Community Leaders

Community Leaders

Orhan Aydeniz – Cyprus

David Braun – US

Dr. Kathy Cantwell – US

Carmen Capriles – Bolivia

Jennifer Chambers – US

Juan Flores – US

Esperanza Garcia – Philippines

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson – Cambodia

Vojtěch Kotecký – Czech Republic

Todd Lehman – US

Attila Andras Nagy – Romania

Akilah Sanders-Reed – US

Krista Schlyer – US

Nelson Talbott – US

Vera Taylor – US

Yevgeny Vitishko – Russia

Georgina Woods – Australia

Orhan Aydenizs

Pentadaktylos means five fingers. The Pentadaktylos Mountain range in north Cyprus are in situation critical. (They earned their name because of their five finger-like peaks.) They are under threat from quarrying. 

According to Orhan Aydeniz, chairman of Cyprus Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats, there are seventeen stone quarries operating across the Five Finger mountains in an unorganized, unsystematic manner as of November 2013.

“We can talk for another 20 years but soon we will have no mountain left. There won’t be five or four fingers left on the mountain. There will be nothing,” he said.

In February 2014, the House Environment Committee decided to set up a national committee for environmental issues with the participation of the ministries of foreign affairs and agriculture, the House, MEPs and technical associations to exert pressure on EU institutions to protect the environment. The committee came to the decision after discussing quarrying at Pentadaktylos range in the north and the environmental damage it causes. The quarrying activity at Pentadaktylos has increased in the last ten years and the consequences are irreversible. In 2006, the European Union granted EUR 1.7 billion to the occupying authorities for the protection of these areas.

The dust particles from the quarries that are close to residential areas cause difficulties in breathing and other health problems. The firms operating the stone quarries in the mountain range claim that they use modern techniques and follow internationally recognized environmentally-safe practices. However, the Republic of Cyprus is bringing the issue to the EU agenda. The Environmental Engineering Chamber states that the stone quarries that have operated for many years at the occupied Pentadaktylos mountain range have created serious environmental problems.

The association of civil engineers, in an attempt to save the landmark, has called on the illegal quarrying of the Pentadaktylos (five fingers) mountain range in the area of the occupied village of Klepini to stop immediately.

Former environmental commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou said that one way to discourage this form of quarrying is to limit or regulate the building materials brought over from the north.

In 2005, Dr. Orhan Aydeniz started KEMA, or the Cyprus Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion, for Reforestation and the Protection of Natural Habitats, partnered with around 40 people amid growing concerns about the deforestation and destruction of natural habitats throughout North Cyprus. They encourage the public to become involved in the long term future of the country, and educate the public on the heritage and importance of Cyprus’ resources.

In 2007, Dr. Aydeniz publicly accused the self-styled Ministry of Agriculture in Turkish press for being responsible for introducing the deadly “red bug” to the occupied area. It caused destruction of the palm and date trees as a result of uncontrolled imports from Egypt of seedlings that carried the bugs. He recommended that the Ministry conduct effective and necessary controls to imported grapes in order to stop the destruction of the occupied area.

He is a recognized stakeholder in the EU Aide Program for the Turkish Cypriot Community participating in local development strategies. I find this show of strength given all the obstacles very impressive.

Sources: Cyprus Mail, LGC News, Famagusta Gazette, Kibris

David Braun

David Braun is a leader of the anti-fracking movement. He was the coordinator for New Yorkers Against Fracking (NYAF) and in 2013 alone organized hundreds of events and thousands of actions. NYAF is the first statewide coalition of groups to support a complete ban on fracking. It was founded in 2012 and by 2013 had more than 230 members. He is the President and co-founder of United for Action.  He was the grassroots coordinator for the film, Gasland. He designed the outreach plan for the soon to be released new installment, Gasland 2. He is also a co-founder of Americans Against Fracking. Before working on the fracking issue, he worked with MoveOn.org and also engaged with various social, environmental and economic justice campaigns. Now he’s back on the West Coast with Californians Against Fracking. He’s empowered by love. 

Why did he first get involved? As you can see from the photo, he says love, but in this video, it also becomes clear that it’s about the countless generations to come.

Highlights of some of his activism include the following. In 2011, he testified at the Spectra gas pipeline hearing.

In August 2013, in a statement made for Americans against Fracking, he supported the launch of Alianza Mexicana Contra el Fracking, a new coalition dedicated to banning hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in Mexico.

Click here to listen to his interview There are No Jobs on a Dead Planet.  It’ll open your eyes and defy all the industry spin that is preventing better solutions for our interdependent energy needs and maintaining an unhealthy status quo.

