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Archive for January 17th, 2011

The real cost of cheap oil

Posted by Admin on January 17, 2011

BP OIL SPILL Disaster

See how destructive we can be!

http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article440692.ece

JOHN VIDAL – May 29, 2010 [REPOST]

Big Oil is holding its breath. BP’s shares are in steep decline after the debacle in the Gulf of Mexico. Barack Obama, the American people and the global environmental community are outraged, and now the company stands to lose the rights to drill for oil in the Arctic and other ecologically sensitive places.

The gulf disaster may cost it a few billion dollars, but so what? When annual profits for a company often run to tens of billions, the cost of laying 5,000 miles of booms, or spraying millions of gallons of dispersants and settling 100,000 court cases is not much more than missing a few months’ production. It’s awkward, but it can easily be passed on.

The oil industry‘s image is seriously damaged, but it can pay handsomely to greenwash itself, just as it managed after Exxon Valdez, Brent Spar and the Ken Saro-Wiwa public relations disasters. In a few years’ time, this episode will probably be forgotten — just another blip in the fortunes of the industry that fuels the world. But the oil companies are nervous now because the spotlight has been turned on their cavalier attitude to pollution and on the sheer incompetence of an industry that is used to calling the shots.

Big Oil’s real horror was not the spillage, which was common enough, but because it happened so close to the US. Millions of barrels of oil are spilled, jettisoned or wasted every year without much attention being paid.

If this accident had occurred in a developing country, say off the west coast of Africa or Indonesia, BP could probably have avoided all publicity and escaped starting a clean-up for many months. It would not have had to employ booms or dispersants, and it could have ignored the health effects on people and the damage done to fishing. It might have eventually been taken to court and could have been fined a few million dollars, but it would probably have appealed and delayed a court decision for a decade or more.

Big Oil is usually a poor country’s most powerful industry, and is generally allowed to act like a parallel government. In many countries it simply pays off the judges, the community leaders, the lawmakers and the ministers, and it expects environmentalists and local people to be powerless. Mostly it gets away with it.

What the industry dreads more than anything else is being made fully accountable to developing countries for the mess it has made and the oil it has spilt in the forests, creeks, seas and deserts of the world.

There are more than 2,000 major spillage sites in the Niger delta that have never been cleaned up; there are vast areas of the Colombian, Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon that have been devastated by spillages, the dumping of toxic materials and blowouts. Rivers and wells in Venezuela, Angola, Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Uganda and Sudan have been badly polluted. Occidental, BP, Chevron, Shell and most other oil companies together face hundreds of outstanding lawsuits. Ecuador alone is seeking $30bn from Texaco. The only reason oil costs $70-$100 a barrel today, and not $200, is because the industry has managed to pass on the real costs of extracting the oil. If the developing world applied the same pressure on the companies as Obama and the U.S. senators are now doing, and if the industry were forced to really clean up the myriad messes it causes, the price would jump and the switch to clean energy would be swift.

If the billions of dollars of annual subsidies and the many tax breaks the industry gets were withdrawn, and the cost of protecting oil companies in developing countries were added, then most of the world’s oil would almost certainly be left in the ground. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

(John Vidal is the Guardian’s environment correspondent.)

 

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Brazilian president visits mudslide areas as death toll continues to rise

Posted by Admin on January 17, 2011

http://www.headlinenewsbureau.com/siterun_data/news/world/doc0b6577e39409c451a726cfc8d3477315.html

Rescuers have yet to reach some of the worst-hit areas • Rousseff says illegal occupation of steep hillsides cost lives

More than 500 people are known to have died in Brazil after torrential rains sent avalanches of mud and debris smashing on to towns in a mountainous area outside Rio de Janeiro.

The official death toll has reached 527 in what is being described as one of the country’s worst natural disasters, and rescuers have yet to reach some of the worst-hit areas – including one neighbourhood where 150 houses were reportedly swept away. The toll seems certain to rise considerably.

Nearly all of those killed were buried alive when avalanches of mud and debris fell on to their homes in the Serrana region in the early hours of Wednesday. At least 13,000 people have been left homeless.

