Category Archives: Development

Map of the day: Western Hemisphere happiness


From Views of the World, the always informative blog of British geographer Benjamin Henning, a look at how the nations of the Western Hemisphere fare on the Happy Planet Index [click on the image to enlarge]:

From the blog post, where you can find the full map, which is based on a remapping of the world to show the nations resized to match their relative populations:

March, 20th is the United Nations’ International Day of Happiness, recognising ‘the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world’. Bhutan is credited as the first country to have implemented the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness’ as an official measure for the state of a nation, introduced in 1972. After the global financial crash in 2008, ideas about giving the ‘spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of [people] and natural environment’ more prominence over mere economic development are reflected more and more in international efforts towards a sustainable future.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI), developed by the New Economics Foundation, takes a rather radical approach on this issue. It aims to measure well-being and happiness by taking a universal and long-term approach to understanding, how efficiently people in a country are using their environmental resources to live long and happy lives.

This cartogram maps the results of the 2016 Happy Planet Index from the perspective of people. The gridded population cartogram shows the world resized according to the number of people living in each area, combined with the national HPI score:

The indicators that are used for calculating the HPI score cover life-satisfaction, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and the ecological footprint. As argued in the report, ‘GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy. It does not reflect inequalities in material conditions between people in a country.’ This explains why consumption patterns are seen as more important for well-being than production. It also acknowledges that inequalities in well-being and life expectancy are important factors in the overall happiness of the population in a country.

When taking these notions into account, the rich industrialised countries score much worse in achieving sustainable well-being for all. Of the 140 countries included in the HPI, Luxembourg is the most extreme example for a wealthy nation scoring very badly – it does well on life expectancy and well-being, and also has low inequality, but sustains this lifestyle with the largest ecological footprint per capita of any country in the world. It would require more than nine planets to sustain this way of life if every person on Earth lived the same way, showing that the standard of living comes at a high cost to the environment.

Among the positive stories is Costa Rica, which is also highlighted on the map. The country has persistently scored highest in all HPI releases (the 2016 edition is the third, after 2009 and 2012). More of a surprise might be the high score for Mexico (second), which is credited to massive efforts at improving health and environmental sustainability. Despite challenges with tackling inequality, well-being is perceived higher than in the wealthier northern neighbour, the United States. Quite a few Central and South American nations, as well as some Asian and Pacific countries do better than many wealthy nations. However, the African continent shows that at the bottom end extreme poverty can be a limiting factor in achieving sustainable well-being.

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Charts of the day: Latin American land inequality


Two significant graphics from Unearthed: land, power and inequality in Latin America, a major study of land distribution in Latin America, reveal the gross inequalities of land distribution in the Americas.

First, a look at agricultural land tenure rates, featuring the percentage of farms in each country owned by the top one percent of landowners:

More from the report:

Latin America is the world’s most unequal region in terms of land distribution. The Gini coefficient for land—an indicator of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents the maximum inequality—is 0.79 for the region as a whole, 0.85 in South America and 0.75 in Central America. These figures indicate much higher levels of land concentration than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to this indicator, Paraguay (with a Gini coefficient of 0.93) is the country where land is most unequally distributed, followed by Chile (0.91) and Venezuela (0.88). At the other end of
the spectrum is Costa Rica (0.67), which has the most equitable land distribution in the region. Most Latin American countries have extremely high levels of concentration with Gini coeffi-
cients above 0.80, while the ratio is over 0.90 in Chile and Paraguay.

Compared with the distribution of income—for which Latin America is also the most unequal region in the world—land distribution is even more inequitable. The regional Gini coefficient for income is 0.48 compared with 0.79 for land, and is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.43), North America (0.37) or the East Asia-Pacific region (0.37).

And, next, a look at what crops are planted on those vast latifundias:

Note particularly the vast acreage devoted to soybeans.

The great majority of those acres are planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans, according to this September report from Reuters:

South American farmers are expected to sow 57 percent more area with Monsanto Co’s second-generation, genetically modified soybean seed Intacta RR2 Pro in the new planting season, a company executive said.

Intacta, which tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and resists caterpillars, was planted on 14 million hectares in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2015/2016.

