All posts by sndden

Saint’s feast day reminds us to care for creation, those on the periphery

An image of St. Francis greets visitors to the hillside cloister where he prayed outside of Assisi, Italy. (Barbara Fraser)
An image of St. Francis greets visitors to the hillside cloister where he prayed outside of Assisi, Italy. (Barbara Fraser)

As summer turns to autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, and winter to spring south of the Equator, we have celebrated the transitional month of September as the Season of Creation. It has been a time to take stock of our relationship with all of our fellow travelers on this planet, human and non-human alike, and renew our commitment to healing and renewing the Earth.

The Season of Creation ends, appropriately, on Sunday, which is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. In answer to this week’s Burning Question, EarthBeat staff writer Brian Roewe explains who Francis was and how he became the patron saint of ecology.

In his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis notes that the saint from whom he took his papal name is beloved by Christians and non-Christians alike. “He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself,” the pope writes. “He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”

St. Francis has been an inspiration for countless environmental activists, especially in the decades since Earth Day in 1970 launched the modern environmental movement. This weekend is a good time to bring to mind the people who are ecological saints for our times.

How many do you know? If you gather with a faith community on the feast of St. Francis, perhaps you can take some time to share their stories, whether they are famous environmentalists or ordinary people who take extraordinary care of God’s creation. This is also a time to remember the martyrs, the people around the world who have died defending their land from those who would despoil it.

One of the best known in recent times is Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang, a missionary who was murdered in Brazil in 2005. The state of Pará, where she worked, remains dangerous for those who stand up to land speculators, ranchers and loggers. Photographer Paul Jeffrey recalled the commitment of Stang and others like her in his Lens on Creation series. Today’s final reflection, appropriately, is sparked by a duck that appears to share St. Francis’ joy in the world the Creator has given us.

Thirty days after St. Francis’ feast day, U.S. voters will go to the polls to choose the president and legislators who will guide us through the turbulent months ahead, in which the coronavirus pandemic is likely to combine with the impacts of severe storms and wildfires exacerbated by global warming.

This week, EarthBeat’s Roewe and biologist and science policy expert Thomas Lovejoy joined us for an NCR Facebook Live conversation about the election and environmental issues. Lovejoy, who has been studying a forested area near Manaus, Brazil, since the 1960s, has seen a cascade of factors, including road building and a warming climate, push the Amazon forest closer and closer to what he calls a “tipping point,” at which it could change from forest to grassland, with disastrous impacts on rainfall around South America.

But it’s not too late to act, Lovejoy told us, even if President Donald Trump should win a second term. “There is always hope,” he said, “because we can use our imagination to figure out other ways to make a difference.” Many cities and states are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite foot-dragging by the federal government, “and that’s where I would concentrate efforts,” he said.

As for individuals, there are plenty of things we can do. Voting is one, of course. Advocacy with state and local governments and even utility companies is another. And a suggestion from Lovejoy, in time for St. Francis’ feast day — we can help restore what humans have destroyed.

“Every time we plant a tree or restore a wetland, get involved in a reforestation project or improve some degraded agricultural land so the soil is accumulating carbon and getting more fertile, we are making a contribution,” he said. “That becomes something that every individual can do.”

So this weekend, as the Season of Creation draws to a close, we can take one more opportunity to praise the Creator along with Sir Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire and our Sister Mother Earth, as St. Francis wrote.

And we can plant a tree, like the little boy who is working with this family to create a mangrove swamp in the Sept. 30 Lens on Creation reflection. In doing so, we are reminded that we endlessly nurture and are nurtured by all of the other human and non-human creatures in this great web of life.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/earthbeat-weekly-following-st-francis-footsteps-season-creation-ends

Bring more traffickers to justice, UK anti-slavery chief urges

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Britain’s anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton poses for a picture in London, England, on August 6, 2019. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Kieran Guilbert

LONDON, – Police and prosecutors in Britain are not bringing enough human traffickers to justice, the country’s anti-slavery commissioner said on Thursday amid concerns that the coronavirus pandemic is preventing many victims from being identified or seeking help.

Modern slavery prosecutions have fallen during the last year despite a rise in police operations to combat the crime – whether labour abuse at car washes or children forced to deal drugs, said a report by Sara Thornton who took up the role in May 2019.

Thornton’s report follows criticism that Britain’s world-first 2015 Modern Slavery Act is being underused in efforts to jail traffickers, spur action from companies or help victims.

