Flotsam & Jetsam
Earth Loses Another Lake, Winning the Pavement Pentathlon, Trying to Pop Citigroup’s Balloon, The 26-word Cure for Corporate Crime, & Message to George: Forget Iraq, Topple Burma’s Dictators
July 26, 2002

Lake Hamoun, once Iran's largest freshwater lake, is now the country's largest dustbowl. Afghanistan's new government could revive the lake. Photo credit: BBC News
Earth Loses Another Lake
Iran — First it was Lake Chad that vanished from the face of the Earth. Now, according to Iran’s official IRNA news agency, Lake Hamoun, the largest freshwater lake in Iran, has totally evaporated. The lake once covered 1,500 square miles and served as a critical resting site for 200,000 migratory birds — ducks, egrets, flamingos and pelicans.

IRNA cites two reasons for the lake’s disappearance. First, the impact of four straight years of drought triggered by global climate change. The second cause is also man-made: several years ago, the former Taliban rulers of neighboring Afghanistan dammed the Helmand River, the lake’s major source of water.

A recent editorial in the Iran Daily stated: “Now that the Taliban militia has collapsed, it is time the Foreign Ministry started a new round of negotiations with the… Afghan government to resume the flow of Helmand water.”

In June, Iran called on the Afghanistan’s new leaders to restore the flow of the Helmand. Zabihollah Akrami, Iran’s top environmental officer in the province that hosts the lake, claimed that Afghanistan could easily afford to “save Lake Hamoun” since “this year, fairly good rainfall and snowfall has been observed in central Afghanistan.”

Winning the Pavement Pentathlon
CHINA — When the world comes to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, the host nation hopes to surprise visitors with a demonstration of the world’s cleanest urban transportation system. The capital city, with its crowded, noisy, and fume-filled streets has a way to go. The solution to this transformation is being hatched in the laboratories of the Beijing Continental Battery Company, where US-educated engineers are using state-of-the-art technology to perfect an affordable and highly efficient lithium-ion battery. The battery is the key to realizing the “Beijing City Project,” whose goal is to fill the capital’s streets with 40,000 clean electric buses and 60,000 electric taxies to carry visitors from hotels to the Olympic venues.

Africa Ruling Sets New Global Standards for Economic, Social Rights
NIGERIA — The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has ordered the Nigerian government to compensate members of the Ogoni community for damage to their health, homes, farms, and the environment resulting from oil production. In its 14-page ruling, the ACHPR, which is an official body of the Organization of African Unity, determined that the reign of dictator Sani Abacha, Nigeria violated seven articles of the 1981 African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

The suit was brought following the 1995 executions of nine members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, including world-famous playwright and author Ken Saro-Wiwa. The activists’ attempts to protest oil spills and gas flares from Shell oil’s Nigerian operations were met with jailings and beatings. Nigerian soldiers and police were sent on “wasting operations” that left Ogoni villages looted and burned to the ground.

The New-York-based Center for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights co-sponsored the suit. CESCR Director Roger Normand believes the decision will serve as a precedent “for all similar efforts to hold governments accountable for gross human rights violations linked to abusive corporate practices.” According to Normand, Washington (and even groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) tend to treat economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights as “second-class” concerns. As Self-Determination News commented [www.selfdetermine.org], “has tended to treat economic and social rights more as privileges than as core rights. Indeed, the State Department’s annual human rights country reports do not explicitly cover economic and social rights.” Washington

With the ACHPR’s remarkable decision, Normand observes, Africa “is moving ahead of western standards in the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights.”

Trying to Pop Citigroup’s Balloon
US — Much to the embarrassment of Citigroup (Citi), a giant 30-foot balloon was seen in 20 cities across the US this spring drawing attention to the multinational bank’s Earth-unfriendly lending practices. In response to Citi’s $100 million ad campaign (which featured the catch phrase “Live Richly”), an international coalition of student activist groups created the huge balloon in the image of the Earth — defaced with a bar code — and sent it on a “The Planet Is Not For Sale” tour.

Brandishing a banner reading “Citi Lives Richly and the Earth Pays!” the protestors alerted Citi customers that the bank “the world’s most destructive bank” is the major financier of new fossil fuel projects and the largest investor “in environmental destruction and social inequity.”

Because Citi is the main financial funder of oil, gas and mining projects around the planet, it is responsible for the destruction of ecosystems, the displacement of native people and the acceleration of global warming. Citi’s projects include the OCP Pipeline in Ecuador, palm oil plantations in orangutan habitat in Indonesia, the Camisa Gas Project in Peru and the Orinoco Delta Pipeline in Venezuela.

