams or on algae didn't survive because oil caused embryos to fill with fluid.

Later, scientists studying zebrafish learned that was because PAHs damage a fish's developing heart. The results have been repeated with fish in all types of oceans — minnows, flounder, Japanese sea bass, an Australian rainbow fish.

"The heart in a fish is one of the first organs to become functional," said John Incardona, a marine toxicologist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. "It starts beating early, and if it doesn't get built right, it disrupts their ability to feed."

In recent years, scientists in Alaska have taken the research further, exposing the embryos of migrating salmon to ever smaller doses of oil. At minuscule doses, the fish survived and swam out to sea normally, but 40 percent fewer fish came back. Results were the same each time they tried the experiment.

"In the Gulf you have all those deepwater fish that produce free-floating embryos," Incardona said. "And you also have massive oil plumes moving around."

Scientists after Exxon Valdez also marveled at oil's ability to work through the food chain. Some clams and mussels metabolize hydrocarbons slowly, and oil showed up in them at chronically elevated levels for years. Those shellfish were eaten regularly by Harlequin and Barrow's goldeneye ducks and sea otters, all of which saw dramatic population declines in oiled areas a decade later. Even otters born after the Valdez spill lived shorter lives in areas that had been heavily oiled.

Dynamic time in Gulf

Ron Kendall, director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University, toured the tide flats along the Gulf Coast last week. Far offshore, bluefin and yellowfin tuna were migrating beneath floating mats of seaweed. Nearshore, herons and terns and pelicans fluttered among the grasses.

"This is a very dynamic time in the Gulf — everything is nesting or laying eggs or reproducing," Kendall said. "People don't realize how fragile it is. You take out the shellfish or the wetlands or the floating seagrasses, there goes the base of the food chain."

And oil can do damage in many ways. It can smother grasses and algae and alter the oxygen content of marine waters. Fish can inhale it through their gills. In animals of all types it can affect neurological systems, livers and kidneys. The ingestion of oil by warm-blooded animals can even change their metabolism.

Scientists soon will get test results back from samples of crabs, shrimp and oysters, some of which feed off the bottom or by filtering water. Many Gulf birds are plunge-divers that eat these invertebrates, but other fish and mammals eat them, too.

"As a scientist, it's just so hard to get your head around it," Kendall said. "You get oil on a pelican, and it's hard for them to fly or survive. But what about the reproductive cycle of a tuna? What happens to sperm whales that swim through those plumes?"

Endangered Kemps Ridley, loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles already are washing up dead on beaches in larger-than-normal numbers, but Barbara Schroeder, an ecologist with NOAA Fisheries, has other worries, too. PAHs can burn turtles' skin, eyes, nose and lungs, increasing the odds of life-threatening infections later. Turtles also tend to feed on anything that might resemble food, including tar balls. That can cause ulcers, bleeding and malnutrition.

"Will females be able to make eggs? Will they develop properly?" Schroeder asked.

For now, these questions remain mysteries that not even Nuka the sea otter can help answer.

At the Seattle Aquarium, Nuka receives special care. Biologists help her fight off mites. She is fed a bounty of crab and clam brought to her from clean waters. Handlers lay out mats of algae so she doesn't have to haul herself onto chilly rocks.

But the Gulf's creatures have to fend for themselves in an environment no one really understands.

On the upside, the higher metabolic rate of oil eating bacteria in the warm waters of the Gulf compared to the cold waters of Alaska could decrease the length of time the oil remains in the water. But that is small comfort.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hornborg, Part 4: Power in Resilience Theory

This is the final post on the work of Alf Hornborg. For the earlier posts, see Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Hornborg's book is titled The Power of the Machine. In the book he uses the word power in two different senses; to reference both political/social power and mechanical power. The underlying claim is that these two forms of power are manifestations of the same thing; that the capacity of machines to do work is a product of power in the social world.

Hornborg's focus on power led to a rather interesting, if ultimately unproductive, series of exchanges between himself and the posters at Resilience Science. Like ships passing in the night, Hornborg critiqued resilience theory for its lack of attention to power while the resilience researchers offered up references to papers done within the resilience tradition that they claimed explicitly incorporated the analysis of power into the work. Ironically, both have a point.

Hornborg appears 1) to ground his critique of the perspective on a reading of the conceptual material describing the resilience framework (e.g. Holling) rather than a familiarity with the empirical studies employing the framework and 2) to mistakenly interpret the resilience framework as sharing a view of systems similar to functionalism and, hence, subject to some of the same critiques. Putting aside Hornborg's misunderstanding of the notion of system embedded in panarchy/resilience approach, the root of the argument turns on the distinction between a theory and a framework.

