A Short Pictorial History of the Human Chain

This Sunday, I'll be heading back to the White House for the next big demonstration with Tar Sands Action calling on Obama to deny the Keystone XL pipeline permit - you know, just in case he didn't get the message the first time around. They're planning to put a human chain around the White House this time (Update: check out photos from the event here and my reflections afterward here). Seems like a good opportunity to visit some notable human chains of recent memory:

One of the largest human chains ever recorded, the "Baltic Way" called for the end of Soviet rule in the Baltic states in August 1989. The chain was over three countries, 600 kilometers and two million people long and foreshadowed the region's eventual independence two years later. Recent echos of this have been felt in the country of Georgia where residents formed a chain of about a million people to protest Russia's attempt to split the country in two.

The Dongria Kondh tribe of Orissa, India were joined by thousands of supporters in 2009 to protest the destruction of their sacred mountain, Niyamgiri, by British mining company Vendata. A documentary on the tribe's continued activism against the bauxite mine has just been released. If you're a fan of human chains, India's definitely your place: school students and others routinely join hands about everything from air pollution and polythene bags to water conservation and industrial pollution in rivers. And that's just the environmental stuff.

Residents of Okinawa have held multiple protests against Futenma, a US Marine base on the Japanese island. Human chains comprised of tens of thousands have been held in 1995, 1998, 2003, 2005 and 2010. That later one brought 17,000 people out. One of many complaints residents have against the base is the pollution caused by air traffic. Protesters made another human chain around a US military base in Guam in 2010 when the Marines suggested turning a historically and biologically significant site - Pagat - into a firing range and training area.

About 5000 people showed up at Nairobi National Park in Kenya in June 2010 to advocate for the park's protection from human impacts like water pollution, trash, land grabbing and encroaching settlements. The organization, called Nairobi Greenline, is also planning to plant nearly a million native trees around the park.

After the Fukushima crisis in March 2011, 40,000 Germans turned out in force to protest nuclear energy, creating a chain nearly 50 kilometers long (seen here at a nuclear power plant in Neckarswestheim). The message must have struck a chord because the German government decided to phase out nuclear power months later (for an interesting contrast, check out this human chain in support of nuclear energy in Iran in 2006 - state approved, of course). Similar protests have been held in France, where nuclear power makes up the bulk of the country's energy supply.

Nearly 1000 people - including many adorable children - participated in a 2 kilometer-long human chain ("No hay dignidad sin Justicia" - There is no Dignity without Justice) in San Salvador this July to call attention to the poverty and poor housing conditions faced by many in the city. Here's a video.

Here's another list that focuses less on environmental issues.

My Keystone XL Twitterview

A journalism student in Montreal, Anouare Abdou, interviewed me recently on Twitter (a "Twitterview" - what a concept) about the Keystone XL project. The space limitations of Twitter were a surprisingly helpful way to clarify my thinking on the issue, although it took me a few Tweets to answer most of the questions. Here's the transcript (Anouare's classmates conducted other Twitterviews on topic too - read them here):

Anouare_AWhat is your opinion on the pipeline?
enviro_writer: Adamantly opposed to its construction. It's an affront to indigenous treaty rights, landowners and future generations.

Anouare_ACan you tell me more about how the construction of the pipeline violates indigenous treaty rights? 
enviro_writer: In AB, the Cree are suing the gov't for expanding #tarsands, violating 1870s treaty and ruining way of life ow.ly/6ZpE1; In the US, pipeline route to cross Oglala Sioux water supply held in trust by US for tribe ow.ly/6ZpND; Affecting Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in SD. Oglala Sioux are citing the Mni Wiconi Act. http://t.co/6UuR8crh

Anouare_A: Speaking about potential environmental risks & considering keystone I, which one are you mostly worried about?
enviro_writer: Where to start? Spills are inevitable yet we're willing to run it over one of the world's largest freshwater aquifers? More generally though, KXL is a logical place for us as a society to put our foot down to demand attention to #climate change.

Anouare_A: Are you taking any measures towards creating awareness about the issue?   
enviro_writer: Blogging, soc media, letters/calls to @statedept and @barackobama. Took part in @TarSandsAction at the @WhiteHouse on 8/23. Attended @ KXL hearing and rally on 10/7 and plan to be back at the @ on 11/6.
Anouare_A: Did you get any response from @statedept and @barackobama? Do you think all the mobilization can stop the project?
enviro_writer: Million dollar question! Many are pessimistic. I honestly don't know what Obama will decide - his enviro track record is mixed. Even if Obama approves permit, I think fight will continue. @foe_us is suing @StateDept and movement has momentum now. Movements have shuttered nuclear in Germany, dam in Burma and coal plants in US, so it's not beyond realm of possibility.

