Living Downstream

TOMS indonesia smog lrgIn this podcast, “Fire and Rain: Living Downstream Reports from Borneo,” you heard about the Mega Rice Project in Kalimantan, the indigenous people who lost their plantations and livelihood as a result and the environmental catastrophe that released unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

For listeners who want to know more about tropical peat soil, the Mega Rice Project disaster, the edible-nest swiftlets and more mentioned in this podcast, we have provided additional links below. 

[Image: Smog and smoke over Borneo and Indonesia, 1997. Credit: NASA]

In an effort to have food self-sufficiency and access timber resources in the area, Indonesia’s former President Suharto initiated the Mega Rice Project in Kalimantan, Borneo. These coastal forests, however, are composed of swampy peat soil. But what, exactly, is peat? National Geographic briefly describes what peat is and describes it as the “forgotten fossil fuel.” In addition, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discusses the effects of fluctuations in rainfall on carbon dioxide emissions from peatland. If you’re interested in the science behind peat carbon dioxide emissions, this resource includes a diagram of the ecosystem feedback leading to peat accumulation and more. 

A report by NPR’s Morning Edition discusses peat fires in Indonesia, particularly the peat fires that flared up again in 2015, 17 years after the catastrophic peat fires resulting from the Mega Rice Project. This continuing disaster still affects families in Borneo, but Indonesia’s current President Joko Widodo, who came to power in 2014, has since created the Peatland Restoration Agency. Reuters discusses the Peatland Restoration Agency’s mission to restore forests and peatlands in Indonesia until 2020. 

Canal blocking leads to water-logged peat lands that rarely burn, preventing peat fires from flaring up again each year. The Borneo Nature Foundation works to protect peatlands by constructing dams and rewetting peatlands by canal blocking. However, because water-logged peat lands are too soggy for the oil palm and acacia plantations that have since been planted on the peatlands, the Indonesian government chose to ban Indonesian farmers from conducting slash-and-burn farming instead of rewetting the peatlands. As a result, 90 percent of families in Mantangai gave up farming after the fire ban went into effect and many people began cultivating edible-nest swiftlets. BBC provides information on how the edible nests are enjoyed in China and how the swiftlets and their nests are cultivated. The New York Times also writes about the potential health benefits of edible-nest soup and the value of the nesting trade. 

The New York Times reported on the same region of Indonesia because of the efforts to increase production of palm oil. In order to do so, Indonesian rainforests were cut down and carbon emissions spiked. What was meant to be an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels instead led to environmental catastrophe once again. 

A quick guide to the resources linked on this page:

Uranium mine signIn this podcast, “Uranium: A Toxic Legacy at Red Water Pond Road,” you heard about mines and mills located in remote and impoverished places, where the people do not have political and economic clout to prevent mining companies from polluting or to get the resulting contamination removed. You also heard about the Red Water Pond Road Community, contaminated by two abandoned uranium mines and the largest radioactive waste accident in U.S. history. If you’re interested in reading more about the history, culture and language of the Navajo Nation, health effects of uranium, the Church Rock Tailings Spill of 1979 and other issues discussed in this podcast, we have included additional resources on this page. 

The Navajo Nation faces toxic contamination and its community bears the resulting health risks, but during World War II, Navajo Code Talkers created codes to help the U.S. covertly communicate. The official site of the Navajo Nation provides a map of Navajoland, discusses the formation of the Navajo Nation government and elaborates on the Navajo Code Talkers and the Navajo flag. 

This podcast also mentions aspects of Navajo culture including the tradition of burying umbilical cords. PBS introduces Navajo spiritual leader Hoskie Benally and explains the Navajo sacred relationship to the land that begins with umbilical cord burial. You can also listen to or read “The Five Sacred Medicines” story about Navajo spirituality and cultural ceremonies. 

Want to know more about the Church Rock Tailings Spill of 1979, known as the largest radioactive waste accident in U.S. history? The Office of the State Historian in New Mexico provides an article discussing the tailings spill, the subsequent environmental disaster, human health risks and disputes over continued uranium mining in the area. 

What are the health effects of uranium? The EPA provides a graphic of the chemical and radiation effects of uranium on the human body and discusses how Navajo people may come in contact with uranium. The EPA also provides a brief background on how uranium came to Navajo lands, and a five-year plan to clean up uranium in the area. 

Reveal News writes about the impact of uranium on people living in the Navajo Nation such as Angie Hood and her family. However, budget reductions at the EPA have made it difficult for uranium mines to be cleaned up, leaving nearby families vulnerable.

Although budget cuts slow the EPA’s cleanup plan, grassroots organization Red Water Pond Road Community Association also aims to restore the uranium-contaminated land and water in Navajo Nation. Read more about nonprofit RWPRCA and other alliance groups in the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment. Among these alliance groups are other grassroots efforts to oppose uranium mining and development. 

