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Life’s profusion and the struggle to save the Amazon

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The first thing that struck me as we took a flight from the town of Shell into the forest camp of Naku, was the expanse of rolling green hills below us. For half an hour, we flew over thick forest, with tall canopy-breaking trees standing out above the carpet of green. For the first time ever, I truly appreciated what an incredibly vast forest is the Amazon.

I was in Ecuador in July this year, invited by groups that are attempting to help the indigenous people of the Amazon here and in Peru to protect their territories from oil exploitation and mining. As we touched down in the village of Llanchamacocha and took a canoe to a small tented camp that the local Sapara indigenous community have set up, I got a fuller taste of the diversity of life here. There was a profusion of plants, from tiny lichen and fungi to tree-size ferns to giant trees easily towering 70-80 metres above us. Over the next 4 days I marveled at the explosion of insect and bird life every time the sun came out (the rest of the time being cloudy and often rainy… showing its true character as a rainforest!). Everywhere I looked there seemed to be a different species of butterfly or grasshopper or beetle, each outdoing the other in colours and patterns. Overhead, comical looking toucans and myriad other birds screeched and sang; I could not even see the source of several calls in the thick forest. Occasionally a tiny hummingbird, one of them no bigger than a big bee, would hover in front of some flower, then momentarily disappear.

13 DECEMBER 2019, ASHISH KOTHARI, Source: Local Futures

Amazon, Shell to Llanchamacocha flight @ Ashish Kothari
Amazon, Shell to Llanchamacocha flight @ Ashish Kothari

Equally real was the legendary knowledge of the local people (so much so that it has been recognized by UNESCO as part of humanity’s ‘intangible heritage’). Manari Ushuguay, a local shaman, took us on a walk through the forest and told us the uses of several species. Every few steps he would stop and point: (holding a vine snaking up a tree) ‘this is the source of curare’, or (scratching a tree bark and taking out some whitish paste) ‘this resin acts just like botox, any of you want to look younger?’, or (plucking a tiny bell-shaped mushroom), ‘if you are hard of hearing, this can help if you place it in your ear’. He also constantly stressed that everything was alive, everything had a spirit, and that respecting this was at the core of how they treated the forest. It was such a refreshingly contrasting approach to what the mainstream economist or politician would tell us, how a forest is all about timber and pharmaceuticals and carbon, valued in monetary terms.

But because of this extractivist, developmentalist mindset, the world’s largest and most diverse forest is threatened by oil exploitation, mining, industrial-scale livestock and agricultural expansion. And, as most recently witnessed with horror by people worldwide, uncontrolled fires. Even on lands that are supposed to be reserved for wildlife or for indigenous peoples, governments are giving concessions for oil or mining. This is what the Sapara and other indigenous, small peasant, Afro-descendant and other Amazon peoples are fighting against. Already they have been faced with decimation, tens of millions having been murdered or killed by diseases introduced by the Spanish colonialists against which they had no immunity. From an estimated 20,000 at one point, the Sapara are down to a population of about 600, mostly caused by diseases brought in by outsiders who also enslaved them for the rubber trade and other commerce. Fortunately the population is now stable, but any new factor such as incursions by oil extraction and mining could tip it over towards extinction.

Not only are they resisting, they are also experimenting with alternative livelihoods, which enable them to continue living with the forest and enhancing or sustaining their well-being. The Sapara have started a community-led tourism initiative at Naku (which means ‘forest’ in Sapara language, itself almost extinct). But instead of a typical tourism venture, it is centred around healing, with the Sapara’s own sophisticated knowledge of nature being used to help visitors get cleansed of the toxins they come with. I (and other colleagues) were lucky enough to be given this treatment; best of all was that Naku has no Internet or phone connection, and the pace necessarily slows down to a much more human, gentle level. Most fascinating and humbling were the narratives about how the Sapara live through interpreting their dreams, listening to the voices of their ancestors, and in communication with the spirits of all the elements of nature around them.

This short trip provided the perfect backdrop for a meeting of the Global Commission of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative, in Quito. This initiative is a partnership of several indigenous networks in Ecuador and Peru, and groups like Pachamama Alliance and Amazon Watch, aiming to make a solid proposal for the conservation of 30 million hectares of the Amazon and the livelihoods of its residents. Given the enormous state and corporate pressure to open up the region for oil and other mining, this quest is going to be about as hard as scaling, without props, one of the Amazon’s towering trees. But local peoples have hardwood-strength resolve, and with sensitive global support, they could well scale these heights.

Ashish Kothari
Founder-member of Indian environmental group Kalpavriksh, Ashish taught at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, coordinated India’s National Biodiversity Strategy & Action Plan process, served on Greenpeace International and India Boards, helped initiate the global ICCA Consortium.