In October 2001, the European Bank and ABN/AMRO in The Netherlands have inaugurated a new policy that bans any future funding of environmentally destructive extractive industries.

“It’s time for Citi to meet the challenge set by Europe’s largest banks,” says Rainforest Action Network Global Finance Campaigner Ilyse Hogue. ”Until Citi catches up to modern values and shifts its investments away from global warming and environmental destruction, students will continue to say ‘Not with my money.’” An international student boycott of Citi credit cards has expanded to bring pressure on schools and universities to withdraw investments in Citi.

“As the world’s largest financial institution,” RAN’s Patrick Reinsborough stated, “Citi has a responsibility to address the environmental and social impacts of its investments and establish policies that protect the world’s old growth forests and the communities they rely on them for survival.”
[RAN, 221 Pine St., Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94104, (415) 398-4404, www.ran.org]

Is ‘the Pause that Refreshes’ Sucking the Life out of Africa?
AFRICA — The largest employer on the continent of Africa is the Atlanta-based Coca Cola Company. Despite employing nearly 100,000 African workers, the company only provides health coverage to 1,500. Health coverage can be a matter of life or death in a country where HIV/AIDS infection is rampant.

When Coke held its annual shareholders gathering in New York, the meeting was held under a shadow. The shadow was cast by a 25-foot-tall Coke bottle that protestors from Health Gap [www.healthgap.org] and ACT UP had erected outside Madison Square Garden. The bottle carried a message: “Coke’s neglect equals death for workers in Africa.”

George Ripley presents Robert F. Kennedy Jr., with a T-shirt celebrating the creation of the green-fringed "Grassroots" US flag. Photo credit: Grassroots Unity
It’s More than a Fringe Movement
US — Veteran activist George Ripley has managed to put a Green spin on Old Glory. In an inspired act of symbolic re-invention, Ripley has spruced up the US flag by adding a fringe of green that totally surrounds the familiar red, white and blue. Instead of the gold-braid that adorns America’s more upscale flags, Ripley’s version drops the gold-standard in favor of a virtual “grassroots” design.

Ripley introduced his Grassroots of Social Justice Flag on June 14 (flag day) and carried it down Constitution Avenue during July Fourth festivities in Washington DC. The grassroots flag is now touring the US on a 15-month, 15,000-mile bike trek. The green-trimmed banner is being used to rally people to the cause of electoral reform, including public funding of elections and instant run-off voting. [To order a Grassroots flag, contact: www.grassrootsunity.org]

The 26-word Cure for Corporate Crime
The first issue of Citizens Working (the newsletter of Ralph Nader’s new peoples’ democracy group, Citizen Works) gets off to a great start in an interview with securities lawyer Bob Hinkley who has come up with a “Code for Corporate Citizenship” that could largely end corporate hanky-panky.

The problem, Hinkley points out, is that corporate law “dictates the corporation to the pursuit of profit for shareholders” awhile there is nothing in the law that “balances this dedication to self-interest with obligations to the public interest.” The result has been a “ingle-0minded pursuit of profit at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public health and safety, the welfare of our communities and the dignity of employees.”

Hinkley’s cure, “The Code for Corporate Citizenship,” would add a 26-word clause to the corporate charter laws of every state. The amendment would state as a matter of law that the pursuit of profit could not come “at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public safety, the welfare of the communities in which the corporation operates or the dignity of its employees.”

Any companies that breached this vow would be liable to lawsuits by aggrieved members of the public. The directors of the companies would also be criminally liable. Lawsuits could be brought by individuals, communities or environmental organizations.

Campaigns to demand the rewriting of corporate charters are now underway in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont. For information on the current campaigns and advice for starting a campaign in your state, contact Hinkley c/o Citizen Works, [PO Box 18478, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 265-6164, www.citizenworks.org, info@citizenworks.org].

REAPing a World Win
US — After it was discovered that the fuel-additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) was leaking into the ground and polluting water supplies, California Gov. Gray Davis announced that the state would protect the state’s drinking water by phasing-out MTBE. But then, with an election looming and fearing any move that would increase gas prices for the motoring public, Davis began to dither.

Fortunately a grassroots group called REAP (Renewable Energy Action Project] stepped in where Davis feared to tread. Going directly to the major oil companies, REAP campaigners managed to win MTBE-ending pledges from Shell and Phillips petroleum. In April, British Petroleum signed on and on July 11, Exxon Mobil announced its intent to remove the cancer-causing ingredient early in 2003, a year before Davis’ deadline.

