Newsletter 2021-10-28



Philippine wetland oil riches untouched by war now up for grabs in peacetime by Bong S. Sarmiento [10/28/2021]

– At 288,000 hectares (712,000 acres), Liguasan Marsh in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao is the country’s largest and most intact wetland, a haven for birds and a source of livelihood for the 100,000 families who live there.
– The marsh was a hotspot during the decades of conflict between the Philippine government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF); it also has known oil and gas reserves.
– With a peace deal forged and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2019, the new regional government is seeking investors to develop the marsh’s oil and gas reserves.
– Some fear this extractive activity will damage the marsh’s ecosystem and exacerbate land conflict in an area where land tenure is already complex and contested.

Cooking with the sun: Entrepreneurs help launch Mexico’s solar revolution by Sandra Weiss [10/27/2021]

– Much of Mexico gets 300 days of sunshine out of the year which is helping make the country a solar energy pioneer. With the current government showing little interest in the clean sustainable technology, a range of entrepreneurs is leading the way, especially in the food industry.
– In the southern state of Oaxaca, Victoria Aguilera studied sustainable energy at the regional university and founded Sazón del Sol, a grassroots project that includes a solar farm, solar restaurant, and solar food processing workplace. She designed and now sells a solar kitchen for use in homes and restaurants.
– In central Mexico’s Hidalgo state, Gregor Schäpers’ company, Trinysol, achieved initial success with solar-powered water heaters. Now he’s experimenting with solar cooking using Scheffler modules — solar dish reflectors to run kitchens in restaurants, hotels, mezcal distilleries and tortilla bakeries.
– In the state of Jalisco, Angel Mejía and Aldo Agraz co-founded Inventive Power in 2010, specializing in thermal solar systems. Local food factories and dairies were their first clients. Since then, Mexican and international companies Nestlé, Barcel, Unilever, and tequila producer José Cuervo have all commissioned projects.

Indigenous group faces eviction for ‘New Bali’ tourism project in Sumatra by Tonggo Simangunsong [10/25/2021]

– The volcanic crater lake of Toba in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province is the site of what the government is touting as a new tourism hub.
– The area has for generations been home to the Indigenous Pomparan Ompu Ondol Butarbutar, who now face eviction and have seen their farms razed to make way for the tourism resort.
– The group is filing lawsuits to prevent its eviction from what it considers its ancestral land, but faces obstacles because its customary land rights aren’t recognized by the government.
– The tourism project is one of several large ventures underway in this region; there are also power plant projects and a planned zinc mine near Lake Toba, some of them funded by Chinese investment.

On Nigeria-Cameroon border, joint patrols throw a lifeline to threatened apes by Orji Sunday [10/25/2021]

– The rugged, isolated forests along the Nigeria-Cameroon border support a vast array of wildlife, including Cross River gorillas, Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, and forest elephants.
– Historically, limited law enforcement in the border zone has left the ecosystem vulnerable to hunting and logging.
– Since the early 1990s, though, NGOs have been working alongside both governments to enhance transboundary conservation efforts, including joint patrols by rangers from both countries.
– This cross-border collaboration faces many obstacles today, including bureaucratic delays, treacherous terrain, armed poachers, and violent conflict in Cameroon, but participants remain optimistic about the potential for cooperation.



Indonesia’s ‘green’ electricity plan undermines its climate vows, activists say by Basten Gokkon [28 Oct 2021]
– Indonesia has published its new 10-year electricity generation plan that it claims is “green” but that still calls for a large portion of the country’s energy mix to come from coal
– Clean energy activists say the plan threatens to undermine Indonesia’s emissions reduction efforts, including a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.
– The new plan calls for adding 40.8 gigawatts of new electricity by 2030, including half from renewable energy and a third from coal.
– Even then, the government’s definition of “renewable” includes questionable sources such as biomass (burning wood pellets), gasified coal, and nuclear.

