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Murder of Retired Couple Chills Fellow Environmental Activists in Turkey

Killing of two advocates who successfully campaigned to shut down marble mine stokes fear that others will kill to protect profits

Cedar branches whisper in the Anatolian breeze. Twigs crunch underfoot. A truck rumbles from a distant marble quarry. The crack of a hunter’s rifle echoes through the forest.

The sounds of tranquility and violence intermingle at the remote hillside home of Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu, the Turkish beekeepers and environmental defenders whose murder in Finike earlier this year has sent a chill through the country’s conservation movement.

photo of marble quarryPhoto by mhyigit A marble quarry in Finike, Turkey. Aysin and Ali Büyüknohutçu were murdered after fighting marble companies in the area.

If the killings of the retired couple were not shocking enough, the aftermath — a dubious judicial investigation and the alleged suicide of the key suspect — have raised questions in parliament and the media about the priorities of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who increasingly seems to care more about the economy and concrete than lives and the environment.

Ali and Aysin were organic farmers who moved to a remote forest home so that they could be closer to nature after they retired.

A hand-painted sign above their gate reads “Ali Baba Çiftliği” (Father Ali’s Farm), a joking reference to the ditty that Turkish children sing to the tune of Old MacDonald. Their two-storey house and garden — carefully laid out in neat rows of vegetables — sits in a clearing among cedar and pine trees.

Their house itself is testimony to the couple’s commitment to each other, their country, their family, and the environment. Two cups sit by a kettle on the stove next to an open sugar bowl. Pride of place on the wall is a portrait of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who founded the Turkish Republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Below it are several stacks of books — bedtime stories for their grandchildren, and publications on global issues: Can a City Be Sustainable?, Worldwatch Institute on the State of the World 2016, and A Guide to Organic Farming.

Moving there was the realization of a long-held ambition. In his youth, Ali had written a poem in which he declared, “My only wish is a big garden with cheerful children.”

“This was their dream retirement,” said a source close to the family, who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisals. “They moved there for inner peace. Then they came up against the marble companies.”

They could not avoid them. The road up to their home passes from the …more

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Governments Need to Take A Hard Stand Against Illegal Fishing Industry

Recent shark hunts by China-based company highlights need for independent monitoring by NGOs, says Sea Shepherd activist

In Timor Leste law, a small country in Southeast Asia that achieved its independence from Indonesia in 2002, shark hunting is illegal, but that didn't prevent a China- based company from sending vessels out to the country's waters recently to illegally catch thousands of sharks.

photo of sharks on boatPhoto by Jake Parker/Sea Shepherd Sea Shepherd staff document sharks illegally caught off the coast of Timor Leste.

In September, the ocean conservation group Sea Shepherd, working with local police in Timor Leste, caught 15 vessels filled with thousands of sharks using gill nets to scoop up the bottom feeding sharks, some of which are internationally protected as endangered species. Banned from hunting for sharks in Indonesia's waters, these shark-hunting vessels prey on Timor Leste, an impoverished country with no resources to patrol or regulate their waters.

The company that owns the vessels, Pingtan Marine Enterprise, is listed on the United States NASDAQ, and has been banned in the past from fishing in Indonesian waters. The company did have fishing licenses from the Timor Leste government, but not for shark hunting. These large hauls threaten the country's fishing supply and marine ecosystem. 

The same fleet of illegal shark fishing vessels were caught in August 2017 in a restricted marine sanctuary near the Galapagos Islands that has one of the greatest abundance of sharks in the world. That, and the limited resources of Ecuador and the Galapagos National Park to patrol the waters, have made it a target for illegal shark hunting.

Though the crew was arrested, the private company still thrives on breaking international laws to feed the demand of the shark fin industry. 

Small governments and limited monitoring resources make countries like Timor Leste and regions like the Galapagos easy targets for large fishing companies like Pingtan Marine looking to make big profits with illegal hauls.

"Developing countries such as Timor Leste are prime targets for exploitation by developed nations’ fishing fleets. This is largely down to the limited or lack of marine enforcement assets and training/knowledge into illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing," says Gary Stokes, Asia director of Sea Shepherd.

Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing accounts for up to US $23.5 billion worth of fish caught worldwide every year. In other words, 1 in every 5 fish that you can buy at the store was probably illegally caught. This kind of fishing robs, often poor, coastal communities of vital sources of food and income and damage marine environments. International cooperation and alerts …more

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Planned Rail Line Would Intersect Kenya’s Nairobi National Park

Conservationists worried Chinese-backed project will threaten safety of wildlife, integrity of ecosystem

Nairobi National Park has become the focal point of a conflict between national development priorities and environmental conservation in Kenya. Established in 1946, this 117-square-kilometer wilderness area is the oldest state park in Kenya, and home to incredible biodiversity. Animals such as buffalo, giraffe, lions, leopard, white rhino, the endangered black rhino, and more than 600 bird species live inside the protected area, which is also the only national park in the world within a city.

artists impression of bridgePhoto courtesy of EAWLS Artist impression of SGR in Nairobi Park. The mega infrastructure project is about to change the face and future of this wilderness

But a mega infrastructure project is about to change the face and future of this wilderness. A new standard gauge railway (SGR), for transportation of freight and high-speed passenger service between the seaport of Mombasa and the capital city of Nairobi, is proposed to cut through Nairobi Park.

