The nation of Ecuador is heading a controversial fundraising initiative to keep their Yasuni-ITT region of the Amazon– arguably the most biodiverse region in the world– out of harm’s way. In order for the country not to drill oil from the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin blocs of the Yasuni National Park, they have asked the international community to pledge $3.6 billion (approximately half of what the oil would be worth) to the United Nations Development Fund.
The South American country– long considered at the forefront of environmental conservation thanks to its management of the Galapagos Islands– recently revealed that they’ve raised $116 million for the initiative at the turn of the year, just over the $100 million mark needed to keep the initiative alive. Some of the donors thus far have included other countries, such as Turkey, Chile, Columbia, Georgia, Australia, Spain and Belgium. Italy has agreed to forgive $51 million of debt from Ecuador to be put towards the initiative, one of the largest single donations. Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa has contributed $40 million of his own winnings from a recent lawsuit he won over an opposition newspaper. Other donors include environmentalist Al Gore, and movie stars including Leonardo Dicaprio and Edward Norton.
Why are these countries and celebrities lining up to donate to what some would consider environmental blackmail? Because the stakes are too high not to. The Yasuni-ITT initiative will prevent an estimated 410 million tons of C02 from entering the atmosphere, safeguard indigenous populations, and protect one of the most biodiverse regions of the world. Research has shown Yasuni National Park contains the highest number of species in the western hemisphere based on data on birds, mammals, amphibians and plants. Up to 655 different tree species grow in a single hectare there– more than in all of the U.S. and Canada combined.
According to Hugo Mogollon, executive director of Finding Species (an NGO that works in Ecuador), “The Yasuni-ITT Initiative is pioneering. It is a serious effort to keep megadiverse forest intact, coming from the office of the President of Ecuador. Governments of the region and around the world should really want to support this.” At some point, governments around the world need to recognize that the long-term economic benefits of sustainable business practices far outweigh the short-term gain of commercial exploitation of natural resources. Perhaps this is a roundabout way of achieving just that.
Whether you agree with Ecuador’s methods or not, the country is managing to keep one of the most diverse regions in the world safe from oil drilling, not to mention initiating hundreds of millions of dollars worth of donations towards world development. Hopefully, other nations are taking note… –Raffi Simel
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Australian black-tip sharks are smaller than their more common cousins and can only live in warm tropical waters. But a team of Australian research scientists have found numerous generations of the hybrid species more than 2,000 km away off the continent’s east coast, where the waters are significantly cooler. Genetic testing done during cataloguing field work showed that some sharks who appeared to be one species were, in fact, something else altogether.
According to lead researcher Jess Morgan of the University of Queensland, the study (which was recently published in Conservation Genetics) suggests that the Australian black-tip shark may be adapting to ensure its survival as sea temperatures rise. “If it hybridises with the common species it can effectively shift its range further south into cooler waters, so the effect of this hybridising is a range expansion,” Morgan said in a recent interview. “It’s enabled a species restricted to the tropics to move into temperate waters.”
Further studies will be necessary in order to understand whether this new hybrid species is stronger than its Australian ancestors, but the team’s research found that hybrid sharks accounted for nearly 20% of the total black-tip population in certain areas. The results of the study are challenging traditional notions about shark species, and has led to speculation that a similar phenomenon may be occurring in other parts of the world.
“It’s very surprising because no one’s ever seen shark hybrids before: This is not a common occurrence by any stretch of the imagination,” Morgan said. “This is evolution in action.” –Bret Love
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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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