Like many of you the last week, we've been following and deeply saddened by the devastating news in Haiti. Such a tragic event to a people and a nation seemingly prone to misfortune. But it didn't have to be that bad. Sure, an earthquake of that intensity would do serious damage to even the sturdiest and most prepared city in the world, but because of economic policies and other political circumstances, people in Haiti have been forced to live in unsafe areas and pushed in to promoting deforestation - two factors that contributed to worse carnage from the quake. Yes, an earthquake is a natural disaster, but "manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence," as Peter Hallward said in the Guardian recently, created higher vulnerability. So while it's great that a lot of attention is being paid to Haiti now, we ask that you please pay attention to Haiti in two months and in two years, and probably even 22 years. There's a historical context that needs to be understood now, so something like this isn't as bad another time.
Much has been made of the poverty in Haiti and many people are saying that the destruction from the quake will set them back decades, but don't forget that Haiti already boasted one of the most devastated environments in the world. Attempts to increase growth and end the cycle of poverty (attempts not aided by America or other countries) forced people of Haiti to cut down forests for small-scale subsistence farming, that before the quake employed about two thirds of the economically active work force. Combine that with your everyday Haitian cutting down a tree to burn to make charcoal or to heat a fire to cook, and Haiti is nearly treeless - 97% deforested according to The New York Times. In fact, if you look at an aerial view of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the border appears exaggerated, owing to massive deforestation in Haiti. According to a report from 1997, "only 30 percent of the land is suitable for cultivation, with the result that the majority of the rural poor have a desperate struggle for survival on marginal areas." In Hallward's piece in the Guardian he says, "since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered."
So while there's stories of despair and stories of heroics and stories of all kinds coming out of Haiti last week and currently, there's something to consider in all of this. Environmental impacts contributed to the extent of this disaster, and this won't be the last time we say that. This highlights that taking care of the planet and the factors weighing on the planet is every bit as much of a global responsibility as human rights. It IS a human right. For more on this angle, watch Democracy Now from last Thursday, January 14th - specifically the part that starts around the 27-minute mark.
And don't forget to check out after the jump for some stories you might have missed last week.
Idaho receives money to fight back against pine beetles. Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary announced last week that the U.S. Forest Service will get an additional $14 million to battle bark beetles in Idaho. The $14 million will be used to improve watersheds, restore forest health and treat affected acres. Read more HERE.
"The six-acre burial ground includes 94 pipes buried vertically that allowed trucks to drive up and quickly drop radioactive and chemical waste underground. Most were made by removing the tops and bottoms of 55-gallon drums and then welding five of them together to form pipes," this according to an article in the Tri-City Herald about the work that has begun at Hanford to find out more about the "618-10 Burial Ground". Using federal economic stimulus money Washington Closure Hanford and the Department of Energy are trying to determine what's in the burial site of one the most hazardous burial grounds of the Hanford nuclear reservation. Read more HERE.
How's this for the most obvious statement of the week - the economy is killing the environment. Governor Gregoire released her second budget last week which restored $779 million in cuts to the state budget. However, core environmental protection programs were not among those restored. According to People for Puget Sound, "programs that have their basic functions threatened by the cuts include: toxic contamination clean up, water quality, air quality, water resources, habitat protection, and transportation." Read more HERE. And don't forget to contact your representatives and ask them to Sustain Environmental Protections in the Budget.
Cash for.... we're not going there - let's just say cash for energy efficient appliances. The Oregonian reported last week about the upcoming $300 million federal appliance rebate program that is being modeled after Cash for Clunkers - and set to kick off at the beginning of April. So what's in it for Washington? Answer: $6.3 million available to anyone who buys Energy Star refrigerators and clothes washers regardless of income. Which is an important distinction as every state is different. The $75 refrigerator rebates is currently scheduled to end in May 2010; the $100 clothes washer program will continue through December 2011, or until funds are depleted. Read more HERE.
Oregon to look in to life without Boardman. Last Thursday, Portland General Electric Company informed the Oregon Public Utility Commission that it intends to pursue an alternative operating plan for the utility’s Boardman Power Plant. The goal is to either discontinue the use of coal as a fuel source, or close the plant in 2020. Read more HERE.
Something significant happened on Friday. While we were finalizing our weekend plans, an eldery nuclear physicist in California was saying so long to his job. So while this story bears little actual geographical significance, the story of Arthur H. Rosenfeld couldn't be more important. Since the 70's, Rosenfeld has made it a mission to get every little bit out of kilowatts, "providing California energy regulators the data they needed to enact some of the toughest efficiency standards in the world," the LA Times wrote last week. So on a day we talk about federal energy savings initiatives, we felt compelled to bring you Rosenfeld's story. It's a fascinating read - enjoy your week.
“We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service relationship to humanity." - Martin Luther King Jr.