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Blog Posts: Common Resources

April 15th, 2014

You Get What You Pay For

By Mitch Jones

I’m glad to see that the leaders of three powerful and influential global organizations have decided to highlight the importance of fighting climate change. Last week International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim used a meeting of finance ministers from governments around the world to push for a movement to stop climate change. Unfortunately, the method they chose to endorse will do little to help.

All three leaders are pusing carbon pricing as the means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We frequently hear that pricing carbon is the only way we are going to solve the problem of emissions and avoid catastrophic climate change, but policies that seek to rely on pricing to control pollution have a terrible track record.

Large corporations across the economy are planning for carbon prices, whether in the form of a cap-and-trade program or a tax. The reason for this could be that, of the main options for fighting greenhouse gas emissions pricing, carbon pricing is the easiest way for a company to pass on costs to consumers. Major investments in renewable fuels would undercut the business of some of these corporations, while regulations against carbon pollution will be harder to foist off on clients, customers and consumers.

In the absence of any serious and enforceable cap on pollution – that is, a regulation – pricing schemes are just a means of allowing major polluters to pay-to-pollute. Carbon pricing avoids strict enforcement to stop polluting without exceptions; it relies on market signals to magically fix our environmental crises. Pricing carbon, in any of its forms, is just a pay-to-pollute policy that does nothing to truly alter the behavior of financial and corporate interests. Instead, it lets them pay for the “right” to continue their environmental degradation and exploitation.

So, while it’s good that the heads of three important institutions recognize the importance of fighting climate change and are willing to speak out on the issue, they needs to change their tune. Instead of false solutions designed to let polluters keep on polluting, we need to vigorously move beyond reliance on the fossil fuel industry, invest in truly sustainable renewable energy, and place real enforceable limits on pollution. 

April 14th, 2014

Dear London Zoo: Have you Really Thought Through This Offsetting Thing?

On the endangered species list, the poison dart frog would likely not support the idea of biodiversity offsetting.

By Eve Mitchell

There’s an odd notion doing the rounds that you can destroy an ecosystem and make a copy of it somewhere else if you fancy putting up a building or something. Sadly a good number of folks who should know better have bought it hook, line and sinker.

One of the fish that’s got hooked on this line is the London Zoological Society, the power behind the world-famous London Zoo based in Regent’s Park in London. This June the Zoo will sponsor and host an international conference on biodiversity offsetting that claims to be “the first global conference on approaches to avoid, minimise, restore, and offset biodiversity loss.” In theory, if you make a very long list of every single thing—living and not—in an ecosystem, and then assign a notional price to each item on the list, you can tear it all down and go shopping somewhere else to replace it.

On reflection, this is clearly nonsense. For starters, it’s a bit hard to decide what to put on your list. Ants? How many? How do you arrive at a hard count? How do you account for the ages of the ants in the population, or the roles they carry out, or the size of the colonies they live in what number of trees? How far away is their food from those colonies? The water? Is it a healthy population or not?

That’s just the ants; an offsetting list has to go through this for every single thing in the place you want to destroy. It doesn’t take long to understand why these notional lists end up being based on guesswork and modeling. It isn’t the reality of the place but on a rather romanticised version that fits the offsetting concept. Starting from the end and working backwards to force a fit isn’t a good start. That’s not me talking: a 2003 study of offsetting published in Ecological Management & Restoration found this kind of oversimplification “often ignores the variability that is so important to accurately describe, predict, and recreate current and future [eco]system attributes.”

What’s worse is that offsetting simply doesn’t work.

One 2012 study of 621 wetland sites published in PLoS Biolog showed that even a century after “restoration” biological structures were 26 percent fewer and biological functioning was 23 percent lower than in sites that had had been left alone. That cannot reasonably be called the “no net loss” the Zoo’s conference claims offsetting delivers.

Fraud is also a major problem, probably because there is no requirement for an international registry of offsetting schemes, so there is no oversight on what companies are claiming to have done, which results in double counting of biodiversity “credits” and other forms of corruption. When offsetting is taken overseas, indigenous communities get caught up in pretty promises that never come true, so construction companies can avoid complex planning requirements. This is not good.

So what is the Zoo thinking?