The gas industry has used intimidation tactics to silence their opposition. One firm, Energy In Depth (EID), the PR wing of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, has launched smear campaigns aimed at individuals raising their voices against fracking.

He’s stood up to scientists who make irresponsible defenses of fracking by himself pointing out that, more often than not, they are clearly in the pocket of the gas industry.

Braun took a strong stance against Taury Smith, a New York geologist, who at the time, in 2011, worked for the State Education Department, after the geologist made supportive remarks about the hydrofracking process. The state gagged Smith after close scrutiny and ordered him not to talk to the media. Smith had been a consultant for Saudi Aramco, Angola LNG, Shell, Texaco, Repsol, Devon, Encana and other clients. The department had to look into those associations. He had actively been performing research on the gas potential in New York-based shale for the public authority. The result? Reasonable concerns about his making a controversial statement. EID rebutted by saying that environmentalists who attacked Smith were stealing pages from Schopenhauer’s “Art of Controversy” essay,” meaning,

“A last trick is to become personal, insulting, rude, as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand, and that you are going to come off worst.It consists in passing from the subject of dispute, as from a lost game, to the disputant himself, and in some way attacking his person. “

However, the anti-fracking activists did not leave the subject or attack his person. They were rightfully concerned about his controversial statement and his purpose, and vocalized the possibility that his unwillingness to step away from the interests of the gas industry may have motivated his statement. The activists were simply defending their position on fracking and questioning his statement. Smith himself has been sympathetic to people who are alarmed at the notion of permitting hydrofracking. I consider that his stance is one of strength, especially given that the status quo on this issue hasn’t budged even with all the pressure, activism and science supporting the need for real action.

Sources: McLatchy DC, TruthOut, Reason, Facebook, Progressive Commentary Hour, NetRootsNation, EnergyInDepth, Times Union

Dr. Kathy Cantwell

Sometimes heart-wrenching stories start at the end. This is one of those stories. You see, when Dr. Kathy Cantwell died in 2010, she was wrapped in a shroud of cotton muslin in a ‘sacred cloth.’  A collage was sewn into the cloth that covered her that was made out of T-shirts Cantwell had collected in her various environmental restoration efforts. She made a huge difference in her community. A donkey-drawn cart served as Cantwell’s hearse. She died of complications from a brain tumor at 60. Yet, the activist also made sure that she would be buried properly. By properly, she meant at Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery. She became the first “green burial” on a 78-acre plot of rolling land adjacent to Prairie Creek Preserve in July, 2010.

“Dr. Kathleen Ann “Kathy” Cantwell was a major contributor to the beginnings of Prairie Creek Cemetery.  When she learned of our plans to open a natural cemetery, she pushed us ahead to get the paperwork in place and open and she was our 1st Burial.  She knew she had little time left and her last act was an act of conservation.” – Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery

The conservation cemetery is dedicated to promoting land conservation as a final resting place. It’s a natural alternative to traditional cemeteries.

She became a member of the Alachua County Land Conservation Board and recommended lands for public purchase under the Alachua County Forever program. Her work with the Putnam Land Conservancy led to the protection of twelve hundred acres along Little Orange Creek.

Because burial fees will be used for the acquisition, restoration and long-term management of conservation land, it leaves “a sacred legacy for future generations,” said Freddie Johnson, president of the nonprofit group Conservation Burial Inc.

Dr. Kathy Cantwell dedicated herself to the protection of natural resources in Alachua and Putnam Counties and in Florida. She was a long-time leader of the Suwannee-St. Johns Group Sierra Club and Women for Wise Growth where she involved herself in the ongoing fight against poorly planned development and in initiatives to keep the region’s air clean and water bodies unpolluted.

As a result of a tragic bicycle accident that crushed her body, she did all of that, and more, while confined to a wheelchair for 22 years. Impressed yet? I am, I think this is a perfect example of someone who cared so deeply for our world and had her priorities straight, even in the face of terrible circumstances.

Before her tragic bicycle accident, she wrote a letter to the Gainesville Sun in 2007, about her most memorable outdoor experience being her overnight backpacking trip to Persimmon Point at Paynes Prairie. The letter was published just before the Alachua County Commissioners met to decide on a land use amendment change permitting the Gainesville Country Club to build townhouses along the northern perimeter of Paynes Prairie.

She shared some of her thoughts about life and love and nature:

A trail was dedicated to Kathy Cantwell on September 10, 2010. Meet you somewhere down the trail! 

Sources: The Gainesville Sun, Kathy Cantwell’s blog, Facebook, Alachua Conservation Trust

Carmen Capriles

She is the founder and coordinator in Reacción Climática, a volunteer organization created with the aim to help raise awareness among about the impacts of climate change in the country of Bolivia and how to face them. She helps find small local ways to reduce the impact. She founded the organization to advance the participation of Bolivian youth in finding solutions to climate change.

