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October 1st, 2014

The Movement to Ban Fracking Has Momentum

By Wenonah Hauter

Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure of participating in the People’s Climate March, along with our allies and thousands of citizens from around the world. We stood together in New York City to demand that our world’s leaders take definitive action on climate change. Of course, a big part of our mission on climate change is our fight to ban fracking, and while 2014 has seen some major milestones for our efforts, perhaps the most important of these is the evidence that our movement is growing. In order to get you inspired for the 2014 Global Frackdown, we created a video to show you some of the faces that are out there working hard around the country to ban fracking. As our video demonstrates, we are building on this momentum, and we need you to join us on October 11 to show just how strong we are.

Throughout 2014, we have witnessed citizens taking action across the nation, as well as around the globe. At Food & Water Watch, we have been keeping track of this progress as evidenced by the growing number of actions taken by communities against fracking. Last year’s Global Frackdown was a huge success and 2014 is shaping up to be our biggest Frackdown yet. It’s a good thing our movement is growing because we need to show our strength now more than ever.

The oil and gas industry has been pushing its agenda for expansion, particularly in California, Florida, Maryland, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In fact, just this week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved Dominion Cove Point in Maryland, one of the largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities in the nation, and the only one that’s located close to a community. In New York, our efforts to birddog Governor Cuomo have proven successful. The Governor himself commented on the tenacious and persistent nature of our efforts to remind him that we don’t want fracking in the Empire State. So far, mainly due to the determination of this movement, we’ve kept fracking out of New York.

We are honored and proud to stand with each and every one of our allies in this critical fight against fracking. Will you join us? You can join an already existing event or even plan to host one by visiting Globalfrackdown.org, and we encourage you to share your stories with us. Help us spread the word about this year’s Global Frackdown by sharing this video.

Where will YOU be on October 11?

Offsetting: Financial Hocus-Pocus Posing as Conservation

By Eve Mitchell

What Is This “No Net Loss” Concept?
  • Greenwashing of environmental destruction
  • Financial hocus-pocus masquerading as conservation
  • A false assumption that nature exists to serve us
  • An effort to put a price tag on nature
  • An attempt to sell biodiversity offsetting to a skeptical public
  • A critical call for you to write the European Commission and tell them, nature is not for sale!

The EU No Net Loss Plan
Is Just No Good

Stand Up for YOUR Natural Heritage Now

 Write NOW
(Before 17 October Deadline)
 

 

You can’t end up right if you start out wrong. At least it’s awful hard (and takes a big helping of blind luck).

The EU is showing every indication of making a very bad turn indeed on biodiversity offsetting, and you can help us put on the brakes. Biodiversity offsetting is all the rage lately because it offers a seemingly easy way for governments to allow habitats to be destroyed by companies that can afford to pretend to make up for the damage somewhere else. It doesn’t work.

Offsetting is getting a lot of attention, including from esteemed organisations like the London Zoological Society. The zoo hosted a conference on offsetting in April attended by a host of representatives of companies that make money from this kind of thing. They were addressed by no less than the (now former) UK Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Patterson offering official support.

An extreme version of the erroneous biodiversity offsetting is the No Net Loss concept. No Net Loss (or NNL in the jargon) says you can somehow recreate the nature you destroy without really causing any “damage” at all, even if you don’t “replace” like-for-like (so destroying a salt water marsh and replacing it with forest of the same “value” equates to no overall damage done – it’s mind boggling).

We’re not buying it and neither should you. Here’s how you can help: 

The European Commission is holding a consultation on adopting NNL as a key principle in Europe. The consultation is part of implementing the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020 (which “aims to halt biodiversity loss and to conserve ecosystem services”). The Strategy’s Action 7 is “to ensure no net loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services”. The Commission proposes to use NNL and biodiversity offsetting to do it.

The Commission says the purpose of its consultation is “to gather views” about that proposal. We need to tell them we don’t like it one bit.

Nature Not For Sale has written a letter to the Commission we can all sign. Please do.

The letter explains our reasons for rejecting offsetting.

It tells the Commission, “Nature is a common good that all share rights to and have responsibilities over.” You get the idea. Please help us tell the Commission to get the EU headed in the right direction. I did.

September 29th, 2014

What Will it Take for the EPA to Act on Fracking?

By Emily Wurth

CraigStevensDimockWater-FBSQIt is well known that drilling and fracking contaminate water and it’s happening all across the United States. Yet President Obama and his administration, including the Environmental Protection Agency, are not only letting this happen unchecked, they’re actively promoting and expanding fracking. That’s why we’ve long been blowing the whistle and demanding answers.