Anouare_A: You mentioned the #climate change issue. What do you think would be a better and cleaner alternative to oil for energy?
enviro_writer: Most oil is used for transport, so better fuel efficiency and bigger electric vehicle fleet would help. But the problem is also in our sprawling burbs which require frequent and long travel times. Smart growth will help too. Best solution IMO is not to rely on alternative fuel, but to negate the need for fuel in the first place with better planning.

Anouare_A: Are there any other controversial projects that get less press than #KXL and that you feel deserve more coverage?
enviro_writer: Enviros are great systems thinkers – seemingly separate projects are often connected or are symptoms of bigger issues. At @TarSandsAction mtntop removal and fracking activists got arrested b/c causes for #tarsands also behind other projects. But to answer more directly, mtntop removal in Appalachia has still, despite devastation it’s caused, not had much attention. I’d keep an eye on Venezuela’s own #tarsands, oil in the Bakken Formation and oil shale in US West too.

Environmental News Roundup: The Philippines

Astronaut photograph of coal mine on Semirara Island, the Philippines
"Japan has allocated 9.24 billion yen in official development assistance (ODA) to the Philippine government’s forest management programs in Luzon and the Visayas, the Japanese Embassy announced." - Japan extends P5B aid to Philippines for forest management

"In 2002, 250 hectares were selected as the site for the development of Manila's first transit-oriented mixed-use central business district (QC-CBD). At the same time long-established informal settlements — some more than three decades old and home to more than 25,000 people — occupy much of the land earmarked for development." - An inside view of community organising in Quezon City's slums

"Philippine President Benigno Aquino III ordered security for mining companies beefed up Tuesday after raids by communist rebels shut down operations of the country's largest nickel producer and sent its stock plummeting... The rebels accuse mining operators of destroying the environment and exploiting workers." - Philippines beefs security after rebels raid mines

"Most people will have seen at some time, a depiction of one of the Philippines most famous sights, the 2,000 year old Rice Terraces in the Philippine Cordilleras. These too, have been severely damaged in major mudslides, when Typhoon Nesat blew across the Ifugao Province." - Flooding in S.E. Asia: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam Philippines

"Chad Oppenheim unveiled the first certified “Green Project” in the Philippines, under the county’s own new green building rating system, BERDE (Building for Ecologically Responsive Design Excellence). As the first design under the BERDE rating system, the Net Lima, is one of three towers under construction at Net Metropolis." - Chad Oppenheim Selected to Design the Philippines' First Certified Green Project

"While rigid rules are imposed on environmental and social practices of large-scale mines, small-scale mines do not go through such stringent scrutiny. This has induced destructive environmental practices among some small mines, which impute a bad reputation on the entire industry, the chamber said." - DENR asked to regulate small mines

"Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam lose about $9bn a year, 2% of their combined GDP, due to problems caused by poor sanitation. According to the study, households in these countries see up to seven times their initial investment in basic sanitation improvements, such as building a pit latrine." - Facing up to the global water crisis

""If you put garbage in Salambao, Obando River, it will be like putting garbage in our plates, because this is where our food comes from," said Mercy Dolorito, former barangay chairman of Salambao where the 44 hectare landfill is proposed to be set-up." - Obando folk oppose landfill plan

"A lawmaker Saturday filed a bill seeking to promote agricultural and farming activities in highly urbanized areas, particularly Metro Manila. In House Bill 4750 to be known as the “Urban Agriculture Act of 2011,” ALE Party-list Rep. Catalina Bagasina said Metro Manila has a huge area where food production through agriculture can be pursued." - Urban farming in Metro Manila, Philippines sought

""We haven’t seen any progress as to the DENR’s effort to combat climate change, especially in reducing carbon emissions. Also, as long as we allow mining entities (which are dependent on HCFCs) to flourish in this country then this phase out plan will just go to waste," ICSC executive director Red Constantino said." - Philippines to cut imports of ozone-depleting substances by 2013

Environmental News Roundup: South Africa

Durban, South Africa by cdngrlnaomi
"In the course of her work, Coleman-Adebayo traveled to South Africa, and said that she discovered an American company there was ignoring the health complaints of its South African workers. They were mining the substance vanadium, and many of those miners suffered from serious health problems." - High Price Of Blowing The Whistle On EPA

"Naidoo, a 46-year-old human-rights activist from South Africa who has held the top job at Greenpeace for two years, has always shared with the organization a taste for direct action. But his willingness to negotiate with multinational corporations is a new and controversial direction for the organization." - Can This Man Save the Planet?

