About Whale of a Time

Whale of a Time is riding the wave of change, promoting successful stewardship of our planet to create a peaceful, morally just, humane and sustainable culture, while ensuring survival of all species and their natural habitats. Whale of a Time organises creative and fun, inspiring and empowering events on environmental issues to encourage active participation living a sustainable lifestyle inspired by a positive attitude. We engage young and old from all walks of life through the Whale of a Time Community, the Whale of a Time Festival and the Whale of a Time Workshop. Our work has been recognised by many national and community and environmental awards schemes.

Whale of a Time Tweats

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Vietnam loses fight to save its rare Javan rhinos after last animal believed poached for horn

HANOI, Vietnam — Vietnam has lost its fight to save its rare Javan rhinoceros population after poachers apparently killed the country’s last animal for its horn, pushing one of the world’s most endangered species closer to extinction, a conservation group said Tuesday.

Vietnam’s Cat Tien National Park has had no sightings, footprints or dung from live rhinos since the last known animal living there was found dead last April, shot through the leg with its horn chopped off, the WWF said. Genetic analysis of rhino feces had confirmed in 2004 that at least two rhinos were living in the park, raising hopes that Vietnam’s population might survive.

Only 40 to 60 Javan rhinos now remain in Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia. They are the last known living members of the species, with none in captivity.

Vietnam’s Javan rhino population had been shrinking for decades as land conversion and a rising local population threatened the animal’s habitat, but poaching and a lack of effective park management and patrols hastened the decline, said Christy Williams, coordinator of WWF’s Asian Elephant and Rhino Program.

“It appears that protection is not being given a high priority by the Vietnamese government,” he said.

Park director Tran Van Thanh said that while some of his rangers failed to fulfill their duties, it is impossible for them to stop all of the estimated 100,000 people living near the park from hunting exotic animals when the average farmer there earns around 150,000 dong ($7.50) per day.

“We’re not trying to avoid our responsibility in the death of the rhinos, but we’ve done our best to protect them,” Thanh said.

Demand for rhino horn has surged in recent years among Vietnamese and Chinese who believe it can cure an array of ailments. Horns can now fetch up to $50,000 per pound (about $100,000 per kilogram), the WWF report said Tuesday. A small amount of ground-up powder can bring hundreds of dollars on the black market. Global demand has also increased in the last four to five years as some people have begun to consider rhino horn a remedy for cancer, Williams said.

WWF, along with the International Rhino Foundation, confirmed that the last rhino had died in Vietnam by collecting and analyzing its feces. Twenty-two of the rhino’s dung piles were found in Cat Tien from October 2009 to February 5, 2010, but no dung piles or fresh rhino footprints were seen in the subsequent nine weeks, the 44-page report said.

Before 1988, the Javan rhino was believed to be extinct from mainland Asia. A small population was then discovered in Vietnam’s park, and for the past 20 years, a number of wildlife conservationists have worked closely with the government to try to prevent the species from dying out in Vietnam.

But the rhino’s habitat has been cut in half since 1988 to about 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) today.

South Africa is a prime source country for rhino horns. According to the South African government, a record 333 rhinos were poached in 2010 — a nearly threefold increase from 2009.

In September, Vietnamese officials traveled to South Africa to address the problem, three years after Hanoi recalled a diplomat from its embassy there after she was caught on tape receiving illegal rhino horns. Ha Cong Tuan, an environmental affairs official, called on Vietnamese medical researchers to study what he called the “rumor” that rhino horn cures cancer and then publicize their findings.

The WWF report said Vietnam is on the verge of an “extinction crisis” with several other species — including the saola and the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey — threatened by deforestation, widespread poaching and a “largely uncontrolled” illegal wildlife trade.

Cat Tien was established in 1998 as a composite of three existing protected areas. From 1998 to 2004 WWF invested $6.3 million in the park, with up to $600,000 earmarked for rhino conservation work.

In Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital, 100 grams (about 7 ounces) of crushed rhino horn retail for about 43 million dong ($2,150), with the average prescription costing 200,000 dong ($10), a rhino horn vendor in the city’s bustling old quarter said Monday, requesting anonymity because the practice is illegal here.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More info at http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Rhinoceros

Read BBC News Report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15430787

Friday, 21 October 2011

What should be the top environmental priority for the next 40 years?

Experts speakers argue their cases ahead of an Earthwatch debate in London this week

Mission Critical is a debate hosted by Earthwatch to decide on the most important environmental priority for the next 40 years. Photograph: Ho/Reuters

Education and population – Sir Crispin Tickell

Our society faces a rich complex of problems. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution some 250 years ago, our animal species has changed the character of the Earth's land surface, seas and atmosphere: hence the increasing use among geologists of the term Anthropocene to follow the Holocene epoch.