A new 100-page report raises alarm over Chevron’s impact on planet by Genevieve Belmaker and Laurel Sutherland [28 Oct 2021]
– An independent expert report has determined that of the 70 ongoing cases in 31 countries against Chevron, only 0.006% ($286-million) in fines, court judgements, and settlements have been paid. The company still owes another $50.5-billion in total globally.
– The largest of those payout judgements is for $9.5 billion in environmental damages representing 30,000 plaintiffs in Ecuador where the oil damage is so severe, it’s known as the “Amazon Chernobyl”.
– Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela are amongst a number of countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and beyond where there are ongoing litigations against Chevron. In the U.S. alone, there are 13 ongoing litigations against Chevron.
– The same day the report was released, international human rights lawyer Steven Donziger, lead attorney on the Chevron Ecuador case, was imprisoned. His incarceration came after nearly two years of house arrest in New York City and an intense legal battle for his freedom.

What makes a ‘refugee’? It could be a life-or-death question in the climate crisis by Ashoka Mukpo [28 Oct 2021]
– A new analysis by the Environmental Justice Foundation says that international laws covering refugee protection are too narrow for the climate crisis.
– The group is calling for a new global agreement to protect those who are forced to flee the effects of climate change.
– A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released on Oct. 21 said the world is currently on a trajectory for 2°C (3.6°F) of warming by 2050, underscoring the urgency of planning for climate-related migration.

In Zimbabwe, an irrigation project threatens a tribe’s land and trees
by Tatenda Chitagu [27 Oct 2021]
– A Zimbabwean minority tribe, the Shangaan people, say they are living in suspense as they face eviction for the construction of an irrigation scheme that will raze 12,940 hectares (31,975 acres) of land containing mopane and baobab trees in their area.
– According to Zimbabwe’s Communal Land Rights Act, communal land is owned by the President who decides how it is to be used and occupied.
– The villagers have been sustainably conserving and living in the region for years through regenerative farming practices, stopping veld fires and preventing deforestation.

Podcast: Indigenous bioacoustics listens to the land for conservation and tradition
by Mike Gaworecki [27 Oct 2021]
– On today’s episode of the Mongabqay Newscast, we look at two stories that illustrate how bioacoustics are helping to advance Indigenous-led conservation initiatives.
– We speak with Stephanie Thorassie, executive director of the Seal River Watershed Alliance, about the effort to establish a new 12-million-acre Indigenous Protected Area in northern Manitoba.
– We also speak with Jeff Wells, Vice President of Boreal Conservation at the National Audubon Society, which has partnered with the Seal River Watershed Alliance to study the region’s importance to wildlife. Wells plays us some of the bioacoustic recordings of birds that are informing the effort to establish the Indigenous Protected Area in the Seal River Watershed.
– Our third guest is Angela Waupochick, a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin and a research forester for the Menominee Tribal Enterprises. Waupochick tells us about her research project that is using bioacoustics to establish baseline data on the forest-wetlands of Menominee and Stockbridge-Munsee Tribal Lands in northern Wisconsin and how that data will in turn help devise long-term management plans for the forests.

Inga tree points to way out of slash-and-burn for Central American farmers
by Maxwell Radwin [27 Oct 2021]
– The Inga Foundation has created a sustainable agricultural system that doesn’t deplete nutrients in the soil like slash-and-burn farming does.
– Alley cropping inga trees has been shown to restore degraded land while withstanding tropical storms and drought.
– Around 400 families in Honduras have planted over 4 million trees in accordance with the Inga Foundation planting system.
– Yet despite its successes with Honduran farmers that could translate to all of Central America, the organization has struggled to gain traction on a regional level.

Indigenous leaders to push for land tenure rights as climate solution at COP26 by Sandra Cuffe [27 Oct 2021]
– Indigenous leaders from around the world will join government officials, scientists, activists, and NGO representatives at the U.N. climate summit in Scotland to highlight the role of Indigenous peoples in providing climate mitigation and adaptation solutions.
– New reports released ahead of the conference by the World Resources Institute and PRISMA Foundation emphasize the integral role of Indigenous land rights and access to climate funding in combating the climate crisis.
– Indigenous communities on the ground receive only a small fraction of climate funding directed toward Indigenous land tenure and forest management, with international NGOs, development agencies and consulting firms receiving the lion’s share, the PRISMA report says.