“The number of prosecutions under the Modern Slavery Act remains too low and organised crime groups continue to see the rewards as high and the risks as low,” she said in a statement.

“There needs to be scrutiny of the low number of prosecutions and convictions under the Modern Slavery Act.”

About 301 people were considered for slavery prosecutions under various laws in the 2019-20 period – down from 322 in the previous timeframe – government data shows. However, some of the defendants may have ultimately been charged with other offences.

Under the Modern Slavery Act alone, at least 67 people were prosecuted in 2019-20, against 82 in 2018-19. Yet the data does not include cases where more serious charges were also filed.

Thornton said training around modern slavery in the criminal justice system had improved recently but was still insufficient.

Police chiefs have previously cited getting victims to give evidence as a major obstacle to securing more prosecutions, and said slavery suspects were often charged for other crimes such as sexual violence as it may prove the simpler route to justice.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said its work with the police had led to more cases being referred for consideration.

“Modern slavery is an abhorrent crime and one we are tackling as hard as we can,” a spokesman said. “We continue to work (with the police) to build strong cases for prosecution.”

The National Police Chiefs Council declined to comment.

In a separate publication on Thursday, the Home Office (interior ministry) found that reports of suspected modern slavery had dropped for two consecutive quarters this year.

About 2,209 possible victims were referred to the British government for support in the second quarter of the year – down 23% from the previous three months – according to the data.

“COVID-19 has delivered unprecedented challenges in supporting victims and in many ways has increased vulnerability to exploitation,” Thornton said.

“Many are concerned that work across the world to end slavery will be knocked back years as governments prioritise building economic activity above concerns for human rights.”

A study in July said Britain was home to at least 100,000 modern slaves – 10 times more than the official estimate – and warned that 90% of victims may be going undetected.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200917151555-3xk4g/

United Nations at 75: Sisters and their reps discuss its feats, failures

Flags of member states fly in front of the United Nations Secretariat building in New York in 2018 (United Nations photo)

New York — The United Nations celebrates its 75th anniversary today at the U.N. General Assembly in New York during a crucial and perplexing moment.

As the world body acknowledges, “the UN is marking its 75th anniversary at a time of great disruption for the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis with severe economic and social impacts.”

Formed in the aftermath of World War II, the 193-member United Nations acts as an international forum where issues are debated and solutions to global challenges like poverty, gender inequality and climate change are weighed and developed. Its various humanitarian arms, such as the World Food Program, administer large-scale efforts to feed people in war- and drought-stricken countries.

Today’s ceremony — held to coincide with the annual meeting of the General Assembly rather than the actual anniversary date, which is Oct. 24 — cannot encompass all of the complexities and controversies surrounding the United Nations’ history.

In an assessment of the global body for the 70th anniversary in 2015, the U.K.-based newspaper The Guardian noted that Dag Hammarskjöld, the second U.N. secretary-general, said the United Nations “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.”

But even that aim has sometimes bumped up against harsh realities. As The Guardian noted, the U.N. has “been dismissed as a shameful den of dictatorships. It has infuriated with its numbing bureaucracy, its institutional cover-ups of corruption and the undemocratic politics of its security council. It goes to war in the name of peace but has been a bystander through genocide. It has spent more than half a trillion dollars in 70 years.”

Members of sister congregations or representatives of sister congregations who engage in advocacy work at the U.N. tend to take a nuanced view of the global body, finding in it both strengths and weaknesses.

“For all its accomplishments and failures, the U.N. is still the global arena that peoples of the world and their leaders can dialogue about world issues on an equal footing: one nation, one vote,” Maryknoll Sr. Marvie Misolas, representative of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns at the U.N., told GSR.

Misolas said the U.N.’s greatest accomplishments during the past 75 years include raising the visibility of human rights as a global concern and shepherding peace, nuclear disarmament and climate change agreements, as well as developing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, “the U.N. over the years has failed to sanction states that have continued to have repressive and corrupt regimes; failed to make the superpower nations “walk the talk” — in terms of environmental and economic equity in relations to human rights and respecting national boundaries,” she said.

Beth Blissman, the U.N. representative for the Loretto Community, takes an equally expansive view: “Much in our world has changed over the past 75 years. There are more people, more countries, more challenges but also, hopefully, more solutions,” she said.

