A first round of motions was passed Tuesday by the 1,300 government and civil society members of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at its World Conservation Congress taking place in Hawaii. These include a ban on gillnet fishing in Mexico that threatens the vaquita porpoise and also restrictions on the illegal trade of pangolins.
Among the 85 motions like these that are up for a vote this week are some involving the direct and urgent needs of people too, including indigenous people whose sacred sites and lands face destructive forces. One need only look at the Dakota Access Pipeline battle here in the U.S., which would disturb sacred sites as well as water sources of the Standing Rock Sioux, to imagine that this sort of injustice happens to indigenous groups everywhere.
That's why many representatives from such groups are in Hawaii lobbying IUCN delegates to support Motion 26, which would declare their sacred natural sites to be "no go zones" for developers. As a resolution, it would be non-binding on governments, but would be one more tool for groups to use in pushing for policy changes at a local and national level. It is due for a vote by the delegates, probably on the last day of the Congress, which ends Sept. 10.
From left to right: Leila Salazar-López, Paty Gualinga, Osprey Orielle Lake, Aura Tegría, Sônia Bone Guajajara and Atossa Soltani.
NGOs have also lined up strongly in support of the motion (the progress of which can be followed on Twitter via the hashtags #Motion26 and #VoteForIUCNMotion26), including Women's Earth and Climate Action Network and also Amazon Watch, whose Andrew Miller, when asked why, said:
"Motion 26 reflects a call that indigenous peoples the world over have been making for decades. Colombia's U'wa kicked Occidental Petroleum out in 2002. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, Sarayaku similarly fought and beat Argentinian oil company CGC in the mid 2000s. Look at the inspiring No Dakota Access Pipeline actions happening right now. Indigenous peoples are going to vigorously defend their sacred territories from extraction whether or not Motion 26 passes. But adoption of the measure would blow wind into the sails of indigenous campaigns for territorial defense and would offer a tool to help strengthen national level protected area norms to include sacred natural sites."
One of the indigenous representatives here in Hawaii is Aura Tegria, a member of the U'wa in Colombia who acts as her group's legal advisor. She was a panelist for a high level discussion of these issues on Sept. 3 alongside other experts including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
Aura Tegrias speaking at the high level discussion on Sept. 3. Amazon Watch
This was Ms. Tegria's powerful statement:
The U'wa Nation is found between five Colombian departments: Boyacá, Santander, Norte de Santander, Arauca and Casanare, along the eastern mountain range near the border with Venezuela.
From our ancestral and cultural worldview, we maintain a relationship in harmony with our territory (called Kajka-Ika), who is conceived as our mother through ancestral wisdom. From her we human beings receive everything necessary to survive and to her we should reciprocate with respect and care. This is how the father creator—Sira (God) established the world, as a mandate written in the hearts of our wise Werjayas, for us to maintain the natural and spiritual balance.
Within the cosmovision U'wa, it is said that Mt. Zizuma (within the El Cocuy National Natural Park) is home to our existential beings, a site of knowledge that is in permanent communication with other indigenous peoples who have snow-capped mountains, a communication that is controlled by our traditional authorities, the Werjayas. The snow-capped peak is a biological, spiritual and natural corridor that guarantees human existence and permanence.
Our sacred Mt. Zizuma is threatened by ecotourism, which brings serious consequences like contamination of our sources of freshwater, pollution of our sacred areas with solid waste trash, deforestation, cultural and spiritual impacts which break our relationship with our spiritual beings, disrespect and indignation within our People because of acts like the soccer game that was played up on Zizuma's peak.
It is also threatened by the presence of energy mining projects within U'wa territory, which accelerate climate change and violate our mandate to protect, take care of and safeguard our Mother Earth, carrying us toward a physical and cultural extermination as was expressed by the Colombian Constitutional Court in their Decision 004.
Over the last 6 months our indigenous Nation alongside our Riowa (non-indigenous people) through the Masas Political Movement of Central-Eastern Colombia have carried out a Collective Nonviolent Action, exercising control of our territory through the U'wa Indigenous Guard and demanding respect for our sacred sites and compliance with agreements signed between the U'wa and national government in 2014, as the only guarantee for our ancestral people. This action ultimately led to the establishment of a Dialogue Table and new negotiations between the U'wa Nation and Colombian Government. As an indigenous nation we demanded that the National Parks Service as an environmental authority suspend eco-tourism in the El Cocuy Park and up on Mt. Zizuma while an impact study is carried out, which will allow the U'wa Nation to inform others as to our cosmovision and to offer elements that permit the true protection of Mt. Zizuma. However, this progress is currently being threatened by the recent declarations of Colombia's Environment Minister, who never participated in the negotiations but is now saying that El Cocuy will be reopened to tourism via presidential order. This would be a clear lack of compliance with the agreements by the Government and would run over the rights of our people. Faced with this, the U'wa Nation makes clear that we would continue in our peaceful grassroots mobilization.
We appreciate the fundamental role of international observation of the processes of dialogue with the Colombian State, such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and their representative Todd Howland. Additionally, we appreciate the report of the Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, who has brought forth an issue that is currently very relevant, in which they included the issue of Mt. Zizuma. As the U'wa Nation, we say that it is necessary to coexist in harmony and balance with our Mother Earth and this only happens when we recognize and respect the existence of all beings, both material and spiritual.
