Exclusive Interview with Biologist Shane Davis on Fracking Colorado
Colorado had quite a year in 2013. Aside from record setting forest fires, warming temperatures and continued pine beetle infestations, Colorado had a storm in September, typically our dryest month of the year, that has been referred to as a 100 year to a 500 year to even a thousand year flood. Whatever the case, it was a big, big flood with lots and lots of rain, around 17 inches of rain equivalent to around 20 feet of snow.
A drilling rig in Weld County inundated by flood waters near a residential home
on September 13, 2013. Photo credit: The Denver Channel
Shane Davis, a person who feels strongly about fracking and flooding, took some time out of his busy day to talk with me for this EcoWatch exclusive interview. For all of you who don’t know Shane Davis, let me introduce him to you. He is an interesting guy. For starters, his boyhood found him living on the border of Canada and northern Idaho. This put him into the natural world from the very beginning. He’d say he’s been an activist concerned for the environment since the age of seven or eight when he became fully aware of the environment. He had an innate response to the environment. Davis comes equipped with much experience. He was a park ranger for many years, helping create stewards of the natural world as an “interpreter naturalist.”
He worked for the Colorado State Parks, Department of Natural Resources and in the South Pacific as a marine biologist for NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Davis is a biologist by training. He is a guy with a vast yearning for discovery. He initially focused on biology in college and then switched to molecular genetics, being a National Science Foundation grant recipient in this area. He also received a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) medal for his work oversees managing an environmental safety and security pilot program.
Davis became interested in fracking more than four years ago while living in Firestone, CO. He helped start the first grassroots organization for anti-fracking in Colorado in mid 2010, and created the website Fractivist.com that
Fracking is a practice that has been used by the oil and gas industry for quite sometime. However its use has been becoming much more sophisticated and escalating at a significant proportion in recent times as oil and gas deposits have been getting scarcer and the exemptions of the 2005 Energy Policy Act kicked in.
Fracking releases oil and gas deposits by drilling down often to depths of two miles or greater and then, in more recent times, horizontally. In Colorado’s Wattenberg oil field in the Denver-Julesburg Basin the current target depths are 7,000 to deeper than 8,000 feet. Injecting water and chemicals at pressure creates a multitude of fractures in the surrounding rock releasing the trapped oil and gas. For a typical well two to four million gallons of water is used. Four to five, or even up to nine, million gallons of water can be used in a horizontal well.
The wastewater mixed with toxic chemicals gets pumped out and often injected into auxiliary holding wells and capped. The oil and gas is released and moves up the well. Many people living near the well sites voice concern and examples of harm to their health, while the general industry stance appears to say that the fracking process is entirely safe and free of harm to people and the environment.
There are about 51,000 active gas wells in Colorado, and 79,000 inactive wells—50-55 percent of these are awaiting the new fracking technology. So approximately 130,000 completed wells exist in Colorado. Weld County amazingly has about 21,000 active wells, more than in any other Colorado county or any other county in the U.S.
MS: Is fracking safe?
SD: Absolutely not. It never will be.
MS: Is using our water worth it for going after oil and gas?
SD: I am absolutely appalled that the oil and gas industry is using our most valuable resource—water—to mine for something far less valuable.
MS: Why are you passionate about preventing fracking?
SD: I think, number one, is to protect the health and safety and welfare of the environment and citizens from the adverse impacts—the very harmful impacts of the fracking process and the drilling ... just everything the oil and gas extraction industry encompasses. But I think even more so, we are so much more smarter, yet extracting yet another fossil fuel. I firmly believe we are going down, backwards. We need to go forward, and have research and development that focuses solely on healthy energies that allows the U.S. to have healthy energy democracy not an extractive oligarchic sort of energy island. Seriously, an oil-garchy is what we call it. We are just going in the wrong direction to serious consequences.
MS: Why should we be concerned about fracking?
SD: Well I think in short why the citizens of America or the globe should be concerned about fracking is that it’s a largely unregulated industry that is not for the benefit of energy democracy in America or the health and welfare of the people, and it’s for the less than 1 percent, and it’s extremely damaging, it’s environmental catastrophe waiting to happen decades from now and human health catastrophe.
A tremendous amount of rain fell down upon Colorado the week of Sept. 9. On Sept. 16, Boulder County gauged a record setting 17 inches of rain. The average yearly precipitation for this county is 20.7 inches and for the month of September 1.7 inches. It is the heaviest recorded rainfall Colorado has seen. If snow fell instead of rain, the Front Range would have been buried by some 20 feet of snow.
While the rain that is responsible for the Big Thompson Canyon flood of 1976 was extremely localized and a rapid downpour, where eight inches fell in the first hour and 12 inches total in the first three hours, Colorado’s September flood waters spread over a vast 2,000 square mile area affecting 17 counties from north to south along the Front Range.
At Governor Hickenlooper’s request, President Obama, on Sept. 12, declared a state of emergency in Boulder, El Paso and Larimer counties, and 12 more counties were added Sept. 16 (Adams, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Fremont, Jefferson, Morgan, Logan, Pueblo, Washington and Weld). According to COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission), 1,970 active wells were affected by the flood waters with drums tipped over, failure of oil lines and containment facilities, and other equipment damaged. As of the latest Nov. 26 report, 14 confirmed spills occurred spilling 48,250 gallons of oil and indicating the release of 43,479 gallons of produced water (basically toxic liquid industrial waste).
