Tag Archive | "Environment"

Colombia: Farmers Sue BP in UK High Court


BP_LogoA group of Colombian subsistence farmers are suing British oil giant BP for environmental damages in a case that began today in the UK High Court, in London.

The 109 farmers are seeking £18m (US$29m) in compensation from BP, claiming that negligence in the construction of a pipeline in the 1990s led to a big impact on the local water supply and caused serious damage to land, crops, and livestock.

One of the farmers in London to testify in the trial told The Guardian that: “Our water supply has been damaged by sedimentation since the pipeline was laid, and I have lost cattle. I can no longer keep pigs or chickens because there is not enough water for them. The reason why we have travelled so far is because we have hope and faith that the high court in London will deliver justice to us.”

A lawyer for the farmers, Alex Layton, told the court that BP had “blamed everyone else while not accepting its responsibilities,” reports AFP.

BP defends itself against the allegations, saying it took “significant steps” to engage with local communities and pay fair compensation for any impact. Last month, the company was found guilty of gross negligence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

This landmark trial is the first to feature a UK oil company in a UK court for alleged environmental damages caused to private land overseas. If the ruling goes in favour of the farmers it could open the path to other claims.

The trial is expected to last around eight months.

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Nicaragua: Environmental NGOs say Interoceanic Canal ‘Not Viable’


The chosen Nicaragua canal route (photo: laprensa.com.ni)

The chosen Nicaragua canal route (photo: laprensa.com.ni)

The 278km interoceanic canal to be constructed in Nicaragua is not viable or sustainable due to its environmental and social impact, according to a study conducted by a group of NGOs.

Grupo Cocibolca, which unites 12 environmental organisations, reported yesterday that the amount of water need to fill the canal represents more than half that currently available in underground systems, and could create shortages for the population. Furthermore, the canal will pass through Lake Nicaragua, the country’s largest freshwater lake, causing concern over contamination in a key source of drinking water.

In addition, the study finds that 59.4% of the canal route over land crosses native forest and indigenous territories, affecting an estimated 270 communities.

“The evaluation is that in its current guise, the canal project is not viable,” Víctor Campos, director of Centro Humboldt, one of the organisations involved, told AFP. “The environmental damage is too high relative to the benefits.”

“We must balance the interests of a few businessmen and those of thousands of Nicaraguan citizens,” added Rosario Sáenz Ruiz, director of Fundenic-SOS.

The report is the latest document to criticise the canal mega-project, just week before construction is set to begin in December. Danish NGO Forests of the World recently argued that the canal could “wreak havoc” on local forests and indigenous communities.

The NGO urged Danish shipping giant Maersk to pressure the government to ensure that “the indigenous peoples will be heard and measures be taken to protect the environment.”

Furthermore, in the last week hundreds of farmers have staged protests against the canal over fears that some of their land will be expropriated. The government said that it would pay a fair price for any land expropriated and that the canal would bring great economic benefits to the country.

The canal, to be built and operated by the Hong-Kong based development company HKND Group, will cost an estimated US$40bn and is expected to be completed by the end of the decade. When operational, an estimated 5,100 of the world’s largest cargo ships will be able to pass through the canal each year, representing approximate 5% of global cargo transport. Complementary projects are set to include a new international airport, a free trade zone, and new tourist complexes.

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Latin American Nations Commit to Climate Action at UN Summit


Latin American heads of state expressed their commitment to fight climate change and lambasted industrialised nations for not abiding by environmental regulations at the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23rd September.

They joined a guest list of 150 heads of states as well as business leaders, civil society representatives and celebrities during the special one-day event at the UN headquarters.

Leonardo DiCaprio addresses the opening of the UN Climate Summit. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

Leonardo DiCaprio addresses the opening of the UN Climate Summit. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

The UN has warned that global temperature rose by 0.85°C between 1880 and 2012. It predicted that temperature will increase between 1°C and 3.7°C this century.

A Global Carbon Budget report published on 21st September found that during 2013 global emissions had increased by 2.3%. The majority of the emissions were produced by four nations or blocs: China produced 28% of global emissions, followed by 14% for the United States, 10% for the European Union, and 7% for India. Brazil and Mexico were the only Latin American countries to appear in the Top 20 worst emitters during 2013, figuring 12th and 13th in the global ranking respectively.

The Price to Pay

A day before the summit opened, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) released a report that said that the region “has made a minor contribution to climate change, given the region’s low levels of greenhouse gas emissions”. However, the study found the region to be “particularly vulnerable to its negative impacts.”

The cost Latin American nations would have to pay – should the world carry on along this road – would include long term agricultural loss in a region where many economies depend on export of agricultural products.

“The projected losses in the agricultural sector will also have multiple effects, such as slowing progress towards poverty-reduction and food-security goals,” reads the report.

Due to rising gasoline consumption, Latin American countries already suffer from deteriorating air quality in congested cities, a “serious” degradation of natural assets like water and forests, as well as health issues.

Bolivian President Evo Morales was among the speakers (UN Photo/)

Bolivian President Evo Morales was among the speakers at the UN Climate Summit (UN Photo/Amanda Voisard)

A Joint Effort 

Amongst the first speakers at the UN summit was Peru’s president Ollanta Humala, who stressed that “building consensus on this topic” was a priority. His nation will host the next UN climate conference, COP20, in Lima this December.

President Humala then called for developed economies – the major greenhouse gas emitters – to take responsibility for their contribution to global warming. “It is time for developed countries to acknowledge their responsibility in climate change,” he said.

In a similar vein, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales said: “The extent to which developing countries will effectively implement their commitments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will depend on the effective implementation by developed countries of their commitments under the Convention.”

He added that industrialised countries have to provide “financial resources and transfer of technology and […] take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.”

Ecuador’s environment minister Lorena Tapia affirmed “the importance of negotiation on climate change” but lamented the “lack of commitment of developed countries”.

She said that the Kyoto protocol is the “cornerstone” of climate change efforts and deplored the fact industrialised nations – like the United States – had not ratified it.

Economy vs Ecology

For his part, Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro scolded the Western capitalism model of growth that has led to a dramatic increase of carbon emissions. “Until when will we follow a capitalist model?” he asked.

President Maduro then asked the audience to be realistic about world business leaders’ commitment to climate change. “Does anyone believe that multinational companies can change themselves into protagonists of salvation for the planet?

“If you want to change the climate, we need to change the system,” he added.

The address of Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, was along the same lines: “The main cause of the world environment crisis, including climate change, continues to be the irrational and unsustainable production and consumption patterns that support the capitalist economic domination system, which generates greater poverty and inequalities,” he said.

He also explained that “less luxury and less waste in a few countries would mean less poverty and hunger in much of the world”.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined the People's Climate March on Sunday, two days ahead of Tuesday's UN summit. (Photo by Mark Garten, courtesy of the UN)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined the likes of Al Gore and Jane Goodall at the People’s Climate March on Sunday, ahead of the UN summit. (Photo by Mark Garten, courtesy of the UN)

Pledges of Sustainable Development

Latin American countries pledged to promote to sustainable development ahead of the 2015 United Nations Climate meeting, COP21, when a global agreement to replace the Kyoto protocol will be adopted.

