We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society

Hydro-Electricity vs. Rainforest Protection

25 08 2009
Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Dam Reservoir from: Mongabay, 2009

Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest is a hot topic this week it seems. The Guardian Newspaper published an article today on the proposal for 229 small scale dams in the Brazilian Amazon. This comes after my post yesterday on rainforest depletion vs. economic growth in Brazil. The issues are similar. On one hand, you have the farmers, villagers and residents of smaller towns trying to lift themselves out of poverty and grow along with their country’s economy. On the other hand you have the Indian tribes of the Amazon as well as a world wonder of a natural ecosystem that is ultimately quite fragile. The guardian article talks about how the tribes are changing drastically and adapting to modern times, with wireless internet installed recently and televisions in a few homes, all of which are powered by a generator that runs from 9am to 9 pm. The article only makes mention of the village of Pavuru though, leading me to wonder if any of the other 29 directly impacted villages have any of these comforts? Even if they are becoming accustomed to such things, they state that they do not need electricity from the dams. They fear that damming all the tributaries will prevent fish from migrating upstream and thereby cut off their access to some fish – the main source of food for the tribes.

The Amazonian tribes are also displeased with other government plans to build roads, and other hydro-electric dams, inluding plans for one of the largest dams on earth. Once again, I am going to have to side with the rainforest on this one. As with other developing countries in the world, Brazil has the opportunity to develop efficiently and differently than North America and Europe. They can efficiently consume electricity, construct buildings with passive cooling in mind, and plan to grow in harmony with their natural surroundings rather than grow overtop of  them. While constructing a select few small scale hydro-electric dams may not have a dramatic effect on the surrounding ecosystem and villages, building one of the world’s largest dams, or blocking most waterways with 229 small dams, will certainly have a detrimental effect. The scale of these projects is simply too large for the system in which they are being placed.

The Guardian Article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/aug/23/brazil-amazon-electricity

Rainforest Depletion vs. Economic Growth

24 08 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

After reading an article in the L.A. Times this morning about the loss of Rainforest in Brazil to agriculture, I am once again reminded of the struggle between two opposing forces that often find themselves at odds in developing countries. Do we protect the environment or allow the people to succeed economically?

According to Mongabay, Brazil has lost an average of 34 660 square kilometers of rainforest per year between the years 2000 and 2005. While this is a very small percentage of the total rainforest cover, it is certainly a lot of land, and it has only increased since then. Many of us know that deforestation in general is not helping with air pollution or climate change. We need trees to produce oxygen and sustain life. Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest is not only reducing the global tree population, but is directly depleting one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth.

On the flip side, Brazilians and other South Americans have the opportunity to finally make some money by clearing their land of trees and selling grains and cows to North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. In fact, this has been strongly encouraged in Brazil with benefits being provided to those who clear at least 80% of their land.

So we are presented with quite a difficult situation. How can we support the economic gain of such South American countries without compromising the beloved rainforest? It is obvious that we cannot continue on the current path forever until the forests are entirely lost. So do we search for a solution now, or just play it off – business as usual – until we have little to no rainforest left, and we see the extinction of millions of species? My vote lies with finding a solution now. Yet the solutions that are being presented don’t sit right with me. Things like North American countries paying paying South American countries to keep their land forested. This is the equivalent of social welfare to me, except the people receiving money are fully capable of work . To pay a farmer to not do something seems terribly backwards. Maybe some solutions lie in new industries, or shade-grown crops? There must be a way that South America can rise in the world market without destroying its vast and beautiful ecosystems.

L.A. Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/22/science/earth/22degrees.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

Toxic Ecuador: Update

4 07 2009
From: The Economist, 2009

From: The Economist, 2009

Some more details about the lawsuit taking place between Ecuadorian citizens and Chevron (see my other post for more details):

As we already know, Texaco was operating in Ecuador from the 1960’s up until 1992. From 1977 to 1992, they were in partnership with Petroecuador, a state-owned oil company. After this time, Petroecuador took full ownership of the operation. The current lawsuit began in 1993, when lawyers representing 30, 000 Ecuadorians from the area, brought the case to a New York arguing that Texaco dumped toxic oil waste in hundreds of pits and failed to clean up after pulling out of the operation. These pits were said to have caused health problems among the residents of the area, as well as damage to the jungle. Additionaly, they argued that Texaco should compensate those residents for their displacement due to the conditions created by oil waste. U.S. courts rejected the claims 3 times saying that they had no jurisdiction over the issue. Texaco eventually agreed to clean up their share of the site, likely for publicity reasons. This resulted in $40 million being spent on the clean-up of 161 pits. The government signed off on this clean-up thereby releasing Texaco from any further liability. Petroecuador never cleaned up it’s share of the pits.

Now the $27.3 billion lawsuit has been relaunched against Chevron, who bought out Texaco in 2001. The lawsuit has been relaunched for a number of different reasons. Mainly, a new Environmental Law has been passed in Ecuador which should give the plaintiffs more leverage against Chevron even though the law doesn’t deal with past actions. New evidence has come to the fore which has lead to charges of fraud against 7 senior officials who signed the agreement releasing Texaco of liability, as well as two of Chevron’s Ecuadorian Lawyers. Also, we know that the Ecuadorian court objected to the signed agreement on the basis that Texaco should have cleaned up all the pits because it was the actual operator of the drilling operation and therefore had control over how the waste was disposed of.

