Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It can be done...

                                 Photo: www.inhabitat.com
German village generates 321 percent more renewable energy than it needs, earns millions selling it back to national power grid

Monday, December 19, 2011 by Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
(www.NaturalNews.com) Developing a renewable energy system that creates energy independence and even a considerable new source of revenue is not some sort of sci-fi pipe dream. BioCycle reports that the German village of Wildpoldsried, population 2,600, has had such incredible success in building its renewable energy system. Wildpoldsried generates 321 percent more renewable energy than it uses, and it now sells the excess back to the national power grid for roughly $5.7 million in additional revenue every single year.

By utilizing a unique combination of solar panels, "biogas" generators, natural wastewater treatment plants, and wind turbines, Wildpoldsried has effectively eliminated its need to be attached to a centralized power grid, and created a thriving renewable energy sector in the town that is self-sustaining and abundantly beneficial for the local economy, the environment, and the public.

You can view some amazing pictures of the Wildpoldsried village at

Possessing admirable vision for the town and strong motivation to see the project as a whole succeed, Mayor Arno Zengerie has led the way for many years in making Wildpoldsried's energy independence efforts a success. As far back as 1997, the village has been investing in building and promoting new industries, maintaining a strong local economy, generating new forms of revenue, and ultimately staying out of debt. And the best way it saw fit to accomplish much of this was through the implementation of self-sustaining, renewable energy technologies.

Not only did Wildpoldsried successfully reduce the amount of time expected to generate the necessary funds to build local treasures like a sports hall, theater stage, pub, and retirement home with the revenue generated by its thriving renewable energy sector - the village has already successfully built nine community buildings, with more on the way - but it also achieved all this and more without going into debt.

"We often spend a lot of time talking to our visitors about how to motivate the village council (and Mayor) to start thinking differently," said Mayor Zengerle, who now gives talks around the world about the successes of his award-winning village. "We show them a best practices model in motion and many see the benefits immediately. From the tour we give, our guests understand how well things can operate when you have the enthusiasm and conviction of the people.

Be sure to read the full, inspiring account of Wildpoldsried's history of, and successes in, renewable energy at http://www.jgpress.com/archives/_free/002409.html

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Earth - Nature is the 99%, too

Image credit: NOAA
Chip Ward brings this remarkable insightful analysis of the dangers of increased despoiling of the planet’s ecology as it is trampled by the mantra of growing the economy.
The economy is built on the idea of relentless growth, which is an environmental and health disaster for all but the 1%.
Chip Ward  09 Nov 2011

What if rising sea levels are yet another measure of inequality? What if the degradation of our planet's life-support systems - its atmosphere, oceans and biosphere - goes hand in hand with the accumulation of wealth, power and control by that corrupt and greedy 1 per cent we are hearing about from Zuccotti Park? What if the assault on America's middle class and the assault on the environment are one and the same?

It's not hard for me to understand how environmental quality and economic inequality came to be joined at the hip. In all my years as a grassroots organiser dealing with the tragic impact of degraded environments on public health, it was always the same: Someone got rich and someone got sick.

In the struggles that I was involved in to curb polluters and safeguard public health, those who wanted curbs, accountability and precautions were always outspent several times over by those who wanted no restrictions on their effluents.

We dug into our own pockets for postage money, they had expense accounts. We made flyers to slip under the windshield wipers of parked cars, they bought ads on television. We took time off from jobs to visit legislators, only to discover that they had gone to lunch with fulltime lobbyists.

Naturally, the barons of the chemical and nuclear industries don't live next to the radioactive or toxic-waste dumps that their corporations create; on the other hand, impoverished black and brown people often do live near such ecological sacrifice zones because they can't afford better.

Similarly, the gated communities of the hyper-wealthy are not built next to cesspool rivers or skylines filled with fuming smokestacks, but the slums of the planet are. Don't think, though, that it's just a matter of property values or scenery.  It's about health, about whether your kids have lead or dioxins running through their veins. It's a simple formula, in fact: Wealth disparities become health disparities.

And here's another formula: When there's money to be made, both workers and the environment are expendable. Just as jobs migrate if labour can be had cheaper overseas, I know workers who were tossed aside when they became ill from the foul air or poisonous chemicals they encountered on the job.

The fact is: We won't free ourselves from a dysfunctional and unfair economic order until we begin to see ourselves as communities, not commodities. That is one clear message from Zuccotti Park.

Polluters routinely walk away from the ground they poison and expect taxpayers to clean up after them. By "externalising" such costs, profits are increased. Examples of land abuse and abandonment are too legion to list, but most of us can refer to a familiar "superfund site" in our own backyard.

Clearly, Mother Nature is among the disenfranchised, exploited and struggling.

Democracy 101

The 99 per cent pay for wealth disparity with lost jobs, foreclosed homes, weakening pensions and slashed services, but Nature pays, too. In the world the one-percenters have created, the needs of whole ecosystems are as easy to disregard as, say, the need the young have for debt-free educations and meaningful jobs. 

Extreme disparity and deep inequality generate a double standard with profound consequences. If you are a CEO who skims millions of dollars off other people's labour, it's called a "bonus". If you are a flood victim who breaks into a sporting goods store to grab a lifejacket, it's called looting. If you lose your job and fall behind on your mortgage, you get evicted. If you are a banker-broker who designed flawed mortgages that caused a million people to lose their homes, you get a second-home vacation-mansion near a golf course.