“ExxonMobil has clearly decided that MTBE is no longer worth the liability and public-relations risk,” REAP’s Brooke Coleman told the Los Angeles Times. “Californians will now have the ability to choose MTBE-free fuel in 2003. That’s good news for our drinking water supplies.”

With four major oil companies ready to act, “60 percent of the state’s gasoline would be MTBE-free by early 2003.” MTBE, which was added to gasoline to make the fuel burn cleaner, will be replaced by ethanol. While MTBE was a petrochemical byproduct, ethanol is produced by the natural fermentation of corn.

Only ChevronTexaco, the country’s second-biggest oil firm, has yet to commit to phasing out MTBE. Company spokespersons maintain that the company is moving toward joining the phase-out as soon as infrastructure and transportation issues are ironed out.

Message to George: Forget Iraq; Topple Burma’s Dictators, Instead
MYANMAR — George W. Bush continues to be driven by a manic desire to rid the world of the Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who reportedly once plotted the elder Bush’s assassination. In his filial frenzy to annihilate his father’s bête noir, George Junior is turning a blind eye to the sins of many other world leaders. The Burmese dictators who control the Republic of Myanmar, for example.

Burma has been ruled a brutal military dictatorship that seized power in 1988. More than 1,600 political prisoners are imprisoned. One of Asia’s most prosperous countries has been transformed into one of the world’s poorest. Meanwhile the dictators enrich themselves through the trade in opium and through trafficking with multinational oil companies like US-based UNOCAL. The construction of UNOCAL’s oil pipeline across Burma required the destruction of entire villages and the enslavement of villagers who were forced to support the construction of the pipeline. (Thanks to these crimes against humanity, UNOCAL is now subject to a lawsuit in US courts.)

Topping Burma’s list of crimes is what Time called “The Shame,” the sale of Burmese girls to supply Asia’s growing sex trade. Human Rights Watch Asia reports that thousands of Burmese girls and young women are sold into sexual slavery each year and wind up in the brothels of Thailand, where they are subjected to illegal confinement, debt bondage, physical abuse and exposure to HIV-AIDS.

For more information, contact the Burmese American Democratic Alliance, (415) 255-7296, ext. 224, www.badasf.org.

A New Cross-border Nature Park Is Born
BOLIVIA/PERU — In June the governments of Bolivia and Peru consecrated 30 million hectares of shared wilderness as a protected “bi-national green corridor.” The massive Vilcabamba-Amboró Andean conservation initiative embraces more than 14 parks and reserves running from the Apurimac River Basin and the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary in the north to Isiboro-Secure National Park and Indigenous Territory and Amboró National Park in the south.

The Vilcabamba-Amboró is home to 50,000 species of vascular plants (15 percent of the world’s total), 414 species of mammals, 479 distinct tribes of reptiles, 830 specific families of amphibians, 1,666 avian nations and 20,000 varieties of flowering plants that grow nowhere else on Earth.

Conservation International notes that the conservation corridors “connect fragile natural environments, including areas already protected, while promoting economic development activities that benefit local and national populations …that maintain biodiversity and essential ecological processes.”

South America’s ‘Greenest’ Country Goes ‘Blue’
COSTA RICA — In April, Costa Rica announced the creation of the Marine Park of the Pacific a research and ecological tourism site on the Pacific Coast 130 km (81 miles) west of San José. “The idea is that Costa Rica should be seen by the world not only as a ‘green’ country but also as a ‘blue’ country,” Vice-President Elizabeth Odio declared. Odio, a respected international lawyer and environmental activist was the major force behind creation of the park.

The three-hectare pack is designed to blend into the Puntarenas coast and is intended to celebrate the biological diversity of the southwestern Cocos Island – a region celebrated by French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau that has been honored as a UNESCO Natural Heritage of Humanity Site.

The Marine Park of the Pacific hosts 28 aquarium tanks, the largest of which holds 90 cubic meters of water.

The park will offer alternative fishing skills to local fisheries and plans to start collecting piles of discarded shells and shrimp cartilage for recycling into chitine, a material used in the manufacture of medications and cosmetics. (It will be interesting to see how the MPP will handle plans to encourage fish-farms, a form a aquaculture that has come under fire from environmentalists and marine biologists.)

The MPP may be the only theme park in the world that is jointly owned by the government. In addition to the Environment Ministry, the MPP’s operations will be guided by the state-run National Learning Institute, the National University and the non-governmental National Biodiversity Institute (INBIO), a nonprofit composed of biologists, geologists, historians and environmentalists.

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