It is an immediate crisis for Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, who took over from Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a fortnight ago. After a brief visit to the affected region yesterday, Rousseff called the disaster an act of God, but said the tragedy could not be blamed on nature alone.

“We saw areas in which mountains untouched by men dissolved. But we also saw areas in which illegal occupation caused damage to the health and lives of people,” she said.

Many of the destroyed homes had been built precariously on steep hillsides, and Rousseff said housing in areas of risk was the rule rather than the exception in Brazil. “When there aren’t housing policies, where are people who earn no more than twice the minimum wage going to live?” she said.

Teresópolis, a bucolic tourist town 60 miles north of Rio, was one of the hardest-hit areas: by last night at least 200 deaths had been confirmed. Local authorities were preparing to erect floodlights in the cemetery in order to hold round-the-clock burials. The town’s streets filled with pick-up trucks packed with fleeing residents, carrying mattresses and pets.

In Campo Grande, a shanty town on the outskirts of Teresópolis that was almost completely enveloped by falling rubble and mud, residents said as many as 300 bodies had been buried after a dam burst, triggering a landslide that consumed nearly everything in its path, tossing pick-up trucks into sitting rooms and a delivery truck into a tree.

“It’s ugly, really ugly,” said Vicente Luiz Florente, a 50-year-old builder who had travelled to the area in search of his brother. “This was a community – now all you can see is rocks.”

Further up the road, rescue workers unearthed another five bodies, including a young child whose limp corpse was wrapped in a black bin liner and dispatched to the local morgue in a mud-covered ambulance.

“We can’t be certain about reducing the impact of the rains, but we cannot allow people to die – this is our mission,” Rousseff said.

In Nova Friburgo, a neighbouring town of Teresópolis, at least 214 bodies have been recovered.

“This family no longer exists,” read the headline of a Rio tabloid, alongside the photo of a prominent fashion designer and former Newsweek employee who was buried alongside eight relatives.

“It’s a terrible scene,” said a local judge, Jos� Ricardo Ferreira de Aguiar, as he pulled back a black tarpaulin and stepped into Teresópolis’s improvised mortuary – the garage of the town’s police station.

On the concrete floor before him lay 100 bodies, among them new-born babies, toddlers, elderly women and teenagers. Caked in brown mud and draped with pieces of soggy cardboard, the bodies were piled in a confusion of arms and legs.

Relatives were led into the morgue in groups of four to identify bodies splayed out under pieces of cardboard, sheets and muddy duvets. Those that had already been identified had tatty paper ID tags tied on to their toes.

“There’s no chance of even making this human,” Aguiar said. “We’ve just never seen anything like it here.”

Mario Sergio Macario, 22, a student who has been given the job of guarding the morgue’s entrance, said several colleagues from his tourism course were missing. “The station is chaos. It’s a public calamity. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Speaking after a helicopter flight over Teresópolis, Rio’s environment secretary, Carlos Minc, described the mudslides as the worst catastrophe in the region’s history.

“I believe the death toll is much higher than has been so far announced,” he said. “Many people died in their sleep. The mountainsides are coming down. The areas are very unstable.”

Angela Marina de Carvalho Silva, who believes she may have lost 15 relatives to the flood, including five nieces and nephews, said: “There are so many disappeared and so many that will probably never be found. There was nothing we could do. It was hell.”

Carvalho Silva took refuge in a neighbour’s house on high ground with her husband and daughter, and watched the torrential rain carry away cars, tree branches and animals and tear apart the homes of friends and family.

“It’s over. There’s nothing. The water came down and swept everything away,” said her husband, Sidney Silva.

Brazil Natural disasters and extreme weather Tom Phillips Peter Walker Guardian News & Media Limited 2011

 

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Silvio Berlusconi investigated in teenage prostitution case

Posted by Admin on January 17, 2011

http://www.headlinenewsbureau.com/siterun_data/news/world/doc29611995f6c946805d53b184525e78ce.html

Italian prime minister also suspected of abusing position by putting pressure on police

Silvio Berlusconi has been formally placed under investigation on suspicion of paying for sex with a 17-year old girl, according to a statement issued today by prosecutors in Milan.

