Vaquita success! New protections could save this endangered porpoise

With only 60 animals remaining, the vaquita porpoise is on the brink of extinction. That’s why 150,000 Greenpeace supporters have stood up to save this shy, beautiful animal. And the Mexican government just announced new protections for the vaquita. But will it be enough?

With only 60 remaining, the elusive vaquita is the most endangered porpoise in the world. 19 October 2008 © NOAA/Wikimedia Commons.With only 60 remaining, the elusive vaquita is the most endangered porpoise in the world. © NOAA/Wikimedia Commons.

The Mexican government has just announced new vaquita protections in the upper Gulf of California, the only place in the world where the vaquita lives.

More than 150,000 Greenpeace supporters have demanded greater protections for the vaquita, the world’s most endangered porpoise. And I want to thank all of you vaquita lovers for your help in pushing the government of Mexico to make this happen.

Only two weeks ago, John Hocevar, the Greenpeace USA oceans team leader, met with the Ambassador of Mexico in Washington, D.C. At that meeting John repeated your call for a permanent gillnet ban in vaquita habitat, and now it’s a reality.

Greenpeace USA Oceans Director John Hocevar met with the Mexican Ambassador on July 7 while vaquita lovers rallied outside the Mexican Embassy in Washington D.CGreenpeace USA Oceans Director John Hocevar met with the Mexican Ambassador on July 7 while vaquita lovers rallied outside the Mexican Embassy in Washington D.C. 7 Jul, 2016, ©Livia Hyams / Greenpeace

Banning gillnets and night fishing to save the vaquita

Just last week, Mexico’s National Aquaculture and Fisheries Commissioner, Mario Aguilar Sánchez, told reporters that the use of all gillnets in vaquita habitat would be permanently prohibited beginning this September. Night fishing will also be banned before the end of the year. These new regulations will increase the effectiveness of the enforcement of vaquita protections as the government of Mexico works to recover the vaquita population and bring them back from the edge of extinction.

The most recent population estimate indicate there are only about 60 vaquitas remaining. The vaquitas are innocent victims, most often killed as bycatch, in an illegal gillnet fishery for totoaba fish (also endangered) swim bladders that fetch astronomical prices in the Chinese traditional medicine trade.

To save the vaquita, we must also stand up for local communities

It is important to underline that these prohibitive measures should also consider the livelihood and social opportunities that communities along the upper Gulf of California need for their development. Only by assuring that there are economic alternatives for these local communities that enable them to substitute other viable practices for totoaba fishing can the vaquita’s survival be ensured.

It’s time for some celebration over these new measures, but stay tuned as there’s still plenty of work to be done before the vaquitas are out of the woods.

Phil Kline is a Senior Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

The blog was originally posted by Greenpeace USA.

via Greenpeace news

World’s only whaling factory ship returns to Japan from North Pacific

The world’s only whaling factory ship has returned to Japan after two months of commercial whaling in the North Pacific disguised as science, capturing 90 sei whales and 25 Bryde’s whales.

A Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) feeds on small fish in the Pacific Ocean, 4 September 2015A Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni) feeds on small fish in the Pacific Ocean, 4 September 2015.

In the bad old days of full scale commercial whaling I used to sit helplessly in the back of IWC meetings, watching as quotas for thousands of whales, including endangered ones, were voted through despite scientific findings. Public opposition was blunted by reducing the quotas. “We are making sacrifices to protect the whales,” said the whalers, and bought themselves a few more years. But it made no difference to the catch.

The quotas set years before could no longer be reached. When the quota was 6000 but the previous year’s catch was only 3500, it was no sacrifice to slash the quota to 4000 – the whalers still caught as many whales as they could find.

But that’s all ancient history, right? Well…

In 2014, when the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to stop its Antarctic ‘scientific’ whaling after finding that it was not for scientific purposes, Japan’s North Pacific ‘scientific’ hunt came under intense scrutiny. A gesture was required before it sailed for the high seas. The Japanese government announced that it was slashing the quota from 260 to 115, a reduction of 145, and this was dutifully reported by the world media.

Greenpeace activists greet the arrival of the 'Oriental Bluebird' to Ooi Suisan Futo, Tokyo, with the message in English and Japanese ‘Illegal Whale Meat Not Welcome to Japan’ (2008).Greenpeace activists greet the arrival of the ‘Oriental Bluebird’ to Ooi Suisan Futo, Tokyo, with the message in English and Japanese ‘Illegal Whale Meat Not Welcome to Japan’ (2008).

But it turns out that there was no meaningful reduction. The quota of 100 minke whales was cut to 0, from a previous year’s catch of 3, Bryde’s whales were cut from 50 to 25, from a previous year’s catch of 28, sperm whales were cut from 10 to zero, from a previous year’s catch of one. The catch of the largest and most valuable whale, the endangered sei whale, was cut by just 10, from 100 to 90. The elimination of the minke quota was a particularly hollow gesture; the 2014 hunt covered 3,300 miles, sighting 565 whales and catching 115 of them, but saw only two minkes – one for each month at sea.

So the factory ship is back at dock unloading over a thousand tonnes of whale meat, neatly packaged while the ship was at sea and ready for sale. By concentrating on the largest whales the whalers are managing to make the North Pacific hunt produce as much as their Antarctic venture. But the market in Japan is dwindling as young people turn their backs on whale. Whaling only survives with subsidies. How much longer the industry’s PR will keep it alive remains to be seen.

