By Daniel Ross
The wildfires that tore across Australia were as devastating as they were overwhelming, scorching some 15 million hectares of land, killing 34 people and more than 1 billion animals. In terms of its apocalyptic imagery — sweeping infernos torching great swaths with unerring speed — Australia's wildfires were hauntingly reminiscent of the fires that roared through the Amazon rainforest over the past year. Indeed, more than 80,000 fires hit the region during 2019, according to the Brazilian government.
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By April M. Short
The world's wildlife is in danger of dying off, and inevitably taking humanity out with it. Humans have destroyed enormous portions of the planet's natural spaces, and caused a climate disaster as well as the unprecedented acceleration of mass extinction events. Among the many species struggling to stay afloat are the butterflies, birds, bats, bees and other pollinators we depend upon in order to grow basic food crops. People cannot live without the earth's diverse wild plants and animals.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Elizabeth Henderson
Farmworkers, farmers and their organizations around the country have been singing the same tune for years on the urgent need for immigration reform. That harmony turns to discord as soon as you get down to details on how to get it done, what to include and what compromises you are willing to make. Case in point: the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038), which passed in the House of Representatives on Dec. 11, 2019, by a vote of 260-165. The Senate received the bill the next day and referred it to the Committee on the Judiciary, where it remains. Two hundred and fifty agriculture and labor groups signed on to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) call for support for H.R. 5038. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez rejoiced:
Changes to H-2A<p>From the farmer perspective, Title Two of H.R. 5038 improves the <a href="https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-2a-temporary-agricultural-workers" target="_blank">H-2A program</a>. Instead of sequential filings via snail mail with three different government agencies, it consolidates the application process into one online filing, allows farmers to stagger labor requests and post their workers wanted listings in a single electronic registry. (<a href="https://thepryingmantis.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/time-to-replace-h2a-the-us-guestworker-program/" target="_blank">See my blog for a detailed description of how H-2A functions.</a>) Title Two changes the formula for calculating H-2A pay in a way estimated to reduce wages slightly while allowing more flexibility for differentiating among different work assignments, freezes the rate for a year and then caps the percentage increase per year, and allows alternatives to inspected on-farm housing. It sets up a limited number of three-year visas for year-round workers, thus opening the program to dairies and other livestock farms and a pilot program for 10,000 workers who will be allowed to change employers.</p><p>On balance for H-2A workers, H.R. 5038 does extend coverage by the <a href="https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/laws-and-regulations/laws/mspa" target="_blank">Migrant and Seasonal Workers Protection Act to H-2A workers</a>. This act regulates labor contractors, requires full disclosure of wages, hours and work assignments, and provides workers with some protection from retaliation for raising grievances. Section 505(a) of MSPA states that it is a violation for any person to "intimidate, threaten, restrain, coerce, blacklist, discharge, or in any manner discriminate against any migrant or seasonal agricultural worker because such worker has, with just cause, filed any complaint or instituted, or caused to be instituted, any proceeding under or related to this Act, or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceedings, or because of the exercise, with just cause, by such worker on behalf of himself or others of any right or protection afforded by this Act." While section 505(a) sounds good, it is hard to see how the timing of the grievance process could work for short-term seasonal workers who would probably have to return home before the wheels of justice start turning.</p><p>From the perspective of both H-2A and undocumented workers, most of the changes to H-2A do not look like improvements. Except for those in the pilot program, H-2A workers are still locked in to the employer who invited them and cannot switch jobs unless the employer is a multi-farm association, and they are left without the legal right to organize. <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#h2a" target="_blank">According to USDA statistics,</a> the number of H-2A positions has increased "from just over 48,000 positions certified in fiscal 2005 to nearly 243,000 in fiscal 2018." By making it easier for farmers to hire "guestworkers," the bill threatens the job security of farmworkers already working on U.S. farms.</p><p>The members of <a href="https://cata-farmworkers.org/cata-statement-on-the-proposed-farm-workforce-modernization-act-h-r-5038/" target="_blank">CATA denounce the H-2A program</a> for leaving all the power in the hands of the employer. In CATA's words: "If a worker loses their job, they lose their visa and must return immediately to their home country. We have documented extensive lack of compliance with the workers' rights regulations included in the current H-2A program. Despite this, workers in the program are extremely reluctant to report issues with their job orders and problems in the workplace because their status and their ability to return through the program depends on their employers."</p>