Farmers are expected to plant 18 million to 22 million hectares this season, Maria Luiza Nachreiner, head of South American soy operations, said in an interview before Monsanto announced it would accept a $66 billion takeover bid from rival Bayer.

“We have a positive outlook this crop,” Nachreiner said.

Intacta will account for 31 percent to 38 percent of the planted area in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, up from 24 percent this season, she noted.

Monsanto does not release specific numbers about the area planted with its seeds in Brazil, the world’s largest soybean exporter. For years, its Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area, according to data from local consultant Celeres.

To maintain those crops, farmers are also basically forced to use Monsanto weed-killers, most notably glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in the company’s Roundup,.

Roundup has been linked with a growing number of human health problems, but weeds have been growing tolerant, forcing the company to create new blends featuring even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D, one of two chemicals used in the toxic Agent Orange blend sprayed over much of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, resulting in a growing number of severe infant deformities.

The tragedy of Trump/Big Oil’s war on the EPA


We spent a good many years covering environmental issues, including the role played by corporations and the nation’s largest university system in building on polluted land.

We were first stirred to concern for our impact on the environment in 1962 when we read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the book that inspired the rise of the modern environmental movement in the last half of the 20th Century.

The movement became so significant that a Reoubkican President [and a loathed one at that] created the Environmental Protection Agency,

And while Donald Trump may share a leak paranoia with Agent Orange, he’s anything but Richard Nixon when it comes to the environment.

An agency dismembered

While Trump and many of his appointees called for outright elimination of the EPA, realism set in.

That and the beginning of the death by a thousand cuts, starting with a story from Newsweek written as the initial proposed budget cuts were revealed:

The proposal, sent to the EPA [last week], would cut into grants that support American Indian tribes and energy efficiency initiatives, according to the source, who read the document to Reuters.

State grants for lead cleanup, for example, would be cut 30 percent to $9.8 million. Grants to help native tribes combat pollution would be cut 30 percent to $45.8 million. An EPA climate protection program on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming would be cut 70 percent to $29 million.

The proposal would cut funding for the brownfields industrial site cleanup program by 42 percent to $14.7 million. It would also reduce funding for enforcing pollution laws by 11 percent to $153 million.

The budget did not cut state revolving funds for programs, that Congress tapped last year to provide aid to Flint, Michigan, for its lead pollution crisis.

All staff at a research program, called Global Change Research, as well as 37 other programs would be cut under the plan.

As Bloomberg notes:

More than 40 percent of EPA’s budget – about $3.5 billion – is dedicated to state and tribal grants used to pay for staff and support an array of programs, including initiatives that protect drinking water. State clean air and water programs also benefit.

That means the disproportionate burden will fall on states, most of which have Republican-controlled legislatures and chief executives.

So it’s unlikely most states will replace the lost funds, and layoffs will ensue.

Also impacted will be city government, losing both federal funds and monies from the states.

Given that the burdens of pollution fall disproportionately on the poor, life expectancies may decline.

Hey, but he’s makin’ Ahmurka great agin, ain’t he?

Ain’t he?

The latest development: Still more cuts

Needless to say, climate research is involved.

Scientific American puts it i context:

The administration is seeking a nearly 20 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget, including to its satellite division, The Washington Post reported. That includes significant cuts to the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, which has produced research that disproved the notion of a global warming pause. NOAA’s satellites provide invaluable data on climate change that are used by researchers throughout the world. The NOAA cuts target the Office of Ocean and Atmospheric Research, which conducts the bulk of the agency’s climate research.

That’s on top of proposed reductions to climate research at U.S. EPA, including a 40 percent cut to the Office of Research and Development, which runs much of EPA’s major research. The cuts specify work on climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. The Trump administration also has proposed 20 percent staffing reduction at EPA.

More than a dozen federal agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey, the Interior Department and the Department of Energy, conduct climate research. Further cuts are expected, particularly at NASA, which develops and launches the satellites that provide invaluable information on climate change used throughout the world. President Trump has called global warming a “hoax,” and some congressional Republicans pushing for climate science cuts have falsely claimed that federal scientists are engaged in a massive conspiracy to defraud the American public into thinking that human activity is causing the planet to warm.