Holling, in "Understanding the Complexity of Economic, Ecological and Social Systems" develops the concept of panarchy as a means to elegantly account for the empirical behaviour of complex adaptive systems (i.e., by postulating a structure that allows a relatively small number of factors to generate the observed complexities rather than treating complexity as the product of a very large number of interacting factors). The concept of a panarchy involves three essential elements as diagrammed below: 1) a set of adaptive cycles (the sideways figure 8's in the diagram) that are 2) hierarchically ordered (from processes that are small scale and short duration to processes that are large scale and of long duration) and involve 3) processes of cross-scale interaction (the links labeled revolt and remember on the diagram).

Visual Representation of Panarchy as Framework and Metaphor

It is important to recognize the level of abstraction present in this representation. It is meant to apply generically to complex adaptive systems, whether they are social, ecological, economic or whatever. As such, it is a description of structure and processes that explain the general properties of systems, but does not theorize the operation of any specific system. To theorize the operation of particular systems, one must additionally outline the various 'controlling factors' that govern the operation of the various adaptive cycles associated with that specific system (as shown in the diagram below).

Visual Representation of Panarchy as Theory for a Specific System

Controlling factors for Adaptive Cycle A -->

Controlling factors Cycle B -->

Controlling factors Cycle C -->

Seen in this light, Hornborg is correct. The panarchy framework does not theorize power. However, the resilience researchers are also correct. Many empirical studies drawing on the panarchy framework have paid attention to power relations when attempting to 'fill in the blanks' and specify the factors responsible for the operation of the adaptive cycles in particular systems.

But, even if Hornborg read the specific empirical studies, I suspect he would still dispute the claim that the resilience researcher's had incorporated an analysis of power. The reason for this is that Hornborg advocates not just the incorporation of power into the analysis, but the incorporation of power theorized in a specific manner. To the extent that the resilience researchers incorporate power into their research they do it in relation to the specifics of the particular case and the theoretical proclivities of the individual researchers. Thus, viewed across the different empirical studies, the concept of power is not used in a consistent manner. Power means one thing in one study and another thing in a second study. In contrast, following Marx, Hornborg sees power as a very specific phenomena -- there is one dominant type of power (economic) to which all others are subservient. Thus, for example, he would recognize the coercive power held by the military but would argue that it is exercised in accordance with the interests of the ruling economic class.

This is where I part company with Hornborg. Historical analysis has showed that Weber had a better grasp on the concept of power than did Marx. Non-economic forms of power (military, bureaucratic, ideological, etc.) are often, but not always, subservient to the interests of the dominant economic elite. Thus, to preserve their explanatory utility in those situations where economic power does not trump all other forms, it is necessary to conceptualize power as consisting of a variety of independent dimensions rather than, as Marx does, as one dominant dimension that subsumes all other facets. For a concise discussion of this issue, see Chapter 1 of Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power Volume 1.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hornborg, Part 3: Machine Fetishism

As described in earlier posts (Part 1, Part 2), Hornborg argues that global technomass is embedded in a structure of unequal relations.

If this is so, why isn't it readily apparent to us? Why is technology generally viewed as liberating rather than enslaving? Hornborg answers this question by borrowing from Marx's notion of commodity fetishism, to develop a case for machine fetishism.

To illustrate how the process operates, Hornborg draws a parallel between the situation of the Inca Emperor and the concept of machine ferishism. The Inca emperor was understood to be the son of Sun god and, as such, was responsible for the wealth of the Inca people. The Emperor was viewed as generous, giving and the source of cornicopian benefits. According to Hornborg, the office of the Inca emperor was fetischized, a mystification of the unequal power relations necessary for his apparent productivity.

Hornborg views industrial technology in the same way. We think of it as productive in itself, but this depends on not thinking about the inputs and flows that make technology possible. Technology is, he argues, a fetishization of unequal exchange. Interest on money is mystification of unequal exchange. We invest material objects with magical qualities in order to hide this fact.

Hornborg isn't arguing that machines don't work or provide benefits but, rather, that like Inca ritual they do so through unequal relations of social exchange.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Climategate Chronicle

Late last year, climate researchers were accused of exaggerating study results. SPIEGEL ONLINE has since analyzed the hacked "Climategate" e-mails and provided insights into one of the most unprecedented spats in recent scientific history.

The article is interesting not only for its portrayal of climate science as highly politicized relative to other areas of scientific research, but also for the reliance on social science rather than natural science to explicate the situation. Analyzing 15 years of debate between climate scientists and climate skeptics, the article outlines the dynamics of a process of polarization and draws liberally on the insights of sociologist of science Peter Weingart. In particular, Weingart notes that both sides have opted to misrepresent the situation by removing ambiguity and emphazising certainty.

Weingart says the political ramifications only fuelled the battle between the two sides in the global warming debate. He believes that the more an issue is politicized, the deeper the rifts between opposing stances. .... And even scientists are not always interested solely in the actual truth of the matter. Weingart notes that public debate is mostly "only superficially about enlightenment." Rather, it is more about "deciding on and resolving conflicts through general social agreement." That's why it helps to present unambiguous findings.