Mandatory E-Verify<p>The final title makes electronic verification of employment eligibility, known as "e-verify," mandatory for the entire agricultural sector. No other industry sectors are saddled in this way. The goal is to close all pathways to farm work for undocumented people and to provide due process for authorized workers who are unfairly rejected by the system. However, despite the bill's assurances of fairness and accuracy, so far, the <a href="https://www.aclu.org/other/prove-yourself-work-10-big-problems-e-verify?redirect=technology-and-liberty/prove-yourself-work-10-big-problems-e-verify" target="_blank">e-verify system has not reached that high bar</a>, and in its current form makes many misidentifications thus disqualifying qualified workers and the reverse. <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/serious-problems-e-verify" target="_blank">Contested cases take days to straighten out</a>, threatening new hires. A large farm would have office staff assigned to sort this out, but for small farms, appealing a mistaken finding can turn into a lengthy and expensive legal tangle. According to USDA, close to <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-labor/#h2a" target="_blank">50 percent</a> of all farmworkers are still undocumented.</p><p>I have combed UFW public statements for an explanation for the compromises in H.R. 5038, but I have not been able to find a UFW analysis of the details of the bill, and none of the UFW staffers I have reached out to have responded to my queries. Their press releases crow about a victory and urge supporters to contact the Senate to pass the same bill. By contrast, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which includes all the smaller farmworker organizations, urges calls and letters to the Senate in <a href="https://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-hr-5038-the-farm-workforce-modernization-act-of-2019" target="_blank">opposition to H.R. 5038</a>: "<a href="https://tinyurl.com/yxy8k6h9" target="_blank">As an Alliance,</a> we believe that regardless of immigration status, all farmworkers deserve dignity, respect, and full protection on the job and in the communities in which their families reside. It is our belief that our movement should be guided by this vision of expanding access to rights and protection for all workers, especially the right to organize…we should oppose <em>any</em> legislation that does not provide stronger rights on the job for farmworkers and guestworkers and oversight over their conditions."</p><p>A close reading of H.R. 5038 leads me to the same conclusion. If we want to end this country's dependence on desperate people who are willing to do hard physical labor at machine speeds for poverty wages, we need to transform farm work into a respected vocation with living wages, the right to organize, full benefits, health coverage and a pension plan. When we replace giant farms with integrated, biodiverse family-scale organic and <a href="https://tinyurl.com/vhoq22o" target="_blank">agroecological farms</a>, no one will need to work like a machine.</p><p><strong>Take action: </strong><a href="https://actionnetwork.org/letters/oppose-hr-5038-the-farm-workforce-modernization-act-of-2019" target="_blank">Urge your senators to oppose H.R. 5038 — The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019</a>.</p>
By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
Over six gallons of water are required to produce one gallon of wine. "Irrigation, sprays, and frost protection all [used in winemaking] require a lot of water," explained winemaker and sommelier Keith Wallace, who's also a professor and the founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, the largest independent wine school in the U.S. And water waste is just the start of the climate-ruining inefficiencies commonplace in the wine industry. Sustainably speaking, climate change could be problematic for your favorite glass of wine.
Sustainability Is Subjective<p>Sustainability isn't an absolute, meaning that wine and its agricultural counterparts can be sustainable in some ways, and not so much in other facets. While winemaking may be hyper eco-conscious, bottling and shipping may harm the planet beyond what less sustainable vineyard habits could ever lay claim to. Sustainability is rosé; neither white nor red, not necessarily organic or inorganic, but somewhere in between. And that limbo of sustainability can be, like a nicely chilled pink wine, complex and delicious, though nowhere near as easy to sip.</p><p>For instance, organically grown and made wine is not necessarily considered to be organic wine. "In the wine industry, many growers farm organically, but to be certified as an organic farm, the grower must keep records of practices for several years and submit them to one of the certifying organizations, like <a href="https://www.ccof.org/" target="_blank">California Certified Organic Farmers</a>," explained Vanessa Conlin, head of wine at online wine store <a href="https://www.wineaccess.com/" target="_blank">Wine Access</a>.</p><p>These etymological (and bureaucratic) hurdles make it difficult for a wine to become officially organic certified, and therefore the organic practices of omitting synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and other toxins from the wine-growing and making process, though better for the environment and the consumer's health, typically go unseen on a wine bottle's label. In France, however, a special European Union regulated label, <a href="https://www.winetourbooking.com/en/what-is-actually-a-biological-wine/" target="_blank">the Ecocert</a>, marks biological (that is, wines free of artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer) wines, proving that such an indicator can be successfully utilized with a little government interest.