President Bachelet listed various measures Chile is taking to combat climate change, such as the launch of an energy agenda for “more diverse, safer and cleaner systems”.

She said that her country will add over 1,000 megawatts into its energy grid in 2014, and recover degraded soils to combat deforestation.

President Enrique Peña Nieto acknowledged that Mexico was a “moderate emitter”, but pointed out that his country voted the general climate change law in 2012 that aims to reduce 30% of the 2000-level gas emissions by 2020 and 50% by 2050. He also vowed to generate 34.6% of electricity production from renewable energies by 2018.

“Climate change is not only an obligation but also an opportunity to transform our economy and make it more competitive in the future,” said Peru’s president, who reiterated his country’s efforts to fight deforestation and illegal mining.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica’s president Luis Guillermo Solis acknowledged that all countries contribute to global warming due to industrial activities but at different levels. He emphasised that the largest economies should “lead these efforts” for global consensus. However, his country is already one of the greenest in the world, with a commitment to be a carbon neutral nation by 2021.

President Solis confirmed that the Central American country will develop an electric railway system and a bus system that use fuel only so as to substantially decrease traffic and carbon emissions. President Solis stressed the need for developing countries to have access to “appropriate and affordable” energy technologies.

Brazilian Deforestation Disappointment

Anti-deforestation campaigners have expressed disappointment at Brazil’s rejection of an anti-deforestation pledge, the centerpiece of the UN Summit. More than 30 countries set a deadline to end deforestation by 2030, but the South American giant, which has the largest continuous rainforest in the world, refused to sign on, saying the plan conflicts with its own laws and targets.

If successful, the plan could reduce carbon emissions by an estimated eight billion tonnes per year – the equivalent of emissions by all of the world’s one billion cars.

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La Aurora: A New Dawn


This is an exclusive English translation of an article that originally appeared in Periódico MU no. 79, from August.

Is it possible to work the land in an efficient and profitable way without agrochemicals or fertilisers? An agro-ecological establishment in Buenos Aires province shows its crops, cattle, and results. Through the alliance between the producer and agronomist, we see a new paradigm, proving it’s possible to be independent of the genetically modified model and achieve healthy agriculture.

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Producer Juan Kiehr and agricultural engineer Eduardo Cerdá on Kiehr’s farm in Benito Juárez

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Looking up from the newspaper, the landscape from the window of the coach is an ocean of soy fields, which we are crossing at 90 kmph down Ruta 3, on the way to Benito Juárez, Capital of Friendship, with it’s population of 15,000, 400km south of Buenos Aires. And then to a 650-hectare farm called La Aurora. A different landscape and different words.

There, next to a tractor, with his big hands from working the land, knee-high boots, short-rimmed hat, is 71-year-old Juan Kiehr, a producer who has conceived an almost-epic project at this point in history: to live in peace.

The 4×4 and the F100

Juan Kiehr's

Juan Kiehr’s F100

Juan Kiehr is the grandson of Danes, cordial and hospitable, with a tendency for perseverance: he married once, more than 40 years ago, to Erna Bloti, a Swiss woman with whom he has two daughters. He doesn’t drive a vulgar 4×4, but a F100 which is 47 years old and has visited an unknown number of worlds, as the odometer broke a long time ago. “And if I have to travel, I use the Megane, which is a gem.”

In the F100 we reach a hilltop from where we can see the farm in perspective. In his cracked and serene voice he says: “This was my father’s. I took over in 1981 when he passed away. During the first years I followed the trend, like any other producer. But with time, above all during the past 15 or 20 years, I have seen what agrochemicals do to the soil, and that, combined with the statistics of what is being used in Argentina, is a scary thing.”

He is not trying to convince anybody, just telling his story. “I thought: I don’t want to leave a corpse for those who follow me. I want to leave this farm in as good a condition as I found it in, or better. I can’t think of any other way to work.

“I am psychologically allergic to the idea of working with poisons. It’s not that I am afraid to handle them, but I see what they are doing to the soil and to the water, and they are things that are very hard to undo. And I was here with my family. I didn’t want that for the place where we live.

“And on top of it all, those products are really expensive. And they way the lose their effectiveness, so you have to use evermore. It started with two litres per hectare, and now they are on 12 or 14. Spending more, poisoning more, for the same results.”

Kiehr had another elusive dream: live, insofar as possible, without economic shocks. “So that family doesn’t go without. You work as much as you can as it is the role of paternity with responsibility, I think. It’s not the same as saying I’m going fishing, sort yourselves out.”

Heart + profit

Kiehr was mulling over his ideas when he crossed paths with Eduardo Cerdá, an agricultural engineer, who had been a consultant for various producers in the area since 1990, who were organised as a cooperative. The group fell apart for different reasons, deaths (cancer), and different opinions on how to work the land. Since 1997, after the Menem opened the country to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) via the approval of glyphosate requested by Monsanto, Cerdá became Kiehr’s consultant.

Cerdá had studied in La Plata, where he met the agricultural engineer Santiago Sarandón, his professor in the course on cereals. Sarandón had been trying to find a sense in the course and his own career, beyond the stereotype of an agronomist who is reduced to applying recipes and recommending chemical products, and created the first agroecology course in the country, a science which combined agronomy with ecology.

Technical definition: “Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principles in the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems. Agroecology uses the natural processes of interactions that are produced on the farm with the aim of reducing the use of external inputs and improving the biological efficiency of the crop system.”

The external inputs are herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers and other inventions of the chemical industry, which created the superstition that it is impossible to work without their widespread use, adding to GM crops like soy, maize, rape, sunflower, cotton, and rice.

Cerdá came with these ideas about agroecology and towards the end of the 90s collided with a terrain that was ever-more flooded with massive fumigations and GM soy monoculture. “The argument of agroecology was theoretical, but not adapted to concrete productive situations, above all in this region.”

Juan with his trusted tractor

Juan Kiehr with his trusted tractor

Meanwhile, Kiehr’s mistrust was fertilised. “Agricultural engineers would come by, who in reality are selling products. Perhaps they didn’t have a choice, but they would sweeten the producer, and lead him like a show cow, give him a hat, talk about technology with the aim of selling products and machines, an entire propaganda apparatus like you can see in Chacra o Clarín Rural.” He opens his hands. “You are a farmer, not an agricultural exploiter. But it is like a vortex and they want to make you feel: you are in the technology that they sell you, or you’ve been left behind. I don’t want to charge anybody for that they do, but it is not true that that is the only option or the best option. An let’s be frank – who is really benefitting from all this? The producer, or the corporations that manufacture and advertise it all?”

On a national level, the Chamber of Agricultural Health and Fertilisers (CASAFE) states that the use of pesticides has risen 858% in the last two decades, whilst the agricultural acreage has risen just 50% and the crop yield 30% (figures from the University Network for Environment and Health). The business that corporations like Syngenta, Bayer, and Monsanto lead means the application of 317m litres of pesticides (including 200m litres of glyphosate) in Argentina during the 2012-13 season, with revenues of US$2.38bn.