Last Thursday, a Resources for the Future Policy Leadership Forum featured a conversation with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Craig Stevens, whose water is contaminated from a gas pipeline, and I attended the forum hoping that we could ask Administrator McCarthy a single question: why won’t she meet with the families affected by water contamination from drilling and fracking for oil and gas?

Read the full article…

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September 26th, 2014

Notes from the “Wicked” Weed Summit

By Genna Reed weeds and tractor steering wheel

On September 10, the Weed Science Society of America held its second summit to discuss the so-called “wicked” problem of herbicide resistance in agriculture, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. In a fitting sequel to the 2012 meeting with the same charge, many of the speakers got close to tackling the true problem at hand, our chemical-intensive paradigm in agriculture, but never quite got there. Perhaps one of the top reasons for this was the make-up of the audience members, 40 percent of which identified themselves as hailing from the agricultural chemical industry, which has an interest in selling more agrochemicals. Only about 5 percent were farmers.

Read the full article…

Fighting for a Frack-Free Europe

By Katherine Cirullo

BlogThumb_GFD_Geert_globalfrackdown_global_frackdown

Geert deCock, Food & Water Europe Policy Officer, is joining this year’s Global Frackdown to fight for a ban on fracking.

With just two weeks until the Global Frackdown, we called up our colleague Geert deCock in Brussels to get the low-down on Europe’s fight against fracking — the progress that’s been made and the work that still needs to be done. Prepare to be inspired.

Geert, to start us off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Why did you become involved in the fight against fracking?

My name is Geert deCock. I’m Belgian, and I work for Food & Water Watch in Brussels for the European program. My main focus is to campaign for a ban on fracking in Europe and to generally support the groups that oppose fracking in Europe, providing knowledge about fracking, its many harmful impacts and that ways in which we can organize to stop it.

I became involved in the fight against fracking when living in Alberta, Canada (Edmonton), quite close to the tar sands, where I was exposed to a lot of the rhetoric around oil and gas extraction and its “supposed” benefits. That’s when I became politicized about energy and climate and fossil fuels. I saw that there was such a huge gap between what the government was saying about “minimal” risks of tar sands extraction and the real experiences of nations and communities — the very real health impacts tar sands extraction has on people living in those areas and the environment. There’s such a close parallel to fracking where, again, the industry claims the benefits are huge and the risks are minimal, when really, if you talk to the people on the ground, it’s the other way around.

Food & Water Watch is calling for a ban on fracking and an aggressive transition towards renewable energy, all across the globe. Why is it important that communities around the world become involved in this fight, not just those in the U.S.?

Right now in Europe, we don’t have particularly large-scale fracking operations yet. So, it’s important to ban fracking now, before it is too late — before fracking begins and contaminates local water supplies, pollutes the air, industrializes once agrarian communities and really exacerbates global climate change. Read the full article…

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September 25th, 2014

The Science is Still Out on GMO Moths

By Genna Reed Soy_Field

Like many relatives, vegetables within the cabbage family share a similar trait: they’re prone to invasion from pests. Cornell University is at work to address the problem, but if its current “solution” is any indication, it scientists definitely need to go back to the drawing board. The USDA has made available for comment, the environmental assessment of the field trial of the genetically engineered diamondback moth, cooked up in a lab to supposedly protect cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and their kin from pesky invaders.

Read the full article…

September 23rd, 2014

How your Tax Dollars are Helping Distort the GMO-Labeling Debate

By Tim Schwab

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbThese days, one of the biggest debates around food concerns labeling genetically engineered foods. State-level ballot initiatives and legislative efforts to require labeling of GMOs have sprung up in more than twenty states, with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont already declaring victories for consumers by mandating labeling.

Yet our nation’s taxpayer-funded cooperative extension program, created by Congress 100 years ago with a mission to conduct education and outreach around important agricultural topics, has been largely silent in the raging public debate. If so desired, the USDA and our fifty states could marshal their army of extension officers and specialists to weigh in on GMO labeling. Perhaps wisely, extension has not taken a position.

However, individual extension employees are speaking out, and in the places where extension pops up in the GMO-labeling debate, it’s almost always taking the side of the biotechnology industry, using industry studies and talking points to make their case. Extension specialists from the University of California are speaking out about how GMO labeling will increase the cost of food or will discourage consumers from eating healthy food. Extension officers from Cornell University and the University of Connecticut call consumers uninformed or emotional, then proceed to recite industry spin about GMOs.

