Climate Change

Ecotourism: not a win-win for the local people

This is the final installment of a three-part series on how social and economic interactions between people in the developing world and those in the developed world creates serious implications for fragile ecosystems.  We invite you to join Kenyan journalist John Mbaria on Earth Day as he takes you on a truly "green"  tour that might help you appreciate these issues. He has experienced first hand the struggles of many in Africa who face the consequences of an increasingly warming earth, the destruction of many life-sustaining ecosystems and the failure of political systems and institutions to plan for the consequences of these forces. Mbaria is a trained land use planner and a journalist who previously worked as the environment correspondent with The EastAfrican, a regional weekly read in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. He recently moved to Seattle from Kenya and is a contributing writer to InvestigateWest.

Part three of a series

Through a friend, I contacted officials of a local NGO, the Kenya Community Based Tourism Organization that lobbied for the interests of poor communities who owned land communally and had ventured into Kenya's emerging ecotourism sector.  Taiko Lemayan and David Mombo - both officials of the tourism organization - had made a report that detailed, not the rosy picture often painted about ecotourism, but how it had been used to mask exploitation of communities after they set aside part of their immense ranches for wildlife conservation and leasing it to investors. I was keen to see the report, not simply because it was going against the grain, but also because it was feeding into what I already knew - that something was just not right about business dealings between poor communities and hard-nosed foreign and local investors.

How green is 'ecotourism?' Taking apart the myth

This is the second of a three-part series on how social and economic interactions between people in the developing world and those in the developed world creates serious implications for fragile ecosystems.  We invite you to join Kenyan journalist John Mbaria, who has experienced first hand the struggles of many in Africa who face the consequences of an increasingly warming earth, the destruction of many life-sustaining ecosystems and the failure of political systems and institutions to plan for the consequences of these forces. Mbaria is a trained land use planner and a journalist who previously worked as the environment correspondent with The EastAfrican, a regional weekly read in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. He recently moved to Seattle from Kenya and is a contributing writer to InvestigateWest.

Part two of a three-part series

In my many travels across Kenya, I found enough justification to explode the myth that ecotourism - as practiced there and elsewhere in Africa- is responsible, respectful travel, that is also enabling the poor to bake real bread as well as helping to keep communities happy who communally own the land,.

Exploring 'green travel' on Earth Day, from a Kenyan's perspective

This is the first of a three-part series on how social and economic interactions between people in the developing world and those in the developed world creates serious implications for fragile ecosystems.  We invite you to join Kenyan journalist John Mbaria on Earth Day as he takes you on a truly "green"  tour that might help you appreciate these issues. He has experienced first hand the struggles of many in Africa who face the consequences of an increasingly warming earth, the destruction of many life-sustaining ecosystems and the failure of political systems and institutions to plan for the consequences of these forces. Mbaria is a trained land use planner and a journalist who previously worked as the environment correspondent with The EastAfrican, a regional weekly read in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. He recently moved to Seattle from Kenya and is a contributing writer to InvestigateWest.

Part one of a series

Long before the world put mass tourism under the spotlight, people had become accustomed to images of truckloads of excited tourists surrounding a pack of sleepy lions or a lone cheetah resting under a tree somewhere in Africa.

InvestigateWest interns take prizes in regional SPJ contest for universities

Yahoo! We just received word that Alexander Kelly, InvestigateWest's correspondent at the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, won first place in the online news category for universities in the annual contest of the Society of Professsional Journalists, Northwest region.

It brings back the bleary-eyed December nights Alex and I worked from different sides of the Atlantic -- not to mention tireless toil by videographer Blair Kelly and photographers Mark Malijan and Christopher Crow. It was exhausting! We weren't doing it for a prize, but it sure feels good for Alex to win one.