COGCC has admitted that historically 43 percent of oil and gas well spills prior to the flood, in Weld County, resulted in groundwater contamination. Produced water is exposed in open pits and mix readily with the flood waters. Much concern has been raised over the safety of such drilling operations in flood situations.
“Fracking and operating oil and gas facilities in flood plains is extremely risky," said Clean Water Action’s Gary Wockner. "Flood waters can topple facilities and spread oil, gas and cancer-causing fracking chemicals across vast landscapes making contamination and clean-up efforts exponentially worse and more complicated.”
As reported by the Daily Camera, “Lafayette-based anti-fracking activist Clif Willmeng said he spent two days 'zig-zagging' across Weld and Boulder counties documenting flooded drilling sites, mostly along the drainage-way of the St. Vrain River. He observed “hundreds” of wells that were inundated. He also saw many condensate tanks that hold waste materials from fracking at odd angles or even over turned.”
MS: What happened during the flood?
SD: The flood in September was a shocker, not just to Colorado, but the United States and the world that Colorado had its first tropical rainstorm. About 1,970, according to the state, active oil and gas well pads were negatively impacted by the flood as well. The amount of rain that fell was unprecedented. It was an epic flood of epic proportions. And it paved its way through the highest density of active producing well pads in Colorado and the United States. So, it was a shock to the industry and to the people. There were so many people that lost their homes, which is the saddest part of all. So, what we saw here were worst case scenarios, which the state and industry were not prepared for.
MS: Could you tell me what you did during/shortly after the flooding?
SD: I went up into the air five times. I flew over the flood plain from Boulder to nearly the Nebraska border five separate times. I took up CNN, NBC, NPR, New York Times, all kinds of people out into the field, on the ground and in the air. Took several thousand photographs of the well pads that were impacted negatively where you could see the condensate or crude oil tanks or produced water tanks flipped over, pipes broken. So basically what I did was taking maybe three or four dozen people out on the ground and up in the air to show the leading media across the nation what really happened.
MS: What would you say was the most common damage?
SD: I think the most common damage people saw on the surface, was the tanks listing or flipped over on their sides or floating down this new epic river. But one thing I tried to show case was the subsurface infrastructure. The industry and the state were only talking about the equipment that was on top of the ground. And I know being on the ground the floods were so strong they washed away three and four and five feet of top soil in many areas along the river—the South Platte and St. Vrain River. And so what I looked at was these subsurface infrastructure to include flow lines, gathering lines, all the plastic pipelines that carry the petrochemicals to and from the production sites to the gathering stations to the refineries. Just like the Titanic, the Titanic was not sunk from the tip on the iceberg. It was the subsurface infrastructure that caused the most amount of damage. So that was my talking point because the industry can say we sucked up this amount of crude oil, this amount of produced water on the surface that spilled but what they are not telling us is what they don’t know which lies beneath the surface. They don’t know how much of those chemicals are still leaking because they’ll have to inspect every inch of those flow lines and those gathering lines all across the flood plain.
MS: And what would you say are the main types of contamination that especially you’re most concerned about that was released?
SD: Well all of it. Obviously crude oil which is also considered condensate. It’s crude oil but it has a number of other fluids, toxic or endocrine disrupting chemicals that would be mixed in with it until it would be refined or before it was refined. Also, any of the fracking fluid constituents to include naturally occurring radioactive materials that come up from the well bore that are stored in the produced water vaults. So I think it’s everything. I don’t have one in particular. Anything that is not naturally on the surface that is a product of oil and gas that spills on the surface that contaminates the surface is a problem.
A lot of these chemicals people need to know are endocrine disrupting chemicals that are so damaging to our reproductive systems, short term, long term and forever. Any and all of these chemicals that were released is a problem. The oil and gas industry is saying, well there is only a small amount of these chemicals released. That is the problem. And again the industry is saying, “dilution is the solution to pollution.” Well they can’t have that as a best management practice. And that’s what they are relying on all the time ... when you say, “dilution is the solution to pollution.” For example, basically these open evaporation pits on western slope like in Garfield County where hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic industrial liquid waste are being evaporated into the air from the industry’s backyard to your backyard. And the same thing applies when you have huge spills like this, well it spilled into the water so it was diluted. This is our water. These waters of the state. The people’s water. This should never happen. The industry should be held extremely accountable for their actions.
Davis clarified at another point in this interview that the main contaminants to be especially concerned about are Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toluene and Zylene, which are called BTEX chemicals. There is also Methyl Chloride (extremely dangerous), Cyclopentane and dozens of other chemicals released. A common batch of fracking fluid could hold 500 or more different ingredients that is currently not required to be disclosed to the general public or the government.
MS: What should we do in the future with fracking?
SD: Well outside of banning it completely, I think that in the interim while we can figure how to ban it there should be an enormous severance tax to research and development for the state in which it’s conducted. I also believe money should be set aside, millions and millions of dollars for environmental remediation and any associated health impacts.