Instead, in La Aurora, there were tours around the lots in the F100, talks which harmonised the knowledge Cerdá brought from university with what Kiehr knew about the land. It was not a change from one day to the next, rather from one life to the next. The farm was redesigned agroecologically, by people who were able to combine using their hearts and heads, with their feet on the ground.

The heart, because this is a family farm that Kiehr inherited, loves, and which he will leave to his kin.

The head, because thinking how to manage it in a way that will not impoverish or kill the soil, or be dangerous for living organisms, including humans.

And the feet on the ground, so that this work values the farm instead of bleeding it dry, and allows a production that will also be efficient and profitable.

There remains just one small detail: how is it done?

GM Republic

La Aurora appears as a case study in one of today’s most interesting and shocking wake up calls, which is not yet published but will be freely downloadable: ‘Agroecología: bases teóricas para el diseño y manejo de agroecosistemas sustentables’ (Agroecology: Theoretical bases for the design and management of sustainable agroecosystems). Edited by the La Plata University’s Faculty of Agrarian and Forestry Sciences, it is written by agricultural engineer Santiago Sarandón and his colleague Cecilia Flores, with contributions from other professionals.

A scientific and technical work that studies production, describes new paradigms to understand the rural situation, as well as proposals. For example, Chapter 1 is called ‘The unsustainability of the current agricultural model’.

It highlights, among other problems:

– The dependency on agrochemicals (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilisers).

– Contamination of food, water, soil, and people by pesticides and products derived from the use of chemical fertilisers.

– Development of resistance to pesticides by certain pests and pathogens.

– Loss of productive capability of the soils, due to erosion, degradation, salinisation, and desertification.

– Loss of nutrients in the soils.

– Loss of biodiversity.

– Contribution to global warming and decrease in the ozone layer.

– The problem of rural poverty has not been resolved.

The last chapter is dedicated to La Aurora, and was written by Sarandón and Flores along with Cerdá himself, in his dual role as agronomist and Kiehr’s farm consultant. There, the situation of the Pampas is explained, where cattle has been replaced by crops that are dependent on toxic inputs, costs have risen, and medium-scale family producers have been expelled: in 20 years, the number of agricultural establishments has halved in the region, concentrating land ownership in fewer hands. Against this backdrop, the question arises: how did they manage to find a model that is efficient without agrotoxins, so much so that now even scientific books are describing it?

The art of redesign

The Kiehr's home is the heart of the farm

The Kiehr’s home is the heart of the farm

The house is spacious, beautiful, warm. It is not “country style”, but Juan-Erna style. There’s wooden furniture that they brought from Chaco, a living room with bookshelves and family mementos, LCD and video player, a wood burner for Winter, and a large kitchen which makes this house a home. There is a second house for guests. Kiehr speaks proudly of his daughters: Teresa is a doctor and Sara a physiotherapist. Both are married, and they have given him three grandchildren. Sara lives in Germany, and the family tend to visit her there every year. He has an almost pictorial view of the countryside: “I’m surrounded by soy operations. It’s all nature, but dead. There are not even birds.”

While Kiehr serves the mate, Cerdá explains: “The moment arose when we were talking with Juan about the design of the production. For example, there was a lot of sunflower, but Juan suggested changing it.” Kiehr: “We did it for years with herbicides that we put down before the crops grew. But they left the ground dusty, strange. Then the slugs came and we had to spray again, and again for the weeds, and again for pests such as grubs, until I said: enough. I decided to throw myself into cattle farming.” La Aurora has 297 hectares for crops, and 334 (hills and valleys) which are more suitable for cattle.

They eliminated the sunflower almost entirely and began working the work of consolidating the cattle (breeding and wintering), as a basis for the re-launch of the farm’s production, but without chemicals. Cerdá: “The cattle did not make as much profit as the crops, but it worked as a great base and compliment to rethink the production of wheat, oats, barley, and sorghum, not dependent on inputs.”

Outline and Achievements

The agroecology applied in La Aurora, in a few lines:

– Healthy, free cattle, fed on natural grasses, with calves that reach 500kg and are sold as steers for export, which feed the ground with dung and urine. They have between 600 and 700 heads. Kiehr strategically installed 25 drinking troughs (around which the animals will naturally defecate) to cover the entire farm.

– As such, the ground is strengthened, enriched, fertilised, and better retains moisture and nutrients. And whilst feedlots are surrounded by the stench of rot in which the animals live, in La Aurora there is never a smell of dung.

– The plantations are done with intercropping, legumes such as red clover, which helps avoid the growth of weeds and fasten nitrogen, a fundamental nutrient for the soil. As such the polyculture has avoided the use of fertilisers since 2001.

– The nourished and vital soil, added to the systems which allow the natural habitat of insects which, also, bring benefits to the ecosystem, means there is no need for herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, or chemical fertilisers.

It is easier to write this than do it, but the result (see the graph, below) is that without counting the profit made by the cattle, Kiehr obtains almost the same yield from the crops as neighbouring farms (10% less), but with much lower costs: US$300 a month less per hectare in the case of wheat. In the 80 hectares that he is cultivating today, that saving represents US$24,000, and also saves the earth, the water, and the deluge of ever less useful poisons, and chemicals which fertilise little and badly: just two or three nutrients, versus the 16 found in La Aurora’s natural process. Without those nutrients that plants are weak (although drugged by fertilisers) and as such become victims of fungi and disease, which means more fungicides and chemicals are needed, an eternal merry-go-round that benefits you know who.

Kiehr avoids all of this, covers his costs quickly, spends less, obtains almost the same, but healthily and without artificial stimulants, and has a greater profit (US$762 per hectare versus US$549 using a conventional system), as well as a better return: the farm returns US$5.15 for every dollar invested, against the US$1.13 recovered by a conventional producer.

Cerdá: “If the system works with GMOs and agrotoxins, it is because of its enormous inefficiency, and because an unnatural, corporate logic reigns, like that of a drug addict, based in the chemistry and the money. We aim for healthy agriculture that re-establishes the biological processes, doesn’t degrade resources, and is efficient in terms of production. It is a view to become independent, to not be tied to a model that poisons and impoverishes.”

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The chart shows the advantages that agroecology (yellow) has over more traditional farming methods (black and white), listing (L-R) differences in yield, profit, direct costs, yield needed to cover costs, and return per dollar invested.

How it works

The farm uses its own seeds. Cerdá: “How are you going to patent something that is alive, as the labs aim to do? Even if you have changed a gene? It all goes to show that GMs are not good for the country, its citizens or producers. Food is a plant’s main asset, destined to be consumed by butterflies, caterpillars, pests which we consume without knowing the side-effects or its capacity to evolve. These seeds and transgenes do not help the producer, they only indebt them, and end up leading to an extraction in the richness of the soil which we then give away through the export of the grain for animals and oils, above all to China.”

Kiehr adds: “And it’s not true that it’s to feed the world, because there is more than enough food. The problem is that they are badly distributed. This is done purely for commercial interest. And the Seed Law, for Monsanto, makes me think of Colombia: people can’t keep their own seeds, it’s illegal, they burn them if they are not the ones that the corporations have sold them. I find it hard to believe that the government will push through such a conservative law, but they also do good things with the IPAF (Institute for Small Family Agriculture): it’s contradictory, I don’t know if this is a right-wing government disguised as leftist but, of course, I could be wrong.”