He was further accused of abusing his position as Italy‘s prime minister by bringing pressure to bear on the police to cover up his alleged relationship with the girl, who was working as a prostitute. The two alleged offences carry sentences totalling 15 years in jail.

The statement said Berlusconi, who has not been charged, had been invited to present himself for questioning. The prosecutors said he had been formally made a suspect on 21 December, but the news only broke today on the website of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera .

Berlusconi’s legal team said today the investigation was “absurd and groundless” and the allegations raised had already been denied by the main figures in the case. They called the inquiry a “very serious interference in the private life” of the prime minister.

The reported investigation concerns Karima el-Mahroug, otherwise known as Ruby Rubacuori or Ruby Heartstealer, a then 17-year-old Moroccan girl who told investigators last year that she had attended parties at Berlusconi’s villa near Milan . One of these, she was reported to have said, ended in an erotic game known to participants as “bunga bunga”.

The case came to light after Mahroug, first named in some reports as Karima Keyek, was arrested last May on suspicion of theft. She had run away from a care home, but instead of being returned to care she was handed over to a confidante of the prime minister, Nicole Minetti.

A half-British former showgirl, Minetti became Berlusconi’s dental hygienist and, soon afterwards, a regional parliamentarian for his Freedom People movement. Corriere said police raided her office in Milan this morning.

Minetti is already under investigation for aiding and abetting prostitution, along with two other close associates of the prime minister, a newscaster on one of his three television channels and a showbusiness talent scout. Corriere reported that the police attempted to search the office of another Berlusconi confidante, but withdrew after it was claimed that the premises were covered by parliamentary immunity.

The age of sexual consent under Italian law is 14, but paying for sex with a prostitute under 18 is an offence that carries a sentence of up to three years. Politicians and others found guilt of abusing their position risk jail sentences of up to 12 years.

Berlusconi, who spent part of this morning meeting with his lawyers, gave no immediate reaction, but his education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, said the prime minister was the “object of persecution by certain prosecution services”.

Silvio Berlusconi Italy John Hooper Guardian News & Media Limited 2011

 

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The GM genocide: Thousands of Indian farmers are committing suicide after using genetically modified crops

Posted by Admin on January 17, 2011

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1082559/The-GM-genocide-Thousands-Indian-farmers-committing-suicide-using-genetically-modified-crops.html

By Andrew Malone
Last updated at 12:48 AM on 3rd November 2008

When Prince Charles claimed thousands of Indian farmers were killing themselves after using GM crops, he was branded a scaremonger. In fact, as this chilling dispatch reveals, it’s even WORSE than he feared.

The children were inconsolable. Mute with shock and fighting back tears, they huddled beside their mother as friends and neighbours prepared their father’s body for cremation on a blazing bonfire built on the cracked, barren fields near their home.

As flames consumed the corpse, Ganjanan, 12, and Kalpana, 14, faced a grim future. While Shankara Mandaukar had hoped his son and daughter would have a better life under India‘s economic boom, they now face working as slave labour for a few pence a day. Landless and homeless, they will be the lowest of the low.

Indian farmer

Human tragedy: A farmer and child in India’s ‘suicide belt’

Shankara, respected farmer, loving husband and father, had taken his own life. Less than 24 hours earlier, facing the loss of his land due to debt, he drank a cupful of chemical insecticide.

Unable to pay back the equivalent of two years’ earnings, he was in despair. He could see no way out.

There were still marks in the dust where he had writhed in agony. Other villagers looked on – they knew from experience that any intervention was pointless – as he lay doubled up on the ground, crying out in pain and vomiting.

Moaning, he crawled on to a bench outside his simple home 100 miles from Nagpur in central India. An hour later, he stopped making any noise. Then he stopped breathing. At 5pm on Sunday, the life of Shankara Mandaukar came to an end.

As neighbours gathered to pray outside the family home, Nirmala Mandaukar, 50, told how she rushed back from the fields to find her husband dead. ‘He was a loving and caring man,’ she said, weeping quietly.

