“This Conference arises from the need to articulate the isolated struggles from different parts of the continent, that we are suffering the same consequences”, said Carlos Pérez Guartambel, Quechua lawyer, water systems leader, and coordinator of the Continental Conference of the People of Abya Yala for Water and Pachamama [Encuentro Continental de los Pueblos del Abya Yala por el Agua y la Pachamama], celebrated June 21st to 23rd, 2011.
“The same language used by multinationals about a responsible and sustainable mining industry is repeated by Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia, [and] Alan Garcia in Peru. Not even Chávez is immune. Up against that, we see the weakness of isolated struggles”, adds Pérez. The Conference was called by the country’s principal social movements: the Azuay Union of Community Water Systems, Ecuarunari, Conaie, the Ecumenical Commission on Human Rights (CEDHU), and Acción Ecológica, among others.
Some two thousand people from 15 countries in the Americas participated in the conference, debating around three topics: Living Well or Sumak Kawsay; extractivism; and the commoditization of nature, the mass media and culture. Activities were held at a youth camp and combined workshops and debates with videos and music.
Water was at the center of the assembly; the communities have an intimate relationship with it, “especially indigenous women, who are the key to this resistance”, declares Pérez. In southern Ecuador, transnational mining interests have bought politicians, journalists and local governments, but they have not yet been able to drive a wedge into the community of campesinos, who do not live on the land but “with the land”, as the Quechua say.MORE
Creation of the Golden Pants
Each garment I have is fundamentally important. There are now 15 items last count, including my socks, underwear and accessories. Every item is celebrated, and well loved. I admiringly gaze at my uncrowded, tidy closet each morning. More often than not, (this winter especially), there is one pair of pants that make their way onto my body, day after day…the “Golden Pants”, as they have lovingly been nicknamed. Their creation took place some time back, and since that time I have worn them to the point of living in them. Their creator and designer is Berkeley scientist, Thara Srinivasan.
I originally met Thara at a UC Berkeley botanic garden dye workshop. She humbly mentioned and offered that she could do some sewing, as well as some carbon accounting for the project. It wasn’t an offer for just any sewing project, she said she could re-create my favorite pair of pants in our limited supply of bioregional fibershed fabric!
I realized immediately the uniqueness of a person who could live in the world of fabric construction, while simultaneously compile the necessary data for something as complex as a CO2 footprint. I came to realize later that in fact that these are just two of her many talents.
Thara learned to sew by constructing a pattern and making a replica of her own favorite jeans. (Not exactly a simple first sewing project.)
The idea of making your own jeans at home, without the consult of a tenured seamstress, causes Thara’s friends to laugh with amazement and respect. ”She just decided that she was going to make pants for herself that fit her the way she wanted them to…. it’s just amazing!” said her close friend and scientist Danielle Christianson.
Srinivasan received her pHd in biomimetic chemistry from UC Berkeley and did her post doc work in Ecology and Environmental Policy. ’I don’t recommend doing a post doc in a different field from your pHd studies!‘ she says with a laugh. ‘It’s not easy.’ The studying and computer time were physically exacerbating and since her completion of the post doc, she has become a certified yoga instructor, a massage therapist and a docent at the UC Berkeley Botanic Garden– teaching children about the amazing plant species we share this planet with. ’I wanted to get outside, and to be healthy, and not in pain, a life behind a computer is not a good one,’ she said light heartedly.
Perhaps it is the young students she leads through the garden and the time spent with pollinators, but Srinivasan has taken on another creative venture– she is writing a book for young adults. (It’s an incredible work, I recently had the chance to read the first draft of the first chapter). The storyline combines the essential and magical essence of honeybees, the ability for children to harness solutions to our environmental crisis, and the rapid disappearance of our world’s species. The book weaves together her broad knowledge of ecology, and her expansive creative capacities.
PAKISTAN After the Flood, Green Homes
KARACHI, Jul 28, 2011 (IPS) - Subhan Khatoon’s brand new home is nothing like the one that got washed away, along with all her worldly goods, in the 2010 monsoon floods that submerged a fifth of Pakistan and left 2,000 people dead.
Before that deluge, Khatoon, 45, could not have dreamed of owning a well-ventilated house with such luxuries as an attached toilet and a clean kitchen.
Khatun was lucky that the district administration of Khairpur identified her village Darya Khan Sheikh, on the banks of the Indus in Sindh province, as one of the worst affected, and her house as one that had been completely destroyed and, therefore, merited replacement.