Of all the interconnected problems we face, perhaps the most serious is the proliferation of our own species. Our numbers rose from around one million 12,000 years ago to around one billion 250 years ago. Since then there has been an extraordinary acceleration from 2 billion in 1930 to 6 billion at the end of the century and now approaching 7 billion.

In seeking to cope with this problem, the role of education, and in particularly that of women, is critical. Where women have achieved broadly equal status with men, when there is provision for their old age, when they can use contraceptive devices, and most important when they are educated as full citizens, human fertility has dropped: in many industrial countries below replacement rate and elsewhere by a substantial margin. At the same time people are living longer, itself creating problems, and the introduction of new technologies risks increasing unemployment. More than half our species now lives in cities, well described recently as nests for a super-organism out of control. We have now to confront these problems in all their scope and complexity.

The oceans- Jo Royle

With every breath we take and drop of water we drink we are connected to the ocean. Seventy two percent of our planet is ocean. The ocean drives global weather systems, absorbs the heat generated from our addiction to burning fossil fuels and provides the main source of protein for over a quarter of the world's population.

We live on a blue planet. The ocean breathes for the planet, with most photosynthesis occurring on the sea surface more than anywhere else. The health of future generations is dependent on the health of our ocean. However, silently and out of sight, the deep blue is suffering from our take-take relationship. We are getting dangerously close to the sea reaching its capacity to act as the planet's largest carbon sink. Depletion of the oceans fisheries, toxic contamination of the sea by industrial runoff and plastic pollution and acidification pose great threats to the health of the world's population.

The oceans are clearly of critical importance in providing energy, food and economical security and drinking water. The blue planet teaches us about love, beauty, respect, sensuality and mystery. The ocean fuels our curiosity, imagination, well being and gives us a sense of clarity, meaning and purpose – the liquid planet is the greatest teacher. Would we get the same feeling of peace looking across a lifeless ocean?

Water - Daniel Yeo

We can all relate to water - and any traveller can tell you about bad water and poor sanitation, including the English Commonwealth Games team and even in developed countries. Having the runs may make for a few embarrassing anecdotes, but it's no joke that diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa. Preventable diarrhoea associated with dirty water and poor sanitation kills more children than Aids, malaria and TB combined.

And it's not just kids - water is fundamentally a gender issue. Women and girls bear the biggest burden - walking long distances in rural areas, queuing in line for hours in urban slums.

Poor water, sanitation and hygiene undermines maternal and child health and nutrition.

Education - 443m school days are lost to water related diseases. Girls are more likely to stay in schools with separate female toilets.

These failings in human development put a cost on the economy, through lost lives, school days, work days and burden on health systems. The World Health Organisation estimates that every $1 invested in water generates $8 in wider economic benefits.

And that's just water for drinking and health - water is also an economic resource - vital for food (70% of globally available freshwater is used for agriculture) - and livelihoods. It is a critical ingredient for industry - almost every manufacturing process needs water. Finally, it's intertwined with energy – and not just through hydropower. Thermal power stations need water for cooling and for the steam needed to turn turbines.

Without water we have nothing.

Energy – Mike Mason

What makes humans different from the animals is that we are the only species to harness energy from things we don't eat.

Using external energy is fundamental to being a human. And using more energy has through all history been the key to getting a better quality of life - more food, better transport, warmer (or cooler) homes and offices.

Our success as a species has led to runaway numbers of people, and runaway per capita use of energy. Multiply the two together and you hit the buffers.

Energy is the most difficult problem to deal with simply because it is the only one on the table that is intrinsic to the very concept of humanity.

Climate change driven by our urge to burn things is an existential threat - albeit a slow burning one. Thus solving the energy crisis is clearly critical to us as humans as much as energy use is critical. The race therefore is on - between our evolutionary heritage that will surely destroy us if left unconfined, and our ability to innovate our way out of the old ways, and into a new energy paradigm that is sustainable without asking us to go back to the cave - because that is the one outcome we can guarantee no population will willingly accept.

Food security - Prof Tim Lang

The food challenge ahead is awesome. After a 20th century which celebrated the "success" of producing more food than ever in history, we now know human activity has undermined what has been done. A fearsome new complex of difficulties must be resolved: an oil-reliant food system (fertilisers, machines, transport); an environment under stress (climate change, water and soil); biodiversity loss (the plants and life on which we rely); land use competition (food vs fuel vs biodiversity vs ecosystems support).

Our voracious consumption is part of the problem. We eat feast-day food everyday, yet to eat like the US or UK requires multiple planets.