For decades, Greenpeace along with other conservation groups, has been fighting to stop the hunt. Find out some of the ways we are working to shutdown the Japanese government’s whaling programme here.

John Frizell is a freelancer and former Greenpeace International oceans campaigner

via Greenpeace news

From L’Oréal to Revlon, which brands are polluting the ocean with microbeads?

After discovering that 170 types of seafood contained traces of microplastics, Greenpeace East Asia decided to put 30 of the world’s biggest cosmetic and personal care brands to the test.

Product pictures of microbeads/micro plastics which were found in cosmetical products from Germany and filtered out.

Microbeads might be best known to you as the coloured beads in your shower gel and facial scrubs, but more recently they’ve gained notoriety for wreaking havoc on our ecosystems and marine life.

The tiny pieces of plastic are added to everyday cosmetic products as an exfoliating agent, or for colour and texture. They’re tiny enough to travel down your plughole and right through water filtration systems and into our rivers, lakes and oceans.

A single tube of face wash can contain up to 360,000 of these tiny plastic spheres. That means that once we have finished washing our faces or brushing our teeth, we unwittingly release thousands of pieces of plastic into our environment, where they go on to ‘gently exfoliate’ the digestive tracts of seabirds and even enter the food chain.

They can also act as agents to absorb and release toxic chemicals around the sea and into the marine life that ingests them.

How do the companies stack up?

Greenpeace East Asia decided to put 30 of the world’s top companies to the test and rank them according to the strength of their commitment to getting rid of microbeads once and for all.

Check out how they rank.

While most of the brands claim to have their plastic pollution problem under control, not one of them succeeded in meeting Greenpeace’s environmental standards, meaning that they still have the potential to allow this contamination into our waterways.

Even the top scoring brands in the rank, like Beiersdorf, which has allegedly fulfilled all its commitments to its microbead ban pledge, have only taken action to remove one type of plastic-polythene- from its products, which gives a free rein to other polluting plastics.

The harmful effects of microbeads are now well known and we’re gathering more and more evidence that they’re bad news. Many of the world’s biggest brands have made pledges to rein in these toxic terrors, but they’re still not that simple for consumers to avoid.

Firstly, while some companies proudly tout the presence of ‘skin-polishing’ microbeads in their product descriptions, others contain microbeads that can be barely seen with the naked eye and only appear in the ingredients list as polyethylene, polypropylene or polystyrene.

Secondly, many brands have made promises to do the right thing and ban the beads, but each brand has its own, narrow or confusing definition of what constitutes a microbead. These definitions can vary from function of the product, role of the microbead and can even the shape of the microbead, creating loopholes that could allow the inclusion of microbeads that don’t fit into these limited definitions.

What’s the solution?

So how to get these pesky microbeads out of our products and out of our oceans? The solution is simple. Our governments need to step in and enforce a total ban on the sale and production of all solid microplastic ingredients in all personal care products.

The good news is, it’s already happening. The US announced a ban on microbeads in January of this year, while campaigns to do the same are building momentum all around the world.

In the meantime, you can vote with your wallet and choose brands that don’t add to this pointless pollution. Check out Flora and Fauna International’s Good Scrub Guide or download the Beat the Microbead app and send a clear message to manufacturers that microbeads are unwanted and unnecessary.

Taehyun Park is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia

*Greenpeace East Asia consulted Fauna & Flora International on expected good practice with respect to corporate commitments to ending microplastic ingredient use.

via Greenpeace news

They murdered my mother for defending the environment — help me seek justice

It has been four months since the murder of environmental and Indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres, and her killers have still not been brought to justice. Instead, the violence continues – on 7 July, another activist from Berta Cáceres‘ organisation was abducted and killed.

Please read this powerful message from Berta’s son, Salvador Edgardo Zuniga Cáceres, and take action to seek justice on Berta’s behalf.

Berta Cáceres in 2015. © Tim Russo / Goldman Environmental Prize.Berta Cáceres in 2015. Photo by Goldman Environmental Prize. Photo Credit: Tim Russo

In March, my mother Berta Cáceres was murdered in her own home. Her death pains me in a way I cannot describe with words.

She was killed for defending life, for safeguarding our common goods and those of nature, which are sacred. She was killed for defending the rivers that are sources of our people’s life, ancestral strength and spirituality.

My mother became a woman of resistance, of struggle, so that our deep connection with nature is not destroyed; so that the life of our peoples – the Lenca Indigenous People of Honduras – is respected. Her killers tried to silence her with bullets, but she is a seed, a seed that is reborn in all men and women. She is a seed that will be reborn in the people that follow her path of resistance.

To achieve justice for her death, I need your help.

Please join me in asking the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to launch an independent investigation into my mother’s murder.

Berta with her four children.Berta with her four children.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists – more than 100 were murdered between 2010 and 2014. 

These figures make me shiver. These activists lost their lives defending what belongs to us all, and my mother was no exception. She had been threatened and persecuted many times for safeguarding our people’s territory.

Even before my mother’s murder, two of my sisters had to leave the country. But our mother did not stop fighting against the Agua Zarca mega-dam project. If built, the Agua Zarca would lead to the displacement of our people and the privatization and destruction of our territories. It has already led to the murder of those who have the determination and the clarity to understand that life is not a commodity.