The Time for Clear Answers Is Over

However, it seems all but impossible to provide conclusive proof in climate research. Scientific philosopher Silvio Funtovicz foresaw this dilemma as early as 1990. He described climate research as a "postnormal science." On account of its high complexity, he said it was subject to great uncertainty while, at the same time, harboring huge risks.

The experts therefore face a dilemma: They have little chance of giving the right advice. If they don't sound the alarm, they are accused of not fulfilling their moral obligations. However, alarmist predictions are criticized if the predicted changes fail to materialize quickly.

Climatological findings will probably remain ambiguous even if further progress is made. Weingart says it's now up to scientists and society to learn to come to terms with this. In particular, he warns, politicians must understand that there is no such thing as clear results. "Politicians should stop listening to scientists who promise simple answers," Weingart says.

An interesting collection of photos accompanies the essay.

Ministers of the Maldives government met on the sea bed to draw attention to the global warming and its effect on sea levels.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It was 30 years ago today .....

On Sunday, May 18, 1980 I was at my parents house in Yakima, Washington.

A little before 9:00 I looked out the window and saw what appeared to be the meanest storm cloud I'd ever seen.

We soon discovered that Mount St. Helens had erupted. Within a matter of hours day turned into night as the ash cloud blotted out the sun and their yard was covered with 5 inches of volcanic dust. Thus began an event that has shaped my view of the world in a number of profound ways.

I grew up hiking in the Cascades. My dad belonged to the local hiking/climbing group, The Cascadians, and on several occasions I had accompanied them to the top of St. Helens and other mountains in the area. These experiences, to borrow a phrase from Aldo Leopold, helped me 'think like a mountain.' The mountains were not just beautiful, they were monumental representations of the majesty and permanence of nature.

There is nothing like a good eruption to underscore the power of nature. In a few minutes, the height of the mountain shrank by roughly a kilometer. The summit on which I had so proudly stood vanished into the air.

(For a longer version that YouTube won't allow to be embedded, see

Gone with it was a key aspect of my worldview, the sense of permanence and stability that the mountains had conveyed. After the eruption, when I stood on the slopes of Mt. Rainier, I would visualize the mountain morphing away under my feet, just like in the video (above) made from Gary Rosenquist's remarkable still photos of the eruption. My view of nature was forever transformed. The fascination with permanence and stability was now tempered with a recognition that sudden and dramatic change could occur.

The other lesson I learned concerned resilience. In the weeks that followed, I became convinced that it would take years for Yakima to return to its former condition. Every time I left the house I had to put on a mask. As you drove, the car whipped up clouds of extremely fine dust, and you lived with the fear that the car's engine would seize up (as happened to many). The fruit and vegetable crops for which the region is famous (Yakima is known as the "Fruit Bowl of the Nation") were destroyed. The personal disruption of my life was accompanied by dramatic evidence of the extent to which the eruption had devastated much of the surrounding forest. What had been verdant forest was now barren, seemingly uninhabitable, wasteland.

(Photo taken by Frank Gohlke about 10 miles northwest of Mt. St. Helens)

Much to my surprise, things returned to normal relatively quickly. While the ash lingered, traffic quickly moved if off the road and with it the fear that your car's engine would seize up. Within a year or two the crops were back, better than ever. It turns out that volcanic ash, rich in nutrients and very porous, is a great way to amend your soil.

Now, with the 30 year anniversary, the press is starting to focus on the resurrection of the area immediately surrounding the mountain. According to the Seattle Times,
The eruption of Mount St. Helens 30 years ago destroyed so much that often overlooked is what it created. Scientists are witnessing the assembly, species by species, of an entirely new ecosystem.

Details of the transformation are provided in the article Species by species, a habitat takes shape and the accompanying still photos and video. A nice retrospective is available here, including a fascinating satellite animation of the spread of the ash here (Yakima, about 50 miles east of Mt. St. Helens, was covered by 10:15, animation slide number 4).

While the return is far from complete and thirty years seems like a long time to us, it is but the blink of an eye when you think like a mountain.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Clouds not Clocks

Jonah Lehrer's recent article in Wired surveys developments in a variety of fields, from neuropsychology to genetics to particle physics, to argue against reductionism.

Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.” The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Neil Adger on Social Resilience

Neil Adger is a lead researcher at the Univ. of East Anglia Tyndall Centre. In Transition Culture's blog, he present a definition of social resilience that is necessarily different from resilience that defines non-human environments. Social resilience requires that human systems have the ability to change and adapt, as well as to maintain basic function.