Paperwork over, architects and engineers from the voluntary Heritage Foundation (HF) began designing Khatoon’s new home using locally available materials under its ‘Green Karavan Ghar’ initiative, which runs a similar rehabilitation project in the Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The vision behind the HF initiative is the use of local materials and a workforce backed by students from schools of architecture and engineering.
Established in 1984 by Yasmeen Lari - incidentally Pakistan’s first woman architect - the HF basically documents historic buildings and works for their conservation, but came forward to help with post-disaster reconstruction.
"These young professionals must learn to respect the traditional ways of building and also get hands-on training both technical and humanitarian in nature," Lari told IPS.
They have already handed over 104 homes in two villages in Sindh, all built with bamboo, lime (as opposed to cement) and mud. Not only can these be made speedily, they are cost-effective at Pakistani Rs 55,000 (647 US dollars) and have a low carbon footprint. MORE
Ecuador is the only Andean nation without any large-scale metallic mines (such as gold and copper). This unique state of affairs is about to be tested in the next few weeks when the Correa government signs exploitation agreements with Chinese and Canadian transnational miners looking to exploit the country's copper and gold reserves. More importantly, the legitimacy of the nation's Constitution, which grants nature rights, will also be tested.
There is no other economic activity in the world that would so clearly violate the rights of nature as large-scale open-pit mining. Large-scale mining, unlike petroleum, creates environmental liabilities that can endure for thousands of years. The impacts are order of magnitude worse.
Bingham Canyon, an active open pit copper mine in Utah, can be seen from outer space. It is over a kilometer deep and four kilometers across. A similar gaping hole in Chile's Atacama desert, the Chuquicamata copper mine, has eaten a good part of the town by the same name and can, likewise, be seen from outer space. The infamous Ok Tedi copper and gold mine in Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, has devastated a whole river's ecosystem, impacted fisheries and, by the time the mine closes, it will have destroyed 3,000 square miles of tropical forests, as well as the livelihood of 30,000 local inhabitants. The still-active mine disgorges nearly 160,000 tons of spent ore and waste rock per day into nearby rivers.
Water is the resource most impacted by these mines. Many mines around the world, including some in the US and Canada, are leaching heavy metals into rivers and the ocean today, and will continue to do so for thousands of years. Millions of gallons per day may have to be used, transported- and contaminated- as part of a normal mining operation. A good deal of that water will be mixed with toxic chemicals like cyanide, in order to extract the few grams of gold that is usually found in a typical ton of gold-bearing ore. Some of the water draining from mines is as acidic as car battery fluid, and more toxic.
In fact, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, mining in the US accounts for over one half of all toxic releases into the environment, and produces an unimaginable 8-9 times more solid waste, per weight, than that all its municipalities put together. The costs of stabilizing and treating some of these impacts are staggering. A mining project in Montana is the single biggest Superfund site in the US, with nearly one billion dollars earmarked to try to clean up the huge toxic mess left behind after decades of mining and milling.1 You'd think so much destruction would add greatly to a country's economy. Yet, in the US, the economy of mining adds less than 1% to the nation's Gross National Product.
Thus, it is clear that there is no way that large-scale mining can avoid serious, irreversible, and long-lasting environmental impacts. MORE
And there are troubling signs aplenty: People's Court Finds Ecuador's President Guilty of Criminalizing Protest
ETA: ECUADOR Fate of Untapped Oil Hangs in the Balance - of Trust Fund
It's been three years since Ecuador became the first country in the world to grant nature "inalienable rights" in its constitution. As the country (on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorian plaintiffs) continues in its ongoing legal battle against Chevron (formerly Texaco) for damages associated with the company's destructive practices in the Amazon, another enforcement issue is emerging: the criminalization of protest. The situation in Ecuador will certainly serve to inform policies as other countries -- like Bolivia and Turkey -- prepare to enact their own similar environmental laws.MORE
At the recent week-long Continental Conference in Defense of Water and Mother Earth that took place June 17-23 in Cuenca, Ecuador, a (non-binding) people's court heard hours of testimony regarding charges that the current Ecuadorean government, under the leadership of President Rafael Correa, is criminalizing "defenders of human rights and nature." The jury of this "Court of Ethics" concluded that "there is a systematic practice to discipline social protest and thus eliminate it...While justice is employed to criminalize the defenders of nature, it remains passive before human rights violations committed against them and against nature."
Correa was in power when the country's Constitution was redrafted to include the new language. Even at the time of the vote, some analysts were focused on how the changes might help Correa "gain and hold more power".