The agroecology applied in this farm also allows for the growth in cattle stock, more efficient fattening, and real stability in the production (95 tonnes per year). In the biggest drought of the last 70 years (2008/9), 15,000 heads of cattle died due to a lack of food in the region. But La Aurora suffered no losses, thanks to the ground and the way the crops had been worked, they resisted the debacle.

Is agroecology related to organic? Cerdá: “Organic producers in this region are following the same conventional model, just without pesticides.” The “organic” certification ends up being a supposedly healthy niche of the same fumigated market, but at prohibitively high prices. “When I see them, they talk about what deal they’ve done, how much they’ve made, but they never talk about the soil, how to work it. Their farms are good, but they yield much less than La Aurora [1,000kg of wheat per hectare against 5,000kg], and they use chemical fertilisers, which is like drugging the plants to make them look good, with products that prejudice the biosystem of the soil, and drain towards the underground wells generating contamination and toxicity due to nitrates and nitrites. You buy a crispy, colourful lettuce but because of those fertilisers you don’t know what ill effects it could bring you. Organic is not looking at things in an agroecological way.”

Juan is partially driven by the desire to leave a healthy, working business for his family

Juan is partially driven by the desire to leave a healthy, working business for his family

Capital and motivation

“It is important to highlight that the technologies that were used in this farm can be easily appropriated by producers, given that there are no large capital investments needed, it is more about the engineering, about an advisor-producer compliment and the motivation that is generated by understanding what you are designing and managing,” says the Sarandón-Flores book in the chapter about La Aurora, highlighting that the results achieved “show the potential for this focus to be applied in extensive systems [read: large farms] of temperate climate like those in the Argentine Pampa region.”

Continuing the mate, Cerdá says: “Juan was able to live without shocks, his daughters were able to study, travel, and although some see his F100 as a sign of poverty, Juan doesn’t own a 4×4 as he is not interested in inventing costs to lower his how much he is taxed on his profits, nor is he interested in the costs that owning a 4×4 would entail. He is on top of his taxes, and the entire farm is run legitimately, by the book”. Kiehr adds another feat: “I have never had to take out a loan.”

The INTA and other entities started to approach him, sometimes in a strange way, and they have been obliged to say agroecology more regularly. The visitors get excited, like when they visit Guadalupe Norte, Santa Fe: the Vénica family’s Naturaleza Viva farm.

At La Plata University’s Faculty of Agriculture, Kiehr and Cerdá had a public of 400 students. “It makes me feel very good,” says Kiehr, as if resuming what his wife Erna calls the wonder years. They met in Chaco at the start of the 70s, her as a nurse and him as a member of the Lutheran church, both collaborating with the Qom community, then called Toba. “The work changed me,” says Kiehr. “I understood what it meant to not have so many things, but to be more of a person. When I returned it took me a while to adjust. My neighbours would spend time speaking badly about this person or that, and I felt an emptiness. I am happy now, doing something that makes me feel useful, connected with other people. I am thankful for them, and they changed my life.”

Chinese News

Cerdá brings up a new subject: “In Rosario I’m working with soy producers, who are starting to move away from the GM path. They can’t do it overnight, like an addict it’s impossible to be cured from one day to the next, but they are starting to be convinced that it is feasible.”

Maybe its sheer caution: in China the publication known in the West as Science & Technology Abstracts Newspaper, from the Ministry of Science and Technology, published an article in April which reflects the official preoccupation for the consequences of mass consumption over two decades of foods that are by-products of GM soy (animal fodder and oil), which contain glyphosate, which starts to be tied to birth defects, rises in the cases of cancer, many of them unusual, infertility, and other illnesses. ‘We must face the harm caused to 1.3bn Chinese by imported GM soy’, is the title of the article by Mi Zhen-yu, Air Marshal and former vice president of the Military Science Academy, among other things.

Hypothesis: if in China, the world’s principal consumer of these things, they are realising the same things that the rural towns close to the fumigations, producers such as Kiehr, or scientists such as the late Andrés Carrasco came to understand, it is possible that a large change in this story is being sown. Perhaps one day, as Sarandón thought, agroecology will be the name of all agriculture.

Meanwhile, Cerdá is advising a neighbour’s farm in Benito Juárez, belonging to documentary filmmaker Valeria Mapelman, who in just two years made her own reconversion to agroecology, which is turning out to be more profitable that she had hoped, making more than she would have made leasing it to poole planting, who enter the business until they fly vulture-like towards other bubbles.

The birds have returned to the farm.

Kiehr smiles.

And so it’s possible to hear the silence whilst looking towards the horizon with your feet on the ground.

What is being designed in La Aurora is a novelty: as its name indicates, perhaps it also means the breaking of a new dawn.

 

Translation by Kristie Robinson

lavaca logolavaca.org is a communications co-operative founded in 2001, and produces a web page, monthly magazine MU, and radio programmes that can be reproduced freely. Our home is the cultural centre ‘MU Punto de Encuentro’, at Hipólito Yrigoyen 1440, Congreso, Buenos Aires.

Posted in Development, Environment, Social IssuesComments (1)

The Indy Eye: Buenos Aires People’s Climate Event


Sunday marked the People’s Climate March, a global day of action against climate change ahead of Tuesday’s UN summit, when world leaders will gather in New York to discuss proposals about how to best tackle the environmental crisis. Activities took place in over 2,600 cities around the world, including a 310,000-person march in New York, the biggest ever climate gathering. In Buenos Aires, environmental groups joined with campaigning group Avaaz to host an activity in the Bosques de Palermo, next to the Planetarium. The relaxed event gathered a few hundred people to enjoy the talks, music, theatre, and activities for all the family, whilst people mingled, exchanging ideas and mate among the crowds who had flocked to the park to enjoy the first day of Spring.

Photos by Patricio Murphy, Laura Campolongo, and Pablo Santana. 

 

Photo by Laura Campolongo

Volunteers who arrived early helped finish up the banners (photo by Laura Campolongo)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

The afternoon’s activities included music… (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

… talks, like this one ‘What is Climate Change?’ … (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

… art workshops using recycled materials … (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Laura Campolongo

… and entertainment. (photo by Laura Campolongo)

 

Some were there to speak up about specific causes, such as this activist who was against proposed changes to Argentina's seed law, which will see seeds being patented (photo by Laura Campolongo)

Some were there to speak up about specific causes, such as this activist who was against proposed changes to Argentina’s seed law, which will see seeds being patented (photo by Laura Campolongo)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

One of the organisers then gathered people for the central call to action (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

The atmosphere was festive (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

This man pledged to make a positive change (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

‘Awakening of consciousness’ (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

Photo by Patricio Murphy

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

Photo by Patricio Murphy

 

Photo by Patricio Murphy

The day ended with the crowd gathered inside a ‘heart’ for a group photo (photo by Patricio Murphy)

 

Photo by Laura Campolongo

Against the backdrop of the planetarium (photo by Laura Campolongo)

 

Photo by Pablo Santana

Photo by Pablo Santana

 

Photo by Pablo Santana

Photo by Pablo Santana

Posted in Multimedia, Photoessay, TOP STORYComments (2)

Argentina, Turning its Back on Ecology: Interview with Sergio Federovisky


Sergio Federovisky

Sergio Federovisky

Sergio Federovisky is one of Argentina’s most established environmental journalists. President of La Plata’s environment agency, he is also the face of the television programme ‘Contaminación Cero‘, and for the past 20 years has been working as a journalist, adviser, and consultant in environmental policy.

