Our Health Depends on Indigenous Botanical Knowledge and Plants That Are Rapidly Being Destroyed

Our Health Depends on Indigenous Botanical Knowledge and Plants That Are Rapidly Being Destroyed

This article originally appeared in Common Dreams.

The decline is one of the effects of the industrial modernization that is supposed to have brought increasing comfort, health, and advanced knowledge into our lives.


Southwest Harbor, Maine (Special to Informed Comment) – While mainstream media celebrate the remarkable development in record time of vaccines spectacularly effective against the Covid virus, knowledge that might contribute to other medical breakthroughs is being steadily undermined. This decline is not the result of some dramatic lawsuit or corporate takeover. It is one of the effects of the industrial modernization that is supposed to have brought increasing comfort, health and advanced knowledge into our lives. Economic growth has produced not only a climate emergency but a less publicized decline in the many efficacious forms of traditional knowledge and the biodiversity they sustain and are sustained by. In an email exchange I had with ethnobotanist Kirsten Tripplett, Ph.D., she pointed out:

  • “the generally accepted understanding is that 12-25% of “Western” medicine is derived or based on plant molecules/chemical backbones…It depends who’s talking and what their agenda is. And that is JUST in Western medicine. There are other, much older and empirically-based medicinal systems out there that are incredibly effective, but most U.S. citizens are unaware or only dimly, of them. Not only is the loss of language directly linked to knowledge loss and potential medical/economic loss, but think of all of the practical and useful things that get lost, too.”

When Brazil President Bolsanaro encouraged more forestry development in the Amazon, global climate advocates worried about the lungs of the planet and the contribution to global warming. They might equally have been concerned with the indigenous knowledge going up in smoke.

Sibélia Zanon writing at nature site Mongabay reports:

“A study at the University of Zurich in Switzerland shows that a large proportion of existing medicinal plant knowledge is linked to threatened Indigenous languages. In a regional study on the Amazon, New Guinea and North America, researchers concluded that 75% of medicinal plant uses are known in only one language.” She reports that 91% of medicinal knowledge exists in a single language, so the loss of linguistic diversity diminished the former as well.

Nor are medicines all that is lost. She adds,

“Every time a language disappears, a speaking voice also disappears, a way to make sense of reality disappears, a way to interact with nature disappears, a way to describe and name animals and plants disappears,” says Jordi Bascompte, researcher in the Department of Evolutional Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich.”

As indigenous peoples rely on the spoken word for intergenerational knowledge transfer, the disappearance of these languages will take with them a universe of information. The possible losses include fundamental neurological facts about the human brain. Jairus Grove, author of Savage Ecology, cites work by neurologists showing that each language contains a different cognitive map of the human brain. Sometimes the differences are very significant and open up important research potential. Grove cites work by linguist David Harrison on the Uririna people of Peru showing that some, though very few, languages place the object of the sentence at the beginning. Were it not for the continued existence of this people, neuroscientists would not even suspect or know that the human brain could be wired in such a way to make O-V-S sentences possible.

Grove points out that most Indo European languages have an active subject, verb, passive object form, but there are minority cultures that do not express that format. In a world beset by the dangerous exploitation of the natural world these minority cultures may teach us more about how to survive and thrive in this world. In this context Tripplett points out that agency is not confined to the human world. The unwillingness to recognize and accept this fact could have increasingly dire consequences.

Dr. Kirsten Tripplett writes, “It’s a long leap conceptually to make, but if one accepts a premise that “language” isn’t just spoken, and that knowledge is transmitted through actions and lifeways, then loss of biological species and their exploitation to serve human interests, is a critical loss, too, for the same reasons as those cited above . . .”