But the dam builders could not stop my mother. With her people beside her, she became invincible. So murderers broke into her house and opened fire against her chest. We are outraged not only because of the bullets that murdered her, but because her killers have walked away with impunity.

Please support an independent investigation into my mother’s death.

Berta Cáceres in the Rio Blanco region of Honduras. © Tim Russo / Goldman Environmental Prize.Berta Cáceres in the Rio Blanco region of Honduras. Photo by Tim Russo / Goldman Environmental Prize.

Berta used to say: “Defending human rights is a crime in Honduras.”

She knew that what she put her and her loved ones at risk, but she didn’t care. Along with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) – an organization my mother co-founded – she defended Indigenous communities and gave her life. Today, our family, the Lenca people, and thousands of Hondurans are demanding justice.

We will only succeed if we press my country’s president into accepting that the Inter American Commission on Human Rights investigates the murder. We cannot trust the Honduran justice system. 

“You have the bullet … I have the word. The bullet dies when detonated, the word lives when spread.” – Berta Cáceres

Today, we must be that word. My mother gave her life defending humanity and the planet. Now it’s up to us to seek justice on her behalf.

Salvador Edgardo Zuniga Cáceres is the son of award-winning Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in her home in March 2016.

via Greenpeace news

‘The river is our blood.’ Standing with the Munduruku in the heart of the Amazon

Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid and Greenpeace Brasil Amazon Campaign Coordinator Tica Minami meet with several Munduruku Caciques in the Amazon rainforest along the Tapajós River. 8 Jul, 2016  © Lunae Parracho / Greenpeace

There is nothing quite like flying over the Brazilian Amazon. The forest spreads out like an endless green carpet, crisscrossed by ribbons of water, and goes on for as far as the eye can see. Banks of clouds break up the vast sky. As the green of the mighty Tapajós River comes into view, I know we’ve entered the territory of the Munduruku Indigenous People – my hosts for the coming days.

Greenpeace is working alongside the Munduruku to push for formal recognition of their land and to halt the massive São Luiz do Tapajós (SLT) hydrodam planned for the Tapajós River, in the very heart of the Amazon. I have come to meet with the Munduruku chiefs and show our global support for the protection of the Tapajós and the rights of the Munduruku who have lived here for generations.

The Munduruku are the protectors of this remarkable part of the Amazon – home to rare species like the pink river dolphin and the jaguar. There appears a seamless connection between their river, their forest and them. They are a living part of each other. I asked one of the first women caciques (chiefs) of a Munduruku village about the Tapajós, and her words stuck with me: “The river is our blood. Not only mine but ours. The river wants to stay alive… The river is crying… The animals… don’t know what’s coming to kill them.”

Together with caciques from across the Munduruku territory, I had a chance to see first-hand the damage that damming the Tapajós would cause to their land. We flew over two Amazon dams, one currently under construction, and the difference between the green Amazon forest of the Munduruku territory and these places was stark. What once was jungle, now is a maze of dirt roads and an enormous construction site. Where there were rivers, now are flooded areas – grey forests, drowned and dying, leaking climate-warming methane into the atmosphere. With the construction comes serious social problems as well. The lives of the communities around these dams has been fundamentally changed, and the heart of the Amazon rainforest is made more vulnerable as another way into the forest has been constructed by the dams’ development.

This is why the Munduruku are pushing for their traditional land to be formally recognised by the Brazilian government. If the Munduruku land is officially recognised, it makes the construction of the dam illegal. But the path to formal recognition has pitfalls. A recent report published by the Brazilian Indigenous Rights Department (FUNAI) recognised this land as traditionally Munduruku, and the Environmental Agency (IBAMA) even put the SLT dam on hold in response, but nothing is final. Given the volatility in the Brazilian political system at the moment, this tentative recognition could be shelved at any time.

So the Munduruku are seizing the moment and undertaking an unofficial, community-led demarcation of their land. They are marking their land with signs to indicate it is Munduruku territory – a process normally executed by the federal government – to pressure the government to grant formal and permanent recognition of their territory and stop the dam.

While the Munduruku are working to get official recognition and the rights that come with it, the rest of us also have a role to play: making this local fight a global one. We must be vocal in our support of Munduruku land rights. They are the best guardians of this river and the forest. We must also ensure that global companies considering becoming involved in this project stay away. That means calling on multinational corporations like Siemens to confirm they will not participate in the dam project if it moves forward. Siemens, which likes to brand itself as a green company, was already involved in the controversial Belo Monte dam – the most recent destructive dam to be built in the Amazon. The dam is mired in lawsuits and corruption scandals, and so far it has failed to deliver on its energy promise.

Our best chance to protect this incredible part of the Amazon is to stand with the people who have lived in and protected it for centuries. So, hammer in hand, I will help affix signs marking this land as Munduruku territory while I am here. And after I leave this place, I will continue to call on people like Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens, to recognise that the Tapajós is too precious to destroy – and it is in all of our interests that it is the Munduruku, not corporations, who have the final say.

This is a story of what is right and wrong in the world. Join me in asking Siemens to distance itself from this project, and stand with the Munduruku people.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Bunny McDiarmid and Greenpeace Brasil Executive Director Asensio Rodriguez join several Munduruku caciques (chiefs) in the unofficial demarcation of their territory along the Tapajós River. 6 Jul, 2016  © Lunae Parracho / Greenpeace

Bunny McDiarmid is the Executive Director for Greenpeace International.

