31 December 2007

Message for World Peace

"I believe that to meet the challenge of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for his or her own self, family or nation, but for the benefit of all mankind. Universal responsi­bility is the real key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace, the equitable use of natural resources, and through concern for future generations, the proper care of the environment."

An excerpt from HH the Dalai Lama's speech "The Global Community".

The Global Community, HH the Dalai Lama
World Peace, HH the Dalai Lama
The Website of the Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

28 December 2007

Climate change, a slow-motion catastrophe

The Real News network interview with the Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

The David Suzuki Foundation works "to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us."

It focuses on four program areas:
  • sustainability
  • oceans and sustainable fishing
  • climate change and clean energy
  • nature challenge
"The Foundation uses science and education to promote solutions that conserve nature and help achieve sustainability within a generation."

Interview with Dr. David Suzuki, The Real News
David Suzuki Foundation

26 December 2007

Zapatistas in code-red alert

From the 13th to the 17th of December, took place the 1st International Colloquium In Memorian Andrés Aubry in Chiapas, Mexico, co-organised by the independent magazine Contrahistorias, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Universidad de la Tierra.

The theme of the Colloquium was "Planet Earth: Antisystemic movements" and it gathered many intelectuals in an exchange of ideas of resistance.

Amongst many other contributions, on the 16th, the Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos (El Sup) held a speech intitled: "Feeling Red: The Calendar and the Geography of War"...

On this speech he drew attention to the fact that once again, their communites are being the target of aggression. He said: "The signs of war on the horizon are clear. War, like fear, also has a smell. And now we are starting to breathe its fetid odor in our lands."

Already Ernesto Ledesma Arronte and his colleagues at the CAPISE (Center of Political Analysis and Social and Economic Investigations) had alerted to an increased pressure against the autonomous zapatista people by several federal institutions, including agrarian and public security institutions, but also by the federal mexican army and paramilitary groups.

On all 56 permanent military bases run by the Mexican state on indigenous land in Chiapas, there has been an increase in activity, with an escalation on weapons and troops.

Also, there has been a recent increase on the hostilities from paramilitarised groups against families that support the zapatista movement, including shots fired into the air, brutal beatings, and threats of death, rape and dismemberment...

Arronche himself has been a victim of intimidation, with his house being broken into last February, as reported by Amnesty International.

They state: "Local human rights organizations believe that the break-in may be part of a pattern of threats, intimidation and harassment of activists who are involved in a nationwide peaceful civilian political campaign, La Otra Campaña (The Other Campaign)."

This campaign by the EZLN, on which Arronche also took part, concided with the presidential election campaign and seeked to mobilise leftwing grassroots organizations and raise social and political issues (ignored by the major candidates), including indigenous rights.

According to El Sup, for months the Zapatistas have been resisting violence and trying to expose these provocations. But by choosing to hold The Other Campaign instead of lining up behind the leftist candidate in the elections, the movement made powerful enemies. He says: "We understand that our positions are not being welcomed with the same openness and tolerance as before". And now their calls for help are being met with a deafening silence.

Both Naomi Klein and John Berger, present at the Colloquium have been active in appealing for the support of the civil society to the Zapatista movement.

John Berger, during the presentation of his new book (Con la esperanza entre los dientes), has said: "The Zapatista project is in real danger, and if it does disapear, it will have consequences felt all over the world".

Enlace Zapatista, EZLN
Primer Coloquio Internacional In Memorian Andrés Aubry
Sentir el rojo: El calendario y la geografia de la guerra, SCI Marcos
Centro de Analisis Politico e Investigaciones Sociales (CAPISE)
Mexico: Fear for safety, Amnesty International
Zapatista Code Red, Naomi Klein
A la movilización en defensa del zapatismo, De t@d@s para t@d@s

25 December 2007

Bali wrap-up

And here is the closing press briefing...

So was it all a success?

