Let’s All Have Coal Ash for Breakfast!

14 01 2010

You can find someone to deny just about anything, and, I’m making an assumption here, but I would not find it remotely hard to believe that people like this can make a REALLY good living pulling stunts like this.


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: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/china-restricts-obamas-qa/article1364342/

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

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: http://tenpercent.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/murdered-left-in-the-boot-of-their-own-car/

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: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/07/an-e-waste-nightmare-in-ghana-video.php?dcitc=th_rss 

PBS video: http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/video/video_index.html

Basel Action Network: http://www.ban.org/ban_news/ewaste_ignored_031228.html

Exxon Mobil and Texas Sabotage

17 07 2009
From: Treehugger.com, 2009

From: Treehugger.com, 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: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601130&sid=apaHKiMnL4Qk

Austin American Statesman Article: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/03/28/0328exxon.html

Russian Activist, Natalia Estemirova, Found Murdered

15 07 2009
From: Yahoo News, 2009

From: Yahoo News, 2009

A prominent Russian human rights activist was found dead today in Ingushetia, a Russian Federation which shares borders with Georgia and Chechnya. Estemirova was forcefully kidnapped when leaving her home in Chechnya.  She was thrown into a white car (VAZ-2107) while yelling that she was being kidnapped this morning (about 8:30 local time, Wednesday July 15th, 2009). She was found about 9 hours later in a woodland near the city of Nazran with bullet wounds to the head and chest.

Natalia, 50 years old, worked for the Human Rights ativism group, Memorial. She is not the first of her kind to be murdered. Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in 2006 and Stanislav Markelov was murdered in January 2009.

Amnesty International has this to say about her work:

Natalia Estemirova’s work was crucial in documenting human rights violations in the region, such as torture and other ill-treatment, unlawful killings and enforced disappearances, since the start of the second Chechnya war in 2000. She also devoted herself to providing assistance to displaced people and other socially disadvantaged groups. No one has claimed responsibility, but colleagues believe she was killed for her human rights activities.

Her work has been recognized both at home and internationally by numerous awards, including the Robert Schuman medal of the European Parliament (2005), the Right Livelihood Award of the Swedish Parliament (2004 – the so-called Alternative Nobel Peace Prize), and she was the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award (2007).

Most recently Natalia was investingating a number of house-burnings thought to have been the actions of government-backed militias. Corruption and human rights issues in and around Chechnya are rampant.

Article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8152351.stm

Amnesty International Article: http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?id=ENGNAU2009071611434&lang=e&rss=recentnews