Archive for the 'deforestation' Category

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How Dams Can Bring About Rainfalls and Drought

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“It is undisputed that dams can influence local rainfalls. Humidity evaporates from reservoirs and irrigated fields and gets recycled as rainfall. Evaporation from reservoirs can also cause more frequent storms. On the other hand, dams and levees can reduce evaporation and rainfalls when they drain wetlands and open up woodlands for deforestation.

The Niger Delta in West Africa illustrates how dams can influence rainfalls. In September, the delta’s wetlands extend to an area of 30,000 square kilometers – roughly the size of Belgium – and feed rainfalls over a much larger region. Yet upstream dams on the Niger have reduced the flows into the delta by 10-15%, and a major proposed hydropower project upstream on the river would reduce inflows by a further 33%. “Such a change would significantly reduce the window in the seasonal cycle when the wetland can influence rainfall,” warns Christopher Taylor of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Great Britain.

What does this mean for the Three Gorges Dam? A group of researchers in the US and in China analyzed regional rainfall data before and after the completion of the dam on the Yangtze. They found that precipitation decreased somewhat south of the reservoir, and increased significantly about 100 kilometers north of the reservoir.

Yet the rainfalls around the reservoir are only half the story. The dam has impacts on wetlands throughout the lower Yangtze basin. During the flood season, the Yangtze used to greatly expand the area of the Dongting and Poyang lakes, two large flood basins in the Yangtze Valley. Their combined surface used to expand from about 4,000 to about 24,000 square kilometers every year. Land reclamation for agriculture reduced the size of the lakes, and by storing flood water for electricity generation, the Three Gorges Dam is now greatly diminishing the seasonal expansion of the two flood basins. During this year’s drought, the majestic Dongting Lake – home of the famous Chinese dragon boat races – turned into a sad mudflat with isolated pools of water.”

Read more: International Rivers

Brazil, After a Long Battle, Approves an Amazon Dam

Chief Raoni weeps after hearing that the Belo Monte dam will be built. Retrieved from:

“Belo Monte became a priority for the previous government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who contended that the plant was critical to Brazil’s future energy needs. His successor, President Dilma Rousseff, has remained committed to the project.

The license was granted by the environmental agency after “robust technical analysis,” the government said in a news release. The North Energy consortium will pay $1.9 billion for “social-environmental measures,” to help people affected by the dam’s construction and to offset environmental effects, an agency spokeswoman said. The government itself has committed $314 million, she said.

Conservationists have become increasingly critical of Brazil’s efforts to protect the Amazon rain forest. Brazil’s deforestation numbers increased sharply over the past nine months, and the lower house of Congress last week approved a revision of the Forest Code that would open up protected areas to deforestation while granting amnesty to agribusiness developers for previous forest-clearing. The Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

“The government has an important choice – to go back to a future of wasteful publicly funded mega-projects and frontier chaos, or ahead, to the future of a sustainable and equitable green economy leader, with rule of law, good governance and a secure natural and investment environment,” said Stephan Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The $17 billion dam, which is expected to start producing electricity in 2015, would divert the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch in Pará State. Environmental groups say it will flood more than 120,000 acres of rain forest and settlements, displacing 20,000 to 40,000 people and releasing large quantities of methane. The Ibama spokeswoman put the number of displaced people at 20,000 but insisted that no indigenous people would be removed from their lands.”

Read more: Amazon Watch


Rift MPs Oppose Nandi World Bank Dam

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“Three MPs from Nandi are opposed to a plan to hive off 3,000 acres of on indigenous forest land in the region for the establishment of a Sh50 billion World Bank-funded water and electricity project aimed at benefitting residents of three provinces.

The MPs -David Koech, Elijah Lagat and Henry Kosgey- said they would not allow the destruction of any section of the 20,000 hectare indigenous forests at Kimondi in Nandi South for the project which is being funded through the Lake Basin Development Authority.”We are opposed to destruction of the indigenous forests which our communities have been preserving for many years”, said Koech.

The MPs said the project would have a serious impact on the environment and said the government and the donors should find alternative land in the region for the project instead of destroying forests.

The project is expected to produce more than 30 Megawatts of electricity and will supply water to areas in Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western regions.

Objection to the project has been growing with environmentalists and even local community leaders warning that the project-expected to be the biggest multi-purpose water dam in the country- would impact negatively on the environment and would destroy the few remaining sources of medicinal trees such as Elgon teak, prunes, crotons and other rare species of trees which take decades to mature.