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Truths or Consequences: Failing State or Shining Light?: The USA Role in the Twenty-first Century

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Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life.  A special thanks to “The Other” Chuck Woolery for bringing this show to Mobilized and our special guest, “Monty G. Marshall.”

About Special Guest, Monty G. Marshall, Center for Systematic Peace
Dr. Monty G.  Marshall left the university system in 2010 after holding a position as both a Research Professor and Director of Research for the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University. He is now president of a private research enterprise: Societal-Systems Research, Inc. This private initiative will continue to produce the high quality information resources that form the foundation of the Center for Systemic Peace. Since 1998, he has been the director of the Polity IV project, which provides annual assessments of autocracy, democracy and regime transitions, and the Armed Conflict and Intervention (ACI) project, which monitors all forms of armed conflict and international influence structures. Also since 1998, Dr. Marshall has served as a senior consultant with the US Government’s Political Instability Task Force (PITF; formerly known as the State Failure Task Force). He has consulted frequently with the United Nations, US Agency for International Development, UK Department for International Development, the National Geographic Society, and many other national agencies and international organizations. Before taking his most recent academic posting at GMU, he was a Senior Research Associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), University of Maryland, where he directed the Integrated Network for Societal Conflict Research (INSCR) program from 1998-2005. He is a co-founder and was principle author, editor and researcher for CIDCM’s Peace and Conflict series. He also co-authored the original Minorities at Risk data series (with Ted Gurr) and was a Co-Director of that project.

Dr. Marshall’s current research focuses on systems analyses of societal conflict processes and the impact of global influence networks on local conflict dynamics. His theory and evidence detailing the problem of political violence within the context of societal and systemic development processes and the diffusion of insecurity in protracted conflict regions are reported in Third World War: System, Process and Conflict Dynamics. Other recent publications include the Global Report annual series (2007-present) and Peace and Conflict biennial series (2001-2005); other recent publications are available here. Dr. Marshall holds degrees in political science from the University of Colorado, University of Maryland and the University of Iowa; he held a prestigious University of Iowa fellowship from 1990 to 1993. He began his professional career teaching courses full-time at the University of South Florida, 1994-1997.

About the Series
In this era of truth decay this program will focus on the “Truths” that “WE hold” “to be self-evident.” The fundamental truths derived from “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”*  Drawing distinctions between such fundamental principles as:  inalienable human rights to life, liberty and health, no child should die before their parents,  preserving one’s freedoms and security requires virtue and responsibility and alternative principles humans invented like; ‘peace through strength’  ‘market forces or technology will solve the problem’. ‘national sovereignty’‘democracy’

*(Introduced in the Declaration of Independence.  A title that should have been the “Declaration of separation” given that independence exists nowhere in the known universe, but only as an illusion within our mind.  An illusion that is responsible for most of the death, suffering, and environmental destruction up till now.)

Produced by “The Other ” Chuck Woolery and Jeff Van Treese
Executive Producer is Steven Jay

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The Undertow: The Corrosion of Corruption: Cleaning up the Chaos with Heidi Cuda

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Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life.  A special thanks to Mark Metz for hosting “The Undertow” and our first special guest, investigative journalist, Heidi Cuda.

 

Progressive change in every field is hampered by the confluence of comprised government officials, malign corporate interests, and transnational organized crime. In a word: Corruption. Referred to as The Iron Triangle by Robert Mueller in his 2011 speech to the FBI, this shadowy undertow on the common good is an invisible economy fueled by human suffering diametrically opposed to progress on climate change, human rights, or social justice.

Heidi Cuda is an expert journalist who has been tracking this dark phenomenon for over 20 years. In this essential conversation, you will grasp the scale of the problem and the latest exciting developments to clean up the playing field around the world. Learn how you can help make progress against corruption in your own community for the common good of humanity.

Heidi Siegmund Cuda is an Emmy award-winning investigative producer, broadcast journalist, author, columnist, music critic, screenwriter and free press activist. After 15 years as an investigative producer for Fox 11 News Los Angeles, she resigned to pursue TV development, screenwriting and social justice activism.

Known for her long-form work in the music world such as Crazy Fool, about Bradley Nowell of Sublime; The Ice Opinion, with Ice T; and Definition of Down, with Darlene Ortiz, she is rapidly becoming one of foremost voices on corruption, dis-information, and the battle against autocracy.

Current co-host of the RADICALIZED podcast and US politics reporter for The Byline Times. “It’s Komprocated” a 240-page compilation of her political writings from 2016 to early 2019 is available at Ko-Fi.