I would underscore the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur to the governments, such as guaranteeing the recognition and respect for ancestral knowledge. In the case of the Colombian government, they should guarantee full participation for indigenous peoples and adopt all normative, judicial and administrative norms necessary to recognize our rights over our ancestral territories and indigenous reserves.
Through autonomous spaces amongst indigenous peoples in Colombia, we have analyzed our concerns around the imposition of protected areas within our territories, ignoring the spiritual significance of such. Responding to this dynamic, we would like to offer some additional elements:
1. Recognize that prior to the establishment of protected areas, we have our spiritual relationship with our sacred areas, as guardians and protectors of these lands because this is our mandate handed down from our Original Law, the law of Sira, which is immutable.
2. Recognize that from time immemorial we have conserved our territories through our traditional uses and customs, maintaining the harmony between the spiritual and material worlds. In the Colombian case the government still has not recognized this fundamental role of our indigenous traditional authorities as legitimate environmental authorities.
The sprawling size and sunny days of Texas make it one of the top states for solar energy. If you live in the Lone Star State and are interested in switching to a solar energy system, you may be wondering: What's the average solar panel cost in Texas?
In this article, we'll discuss the cost of solar panels in Texas, what factors affect pricing, Texas' solar incentives and more. Of course, the only way to know for sure how much you would pay to install a solar panel system on your roof is to receive a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company near you. You can get started by filling out the quick form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in Texas?
Thanks to the growing investment in renewable energy technology statewide, homeowners now enjoy a below-average cost of solar in Texas. Based on market research and data from top brands, we've found the average cost of solar panels in Texas to be $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is especially valuable when you take into account the unpredictable Texas energy rates.
Here's how that average calculates into the cost of the most common sizes of home solar panel systems:
|Size of Solar Panel System||Texas Solar Panel Cost||Cost After Federal Tax Credit|
Though this data reflects the statewide averages, you'll need to contact a solar installer near you to get an accurate quote for your home. Savvy customers will get free quotes from multiple companies and compare them to the state averages to make sure they receive the best value possible. Bear in mind that the biggest providers of solar won't always have the best prices.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels in Texas?
The main factor determining the cost of solar panel installations in Texas is the homeowner's energy needs. No two homes are the same, and installation costs will look far different for a home needing a basic 5kW system and a home needing 10kW with backup power capabilities. The solar financing and installation company a homeowner chooses will also affect a customer's overall solar costs in Texas. Here's how each factor comes into play:
Similar to phones, cars and other technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may opt for a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and cutting-edge energy monitoring technology.
The overall cost of solar depends significantly on how a customer chooses to finance their system. The three most common solar financing options include paying in cash, taking out a solar loan and solar leasing.
- The most economical way to purchase solar, an upfront cash purchase provides the best long-term return on investment and the lowest overall cost.
- Customers can choose to take out a solar loan to purchase the system outright and make monthly payments to repay the loan. The typical payback period for a solar loan averages around 10 years. Systems purchased with a loan are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
- Signing a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) allows a solar customer to rent solar panels from a company or third party. Though requiring the least amount of money upfront, solar leases provide the least amount of overall value. Also, solar leases aren't eligible for the federal tax credit, as the homeowner doesn't actually own the system.
Solar Installation Company
Texas has seen some of the strongest solar energy market growth over the last few years, and the SEIA reports that there are now nearly 600 solar companies based in Texas, and each is looking to expand its market share.
Price ranges can differ significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers, on the other hand, provide more personalization and competitive prices to undercut the biggest national companies.
Because of this, it's wise to get quotes from a few local and national installers and compare rates — because of the stiff competition between companies, you could end up saving several thousand dollars.
Texas Solar Incentives
For the most part, Texas taxes are administered by local governments. As a result, the state doesn't offer a large number of statewide solar-related policies, and incentives will depend more on the locality in which you live.
However, all homeowners in the state remain eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and there are some statewide local property tax exemptions for both photovoltaic solar and wind-powered renewable energy systems. Let's walk through how to find what incentives are available to you.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
All Texans can claim the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for PV solar panels and energy storage systems. By claiming the ITC on your tax returns, the policy allows you to deduct 26% of the total cost of the solar system from the taxes you owe the federal government.
The tax credit is available to both residential and commercial system owners who have installed solar panels at any point since 2006. The credit is worth 26% through the end of 2022 and will drop to 22% in 2023. It is set to expire at the end of 2023 unless congress extends it.
Net Metering Policies in Texas
Net metering programs allow customers to sell unused solar energy back to their local utility company in exchange for credits that can be cashed in when panels aren't producing energy. Due to the energy bill savings, this incentive can greatly reduce the solar investment payback period.
As is true with most of Texas' solar rebates and incentives, there is not one net metering program that is offered throughout the entire state. Rather, your eligibility will depend on the policy of your local utility company or municipality. Most utilities in the state have a net metering policy, including American Electric Power (AEP), CPS Energy, Green Mountain Energy, El Paso Electric, TXU Energy in Dallas and more.
The rate at which your local utility will compensate for this excess energy will depend on your local policy, so we encourage you to look into the policy offered by your utility company.
Local Solar Rebates in Texas
In addition to identifying your local net metering program, look into any local rebates available to you. Homeowners who live in the top cities for solar in Texas, like Austin, San Marcos or Sunset Valley might have more luck than customers in other areas. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency has a full list of local rebates, solar loan programs and more.
FAQ: Solar Panel Cost Texas
Is it worth going solar in Texas?
