By Jenna McGuire
In 2011, a ground-breaking report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on oil pollution in Ogoniland highlighted the devastating impact of the oil industry in the Niger Delta and made concrete recommendations for clean-up measures and immediate support for the region's devastated communities.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Derrick Z. Jackson
As much as hurricanes Katrina and Maria upended African American and Latinx families, the landfall of the coronavirus brings a gale of another order. This Category 5 of infectious disease packs the power to level communities already battered from environmental, economic, and health injustice. If response and relief efforts fail to adequately factor in existing disparities, the current pandemic threatens a knockout punch to the American Dream.
Them That Have Get the Test<p>While most Americans have been left hanging in collective anxiety over the Trump administration's abominable botching of the preparations needed to make COVID-19 tests widely available, <a href="https://thehill.com/changing-america/enrichment/arts-culture/490427-chris-cuomo-is-the-latest-of-these-prominent-figures" target="_blank">actors,</a> athletes, college presidents such as Harvard's Lawrence Bacow, and politicians such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have gotten tested.</p><p>In terms of math, perhaps the most telling case was the Utah Jazz.</p><p>When it was suspected that one Jazz player had coronavirus while in Oklahoma City for a National Basketball Association road game, the state of Oklahoma conducted 58 tests on the team's entire traveling party. At the time, the United States was so short of test kits that state labs were averaging just <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-did-the-nba-push-through-58-coronavirus-tests-for-the-utah-jazz-when-almost-no-one-else-can-get-them" target="_blank">55 tests<em> per state</em></a> according to the Daily Beast.</p><p>While that testing thankfully helped trigger a national shutdown of spectator sports, music festivals, and business conventions, it also symbolized the divide between the haves and have nots. Many other <a href="https://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/coronavirus-kevin-durant-marcus-smart-rudy-gobert-among-nba-players-who-have-been-infected-with-covid-19/" target="_blank">NBA teams</a> were quickly tested through official relationships with top medical centers and private services. An NBA official <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/19/nba-players-celebrities-coronavirus-test-access/" target="_blank">told the Washington Post</a>, "We had, and still have, tests at the ready for our players." The official said that testing was, "One phone call away."</p><p>That level of access rightly angered New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. As he tweeted, "An entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/1240029424394829829" target="_blank">tested</a>. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick."</p><p>Or consider the <a href="https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/03/17/hoarders-leave-little-food-for-low-income-and-snap-recipients-who-cant-afford-to-stock-up/" target="_blank">cleaning out</a> of grocery stores in panic buying, a phenomenon that clearly advantages those with <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/03/18/chic-hamptons-food-stores-ransacked-by-the-wealthy-amid-coronavirus-pandemic/" target="_blank">disposable income</a> while leaving empty shelves to the disadvantaged. Ironically, some of those left empty handed are the very farmworkers who picked the vegetables for the cleaned-out shelves.</p><p>In upstate New York, Luis Jimenez, head of the immigrant farmworker group Alianza Agricola, <a href="https://prospect.org/coronavirus/american-farmworkers-essential-but-unprotected/" target="_blank">told</a> The American Prospect magazine and Capital & Main, a California non-profit news organization, "We can't buy food until we get off work, and by then the store shelves are empty — no rice or eggs or meat."</p><p>Selfishness is already on full display in the corporate clamor for bailouts, led by the airline industry's request for <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/18/trump-coronavirus-plan-bailouts/" target="_blank">$50 billion</a>. This is despite the industry being <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/16/opinion/airlines-bailout.html" target="_blank">notorious</a> for throwing free cash on stock buybacks to increase shareholder earnings instead of improving consumer service, worker pay or creating rainy day funds. So far, President Trump has said, "We're going to back the airlines 100 percent."</p>
Who Has Workers’ Backs?<p>There is no such pledge of 100-percent backing for workers who keep America humming with honest, <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/id/38168029/ns/business-careers/t/lowest-paying-jobs-america/#.XnUSo257mfU" target="_blank">humble labor</a>, from cashiers to cleaners in hotels and from farm workers to restaurant servers. Far more needs to be done to take care of these workers who are the backbone of Fortune 500 profits yet are the first to have their backs broken financially in economic crisis.</p><p>The proposed one-time check of up to $3,400 for a family of four does not come close to the <a href="https://livingwage.mit.edu/articles/61-new-living-wage-data-for-now-available-on-the-tool" target="_blank">average monthly living wage</a> of $5,734 in the United States, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator. Undocumented workers do not get a check at all. The 60-day foreclosure moratorium for homeowners does not cover America's 40 million renters. That is a huge consideration as close to three quarters of white families <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/09/28/black-and-hispanic-families-are-making-more-money-but-they-still-lag-far-behind-whites/" target="_blank">own homes</a>, while less than half of African American and Latinx families do.</p><p>In another arena<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-pelosi-sick-leave.html" target="_blank"> where the working poor are barely backed at all</a>, only about 20 percent of private-sector workers <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ehDeiDJBCjJublGNOrvwi__oYq2MNxBg/view" target="_blank">are covered</a> in the new coronavirus <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/03/16/paid-sick-leave-coronavirus-house-bill/" target="_blank">paid sick leave</a> legislation. According to the New York Times, a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/sunday/coronavirus-paid-sick-leave.html" target="_blank">combined 2 million</a> people work at McDonald's, Walmart, Kroger, Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Target, Marriott, Wendy's, and Taco Bell alone and all of them normally lack any paid sick time. In recent days, President Trump has <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-vice-president-pence-members-coronavirus-task-force-press-briefing-4/" target="_blank">praised</a> many such companies for pledging to offer pick-up meals and parking lot space for drive-through virus testing.