This blog was originally posted by the Huffington Post.

via Greenpeace news

Moving the mountain

The hardest part of any journey is getting started, taking that first step. It’s so much easier when you have your friends with you.

The same is true of the Detox outdoor campaign. It started when we found that some brands making our outdoor gear are also contributing to the contamination of our planet. Samples we collected from fishes and rivers to pristine mountaintops, all contained manmade PFCs. We knew as soon as the lab reports came back positive that we need to stop companies using these hazardous chemicals.

PFC testing, Kaçkar Mountains in Turkey, 16 Jun, 2015. © Umut Vedat / GreenpeaceCollecting water samples, Kaçkar Mountains, Turkey

But would the brands listen to us? We were just a handful of concerned, passionate nature lovers lacking in numbers. So we searched for other nature lovers who want to keep the world free of hazardous chemicals and ensure that the gear they buy doesn’t pollute their most cherished environments.

And we found you. We found you on wooded trails, dangling from cliff faces, standing on mountain tops, swimming in clear blue lakes, and packing up your tents after a night under the stars.

Detox expedition to Altai Mountains in Russia, 8 Jun, 2015. © Roman Zaykovskiy / GreenpeaceDetox expedition to Altai Mountains in Russia

We’ve tapped into a thriving, supportive community and it’s awe-inspiring to see outdoor lovers around the world joining us. We invited you to create the campaign with us, and before long you were telling us which products you want us to test in the lab, coming up with creative ideas for activities and organising adventurous PFC-free expeditions. Thousands of you participated in actions demanding your favourite brands to go PFC-free and Detox.

Detox action in Stockholm, 22 Feb 2016. © GreenpeaceDetox action in Stockholm, Sweden

Such a promising start has had its effects. You delivered early on, encouraging the UK-based brand Paramo, to make a bold move and be the first outdoor brand to Detox! This was an early victory and you kept the pressure on. We can now announce that, in just under a year of campaigning, your voice has been heard by two more brands, Vaude and Rotauf. Both have committed to clean up their production chains. Rotauf is already PFC-free and Vaude pledges to eliminate all PFCs from their products by 2018.

The momentum is building but there is more work to be done. In the past months, we tested the air in stores around the world run by the largest outdoor brands. The results will take your breath away!

Detox Action at The North Face Store in Milan, Italy, 18 Feb 2016. © Alessandro Vona / GreenpeaceDetox Action at The North Face Store in Milan, Italy

We also found out that many brands need your encouragement to completely drop PFCs from their gear. There are alternatives that keep outdoor lovers dry and warm and these brands need to know that you want them to switch now.

PFC-free Expedition in China, 21 Jan, 2016. © Vincent Chan / GreenpeacePFC-free Expedition in China

There are also brands that need you to get LOUD. They have not yet announced any timelines to eliminate PFCs, even though more than 200 scientists from around the world discourage their use in consumer goods due to their hazardous properties.

Some PFCs have been associated with adverse health effects in humans, including kidney and testicular cancers, while others may block the positive effects of children’s vaccinations. So we need you to step up again. Let these brands know that you’re not going away… and that you’re bringing your friends!

There are more victories ahead. Can we count on you to speak up again?

Mirjam Kopp is the Detox Outdoor Project Leader

via Greenpeace news

Fire Then and Now

Fire is the fundamental human technology, the foundation of everything that came after in human societies. Controlled fire transformed our diet, physiology, psychology, language, social structure, technologies, and our relationship to the rest of nature. 

Some archeologists believe that fire management provided the change that distinguished us from other social mammals. Although we are enamoured by the power of modern technologies, an understanding of our relationship with simple fire informs us about genuine solutions to our ecological impasse. 

Tarsands, Greenpeace, Jiri Reznak

Canadian tarsands: Humans have been burning fuels for a million years. Fire transformed human society, caused early forest depletion and species extinctions, and our energy use today now exceeds Earth’s capacity to sustain. ©Jiri Rezak/Greenpeace

The discovery and use of fire

Non-human animals are known to use natural fire. Hawks, cheetahs, and other species hunt prey disrupted by fire. Savanna chimpanzees are not intimidated by fire, behave sensibly around it, and will hunt food after a fire passes. Humans likely used fire for millions of years, before they could ignite or control it. 

Fire maintenance likely began among Homo erectus communities, who moved from forest to savanna habitats. Fire ignition followed, and may have contributed to a cognitive advance, the use of intermediaries — tender and kindling — to ignite a slow burning fuel. Evidence of intentional fire exists around a million years ago, in archeological sites from Chesowanja, Kenya to Yunnan Province, China. 

Firemaking tools, public commons image

Fire use by humans preceded controlled fires, and firemaking required and augmented augmented advanced human mental powers. Fire is the fundamental human technology. Public domain image

300,000 years ago, fire-based technologies existed throughout Eurasia, including stone hunting tools warmed to improve working qualities and hafting glues that required fire to prepare. Fire allowed humans to seize caves previously occupied by other large, fierce mammals. Fired pottery existed 20,000 years ago, and metallurgy 5,000 years ago. During this long history of fire use, hominids distinguished themselves from all other large mammals. Meanwhile, fire revolutionized human society. 

The need for fuel and fire maintenance likely led to a division of labour among early hominids. Human communities grew more stationary around the fire and hearth, transforming vocal communication, language, and eventually story-telling. During a million years of fire management, the Homo genus evolved a waking day of about 16 hours, much longer than most other mammal species, and gained survival advantages that our species enjoys to this day. 