If you drag heavy fishnets across the ocean floor and pulverise an entire ecosystem, ending thousands of years of dynamic evolution and depriving future generations of a healthy ocean, it's called free enterprise. But if, like Tim DeChristopher, you disrupt an auction of public land to oil and gas companies, it's called a crime and you get two years in jail.  

In campaigns to make polluting corporations accountable, my Utah neighbours and I learned this simple truth: Decisions about what to allow into the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are soon enough translated into flesh and blood, bone and nerve and daily experience. So it's crucial that those decisions, involving environmental quality and public health, are made openly, inclusively and accountably. That's Democracy 101.

The corporations that shred habitat and contaminate your air and water are anything but democratic. Stand in line to get your 30 seconds in front of a microphone at a public hearing about the siting of a nuclear power plant, the effluent from a factory farm, or the removal of a mountaintop and you'll get the picture quickly enough: The corporations that profit from such ecological destruction are distant, arrogant, secretive, and unresponsive.

The one per cent are willing to spend billions impeding democratic initiatives, which is why every so-called environmental issue is also about building a democratic culture.  

First Kill the EPA, then Social Security

Beyond all the rhetoric about freedom from the new stars of the Republican Party, the strategy is simple enough: Obstruct and misinform, then blame the resulting dysfunction on "government".

It's a great scam. Tell the voters that government doesn't work and then, when elected, prove it. And first on the list of government outfits they want to sideline or kill is the Environmental Protection Agency, so they can do away with the already flimsy wall of regulation that stands between their toxins and your bloodstream.

Poll after poll shows that citizens understand the need for environmental rules and safeguards. Mercury is never put into the bloodstreams of nursing mothers by consensus, nor are watersheds fracked until they are flammable by popular demand. But the free market ideologues of the Republican Party are united in opposition to any rule or standard that impedes the "magic" of the marketplace and unchecked capital.

The same bottom-line quarterly-report fixation on profitability that accepts oil spills as inevitable also accepts unemployment as inevitable. Tearing apart wildlife habitat to make a profit and doing the same at a workplace are just considered the price of doing business. Clearcutting a forest and clearcutting a labor force are two sides of the same coin.   

Beware of Growth

Getting the economy growing has been the refrain of the Obama administration and the justification for every bad deal, budget cut and unbalanced compromise it's made.

The desperate effort to grow the economy to solve our economic woes is what keeps Timothy Geithner at the helm of the Treasury and is what stalls the regulation of greenhouse gasses. It's why we are told we must sacrifice environmental quality for pipelines and why young men and women are sacrificed to protect access to oil, the lubricant for an acquisitive economic engine.
The financial empire of the one percenters and the political order it has shaped are predicated on easy and relentless growth. How, we are asked, will there be enough for everyone if we don't keep growing?

The fundamental contradiction of our time is this: We have built an all-encompassing economic engine that requires unending growth. A contraction of even a per cent or two is a crisis, and yet we are embedded in ecosystems that are reaching or have reached their limits.

This isn't complicated: There's only so much fertile soil or fresh water available, only so many fish in the ocean, only so much CO2 the planet can absorb and remain habitable.

Yes, you can get around this contradiction for a while by exploiting your neighbour's habitat, using technological advances to extend your natural resources and stealing from the future - that is, using up soil, minerals, and water your grandchildren (someday to be part of that same 99 per cent) will need. But the limits to those familiar and, in the past, largely successful strategies are becoming more evident all the time.

At some point, we'll discover that you can't exist for long beyond the boundaries of the natural world, that (as with every other species) if you overload the carrying capacity of your habitat, you crash.

Warming temperatures, chaotic weather patterns, extreme storms, monster wildfires, epic droughts, Biblical floods, an avalanche of species extinction... that collapse is upon us now.

In the human realm, it translates into hunger and violence, mass migrations and civil strife, failed states and resource wars.

Like so much else these days, the crash, as it happens, will not be suffered in equal measure by all of us. The one percenters will be atop the hill, while the 99 per cent will be in the flood lands below swimming for their lives, clinging to debris or drowning. The Great Recession has previewed just how that will work.

An unsustainable economy is inherently unfair and worse is to come. After all, the car is heading for the cliff's edge, the grandkids are in the backseat, and all we're arguing about is who can best put the pedal to the metal.

Occupy Earth

Give credit where it's due: It's been the genius of the protesters in Zuccotti Park to shift public discourse to whether the distribution of economic burdens and rewards is just and whether the economic system makes us whole or reduces and divides us.

It's hard to imagine how we'll address our converging ecological crises without first addressing the way accumulating wealth and power has captured the political system. As long as Washington is dominated and intimidated by giant oil companies, Wall Street speculators and corporations that can buy influence and even write the rules that make buying influence possible, there's no meaningful way to deal with our economy's addiction to fossil fuels and its dire consequences.

Nature's 99 per cent is an amazingly diverse community of species. They feed and share and recycle within a web of relationships so dynamic and complex that we have yet to fathom how it all fits together. What we have excelled at so far is breaking things down into their parts and then reassembling them; that, after all, is how a barrel of crude oil becomes rocket fuel or a lawn chair.

When it comes to the more chaotic, less linear features of life like climate, ecosystems, immune systems or foetal development, we are only beginning to understand thresholds and feedback loops, the way the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. But we at least know that the parts matter deeply and that, before we even fully understand them, we're losing them at an accelerating rate. Forests are dying, fisheries are going, extinction is on steroids.