An Interview with Neil Adger: resilience, adaptability, localisation and Transition

neil_adgerProfessor Neil Adger is a lecturer and researcher at University of East Anglia. He is a researcher and teacher who specialises in social vulnerability, resilience and adaptation to environmental change; on justice and equity in decision-making; and the application of economics to global environmental change. He is a member of the Resilience Alliance, and is involved in a range of climate change research projects, including the IPCC and work for the Tyndall Centre. He has written many papers on the subject of resilience, and so, for the research I am doing, I was thrilled to be able to interview Neil about resilience, Transition, peak oil, and localisation.

How do you define resilience?

Intuitively resilience is about being able to be flexible and also about the ability to be able to adapt. So the working definition within the Resilience Alliance that we’ve been working towards, which has three elements, is quite succinct. It’s about the ability to absorb perturbations and still retain a similar function; about the ability of self-organisation; and also the capacity to learn, to change and to adapt.

Although that sounds quite generic because it comes from a systems perspective I think that captures most of what we’re trying to articulate in terms of resilience. I should say that I think the key element is about the ability to change rather than the ability to continue doing the same thing.

What for you is the overlap between resilience and sustainability – is one part of the other? What’s their relationship?

That’s a very good question. Let me try and break this down in two ways. Sustainability, and sustainable development, in particular, are normative concepts: they are goals, something we would strive towards, and that’s the usual sense. It’s contested what the exact elements of that might be, but there’s general agreement that we want our developments, societies and environments to be sustained.

Resilience is used in two ways, one of which is very similar to what we would call sustainable development, i.e. resilience as a normative goal. Clearly resilience in that sense would be part of sustainability. So part of sustainability would be the ability to change, the ability to deal flexibly with the future, and in the context of changing social values, a changing demographic and other types of social, environmental and political change.

Whereas, I think resilience in a positivistic sense is actually just a characteristic of a system – a system can be resilient or not resilient. And that positivistic scientific view doesn’t necessarily speak to sustainability as a societal or normative goal. You can have systems, and even ecosystems that are quite persistent and resilient, but they don’t necessarily produce l lots of ecosystem services which societies demand. So I think there’s a distinction here between resilience as a system property, and resilience as a goal for society.

I was reading a piece of yours yesterday where you wrote “some elements of society are inherently vulnerable, and others are inherently resilient.” What is it that determines the degree to which things are vulnerable or resilient?

First of all both vulnerability and resilience need a referent, so we need to be vulnerable to something, or resilient to something. I think the things that parts of society are vulnerable to are environmental change at the large scale, and the changes in the way the world and society works, which you can capture in the idea of globalisation. Some parts of society are, in effect, vulnerable to the large scale structural changes that are happening around the world – the changes in the flows of capital and labour and the restrictions on those, and the impact that that has on their life and livelihoods.

So if you think about the farming sector, it’s vulnerable to large scale price shocks, and we as consumers are vulnerable to large scale price shocks around the world. Some parts of society are vulnerable to environmental change and in combination are vulnerable to the sorts of things that are going on in terms of economic globalisation around the world. Others are more resilient. But being resilient to the forces of globalisation doesn’t necessarily mean that those parts of society are immune to them or even aren’t integrated into them.

I don’t think you can simply isolate yourself from the globalised world and say, “well, that’ll make us more resilient”. It’ll make us more resilient in some senses, but the world is as it is and I think we just need to deal with the fact that it’s more globally integrated and look on the positive side of that and reap the benefits of it.

Would you not have any truck with the idea that a resilient society is one where local economies are stronger?

I don’t disagree with that. What I’m saying is that local economies, for all sorts of reasons, are actually stronger and likely to be more resilient, because if we go back to the definition, they have more autonomy and room for self organisation and adaptability and change. Hence, I think it’s impossible to isolate a community or society from a globalised world.

Simply looking to give more autonomy to a community is a positive thing, but trying to isolate it from the rest of the world and not realise that we’re globalised and all the rest of it isn’t a sensible thing to do. As I say, there are a lot of benefits to globalisation (not necessarily economic globalisation) such as the flow of information around the world, global solidarity with places in other parts of the world. There are all sorts of up sides to globalisation. I’m sure you’re familiar with all those arguments and you know this on the ground.

The rest of the interview is here:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

BP: Image vs Reality

For a period of time in the 1990's British Petroleum (which rebranded itself as BP -- Beyond Petroleum) and Shell were viewed as the 'good' oil companies -- companies that emphasized environmental concerns, supported climate change legislation, etc.

But, over time, what once appeared as legitimate efforts by these companies has morphed into greenwashing. Whether that was the intent from the start or whether they were pulled back to current behaviour by the need to compete with less enlightened oil companies is really irrelevant. Shell's image went down in flames with the hanging of Nigerian anti-oil development activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in 1995, an event that brought to light the role of Shell and other oil companies in the support of Nigeria's repressive government.