‘But he couldn’t take any more. The mental anguish was too much. We have lost everything.’

Shankara’s crop had failed – twice. Of course, famine and pestilence are part of India’s ancient story.

But the death of this respected farmer has been blamed on something far more modern and sinister: genetically modified crops.

Shankara, like millions of other Indian farmers, had been promised previously unheard of harvests and income if he switched from farming with traditional seeds to planting GM seeds instead.

Prince Charles 

Distressed: Prince Charles has set up charity Bhumi Vardaan Foundation to address the plight of suicide farmers

Beguiled by the promise of future riches, he borrowed money in order to buy the GM seeds. But when the harvests failed, he was left with spiralling debts – and no income.

So Shankara became one of an estimated 125,000 farmers to take their own life as a result of the ruthless drive to use India as a testing ground for genetically modified crops.

The crisis, branded the ‘GM Genocide’ by campaigners, was highlighted recently when Prince Charles claimed that the issue of GM had become a ‘global moral question’ – and the time had come to end its unstoppable march.

Speaking by video link to a conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, he infuriated bio-tech leaders and some politicians by condemning ‘the truly appalling and tragic rate of small farmer suicides in India, stemming… from the failure of many GM crop varieties’.

Ranged against the Prince are powerful GM lobbyists and prominent politicians, who claim that genetically modified crops have transformed Indian agriculture, providing greater yields than ever before.

The rest of the world, they insist, should embrace ‘the future’ and follow suit.

So who is telling the truth? To find out, I travelled to the ‘suicide belt’ in Maharashtra state.

What I found was deeply disturbing – and has profound implications for countries, including Britain, debating whether to allow the planting of seeds manipulated by scientists to circumvent the laws of nature.

For official figures from the Indian Ministry of Agriculture do indeed confirm that in a huge humanitarian crisis, more than 1,000 farmers kill themselves here each month.

Simple, rural people, they are dying slow, agonising deaths. Most swallow insecticide – a pricey substance they were promised they would not need when they were coerced into growing expensive GM crops.

It seems that many are massively in debt to local money-lenders, having over-borrowed to purchase GM seed.

Pro-GM experts claim that it is rural poverty, alcoholism, drought and ‘agrarian distress’ that is the real reason for the horrific toll.

But, as I discovered during a four-day journey through the epicentre of the disaster, that is not the full story.

Monsanto

Death seeds: A Greenpeace protester sprays milk-based paint on a Monsanto research soybean field near Atlantic, Iowa

In one small village I visited, 18 farmers had committed suicide after being sucked into GM debts. In some cases, women have taken over farms from their dead husbands – only to kill themselves as well.

Latta Ramesh, 38, drank insecticide after her crops failed – two years after her husband disappeared when the GM debts became too much.

She left her ten-year-old son, Rashan, in the care of relatives. ‘He cries when he thinks of his mother,’ said the dead woman’s aunt, sitting listlessly in shade near the fields.

Village after village, families told how they had fallen into debt after being persuaded to buy GM seeds instead of traditional cotton seeds.

The price difference is staggering: £10 for 100 grams of GM seed, compared with less than £10 for 1,000 times more traditional seeds.

But GM salesmen and government officials had promised farmers that these were ‘magic seeds’ – with better crops that would be free from parasites and insects.

Indeed, in a bid to promote the uptake of GM seeds, traditional varieties were banned from many government seed banks.

The authorities had a vested interest in promoting this new biotechnology. Desperate to escape the grinding poverty of the post-independence years, the Indian government had agreed to allow new bio-tech giants, such as the U.S. market-leader Monsanto, to sell their new seed creations.

In return for allowing western companies access to the second most populated country in the world, with more than one billion people, India was granted International Monetary Fund loans in the Eighties and Nineties, helping to launch an economic revolution.

But while cities such as Mumbai and Delhi have boomed, the farmers’ lives have slid back into the dark ages.

Though areas of India planted with GM seeds have doubled in two years – up to 17 million acres – many famers have found there is a terrible price to be paid.

Far from being ‘magic seeds’, GM pest-proof ‘breeds’ of cotton have been devastated by bollworms, a voracious parasite.

