Michael Riordon

the view from where I live


2 Comments

Growing up: Three rivers get legal rights

Whanganui River, New Zealand

Glimmers of hope.  Details here.

Mind you, human rights tend to be honoured a lot more on paper than in practice.  So it will be with river rights.  Rivers, lakes, oceans and their defenders will continue to face countless challenges and battles.  But at least now two rivers have some legal rights to defend.

Meanwhile in the USA, rivers have no more rights than do sewers or highways, both of which purposes they serve.  In sharp contrast, corporations in the USA won long ago the same legal rights as individual citizens, which they deploy to commit horrible crimes against humanity and nature, including the poisoning of rivers, lakes and oceans.  Of course, unlike actual human persons, corporations regularly get away with murder.

In Canada the picture isn’t much better.  The late Conservative regime decimated environmental protections for all but 159 lakes and rivers in this country, leaving more than 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers wide open to destruction.  Breaking election promises to reverse their predecessors’ crimes against nature, instead the current Liberal regime is deferring to corporate pressure to maintain the status quo.

In such a grim context, the hard-won court decisions in New Zealand and India represent a huge step forward, rare signs that we can act sanely and respectfully in relation to the natural world, our life support system.


Leave a comment

And yet, grounds for hope. Real hope.

Against impossible odds:  Ecuadoreans’ Legal Fight Against Chevron Continues in Canada.

chevron-in-ecuador

Texaco/Chevron vs Ecuador.  Photo: La Hora.

On South America’s teleSur, journalist Joe Emersberger interviews lawyer Stephen Donziger on a crucial case with huge implications for us all.

Donziger: “The fact top law firms around the world are helping the Ecuadorean villagers is terrifying to Chevron and the fossil fuel industry and completely changes the risk calculus of oil drilling in delicate ecosystems.  These firms normally represent the oil industry; now they are representing groups fighting that industry. That’s never happened before.”

The interview is here.

True, this couldn’t happen without the lawyers.  But before, during and after the courts have their say, again and again it’s people who live on the land and water under siege that have to hold the front line.  Against Dakota Access, Enbridge, Line 9, Kinder Morgan, Energy East and all the other petro-invaders.

If our planet is to remain livable, these are the first people we should thank, and support.

 

 


Leave a comment

“The cradle of conservation”

Everywhere on this earth we have plundered, blasted, torn, drilled, stripped and otherwise devastated “beautiful, quiet, complicated” landscapes that sustained us for millennia. Add destruction of the other two life support systems, water and air, and we dig our own graves.

North Dakota shale landscapeNorth Dakota oil drill pads. Photo: National Parks Conservation Association

One such fragile landscape is the badlands region of North Dakota. Unfortunately it’s also the centre of the decade-long Bakken shale oil boom.  In The cradle of conservation, a touching – literally, touching – account in Earth Island Journal, conservation writer Taylor Brorby revisits the state where he grew up, and wonders what might still be recovered here after the boom has died.

As in the northern Alberta tar sands, enormous profits have been extracted here, and incalculable harm done.  Now oil prices have plummeted, but still, with lavish government subsidies the plunder goes on.  So does resistance on the ground.  One way or another, eventually the plunder – or the oil – must come to an end.  And as in any disaster, those who remain will recover what they can.

For further insight into the nature, value and recovery of living landscapes, check out Bold Scientists, here.  Scroll down to chapter 3, A dialogue with the world.


1 Comment

Not in my backyard

DSCF4867Marla, in our extended backyard.

On a cool, bright autumn walk with Marla, I got to thinking about NIMBY.  Not In My Backyard.  It implies a perceived threat to the space that represents ‘my backyard.’  But what defines a backyard?  Fences?  Where I live we have none, except for ancient, collapsing cedar rails that now seem archeological.

We range freely through miles of forest, open meadow and wetland, far beyond the legal extent of the title deed that defines the 60 rural acres my partner and I ‘own.’ The land beyond is semi-wild, with no roads, no power lines, the occasional ATV incursion, and an abundance of animal tracks. I assume that someone ‘owns’ this other land; that’s how things have worked since the Europeans arrived. But for now, this is our extended backyard.

So then, what constitutes a backyard? If you’re an imperial power it means anything you want, up to and including the whole earth and as far out into space as you can grab. But what does it mean for the rest of us?

On my travels in writing Bold Scientists I visited with conservation biologist Curt Meine in the midwestern state of Wisconsin. Near Madison, the capital, we explored a devastated landscape, the former site of a vast military munitions complex, which citizens are working hard to restore to a healthy Sauk Prairie landscape. They hope to take care of it, as part of their extended backyard. But where are the boundaries?

As Curt sees it, “In nature the boundaries of larger reality are never set. In my little local place I can walk around, grow a garden, watch the birds, keep an eye on the sand cranes and the wild turkeys. I can only see about a mile, but I know the river out there is connected all the way to the Mississippi River, 80 miles that way (he points southwest, more or less), that feeds eventually into the Atlantic Ocean, which is part of the global ocean system. It’s the same with landscapes, they can be as small as a few square feet where you’re standing, and as large as the planet. Among all the levels are feedback loops, so they all affect each other.

“This means you can’t have a healthy farm or forest, park or city, in a landscape that’s unsustainable, or on a planet where the climate is going haywire, temperatures are rising, oceans are acidifying, and the poles are melting, largely due to our actions. So there’s always this tension between wanting to save the world at large and wanting to focus all your energies close to home. At least if you can work well on your part, and others are working well on their part, eventually you can build a community of engaged people to collaborate on the larger pieces of the whole.”

Imagine if in our backyard, our extended backyard, there were no tar sands. No oil and gas pipelines. No nuclear plants. No tops blown off mountains for coal.  No fracking… Imagine.