</p><p>In the United States, organic is the most popular label to identify a biological wine, but wines that are labeled organic also cannot contain any added sulfites. Sulfites are a natural by-product of fermentation, but many winemakers add sulfur dioxide as antimicrobial and an antioxidative agent, stabilizing wines to best ensure the bottle tastes as good as expected once uncorked.</p><p>"The key difference between sustainable and organic farming is that while sustainability is meant to protect the environment for future generations, it does not have to include organic practices, although many do," Conlin explained. "Sustainability takes into account the health of the entire business, in ways like water preservation, energy efficiency, and even the well-being of the employees." <a href="https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog-posts/whats-the-difference-between-sustainable-organic-and-biodynamic-wine" target="_blank">Biodynamic wine</a>, which utilizes a closed ecosystem, that is, no outside fertilizers or alternative products, is just one example of a type of sustainable wine.</p><p>"Every winery and farm can do it," <a href="https://www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com/hunt-country-vineyards-wins-award/" target="_blank">said</a> Art Hunt, who, along with his wife Joyce, founded and owns Hunt Country Vineyards, located near Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes AVA ("American Viticultural Area," a federally designated wine grape-growing region) in upstate New York. The Hunts regard their vineyard as a total, biodiverse ecosystem that supports bees, birds and other wildlife.</p><p>"It's not all or nothing," Hunt said about running a sustainable winery. "You can work at it every year without it impacting your bottom line too much, and gradually increase your profitability."</p>
Sipping Wine Sustainably<p>The carbon footprint of global winemaking and global wine consumption is nothing to scoff at. The latter, which requires cases of wine be shipped from California to Spain, France to China, Australia to South Africa or perhaps back to Oregon or Alaska and everywhere in between, imprints a deep carbon footprint. Because wine is so region-specific, and only so many regions can create drinkable bottles, ground and air transportation is <a href="https://www.livescience.com/3041-carbon-footprint-wine.html" target="_blank">responsible for nearly all of the wine industry's CO2 emissions</a>.</p><p>Pesticides may fall out of favor, but a craving for an excellent Napa Cabernet in Singapore may not. The solution? Better packaging. "Many sustainable producers are making a concerted effort to lessen their carbon footprint by moving to lighter-weight glass bottles, or are trying alternative packaging, as the actual production of glass is energy-intensive," Conlin explained. "Cans, kegs, and other alternative types of packaging are lighter to ship and, in the case of kegs, are often reusable." Wine on tap? Great for the planet!</p><p>Unless you're a hyper-knowledgeable wine consumer, actually understanding how to purchase a bottle of wine sustainably can be befuddling. Beyond the physical packaging, labels like Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing, additional local certifications, and the universal <a href="https://www.demeter.de/verbraucher/landwirtschaft/weinbau/weltweit/faq" target="_blank">Demeter</a> qualification, only for biodynamic wines, can address environmental concerns. "Look for key terms like sustainable or integrated pest management or even biodynamic," Wallace suggested. "They mean a wine was made with the goal to protect and maintain the natural ecosphere."</p><p>Also, winemakers use <a href="https://vegansbaby.com/theres-what-in-my-wine-the-gross-ingredients-in-wine-no-one-talks-about/" target="_blank">animal-derived products</a> to clarify the wine in a process called "fining." Some fining agents include casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Since animal agriculture is the <a href="https://tinyurl.com/vnf53gy" target="_blank">second largest contributor</a> to human-made greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels and a <a href="https://tinyurl.com/r27g4eo" target="_blank">leading cause</a> of biodiversity loss, deforestation, and water and air pollution, eco-minded, animal-friendly wine drinkers may want to seek out vegan wines, which use mineral-based fining agents like activated charcoal or bentonite, a type of clay.</p><p>Wine is a dialogue, and there's no shame in asking a sommelier or wine store professional questions about wine and its sustainable bragging points. Ask which bottles (or cans!) are <a href="https://www.foodandwine.com/wine/sustainable-wines-and-spirits" target="_blank">sustainable</a> or <a href="https://vegnews.com/food-recipes/vegan-food-guides/wine" target="_blank">vegan</a>, which winemakers prioritize protecting the environment and if there are any local alternatives to a more faraway favorite.</p><p>"Industry buyers and restaurants are there to serve the demands of the consumer, so as interest in sustainability grows, savvy merchants are responding to that demand and often notate sustainably farmed wines on shelf-talkers or as symbols on wine lists," Conlin said. Don't see sustainable notations at your local wine shop or happy hour spot? Speak up!</p>
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By Sara Amundson
Every year, fins from as many as 73 million sharks circulate throughout the world in a complex international market. They are the key ingredient in shark fin soup, a luxury dish considered a status symbol in some Asian cuisines.