Degrading the planet's operating systems to bolster the bottom line is foolish and reckless. It hurts us all. No less important, it's unfair. The 1 per cent profit, while the rest of us cough and cope.

After Occupy Wall Street, isn't it time for Occupy Earth?

Chip Ward co-founded and led Families Against Incinerator Risk and HEAL Utah. A TomDispatch regular, he wrote about campaigns to make polluters accountable in Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West and about visionary conservationists in Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the American Land.

A version of this article was first published on www.TomDispatch.com

Friday, November 11, 2011

At this eleventh hour...

Image from www.13moon.com

At this eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of this new millennium, it would be good to take pause:

to reflect on a century of wars that have affected the whole world deeply,
to remember all the millions of innocent women, children and men and the sacrificial lambs who have lost their lives in the process,
to believe in, and strive for, a better way,
to work in a co-operative spirit toward that natural antithesis of war and conflict - peace and harmony.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Time Out in Nature – Killarney

We do it every year at this season of transformation, diving into the chill late autumnal air of the great outdoors of lakes and rocks, woodlands and wetlands, just as they are all bedding down for winter. It’s a few days and nights of time out from routine and regularity; a breathing space. Our spouses think we have lost our senses; far from it, we know they are out there to be retrieved. The sense of connection runs deep – a kinship with the trees, the waters, the canoe that guides us, the ravens, beavers, ducks and loons that greet us, the white two billion years-old quartzite rocks that cradle us, and the star-filled sky that parades at night.

The greed and fear, waste and war, death and destruction so prevalent in the troubled realm of humanity are purged from our thoughts for these few precious days. What good are they to us out here in the pure wild? The true natives of these lands knew all too well that true respect for Nature is key to survival.

Far-sighted visionaries set aside the almost 50,000 hectares of Killarney Provincial Park for many generations to behold, in their pristine natural state, to be shared with the black bears and the beavers, the lynx and the loons, the ravens and the rattlesnakes. This perfect fusion of earthly terrain and watery expanses has evolved without us humans over millennia. Let’s hope we allow it to continue to succour and sustain all manner of life for millennia to come. Unfortunately it is our call…

Two spirited ravens
flap their timeworn wings
and rise into the still clear air
above glistening lakes,
sun-dappled trees,
rounded white quartzite ranges,
two pilots on an endless flight,
bound they know not where.     

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Nuclear lessons unlearned

How many more chances will we have to learn from the nuclear failures of the past?
Tibor Toth 17 Sep 2011
(as published on http://www.aljazeera.com/)

Since 1961 some 200 nuclear bombs have been exploded, mostly in the atmosphere [GALLO/GETTY]

Much of the world marked the 50th anniversary in early August of the Berlin Wall’s construction. But, while that Cold War abomination has truly been consigned to history’s dustbin, September 1 marks another 50th anniversary, one that resonates far more directly today.

As of 1961, some 200 nuclear bombs had been exploded, most of them in the atmosphere, but two on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three years earlier, in October 1958, nuclear testing had ground to a halt after the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom agreed on a moratorium. During most of this period, one could get the impression, although it was deceptive, that nuclear testing was actually over.

But the moratorium had been fragile from its very beginning, with nuclear-weapons establishments pushing hard for a resumption of testing. Like the run-up to an earthquake, political tension was building behind the scenes. It peaked with the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Then, on September 1, the Soviets broke the moratorium, joined shortly thereafter after by the US.

What followed was a veritable nuclear-testing frenzy. More than 250 tests were conducted in the 16 months following the aborted attempt to put the nuclear genie back in its bottle - more explosions than in the 16 preceding years. One test explosion set the infamous record for the largest-ever manmade explosion: the Soviet Tsar bomb, detonated on October 30, 1961, was the equivalent of 4,000 Hiroshima bombs. It is no coincidence that a year later, in October 1962, the world found itself on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.

While the barrage of nuclear tests poisoned the political climate, it also literally poisoned Earth’s atmosphere and environment. With her "Baby Tooth Study", the American physician Louise Reiss, who died earlier this year, proved in the 1960s that radioactive fallout from nuclear testing had entered the food chain - and thus into human babies - all across the US. Some isotopes linger for tens of thousands of years. Plutonium-239 from a nuclear test conducted at the end of the Stone Age, for example, would have lost a mere sixth of its radioactivity by now.

Unfortunately, the lesson was not heeded. Nuclear-weapon lobbies triumphed. The distrustful Cold War mentality had taken its toll, with both sides regarding nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of their own security, but a threat in the hands of the other. The inability or unwillingness of either side to put itself in the other’s shoes, a precondition for any compromise, kept both locked in a spiraling arms race. The blasts continued - albeit underground - and increased greatly in number.

Today, 50 years and 1,500 nuclear explosions later, we have an historic opportunity to learn from the failures of the past. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions, everywhere, by everyone. It represents a strong norm - testing virtually screeched to a halt in 1996, when the Treaty became available for countries to adopt. More than 180 countries, 90 per cent of the world’s countries, have signed it and committed themselves to a planet free of nuclear explosions.

Compared to the 500 nuclear explosions witnessed each and every decade during the pre-CTBT period, the last ten years witnessed only two tests, both carried out by North Korea. While this was still two tests too many, the CTBT clearly has helped force the test genie back into its bottle - and keep it there.