Links:

 

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How Our Grassroots Energy Projects Are Taking Back Power From Utility Companies

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From solar power that cuts NYC energy bills and powers streetlights in Detroit to affordable high-speed internet throughout the United States, grassroots utilities projects are delivering on their promises to underserved communities of color.

By Aric Sleeper, – US, United States –

As power outages caused by extreme weather events become more intense and frequent, the efforts by federal, state and local legislators to abate human-caused climate change may seem futile to those on the front lines, who are left sweating or freezing in their homes after the power goes out unexpectedly and at the worst time possible.

Without intervention, these events will only become more recurrent. According to data provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information—which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and maintains and provides national geophysical data and information—there was an average of around three “weather and climate disasters” per year in the 1980s, compared to a staggering 22 extreme weather events in 2020.

The Biden administration’s participation in COP26, which took place in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021, was a step in the right direction to address climate change, compared to the previous administration, which derailed any progress made by the U.S. to address the current climate crisis. President Joe Biden, however, still did not go far enough at the international climate conference in terms of addressing environmental justice, systemic environmental racism and the disproportionate support for repairing the damage caused by extreme weather events in impoverished countries and underserved communities in the United States. The actions and projects needed to address these issues and bring about real change on the ground are, meanwhile, being championed by grassroots organizations led by women and people of color who are taking steps within their communities to move away from fossil fuels, power their neighborhoods with clean energy, and stay connected with community-created broadband infrastructure.

In New York City, Making Solar Power Affordable and Accessible Is About ‘More Than Just Putting Panels on Rooftops’

Working at the intersection of climate change and environmental justice in the heart of New York City is the Latino community-based nonprofit UPROSE. Founded in 1966, and based in the city’s largest maritime industrial district, the nonprofit organizes sustainable development projects and advocates for policies in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park and throughout all five boroughs. Their Sunset Park Solar project, which “will be New York City’s first community solar project owned and operated by a cooperative for the benefit of local residents and businesses,” will save its participants about 15 percent on their monthly electric bill, once the solar system has been installed and is operational.

The road to the project’s completion has been long and challenging due to the slow-moving gears of the existing governmental processes, according to Summer Sandoval, energy democracy coordinator at UPROSE.

“Sunset Park Solar is about more than just putting panels on rooftops; it’s about creating a scalable and replicable community-led model for the development of solar projects that build long-term community wealth and exhibit a Just Transition,” Sandoval says. “This project builds on the traditional community solar model but is vastly different from anything that’s been done before, and it’s challenging to navigate our way through processes, financial models and incentive programs that weren’t built for projects like this.”

Sunset Park Solar would allow for about 200 subscribers to utilize renewable energy and would not require any of them to install solar panels on their homes or pay any upfront costs, as UPROSE and its partners in the project have already done the heavy lifting. The panels for this project will be installed on the Brooklyn Army Terminal rooftop and will provide 685 kilowatts of clean electricity. In addition to the tangible cost-saving benefits to residents, the project has shown that community-led clean energy projects are possible.

“Even before construction, this project has demonstrated that the climate solutions are coming from the people on the front lines, and hopefully decision-makers see that as well and invest their resources directly into those front-line communities,” says Sandoval.

A Bright Spot in Detroit With Solar Streetlights

In Highland Park, Michigan, a city that sits within the City of Detroit, the nonprofit Soulardarity has been fighting for energy democracy since 2012.

“The idea of energy democracy is essentially focused on ensuring that the people who are affected the most by the decisions in energy should be the ones with the greatest amount of say in the process,” says Soulardarity Program Director Rafael Mojica.

Energy costs for city residents have been skyrocketing for decades (and continue to do so). The rate hikes were largely at the hands of the investor-owned, state-regulated utility company, DTE Energy, which made an interesting demand when Highland Park residents could no longer afford to pay the maintenance bill for their streetlights.

“In 2011, DTE gave [an] ultimatum to the City of Highland Park that they [either] pay the debt associated with the streetlights’ maintenance costs or lose them, and unfortunately, the city was in no position to pay their debt, so DTE followed through and removed more than 1,000 streetlights from the city,” says Mojica. “They didn’t remove everything. They left the stumps as a reminder to the community of their presence.”

When like-minded community members, led by Highland Park resident Shimekia Nichols (who is now Soulardarity’s executive director), organized as a result of the streetlight removal, they formed Soulardarity to bring light back to the community. After gathering funds from local residents, the first solar-powered streetlight was erected in 2012 in the neighborhood known as Avalon Village in Highland Park.