They have a bond. Every operator has a surface bond and a surface agreement, a land use agreement, with the private land owner or state or federal mineral holder rights. But their bond is anywhere from two to 25 thousand dollars. And just simple remediation of a well pad—let’s say there was a thousand barrels of oil that spilled on the surface, just the remediation if that was in an agricultural area which 90 percent of all oil and gas wells are in Weld County, they are right in the center of an Agriculture area—the bond they put up, the two to 25 thousand dollars, doesn’t even begin to start the remediation. So, the fines and the bonds are so outdated that they don’t cover actual/factual costs. We need to envision something that is going to remediate the damage that the oil and gas industry imposes on our ways of life. And let us not forget that the federal exemptions, that the oil and gas industry currently lavishes in, strips our civil rights and protections. Now the citizens, free citizens of America cannot protect themselves from the adverse impacts of the fracking processes—to include the development, the drilling, the fracking, the production, the transportation.
Active wells are supposed to get inspected every year, and inactive every five years. That’s the rules and regulations right now. But the inactive are as problematic as the active ... if not more so. I absolutely believe the abandoned wells should be inspected (if they are not) twice per year especially in the winter [they experience a lot of contraction and expansion].” Colorado has 13 field inspectors and about four that sit at a desk directing the field inspectors. These people are staffed through COGCC, which is state funded.
There has been a lot of activity, especially in local Colorado communities, fighting for a ban on fracking. Longmont voted for a ban in 2012 that was challenged by the oil and gas industry organization (COGA) and the state (COGCC). In the Nov. 5 election, Fort Collins, Boulder, Lafayette and Broomfield had moratorium/banning initiatives on their ballots.
"It's amazing, every time there is a public meeting, more people show up than the last time," said Russell Mendell, state organizer for Frack Free Colorado in The Daily Camera. "And it just seems like people are starting to be educated on the issue, and more and more people are showing they are passionate about protecting the community from the impacts of fracking. It represents the citizen movement that has been really sort of spreading across Colorado and across the country as well, as people learn about the health impacts of fracking, the impacts on home values, the impacts to so many different elements of people's lives including the economy, and the tourism economy and to local business.”
MS: Could you give me an update on the local initiatives of the last election and the US House legislation vote?
SD: Fort Collins has a five year moratorium [passed with 55 percent]. Longmont we know they are obviously being sued. They had a 60 to 40 [passed] initiative which is a ban on fracking. Boulder has a five year moratorium in which more than 70 percent voted in favor of it. Lafayette has [by 58 percent] a Community Bill of Rights ban which is extremely unique in that the Community Bill of Rights ban is just not for fracking but trumps corporate rights. It says, “Community rights now preempt corporate rights.” That one is extremely symbolic for Colorado. And Broomfield just recently passed their moratorium with  votes ... Loveland was going to be number five that took a really weird turn. Loveland was set to have a two year moratorium put on the ballot and this city council found a loophole in their local policy that stripped the voters’ rights to be able to put the two year moratorium on the ballot.
MS: How would you interpret the results in what happened with Boulder, Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette, Longmont and regards to the U.S. House/FRAC Act related voting?
SD: I interpret the results as the voice or courts of public opinion. Colorado people have spoken. They’re concerned citizens for the health and welfare of their families and the environment. What you’re seeing is this is a civil rights movement right now. It’s no longer truly just about hydraulic fracturing. It’s taking on this new life of civil rights movement because right now Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), is now suing Longmont, they’re suing Fort Collins and they’re suing Lafayette, and they’ll probably sue Broomfield as well. But suing because we enacted and demonstrated our democratic vote tells me that there is something substantially wrong with our political environment today. If COGA, the oil and gas industry’s mouthpiece, is suing to take away our democracy and our votes, that’s absolutely unconstitutional and a violation of our civil rights. So, I think what you’re seeing is the general public becoming more aware not just of the hazards of hydraulic fracturing but how the industry, the oil and gas industry, is marginalizing and suing to take away our rights.
MS: Still on the horizon is the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act), which has been reintroduced each Congress since 2008 by Diana DeGette (D-CO). Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) has co-sponsored with DeGette and more recently Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO). In 2013, for the first time, the bill was introduced as a bipartisan measure with Chris Gibson (R-NY). Nevertheless, the U.S. House knocked out the FRAC Act once again during this Congressional session.
The FRAC Act establishes common sense safeguards to protect groundwater, requires disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluids and removes the oil and gas industry’s exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the provision added to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The lobbying group Energy in Depth said the FRAC Act is an "unnecessary financial burden on a single small-business industry, American oil and natural gas producers," and claims enacting new regulation could result in half of the U.S. oil wells and one third of the gas wells being closed. Congressman Hinchey said, "We need to know exactly what chemicals are being injected into the ground and we must ensure that the industry is not exempt from basic environmental safeguards like the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
Can you share your thoughts on the FRAC Act?