The now dominant analysis is that we need to feed 9 billion people by 2050 (up from nearly 7bn today) on less land in a time of ecosystem stress. New technical fixes, technologies, management, controls are urged on politicians. 70% more food is needed by 2050, they cry! Fund another heave to raise production, they say, downplaying how half of all grains grown on the planet are fed to animals.

Our system is hugely wasteful. Some 30-40% of what is bought fit to eat is thrown away. Our way of eating panders to an "eat what you like" consumerist culture. Actually there is plenty of food to go around today.

We need to think not just about whether there is food but what sort of diets, too. Simply, the future requires sustainable diets fed by sustainable food supply chains. We currently have neither.

The audience voted for Education to be the most important priority for the next 40 years.

---- Book the Whale of a Time Workshop for your school, community or youth event ----

Friday, 14 October 2011

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Sign Petition for the Rights of Mother Earth!

In partnership with the Global Alliance for Rights of Nature, Global Exchange has launched a global grassroots letter and signature campaign in support of Rights of Nature. Their vision is to engage 1,000,000 people in signing petitions or writing a letter to their President or head of state. They intend to have a delegation of young people deliver the letters to EarthSummit2012/Rio+20.

Please sign Rights For Mother Earth petition

Remembrance for Lost Species - November 12th 2011

Remembrance for Lost Species: lest we forget. Three species are lost to eternity every hour.

Extinction is studied by scientists. Culturally, however, we risk forgetting the beauty and distinct life of extinct species and our historic relationship with past life forms. Feral Theatre's Funeral for Lost Species considers the social significance of extinction, and commemorates it as a social tragedy. It’s a collaborative project combining visual art, performance and ritual to explore responses to the loss of species, and the places and cultures
associated with them. It opens a creative bridge between scientific analysis, political concern, and cultural and ecological bereavement.

Commemoration and ritual are activities that endow violence and death with social meaning through the engagement of participants. Feral Theatre invites you to hold a remembrance event for lost species on November 12th 2011. We hope diverse events will take place in many different places. Each event that happens will be unique and particular to the people involved. Remembrance events might take any form - a theatre piece or a ceremony, or something playful like a puppet show, celebratory like a wake, or intimate like a meal, planting a seed, or simply lighting a candle. It's up to you how you choose to remember and celebrate lost species.

We ask that you tell us about your event, then document it and share this with us to post online. We hope this will become an ongoing yearly remembrance day. Remembrance for Lost Species shines a light onto the ways the historic processes of domination and consumption have contributed to Earth’s current ecological predicament. Find out more about the project and Feral Theatre at www.feraltheatre.co.uk

A Funeral for Lost Species from Blue Raincloud on Vimeo.

Remembrance Events already planned:
Funeral for the Great Auk, Brighton beach, 4pm
Funeral for the Great Auk, coast of West Wales, 4pm
Funeral for the Great Auk, Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, 4pm
Funeral for the Great Auk, Bergen, Norway

New Zealand oil spill: conservationists warn of wildlife 'tragedy'

Oil spill off the east coast of New Zealand threatens local penguins, whales, seals and seabirds

Wildlife is threatened by an oil slick off New Zealand's east coast Link to this video
Conservationists have warned of an impending wildlife "tragedy" caused by an oil spill off the east coast of New Zealand, with populations of penguins, whales, seals and seabirds set to be hardest hit.

A severe weather warning for the Bay of Plenty area on Monday/yesterday has heightened fears that the stricken cargo vessel Rena, which is carrying 1,700 tonnes of fuel oil and 200 tonnes of diesel, will start to break up, with grim consequences for the local marine wildlife.

The fallout from the incident, which saw Rena run aground on a reef last Wednesday, is already being felt, with seven little blue penguins and two cormorants recovered and treated today at a centre in Tauranga.

However, this number is expected to rise to more than 200 in the coming days, with warnings that an escalation of the situation would have dire consequences for several species.

WWF New Zealand said it hoped the incident would not prove a "tragedy" for the region's marine wildlife, which includes bottlenose dolphins, orcas and beaked whales. Large baleen whales also migrate through the affected area.

Of particular concern is the New Zealand dotterel, an endangered shorebird.

"There's only 1,200 dotterels left due to coastal developments, so the last thing they need is their feeding ground contaminated," said Bob Zuur, marine advocate at WWF New Zealand.

"Little blue penguins are also very vulnerable as they swim through the oil. Fairy terns frequent the estuary and many northern hemisphere birds, such as godwits, that have migrated south for spring, are also under threat."

"New Zealand is known as the seabird capital of the world. We have about 85 different seabirds that breed here. It's breeding season now, so there are many birds, such as petrels, that are diving into the water to find food for their chicks.

"The oil makes it difficult for them to fly and there's a real risk they will ingest the oil when they preen, or pass it into their chicks.