Nor were the farmers told that these seeds require double the amount of water. This has proved a matter of life and death.

With rains failing for the past two years, many GM crops have simply withered and died, leaving the farmers with crippling debts and no means of paying them off.

Having taken loans from traditional money lenders at extortionate rates, hundreds of thousands of small farmers have faced losing their land as the expensive seeds fail, while those who could struggle on faced a fresh crisis.

When crops failed in the past, farmers could still save seeds and replant them the following year.

But with GM seeds they cannot do this. That’s because GM seeds contain so- called ‘terminator technology’, meaning that they have been genetically modified so that the resulting crops do not produce viable seeds of their own.

As a result, farmers have to buy new seeds each year at the same punitive prices. For some, that means the difference between life and death.

Take the case of Suresh Bhalasa, another farmer who was cremated this week, leaving a wife and two children.

As night fell after the ceremony, and neighbours squatted outside while sacred cows were brought in from the fields, his family had no doubt that their troubles stemmed from the moment they were encouraged to buy BT Cotton, a geneticallymodified plant created by Monsanto.

‘We are ruined now,’ said the dead man’s 38-year-old wife. ‘We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.’

Villagers bundled him into a rickshaw and headed to hospital along rutted farm roads. ‘He cried out that he had taken the insecticide and he was sorry,’ she said, as her family and neighbours crowded into her home to pay their respects. ‘He was dead by the time they got to hospital.’

Asked if the dead man was a ‘drunkard’ or suffered from other ‘social problems’, as alleged by pro-GM officials, the quiet, dignified gathering erupted in anger. ‘No! No!’ one of the dead man’s brothers exclaimed. ‘Suresh was a good man. He sent his children to school and paid his taxes.

‘He was strangled by these magic seeds. They sell us the seeds, saying they will not need expensive pesticides but they do. We have to buy the same seeds from the same company every year. It is killing us. Please tell the world what is happening here.’

Monsanto has admitted that soaring debt was a ‘factor in this tragedy’. But pointing out that cotton production had doubled in the past seven years, a spokesman added that there are other reasons for the recent crisis, such as ‘untimely rain’ or drought, and pointed out that suicides have always been part of rural Indian life.

Officials also point to surveys saying the majority of Indian farmers want GM seeds  –  no doubt encouraged to do so by aggressive marketing tactics.

During the course of my inquiries in Maharastra, I encountered three ‘independent’ surveyors scouring villages for information about suicides. They insisted that GM seeds were only 50 per cent more expensive – and then later admitted the difference was 1,000 per cent.

(A Monsanto spokesman later insisted their seed is ‘only double’ the price of ‘official’ non-GM seed – but admitted that the difference can be vast if cheaper traditional seeds are sold by ‘unscrupulous’ merchants, who often also sell ‘fake’ GM seeds which are prone to disease.)

With rumours of imminent government compensation to stem the wave of deaths, many farmers said they were desperate for any form of assistance. ‘We just want to escape from our problems,’ one said. ‘We just want help to stop any more of us dying.’

Prince Charles is so distressed by the plight of the suicide farmers that he is setting up a charity, the Bhumi Vardaan Foundation, to help those affected and promote organic Indian crops instead of GM.

India’s farmers are also starting to fight back. As well as taking GM seed distributors hostage and staging mass protests, one state government is taking legal action against Monsanto for the exorbitant costs of GM seeds.

This came too late for Shankara Mandauker, who was 80,000 rupees (about £1,000) in debt when he took his own life. ‘I told him that we can survive,’ his widow said, her children still by her side as darkness fell. ‘I told him we could find a way out. He just said it was better to die.’

But the debt does not die with her husband: unless she can find a way of paying it off, she will not be able to afford the children’s schooling. They will lose their land, joining the hordes seen begging in their thousands by the roadside throughout this vast, chaotic country.

Cruelly, it’s the young who are suffering most from the ‘GM Genocide’  –  the very generation supposed to be lifted out of a life of hardship and misery by these ‘magic seeds’.

Here in the suicide belt of India, the cost of the genetically modified future is murderously high.

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