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When Obama visited India earlier this week, saying India “has already emerged” as a power in Asia and globally, his compliments were loaded.

On Wednesday night at IATP, Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao from the Environment Support Group (ESG) in Bangalore, described India’s current tug of war between its traditional commons-based framework (collectively owned resources and landscapes) and the privatization that accompanies foreign direct investment (FDI) and globalization.

In the U.S. today, as highlighted by Shalini Gupta with IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, imagining a model without privatization may be near impossible for many. India’s current struggle is more comparable to late-1800’s North America—in the midst of the industrial revolution, at war with indigenous tribes, and spurred onward by increasing demand for natural resources and promised riches of industrial development.

The push for globalization in India brings with it a fundamental shift in the environment and traditional way of life. According to Saldanha, jobs are indeed created, but not jobs for the farmers, fishers and indigenous tribes. In fact, the land, waters and forests that provide their livelihoods are being appropriated to private interests and natural resources are being extracted at alarming rates.

Global demand—and India’s own push for an increased GDP—dictates that profits be maximized. The traditional commons-based framework and environmental laws, then, are barriers that must be removed. It began, Saldanha said, in the 60s tourist boom: coastal beaches once used for fishing filled up with four-star hotels.

Now, according to Bhargavi Rao, roads are being widened, public parks are being gated and grazing lands are being turned into garbage dumps for corporations. And to make room for these drastic changes to the environment, development advocates are pushing to dilute India’s environmental laws.

In 1986, two years after the tragic Bhopal gas leak, the Indian parliament enacted the Environment Protection Act. It allows companies and individuals to be held criminally (not just civilly) liable for violations of environmental standards. Now, an RFP from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing for a move from the current standards to one limited to civil liability in the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests—a move that would essentially pull the legislation’s teeth while protecting foreign investors.

Saldanha and Bhargavi described the underreported thousands of Indian farmer suicides throughout the past decade attributed to this globalization. “The state moved from being a custodian of public land to an appropriating force,” Saldanha said.

What are Leo, Bhargavi and ESG doing to fight back? A combination of protest with litigation and lobbying forms the foundation of ESGs work, but as Bhargavi said, “Protest is backbone of grassroots struggle.” One example included forming a human chain around a lake that was nearly sold off to business interests. Another, coalition-based, action included writing a death certificate for the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The latest effort centers on trying to stop Asia’s largest steel maker, POSCO, from being allowed to build plants on forest and coastal lands. Clearance for this project—funded, in part by Warren Buffett, and India’s largest-ever foreign direct investment—has been granted but, as one NGO alleges, may have been obtained illegally. For now, the project’s progress has been stalled, but not defeated.

Obama’s visit earlier this week was more than a goodwill visit, multinational business interests globally and in the U.S. stand to make millions. “Maximizing profits for a few while leaving millions behind,” is how Saldanha describes the ongoing changes. And, perhaps Obama’s description of India as “already emerged” was a bit premature. If emerging means destroying the environment, displacing the indigenous and taking livelihoods away from poor farmers, surely prosperity lies on another path.

Andrew Ranallo

(Editor note: Liza (Guerra) O’Reilly is attending the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change in Anchorage, Alaska, on behalf of IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy. Liza is blogging this week from the Summit.)

IndigenousYesterday, Indigenous people from the four directions gathered on day three of the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change (IPGSCC) and continued to explore thematic sessions of health and food security, Indigenous knowledge and decision-making, environmental stewardship, and energy generation on the precipice of climatic collapse. Each thematic session provided the necessary space and meaningful opportunity for participants to help set our top three priorities and/or critical messages through a Declaration anticipated to be announced at the conclusion of the IPGSCC.

One of the top three critical messages reaffirmed in the energy generation thematic session honored our ancestors for their wisdom passed down from time immemorial when they first felt the sun, tasted the sweet water, breathed the fresh air and pushed their hands into the folds of the earth. This very timeless wisdom recognizes our capacity to lead “developed” Nation/states, corporations, and other failed institutions and models out of the dark, wiping the soot out of their infirmed and capitalistic eyes to look at the Indigenous-based model of micro-energy, developed and controlled by the people.

