Colorado & Brazil mine disasters kill two rivers in 2015.

Contaminated Rio Doce Water Flows into the Atlantic (23414457121).jpg
NASA Earth Observatory image shows toxic mud reaching Atlantic Ocean.
Contaminated Rio Doce Water Flows into the Atlantic. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.

The Basics to understand 2 of the worst environmental disasters from this year. The short of it is that twin mining disasters have killed two rivers. The long-term punchline is this: figuring out how to respond to these disasters will shape the future because of how they affect trans-boundary water systems and the $$$ involved.

Animas River Before & After (Durango Herald)

  • August 5, 2015: EPA employees & contractors, working on cleaning up an abandoned gold mine in Colorado, instead release toxic waste water from a breached dam. Contaminants from Gold King Mine flood Cement Creek and then the Animas River, turning the whole thing bright yellow.

  • November 5, 2015: a dam holding back waste from an iron ore mine ruptures, sending toxic mud into the Doce River in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. More than a dozen people die immediately and the river is turned bright red, killing all forms of wildlife. Contaminants from the Brazilian-English/Australian Samarco Mineração mine travel down the Doce and reach the Atlantic Ocean on November 22, 2015. This means that the southern Atlantic Ocean will feel the detrimental impacts.

  • ### years: the EPA is keeping quiet, but it's going to take years before the Animas River will be cleaned up. During that time, communities that live on the basin will face potentially lethal contaminants and the farming/ranching industries fed by the river are done.

  • 100 years: Brazilian marine biologist Andres Ruchi told the BBC to expect that the southern Atlantic Ocean (!!!) and the Doce River would be compromised for at least 100 years. 

  • Navajo Nation rejected by FEMA: the EPA-caused spill has flowed into Navajo land, which means that ground water is contaminated and houses near the river are not suitable for human habitation. But FEMA has rejected tribal president Russell Begaye's request to help with clean-up.

  • Doce River Species Extinct: "The biodiversity of the river is completely lost," said Rio-based researcher Aloysio Ferrão. "Several species, including endemic ones must be extinct."

  • $### : the EPA isn't saying how much it's going to cost to clean up the Animas disaster.

  • Brazilian gov't sues for $5.2billion: $260million pledged by Samarco Mining Co. is not enough, according to the Brazilian government, which has initiated a $5.2billion lawsuit against Samarco and its two parent companies: BHP Billiton and Vale.
  Flooding after Bento Rodrigues dam breach.gif
"Flooding after Bento Rodrigues dam breach" by NASA - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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Paris & Rest of World Get Much-Needed Good News: UN Climate Accord Passes

Watching French President Hollande Praise the "Ambitious" COP21 Agreement. Like many in France, we celebrated with Bordeaux and conversation late into the night.

"The Paris Accord passes," said Laurent Fabius, triumphantly describing the successful outcome of COP21 Paris Climate Conference he oversaw as its president. As his green gavel struck the table, thousands of cheering delegates leapt to their feet.

195 countries and the EU approved the COP21 Climate Agreement on Saturday, December 12, 2015--a historic global accord to stop global warming and tackle climate change.

Though negotiations stretched 'til Saturday, at the end, no one seemed to mind much that an extra day had been added to the already-long COP. And the good news was much needed in Paris, nearly one month to the day of the horrific November terrorist attacks. 

The UN Climate Agreement is just the beginning of an uphill battle--imperfect and requiring a lot of work from all countries in order to make a difference. Here are major points:

Global temperature increase limited to 1.5°C (3°F). This is more ambitious than the initially proposed 2° limit and shows that negotiators took seriously the needs of low-lying island states which are in danger of disappearing as ice caps melt. But, we've already used up 2/3 of that temperature increase and we'll need to *increase* carbon absorption, not just limit emissions. 

2050 deadline for halting the temperature rise. De facto, this is also the deadline for the transition to renewable energy sources. 

The principle of "differentiation" (common but differentiated responsibilities) which holds that, while climate change respects no national boundaries and must be tackled globally, not all countries equally contribute to global warming. And so, developed countries are encouraged to invest in "technology transfers" to developing countries to help offset the hurdles and costs of not using quick & cheap fossil fuels. 

Human rights, indigenous rights, and climate justice have been shunted to the Preamble, not the actionable part of the agreement... or entirely omitted from the text. 

