Sunita Narain

Sixty people died in a building collapse in Chennai earlier this month. There is much more than the municipal incompetence that needs to be fixed to avoid such tragic incidents. This building was located on the Porur lake, a water body that provides services, such as groundwater recharge and flood management, to an otherwise water-starved city. If you care to ask the obvious question how construction was permitted on the wetland, you will get a not-so-obvious response.Wetlands are rarely recorded under municipal land laws, so nobody knows about them. Planners see only land, not water, and greedy builders take over. The water body is filled, buildings are constructed, and a crucial service provider is killed.

It is time we realised that a water body is not an ornamental luxury or a wasted land. A city’s lake is its lifeline
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John Weeks, Guest Blogger

A previous article of mine on Triple Crisis trashed the arguments for the international trade proposal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and applies as well to the loathsome Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These “partnerships” represent but two more attempts to sell the pernicious nonsense of “free trade”. In my new book, Economics of the 1%, I go to the analytical roots of the neoliberal trade ideology to rubbish the incantation of “gains from (international) trade.”

I recently attended a meeting in London with environmental activists, including a well-known British climate scientist. As a result of that meeting, I realize that my critique of “free trade” was far too timid and narrow. The essential problem is not these attempts by the U.S. bourgeoisie via our government to gain advantage in international markets. The problem is international trade itself. The charts below show why. The two countries with the most exports in 2012 are the United States and China, with Germany and Japan considerably further back (both the U.S. and China over US$2 trillion, Germany at just over US$1.5 trillion).

By no accident, China and the United States are at the top of the pollution list, with Japan #5 and Germany #6. But, “wait,” you say, these are also the largest economies in the world, so the issue is their domestic energy use, not whether what is produced is exported.

Well, actually, No.

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Robin Broad

Industrial mining continues to generate horror stories that fill front pages. Among the most recent, in May 2014, more than 300 miners were confirmed dead after an explosion in a coal mine in Soma, Turkey.

To the extent the mainstream is touting solutions, the spotlight is on “transparency”—such as under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. But these efforts focus mostly on ensuring that the gains from mining are more equitably distributed between company and host country. That does not directly address whether mining is being done in an environmentally and socially responsible way.

As I have written elsewhere, we need to make mining policy environmentally, socially, and economically responsible—not just transparent, or even transparent with accountability, regarding who gets what share of the revenues.

So this blog post is sharing the good news about six countries trying to move towards responsible mining policies. Some are more successful, significant, and meaningful than others, but all are worth following.

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Edward B. Barbier

One of the objectives of Thomas Piketty’s economics bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is to estimate the evolution of the capital-income ratio of an economy.  According to Piketty, “a country that saves a lot and grows slowly will over the long run accumulate an enormous stock of capital (relative to its income), which can in turn have a significant effect on the social structure and distribution of wealth” (p. 166).

Piketty defines capital—which he calls “national capital” or “national wealth”—as “the sum total of nonhuman assets that can be owned and exchanged on some market” (p. 46). Capital therefore includes all forms of real property (including residential real estate) as well as financial and industrial capital (plants, infrastructure, machinery, patents, and so on) used by firms and government agencies. But capital also includes farmland and natural resources, such as fossil fuels, minerals, forests and any other similar natural capital that can also be bought and sold on markets. In sum,

national capital = farmland + marketed natural resources + housing + other domestic capital + net foreign capital

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Sunita Narain

Climate change has a surprising new follower: the U.S. president. The U.S. government has been the biggest bugbear in climate change negotiations. Since discussions began on this issue in the early 1990s, the United States has stymied all efforts for an effective and fair deal. It has blocked action by arguing that countries like China and India must first do more. Worse, successive governments have even denied that the threat from a changing climate is real, let alone urgent. President Barack Obama, who came to power in the first term with the promise of change in dealing with climate change, was noticeably coy about the issue in the recent years.

