Recent news stories have suggested that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest over the past year has been lower than it has in several decades. But 175 million acres of the Brazilian Amazon– an area larger than the state of Texas– is in serious threat of being stripped to make way for agriculture and cattle ranching.
Brazil’s longstanding forest protection code is in jeopardy of being revised as members of the Brazilian House and Senate are rushing the proposed changes through the government. What’s most troubling? “Input from scientists, researchers, family farmers and social groups has been systematically ignored,” says World Wildlife Fund-Brazil’s CEO Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito. “You cannot argue that a law favors Brazil’s development and well-being when so many leading experts say otherwise. The entire process has defied common sense.”
The implications of the revised code are astounding. Brazil has made commitments to cut their greenhouse gas emissions growth curve by 40% and their rate of deforestation by 80%. If the revised code passes, the country’s environmental goals will become an empty promise. But the revision is not only troubling for Brazilian eco activists: Global goals will be put at risk as well. In a worst-case scenario, 25 billion tons of CO2 will be added to the atmosphere, which is four times the global reduction goal under the Kyoto Protocol during 2008-2012.
With the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Summer Olympics all on the the way to Brazil, the country must understand that their environmental reputation is at risk here, as much of the world will be looking on with a watchful eye. Only a few steps remain in the lifeline of the revised code. The bill is headed back to the House of Representatives for a final vote and then will be sent to the President for approval or veto in the next few weeks. Let’s hope that Brazil’s leaders realize that they cannot push the revised forest code forward while simultaneously attempting to position the country as a global environmental leader. –Raffi Simel
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The summer I turned 15, my family moved from the inner-city suburb of Decatur, Georgia to Conyers (a.k.a. “the country”), purchasing 32 acres of pristine forest land. There are advantages to being the first home on a 5-mile dirt road in the middle of nowhere, whose acreage was previously used only for logging. But there’s also a disadvantage: For the first few months our home was being built, we had none of the modern conveniences you expect in America. No electricity. No AC (remember, it was summer in the South). No refrigeration. Worst of all, no plumbing.
For several months, I (as the oldest son) had to use post-hole diggers to create a latrine approximately 1 foot wide and 3 feet deep. I would put two concrete blocks on either side of the hole, stretch two 2-x-4′s across them about 1 foot apart, and that was the toilet my entire family used, covering our waste with dirt as we went. When that hole was full, I would dig another, and another, and another. Needless to say, it was a VERY well-fertilized forest.
But the worst part was the lack of running water. Every day that summer (sometimes several times a day), I’d take two 10-gallon pickle buckets down a path through the woods to Little Haynes Creek, where I would fill the buckets with water. Then I would make the trek back up the hill to our house, where we would boil the water to use for drinking, bathing and, eventually (when our plumbing was installed), flushing the toilets. Needless to say, I developed a great empathy for people in parts of the world where indoor plumbing/running water are some sort of dream.
I first learned about Water.org through Matt Damon. My career as a writer started as a music critic and entertainment journalist, so I’d had the pleasure of interviewing Damon several times over the years. At a 2009 Toronto Film Festival press conference for The Informant, Damon and I got into a discussion about the new organization, which was the result of a merger between H20 Africa (a company Damon co-founded in 2006) and WaterPartners (co-founded by Gary White).
The Water.org mission is incredibly simple: To provide safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries. The developmental aid non-profit accomplishes this by “forging partnerships with local organizations in the countries it serves, involving the community at each stage of the project, selecting technology appropriate to the local community, and integrating all projects with health and hygiene education.
The latter point is crucial, as Damon told me back in 2009: “Look, I’d much rather people were listening to politicians about this than actors. But the politicians aren’t talking about this, you know? Every 15 seconds a child dies because of a lack of clean water and sanitation. You can read about extreme poverty and possible solutions, but it’s really powerful when you meet the people and listen to their stories.”
While the politicians continue to ignore the global water crisis, Water.org is taking action to address a problem that currently affects nearly a billion people worldwide. They’re working with local micro-finance companies to dig wells, improve sanitation, and offer education in countries such as Bangaldesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Honduras, Kenya and Ghana. They’re hoping to expand their programs into other areas, but like every great non-profit organization, they need our help.