Grove has similar worries: “Irreversible catastrophic changes are certain but extinction is unlikely. What we stand to lose as a species in this current apocalypse of homogenization is unimaginable, not because of the loss of life but because of the loss of difference. Who and what will be left on Earth to inspire and ally with us in our creative advance is uncertain. If the future is dominated by those who seek to establish the survival of the human species at all costs through technological mastery then whatever “we” manages to persist will likely live on or near a mean and lonely planet.” (Savage Ecology, p. 209)

Why this loss of cultural diversity? There is first the reductionist tendency to treat cultural diversity and biodiversity as separate issues rather than as continuously interacting. Zanon further quotes Jordi Bascompte: “We can’t ignore this network now and think only about the plants or only about the culture . . . We humans are very good at homogenizing culture and nature so that nature seems to be more or less the same everywhere.”

This homogenization process includes reduction of human labor to cogs in a corporate machine, to cookie cutter development to the planned obsolescence and corporate-dominated consumer culture. Most important is a neoliberal financial system fostering increasing wealth gaps within and among nations. In this context it is especially important to preserve alternative ways of being in the world and their origins and history. Despite efforts to homogenize many indigenous cultures some retain their vitality. But their survival will depend on bottom-up activism and rules, laws, and practices negotiated across race, ethnicity, religion, and class.

As Subhankar Banerjee argues, saving elephants in different states presents complex problems. More broadly biodiversity conservation is contextual. What works for one place and in a particular culture may not work for another place and in another culture. This is not, however, cultural relativism. Biodiversity advocates value most those cultures that seek space for difference and for a politics that celebrates that end.

Banerjee again: “What makes biodiversity conservation so beautiful is that it is a pluriverse—so many ideas, so many practices, so many forms of human-nonhuman kinship that exist around the world, which in a different context, a quarter-century ago, Indian historian Ramachandra Guha and Spanish ecological-economist Juan Martinez-Alier called Varieties of Environmentalism.”

To help indigenous peoples worldwide preserve, revitalize and promote their languages, UNESCO has launched its Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages from 2022 to 203. This is a principle worthy of much more attention than it receives. For that situation to change more than proclamations of rights will be necessary, including political movements celebrating and willing to fight for economic justice and biological and cultural diversity.

Ayoreo appeal to Inter-American Commission to save their forest from destruction

Ayoreo appeal to Inter-American Commission to save their forest from destruction

This article originally appeared in Survival International.

Featured image: The Ayoreo have previously blocked the trans-Chaco Highway to draw attention to government inaction over the destruction of their forest. © GAT/ Survival

The survival of the last uncontacted tribe in South America outside the Amazon is at stake.

Indigenous people living in a South American forest with one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation have appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to save it from total destruction. Their uncontacted relatives are fleeing from one corner of the remaining forest to another, seeking refuge from ever-present bulldozers.

The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode of Paraguay’s Chaco forest have been trying since 1993 – when they submitted a formal land claim – to protect their forest in the face of a rapidly expanding agricultural frontier.

In 2013, given a total lack of political will in Paraguay to uphold the law and stop the destruction of their lands, they requested that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights intervene.

In 2016, at the government’s request, they agreed to enter formal negotiations with the government for their land titles, but for 5 years, and despite 42 meetings, the destruction of their forest has continued unabated. Satellite photos reveal that the Ayoreo now live in an island of forest surrounded by monocultures and beef production.

The Ayoreo have now announced they are pulling out of the negotiations, and have written again to the Inter-American Commission, asking it to order the Paraguayan authorities to finally return their land to them, and expel the agribusiness corporations that have taken it over.

Although most Ayoreo-Totobiegosode were forcibly contacted by American evangelical missionaries some years ago, an unknown number remain uncontacted in the last island of their forest, which is now being cut down around them.

Earlier this year one uncontacted group made contact with a settled community of their relatives, to express their fear at the destruction of their forest refuge, before returning to the forest.

The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode leader Porai Picanerai, who was forcibly contacted by the American New Tribes Mission in 1986, said: “My uncontacted relatives are suffering and in danger because they barely have any space now to live in. There are many outsiders occupying our land and burning the forest for beef production.”

Porai also said: “After having participated in most of the 42 meetings, I can confirm that the government doesn’t keep its word, that it lies and doesn’t want to protect my people or return the lands that we’ve always lived in and cared for. We’ll only get the government to act by going to outside bodies like the Commission.”

