ENN Weekly: May 1st - 5th

ENN rounds up the most important and compelling environmental news stories of the week. In the news May 1st - 5th: Hippos and polar bears in peril, warming and the Pacific, new frog species, cleaner fuel, and much more.

The Week's Top Ten Articles

In the news May 1st - 5th: Hippos and polar bears in peril, warming and the Pacific, new frog species, cleaner fuel, and much more.

1. Polar Bears, Hippos Added to Threatened Species
Polar bears and hippos have joined the ranks of species threatened with extinction from climate change, unregulated hunting and other man-made dangers, a leading environmental agency said on Tuesday.

2. Global Warming Weakens Vast Pacific Climate System
Climate scientists identified a likely new victim of global warming Wednesday: the vast looping system of air currents that fuels Pacific trade winds and climate from South America to Indonesia.

3. Nationalization of Bolivian Natural Gas is Part of a Broader Global Trend
Soaring energy prices are fueling a global wave of natural-resource nationalization that is souring the investment landscape for international oil companies and reshaping energy politics for years to come.

4. Switching to Cleaner Fuels, Improved Stoves Could Save Millions of Lives
Cooking with wood, dung, coal and other solid fuels on traditional stoves each year kills 1.5 million people who breathe in the poisonous fumes, the U.N. health agency said in a report released Thursday.

5. Common Soap Antiseptic Found in U.S. Crop Fields
A chemical widely used to make soap "antiseptic" survives sewage treatment and is being spread onto farmland and released into water, with unknown effects, researchers reported Tuesday.

6. Across Asia, Governments Look to Crops to Offest Oil Dependence
All across Asia, governments are searching for crops that can help them offset a dependence on imported oil that can only skyrocket as their economies soar.

7. South Africa to End 'Canned Hunting'
South Africa proposed new laws this week that would end the "canned hunting" of wildlife bred in captivity to be shot in closed reserves by wealthy tourists.

8. Oil in Alaska Refuge Seen Raising $111 Billion for U.S.
Allowing energy companies to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would raise about $111 billion over 30 years in corporate income taxes and royalty fees, based on current prices, a congressional research report said Tuesday.

9. Eight New Frog Species Discovered in Laos
Scientists working in conjunction with the New York-based World Conservation Society, or WCS, say they have discovered eight new species of frogs in the past two years. Among them is one where the male is half the size of the female and another which has a row of spines running down its belly.

10. China Bans Waste Discharges Near Croplands
China's legislature passed a law on Saturday barring sewage or chemical waste discharges into agricultural areas in an effort to improve the safety of produce, state media said.

Guest Commentary: A Short History of Environmentalism
By Tensie Whelan, Rainforest Alliance

Environmentalists anticipate Earth Day all year, and then we're secretly relieved when it’s over. It seems to represent our dearest aspirations, and some of our best opportunities for media coverage, and yet compresses them impossibly into one, reductive, feel-good day a year. We have vestigial expectations that Earth Day will be spontaneous and revolutionary, like the first one was in 1970.

But the environmental movement has changed a lot since then. Like the movement itself, Earth Day began as a consciousness-raising effort. Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson conceived it as a “teach-in” for the environment and was astonished when 20 million Americans participated in the first Earth Day in 1970. He touched a nerve, tapped the zeitgeist.

After that first outpouring in 1970, environmentalists’ focus shifted from public education to Washington, D.C., winning legislative and regulatory victories, achieving the world’s first effective national body of environmental statutes.

In the 1980s, environmentalism became litigious as it fought to enforce the new laws against corporate and government opponents. It was the environmental crusaders vs. evil polluters, in the courts and on the high seas. The weapons were lawsuits, media stunts and boycotts. Environmentalists used this culture of confrontation to good effect, scoring many successes.

Sometime approaching 1990, however, the limitations of this comfrontational model became apparent amid a growing sense that the movement, with its language of military metaphors, was winning battles but losing the war. Entire ecosystems were disappearing, deforestation accelerating, greenhouse gasses accumulating, large die-offs looming, and the sense of global unsustainability grew palpable.

This unease was the germ of today’s “corporate responsibility” and “sustainable development” movements, whose basic calculation was that stemming the tide of environmental degradation in a globalized world required the voluntary partnership rather than the enmity of big corporations, some of which have more wealth and bigger environmental footprints than many countries.

In the 1980s there had begun to emerge voluntary schemes that helped businesses thrive in a greener way. Some used very concrete systems of accountability, such as independent certification regimes.

One of these, the Rainforest Alliance, was formed in 1987 by activists who realized that boycotts of tropical hardwoods, coffee or bananas weren’t sufficient to save the rainforests. Instead, they worked with NGOs in producer countries to frame rigorous environmental and social sustainability criteria for these goods and to certify producers who met them.

The Rainforest Alliance certified its first forests in 1989 and its first farms in 1993. Two Chiquita banana farms were certified in 1994, then Chiquita invested some $22 million to bring all its company farms up to RA standards.

Once a particular lightning rod for boycotters, Chiquita’s turnaround helped the voluntary certification idea gain credibility. Today, serious certification regimes such as Rainforest Alliance, Forest Stewardship Council, Fairtrade and organics are all experiencing explosive growth. Forest Stewardship Council timber certified by the Rainforest Alliance grew 500% since 2000 and covers 2% of the world’s working forests, an area the size of Ecuador.

The global FSC market is worth over $5 billion. Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM coffee acreage multiplied over twenty times since 2000 and is now about one percent of coffee production worldwide, growing rapidly as Kraft Foods integrates it into its mainstream coffee brands such as Yuban. Including Chiquita, Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM is about 15% of world production. Benefits to workers, wildlife, and habitats have exploded along with them.

While we still need campaigning tactics, legislation and confrontation of wrong-doers, just as we did in the 1970s, today environmentalists have a new set of tools for leveraging global change. If Earth Day teach-ins once expressed our latent desire for new environmental values, sustainable certification buy-in expresses pent-up, global demand for new products and markets that translate those values into economic reality.

Tensie Whelan is the executive director of the non-profit Rainforest Alliance, www.rainforest-alliance.org, hosting a sustainable certified products marketing workshop in New York City May 17 with participants from Kraft, Chiquita, and other leading corporations, small business and NGOs in the vanguard of the global sustainability movement.

ENN welcomes a wide range of perspectives in its Commentary Series. To find out more or to submit a commentary for consideration please contact ENN's editor, Carrie Schluter: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Photo: Jewel Anemones in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: © Greenpeace/Roger Grace.

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