The $100 billion funding mechanism is a start, but pledged dollars/euros/yen/etc. still have to come in by 2020, the formal start date of the Paris Accord.

The Green Zone

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Big News: COP21 Climate Agreement Draft Unveiled Today; Approval Tomorrow?

Key text from the newly released COP21 Agreement Draft

The COP21 Paris Climate Conference has unveiled the final draft of a global agreement to fight  climate change by cutting back on greenhouse gas/carbon emissions. Bureaucrats and negotiators are expected to work deep into the night to hammer out the sections that are still up in the air. And we might even get a final decision by end-of-day Thursday.

One of the biggest advances made is in a seemingly small number: the difference between 1.5° and 2° Celsius. Climate scientists and advocates have successfully pushed for the inclusion of a 1.5° cap on global warming and not the previously planned 2° cap. Their suggestions have made it to the final draft of the "actionable" part of the agreement (i.e., the Articles).

Given how other crucial concerns like indigenous rights and human rights have been relegated to the Preamble, which is less actionable than the Articles, this is promising--though only very tentative--news.

Deforestation in Paraguay & Brazil contributes to global warming

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Success! Got my Antarctica World Passport at COP21 Paris

(An example of how art helps us see our world more clearly.)

And I just *happened* to have an extra passport sized photo

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty, signed by more than 50 countries (including the U.S.), designates that continent for peace and scientific research--a borderless land outside the territorial ownership of any nation. But climate change and peak oil put this at risk--> as companies and governments eye the thawing landscape for extraction. 

As a way to bring attention to these issues, artists Lucy and Jorge Orta have invited everyone to join their collaborative project: the Antarctica World Passport

Solutions 21 at the Paris Climate Conference is actually *hosting* an AWP Office, where officers read you the obligations and register your info, and where you then "cross" the border to get the passport stamped. 

There's also a public policy aspect to this. If 1million people sign on, AWP can initiate legislative proposal through the Europeans Citizens' Initiative. 

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In Latin America, Nature has Rights. (Useful lessons from the margins.)

In the past few years, a political resurgence of Amerindian cosmologies and values regarding nature has spread throughout Latin America. Perhaps the most significant development in this was the recognition in the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution of the inalienable rights of nature to “exist, persist, maintain and Regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions.” Bolivia has ratified a Law of Mother Earth in 2010 which rests on the principles of: “harmony,” “collective good,” “the guarantee of regeneration,” “respect and defense of the rights of Mother Earth,” “anti-commercialization,” and “cross-culturalism.”

Why is this interesting? Well. We need really creative thinking to get us out of the problems we've gotten ourselves into. And this way of seeing nature offers a lot of helpful insights. (The importance of creative thinking feels so obvious that it almost sounds like an after school TV special. Unfortunately, it often seems we haven't learned those lessons.)

I'm at COP21, the Paris Climate Conference, and I'll be attentive to how creative voices of the margins speak to larger issues of climate, nature, and environment. 

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COP21 Paris: Why I'm going. What you should know.

You're going to Paris, why???
-- From 12/5-12/13, I'll be in Paris to participate in COP21.

Wait. What is COP21? Sounds like a Bruce Willis action movie.
-- The 2015 Paris Climate Conference (a.k.a. COP21) has been convened by the UN for world leaders, scientific experts, and ordinary people to discuss and finally achieve a "legally binding and universal agreement" on climate change.

Seems daunting. What's the goal?
-- Simply put: to stop global warming. The target number is 2°C--although human-caused climate change has already raised global temperatures, the aim of the COP21 agreement is to implement changes that'll keep global warming below 2°C (3.6°F for those of us who are metrically-challenged).

And it's in Paris? Aren't you worried?
-- Nope. Also, I consider it a privilege to visit France at such a crucial moment in its history.

Why are *you* going?
-- As part of my work on "creation care," I'll be with several evangelical organizations that are participating in ecumenical meetings to pray for, speak about, and urge climate change response.

Are you going to be writing about this?
-- Obviously.

Are you available for interviews?
-- Oui.

Parlez-vous français?
-- Para ser honesta, no tanto como quisiera. Estudié el aleman en el colegio y el castellano fue mi idioma materno. Whoops. I just did that thing where you switch to the next "not English" language. Mais, je veux practiquer alors que je marche dans la rues de La Ville Lumière.

Is there a well-designed, inspiring, yet brief video I could watch?

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