A look at the co-sponsors of the Zoo’s event explains a lot: we find a French construction conglomerate, an organisation set up to promote offsetting and “protect private funds” that reports to the French Parliament, and World Wildlife Fund for Nture (WWF), widely known in South American conservation circles as a group keen to help agribusinesses label industrial GM soya production “sustainable.” With friends like these does biodiversity need enemies?

Conservation means not destroying biodiversity. “No net loss” is a pay-to-destroy charter designed to ensure that concern for sensitive biodiversity or habitats does not interfere with industrial development gaining planning permission. The concept is rooted in austerity-driven economics, not a genuine attempt to conserve. It’s about profit. It’s greenwashing. Conservation means tough regulation and meaningful enforcement.

The wonder of the natural world is in its complexity, its subtlety and its ability to result in very different outcomes with very small alterations. Humans, wondrous as we also are, just aren’t capable of replicating this. The hubris of those who claim they can, and that they can do it with “no net loss,” needs to be put firmly down. We’d really like the London Zoological Society help us do just that. Pulling out of this conference would be a good start.

View the letter to Conservation Programmes Director Jonathon Baillie.

View the Food & Water Europe press release.

Take action: http://fwwat.ch/ProtectBiodiversityinEurope

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March 28th, 2014

Species Extinction on the Installment Plan

By Mitch Jones

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was in recognition of the increasing threat to the species from the ongoing drought in the Southwestern United States—and the main threat of habit loss and fragmentation—much from oil and gas development. In 2013, the lesser prairie chicken population fell more than 50 percent from 2012, leaving fewer than 18,000 of the birds living in its historic range.

While it is certainly good news—long overdue good news—that the FWS has listed the lesser prairie chicken, there’s a big caveat. Included in the listing is a loophole allowing oil and gas industry to “avoid further regulation” of their activities, so long as they enroll in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA’s) range-wide conservation plan. In other words, the oil and gas industry has an out from regulation if they make a financial contribution to “offset” the damage down to the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat.

Such plans are growing increasingly popular and are part of the broader push to financialize nature. Known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), the idea seems simple enough. Supporters argue that paying a landowner to preserve a particular natural feature—in this instance rangeland, but it could be forest or wet land—offsets damage done by industry in other areas. Through PES, a gas company wanting to drill can continue to do so and will be allowed to kill—or “take”—lesser prairie chickens so long as it pays into the plan. It’s species extinction on the installment plan.

Such plans really just undercut strong protections for endangered and threatened species. But even with this giant loophole, it could have been worse. A consortium of industry and nonprofit groups, lead by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), has been pushing a “habitat credit exchange.” While somewhat similar to the plan adopted by the FWS, the habitat exchanges would go much further in pushing the financialization of nature. Instead of merely establishing a means for landowners to be paid to offset industrial destruction and disruption of lesser prairie chicken habitat, the exchange would allow for trading of conservation credits, and for the eventual price fluctuation that comes with commodity exchanges, as well as the temptation to hedge and speculate on those changes in price.

Instead of allowing oil and gas companies to pay-to-endanger threatened species, the Fish & Wildlife Service should enforce strict rules to preserve habitat and protect those species.




March 21st, 2014

Five Ways You Can Make a Splash On World Water Day

By Katherine Cirullo

Water is life. Water is also a limited resource that’s under high demand. Here at Food & Water Watch, we’re fighting a global battle to protect the right to safe, clean, affordable water for everyone now, and for years to come. It’s a battle that we care deeply about and it pervades many of the issues we work on. That’s why tomorrow, on World Water Day, we’re inviting you to dive in and join us in the fight to promote sustainable water management, protect the human right to water and prevent the impending global water crisis. Here are five ways you can take action on World Water Day.

1. Add these two inspirational gems to your spring reading list: Blue Future and Ogallala Road. These profound, yet comprehensive books offer unique perspectives on the past and future of the water crisis:

Blue Future: Protecting Water For People and the Planet Forever by internationally best-selling author and Food & Water Watch Board Chair, Maude Barlow, exposes the handful of corporate players whose greed is impeding the human right to water. The latest in Barlow’s best-selling series, Blue Future lays out the obstacles ahead in this looming water crisis, as well as the many victories that have been won by communities in the fight to protect their right to water.

Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning by Julene Bair is a powerful personal history of her family’s western Kansas farm located on the Ogallala Aquifer. In the narrative, Bair reveals the struggles she grappled with when watching her family switch from dry-land farming to unsustainable irrigation. The story is a telling glimpse into one aspect of the world’s water saga. Visit her website for book events and appearances.

2. Encourage your classmates to kick the bottled water habit and to take back the tap! Be the force of change on your college campus by joining this year’s Tap-A-Palooza contest: Read the full article…

March 12th, 2014

The Weakest Link: Problems and Perils of Linking Carbon Markets

pollution tradingBy Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Using carbon markets to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is nothing new and hardly effective. However, despite the absence of significant emissions reductions from cap-and-trade initiatives and the all-but-complete collapse of the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), supporters of carbon markets now want to begin linking markets together.

This idea is backed by claims that doing so will increase economic efficiency and allow emissions reductions to happen at a lower cost, but combining many broken pieces does not make an effective whole. In reality, linking provides a way to allow pollution at the lowest cost to polluters.

In January, California and Quebec officially linked their carbon markets. The reasoning behind linking argues that it will allow polluters to purchase emissions reductions credits at the lowest price ­­­— if credits cost less in Quebec, polluters in California can purchase credits on Quebec’s market, ultimately making polluting more affordable. Read the full article…

March 11th, 2014

A Secret Trade Deal is Threatening Our Safety


Click here to take action.

By Jim Walsh

Don’t feel bad if you’re not familiar with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This controversial trade deal has been negotiated mostly behind closed doors, and the text of the agreement was only recently made available to Congress. Even now that the text is available, members of Congress still have to jump through a few hoops to gain access. Over 600 multinational corporations have been made “special advisors” for the purpose of assisting our trade representatives draft the deal, and everything we know about the contents of the TPP is from leaks.

Inside the trade deal, known as the TPP, is a provision that will allow companies to challenge — as illegal trade barriers — any government policies that purportedly infringe on corporate profits.  In short, a corporation could sue federal, state and local governments if it believes that a law or regulation will negatively impact its bottom line. This is scary in all sorts of ways.

Companies could challenge local laws that prohibit or delay the environmentally dangerous practice of hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas. Already a company incorporated in Delaware is challenging Quebec’s fracking moratorium under a similar investment provision under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Read the full article…

Caught Between a Watershed and a Marketplace

By Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper

For the life of me I cannot understand why anybody serious about reducing or stopping the degradation of our nation’s waters would consider that trading pollution is a realistic way to do so. So far, the only regulated interests that have expressed interest in trading pollution on my local river are those that cannot meet their current pollution caps, and so they would like to simply pay more money to keep on polluting. While some refer to it as cap-and-trade, we’d be more accurate calling it trade-and-pay.

In a variation of the same approach, there are a few such interests that have managed to acquire surplus capacity to discharge into a waterway and so they hope to get paid to sell their surplus capacity to somebody else who can use it. For the years I have been sounding the alarm about the evils of trading, at least some environmentalists have argued that it is pointless to oppose this because the “train has already left the station.” But, isn’t the point to reduce pollution, not make sure everybody pollutes up to their regulated limits?

Even if the math and the concept of market incentives like trading somehow make sense to you in the context of conservation, then how about moral problems? How does it square with basic fairness that somebody can pollute in one place and then compensate for it elsewhere with cash? The answer is that it is outrageous, and deferring pollution onto others is a recipe for fundamental injustice. Consequently, those with the most attractive “marketplaces” will get the very best environmental quality money can buy. Everyone else will get only trades as the gap between environmental haves and have-nots will just get wider. Read the full article…

February 26th, 2014

Maryland’s Manure Transport Program: Welfare at its Worst

Meet Scott Edwards of Food & Water WatchBy Scott Edwards

In 2012, the federal government spent just under $50 billion dollars to help those who struggle to get by—the elderly, poor and underserved. It’s certainly a lot of money, but pales in comparison to the $92 billion the federal government spent that same year on corporate welfare programs – subsidies, grants and tax breaks for some of the most profitable big businesses in the nation. Right here in Maryland, though, there’s a state-managed corporate welfare program going on that deserves everyone’s attention: Maryland’s Manure Transport Program, or MTP.