In comparison to Shell, BP has done a better job of retaining the public sheen of environmental respectability. But, much like what happened to Shell with the Saro-Wiwa incident or, more recently, to Toyota's image as a manufacturer of safe and reliable cars, the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has become an image tipping point -- the incident that unleashes a flood of stories that undermine the narrative the company has spent so much time and energy cultivating.

Here are two specific examples. ProPublica has unearthed a letter from two Congressmen to BP,

In that letter, dated Jan. 14, 2010, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., noted that the company's efforts to cut costs could imperil safety at BP facilities.

Between September 2008 and November 2009, three BP gas and oil pipelines on Alaska's North Slope ruptured or clogged, leading to a risk of explosions, the letter said. A potentially cataclysmic explosion was also avoided at a BP gas compressor plant, where a key piece of equipment designed to prevent the buildup of gas failed to operate, and the backup equipment intended to warn workers was not properly installed.

The letter was addressed to BP's president of Alaskan operations, John Mingé. The congressmen have been investigating BP's safety and operations since 2006, when a 4,800-barrel oil spill temporarily shut down the Prudhoe Bay drilling field pipeline.

In a similar vein, the Seattle Times today reported
BP, the most important oil company in Alaska and the corporation at the heart of the Gulf of Mexico oil-drilling disaster, has struggled with perhaps the oil industry's worst environmental and safety record of the last decade.

The British oil company BP produced the largest oil spill ever on Alaska's North Slope, faced criminal charges for intentionally dumping hazardous waste near Prudhoe Bay and was excoriated by Congress for a string of oil-pipeline leaks on the tundra.

Members of Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — have accused the company of everything from profiteering at the expense of employee safety to pressuring government contractors to whitewash draft reports that criticized its upkeep of worn-out Alaskan oil pipelines.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cochabamba People's Conference on Climate Change

World People’s Conference on Climate Change

and the Rights of Mother Earth

April 22nd, Cochabamba, Bolivia


Today, our Mother Earth is wounded and the future of humanity is in danger.

If global warming increases by more than 2 degrees Celsius, a situation that the “Copenhagen Accord” could lead to, there is a 50% probability that the damages caused to our Mother Earth will be completely irreversible. Between 20% and 30% of species would be in danger of disappearing. Large extensions of forest would be affected, droughts and floods would affect different regions of the planet, deserts would expand, and the melting of the polar ice caps and the glaciers in the Andes and Himalayas would worsen. Many island states would disappear, and Africa would suffer an increase in temperature of more than 3 degrees Celsius. Likewise, the production of food would diminish in the world, causing catastrophic impact on the survival of inhabitants from vast regions in the planet, and the number of people in the world suffering from hunger would increase dramatically, a figure that already exceeds 1.02 billion people.The corporations and governments of the so-called “developed” countries, in complicity with a segment of the scientific community, have led us to discuss climate change as a problem limited to the rise in temperature without questioning the cause, which is the capitalist system.

We confront the terminal crisis of a civilizing model that is patriarchal and based on the submission and destruction of human beings and nature that accelerated since the industrial revolution.

The capitalist system has imposed on us a logic of competition, progress and limitless growth. This regime of production and consumption seeks profit without limits, separating human beings from nature and imposing a logic of domination upon nature, transforming everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.

Under capitalism, Mother Earth is converted into a source of raw materials, and human beings into consumers and a means of production, into people that are seen as valuable only for what they own, and not for what they are.

Capitalism requires a powerful military industry for its processes of accumulation and imposition of control over territories and natural resources, suppressing the resistance of the peoples. It is an imperialist system of colonization of the planet.

Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.

It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. And in order for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings. We propose to the peoples of the world the recovery, revalorization, and strengthening of the knowledge, wisdom, and ancestral practices of Indigenous Peoples, which are affirmed in the thought and practices of “Living Well,” recognizing Mother Earth as a living being with which we have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and spiritual relationship. To face climate change, we must recognize Mother Earth as the source of life and forge a new system based on the principles of:

  • harmony and balance among all and with all things;
  • complementarity, solidarity, and equality;
  • collective well-being and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all;
  • people in harmony with nature;
  • recognition of human beings for what they are, not what they own;
  • elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism and interventionism;
  • peace among the peoples and with Mother Earth;

The model we support is not a model of limitless and destructive development. All countries need to produce the goods and services necessary to satisfy the fundamental needs of their populations, but by no means can they continue to follow the path of development that has led the richest countries to have an ecological footprint five times bigger than what the planet is able to support. Currently, the regenerative capacity of the planet has been already exceeded by more than 30 percent. If this pace of over-exploitation of our Mother Earth continues, we will need two planets by the year 2030. In an interdependent system in which human beings are only one component, it is not possible to recognize rights only to the human part without provoking an imbalance in the system as a whole. To guarantee human rights and to restore harmony with nature, it is necessary to effectively recognize and apply the rights of Mother Earth. For this purpose, we propose the attached project for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, in which it’s recorded that:

  • The right to live and to exist;
  • The right to be respected;
  • The right to regenerate its bio-capacity and to continue it’s vital cycles and processes free of human alteration;
  • The right to maintain their identity and integrity as differentiated beings, self-regulated and interrelated;
  • The right to water as the source of life;
  • The right to clean air;
  • The right to comprehensive health;
  • The right to be free of contamination and pollution, free of toxic and radioactive waste;
  • The right to be free of alterations or modifications of it’s genetic structure in a manner that threatens it’s integrity or vital and healthy functioning;
  • The right to prompt and full restoration for violations to the rights acknowledged in this Declaration caused by human activities.