Cooking may have been fire’s greatest social impact, since it made more calories available from foods, reduced the energy cost of digestion, and freed that energy for other enterprises, tool-making, art, and social interaction. Every species is constrained by its available energy, and cooking gave humans an energy boost, which led to additional technological innovation. These developments also changed human brains, mating habits, and gender divisions of labor. Among most primates, males and females gather the same food. Once hominids controlled fire, males spent more time on wide range hunting and defense, and females and elders refined social ritual and language around the hearth. Fire contributed to food sharing and longer childhoods, and thus greater learning potential. 

However, the costs of fire can be high. Cooking fires make a stationary community more vulnerable to predators or invasion, so security became a more constant labour. Fuel-foraging depleted local brush and trees. Some Neolithic settlements, such as Çatal höyök in modern Turkey, provide evidence of long distance foraging for firewood and of woodland management. Fire allowed metal technologies, which led to early mining, which required more wood-burning, and led to localized mineral depletions and deforestation.

One of humanity’s oldest surviving stories, the Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumer, at least 5,000 years old, begins in a settlement protected by kiln-fired brick walls. The story discusses forest depletion, drying marshes, social oppression, and abuse of power, all linked to the power of controlled fire. We witness here, fundamental dysfunctions that remain with society today. 

Fire, extinctions, and ecological overshoot  

By 50,000 BC, long before agriculture, Homo sapiens population growth surged, and anthropologists find evidence during this period of animal and plant extinctions, primarily caused by controlled human fire used as a hunting technique. 

Around 47,000 BC, humans arrived in Australia, regularly set fire to the landscape to flush prey, and eradicated dozens of large mammals, marsupials, reptiles, and flightless birds. The burning also caused localized climate change by reducing water vapour. Declining cloud cover shifted the monsoon cycle, the Nullarbor grassland became desert scrub, and once abundant Lake Eyre became a salt flat. 

When human communities advanced into the Western Hemisphere, about 75% of large mammals (mastodons, mammoths, giant beavers, bears, and tigers) vanished. Similar mass extinctions occurred when humans arrived in Madagascar, Hawaii, and in New Zealand.

How does this knowledge help us now? We can see that humanity did not require industrial fossil fuel technology to cause species collapse and climate disruption. Sheer numbers, stone tools, and a plentiful external energy source were sufficient. University of British Columbia professor Dr. William Rees, developer of “ecological footprint” analysis, explains that certain mammalian traits led our species to overshoot ecosystem resources even prior to industrial technology. Like other large mammals, humans are “K-strategists,” (“K” stands for a habitat’s capacity, German Kapazität), which means we have evolved to occupy all accessible habitats and use all available resources.  

Evolutionary success has costs and, without restraints, can be fatal. Nature taught us to be aggressive and rapacious, as survival skills, but didn’t teach us how to stop. We have to do that ourselves. To solve our ecological dilemma, humanity has to reverse its expansion. Continued growth for a successful species that has overshot its habitat will lead to collapse. 

External energy and Food

When a plant or animal’s energy use relies directly on the sun or food, habitat capacity acts as a restraint on growth, and each species remains in dynamic homeostasis as witnessed in predator-prey cycles or in our own gardens. In 1922, Polish-American biophysicst Alfred Lotka, who developed predator-prey dynamics, published “Contribution to the energetics of evolution,” proposing that evolution was driven by the ability to access available energy. Trees grow more leaves so they can transform more energy. The sharp eyes of the hawk help it process more energy, with less energy cost. 

All plants and animals other than humans rely solely on energy from the sun or food, internal, which biologists call “endosomatic” energy. The energy humans derive from fire, work animals, fossil fuels, hydro dams, or solar panels, is “exosomatic,” energy retrieved from outside our bodies. The aristocracy throughout history have also gained exosomatic energy from slaves and exploitive wages for labour.

The average human requires about 2,400 food calories (kilo-calories) per day, about 3,600 megajoules (MJ) each year. In pre-fire hominid societies, each person consumed roughly this much energy from food. Fire provided humans with about 15,000 MJ of extra energy each year, 4-times more external energy than internal energy from food, a 4:1 ratio. About a billion people today still live roughly on this fire-level energy budget. In the poorer nations such as Haiti and Senegal, the average energy consumption is about twice this level, an 8:1 ratio of exosomatic energy. 

However, in rich, industrial nations, the use of external energy soars. Europeans use about 40-times as much external energy as they get from food, and the average US, Canadian, or Scandinavian citizen uses about 90-times as much external energy. Among the super-rich, jet-set, multiple-home elite, this energy use can skyrocket to 1000-times as much external energy. We could solve most of our energy problems by limiting frivolous energy waste among the rich.

Most industrial nations spend 12 -16% of their energy budget to grow food. The so-called “green revolution” was really a black revolution, relying on fossil fuels for fertilizer, machinery, transport, and packaging of food. A study by Mario Giampietro and David Pimentel shows that food delivered to the consumer in North America requires ten-times more energy than the food contains. When we add the energy cost of storage, cooking, and waste, industrial food has a negative net energy of over 12:1. Nate Hagens, who teaches “Reality 101” at the University of Minnesota, points out that humanity’s food today is not an energy source, it is “a vast energy sink .” In the natural world, spending more energy to get food than the food contains proves unsustainable.