"Should the vessel break up, we risk an international-scale incident. It's a huge amount of oil. I sincerely hope the it doesn't break up as the storm bears down on it."

It's estimated that up to 50 tonnes of oil has already been jettisoned into the sea. Radio New Zealand has reported that four of the 1,300 containers aboard Rena carry ferro-silicon, a hazardous substance which is flammable if it comes into contact with water.

More than 300 Defence Force personnel have been deployed to tackle the spill, along with specialists from Australia, the UK and the Netherlands.

The exclusion zone around the Rena has been extended to 2.8km today, with teams set to resume pumping oil off the damaged vessel. So far, just 10 tonnes of oil has been removed.

Humans, as well as marine wildlife, are also in danger from the spill, according to Maritime New Zealand.

The government agency has urged people not to touch the oil, which has started to wash up on the tourist-friendly Mount Maunganui beach, despite the efforts of volunteers to begin the clean-up operation.


Summer 2011: Arctic sea ice near record lows

The summer sea ice melt season has ended in the Arctic. Arctic sea ice extent reached its low for the year, the second lowest in the satellite record, on September 9. The minimum extent was only slightly above 2007, the record low year, even though weather conditions this year were not as conducive to ice loss as in 2007. Both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were open for a period during September.

Figure 1. Arctic sea ice extent for September 2011 was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole.

Overview of conditions
Average ice extent for September 2011 was 4.61 million square kilometers (1.78 million square miles), 2.43 million square kilometers (938,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average. This was 310,000 square kilometers (120,000 square miles) above the average for September 2007, the lowest monthly extent in the satellite record. Ice extent was below the 1979 to 2000 average everywhere except in the East Greenland Sea, where conditions were near average.
As in recent years, northern shipping routes opened up this summer. The Northern Sea Route opened by mid August and still appeared to be open as of the end of September. The southern "Amundsen Route" of the Northwest Passage, through the straits of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, opened for the fifth year in a row. Overall, sea ice in the wider and deeper northern route through Parry Channel reached a record low, according to Stephen Howell of Environment Canada, based on Canadian Ice Service analysis. Parry Channel had a narrow strip of ice that blocked a short section of the channel, but it did appear to open briefly in early September.
For additional numbers for previous years, see Table 1.

Figure 2. The graph above shows daily Arctic sea ice extent as of October 1, 2011, along with daily ice extents for the previous three lowest years for the minimum ice extent. Light blue indicates 2011, dashed green shows 2007, dark blue shows 2010, purple shows 2008, and dark gray shows the 1979 to 2000 average. The gray area around the average line shows the two standard deviation range of the data. Sea Ice Index data.

Conditions in context
While the melt season in 2011 got off to a slow start, the ice loss pace quickened during June. Ice retreated quite rapidly in the Kara and Barents seas, with rates more than double the average rate. Rapid ice loss continued during the first half of July but then slowed considerably as a series of low pressure systems moved over the central Arctic Ocean. By the end of July, ice extent was slightly above that seen in 2007.
Ice extent stayed above 2007 for the remainder of the melt season, reaching its minimum of 4.33 million square kilometers (1.67 million square miles) on September 9, 2011. Since the minimum, a rapid freeze-up has begun. On October 1, the five-day average extent rose above 5 million square kilometers (1.93 million square miles).

Figure 3. Monthly September ice extent for 1979 to 2011 shows a decline of 12.0% per decade.

September 2011 compared to past years
Ice extent for September 2011 was the second lowest in the satellite record for the month. The last five years (2007 to 2011) have had the five lowest September extents in the satellite record. The linear rate of decline is now -84,700 square kilometers (-32,700 square miles) per year, or -12% per decade relative to the 1979 to 2000 average. In contrast to 2007, when a "perfect storm" of atmospheric and ocean conditions contributed to summer ice loss, this year's conditions were less extreme. From the beginning of the melt season in March, to the minimum extent on September 9, the Arctic Ocean lost 10.3 million square kilometers (4.0 million square miles) of sea ice. It was the fifth year in a row with more than 10 million square kilometers of ice extent change from maximum to minimum. In comparison, the average seasonal ice loss during the 1980s was 9.0 million square kilometers (3.5 million square miles)

Figure 4. Ice motion charts for August 2011 show different movement patterns for this summer compared to 2007. The arrows show the direction of ice motion, with larger arrows indicating stronger motion. In 2007, northward ice motion helped push the ice together and flush it out of the Arctic.

