Haiti: “The Most Desperate Enviromental Crisis on the Planet”

Haiti hillside - Floresta Brad Lewis
Haiti hillside - Floresta Brad Lewis

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 13 2008 (Tierramérica)

The worst natural disaster Haiti has ever suffered requires far-reaching solutions in order to reduce this Caribbean country’s environmental fragility, say officials and humanitarian workers.

Four major storms pounded Haiti in August and September, leaving nearly 1,000 dead and a million people homeless. International relief efforts are keeping people alive and sheltered, but the already degraded landscape has been badly battered, washing away crops, soil and the few remaining trees in many areas.

I’m not sure if things could get worse here. Haiti must be the most desperate environmental crisis on the planet,” Joel Boutroue, resident humanitarian coordinator and head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Port-au-Prince, told Tierramérica.

Boutroue was referring to the future of the poorest country in the Americas, where U.N. peace-keepers have been stationed since 2004. But he added that “the international response to the disaster is quite good.”

While pockets of severe malnutrition still exist, there is access to clean water and only about 3,000 families were without shelter as of the end of October, he said.

However, it is not possible to feed an entire country of 9.5 million people with international aid for long. Haiti cannot feed itself, and even growing 50 percent of its own food is years away, Boutroue fears. Continue reading

The Real Price of Farmed Salmon

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Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, 10 Nov (IPS)

Salmon aquaculture is devastating the world’s oceans and an international coalition of scientists, Canadian First Nations and tourism operators have called for a global moratorium.

‘We’ve seen a regional collapse of all sea life in the 20 years since the salmon farms moved in,’ said Chief Bob Chamberlin of the Kwicksutaineuk Ah-kwa-mish Canadian First Nation in the province of British Columbia on Canada’s west coast.

‘I can only shake my head in bewilderment that this is allowed to continue,’ Chamberlin told IPS from Gilford Island in the Broughton Archipelago, where 20 salmon farms are in operation. Continue reading

Say Goodbye to Coral Reefs

severely-degraded-reef-flat-at-kelso-reef-great-barrier-reef-australiaimage-c2a9-cathie-page-very-sml

Coral reefs will be the first global ecosystem to collapse in our lifetimes.

By Stephen Leahy

GIJON, Spain, May 22 (IPS) – The one-two punch of climate change that is warming ocean temperatures and increasing acidification is making the oceans uninhabitable for corals and other marine species, researchers said at a scientific symposium in Spain.

And now other regions are being affected. Acidic or corrosive waters have been detected for the first time on the continental shelf of the west coast of North America, posing a serious threat to fisheries, Richard Feely, an oceanographer with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told attendees in Gijon, Spain Wednesday.

More than 450 scientists from over 60 countries are participating in the “Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Oceans” symposium.

“Surface waters off the coast of San Francisco had concentrations of carbon dioxide that we didn’t expect to see for at least another 100 years,” Feely told IPS. Continue reading

Is Your Old TV Poisoning a Child in China? Where Your e-waste Goes

guiyu-china-breaking-open-monitor-exposes-toxic-dust-basel-action-network-smlBy Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 14 (IPS)

Is your old TV poisoning a child in China? Or your old computer contaminating a river in Nigeria?

Without a law banning export of toxic electronic waste in the United States, there has been no way to know if old cell phones, computers or televisions originating there didn’t end up in some poor village in the developing world, where desperate people pull them apart by hand to recover some of the valuable metals inside.

A small group of people have now allied with a few responsible recyclers to ensure e-waste can be treated responsibly by creating an e-Stewards certification programme. Announced this week, e-Stewards are electronics waste recyclers that are fully accredited and certified by an independent third party.

Such accreditation is crucial in an industry that often makes fraudulent claims. Currently even when e-waste (electronic trash) goes to a “green” recycler, the chances are high that toxic stuff from the developed world ended up in a huge pile in the middle of some village. Continue reading

Top Ten Worst Pollution Problems That Kill Millions – Including Ones You’ve Never Heard Of

By Stephen Leahychromium-a-carcinogenic-commonly-used-in-the-tanning-industry-noraiakheda-kanpur-india-photo-by-blacksmith-institute-sml

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 23 (IPS)

Gold mining and recycling car batteries are two of the world’s Top 10 most dangerous pollution problems, and the least known, according a new report.

The health of hundreds of millions of people is affected and millions die because of preventable pollution problems like toxic waste, air pollution, ground and surface water contamination, metal smelting and processing, used car battery recycling and artisanal gold mining, the “Top Ten” report found.

“The global health burden from pollution is astonishing, and mainly affects women and children,” said Richard Fuller, director of the New York- based Blacksmith Institute, a independent environmental group that released the list Tuesday in partnership with Green Cross Switzerland.

“The world community needs to wake up to this fact,” Fuller told IPS.

Continue reading

Cell Phone Service, But No Toilets or Drinking Water for the Poor

By Stephen Leahy

[Why are there mobile phone networks and not sanitation networks?]

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 20 (IPS) – It is a fact of the 21st century that some of the poorest regions of the world have good mobile phone coverage but no toilets or safe drinking water.

Simply installing toilets where needed and ensuring safe water supplies would do more to end crippling poverty and improve world health than any other possible measure, according to an analysis released Monday by the United Nations University (UNU).