</p><p>Many of those companies have temporarily covered their public relations flanks by offering two weeks of COVID-19 sick pay. But if coronavirus is anything like the 1918 flu that killed 675,000 Americans in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2020/03/26/daily-202-government-experts-warn-of-a-second-wave-of-coronavirus-cases-as-the-health-system-struggles/5e7c543f88e0fa101a752cd1/" target="_blank">three waves</a>, we need permanent paid sick pay to account for future illness. While 75 percent of Americans receive some paid sick days, only 25 percent of fast food workers do, according to the Washington Post. The United States is also the only nation in the developed world with no form of paid family leave. In a 2013 <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/ehsnet/docs/jfp-foodworker-beliefs-working-ill.pdf" target="_blank">survey</a> by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, 60 percent of food workers said they have worked while ill and 43 percent said they came to work because there was no sick leave policy.</p><p>Congressional Republicans steadfastly refuse to consider making paid leaves permanent, even though science says we would all be better off if low-wage workers had these safety nets. Paid family leave is particularly beneficial to low-income mothers, reducing the incidence of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167629615000533" target="_blank">early birth</a>, low birthweight, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-infantmortality-maternity-leav/paid-maternity-leave-linked-to-lower-infant-mortality-rates-idUSKCN0X51S0" target="_blank">infant mortality</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29098488" target="_blank">maternal health.</a> It also results in better long-term health for disadvantaged children, with <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/pam.22012" target="_blank">less obesity</a> and attention deficit. One study bluntly said, "Paid maternity leave has particularly large impacts on the children of unmarried and black mothers."</p>
Disparities the Coronavirus Exploits<p>The risk of unequal treatment is embedded in even the seemingly universal "we're-all-in-this-together" advice we are getting to protect ourselves and stop the spread of the coronavirus. One person who sees this clearly is <a href="https://www.michiganradio.org/post/pediatrician-says-poisoned-accurate-description-what-happened-flint-children" target="_blank">Lawrence Reynolds</a>, a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan. He served on the 2016 Michigan task force <a href="https://www.michigan.gov/documents/snyder/FWATF_FINAL_REPORT_21March2016_517805_7.pdf" target="_blank">which determined</a> that the Flint Water Crisis in that <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/flintcitymichigan" target="_blank">54-percent</a> African American city was "a story of government failure, intransigence, unpreparedness, delay, inaction, and environmental injustice."</p><p>Reynolds retired a year ago but was asked by Flint's mayor to be an advisor for COVID-19 care.</p><p>He said he already sees where daily life for disadvantaged people is not being factored into public health advisories. "Take social distancing," he said. "That is much easier to do for a family that owns a single-family home where they can spread out inside the home and have a backyard to get some fresh air in private. That is much harder for people who live in small apartments in buildings where people are always passing each other in the hallways. No one has come up with a strategy as to how those folks are supposed to 'social distance.'"</p><p><a href="https://www.newschool.edu/public-engagement/faculty/ana-baptista/" target="_blank">Ana Baptista</a>, chair of the Environmental Policy and Sustainability Management Program at the New School's Tishman Environment and Design Center, worries about higher rates of COVID-19 among people of color as they are more likely to have jobs that cannot be telecommuted. While 37 percent of Asian Americans and 30 percent of white Americans told the Census they <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/flex2.t01.htm" target="_blank">can work at home</a>, only 20 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Latinx respondents say they can work at home. Only 9 percent of low-wage workers in the lowest quartile of wage earners say they can <a href="https://www.epi.org/blog/black-and-hispanic-workers-are-much-less-likely-to-be-able-to-work-from-home/" target="_blank">telecommute,</a> compared 62 percent of those in the highest quartile.</p><p>One of those job categories requiring workers on site, of course is hospital and nursing home care. <a href="https://bhw.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/bhw/nchwa/diversityushealthoccupations.pdf" target="_blank">One-third</a> of nursing, psychiatric and home health aides and a quarter of vocational nurses who work under the supervision of registered nurses and physicians are black, and a quarter of medical assistants are Latinx — well above their share of the general population. Both Baptista and Reynolds rightly point out that current shortages of <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/20/coronavirus-healthworkers-cdcguidelines/" target="_blank">protective gear</a> for our health care and other frontline workers mark not only an unconscionable failure by the federal government in its preparations but also one that will disproportionately affect workers of color.</p><p>Social distancing also has created other ironies for the working poor and communities disproportionately breathing in the particulates of pollution. With retail stores closed, Amazon says it will hire 100,000 people to fill the explosion of online shopping. Reports are <a href="https://prospect.org/coronavirus/unsanitized-dangerous-life-of-amazon-worker/?emci=4a098407-206d-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&emdi=ca334f38-236d-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&ceid=4338874" target="_blank">widespread</a> that the frantic pace of teams moving around each other at warehouses makes it impossible for this army of the working poor to observe the dictum of staying six feet apart.</p><p>Workers at <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-amazon-com-warehou/factbox-coronavirus-cases-reported-at-13-of-amazons-u-s-warehouses-idUSKBN21E07V" target="_blank">more than</a> a dozen<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/03/24/amazon-warehouse-workers-coronavirus-positive/" target="_blank"> Amazon facilities</a> in the U.S. have tested positive for coronavirus, and more than 1,500 workers have signed a petition demanding stepped-up safety measures. In the world of immigrant farmworkers, <a href="https://prospect.org/coronavirus/american-farmworkers-essential-but-unprotected/" target="_blank">Jimenez said</a> living conditions also make social distancing irrelevant. "We live 8 to 10 people in a house, so how would we isolate? Some have their own room, but I know one farm where everyone sleeps in bunk beds in a big room. At work we have to help each other all the time, like when we have to move a cow. You can't do this alone."