The MTP was first enacted in 1999 to help address the excess piles of chicken manure produced on the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the big poultry industry. Today, the four companies who grow their chickens in the state produce about a billion and a half unsustainable pounds of manure each year. Since most of the farm fields in the counties where these birds are grown are saturated with phosphorus, continued land application of this waste by contract growers is resulting in significant runoff that is contributing greatly to a dying Chesapeake Bay. By some estimates, the agricultural industry accounts for 64 percent of the phosphorus loads entering the Bay. Read the full article…

February 19th, 2014

It’s Time for Factory Farms to Pay Their Fair Share

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

By Wenonah Hauter

Big chicken processing companies generate 1.5 billion pounds of fowl waste annually in Delmarva (the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia tri-state area), and it’s choking the Chesapeake Bay. Each year, Marylanders pay a small tax that goes toward the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (BRF); isn’t it fair to expect the poultry industry to pay too? Maryland Senator Richard Madaleno and Delegate Shane Robinson recently introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act (PFSA) because, when you have 305 million chickens on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, that’s a lot of chicken waste polluting the Bay.

In early February, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was quick to threaten to veto the bill—which had little chance of passing into law— because he thinks he will send a strong message to Iowa ahead of the caucuses that he stands for farmers. O’Malley has long had a close relationship with the poultry industry, so it’s really big chicken companies, not farmers, that O’Malley is lobbying for. And, as the Baltimore Sun pointed out recently, his veto message raised more than just a few eyebrows while questioning why he won’t hold the industry accountable for it’s waste problem.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world—a vital economic and recreational asset in the region. Over the past several decades, as the number of factory poultry farms has increased, this historic watershed has suffered a serious decline. Large-scale poultry companies like Perdue create an enormous amount of pollution, yet the state does not require them to contribute to cleaning up the mess that they create. Read the full article…

February 14th, 2014

Maryland Senator Richard Madaleno: My Funny Valentine

Sen. Madaleno… will you be our valentine?

By Rich Bindell

Since today is Valentine’s Day—a day reserved for those we adore, we’d like to tell you all about what Senator Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery) is doing for the people of Maryland right now that has us swooning.

Last week, after introducing the Poultry Fair Share Act in the Maryland Senate and House respectively, it became pretty clear to Madaleno and Maryland Del. Shane Robinson that many who roam the State House halls were not happy with the bill. Last week we learned that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley told a crowd at a Taste of Maryland event that he would veto it if I make it through the legislature.

Many Maryland lawmakers oppose the bill, falsely asserting that the state’s agriculture industry is the number one industry driving economic development and that the bill would destroy agriculture in the state. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Agriculture is not the number one industry driving Maryland’s economy. (You can look it up right here at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development’s own website.) And far from destroying agriculture, PFSA simply makes some of the largest polluters of the Bay—the wealthy poultry companies—pay their fair share towards Bay restoration.

Even though Maryland’s agriculture is not the economic engine of the state as the bill’s opponents wrongly claim, it is a vital industry. Food & Water Watch knows that a diversified and sustainable agricultural system on the Eastern Shore would be better for everyone, both economically and environmentally. We also know that we’re better off not consuming chickens that come from the factory farm operations that now dominate the state’s landscape. So maybe its time to base public policy in Maryland on a rational discussion of how to protect the Bay and what a sustainable food system in Maryland would look like, rather than just rehashing the same old debate where a big industry threatens to leave if they don’t get their way.

The chicken industry and its political allies, including Governor O’Malley, have launched an all out assault on the bill. O’Malley’s veto threat was timed to force sponsors of the bill to pull it before any public hearing could be held in the legislature. But right now, this chivalrous PFSA sponsor is refusing to quit. Even when the state is telling him no, Madaleno is fighting for a chance to force lawmakers to bring this issue to the table for a discussion.  

For this reason, let this blog serve as a testament to our adoration of Sen. Richard Madaleno for fighting the good fight. Sen. Madaleno, this funny valentine’s for you!




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