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Big Data, Big Oil: Unveiling the 'Dark Forces' Behind Trump’s 2020 Reelection Campaign With Josh Fox
By Reynard Loki
Josh Fox, the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker behind Gasland, the documentary that started the global anti-fracking movement, is bringing a new message to audiences across the country with The Truth Has Changed, a live theater-based project that sounds the alarm on the right-wing disinformation campaign working to secure President Trump's reelection.
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By Tia Schwab
It has been almost a year since Hurricane Florence slammed the Carolinas, dumping a record 30 inches of rainfall in some parts of the states. At least 52 people died, and property and economic losses reached $24 billion, with nearly $17 billion in North Carolina alone. Flood waters also killed an estimated 3.5 million chickens and 5,500 hogs.
The Public Health Menace No One Knows About<p>The health and environmental impact of CAFOs is indeed enormous. "CAFOs are large-scale facilities that house thousands if not tens of thousands of animals in very small spaces," said Ho. "One CAFO can produce as much manure as a medium-size city in the United States" — with one critical difference: A medium-size city in the U.S. is required under the Clean Water Act to have a municipal wastewater treatment plant. CAFOs have no such treatment plant.<br></p><p>When animal manure escapes from CAFOs into nearby water sources, it can have devastating <a href="https://stonepierpress.org/goodfoodnews/factory-farms-public-health" target="_blank">health consequences</a> for people and ecosystems. Manure can contain nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as <em>E. coli</em>, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood and silage leachate from corn feed, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/docs/understanding_cafos_nalboh.pdf" target="_blank">reports</a> the National Association of Local Boards of Health. Ammonia is also often found in surface waters surrounding CAFOs. When exposed to air, ammonium converts into nitrate, and elevated nitrate levels in drinking water have been connected to poor general health, birth defects and miscarriages. For infants, it can mean blue baby syndrome and even death.</p><p><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/21/us/california-central-valley-tainted-water.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share" target="_blank">The New York Times</a> recently exposed the devastating effects of nitrate contamination from animal manure in low-income farmworker communities in California's Central Valley. The widespread application of chemical fertilizers and dairy cow manure has made the water unsafe for drinking, cooking and even showering. Camille Pannu, the director of the Aoki Water Justice Clinic at the University of California, Davis, likens the situation to the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/25/us/flint-water-crisis.html?module=inline" target="_blank">water crisis</a> in Flint, Michigan. "Flint is everywhere here."</p>
Tying Data Patterns to Factory Farms<p>To put factory farms on the map, the Stanford team figured out how to teach a computer algorithm to analyze data patterns. They got <a href="https://woods.stanford.edu/news/machine-learning-environmental-enforcer" target="_blank">help</a> from Google's advances in image learning, the USDA's National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP), and the <a href="https://www.ewg.org/" target="_blank">EWG</a> and <a href="https://waterkeeper.org/" target="_blank">Waterkeeper Alliance</a>.<br></p><p>The environmental groups supplied locations of CAFOs they had collected manually. The researchers matched those locations to NAIP satellite images, hand-validating the presence of CAFOs using these same processes. Once CAFOs were confirmed, the team combined this information with open-source image-recognition tools released by Google, which were already trained to identify different types of objects, buildings, people and animals in photos.</p><p>In receiving this information, the algorithm was retrained to identify CAFOs by looking for certain visual cues. "Swine farms were identifiable by compact rectangular barns abutted by large liquid manure pits, and poultry by long rectangular barns and dry manure storage," noted the researchers in their report. The algorithm could then be applied to unscanned locations to identify unseen CAFOs.</p><p>Handan-Nader explained this process as the retraining of an existing technology. "Instead of working with a baby, we got a toddler, who knows what an arm is, but maybe doesn't know what an entire person looks like," said Handan-Nader. In this case, the arm is a building, and an entire person is a CAFO.