The “shared vision” seeks to stabilize the concentrations of greenhouse gases to make effective the Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which states that “the stabilization of greenhouse gases concentrations in the atmosphere to a level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic inferences for the climate system.” Our vision is based on the principle of historical common but differentiated responsibilities, to demand the developed countries to commit with quantifiable goals of emission reduction that will allow to return the concentrations of greenhouse gases to 300 ppm, therefore the increase in the average world temperature to a maximum of one degree Celsius.

Emphasizing the need for urgent action to achieve this vision, and with the support of peoples, movements and countries, developed countries should commit to ambitious targets for reducing emissions that permit the achievement of short-term objectives, while maintaining our vision in favor of balance in the Earth’s climate system, in agreement with the ultimate objective of the Convention.

The “shared vision for long-term cooperative action” in climate change negotiations should not be reduced to defining the limit on temperature increases and the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but must also incorporate in a balanced and integral manner measures regarding capacity building, production and consumption patterns, and other essential factors such as the acknowledging of the Rights of Mother Earth to establish harmony with nature.

Developed countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honor their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change. In this context, we demand that developed countries:

• Restore to developing countries the atmospheric space that is occupied by their greenhouse gas emissions. This implies the decolonization of the atmosphere through the reduction and absorption of their emissions;

• Assume the costs and technology transfer needs of developing countries arising from the loss of development opportunities due to living in a restricted atmospheric space;

• Assume responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people that will be forced to migrate due to the climate change caused by these countries, and eliminate their restrictive immigration policies, offering migrants a decent life with full human rights guarantees in their countries;

• Assume adaptation debt related to the impacts of climate change on developing countries by providing the means to prevent, minimize, and deal with damages arising from their excessive emissions;

• Honor these debts as part of a broader debt to Mother Earth by adopting and implementing the United Nations Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings.

We deplore attempts by countries to annul the Kyoto Protocol, which is the sole legally binding instrument specific to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries.

We inform the world that, despite their obligation to reduce emissions, developed countries have increased their emissions by 11.2% in the period from 1990 to 2007.

During that same period, due to unbridled consumption, the United States of America has increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 16.8%, reaching an average of 20 to 23 tons of CO2 per-person. This represents 9 times more than that of the average inhabitant of the “Third World,” and 20 times more than that of the average inhabitant of Sub-Saharan Africa.

We categorically reject the illegitimate “Copenhagen Accord” that allows developed countries to offer insufficient reductions in greenhouse gases based in voluntary and individual commitments, violating the environmental integrity of Mother Earth and leading us toward an increase in global temperatures of around 4°C.

The next Conference on Climate Change to be held at the end of 2010 in Mexico should approve an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol for the second commitment period from 2013 to 2017 under which developed countries must agree to significant domestic emissions reductions of at least 50% based on 1990 levels, excluding carbon markets or other offset mechanisms that mask the failure of actual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

We require first of all the establishment of a goal for the group of developed countries to achieve the assignment of individual commitments for each developed country under the framework of complementary efforts among each one, maintaining in this way Kyoto Protocol as the route to emissions reductions.

The United States, as the only Annex 1 country on Earth that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, has a significant responsibility toward all peoples of the world to ratify this document and commit itself to respecting and complying with emissions reduction targets on a scale appropriate to the total size of its economy.

We the peoples have the equal right to be protected from the adverse effects of climate change and reject the notion of adaptation to climate change as understood as a resignation to impacts provoked by the historical emissions of developed countries, which themselves must adapt their modes of life and consumption in the face of this global emergency. We see it as imperative to confront the adverse effects of climate change, and consider adaptation to be a process rather than an imposition, as well as a tool that can serve to help offset those effects, demonstrating that it is possible to achieve harmony with nature under a different model for living.

It is necessary to construct an Adaptation Fund exclusively for addressing climate change as part of a financial mechanism that is managed in a sovereign, transparent, and equitable manner for all States. This Fund should assess the impacts and costs of climate change in developing countries and needs deriving from these impacts, and monitor support on the part of developed countries. It should also include a mechanism for compensation for current and future damages, loss of opportunities due to extreme and gradual climactic events, and additional costs that could present themselves if our planet surpasses ecological thresholds, such as those impacts that present obstacles to “Living Well.”