Amid all of this rapid change, she asks: “Does the United Nations need to be a more responsive, nimble and accountable organization that can build trust and consensus? Yes. Does it need to deliver better in the field and adapt more quickly to global challenges? Yes, definitely. Is there any other global organization with the legitimacy, convening power and normative impact as the United Nations? No.”

To mark the 75th anniversary, Global Sisters Report asked Misolas, Blissman and others representing sister congregations about the milestone anniversary, to reflect on the U.N.’s accomplishments and failures and the difficulties and challenges it faces now and in the future.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/news/news/united-nations-75-sisters-and-their-reps-discuss-its-feats-failures

Church leaders, charities, civil society organisations speak out against Israel’s plans to annex Palestinian land

Bethlehem Seperation Wall image: ICN/JS

Ahead of World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, more than 20 charities, religious groups, and civil society organisations have signed a statement urgently calling on public bodies to “uphold their ethical and legal responsibilities to ensure human rights and international law are respected” – in response to Israel’s plans to illegally annex Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Signatories come from a wide range of organisations such as the Church in Wales, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, War on Want, UNISON, Unite the Union, GMB, NEU. The groups are demanding accountability and responsibility, stating that the Israeli Government’s plans are “not only an attack on the rights and futures of Palestinians, but also against the very foundations of international law.”

The Israeli Government has said that it intends to annex large swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank, which was militarily occupied in 1967. Annexation, illegal under international law, is the forcible and unilateral acquisition of territory over which it has no recognised sovereignty and to make it an integral part of the state – in this case, Israel.

The statement references UN Special Rapporteur Professor Michael Lynk, who in a recent report recommended that the international community “take all measures, including countermeasures and sanctions, necessary to ensure the respect by Israel of its duty under international law to end the occupation,” mirroring the global call from Palestinian civil society for ‘effective measures’ to be taken to stop this annexation happening.

Recent commentary around the UAE-Israel deal brokered by Donald Trump has suggested a roll back of Israel’s intention to annex Palestinian land, rather than a temporary delay. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared immediately after the deal was announced: “There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States.”

Ben Jamal, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: “As the United Arab Emirates moves to normalise relations with Israel – and with Donald Trump in the White House – it is more imperative than ever for the international community to send a clear message that Israel will be held accountable for its annexation plans and other continued human rights abuses. We must come together in standing up for international law.”

Dave Prentis, UNISON General Secretary said: “The annexation of Palestinian land is a gross violation of international law. Governments, businesses and public bodies all have a responsibility to ensure that none of their purchasing, procurement or investment decisions contribute to the occupation or the violation of Palestinian human rights.”

Mick Whelan, ASLEF General Secretary said: “Israel’s illegal settlement expansion and de facto annexation of Palestinian territory is an affront to international law that must not go unchallenged. We all have a duty to preserve international law, and hold Israel accountable for its blatant violations using all means available to us. It is our ethical duty to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, and ensure our public investments are not contributing to Israel’s violation of their rights”

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40435

EarthBeat Weekly: Pope Francis’ ecological conversion on the way to Laudato Si’

Pope Francis and Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno join a procession before the first session of the Synod for the Amazon on Oct. 7, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Even popes need a conversion sometimes.

In conversations with Italian environmental activist Carlo Petrini, published in a new book, Pope Francis revealed that more than a decade ago, he did not understand why Brazil’s bishops were so insistent about environmental issues in the Amazon.

His conversion in recent years to awareness of the importance of climate change, other environmental crises and land rights has strengthened the church’s stance on those issues in Latin America and shown that the problems are not just regional, but global.

“That testimony of [then-Cardinal Jorge] Bergoglio’s conversion is, in a way, a reflection of many conversions of clergy,” Colombian theologian Alirio Cáceres, who advises the Latin American Cáritas network on integral ecology issues, told EarthBeat.

Francis took the first step along the road to conversion in Aparecida, Brazil, in May 2007, where he headed the commission that wrote the document resulting from the Fifth General Conference of the Council of Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Journalists were not allowed to watch the deliberations, so we staked out bishops’ hotels in an effort to snag an interview and attended a daily press conference at which three or four assembly delegates talked about the issues under discussion.

One that I particularly remember came toward the end of the assembly and focused on environmental issues. The participants included Bishop Erwin Kräutler of the Prelature of Xingu in Brazil, the jurisdiction where Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy Stang was living and working among small farmers when she was martyred.