But the Treaty hasn’t yet entered into force. Nine countries must first ratify it. Until then, nuclear tests are not outlawed, and their absence relies on moratoria. Unfortunately, history has shown just how unreliable moratoria can be.

As a result, we could see yet another volley of blasts, another obscene megaton-range competition, and another fatal countdown between nuclear-armed states, whose numbers have increased. Only after the Cuban Missile Crisis - humanity’s closest encounter with nuclear Armageddon - did US President John F Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev grasp the security risks of unchecked nuclear competition and the merits of a test ban to stop it. Only then did they really try to reach a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing - and failed.

How many more chances will we have to learn from the nuclear failures of the past?

Tibor Tóth is Executive Secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation.

A version of this article first appeared on Project Syndicate.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The new African land grab

Smallholder farms are disappearing across Africa because of large-scale foreign investment [EPA] 

Foreign investors, with the World Bank, are acquiring vast tracks of land in Africa - at the expense of local farmers

by Joan Baxter, as reported by Aljazeera 

The "town" chief of the village seemed to be in a state of shock.

Sitting on the front porch of his mud and thatch home in Pujehun District in southern Sierra Leone, he struggled to find words that could explain how he had signed away the land that sustained his family and his community. 

He said he was coerced by his Paramount Chief, told that whether he agreed, or not, his land would still be taken and his small oil palm stand destroyed. He didn't know the name of the foreign investor nor did he know that it planned to lease up to 35,000 hectares of farmland in the area to establish massive oil palm and rubber plantations.
Haltingly, he said that without his land, he might as well take his leave of the village. By that he meant that he was as good as dead.
This is a ground-level view of a large land deal in Africa, where in recent years foreign investors have acquired tens of millions of hectares of farmland. In 2009 alone, the World Bank estimates that around the world foreign investors acquired about 56 million hectares of farmland - an area about the size of France - by long-term lease or by purchase. Farmland has become a favourite "new asset" class for private investors; "like gold, only better" according to Capital & Crisis.
The World Bank has its own term for the new global land rush. It calls it "agro-investment" and has developed seven voluntary principles to make the land deals "responsible".
Critics of the phenomenon - farmers' movements, human rights, civil society, women's and environmental organisations, and many scientists - call it "land grabbing". They say there is no way that the taking over vast areas of smallholder farmland and transforming it into giant industrial plantations and agribusiness operations can ever be "responsible".

They argue that land grabs are throwing millions of farming families and indigenous peoples off their land. They say that it's not just land that's being grabbed, but also precious water resources.
The investors are hedge funds, private equity funds (that are attracting even prestigious American universities with their promises of high returns), pension funds, banks, multinational corporations, and sovereign wealth funds seeking to sow capital and grow profits. They are also Middle Eastern and Asian nations anxious to secure their own future food security in the face of climate change, with dwindling water resources and arable land.
An estimated 70 per cent of the demand for farmland is in Africa, where land is cheap and traditional communal ownership makes people particularly vulnerable. Sometimes this can be done for the cost of a few gifts to traditional chiefs and grandiose promises of bringing "development".
Since 2009, in the wake of the food, fuel and financial crises of 2007-2008, the rush for farmland has only accelerated. But it's impossible to know just how much more of Africa's fertile land has now been taken by investors.

Corruption and profit
Recent in-depth research by the US-based Oakland Institute of land deals in seven African countries found that most of the land deals lack transparency, making it almost impossible to calculate their total area. Lack of transparency is a great enabler of corruption.
Yet "transparency, good governance, and a proper enabling environment" is one of the seven principles laid out by the World Bank for "responsible agro-investment". The Oakland Institute found that most of the land deals do not respect any of these principles.
This is ironic, to say the least.

More than any other institution or agency, the World Bank Group has been promoting direct foreign investment in Africa, and enabling the farmland rush. Its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), with its Foreign Investment Advisory Service and its program to Remove Administrative Barriers to Investment, has been working - often behind the scenes - to ensure that African countries reform their land laws and fiscal regimes to make them attractive to foreign investors.

The World Bank Group has funded almost identical investment promotion agencies - "one-stop-shops" - in countries across the continent. It places people in strategic government ministries - even presidential offices - as private sector advisors.
The investment promotion agencies are developing and advertising a veritable smorgasbord of incentives not just to attract foreign investment in farmland but also to ensure maximum profits to investors. These include extremely generous tax holidays for 10 or even 30 years, zero per cent duty on imports, and easy access to very large tracts of land, sometimes over 100,000 hectares. Investors may pay just a couple of dollars per hectare per year for the land, and in Mali, sometimes no land rent at all.
The Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency, boasts about the extremely low labour rates and flexible labour laws in the country and about other privileges it accords investors - 100 per cent foreign ownership in all sectors, full repatriation of profits, dividends and royalties, no limits on expatriate employees.
Such giveaways cast doubt on claims by African governments, and others trying to defend the land deals, that this kind of "agricultural investment" will solve unemployment, generate revenue for cash-strapped governments, reduce the dependence on aid, and bring economic development.
In this race to the bottom, African governments are also encouraged by the World Bank Group to outdo each other when it comes to protecting investors. Each year, it grades African on investor protection in its "Doing Business" report cards, praising countries that move up in the rankings in what an IFC official admits is a "horse race".
This means that low-income and food-deficit African countries, some still struggling to rebuild after long conflicts, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, find themselves competing with each other to offer foreign investors ever sweeter deals on their arable land, so desperately needed for local food production.
The investment promotion agencies quote figures for the vast amounts of "uncultivated" or under-utilised" land in their countries, often without offering any recent land use studies to back up these figures or a thought for the millions of people who depend on that land for their livelihoods.