Atmospheric conditions
In 2007, a persistent dipole anomaly weather pattern, with unusually high pressure over the Beaufort Sea and unusually low pressure over the Kara Sea, helped contribute to the record ice loss. This pattern resulted in strong southerly winds from the Bering Strait region across the North Pole, which brought warmer winds and ocean waters northward to melt the ice edge and push the ice northward. In addition, especially strong high pressure over the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in June 2007 resulted in less than average cloudiness, allowing more sunlight to reach the ice.
The Arctic saw a similar weather pattern this summer, but not as strong and persistent as in 2007. The location of the high and low pressure centers was also shifted, so that the winds blew east to west instead of toward the north as in 2007. This shift is reflected in the movement of the sea ice, particularly during August.
Patterns of air temperatures (measured at the 925 millibar level or about 1,000 meters or 3,000 feet above the surface) were also quite different this year compared to 2007. In summer 2007, temperatures in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas were 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average. This year, temperatures in that region were near average, but north of Greenland and in the Canadian Archipelago, conditions were even warmer than in 2007. These high temperatures likely played a role in the opening of the Northwest Passage.

Figure 5. Sea surface temperatures this year were generally lower than in 2007, although some areas of the ocean surface still had higher than average temperatures.

Sea surface temperatures
Ocean sea surface temperatures (SSTs), based on National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data provided by Michael Steele and Wendy Ermold of the University of Washington Polar Science Center, indicate above normal temperatures on the surface of the Arctic Ocean. However, the temperatures anomalies were not as extreme as in 2007 and were comparable to those recorded for 2009 and 2010. These lower temperatures may be the result of less solar heating of the exposed ocean surface or less transport of warm waters from the south. In 2007, ice retreated early from the shores of Alaska and Siberia, allowing the ocean mixed layer to heat up and enhance melting of the ice from below. In contrast, ice was slower to retreat in this region in summer 2011, and less bottom melt was observed.

Figure 6. Data on ice age show that coverage of the oldest, thickest ice types (ice four years or older) has declined over the past 28 years.

Ice remains younger, thinner
Why did ice extent fall to a near record low without the sort of extreme weather conditions seen in 2007? One explanation is that the ice cover is thinner than it used to be; the melt season starts with more first-year ice (ice that formed the previous autumn and winter) and less of the generally thicker multi-year ice (ice that has survived at least one summer season). First- and second-year ice made up 80% of the ice cover in the Arctic Basin in March 2011, compared to 55% on average from 1980 to 2000. Over the past few summers, more first-year ice has survived than in 2007, replenishing the younger multi-year ice categories (2- to 3-year-old ice). This multi-year ice appears to have played a key role in preserving the tongue of ice extending from near the North Pole toward the East Siberian Sea. However, the oldest, thickest ice (five or more years old) has continued to decline, particularly in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Continued loss of the oldest, thickest ice has prevented any significant recovery of the summer minimum extent. In essence, what was once a refuge for older ice has become a graveyard.


Monday, 10 October 2011

Ozone layer hole over Arctic in sudden expansion

This chart shows the levels of ozone above the Arctic on 19 March 2010 (left) and 2011 (right), the latter showing about a 50% drop. Photograph: OMI/Aura/NASA

Arctic and Antarctic holes of similar size for first time, say scientists, due to combination of wind patterns and intense cold

• Datablog: The size of the hole in the ozone layer
• Antarctica may heat up dramatically as ozone hole repairs, warn scientists

A huge hole that appeared in the Earth's protective ozone layer above the Arctic in 2011 was the largest recorded in the northern hemisphere, though the sudden appearance of the hole was not due to man-made causes, scientists said in a report on Monday.

The ozone layer high in the stratosphere acts like a giant shield against the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts. Since the 1980s, scientists have charted the size of the ozone hole every summer above the Antarctic.

Some years, the holes have been so large that they covered the entire continent and stretched to parts of South America.

During extreme events, up to 70% of the ozone layer can be destroyed, before it recovers months later. The hole above the Arctic was always much smaller – until March this year, when a combination of powerful wind patterns and intense cold temperatures high up in the atmosphere created the right conditions for already-present, ozone-eating chlorine chemicals to damage the layer.

The findings, reported on Monday in the journal Nature, show that the hole had opened over northern Russia, parts of Greenland, and Norway, meaning people in these areas were likely to have been exposed to high levels of UV radiation.

"The chemical ozone destruction over the Arctic in early 2011 was, for the first time in the observational record, comparable to that in the Antarctic ozone hole," say the scientists, led by Gloria Manney of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The scientists say man-made chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy ozone in the stratosphere, after sunlight breaks up the complex chemicals into simpler forms that react with ozone. While some of the chemicals are covered by a UN treaty that aims to stop their use, it will be decades before they are fully phased out of production.