Now here we are still wondering where Petroecuador really stands in this. Were they continuing to pollute between 1993 and now? Was it because of Petroecuador that Texaco was given the go ahead, or even the orders to pollute this way? Was such carelessness with regard to clean-up giving Petroecuador a load of extra cash and therefore a reason to promote this kind of behavior? Are the plaintiffs afraid to go after them because they are a government-run company?

From: Planetsave.com, 2009

From: Planetsave.com, 2009

Since 2006, Petroecuador has reported 117 oil spills in the Ecuadorian Amazon. They aren’t even the only ones though, Canadian company EnCana has been there too, spilling oil. In a 2003 documentary calling Between Midnight and the Rooster’s Crow, a citizen staging a peacepul protest against such oil giants is shot by Ecuadorian officials. These officials are then rushed off the scene by EnCana. Many companies are responsible for a lot of environmental damage in Ecuador. The biggest problem I see here, is who else but the Ecuadorian government, who since 2003, the time of the construction of their largest pipeline, have been trying to get foreign oil companies out of the country in order to run the show themselves. Here though, is another problem. They don’t have enough money themselves to run the whole show.

So..what seems to be happening? The plaintiffs are going after the only company they can, and by the looks of it, the only company that has a chance of cleaning up the mess. Is it fair, probably not. Does it need to be done? This is questionable, as it seems likely that pollution by Petroecuador will continue within the country even after Chevron cleans up the mess, that is IF Chevron cleans it up. And with 50 percent of Ecuador’s national budget being funded by oil production, it doesn’t look like change will come until the oil is gone and there is no rainforest left to exploit.

The Economist article: http://www.economist.com/world/americas/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13707679

The San Fransisco Chronicle Article: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/abraham/day?blogid=95&year=2009&month=05&day=07&cat=

And here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/08/13/MNGHB86B4V1.DTL

all the updates at: http://amazondefensecoalition.wordpress.com/ 

Toxic Ecuador – The continuing battle between citizens and Chevron

29 06 2009
Rainforest Action Network

Rainforest Action Network

Here is an issue that should be receiving more attention. It is a difficult one which will require me to do a lot more reading and a lot more alalyzing because of it’s lengthy history and its incredible possibility of being totally corrupted by dollars. For now though, I will tell you what I see to be true and will encourage any readers to look into the issue further to draw their own conclusions.

The issue: throughout the 80’s and early 90’s, oil giant, Texaco, had drilling operations in the Ecuadorian Amazon (really they’ve been there since the 60’s). Texaco was partnered (37.5%) with another company, Petroecuador (62.5%), and was certainly partly responsible for taking part in irresponsible drilling practices which subsequently polluted (very heavily) the water for approximately 30 000 Ecuadorians who live in the area. The issue that has arisen is in regards to the pits dug to store the billions of gallons of “production water” used during the operation. Production water, for those who don’t know, is the waste water from a drilling operation, always extremely contaminated. To make it worse, these production water pits were designed to actually drain into the subsidiary streams when they overflow.

A few years back, Texaco was bought by another giant, Chevron, which has now taken the hit for Texaco’s misdeeds in the Amazon. Ecuadorian citizens have launched a class action lawsuit against Chevron for a possible $27.3 billion to compensate for the loss of land and extreme health problems that have plagued the area since the oil started flowing. $9 billion of this lawsuit would go towards environmental clean-up, while another $9 billion would go towards cancer victims. Here lies one problem, cancer is not mentioned in the actual lawsuit. To me, this means Chevron won’t be paying out this $9 billion. This lawsuit bagan 16 years ago when the leaders of the Ecuadorian group travelled to New York with the intentions of suing Texaco. This prompted Texaco to make their largest mistake, they requested that the lawsuit be held in Ecuador thinking that the trail would be dropped and they would be off the hook. This didn’t happen. The lawsuit was brought to Ecuador and will be heard by a single judge in a small courtroom located in a tiny amazon village. Chevron does not expect to win. Since 2007, a U.S. court has continued to dismiss the case and Chevron claims to have cleaned up it’s share of the polluted land. A new report released just this past week shows new evidence that Chevron did not actually clean up it’s 45 contaminated sites in question and that seven Ecuadorian Officials actually aided the Chevron’s lawyers in creating a fake clean-up of the oil sites.  Now where is Petroecuador in all of this? Texaco states that the remainder of all clean-up is 100% the responsibility of Petroecuador. They were the larger stakeholder. Well, in American law, the operator of the site can be charged for and illegal activity. In this case, Texaco was the official operator of the entire operation even though they were not the major stakeholder. Chevron seems to know that they will lose the case in Ecuador, they are already prepared to take the case to the world court in Den Hague, the Netherlands.  This type of thing cannot be allowed to happen again, and the guilty parties must take responsibility for what they have done. Just one more reason to relieve ourselves from our dependence on oil, foreign and domestic.

A CBS investigative Report: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4988079n

From the LA Times: http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/17/world/fg-amazonoil17

Chevron’s own biased takes: http://www.chevron.com/ecuador/

A campaign site against Chevron: http://chevrontoxico.com/

Plenty of updates at: http://amazondefensecoalition.wordpress.com/