But in May this year, the U.S. government released its National Climate Assessment, which puts together carefully peer reviewed scientific information on the impacts in the United States. It makes clear that even the United States is not immune to the dangers of climate change. In fact, many trends are visible and the country is already hurting.

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Martin Khor

Triple Crisis contributor Martin Khor has written recently about the rising problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Here, he is interviewed by The Real News Network producer Lynn Fries about the issue. Khor pulls no punches about the magnitude of the danger, calling it “as serious to human life as the climate change crisis that we are all trying to address and fighting against.” He goes on to address the necessity of government action on antibiotic resistance, as well as the impediments to such action (including a different kind of resistance—from the pharmaceutical industry).

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Martin Khor

The World Health Organisation’s most comprehensive report to date sounds a warning that we are entering a world where antibiotics have little effect.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has sounded a warning that many types of disease-causing bacteria can no longer be treated with the usual antibiotics and the benefits of modern medicine are increasingly being eroded.

The comprehensive 232-page report on anti-microbial resistance with data from 114 countries shows how this threat is happening now in every region of the world and can affect anyone in any country.

Antibiotic resistance—when bacteria evolve so that antibiotics no longer work to treat infections—is described by the report as “a problem so serious that it threatens the achievements of modern medicine.”

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Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

As the Obama administration negotiates new trade agreements with European and Pacific nations, a battle has emerged over the agreements’ egregious rules that grant giant corporations unreasonable powers to subvert democracy. These rules, dubbed “investor rights” by the corporations, allow firms to sue governments over actions—including public interest regulations—that reduce the value of their investments.

Oxfam, the Institute for Policy Studies, and four other non-profits are releasing a new study that explains why these rules are so dangerous to democracy and the environment. We are among the co-authors of this study, titled “Debunking Eight Falsehoods by Pacific Rim Mining/OceanaGold in El Salvador.” The report offers a powerful case study of everything that is wrong with this corporate assault on democracy.

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Sunita Narain

Previously published by Centre for Science and Environment.

Madhav Gadgil and K Kasturirangan are both scientists of great repute. But both are caught up in a controversy on how the Western Ghats—the vast biological treasure trove spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu—should be protected. First the Ministry of Environment and Forests asked Gadgil to submit a plan for protection of the Ghats. When this was done in mid-2011, the ministry sat on the document for months, refusing to release it even for public discussion. Finally, court directed the government to take action on the recommendations. The Kasturirangan committee was then set up to advise on the next steps.

In April 2013, the Kasturirangan committee (I was a member of it) submitted its report, evoking angry reactions. Ecologists say it is a dilution of the Gadgil report and, therefore, unacceptable. Political leaders and mining companies have joined hands to fight against the report. A virulent political agitation, led by the church and communist party leaders, was launched in Kerala.

The debate on the two reports has been personal, messy and uninformed. Instead, we need to understand the differences and deliberate what has been done and why. As I see it, there are three key differences between the Gadgil and the Kasturirangan report. First is on the extent of the area that should be awarded protection as an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). The Gadgil panel identified the entire Ghats as ESZ. But it created three categories of protection regimes and listed activities that would be allowed in each based on the level of ecological richness and land use.

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Edward B. Barbier

Over a year ago, in March 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its 2011 Green Goods and Services (GGS) Survey. Its purpose was to describe employment and development trends in five key categories of the burgeoning U.S. green economy: energy from renewable sources (aka “clean energy”), energy efficiency, pollution abatement and materials recycling, natural resources conservation and environmental compliance, education, training and public awareness.

Some good news emerged from the GGS Survey: In 2011, there were 3.4 million green goods and services jobs, accounting for 2.6 percent of U.S. employment.

However, there was also bad news to report. In March 2013, the BLS announced that, as part of the cross-the-board spending cuts authorized through the federal budget “sequestration,” it would no longer be producing any more GGS Surveys after the 2011 report.

In short, the U.S. green economy and employment may or may not be growing, but since 2011 we have had no national survey reporting on these trends.

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