Long, sunny days and below-average solar installation costs make Texas one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar panels. The ample sunshine provides more than enough energy for most families, serving up huge benefits to homes in Texas equipped with solar panels.
How much does it cost to install solar panels in Texas?
As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in Texas is $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is slightly below the national average due to the resource availability in Texas, current energy costs and the state's available sunlight. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for a free estimate.
Do solar panels increase home value in Texas?
Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the proportion at which solar panels increase home value in Texas corresponds with the areas with the most solar-friendly policies.
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500 sq foot house?
Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is the more important factor in determining solar panel cost in Texas. The higher your energy use, the greater your solar needs will be.
A petite woman from Peru has been honored with a huge award, the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, for years of principled resistance to the Colorado-based gold-seeking conglomerate Newmont Mining Company.
“During my struggle I felt very sad, like I was alone, but now I know I am not alone," Máxima Acuña de Chaupe told a small group at a pre-ceremony reception Saturday night in San Francisco's historic Mission District. Nearby her grandson Maximo squealed and chased a miniature soccer ball in happy ignorance of the seriousness of the subject.
Clearly emotional and a bit overwhelmed by the attention of so many people in a bustling city thousands of miles from her highland home, upon which Newmont has staked a claim on a very large gold deposit, her tone hardened as she finished her thought: “People are becoming aware and understand what I'm fighting for: the land, water and life, not only my own, but the population in general."
Celebrated globally for her courageous refusal to sell or cede the land her family uses to raise animals and vegetables to Newmont for its proposed Conga gold mine, Acuña de Chaupe and her family have survived lawsuits filed by the company and endured harassment and beatings at the hands of a security force alleged to be on the company payroll.
Adam Shapiro of Ireland-based human rights NGO Front Line Defenders has been following and documenting these events and said this week that when he was visiting the area recently, there was another incident. “The security company hired by the mine operator arranged for locals from nearby villages to come and tear up vegetables that had been planted by Máxima's son. This was part of a pattern of such attacks against the family," he said. “The security company maintains a presence allowing for 24 hour surveillance of the home and the farm and there are always guards watching as well as controlling traffic on the road."
Under such circumstances, Máxima is not alone. In the short time that Shapiro was there, he reported that a land rights defender in a nearby town received death threats.
This pattern is playing out across South and Central America, where environmentalists and land rights defenders challenging mining companies and other megaprojects put themselves at risk. The example foremost in conversations at the Saturday reception was 2015 Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres, murdered last month apparently for opposing a dam project in Honduras.
Another NGO that has been tracking developments in Peru closely is Earthworks, whose Mining Program Director, Payal Sampat, stated that the award is further proof that this lamentable state of affairs is finally changing. “Mining companies cannot ride roughshod over community wishes—such bad behavior may have been standard operating practice 20 years ago, but is not something that communities will tolerate or that shareholders will turn a blind eye to," she said. “Trampling community wishes comes with consequences to the bottom line."
For evidence, Sampat pointed to the idling of the Conga proposal for years due to the resistance of Acuña de Chaupe and her community and the fact that Newmont appears to have now taken it off their list of current assets, as outlined in a press release her group just released: “The world's second largest gold mining company, Denver-based Newmont's 2016 10-K SEC filing declared: “Under the current social and political environment, the company does not anticipate being able to develop Conga for the foreseeable future." Newmont will hold its annual shareholders' meeting in Delaware on April 20."
While a spokesman for the company, Omar Jabara, countered that that the Goldman Prize “does not have balanced or complete information about the land dispute," despite Newmont losing in court three times, including the country's Supreme Court according to Acuña de Chaupe's lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez, he confirmed the company's recent statement about the project's idle status, which in light of this week's news will probably be a topic of conversation when the company's investors meet again soon.
For her part, Máxima says that she does not know what to expect when she returns to Peru, but that she remains steadfast in her stance and knows the world will be watching. So as the sun set over San Francisco this past weekend, she closed her statements by saying, “I will continue to confront these transnational corporations. I will continue on in my struggle even if it means giving my life."
THANK YOU for making the the 27th #GoldmanPrize ceremony extraordinary! https://t.co/Xm9lgFEE7q https://t.co/VPwmjtr5ko— Goldman Prize (@Goldman Prize)1461080808.0
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You wouldn't suspect that a guy who builds things for a living would become the architect of a hugely popular symbol against the building of something else, but Will Elwell and his community of Ashfield, Massachusetts, have stumbled on just such a symbol. They are against the building of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which energy company Kinder Morgan subsidiary Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company wants to trench through New York and Massachusetts to carry gas from the fracking fields of Pennsylvania to the coast.
Residents of this proud New England town (where also I live) and many others around it strongly object to the notion of a corporation "taking" private and public land for this giant project, including state forestland and parcels conserved in perpetuity by land trusts, and have repeatedly denied company requests to survey their properties and farms, which has slowed the proposal's progress. Meanwhile citizen groups are preparing for civil disobedience alongside an effective grassroots education campaign that has won the support of many local, state and federal politicians.
That emphasis on civil disobedience, and wondering what more he could do for the cause, is what really rang a bell in Will Elwell's head. A skilled timber framer, he offered to create a direct reference to beloved Massachusetts figure and father of this style of resistance, Henry David Thoreau, by erecting a replica of the great writer's cabin on the hayfield of his neighbor, which itself is directly in the path of the proposed pipeline. Some of the beams were even salvaged from an 1800s-era Massachusetts barn, making the historic figure and new structure contemporaries of sorts.