Since 80% of our energy use comes from fossil fuels, we are essentially eating oil. To achieve this level of food production, industrial agriculture has depleted soils, spread toxins, disrupted nutrient cylces, and launched an era of rapid global heating.  In short, humanity has used Earth’s vast energy stores to overshoot their ecological habitat. 

Humanity’s destructive consumption of exosomatic energy started with the advent of controlled fire, and that basic fire economy has never disappeared. Firewood use never declined and remains an important source of energy for humans. Coal did not replace wood, but only added to our energy consumption. Oil, gas, and nuclear power did not replace coal and hydropower, but only added to our energy consumption. One might imagine “replacing” oil with renewables, but so far, renewable energy simply adds more energy. Historically, humans only stop using an energy source when it is depleted.  

Learning to reduce our energy consumption — not just finding more — remains at the heart of our ecological challenge.

Rex Weyler is an author, journalist and co-founder of Greenpeace International. The opinions here are his own.



energy use graph, by Gail Tverberg, used by permission

World energy consumption by source: Coal did not replace wood burning, but rather added more energy for human consumption. Likewise, oil did not replace coal. Growing to consume more energy is a trait of all species, until a species overshoots its habitat. Human energy use has now increased to an unsustainable scale. Conservation has to a part of any genuine sustainable energy future. Graph by Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World.     

Human use of fire:

Clark JD, Harris JWK. 1985 Fire and its roles in early hominid lifeways. Afr. Archaeol. Rev. 3, 3–27, Springer, 1985.

Discovery of Fire by Humans, J. Gowlett: Royal Society

Fischer-Kolwalski, M. and Haberl, H. eds. (2007) Socio-ecological transitions, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham. Springer Books.

Energy for Cooking, R.M. Amaraskara: Idea Sri Lanka

Overshoot, energy, and food: 

Historic Overshoot, R. Weyler, Deep Green 

Alfred J.Lotka, “Contribution to the energetics of evolution”; Proc Natl Acad Sci, 8, May, 1922

Energy content of food: Food and Agriculture Organization. UN 

Food energy use increase, P. Canning, et. al: US Dept. of Agri.  

Food, Land, Population and the U.S. Economy: Pimentel, D., Giampietro, M. Carrying Capacity Network, 1994. 

Human appropriation of photosynthesis, Vitousek, P.M. et al. Bioscience , 1986. 

Constraints on the Expansion of Global Food Supply, Kindell, Pimentel, Ambio, 1994. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

“Eating Fossil Fuels,” Dale A. Pfeiffer, Wilderness Publications, 2003

Human energy use: EJOLT, Environmental Justice orgs. 

Diet for a Small Planet, Lappé, Frances Moore, 1971. Small Planet Inst.

Energy and Population, Paul J. Werbos,

Impact of Population Growth on Food Supplies and Environment, Pimentel et al., Cornell University

World Energy Consumption, Gail Tverberg, Our Finite World

US Food System, Univ. of Michigan

Fertilzer energy use, Fertilizer Institute 

via Greenpeace news

7 ways fishing trawlers are bad news for the seabed

Conservationist and writer Carl Safina in Svalbard, 2 Jul, 2016 © Christian Åslund / GreenpeaceConservationist and writer Carl Safina in Svalbard

I’m writing this in the high Arctic at 78º North Latitude in early July, aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise where I’m a guest for a few days, with 24-hour daylight and gleaming glaciers in the valleys of snow-capped coastal mountains. We’re here because shrinking sea ice and warming ocean water is moving fish farther north, and fishing vessels are coming with them.

These are big trawling ships, and in other regions trawl-fishing has harmed—in some cases ruined—vast areas of seafloor. Here there’s still a chance to get it right by letting trawlers work in some areas and designating other areas as trawl-free zones. We’re here to document the trawling and help advance the discussion.

Russian bottom trawler in Svalbard, 1 July 2016. © Christian Åslund / GreenpeaceBottom trawler in Svalbard

Trawling at its most basic it’s a boat pulling a net through the water. Sometimes that net is midway between surface and seafloor. Sometimes—most of the time, actually—it’s dragged across the seafloor. Trawls have been called “bulldozers of the ocean.”

Recently some big retailers like McDonald’s and the major fishing companies of Norway and Russia have entered into an agreement with Greenpeace to not expand further until an agreement can be reached to put some big areas here aside, safe from trawling.

Trawling is one of the most basic and most effective ways of catching sea life. If you’ve eaten fish, most were probably caught by trawling. Here are some major issues:

1. Overfishing. Millions of tons of sea life find themselves engulfed in trawl nets each year. Trawling has been done so intensively that it’s depleted many kinds of fish in many parts of the world. Catches must be strictly managed or in a few years there’ll be little left.

German trawler in the English Channel, 14 Dec 2014 © Christian Åslund / GreenpeaceGerman trawler in the English Channel

2. Untargeted, unwanted catch, or “bycatch.” Regardless of different variations in method, the one thing all trawlers have in common is that they basically core a hole through the ocean, so they catch a lot of things they’re not trying to catch—unmarketable fish, marine mammals, even seabirds. In some fisheries the catch is pretty “clean.” But in many, more than half of what trawls catch is unwanted. Virtually all of a trawl’s catch comes up dead or fatally injured, and if it’s unwanted it’s just shoveled back. Shrimp fishing can be some of the worst, because small mesh also catches small fish. And large fish. At times, they can catch 10 fish for each single shrimp. Many are babies of large species, and have no market. Out come the shovels. I’ve seen it many times.