The SGR has been presented as a key project for Kenya’s long-term plan to become an industrialized country by 2030. Constructed at a cost of $3.8 billion, the 484-kilometer railway is primarily funded by the government of China and is being built by Chinese companies. The new track runs parallel with the old meter-gauge railway built in 1904, which crosses into Nairobi before continuing west into Uganda.

In order to avoid the huge cost of compensating Nairobi businesses and residences that were in the original path of the train and were slated for demolition, the Kenya Railways Corporation and the National Land Commission decided in 2016 to run part of the second phase of the SGR through Nairobi National Park. Several park-based options were considered initially, including one that would have cut through a rhino-breeding zone, before the authorities settled on raising the track onto a bridge with underpasses so that animals could move around the rail line.

Already, 216 acres of park land have been dedicated to 12 kilometers of railway. This decision has conservationists and nature lovers up in arms over the long-term integrity of this ecosystem.

Akshay Vishwanath, chairman of the conservation organization Friends of Nairobi National Park (FoNNaP), has been a vocal critic of the project. “The claims by the Kenya Railways Corporation that the bridge across Nairobi Park will not have an impact on the wildlife is unsubstantiated by any facts, and is not based on reliable science,” said Vishwanath.

He refers to findings in 2016 by the organization Save the …more

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In Conversation with Cascadia’s Shannon Wilson

Veteran forest defender discusses 30 years of ecosystem advocacy

Forests store and sequester mind-boggling quantities of carbon, making forest protection one of the most effective (and simplest) actions we can take to buffer our planet against the ravages of climate change — a fact that “ecosystem advocate” Shannon Wilson is well aware of. At 52, Wilson remains one of the most experienced, dedicated, and effective forest defenders in the United States. Over the last 30 years, he has been pivotal in the preservation of hundreds of thousands of acres of native forests in his home state of Oregon, and has fought to protect the clean air, pure water, species habitat, and climate regulation these ecosystems provide.

photo of shannon wilsonPhoto courtesy of Shannon WilsonShannon Wilson has been defending Oregon’s forests for 30 years.

From his early days Earth First! to his time in the Sierra Club (from which he was ousted, much like Sierra Club executive director David Brower, who went on to found Earth Island Institute) to his current project, Eco Advocates NW, Wilson has been there on the front lines and behind the scenes organizing and engaging in grassroots campaigns to defend wild forests. And, though the fate of our nation’s last bio-diverse ecosystems remains uncertain, Wilson refuses to give up on the forests to which he has dedicated his life.

Earth Island Journal interviewed Wilson to talk about his three decades of ecosystem advocacy, his perspective on the modern environmental movement, and his vision for the future of life on Earth.

What are your roots?

I grew up in southwest Oregon, one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. My family of seven, we pretty much lived in poverty. I was raised on food stamps and big blocks of cheese from the government for quite a few years. As a kid, I spent most of my time outside of school just hanging out in old growth forest in my backyard. There was a creek that flowed through those forests and they were public lands, BLM [Bureau of Land Management] lands.

When were you first made aware of threats to the natural world?

I first learned about extinction by writing a report about the passenger pigeon, I think when I was in fourth grade. And from there, that connection to the natural world and all its species led me to think that, when I grew up, I could be an advocate for wild places and those species that reside there.

What spurred you to take action to …more

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Development Banks Continue to Sink Billions into Fossil Fuel Projects

Public financing for oil and gas estimated at $9 billion in 2016 fiscal year alone, much of it after Paris Agreement

In the last year alone, vulnerable populations have suffered massive damage from the impacts of a changing climate. “Super hurricanes” have torn through the Caribbean — turbocharged by abnormally warm waters — making islands uninhabitable. Flooding, mudslides, wildfires, and avalanches have hit nearly every continent, killing thousands. These extreme weather events decimated basic infrastructure and destroyed livelihoods and economies. While not all of these individual events can be unequivocally linked to climate change, many are strengthened by it, and they are a harbinger of things to come in a world of climate disruption.

arial view of oil rigPhoto by Adventures of KM&G-Morris, FlickrAccording to a new report, a quarter of investments from mutilateral development banks went to fossil fuel infrastructure between fiscal years 2014 and 2016. 

In keeping with their mission to end poverty, multilateral development banks (MDBs) have been vocal about the climate challenge. The World Bank has called climate change an “acute threat to global development that increases instability and contributes to poverty, fragility, and migration,” and has noted that their client countries “recognize the threat and the opportunity: that the transition to a low-carbon, climate resilient economy can drive innovation, jobs, and growth.”