The “Copenhagen Accord” imposed on developing countries by a few States, beyond simply offering insufficient resources, attempts as well to divide and create confrontation between peoples and to extort developing countries by placing conditions on access to adaptation and mitigation resources. We also assert as unacceptable the attempt in processes of international negotiation to classify developing countries for their vulnerability to climate change, generating disputes, inequalities and segregation among them.

The immense challenge humanity faces of stopping global warming and cooling the planet can only be achieved through a profound shift in agricultural practices toward the sustainable model of production used by indigenous and rural farming peoples, as well as other ancestral models and practices that contribute to solving the problem of agriculture and food sovereignty. This is understood as the right of peoples to control their own seeds, lands, water, and food production, thereby guaranteeing, through forms of production that are in harmony with Mother Earth and appropriate to local cultural contexts, access to sufficient, varied and nutritious foods in complementarity with Mother Earth and deepening the autonomous (participatory, communal and shared) production of every nation and people.

Climate change is now producing profound impacts on agriculture and the ways of life of indigenous peoples and farmers throughout the world, and these impacts will worsen in the future.

Agribusiness, through its social, economic, and cultural model of global capitalist production and its logic of producing food for the market and not to fulfill the right to proper nutrition, is one of the principal causes of climate change. Its technological, commercial, and political approach only serves to deepen the climate change crisis and increase hunger in the world. For this reason, we reject Free Trade Agreements and Association Agreements and all forms of the application of Intellectual Property Rights to life, current technological packages (agrochemicals, genetic modification) and those that offer false solutions (biofuels, geo-engineering, nanotechnology, etc.) that only exacerbate the current crisis.

We similarly denounce the way in which the capitalist model imposes mega-infrastructure projects and invades territories with extractive projects, water privatization, and militarized territories, expelling indigenous peoples from their lands, inhibiting food sovereignty and deepening socio-environmental crisis.

We demand recognition of the right of all peoples, living beings, and Mother Earth to have access to water, and we support the proposal of the Government of Bolivia to recognize water as a Fundamental Human Right.

The definition of forests used in the negotiations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which includes plantations, is unacceptable. Monoculture plantations are not forests. Therefore, we require a definition for negotiation purposes that recognizes the native forests, jungles and the diverse ecosystems on Earth.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be fully recognized, implemented and integrated in climate change negotiations. The best strategy and action to avoid deforestation and degradation and protect native forests and jungles is to recognize and guarantee collective rights to lands and territories, especially considering that most of the forests are located within the territories of indigenous peoples and nations and other traditional communities.

We condemn market mechanisms such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and its versions + and + +, which are violating the sovereignty of peoples and their right to prior free and informed consent as well as the sovereignty of national States, the customs of Peoples, and the Rights of Nature.

Polluting countries have an obligation to carry out direct transfers of the economic and technological resources needed to pay for the restoration and maintenance of forests in favor of the peoples and indigenous ancestral organic structures. Compensation must be direct and in addition to the sources of funding promised by developed countries outside of the carbon market, and never serve as carbon offsets. We demand that countries stop actions on local forests based on market mechanisms and propose non-existent and conditional results. We call on governments to create a global program to restore native forests and jungles, managed and administered by the peoples, implementing forest seeds, fruit trees, and native flora. Governments should eliminate forest concessions and support the conservation of petroleum deposits in the ground and urgently stop the exploitation of hydrocarbons in forestlands.

We call upon States to recognize, respect and guarantee the effective implementation of international human rights standards and the rights of indigenous peoples, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples under ILO Convention 169, among other relevant instruments in the negotiations, policies and measures used to meet the challenges posed by climate change. In particular, we call upon States to give legal recognition to claims over territories, lands and natural resources to enable and strengthen our traditional ways of life and contribute effectively to solving climate change.

We demand the full and effective implementation of the right to consultation, participation and prior, free and informed consent of indigenous peoples in all negotiation processes, and in the design and implementation of measures related to climate change.

Environmental degradation and climate change are currently reaching critical levels, and one of the main consequences of this is domestic and international migration. According to projections, there were already about 25 million climate migrants by 1995. Current estimates are around 50 million, and projections suggest that between 200 million and 1 billion people will become displaced by situations resulting from climate change by the year 2050.

Developed countries should assume responsibility for climate migrants, welcoming them into their territories and recognizing their fundamental rights through the signing of international conventions that provide for the definition of climate migrant and require all States to abide by abide by determinations.

Establish an International Tribunal of Conscience to denounce, make visible, document, judge and punish violations of the rights of migrants, refugees and displaced persons within countries of origin, transit and destination, clearly identifying the responsibilities of States, companies and other agents.