Trawler discarding 60 tonnes of sardines off the coast of Africa. 7 Jul, 2013  © Western Sahara Resource WatchTrawler discarding 60 tonnes of bycatch, West Africa.

3.  Destabilization of the seafloor. If the net is dragged, it is weighted. It plows heavily along the seafloor. Most of the deeper ocean seafloor has extremely stable natural conditions. Stable currents, stable temperature (it’s cold; things grow slowly). Not much happens to disturb the peace. Enter: disturbance—trawlers.

Bottom TrawlingBottom Trawling

4. Corals damage. Corals aren’t just for tropical reefs. Many coral species have specialized to grow in deep, cold water. Those corals often continue growing for centuries (I’ve read that they can be thousands of years old)—until the moment a trawl snaps and crushes them. Off Florida and New Zealand, deep corals have been 97-99 percent destroyed by trawling (Allsopp et al. State of the World’s Oceans, 2009, Springer). This is where fish live and hide; it’s their habitat. These deep reefs and coral groves are among the oldest old-growth on Earth. And there are many kinds of soft corals too. That word “soft” can help you guess what happens when a heavy trawl net comes plowing through.

Soft coral on Arctic Ocean seabed, 30 Jun, 2010. © Gavin Newman / GreenpeaceSoft coral on Arctic Ocean seabed

5. Destroying anemones, sponges, sea pens, urchins, and other fine, fragile-bodied animals. A lot of the seafloor harbors delicate upstanding creatures. Woe unto them; they shall be felled.

6. Crushing life within the seabed. Trillions of shelled or soft-bodied animals like worms, amphipods, clams, crabs, lobsters, and many others live in the seafloor in their quiet burrows, minding their own business and hiding. Quite crushable. This fauna is also food for fish and crabs. So even if you don’t care, even if you just want to catch or eat fish—if your method of catching fish kills the food of fish and ruins the places where fish live and hide, there won’t be as many fish to catch. In that sense, trawling can be like sawing off the tree-limb you’re standing on. So where trawlers trawl and what trawlers do makes a big difference to our ocean and our food supply. That’s why we need trawling-free areas.

Flabellina Polaris, Arctic Ocean, 14 Jun, 2014. © Alexander SemenovFlabellina Polaris, Arctic Ocean

7. Justice for all. Shocking perhaps, but the world wasn’t made just for those of us who happen to be here right now. The world was here and doing just fine for millions of years before we showed up. These trawling ships have been around for just a few decades. There are many people alive who were alive when the first big trawlers went to sea. And there will be many people alive in the future who will get what we leave and won’t get what we ruin. We can take care of the place, or we can wreck it. It’s really a deeply moral consideration. But there’s nothing that says the world owes us all the fish in the sea. Leaving some space in the sea is the smart—and the decent—thing to do.

Carl Safina is a writer and conservationist, and founder of The Safina Center. He is currently a guest on board the Arctic Sunrise off the coast of Svalbard, Norway.

Add your voice to the call to end destructive fishing, and #ProtectWhatYouLove

A version of this article was first published by National Geographic, 4th July 2016.

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Which fashion brands are going toxic-free?

It was a massive step when Adidas, Puma and Nike promised to go toxic-free by 2020. But when we turned our attention to other companies, the rest of the industry put up resistance.

“It’s not feasible what Greenpeace wants us to do,” companies would say to me. “No global fashion company can make their supply chains fully transparent and ban all toxic chemicals from all steps of production.”

But for the last years, fashionistas, models, activists and bloggers around the world proved them wrong.

Now, over 70 fashion brands and suppliers have committed to Detox by 2020, and remove toxic chemicals from their supply chains. Combined, they account for some 15 percent of global textile production.

And few, if any, companies are now questioning if going toxics-free is possible. The only question today is: How fast do we go?

The goal is to go toxic-free by 2020.

To check on companies’ progress made towards the 2020 goal, we’re publishing the Detox Catwalk (link to It’s an online platform ranking 19 fashion and sportswear companies, and it shows again: cleaning up fashion supply chains IS possible.

Two of the world’s biggest fashion companies, H&M and Zara (Inditex), together with the mid-sized Italian brand Benetton are proving this. They have worked hard over the past few years, banning hazardous chemicals from their production, publishing wastewater data for better transparency, and publishing supplier’s lists. They are the “Detox Avant-Garde”.

But there are 16 out of 19 assessed fashion and sportswear brands that are not advancing fast enough. Nike, LiNing, Esprit and Victoria’s Secret are among those in the “Faux Pas” category. 

And there are 12 brands in “Evolution Mode”, including Adidas, Burberry, Levi’s and Valentino. They need to speed up to reach their 2020 goal of clean fashion. 

Greenpeace activists unfurl a 100 square metre banner hanging from the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele with the text "The King is Naked" heralding the start of Milan Fashion week in Milan, Italy.Greenpeace activists unfurl a 100 square metre banner hanging from the iconic Galleria Vittorio Emanuele with the text “The King is Naked” heralding the start of Milan Fashion week in Milan, Italy in 2014.

It’s time we keep these companies on their toes and remind them of their promise. In the remaining years, we will re-assess their progress to make sure they are toxic-free by 2020.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Mass production of cheap clothes will never be sustainable. Post-growth business models is what we want to talk about next – and with your voice with us, we can transform the entire fashion industry!

