Can we have our island back?

There’s something very interesting going on in South America at the moment. It doesn’t seem to be getting a huge amount of attention, but if it catches on it could have far and wide implications for all of us.

Indigenous communities there have lived off their tribal lands for generations. While many still do, others lost theirs long ago as natural resources were discovered, large-scale farmers and loggers moved in, and national parks were created. Few, if any, got compensated or received any stake in the financial riches that often followed their expulsion.

Indeed, kicking people off their land has been a bit of a pastime for many governments over the course of the last century or so. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it at the time. Why, the British government expelled an entire population from an island in order to help out the Americans with Diego Garcia. Doesn’t seem right, somehow.

But things seem to be changing. Indigenous and local groups, backed up by a growing band of (brave) new leaders have begun wrestling back what many people see as rightfully theirs. Assets are being transferred back into state control, but not just any old assets. Oil and gas fields, as it happens.

Bolivia recently declared it was nationalising foreign energy companies, and Ecuador recently seized the assets of American giant Occidental (although this was part of a specific dispute – oil companies in general have nothing to fear, or so they’re telling them). Hugo Chavez (who seems to hold two jobs – one President of Venezuela and the other to annoy the hell out of George Bush) was behind recent moves to bring Venezuela’s oil assets under the control of the state oil company. This hasn’t gone down too well with the Bush administration generally, nor Exxon Mobil, Chevron or ConocoPhillips who run some of the fields.

Protests against foreign ownership and control of national assets are nothing new. The key difference here, though, is that they’re government-led. We’re not talking about a bunch of armed rebels such as those working for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta in Nigeria (MEND). These guys just blow up the odd pipeline or kidnap the odd oil worker, and then retreat back to the bush. (MEND may be new on the scene, but this battle has been going on for some time).

It’s hard to argue why a country shouldn’t have control of its natural resources. Maybe the tide is beginning to turn against the global corporate machine, and oil and gas could just be the start.

Motorola (RED) – the new ‘wristband’?

The Independent is one of my favourite newspapers. Often a little different, always daring, up front and in your face, and not afraid to tell it how it is.

Tuesday, May 16th’s edition is no different.

Dedicated to Africa (not entirely, but pretty close) – and in particular the continent’s battle with HIV/AIDS – even the adverts have a philanthropic, humanitarian feel. Ads for credit cards which donate money ‘as-you-spend’ to HIV/AIDS research, and a mobile phone (I’ll leave you guess the colour) from Motorola which pledges a percentage of its sale price. ‘Pay-as-you-go’ becomes ‘give-as-you-go’ with UK operators donating 5% of your call spend to the cause (but only if you use one of these Africa-friendly mobiles). Getting that bunch to agree to that is an achievement in itself, let’s not be mistaken.

Even the story about Prince Harry’s girlfriend has a nice African touch – she’s from Zimbabwe, apparently (and very nice, too).

Helped along by Bono of U2 fame (who stars as the Editor for the day) and his Product RED charity, Africa is back on the agenda big time. Let’s hope today’s Independent sticks around in bars, cafe’s, doctors surgeries and hairdressers long enough for people to take notice. The very fact that it’s there, and it’s high profile (and it’s in red) is good enough for me.

Now, where did I leave that white wristband?

Short stories from the canoe – Part 4

There it was! Right in front of my eyes, perched at the front of my canoe. I couldn’t believe it. The last remaining Black Billed Hawksdiver anywhere in the world. As it sat there, struggling for breath, I couldn’t help but think that I’d saved it – the last one. If I hadn’t been here it’d probably have just crashed into the water.

Something to tell the grandchildren, for sure…

Building the Olympic ‘dream’

I’ve tended to shy away from reproducing other people’s work on my blog. After all, it’s a bit lazy, isn’t it? But today I’m making an exception. Conservation is often accused of being too negative, always looking for the worst in everything. Although this isn’t strictly true, the people working behind the scenes often remain up-beat, plugging away in even the darkest hours. Perhaps it is because of this that I found this article so moving. Taken from the Rainforest Portal:

A month ago I made the audacious statement that the rainforest movement had achieved a victory in protecting Indonesia’s rainforests and orangutans from a huge oil palm plantation. I made this statement fully aware that Indonesia’s rainforests were in frenzied crisis and hoping that supporting those in government working to conserve rainforests from such atrocities could make a positive difference. This hope has proven fleeting.

I now realise I was wrong, am retracting the victory claim, and have realised there is little or no hope for Indonesia’s large and intact ancient rainforests. I apologise for my error.

The latest news is that a Chinese company intends to set-up a massive timber plant in Indonesian Papua to process rare rainforest timbers for Olympic construction. This will set the stage for the final destruction of these relatively intact rainforests. The second story details the ongoing power struggle between various Indonesian factions for and against the massive oil palm project. These actions – which are so grossly unjust and unsustainable, and our inability to stop them – show just how impotent the rainforest movement has become.

Together with the nearly four million hectares of deforestation already occurring annually in Indonesia’s rainforests, the new forces of rainforest destruction arrayed against Indonesia’s rainforest ecosystems are simply too great. Nothing can stand against a billion Chinese consumers all aspiring to the wasteful and deadly living standards of Americans and Europeans.

Ecological Internet will continue our campaign to support those in the Indonesian government that oppose these projects. But frankly, there is little hope that anything but the smallest little fragmented bits of Indonesia’s rainforests will ever be protected, and perhaps I was crazy for saying there was. Let’s keep on trying nonetheless…

Dr. Glen Barry