Normally, atmospheric conditions high above the Arctic do not trigger a large-scale plunge in ozone levels. But during the 2010/11 winter, a high-altitude wind pattern called the polar vortex was unusually strong, leading to very cold conditions in the stratosphere that also lasted for several months. This created the right conditions for the ozone-destroying forms of chlorine to slash ozone levels over a long period.

The report's authors said there was a risk that the spread of the Arctic hole could become an annual event.


Friday, 7 October 2011

The Rights of Mother Nature

This is a live blog of a panel convened by the Graduate Center’s Center for Place, Culture, and Politics in honor of Earth Day 2011. It also happens to be the first year anniversary of the World People’s Conference on the Rights of Mother Nature in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shannon Biggs: Nature is a system governing our well being. Yet our culture treats nature as human property, like a slave. When we talk about what it means to recognize rights for nature, a good place to start is to look at the BP oil spill and ask what would have been different if Nature had rights. What would be different today? The only people who can sue BP today are those with a property claim. What if nature could sue BP to be made whole again? We know that there are thousands of miles of dispersant lying beneath the surface. Things would look very different.

Cormac Cullinan: I came to this work from a practical angle. I was encountering difficulties generating legislation, and this made me realize that there was an underlying problem. At this time I was fortunate enough to encounter Thomas Berry, who showed to me that our legal systems facilitate the exploitation of Earth. I was shocked, because I’d practiced as an environmental lawyer for many years. I felt that I was part of the solution. But he was right. What we call environmental law really isn’t working. In the last three decades, we’ve seen an unprecedented increase in the amount of environmental legislation. We’ve forgotten that we’re part of the natural order. The idea that there’s a system of order out there, Nature, is not something that’s simply not considered. I came to this through trying to find practical ways to deal with what we’re facing.

As someone brought up in South Africa, it was always clear to me that the law was a product of those in power. But in this case we can see that our legal systems have entrenched an exploitative environment between our legal systems and Nature, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome. We’ve defined our system by Rights, but unless we can include Nature in this circle, we cannot include the natural world. So we need to expand the Earth community to include such rights.

Vandana Shiva: Forty years ago I got involved in the Chipko Movement, which strove to challenge exploitation of forests. Today, for the majority of people around the world, the notion that nature has rights is not strange. The opposite is probably strange. The idea that seeds can be treated as property by Monsanto is bizarre. All they do is put toxins into seeds.

Some years ago, I got involved in the TRIPS agreement controversy. All of this made me realize that for most cultures, humans are just one part of the Earth community. But the scientific revolution changed things so that we saw the Earth as inert. What corporate power has done is to make corporations into the only things that count. We need to work to rebalance things. Natural rights are not opposite to human rights. Human rights are a subset of natural rights, because we’re a part of nature. An example is the legal battle I was involved in over limestone mining, which was going to destroy drinking water. Today we’re involved in struggle over dams on the Ganges. Our slogans are to allow the Ganges to flow freely.

Yesterday at the UN, Cormac reminded us that apartheid means “separation.” Today, we have to overcome our sense of separation from nature. This is a forced separation, something against our will. This is something that affects everyday people, who are being displaced through landgrabs in places like Africa. The real thing we need to do is to build the Earth democracy that we’re a part of. The corporations have such a stranglehold on power now. We need Nature to rescue us from the corporate dictatorship.

Maude Barlow: Modern humans, not tribal peoples, tend to see Nature as a resource for our pleasure. This has led to great damage and a crisis of huge proportions. By 2030, demand for water is going to outstrip supply by 40%. Right now we’re in a massive sixth wave of species extinction. But all of our governments, with few exceptions – Bolivia among them – are still out there promoting free trade and the rights of corporations. The environmental movement is left just negotiating with governments to lower the amounts of pollution. But it’s coming at it in such a debilitating way. And even the so-called green economy, the way our elites go about it, is a market solution to the crisis. The idea is that you just replace bad technology with good ecology, and you don’t have to replace any of the current paradigms: growth, development, etc. The only way to “save” nature is to bring it into the market. So ideas about the Rights of Nature seek to shift this paradigm. Our whole mindset is based on human law; what would it be like to shift our mindset so that other species have the right to exist. Does this mean that insect rights are equivalent to human ones? No, but it does mean that we shouldn’t drive species to extinction. We’re hoping that the Declaration of the Rights of Nature will one day take its place with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of the founding documents. Every now and then, the human race takes an evolutionary step forward.

Pablo Solon: Last year, we managed to pass, in the UN, a declaration of the human right to water. About 60 years after theDeclaration of Human Rights, we finally got recognition that water was a human right. This 29 of July, we’re going to celebrate the one year anniversary of this event. But we’re also going to celebrate the Rights of Water. If we don’t respect the rights of water, we cannot respect the rights of humans to water. There are vital cycles in nature, and when we don’t respect these rights, we break the system and lose our place in it.

