The Tragedy of 21 Million Climate Refugees

One Every Second

One EverySecond (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the 21 million people (one every second) who are forced from their homes (yearly) by catastrophic climate events. Islands and low lying coastal communities, especially in the developed world, are the most vulnerable. This is mainly due to flooding and contamination of crop lands by salt water. The third world poor (particularly women and girls) have limited options for relocating, and their governments are rarely in a position to help them.

This film tells the harrowing tale of a 14 year old Bangladeshi girl forced into prostitution in Dhaka when floods destroy her rural family home. She speaks quite poignantly about clients who refuse to pay unless she pretends to enjoy herself, about gang rapes and about police who threaten her with arrest unless she pays protection money or rewards them with sexual favors.

Poisoning the World: The Companies that Profit Big from Exporting Banned Chemicals

Circle of Poison

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about the US export of toxic pesticides that are banned in the US. This is ironic. Despite these domestic bans, heavy dependence on food imports means that most Americans end up ingesting these toxins in imported produce. In fact the only way Americans can avoid pesticide-laden food is to buy certified organic food from local farmers.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order banning the export of toxic pesticides. The order was revoked by Reagan a few months after his inauguration.

The US controls 75% of the global pesticide market via five notorious companies: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and BSAF. Although Bayer, Syngenta and BSAF are European companies, they produce their toxic pesticides in the US, where export regulations are more lax (ie non-existent). The pesticide industry has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Thanks to the courage of Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate has passed several bills banning pesticide exports. However because members face re-election every two years, they have no hope whatsoever of winning in House.

Most of the film concerns the epidemic of cancer and horrendous birth defects in India, Mexico, Argentina and other countries that continue to use US-produced pesticides that are banned in the global North.

Surprisingly it ends on an optimistic note with news about the growing organic food movement in Argentina, Kerala India and Bhutan. Rather than pressuring their governments to ban toxic pesticides, activists are learning chemical-free organic soil building techniques. In doing so, they also significantly increase their yields. In replacing monoculture techniques with crop diversity, organic farming methods are far more productive per unit land than traditional agriculture.

The full video can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Circle of Poison

Permaculture Technology: Greening the Desert

Greening the Desert Project: Jordan September 2018

Geoff Lawton (2018)

Film Review

This short video is a brief update of the Greening the Desert project Australian permaculture guru started in 2010 in the Dead Sea Valley in Jordan. His goal is to demonstrate the success of permaculture techniques in restoring barren desert to food production with minimal irrigation

As Lawton describes in the video, he began by planting native spiky acacia to condition the sandy soil and produce a continuous supply of mulch. He then added a series of legume, mulch producing and fruit trees. The legume trees add nitrogen to the soil while the mulch producing trees are an ongoing source of carbon. All are an essential source of shade to prevent water loss in the dry season (there is no rain at all between March and September).

In addition to trees, the project employs reed beds to recycle waste water from hygiene, laundry and dishwashing and passion fruit and Singapore daisy vines for additional shade and ground cover.

Workers are already harvesting dates (date palms help fix soil phosphate) and guava from the food forest Lawton helped them create. They will harvest their first citrus crops at the end of winter. They have also planted olive, pomegranate, papaya, kumquat and neem trees. The highlight of the film is when Lawton discovers a snail (which only breed in damp conditions) in a neem tree.

Workers have just planted their veggie garden in anticipation of rain over the winter months.

The winter rain will be collected in rain tanks and swales.* In addition the compound harvests municipal tap water, delivered a few hours a day three times a week. They also have water tanked in for drinking, hygiene, laundry and dishwashing, which they recycle through the reed beds.

They only use irrigation to start their veggie seedlings.

Four years ago Lawton proposed a similar solution for southern California, but local officials have yet to adopt his recommendations: A Natural Solution to Drought

The Growing Freshwater Crisis

Last Call at the Oasis

Directed by Jessica Yu (2012)

Film Review

This is a wide ranging documentary about the global freshwater crisis. It focuses mainly on the US, which has the largest water footprint per capital. However it also briefly addresses even more severe water issues in Australia, the Middle East and India.

The film addresses numerous issues contributing to the shortage of fresh water – climate change, causing more frequent droughts and declining snow backs (an important source of fresh water), the rapid depletion of groundwater (many US aquifers are predicted to be totally gone in 60 years), and the contamination of remaining freshwater by unregulated toxic chemical discharge, factory farm waste and fracking wastewater.

As usual the federal regulatory agencies (EPA, FDA, USDA) come off looking really badly in contrast to their European counterparts. It also comes across loud and clear that poor Americans suffer the most from contaminated drinking water – especially when government looks the other way.

The film also highlights how spoiled and entitled many Americans are in their attitudes towards water conservation.

My favorite part of the film features renowned anti-toxics activist Erin Brokovich, who continues to work tirelessly for poor communities suffering epidemics of cancer and other debilitating conditions stemming from contaminated water

Unfortunately there are no easy solutions to contaminated drinking water. Drinking bottled water isn’t one of them. As the filmmakers point out, bottled water is even more poorly regulated than tap water. Neither is desalinization, which is extremely polluting, both in terms of CO2 pollution and a nasty brine residue that’s nearly as harmful as nuclear waste to human health and the environment.

It appears that the cheapest and most environmentally friendly solution for desert areas like the Southwest and Southern California is one adopted by the city of Singapore: recycling purified waste (sewage) water. Most Americans resist this approach due to the “yuck factor.” Reportedly Los Angeles is on track to begin waste water recycling  by 2019.