It did indeed launch a two-year negotiation process (the "Bali roadmap") culminating in the 2009 UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, where an agreement on CO2 and other greenhouse gas reductions should be met, to take effect in 2012 (post-Kyoto).

It tackled issues relating to emission reductions, forests (and deforestation), adaptation (to climate change impacts) and technological transfer.

In the first days of the conference it saw Australia joining in to the Kyoto protocol, this way isolating the US as the only country within the Annex II of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
not to have ratified the treaty. According to this Convention, the Annex II refers to countries that have restrictions on their emissions and "have to provide financial resources to the developing countries".

The negotiations, however, were not easy, as briefly described...

Earlier in the talks, for example, delegations from the US and Japan, supported by Canada, rejected strong proposals on financing technological transfer.

Throughout the conference many discussions were undertaken in order to produce a draft paper that would consolidate the desired agreement on how to take a long-term climate change regime forward.

During the last day, before an agreement had been reached, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, in an attempt to urge the countries to be flexible and to accept the latest draft of the "roadmap" said he was "
disappointed at the level of progress", being imediately greeted with a standing ovation.

After this moment, Nation after Nation expressed their willingness to be flexible and accept the document. Up until it came the turn of the US, which stated they were "not prepared to accept this formulation", followed by a stunned silence and then a crescendo of boos and hisses.

Nevertheless, Nations continued to accept the draft, until it came the turn of Kevin Conrad, the representative from Papua New Guinea who said what no-one else dared saying: "There is an old saying if you are not going to lead you should get out of the way and so I say to the United States: ‘We ask for your leadership but if you are not going to lead, leave it to us. Get out of the way.’"

After which
Paula Dobriansky, chief US negotiator eventually declared they would "go forward and join the consensus", this way reaching a deal.

So it seems that in the end all was great! Or was it?

A quick tour through the web pages of some influential environment NGOs revealed that the "roadmap" clearly has some serious limitations.

According to Greenpeace, the low tactics used by the US (and supported by Japan, Canada, Australia and others) have "watered down" the consensus.

One of their main criticisms were about the fact that "the strong science that should be driving the process was relegated to a footnote".

Also, they claim that, relating with the reduction of emissions from deforestation, the document has
"a loophole that may allow some industrialised countries to swap binding targets for voluntary goals", which unquestionably raises some concerns.

Friends of the Earth revealed some limitations on the Adaptation Fund, aimed at assisting countries, that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, in meeting the costs of adaptation.

"A work plan to negotiate complex issues on the potential scheme to reduce deforestation in developing countries, with references that could include plantations which would water down the scheme."

"An obligation for verifiable reporting on developing country actions without resolute commitments to finance technology and capacity building to assist them to do so."

Also, and some days after the conference was over, the WWF has issued a press release saying the Bali commitments were already forgotten. According to them, the EU environment ministers have decided (at the EU Environment Council in Brussels) not yet to include the emissions from the aviation sector in the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Delia Villagrasa, Senior Advisor at WWF European Policy Office said: "Europe took a strong stance at the Bali climate talks, but seems to have taken a backward step with this lenient approach towards the aviation sector."

"Whilst all industrial sectors included in the ETS are required to do their share to put the EU on track to meet its Kyoto emissions reduction target, the ceiling on carbon emissions from airlines proposed by the Council today is almost 90 per cent above 1990 levels."

So where is the political will Ivo de Boer asked for at the beginning of the conference? Were the commintments really already forgotten? Or are the business-as-usual lobbies fighting back?...

Even though an important step forward has been made, it seems obvious there is still much to do to tackle the urgent issue of climate change and its impacts, with a sense of global justice...

UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, UNFCCC
Bali reports, UN Gateway on Climate Change
Tears, jeers and a last minute U-turn, Greenpeace
Kyoto afloat despite attempted sabotage, Friends of the Earth
Bali commitments already forgotten by EU Ministers, WWF

10 December 2007

Re-viewing the expectations for the Bali Climate Change Conference

Just a few days before the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali ends, it is worth having another look at the expectations expressed by Ivo de Boer (the Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Change Secretariat) before it all started...