“It’s five minutes to midnight for the Amazon,” Kräutler said at the press conference. The phrase has resonated for me ever since, as I have spent time with indigenous villagers whose water and food sources have been fouled by pollution from oil spills or illegal gold mining; African-descended residents of quilombos in Brazil who are pressured by encroaching soybean plantations; Guaraní people whose high suicide rates are linked to the loss of their traditional lands; and smallholders and church workers who still battle the forces that led to Stang’s murder.

For Kräutler and other bishops in the Brazilian Amazon, that had been the reality for decades, and their voice at Aparecida was strong enough that the conference’s final document included a short section on “Biodiversity, ecology, the Amazon and the Antarctic.”

“Traditional communities have been practically excluded from decisions on the wealth of biodiversity and nature,” the bishops wrote. “Nature has been, and continues to be, assaulted. The land has been plundered. Water is being treated as though it were merchandise that could be traded by companies, and has been transformed into a good for which powerful nations compete. A major example of this situation is the Amazon.”

But while Aparecida may have set Francis on his path to conversion on environmental issues, the seeds were planted earlier. For Cáceres, 1992 was a turning point, with the convergence of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the Fourth General Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Bishops in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. At that meeting, Brazilian Bishop Luiz Demétrio Valentini spoke strongly enough about environmental concerns that they appeared — rather timidly — in the final document, along with mention of the importance of an inculturated evangelization that respected the worldviews or cosmovisions of indigenous and traditional peoples.

Brazilian bishops working in Amazonia had already been meeting to discuss the deterioration of the region’s environment and the situation of its indigenous peoples, as well as the pastoral challenges posed by ministering in such a vast and diverse region. The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff had also been writing on liberation theology with an ethic of integral ecology, linking the “cry of the earth” with the “cry of the poor.”

When Bergoglio was elected pope in 2013, he chose the name Francis mainly because of his commitment to the poor, Cáceres says. But at his installation Mass, on the Feast of St. Joseph, his homily hinted at his conversion. Invoking St. Joseph as protector of the family, Francis said that all are called to be protectors, which means “respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”

With that new wind blowing from the Vatican, in June 2013 a group of bishops, religious and lay people met in Ecuador and laid the groundwork for the Pan-Amazonian Church Network (REPAM in Spanish), which would guide the process that led to the Synod for the Amazon six years later.

Meanwhile, Francis was embracing his namesake saint’s understanding of the interconnectedness of all things, taking the name of the Canticle of the Creatures, Laudato Si’, as the name of his encyclical “on care of our common home.” Expectation of an encyclical was high by mid-2014, but the text was not released unti June 2015, a full year later, in time to play an influential role in bringing people of faith together around climate-related issues ahead of the UN climate summit that led in December 2015 to the Paris Agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

It was not until January 2018, however, that Francis actually traveled to the Amazon as pope, during his trip to Peru. He has said he was particularly moved by conversation over lunch with ordinary people in the Amazonian town of Puerto Maldonado. In his address there to more than 2,000 Amazonian indigenous people, he said the land where they lived was holy ground. He also announced the beginning of the region-wide reflection and consultation process that preceded the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region, held in October 2019.

Environmental issues were prominent at the synod, although they received less media attention than discussions about ordaining married men to celebrate Eucharist in remote communities and allowing women to become deacons.

Not everyone in the church has embraced Francis’ concept of integral ecology, which calls into question an economy based on uncontrolled consumption of natural resources and social inequalities that have been made starkly visible by the coronavirus pandemic, Cáceres says.

Nevertheless, a decade and a half after Aparecida, the pope’s admission that he did not appreciate the urgency in the Brazilian bishops’ call for attention to the Amazon offers hope that other doubters may follow his path to conversion. Meanwhile, Francis is looking beyond that specific region, by placing what he calls the “periphery” at the center of the church’s concerns.

The pope’s dreams for the Amazon, outlined in the papal exhortation Querida Amazonia, “are also the dreams for all the Amazons of the world,” Cáceres says. “The dreams for the geographic Amazon, the biome, are the dreams for all of the common home. There is a social ecological, cultural and ecclesial dream that applies to the entire world.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/earthbeat-weekly-pope-francis-ecological-conversion-way-laudato-si

Brazil court decision sparks fears indigenous land could be handed to farmers

Ywyto’awa (woman in red shirt) stands near the Bom Jardim River, which passes the village of Paranopiona, in the Apyterewa indidgenous reserve, Brazil, 2014. HANDOUT/Carlos Fausto

SAO PAULO, – When Kaworé Parakana sees the smoke rising on the horizon, the indigenous leader knows that another part of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is gone.