The film, which can’t be embedded, can be viewed free for the next 2 weeks at the Maori TV website: Last Call at the Oasis

 

 

The Real Reason Silicon Valley Moved Electronics Assembly to China?

Death by Design

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

Death By Design is a very concerning documentary about the extremely toxic chemicals used in the production of semiconductors and circuit boards needed for computers, cellphones ipods, etc.

It turns out IBM has been keeping a mortality register since the 1970s showing an extremely high rate of breast cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer and melanoma in in electronics assembly workers. Unsurprisingly there are also high levels of carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals in the ground water of various Silicon Valley neighborhoods. Thanks to the tireless organizing and lobbying efforts of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, in 2001 the EPA declared a number of Silicon Valley companies Superfund Sites* in 2001 (IBM, Intel, National Semiconductor, Hewlett Packard among others).

This, in turn, would lead most Silicon Valley companies to outsource their electronics assembly to China, where environmental regulations are much weaker.

At the moment China also deals with most of the world’s toxic e-waste, a problem significantly compounded by deliberate planned obsolescence on the part of tech companies. Our Smartphones, computers, etc are deliberately designed to cease operating after about four years so we have to buy new ones. The most famous example is the Apple iphone, with the infamous battery that goes dead after 18 months and can’t be replaced.

Apple and their main Chinese contractor Foxconn are also the worst offenders in resisting Chinese environmentalists who are trying to reduce toxic discharges to Chinese rivers and streams.

The part of the film I found most interesting relates to a company called Ifixit, which specializes in teaching Smartphone and computer users how to fix their own devices instead of replacing them. They have even developed a special screwdriver to open Iphones so the batteries can be replaced.

I was also intrigued to learn about an Irish company that builds totally non-toxic and upgradable laptops out of wood (instead of plastic) that last 7-10 years.


*When the EPA declares a company a toxic Superfund Site, the company is required to develop and pay for removing the toxic chemicals.

Victory: Environmentalists Win Appeal Against Seabed Mining Decision

We won! As reported in the Taranaki Daily News, the New Zealand High Court has overturned a decision by the Environmental Protection Authority to grant a seabed mining consent off the coast of South Taranaki.

In August last year Trans Tasman Resources was granted consent to mine up to 50 million tonnes of iron sand from a 66 sq km area off the South Taranaki Bight. Following a split decision, the chairperson cast his vote in favor of TTR’s consent.

The court’s findings focused on what the appellants argued was “adaptive management” – a practice of essentially “trying it out and seeing what happens” – which they argued is illegal under New Zealand law. The judge agreed that the Exclusive Economic Zone Act sets out requirements to protect the environment against pollution and to favor caution and environmental protection if the information available is inadequate.

Read more here: Taranaki Daily News

Saving Orca Whales: Extinction Via Bureaucratic Bungling and Stupidity

The following are two jaw dropping presentations by former Army Corps Engineer Jim Waddell. Prior to his retirement, Waddell assisted in preparing a seven-year $30 million  Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on four Snake River* dams that prevent salmon from returning upriver to breed. Released in 2002, the EIS explores a number of potential options for preventing impending salmon extinctions. Predictably the Army Corps rejected the cheapest and most effective, namely incrementally “breaching”** the four dams

The lower Snake River dams became operational between 1961 and 1975, with the goal of providing hydropower for Bonneville Power Administration.*** Ironically BPA has always produced a surplus of electricity, which until a decade ago they sold to California. With California’s big uptake of solar and wind generation, they no longer buy power from BPA. This means the dams operate at a loss to taxpayers.

On top of growing maintenance costs, the Army Corps of Engineers and BPA have spent $1 billion over the last 15 years on fish hatcheries and salmon recovery schemes that have done nothing to increase the salmon population.

Impending Orca Whale Extinction

Because declining Chinook salmon are their sole source of food, the resident Southern Orca population also began to crash in the early 1990s. Orca calves essentially starve to death before they can reach maturity. The current population has been steady at 75 since the species was first declared endangered in 2002.

Orca biologists estimate the whales need 580,000 Chinook salmon a year to breed successfully. At present, the Snake River is only returning 40,000 per year to the ocean.

December 1 Deadline to Breach Two Dams

When the first video was made two years ago, Waddell was stressing an the urgent need to breach the first dam by October 2016 – with a plan to breach the other three in successive years. Owing to the deteriorating condition of the 20 breeding Orcas, he now maintains the two lowest damns must be breached by December 1, 2018. He estimates this would return 1-3 million Chinook to the ocean after 8-12 months.

The entire cost of the operation would be funded by the Army Corps of Engineers and BPA – in lieu of costly dam maintenance and costly and ineffective salmon recovery schemes – at great savings to taxpayers.

Although maintaining the four dams is extremely wasteful to taxpayers and of no real economic benefit to business or farming interests, dam breaching is being blocked by a handful of professional lobbyists and bureaucrats in Washington governor Jay Inslee’s office and Washington senator Patty Murray’s office.

You can sign a petition supporting the urgent dam breaches at Time is Running Out


*The Snake River is a major river of the greater Pacific Northwest and the largest tributary of the Columbia River.

**In the first video, Waddell explains the difference between “breaching” and “removing” a dam. The latter is prohibitively expensive. In contrast, breaching only requires two bulldozers to dig a notch in the earthen berm to one side of the dam. This allows the river to flow around the dam.

***The Bonneville Power Administration is a US federal agency operating in the Pacific Northwest charged with marketing power produced by the Snake River dams and constructing facilities necessary to transmit that power.

 

The second video is an August 14, 2018 update on the Snake River dam controversy.