China Snubs Obama Town Hall

16 11 2009

From: The Globe and Mail, 2009

In a very typical and anticipated move, China has decided not to allow millions of Chinese citizens to hear the President of the United States speak when he visited the country today.

The national television station, the Central China Television Network, will not be broadcasting a ‘town hall’ type question and answer period with 500 chinese students in Shanghai. The event will be broadcast on local Shanghai television and on the website of the official Xinhua News station. These two sources will broadcast the event uncensored. But these two news stations aren’t exactly accessible to the country as a whole. The US State Department plans to run feeds of the talk on Twitter, which China says it will allow access to, though as it stands, internet censorship in China does not allow access to Twitter, Facebook, or even Google. 

Why the reluctance to allow citizens to hear President Obama speak? They allowed Clinton to speak uncensored – George W Bush too. Maybe it’s because of quotes that supported those who “faced down facism and communism”. Or his warnings that go something like, “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent know that you are on the wrong side of history”.

A bit more on this in:


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:

China and Pollution: What You Can Do

18 08 2009
From: Current, 2009

From: Current, 2009

I know this probably isn’t News to anyone, but China is pretty bad when it comes to pollution. Often the argument goes like this:

  • China’s recent history of water pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions is higher than anywhere in the world.

But then there is the counter argument:

  • North Americans along with Western Europeans have far higher greenhouse gas emission rates per capita, in fact the emissions per person in china are about a quarter of those of his or her United States counterpart.

And my counter argument?:

  • If China’s pollution is so high when their per capita rate is so low, that means there are a few very large, very powerful corporations, power plants, etc in the East that are allowed to pollute without consequence, or so it seems to me. We can’t punish the already struggling and impoverished general population of that country.

My personal argument isn’t based in fact so much as it is in observation and inference. We often hear about industrial catastrophe’s in China such as the recent lead poisoning of nearly all children in one village. We see the polluted haze that consumes Beijing daily (the olympics sure didn’t help thier image). We know that the country is very rapidly running it’s water resources dry and on top of that, it is said that a major water pollution incident occurs every other day. In effect, most of these problems are partly induced by us westerners who demand Chinese goods day in and day out, from irons to computer chips. It is within our capacity to change the way China manufacturers it’s products. We have the ability to demand a clean manufacturing process and the fair treatment of employees by only purchasing goods that meet our requirements. Wal Mart, of all places, is sort of doing this. They are developing an environmental rating system for all products on their shelves, and if their manufacturers don’t comply, they’ve threatened to drop them. The catch here, is that the system will only apply to packaging, which Wal Mart says it will reduce by a whopping 5%. This doesn’t mean much in and of itself, but it may hopefully spawn a new movement towards consumer knowledge of what they are purchasing. A rating system that expalins the approximate greenhouse gas emissions created by that product, the amount of recyclable material within it, the exact toxins that go into the manufacturing process, the amount of water used. If the west were to make purchases based on this type of data and not solely price, then maybe we could see a great change in Chinese manufacturers?

For now, you can look desparately for North American made products (occassionaly you can still find some clothing, shoes, office products, etc.), and you can improve your knowledge of the manufacturing industry in China. Two relatively mainstream documentaries are worth watching: WalMart: The High Cost of Low Prices, and Manufactured Landscapes. You can also support Human Rights Watch or support any number of environmental organizations, many of which will be involved with China in some way.

We can’t blame the country of China for the environmental problems of the world. We in the west have certainly been polluting for a longer period of time. Consider our industrial revolution was over 100 years ago, China’s has happened within the past 20 years. However, they are not going to change all by themselves. A quote from Wang Yongli, a water engineer in Shijiazhuang says, “We have a water shortage, but we have to develop…And development is going to be put first…In Israel [where there are also extreme water shortages], people regard water as more important than life itself. In Shijianzhuang, it’s not that way. People are focused on the economy.” If we as consumers show that we want environmental and social justice through our purchases by buying locally as much as possible, maybe the Chinese will then see the need to meet western regulations on both the environment as well as human rights. This is as much our problem as it is theirs. Don’t blame China until you stop supporting their dirty industries with your wallet and demand change.

Two Activists Murdered in Chechnya

13 08 2009
Prayers Over Zarema's Body from: Dayton Daily News, 2009

Prayers Over Zarema's Body from: Dayton Daily News, 2009

The bodies of Zarema Sadulayeva and Alik Lechayevich Dzhabrailov were found in the trunk of their own car early today in Chechnya. It appears that human rights activists are in more danger than usual this summer in Chechnya – this following last months murder of Natalya Estemirova. One day ago, the two activists were abducted from their office in Chechnya. Zarema Sadulayeva was the head of Let’s Save the Generation, an organization that tasked itself with aiding children that had been affected by violence in Chechnya.

Witnesses reported men entering the offices claiming to be a part of security services. The men demanded that the head of the organization and her husband go with them. Minutes later, the men returned to claim Ailk’s telephone and his car, the same car in which their bodies were found this morning.

These two put the number of human rights defenders murdered up to six within the past twelve months in Chechnya.

Take Action

See RickB’s post for more details:

The eWaste Nightmare – Ghana, China, Vietnam, the List Goes On…

21 07 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

Ever wondered what happens to that old computer that you so responsibly do away with? Well, its highly likely that you should be holding some major companies accountable for their misdeeds and misinformation about computer disposal. Contrary to what you are told, electronic waste is often not recycled locally or in an environmentally responsible manner.

From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

Recently, a group of graduate students from the University of British Columbia travelled to Ghana to investigate the world of electronic waste. What they found, was more than disconcerting. On the outskirts of Ghana’s largest city sits Agbogbloshie, a wasteland of the first world’s electronic goods. Here also lies the Korle Lagoon, one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth, filled with old computers and their contaminants. It is reported that hundreds of millions of tons of eWaste end up here every year.