For more than three decades, the Parakana people have been fighting to protect their land in the Apyterewa reservation, in the northern state of Pará, from illegal miners, loggers and farmers who clear large swathes of trees.

“With each day that passes there is a huge amount of deforestation. They create large fields. There has been a lot of smoke here lately at the bottom of the area,” Kaworé told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.

He said the Parakana fear there will be many more burning trees after a Supreme Court decision that could allow the municipality that oversees the reservation to legalize the presence of farmers already encroaching on the land.

In May, Justice Gilmar Mendes opened the door to negotiations between Brazil’s government and the municipality of Sao Félix do Xingu, which wants to reduce the size of the indigenous territory on behalf of a local farmers’ association.

Land rights activists say the proposal, which would make indigenous protected areas available for development, is unconstitutional.

The negotiations – referred to by the court as a conciliation – could set a precedent for the reduction of other indigenous territories across the country, they warn.

“Rights to (indigenous) territories, as provided in the constitution itself, are non-disposable rights – they are not subject to any type of negotiation,” said Luiz Eloy Terena, a lawyer at APIB, Brazil’s main indigenous federation.

Eloy explained there are several other Supreme Court hearings set for the coming months to address similar land conflicts between indigenous communities and illegal miners, loggers and farmers.

Those hearings may be influenced by the result of the negotiations over Apyterewa, he added.

Eloy and other indigenous rights advocates say the Parakana were not initially asked to participate in the negotiations about their own land.

In June, the Attorney General’s office published a document criticizing the lack of indigenous representatives in the process.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation made several requests for comment to Mendes, the Attorney General’s office, the lawyer representing Sao Félix do Xingu and the farmers’ associations, but received no replies.

For the Parakana people, negotiations are not an option, Kaworé said – the only acceptable outcome for the community is the eviction of the invaders from their land.

“We don’t want to give them even a millimeter,” he said.

SOARING DEFORESTATION

Covering 730,000 hectares (1.8 million acres), Apyterewa had the second-highest level of deforestation amongst indigenous territories in 2019, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which tracks deforestation in Brazil.

More than 85 sq km (32 square miles) of forest were cleared last year alone, the institute’s data shows.

Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon hit an 11-year high last year and has soared a further 25% in the first half of 2020, according to INPE.

The tree loss is driven mainly by forest being cleared for cattle ranching, soy cultivation, and illegal gold mining and logging.

Forests are vital for curbing climate change, as trees absorb about a third of the planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions produced worldwide.

The Amazon forest also plays a crucial role in producing moisture that falls as rainfall in the southern agricultural heartlands of Brazil and Argentina – areas hit by heavy drought in recent years as the forest disappears.

Under Brazil’s current constitution, enacted in 1988, indigenous lands belong to the state, which grants indigenous peoples the permanent right to live and work on them.

Indigenous reservations, which the federal indigenous affairs agency Funai says make up more than 12% of Brazil’s territory, have long been targeted by outsiders looking to tap their natural resources.

Human rights groups say invaders have been stepping up their activities in recent years, emboldened by Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro and his plans to introduce mining and farming in protected and indigenous lands in the Amazon region.

“The government wants to exchange indigenous people for cattle. That is the government’s main interest – to transform the forest into farmland and put cattle on indigenous land,” Kaworé said.

‘CLEARLY A THREAT’

Carlos Fausto, an anthropologist and lecturer at the National Museum, a leading research institution in Brazil, said the Supreme Court’s decision could have long-lasting implications for indigenous land rights and for the Amazon.

“It means all indigenous land will be a target from now on,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In destroying large swathes of forest cover, the illegal miners and loggers are also impacting water sources vital to the animals that the Parakana hunt for food, he added.

“Worst of all, we are talking about an area where springs that serve as subsistence to the Parakana people are located,” said Fausto, who carried out his doctoral research among the indigenous community.

“One of the greatest threats caused in the process of forest clearing is to the area where game breeds,” he noted, adding that the community relies on the springs for fishing and hunting.