Kirsten Brodde is the Detox My Fashion Project Leader based in Greenpeace Germany

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Food security can’t wait for GE’s empty promises

Rice Farmers Planting Rice in the Philippines. 23 Jan 2014, © Greenpeace / John Novis

Across vast tracts of the Philippines, farmers are adapting their farming methods to withstand climate change. They’re producing food in times of drought and typhoons through resilient forms of ecological agriculture. Meanwhile some scientists are saying ‘wait, we’ll feed you eventually with a form of rice that has not yet been grown outside of a highly controlled research environment’.

It’s known as GE ‘Golden’ rice, but it’s far from golden as the name tries to suggest. It has failed as a solution and isn’t currently available for sale, even after more than 20 years of research. Even its developer, the International Rice Research Institute, has admitted there is no proof that it will address Vitamin A Deficiency responsible for widespread malnutrition.

So in the absence of a promised ‘solution’ from the advocates of genetic engineering, farmers in the Philippines – where ‘Golden’ rice is being researched – are getting their hands dirty producing food that actually feeds families and will equip them to withstand the effects of climate change.

Ecological Rice Harvest in The Philippines. 15 March 2015. © Roy Lagarde / Greenpeace

Greenpeace has been supporting them.

So when we are accused of blocking the development of ‘Golden’ rice by a group of scientists, we can only point to the facts: there is no ‘Golden’ rice. It is a likely dead end. A failed, expensive experiment. Instead, what the Philippines needs, and millions of farmers across the world, is support they can use. This is not just our opinion, but the view of scientists with considerable experience of the issue and who have published their findings in the peer reviewed scientific literature.

It is no coincidence that in the run-up to an important decision on GE food labelling in the US state of Vermont, that the issue of ‘Golden’ rice has been raised again. Golden rice has been the poster child of the GE lobby groups keen to pave the way for global approval of other more profitable genetically engineered crops.

Farmer Ariel de la Cruz in The Philippines, 18 December 2014. © Charlie Saceda / Greenpeace

So let’s look at this issue from the right perspective.

The Greenpeace campaign for ecological food and farming is built on rigorous scientific analysis, supported by extensive internal discussions and developed in consultation with external experts. The solutions we campaign for are science-based and proven in theory and practice. We campaign against an introduction of GE crops, pesticides and other chemicals in the industrial farming system and promote an ecological farming model that works with biodiversity and respect for planetary boundaries to support sustainable food production.

Today we have been challenged by a diverse group of scientists, a group with which Greenpeace has a fundamental difference of perspective. This group of scientists appears to be perpetuating a myth. Other scientists have assessed agriculture and food production in a more multidisciplinary way. Agriculture is not solely a technological activity with a pure focus on high yields. Agricultural fields harbor biodiversity, they serve as a source of clean water and rural areas should be a place for thriving and sustainable economies.

Fruit and Vegetables Stall in Quiapo Market, 16 Jan 2014. © Greenpeace / John Novis

Development, use and effectiveness of technologies such as GE should not be assessed from a one-sided perspective – in this case a historically deeply embedded and technocratic perspective of western scientists. In analysing GE in a multidisciplinary way, as 400 agricultural experts of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science Knowledge and Technology for Development (IAASTD) did in 2008, it is clear that GE crops will not solve the urgent issues of climate resilience, ecological impacts and food insecurity. Instead, the use of GE crops leads to new problems from pesticide use, to the market dominance of a few powerful companies and generates some fundamental doubts concerning our ability to feed the world’s population if this highly technological paradigm persists

So rather than support a costly experiment such as ‘Golden’ rice that has failed to produce results for the past 20 years and which has diverted attention from methods that already work, the world’s scientists should focus instead on climate proofing global agriculture. We need to address malnutrition through a more diverse diet, equitable access to food and a shift to climate resilient eco-agriculture.

Action at the Department of Agriculture in Quezon City, 24 March 2014. © Luis Liwanag / Greenpeace

Sound and ethical science clearly shows it would be irresponsible to impose GE ‘Golden’ rice as a quick-fix remedy to people on the frontlines of climate change. It doesn’t work.

Droughts and typhoons in the Philippines will not wait – and Filipino farmers don’t have time to wait for a golden goose. There are safe and effective options already available to help farmers feed their communities and there’s a real chance here for governments and the philanthropic community to support these endeavours.

El Niño Documentation: Impacts on Agriculture in the Philippines. 12 October 2014. © Greenpeace / John Novis

Greenpeace is campaigning for a paradigm shift, a transition, from industrial agriculture to ecological farming. A food system based on diversity instead of endless monocultures of crops with high chemicals inputs. A model which works with nature, instead of against it. This agroecological model is backed by independent scientists, farmers, communities and consumers all over the world. Modern GE-free smart breeding technologies are a part of the solution. A technology such as marker assisted breeding enables breeders to identify crops with beneficial traits – such as increased vitamin or mineral content, climate resilience, or resistance against plant diseases. It’s happening, on the field, with far bigger effectiveness to solve the urgent crises agriculture and food production than GE so far has shown, with lower costs, both economically as for the environment.

Herman van Bekkem is Ecological Farming Campaigner at Greenpeace Netherlands and Wilhelmina Pelegrina is Food and Ecological Agriculture Campaign Coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

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