Federovisky’s fourth book, ‘Argentina, de espaldas a la ecología. Apuntes para una política ambiental’ (Argentina, turning its back on ecology. Notes for an environmental policy), has just been released by Capital Intelectual. The book is an in-depth analysis of the politics around environmental issues in Argentina, from the 1980s to today. As somebody who has witnessed the subject’s slow installation into the political agenda, Federovisky writes with frank authority, and is honest in his criticism of the country’s shortfalls.

Kristie Robinson sat down with him to talk about the book, and where Argentina stands on environmental issues in general.

How did the idea come about to write this fourth book? Is it a follow on from your previous works?

In reality there is a kind of thread in all of my books related to the environment, and following this thread I try to tackle the subject from different aspects, and evaluate what has happened over the past 20 or 25 years. When I started to work in environment-related issues – before even Eco ’92 [the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio] – the prevailing discourse regarding environmental issues identified two problems: an institutional weakness and a lack of awareness. Twenty-five years have passed, and today there are many institutions and there is awareness. There could always be more awareness, but this has undoubtedly advanced a lot. So the big question is, if these two factors have been resolved, why – if we look at all the environmental issues – are all of the indicators worse than before? One of the possibilities is that this formula, this diagnosis, was wrong. Or that different questions have to be asked.

In this book I try to analyse why environmental policies are not public policies, why suitable people – professionally speaking, with a background in the environment – are never sought for the top environmental posts. And all this leads to the conclusion that the political class are not really aiming to resolve the problems, but to have them work themselves out. Because if they really were aiming to resolve the issues, at least one of them would have been solved. They would put suitable people in the environment ministry, they would adopt real, serious public policies, and fundamentally, they would establish concrete rules and laws and wouldn’t leave it all in the hands of the awareness that the society is supposed to have to resolve the issues.

And do you think this is done on purpose? 

I don’t think that it is done on purpose in the sense that this is not a product of evil. But yes, it is deliberate in terms of understanding the way the system works. Policies that resolve environmental problems would have to go against the prevailing model. It can’t work in any other way. For example, if Latin American countries wanted to resolve the problems of natural resource extraction, they would have to go against the capitalist system – the only one we know. And the political class, in general, doesn’t go against the system, it accompanies it – any change in it would go against their interests.

Rubbish in the streets of BsAs (Photo: Agus Carini)

Rubbish on the streets of Buenos Aires (Photo: Agus Carini)

Let’s take a very contemporary example, which is the issue of rubbish. It would seem that this issue could be resolved if I separate my rubbish, and all of that. But how is it possible to ask that society reduce its production of trash when the system pushes people to consume ever greater amounts of things and produce ever more waste? Everyday the system is telling me, as a citizen, ‘consume, spend, buy the things that come in the greatest amount of packaging, buy as much as you can’. The message is either contradictory or fallacious, and I think it’s the latter, as the two things are not possible together. So which one wins?

The economy, always! Even so, it still surprises me how everybody is so inside this system, celebrating it.

Well, those are things that I broach in my previous book – myths. What we have achieved in the past 20 years is the installation of many myths which allow us to carry on, but which don’t look for the solution to the problem. The contradictory concept of ‘sustainable development’ is the biggest one, for me. ‘Environmental awareness’ is another one. ‘Zero trash’ is another one. They are all things that we want to achieve, which are going to be marvellous when we get there, and in the meantime our collective consciousness is calmed.

And these myths work in a way that allows the existence – survival – of other things. The best example is energy. We can go for oil, fracking in Vaca Muerta, for nuclear energy in Atucha II, to get us through the day-to-day, knowing that other alternative energies, such as wind power, exist and we will develop them one day.

Short-term thinking – on a political level, nobody is thinking beyond their four years in power. You highlight in your book the concept of ‘sending into the future the problems of today’.

One of the things that is essential to understand, and then to try to change, is that environmental issues have two characteristics that are opposed to conventional politics. One is that they are medium to long-term, and we are not used to having medium or long-term policies. And the second is that environmental matters are very complex, whereas politics are very linear. What do I mean by that? Climate change is the best example here, to understand and interpret this situation, you have to understand that it’s a complex system – there are multiple variables, multiple inputs, and politics thinks of this complex problem in a linear way. So it is necessary to find the right language to explain the situation, and move away from the linear way of trying to tackle a problem from just one place. For example, I have a lot of discussions with soy producers, and they say, regarding chemical spraying, that the problem lies with the application of the fertilisers – that is linear thinking! Applying just the right dose will not resolve the problem of weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate, nor that the soil is retaining ever more fertiliser, nor the related social issues – it requires a full analysis of the complexity of the issue.

TAPA-federovisky-grandeAnother reason why it’s so complicated is that ‘environmental problems’ don’t exist, ontologically and philosophically speaking, because their solutions are not within the realm of the environment. A problem is considered a problem when the possible solution lies within the same framework that defines it. And as environmental problems are solved by the economy and by politics, they are not really environmental problems, but the collateral damage of economic decisions. To solve environmental problems properly – to resolve climate change, for example – you have to refer to the economy, not the environment. As Nicholas Stern said: ‘Climate change is the greatest market failure in the world’s history’. So the possibility of resolving these issues lies within politics and economics, and this makes it more difficult, as it is more hidden.

In your book, you talk about the media and the role they play in the system. How do you view them in terms of their treatment of environmental issues?

Very poorly. They have the same idea as the political class – the idea that the environment is an accessory. That it’s not a central question. So one of the things that I underline is that many media outlets have interests in areas that are very complicated for the environment. Soy, for example. The big media have interests there, and they allow these interests to coexist with articles or politically correct protests about environmental issues, without establishing the connection. In recent years, every now and then the issue of deforestation gains some coverage, for example. But the media doesn’t ever make the link between 75% of the land being sown with genetically modified soy and the destruction of the native forests, when there is a direct connection there. The media maintains this logic that everything will be resolved with greater awareness. The position of the media here is, unfortunately, very poor.

Do you see this changing? 

It’s difficult to see that it will change, as the media in Argentina have stopped being journalistic enterprises and have become big businesses, which exceed journalism, and these interests are very present. For example the media in Argentina, apart from very few exceptions, is pro-nuclear. They all think that nuclear energy is a symbol of technological independence when it is very well-known that it is not the case, and that is doesn’t offer a serious or consistent input.

There are a lot of environmentalists who think nuclear energy could be a solution when facing the problem of climate change.