The people's court, which has no jurisdictional power, made a series of recommendations, including that the president refrain from making public statements that delegitimize and stigmatize environmental activists. According to Upside Down World, Correa made the following statement in 2007, at the beginning of his term: "Don't believe in romantic environmentalists. Anyone who is opposed to development in this country is a terrorist." He was referring to the community of Dayuma, Orellana which was protesting oil drilling in their territory.
QUITO, Jul 14, 2011 (IPS) - "Ecuador will not wait ad infinitum" for a decision by the international community, and "at the end of the year" President Rafael Correa will decide whether to extract oil that was to have been left underground at the Yasuní nature reserve, non-renewable natural resources minister Wilson Pástor has announced. The novelty in Tuesday's announcement was that Pástor detailed an oil production plan, in the event that drilling goes ahead. He said 14 wells would be drilled, with an investment of 8.6 billion dollars at the extremely attractive internal rate of return of 99 percent. The minister also gave the possible start date for production in the oilfields as the third quarter of 2012, and added that "the fields are less than 100 km away from an oil pipeline that has spare capacity." He was referring to the Heavy Crude Pipeline (OCP), built in Ecuador by private companies to transport oil from the Amazon jungle to the Pacific coast, and mainly owned by the Spanish firm Repsol. Pástor's announcement at the opening session of the First Latin American and Caribbean Seminar on Oil and Gas, organised by the Ecuador-based Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE), was the most detailed so far from a government spokesperson about the option to exploit the crude oil.
The Under Secretariat of Hydrocarbons Policy has already been contacting potential interested parties since March, in case the drilling goes ahead. The initiative for not extracting the oil was originally proposed 20 years ago by Fundación Natura, the largest environmental organisation in Ecuador, and has since been supported by a number of environmental and indigenous groups defending the Yasuní National Park and its buffer zone, where the oilfields are located.
The Yasuní is one of the world's most highly biodiverse regions, with more plant and animal species found in one hectare than in the whole of North America, according to scientific studies.
It is also home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous groups who are living in voluntary isolation from the outside world.
The Yasuní, declared a national park in 1979 and a World Biosphere Reserve 10 years later, covers an area of 982,000 hectares of the Upper Napo river basin.
Leaving one of the country's largest oil reserves underground would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming, by 407 million tonnes, environmentalists say.
The environmentalists' proposal was adopted by Correa when he took office in 2007, and he made it official Jun. 5, 2007 at the United Nations as a multifaceted project, combining protection of the environment and of indigenous communities with promotion of renewable energies, to which the funds would primarily be devoted. MORE
WINDHOEK, Jul 4, 2011 (IPS) - A successful entrepreneurial programme in the north of Namibia that infuses farming practices with gender-responsive environmentalism may serve as a model for other countries on the African continent.
"Rural women in Africa are burdened with providing for the household. They are the farmers, working the fields, cooking and trying to make a modest cash income on the side," says Marie Johansson, the chief executive officer of Creative Entrepreneur Solutions (CES) in Ondangwa, Northern Namibia, in southern Africa.
"You see a woman, sitting at a service station selling bread and it seems like a nice way to make an income. But poverty profiles show that she gets up at three in the morning to prepare the dough, then she makes breakfast, then she bakes the bread, then she works in the field for a couple of hours, before walking the 10 kilometres to the service station.
"There she sells bread all day long, maybe making an overall profit of five Namibian dollars (0.75 U.S. dollars). After that, of course, it’s back home to cook, clean and prepare for the next day, all the way up ‘til bedtime at midnight."
For women already locked into a harsh existence, floods, droughts and higher temperatures are unwelcome guests that affect harvests and their ability to provide.
Says Johansson: "Men do mostly not have this vicious cycle of working and sleeping, so they tend to pay less attention when land issues are discussed in climate change adaptation workshops. But the women will say that the first thing they want to do is to secure the household staple food production, no matter what.
"A woman tends to take an interest in topics like conservation farming and drip irrigation because for her it is vital to get as much food from her land as possible. ‘How do I plan my farm with these floods?’ ‘Should I maybe diversify into rice production?’ These are the questions they face."
With a handful of other women Johansson started Creative Entrepreneur Solutions in 2007. She helped poor women in the townships to strengthen their small informal enterprises, or start new ones.
In 2009 the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) approached CES to roll out a community- based adaptation programme in 20 communities in five Namibian provinces. The programme has been extremely successful.
"Our approach works because it is a bottom-up approach. If the donors walk out tomorrow, it will still work. Most donor-funded or government-initiated programmes fail because they don’t ask the people what they want and create no sense of ownership."