Nor do they take into consideration the crucial importance of small family farms, which employ more than half the people and produce 80 per cent of the food on the continent. Smallholder farms tend to be extremely biodiverse, involving fallow periods to protect and restore soils and water resources.

Not in Africa to help
Conspicuously absent in the talk about the purported benefits of the land deals is serious discussion of protection of local people, human and environmental health, water resources, biodiversity, human rights, food security, and free prior informed consent of the affected communities.

As the Oakland Institute research shows, many of the land deals are for enormous plantations of palm oil and sugarcane for agrofuels, or for the production of cut flowers and a handful of staple crops - all for export.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has just released a "new paradigm" for agriculture, called "Save and Grow". Echoing other recent major studies, it finds that agro-ecological agriculture that emphasises conservation of soil and water resources and reduced use of agrochemicals can "enable low-income farm families in developing countries - some 2.5 billion people - to maximise yields and invest the savings in their health and education."

It states unequivocally that the industrial agricultural model of the Green Revolution, involving monocultures, high-yielding [commercial] crop varieties, heavy use of agrochemicals and mechanisation and irrigation, has "degraded fertile land and depleted groundwater, provoked pest upsurges, eroded biodiversity, and polluted air, soil and water."

And yet this unsustainable industrial agricultural model is the one being promoted by many African governments, donor agencies and foreign investors.
African farmers, left high and dry by their own governments during the decades of austerity programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, do need investment and support. They desperately need decent roads and access to local markets, processing equipment to add value to their own diverse farm produce, storage and drying facilities to prevent post-harvest losses, and basic amenities such as schools and health centres and water wells to improve rural lives, so that farming communities can thrive.
But foreign investors are not in business to provide any of these things. They are not in Africa to help impoverished African farmers improve their own farms, or to combat hunger. They are far more likely to destroy the family farm in Africa and aggravate hunger, all in the name of economies of scale, a global corporate food chain, and profits.
The same actors - the speculators, bankers, unregulated investors - who have had a hand in inflating food prices and bringing the global economy to its knees are now consolidating control of global food production and of land, to profit from the very crises they provoked.
It is beyond tragic that so many of them have set their sights on the new "asset class" of African farmland - which is the very asset on which hundreds of millions of Africans depend for their livelihoods and their survival.


Joan Baxter is a Senior Research Fellow with the Oakland Institute and author of its investigative reports on land deals in Sierra Leone and Mali. She is a journalist, award-winning author, and development researcher who has lived and worked in Africa for more than 25 years.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The great Indian land grab

In India, the state forcibly acquires land from farmers and hands it over to private speculators, real estate corporations, mining companies and leisure industries [EPA]

India's war on farmers

Land is a powerful commodity that should be used for the betterment of humanity through farming and ecology.

By Vandana Shiva (as reported by Aljazeera)

"The Earth upon which the sea, and the rivers and waters, upon which food and the tribes of man have arisen, upon which this breathing, moving life exists, shall afford us precedence in drinking."
- Prithvi Sukta, Atharva Veda

Land is life. It is the basis of livelihoods for peasants and indigenous people across the Third World and is also becoming the most vital asset in the global economy. As the resource demands of globalisation increase, land has emerged as a key source of conflict. In India, 65 per cent of people are dependent on land. At the same time a global economy, driven by speculative finance and limitless consumerism, wants the land for mining and for industry, for towns, highways, and biofuel plantations. The speculative economy of global finance is hundreds of times larger than the value of real goods and services produced in the world.
Financial capital is hungry for investments and returns on investments. It must commodify everything on the planet - land and water, plants and genes, microbes and mammals. The commodification of land is fuelling the corporate land grab in India, both through the creation of Special Economic Zones and through foreign direct investment in real estate.
Land, for most people in the world, is Terra Madre, Mother Earth, Bhoomi, Dharti Ma. The land is people's identity; it is the ground of culture and economy. The bond with the land is a bond with Bhoomi, our Earth; 75 per cent of the people in the Third World live on the land and are supported by the land. The Earth is the biggest employer on the planet: 75 per cent of the wealth of the people of the global south is in land.
Colonisation was based on the violent takeover of land. And now, globalisation as recolonisation is leading to a massive land grab in India, in Africa, in Latin America. Land is being grabbed for speculative investment, for speculative urban sprawl, for mines and factories, for highways and expressways. Land is being grabbed from farmers after trapping them in debt and pushing them to suicide.