United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, UN

03 December 2007

UNDP dedicates its annual report to climate change

On the 27th of November, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) has launched the 2007/2008 Human Development Report, under the title "Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world", thus highlighting the importance of the issue for human development.

The report starts with a quote from Martin Luther King referring to the urgency of the problem, in a somewhat pessimistic manner:

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. We are faced now with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: Too late.

It first addresses the challenges of climate change, in terms of human development. On this section, it refers back to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), thus recognising the "unequivocal" evidences of climate change. In this context, it identifies five "specific risk-multipliers for human development reversals":
  • Reduced agricultural production and food security
  • Heightened water insecurity
  • Rising seas and increased exposure to coastal flooding and extreme weather events
  • The collapse of ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Increased human health risks
It criticises Business-as-usual which describes as "pathways to an unsustainable climate future", highlighting the inequalities in carbon footprinting.

"They mirror the relationship between economic growth, industrial development and access to modern energy services. That relationship draws attention to an important human development concern. Climate change and the curtailment of excessive fossil fuel use may be the greatest challenge of the 21st Century, but an equally urgent and more immediate challenge is the expanded provision of affordable energy services to the world’s poor."

The report urges to action based on social justice and ecological interdependence, but also on economic grounds:

"Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes that “everyone has a right to life, liberty and personal security.” Inaction in the face of the threat posed by climate change would represent a very immediate violation of that universal right. (...) The ethical foundation of any society has to be measured partly on the basis of how it treats its most vulnerable members."

On economic grounds, it refers to the Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change commissioned by the United Kingdom Government, which strongly concluded that prevention is better, and cheaper, than inaction, suggesting urgent, immediate, and rapid reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.

It also raises the ethical issue of cross-generational equity in terms of sustainability:

"Denying the case for action today on the grounds that future generations with a lower weight should be expected to shoulder a greater burden of mitigation costs is not an ethically defensible proposition—and it is inconsistent with the moral responsibilities that come with membership of a human community linked across generations."

One other critical ethical issue covered by the UNDP in this report refers to the inequalities in climate change impacts:

"While climate disasters are affecting more and more people across the world, the overwhelming majority lives in developing countries. (...) The processes by which (climatic) risk is converted into vulnerability (measure of capacity to manage risk) in any country are shaped by the underlying state of human development, including the inequalities in income, opportunity and political power that marginalize the poor. Developing countries and their poorest citizens are most vulnerable to climate change."

The report then draws strategies for mitigations, such as setting targets (post-Kyoto), carbon-pricing, together with governmental regulations and international cooperation.

At the national level, the nature of the risks associated varies across regions and countries, as well as their capacity to adapt to climate change, therefore concluding that some countries - and some people - are far better equipped than others to respond.

"Adaptation in the developed world has taken many forms. The ‘floating home’ owners (...) provide a household-level illustration of behavioural shift . In other cases, business is being forced to adapt. Many developed countries have conducted detailed studies on climate change impacts. Several are moving towards the implementation of adaptation strategies."

However, in the poorest countries, adaptation is largely a matter of self-help. "Millions of people with barely enough resources to feed, clothe and shelter their families are being forced to direct money and labour to adaptation."

"Human development itself is the most secure foundation for adaptation to climate change. Policies that promote equitable growth and the diversification of livelihoods, expand opportunities in health and education, provide social insurance for vulnerable populations, improve disaster management and support post-emergency recovery all enhance the resilience of poor people facing climate risks."

Finally, and urging for international cooperation the report states:

"With their historic responsibility for the energy emissions that are driving climate change and their far deeper current carbon footprints, rich countries have a moral obligation to support adaptation in developing countries. They also have the financial resources to act on that obligation."