As noted widely in the progressive press (Democracy Now and Common Dreams) and international media (RT), an enthusiastic group of 30 neighbors, activists and even local politicians turned out to help Elwell raise the beams on a recent weekday, culminating in a picturesque symbol of defiance. In the coming weeks, a roof, walls, and wood stove will be added, but for now, the key components are a sign board and journal that visitors have been using daily to share their frustrations, fears and hopes for the future of this place without a pipeline.
“I wanted to do something that would show my discontent with the proposed pipeline," Elwell told me, “but in a creative and beautiful way. And I wanted to occupy the proposed pipeline pathway and stop the project. This is an important and tangible symbol, and represents a place of resistance which many, many, people can now identify and help occupy."
Here's the replica of Thoreau's cabin being built in the path of Kinder-Morgan's #fracked gas pipeline. Beautiful! https://t.co/1ORbNOEDXa— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1458317092.0
As far as ideas to rally around go, it's certainly an effective one. But how practical it is in real pipeline-pausing terms is a bigger question. One way that Elwell has answered that was by getting a building permit:
“A building permit is not required for any outbuilding that is less than 200 square feet, but we wanted it to be registered and on record, because in order to move or demolish it, that would require its own permit. That would help raise awareness of the intent, and we could prepare to occupy the cabin (before its possible demolition)."
Fellow Ashfield pipeline resistance organizer Jim Cutler hopes to use the cabin as a rallying point for further activism and envisions it as a space that will host speakers that are eloquent on the issues.
Elwell thinks this one cabin is not a big enough symbol, however, and hopes to see more of these local rallying points pop up along the pipeline's possible path. “I would like to see a structure at every intersection along the proposed route," he said.
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Love winter? Like to skate? Then you need to know about Ottawa's Rideau Canal Skateway, a four mile frozen canal system that connects suburbs to the heart of the Canadian capital. Dubbed "the world's largest skating rink," it's a cultural attraction and also an emissions-free mode of transport for outdoors-loving Ottawans, who can often be seen commuting on blades to work at downtown offices and to classes at the university.
Last year my wife and I spent an exhilarating weekend there during a brutal February cold snap. It was skate-able for a record 59 days in 2015, a good long season, but alas, the Skateway hasn't been fully open for much in 2016 due to freakishly warm temperatures brought on by El Nino and climate change, which has caused many high temperature records to fall. After opening most of its length by late January as usual, it was then closed again due to thin ice.
On weekends during normal winters, the ice is mobbed with courting couples, hockey games and families of multiple generations. One can rent skates and also big Santa-style sleds, into which are loaded anyone who can't skate, like babies and grandparents, so their families can push them along, often at a good clip. Hot drinks, food and the ubiquitous "bear claw" sweets are hawked by vendors whose stalls are towed out on the ice. There are even ATMs out there on skids for those low on cash.
To celebrate this popular local asset and UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city grooms the ice all winter and also puts on what it calls "Winterlude," a 3-week canal-side celebration from late January to mid February with events day and night, from ice sculpture competitions to late night reggae shows in sub zero temperatures. This year's thin ice problem led during its brief closure to the unfortunate moniker "Waterlude," however.
The El Nino winter is surely a disappointment to the many Ottawans who love this institution—each year it enjoys 900,000+ visitors, including many foreigners who love to skate. So many folks use the Skateway daily that ice conditions are even announced on local radio stations as part of the traffic report.
Happily, the Canal is almost fully open again (check here for conditions) and many people will come for the many Winterlude events happening between now and Feb. 15. In fact, the warmer temps have probably led to greater attendance at outdoor events, organizers have noted with some irony.
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During this week's edition of the hit TV reality show Top Chef, the contestants were asked to cook with a technology they'd never used before: the sun. Deep in the Palm Springs desert, the chefs cooked with one of two industry-leading solar stove designs manufactured in the U.S., the SolSource and the GoSun. Of the SolSource, one chef called it "the coolest stove I've ever used," and cooking with the latter's innovative vacuum tube design was described by another as "light saber action."
TONIGHT: @BravoTopChef @ChefJoseAndres Challenges Contestants to Cook With #Solar Stoves https://t.co/KfilP7Iwk2 https://t.co/VP54ik11nN— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1450369413.0
Chef Jose Andres was the guest judge for this since he's so well known as a booster of solar cooking for the energy-impoverished—he brought solar stoves to Haiti after the earthquake to lend some relief to people whose normal cooking fuel options were rendered unavailable.
And lack of access to such clean cooking options is a huge issue globally: 3 billion people cook their daily meals over smoky biomass fires every day causing more than 4 million annual mortalities, mostly women and children, from smoke inhalation related diseases. Not only is it a human health issue, but forests and the climate suffer: most households that rely on smoky stoves burn 2 tons of biomass per year, about 730 million tons globally, which releases about a billion tons of carbon dioxide. The resulting particulate matter also traps heat in the atmosphere.
While there's a massive global underway led by the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves to get less smoky and biomass-intense options into the hands of people who need them, emission- and fuel-free solar stoves are routinely ignored by such efforts in favor of designs that still emit smoke. But events like this one just might boost its acceptance among NGOs and eco-conscious backyard cooks in the U.S. alike.
Both of the stove designs used by the show have great applicability in the developing world, especially in those countries which enjoy lots of sun. GoSun in particular is bullish about supplying cooks all over the world with smoke-free options, as I reported in The Guardian this fall.
Despite one contestant blowing up a GoSun because she added water to the vacuum tube, the stoves worked great and the contestants were overall pleased with the results despite having never used them, saying things like “The stove worked great," and “I thought it was awesome and would love to do it again."
Gourmet dishes of couscous, halibut, steak, cornbread and more were prepared in just 30 minutes with sunlight, and the winner was thrilled with his first experience cooking with the sun. But he wasn't the only winner: solar cooking got a big boost in visibility, and Chef Andres's humanitarian organization World Central Kitchen received a $10,000 donation on behalf of the winner.
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Community activists from Cajamarca, Peru appeared at the annual shareholders’ meeting of Denver-based Newmont Mining Corporation this week to deliver a petition bearing 150,000 signatures protesting the company’s practices in the region, and demanded that it live up to its own goals for human rights and sustainability.
Representatives of Earthworks, EarthRights and Grufides delivered over 150,000 signatures to the Newmont annual shareholders' meeting. Photo credit: EarthRights International
Newmont is majority owner of the massive Peruvian gold mine Yanacocha, the second largest gold mine in the world, and its planned Conga gold and copper mine nearby would be even larger, requiring a farming community to move and the four lakes they rely on for irrigation to be drained.
But the community has so far refused to relinquish its treasured land and lakes, and in response activists say the company has reacted with intimidation and harassment.
One person particularly in the company’s cross-hairs is Máxima Acuña de Chaupe, says activist Mirtha Vásquez, a Peruvian lawyer at Wednesday’s meeting. Acuña de Chaupe’s land abuts one of the four lakes but after de Chaupe refused to sell her land in 2011, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Earthworks reported that her family became the target of harassment and violence in the form of beatings and destruction of the family home. Then Newmont sued her for "land invasion” and violent retaliation, which it lost on appeal in December 2014.
Despite this legal victory, activists say that intimidation and threats against Acuña de Chaupe have continued, reporting that the family’s home was demolished again in February 2015, this time by a group of 200 armed men.
“Newmont’s leadership must publicly renounce its harassment of Máxima Acuña de Chaupe and other Cajamarca residents who oppose the Conga mine,” said Vásquez in a prepared statement. “Otherwise Newmont will become globally infamous for discarding their commitments to human rights and community engagement as soon as they become inconvenient.” A Cajamarca resident, Vásquez is director of a local NGO called Grufides and is also legal counsel to Acuña de Chaupe, who declined to travel to the U.S. citing fears of what would happen to her farm and family in her absence.
Mirtha Vásquez, left, inside the Hotel Dupont in Wilmington, Delaware before addressing Newmont's shareholder meeting. Photo credit: EarthRights International
Keith Slack, manager of Oxfam America's global extractive industries team, which tracks the impacts of mines on local communities, agreed with Vásquez. “The company needs to listen to the local population and not move forward with the Conga mine. It should find ways to address Máxima’s situation that are conciliatory and don’t rely on brute force. From the beginning there’s been an unwillingness to listen and take measures that build trust.”
For its part, Newmont maintains that it and Yanacocha always strive to be respectful of neighboring communities, and that they will not proceed without clear social acceptance. But in the case of Acuña de Chaupe, spokesman Omar Jabara continued to maintain that the family is illegally squatting on the company’s land. “On many occasions, the company has tried to resolve the dispute through direct dialogue, and remains open and willing to doing so. In the meantime,” he said by email, “Yanacocha is obliged to continue pursuing judicial avenues to re-establish its legal right to the property, while making every effort to reduce tensions and minimize conflict.”
However, Earthworks International Program Director Payal Sampat maintains that it’s too late to build bridges or reduce tensions. "The community of Cajamarca has said loud and clear—and repeatedly—that they reject the Conga mine. Instead of listening to the community and respecting their wishes, Newmont has employed security forces to intimidate and harass those who oppose them. This ‘scorched earth’ approach is hurting not only the people of Cajamarca, but Newmont's reputation and business as well."
Whether or not Newmont’s shareholders agreed with her on Wednesday, actions like it will continue to educate the world on the incredibly high cost of gold mining for both people and planet in places like Cajamarca.
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I had the chance last week to interview Stephanie Flack, executive director of the Environmental Film Festival. The festival runs from March 17-29 in Washington, DC. Now in its 23rd year, it’s the nation’s largest and longest-running environmental film festival, which will screen more than 160 films on a wide range of environmental issues, and 96 of those films will either be DC, U.S. or world premieres.
Q. Is there a theme for the 2015 Festival?
A. Our theme for around one-quarter of our 160+ films this year is “Climate Connections,” exploring the impact of climate change on our world. Two of our films highlighting this subject are “Ice & Sky,” Oscar-winning filmmaker Luc Jacquet’s work-in-progress about French glaciologist Claude Lorius’ 60-year study of climate change in glaciers and “Penguin Counters,” examining how penguins in Antarctica are coping with their changing climate—and the implications for humans. We are also presenting a panel discussion with The Climate Reality Project, “Climate Connections: Filmmakers as Catalysts for Change,” considering how storytelling and film can effectively address the climate crisis and a special evening of film and discussion celebrating Earth Hour with World Wildlife Fund.
Q. Why is it important to keep offering this event in Washington, DC?
A. Washington, DC, our national capital, is an ideal place to present the Environmental Film Festival because it has perhaps the greatest concentration of national and global decision makers and thought leaders in the world. It also has experts on many of the topics featured in the films we show. By presenting our films here, we can reach people in government, NGOs and a wide variety of other organizations who shape national and global environmental policy. I think it’s more important than ever to keep doing the festival as environmental challenges intensify in severity and scope, and documentary films illuminate these vital topics. Our focus on climate change is especially timely this year, shining a light on the global climate imperative prior to the Paris United Nations Climate Conference in December.
Q. Orion's current issue has a special section on Cuba, so I was glad to see the festival's own focus on the island nation. What will the Cuba program tackle?
A. In our program, “Frozen in Time: Cuba’s Pristine Coral Reefs and Their Future After the Embargo,” marine biologist Dr. David E. Guggenheim, who visits Cuba often, will explore its vibrant coral reefs and consider the impact that lifting the U.S. embargo could have on the country’s environment. Guggenheim will also show clips of healthy coral reefs in Cuba’s National Park, Gardens of the Queen and from the film, “Cuba: The Accidental Eden,” showcasing Cuba’s virtually untouched wild landscapes. He will discuss lessons the rest of the world can learn from Cuba’s protection of its environment.
Q. What life experiences prepared you to run this massive, independent arts event? I know you love film since you’ve watched the AFI top 100.
A. The festival truly is a massive and impressive undertaking. I’ve attended it casually as an audience member for 20 years, and appreciated the films and discussions without a full understanding of the incredible work and organization that went into identifying, selecting and securing the films—not to mention coordinating with the 55+ venue partners and many more collaborating partner organizations that help to host and present the festival.
I worked in conservation for 20 years before moving to the festival. During those years, I managed large teams from my organization and partner organization to meet shared objectives—in many cases, teams over whom I had no direct authority—so I had to define and help steer the teams towards meeting shared objectives. One of these collaborative, multi-partner projects won an award from the Department of Interior as a great example of a public-private partnership. Plus, I am a mother of three children ages 10 and younger, so I have some experience keeping a bunch of balls in the air.
And to answer your second question: the AFI Top 100 is a list of the Top 100 films of the first 100 years of moviemaking. The list was determined by the American Film Institute from a poll of more than 1,500 artists and leaders in the film industry who chose from a list of 400 nominated movies. I have always loved film, it has been my interest and hobby beyond my professional focus throughout my career in conservation, so the Environmental Film Festival has been a perfect marrying up of my professional and formerly personal interests.
Q. What are you most looking forward to at this year's festival?
A. This year, I am most looking forward to our opening night festival kick-off with “Bikes vs Cars” on March 17; our closing night and Advocacy Award screening presentation of “Racing Extinction” on March 29; and our three other award evenings: presenting the Eric Moe Sustainability Film Award for a short film in sustainability to “Silent River;” screening George Butler’s new film “Tiger Tiger,” which will win our new William W. Warner Beautiful Swimmers Award for a film reflecting a spirit of reverence for nature; and showing Sturla Gunnarsson’s new film “Monsoon,” which will win our Polly Krakora Award for Artistry in Film. In addition, we have two great Saturday nights lined up: Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D on March 21 at the National Museum of Natural History, and the new film “Planetary” in association with the annual celebration of Earth Hour with World Wildlife Fund on March 28 at the National Geographic Society.
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I’m going to D.C. soon to share ideas for a better food system.
And that system needs a good bit of tweaking: many have been working on that for decades admirably, and I try to be on all their email lists. One relative newcomer to the scene is Food Tank: The Food Think Tank, which is only just two years old but has quickly become an important voice for change. And it’s their emails I tend to open first.
The open forum Food Tanks has been developing has now gathered enough momentum that they announced the 1st Annual Food Tank Summit on Jan. 21 - 22, with 75 different speakers from the food and agriculture field, folks like researchers, farmers, chefs, policy makers, government officials, students and writers like myself who will gather to discuss farming, food waste, urban agriculture and such; all topics that serve their mission of building a global community with access to safe and healthy food. Food Tank talks about everything from agroforestry to food deserts: anything this fresh that’s in pursuit of solutions that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity and poverty always grabs my attention.
The plan is to have two days of open discussions led by lively panels (see program here), and even more enticingly, without any Powerpoint presentations. This is what I plan to talk about vis a vis my role at Orion and my food system freelancing for a panel called Telling the Story of Food, alongside Sam Fromartz of Food and Environment Reporting Network, author Vicki Robin, NPR’s Allison Aubrey, and others.
Though it’s been sold out since mid November, like most good conferences these days it will be livestreamed so that folks all over the world can join in. It’s going to be a fascinating forum hosted at sponsor George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium (former home of CNN’s Crossfire, interestingly).
I’m also looking forward to seeing Food Tank’s President Danielle Nierenberg speak. She’s something of a dynamo and seems to burst with ideas stemming from an array of experiences including two years in the Peace Corps and two years canvassing the world to document great agricultural and food system practices that help alleviate hunger and poverty while protecting the environment.
Both Nierenberg and I were guests on this week’s Agroinnovations Podcast episode and discussed the summit with host Frank Aragona. As she says during the broadcast, it’s set to be an open forum and everyone’s encouraged to use #foodtank on Twitter or the Food Tank Facebook page to be part of the conversation whether you are in DC or watching live via foodtank.com. The purpose is to share solutions but not to strive to provide answers. It’s more important to surface the most important questions, as she says on the show: “We realize that we’ll be coming away with more questions, and that’s the whole point. To really get people thinking and talking and coming up with ideas and sharing them with others.”