Soulardarity’s mission isn’t only to illuminate their streets with solar energy but also to shine a spotlight on the failed model of electricity production that for-profit, investor-owned utility providers like DTE Energy represent.

“DTE increases the rates they charge customers on a regular basis, exacerbating financial distress [for] communities of color, and despite the profits they’re raking in, they’re not using it to reinvest in their infrastructure. As a result… [the communities in Highland Park] have a poor level of service,” says Mojica. He adds that in the summer of 2021, “for example, Southeast and mid-Michigan experienced a huge number of blackouts, which are in DTE’s service area.”

Mojica points to the rippling effects of frequent power outages, especially in the summer and winter months, which can lead to refrigerated groceries that cost hundreds of dollars going bad as a result of these outages or can lead to rising hotel costs that may cripple the budgets of poor families living from paycheck to paycheck.

Currently, Soulardarity has been sifting through the language of the latest budget bills to ensure they provide funding for renewable energy projects in communities like Highland Park. Specifically, Soulardarity is seeking funds from the Department of Energy’s Communities LEAP program, which provides “supportive services valued at up to $16 million for community-driven clean energy transitions.”

Soulardarity has also completed an analysis in partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists to outline what a clean energy, net-zero future would look like in Highland Park in the future called Let Communities Choose.

“Ultimately, we want to break free from DTE, and in this analysis we found that it is doable,” says Mojica. “Not only that, but there are a number of community benefits that would come with the transition to renewable energy in the form of job creation and economic development, and our communities would be healthier and safer—basically, dramatically improving the quality of life for all community members.”

Internet Access for All American Communities as a Gateway to Democracy and Equity

While the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like solar is essential to preventing further global warming and boosting local economies, power also comes in the form of information. When access to high-speed internet is controlled by corporations that operate in a similarly monopolistic manner as utility companies like DTE Energy, underserved communities suffer, especially during situations like the ongoing pandemic.

“If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a place with affordable and reliable high-speed internet, you are essentially locked out of participating in modern society in so many ways, whether it’s distance learning, telemedicine, entertainment or even civic participation,” says Sean Gonsalves, senior reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. “These problems really came to the fore during the pandemic.”

Currently, the high-speed internet market and broadband infrastructure, especially in rural communities, are inadequate, according to Gonsalves. When internet service providers are for-profit monopolies, large segments of the country either can’t afford reliable internet service, or don’t have access to high-speed broadband.

“When a community is reliant on outdated technology like DSL, they can’t even have a Zoom meeting, and good luck sending an email,” says Gonsalves. “In a healthy functioning market, people have choices, but when it comes to broadband, there aren’t options, which leads to high prices, poor customer service and bad coverage.”

To gain more reliable and affordable internet service, cities across the United States have formed their own municipal broadband networks to compete with the existing monopolies. Cities like Longmont, Colorado; Wilson, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have transformed their economies and communities after organizing to create their own municipal broadband networks.

“The golden child is EPB in Chattanooga, which is a city-owned utility,” says Gonsalves. “Not every community can do what Chattanooga has, but in terms of benefits, the return on investment was $2.7 billion in the first 10 years of operation.” With federal legislation like the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act setting aside resources to increase and strengthen community broadband networks, Gonsalves and others at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative are hopeful that more communities will organize and take advantage of these opportunities and create their own broadband networks with the use of federal funding.

“The infrastructure bill represents a watershed moment in terms of the largest investment by the federal government in broadband ever,” says Gonsalves. “Even private investors are showing interest in community broadband, and now is the time for communities to start planning and pushing forward in an organized and strategic way.”

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


Aric Sleeper is an independent journalist whose work, which covers topics including labor, drug reform, food and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. In addition to his role as a community reporter, he has served as a government analyst and bookseller.

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Mobilized TV

Mobilized TV on Free Speech TV  takes a deep look at our world, the consequences of human activity on our planet, and how we can reverse and prevent existing and future crises from occurring. Mobilized reveals life on our planet as a system of systems which all work together for the optimal health of the whole. The show delves into deep conversations with change-makers so people can clearly take concerted actions.

Produced by Steven Jay and hosted by Jeff Van Treese.

Mobilized’s TV series Mobilized TV  premieres on Free Speech TV on Friday, October 15, 2021. All episodes appear:

Fridays 9:30 PM Eastern (USA/Canada)

Saturdays:  6:30 PM (Eastern USA/Canada)

Sundays:  8:30 AM Eastern (USA/Canada)

January 7, 8, 9, 2022

Leading Environmental Justice Attorney, Thomas Linzey of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights is a leading force helping communities implement successful rights of nature laws. Find out how your community could take on big business to serve the health of all.

 

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