As the Parakana wait to hear the government’s position on the reduction of their territory, Aluísio Azanha, the lawyer representing the community, noted that Brazil’s constitution “imposes a duty on the Union to demarcate and protect (indigenous lands).”

Kaworé said the negotiations are “clearly a threat”.

“It’s nothing more than that: the government is threatening our territory,” he said.

“If this happens to the Parakana people, the people will die together with the land, because how will we practice our culture? It could suddenly die. We don’t want that.”

Lens on Creation: Sowing seeds of life in the midst of war

Adel Dut displays sorghum seeds she is planting amid drought and war. (Paul Jeffrey)

Adel Dut was chased from her home by fighting in Sudan’s Darfur region, but a church agency gave her some sorghum seeds to plant outside the village of Ferdous, where she lives in a camp for displaced families.

The conflict in Darfur was dubbed by some as the first climate war. While conflicts had long existed between nomads and settled farmers in the region, long-term drought and the expansion south of the Sahel — brought on by climate change — pushed the two feuding groups into closer proximity. With the government providing guns to one side, the fight over land soon took an even deadlier toll.

Amid the violence, farmers like Dut did what Jeremiah counseled centuries before, when hope grew dim in his world. She planted seeds. Despite the drought and the fighting, she put seeds in the ground, and it transformed her. When I met her, she didn’t act like a victim. She was proud that she could heal a little corner of her homeland by planting seeds.

When we become overwhelmed by violence in the world around us, we would do well to remember Dut.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/lens-creation-sowing-seeds-life-midst-war/en

How Montana Is Cleaning Up Abandoned Oil Wells

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An example of abandoned oil pumps and well. Martina Birnbaum / Getty Images

A farmer for most of his life, Sam Stewart bought farmland in Montana about 35 years ago. Since then, he’s planted and harvested his wheat and other crops around 16 open oil wells on this land, which he estimates were dug in the 1920s.

Maneuvering around the wells is not an arduous process, per se, but it requires seeding the same area twice, which is wasteful and can slow his process. The real nuisance is the invisible methane wafting into the air—a greenhouse gas with an impact 10 times that of carbon dioxide. “You don’t want loose gas being just emitted,” Stewart says.

Unplugged wells in Montana and across the country leak thousands of metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. They can also leach toxins into groundwater and surface water systems, contaminating aquifers. More often than not, these wells simply aren’t being cleaned up. That’s in part because a lack of funding and political will has stymied the state’s cleanup efforts, and in part because there’s uncertainty around ownership. “I didn’t know they were actually abandoned,” Stewart says of the multiple orphaned wells on his property. “I thought the oil company was responsible.”

A foundation formed in 2019 could finally help clean up some of these abandoned oil wells, including those on Stewart’s property. “The operator who is responsible is long gone,” says Curtis Shuck, founder of the Well Done Foundation. “Our focus is doing the right thing, leaving it better than the way we found it.”

Abandoned Wells

The first oil wells in Montana were drilled at the turn of the century, and the industry experienced its first boom in the 1920s. Energy demands of World War II spurred a second boom; between 1942 and 1945, oil production in the Elk Basin region increased from 16,000 to 940,000 barrels annually. When those wells no longer produced oil, companies could just leave. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of Montana, tasked with identifying and plugging abandoned wells, wasn’t created until 1954, and by that time an untold number of wells had already been drilled, produced, and abandoned.

As more companies moved into Montana, oil and gas production grew into an increasingly important part of local and state economies; by 2015, it made up 5.6% of the state’s general fund. But the industry that once was a cornerstone of Montana’s economy is now in a nosedive: a yearslong decline in global oil production and demand compounded by the pandemic-induced economic slowdown has produced some of the worst oil production conditions in recent years.

In 2016, the most recent year for which he was able to provide data, 4,713 oil and gas wells were in operation in the state and 204 had been abandoned, according to Allen Olson, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, a trade organization that works on behalf of the businesses. But that’s a fraction of the tens of thousands that have been drilled in Montana in the past century.

Data on abandoned wells remain incomplete, which further complicates cleanup efforts. Plus, state legislatures have drastically different policies on how to address abandoned wells. One thing remains certain: The issue is enormous and far-reaching. A 2018 report from the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the country has 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells.