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The Executive Director of DC Greenworks, Peter Ensign, recently teamed up with filmmaker Sandy Cannon-Brown to produce a short film on the burgeoning green roof scene in Washington, DC, and it will be screened at the venerable Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capitol on March 21. I used the occasion to ask him a few questions.
Q. What will people learn about green roofs if they see Green Roofs in the District of Columbia at the film festival?
A. Green roofs are an alternative to concrete pipes and water treatment facilities for handling stormwater runoff. Green roofs capture and mitigate rainwater on site to alleviate the costs of treatment facilities, and more importantly to reduce the flow of stormwater into our waterways which causes destruction to aquatic and marine life. DC is a leader in setting conducive policy for, and in, the construction of green roofs. DC has approximately 2 million square feet of green roof currently with a commitment by the mayor to double that amount by 2032.
Q. Orion magazine has a new series called Reimagining Infrastructure so we're looking at all kinds of forward thinking solutions. What key ways do green roofs help society reimagine things like stormwater runoff and move toward better design and greater sustainability?
A. There are 20 benefits realized by green roofs—environmental, economic and social. The most exciting thing to be realized by green roofs is the opportunity for DC's residents to see a greener urban environment and to comprehend rainwater as a natural asset to be valued instead of flushed away as a liability. On a more practical level, green roofs can produce local fruits and vegetables and are a source of local employment.
By focusing on aspects of the natural ecosystem in dense urban communities, society can become aware of the dynamic relationship between the human-built environment and the forces of nature in cities. Society has the opportunity to design infrastructure that is more in harmony with nature; and as such, more sustainable and resilient over time, as well as less costly to maintain and replace.
Q. Can you describe the green roof scene in DC? Who are the folks in the movie and how did they get involved?
A. The film opens with Keith Anderson, director of DC Dept of the Environment (DDOE). DDOE is the primary agency tasked with reducing stormwater runoff. Also the DC Office of Planning that has created the "Green Area Ratio" that requires property redevelopment to include a high percentage of permeable surface through use of green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavement. Mayor Gray has developed a plan, SustainableDC, that sets targets for sustainability to be reached by 2032. The Mayor says his aim is that DC will be the most sustainable city in the world.
DC Water, our local water utility, is required under a consent decree to substantially reduce stormwater runoff into our rivers and streams. DC Water has recently requested that they be allowed to implement green infrastructure on a large scale as a part of the reduction plan.
Others in the film are general contractors, property and facilities managers, and NGOs, such as DC Greenworks, Casey Trees, Anacostia Watershed Society and others who have advocated for these changes over 14 years.
Q. How can people see green roofs near them? Is there a national directory, or are other cities or regions green roof hot spots?
A. DDOE has a website that identifies green roofs in DC. I'm not aware of a national directory. Chicago, Portland, OR, Seattle, Philadelphia and New York are probably the other hot spots in the U.S., Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. Germany is the world leader, and many northern European countries excel in green roofs. The use of modern green roofs is also growing quickly in the Middle East, China and Latin America.
Q. Where else besides the big film festival in DC will you and film director Sandy Cannon-Brown be showing this film in 2014?
A. I expect to show the film at the Baywide Stormwater Retreat held in the summer by Chesapeake Stormwater Network. Also the film will be posted on the District of Columbia Office of the Environment and DC Greenworks websites, and there may be others interested in having the film on their sites.
Catch this film and others at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capitol's Sustainable DC program on March 21 at 6 p.m. at the Carnegie Institution for Science.
When a land trust in Grayslake, Illinois, made a strategic decision in 2005 to include farmland in its list of property types to preserve, it joined scores of traditional "woods and waters" trusts across the U.S. which are increasingly preserving agricultural lands and building local food systems.
While it made sense strategically, since much of the county’s remaining forested and open land has already been conserved, it was also right on mission for Conserve Lake County (CLC). As they got into it, the CLC leadership realized that they didn’t want to convert purchased farms to natural uses, though, but rather to keep them in farming.
Yet the conventional corn and soybean farming practiced widely in the region was not on-mission, given the known impacts of those practices. “That sent us searching for a different kind of farming more in keeping with our mission of improving land and water health,” explained Steve Barg, CLC’s executive director. Because their preserved agricultural lands are farmed more sustainably, they were then pulled into the nascent food system conversation in the county and are now leading efforts to develop its local food economy.
While land trusts that specialize in farmland, like American Farmland Trust, have been around a long time, this trend of conventional land trusts wading into food systems work is much newer, and it’s growing. Statistics shared by the Land Trust Alliance (LTA), found that of 912 member trusts surveyed in 2010, 22 percent reported that farm and ranch preservation was “very important,” and 39 percent said it was “extremely important.” Well over half of the LTA members, then, are strongly invested in this work (for more stats, see American Farmland Trust’s 2012 survey of land trusts that specifically work to preserve farms and ranches).
When asked about the interest, Rob Aldrich, director of communications for the LTA, said he’s been watching it trend steadily upward since the early 2000s, and sees land trusts getting involved all along the spectrum of activities within the new food movement. One of his favorite examples is Massachusetts Audubon, “… a land conservation organization dedicated to saving bird habitat, which is now doing community gardening in some of their sanctuaries. Why? Because that’s what their communities need, and they want to use their resources to address community needs that also blend with their mission.”