</p><p>The ramp-up in online commerce also means increased truck traffic. Environmental justice advocates fear that the increased exhaust around Amazon facilities will <a href="https://grist.org/justice/as-amazon-speeds-up-a-warehouse-community-braces-for-a-deadly-combo-air-pollution-and-coronavirus/" target="_blank">drive up</a> air pollution in abutting neighborhoods, increasing illness and vulnerability to COVID-19. A <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/116/13/6001.full.pdf" target="_blank">landmark study</a> last year found that while white households generate the majority of lung- and heart-damaging fine particulate pollution in the consumption of goods and services in the U.S., African American and Latinx neighborhoods disproportionately breathe it in. That study found that 83,000 premature deaths occur from such commerce.</p><p>"Essentially, all the things we do and all the things we buy are those 80,000 deaths," <a href="https://www.mndaily.com/article/2019/04/n-umn-researchers-find-racial-disparities-in-who-produces-air-pollution-and-who-breathes-it" target="_blank">said</a> study co-author Jason Hill, a biosystems engineering researcher at the University of Minnesota.</p>
Drive – Through Testing – If You Have Wheels<p>Another response that policymakers seem to assume is applicable to everyone is drive-through virus testing. While such drive-through locations seem to have proven effective in South Korea and elsewhere, this diagnostic measure of course requires you to have a car.</p><p>Vehicle ownership is nearly ubiquitous in white America, with 93.5 percent of white households having wheels. But according to the <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Pittsburgh_City,_PA/false/" target="_blank">National Equity Atlas,</a> Latinx and Native American households are twice as likely as white households to be without a car and African American households are three times as likely to be carless. The percentage of African Americans without a car ranges from around 30 percent to 50 percent in many cities, including Milwaukee, Chicago, <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Pittsburgh_City,_PA/false/" target="_blank">Pittsburgh,</a> St. Louis, Cleveland, <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Minneapolis_City,_MN/false/" target="_blank">Minneapolis</a>, <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/Miami_City,_FL/false/" target="_blank">Miami,</a> Atlanta and <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Car_access/By_race~ethnicity:49791/San_Francisco_City,_CA/false/" target="_blank">San Francisco</a>.</p><p>Compounding the problem, many of these drive-through testing facilities are planned for locations such as Walmart and Target parking lots. But big-box stores are often located outside of urban centers, hard to walk to, and not easily accessible by public transit. Such is the case in Southeast Chicago, said Peggy Salazar, executive director of the Southeast Environmental Task Force. Salazar's group has pushed back against coal ash, manganese dust and lead contamination in neighborhoods squeezed between toxic industries on the Calumet River in Chicago and refineries just over the border in Indiana.</p><p>"It can take me an hour and a half to take public transportation to downtown Chicago," Salazar said. "We're so isolated down here, if you don't have a car, it's tough."</p><p>And, with social distancing, it's not like you can ask a neighbor to give you a lift. In a 2016 column for the Boston Globe, Clayborn Benson, an old friend and founding director of the <a href="http://www.wbhsm.org/about-us/" target="_blank">Wisconsin Black Historical Society</a>, told me he knows of countless African Americans in Milwaukee who "can't get jobs in the suburbs because they can't drive. Even if they can drive, they lose jobs because they can't afford good cars and they break down."</p><p>The COVID-19 crisis gives America an opportunity to avoid another response that breaks down once more along color and class lines to treat the least privileged as expendable. For instance, if the exploding levels of online shopping remain a permanent part of our economy, local and state governments must no longer place warehouses in, and run diesel-spewing trucking routes through, so-called "fenceline communities" <a href="http://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Fumes-Across-the-Fence-Line_NAACP_CATF.pdf" target="_blank">already stewing</a> in pollution. In those communities, respiratory diseases such as asthma are often already off the charts for African Americans and Latinx, putting them at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19.</p><p>Policymakers must find ways to assure that neighborhoods suffering from food insecurity get security. The lack of quality grocery stores and the oversaturation of fast food chains that <a href="https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-racial-gap-in-fast-food-marketing/382688/" target="_blank">heavily target children</a> with advertising and free toys has already fueled levels of diabetes and obesity higher than those for the white population. Diabetes is another disease COVID-19 can exploit. Dennis Derryck, founder of the Corbin Hill Food Project, which delivers fresh produce to low-income residents in New York City, said the multitude of health issues makes a broader range of people more vulnerable to coronavirus. "We define the elderly in Harlem as easily being 55 because of health disparities," he said.</p><p>Reynolds said we should also change the way we view water. With everyone being told they must constantly wash their hands, many cash-strapped cities that imposed impossible water bills on low-income residents have said they will not shut off anyone's water for the time being. Reynolds thinks this should mark the end of cutoffs, period, saying, "Water is a human right."</p><p>Perhaps most urgently, as medical centers tell patients that they are postponing "non-urgent" care in preparation for skyrocketing COVID-19 emergency treatment, where does that leave African Americans and Latinx, who are <a href="https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/fair-health-survey-viewpoints-about-er-use-for-non-emergency-care-vary-significantly-by-race-age-education-and-income-300078595.html" target="_blank">twice as likely</a> than white Americans to choose emergency rooms for non-emergency care? Will they be disproportionately displaced?