It was the second award for InvestigateWest coming out of the climate summit. Malijan also won a National Press Photographers Association prize for the excellent photos he shot in Copenhagen. (In another Copenhagen update, Crow has produced an audio piece on the conference. It runs over 30 minutes, which might help explain why I haven't been able to download it and listen to it yet. If it gets posted on the web, I'll let people know.)

The Dateline Earth posts from Copenhagen that Alex submitted to SPJ focused on varied topics out of the international climate meeting including controversial Ethiopian strongman and alleged genocide perpetrator Meles Zenawi's role in the talks; criticism of a United Nations-brokered timber pact; and UN officials'  exclusion of our journalists from the meeting hall where the negotiations  were held.

The InvestigateWest quartet also did a great job covering the massive street protests, and brought home interviews with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and then-Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

Obama's offshore-drilling OK may not be a flip-flop but it's sure Bush-like -- except the Alaska part

Did President Obama do a flip-flop when he opened up vast swaths of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling? It depends on how far back you want to go in the President's record. In the Senate he supported efforts to limit offshore drilling. But as a presidential candidate he came around to accepting at least some offshore drilling as a way to build consensus on the energy issue.

Catharine Richert brings us this analysis for the worthwhile politifact.com website run by the St. Pete Times. Her post is worth a read.

Flip-flop or no, though, it's one of what seem like increasingly more common Obama decisions on the environment that could easily have been made by the George W. Bush administration (but probably not  by the George H.W. Bush team.) Example: On Monday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it was going with a Bush-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act that delays a crackdown on regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources such as power plants. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, this will allow construction of another 50 coal-fired plants.

Other thoughts in the aftermath of Obama's drilling decision:

+ I couldn't resist retweeting David Roberts of Grist.org:

"Imagine Obama banning offshore drilling in the vague hope that environmental groups might some day support his bill."

:>)

VP Biden: Health care's a big bleepin' deal. Obama: Don't look for D.C to tackle climate change

It was hard not to chuckle when I learned that blooper-prone Vice President Joe Biden, thinking he was out of earshot of the cameras when President Obama signed the heath-care legislation today, told the prez: "This is a big f--king deal!"

But crying is more in order if you listen to what Obama said at the bill-signing in remarks about what's next. Why? Because it ain't climate legislation. Here's what our surpreme commander had to say about how he's going to use the health-care win to push Congress on other fronts (italics are mine):

  "We all know our journey is far from over.  There’s still the work to do to rebuild this economy.  There’s still work to do to spur on hiring.  There’s work to do to improve our schools and make sure every child has a decent education.  There’s still work to do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.  There’s more work to do to provide greater economic security to a middle class that has been struggling for a decade."

Notice the emphasis not on what would surely be a hard fight to pass climate legislation, but rather on something (almost) everyone can agree on: Escaping this precipice where countries that hate America control something so vital to our well-being.

No, Obama doesn't risk offending anyone with that sentiment.

Here's how the situation was sized up in a note to clients and other contacts by Capitol Hill veteran Frank Maisano of the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani (yes, that Giuliani!), whose clients include a number in the energy business:

Arctic seed bank -- should we be comforted, or alarmed?

Today comes news that a seed bank set up on a frosty Arctic island in Norway to preserve the possiblity of feeding the world after a nuclear or climate disaster has reached the half-million mark for seed samples.

I'm confused: Should we be comforted, or alarmed? I mean, if the likelihood of nuclear or climate disaster is high enough to necessitate this kind of thing, that's bad. But then again, it seems like a prudent move, right?

I live just about an hour down the road from the lush Skagit River valley, which is a source of seeds used around the world for a variety of crops (not to mention a major producer of veggies that land on my plate on a regular basis.) Can't we keep getting our seeds there?  

Hmmm... it turns out they're calling this facility on the Norwegian island a "doomsday" seed vault.

Sigh. My stomach hurts.

-- Robert McClure

Logging forests after they're chewed up by bark beetles won't cut fire risks, new report says

An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.

This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization.

 And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.

This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true? 

It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.