Current funding directed toward developing countries for climate change and the proposal of the Copenhagen Accord are insignificant. In addition to Official Development Assistance and public sources, developed countries must commit to a new annual funding of at least 6% of GDP to tackle climate change in developing countries. This is viable considering that a similar amount is spent on national defense, and that 5 times more have been put forth to rescue failing banks and speculators, which raises serious questions about global priorities and political will. This funding should be direct and free of conditions, and should not interfere with the national sovereignty or self-determination of the most affected communities and groups.

In view of the inefficiency of the current mechanism, a new funding mechanism should be established at the 2010 Climate Change Conference in Mexico, functioning under the authority of the Conference of the Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and held accountable to it, with significant representation of developing countries, to ensure compliance with the funding commitments of Annex 1 countries.

It has been stated that developed countries significantly increased their emissions in the period from 1990 to 2007, despite having stated that the reduction would be substantially supported by market mechanisms.

The carbon market has become a lucrative business, commodifying our Mother Earth. It is therefore not an alternative for tackle climate change, as it loots and ravages the land, water, and even life itself.

The recent financial crisis has demonstrated that the market is incapable of regulating the financial system, which is fragile and uncertain due to speculation and the emergence of intermediary brokers. Therefore, it would be totally irresponsible to leave in their hands the care and protection of human existence and of our Mother Earth.

We consider inadmissible that current negotiations propose the creation of new mechanisms that extend and promote the carbon market, for existing mechanisms have not resolved the problem of climate change nor led to real and direct actions to reduce greenhouse gases. It is necessary to demand fulfillment of the commitments assumed by developed countries under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change regarding development and technology transfer, and to reject the “technology showcase” proposed by developed countries that only markets technology. It is essential to establish guidelines in order to create a multilateral and multidisciplinary mechanism for participatory control, management, and evaluation of the exchange of technologies. These technologies must be useful, clean and socially sound. Likewise, it is fundamental to establish a fund for the financing and inventory of technologies that are appropriate and free of intellectual property rights. Patents, in particular, should move from the hands of private monopolies to the public domain in order to promote accessibility and low costs.

Knowledge is universal, and should for no reason be the object of private property or private use, nor should its application in the form of technology. Developed countries have a responsibility to share their technology with developing countries, to build research centers in developing countries for the creation of technologies and innovations, and defend and promote their development and application for “living well.” The world must recover and re-learn ancestral principles and approaches from native peoples to stop the destruction of the planet, as well as promote ancestral practices, knowledge and spirituality to recuperate the capacity for “living well” in harmony with Mother Earth.

Considering the lack of political will on the part of developed countries to effectively comply with commitments and obligations assumed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, and given the lack of a legal international organism to guard against and sanction climate and environmental crimes that violate the Rights of Mother Earth and humanity, we demand the creation of an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal that has the legal capacity to prevent, judge and penalize States, industries and people that by commission or omission contaminate and provoke climate change.

Supporting States that present claims at the International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal against developed countries that fail to comply with commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol including commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

We urge peoples to propose and promote deep reform within the United Nations, so that all member States comply with the decisions of the International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal.

The future of humanity is in danger, and we cannot allow a group of leaders from developed countries to decide for all countries as they tried unsuccessfully to do at the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen. This decision concerns us all. Thus, it is essential to carry out a global referendum or popular consultation on climate change in which all are consulted regarding the following issues; the level of emission reductions on the part of developed countries and transnational corporations, financing to be offered by developed countries, the creation of an International Climate Justice Tribunal, the need for a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, and the need to change the current capitalist system. The process of a global referendum or popular consultation will depend on process of preparation that ensures the successful development of the same.

In order to coordinate our international action and implement the results of this “Accord of the Peoples,” we call for the building of a Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth, which should be based on the principles of complementarity and respect for the diversity of origin and visions among its members, constituting a broad and democratic space for coordination and joint worldwide actions.

To this end, we adopt the attached global plan of action so that in Mexico, the developed countries listed in Annex 1 respect the existing legal framework and reduce their greenhouse gases emissions by 50%, and that the different proposals contained in this Agreement are adopted.

Finally, we agree to undertake a Second World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2011 as part of this process of building the Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth and reacting to the outcomes of the Climate Change Conference to be held at the end of this year in Cancun, Mexico.

Wind's latest problem: it . . . makes power too cheap

Wind's latest problem: it . . . makes power too cheap

windmills (...) operators in Europe may have become their own worst enemy, reducing the total price paid for electricity in Germany, Europe’s biggest power market, by as much as 5 billion euros some years

The wind-energy boom in Europe and parts of Texas has begun to reduce bills for consumers.

Spanish power prices fell an annual 26 percent in the first quarter because of the surge in supplies from wind and hydroelectric production

The key thing here is that we are beginning to unveil what I've labelled the dirty secret of wind: utilities don't like wind not because it's not competitive, but because it brings prices down for their existing assets, thus lowering their revenues and their profits. Thus the permanent propaganda campaign against wind.

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