The seven year ditch
Edison Mission Energy, the US-owned global power utility probably thought they had it in the bag. Along with other foreign transnationals they had won lucrative contracts to build new coal-fired power plants in energy-hungry Thailand. They certainly had the Thai Government, the US ambassador to Thailand, and stashes of foreign investment money on their side. Not so complicit, though, were the people of Thailand and their environmental groups. Thousands turned up to protest. The plants, they said, would pollute the air and water, displace local people and harm the economy. They wanted renewable energy instead. Finally in March this year, after seven years of popular protests, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatrat announced that he was putting on hold the construction of two large coal-fired plants at Ban Krut and Bo Nok. In April the Government announced it was backing solar energy and unveiled plans for what will be Southeast Asia’s largest solar-power programme.
Carbon Sink Drama
It was absurd. Under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, the German NGO Prima Klima was to plant a forest in Argentina. The idea was to reduce global warming by creating a ‘carbon sink’. This would have provided an inexpensive way for a wealthy country to achieve required emissions cuts, not by actually reducing emissions but by planting trees to soak up CO2. But it would also have involved clear-cutting 4,400 hectares of native forest – releasing lots of CO2 – and substituting it with a monoculture of Oregon pine. Several Argentinean NGOs and indigenous Mapuche and Tehuellche groups protested in the courts – and won. In December 2000 the court prohibited any works related to Prima Klima’s forestry project.
see you in court, mr bush
The US penchant for litigation looks set to sting the Bush Administration. Last December three major US environmental groups announced that they were suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to curb global warming despite its growing impact. The lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the International Centre for Technology Assessment (CTA) charges the EPA with violating the 1977 Clean Air Act by failing to limit pollution caused by automobiles ‘that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare’. The CTA’s legal director Joseph Mendelson said: ‘It’s time for the Bush Administration to get its head out of the sand. The EPA’s stalling tactics are doing real damage in the fight against global warming.’ At a local level too, activists and progressive councils are using the law. The City Council of Oakland, California, has backed a suit brought by Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the City of Boulder, Colorado, against two Government export agencies charged with illegally funding fossil-fuel projects that have contributed to climate change, increasing the risk of saltwater contamination, floods and respiratory illness.
veggie vroom vroom
When supermarkets in Britain started running out of cheap cooking oil it took a while to cotton on to what was happening. Brits were not massively upping consumption of their national dish of fish'n'chips - they were putting the chip oil in their cars. For a while now some motorists have been using vegetable oil to fuel their vehicles in Germany and the US. Not only is it less environmentally damaging than ordinary fuel - it's also very much cheaper and isn't subject to tax. And cheaper still if recycled oil leftover from restaurant fryers is used. If letting your motor go veggie sounds tempting, you will need to have your car converted - so check out the websites first or get hold of Joshua Tickell's book From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank: the complete guide to using vegetable oil as an alternative fuel. One word of warning: you have to like the smell.
Not just for hippies, ecological building is taking off to meet a whole range of different needs and tastes – from earth houses and cave dwellings in remote valleys to stylish units in overcrowded metropoli. In their book Another Kind of Space, Alan Dearling and Graham Meltzer have brought together inspirational examples from across the world. Straw bales for building material, solar cells for power; ancient mixes with ultramodern with sustainability as the common denominator.
Our world is not for sale!
The Rickshaw Unions were out in force as the largest rally for Climate Justice in history took to the streets of Delhi last October. Cycle rickshaws are usually banned from the city centre of Delhi, an area of big hotels, shops, government buildings and cars. In the words of one puller: ‘The rich people drive around this district of Delhi one person to a car – they are contributing to pollution. We do not make pollution and yet we are banned from being allowed to work in this district.’ When, during the rally, police tried to stop rickshaws entering the centre, protesters sat down in solidarity with the pullers. The rally released the Delhi Climate Justice Declaration which states: ‘We affirm that climate change is a human-rights issue – it affects our livelihoods, our health, our children and our natural resources. We will build alliances across states and borders to oppose climate-change-inducing patterns and advocate for and practise sustainable development. We reject the market-based principles that guide the current negotiations to solve the climate crisis. Our World is Not for Sale.’
Stop big oil
Around the world people are giving the two fingers to Big Oil. In 2001 over 100 protests were held simultaneously worldwide in an international day of action against US oil giant ExxonMobil (Esso). Boycotts are gaining momentum and protests are hitting profits – in February this year 116 Esso stations were closed in a day of mass protest by activists across Britain. In Amazonian Ecuador, indigenous people say oil exploration is destroying their way of life and their attempts to develop eco-tourism. The Argentinean oil company CGC had to sit up and take note when eight of its oil workers were seized and held by Achaur Indians as a protest against exploration for crude in their lands. An earlier delegation of indigenous people (pictured right) chose a more legal course when they took US oil corporation Texaco to court, demanding a billion dollars for ‘causing widespread devastation to their rainforest environment’.
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