Instead, CES started self-help groups modelled on initiatives in India. Communities organise themselves in cooperatives to tackle climate change issues, or build up savings for business ventures. MORE
BHUBANESWAR, India, Jul 1, 2011 (IPS) - In eastern Orissa state’s tribal hinterlands about 200 ‘seed-mothers’ are on mission mode - identifying, collecting and conserving traditional seed varieties and motivating farming families to use them.
The seed-mothers (bihana-maa in the local dialect) from the Koya and Kondh tribal communities have reached 1,500 families in the Malkangiri and Kandhamal districts and are still counting. These women are formidable storehouses of knowledge on indigenous seeds and biodiversity conservation.
Collecting, multiplying and distributing through exchange local varieties of paddy, millet, legume, vegetables and leafy green seeds, the seed-mothers already have a solid base of 80 converted villages.
As they spread their message through the hinterland, targeting another 140 villages, the women also promote zero dependence on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Considering that Malkangiri is Orissa’s least developed district, with literacy at a low 50 percent and isolated by rivers, forests, undulating topography and poor connectivity, the achievement of the seed-mothers is admirable.
The struggles of Malkangiri farmers with climate change is visible in the Gudumpadar village where seed-mothers are passionately reviving agricultural heritage and convincing the community to stay with local seeds and bio-fertilisers and pesticides.
"This is the best way to cope with erratic rainfall, ensure the children are fed and avoid the clutches of moneylenders," says 65-year-old seed-mother Kanamma Madkami of Kanjeli village, who has multiplied 29 varieties of local millet and paddy seeds. MORE
xposted: to politics.
Both Palma and Miller can't say for certain why fresh vegetables in Belize have been relegated to the backburner, but they have their theories.
One theory for this shift is a transition to a cash-based economy. Miller says families now need cash to participate in the economy, and to, for instance, send their children to school.
"Public schools require that you have pens and paper and books and uniforms, which requires cash," Miller said. "So now the person who used to grow the vegetables goes out, leaves their village, and does construction work to go make cash money. They can leave their corn, their beans, their rice, and their staples and come back and harvest, but that's not true with a vegetable garden. So there went the vegetables."
It isn't just keeping their kids in school that has farmers traveling to town for work. Because of many disastrous trade agreements forged by the U.S., farmers can no longer make wages that allow them to work solely on the farm, where they could cultivate supplemental gardens. ( Read more... )
Lord, I have seen that same story of American media advertsing changing customs for the worse and it drives me up the wall. Fresh pork and callaloo is less than Vienna sausages? Really? Then again it took living here for a while to see through the lies and glossy adverts. Oh god:/ On the hand, this is way more indepth. 11 page PDF FOOD SECURITY AND THE POVERTY PARADOX AT THE LOCAL LEVEL: THE CASE OF NORTH/SOUTH BELIZE
Food security at the household level is not only a factor of quantity, but also whether members of the household eat on time and/or have a greater selection of foods for meal preparation (Palacio, 1982). Cultural belief systems about food and health, rather than the nutritive value of food, contribute to dietary practices in Belize. Cultural practices place constraints on the type (quality) and the amount (quantity) of food items selected for consumption. It is the significance of lard or oil as mentioned above, to add “richness” to the diet. In some cases the timing of the arrival of foods, affects quantity and quality of foods consumed. In Barranco, the untimely arrival of the fisherman makes daily food supply uncertain at the household level. Similar examples are prevalent in both northern and southern communities, where production is limited despite proximity to the sea and available, arable land. I will outline three areas of cultural influences. One is the need to combine solids and liquids in the folk belief system (Palacio, 1982), the second is the deliberate refusal of certain foods to children and pregnant women (Brady, 1990); the third is the obligation to share foods in indigenous religious belief systems of the Garifuna people. ( Read more... )
'Merchants of Doubt': How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
Ben Santer is the kind of guy you could never imagine anyone attacking. He’s thoroughly moderate—of moderate height and build, of moderate temperament, of moderate political persuasions. He is also very modest—soft-spoken, almost self-effacing—and from the small size and non-existent décor of his office at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, you might think he was an accountant. If you met him in a room with a lot of other people, you might not even notice him.
But Santer is no accountant, and the world has noticed him.
( Read more... )
If you contribute $25 to Truthout you can get the book itself, btw, cause this an excerpt thereform...