Survival Researcher Teresa Mayo said today: “The Ayoreo-Totobiegosode have called a halt to the negotiation process as the government was just dragging it out while allowing the rampant destruction of the Ayoreo’s forest to continue. The state knows that it simply has to do nothing to effectively condemn the uncontacted Ayoreo to death – and if a government sees the solution to its “problem” as the extermination of a people, we’re talking about genocide.”

How to give the land back

How to give the land back

This article originally appeared in Shareable.

Featured image: A Wiyot man tends a fire in preparation of a candlelight vigil remembrance ceremony. Credit: Nick Adams

By Aaron Fernando

It’s common to feel a deep sense of injustice for what happened in history and to hunger to create a better future by doing good work today. But what does that good work look like? In an economy and legal system filled with structural injustice, how do groups of people build a better world?

In the lands commonly called Humboldt, Calif., the Wiyot tribe and settler-colonizer organizations are working together to do this. At the intersection of land justice, language justice, and ecological restoration they are creating a legal framework for how to give the land back to First Nations so that healing of, and on, the land can both happen.

The Wiyot Tribe in Northern California's Humboldt Bay region gather to receive the deed for their native land
Members of the Wiyot Tribe in Northern California’s Humboldt Bay region receive the deed to 200 acres of their native land after nearly 160 years of fighting to reclaim it, Oct 2019. Credit: Wiyot Tribe

To do this, the Wiyot Tribe and Cooperation Humboldt are working together to form a type of Community Land Trust (CLT), Dishgamu Humboldt, the first of its kind, to structurally ensure that the Wiyot tribe will maintain decision-making power in this land trust, forever.

An Indigenous-Led CLT

Property is often considered to be a ‘bundle of rights’ that defines who gets to use or alter a space. A CLT legally and financially separates the two bundles of property rights we usually think about together: the ownership of buildings and the ownership of the land that those buildings are on.

Under a CLT, buildings can be bought and sold based on their value. The difference is that the land beneath those buildings gets held by a type of nonprofit in perpetuity—which is as close to “forever” in legal terms as you can get. In this way, the financial value of the land gets separated from the buildings, effectively de-commodifying the land and preventing it from being bought up by those who only see it as a financial asset.

Photo of Wiyot Tribal Administrator Michelle Vassel and Cooperation Humboldt Co-founder and Executive Director David Cobb, with Tuluwat Island in the background.
Wiyot Tribal Administrator Michelle Vassel and Cooperation Humboldt Co-founder and Executive Director David Cobb, Credit: Mark McKenna

Like other nonprofits, a CLT is governed by a board, which in this case ensures that control of land use stays in the hands of the Wiyot. The first of its kind, this CLT locks in a tribal majority to the structure itself: four of the seven board members will always be appointed by the Wiyot Tribal Council. Dishgamu won’t just exist to hold and manage land; it also aspires to foster cooperative ventures and solidarity economics. “We’re not just looking at projects. The projects are the building blocks. But we are committed to truly re-Indigenizing this place,” says David Cobb, a lawyer, activist, and former Green Party presidential candidate. Cobb has been working closely with Wiyot Tribal Administrator Michelle Vassel in forming the CLT.

Cobb is also on the board of Cooperation Humboldt, a solidarity economy organization that pays an honor tax (1% of their annual revenue) to the Wiyot Tribe as a tangible way of honoring the sovereignty of the Native Nations on whose land they operate.

Slow and Steady Healing

Like anything pioneering, re-tooling legal structures is not always clear-cut. “One of the things we’re struggling with is to [form the CLT] under Indian law, rather than California State law,” says Cobb. “That gets very tricky because there are all sorts of questions or conflicts of jurisdiction.”

“We’re not just looking at projects. The projects are the building blocks. But we are committed to truly re-Indigenizing this place.”-David Cobb

The process of re-Indigenizing land and healing has not been quick either. In a webinar, Vassel gave an overview of the decades-long struggle to have land returned. In the 1970s, one tribal chairman asked for the land back, but the city refused. About two decades later, another tribal chairwoman and three partners  started hosting candlelight vigils, in honor of the Wiyot tribe’s sacred World Renewal Ceremony.

