Flotsam & Jetsam
Tuvalu and Greenpeace Sue US for Global Warming; Russia Ratifies: Kyoto Confirmed!; Colombia Invokes US-Style PATRIOT Act as Washington Pours in More Money
September 20, 2002
Tuvalu and Greenpeace Sue US for Global Warming
Like politics, global warming lawsuits make for strange bedfellows. As the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) was winding down in Johannesburg, an unprecedented lawsuit was gearing up. Greenpeace has announced that it has joined forces with the tiny Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu to sue the US government for the damages being wrought by CO2- fed climate change.
The plaintiffs also include Pam Williford, a North Carolina beachfront property owner (whose land is threatened by rising sea levels), Philip Dustan, a University of Charleston marine biologist (he speaks for the reefs), and Will Toor, the Mayor of Boulder, Colorado (whose city is suffering from the financial fallout from extended drought and flooding). Also waiting in the wings as potential plaintiffs are dozens of island nations from the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean.
The lawsuit is aimed at two little-known US lending agencies, the Export-Import Bank (ExIm) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). These two organizations hand out taxpayer dollars to corporations for investments that are considered too risky for banks. OPIC and ExIm also provide money to foreign countries on the understanding that the money will be handed back to the US corporations who will receive the costly contracts to build the overseas projects.
It is the nature of the projects that ExIm and OPIC fund that has brought them to the attention of the eco-lawyers. These two agencies are major promoters of oil, coal and nuclear energy projects around the world. According to the lawsuit, OPIC and ExIm have shoveled out more than $32 billion over the past decade to build oil fields, pipelines and coal-burning powerplants. And they did all this without reviewing the impact these projects might have on global warming and the US environment. This, the lawyers contend, violated a key provision of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Tuvalu is the lead plaintiff by virtue of its exposure to imminent destruction from climate change. Tuvalus population of 10,000 inhabits an island nation that comprises a mere 10 square miles and most significantly rises no more than 13 feet (four meters) above the sea.
Tuvaluans have already seen storm surges push seawater into the middle of the island for the first time, soaking once-fertile soil with sea salt and destroying trees than have stood for decades.
On arriving in Johannesburg for the WSSD, Tuvalus Finance Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu told World Environment News that, just as he was leaving his island home, he witnessed for the first time... waves coming right over the land. People in some areas were wading up to their thighs. Paeniu admitted, I was scared.
In addition to suing the US, the worlds biggest producer of climate-warming carbon dioxide gases, the Greenpeace/Tuvalu lawsuit is also targeting Australia, another greenhouse polluter and one that, like the US, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol for the reduction of CO2.
Peter Tabuns of Greenpeace International predicts that Australia and the US soon will find that world sympathy will be against them in this kind of lawsuit.
Russia Ratifies: Kyoto Confirmed!
While Colin Powell, George W. Bushs designated scapegoat, was greeted with indignant banners and boos at the WSSD, Russias Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was greeted with cheers and wild applause when he announced, Russia has signed the Kyoto Protocol and we are now preparing its ratification.
Russia is the worlds third largest producer of greenhouse gases (17 percent of carbon emissions as compared to 36 percent for the US). In order for the treaty to come into effect, it had to be ratified by a majority of the industrialized nations (those collectively responsible for producing 55 percent of man-made carbon emissions). The Bush administration had hoped that neither Russia nor Canada would ratify the treaty, thus saving the US the embarrassment of being -- once again -- an international outcast.
On September 2, the White House saw these hopes collapse further when Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told the WSSD delegates that his country planned to vote on ratification before the year was out.
This was followed by an announcement from Chinas Prime Minister Zhu Rongji that the Chinese Government has ratified the Kyoto Protocol. China is the worlds second largest producer of carbon emissions.
The White House argues that reducing pollution would prove too costly for US corporations. Ironically, the BBC reports, Russias decision to ratify the treaty should actually boost the countrys economy. Russia expects its carbon emissions to be down 20% from 1990 levels when Kyoto comes into force in 2008, the BBC explains, and this means that Russia will gain the ability to sell carbon pollution credits, bringing a potential windfall of tens of billions of dollars.
Colombia Invokes a PATRIOT Act as Washington Pours in More Money
Police profilers know that a man who beats his dog is likely to abuse his wife and children. Similarly, you can find clues to the potential criminal nature of governments by watching how they treat their allies.
If, for example, you want to know how much political corruption and repression Washington might be willing to promote at home, just take a look at the level of vice and violence it is willing to tolerate (if not actively promote) overseas.
Colombia offers a case in point. The US was secretly involved in efforts to defeat the campaign of presidential hopeful Evo Morales, an indigenous Colombian who lost to Alvaro Uribe, a hard-line businessman more to Washingtons liking.
On Uribes inauguration day, August 7, the capitol was subjected to a mortar attack that damaged federal buildings and killed 19 residents of the slum that adjoins the presidential mansion. Uribe quickly attributed the attack to the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and, on August 12, unveiled his seemingly pre-packaged version of the US PATRIOT act.
Uribes decree imposed an emergency tax on citizens to raise $778 million to enlarge the army by 3,000 elite mobile troops and hire an additional 10,000 police officers.
Like US Attorney General John Ascrofts plan, Uribes scheme also called for the creation of an army of 100,000 citizen informants who would be paid to spy on their neighbors.
During a 90-day emergency period (which can be extended for an additional six months), Uribe seized the power to censor all radio and TV news coverage, ban public demonstrations, tap phone lines, conduct searches without court orders and transfer money from social services to the military.
According to the Houston Chronicle, many citizens will also be required to notify authorities at least two days before they leave town. However, more extreme measures, such as closing the Congress or outright press censorship, are forbidden under the constitution.
On September 10, Uribe tightened the screws another notch by declaring that Colombias security forces could conduct searches and arrest subjects without warrants. Citizens can now be arrested and detained without charge for nearly three days. In addition to these suspensions of constitutional protections, the government can declare any region a zone of rehabilitation and consolidation. Within such a zone, Uribe declared, the government will have the power to apply exceptional measures to guarantee the protection of civilians and institutional stability.
Legal challenges to the emergency decree are anticipated.
Washingtons response to this attack on Colombians freedoms of speech, assembly and privacy protections has been muted, to say the least.
Washington continues to increase military and financial aid to Uribes government. On August 9, the US changed the ground rules on the use of $1.7 billion in US military aid, allowing US weapons and support to be used directly in the civil war against Colombian rebels.
The increased US aid included $6 million to hired US-trained Colombian soldiers to protect the 500-mile Cano Limon oil pipeline that carries Occidental and BP-Amoco oil to US markets. The nearly $29 billion of military assistance granted under Plan Colombia will now be available to fight any groups that Uribe has designated as terrorist organizations.
The civil war has been raging for 38 years. Since 1990, some 40,000 men, women and children have been killed. The majority of the victims have been poor, rural Colombians.
The New York Times reported that the US policy shift had alarmed human rights groups and some members of Congress, who say escalating violence may become a byproduct of the redirected aid.
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