Climate Change: African Agriculture and Food Supply at Risk
BONN, Jun 18, 2011 (IPS) - Climate change and global warming are likely to have dramatically negative effects on African agriculture and food supply by reducing river runoffs and water recharge, especially in semi-arid zones such as Southern Africa, two new reports say.
Both studies were released while thousands of delegates from around the world gathered during Jun. 6- 17 in the German city of Bonn to take part in the new United Nations (UN) Climate Change conference. New research supports the need for a revamped international regime of reduction of greenhouse gases emissions, the main cause of global warming. MORE
Developing Countries Pledging More Emissions Cuts Than Industrial North
BONN, Jun 17, 2011 (IPS) - Negotiations over a new international climate agreement are on the brink as new analyses show that carbon emission reduction promises by industrialised nations are actually lower than those made by China, India, Brazil and other developing nations. Even with all the promises or pledges added together they are still far short of cuts needed to prevent global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius, experts reported here.
"It’s a very sad picture we see here," said Marion Vieweg of Climate Analytics, a German NGO that analyses climate science and policy.
"The rich nations are doing nothing to improve their emissions pledges," Vieweg told reporters during the final hours of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn. These meetings are intended to work out the details for a new international agreement for government ministers to consider at the 17th Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC in Durban, South Africa in late November. MORE
On the morning of Friday, May 6th President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador’s left-wing FMLN party, arrived at the La Maroma agricultural cooperative in the department of Usulután for a potentially historic meeting with hundreds of small family farmers. Usulután has often been referred to as the country’s bread basket for its fertile soil and capacity for agricultural production, making it one of the most strategic and violent battleground zones during El Salvador’s twelve year civil war between the US-supported government and the FMLN guerrilla movement.
Once again, Usulután has entered the spotlight for its agricultural reputation. The FMLN, which initially formed around an ideology of national liberation from US hegemony, has now adopted the goal of “food sovereignty,” the idea that countries hold the right to define their own agricultural policies, rather than being subject to the whims of international market forces. On Friday, officials representing the Ministry of Agriculture and the local governorship accompanied President Funes in inaugurating a new plan aimed at reactivating the country’s historically ignored rural economy and reversing El Salvador’s growing dependence on imported grains.
The opening ceremony for the new plan was hosted by the Mangrove Association, a non-governmental organization established by members of a grassroots social movement called La Coordinadora del Bajo Lempa y Bahia de Jiquilisco (known locally as La Coordinadora), which has been supporting initiatives for food security and environmental sustainability in Usulután for over 15 years. MORE
After 10 years of inaction where no new schools were opened and no teachers recruited, one of the best indicators of a changing Bihar is a group of girls cycling to school.
Archana Masih reports from the state.
Three times a week Deepti Kumari comes to Kilkari after school where she does things she has never done before.
She paints, makes toys from old newspapers and reads children's magazines.
The daughter of a khaini (raw tobacco) seller in Patna, Deepti spends most of her day after school in an activity centre set up by the Bihar government for underprivileged children going to state-run primary schools.
Like her, most of the children making paper birds under a tree that afternoon, had never painted or done any craft work before.
Mukesh, a Class 9 student whose father sells bananas, is learning judo and has won two medals in a district-level competition.
Shail, a Class 6 student whose father is no more and whose mother stitches buttons for a living, is learning Madhubani painting.
Children from neighbouring schools come to the centre which provides them paints, colours, craft-material, story books and has teachers for folk dance, judo, painting etc.
The centre also has a children's bank where the children deposit as little as Rs 2 and 5 and withdraw money for stationery etc.
The little boy with neatly combed hair -- his head barely reaching the top of the table -- says he is the manager for the day, showing me his deposit ledger.
In the last five years Bihar has spent half of the state budget on improving school education.
By its most successful scheme, providing cycles to Class 9 and 10 students, it greatly reduced the drop-out rate amongst girls in the state where female literacy at 33 per cent is the lowest in the country.
The first year of providing cycles in 2007-2008, brought 170,000 girls to Class 9 which has now risen to 500,000. MORE
Gehlot copies Bihar in cycle distribution
Indigenous and campesino (small-scale farmer) movements in the Andean nation of Bolivia are on the verge of pushing through one of the most radical environmental bills in global history. The "Mother Earth" law under debate in Bolivia's legislature will almost certainly be approved, as it has already been agreed to by the majority governing party, Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS).
The law draws deeply on indigenous concepts that view nature as a sacred home, the Pachamama (Mother Earth) on which we intimately depend. As the law states, “Mother Earth is a living dynamic system made up of the undivided community of all living beings, who are all interconnected, interdependent and complementary, sharing a common destiny.”