This is because Tuluwat Island—much of which had come into the ownership of the City of Eureka—was the site of a brutal massacre of women and children at the hand of white settlers in 1860. It took place during the Wiyot’s World Renewal Ceremony, and the island was, and still is, sacred to the Wiyot. By the 1990s, the vigils began, allowing Indigenous and settlers alike to come to terms with that history. “It was at these vigils that real change started happening in our community, because it wasn’t just Wiyot people, it wasn’t just Indian people. It was also people that were from all over Eureka and all over Humboldt County,” explains Vassel. “We were able to gather in this space at night by candlelight and look history in the eye.” The vigils continued for 20 more years.

Community members gather for the final Wiyot Candlelight Vigil
Community members gather for the final Wiyot Candlelight Vigil, Feb. 2014. The discontinuation of the gathering coincided with the tribe’s resurrection of their World Renewal Ceremony. Credit: Nick Adams

Many years later, the tribe fundraised $200,000 to purchase 1.5 acres on Tuluwat Island. The area was environmentally degraded when they purchased it, so they began restoring the island by removing trash, debris, and hazardous chemicals, then remediated the soil, ultimately getting Environmental Protection Agency approval for human habitability.  “We spent fourteen years doing that work. It began with a lot of people that had attended our vigils,” explained Vassel.

“Our tribal chairwoman in 2004 went back to the city of Eureka and she put in a request to transfer that land to the tribe. That time in 2004, the City of Eureka unanimously approved it,” added Vassel. It was the first time a municipality had returned land without being legally obligated to do so, largely in part because the City had understood the mutual benefit of giving the land back and ecological restoration.

In 2019, the City of Eureka returned an additional 200 acres of land on Tuluwat Island to the Wiyot, marking the  first time in US history a city returned land to a tribe with absolutely no legal strings attached.

Building a New World Within the Shell of the Old

Dishgamu Humboldt, with its Indigenous-led board structure, may be able to further the same spirit of cooperation between settlers and Indigenous peoples. By using existing legal structures to outline how to do something radical—giving the land back— this action can be replicated by many others from coast to coast. An important feature of this CLT is that it will be able to accept land donations, enabling tribes to gradually regain territory that was taken from them. Since the core innovation of Dishgamu is its structure, its founders see it as a pioneer that others can learn from. “We’re only doing projects in Wiyot Territory,” says Cobb, explaining that Dishgamu will refuse to take on development projects in areas historically stewarded by other tribes. “But what we will do is help other groups and other entities replicate this model.

“By using existing legal structures to outline how to do something radical—giving the land back— this action can be replicated by many others from coast to coast.”

Although many are familiar with how Indigenous land was stolen through violence or by the federal government signing hundreds of treaties with Indigenous nations, then failing to honor most of them, some are less familiar with how it was also stolen through legal trickery and by jeopardizing the finances of members of Indigenous nations so that they were forced to sell their land.

The 1887 Dawes Act kicked off the policy of allotment which broke up reservations into smaller parcels and transferred ownership to individual Indians instead of tribes holding land in common. Those parcels were then taxed, chopped up into physically disparate pieces, and declared ‘surplus’, allowing white settlers to buy, squat on, and claim the land when Indians were unable to access it. This resulted in a loss of approximately 90 million acres of tribal land.

Aerial view of Humboldt Bay and the City of Eureka, all once considered Wiyot land.
Aerial view of Humboldt Bay and the City of Eureka, all once considered Wiyot land. Credit: Robert Campbell

This policy of law-based land theft continued in 1953 when the federal government began terminating the federally-recognized status of many tribes. Framing it as a way to assimilate American Indians into settler society, a real outcome of termination policies was the removal of the protected status of over a millions of acres of Indian land. This made it significantly easier to wrestle land out of the hands of individuals, rather than a recognized tribe. In fact, it was impossible before, as a Supreme Court case had ruled that private individuals were barred from buying land from federally-recognized tribes. By dissolving the federal recognition, settlers were then able to purchase or take land that was previously not available for sale.