What exactly is nature? A thing, a bunch of resources, or a system? This system, does it have laws and rules? If it does have laws, should the society respect those laws? Are we respecting those rules? This is the key question, from our point of view. We believe that we’re just one part of the Earth system, and we humans, and in particular, the capitalist system, don’t respect these laws. So we’re now facing a situation, as all scientists agree, in which we’ve broken the balance of nature.

How will we restore this balance? We have two proposals on the table:

1) The green economy, which places monetary value on nature, not just on forests, but on environmental services provided by nature. The Rio + 20 conference is intended to approve a series of market mechanisms that have to do with nature. From this perspective, we’re facing a critical situation because nobody owns environmental services; once they’re in the market, balance will be restored. This isn’t something hypothetical. The third round of WTO negotiations is slated to be focused on environmental services. We’re at the beginning of a third round of capitalist accumulation.

2) Our view is based on the Rights of Nature. We have to respect the laws of Nature, or else we will no longer have any place. If we want to have Rights of Nature, we have to fight against capitalism. There is no way to begin a new relationship if we’re trapped in a system that tries to make profit out of everything. Are we going to be able to transform this capitalist system? That’s the key question. We think that the only way for humankind to survive is to develop another system, with another relationship with nature.

David Harvey: We need to remember that there are laws of capital accumulation. A basic law is that of compound growth. Since capitalism took off, the basic trend has been an average of 3% compound growth; this is the minimum with which capitalists feel happy. 3% in Manchester in 1800 is one thing; 3% today is an astonishing prospect. What we’re running into is that we’re at an inflection point in capital’s history at which the growth rate cannot be sustained. In spite of the environmental movement’s vibrancy over last 30 years, things keep getting worse. Christopher Stone’s argument (in “Should Trees Have Standing” in 1972) was the first example of the notion of the Rights of Nature that I came across. But we should remember that we’ve already created fictitious rights for corporations, so why not for nature? Capitalism has always been about more, and even more. Capitalists have no choice; they have to accumulate or die. The system has to grow or die. The system has gotten to the point where it’s prepare to die, and to kill us and everyone else with it. If we’re going to confront the present situation, we have to deal with two key things: 1: the environment (which is treated as an externality); 2: social reproduction (the Republicans want to gut the state and hive off social reproduction to individuals so that capital doesn’t have to bare these costs). One of the answers is to come up with a market solution to social reproduction. We’re told that the answer to global poverty is more capital accumulation, even though this produced poverty in the first place. Carbon trading is a very nice market, but it just makes things worse. One of the things you can’t talk about is what the alternatives to capitalism are going to be. How many people in universities are working on such alternatives? We have to be clear about the politics and the means by which we make change. Nothing is really going to be changed unless there’s a mass social movement to change things. Legal measures before the UN will not do it. What was wonderful about Cochabamba was how many people were there. We’re faced with a huge crisis, but in conventional circles there’s very little original thinking about how to deal with the crisis. In the movement for Rights for Nature, there’s the beginning of this kind of original thought.

Cormac Cullinan: What we’re seeing in the world is a sense that we need to make an evolutionary leap, which starts off as shifting one’s perspective. This is similar to the Copernican shift. Unless we make a jump to seeing ourselves as part of the Earth, and recognize that we’re part of the system, and reshape our governance systems to reflect this reality, then we’ll not make the necessary changes and we’ll face a precipitous decline in human populations and possibly even become extinct as a species. Now, for the first time, we have a global manifesto that can unite all the social movements: the Declaration of the Rights of Nature. What we’re proposing is not some ideology, but a recognition that we must abide by natural laws.

Vandana Shiva: We’ve been sold a bill of goods. We’ve been told that all we need is growth. India has been growing like gangbusters, but we’ve got more hunger than ever. We find that the more we follow the natural laws, the more food we have. The UN has just submitted a report saying that agro-ecology produces enough food to sustain the human population. We don’t need genetically engineered foods, we don’t need toxins. In every sphere, we’ve been sold economic systems and technological systems that impoverish human life because they impoverish human nature. Part of the liberation we need is to recognize that taking less from nature and giving more to her actually empowers us.