For me it’s an absurdity. My view on this is very simple. Firstly, it’s debatable that atomic centres really do have a null effect in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, because if you take the whole process of mining uranium, it generates a lot. But let’s say that it does reduce emissions, why would I choose a system of producing energy that has a really high risk? I have been to Chernobyl, and the truth is, if you could imagine that devastation in four or five places in the world, you would realise that it’s ridiculous, even when the risk is low. Regarding risk, I use a concept that is called mathematical expectation, which establishes the probability of damage of those incidents that have a low chance of happening, but have a really high impact. Such as a plane falling down – it happens very rarely, but when it does, everybody dies. Well, this is the same. Very few nuclear power stations explode, but when one does, it’s Chernobyl. Or Fukushima. So I think the cost-benefit relation is bad. If the cost of reducing emissions is the possibility of a Fukushima, then it’s bad.

Wind turbine (photo courtesy of Enarsa)

Argentina has enormous potential for wind power (photo courtesy of Enarsa)

So how do you see a sustainable future for Argentina, in terms of energy?

Argentina has to sit down and discuss, calmly -and perhaps now is a good time due to the energy crisis the country is facing- what the energy matrix will be in 50 years time. For this, the first thing that must be accepted is that alternative energies are not token gestures. They have to be integrated into the matrix and be just another option. Today, in the mentality of those who make decisions, alternative energies are a token gesture – they produce them because it looks good to do so.

Yes, the renewable energy investment dropped from US$539m in 2012 to US$94m in 2013, and much of that money went instead towards Vaca Muerta and oil exploration.

Because it is considered a token gesture. Something politically correct, that should be promoted, but not an essential part of the energy matrix, when Argentina has an enormous potential – particularly in terms of wind power. I also think that Argentina – like the rest of the world – is prisoner to an energy matrix in which oil is favoured. Al Gore – and we’re talking about Al Gore, not somebody who is against the system – said that we cannot say that we are aiming for alternative energies to flourish in the current system, which subsidises oil enormously and says that alternative energies are expensive. They are expensive, but if they received the same benefits that oil received, the price would drop quickly.

And do you think that this will happen?

I am not very optimistic. The capitalist system only replaces things that have a replacement within the confines of the system. It’s what happened with the hole in the ozone layer, which was resolved when the system found a replacement that didn’t put the system itself at risk. The day that the system finds a replacement for the oil matrix that doesn’t put the system at risk, then it’s probable that cleaner energies will replace the old system. But until that happens, it’s going to be very difficult.

How do you see Argentina compared to other countries in Latin America?

Argentina is very behind. It has enormous professional capabilities, and grey matter, and a greater level of development and lower inequality than other countries in Latin America. It is in a better condition than other countries, and yet it wastes that potential to seriously invest in environmental issues.

And why is this?

I think it is down to a real lack of clarity and strategic thinking from a political class that is very enamoured with the idea of development per se. Because the country has to develop, to grow, and so oil is necessary for growth and nuclear energy is a sign of development. There is an idea that is almost Soviet when it comes to thinking of development, with heavy industry, etc. In the last ten years, the development model has involved natural resource extraction – mining, oil, soy – taking as much as possible from our land in as short a time as possible, and as such the environment is a problem.

The small things that have been achieved – and I really do think that they are very small, compared to what could be done – have been thanks to social resistance, or social demands in a certain area. And the political class took note. But the few things that have been done have been very emblematic: the bike lanes, the marketing campaigns about separating rubbish; they don’t challenge the system.

What gives you hope? 

I don’t see things in those terms – I don’t think it’s about having hope or not. I think it’s as I say at the end of the book: if we believe that having an unpolluted river is better than having a polluted one, if we think it would be better to live in a city where the sewage is treated, if we think that the environment should be taken into account when making economic decisions, then we should keep moving forward, as the idea of having environmental policies still makes sense.

‘Argentina, de espaldas a la ecología’ was published in May by Capital Intelecutal and is now available in bookshops for $100. 

Lead image by Sub Coop

Posted in Environment, Social IssuesComments (0)

Latin America News Roundup: 25th April 2014


President Santos speaks before the Constitutional Court (photo:  Juan Pablo Bello - SIG)

President Santos speaks before the Constitutional Court (photo: Juan Pablo Bello – SIG)

Court Declares Colombia’s Membership in Pacific Alliance ‘Unconstitutional': The Constitutional Court of Colombia has declared law 1628, which approves the country’s entrance into the Pacific Alliance, unconstitutional. The court rules the law, which was sanctioned last year, was missing two articles when it was sent to Congress to vote on, making the process “irreparably flawed”. According to the ruling, Colombia’s membership of the trade bloc will be suspended until the government sends another, complete bill to be approved by Congress. Foreign Trade Minister Santiago Rojas said the decision will not affect existing commercial relations with the other members of the bloc, only the law governing Colombia’s integration into the alliance. The Pacific Alliance was formally created by Colombia, Peru, Chile, and Mexico in June 2012. Since then, the countries have removed visa restrictions for travel within member states and, in February 2014, signed a deal to eliminate trade tariffs on 92% of products. At the time, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the bloc, called the members the region’s “dream team”.

Peru – Indigenous Groups Occupy Country’s Biggest Oil Field: Indigenous communities have occupied Bloque 1-AB, the country’s largest oil field, demanding that a clean up operation of the field’s contamination begin. Carlos Saudí, president of the Federation of Native Communities of the Río Corrientes (Feconaco), which is leading the study, said: “We demand the presence of a government commission as a part of the population of the Río Corrientes basin is contaminated by lead and heavy metals, as proven by various studies.” Yesterday he confirmed to the press that the occupation, which began on Monday, would continue until a solution was found to the problem. Bloque 1-AB is situated in the country’s north-west Amazon region, close to the border with Peru, and has been running for 40 years, under the operation of Argentina’s Pluspetrol since 2001. When Pluspetrol took control of the field, the government asked that the multinational clean up of over 100 sites contaminated by the previous contractors, something that has not yet been done. Last year, Peruvian authorities confirmed a state of emergency in the region after discovering high levels of lead, barium and other minerals in areas around the site, including the waterways. But local residents say that neither Pluspetrol nor the government have done anything about the situation. As a result of the blockade, the field’s output has halved to 17,000 barrels a day.

Military personnel protest in La Paz (photo: AFP/Aizar RALDES/Télam/aa)

Military personnel protest in La Paz (photo: AFP/Aizar RALDES/Télam/aa)

Bolivia – Tension over Military Protests: Military leadership dismissed 702 soldiers who took part in recent protests against discrimination in the Armed Forces. The Military High Command accused the protesting soldiers of attempting a coup d’êtat, and justified the decision by stating that “discrimination is no excuse for sedition and for promoting an attempted coup.” The soldiers, from across the three armed forces, were dismissed for “deliberately missing work, committing acts of sedition, mutiny, political actions, and collectively violating the dignity and honour of the Armed Forces.” Hundreds of low-ranking soldiers marched through the streets of several Bolivian cities as part of a protest, which also included strikes and hunger strikes, demanding the “decolonisation of the Armed Forces”. This would entail a reform of the Organic Armed Forces Law to eliminate discrimination throughout the military hierarchy and to promote equal treatment and professionalisation for non-commissioned officers.