</p><p>The NAACP recently issued a <a href="https://live-naacp-site.pantheonsite.io/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Ten-Equity-Considerations-of-the-Coronavirus-COVID-19-Outbreak-in-the-United-States-FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">resource guide</a> pointing out pitfalls for policymakers to avoid so that the nation's response to coronavirus does not exacerbate inequity. Besides access to testing, worker pay, and protecting frontline healthcare workers and those in essential transportation and service industries, the list includes:</p><ul><li>Ensuring access to <a href="https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/05/many-districts-wont-be-ready-for-remote.html" target="_blank">quality online education</a> even in less-resourced public-school districts during long closures;</li><li>preventing the crisis from becoming an excuse for increased incidence of racist attacks (already true for Asian Americans as President Trump <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/03/20/coronavirus-trump-chinese-virus/" target="_blank">deliberately</a> calls coronavirus the "<a href="https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/trump-notes-photo-shows-corona-crossed-out-replaced-with-chinese-virus/2247102/" target="_blank">Chinese virus");</a></li><li>halting the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/01/31/us-militarized-its-southern-border-once-before-it-didnt-work/" target="_blank">militarization</a> of immigration policies that have already targeted Latinx populations;</li><li>addressing virus exposure risk to inmates who are housed and herded in tight proximity to each other;</li><li>protecting our democracy from being upended by disruptions in Census canvassing, delays in primaries, or <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/03/16/816092179/as-coronavirus-spreads-states-scramble-to-reassure-public-that-voting-is-safe" target="_blank">relocating</a> voting away from senior citizen centers and their reliable, but vulnerable voters.</li></ul><p>The Center for American Progress and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University also <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/news/2020/03/19/481962/coronavirus-pandemic-racial-wealth-gap/" target="_blank">called upon</a> the nation to attend to the multiple layers of inequities, urging a moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, penalties on late car payments and credit card debt, and covering all workers with paid sick and family leave. In making the call, the center said, "It's important to note that these communities lack wealth not because of individual choices but instead due to 400 years of collective harms by federal, state, and local governments compounding <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-why-black-families-have-struggled-for-decades-to-gain-wealth-2019-02-28" target="_blank">over time</a>."</p>
Assuring Access to Care<p>Finally, it is crucial that our response to the pandemic does not reverse the gains in health care access won under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed during the Obama administration.</p><p>Under the act, the uninsured rate for nonelderly Latinx people dropped from 33 percent in 2010 to 19 percent in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It dropped for African Americans from 20 percent to 11 percent, for American Indians and Alaskan Natives from 32 percent to 22 percent and for Asian Americans from 17 percent to 7 percent. But uninsured rates have either plateaued or crept up under the ongoing attacks on the ACA by the Republicans and the Trump White House.</p><p>This is the last thing that should be happening as African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans are two to three times more likely to be in the <a href="https://nationalequityatlas.org/indicators/Working_poor" target="_blank">working poor,</a> and are still significantly more likely to be uninsured. It is the last thing needed in communities where poor health outcomes are baked into local environments.</p><p>It is also the last thing needed for hard working, but poorly paid Americans who are forced to live in affordable housing, or who must live in <a href="https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2016/09/grandparents-and-grandchildren.html" target="_blank">three-generation households</a>, with grandparents caring significantly for grandchildren while the mother in the middle goes off to work. This happens more frequent in families of color <a href="https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/life-leisure/2019/aarp-grandparenting-study-african-american-black.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00289.003.pdf" target="_blank">and is especially visible</a> in many black neighborhoods badly wounded by mass incarceration and the flight of jobs in the last century. Five times more African American women than white women make it into their 40s having never married.</p><p>"Everybody is each other's lifeline," Bullard said. "The daughter may be working two jobs, but if she gets laid off, there's no paid leave, no health insurance. The grandmother may be 62 and not yet on Medicare. We know that children can be carriers without getting sick, and if the kid comes home and infects grandma . . . you kill grandma you kill childcare. The coronavirus shows what a house of cards these communities are."</p><p>The Trump administration's early complacency and confusion in its response to the pandemic led to a mixture of decisiveness and hesitance by churches, schools, concert halls and museums to close down. Who knows how much that chaos helped spread the virus? We may be all be separated by social distancing far longer than might have been necessary because of this president's distance from science.</p><p>That makes it all the more critical that the people who live the farthest from privilege and the closest to pollution not be lost in the effort to stem the pandemic and return to some sense of normalcy. An ominous sign that the White House could care less about this came in late March when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was suspending enforcement of environmental standards during the coronavirus crisis.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-announces-enforcement-discretion-policy-covid-19-pandemic-0" target="_blank">EPA said</a> it was trying to "protect workers." But with the EPA being run by a former coal lobbyist who wants to <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-02/documents/fy-2021-epa-bib.pdf" target="_blank">slash staff</a> down to 12,610 (the agency had as many as 17,000 employees during the Obama administration), it is likely very bad news for communities living next to industry.</p><p>A cliché among African Americans is that when white folks catch a cold, black people get pneumonia. Now that all of America faces down the pneumonia of COVID-19, America should not make the same mistakes it did in Katrina and Maria. Coronavirus is going to batter us far longer than the worst of hurricanes. We must not let environmental justice communities be flattened in the process.</p>
Colombia was the most dangerous nation in 2019 to be an environmental activist and experts suspect that conditions will only get worse.
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At the 56th Munich Security Conference in Germany, world powers turned to international defense issues with a focus on "Westlessness" — the idea that Western countries are uncertain of their values and their strategic orientation. Officials also discussed the implications of the coronavirus outbreak, the Middle East and the Libya crisis.
Germany Makes a Case for the Sahel<p>In the absence of African leaders, to bring the matter to the table, German Defense Minister <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/merkels-party-struggles-with-identity-crisis-in-wake-of-cdu-leaders-departure/a-52355906" target="_blank">Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer</a> called for an increased effort in the fight against Islamists in Africa. </p><p>"The Sahel is a key region for Europe, for example, when it comes to migration or the threat of terrorism," she said, adding: "That is why it is so important that Germany remains committed there, militarily as well."</p><p>Kramp-Karrenbauer's statement was encouraging to the Central African Republic's defense minister, Marie-Noelle Koyara. "I take this opportunity to thank the German government for making such a wise decision,"<em> </em>the CAR defense minister told DW<em>.</em></p>
World Bank Beefs up Support<p>A climate change panel discussion preceded the Munich Security Conference. It reminded the security and political heavyweights in Munich that the war in Darfur 17 years ago was triggered by the effects of climate change and claimed the lives of 300,000 people.</p><p>The conflict has since exacerbated environmental degradation in Sudan, forcing more than 2 million people into refugee camps.</p><p>Today, climate change-related conflicts are spreading rapidly in the Sahel region. </p>
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New Report Details How Fossil Fuel Industry's Climate Destruction Also Exacerbates Human Rights Abuses
By Julia Conley
In addition to having a disproportionate impact on marginalized communities around the globe which have contributed the least to climate-warming fossil fuel emissions, the climate crisis has exacerbated the human rights violations already perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report.
By Julia Conley
Climate action leaders have warned for years that marginalized frontline communities in poor countries are already facing the most destructive impacts of the climate crisis, and a new study confirms those fears, detailing how women in those regions are at greater risk for violence and abuse as the environment is degraded.
Consideration of the climate crisis will be front and center in all of New Zealand's major policy decisions. The new rule means that any new proposal before the government that aims either to reduce emissions or has a collateral damage effect of raising emissions will need to go through a climate-impact assessment before it can be considered, according to The Guardian.
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By Kayleigh Long
A court in Tehran last week delivered a guilty verdict in the case of eight Iranian conservationists accused of spying, with sentences ranging from four to 10 years. The eight were all affiliated with the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation (PWHF), a Tehran-based conservation organization that works to save the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) and other species.
Foreign and Domestic Responses<p>The group's jailing in 2018 met with international criticism, and news of the verdict and sentences sparked a fresh outcry from human rights and conservation organizations, including the New York-based <a href="https://newsroom.wcs.org/News-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/13505/WCS-Issues-Statement-on-the-Unjust-Sentencing-of-Innocent-Wildlife-Conservationists-Imprisoned-in-Iran.aspx" target="_blank">Wildlife Conservation Society</a>, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/22/iran-environmentalists-sentenced" target="_blank">Human Rights Watch</a>, and the <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/secretariat/201911/statement-iucn-acting-director-general-dr-grethel-aguilar-sentencing-iran-conservationists" target="_blank">IUCN</a>.</p><p>"Sentencing innocent wildlife conservationists to long jail sentences in the absence of evidence is a travesty of justice and a violation of multiple human rights," said David Boyd, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, in a statement emailed to Mongabay. "In the context of a global biodiversity crisis the work of these conservationists should be admired, not condemned. An appeal should be expedited and their sentences should be overturned."</p><p>The secretary-general of the Geneva-based human rights NGO the International Commission of Jurists, Sam Zarifi, said that while his group hadn't been able to monitor the case due to access restrictions, it did appear there were flaws in the judicial process. "Based on publicly available material, their trial at Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court suffered from serious due process problems, including defendants' lack of access to lawyers of their choosing, lack of access to the indictment and underlying evidence, and claims by the defendants that they were tortured in order to provide false confessions," Zarifi told Mongabay by email.</p>
Political Connections<p>While no evidence has been made public, one key line of pursuit during interrogations was reportedly the link between PWHF and the founder of the world's largest big cat conservation organization, Panthera, headquartered in New York. PWHF staff occasionally worked alongside experts from Panthera, using camera traps to monitor cheetah populations. The conservation community has spoken out strongly against the notion that low-quality motion-sensor camera traps could serve any espionage purpose.</p><p>The founder of Panthera, U.S. billionaire Thomas Kaplan, is active in and provides funding to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a New York-based lobby group that advocates for tough sanctions and regime change in Iran. The group pushed for the U.S. to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which it did in May 2018.</p><p>In late 2017, PWHF staff reportedly sought to distance themselves from Panthera following a speech by Kaplan that comprised his first major public show of support for UANI. A letter from PWHF to Panthera voiced "alarm and consternation" at his political activities. Panthera has issued no response to the arrests or verdict and did not respond to requests from Mongabay for comment.</p>
Conservation Work<p>PWHF's central mission was the conservation of the critically endangered Asiatic cheetah. Just 50 remain in the world, all of them in Iran. Jowkar, the jailed PWHF cheetah researcher, led the latest IUCN assessment of the species, in 2008. He, Ghadirian and Khaleghi Hamidi were members of the IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, and PWHF had been instrumental in highlighting the plight of the species through a project funded by Iran's Department of Environment and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).</p><p>The jailed conservationists also worked to protect other species and to raise awareness on environmental issues in a country beset by drought. Ghadirian, PWHF's consultant on large mammals from 2014 to 2017, undertook population surveys of leopards, wolves and bears using camera traps, tracking, urine and other signs. He worked with herders to find solutions to human-animal conflict.</p>
By Bailey Hopp
If you had to choose a diamond for your engagement ring from below or above the ground, which would you pick … and why would you pick it? This is the main question consumers are facing when picking out their diamond engagement ring today. With a dramatic increase in demand for conflict-free lab-grown diamonds, the diamond industry is shifting right before our eyes.
Loose lab-grown diamonds and gem stones. MiaDonna
Lab-grown diamond engagement rings. MiaDonna<p>"One is that the major five producers of natural diamonds speculated that there will be no natural diamond production after 2050 because they've run out of profitable deposits. Reason two is that for the last 10 years, we've been sought out by people, Millennials, who want to buy something that doesn't come out of the earth, who care about the earth and the damage we've created," he adds.</p><p>When it comes to the effects related to the social and humanitarian issues of mining diamonds, lab-grown diamonds also have the upper hand here. In a recent case announced last month, the <a href="https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/national-media-release/cbp-issues-detention-orders-against-companies-suspected-using-forced" target="_blank">U.S. Customs and Border Protection</a> (CBP) admitted that gold from artisanal mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and rough diamonds mined from Marange Diamond Fields in Zimbabwe are "produced, in whole or in part, using forced labor." </p><p>The CBP stated that they would issue Withhold Release Orders for gold mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and rough diamonds mined from Marange, Zimbabwe, along with 3 other products believed to be produced using forced labor. Additionally, in a 2017 report from the <a href="http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/607311509663221201/pdf/Concept-Project-Information-Document-Integrated-Safeguards-Data-Sheet.pdf" target="_blank">World Bank</a> on extractive industries in Sierra Leone, research found that 'it's estimated that approximately 300,000 Sierra Leoneans are directly employed at artisanal mining operations.' </p><p>Although the diamond industry is expansive and abundant in many countries across Africa, it's rare that these artisanal mines enforce proper labor laws and environmental standards.</p>
Custom MiaDonna lab-grown diamond engagement ring. MiaDonna<p> In a recent <a href="https://earther.gizmodo.com/beyond-the-hype-of-lab-grown-diamonds-1834890351" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a> article, GIA's James Shipley said that advancements in the lab-grown diamond industry has only really taken off in the last five years or so, when the mainstream jewelry sector began taking notice. The <a href="https://www.theigda.org/" target="_blank">International Grown Diamond Association</a> (IGDA), a non-profit organization formed in 2016 by a <a href="https://www.theigda.org/members" target="_blank">dozen</a> lab diamond growers and sellers, now has about 50 members, according to IGDA Secretary General, Dick Garard. When the IGDA first formed, lab-grown diamonds were estimated to represent about <a href="https://www.morganstanley.com/ideas/diamond-market-lab-grown-disruption" target="_blank">1 percent</a> of a $14 billion rough diamond market. </p><p> This year, industry analyst Paul Zimnisky estimates they account for 2-3 percent of the market. He expects that share will only continue to grow as factories in China that already produce millions of carats a year for industrial purposes start to see an opportunity in jewelry. Zimnisky also <a href="https://5b16c634-a-8b9f6598-s-sites.googlegroups.com/a/paulzimnisky.com/paul-zimnisky/Jeweller%20Magazine%20-%20December%202018%2C%20PP%2032-33%2C%20Paul%20Zimnisky.pdf?attachauth=ANoY7crF_76zEujmBNhEZwCdCTFYygwqvs9ZPmRKxc9bn2NTsmLUk9hdFpt5wmTm5-1UjXgqJ8i3wFe0WUr8dKbkN2k7-nnyQL20shVtlHZBJb6Bke-PMyYOzTM2IBlOWxr0P-rkjGFvRPBFRQSmoc4RlzynNiHN8LHdQyEEWGGk83jZZduPu5hPDPC8lHCxvIOAPWCi5Y5ENeZQJEOxK6KoDRQKkoaSiFcGAJz6AiokfTXn2GPjRI5MuCD1z8praQuwxvRyqZKAxHXZ9KlO7qZQG1uQFlUWVPh3w1m3wtljQ1TKtRoB0v8%3D&attredirects=0" target="_blank">estimates</a> that lab-created diamond market shares in the fashion jewelry market are forecasted to grow to almost 7 percent by 2035. </p><p> MiaDonna, specifically, was founded with a single objective in mind: to offer consumers a beautiful, ethical and affordable diamond alternative which in turn, would support <a href="http://thegreenerdiamond.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">The Greener Diamond</a> to help free innocent children oppressed by the active conflict diamond mining industry. With every order placed at MiaDonna, they give back at least 10% of net profits to directly fund projects and initiatives to help local communities have alternative career paths to mining in countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia. They aren't here to just sell consumers lab-grown diamonds, they're here to rebuild the lives and land damaged by diamond mining and provide better, safer and more sustainable options for those who would otherwise be involved in the conflict diamond industry. </p>
The Greener Diamond Farm Project. MiaDonna<p> In addition, this year MiaDonna became a <a href="https://bcorporation.net/directory/mia-donna-company" target="_blank">Certified B Corporation</a>, which takes into account the company's overall social and environmental performance and evaluates how its operations and business model impact not only their own employees, but also the community, environment and customers. On top of their B Corp efforts, MiaDonna uses only recycled precious metals for all of their engagement ring settings, all of their jewelry is handcrafted in the U.S.A. and they even created an eco-friendly jewelry cleaner using a non-toxic formula that is both environmentally safe and packaged in a fully recyclable, grade 1 container. Learn more about MiaDonna <a href="https://www.miadonna.com/pages/about-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">here</a> and shop all lab-grown jewelry, engagement rings and accessories. </p><p> Whatever your personal preference may be when it comes to diamonds, lab-grown diamonds are here, and they're here to stay. By being an active, conscious consumer and doing your research into the products you're purchasing and the companies you're purchasing from, you'll have full control over what best fits your needs and desires. There will always be two sides to every coin, but with the resources available for consumers to make their own educated decisions on choosing their diamond, the power is in the people. </p>
By Jessica Taft
Fifteen kids from a dozen countries, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, recently brought a formal complaint to the United Nations. They're arguing that climate change violates children's rights as guaranteed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a global agreement.