Indigenous Papuans won their forest back from a palm oil firm, but still lack land title
by Hans Nicholas Jong [27 Oct 2021]
– Indigenous villagers in Sorong district, West Papua province, have for years resisted the arrival of the palm oil industry into their territory, yet still saw their ancestral forests signed away by the government for an oil palm concession.
– Earlier this year, the Sorong district government revoked the concession, citing a litany of violations by the concession holder.
– The villagers have welcomed the move, but are demanding the government take further action to ensure the legal recognition of their rights to their customary forests.
– They say it’s important to prevent the customary forests from being given away to other companies in the future.

Deprived of their forests, Uganda’s Batwa adapt their sustainable practices
by Adolf Ayoreka [27 Oct 2021]
– Three decades since the Batwa people in Uganda were evicted from their ancestral lands to create national parks, members of the group live in poverty and marginalization at the fringes of society.
– Lack of land rights and access to natural resources has eroded traditional knowledge in the hunter-gatherer community, especially concerning herbal medicine and endemic plant species.
– Despite these circumstances, some Batwa groups are adopting new conservation practices involving regenerative agriculture on small plots of land donated to them by the United Organisation of Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU).

BR-319 highway hearings: An attack on Brazil’s interests and Amazonia’s future (commentary)
by Philip M. Fearnside [26 Oct 2021]
– Brazil’s proposed reconstruction of the BR-319, a highway connecting Manaus (in central Amazonia) with the “arc of deforestation” in southern Amazonia, would bring deforesters to vast areas of what remains of the Amazon forest.
– The forest areas in western Amazonia that would be opened by planned roads connecting to the BR-319 are vital to maintaining rainfall that supplies water to São Paulo and other major urban and agricultural areas outside the Amazon region.
– Holding public hearings allows a “box to be checked” in the licensing process — a key step in obtaining official approval for the highway project. The hearing was held despite impacted Indigenous peoples not having been consulted, among other irregularities.
– This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

NGOs say FSC label offers little protection for forests, Indigenous people
by Malavika Vyawahare [26 Oct 2021]
– The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a widely recognized ethical wood label, came under fire from NGOs this week for systematic flaws that allow deforestation and companies with questionable human rights records to benefit from certification.
– Forest certification allows timber suppliers to attract discerning, high-paying customers, adopt an eco-friendly image, and meet requirements to access lucrative markets, like the EU.
– Earlier this year, Greenpeace International published a report arguing that the FSC had “greenwashed” forest destruction, highlighting a trend of increasing deforestation and degradation despite the expansion of certification.
– In the Congo Basin, which hosts the second-largest tract of rainforest after the Amazon, the area under FSC certification has, in fact, shrunk, and even in certified concessions, experts say, valuable intact forestland is under threat.

Hungry like the maned wolf pup: Clips give rare glimpse of elusive canine
by [26 Oct 2021]
– New camera-trap clips show three maned wolf pups nursing and eating regurgitated food from their mother.
– This is the first time this behavior has been observed and documented in wild maned wolves, experts say.
– Wild maned wolves have recently recolonized Iberá National Park in Argentina, thanks to conservation efforts.

Indigenous Bolivians take the defense of their land into their own hands
by Yvette Sierra Praeli [26 Oct 2021]
– Indigenous community members in Bolivia’s Lomerío region are volunteering to serve as socioenvironmental members in a bid to protect their territory.
– They’re tasked with confirming satellite information identifying the location of potential fires, guarding against illegal mining and oil and gas extraction, and invasions of their land.
– Around 50 monitors from four Indigenous territories are participating in the program, which they call “an incredible experience.”

Poisoned city: The story of Brazil’s forgotten environmental disaster
by Pedro Grigori – Agência Pública / Repórter Brasil [26 Oct 2021]
– Hundreds of tons of carcinogenic agrochemicals, including DDT, were abandoned by the Brazilian government at a factory near an orphanage on the outskirts or Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s.
– The factory had produced the pesticides as part of the government’s push to eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
– After it shut down, the residents, unaware of the dangers of the chemicals, continued to use them, even applying the dust directly to their children’s hair to kill head lice.
– More than half a century later, residents continue to suffer from the impact on their health, with 73% of those tested having high levels of contamination in their bodies.