Meantime, biologist Curt Meine carries on the long community struggle to restore one small sliver of this precious earth, ultimately the only backyard we’ve got. The story is here, in Bold Scientists.

Join me for a talk on gardening and the extended backyard, October 27, 2015, 6:30 – 8:30 pm, at the Toronto Reference Library.

Event details hereAddress & transit info here.  Scroll down for a Map link.

 

 

 


2 Comments

Good news: Scotland to ban growing of GM crops

Scottish Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead: “Banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status.”

Member of the Scottish Parliament Alison Johnstone: “GM is not the answer to food security, and would represent further capture of our food by big business.”

Scotland, landscape 2

Details of the ban are here.

Similarly, in 2014 Russia banned the import and cultivation of GM crops.  Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: “If Americans like to eat GMO products, let them. We don’t need to do that. We have enough space and opportunities to produce organic food.”

South of the border, the Conservative government of Britain has thrown open the door to GM crops.

In April, the European Commission reversed an earlier ban and approved the import of 10 new GM crops for human and animal consumption, including corn, soybeans, cotton and canola oil.

Meanwhile in the USA, the House of Representatives has just passed the perversely named “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” which prohibits state and local authorities from requiring safe and accurate GMO labeling. By now it’s clear that when consumers know about GMOs, they tend to be skeptical. But when they don’t know… It’s unlikely the Act will encounter any resistance in the Senate or the White House, both deeply beholden to the agri-chemical leviathans.

There is just one fly in the banning-GMOs ointment, but it’s a big one: Under massive international trade agreements like the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), negotiated in secret by corporate lobbies, corporations can sue any government bold enough to enact sensible, democratic measures meant to protect the public and the earth if there’s a chance they might limit actual or even potential corporate profits. A ban on GM crops is as likely a target as any.

Still, in taking responsible action, governments of countries like Scotland and Russia set an inspiring example of what is possible.

For a sane conversation on genetic manipulation and food security, visit Canadian scientist/farmer Ann Clark in Bold Scientists, here.  Scroll down to chapter 2, Digging for thistles.

 


Leave a comment

Bees and honest scientists: under attack

Honey bee, WesternHoney bee, Western.  Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Bees keep us alive.  They and other insects pollinate two-thirds of all food crops.  No pollination, no food crops.

Bees and other pollinators are in great peril, their populations in sharp decline worldwide. A growing body of evidence identifies neonicotinoids, chemical pesticides that impair the neurological systems of insects, as a key factor in the decline.

Some of these chemicals are already banned or restricted in several European countries.  Yet neonicotinoids remain the most widely used pesticides on earth, generating enormous profits.

Scientists gather and interpret data to make the necessary links between neonicotinoids and bee collapse.  But in Canada and the USA scientists whose findings conflict with the corporate agenda are under escalating attack.  Currently in the US:

“Your words are changed, your papers are censored or edited, or you are not allowed to submit them at all.” – a senior scientist at the US Department of Agriculture Research Service.

“Censorship and harassment poison good science and good policy.” – Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Details here.

Follow the Honey, a report from Friends of the Earth, exposes how agrochemical corporations obscure links between their chemicals and pollinator decline, and block government regulation.  Read it here.

For more on the battle for honest science, have a look inside Bold Scientists.


Leave a comment

Not in my backyard

DSCF4867

Marla, in our extended backyard.

On a cool, bright autumn walk with Marla the dog, I got to thinking about NIMBY.  Not In My Backyard.  It implies a perceived threat to a space that represents ‘my backyard.’  But what defines a backyard? Fences? Where I live we have none.

We range freely through miles of forest, open meadow and wetland, far beyond the extent of the title deed that defines the 60 rural acres my partner and I own. This other land is semi-wild, with no roads, no power lines, the occasional ATV track, and an abundance of animal tracks. I assume that someone owns this other land; that’s how things have gone since the Europeans invaded. But for now, this is our extended backyard.

So then, what constitutes a backyard? If you’re an imperial power it means anything you want, up to and including the whole earth and as far out into space as you can grab. But what does it mean for the rest of us?

On my travels for the book I visited with conservation biologist Curt Meine in the midwestern state of Wisconsin. Near Madison, the capital, we explored a devastated landscape, the former site of a vast military munitions complex, which citizens are working hard to restore to a healthy Sauk Prairie landscape. They hope to take care of it, as part of their extended backyard. But where are the boundaries?

As Curt sees it, “In nature the boundaries of larger reality are never set. In my little local place I can walk around, grow a garden, watch the birds, keep an eye on the sand cranes and the wild turkeys. I can only see about a mile, but I know the river out there is connected all the way to the Mississippi River, 80 miles that way (he points southwest, more or less), that feeds eventually into the Atlantic Ocean, which is part of the global ocean system. It’s the same with landscapes, they can be as small as a few square feet where you’re standing, and as large as the planet. Among all the levels are feedback loops, so they all affect each other.

“This means you can’t have a healthy farm or forest, park or city, in a landscape that’s unsustainable, or on a planet where the climate is going haywire, temperatures are rising, oceans are acidifying, and the poles are melting, largely due to our actions. So there’s always this tension between wanting to save the world at large and wanting to focus all your energies close to home. At least if you can work well on your part, and others are working well on their part, eventually you can build a community of engaged people to collaborate on the larger pieces of the whole.”

Imagine if in our backyard, our extended backyard, there were no tar sands. No oil and gas pipelines. No nuclear plants. No tops blown off mountains for coal. No fracking.  But we need energy, we need gas, we need…. Yes, yes, but just for a moment, imagine.

Meantime, join biologist Curt Meine in the long community struggle to restore one small sliver of this precious earth, the only backyard we’ve got.  In Bold Scientists.