SD: It’s gaining a lot more nationwide illumination. And the activists around the nation are trying to rally around the FRAC Act, the Breather Act. Those are to essentially overturn the federal exemptions in the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. The industry is exempt as you know from key provisions in those federal laws. And so Jared and Diana DeGette’s FRAC Act would actually overturn those exemptions for water. Right now the water and chemicals the industry are putting down the bore hole are not considered hazardous materials—that’s their exemption. I don’t know where it stands now but I know they are fighting tooth and nail. Diane DeGette is a champion for us. But she really has to continue through. I know it’s a good act, that needs to happen. Like all the 2005 Energy Policy Act exemptions for the industry, all of them need to be overturned. And so the FRAC Act and Breather Act are parts and pieces of the whole that we need to pursue.
The anti-fracking successes in the last local election in Colorado and the continued, now bipartisan, efforts to pass the FRAC Act are signs of how the fight against fracking is trending in Colorado and elsewhere. However, former Republican Colorado State House Rep. B.J. Nikkel is quoted as saying about the Colorado election results: “This is round one of a much longer match.”
The oil and gas industry is likely to do similar things as they did in Longmont. This stems from interpreting the current rules overseeing fracking as placing the authority at the state level. The argument can be had that local municipalities do not have the right to govern the banning of fracking.
Pro-fracking advocate Tisha Schuller, president of the COGA, argues that the Boulder and Lafayette bans are merely symbolic because “Lafayette's last new well permit was in the early 1990s and Boulder's last oil and gas well was plugged in 1999.” It appears likely that COGA will go after the Fort Collins and Broomfield with their more heavily producing areas in similar fashion (and perhaps Lafayette) as how they’re suing to stop the Longmont ban.
Overall Davis thinks the recent election shows a hopeful sign that the escalating use of fracking will slow and be subjected to more thoughtful watchful scrutiny and regulation. Nikkel sees things differently, saying “As the debate moves from places like Boulder and Lafayette—which come with highly Democratic constituencies—to purple Colorado, you're going to see a different outcome.”
Davis is hopeful that the state of Colorado will be able to generate a fund (perhaps in the likes of a Superfund that handles hazardous waste sites) to help inspect, monitor and remediate active and closed oil and gas wells. He is hopeful that the State will get more than the 13 field and four office inspectors that they currently have to inspect the some 51,000 active wells in Colorado and nearly 79,000 abandoned/inactive wells.
Michael Sobczak is a writer living in Boulder, CO at the base of the Rocky Mountains with a strong interest in environmental issues both locally and those surrounding us.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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In a troubling sign for the future of the Italian Alps, the snow and ice in a glacier is turning pink due to the growth of snow-melting algae, according to scientists studying the pink ice phenomenon, as CNN reported.
By Abdullahi Alim
The 2008 financial crisis spurred a number of youth movements including Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring. A decade later, this anger resurfaced in a new wave of global protests, from Hong Kong to Beirut to London, only this time driven by the children of the 2008 financial crisis.
1. Learn From the Past<p>Young people tend to be comfortable with change. Their instant adoption of technology is an example.<a target="_blank"> However, they may lack an understanding of the more permanent realities – requiring patience and </a>stoicism.</p><p>This wisdom is typically in the hands of individuals who either work within systems or who have accumulated far more tenure. This was effectively echoed by 13-year old activist, Naomi Wadler who <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17Aa6XLZe9A" target="_blank">said</a>, "We can educate our youth a lot better. We're not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past."</p><p>Youth movements that are informed by the success and pitfalls of prior efforts offer a more promising outcome. Take for example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, co-founded by a 32-year old Alicia Garza.<span></span></p><p>Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1960's, BLM lacks central governance. This means that opponents can't attack its leadership as a means to discredit the whole movement. In the 1960's, this is exactly what happened to the civil rights movement, when critics went after Martin Luther King, stalling the collective efforts of the movement.</p><p>In fact, King spent his final year <a href="https://eu.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/04/martin-luther-king-jr-50-years-assassination-donald-trump-disapproval-column/482242002/" target="_blank">mired in public disapproval</a> with over 75% of Americans considering him "irrelevant" including 60% of African Americans.</p><p>By studying the legacy of previous efforts, BLM has managed to rally approximately <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/big-majorities-support-protests-over-floyd-killing-and-say-police-need-to-change-poll-finds/2020/06/08/6742d52c-a9b9-11ea-9063-e69bd6520940_story.html" target="_blank">75% of the American public</a>; a feat that will undeniably ensure the longevity of its cause.</p><p>For the youth climate movement, it too must reconcile the long record of activism that predates its tenure. It ought to model itself as an intergenerational movement by giving greater credence to the activists, environmental scientists and <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/juan-manuel-santos-colombia-indigenous-peoples-coronavirus-pandemic-climate-change-environment-nature/" target="_blank">indigenous elders</a> that have fought for climate justice before its inception and ultimately signal the nuance and maturity that would activate allies within systems of power.</p>
2. Become Part of Systems Change<p>From the college campus to the coworking space, you would be hard pressed to avoid the sight of a social impact competition that invites young people to resolve some of the world's most intractable problems.<br></p><p>Unsurprisingly, this often leads to problematic and incomplete solutions. Take, for example, <a href="https://ssir.org/articles/entry/tackling_heropreneurship" target="_blank">an app for African farmers</a> developed by students who have neither farmed nor been to Africa.<br></p><p>Fortunately, there is a growing shift towards empowering young people to better diagnose the systems that uphold inequality. For example, Oxford University hosts the annual <a href="http://www.oxfordglobalchallenge.com/" target="_blank">Map the System</a> competition to celebrate some of the most promising youth-led mappings and the World Economic Forum's <a href="https://www.globalshapers.org/story" target="_blank">Global Shapers Community</a> convenes more than 7,000 young people under the age of 30 to address local, regional and global challenges.</p><p>To achieve systemic change, young changemakers must first unpack systems into <a href="https://wtf.tw/ref/meadows.pdf" target="_blank">three components</a>; elements, interconnections and functions:</p><ul><li>Elements are essentially the key stakeholders in the system. This can include individuals, land or objects.</li><li>Interconnections are the laws and social norms that bind the elements together.</li><li>Functions are the end-goals.</li></ul><p>Take for example, the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace as a systems issue. The elements in the system would include the victim, perpetrator and other intermediary bodies including line managers and human resource teams. The interconnections could include forced arbitration laws that prohibit employees from seeking public courts and a managerial culture that protects high performing perpetrators and pressures victims into silence. In which case, the ultimate functions (or rather dysfunctions) of the system discourage victims from pursuing action and enable perpetrators and enablers to enjoy the benefits of career progression without due trial.</p><p>Systemic change is about redesigning the interconnections (the cultural norms and laws). In the example above, it involves challenging the use of private arbitrary courts and uprooting a toxic work culture. Reclaiming this intuition opens a pandora's box that ultimately allows for any given system to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>Today, young changemakers can rely on online resources like <a href="http://systems-ledleadership.com/" target="_blank">Systems-Led-Leadership</a> to analyze any given system of inequality and then direct their unique skills and knowledge towards the most effective intervention.</p>
3. Avoid Heropreneurship<p>Daniela Papi-Thornton first coined the term <a href="http://tacklingheropreneurship.com/" target="_blank">heropreneurship</a> to describe a growing trend that credits social change to the "founder" of an organization or movement exclusively.</p><p>This culture has inspired an entire generation of young change-makers who are swayed by the allure of the "heroic" founder and whose behaviors are validated through youth awards, grants and speaking circuits that glorify a role in the limelight. This pervasive culture undercuts the entire spectrum of actors that really creates social change.</p><p>Social change does not necessarily warrant the creation of a new organization or movement. Change-makers should consider the root causes that perpetuate and uphold inequalities and then map the existing players and solutions. This process might point to scaling up the work of an existing organization or helping a local candidate run for office.<br><br>For young people who wish to create social change, their efforts – while extremely important – may go unnoticed. This is an expectation that needs to be managed.<br></p>
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Strategic Intelligence: Youth Perspectives. World Economic Forum
A More Targeted, Effective Kind of Activism<p>Social media has played its critical part in providing young people with a vehicle to advocate for social reform.</p><p>Whether it's <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/23/greta-thunberg-speech-un-2019-address" target="_blank">Greta Thunberg's speech</a> during the United Nations General Assembly in 2019 or <a href="https://variety.com/2018/politics/features/emma-gonzalez-parkland-interview-1202972485/" target="_blank">Emma Gonzalez</a> rallying crowds for more stringent gun control. younger voices are swaying public opinion and pressuring political systems to operate more inclusively.<br></p><p>The impact of these extraordinary young people is inspiring, but arguably they struggle to provide a course of action for the average young person who is motivated to pursue social change. The inconvenient truth is that social reform is difficult and even more so for a young person who wrestles with challenges related to experience and credibility.<br></p><p>To be more effective, young changemakers must forge greater bonds with late-stage activists as well as potential allies within systems of power. They must also understand the systems that uphold equality and pinpoint the intervention that would most likely inspire systemic change.<br></p><p>Finally, it is pivotal that they invest in a support system and seek to dissolve <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/06/this-is-how-wellbeing-drives-social-change-and-why-cultural-leaders-need-to-talk-about-it" target="_blank">personal anxieties</a> that may compromise their change-making potential.</p><p>It's time for youth activism to grow up.</p>
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By Agustín del Castillo
For 20 years, the Colima fir tree (Abies colimensis) has been at the heart of many disputes to conserve the temperate forests of southern Jalisco, a state in central Mexico. Today, the future of this tree rests upon whether the area's avocado crops will advance further and whether neighboring communities will unite to protect it.
The Nevado de Colima volcano stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level. Agustín del Castillo<p>According to biologist José Villa Castillo, the director of Nevado de Colima National Park and Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park, it is imperative to stop the commercialization of the tree's timber and to create policies that conserve the forests in which it lives. Villa Castillo also supported the inclusion of the tree on the endangered species list.</p><p>Villa Castillo acknowledged the enormous challenge of conserving this tree, and he said the pressure to exploit its timber without sustainable management is far from the only problem. The expansion of the nearby avocado industry also threatens its survival.</p><p>When allowed to grow, the Colima fir tree can become monumental: It can reach 60 meters (196 feet) in height and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. To protect this giant, specialists and communities often promote ecotourism and conservation projects inside the national and state parks that surround the Nevado de Colima volcano.</p>
Fires That Clear Land for Avocado Crops<p>In 2012, a group of researchers from the University of Guadalajara proposed to the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) the recognition of the <em>A. colimensis</em> as a unique species to differentiate it from the sacred fir (<em>A. religiosa</em>), which is the dominant fir tree in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt, a collection of volcanoes in central Mexico.</p><p>The Colima fir tree "has extremely low genetic diversity; it has the lowest known genetic diversity among all the species in the Abies genus in Mesoamerica and one of the lowest among all the species of trees on the planet," according to the authors of the proposal to recognize the tree as an endangered species. The area it occupies "is very limited": just 15,002 hectares (37,071 acres), or 0.007% of the territory of Mexico.</p><p>The Nevado de Colima volcano, which stands 4,260 meters (13,976 feet) above sea level, is one of only eight peaks that exceed 4,000 m (13,123 ft) in Mexico. It is only 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Pacific Ocean and is considered an "evolutionary island" because the ecosystems in its high-altitude areas drive unique adaptations in species and are cut off from other ecosystems by hundreds of kilometers. The Colima fir tree is an example of the area's biological differentiation, according to Libertad Arredondo, a researcher and expert on the ecology of high mountains.</p>
The fir forests are mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. Agustín del Castillo<p>Even though the tree has remained on that "evolutionary island," its situation has become increasingly complicated by the impact of deforestation, which was propelled by the issuance of permits for forest exploitation. Fires, started to convert the land to agriculture or other uses, also present a threat to the ecosystem, according to the experts who suggested the tree should be considered endangered.</p><p>The researchers said the tree's future prospects are further complicated by its slow growth rate, its high degree of genetic erosion, the effects of climate change, and the movement of clouds to higher altitudes. The position of clouds is crucial because they act as an essential source of moisture for fir trees.</p><p>Villa Castillo, an expert in pine genetics and reproduction, said the Colima fir tree has never been successfully reproduced in nurseries, which would likely make it impossible to conduct reforestation efforts to help repopulate the species.</p><p>The forests that contain the Colima fir tree are in cold, humid climates, with very little light reaching the understory, and they're mainly located in the middle of slopes or in ravines. The species thrives when surrounded by oak trees, coniferous trees and other types of vegetation common in mountainous cloud forests. The tree also requires a primary habitat with little disturbance from humans.</p><p>According to Villa Castillo, fire kills most Colima fir tree seedlings, as it kills seedlings of other species in the <em>Abies</em> genus. In recent years, more fires have been started in the forest to clear the way for avocado trees.</p>
A tree and other vegetation in the cloud forest surrounding the Nevado de Colima volcano. Agustín del Castillo<p>Sonia Navarro Pérez, a researcher from the University of Guadalajara who has monitored and conducted biological inventories in the area, has seen firsthand how the growth of the avocado industry has led to the loss of important forested areas.</p><p>She described the case of the indigenous community of San José del Carmen, which is in the municipality of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, near one of the patches of forest.</p><p>"We were working with them to establish productive alternatives that are good for nature," Navarro Pérez said. "But when the avocado came, it overwhelmed us completely."</p><p>Since 2013, the coniferous forests around the Nevado de Colima volcano have lost nearly 6,600 hectares (16,300 acres) due to illegal logging, livestock rearing and intentionally set fires, according to Mexico's deforestation risk index developed by the <a href="https://www.gob.mx/inecc" target="_blank">National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change</a>.</p>
A section of cloud forest in San José del Carmen, inside the state park created in 2009. Community members have been protecting the forest voluntarily for over two decades. Agustín del Castillo<p>"[What was once] an original area of 7,000 hectares [17,300 acres] of fir-specific forest is now cut in half," said Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks.</p><p>The expansion of the avocado crops is the most recent threat in a series of events that have negatively impacted the conservation of the forests in the area.</p><p>Between the 1940s and the 1990s, the Atenquique Industrial Company had exclusive rights to use the timber from these forests under a concession from the Mexican government. The result was "that the forests were skimmed — that is, they took the best parts," Villa Castillo said.</p><p>When the concession expired in 1995, the forests did not experience a transition to a sustainable timber extraction method. Those who, along with landowners who held small plots, had rights to the shared land were limited to selling the forested areas, at very low prices, to the new logging industries located in Ciudad Guzmán. "Then, there were many abuses against the communities. The money was given to the caciques" — families who have always controlled the shared land — "alms were left for the community, and our forests were very poorly managed," said Rafael González Merín, the former president of Huescalapa, a collective of communally owned farmland known as an <em>ejido</em>.</p><p>As a result, many residents of the community believe the solution is to conserve the forests with productive projects.</p>
Communities Pitch in to Save Their Trees<p>Unlike the communities that have been overtaken by the avocado industry, Huescalapa has largely managed to resist its arrival. The community of shared land, which spans more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), is home to pine and fir trees within its shady temperate forests.</p><p>The residents of Huescalapa have also set aside the proposals they've received from the forestry industry, which has expressed interest in buying their trees.</p><p>According to Gerardo Bernabé Aguayo, logging activity in this area of Jalisco "has been very negative because the industry has managed delicate areas — with very limited species — poorly, so we are supporting and launching projects with the communities." Bernabé Aguayo is the president of the board of trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins, a civil association created about 20 years ago after being promoted by the government of the state of Jalisco. To support the conservation of the national and state parks, the board has financing from the regional private sector.</p><p>The board manages about 6 million pesos ($268,000) contributed by the federal government in 2020. With resources from the private sector, it has been able to access an additional 1.5 million pesos ($67,000).</p>
An area of fir trees that has been destroyed by logging. Agustín del Castillo<p>Rodrigo Cantera Hernández, the president of the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center, said that in Huescalapa, the caciques removed timber from the fir forests, "but they did not report any money to the other community members, so we fought to eject them and were able to do so a couple of years ago."</p><p>In Huescalapa, three main conflicts over timber have taken place in the past 20 years. First, in 1999, a group of community members sold part of the forest to a forestry industry from Ciudad Guzmán. A movement led by citizens put an end to the logging five months later.</p><p>Next, in 2012, environmental authorities granted permission for forest exploitation in these areas, so fir trees continued to be cut down. An opinion by the <a href="https://www.ideaac.org.mx/" target="_blank">Institute of Environmental Law</a>, a civil society organization, cited scientific evidence that demonstrated the uniqueness of mountain fir trees and forced SEMARNAT to withdraw these permissions.</p>
The citizens of Huescalapa formed a cooperative to launch the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center. El Alcázar Ecotourism Center<p>Then, in 2015, a federal judge suspended a new authorization to exploit timber in the cloud forest.</p><p>For communities like Huescalapa to have economic options that do not involve the use of timber because of the detrimental effects that this may have on the remaining population of Colima fir trees, ecotourism and similar activities are promoted.</p><p>According to Bernabé Aguayo, the goal is for the natural forest to be conserved as "a key area for contemplation, enjoyment, the preservation of environmental services, and research."</p><p>In 2019, the cooperative in El Alcázar received 1 million pesos ($44,600), which allowed it to have the basic infrastructure for the ecotourism center. The cooperative may receive an additional 3 million pesos ($133,800) in 2020 to purchase more equipment and improve the roads, but support for this funding was blocked in a community assembly. "They have not understood that it is for the benefit of everyone, that it is not money for our pockets," said Cantera Hernández, the president of the cooperative.</p><p>In Huescalapa, one of the challenges that interferes with efforts to promote the ecotourism center is the division that exists between community members. Many seek to use the timber, but others are already convinced of the importance of conservation.</p><p>Villa Castillo, the director of the Nevado de Colima national and state parks, emphasized that projects similar to the El Alcázar Ecotourism Center are being promoted in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo, which are very close to the border between the states of Jalisco and Colima.</p>
María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, the leader of the Amixtlán cooperative, which was created in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>The Amixtlán Ecotourism Center is located in the community of San José del Carmen. A cluster of cabins marks the entrance to the cloud forest, designated a state park since 2009.</p><p>"We decided to protect our forest long before they declared the state park, 20 years before then," said María de la Luz Cortés Reyes, a community leader in San José del Carmen. She recalled that when loggers came with offers to buy the forest, members of the community believed that they offered very little payment and that "the damage [that the loggers left] was too much." For that reason, they decided "not to touch the forest, because it produces water for the crops and for our houses."</p><p>Cortés Reyes said the community was able to construct the ecotourism center because it had resources managed by the Nevado de Colima Cloud Forest State Park and by the Board of Trustees of Nevado de Colima and Adjacent Basins. However, she said it is important that more promotion is given to the area and that urgent problems, such as those with the water supply system, are resolved.</p>
A view of the Nevado de Colima volcano from the Amixtlán Ecotourism Center in San José del Carmen. Agustín del Castillo<p>In the community of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, citizens also promoted the Puerta de la Hacienda Ecotourism Center, where administrators support the biocultural production of mezcal, an alcoholic beverage made from agave. The drink is made by two <em>mezcaleros</em>, or people who are experts in creating mezcal: Marcario Partida from Zapotitlán de Vadillo, and Rosario Pineda from Tetapán, a small community in Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>Other productive projects that are promoted in the communities include the organic production of eggs, such as by Efigenia Larios, a small producer from the community of El Tecuán. Additionally, the shared land communities of Zapotitlán de Vadillo, San José del Carmen and Huescalapa are provided with equipment for fire prevention and materials to help restore the forest soil.</p><p>Artists have painted murals that shine a spotlight on forest conservation in San José del Carmen and Zapotitlán de Vadillo.</p><p>The intention of these efforts is to allow those who own land or have rights on this fragile mountain to "understand that there are other options besides logging, and that they, too, can generate development," said Arredondo, the researcher who specializes in the ecology of high mountains.</p><p>Despite the strong pressure for land use changes brought by the avocado agroindustry and fostered by the high level of impunity that often prevails in rural areas, many of the area's landowners continue to search for a model in which their forests can remain standing.</p><p>"Many neighbors say that we are foolish for not wanting to sell this beautiful forest that we have, but that money only lasts for a short time," said José Avalo Lino, a farmer in San José del Carmen. "We are so certain of [the importance of] preventing logging that, long before the declaration of the natural protected area, our community assembly had already decided to save this forest. We will continue to be 'foolish' in this decision."</p>
By Jeanette Cwienk
This summer's high street fashions have more in common than styles and colors. From the pink puff-sleeved dream going for just €19.99 ($22.52) at H&M, to Zara's elegant €12.95 ($14.63) halter-neck dress, clothing stores are alive with cheap organic cotton.