This caused the Wiyot to lose their recognized tribal status in 1961. After suing the Federal Government for unlawful termination, the Wiyot won and had their status reinstated—20 years later.

Members of the Wiyot trube kayak on Humboldt Bay. Land back.
Members of the Wiyot tribe kayak on Humboldt Bay. Credit: Nick Adams

In past centuries, legal tools have repeatedly been employed to transfer land ownership to settlers. Today, Dishgamu Humboldt is using similar legal structures to transfer land back to tribes. The CLT returns the land to communal ownership, and communal stewardship.

According to Cobb, “You have to build the new society within the shell of the old,” and Dishgamu Humboldt can provide a blueprint for what a better world—the one being born—might look like. As parts of the world flood and burn, perhaps projects like this can show us how the land and the people can heal from the wounds of the past, and grow a better future, together.

Beavers are back: here’s what this might mean for the UK’s wild spaces

Beavers are back: here’s what this might mean for the UK’s wild spaces

This article originally appeared in The Conversation.

Editor’s note: “That repair should be the main goal of the environmental movement. Unlike the Neverland of the Tilters’ solutions, we have the technology for prairie and forest restoration, and we know how to use it. And the grasses will be happy to do most of the work for us.”
“To actively repair the planet requires understanding the damage. The necessary repair—the return of forests, prairies, and wetlands—could happen over a reasonable fifty to one hundred years if we were to voluntarily reduce our numbers.”
Deep Green Resistance

The Eurasian beaver, once a common sight across Europe, had disappeared almost entirely by the end of the 16th century thanks to hunting and river modification for agriculture and engineering.

But beavers are making a comeback across the UK and several other countries. They have already been released into the wild in Scotland and within enclosed river sections in England. Now expanding the wild release of beavers across England is on the cards.

Ecosystem recovery, increased biodiversity, flood protection and improved water quality are some of the upsides of having beavers around. But reintroducing wild animals to the landscape is always going to involve trial and error, and it’s vital to understand the possible consequences – both good and bad.

The beaver is a gifted environmental engineer, able to create its own ecological niche – matching itself perfectly to its environment – by building dams. These dams are made from materials the beaver can carry or float – typically wood, stones and mud, but also fence posts, crops from nearby fields, satellite dishes and old kids’ toys.

The dam creates a peaceful, watery home for beaver families to sleep, eat and avoid predators. And the effects of dam building ripple outwards, with the potential to transform entire ecosystems.

Our review of beaver impacts considers evidence from across Europe and North America, where wild beaver populations have been expanding since around the 1950s.

Our review of beaver impacts considers evidence from across Europe and North America, where wild beaver populations have been expanding since around the 1950s.


There is clear evidence that beaver dams increase water storage in river landscapes through creating more ponds and wetlands, as well as raising groundwater levels. This could help rivers – and their inhabitants – handle ever more common weather extremes like floods and droughts.

If you observe beaver dams in the wild, water often comes very close to the top of their dams, suggesting they might not be much help in a flood. Nonetheless, some studies are finding that beaver dams can reduce flood peaks, likely because they divert water onto floodplains and slow downstream flow. However, we don’t know whether beaver dams reliably reduce floods of different sizes, and it would be unwise to assume they’re always capable of protecting downstream structures.

The good news is that it seems all the extra water dams store could help supplement rivers during dry periods and act as critical refuges for fish, amphibians, insects and birds during droughts.


Beaver dams increase the time it takes for things carried by rivers to move downstream. In some cases, this can help slow the spread of pollutants like nitrates and phosphates, commonly used in fertilisers, which can harm fish and damage water quality.

Beavers’ impact on phosphates is unclear, with just as many studies finding phosphorus concentrations increasing downstream of beaver dams as those finding a decrease or no change. But beavers seem especially skilled at removing nitrate: a welcome skill, since high concentrations of nitrates in drinking water could endanger infant health.