Human Development Report 2007/2008, UNDP
Human Development Report Office, UNDP
Assessment Reports, IPCC
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN
Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, HM Treasury

26 November 2007

More Walls of Shame

Here are the last two episodes of the series "Walls of Shame" done by Al Jazeera English, this time covering the walls in the West Bank and Belfast.

Two more stories of walls promoting the perpetuation of isolation and division, walls reflecting prejudice and mistrust, walls denying understanding and reconciliation...

Episode Three - West Bank

"There is nothing new about so-called 'protective' walls - most ancient cities had them. The ones we see today around Jerusalem date from the 16th century. But the 21st century walls not only look different - they serve a different purpose.

Welcome to the most divisive and controversial wall in the world today. The 700km wall, costing $2m a kilometre has been criticised by the International Court of Justice, yet Israel claims it is vital for its security and the warding-off of suicide bombers.

This episode of the Walls of Shame series will look at the plight of Palestinian farmers whose land became inaccessible because of the wall, and the real intention of those who first drew its outlines. And their highest priority was not the security of Israel."

Part 1:

Part 2:

Episode Four - Belfast

"The modern history of Northern Ireland has been dominated by one thing, 'The Troubles' - a violent, bitter conflict, both political and religious, between those claiming to represent the predominantly Catholic nationalists and those claiming to represent the mainly Protestant unionists.

But what Northern Ireland has now is not so much 'peace' as 'an absence of conflict' after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998. Far from disappearing, the walls have grown. Instead of reconciliation, there is partition – an ill-tempered stalemate of separate identities and separated lives.

Broadly speaking, the nationalists – also called 'Republicans' - want Northern Ireland to be unified with the Republic of Ireland while the unionists want it to remain part of the United Kingdom, along with England, Wales and Scotland.

This episode of the Walls of Shame series looks at life on both sides of the barriers between the warring communities."

Part 1:

Part 2:

Walls of Shame - Episode Three, Al Jazeera English
Walls of Shame - Episode Four, Al Jazeera English

22 November 2007

Rape victim jailed and punished by Saudi court

Saudi Arabia is a country where gross human rights violations occur. Issues like prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, abolishment of freedom of expression and association, women's rights violations, abuses of migrant workers (by state authorities and by private employers), torture and ill-treatment, corporal punishments, body mutilations and the death penalty are common abuses.

In October 2006, a 19 year old woman met a male friend in his car, after which they were attacked by a gang of seven men who allegedly raped them both several times. As the victims reported the occurrence to the police, they were both sentenced to 90 lashes of the whip, for "illegal mingling".

Strictly following the Islamic Sharia law, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where a woman cannot leave the house without written permission from her closest male relative. Among many other things they are also not allowed to drive, and have been banned from voting...

The 19 year-old woman, revolted with the situation spoke out in public about her case in an attempt to seek justice. As a response, last week, in November 14, the same court decided to increase her sentence to 6 months in prison and 200 lashes of the whip because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media”. The court also harassed her lawyer, banning him from the case and confiscating his professional license.

Human Rights Watch called on King Abdullah to immediately void the verdict and drop all charges against the rape victim and to order the court to end its harassment of her lawyer.

“A courageous young woman faces lashing and prison for speaking out about her efforts to find justice,” said Farida Deif, researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch. “This verdict not only sends victims of sexual violence the message that they should not press charges, but in effect offers protection and impunity to the perpetrators.”

Despite all of these facts, Saudi Arabia remains a key ally of the US and Britain's biggest trading partner in the Middle East.

In fact, a recent a lucrative new defence contract between Saudi Arabia and the UK made clear that it was business as usual between the two countries. In the end of October King Abdullah paid a state visit to Britain, having been a guest of the Queen at Buckingham Palace and having had a ceremonial welcome on Horse Guards Parade...