India's land issues
In India, the land grab is facilitated by the toxic mixture of the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894, the deregulation of investments and commerce through neo-liberal policies - and with it the emergence of the rule of uncontrolled greed and exploitation. It is facilitated by the creation of a police state and the use of colonial sedition laws which define defence of the public interest and national interest as anti-national.
The World Bank has worked for many years to commodify land. The 1991 World Bank structural adjustment programme reversed land reform, deregulated mining, roads and ports. While the laws of independent India to keep land in the hands of the tiller were reversed, the 1894 Land Acquisition Act was untouched.
Thus the state could forcibly acquire the land from the peasants and tribal peoples and hand it over to private speculators, real estate corporations, mining companies and industry.
Across the length and breadth of India, from Bhatta in Uttar Pradesh (UP) to Jagatsinghpur in Orissa to Jaitapur in Maharashtra, the government has declared war on our farmers, our annadatas, in order to grab their fertile farmland.
Their instrument is the colonial Land Acquisition Act - used by foreign rulers against Indian citizens. The government is behaving as the foreign rulers did when the Act was first enforced in 1894, appropriating land through violence for the profit of corporations - JayPee Infratech in Uttar Pradesh for the Yamuna expressway, POSCO in Orissa and AREVA in Jaitapur - grabbing land for private profit and not, by any stretch of the imagination, for any public purpose. This is rampant in the country today.
These land wars have serious consequences for our nation's democracy, our peace and our ecology, our food security and rural livelihoods. The land wars must stop if India is to survive ecologically and democratically.
While the Orissa government prepares to take the land of people in Jagatsinghpur, people who have been involved in a democratic struggle against land acquisition since 2005, Rahul Gandhi makes it known that he stands against forceful land acquisition in a similar case in Bhatta in Uttar Pradesh. The Minister for the Environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, admitted that he gave the green signal to pass the POSCO project - reportedly under great pressure. One may ask: "Pressure from whom?" This visible double standard when it comes to the question of land in the country must stop.

Violation of the land
In Bhatta Parsual, Greater Noida (UP), about 6000 acres of land is being acquired by infrastructure company Jaiprakash Associates to build luxury townships and sports facilities - including a Formula 1 racetrack - in the guise of building the Yamuna Expressway. In total, the land of 1225 villages is to be acquired for the 165km Expressway. The farmers have been protesting this unjust land acquisition, and last week, four people died - while many were injured during a clash between protesters and the police on May 7, 2011. If the government continues its land wars in the heart of India's bread basket, there will be no chance for peace.
In any case, money cannot compensate for the alienation of land. As 80-year-old Parshuram, who lost his land to the Yamuna Expressway, said: "You will never understand how it feels to become landless."
While land has been taken from farmers at Rs 300 ($6) per square metre by the government - using the Land Acquistion Act - it is sold by developers at Rs 600,000 ($13,450) per square metre - a 2,000 per cent increase in price - and hence profits. This land grab and the profits contribute to poverty, dispossession and conflict.
Similarly, on April 18, in Jaitapur, Maharashtra, police opened fire on peaceful protesters demonstrating against the Nuclear Power Park proposed for a village adjacent to the small port town. One person died and at least eight were seriously injured. The Jaitapur nuclear plant will be the biggest in the world and is being built by French company AREVA. After the Fukushima disaster, the protest has intensified - as has the government's stubbornness.
Today, a similar situation is brewing in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, where 20 battalions have been deployed to assist in the anti-constitutional land acquisition to protect the stake of India's largest foreign direct investment - the POSCO Steel project. The government has set the target of destroying 40 betel farms a day to facilitate the land grab. The betel brings the farmers an annual earning of Rs 400,000 ($9,000) an acre. The Anti-POSCO movement, in its five years of peaceful protest, has faced state violence numerous time and is now gearing up for another - perhaps final - non-violent and democratic resistance against a state using violence to facilitate its undemocratic land grab for corporate profits, overlooking due process and the constitutional rights of the people.
The largest democracy of the world is destroying its democratic fabric through its land wars. While the constitution recognises the rights of the people and the panchayats [village councils] to democratically decide the issues of land and development, the government is disregarding these democratic decisions - as is evident from the POSCO project where three panchayats have refused to give up their land.
The use of violence and destruction of livelihoods that the current trend is reflecting is not only dangerous for the future of Indian democracy, but for the survival of the Indian nation state itself. Considering that today India may claim to be a growing or booming economy - but yet is unable feed more than 40 per cent of its children is a matter of national shame.
Land is not about building concrete jungles as proof of growth and development; it is the progenitor of food and water, a basic for human survival. It is thus clear: what India needs today is not a land grab policy through an amended colonial land acquisition act but a land conservation policy, which conserves our vital eco-systems, such as the fertile Gangetic plain and coastal regions, for their ecological functions and contribution to food security.
Handing over fertile land to private corporations, who are becoming the new zamindars [heriditary aristocrats], cannot be defined as having a public purpose. Creating multiple privatised super highways and expressways does not qualify as necessary infrastructure. The real infrastructure India needs is the ecological infrastructure for food security and water security. Burying our fertile food-producing soils under concrete and factories is burying the country's future.

Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecofeminist, philosopher, activist, and author of more than 20 books and 500 papers. She is the founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, and has campaigned for biodiversity, conservation and farmers' rights, winning the Right Livelihood Award [Alternative Nobel Prize] in 1993.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day of the Rapture

Harold Camping, an American Christian radio broadcaster and president of Family Radio, has famously predicted that the end of times Rapture would occur today, May 21, 2011 and that God would subsequently completely destroy the Earth and the universe five months later on October 21. (He had previously predicted that the Rapture would occur in September 1994). On this heralded Day of the Rapture, it would be wonderful – blasphemous as it seems - to reclaim the word rapture to include transportation into another realm by things other than Judgement and the second coming of Jesus.

For Buddhists, rapture is a common translation of the Pali word piti, which is a very specific joy associated with a state of deep tranquility or meditative absorption.

As an emotional state, rapture is a feeling of joy or delight, synonymous with ecstasy.