Recovering diversity

All that water storage means beavers create a wonderful mosaic of still-, slow- and fast-moving watery habitats. In particular, they increase the biodiversity of river valleys, for example helping macro-invertebrates like worms and snails – key to healthy food chains – to thrive.

Beavers’ departure can leave anything from fens or peatlands to wet floodplain forests to drier grassland meadows developing in their wake. This gives beavers an important role in rewilding efforts.

But nuance is key here. Evidence of beaver dam impacts on fish populations and river valley vegetation, for example, is very mixed. Because they are such great agents of disturbance, beavers promote plants that germinate quickly, like woody shrubs and grasses.

While this can reduce forest cover and help some invasive plants, given time it can also help create valleys with a far richer mosaic of plant life. So although beaver presence is likely to bring benefits, more research is needed to get clearer on precisely how beavers change ecosystems.

Net zero carbon

Beavers are great at trapping carbon by storing organic matter like plant detritus in slow-flowing ponds. However, this also means beaver ponds can be sources of greenhouse gases, like CO₂ and methane, that contribute to the greenhouse effect. This led one author to wonder “whether the beaver is aware the greenhouse effect will reduce demand for fur coats”.

Can beavers still be helpful in achieving net zero carbon? The short-term answer is probably yes, since more carbon seems to be trapped than released by beaver activities.

However, long-term outcomes are less clear, since the amount of carbon that beavers keep in the ground depends on how willing they are to hang around in a river valley – and how willing we are to let them. A clearer understanding of where beavers fit within the carbon cycle of river systems is needed if we are to make best use of their carbon capture skills.


Beavers are reentering landscapes under human dominance, the same thing that originally drove them from vast swathes of European river systems.

In the UK, this means they’ll lack natural predators and may be in competition with cows and sheep for food: possibly resulting in unsteady wild population trajectories.

Although good data on long-term beaver activity is available from Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, our different climate and landscapes mean it’s hard to make a straightforward comparison.

Beavers’ use in rewilding can be incredibly cost-effective, as dam construction and the biodiversity benefits that flow from it is done largely for free. But we need to be tolerant of uncertainty in where and when they choose to do their work.

Working with wild animals – who probably don’t share our priorities – is always an unpredictable process. The expansion of beavers into the wild has a bright future so long as we can manage expectations of people who own and use beaver-inhabited land.

Planned dam in Philippine national park catches flak from activists, officials

Planned dam in Philippine national park catches flak from activists, officials

  • A subsidiary of the San Miguel Corporation, one of the largest companies in the Philippines, has proposed a $500 million hydroelectric project that will overlap with a national park on Panay Island.
  • Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park holds some of the central Philippines’ last stands of intact lowland rainforest, is home to endangered species including hornbills and the Visayan warty pig, and is a vital watershed for Panay and neighboring islands.
  • The project is still not approved, and a growing coalition of activists and local governments opposes the plan.

Update: On Aug. 10, the village governments of Naboay and Malay publicly released resolutions opposing the hydroelectric project, citing concerns about the project’s potential impacts on the Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, municipal and agricultural water supplies, and the area’s indigenous Ati communities.

This article originally appeared in Mongabay. Featured image: Visayan warty pigs (Sus cebifrons) at a wallow in the Philippines. Image by Shukran888 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).


AKLAN, Philippines — Activists and local government officials in the central Philippines have lashed out at a recently announced plan to build a hydroelectric plant overlapping with a national park that’s home to rare and threatened species.

Strategic Power Development Corporation (SPDC), a subsidiary of Philippine mega conglomerate San Miguel Corporation, announced on July 13 its intention to build the $500 million, 300-megawatt pump-storage hydro facility in Malay municipality on the island of Panay. The project would include the construction of two dams and reservoirs, 9.6 kilometers (6 miles) of new roads, and the upgrade of 1.8 km (1.1 mi) of existing roads.