</p><p>To improve the tool's accuracy, the team also fed the algorithm photos of stadium bleachers, airplane hangars and mobile home parks, which only appear to match the CAFO visual cues. "Just as humans learn from being tricked, so does a computer," said Handan-Nader.</p><p>There's another way to look at the research effort, she added. They were "very unglamorously looking at poop for months and months."</p><p>It paid off. Ho and Handan-Nader identified 15 percent more poultry farms than what was found through a manual census. The researchers <a href="https://woods.stanford.edu/news/machine-learning-environmental-enforcer" target="_blank">estimated</a> their algorithm could identify 95 percent of existing large-scale facilities using fewer than 10 percent of the resources required for a manual census.</p><p>"Dr. Ho's work makes my job much easier," said Soren Rundquist, the director of spatial analysis at the EWG. "While humans will always need to validate and quality check computer-generated results, any innovation for locating CAFOs will make the process much more efficient. This is paramount when keeping up with an industry that can grow quickly, having an immediate impact on the environment and public health."</p>
Replacing Guesswork With Evidence<p>The tool works with conventional satellite imagery, but future iterations could be trained to identify new spectral signatures, like building materials, lagoons, or actual discharges into waterways. The tool could also help detect other forms of environmental degradation, like oil spills. Stephen Luby, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, is already using a similar technology to track brick kilns, a huge source of air pollution.</p><p>Katie Cantrell envisions using the tool to provide solid evidence of the harm done by factory farming. "This mapping project provides an invaluable resource for advocates at the local, state, and national level," she said. "They can use it to document correlations between the location and density of CAFOs and socioeconomic data, health data such as asthma and mortality rates, and air and water pollution data, that can hopefully help drive better regulation and protection of front-line communities." Added EWG's Rundquist, "The need for this utility is becoming more important as public information around these operations becomes more opaque and unavailable."</p><p>In the meantime, Missouri voted last month to prevent counties from passing more stringent laws regulating CAFOs. Now, local standards for health and environmental protection cannot be tougher than those of the state. In doing so, Missouri joins <a href="https://psmag.com/news/missouri-outlaws-rural-residents-last-line-of-protection-against-cafos" target="_blank">seven</a> other states this year who have considered strengthening protections for CAFOs, which raises the question: Who is strengthening protections for our environment and local communities?</p>
By Christy Spees
On March 1, Denny's stopped purchasing chicken treated with medically important antibiotics for its U.S. restaurants. Many consumers might expect to see such promises at Whole Foods or their local farm-to-table restaurant, but why is a chain like Denny's (i.e., one that is enjoyed more for its assortment of inexpensive breakfast foods than its moral standards) joining the trend to reduce antibiotics in meat?
By Valerie Vande Panne
In February, the voters of Toledo, Ohio, passed a ballot initiative that gives Lake Erie and those who rely on the lake's ecosystem a bill of rights. The idea is to protect and preserve the ecosystem so that the life that depends on it — humans included — can have access to safe, fresh drinking water.
By Daniel Ross
The 150 mph winds that Hurricane Michael blasted through Tyndall Air Force Base last October left a trail of destruction, ruin and exorbitant financial loss at one of the Department of Defense's (DoD) key military bases. The damage could have been worse. Fifty-five of Tyndall's fleet of F-22 fighter jets had been flown to safety before the hurricane hit. Nevertheless, some of the 17 remaining F-22 jets — their combined worth a reported $5.8 billion — suffered damage, along with roughly 95 percent of the buildings.
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By Reynard Loki
On Feb. 27, hundreds of Indigenous Waorani elders, youth and leaders arrived in the city of Puyo, Ecuador. They left their homes deep in the Amazon rainforest to peacefully march through the streets, hold banners, sing songs and, most importantly, submit documents to the provincial Judicial Council to launch a lawsuit seeking to stop the government from auctioning off their ancestral lands in the Pastaza region to oil companies. An eastern jungle province whose eponymous river is one of the more than 1,000 tributaries that feed the mighty Amazon, Pastaza encompasses some of the world's most biodiverse regions.