Many of the local boys work within this dumping ground, scrounging for scraps of metal by burning the plastic away from the body of the computer. There is no method of protection from the fumes either, they breath burning plastic every day.

How did things end up this way? A few years ago, Ghanaians welcomed truckloads of second hand computers, donations to help them bridge the technology gap. It didn’t take long though for corporations to see the loophole here though. More and more truckloads – boatloads – of used computers were shipped here. Western companies found that they could label their garbage computers as ‘donations’ and send the non-working computers to Ghana to dispose of them.

Now here is another risk that affects us in the west. Hard drives from these computers are never truly erased. Thus, our personal information is essentially up for sale at extremely cheap prices at Ghanaian markets. One purchased hard drive exposed credit card information, another wedding photos, a third a $22 million dollar government contract from the United States.

When the university group tries to track the disposal from a British Columbia recycler, they are informed by an employee that:

“What they literally do is dump it into a blast furnace and it burns it all up; and all they get out of it is a bunch of ash and some of the precious metal. Everything else gets consumed, burnt. And that’s an actual fact.”

From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

After taking note of the serial number on the shipping container that contains computer waste, they track it to Hong Kong. Certainly not local. It turns out that the souther Chinese city of Guiyu has been built entirely around the eWaste trade. Miles and miles of computer monitors, hardware, other electronics line the streets. Guiyu is a dirty secret of the trade. Behind closed doors, women burn cicuit boards to find traces of gold, all the while breathing the lead solder fumes.

What is one of the largest reasons that eWaste trade flourishes in China? They ship so many containers of goods to North America that would all normall come back empty. It’s just easy to load them up with our crap and exploit their own workers to make a profit. Our overconsumption of Chinese goods coupled with their lack of humanitarianism equals one very polluted world of electronic waste.  And where do you go if regulations are too restrictive in China? Down to Vietnam.

In India, barrels of acid used to strip circuit boards are dumped into the sewer and products are burned in the open air despite Indian laws against this practice. Workers wear no protective masks or gloves. The owner of one of these scrap yards says, “If your country keeps sending us the material, our business will be good.”

There is some shred of hope though. Occassionally, you may stumble upon an honest-to-goodness electronic recycler. Do I know of any? Not at all. It would be best to do some research in your area to find one. Oh, and make sure that hard drive is destroyed before tossing it away.

Treehugger article and UBC videos: 

PBS video:

Basel Action Network:

Exxon Mobil and Texas Sabotage

17 07 2009
From:, 2009

From:, 2009

Oil companies certainly are good at giving me stories to write about. I found out that recently (March 2009), Exxon won a trail against Emerald Oil & Gas Company. A trial that it probably should not have won. In the late 1980’s. The oil giant had a falling out with the land owners of 121 of their Texas oil wells. When Exxon requested a cut in the 50% royalty rate that the O’Connor family had imposed since the 1950’s, when Exxon Corp. was known as Humble Oil & Refining Co., the family refused and Exxon decided to pack up and leave. Law requires an oild company to plug the wells upon leaving and report on how those wells were plugged so that if any party sees a future opportunity with the wells, they have the ability to tap into them again. When Emerald Oil & Gas made their attempt to tap into 1/3 of the wells in the early 1990’s, they were met with concrete and explosives, prohibiting them from accessing many of the wells. Exxon has been proven responsible for sabotaging their old wells by filling them with concrete, metal, explosives, and toxic waste, as well as leaving damaged metal casings in the wells.

So, Exxon won the most recent case at the supreme Court in Texas (ruled by Justice Dale Wainwright) on the basis that Emerald Oil filed the case too late. While Emerald argued the the case should have begun when Exxon finally revealed the documents disclosing the method for plugging the wells (a false disclosure), the supreme court ruled that the clock started ticking when Emerald discovered that the wells had been sabotaged, meaning that they were 2 months late filing the case. So this really gets me…the court knows that Exxon has sabotaged the wells, but they toss out the case because it is 2 whole months late. This is absurd.

The case is not yet dead though. According to Bloomberg, Jerry Patterson, the commissioner of the land office that oversees oil leases that help fund Texas schools, has asked the Texas Railroad Commission to conduct hearings into the matter. Exxon could be fined for not accurately describing what was used to plug the wells, thereby making it far more difficult for Emerald to access the wells than they would have been lead to believe.

“Under Railroad Commission rules, Exxon Mobil could face fines of $10,000 a day per well, Patterson said in the statement, which he plans to release on July 20. He said those penalties could add up to more than $1 billion on wells the company abandoned in 1991 after a disagreement over royalties with the owners, the O’Connor family, a Texas oil dynasty.”

Exxon’s response:

“The allegations paint a false and misleading picture of Exxon Mobil’s involvement in the O’Connor oil and gas leases… The area in which the wells are located has a water table very close to the surface. It was critical that Exxon protect the groundwater by plugging the wells solidly and thoroughly.”

I’m SURE Exxon must have been putting explosives in their wells to protect the groundwater. I bet if they blew up their oil tankers in our harbours it would be a great benefit to our health too. Maybe, we can substitute oil for water as a healthy alternative beverage even? Give it up Exxon. As it turns out, $1 billion in fines is about 2% of the company’s total net income last year. They reportedly have about $25 billion in cash and cash equivalents just tucked away in reserve. I don’t know why they fight these things and drag them out so long. If they just paid the costs right away, the process wouldn’t drag on so long and maybe they wouldn’t have such negative PR.

 The Railroad Commission hasn’t yet decided whether or not they will fine the oil company. the three commissioners that would hold hearings are to meet on July 21st. Once again, I hope Exxon gets what it deserves.

Bloomberg Article:

Austin American Statesman Article: