By Jessica Corbett
As calls for a People's Bailout in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to grow across the United States, a new analysis warns that the country's Big Oil companies "stand to reap yet another billion dollar bailout" thanks to the Federal Reserve's plans to buy up to $750 billion in corporate debt.
The analysis (pdf), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Friends of the Earth (FOE), explains that this expected bailout for polluters relates to a controversial $500 billion corporate slush fund included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that Congress passed in March.
- Trump Bails Out Oil Industry, Not U.S. Families, as Coronavirus ... ›
- Trump Blasted for 'Morally Bankrupt' Multibillion-Dollar Big Oil ... ›
The Trump administration on Tuesday reached a deal with major airlines to give $25 billion in relief to help the crippled industry.
- Coronavirus Shutdowns Causing Huge Drops in Traffic, Air Pollution ... ›
- Airlines Push to Loosen Carbon Restrictions Amid Pandemic ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
by Andrea Germanos
The Trump administration on Friday released a new land use plan for southwestern Colorado that community and conservation advocacy groups warn is a "dangerous" pathway towards increased fossil fuel extraction that makes no "climate, ecological, or economic sense."
- Fracking Fight Continues in Colorado - EcoWatch ›
- A Must Read Account of Fracking Colorado - EcoWatch ›
Cutting out coal-burning and other sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from heavy industry, electricity production and traffic will reduce the size of the world's dead zones along coasts where all fish life is vanishing because of a lack of oxygen.
Investigation needed<p>The good news in their research was that cutting this burning would considerably reduce the size of the dead zones.</p><p>Yu Yan Yau said: "I hope our study brings more attention to the potential benefit of reducing fossil fuel burning on human and ecosystem health, but also on local economic activities like fisheries, which are severely affected by hypoxia."</p><p>Her supervisor, <a href="https://www.earthsciences.hku.hk/people/academic-staff/dr-thibodeau-benoit" target="_blank">Dr Benoit Thibodeau</a>, added: "Low levels of oxygen are observed in many coastal seas around the world and it is important to find better ways to tackle this problem.</p><p>"While we understand that sewage and nutrient input from the Pearl River drive most of the hypoxia in the Greater Bay Area, we observe low levels of oxygen in regions that are not directly under the influence of these sources. Thus it is important to investigate the impact of atmospheric deposition more locally."</p><p>These findings will be important to many countries that are trying to rescue their coastal fisheries from dead zones. There are about 400 of these globally, including <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/3/100305-baltic-sea-algae-dead-zones-water/" target="_blank">parts of Europe's Baltic Sea</a>.</p>
Industrial impact<p>The largest is in the Arabian Sea, covering about 63,000 square miles, and the second largest a vast area in the Gulf of Mexico next to the Mississippi Delta, where a dead zone devoid of marine life develops every summer.</p><p>Every year winter rains wash fertilizer from fields in the US corn belt into the river. Combined with sewage overflows, this creates a huge quantity of nutrients that sweep down the river into the sea.</p><p>Depending on the size of the winter floods, scientists try to predict the extent of the resultant dead zone. However, the banks of the lower river are also crowded with heavy industrial sites, many burning large quantities of fossil fuels and creating large amounts of NOx, something that previously has not been taken into account.</p><p>If the Hong Kong research is correct, then cutting the pollution from these industries will also reduce the size of the Mississippi's dead zone.</p>
- Oceans Losing Oxygen at Breathtaking Speeds - EcoWatch ›
- Devil in the Deep Blue Sea: How Many Dead Zones Are Out There ... ›
Methane levels in the atmosphere experienced a dramatic rise in 2019, preliminary data released Sunday shows.
- Carbon Emissions Rise to Highest Level in at Least Three Million ... ›
- New 3D Methane Models Help NASA to Track Global Trends ... ›
By Ajit Niranjan
Two main risk factors are currently known to raise the chance of dying from the novel coronavirus that has brought the world to a halt: being old and having a weak immune system.
Air pollution makes the second of those more likely.
Silent killer<p>In northern Italy and the Chinese city of Wuhan, home to high levels of pollution and some of the most severe outbreaks to date, preliminary data suggests that particulate matter may already have played a role in overwhelming health care systems.</p><p>PM2.5 — particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter, less than the width of a human hair — can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the bloodstream, raising the risk of developing heart and lung disease. </p><p>The case fatality rate in China was nine times higher for people with cardiovascular disease and six times higher for patients with diabetes, hypertension and respiratory disease than it was for people without underlying health conditions, a joint study by the World Health Organization and China found in February. </p><p>In Italy, health officials <a href="https://www.epicentro.iss.it/coronavirus/bollettino/Report-COVID-2019_17_marzo-v2.pdf" target="_blank">reported in March</a> that 99% of a sample of patients who died from Covid-19 had an underlying illness — with almost half the deceased having suffered from three or more — though the sample was not drawn randomly and may not represent the population. The most common ailments were high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. </p><p>The WHO says the pandemic is too recent to draw a link between air pollution and the deadliness of Covid-19, but this shouldn't stop countries from acting.</p><p>"Whether or not we have this correlation between Covid-19 and air pollution, we need to reduce air pollution no matter what," Maria Neira, director of public and environmental health at the World Health Organization, told DW.</p><p>"Stop smoking and reduce the levels of air pollution — that is a recommendation we can make even without having more evidence." </p>
Disease spread<p>As well as weakening the body, airborne pollutants could even act as a carrier of the new coronavirus and allow it to survive in the air attached to particulates, a team of Italian researchers suggested in March.</p><p>High concentrations of particulate matter in parts of northern Italy in February may have "boosted" the spread of the epidemic this way, according to <a href="http://www.simaonlus.it/wpsima/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID19_Position-Paper_Relazione-circa-l%E2%80%99effetto-dell%E2%80%99inquinamento-da-particolato-atmosferico-e-la-diffusione-di-virus-nella-popolazione.pdf" target="_blank">a position paper</a> published by the Italian Society of Environmental Medicine that has not yet been peer-reviewed. </p><p>Other scientists have cast doubt on this, pointing out that there are no reported cases of this coronavirus spreading in the air and that people are the main vector of transmission. </p><p>"It's good to reduce air pollution to promote health, even to help decrease preconditions that could aggravate coronavirus, such as asthma, but I cannot see [air pollution] as an important contribution to the discussion about containment of the virus," said Jos Lelieveld, director of atmospheric chemistry at the Max Planck Institute and lead author of the study on deaths from air pollution. </p><p>As coronavirus cases rise exponentially around the world, lockdowns to stop its spread have reduced pollution levels.</p>
earthobservatory/nasa.gov<p>Satellite images of China and Italy show striking drops in NO2, a toxic gas that inflames the airways, as governments closed factories and kept cars off the streets. The drop in air pollution in China may even have saved more lives than were lost from Covid-19, <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.23.20039842v1.full.pdf" target="_blank">a study</a> that has not yet been peer-reviewed suggested on Friday, though this comparison does not factor in the lives that would have been lost had the coronavirus spread unchecked.</p><p>Not all of the fall in air pollution seen from space can be attributed to lockdowns, either. Air pollution is higher in colder months anyway because people heat more and drive cars more often, so it tends to fall around this time of year, said Christian Retscher of the European Space Agency.</p><p>"Certainly, we see an effect of the coronavirus on NO2 … We see an additional effect [but] we don't know the precise number." </p><p>While lockdowns have helped clean the air, it is also uncertain how long they will keep pollution levels down. </p><p>"Once the crisis is over, and we see this in China, there's a temptation to compensate for the weeks and months lost," said Zoltan Massay-Kosubek, a policy expert for clean air and sustainable transport at the European Public Health Alliance. </p><p>Nonetheless, this shows that air pollution can be reduced and lives saved, said the WHO's Neira. "Now we need to maintain that — not the fact that we'll be confined, but reducing the air pollution levels outside." </p>
- World Health Organization Reports Air Pollution Killed 7 Million ... ›
- Air Pollution Shortens Life Span by Three Years, Researchers Say ... ›
- 'No Safe Level of Air Pollution': Major Study Links Cardiac Arrests ... ›
At several points in the history of our planet, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have caused extreme global warming, prompting the majority of species on Earth to die out.
Past Mass Extinctions<p>Many species can adapt to slow, or even moderate, environmental changes. But Earth's history shows that extreme shifts in the climate can cause many species to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-13/what-is-a-mass-extinction-are-we-in-one-now/11699372" target="_blank">become extinct</a>.</p><p>For example, about 66 million years ago an asteroid hit Earth. The subsequent smashed rocks and widespread fires released massive amounts of carbon dioxide over <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/99/12/7836" target="_blank">about 10,000 years</a>. Global temperatures soared, sea levels rose and oceans became acidic. About <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/K-T-extinction" target="_blank">80% of species</a>, including the dinosaurs, were wiped out.</p><p>And about 55 million years ago, global temperatures spiked again, over <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo578;%20https://www.nature.com/articles/ngeo1179;https://www.whoi.edu/fileserver.do?id=136084&pt=2&p=148709" target="_blank">100,000 years or so</a>. The cause of this event, known as the <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/Paleocene-Eocene-Thermal-Maximum" target="_blank">Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum</a>, is not entirely clear. One theory, known as the <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010RG000326" target="_blank">"methane burp" hypothesis</a>, posits that a massive volcanic eruption triggered the sudden release of methane from ocean sediments, making oceans more acidic and killing off many species.</p><p>So is life on Earth now headed for the same fate?</p>
Comparing Greenhouse Gas Levels<p>Before industrial times began at the end of the 18th century, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere sat at around <a href="https://data.giss.nasa.gov/modelforce/ghgases/" target="_blank">300 parts per million</a>. This means that for every one million molecules of gas in the atmosphere, 300 were carbon dioxide.</p><p>In February this year, atmospheric carbon dioxide reached <a href="https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/" target="_blank">414.1 parts per million</a>. Total greenhouse gas level — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide combined — reached almost <a href="https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/aggi/" target="_blank">500 parts per million of carbon dioxide-equivalent</a></p>
Author provided / The Conversation /CC BY-ND<p>Carbon dioxide is now pouring into the atmosphere at a rate of <a href="https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/" target="_blank">two to three parts per million each year</a>.</p><p>Using carbon records stored in fossils and organic matter, I have determined that current carbon emissions constitute an extreme event in the recorded history of Earth.</p><p><a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.13342" target="_blank">My research</a> has demonstrated that annual carbon dioxide emissions are now faster than after both the asteroid impact that eradicated the dinosaurs (about 0.18 parts per million CO2 per year), and the thermal maximum 55 million years ago (about 0.11 parts per million CO2 per year).</p>
An asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. Shutterstock
The Next Mass Extinction Has Begun<p>Current atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are not yet at the levels seen 55 million and 65 million years ago. But the massive influx of carbon dioxide means the climate is changing faster than many plant and animal species <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.13342" target="_blank">can adapt</a>.</p><p><a href="https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/" target="_blank">A major United Nations report</a> released last year warned around one million animal and plant species were threatened with extinction. Climate change was listed as one of five key drivers.</p><p>The report said the distributions of 47% of land-based flightless mammals, and almost 25% of threatened birds, may already have been negatively affected by climate change.</p><p>Many researchers fear the climate system is approaching a <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/115/33/8252" target="_blank">tipping point</a> - a threshold beyond which rapid and irreversible changes will occur. This will create a cascade of <a href="https://sites.hks.harvard.edu/sed/docs/hjs_esa_environment_0510.pdf" target="_blank">devastating effects</a>.</p><p>There are already signs tipping points have been reached. For example, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/27/arctic-warming-scientists-alarmed-by-crazy-temperature-rises" target="_blank">rising Arctic temperatures</a> have led to <a href="https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=7616" target="_blank">major ice melt</a>, and weakened the <a href="https://www.globalresearch.ca/melting-ice-sheets-and-weakened-polar-fronts-onset-of-climate-tipping-points/5668981" target="_blank">Arctic jet stream</a> — a powerful band of westerly winds.</p>
A diagram showing the weakening Arctic jet stream, and subsequent movements of warm and cold air. NASA<p>This allows north-moving warm air to cross the polar boundary, and cold fronts emanating from the poles to <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-019-02458-x" target="_blank">intrude south into Siberia, Europe and Canada</a>.</p><p>A shift in climate zones is also causing the tropics to expand and migrate toward the poles, at a rate of about <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-worlds-tropical-zone-is-expanding-and-australia-should-be-worried-77701" target="_blank">56 to 111 kilometres per decade</a>. The tracks of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones are likewise shifting toward the poles. Australia is highly vulnerable to this shift.</p>
Uncharted Future Climate Territory<p><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature16494" target="_blank">Research</a> released in 2016 showed just what a massive impact humans are having on the planet. It said while the Earth might naturally have entered the next ice age in about 20,000 years' time, the heating produced by carbon dioxide would result in a period of super-tropical conditions, delaying the next ice age to about 50,000 years from now.</p><p>During this period, chaotic <a href="https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/storms-of-my-grandchildren-9781608195022/" target="_blank">high-energy stormy conditions</a> would prevail over much of the Earth. <a href="https://www.springer.com/gp/book/9783319572369" target="_blank">My research suggests</a> humans are likely to survive best in sub-polar regions and sheltered mountain valleys, where cooler conditions would allow flora and fauna to persist.</p><p>Earth's next mass extinction is avoidable — if carbon dioxide emissions are dramatically curbed and we develop and deploy technologies to <a href="http://www.ecosmagazine.com/?act=view_file&file_id=EC147p14.pdf" target="_blank">remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere</a>. But on the current trajectory, human activity threatens to make large parts of the Earth <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41552709-the-uninhabitable-earth" target="_blank">uninhabitable</a> - a planetary tragedy of our own making.</p><p><span></span><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/while-we-fixate-on-coronavirus-earth-is-hurtling-towards-a-catastrophe-worse-than-the-dinosaur-extinction-130869" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
- Humans Are Wiping Out Species So Fast That Evolution Can't Keep ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Earth's Sixth Mass Extinction Already Underway - EcoWatch ›
- Modern Medical Techniques Reveal Malignant Cancer in 77-Million Year-Old Dinosaur Bone - EcoWatch ›
By Dave Cooke
So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.
The Rule, by the Numbers<p>The administration recognizes this is a bad deal for the country — even their own cooked books couldn't make this look like a good idea:</p><ul><li>American drivers will burn an additional 2 billion barrels of oil, resulting in 900 million metric tons of additional global warming emissions;</li><li>Vehicle prices could be reduced by $1,000, but consumers would pay more than $1,400 more in fuel, a net loss and obviously a terrible deal;</li><li>Accounting for miles traveled, the rule results in more premature deaths from air pollution (up to 1600), than offset by the agencies' (optimistic) estimate of less than 800 avoided traffic fatalities;</li><li>The rule cuts automotive revenue by $50 billion dollars, resulting in job losses in the auto sector of 10,000-20,000 in 2030, a number which excludes the <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/auto-standards-rollback-oil-companies-win-everyone-else-loses" target="_blank">even worse macroeconomic job losses</a> which would accrue;</li><li>The net benefits of the rule are actually negative, resulting in $10-20 billion in net monetized harm to the country, which is actually a worse outcome than most of alternatives the agency considered!</li></ul><p>And on top of all this, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NSHTA) found time to incorporate special corporate giveaways to the fossil fuel industry, <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/auto-standards-rollback-oil-companies-win-everyone-else-loses" target="_blank">the only industry slated to benefit from this rule</a> in the first place.</p>
The Final Rule Is Not Necessarily Better Than the Proposal<p>There will likely be a lot of reporting that says that this final rule is better for the environment than the proposal, but this is wrong. On paper, the Trump administration has replaced its proposal to halt required progress entirely after 2020 with a rule that requires 1.5 percent improvement per year, a rate which is of course <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/most-fuel-efficient-cars-a-win-for-consumers-pockets-the-economy-and-climate-but-whats-next" target="_blank">lower than the automakers have averaged now for more than a decade</a>. But paper targets don't matter — what matters is what happens in the real world. And all this rule is doing is maintaining the status quo.</p><p>While ostensibly increasing the requirements of the rule, the Trump administration has also increased flexibilities and credits granted to automakers compared to the proposal, credits which the industry requested and which we've shown <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/dave-cooke/congress-is-pushing-back-on-the-trump-fuel-economy-rollback-why-arent-auto-companies" target="_blank">could be as bad as the rollback</a>. Incredibly, they've even granted credits that no automaker asked for, for natural gas vehicles that no one currently sells (of course, that was a handout to the oil industry, just like the rest of this rule). While they didn't grant all automaker requests, they did extend through 2026 the decision to ignore emissions from the electricity powering EVs and increased the number of technologies eligible for credits not captured by standards test procedures (so-called "off-cycle credits") while simultaneously reducing the public scrutiny on those emissions, even though recent data on some of these credits <a href="https://theicct.org/publications/US-2025-off-cycle" target="_blank">calls into question their value</a>.</p><p>Awarding automakers these flexibilities and loopholes makes the miniscule change in stringency completely toothless. Consumers will continue to be railroaded by this change in policy.</p>
The Economy Is in a Tenuous Position — This Rule Will Make It Worse<p>Right now, the economic outlook is uncertain — we are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/26/upshot/coronavirus-millions-unemployment-claims.html" target="_blank">shedding jobs by the millions</a>, and even after we come out of this pandemic, we will <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2020-03-17/coming-coronavirus-recession" target="_blank">likely be dealing with a recession</a>. The administration's policy just compounds that economic pain for consumers by ensuring they pay more at the pump. This is exactly the wrong policy at the worst time — what we need to be doing is helping consumers pay less in fuel so they can put those saving back to work in our local economies.</p><p>Consumers will pay thousands more for fuel as a result of this rule, which hurts the economy and <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/don-anair/auto-standards-rollback-oil-companies-win-everyone-else-loses" target="_blank">negatively impacts job growth</a>. The only people that benefit from the administration's finalized rule are the oil companies.</p>
The Safe Rule Is Unsafe<p>One of the biggest, dumbest points made in the original proposal was that this rule would save lives. But the administration admits now that such claims were total nonsense. Even by their own fuzzy math, the "tens of thousands of lives saved" from the proposal have been reduced to just a few hundred, and now that they've finally bothered to calculate the adverse health impacts, they've found that up to 1600 people would die prematurely thanks to the additional air pollution from this rule (a number that is <a href="http://blogs.edf.org/climate411/files/2019/05/FINALGHGREPORT.pdf" target="_blank">likely a significant underestimate</a>).</p><p>We are in the middle of a public health crisis that's devastating our economy, and the administration is finalizing a rule that will undermine both public health and the economy. If that isn't some of the most backwards nonsense ever, I don't know what is.</p>
Fighting It out in the Courts<p>As with <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/24/trump-has-lost-more-than-90-percent-of-deregulation-court-battles.html" target="_blank">so many of the administration's wrongheaded rollbacks</a>, this one will end up in the courts. There continue to be a mountain of errors in the policy and a number of corners cut to <a href="https://yosemite.epa.gov/sab/sabproduct.nsf/LookupWebProjectsCurrentBOARD/1FACEE5C03725F268525851F006319BB/$File/EPA-SAB-20-003+.pdf" target="_blank">avoid public scrutiny</a> and <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/02/an-inside-account-of-trumps-fuel-economy-debacle/606346/" target="_blank">sideline the administration's own experts</a>.</p><p>This policy is bad for consumers, bad for public health, and bad for the environment. And we will continue to fight it in the courts because this country deserves better.</p>
- Trump Fuel Efficiency Proposal Is Attack on Global Climate and ... ›
- Trump Expected to Announce Weakened Fuel Efficiency Rules ... ›
- 'This Will Be the Biggest Loss of Clean Water Protection the Country ... ›
Human Cooperation Can Restore Climate Patterns: The Case of the Ozone Layer and the Southern Jet Stream
Emissions from the chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons used as refrigerants and aerosols didn't just burn a hole in the ozone layer. They also shifted the Southern Hemisphere's jet stream south towards Antarctica.
- 'Powerful Evidence' of Global Warming's Effect on Seasons Found in ... ›
- South Pole Warming More Than 3X Faster Than Rest of Planet, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
A new company has begun clearing rainforest in an area of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province earmarked to become the world's largest oil palm plantation, in a vast project that has been mired in allegations of lawbreaking.