Rape victim punished for speaking out, Human Rights Watch
Saudi court punishes rape victim, Al Jazeera English
Report 2007: Saudi Arabia, Amnesty International
Saudi Human Rights Center

19 November 2007

Planet Ocean: Photo stories from the 'Defending our Oceans' voyage

This photobook, a joint publication by New Internationalist and Greenpeace, gathers incredible photographs taken on a 477-day voyage around the globe, which constituted the single largest expedition that Greenpeace has ever undertaken.

Three quarters of the planet is ocean and 80 per cent of all life lives here. They give us so much, yet we know relatively little about them. Planet Ocean is a window onto this secret world. Despite the vastness of the oceans we now know that they are in crisis, struggling to absorb the impact of our destructive ways. This is the story of our oceans - their extraordinary beauty and diversity of life - and the equally astounding ways in which they are exploited.

Greenpeace's "Defending our Oceans" campaign exposes the threats to the marine ecosystems, confronts the villains and promotes solutions such as a global network of ocean parks called marine reserves.

The main threats identified include:
  • Industrial fishing
  • Bycatch
  • Unfair fisheries
  • Fish farming
  • Global warming
  • Pollution
As for the book, and according to Greenpeace, it seems like it is selling out and there is already a second print on the line. I am sure it is worth every page...

Planet Ocean photobook, New Internationalist
Planet Ocean, New Internationalist
State of the world's Oceans, New Internationalist
Defending our Oceans campaign, Greenpeace
Defending our Oceans expedition, Greenpeace
Greenpeace Esperanza's photos, Flickr

14 November 2007

Walls of Shame

The television station Al Jazeera has recently broadcasted the first two episodes of a series called "Walls of Shame", which is worth watching...

"It matters little what they are called – whether walls, barriers or fences - the intention is the same: to redefine human relations into 'us' and 'them'. This series is about division, and about the barriers that men erect, in calculation or desperation, to separate themselves from others, or others from them. When diplomacy and conciliation fail, this is the alternative, and not since medieval times have walls been so in demand around the world. Tens of new walls, barriers and fences are currently being built, while old ones are being renovated. And there are many types: barriers between countries, walls around cities and fences that zig-zag through neighbourhoods.

This series will look at four examples of new and extended walls around the world. It will examine the lives of those who are living next to them and how their lives are impacted. It will also reveal the intention of the walls' designers and builders, and explore the novel and artistic ways walls are used to chronicle the past and imagine the future.

The Walls of Shame series takes its name from John F. Kennedy's reference to the Berlin Wall in his state of the union address in 1963. It will examine four new walls: The one on the American-Mexican border, the West Bank wall, the Spanish fence around Ceuta, and the walls inside the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland."

Episode One - US/Mexico

"A border of more than 3,000 kilometres separates the US from Mexico - but it is defined not only by physical barriers made of concrete and steel but by an immigration policy which is failing to address the issues behind illegal migration.

Despite the US spending billions of dollars on border enforcement, the lure of work sees illegal migrants enter the country at a rate of 850,000 a year.

A series of walls along the Mexican border were designed to stem this flow but based on current estimates it has failed.

Instead, the walls have re-routed human traffic into remote desert areas where people risk their lives in deadly conditions attempting to enter the US."

Part 1:

Part 2:

Episode Two - Morrocco/Spain

"The city of Ceuta is the southernmost outpost of fortress Europe. Yet it is on mainland Africa – opposite the Straights of Gibraltar. It is one of the last vestiges of Spanish rule in northern Morocco.

Madrid insists it will never relinquish control and has cordoned it off – prompting comparison with other walls of shame.

Now, though, there are growing demands for a more constructive approach to the problem of illegal immigration. One man has already started a grass-roots initiative that proved much more successful than walls and fences.

But within the town of Ceuta is another divide – a social division that is religious and economic - between the wealthy Christian Spaniards and their poorer Muslim compatriots of Moroccan descent."

Part 1:

Part 2:

Walls of Shame - Episode One, Al Jazeera English
Walls of Shame - Episode Two, Al Jazeera English

07 November 2007

Human Rights abuses shadow Olympic Games

When in 2001 the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing, it did so as the Beijing bidding committee pledged that the hosting of the Games “will help the development of human rights” and most notably, “there will be no restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists up to and including the Olympic Games”.