Concessions vs. Constitutional Rights<iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/323500965" width="100%" height="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e05171c070b448d43cd0aefe30cfccda"></iframe><p>The concessions overlap with the titled territories of the Shuar, Achuar, Kichwa, Waorani, Shiwiar, Andoa and Sápara nations, with one block located almost entirely within Waorani territory. If taken over by the fossil fuel industry, the Indigenous coalition warns, the health and livelihoods of the communities living in the area — as well as the region's unique biodiversity and sensitive ecosystem — will be threatened. But regardless of the environmental and sociocultural threat, the plaintiffs argue that the concessions trample on their constitutional rights.</p><p>In November 2018, following pressure from Ecuador's Amazonian Indigenous nationalities, Carlos Pérez, the nation's hydrocarbon minister, reduced the auction from <a href="https://energytransition.org/2019/02/ecuador-oil-extraction/" target="_blank">16 blocks to two</a>. But it may end up being a pyrrhic victory, as the government said that the land may still be <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/03/indigenous-group-sues-ecuador-for-earmarking-its-land-for-oil-drilling/" target="_blank">put on the auction block in the future</a>. In addition, Pérez asserted that there should be no issue with the remaining two blocks, claiming that "<a href="https://amazonwatch.org/news/2018/1206-ecuadors-yasuni-bait-and-switch" target="_blank">there aren't any Indigenous [people] there</a>." However, according to Amazon Watch, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California, the two blocks <a href="https://amazonwatch.org/news/2018/1206-ecuadors-yasuni-bait-and-switch" target="_blank">overlap with the titled territory</a> of the Sápara, Shiwiar and Kichwa nations, and sightings of Tagaeri-Taromenane have been reported in the area, which is located along Ecuador's border with Peru.</p><p>Adding insult to injury was the emergence in November 2018 of a <a href="https://fr-fr.facebook.com/YASunidos/posts/compartimos-el-documento-con-el-cual-ls-yasunidos-en-ejercicio-de-nuestro-derech/1568197109870454/" target="_blank">leaked draft</a> of a presidential decree that revealed the government's plans to <a href="https://amazonwatch.org/news/2018/1206-ecuadors-yasuni-bait-and-switch" target="_blank">permit oil drilling in a protected area</a> established for the Tagaeri-Taromenane that had previously been off-limits to fossil fuel development.</p>
Industrial Development vs. Indigenous People<p>Ecuador is one of the <a href="https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/data/browser/#/?pa=00000000000000000000000000000000002&c=ruvvvvvfvtvnvv1vrvvvvfvvvvvvfvvvou20evvvvvvvvvvvvuvo&ct=0&tl_id=5-A&vs=INTL.57-1-AFG-TBPD.A&vo=0&v=H&start=2014&end=2016" target="_blank">smallest oil producers</a> in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — only the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon pump less. But that has not hindered it from making big deals with oil-hungry nations. In 2009, a year after Ecuador defaulted on around <a href="https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/1/14/14265958/ecuador-drilling-oil-rainforest" target="_blank">$3 billion worth of debt</a>, then-President Rafael Correa made an oil-for-cash agreement with China. In exchange for selling his nation's crude oil to Petrochina, China provided Ecuador with a <a href="https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/1/14/14265958/ecuador-drilling-oil-rainforest" target="_blank">$1 billion loan</a>.</p><p>Now the country seeks to attract investments totaling around <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ecuador-landrights-indigenous/from-ecuadors-amazon-to-presidents-palace-indigenous-women-demand-end-to-drilling-idUSKBN1GZ2N3" target="_blank">$800 million</a> to boost the production of oil, which the government maintains is critical to improving the nation's economy. "It's time for the private sector to invest," said President Lenín Moreno in the 2018 televised address, arguing that public-private partnerships in the infrastructure, oil, energy, mining and telecoms sectors could generate <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/394a1848-3719-11e8-8b98-2f31af407cc8" target="_blank">$7 billion of investment by 2021</a>.</p><p>The government, as it has for decades, is yet again facing stiff opposition against untrammeled industrial development from its Indigenous population. "We are demanding that the Ecuadorian state respect our territory and self-determination," <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/03/indigenous-group-sues-ecuador-for-earmarking-its-land-for-oil-drilling/" target="_blank">said</a> Nemonte Nenquimo, a Waorani leader and CONCONAWEP representative. "This fight didn't grow overnight; it's been the fight of the Waorani for years."</p><p>Indeed, the latest legal action launched in Puyo stems from the state's broken promise. In December 2017, following a <a href="https://www.labroots.com/trending/earth-and-the-environment/8370/indigenous-women-activists-fight-save-ecuador-s-land" target="_blank">two-week, 200-mile march</a> by Indigenous activists from the Amazon jungle to Quito, the nation's capital, demanding an end to extractive industry development on their territories, the Moreno administration made a commitment to the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Ecuador's largest Indigenous organization, to <a href="https://www.labroots.com/trending/earth-and-the-environment/8370/indigenous-women-activists-fight-save-ecuador-s-land" target="_blank">end new oil and mining concessions</a> in regions where local Indigenous nationalities had not been consulted. However, as the current suit <a href="https://www.amazonfrontlines.org/chronicles/waorani-lawsuit-press-release/" target="_blank">alleges</a>, the Waorani were not properly consulted.