Nature has the power to enrapture, delight, and send into ecstasy. This is my preferred form of rapture, particularly in this fecund, dynamic Spring season when Nature is transcendentally alive with regeneration and growth.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

We Are All Fukushima

                          Photo of blossoms in the Mountains of Fukushima Prefecture by Eddie Wong

In cooperation with NaturalNews, David Rainoshek, creator of www.JuiceFeasting.com has authored an important new report called We Are All Fukushima. This report delivers "an integral perspective on the meanings and promises of disaster." It is an advanced look at the cultural and spiritual causes behind Fukushima and other disasters.

We Are All Fukushima is available now as a free download (PDF). Simply click the following link to download and read it:
In this groundbreaking report, David Rainoshek asks the question, "Where does the problem of Fukushima really exist?"

It's not just at the nuclear power facility, it turns out. This disaster - as with many other disasters - begins in the hearts and minds of modern humankind. To explain his perspective, David Rainoshek, an avid student of philosopher Ken Wilbur, cites the Great Chain of Being and the roots of our the worldview and human values.

His report also asserts that
science is the domain of "external truth" that often ignores the far more important inner truths from which any lasting science must spring. "Science without
religion is lame," Albert Einstein once said. He followed it up with "...religion without science is blind." This quote invokes an integral approach to understanding both the fabric of reality around us as well as the apparent events that take place within that fabric.

The free downloadable report serves as both a primer on Ken Wilbur's philosophy as well as a deeper, more holistic explanation for the root
behind global disasters such as Fukushima.

It also warns that human civilization moving forward guided only by science but not a more integral understanding of our role in the universe is a path fraught with peril.

Download the free report and read it yourself:

You may also wish to learn more about David Rainoshek's Juice Feasting programs at www.JuiceFeasting.com

Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/032148_Fukushima_David_Rainoshek.html#ixzz1KAH7k1da

What is the source of the Fukushima problem?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nuclear Mayhem

In Japan, things will never be the same again. Just like after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It is sad that we – as a human race – have not learned our lesson after those two terrible atrocities. Between them these two atom-bombings exterminated over 300,000 innocent civilians! It seems ironic that the nation subjected to those nuclear attacks some sixty five years ago went on to embrace the same technology and now pays a potentially awful price in lethal, long-lasting radio-activity in the atmosphere, land, oceans, and bodies of living things.

Those staggering images of the time the combination earthquake/monster tsunami hit the east coast of Honshu will haunt the Japanese for a very long time; in minutes, lives, livelihoods, houses, cars, whole towns were turned upside down and large ships were deposited on land far from their ocean moorings. In a few moments of time, we were all reminded of the tremendous unstoppable force of Nature; almost without warning, a catastrophic chain of events was unleashed that we ignore or brush off at our peril. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant was a sitting duck for the wave of destruction.

It is human ingenuity through reductionist science that released the genie from the bottle, but Albert Einstein warned in 1946: The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.

In a stunning new video, renowned physicist Dr. Michio Kaku lays it all out on a news interview without mincing words. He said, to the great shock of many:

"If it goes to a full-scale evacuation of all personnel, it means that firefighters are no longer putting water onto the cores. That's the only thing preventing a full-scale meltdown at three reactor sites. Once they evacuate, then we past the point of no return. Meltdowns are inevitable at three reactor sites, leading to a tragedy far beyond that of Chernobyl, creating permanent dead zones in Japan."

This truly shocking interview is at:

The Three Mile Island nuclear accident was brushed off as being due to “human error”; the far more serious Chernobyl nuclear accident (which has killed almost a million people over time) was brushed off as due to “faulty design” and “careless maintenance”. What will we put the Fukushima nuclear accident down to? It will be blamed on an unprecedented natural calamity and antiquated design. I put it down to hubris and the human error in building it in the first place at a location prone to wild and unpredictable seismic activity. The nuclear industry is blinded by the almighty dollar at the best of times, and now is in denial about the perils of the power they espouse. They don’t know what they’re doing!

Even without a meltdown, Fukushima is going to take decades to shut down, and then, spent plutonium and uranium will not be gone, just covered over, transported away, out of sight, out of mind.

For the sake of all of humanity, shut all these plants down, worldwide! Make the necessary leap on over to ever-improving technologies that are truly clean, safe, and renewable, with Nature as their source. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Island of Naxos

The road to Lionas, Naxos

After spending an acclimatizing week on a verdant Paros, nothing prepared us for the bold drama of neighbouring island of Naxos. From the moment the ship rounds the northern tip of Paros at Naoussa and the jagged peaks around Naxos town loom on the horizon, we were held in her thrall. The island throws up a mixed bag of weather in this pre-Spring off-season. The Aegean sun casts luminosity onto the brilliant whitewashed, electric-blue painted houses, verdant landscape, and omnipresent white marble. Cool northerly gusts whip up the dark blue sea, then grey scudding clouds swoop down over the high peaks, and torrential showers pass over and by. It is a delight to slip into the slow pace as we ramble and toodle along narrow winding streets, rustic roads, country paths and lonely beaches bereft of summer hordes. 

In a rented Fiat Panda, we set out to visit Koronos in the mountains and Lionas, a pretty cove 800 metres and 9 kilometres below. The drive that passes through the high-perched towns of Chalki, Filoti, and Apiranthos takes us along asphalted, seriously twisting roads with breathtaking vistas, often down around two thousand feet to the glistening blue ocean way below. The mountain sides are strewn with rocks and boulders, criss-crossed by stone walls demarcating property, even high on precipices.