Abandoned wells in Montana—left by companies that filed for bankruptcy, for example, default to the state. Theoretically, a state-run fund pays for well adoption and closure, but even under state control, the wells often lay unplugged, because plugging abandoned wells and restoring the surface land is expensive. Olson believes that the “state regulatory agency here is doing an excellent job staying on top” of plugging wells. But the state’s plugging plan doesn’t explicitly address the issue of abandoned oil wells, and also neglects to lay out a time-bound plan for plugging wells.

It’s not just that states like Montana don’t have a legislative apparatus to hold corporations accountable, says Mitch Jones, the climate and energy program director at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that pushes for corporate and government accountability. He says that the lack of governmental action is by design. When wells are abandoned, Jones says, “the costs of doing business are passed on to the public instead of being paid by the shareholders in the industry.”

Nationwide, the federal government’s own agency in charge of plugging abandoned wells, the Bureau of Land Management, has openly acknowledged that it doesn’t have the financial resources to tackle the issue of plugging wells on federal land. There was no federal nationwide bond requirement to cover the cost of reclaiming wells until the 1950s, and the required value for bonds has not increased since then.

That’s right: the amount required to cover the cost of cleanup has not been increased or adjusted for inflation for nearly 70 years, so the federal amount is woefully ineffective. Bond standards of a couple thousand dollars often don’t address wells that cost tens of thousands to plug, another cause for wells to be abandoned.

Jones believes that extractive companies are harming the environment and then escaping culpability by declaring bankruptcy. “Not pointing fingers isn’t really an option in order to win this fight against climate change,” he says. Identifying the sources of harm holds polluting industries accountable for supporting solutions and provides a pathway for legislation that protects the planet, Jones says. The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, for example, just proposed a $2 billion remediation program for orphaned wells in June, though given the political climate, that legislation has a rocky future.

https://www.ecowatch.com/oil-well-abandonment-montana-2647005111.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

More than 1,100 villagers killed in Nigeria this year: Amnesty

People gather to protest against the killings in southern Kaduna state at the US embassy in Abuja on August 15 [Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters]

More than 1,100 people have been killed in rural areas across several states of northern Nigeria amid an alarming escalation in attacks and abductions during the first half of the year, according to Amnesty International.

“The Nigerian authorities have left rural communities at the mercy of rampaging gunmen who have killed at least 1,126 people in the north of the country since January,” the London-rights group said in a new report on Monday, giving a figure until the end of June.

The killings, during attacks by “bandits” or armed cattle rustlers, and in clashes between herders and farming communities for access to land, have been recurrent for several years.

Amnesty said it had interviewed civilians in Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states, who reported living in fear of attacks and kidnappings.

The rights watchdog said villages in the south of Kaduna state were affected the most, with at least 366 people killed in multiple attacks by armed men since January.

“Terrifying attacks on rural communities in the north of Nigeria have been going on for years,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

“The ongoing failure of security forces to take sufficient steps to protect villagers from these predictable attacks is utterly shameful,” he added.

‘Gross incompetence’

Amnesty blamed state authorities and the federal government for failing to protect the population.

Armed groups loot and set fire to villages and frequently kidnap people for ransom, apparently with no ideological motive. Many experts have recently warned against associating the attackers with armed groups active in the region.

President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a campaign promise to eradicate the armed group Boko Haram, which has killed tens of thousands since it launched an armed in northeast Nigeria in 2009.

Amnesty said most villagers complained of receiving little or no help from security officials, despite informing them prior or calling for help during attacks.

“During the attack, our leaders called and informed the soldiers that the attackers are in the village, so the soldiers did not waste time and they came but when they came and saw the type of ammunitions the attackers had they left,” a witness to an attack in Unguwan Magaji in southern of Kaduna was quoted as saying by Amnesty. 

“The following morning so many soldiers came with their Hilux pick-up trucks to see the dead bodies.”

Ojigho decried reported abuse of civilians who asked for more official help and protection.

“In their response to these attacks, the Nigerian authorities have displayed gross incompetence and a total disregard for people’s lives,” he said. “Arresting people who dare to ask for help is a further blow.”

The escalating violence has forced many farmers and their families from their homes while thousands could not cultivate their farms during the 2020 rainy season because of fear of attacks or abduction, according to Amnesty.