</p><p>Specifically, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/7mb4ko2" target="_blank">Article 57, section 7 of the constitution</a> guarantees "free prior informed consultation, within a reasonable period of time, on plans and programs for prospecting, producing and marketing nonrenewable resources located on their lands which could have an environmental or cultural impact on them." The suit claims these rights were violated as the Waorani were not properly consulted prior to the announcement of the new oil concessions. In addition, the Ecuadorian government is also bound by <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y2gbgzku" target="_blank">two international agreements</a> to consult with its Indigenous populations: Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), ratified by the nation in 1998, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted in 2007.</p><p>However, many activists and Indigenous leaders ultimately don't want consultation at this point; they want oil development to end entirely. "We took the president at his word regarding the end of oil and mining concessions in our territories," <a href="https://amazonwatch.org/news/2018/0301-ecuador-to-offer-new-oil-concessions-despite-government-pledge-to-the-contrary" target="_blank">said</a> Jaime Vargas, CONAIE's president. "We don't need more consultation, however. Given the destruction in the northern Ecuadorian Amazon and in other areas of the world at the hands of the oil industry, we already have enough information to say 'No' to all oil activity."</p><p>Mitch Anderson, executive director and founder of <a href="https://waoresist.amazonfrontlines.org/action/" target="_blank">Amazon Frontlines, which created a petition</a> on behalf of the Waorani urging the Ecuadorian government to halt oil development on Indigenous land, told the Independent Media Institute:</p><blockquote>"There are two different courses for the Ecuadorian government here. The first is an all-in bet on oil, and the last half-century has already shown us what that road leads to: environmental degradation, institutional corruption and further indebtedness to foreign interests, in this case China. Or they can take an urgently needed, forward-thinking path which supports forest protection, respects Indigenous rights and promotes investment in green economic alternatives that will ultimately contribute to the building of a sustainable future for the country and planet."<br></blockquote><p>"Oil has not brought development for the Waorani," Alicia Cahuiya of the Waorani group <a href="https://in.reuters.com/article/ecuador-landrights-indigenous/from-ecuadors-amazon-to-presidents-palace-indigenous-women-demand-end-to-drilling-idINL8N1R4739" target="_blank">told</a> President Lenín Moreno at a meeting at the presidential palace in Quito in March 2018. "It has only left us with oil spills and sickness."</p>
A History of Pollution<p>The current lawsuit is the latest salvo in a protracted battle between Indigenous people across Ecuador and fossil fuel interests that has been going on <a href="https://www.alternet.org/2018/01/chevron-accused-2-million-witness-bribery-plot-ecuador-pollution-case/" target="_blank">since 1993</a>, when local tribes turned to the legal system to compel Texaco—and now Chevron, its parent company since 2000 — to clean up the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest and care for the people who have been sickened by the oil operations that began in 1967, when Texaco struck oil in the country's northeastern province of Sucumbíos.</p><p>In a 2008 Los Angeles Times <a href="https://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/20/opinion/op-feige20" target="_blank">op-ed</a> about that legal battle, author and former public defender David Feige wrote that Texaco's environmental legacy in the region "includes as many as 16 million gallons of spilled crude — 50 percent more than the <em>Exxon Valdez</em> dumped in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989; hundreds of toxic waste pits, many containing the chemical-laden byproducts of drilling; and an estimated 18 billion gallons of waste, or 'produced,' water, which some tests have shown to contain possibly cancer-causing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons at levels many times higher than those permitted in the U.S. All these pollutants were discharged in one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world — the Amazon rainforest."</p><p>This troubling history makes the current administration's push to auction off land to oil drilling all the more ill-advised. "When we extract oil, it has a very high price for the environment, and sometimes, it's not paid by those who use the oil," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/46319-oil-drilling-contaminated-amazon.html" target="_blank">said</a> Antoni Rosell-Melé, an environmental chemist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain, who co-authored a 2017 <a href="https://www.uab.cat/web/newsroom/news-detail/oil-contamination-in-the-amazon-modifies-chemical-composition-of-rivers-1345668003610.html?noticiaid=1345734672816" target="_blank">study</a> that found that the Amazon rainforest in neighboring Peru is suffering from extensive contamination from decades of fossil fuel development.</p><p>In that study, the researchers analyzed nearly 3,000 water samples from four Amazon rivers gathered between 1987 and 2013 and found an "extremely elevated presence of chloride, chromium, barium, lead and hexavalent chromium," industrial chemicals involved in oil drilling that are toxic to humans, wildlife and the environment. The researchers also estimate that oil extraction activities in the region have changed the overall chemical composition of the Amazon's waters, including 30 percent more salt than is naturally present.</p>
Destroy the Rainforests, Destroy Ourselves<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTM4MzY5NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjU1NjEzNH0.CGlpsUw0Rj_5mnl8PgQUlvCvBL3QEH__0_dWlkgcH6E/img.png?width=980" id="4c285" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="beea46817207f845b1b0aa958ec78dd9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Indigenous Waorani women assembled in Puyo, Ecuador, on March 13, for a hearing on the lawsuit, which was suspended by the judge.