According to SPDC, the planned project near the confluence of the Nabaoy and Imbaroto rivers would consist of a 70-meter (230-foot) lower dam on the Naboay, with a 10.2-million-cubic-meter (2.7-billion-gallon) reservoir; and a 74 m (243 ft) upper dam with a 4.55-million-m3 (1.2-billion-gallon) reservoir extending to the Imbaroto. The company says the plant will provide energy to the regional grid to meet current and future peak demand, will support the local economy, and is part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2017-2040 Philippine Energy Plan.

Overall, the company says the complex would cover 122.7 hectares (303.2 acres), including 97.9 hectares (241.9 acres) of forest, of which 24.9 hectares (61.5 acres) are nominally protected land within Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park.

Significant biodiversity hotspot

Northwest Panay Peninsula Natural Park, which spans 12,009 hectares (29,676 acres) in the provinces of Aklan and Antique, was established in 2002 via a presidential proclamation. Home to critically endangered Visayan warty pigs (Sus cebifrons) and writhed-billed hornbills (Rhabdotorrhinus waldeni), as well as endangered Visayan hornbills (Penelopides panini), it has been locally recognized as a significant biodiversity hotspot since the 1990s.

The park holds some of the last remaining stands of primary lowland rainforest in the central Philippines, and serves as a key watershed providing potable water to Panay and neighboring islands.

Activists say the hydropower project puts water supplies for local communities at risk.

“The Nabaoy River is the lone source of potable water to nearby Boracay Island and to the residents of Malay,” said Ritchel Cahilig of the Aklan Trekkers Group. Boracay Island, separated from the park by a narrow strait, is a prime beach destination, recording 2 million tourist arrivals in 2019.

“I wonder how will they supply water to the residents especially during construction phase. During construction phase, for sure, large vehicles will be damaging the forest and the company seems do not have a clear alternative on how to restore what has been damaged,” Cahilig said.

The natural park is also home to a community of Indigenous Malay Ati people, who fish in the Nabaoy River and rely on the forests for sustenance.

Activists have also questioned the need for additional electrical capacity in the area. Citing reports from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines, Melvin Purzuelo of the Green Forum-Western Visayas noted that from July 20-26, Panay Island’s average daily electricity consumption ranged from 345-364 MW, against existing capacity of 480 MW.

“It is clear now that a huge power supply is not needed at this time especially that the world is going through the COVID-19 pandemic,” Purzuelo said during a recent webinar.

Loss of local government support

SPDC’s proposal still requires approval from local governments and the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

“The Malay [municipal government] have set a coordination meeting with the SPDC supposedly last August 2 to clarify issues involving the project but [the meeting] has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Purzuelo said.

Local officials have distanced themselves from endorsing the proposal. In a phone interview, acting Malay Mayor Floribar Bautista said the SPDC had not approached him to discuss the details of the project since he assumed his post in July 2018.

“What I know is the project was endorsed by the previous administration. When I checked the documents, it’s lacking. It seems the project may have [been] railroaded. I could not endorse the project at this time since I do not know how the project would affect our town. All they have to do is to convince me if the hydro dam project is worth it,” he said.

The village of Nabaoy is also reportedly set to cancel its previous endorsement of the project, activists say. No official cancellation had been issued as of the time this article was published; but just as in the case of the Malay municipal government, the previous leadership of Nabaoy village had endorsed the project in the early months of 2018.

Without approval from the current local governments, the project can only push through with special permission from the DENR.

15 Insurers Drop Trans Mountain Pipeline After Grassroots Pressure

15 Insurers Drop Trans Mountain Pipeline After Grassroots Pressure

This article originally appeared in Truthout.

By Truthout

Every morning, I walk along the waters of the Salish Sea on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State. Most days I am lucky enough to see the pink of the sunrise over Mount Rainier. This spring, millions of tiny herring eggs covered the beach, bringing with them a riotous cacophony of sound, including sea lions barking into the dead of night.

This place is the very heart of me. This coast is the solace that I seek when I am overwhelmed by the pandemic, by the everlasting wars, and the twisting fear of the climate emergency.