Such statements not only evidence a bias toward industry, they also are grossly inaccurate and highly misleading. Let’s examine the argument regarding higher costs associated with GMO labeling, the main talking point of industry-funded lobbying campaigns against labeling efforts. Such claims are undergirded not by independent science, but by industry-funded studies. This spring, the biotechnology industry funded a Cornell University professor to conduct a study that found—surprise—that GMO labeling will increase costs for consumers.

While the University of California’s extension highlights the findings of industry studies, it ignores those funded by GMO-labeling advocates or independent sources, which arrive at different conclusions.

Indeed, the GMO labeling debate sure would sound different if extension asserted itself as an impartial disseminator of information, noting that independent studies often show that labeling GMOs will not substantially increase the price of food for consumers, while those studies funded by industry groups, which have a financial interest in prohibiting labeling, show the opposite.

Or what if extension officers instead noted that sixty-four nations require GMO labeling or that many countries have banned or restricted production of GMOs? They could also mention that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and independent researchers have long complained that industry restricts independent research.

The law that created extension charged it with disseminating “useful and practical” information about agriculture to the public, but extension officers are only telling one side of the story on GMOs, that of industry, which is neither useful, nor practical—nor accurate. And the public debate on this controversial issue has suffered for it.

Want to learn more about the 100-year anniversary of extension? Check out the rest of the series here.

Why a Carbon Tax Won’t Save the Climate

By Mitch Jones

Factory_PollutionAs the UN meets this week to discuss our climate future, here’s one thing they probably won’t be talking about but should: how finance and regulating carbon don’t mix.

When Food & Water Watch created the Common Resources Program in April of 2011, we did so to push back against the finance industry’s desire to use nature as a new source for profits. In the international community this effort is referred to as the “financialization of nature”. The basic idea is that new commodities are being created, which then necessitates new markets for those commodities. On top of those markets, Wall Street hopes to build new financial markets and speculative financial instruments like those that brought down the global economy in 2007. The most egregious example of this may be Citibank Chief Economist Willem Buiter’s dream of a global water market that would not only rival, but also swamp the oil market in size and would have “futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments — puts, calls, swaps” built on top of it. Financial speculation in the housing market was bad enough, but in water? It’s unthinkable, unless you’re a Wall Street banker.

So, what’s this got to do with pricing carbon? Quite a bit actually, because the same failed economic myths that support the desire for water markets support the idea of pricing pollution. We’ve already documented the problems with pricing pollution, including carbon, through cap and trade. And while cap and trade is still being pushed at the state and regional level, nationally the push is for a carbon tax.

The problems with the carbon tax begin with its regressivity. A regressive tax is one that hits households with lower income harder than those with higher income. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under a $28/ton carbon tax, the bottom 20 percent of income earners would pay 2.5 percent more in taxes, while the top 20 percent would pay less than 1 percent more.

The politics of passing a carbon tax will make this inequality worse. While the carbon tax is already regressive, the most likely proposals to get bipartisan and corporate support couple it with a reduction in individual and corporate taxes that make it even more so. Unfortunately, the politics that would have to come together to pass a carbon tax would likely necessitate just this sort of tax swap to get the votes to pass.

Beyond the regressive nature of any carbon tax that could get the votes to pass, we should also be clear that using “pricing” to reduce pollution is the wrong approach. Pricing relies on the idea that “market signals” are the best way to regulate pollution. Put a price on it, and businesses and households will respond by polluting less. The goal has been to replace environmental regulations with these price and market signals.

We should be clear, polluting companies want to have a set cost they can factor into their pricing of their products, that is, pass on to us, instead of having to respond to regulation that will clean up their businesses and reduce their pollution. And they want that cost to be unrealistically low.

Yvo de Boer, the former chair of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has proposed a carbon tax he thinks can work. That carbon tax is set at €150 (or about $193) per tonne. For comparison, the current price for carbon in the EU’s trading scheme is about €6.30. Proposals for a carbon tax in the U.S call for a tax in the $20 -$30 per tonne range. Even if we accepted the questionable economics of financializing carbon, and we don’t, then these proposals are woefully inadequate when it comes to stopping climate change. But, it’s at a level acceptable to some major corporations that want to be seen as “doing something” on climate change.

Instead of a “price on carbon” we need an aggressive cap on emissions, a prohibition on allowing states to use gimmicks and false solutions to achieve the cap target (be it pricing, offsets, or switching to natural gas), a focus on efficiency, and greater investment in bringing truly renewable energy up to scale to provide the electricity we need. And these aren’t solutions we can wait for Wall Street to bring to us. We need to build power in our communities, put pressure on our decision makers, and ensure that we’re a unified voice calling for effectively regulating pollution.