It said that in Katsina state, at least 33,130 people were living in displacement camps, while others have headed to urban areas to stay with relatives.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/1100-villagers-killed-nigeria-year-amnesty-200824141851896.html

‘Hey Bro’: New Zealand abusers turn activists to stop domestic violence

Matiu Brokenshire from ‘0800 Hey Bro’, a hotline in New Zealand aimed at helping abusive men, talks on the phone in his home in Christchurch, New Zealand. Photo courtesy: Tanith Petersen/He Waka Tapu

WELLINGTON, Matiu Brokenshire once threw an axe at his partner in anger. Today, the 45-year-old works with a service credited with stopping hundreds of domestic violence cases in New Zealand, helping other men like him.

The 0800 Hey Bro hotline has provided advice to about 2,000 abusive men and linked them to other services to stop them harming their partners.

“I started the journey to uncover my own trauma,” said Brokenshire, who also works with New Zealand Police on tackling family violence.

“I grew up in a world where this was normal. My mother used to strap me when I was a child and hit me. I was a victim of domestic violence for years,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Brokenshire, who is indigenous Maori and has a son with his former partner, said he struggled with his violent behaviour and drug addictions – until he got help eight years ago.

“When I met my son’s mum, she was an angry, broken person and in the first three months, I had committed violence against her. Then it became weekly,” he added.

Since starting a new chapter, he has joined a growing number of men, some of them ex-abusers, working to stop domestic violence in New Zealand.

‘HORRIFIC’

New Zealand has long had a progressive reputation and was the first nation to give women the right to vote in 1893.

But women’s rights campaigners say sexism, drug and alcohol addictions, poverty and exposure to violence as a child have all contributed to a poor record on domestic violence.

Police investigated more than 133,000 family harm cases in 2018, the latest year for which data is available, and were called out to respond to a family violence incident every four minutes.

“Domestic violence is one of the biggest problems we have in New Zealand and we know it affects educational outcomes and creates mental health problems,” said Janet Fanslow, an expert on family violence.

“We haven’t got our heads around prevention,” said Fanslow, an associate professor at the University of Auckland who is working on a government-funded study of 3,000 men and women.

“All we have invested in this moment is response. We are still waiting for people to get hurt. We need to recognise the importance of engaging men as they are mostly the perpetrators.”

There were 230 family violence deaths between 2009 and 2017, official data shows, half of them caused by an intimate partner.

A government-commissioned report in April cited limited support and a lack of professionals to deal with abusive men as among the reasons why violence continues – a gap that some former abusers are now trying to fill.

“Nobody is working with perpetrators,” said Lua Maynard, 56, who runs anger management programmes for men who are ordered by the courts to undergo rehabilitation.

“When men perpetrate violence, they ask the men to get away, and support the victims. But men also need support.”

Maynard, who was previously charged for hitting his partner, called for efforts and solutions to uncover factors that could have led to a man’s violent behaviour, such as childhood trauma, abuse and unemployment.

“You can’t recover if you haven’t uncovered those issues,” he said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden had said New Zealand’s record of family violence is “horrific”, and her government has introduced a slew of measures to end the problem.

In May, it announced an allocation of NZ$200 million ($132 million) over the next four years for frontline services working on family violence issues.

In 2018, New Zealand joined a handful of nations that passed a law granting domestic violence survivors 10 days of paid leave to give them time to leave their partners, such as finding new homes or attending court hearings.

Women often lose their jobs when they flee domestic abuse, while many stay with abusive partners due to financial concerns, according to women’s rights campaigners.

‘BOYS DON’T CRY’

The April report studied nearly 100 cases of abuse by men in which one partner died. It found most had sought help previously, but support services missed warning signs and opportunities to stop the violence.

The study, by an independent committee that advises the government on reducing family violence, recommended greater support services for both women and men.

“We do feel it is important to reach out to men, and that there is work to be done in that space,” said spokeswoman Susan Barker at Women’s Refuge, a Wellington-based advocacy group that runs safe houses for women and their children.

“There are organisations that do this, perhaps not enough, and many of these could use further funding,” she added.

Others say it should all start from promoting gender equality and tackling male stereotypes, to stop domestic abuse.

The White Ribbon Campaign, a global group of men and boys seeking to end violence against women, launched a social media campaign recently, urging men to reject stereotypes such as ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘toughen up’.

“We flipped those ideas of masculinity on its head and ran campaigns that said, it’s ok to cry – open up or be the man you want to be,” said Rob McCann, New Zealand manager for White Ribbon.

https://news.trust.org/item/20200804231217-pw0t5/