Nevertheless, the Chinese government has shown little substantive progress in addressing long-standing human rights concerns.

China has a well-documented history of serious human rights abuses, including widespread torture, censorship of the media and internet, controls on religious freedom, and repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang. China continues to lead the world in executions. The government classifies the number of people executed as a state secret, but it is believed that China executes many more people than the rest of the world combined each year.

But the staging of the Olympics is exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labour rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence political opponents. The government is continuing its crackdown on lawyers, human rights defenders and activists who dedicate themselves to rule of law and the exposure of rights abuses. Fear of citizen activism has led to government obstruction of local activists and grassroots organizations working to stem China’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. Fears of harm to China’s national image have even led Chinese officials to stop prominent activists from leaving the country.

In 2006, an international coalition of human rights organizations has issued a joint statement, saying the International Olympic Committee has failed to protect Olympic ideals and calling on national Olympic committees, athletes and sponsors to take action. Citing continuing human rights violations and political propaganda abuse of the Games by the Chinese authoritarian government, they say boycott is one of possible options of protest.

Being tomorrow China's official Journalists’ Day, the International Olympic Committee was urged by Human Rights Watch to end "its silence on the Chinese government’s ongoing violations of its pledge on media freedoms, a commitment it made to the IOC to win its bid to host the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing".

This organisation has identified the following major areas for human right reform in the Olympic run-up:
  • Forced evictions and school closures
  • Labour rights abuses
  • Repression of ethnic minorities
  • Controls on religious freedom
  • The death penalty and executions
  • HIV/AIDS rights advocacy obstruction
  • Use of house arrest system
  • Ties with rights violators
Somehow it seems more likely that little will change, and that the IOC will close its eyes at these abuses, which undermine the "preservation of human dignity" that lies at the heart of the Olympic Charter...

Beijing 2008 - China's Olympian Human Rights challenges, Human Rights Watch
The Olympics countdown - failing to keep Human Rights promises, Amnesty Int.
Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008, Olympic Watch

01 November 2007

Biofuels, the misleading solution

With the approach of the oil peak, an increasing demand for energy and fuel and pressures to tackle climate change, biofuels were seen as the ultimate solution for the future.

In fact, in 2005 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented a paper on a meeting of its Committee of Agriculture, where it advocated biofuels to help the diversification of agricultural and forestry activities and improve food security, while contributing to sustainable development. Also, biofuels are often claimed to be a renewable energy source which is carbon-neutral, because (when they are burnt) they release only the CO2 that was already in the atmosphere.

These arguments seem convincing enough for the rapid development of this technology, which also benefits from political (and economic) support of high-developed countries which are struggling to comply with quotas on carbon emissions as defined in the Kyoto protocol. As a result of this, in recent years there has been a massive increase on the production and use of this "green" energy source.

As such, in 2003 the European Union approved a directive on biofuels, where it stipulates that national measures must be taken by countries across the EU aiming at replacing 5,75% of all transport fossil fuels (petrol and diesel) with biofuels by 2010.

But the criticisms are many, and biofuels might actually be bringing more damage than benefit for both the environment and the people...

As it seems, these fuels are not carbon-neutral after all, as there are considerable CO2 emissions from the refinery and distillery process needed to produce biodiesel or bioethanol, from its transport, farm machinery use and fertiliser production, etc. Also, these fuels have been shown to generate bigger amounts of nitrous oxide (N2O), which are potent and long lasting greenhouse gases.

Also, biofuels is leading to a greater increase on agricultural intensification - already a major cause for biodiversity loss in the Global North - and deforestation of considerable areas of tropical forests (particularly in the Global South), with an unaccountable impact on its carbon sink function and the biodiversity that depends on it.