About a third of the American economy relies on weather, climate and natural hazard data, said Chris McEntee, president of the American Geophysical Union, the nation’s largest scientific organization. She said much of the federal scientific research and data comes from multiple agencies working together, so cutting one will have a ripple effect.

“It’s not just one agency, it’s a holistic view here, and cutting one piece also has an impact on the whole enterprise of what we get out of science from the federal government that enables us to have the kinds of tools and information we need to protect the infrastructure, to protect lives, to protect public safety, and to give us knowledge and information to make a more effective economy and country,” she said.

After the jump, more cuts, the threats to a massive database and efforts to preserve them, and a case of class war. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day II: A Trumpster’s racist wishes


Artvoice, an alternative paper in Buffalo, asked prominent Buffalo real estate developer and property magnate Carl Paladino a list of questions. He also served as co-chair of Trump’s New York state campaign and held meetings with the President-elect and key staff members, including White House counsel-designate Steve Bannon and National Security Advisor-designate and retired Gen. Michael “Mad Dog” Flynn.

Here are his answers to the first two questions, “1. What would you most like to happen in 2017?” And “2. What would you like to see go away in 2017?” via a screencap from the paper’s website:

blog-paladino

Yet another Trumpster mainstreams racism.

Fukushima reactor disaster costs near $200 billion


The latest sobering numbers from Japan Today:

Japan’s trade ministry has almost doubled the estimated cost of compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to more than 20 trillion yen ($177.51 billion), the Nikkei business daily reported on Sunday.

The trade ministry at the end of 2013 calculated the cost at 11 trillion yen, which was comprised of 5.4 trillion yen for compensation, 2.5 trillion yen for decontamination, 1.1 trillion yen for an interim storage facility for contaminated soil, and 2 trillion yen for decommissioning, the report said.

The new estimate raised the cost of compensation to 8 trillion yen and decontamination to 4-5 trillion yen, the cost for an interim storage facility remained steady, and decommissioning will rise by several trillion yen, it added.

The part of the cost increase will be passed on in electricity fees, it added, citing multiple unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

A parallel story from California

The Fukushima reactor complex was constructed adjacent to the Pacific Ocean coast in a nation known for it’s frequent and furious earthquakes.

Remind you of California?

As we’ve written previously and extensively, California allowed construction of both its commercial power reactor complexes on the Pacific Coast and in areas riddled with earthquake faults.

And when one of the reactor complexes suffered a major breakdown, the Golden State did just as Japan is now doing. They stuck utility customers with the bill.

From a 3 June story in the San Diego Union-Tribune, reporting on the shutdown of the San Onofre reactor complex in northern San Diego County, a project of San Diego Gas & Electric Co.:

According to the utility, customers are on track to save $500 million or more off their share of the original $4.7 billion deal adopted by regulators 19 months ago.

An insurance payout and funding from a federal nuclear decommissioning trust have helped, the utility said. And further reductions in the ratepayer contribution may come if Edison is successful in a lawsuit against vendor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and in selling off fuel purchased for the nuclear plant that will no longer be needed.

Consumer advocates criticized Edison’s response to the utilities commission. They said the company cherry-picked numbers to make it appear customers are being charged less than they are.

The critics said that nowhere in the filing does the utility accept responsibility for installing flawed equipment that led to the shutdown of the plant amid a radiation leak in January 2012.

The reason for the shutdown is that the company installed a faulty piping system inside the reactor complex, a set of pipes so flawed that they leaked radioactively “hot” water inside the containment structure.

The whole nuclear power industry was an offshoot of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, and the government lied to the American people in order to get concessions and support run through Congress.

The most notorious lie came in 1954, when the first chair of the Atomic Energy Commission [now the Department of Energy] told science writers that “Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.”

Those children now have children of their own, and those meters are still clocking up the dollars.

And now when those power stations go flooey [a favorite phrase of esnl’s own dad], the customers are stuck with the bill.

Consider an analogy

You’re in a grocery store when an earthquake hits, hurling all those beer and wine bottles, milk containers, pickle jars, and all the rest smashing to the floor.