The climate can bear no less.

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September 22nd, 2014

Keep the Pressure On: A Message From Bill McKibben

Join us at the Global Frackdown on October 11.

      FIND AN EVENT

Do you need proof that the movement for climate justice is growing? How about this: over 400,000 people attended yesterday’s People’s Climate March in New York City and thousands more attended affiliated actions across the world. The press is already calling it the largest climate march in history. It’s exciting to see so many people engaged and active around climate change, and it’s hopeful to see thousands of people calling upon our leaders to make more responsible decisions regarding our energy future.

We need to build on that tremendous energy and make strong demands of our elected representatives at the local, state, and national level. The October 11 Global Frackdown offers just that opportunity.

Last year, there were hundreds of actions across the world calling for a ban on fracking, and this year there are already over 200 partner organizations in the Global Frackdown. One of those partner organizations is 350.org, and environmental leader Bill McKibben—whose voice and leadership have been so critical to sounding the call for strong action on climate change and the People’s Climate March—filmed a short video encouraging people to build on the climate march and take action on October 11.

Watch the video, share it with your friends, and sign up to attend or hold an action on October 11.

Join the Global Frackdown.

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September 21st, 2014

Don’t Frack Montana’s National Treasure

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

By Eleanor Guerin

I first worked in Glacier National Park during the summer of 1985, while still in college and studying biology. I knew I wanted to work in the wild. Coming from the flat land of Louisiana, I had only traveled east of the Mississippi and the only mountains I knew were the Ouchitas and the Appalachians. So Montana was at first overwhelming. I had never seen mountains loom so large; they felt oppressive. But I soon grew to love the park and the West in general – so much so that after one more stint working in environmental education in New Hampshire, I never went East again. I returned to Glacier as a ranger and naturalist the next year.

Visitors from all over the world come to Glacier. As a National Park Service park ranger/naturalist, I was fortunate to meet and talk with countless people from across Europe and Asia, the Middle East, Australia — really every continent. Many Europeans visit Glacier to see what is known as the “American Alps.” Folks come either for a quick drive on the not-to-be-missed road through the park or to spend days hiking the backcountry. And Glacier truly is a backcountry park. Roads take one only so far; while there is much to behold along the hairpin turns and thousand-foot drops of the main road, it’s the trails that lead to unimagined wildness. In the backcountry of this park, I sensed both my smallness in, and oneness with, the land. I yielded to the wind, sun and snow, to lightning and thunderstorms. I felt redeemed by the waters and life and purity of it all.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them "23 feet, 2 inches away from a 'griz' near Old Man Lake," according to a note on the back of the photo.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them “23 feet, 2 inches away from a ‘griz’ near Old Man Lake,” according to a note on the back of the photo.

Two intertwined features of Glacier will always stay with me: wildlife and water. And they both are threatened by what’s happening near the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the state of Montana: fracking. I have tracked fracking issues around the country from Pennsylvania to my home state of Louisiana, to the west in Wyoming, Montana and in California where I’ve made my home for 27 years. For some living in poverty, as on the Blackfeet Reservation bordering the eastern edge of Glacier, allowing drilling and fracking may provide temporary economic relief. But it has the terrible potential to be a double-edged sword. Some argue there’s no harm. Others fight with all their heart to protect the land. With secret chemical concoctions injected deep into the earth, I gladly err on the side of protection.

Montana may not be a highly populated state, but it contains an unrivaled natural treasure worthy of government oversight and protection. BLM lands are federal lands, intended to benefit ALL the people. The potential for fracking to contaminate both ground and surface water that sustains the people of Montana through agriculture and drinking supplies, as well its wildlife, cannot be ignored. Once damaged, there’s no turning back.

I return to Montana and Glacier every couple of years. The park is an old friend; the land has held my heart ever since my first foray there. But I have watched the glaciers, for which the park is named, recede during a few short decades. I know species like the pika become more threatened by warming temperatures. And now, the very water that sustains both humans and animals could become the next casualty of economic development. We must be vigilant.

eleanorguerin.headshotEleanor Guerin is a guest blogger to Food & Water Watch. Since leaving Glacier in 1987, Eleanor has made her home in Sonoma County, California, where she makes her living as a massage therapist, health advocate and Certified Senior Advisor. She gathers data for the California Phenology Project at Pepperwood Preserve and volunteers in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.”

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