The leaders warned that that food production in western Kenya as well as water flowing from River Yala to Lake Victoria would be negatively affected. Environmental groups and local community leaders say the project will also destroy habitation of rare antelopes and other wild species which have migrated to the forest swamps.”

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Environmental consortium sues DEC over hydrofracking in state forests

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“The Croton Watershed Clean Water Coalition, Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the State Department of Environmental Conservation seeking to declare hydrofracking in state forests contrary to the state Constitution and related environmental laws. Among those lands is the vast Stewart State Forest adjacent to Stewart Airport, three state forest areas in Ulster County plus forest lands in Delaware and Greene counties.

Organization attorney James Bacon said the suit is concerned with the forestlands that are on top of Marcellus Shale formations. The suit was filed in State Supreme Court in Kingston.

Hydrofracking is the forcing of chemicals under extreme pressures horizontally in shale formations in an effort to force natural gas deposits to the surface to be collected. Group President Fay Muir said the state has reforested its state forests after years of industrialization laid waste to hundreds of thousands of acres.”

Read more: Earth First!


U.S. Court’s Extraordinary Moves to Halt Enforcement of Verdict Against Chevron in Ecuador: Why?

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“In early February, a week before a court in Ecuador passed down a historic $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron for massive environmental contamination in the Amazon, lawyers for the oil giant went to the U.S. District Court in New York, seeking an order to stop enforcement of the anticipated verdict.

As a major cover story in this week’s Business Week magazine reports, Judge Lewis Kaplan granted a temporary restraining order immediately.

According to Business Week:

It was highly unusual for a federal judge to block the effect of a foreign court’s action before it occurred. (He has since turned his order into a preliminary injunction, which remains in effect.) Kaplan didn’t rule on the merits of the environmental claims; in fact, he stressed that he didn’t know much about the underlying equities. He didn’t sound sympathetic, however: “Among the obvious facts here are that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs are in this for money. They may be in it for other things, but they are in it for money.”

This past Monday, Judge Kaplan turned his order into a preliminary injunction, a move that Karen Hinton, U.S.-based spokeswoman for the Ecuadorian communities ravaged by Chevron’s contamination lambasted in a statement:

This decision is a slap in the face to the democratic nation of Ecuador and the thousands of Ecuadorian citizens who have courageously fought for 18 years to hold Chevron accountable for committing the world’s worst environmental disaster.”

Read more: Chevron in Ecuador


Dam Nation

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“Next week, China’s National People’s Congress, which is now meeting in Beijing, will formally adopt the country’s next five-year plan. The document will define the country’s vision for the next half-decade, including an increasingly desperate balancing act between economic growth and environmental protection. At least 200 million Chinese will join the urban middle class by the end of this decade, and the government sees continued rapid growth as the best recipe for the preservation of social stability. But at the same time, the country bursts at the ecological seams. Lush forests have given way to dust bowls and industrial wastelands. Plant and animal species are going extinct at a rapid pace. Millions of people are being displaced from lands that can no longer sustain them. Birth defects — likely related to exposure to polluted air, water, or food — in some places reach 20 times the global average.

At first glance, the next five-year plan (or what has so far been shared with the public) appears to be the greenest in China’s history. On Feb. 27, Premier Wen Jiabao emphasized the new priorities in a well-publicized Internet chat session: “We can no longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid development and reckless construction…. These will only lead to overcapacity in production, increased pressure on environmental resources, and unsustainable economic growth.” The five-year plan’s expected provisions include targets and financing to promote the rapid expansion of alternative energy, and tighter limits for toxic pollutants, among other measures.

The new plan comes in the wake of notable environmental reforms that Beijing has adopted in the last few years. At the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, the Chinese government committed to reducing the carbon intensity of China’s economy, even though its greenhouse gas emissions per capita are much lower than those of industrialized countries.”

Read more: Foreign Policy

Forest Loss Threatens Sierra Leone Water Supplies

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“Sierra Leone is one of a number of African countries where deforestation is impacting water supply.


Although the house building on Leicester Peak is outside the main water catchment area of Freetown’s main dam, officials worry it sets a precedent that protected forest can be cut.

“Our efforts have not yielded much fruit,” said Samuel Serry, Sierra Leone forests and agriculture ministry spokesman.

“There is a serious problem enforcing the regulations.”

In Moseh, a village on a peninsula south of Freetown, village chief Foday Koroma said water supplies were getting more irregular and local people were carrying water in jerrycans.

On a continent where rain often buckets down then dries up, trees help moderate the cycle, by slowing run-off and soaking up precipitation to be released later.