Where they break.

Then you go the the checkout line to pay for whatever you’re gathered before the earth moved, only to discover that you’re forced to pay for all that smashed inventory — goods smashed because the store didn’t built in devices to restrain those goods from hurtling into into a catastrophic mess of goo and gunk. . .

Seem fair to you?

Army says it won’t evict Dakota pipeline protesters


Some good news, for the moment for protesters attempting to blockade the Dakota Access Pipeline [previously].

From Deutsche Welle:

The US Army Corps of Engineers said Sunday it has “no plans for forcible removal” of protesters who have been camping in North Dakota to protest the pipeline. The Corps had notified tribal leaders Friday that all federal lands north of the Cannonball River would be closed to public access December 5 out of “safety concerns.” The move sparked fears of a violent confrontation with law enforcement officials as they attempted to evict thousands of activists from the Oceti Sakowin camp erected in April.

Protesters and local law enforcement have regularly clashed over efforts by activists to disrupt final construction of the 1,172-mile (1,885-kilometer) pipeline that would move crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

But in a statement the Army Corps’ district commander in Omaha, Nebraska clarified that federal agencies aren’t planning to forcibly evict protesters.  “I am very concerned for the safety and well-being of all citizens at these encampments on Corps-managed federal land, and we want to make sure people are in a safe place for the winter,” Colonel John Henderson said.  “We fully support the rights of all Americans to exercise free speech and peacefully assemble, and we ask that they do it in a way that does not also endanger themselves or others, or infringe on others’ rights.”

The Standing Rock Sioux have challenged the project in federal court, saying the pipeline’s more than 200 water crossings, including one less than a mile upstream of the reservation, would imperil drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions downstream. Activist organizers told a news conference on Saturday at the main protest site where about 5,000 people are camped that they had no intention of moving. There are smaller camps on land not subject to the planned restrictions, including an area south of the Cannonball River where the Corps said it was establishing a so-called “free-speech zone” by authorities.

A tale of two indigenous land protest movements


The Dakota Access Pipeline [DAP] is a 1,600-mile pipeline being built to carry high-grade petroleum from North Dakota’s fracked-up Bakken Shale proposed across North and South Dakota and on through Iowa to Illinois.

The only problem, besides all the environmental worries connected with oil, fracking, and constructing a pipeline that could leak into some of the nation’s most environmentally sensitive landscapes and waterways, the project is being driven through land considered sacred by several of the nation’s indigenous tribes.

Native American take a different view of land that do the statutes of states and the federal government, which see land as property, susceptible to “improvements” — usually those proposed by folks looking out to make a fast buck.

Indigenous people tend to see land different, as a living thing of which they are a small but significant part.

Mother Earth, in other words, is more than just as advertising slogan.

The DAP passes through landscape — a better term than the purely utilitarian land favored by legislators, banksters, and corporateers — considered sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux, and it was a woman, tribal Historic Preservation Officer LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who formally launched the protest movement against the project by opening the Sacred Stone Camp on April 1.

The protest has been joined by other indigenous groups, environmentalists, and scientists concerned about the ecological impacts and threats to endangered species.

The Army Corps of Engineers announced Friday that protesters blockading pipeline construction must end by 5 December or mass arrests would follow, and the Obama administration shows no sign of intervening as of this writing.

Which brings us to the story of another protest, and a successful campaign launched by women to thwart a housing development of scared landscape north of the U.S. border.

From the National Film Board of Canada, a 2009 documentary film by Sara Roque:

Six Miles Deep

Program notes:

A documentary portrait of a group of women who led their community, the largest reserve in Canada, Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve, in an historic blockade to protect their land. On February 28, 2006, members of the Iroquois Confederacy [also known as the Haudenosaunee or People of the Longhouse] blockade a highway near Caledonia, Ontario to prevent a housing development on land that falls within their traditional territories. The ensuing confrontation makes national headlines for months. Less well known is the crucial role of the clan mothers of the community who set the rules for conduct. When the community’s chiefs ask people to abandon the barricades, it is the clan mothers who overrule them, leading a cultural reawakening in their traditionally matriarchal community.