Banning Corporal Punishment<p>The convention formally recognizes children as people with universal human rights and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2008.00585.x" target="_blank">specific rights because of their age</a>. It reflects <a href="https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139033312" target="_blank">a shift</a> away from seeing children entirely as the possessions of their parents to treating them as individuals with equal rights and their own interests.</p><p>Many countries have taken action to promote children's rights and well-being based in part on its mandate. For example, <a href="http://www.capetalk.co.za/articles/277432/children-s-institute-gives-ban-on-corporal-punishment-the-thumbs-up" target="_blank">South Africa</a> recently became the 57th country to <a href="https://endcorporalpunishment.org/countdown/" target="_blank">prohibit corporal punishment</a> — any act intended to cause pain or discomfort, such as paddling and spanking — in all settings, including schools and homes.</p><p>Corporal punishment remains <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5766273/" target="_blank">legal in public schools</a> in <a href="https://theconversation.com/in-19-states-its-okay-to-hit-kids-with-a-wooden-board-47744" target="_blank">19 American states</a> and <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/nfl-controversy/corporal-punishment-legal-common-n2044160" target="_blank">no state</a> has <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/6/e20183112" target="_blank">outlawed the practice for parents</a>.</p><p>In Ireland, a 2012 constitutional amendment gave kids <a href="https://doi.org/10.2838/45596" target="_blank">the right to be heard in custody hearings and other court proceedings</a>. And in Nigeria, the federal government <a href="https://www.unicef.org/children_1938.html" target="_blank">created a children's parliament</a> and incorporated the perspectives of minors when drafting that country's <a href="https://www.refworld.org/docid/5568201f4.html" target="_blank">Children's Rights Act</a>.</p><p>President <a href="https://www.salon.com/2018/09/16/donald-trump-vs-international-law-overturning-the-legacy-of-eleanor-roosevelt/" target="_blank">Bill Clinton signed this convention in 1995</a>. But the U.S. Congress has never ratified this accord.</p><p>In fact, the U.S. is the <a href="https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Treaty.aspx?Treaty=CRC&Lang=en" target="_blank">only country</a> that has refused to embrace the world's most-ratified human rights agreement. It has 196 signatories including all of the UN member states <a href="https://www.kidsrightsindex.org/Methodology/FAQs" target="_blank">except the U.S.</a> plus some UN observers and non-members, such as Palestine, the Holy See and the South Pacific territories of Cook Islands and Niue.</p>
Empowering Kids to Advocate for Kids<p>Kids and their communities don't necessarily have to know about the legal details of the treaty to embrace the idea of children's rights and <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/reconceptualizing-childrens-rights-in-international-development/49090BE2C3C3889979761548B0D7984A" target="_blank">make it their own</a>.</p><p>Researchers working in different contexts around the world have found that learning about the convention and their rights increases children's <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2010.506528" target="_blank">feelings of self-esteem and self-worth</a>, promotes <a href="https://utorontopress.com/us/empowering-children-4" target="_blank">social responsibility</a> and improves their <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2011.572367" target="_blank">relationships with their schools, teachers and each other</a>.</p><p>According to a report from the Centre for Children's Rights at Queen's University Belfast and Save the Children International, a humanitarian nonprofit, it can also <a href="https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/enabling-exercise-civil-and-political-rights-views-children" target="_blank">motivate kids to stand up for themselves</a> and to defend their peers in the face of discrimination, violence or other rights violations.</p><p>In my own <a href="https://nyupress.org/9781479854509/the-kids-are-in-charge/" target="_blank">research on working children's activism in Peru</a>, kids shared how learning about their rights empowered them to speak out about injustices they encountered in their families, schools and communities.</p><p>A boy I'll call Diego, for example, told me that knowing about the convention gave him the confidence to go to his school principal and complain about a teacher who was being verbally abusive toward students. Because of his involvement in an organization that talks about children's rights, he told me he "knew about my right to a quality education, and I knew that we, the students, could defend that right."</p><p>Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/may/06/nearly-1000-stateless-children-forced-to-pay-uk-citizenship-fees" target="_blank">British kids</a> are drawing on the convention in their campaign to lower the fees for citizenship applications. At more than 1,000 British pounds — roughly equal to $1,300 — fees are so high that some British-born children who are eligible for citizenship, and would otherwise become citizens, don't apply.</p><p>Children in India have used the convention to persuade their local governments to create <a href="http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7721/chilyoutenvi.18.2.0197" target="_blank">children's councils</a>, where kids could be heard by adult political leaders. In the council in the small village of <a href="http://www.onefivenine.com/india/villages/Udupi/Kundapura/Keradi" target="_blank">Keradi</a>, children were concerned about alcoholism in their community because they saw it contributing to violence. They raised awareness of the problem and successfully pushed the local government to shut down unlicensed alcohol vendors.</p>