Cats, charisma and climate change (commentary)
by Jonathan Ayers [26 Oct 2021]
– Delegates are meeting later this week at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to the debate the future of life on Earth as we know it, through the lens of how to take action on climate change.
– Jonathan Ayers, Chair of the Board of Directors for wild cat conversation organization Panthera, makes a case for expanding efforts beyond combatting climate change: Addressing the global extinction crisis.
– “For far too long, the crisis of biodiversity loss has been largely overlooked and deprioritized,” Ayers writes. “If we are to earnestly protect the planet, environmental dialogue and focus must shift to one in which the climate change and biodiversity conservation crises are regarded and funded as two sides of the same coin.” Ayers says that cats are a great place to start when it comes to conserving ecosystems and staving off extinction.
– The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Bolsonaro evades genocide blame amid Indigenous deaths by invaders, COVID-19
by Fernanda Wenzel [25 Oct 2021]
– A Senate inquiry has opted not to call for genocide charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his failure to sufficiently protect Brazil’s Indigenous population from the COVID-19 pandemic and the escalating illegal invasions of their reserves.
– The final report nevertheless accuses Bolsonaro of crimes against humanity, saying he took advantage of the pandemic to harm traditional communities.
– The Senate’s backtrack on the genocide call comes a week after two Indigenous children in the Yanomami reserve were killed in an accident involving illegal mining machinery.
– The Yanomami, like other Indigenous reserves across Brazil, has faced a rising influx of invaders under Bolsonaro’s watch, which prosecutors attribute in part to the president’s anti-Indigenous rhetoric and support for illegal mining inside these territories.

$200 million in gold extracted in Amazon mine through illegal licenses
by Hyury Potter [25 Oct 2021]
– Gana Gold generated R$ 1.1 billion (US$ 200 million) in revenue using illegally-obtained environmental licenses in Brazil, equivalent to 3 tons of gold extracted.
– By the company’s own reckoning, its operations should be producing annual revenues of around R$ 30 million ($6 million) if operating within licensing limits.
– Located inside a conservation area, the company has extracted 32 times more gold than the projected estimate it made to the regulating agency.
– An embargo has been placed on Gana Gold along with R$ 10 million (US$ 2 million) in fines following reports of illegal activity.

Study chronicles dying of a lake in PNG with advent of oil & gas activities
by Hans Nicholas Jong [25 Oct 2021]
– A new study finds warning signs of ecosystem collapse at Lake Kutubu in Papua New Guinea, a wetland of international significance.
– The warning signs come in the form of major shifts in algal composition and dung-inhabiting fungi in the lake sediment in the 1980s and 1990s, indicating a drop in water quality and coinciding with oil and gas extraction in the area.
– The lake used to have extensive beds of microalgae known as charophytes, which provided a breeding ground for endemic fish and crayfish, but these beds have since all but disappeared.
– The researchers have called for action such as monitoring of the lake’s algae and fish populations to save the lake from ecological collapse.

Critically endangered Sunda pangolin caught on camera trap | Candid Animal Cam
by Romina Castagnino [22 Oct 2021]
– Every month, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.

Plastics set to overtake coal plants on U.S. carbon emissions, new study shows
By: Elizabeth Claire Alberts [22 Oct 2021]
– A new report released by Beyond Plastics suggests that plastics will release more greenhouse gas emissions than coal plants in the U.S. by 2030.
– It argues that plastics production in the U.S. is currently responsible for 232 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year, the equivalent of 116.5 gigawatts of coal plants. These numbers are likely to increase as production expands.
– However, experts say that policymakers do not currently account for the impact plastics currently have on climate change and that the issue is flying under the radar.

Deforestation from cattle ranching also hurts rivers in Nicaragua, study says
by Maxwell Radwin [22 Oct 2021]
– A new study highlights the adverse effects that cattle ranching has had on rivers in Nicaragua’s Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, including decreased food sources for aquatic life and the reduction in the size of fish.
– Deforestation has plagued the reserve for more than 30 years, resulting in the destruction of rainforest for cattle ranching, logging and other illegal activities.
– Local Rama and Kriol communities are carrying out patrols and starting other efforts to protect their land.