Today, the shores are smoky from fires raging across North America. I can’t see the mountains because of the smoke. The Salish Sea is threatened by the expansion of the single largest industrial project on the planet, the largest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in North America: the Alberta tar sands. The Trans Mountain pipeline is slated to increase tanker traffic carrying 890,000 barrels of crude oil through this region, and the risk of an oil spill is significant.

We are fighting climate disruption that sets our homes on fire and covers us in a blanket of smoke for entire seasons. Smoke is putting my best friends and family members’ lives at risk because of severe asthma, compounding lung damage from COVID, and other health impacts. The herring, sea lions, and all the life I see on my daily walks are at risk too; thousands of sea creatures died in the last heat wave.

Over the better part of the last decade, communities have been giving their all to resist the pipeline that puts this place at risk. Indigenous people resist the pipeline on their territory because it destroys the sacred: grave sites, creation sites and drinking water.

Indigenous Secwepemc Land Defenders known as the Tiny House Warriors are providing solar-powered housing for their community members and asserting sovereignty through living in a tiny house village along the pipeline route on Secwepemc land. Tsleil-Waututh members and Coast Salish relatives, Mountain Protectors and allies continue to assert their laws at the Watch House, kwewkweknewtx, a grassroots coalition of activists who have constructed a traditional Coast Salish structure along a pipeline easement to assert Indigenous rights and keep a watchful eye on the pipeline and storage tanks in Burnaby, Canada.

As a thanks for the stewardship of their own land, these communities are being criminalized with constant state surveillance and increasing violence from police. Every time they try to silence us, our movement to stop this pipeline and all tar sands expansion projects grows. We will not stop fighting.

There is another group beyond governments and corporations that make this destruction possible: insurance companies. You might not think of insurers at first, but everything is insured: vehicles, your health, and even the Trans Mountain pipeline — a toxic, 68-year-old leaking pipeline and its related expansion.

Over the last five years, 26 of the world’s major insurance companies have limited their coverage for coal, and 10 for tar sands. Lloyd’s of London, an insurance giant, has committed to backing out of the tar sands sector at the end of last year. Recently, another insurance company ruled out coverage for Trans Mountain — the 15th in a wave of companies exiting the project.

Now, the pipeline company, Trans Mountain Pipeline LP, is petitioning the Canadian federal government to keep its remaining insurers secret. (The Canadian government stepped in to buy the pipeline company in 2018 from its previous owner, Kinder Morgan Inc., for $3.6 billion.)

The company is desperate to keep those insurers under wraps because they are increasingly responding to growing pressure from youth organizing direct actions at insurance offices and hundreds of thousands calling them out through petitions. During a week of action on Trans Mountain insurance, there were over 25 protests around the world, in countries as far away from the project as Uganda.

Insurers are facing costs for major oil spill as well as the costs associated with climate change; industry losses from natural disasters were $83 billion in 2020.

One of the companies backing Trans Mountain, Chubb, was the first North American insurer to rule out coal. Chubb’s policy ruling out coal reflected their “commitment to do our part as a steward of the Earth,” according to CEO Evan Greenberg. Yet, according to Reuters, Canadian regulatory filings showed Chubb increased the coverage it provides for Trans Mountain for its 2019/2020 certificate to $200 million. The company remains a top oil and gas insurer.

Greenberg and the insurers covering Trans Mountain know better than most the cost of climate chaos on communities by the numbers: Insurers are facing costs for major oil spill as well as the costs associated with climate change; industry losses from natural disasters were $83 billion in 2020. Yet, these insurers are continuing to invest in and underwrite fossil fuels, making multimillion-dollar deals to support the status quo.

As I walk along these shorelines, considering the impacts of this pipeline on all that I hold dear, corporate insurance boardrooms making multimillion-dollar deals are far away from the real impacts on communities, on the land and on these waters. The risks to this pipeline and supertanker project far outweigh its benefits — and CEOs like Greenberg are profiting off of the theft of this land and the destruction of this water while we watch it go up in smoke.