The law would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration. Bolivia's law mandates a fundamental ecological reorientation of Bolivia's economy and society, requiring all existing and future laws to adapt to the Mother Earth law and accept the ecological limits set by nature. It calls for public policy to be guided by Sumaj Kawsay (an indigenous concept meaning “living well,” or living in harmony with nature and people), rather than the current focus on producing more goods and stimulating consumption.
In practical terms, the law requires the government to transition from non-renewable to renewable energy; to develop new economic indicators that will assess the ecological impact of all economic activity; to carry out ecological audits of all private and state companies; to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to develop policies of food and renewable energy sovereignty; to research and invest resources in energy efficiency, ecological practices, and organic agriculture; and to require all companies and individuals to be accountable for environmental contamination with a duty to restore damaged environments.MORE
Corporate Control? Not in These Communities
( Read more... )
What’s So Special About Humans?
( Read more... )
Big Solar's Death Panels
The Mojave, where the sun shines more than 300 days a year, would seem like a perfect home for the solar hub—unless you happen to be a threatened desert tortoise, in which case you can kiss your burrow goodbye. Across the country, environmentalists are finding themselves in the awkward position of having to choose between clean energy and wildlife: In the Midwest, wind farms ensnare bats and migrating birds, and hydropower dams in the Northwest decimate salmon spawning grounds. "We've been supportive of efforts to accelerate clean-energy projects," says Jim Lyons, who studies renewable energy at the conservation nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife. "But the scale of these new projects is massive, and they could be enormously destructive to plants and animals."
Of course, solar projects needn't destroy pristine landscapes at all. I visited one future plant site where farming had long ago scared off tortoises and other sensitive species. And consider that just outside the Mojave lie acres upon acres of flat, sunny spaces where the tortoise count is guaranteed to be zero: the roofs of warehouses and big-box stores. The idea has taken off elsewhere; in Germany, where solar installations have proceeded at eight times the US rate, hundreds of thousands of individuals and companies now sell their excess electricity back to the power authority.
But here in the US, where public land can be rented for a song, it's more cost-effective for utilities to build a massive power plant out in the desert than hundreds of little ones atop privately owned roofs. And utilities usually aren't keen on the idea of buying electricity from their customers, says Bill Powers, a solar-energy expert in San Diego. "Utilities make money off power plants; they'd lose money if big-box stores started making their power on the roof," he says. To wit, the New Mexico utility PNM waged an unsucessful battle in 2009 to prevent residents and businesses from installing rooftop panels and selling the electricity they didn't need back into the grid. The same year, Xcel Energy fought and lost a similar battle in Colorado.
Will Big Solar Bulldoze Sacred Tribal Sites?
Alfredo Figueroa, an elder in the Chemehuevi tribe, has spent all of his 77 years in the Sonoran Desert town of Blythe, next to the Colorado River in southeastern California. But now, he's worried burial grounds and giant etchings in the earth that are sacred to his people could soon be replaced by giant solar panels. It's part of the unprecedented expansion of solar power into California's deserts, a key piece of President Obama's push to make energy production 80 percent "clean" by 2035. Late last year, Figueroa filed suit to stop the 7,000-acre solar plant being built outside his hometown, along with five others approved for public lands.
The litigation was the latest in a series of lawsuits protesting the federal government's expedited cultural and environmental review of solar project sites. It contends that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), in a rush to qualify projects for Obama's stimulus fund deadline (since extended to the end of this year), failed to adequately consult with tribes and properly identify at-risk ecosystems and sacred lands to avoid. A self-taught historian, Figueroa believes that the sands and hills outside Blythe are especially sacred: After reading a book his uncle gave him half a century ago, he became convinced that the fabled Aztec ancestral lands of Aztlán sat there.
A study last year by the California Energy Commission (PDF), which grants permits to large-scale solar plants, found 17,000 cultural sites—not all indigenous—in the southern California desert that "will potentially be destroyed" by past, present, and future construction of various sorts. (That number is probably larger today, the CEC says.) BLM archeologist Rolla Queen defends the government's review process, but admits that the dozens of solar proposals and projects in the desert region are "a little overwhelming." Not since the days of the major dam-building projects of the 1920s and '30s has the country seen public-land construction on this scale, he says. It shows: Overstressed government workers scramble to review new proposals while continuing to monitor sensitive areas at approved sites. Environmental groups are even more strapped for resources, and tribes often don't have any legal staff at all.MORE