In Koronos, hostess Matine cooked delectable dishes from her own greens, potatoes, cheese, and village lamb and pork. Her taverna is abuzz with loud conversation and oratory, thick with smoke. She put us up in the simple suite of a renovated house in the village. Down on the beach in Lionas, Gundi was entranced by the most interesting beach for rock-picking she has ever combed. The earthy and white tones of the weathered pebbles are varied and marbled; they gleam in their wet coat of seawater. I wander off to just perch and ponder in the marble amphitheatre above the vibrant green sea. What a joy to be here, at the wild remote edge of a Greek island, where a sturdy historied land meets a swirling fabled sea. At night, the glow of the village illuminates the massive rock-face of the south of the cove as darkness envelopes the sea, and the whooshing of the waters, the whistling of the wind above continue unabated.     

One lively evening in Lionas, at the Delfinaki taverna of Manolis and Vasso Koufopoulos, English-speaking Lionas resident Apostoulos taught us of the concepts of filoxenia and aftarkis. He says these are both especially well-honed on Naxos. Manolis’ fine fresh rosé wine was free-flowing and Apostoulos acted as interpreter not only of language, but also of cultural refinements. He explained that filoxenia is what Naxians, and Greeks, welcome visitors with. Once they warm to you, their hearts and souls open up to wrap you in a blanket of stoic insight. Filoxenia, that literally means "love of strangers", is a generosity of spirit, a joyful kind of the-best-of-what's-mine-is-yours attitude in which Greeks take great pride as a defining attribute. Manolis spent over thirty years mining emery from within the local mountains; now he is a proud farmer and food producer. He beams as he brings us olives from the family trees, rosé wine made from the family grapes, honey produced by the family bees, eggs from the family chickens, meat and cheese from his brother’s goats and sheep. And filoxenia is a main reason that he loves to provide this bounty and Vasso loves to cook it.

Aftarkis is an ancient word that literally means ‘sufficient in oneself.’ It is used to describe a person who, through discipline, has become independent of all external circumstances, and who has discovered within him- or her-self resources that meet the demands of any situation that may arise. Naxians display aftarkis probably because of the challenges of surviving and sustaining livelihood, community and culture on a mountainous island.

Naxos is blessed as the most fertile island of the Cyclades. It has a good supply of water in a region where water is usually inadequate. Mount Zas at 999 metres is the highest peak in the Cyclades, and tends to trap the clouds, generating greater rainfall. This has made agriculture an important economic sector with various vegetable and fruit crops as well as cattle breeding, sheep- and goat-rearing, making Naxos the most self sufficient of the island group. Grapes, oranges, lemons, limes, figs, olives find ideal conditions, generating not only fruit, but precious wine and olive oil. Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, cucumbers all grow robustly here. Growing wild on the hillsides island-wide are sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, giant fennel. Yellow-flowering clover carpets the soil between the olive and citrus trees. Beekeepers make a delectable thyme honey, especially renowned in Gundi’s favourite little mountain village of Keramoti, so picturesquely located in its high verdant valley. Farmers make milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and succulent chicken, pork, lamb, beef. Fishermen bring in an array of fish large and small, squid, octopus, and shrimp, (though catches are much smaller than they used to be). This all makes for a local food culture which is vibrant, hearty, and sustained by each succeeding generation of wonderful cooks. Portions are generally large and overly-generous. Naxians love their food and wine, and they love to share it. Filoxenia is alive and well on Naxos.

Back home, I miss the intoxication of it all already…

Monday, February 7, 2011

Going to Greece

We’re off to Paros – not Paris as in French metropolis, but Paros, beguiling Cycladic island in Greece. Always, Gundi and I have been drawn to islands. All those years ago we lapped up and (ever since) gushed over Bali, travelled through Java, blissed out on Tioman, sojourned on Ometepe, and visited close family on the open Pacific shore of Vancouver Island. We have dreamed of Majorca, Sicily, the Seychelles, but now we are taking the plunge to satisfy the yen to spend slow time on a Greek island. In fact, we are going to get greedy and take in adjacent Naxos as well.

Having been on but one cruise in my life – some forty years ago as a teenager on a school-arranged Mediterranean tour taking in Venice, Corfu, Athens, Crete, Tunis, Naples, Rome, and Pisa – I am impatient for that moment when island landfall appears on the horizon and we approach a bustling port. Paros drew us with its picturesque little harbour at Naoussa, white marble, lively towns, navigable size, hilly terrain, high villages, beaches and coves, mellow and friendly reputation.

We will plonk ourselves down in Naoussa for a few days, explore the town, nearby beach rock formations at Kolymbithres. We’ll then head up in the hills to the quaint village of Lefkes. We’ll go walking from there on the ancient Byzantine Road through the villages of Prodromos and Marpissa, on to the little fishing harbour at Piso Livadi. We will inhale the heady scent of wild sage and thyme, blooming wildflowers. Sometime after that, we’ll head over to Naxos on the ferry to take in a very fertile island dotted with traditional whitewashed villages, impressive mountain landscapes, fishing harbours, Byzantine churches. On the way I will be getting Gundi to read the draft manuscript of my book, about living and growing here on the land in eastern Canada. It is tentatively titled Leafy Greens in the Rolling Hills.

It will be so refreshing to take in off-season island culture, character, food and drink, to inhale the soul of a locality. Most of all, I just want to lap up the heritage and the land and look out over the dark blue Aegean.