Sophie Pincetti / Amazon Frontlines<p>The Indigenous fight in Ecuador is a fight that anyone who cares about biodiversity and the global climate should join. After all, the Ecuadorian Amazon isn't just one of the most sensitive ecosystems in the world — it's key for the environmental health of the entire planet. Known as the "<a href="https://www.ceh.ac.uk/news-and-media/news/tropical-rainforests-lungs-planet-reveal-true-sensitivity-global-warming" target="_blank">lungs of the planet</a>," the Amazon rainforest "inhales" carbon dioxide and "exhales" oxygen, helping to stabilize the global climate by safely storing up to <a href="https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/amazon" target="_blank">140 billion metric tons of carbon</a>. Deforestation by extractive and agricultural industries releases this carbon into the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming, the effects of which are felt across the world, from <a href="https://www.climatecentral.org/news/us-with-10-feet-of-sea-level-rise-17428" target="_blank">rising seas along U.S. coasts</a> and <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/big-thaw/" target="_blank">melting Arctic glaciers</a>, to <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/are-fires-in-europe-the-result-of-climate-change-/" target="_blank">wildfires in Europe</a> and <a href="https://reliefweb.int/report/south-africa/climate-change-tripled-likelihood-drought-pushed-cape-town-water-crisis-day-zero" target="_blank">droughts in Africa</a>.</p><p>Ecuador is also home to an astounding number of species. The nation is the <a href="https://rainforests.mongabay.com/20ecuador.htm" target="_blank">eighth most biodiverse on Earth</a> and the <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.1102" target="_blank">most biodiverse when considering the number of species by unit area</a>. It is home to the <a href="https://rainforests.mongabay.com/20ecuador.htm" target="_blank">highest number of species by area worldwide</a>, including more than 1,500 species of birds, more than 840 species of reptiles and amphibians, and more than 300 species of mammals. Ecuador's Yasuni National Park boasts nearly 20,000 plant species, more flora than anywhere on Earth.</p><p>But despite its high level of biodiversity, Ecuador also has a <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.1102" target="_blank">low representation of species</a> living within its protected areas. According to a 2014 <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ece3.1102" target="_blank">study</a> conducted by a team of researchers from the Technological University Indoamerica in Quito, there are more than 100 vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered species in the Ecuadorian Amazon for which conservation goals have been missed. Lawyers for the Indigenous communities fighting oil development can also refer courts to the nation's constitution, which provides "protection of ecosystems, biodiversity and the integrity of the country's genetic assets, [as well as] the <a href="https://tinyurl.com/7mb4ko2" target="_blank">prevention of environmental damage</a>."</p><p>Unfortunately, the pro-drilling camp "doesn't see the forest," said Waorani leader Nenquimo in her <a href="https://www.commondreams.org/views/2018/11/29/message-indigenous-resistance-and-inspiration-amazon" target="_blank">keynote address</a> at last year's <a href="https://tinyurl.com/ntkt6fa" target="_blank">Bioneers conference</a> in Marin, California, which gathered leaders and activists involved in environmental protection and the rights of nature around the globe. "They see oil wells where we see gardens. They see money where we see life." Sharing her fight to protect her ancestral lands from exploitation by industrial development, Nenquimo warned that if given "a foothold in our lands," the oil industry "will bring money, sickness and contamination. They will try to divide our families and change our way of thinking."</p><p>"Our fight is not just a fight about oil," she said. "This is a fight about different ways of living. One that protects life and one that destroys life."</p><p>Penti Baihua, a leader of the Waorani village of Bameno, has seen firsthand the destruction of life that the outside world has brought to his idyllic slice of the jungle — from the oil spills that drive out local species his people rely on for sustenance to the destruction of ancient rainforest to make room for new cocoa and coffee plantations. What will happen to him, his family, and his community if extractive and agricultural industries continue the destruction of his ancestral home? Baihua said simply, "<a href="https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/village-ecuadors-amazon-fights-life-oil-wells-move" target="_blank">We do not want to disappear</a>."</p>