Our ancestral model revolves around community, not upon it. It is controlled by community, not privatized by it. It is locally developed and constructed by the community, not exploited by it. And it transforms large-scale, centralized energy systems from their collective destructive power to community collective power, as we relearn how to “sustain ourselves within ourselves.” This is a “clean” energy paradigm that rejects false solutions propagated under nuclear power, large-scale dam projects and biofuels.

Our ancestral energy model is a teaching moment to our little brothers to look upon our Indigenous communities/nations as we: (1) autonomously assess our energy needs; (2) determine our energy mechanisms and impacts; (3) develop our localized model that best preserves and advances sustenance in our relationship with mother earth; and (4) construct and sustain our localized energy model, bringing true “green jobs” into our communities.

In this way, when we generate the energy necessary to live well, we can still hear the flute’s penetrating and vibrant sound move with the wind, singing our stories of sustenance. Little brothers, we want you to live well too; we will help wipe the soot from your eyes.

Liza (Guerra) O’Reilly

Ben Lilliston

The Minnesota State House panel voted earlier this week to repeal the moratorium on new nuclear power generation. While there is little chance this bill will be enacted into law in its current form, it demonstrates a lack of concern for the health and well being of all Minnesotans. The House panel vote follows the passage of a similar bill in the Senate.

Presented as a “clean” energy option, the Minnesota legislature is ignoring the realities of producing electricity using a highly toxic and radioactive material which poses a threat to communities in all stages of mining, processing and waste disposal.

The state moratorium was implemented in 1994 because of the lack of real solutions to these critical concerns – concerns that remain largely unresolved. The high economic cost of nuclear energy should also give us pause. Minnesota has long been a leader in energy alternatives and should instead be directing these investments into more cost-effective solutions that would benefit the local economy – such as energy efficiency, wind, bio-based fuels and solar. Real clean energy options and conservation offer all Minnesotans alternatives that are renewable and safe today and for the future. And importantly, these energy sources can also create many more jobs here in Minnesota, benefiting the state and local economies.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy supported the moratorium when it was passed in 1994. Proponents of lifting the moratorium declare that this does not necessarily mean new nuclear plants will be built, but there is no doubt that this is the first – critical – step in this high risk cycle of energy production. We look to the legislature to demonstrate common sense and stop the drive to allow expansion of nuclear power in Minnesota.

Stay tuned for a webinar series the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP is organizing on nuclear energy scheduled to begin in March.

Shalini Gupta

In a letter sent to Congress and the Obama administration last month, leading voices in environmental justice, science and academics asked that: “1) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) should not be overturned or diminished; and 2) climate change policy should address the emissions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants, as well as the emissions of greenhouse gases themselves.”

The same facilities and vehicles that emit greenhouse gases also emit co-pollutants that lead to high rates of asthma and other serious public health concerns. In addition to the public health impacts associated with climate change itself, co-pollutants from coal plants and other fossil fuel sources disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color as these communities are largely located where fossil fuel facilities are located and where urban vehicle emissions are concentrated. This unique partnership of leading environmental justice activists, policy analysts, scientists and academics is the first of its kind.

While Congress has rejected initial attempts to undermine the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for public health reasons, additional attempts to challenge EPA’s authority are expected. Shalini Gupta, director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP, was among the 18 leaders who signed onto the letter. To find out more, read the press release and full letter.

—Shalini Gupta

On Tuesday night, IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) hosted an event in Minneapolis that connected the need for climate justice in Cancún with local grassroots environmental justice efforts. It was part of the “1000 Cancun’s”, a day of climate justice action around the world. The event included a local EJ panel as well as a live report back from three members of the National (U.S.) Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change. The event was filmed and webcast by The UpTake and a video is available below (in English). Pictures from the event are also available on IATP’s Flickr page. You can follow the EJ delegates blogging from Cancun on our blog page, Think Forward.

The event begins at the 8-minute mark below, with the speakers entering as follows:

Shalini Gupta, IATP, introduction: 8:00

Cochabamba People’s Climate Summit video: 12:26

LeMoine LePointe, advisory board of IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy: 24:43

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, Rural Enterprise Center: 35:08

Veronica Burt, Just Equity: 44:27

Deborah Ramos, Zenteotl Project: 54:11

Liza O’Reilly, Zenteotl Project: 1:01:10

Question and Answer: 1:06:00

Call-in reports from Cancún (Cecilia Martinez, Michele Roberts and Jose Bravo): 1:09:32