Monday, 29 March 2010

Is Earth past the tipping point?

A new video from the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment asks the question: Is Earth past the tipping point?

This follows a report published in Nature last year by 28 scientists who pointed out that Earth has ten separate biophysical systems that can define a "safe planetary operating space". Three of these biosphere systems have already suffered lasting, irreversible damage by human activity including biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle and the climate system.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Lawyers appeal Chevron's arbitration move

Chevron latest: More wriggling. Quelle surprise!

Lawyers representing thousands of indigenous people from the Ecuadorian Amazon who are suing Chevron for the dumping of toxic waste are to appeal a recent decision by a New York court to grant Chevron permission to international arbitration.

The American oil giant hope to prove they have been denied due process by the Ecuadorian judiciary which is expected to force them to stump up $27.3 billion in damages. This comes after having originally lavished praise on Ecuador's judicial system in order to have the lawsuit moved there from an American court.

Lack of due process presumably refers to prosecution of and sanctions against two of Chevron's lawyers, one of whom tried delaying the outcome of the trial by regularly re-filing legal motions that had already been denied.

Arbitration has been brought about by way of a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) between Ecuador and the United States. According to the Opinio Juris blog, an arbitration ruling in Chevron's favour - despite not affecting the actual lawsuit in Ecuador - could give the company good ground to contest the enforcement of any judgement in the US. The multi-billion dollar bill could wipe up to a fifth off the market value of Chevron.

The latest death throe has prompted cries of "forum shopping" from campaigners, who also point out that indigenous peoples would be excluded from participating in arbitration thousands of miles away.

"Chevron's plan to try to resolve the legal claims of thousands of rainforest residents in a secret arbitration is a massive denial of due process," said Jonathon Abady, a representative of the plaintiffs. "After more than 17 years of litigation fraught with delay caused largely by Chevron itself, these individuals deserve to have their claims resolved in the forum that Chevron chose after relying for years on those promises.

"Chevron, because it faces an adverse judgment, is now looking for yet another forum to drag out this process and make good on its promise of a lifetime of litigation for the communities."

According to the Amazon Defense Coalition, campaigners hope to appeal on the grounds that Chevron are violating promises made to the US court when the suit was moved to Ecuador, including "a promise by Chevron to abide by jurisdiction in Ecuador and pay any judgment subject to certain enforcement provisions that do not include an international arbitration".

The Amazon peoples have been locked in a legal battle with Chevron for over fifteen years, who they hold responsible for the lives and ecology destroyed as a result of dumping by Texaco, a company Chevron took control of in 2001.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Children of Gaza

A guest post from Shahinaz Nabeeh on the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, "Children of Gaza"

The eyes of the orphaned Mohammed said it all. For an hour in Dispatches: Children of Gaza (Channel 4) they were defiant and angry, older than his 12 years. But at last the tears welled up, though he manfully fought them back. “I am not a terrorist, I am a Palestinian,” he declared. “Would they accept their children being fatherless… like us?”

Jezza Neumann’s film unflinchingly showed the aftermath of the Israeli campaign on Gaza in 2009, killing more than 1,300 innocent civilians, leaving families torn apart and lives left in limbo. It followed the impact on those left behind, youthful hearts toughened by the tragedy of war on their doorstep.

Young boys played mock war with toy rifles among the ruins of their former homes, but it did not take much of a leap of the imagination to fast forward a few years and picture those boys ready to die for their cause. For what Children of Gaza showed beyond anything else was how the desire for revenge is one of the few seeds to flourish among the tragedy and devastation.

“I hate everyone now… I used to love all people” said Mahmoud and it was heart breaking to see such torment in a boy who looked so young and innocent.

One girl, who watched her 9 year old brother get shot right in their home, was asked what she would wish for the most, she replied simply "To die, it would be better for me than to live like this"

This was not a film about taking sides. It was not about examining the complexities of the ongoing conflict, or indeed the unjust dealings of neighbouring Egypt. What it did do, with touching clarity, was to illustrate the futility of shooting bullets at a situation and expecting it to ever end through the eyes of those most innocent.

It is a story repeated around the world; a new generation is radicalised by the basic (and rightful) human need to avenge the wrongs done to them. At one point Mahmoud did talk about imagining a future where there is peace between the young generations. But It was hard to shake the feeling that, in the face of such pain and suffering, for him the moment has already passed.