Maude Barlow: I think it’s worth exploring some specific examples. One includes the question of whether to put water on the market. Where it’s been done, it leads to terrible consequences. An example is Australia, where they have one source of water: the Murray Darling aquifer. It’s being exploited by large agricultural concerns, and is now dying. In 1993, the conservative government of the time converted the licenses of big corporations to water rights. The idea was that this would lead to more efficiency. But what really happened was that big organizations bought up water rights and pushed small industries out of business. The price of water went up like mad in one decade. The government then couldn’t get water back into the system. My prediction that big investors would move in has come true; hedge funds are buying up water rights and telling Australian farmers what to grow. Compare this to exploitation of groundwater in Vermont. Four years ago, the state government passed a bill saying that water resources were common property. They set up a licensing system saying that if you want to use over a certain amount, you need to pay. In times of shortage, local food production gets preference. So there’s a fundamental distinction in terms of outlook here. What they mean is that Nature has rights. This has fundamental consequences in our lives.

Shannon Biggs: How do we create social movements? We’re all so much in agreement about fundamental principles. But democracy is messy; there’s no one way to move forward. Things can look very different in different places. In the US, Global Exchange has been involved in Mt. Shasta, where communities have been battling water bottling companies. Another issue that this community is fighting is cloud seeding. If you seed clouds in one area, you create droughts in other areas. The idea that we can geo-engineer solutions is folly. The common thread here and in other places such as Pittsburgh, where fracking has destroyed drinking water, is that corporate rights have to be challenged legally. Laws were made to protect and enshrine rights of people and ecosystems. We’ve made such moves in the past: slavery is an example. In Mt. Shasta and in Pittsburgh, laws have been passed to strip corporations of the right to remove water.

Pablo Solon: I agree that the key issue is how to build a social movement that is capable of defeating capitalism. Our humble experience has shown that social movements develop when they are unified and when they win concrete victories. Ten years ago in Bolivia, we were facing multiple defeats. We focused on a specific issue: privatization of water. We defeated the powerful Bechtel corporation. Then we had the strength to challenge the privatization of gas. We had to nationalize our gas. Otherwise, how would we be able to share the revenues of our country with the population? It’s not enough to have a movement that fights for specific goals; the movement has to fight to take over the government. If you don’t gain power, all the victories that you achieve will be lost. So we were able to build a movement that for the first time raised an indigenous person to president. We were able to create a government through which we could develop our own strategies. We don’t speak much about capitalism. We don’t want more and more, as capitalism does. But we want to live better. This means that our growth has to satisfy basic needs, rather than be an example of rampant growth. The problem though is that even if you manage to get power in a particular nation, you can’t solve the whole problem, because government is now global. We have to solve this at the world-wide level, or it won’t be solved. If there isn’t a movement that goes beyond our borders and our continent, and that maybe comes to the key areas of capitalism, like the U.S. and E.U., we won’t survive. So we look for the common thing that unites people around the world. The key thing is that we all live on one planet, and we all face a common problem: our governments and our states are not respecting the laws of nature, and this is one of the main causes of why we are in this situation. So, to build a movement requires having a paradigm that can open a way to a new way of thinking. This is why the Rights of Nature is a key issue to build a movement to change the world.

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Wednesday, 5 October 2011


Thousands to watch inspiring film by award-winning director at venues across country on 18 October

University and college students across the UK are preparing to host the largest ever simultaneous free public screenings of a film later this month.

The inspiring and entertaining film, Just Do It – a tale of modern-day outlaws will be screened at approximately 100 venues on Tuesday 18 October, creating the largest number of community-led free public film screenings ever carried out on the same day.

Providing a rare insight into the secretive world of environmental activism, award-winning documentary maker Emily James spent more than a year embedded in groups such as Climate Camp, Climate Rush and Plane Stupid documenting their activities. This community of gutsy and inspiring people are filmed taking direct action despite the risk of arrest. Their actions include blockading a factory, scaling coal power stations and gluing themselves to the trading floors of international banks.

Tea-making “domestic extremist” Marina Pepper who featured in the film, described the importance of taking action stating that, “If you think you can do something and you can make a difference through campaigning or through putting your body in the way, then that’s empowering.”

Director of Just Do It Emily James said:
“The strength of this film lies in the passion, courage, and humour of the protagonists. I feel honoured that they allowed me to capture their story, and immensely pleased that this tale of ordinary people taking extraordinary action is now being seen by so many people who can watch it for free.”

The film screenings of Just Do It are being organised by students in universities and colleges and will take place mainly on university campuses and college halls. In addition to providing an opportunity for the general public to watch an entertaining and captivating film, this day of nationwide free screenings is also seen to symbolise the impact of individuals coming together to take action as a community. This concept is in keeping with the creation and development of the film as Just Do It was made possible by crowd funders.

Co-ordinator of the Campus Screenings, Olivia Furber said:
“It’s encouraging to see so many students organising the screening of this film. This film motivates and inspires us all to take even the smallest action to bring about positive change, even if it is supplying fish and chips to protestors, or making a cup of tea. I hope that, from watching this film, audiences feel empowered to make a difference in their community”.

View Emily's Whale of a Time Profile