Can we stop calling it ‘forest bathing’ now? Please, just get outside. (commentary)
by Hannah Fries [22 Oct 2021]
– The trendy phrase ‘forest bathing’ is based on the term shinrin-yoku, coined by the Japanese government in the 1980s as a public health initiative to get stressed-out businesspeople outside for a while, where blood pressures drop and stress hormones dissipate.
– Studies were funded to prove this and then promote the idea that nature is good for us. Westerners have now jumped on the forest bathing bandwagon. So who cares if the idea is nothing new?
– “Here’s the thing that bothers me. It’s become another commodified, self-help-style, precious “practice” of our secular capitalistic culture…I get asked things like, ‘What length of time in a natural setting is necessary to benefit fully? How often?’”
– “The living, breathing world outside our doors is not a pill to take in certain dosages at certain times,” the writer argues. Rather, can we all just get outside in a forest, like we used to? The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.

Mangrove conservation takes root with local communities on Kenya’s coast
by Kang-Chun Cheng [22 Oct 2021]
– Mangroves are keystones of coastal ecosystems, protecting shorelines from erosion, providing habitat for fish and other marine life, and storing large amounts of carbon.
– These coastal forests are vital to local communities who have long relied on them for things like food, fuel, and construction materials.
– Kenya has lost half of its mangrove forests in the past 50 years to a combination of factors, including overexploitation by locals with limited livelihood options.
– A variety of conservation efforts in and around the southern city of Mombasa emphasize involving communities in reducing pressure on these coastal forests.

‘Unequal exchange’ for Brazil community in shadow of Anglo American mine
by Shanna Hanbury [22 Oct 2021]
– Mining giant Anglo American makes huge profits from its Minas-Rio iron ore mine in Brazil, but leaves little behind for the local communities whose lives have been upended by its operations, a new report says.
– Transparency of the mine’s financial flows falls short of international best practices, while its use of local water resources has reportedly led to shortages for the community, according to the report by the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analysis (IBASE) and Publish What You Pay.
– The 529-kilometer (328-mile) pipeline that Anglo American uses to transport its processed ore to port ruptured twice in 2018, spilling almost 1,000 metric tons of iron ore into surrounding rivers, contaminating farmland, pastures and water sources.
– The local mayor where the mine is located says the municipality would go broke without the mine and that Anglo American has made an active effort to support sustainable development, although residents fearful of a breach of the mine’s tailings dam disagree.

COVID could wreak havoc on gorillas, but they social distance better than we do
by Ryan Truscott [22 Oct 2021]
– A new study models the potential impacts of a COVID-19 outbreak in mountain gorillas using 50 years of population data collected in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park with epidemiological variables gathered on COVID-19 infection in humans.
– In most of the scenarios modeled, gorilla populations were found to decline sharply within 50 years of an outbreak.
– Questions remain as to whether the human epidemiological variables used in the analysis are a good fit for gorillas, which spend all of their time outdoors and interact with non-family members far less frequently than humans do.

Opposition to South Africa coal mine persists a year after murder of activist
by Victoria Schneider [22 Oct 2021]
– One year after the murder of South African anti-coal mining activist Fikile Ntshangase, no arrests have been made.
– A legal application to prevent the expansion of the Somkhele coal mine, which Ntshangase strongly opposed, has again been postponed by a South African court.
– Tensions within the communities remain high as the mining company is pushing residents to sign relocation agreements before its existing reserves are depleted in 2022.



Half-Earth, conservation, and hope: An interview with E.O. Wilson, Paula Ehrlich and Sir Tim Smit by Liz Kimbrough [10/20/2021]
Supporting more holistic approaches to conservation: an interview with Kai Carter by Rhett A. Butler [10/20/2021]
In Guinea, an illegal $6b gold ‘bonanza’ threatens endangered chimpanzees by Ashoka Mukpo [10/19/2021]
Changes to global fisheries subsidies could level the playing field for traditional coastline communities by Gladstone Taylor [10/18/2021]