“Water problems, caused largely by an appalling absence of adequate toilets in many places, contribute tremendously to some of the world’s most punishing problems, foremost among them the inter-related afflictions of poor health and chronic poverty,” said Zafar Adeel, director of the U.N. University’s Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health. Continue reading

A Green Lining in Market Meltdown?

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 17 (IPS) – Clean and green technologies may end up a big winner in the current global financial crisis, say investment professionals.

Billions of dollars in new investments have been made in clean/green tech such as renewable energy and energy efficiency in recent years. And, despite fears of a major recession in the U.S., nearly all investment professionals and institutions reported plans to introduce new investment opportunities before the end of 2009, according a new survey of the 500-member Social Investment Forum (SIF), an association for socially and environmentally responsible investment firms.

“In the last two years the growth in the green economy has been tremendous,” said Jack Robinson, president of Winslow Management Company in Boston.

“But the huge win for the green economy is the U.S. bank bailout programme,” Robinson, a green investment expert, told IPS.

It turns out the near collapse of the U.S. financial system has a silver lining for the long-cash-starved alternative energy sector. Continue reading

Future Prosperity Linked to Green Technologies Bets Mexico…yes, Mexico

[Mexico exports$ billions in solar photovoltaic products and hopes to install 23 million square meters of solar panels by 2020]

By Stephen Leahy

TORONTO, Oct 3 (Tierramérica) – Achim Steiner, the eloquent executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), believes that Mexico could take a leadership role in the new “green” economy.

“UNEP wants to document new and creative efforts towards creating a prosperous, green economy,” said Steiner, referring to his recent meeting with Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón.

Stephen Leahy interviewed Steiner for TIERRAMÉRICA (TA)

TA: Mexico, like all Latin American countries, has traditionally looked to its natural resource base — oil, gas, minerals, agriculture — to drive economic growth. Do you see this changing?

ACHIM STEINER: I think Mexico is at the crossroads between the traditional resource-driven economy and the coming new green economy. Future prosperity, in my view, is in green technologies. Mexico is already moving in this direction. It exported solar photovoltaic products worth 2.3 billion dollars last year alone. Continue reading

‘Bailout’ for Oil Companies $20-40 Billion (and maybe more) every year


By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 30 ’08 (IPS)

Why do U.S. oil companies — some of the most profitable corporations on the planet — receive 20 to 40 billion dollars a year in subsidies from the U.S. government?

And, in a time of skyrocketing oil prices and profits, why did the George W. Bush administration in 2005 authorise an additional 32.9 billion dollars in new subsidies over a five-year period?

“Those are very good questions,” said Doug Koplow of Earth Track, Inc., an independent energy information research organisation in Boston, Massachusetts.

“I don’t have a good answer other than to say we’ve been subsidising American oil companies since 1918,” Koplow told IPS.

Koplow’s 2007 report to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development puts the annual U.S. subsidy at an average of 39 billion dollars a year, when the costs of guarding oil lanes in the Persian/Arab Gulf, and the Alaska Pipeline are included. This does not include any costs from the Iraq war.

Official U.S. government statistics from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) offer a different picture, stating that the oil and gas industry only received 2.15 billion dollars in 2007.

“The EIA has a very narrow definition of what constitutes a subsidy,” said Koplow.econ-v-envir-franke1

Like many industrialised countries, the U.S. subsidises oil production, not oil consumption. Consumption subsidies reduce the cost of buying fuel to the public while production subsidies reduce the cost of finding and producing oil for oil companies.

Experts agree that both forms of subsidies encourage consumption and thus increase the price of oil.

Estimating U.S. oil and gas subsidies is very challenging. Subsidies rarely involve cash payments. Instead scores of U.S. government agencies and departments create hundreds of programmes to support the U.S. energy sector. And there is no requirement for the federal government to keep track of all this.

Among the most common subsidies are construction bonds and research-and-development programmes at low interest rates or tax-free, assuming the legal risks of exploration and development in a company’s stead and income tax breaks. Despite record high prices at the pump, the federal sales tax on petroleum products is lower than average sales tax rates for other goods. And on it goes.

Originally these production subsidies were intended to help the nascent industry meet a growing nation’s energy needs. Despite record-high prices, that rationale remains firmly in place. In 2007, U.S. oil giant Exxon corporation made history with 40.7 billion dollars in profits, the most any U.S. company has ever achieved in a single year.

And subsidy programmes from 1918 are still in place.

“I’m not aware of any oil and gas subsidy that has ever been phased out,” said Koplow, the leading expert on U.S. energy subsidies.

Energy subsidies are often simply hidden from public scrutiny. It’s only recently been revealed that 40 companies granted leases between 1996 and 2000 for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico do not have to pay royalties for the publicly-owned resource. This is worth nearly a billion dollars a year in lost revenue to the federal government, according to a 2008 study by Friends of the Earth (FOE), a U.S. environmental NGO, and may ultimately total 50 billion dollars.

That study also revealed that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 would generate an additional 32.9 billion dollars in new subsidies in the form of tax breaks, reduced royalty payments, and accounting gimmicks over a five-year period.

“The report only includes the explicit subsidies we could find,” said Erich Pica, an energy analyst at FOE.

For complete article see US: Great Place for the Oil Business

It gets better — June 09: New Story: New Way to Give Money to Oil Companies – Economic Stimulus Packages