In response to the British government's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), which brings the UK into line with the European biofuels directive, some of Britain's biggest green groups (including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, RSPB and WWF) are warning that "the government risks implementing an ill-thought out policy which lacks the appropriate safeguards, meaning that the government could be creating more problems than it solves".

Specifically, they criticise the lack of any regulations concerning these. This way, and in order to support the RTFO, they demand:
  • Ensure that biofuels meet strict externally audited, widely accepted and mandatory sustainability and greenhouse gas balance standards, including at least a 50 per cent saving on greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels, taking a whole life-cycle approach
  • Take account of the greenhouse gases caused by land-use change and forest clearance to grow biofuels so that where high carbon land-uses are lost, no saving is claimed.

Also, in August 2007 Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food presented a report to the General Assembly on "The impact of biofuels on the right to food, protection gap for people fleeing from hunger". In this report he alerts:
  • There are serious risks of creating a battle between food and fuel that will leave the poor and hungry in developing countries at the mercy of rapidly rising prices for food, land and water.
  • If agro-industrial methods are pursued to turn food into fuel, then there are risks that unemployment and violations of the right to food may result, unless specific measures are put in place to ensure that biofuels contribute to the development of small-scale peasant and family farming.
The report ends with a series of conclusions and recommendations for governments on the realization of the right to food, which include:
  • States should establish a five-year moratorium on all initiatives to develop biofuels through converting food into fuel. This should provide time for an assessment of the potential impact on the right to food, as well as on other social, environmental and human rights, and should ensure that biofuels do not produce hunger.
  • States should ensure that biofuels are produced from non-food plants, agricultural wastes and crop residues, rather than food crops, in order to avert massive rises in the prices of food, water and land and the diversion of these resources away from food production. This will require immediate massive investment in “second generation” technologies for producing biofuels.
  • States should adopt appropriate measures to ensure that biofuel production is based on family agriculture, rather than agro-industrial methods, in order to avert creating hunger and instead create employment and rural development that does not bypass the poor.
  • The right to food is a human right. Leaving people to suffer from hunger, famine and starvation is a violation of human rights.
Finally, when presenting this report to the public and the media, in New York, the Rapporteur also stated that "It is a crime against humanity to convert agricultural productive soil into soil which produces food stuff that will be burned into biofuel."

So, there seems to be a lot of misleading "truths" about biofuels, some of them undoubtedly nourished by big economic lobbies which are already making much profit of this "green" technology...

Bioenergy, key to the fight against hunger, FAO Newsroom
Biofuels, Greenpeace
Biofuels - a big green con?, Friends of the Earth
Biofuels: Renewable energy or environmentl disaster in the making?, BiofuelWatch
Biofuels could add to greenhouse gas emissions
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

25 October 2007

Did you know?

Did you know that around 70 per cent of the 1.3 billion people who live in extreme poverty (on less than one dollar a day) are women and girls?

Did you know that women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, and produce half of the world’s food, yet earn only ten per cent of the world’s income, and own less than one per cent of the world’s property?

Did you know that two-thirds of children denied primary education are girls, and 75 per cent of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women?

Did you know that women hold only 14 per cent of parliamentary seats worldwide, and only eight per cent of the world’s cabinet ministers are women?

Did you know that domestic violence is the biggest cause of injury and death to women worldwide, and that gender-based violence causes more deaths and disability among women (aged 15 to 44) than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war?

Did you know... ?

WomenWatch, UN
Gender Equality, Oxfam
Gender Guide, OneWorld
Women's Rights, Global Issues

19 October 2007

The Shock Doctrine

Short film by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein.

The Shock Doctrine

18 October 2007

Nobel laureate banned over racist claims

James D. Watson, born in 1928 in Chicago Illinois (USA), is a molecular biologist renown for the discovery of the structure of DNA (together with his colleagues Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, based on the work by Rosalind Franklin), which revolutionised modern biology and genetics.