A satellite view of Digoel Agri's forest clearance, seen in late November 2019.<p>Since it was first conceived in 2007, the rights to the project have changed hands several times, involving a string of investors who have deployed crude and complex corporate secrecy techniques to hide their identities.</p><p>The licensing process for the project has been plagued by irregularities. A cross-border <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/the-secret-deal-to-destroy-paradise/" target="_blank">investigation</a> by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, Malaysiakini and Tempo, published in November 2018, revealed that key permits were signed by an elected official who was simultaneously serving a prison sentence for embezzling state funds.</p><p>A subsequent <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/revealed-government-officials-say-permits-for-mega-plantation-in-papua-were-falsified/" target="_blank">report</a> found that officials believe other essential permits — for both the plantation and a giant sawmill to process the timber — were falsified.</p><p>Two companies, majority-owned by anonymous firms registered in the United Arab Emirates, began operating on the basis of these permits, to the north of the land now held by Digoel Agri. In response to written questions from The Gecko Project and Mongabay they have denied the allegation that the permits were falsified.</p><p>On paper, Digoel Agri's involvement in the project represents a clean break from those allegations. The firm arrived on the scene after the suspect permits held by earlier investors were revoked and reassigned to it.</p>
Enter the Rumangkangs<p>Digoel Agri was set up by members of the Rumangkang family, according to the Indonesian government's corporate registry. The late family patriarch, Ventje Rumangkang, who <a href="https://kumparan.com/kumparannews/pendiri-partai-demokrat-ventje-rumangkang-meninggal-dunia-1stwRMdnjsT" target="_blank">died</a> in February at the age of 74, was a founder of Indonesia's Democratic Party, the vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successful presidential run in 2004.</p><p>At their office in Jayapura, Jackson and his brother Jones Rumangkang, 44, said they had decided to invest in the Tanah Merah project after being encouraged to do so by bureaucrats in Boven Digoel, the district in which the project is located. They then formed several companies under the Digoel Agri brand and set about acquiring the permits.</p><p>The brothers said they were helped along by Fabianus Senfahagi, the head of a local indigenous people's association. He had played a role shepherding through the project in its early stages, <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/the-secret-deal-to-destroy-paradise/" target="_blank">accompanying</a> surveyors sent by other investors around 2012.</p><p>A paper trail of correspondence among Fabianus and government officials shows he subsequently agitated for the permits to be revoked and reassigned to the Digoel Agri Group.</p>
A road cuts through one of the Digoel Agri land concessions, seen in January. Pusaka
Competing Interests<p>The Rumangkangs insist that the project will benefit the Auyu people. Jones said the ones he met were overjoyed about the prospect of a plantation on their land.</p><p>"They didn't just ask, they cried," he said. "The Auyu tribe is the poorest in Boven Digoel, even though they're so rich [in natural resources]."</p><p>The Rumangkangs have enlisted foreign investors to help them develop the plantation. Their chief partner is a New Zealand property developer named Neville Mahon. In 2018, Mahon became the majority shareholder of the Digoel Agri subsidiaries with land concessions in the project. He could not be reached for comment.</p><p>Mahon associate Thirunavukarasu Selva Nithan, an Australian national, is the sole director of the three companies, corporate records show. Contacted by email, he said he had resigned his position and directed questions to Jackson.</p><p>The involvement of these investors adds to a growing list of actors from across the world with a stake in what could become the world's largest stretch of oil palm. Malaysian logging giant Shin Yang has constructed a sawmill to process timber from the project.</p><p>North of the Digoel Agri concessions, investors whose identities are hidden behind anonymously owned companies in the United Arab Emirates have also begun clearing land, with the Menara Group and the sister of a prominent politician from Indonesia's National Mandate Party as their minor partners. So far, they've bulldozed 8,300 hectares (20,500 acres) of forest, nearly 3% of the project's total area.</p><p>Yet another firm holds the rights to the northernmost block of the project. Corporate records show it is majority owned by two holding companies registered to a letterbox address in Malaysia. The minor shareholder in that venture is the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.</p><p>Many Auyu remain steadfastly opposed to the Tanah Merah project, according to Franky Samperante, the director of Pusaka, an Indonesian nonprofit that advocates for indigenous peoples' rights.</p>
Franky Samperante. Sandy Watt / The Gecko Project<p>On a recent trip to the area, he found that members of the Kemon clan, whose land has been targeted by Digoel Agri, did not want the plantation to go ahead on the grounds that it would destroy their food and water supplies.</p><p>He questioned the government's decision to allow the plantation to move ahead, without investigating the allegation that permits held by the earlier investors had been falsified.</p><p>"In light of the irregularities that have arisen, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry must review the decrees rezoning the land," he said. "The government must impose sanctions on the perpetrators."</p>
- World's Largest Palm Oil Trader Ramps Up Zero-Deforestation Efforts ›
- Palm Oil Industry Leaves Indonesian Village Struggling With Loss and Regret - EcoWatch ›
- Fighting Poverty Can Also Fight Deforestation, New Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
A new international study has pinpointed an enormous chasm in the amount of resources the rich use versus the poor — both within their own countries and compared to an international population, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Energy.
- UN Expert Warns of 'Climate Apartheid' - EcoWatch ›
- New Climate Crisis Report: Invest $1.8 Trillion Now or Pay Heavier ... ›
- The U.S. Has More Climate Deniers Than Any Other Wealthy Nation ... ›
- Google Camp on Climate Crisis Attended by Rich and Famous in ... ›