“When you take forest off, all (the water) comes off in the wet season,” said Richard Harding, of the UK-based Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. “It will all be lost … out to sea.”

Only 40 percent of a protected forest of 17,482 hectares (43,199 acres) on a peninsula south of Freetown is left, yet a fifth of the nation’s six million people depend on it for water.”

Read more: Reuters

A Mega-Dam Dilemma in the Amazon

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“Puerto Maldonado is the capital of Peru’s Madre de Dios region (similar to an American state), which abuts Bolivia and Brazil. The area is almost all rain forest and until recent decades was one of South America’s least populated and most inaccessible areas. But today it is a critical part of Latin America’s economic revolution. Poverty rates are dropping, consumer demand is rising and infrastructure development is on a tear. One of the biggest projects, the $2 billion Inter-oceanic Highway, is nearly complete—and runs straight through Puerto Maldonado. Once open, the highway is expected to see 400 trucks a day carrying goods from Brazil to Peruvian ports.

Later this year a consortium of Brazilian construction and energy companies plans to start building a $4 billion hydroelectric dam on the Inambari River, which starts in the Andes and empties into the Madre de Dios River near Puerto Maldonado. When the dam is completed, in four to five years, its 2,000 megawatts of installed capacity—a touch below that of the Hoover Dam—will make it the largest hydroelectric facility in Peru and the fifth-largest in all of South America.

The Inambari dam, pending environmental impact studies, will be built under an agreement signed last summer in Manaus, Brazil, by Peruvian President Alan García and Brazil’s then-president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.”

Read more: Smithsonian

Ecuador Court Orders Chevron To Pay $8 billion

About 916 pits were used by Texaco Petroleum, the US oil major, and PetroEcuador, the state company, for the 23 years before Texaco’s exit from the country in 1992. Photo retrieved from: www.

“A court in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle ordered Chevron Corp to pay more than $8 billion in damages on Monday in a closely watched environmental suit, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said.

But the U.S. oil company vowed to appeal, meaning the long-running case dating from drilling in the South American nation during the 1970s and 1980s could last for years more.

The case, which activists portray as a fight for justice against rich polluters but Chevron says is more to do with opportunism, has triggered related legal action in U.S. courts and international arbitration.

It is being monitored by the oil industry for precedents that could lead to other large claims. Chevron had expected to lose the case in the Ecuadorean court.

In a statement on Monday, Chevron did not give any figure from the ruling by the court in Lago Agrio, but said it believed the judgment was “illegitimate” and “unenforceable in any court that observes the rule of law.”

It said the United States and international tribunals had already taken steps to bar enforcement of the ruling.

Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the court had ordered Chevron to pay more than $8 billion damages.

The lawsuit had originally demanded $27 billion.


Residents of Ecuador’s Amazon region have said faulty drilling practices by Texaco, which was bought by Chevron in 2001, caused damage to wide areas of jungle and harmed indigenous people in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Read more: Los Angeles Times

More Fireworks as Lawyers for Ecuador Plaintiffs Fire Back at Chevron

Highly toxic production water pours into a waste pit at an old Texaco oil facility near Dureno in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest in 1993. When Texaco left Ecuador in 1992, the company abandoned nearly 1,000 unlined toxic waste pits which continue to pollute the water in the region to this day. Photo retrieved from:

“Only days after Chevron turned around and sued the victims of its abuses in Ecuador’s rainforest, accusing them of racketeering and extortion for demanding cleanup, lawyers for the Ecuadorian plaintiffs fired back. Patton Boggs, the high-profile DC law firm now representing the plaintiffs filed its own suit yesterday, accusing Chevron and its lawyers at Gibson Dunn of “tortiously interfering” with the firm’s representation of the Ecuadorians. Tortious interference is a matter of common law and is also referred to as intentional interference with contractual relations.

This is exactly where it gets into a bunch of legalistic mumbo-jumbo for most people (including yours truly) but Patton Boggs’ press release announcing the filing of its suit lays bare Chevron’s legal manipulations for the sideshow they are. The Complaint referred to in the beginning is Chevron’s latest legal assault on the Ecuadorians, their preposterous RICO suit:

What is clear from the Complaint is that Chevron has little interest in litigating the merits of the claims, brought by the indigenous people of Ecuador, that its predecessor Texaco’s conduct has caused an ecological disaster in an environmentally sensitive rainforest the size of the State of Rhode Island. Rather, Chevron wants to litigate about the behavior of the lawyers, consultants, and spokespersons who have dared to represent these people during the past 18 years. Chevron simply cannot escape three glaring facts:”

Read more: Amazon Watch