In 1953, they published their work in the journal Nature, revealing the double helix structure of the DNA. In 1962 they received the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material". In 1968, Watson wrote the book "The Double Helix", on which he wrote not only about the scientific discovery itself, but also about the personalities, conflicts and controversy surrounding their work. The book changed the way the public viewed scientists and the way they work.

Nevertheless, he has never been shy of controversy, his public utterances leading to him being accused of sexism, racism, homophobia, sizeism and, occasionally, of being simply mad.

In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. He later insisted he was talking about a "hypothetical" choice which could never be applied. He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that " stupidity" could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great."

In 2000, he delivered a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley. Its intensely racist content surprised the academic establishment. Watson proposed that "blacks are genetically prone to laziness, obesity, and have more active sex drives than do whites". Watson's presentation was considered so sexist and racist that many people in the audience walked out.

Today he was banned from speaking at London's Science Museum after saying black people were less intelligent than whites. Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really". He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

Critics of Dr Watson said there should be a robust response to his views across the spheres of politics and science. Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "It is sad to see a scientist of such achievement making such baseless, unscientific and extremely offensive comments. I am sure the scientific community will roundly reject what appear to be Dr Watson's personal prejudices.

Anti-racism campaigners called for Dr Watson's remarks to be looked at in the context of racial hatred laws. A spokesman for the 1990 Trust, a black human rights group, said: "It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint."

The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was studying Dr Watson's remarks "in full".

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1962
James D. Watson, Wikipedia
Black people 'less intelligent' scientist claims, The Sunday Times
Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners, The Independent
Science museum bans DNA genius at centre of race row, Daily Mail
A Rogue's Gallery of Academic Racialists, JBHE, No. 31. (2001), pp. 108-111

15 October 2007

Guerrilla Gardening

The concept of Guerrilla Gardening was first used in the 1970's by the activist group Green Guerillas based in New York, USA.

It refers to a form of non-violent direct action, which consists on making use of public urban spaces, many times squandered (like vacant lots, edges of alleys and walks next to buildings, edges of parking lots, etc.), and turning them into community gardens by there planting flowers or vegetables.

Being a grassroots movement, it can involve initiatives aimed at engaging youth and supporting neighbourhood coalitions, this way outlining the power-to-the-people campaign for greening our cities. These community gardens many times serve as outdoor environmental, education and cultural centres, where activities, meetings and events can be held. It can also tackle the issue of food security, by growing food in the cities (where it is most needed) and sending it to emergency food providers.

In the early days, guerrilla gardening was primarily a means of protest. Nowadays, it offers endless possibilities of expression, less destructive than graffiti tags but no less effective. It is the day-by-day use of plants and other visible events to surprise people and make them re-evaluate their position within the natural world...

The Guerrilla Gardening Homepage
Green Guerillas
Guerrilla Gardeners: Resistance is fertile
Guerilla Gardening: How did it start?
Guerilla Garden in Guantanamo

Blog Action Day

"On October 15th, bloggers around the web will unite to put a single important issue on everyone’s mind - the environment. Every blogger will post about the environment in their own way and relating to their own topic. Our aim is to get everyone talking towards a better future."

Blog Action Day

12 October 2007

Goat tracks...

Another blog is created, which is nothing new. The same way as this one blog is not supposed to bring anything new. It is simply aimed at sharing existing views of the world.

It is based on the belief that there is not only one truth, one way, one perspective. That there is not just right or wrong, good or evil... That the world has many truths, as many as there are living beings, and that they should all be considered…

This way, also this blog will reflect certain truths or interpretations of the reality, not assuming to be better than any other. Nevertheless, it will reflect concerns about the world today. Try to explore the minor tracks, like goat tracks, which no matter how permanent or ephemeral, allow us to cross the reality landscape through routes different from the main information highways. This way giving value to the pluralism and the multitude of opinions, and trying to give voice, in the best way possible, to ideas and perspectives that may otherwise not reach further.