"Sustainable" collections with aspirational own-brand names like C&A's "Wear the change," Zara's "join life" or H&M's "CONSCIOUS" are offering cheap fashion and a clean environmental conscience. Such, at least, is the message. But is it really that simple?
Going Green, or Just Greenwashing?<p>"Fashion brands are capitalizing on the fact that consumers are interested in buying fairly and ecologically produced items," said Katrin Wenz, an expert in agriculture at Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND). "Organic cotton is certainly a step in the right direction, because neither <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/patents-on-plants-is-the-sellout-of-genes-a-threat-to-farmers-and-global-food-security/a-49906072" target="_blank">genetic modification</a> nor synthetic pesticides can be used in its production. But these own-brand sustainability labels rarely tell us anything about what happens later on in the production chain."</p><p>Viola Wohlgemuth, a textiles expert at Greenpeace, says companies create their sustainability labels and criteria themselves. "Sustainability is not a protected or specific term, which leaves the door wide open for so-called greenwashing," she told DW.</p>
Independent Certifications Trustworthier<p>Both experts emphasize that independent environmental certifications offer a better indicator of a product's eco credentials, including labor conditions for workers involved in production. Examples include the Global Organic Textile Standard label (GOTS) and the IVN Best certification, which is awarded by the International Association of Natural Textile Industry (IVN).</p><p>Heike Hess, head of IVN's Berlin branch, says using organic cotton alone "is not enough to make fashion really sustainable," and that producing clothes involves a more involved production chain. After being grown in the fields, cotton fibers have to be separated from their seeds, spun, dyed, printed and sewn to create finished items of clothing.</p><p>"Ecological and social standards are important at every stage of production," Hess said. "That includes minimizing the use of harmful chemicals, managing water usage and waste, limiting CO2 emissions and ensuring human rights, fair wages, protections for workers and much more. Only then can fashion really be called sustainable."</p><p>And that comes at a price. <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/heres-why-your-next-t-shirt-should-be-made-of-organic-cotton/a-39083921" target="_blank">Organic cotton</a> summer dresses certified with the GOTS label usually cost somewhere between €60-100 (about $67-113). </p>
Water Polluted and Wasted<p>Textile production often uses harmful chemicals, especially during the wet processing stage when threads are formed, dyed and woven, says Wohlgemuth. According to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing. Communities and ecosystems in <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/bangladeshs-textile-industry-works-towards-becoming-more-eco-friendly/a-50983898" target="_blank">textile producing countries across Asia</a> are worst affected.</p><p>Since launching its <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/international/act/detox/" target="_blank">'Detox My Fashion'</a> campaign in 2011, Greenpeace has secured commitments from some 80 global companies in the fashion industry to eliminate hazardous chemicals by the end of this year.</p><p>But that alone doesn't imply sustainability. Growing cotton also requires a huge amount of water and vast areas of land, says Sabine Ferenschild from the Südwind Institute for Economics and Ecumenism in Bonn.</p><p>"Organic cotton is only sustainable when grown in rainy regions such as India, and planted in combination with food crops rather than in competition with them," she said. "But we have seen that cotton farming is increasingly being shifted to desert regions. That can never be sustainable."</p>
Eco Collections Remain a Market Niche<p>Ferenschild is critical of major fashion brands' attempts to go green with their own criteria and labeling for certain products, while the majority of what they're selling is still produced conventionally.</p><p>Germany is pursuing a new approach to green certification with its government-backed <a href="https://www.bmz.de/en/issues/textilwirtschaft/gruener_knopf/index.html" target="_blank">'Green Button' label</a>. A company can only use the label if all its products comply with high environmental and labor standards. These standards are not as strict as those demanded by organic certifiers, but experts say the 'Green Button' label is a step in the right direction, as it prevents producers offloading responsibility to subcontractors in the production chain.</p>
An 'Eco' Dress for €20 ($22.60): Too Good to Be True?<p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, organic cotton costs between 10 and 50% more than conventional cotton. Premium fibers boost prices the most; the raw material is not necessarily the most important factor in terms of cost.</p><p>Global fashion brands like H&M are able to keep their prices down, even for the products in their "sustainable" ranges, due to the huge volume of items they produce, textiles expert Ferenschild told DW.</p><p>H&M uses its own "CONSCIOUS" label for products which contain "at least 50 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester." It is not clear to consumers what percentage of organic cotton is used in the items labeled as such. In response to DW's request for clarification, H&M wrote: "Across our entire range, H&M uses 16 percent organic cotton according to our most recent figures."</p><p>According to the Bremen Cotton Exchange, just 0.7 percent of the global cotton harvest in the 2017/18 season was organic.</p><p><strong>The Real Problem Is One of Quantity</strong></p><p>Even if the big fashion brands wanted to move further towards truly sustainable production, current consumption habits would make that almost impossible. The real problem is that far too many clothes are being produced. According to a 2015 Greenpeace study, there are more than five billion items of clothing in German wardrobes alone. </p>
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