Despite these words, a new briefing released today shows that about a quarter of these banks’ investments between fiscal years 2014 and 2016 flowed to fossil fuel infrastructure — $28 billion in total — directly at odds with efforts to fight climate change. In the 2016 fiscal year alone, multilateral development banks provided $9 billion in public finance to fossil fuel projects — a form of public subsidy. The majority of this $9 billion in finance actually occurred after the Paris Agreement had already been reached in late 2015.

The World Bank Group and Asian Development Bank drove the 2016 increase in fossil fuel finance, including major support to exploration for oil and gas — some of the most egregious fossil fuel projects given that the world has more already-producing fossil fuel reserves than the climate can bear. Burning through the reserves in currently-operating oil and gas fields alone, even if coal use suddenly stopped tomorrow, would take us far beyond 1.5°C of warming.

Given these catastrophic implications, civil society groups are uniting to demand real climate leadership from the World Bank. The Big Shift campaign calls for an immediate end to coal and exploration finance, and an end to all MDB fossil finance by …more

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The Energy East Pipeline is Dead, but Three Tar Sands Pipeline Projects Remain

Anti-pipeline activists celebrate victory, caution against complacence

Last week, energy company TransCanada pulled the plug on its 2,800-mile Energy East Pipeline and Eastern Mainline projects, which would have shipped 1.1 million barrels of crude oil from the Athabasca tar sands to refineries in Eastern Canada. The move was celebrated as a victory by environmentalists and Indigenous people pushing for a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

arial view of Athabasca Tar SandsPhoto by Dru Oja Jay, DominionIf built, the three other massive pipeline projects —TransCanada’s Keystone XL, Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project — would transport millions of barrels of oil per day from the Athabasca tar sands mines (pictured above) to refineries along the Canadian and US coast.

“This is a tremendous battle victory in the greater fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground and for climate justice for Indigenous nations,” Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Keep It In The Ground project, said in a statement. The announcement, Goldtooth said, “supports the validity and strength of an Indigenous rights-based approach to win these battles. All along the Energy East pipeline route First Nations took a stand to defend their inherent rights, protect their water and Mother Earth and resist the colonial actions of Canada and its oil regime.”

But the work is far from over — three other massive tar sands pipeline projects representing millions of barrels of oil per day loom in the distance.

Depending on who you talk to, there are a few explanations for TransCanada ending the billion-dollar Energy East project, which happens to be the second major pipeline project to be cancelled following the end of the $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline in 2016. Theories include relentless resistance, especially from Indigenous communities whose traditional territories and waters were located on or near the pipeline route, as well as over-regulation by various levels of government and forecasts of a continuing dip in global oil prices and production that made the project less economically attractive.

The Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, a coalition of First Nations and Native American tribes across North America attributed the pipeline’s demise to grassroots activism.

“Both the Northern Gateway fight and this Energy East one show that when First Nations stand together, supported by non-Indigenous allies, we win,” Grand Chief Serge Simon of the Mohawk Council of Kanestake said on behalf of the Treaty Alliance.

TransCanada, …more

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Conservationists Sound Alarm on Plummeting Giraffe Numbers

Pending US Endangered Species Act listing could support recovery efforts, say advocates

Picture an animal enrobed in a fiery, jigsaw-patterned coat. A creature of such majestic height that it towers amongst the trees. As your eyes make their way up its long neck that appears to defy gravity, you find crowned atop its head two Seussian, horn-like protrusions framing dark, curious eyes fanned by lashes. In its truest sense, the giraffe fits the description of a creature plucked from the pages of a fantastical story. Even its species name, Giraffa camelopardalis, comes from the ancient Greek belief that the giraffe is a peculiar camel wearing the coat of a leopard. Meanwhile, the Japanese word for giraffe and unicorn are one and the same.

photo of giraffe Photo by Julian Fennesy Nubian giraffe in Uganda. An estimated 2,645 Nubian giraffes remain in the wild.

Today, we continue to walk the Earth with these awe-inspiring creatures, which range across much of Africa. But giraffes are facing what many are calling a ‘silent extinction.’ Public awareness and global action is critically due. “These gentle giants have been overlooked,” appeals Sir David Attenborough in BBC’s “Story of Life”  documentary series aired in late 2016, urging that “time is running out.”

As word begins to get out about the difficulty giraffes are facing, a small, committed cohort are fighting for the species. They are working diligently in the field to learn more about the animals and their populations, cooperating with governments to preserve land giraffes depend on, and collaborating with communities to conserve their wildlife. Meanwhile, others are championing for giraffes on the legal frontlines, advocating for further protections. In particular, wildlife advocates have called for greater protections at the international level, as well as domestic restrictions on trade in giraffe parts in the United States.

The sharp decline of giraffe numbers over the past three decades led to an official change in their conservation status in December 2016, when the giraffe was “uplisted” from Least Concern status to Vulnerable — more specifically, “Vulnerable to Extinction” in the wild — on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. (Listings under the IUCN don’t come with specific protections, but provide valuable information about species’ status as well as attention to the threats they face.)  In making the decision, the IUCN cited an ongoing population decline of 36 to 40 percent between 1985 and 2015. This represents a change from approximately 106,191 to 114,416 mature individuals in 1985 down to 68,293 in …more

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