“In a recent TED talk, deNapoli describes how in June of 2000, the oil tanker Treasure sank off the cost of South Africa, during the best breeding season on record thus far for the then-threatened (now endangered) African Penguin. The effort to save oiled penguins became the largest animal rescue effort ever recorded. - TED Talk: How Over 40,000 Penguins Were Rescued From An Oil Spill

"As intensifying publicity about the environmental risks of fracking has spread from the United States to South Africa, opposition to hydrofracturing in the Karoo has grown, prompting the South African government to place a moratorium on all future fracking permits until the practice’s environmental impacts can be evaluated." - In Arid South African Lands, Fracking Controversy Emerges

"2011 is shaping up to be one of the worst years on record for rhinos… llegal hunters have been taking advantage of South Africa's border with Swaziland in order to avoid detection." - 193 Rhinos Killed in South Africa So Far This Year

"The report condemns suburban sprawl and much post-apartheid planning. It endorses the “polluter pays” principle, which, if ever implemented, would radically improve the city’s environment. But what hope is there for implementation given our rulers’ pro-pollution bias?" - South Africa: Durban's greenwash ahead of climate conference

"The City of Cape Town yesterday completed an oil spill clean-up operation at Bloubergstrand after oil seeped from the wrecked hull of the Seli 1 which had broken into three pieces." - City seeks legal advice after oil spill clean up

"Rising demand from the international market has made the charcoal industry a vital part of the Nigerian economy, with local suppliers scarcely able to meet demand in Europe and America. The demand is also huge within the African continent. For many South African barbecues, for instance, charcoal is essential." - Rising global demand fuels charcoal production

"South Africa has been sending top officials to Beijing's Communist Party School to learn how to run state-owned companies more profitably." - In Africa, U.S. Watches China's Rise

"City officials and activists are concerned that Durbanites should be leading the green campaign and be ready to show off how environmentally friendly the city and its citizens are as eThekwini prepares itself for what everyone who is anyone is describing as “the biggest conference the country has hosted”" - Environmental eyes of the world on SA

Book Review: Something's Rising

I come from the flat land of Michigan so when I flew into Appalachia for the first time, I was taken aback. From the sky, those gentle old mountains looked like elders gently watching over the little valley towns beneath them. In grade school we were told that while the Rockies might provide the more stunning vistas, the Appalachian Mountains dwarf them in age. There’s something there that demands reverence, “respect your elders” and all that, but this imperative has gone blatantly unheeded by the perpetrators of mountaintop removal mining.

Coal mining has a long history in Appalachia, of course, but it’s only since the 1990s that mountaintop removal has become widespread. Somehow coal companies have managed to convince many folks that this sick practice is part of the respectable coal mining traditions of yore when in fact it destroys that legacy. The many local voices speaking out in Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal have devoted their lives to combating this myth and the practice of MTR at the risk of social stigmatization and in some cases, physical danger. Though their life circumstances are diverse, they share some surprising commonalities. The one I found most intriguing was the prevalence of a shy personality. These people weren’t born activists; they were forced from their very nature as demure people by circumstance. When loads of toxic mining waste is dumped in local rivers, when boulders removed by excavating machines crush little children while they sleep in their beds, when mountains are blown up before one’s eyes, well, even the shy get audibly livid.

“The canary in the coal mine” is an apt metaphor for what’s happening in Appalachia and in many other parts of the world where the promise of resource wealth never (surprise surprise) manages to cultivate the local economy or well-being. Sure some folks will get jobs and buy new trucks and TVs, but one day they’ll look around and notice that all the shops in town are boarded up and that they get sick when they drink the tap water. Renowned activist Judy Bonds’ blisteringly honest thoughts on the matter leap right off the page.

Every story in this book is heartrending, but I was particularly moved by steadfast witness of folk legend Jean Ritchie and the spotlight on despicable political maneuvering by Jack Spadaro. The voices here have different cadences and histories but the collective picture that emerges is undeniable: the slick promises of dirty fuel corporations should never be trusted, nor, sadly, should the politicians who essentially work for these companies instead of their constituents. Something has certainly risen by the time you finish this book: your own fury.