Non-commissioned in the Bolivian Armed Forces are mostly of indigenous background, unlike the majority of officers. Protesters were joined by the ‘Red Ponchos’, an indigenous aymara militia, whilst the Bolivian Workers’ Central union (COB) and other social organisations rejected their demands, denouncing an infiltration of the protest by right-wing elements.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (1)

Argentina News Roundup: 25th April 2014


Metropolitan Police supress protest at Borda Hospital (photo courtesy of FM La Tribu)

Metropolitan Police supress protest at Borda Hospital (photo courtesy of FM La Tribu)

Macri’s Acquittal on Borda Repression Case Overturned: An Appeals Court overturned yesterday a ruling that acquitted Buenos Aires City Mayor Mauricio Macri and other high government officials of the repression at the Borda mental hospital last year. The first instance ruling acquitted Macri, his deputy María Eugenia Vidal, Chief of Cabinet Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Security Minister Guillermo Montenegro, Urban Development Minister Daniel Chaín, and Health Minister Graciela Reybaud due to lack of evidence. However, it was overturned on appeal, on the grounds that “the government must exercise its hierarchical power directly if it knows that its subordinates are not fulfilling their specific obligations or duties,” and their responsibility on the incidents will now continue to be investigated.

On 26th April 2013, 200 members of the Metropolitan Police entered the Borda Hospital at 7am and violently supressed patients, doctors, legislators, journalists, and other people who gathered to protest the demolition of Protected Workshop 19 by the city government.

New Court Order To Discover Whereabouts of Luciano Arruga: The Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) and the family of Luciano Arruga presented yesterday a habeas corpus demanding the state immediately take “all the necessary actions” to determine the whereabouts of the missing teenager. Arruga has not been seen since January 2009, after allegedly being detained in a police station in Lomas del Mirador, in the province of Buenos Aires. In 2013, after years of campaigning by the Arruga family and human rights groups, the case was changed from ‘missing person’ to a ‘forced disappearance’ and taken up by a Federal Court. CELS lawyer Maximiliano Medina explained that yesterday’s court order runs parallel to the main criminal investigation, and is focused on finding Luciano. “The habeus corpus puts the victim at the centre, finding the body,” said Medina. “This order means that all bodies of the state must work together and provide Luciano’s family with answers. If they do not, there is the chance it could face international sanctions.”

Félix Díaz, leader of the Qom community, was officially recognised for his commitment to the environment (photo courtesy of FARN)

Félix Díaz, leader of the Qom community, was officially recognised for his commitment to the environment (photo courtesy of FARN)

Annual Environment Report Published: The Foundation for Environment and Natural Resources (FARN) presented its annual report on the state of the environment in Argentina yesterday. Presenting the report, Andrés Nápoli, director of FARN, said: “Despite complaints, protests, and judicial actions, the subject of the environment remains distant from the public agenda.” He went on to say that citizen participation remains the key to political change in these key areas. During the presentation, which took place in La Trastienda and was attended by more than 300 leaders from the environmental sector, Félix Díaz, leader of the indigenous Qom community in Formosa, was awarded for his work on the frontline of the environmental struggle and for his work for indigenous rights. The 400-page report is a comprehensive analysis of the current situation in Argentina in areas as diverse as agrochemical use, mining, soy production, the Ley de Basura Cero (Zero Rubbish Law) and Ley de Bosques (Forests Law), the Riachuelo, glaciers, and energy policies. It also addresses public opinion on the environment and what can be done to increase awareness of the country’s issues, and also how to get them on the public and legislative agenda.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Argentina, Round Ups ArgentinaComments (0)

Editorial: Argentina’s Unsustainable Path


The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth report on Monday, entitled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Head of UN climate panel, Rajendra Pachauri, has said he hopes the report will “jolt people into action”.

His plea may well fall on deaf ears in Argentina, where climate change is a non-topic, and as a result the standard response to its dangers is inertia.

The lack of action is worrisome – 97% of the world’s scientists agree that climate change is happening and temperatures are set to rise at least 2°C by the end of the century (those are conservative estimates – many predict rises of up to 6°C) unless drastic action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, and fast.

The effects of climate change are already being seen around the continent, and Argentina is not immune. Already, between 2000 and 2010, over 600 extreme weather and climate events occurred in Latin America, leaving near to 16,000 fatalities and 46.6m people affected, generating economic losses amounting to US$208bn. Last year’s flooding in La Plata, which killed 89 people and caused US$500m of damage, is one local example of such an event.

Hielo Azul glacier is one of the popular spots for trekkers willing to put in an extra effort and see its cool green water.

Hielo Azul in Río Negro is one of many of Argentina’s retreating glaciers (photo: Brian Funk)

According to the much-anticipated report, rising temperatures will affect Argentina’s agricultural productivity, and the country will face changing rain patterns, with increased rainfall -and likely flooding- in the pampas and east (including Buenos Aires), and droughts in the west, as glacier retreat and lower rainfall lead to decreased run-off in the rivers.

The report also highlighted that 4.3% of global deforestation now occurs in Argentina. Deforestation in the north, particularly in the Chaco forest, has accelerated in the past decade due to agricultural expansion, and is now the most important source of carbon emissions for the north of Argentina.

However, these dramatic findings were greeted by all but radio silence in Argentina. There was no mention of the subject in Monday night’s cadena nacional, and no media front-pagers. In fact, none of the national media even covered the report’s release, preferring to focus instead on Sunday’s superclásico and whether Boca should have had a penalty or not.

Whilst the government and media ignored the report, various environmental think tanks, foundations, and NGOs responded quickly to the long-awaited findings. The Foundation for the Environment and Natural Resources (FARN), released a statement in coalition with Greenpeace, Vida Silvestre, Avina, and others, which said: “The development of more active policies on climate change adaptation are needed, as we have reached a situation in which we don’t have any more time to lose.

“This IPCC report has been endorsed by governments – including Argentina’s – on the international stage; and more than 100 scientists from our country have collaborated in its development. Politicians can no longer stand with their arms folded in front of this evidence.”

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

Images of deforestation in the Chaco (Photo: Greenpeace)

So Where Does Argentina Stand on Climate Change?

In 2010, the last year for which figures are available, Argentina’s carbon emissions were 315m tonnes, accounting for 0.63% of the global total. In a world with a globalised economy, with international trade and many nations with export-based economies, there are endless debates about how to calculate what each country’s share of carbon emissions should be. Population can be an indicator as to how an emissions budget should be carved up, giving each of the countries an equal share based on population.

Argentina’s population, at just over 40m, is 0.56% of the global total. So in terms of per capita emissions, the country is not doing too badly, compared to say, the US, which has 4.4% of the world’s population, but is responsible for nearly 20% of emissions. But compared to Bangladesh, which has 2.13% of global population and is responsible for just 0.37% of global emissions, Argentina is contributing more than its fair share. What is undeniable is that to prevent its share from rising, any future economic growth in Argentina must be done without increasing emissions – and even by lowering them, if the world is to set itself on the right track. (Science dictates that 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is a ‘safe’ upper limit, but there are currently 400).