So how can you help? The easiest way is to make a donation. Even if you don’t have a lot of extra cash, as little as $25 can provide one person in a developing country with clean water for life! You can also get involved, signing up for monthly updates, spreading the word via social media networks, downloading lesson plans and fact sheets to share with friends and family, or helping to raise funds on a local level. You can also donate your Facebook and/or Twitter status!
With the holidays coming up, you can also buy the limited edition Water.org CamelBak Groove filtered water bottle, modeled here by the handsome Mr. Damon. Available in clear and stainless steel versions (both 100% BPA-free, dishwasher safe, and featuring the patented CamelBak Big Bite Valve), $10 from the purchase of every bottle will benefit Water.org. It’s a small price to pay to help provide people around the world with a luxury most of us tend to take for granted! –Bret Love
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Upwards of 10,000 protestors took to the nation’s capital last Sunday to oppose TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project. The Keystone XL is an extension of the already operational Keystone pipeline, which originates in the Alberta tar sands. If the Keystone XL project passes through the federal government, the pipeline would be carrying as many as 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Keystone XL extension, which was proposed in 2008, has quickly become one of the key environmental issues facing President Obama as he bids for re-election next year. The thousands of protestors that gathered outside the White House made a plea to the President to oppose the project that pits environmentalists against conservative Republicans and Big Oil interests.
While the finalized pipeline would provide up to 5% of current U.S. petroleum consumption needs, the question is at what cost? The protestors are no doubt concerned over the environmental impacts of the extension. As Green Global Travel showcased in a recent Eco News article, the massive amounts of CO2 generated by the export of “dirty crude” will ultimately raise climate temperatures, not to mention the spilling that regularly occurs during tar sands processing operations that has already proven toxic to humans, birds, and fish in the Athabasca River area. The XL extension will only intensify the potential environmental consequences of the pipeline.
The thousands of protestors are not alone in the fight to halt the project. Last June, 50 members of congress wrote a letter to the State Department warning that “building the pipeline has the potential to undermine America’s clean energy future and international leadership on climate change.” While supporters of the project cite the most recent environmental impact report stating that there are no significant impacts as long as environmental protection measures are followed, President Obama does not seem convinced: He has now decided to delay a final decision on the “tar sands pipeline,” which could very well become a key issue in his campaign for re-election. –Raffi Simel
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On October 26, World Wildlife Fund and Coca-Cola announced a historic partnership on the Arctic Home project, in which Coke will donate $2 million and match private donations of up to $1 million more to fund WWF’s efforts to conserve the polar bear’s precious Arctic habitat. Geoff York, a polar bear biologist with 14 years of experience in the field, is spearheading the WWF’s efforts. Last week York spoke with us about the day-to-day life of a polar bear field researcher, how global warming is impacting the Arctic ecosystem, and how the Arctic Home project can help turn things around.
The DESERTEC Foundation has announced a 2012 project in Morocco that could supply 15 to 20% of Europe’s electricity by 2050.
The first phase of construction is a 150-megawatt solar power plant to begin next year, and four more of the world’s largest solar power plants will be built in different locations around Morocco in future years. Planners are still deciding whether to use photovoltaic panels or solar-thermal technology to produce the electricity for Europe and parts of North Africa. Depending on their decision, the energy produced could begin to power parts of Spain and Morocco as early as 2014.
The DESERTEC project is a milestone in renewable energy co-operation. According to a report by the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, the DESERTEC project could create 240,000 jobs and generate close to 3 Trillion EUROS. The project also has the potential to provide stability and promote energy co-operation in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa).
Energy entrepreneurs in the United States should watch the DESERTEC project carefully and take note of the potential for solar power in our deserts. According to Dr. Gerhard Knies (a lead on the DESERTEC project), deserts receive enough energy from the sun in 6 hours to provide the world with power for over a year. We here at GGT believe that capitalizing on the energy potential of solar and wind power in our deserts should be a key goal of the United States’ future sustainable energy plans. –Raffi Simel
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