And Mass Audubon isn’t alone: the biggest and oldest land trust in the state, The Trustees of Reservations, employs an Agriculture Program Director to manage its ag-strategy and farm-holdings. The LTA’s Aldrich plans a special feature on the whole topic of land trusts in the food system for the summer issue of his organization’s member magazine, Saving Land.
Back in Illinois, the most visible example of CLC’s efforts, beside Prairie Crossing (a 669-acre Chicago subdivision that devotes 100 acres to food production: see “Farming the ‘burbs”) and the fact that around 25 percent of its portfolio is now agricultural land, is the nascent Casey Farm Center for Land Health, a 34-acre farm CLC also now owns. It will use part of the farmhouse for educational purposes and lease the rest to a young couple for raising chickens and produce. A renovation of the 140 year-old dairy barn to make it friendly for food processing is just being finished.
In a similar vein on the East End of Long Island, NY, Peconic Land Trust (PLT) has been in the local food game since 1990 when it was gifted land perfect for a CSA—Community Supported Agriculture. One of the oldest CSAs in the country (and also having the distinction of employing Scott Chaskey as its official “Farmer/Poet”—it really says that on his business card, and his poems are great), PLT’s President John Halsey said that their decision to keep the land in farming hinged on stewardship. “What better way to steward farmland than by operating a farm that engages the community?”
Beside the venerable CSA, called Quail Hill Farm, ninety acres of this land is part of PLT’s new Farms for the Future initiative, an incubator for new growers who can lease the land to “… get their feet on the ground before finding more permanent locations to farm out here.” At the end of their lease, PLT plans to aid the farmers in finding land elsewhere that they can acquire themselves, which is key in Hamptons zip codes.
But that question of whether farmers like them can actually find land, conserved or otherwise, that they can finance remains a big question. Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust in western Massachusetts is one organization that’s working to make conserved farmland affordable to new and old entrants alike with an increasingly popular model.
In addition to more traditional practices (it’s conserved two dozen farms over the past 25+ years), Mount Grace recently launched a new effort that protects the land by way of a community land trust (CLT) structure. This model is one of shared ownership, where the land trust buys the land and provides a 99-year inheritable lease to the farmer, who owns the house and buildings and in turn grants the trust a permanent Affordability Restriction, ensuring that when the buildings are sold to the next farmer (and it must be to a farmer), the price tag will be affordable.
Their Campaign for Affordable Farms is just shy of the fundraising goal for its first project: buying the 100+ acres of Red Fire Farm in Montague, whose current owners will remain on the land and operate their successful 1,400-member/year-round CSA, while shedding unsustainable debt.
All of Mount Grace’s potential farm conservation projects are assessed for their full farm affordability potential, reports Executive Director Leigh Youngblood. She’s a booster of the CLT system both for its economic sense, since a regular conservation easement simply does not guaranteed affordability, but also for the good it does in the community, she says (and speaking of, the National Young Farmers Coalition just surveyed 225 land trusts across the U.S. to find out what they’re doing on the affordability question, from CLTs to language enhancements in traditional conservation easements favorable to agriculture, and plans to publish the results soon).
So although a CLT is a departure from traditional land trust work and comes with organizational capacity questions, Youngblood declared, “We love it, Red Fire is a strong partner, and we were ready for the challenge.” And beside the great mission-match that the campaign yields, there were also direct benefits to Mount Grace in 2012, she reports: “We got 100 new donors at the end of the year. That’s the biggest increase in one month we’ve ever had.”
Which should be music to many land trusts’ ears. CLTs are also likely to have been discussed by a new short course just offered by Bard College (NY) aimed at land conservation professionals, Private Land Conservation: A Primer, and The Role of Agriculture. This offering at a college is yet another sign that this trend is getting big.
When asked to share advice with land trusts that are interested in getting into the farmland preservation game, here’s what my sources suggested:
- Lease, don’t own, according to Mount Grace’s Youngblood: “I often see land trusts acquire farms and then operate them. I personally don’t want to be operating a farm. We’re good at conserving land. Owning a farm and running it with your own staff is harder than leasing it.” She also highly recommends Land for Good, which provides farmland access, farm transfer planning, land planning, and farm use agreement information in the Northeast.
- Peconic Land Trust’s Halsey agrees: “Owning the land doesn’t mean you need to hire the farmer as we did, although we’ve gained a lot from that.” He also added that a land trust has a unique position and should take advantage of that with farmland it owns: “Get more involved with active management of farmland: encourage new forms of agriculture and best management practices and look at different models.”
- Find your door-opener, says CLC’s Steve Barg: “There’s one farmer in our community who’s been a game-changer for us, a fourth generation farmer and conservationist (who bucks the usual corn and soybeans plan and instead grows an interesting four to five grain rotation on his land). Because he’s a conventional farmer, he’s been a real door-opener for us in the farming community.”
That’s all good advice, and one hopes that the estimated 1,660+ land trusts across all 50 U.S. states will follow the lead of the 558 Land Trust Alliance member trusts that report being invested in this work. The country needs to greatly increase the number of farmers and the diversity of its farms if it hopes to feed itself well into the future. The good news is that its reliable fleet of land trusts is well-positioned to help by creating many new local food solutions.
Visit EcoWatch’s SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE page for more related news on this topic.
This post originally appeared on Grist.