And that is where we find a sticking point, as lowering emissions through clean development is not on the government’s agenda. No, the country is looking to fossil fuels to power any future growth. After last month’s discovery of a new oil field in the province of Río Negro, expected to yield 15m barrels of crude, head of YPF, Miguel Galuccio, spoke of an “energy revolution” and highlighted how growth and development can be generated around the country as a result of these reserves and the huge Vaca Muerta gas fields, leaving no doubt about the key role these dirty energies will play in Argentina’s development.

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

Silos of soy in the fields of Junin. (Photo by Nicolás Lope de Barrios)

Add to that the government’s 2011 Strategic Agrifood Plan (PEA), which targets a 60% national increase in grain production by 2020, paying little attention to the inevitable increase in deforestation and emissions (agriculture is currently responsible for 36% of the country’s greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions).

These energy and agricultural plans – along with the national silence on the subject – seem to contradict  Argentina’s claims on the international stage, which on closer inspection sound more like an excuse for inaction. In its second report to the UNFCCC in 2007, the government admitted that the country is vulnerable to climate change, and that various government-commissioned studies have laid out both mitigation and adaptation strategies. However, it insists that substantial non-refundable international funds are necessary for their implementation. A request that is unlikely to be granted.

The World Bank estimates that poor countries need US$100bn a year to try to offset the effects of climate change, something that has been deemed an unrealistic demand by richer nations. If the historic polluters can’t dig deep enough to help the poorest who are already feeling the worst effects of climate change, they certainly won’t be helping Argentina – a member of the G20 with a growing economy – on its way to sustainable development.

If Argentina wants to mitigate the effects of climate change it will have to do so by itself, following the lead of the many countries, taking the threat of climate change seriously, that have started to do so. Let’s return to Bangladesh. The country has a GDP that measures a quarter of Argentina’s, for a population almost four times as big, yet it has managed to invest US$10bn in climate change adaptation. And so if other, poorer countries are managing to find the way, why is Argentina not acting?

Published earlier this year, the comprehensive Fourth Edition of GLOBE Climate Legislation Study analyses Argentina’s lack of legislation and regulation related to climate change, highlighting the 2007 presidential decree 140/2007 (the only piece of legislation related to climate change), which declared the “rational and efficient” use of energy a national priority. The report says: “Investments necessary to mitigate emissions and adapt to climate change are conceived as politically pitted against social investments in health, education and poverty in a zero-sum game. As such, Argentina has neither enacted comprehensive legislation related to climate change nor made an official pledge to reduce GHG emissions by a measurable difference.”

YPF station in Vaca Muerta, Neuquén (photo: Foto: Pepe Delloro/Télam/aa)

YPF station in Vaca Muerta, Neuquén is one of the many new sites set for exploitation in Patagonia (photo: Foto: Pepe Delloro/Télam/aa)

And even that presidential decree is risible, as “rational and efficient” use of energy seems to set aside investment in renewables, focusing instead on the development of Patagonia’s oil and gas fields. According to Bloomberg’s annual report on green energy investment, published in January, public and private investments in renewable energy in Argentina actually fell from US$539m in 2012 to just US$94m in 2013. (This compares to US$1.4bn in Chile last year and in Mexico the figure was US$1.1bn).

All of this leaves those who do care about climate change wringing their hands: no leadership from the government, no media coverage, and no public pressure are combining to set Argentina on a very unsustainable path indeed.

It can be argued that Argentina’s total emissions are only 0.63% of the global total, and as such the country will unlikely play a major role in tipping the world over the 2°C warming threshold. But does that mean it should endorse policies that go completely against the tide of global consensus?

No, business should not continue as usual. For climate change to really be tackled, all nations need to be working together in setting real, attainable targets in terms of future carbon emissions. The quick lining of pockets may seem like a good idea today, but what will the legacy of this plan be for the people of tomorrow? An old, Native American concept from the Iroquois talks about seventh generation sustainability. In making a decision, it is considered how the actions would affect those around in seven generations’ time, and there is an entire process around thinking through if the idea will be beneficial to them. In Argentina’s case, the undeniable response to the government’s current inaction is a resounding ‘no’, and the country – while perhaps not having to look 150 years ahead, could well benefit from a less shortsighted approach to its management of natural resources and its land.

But unfortunately, when ecology comes up against economy, the former inevitably loses out.

@kristiejr

Lead image by Alejandra Bartoliche / Télam

Posted in Analysis, Current Affairs, Environment, Social IssuesComments (6)

Latin America News Roundup: 29th January 2014


Minister of Rural Development, Nemesia Achacollo at the press conference when the state of emergency was declared. (Photo: Jose LIrauze, presidencia.gob.bo)

Minister of Rural Development, Nemesia Achacollo, at the press conference when the state of emergency was declared. (Photo: Jose Lirauze, presidencia.gob.bo)

Bolivia – State of Emergency Declared after Flooding Kills Dozens: Bolivia has declared a state of emergency after heavy rains led to flooding which has left dozens dead and over 20,000 displaced. According to Vice President Alvaro García Linera, 80 of the country’s 339 municipalities are facing flash floods, flooding, hailstorms and building collapses as a result of the rains, which look set to continue into February. The rainy season started in October, but this year has been particularly bad, with at least 43 people dead so far. The situation culminated when rains caused a mudslide on Saturday in the town of Rurrenabaque in the country’s Amazon basin, in which eight people died. In the central region of Cochabamba, 11 rivers have burst their banks. Troops have been sent to various parts of the country to help bring aid to those affected.

Uruguay Ranks top in Environmental Performance Index Categories: Uruguay has ranked top in two categories of the annual Environmental Performance Index (EPI), a global ranking of countries’ environmental results. The country performed best in the sections of ‘air quality’ and ‘forest’, overall ranking 70th out of 178 countries, with a score of 53.61 out of 100. The EPI is an annual report put together by Yale University, using data from dozens of environmental organisations from around the world. It bases its ranking on two sections: environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The former includes health impacts, air quality, and water and sanitation. Under ecosystem vitality, water resources, agriculture, forest, fisheries, biodiversity and habitat, and climate and energy are all taken into account. Switzerland was ranked first overall in the poll, while Chile was top in Latin America, coming 29th with a score of 69.93. Haiti ranked lowest in the region, coming 176th out of 178. The report stated that: “The poorest performers are those with significant political or economic strife, suggesting again that other pressing issues can sideline effective environmental policy.” Argentina ranked 93rd, with a score of 49.55.

Campaigns Close ahead of El Salvador and Costa Rica Elections: Ahead of this Sunday’s elections, presidential hopefuls in both El Salvador and Costa Rica have closed their electoral campaigns. In El Salvador, current vice president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the governing FMLN party, is leading the five candidates by a 14-point margin, although an estimated 15-20% of the 4.9m voters are said to be still undecided. If the winning candidate fails to win an absolute majority on Sunday, a second round will take place on 9th March. The winner will take power on 1st June and will govern the country for the next five years.

Further south, in Costa Rica, polls indicate none of the 13 candidates will win the 40% needed to avoid going to a run-off in April. Leading the race are former mayor of San José, who is running for the governing PLN party, leftist José María Villalta, and right-leaning businessman Otto Guevara. Anticipating a run-off, candidates are said to be looking at potential alliances, although none have officially commented. Just over 3m people will vote in Sunday’s election.

Posted in Current Affairs, News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

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