Trying Children and Teens as Adults<p>If the U.S. were to finally ratify this convention, it could lead to changes in some national, state and local laws.</p><p>One notable children's rights violation in the U.S. today is the <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/10/1023712" target="_blank">separation of migrant children</a> from <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2019/07/12/migrant-children-are-still-being-separated-parents-data-show/" target="_blank">their parents</a>. Others include the <a href="https://lbj.utexas.edu/news/2015/why-are-we-trying-kids-adults" target="_blank">practice of trying children</a> as <a href="https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatBB/structure_process/qa04113.asp?qaDate=2016&text=yes&maplink=link1" target="_blank">young as 10 years old as adults</a> in criminal courts and locking up minors convicted of crimes in <a href="http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/reports/pdfs/Children-USA.pdf" target="_blank">adult prisons</a> — <a href="https://www.foxnews.com/us/youth-solitary-confinement-continues-despite-health-and-civil-demands" target="_blank">at times</a> in <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/states-that-limit-or-prohibit-juvenile-shackling-and-solitary-confinement635572628.aspx" target="_blank">solitary confinement</a>.</p><p>To be sure, the U.S. has made some strides toward strengthening children's rights.</p><p>In 2005, for example, the Supreme Court removed one of the most significant differences between U.S. law and the convention when it <a href="https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4518051" target="_blank">abolished the death penalty for minors</a>. And in 2012 the court ruled that the practice of handing children <a href="https://cas.uab.edu/humanrights/2018/11/19/childrens-rights-in-the-united-states/" target="_blank">mandatory life-without-parole sentences</a> is <a href="https://www.ap.org/explore/locked-up-for-life/Miller-v-Alabama-and-Jackson-v-Hobbs" target="_blank">unconstitutional</a>.</p><p>Because the international agreement encourages governments to include children's voices in decisions that affect them, I believe that ratification would support efforts by U.S. kids to address the social, environmental and legal problems they care about most. Young activists fighting to advance climate justice, end gun violence and increase racial equity would all have the convention behind them when they speak out.</p>
Ivory Coast's rainforests have been decimated by cocoa production and what is left is put in peril by a new law that will remove legal protections for thousands of square miles of forests, according to The Guardian.
Environmental activists in Indonesia have raised suspicions over the death this week of a human rights defender who was a staunch advocate of communities threatened by palm oil plantations.
Golfrid Siregar, center, and his colleagues show the lawsuit they filed against the North Sumatra government over an alleged forgery in the permitting process for a hydropower project in Batang Toru, Sumatra.
Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).<p><br>"We suspect the victim was beaten up at another location," Roy Lumbangaol, Golfrid's manager at Walhi, told reporters on Oct. 7. "To eliminate the evidence, he was brought to the location where he was eventually found."</p><p>Walhi has called on police to launch a thorough and transparent investigation into Golfrid's death. The group also asked the National Commission on Human Rights to monitor the police investigation.</p><p>Associates last had contact with Golfrid on the afternoon of Oct. 2, when he left home to deliver a package and have a meeting. By the evening, he couldn't be contacted. At 1 a.m. on Oct. 3, a rickshaw driver found his body on the overpass.</p><p>The police have said they will call in the rickshaw driver for further questioning and check footage from CCTV cameras installed near the location where Golfrid was found.</p><p><span></span>Golfrid was best known for his work with legal aid and civil society groups in helping local communities ensnared in land conflicts with palm oil companies.</p><p>His most recent work was on a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/allegation-of-forged-signature-casts-shadow-over-china-backed-dam-in-sumatra/" target="_blank">alleged forgery of a researcher's signature</a> in an environmental impact assessment for a proposed hydropower project. Activists say the planned dam would threaten the only known habitat of the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/11/the-eighth-great-ape-new-orangutan-species-discovered-in-sumatra/" target="_blank">Tapanuli orangutan</a> (<em>Pongo tapanuliensis</em>), a critically endangered species. According to Walhi, Golfrid had recently lodged a complaint to the National Police against the North Sumatra Police's decision to drop the investigation into the alleged forgery.</p><p>Golfrid's death is the latest in a disturbing pattern of environmental defenders dying under suspicious circumstances in Indonesia. From 2010 to 2018, there were 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia, according to Ainul Yaqin from the Indonesian Human Protection Foundation (YPII). Most of the victims were environmental activists.</p><p>Earlier this year, the head of Walhi's West Nusa Tenggara chapter <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/arson-attack-leaves-activist-in-indonesia-shaken/" target="_blank">survived an arson attack</a> after assailants barricaded him inside his home and set it on fire.</p><p>"The struggle as human rights defenders will always continue," Walhi said in a <a href="https://walhi.or.id/pembela-hak-azasi-manusia-hrds-sumatera-utara-terindikasi-korban-percobaan-pembunuhan-meninggal-dunia" target="_blank">statement</a>.</p>
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By Mara Dolan
We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.
BRET HARTMAN/COURTESY KATLEGO KAI KOLANYANE-KESUPILE
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