A quick guide to the resources listed on this page:

occupy richmond 4 20 2012 dan arauz flickrIn this podcast, “Smackdown: City Hall vs. Big Oil,” you heard about the struggle between the citizens of Richmond, Calif. fighting oil giant Chevron over control of city hall. For further information about refinery towns, organizations fighting oil refineries, cities part of the national movement to combat climate change and other aspects discussed in this podcast, we have provided additional links to articles, statistics and maps. 

[Image: Community demonstrates against Chevron, April 20, 2012. Credit: Daniel Arauz, Flickr]

Richmond, unique in its successful removal of Chevron from city hall, is not the only city in California living in the shadow of Chevron. What other towns in the U.S. encounter the same issues as Richmond? Are they all, like Richmond, low income communities of color? (The University of Michigan provides a chart of the ethnic composition of Richmond) The LA Times journalist Robin Abcarian writes about another town, El Segundo, dominated by a massive Chevron refinery. Unlike Richmond, El Segundo is not a predominantly African American community. El Segundo, Chevron’s second refinery after Richmond, whose refinery is known as El Primero, has a primarily white population. Abcarian discusses the creation of the city of El Segundo, the effect of the Chevron refinery on the citizens’ lifestyles and the locals’ pride of El Segundo, despite the stench. 

Nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice provides a map of the refineries in the U.S. with details about each refinery. Earthjustice aims to get oil refineries to clean up the pollution that they create. 

Other organizations and environmental activists such as 350 Bay Area and Chevron Watch also monitor the effects of refineries and combat the environmental and health threats posed by these refineries. 

Richmond is commonly known as the asthma capital of the country. In this podcast, Andrés mentioned how asthma clubs are being created at schools instead of book clubs. Danielle Parenteau, writing for Richmond Confidential, delves into the role of Chevron in Richmond and how the high asthma rates cannot be directly attributed to the oil refinery, despite overwhelming evidence. Parenteau writes about the role of Chevron in Richmond as the biggest property tax payer, highest employer and a large contributor to charities, and how it will not admit to contributing to the high asthma rates. 

Near the end of the podcast, reporter Claire Schoen mentions how Richmond is part of a national movement of cities and counties who are stepping up to the climate challenge. 400 U.S. cities have committed to uphold the Paris Agreement by retrofitting buildings to make them energy efficient or installing LED street lights. Although President Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, Global Climate Action Summit co-chairs former Governor Jerry Brown and UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Action Michael Bloomberg created America’s Pledge. In this pledge, states, cities, businesses and universities declare support for the Paris Agreement and aim for greenhouse gas reduction targets. 

A quick guide to the resources listed on this page:

Mac Shaffer PCB Story Photos 0146

In this podcast, “Living Downstream Visits the Birthplace of Environmental Justice,” you heard about the intersection of environmentalism and social justice when a grassroots coalition formed to resist the decision in 1978 by the state of North Carolina. Their plan to dump toxic materials in Warren County was not erased, but was significantly scaled back because of neighbors’ activism. 

For listeners who want to know more about global instances of environmental justice, the trend in waste site locations, environmental racism, the organization Working Landscapes and other subjects discussed in this podcast, we provide additional links below. 

[Image: Anti-PCB demonstration 1982. Credit: Mac Shaffer]

Environmental Justice, a project funded by the European Union, maps global environmental justice conflicts and provides scientific papers based on the Environmental Justice Atlas, a database maintained by the project. EJAtlas is an interactive map of 2,816 reported cases of environmental justice conflicts around the world. This database was created as a resource for teaching, networking and advocacy. This map includes the PCB contamination in Warren County as one of its locations.

A private company dumped its waste Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) in Warren County. But what are PCBs? What are the adverse health effects of PCBs? Journalist Joe O’Connell says by the late 1970s, the darker side of PCBs was revealed. Researchers linked PCBs to a slew of negative health effects and the EPA banned their production altogether. The EPA provides information about PCBs including what they are, how they’re used and what their health effects are.

This podcast emphasizes the increase in environmental consciousness following the Warren County environmental justice movement. However, another major point is the centuries long history of exploitation in this wealthy county built on the backs of slaves. It is no coincidence that Afton, a small, rural African American community in Warren County, was chosen as a waste disposal location. In fact, researchers at the University of Michigan have found that income and race are major factors in choosing hazardous waste sites. The Nation also discusses environmental racism, providing a graphic and discussing this trend in the context of Flint’s water crisis. 

Growing gardens that are accessible to low-income families, Working Landscapes brings social equity to Warren County. The nonprofit organization uses farming to boost the county’s economy and keep the people and the environment healthy. Read more about how Working Landscapes works to rebuild a food system in the birthplace of environmental justice.

A quick guide to the resources linked on this page:

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