What inspires her? Her main source of inspiration is nature. She appreciates Bolivia’s biodiverse countryside and Capriles celebrates the varied ecosystems, but she is well aware that it faces big hazards.

“Many of them will not survive this decade, and most of them will not survive this century!”

Carmen Capriles is also an environmental activist and campaign coordinator for 350.org in Bolivia. She thinks more women need access to education. She earned her degree in Agricultural Engineering with a specialty in Sustainable Development and Agro-ecology from the University of San Andres in La Paz, Bolivia. As of 2013, she has consulted on Climate Change and Environmental Advocacy for ten years.

Carmen Capriles is leading the way toward improving the United Nations post-2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals. At the RIO+20 Conference, 2012, she reinforced that the goals “must focus on women as a vital part of development, including with respect to deciding on and taking measures to adapt and face climate change.”

“The poorest populations, a majority of them women, are more vulnerable to extreme weather events. And although women have less impact on the environment, they are disproportionately affected by climate change,” notes Carmen Capriles.

In February 2014, she publicly addressed concerns about Bolivian graffiti artists using aerosol cans that are harmful to the environment, even as various interest groups chime in on the pros and cons of graffiti’s social contributions and legal implications for homeowners and artists alike. From her standpoint, the gasses from aerosol cans contribute to the destruction of the ozone and to global warming.

Por otro lado, Carmen Capriles, miembro del Grupo Reacción Climática, sostiene que los gases que despiden los aerosoles destruyen  la capa de ozono. “Contribuyen además al calentamiento global (…). Este tipo de gases se encuentran en el cuarto lugar de los contaminantes nocivos, junto a otros que se denominan cloroflourocarbonos”.

She explains that such gases are harmful contaminants and contain dangerous chlorofluorocarbons. Meanwhile, graffiti artists say that Bolivia doesn’t import the safer known brands, such as the Montana brand.

Smartly, taking their activism to those who see the value of social media, Reacción Climática shares excellent activist opportunities and shares indigenous knowledge interwoven with “Western” techniques.

For example, Reacción Climática shared this impressive video of specific initiatives to revaluate indigenous ancestral knowledge of seeds combined with “Western” agronomic techniques for resilience to climate change on Facebook.

During the COP19 in November 2013, Reacción Climática left among thousands of major NGOs. The reason as Carmen Capriles explained, is that they weren’t being heard when the conversation about weather was being reduced to a business, with determinations on what to do being handed over to large corporations, with little public input. Given that the policies affect the public, to avoid hearing from an informed public is disheartening.

Not one to go quietly into the night, Carmen Capriles attended the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in September 2013, among many women leaders who are harnessing digital media and in-person gatherings to accelerate the movement. She spoke movingly of witnessing the glaciers melting in her homeland, and of a Mother Earth law that has been proposed by Bolivian leaders.

I find it exciting to see her promote indigenous traditional knowledge and adaptation to climate change in her social media activism as a volunteer for Global Climate Shift and climate restoration activist.

Sources: 1millionwomenblog, International Convocation Unitarian Universalists Women, Pagina Siete.bo, Facebook, El Diario Internacionale, World Pulse

Jennifer Chambers

Jennifer Chambers is the author of “Watershed Adventures of a Water Bottle” which was published April 2013.

It’s received some noteworthy praise.

“This wonderful book tells the story of trash in the Anacostia River, beginning in our beloved Sligo Creek and traveling through the Chesapeake Bay on its way to join millions of other pieces of trash in the North Atlantic Gyre. The Anacostia Watershed Society was founded in part because the river was so filled with trash; in fact, the Anacostia was only the second river in the US declared impaired by trash under the Clean Water Act. This book will help educate a new generation of children (and parents!) that we can be better stewards of the world around us.” Brent Bolin, Former Director of Public Affairs, Anacostia Watershed Society

In 2004, she started her own business, Hiking Along, LLC to engage children in exploration of the natural world and encourage them to appreciate and learn about the environment. Part of their goal is to stress how humans impact the environment while hiking on scenic trails around the DC region. Jennifer is on the Board of Director’s Chair for the American Hiking Society and the Maryland State Advocate for Leave No Trace.

Her spirit excites me knowing that she is working toward restoring our environment. Her blog entry on MLK Day is a perfect example of her genuine appreciation for teaching children how to take care of neglected areas.

Every year since my kids have been toddlers, I have organized litter clean ups in my community of Silver Spring. My friends and neighbors began our yearly MLK day clean ups on playgrounds. As they grew older, we moved them to a local stream in the Anacostia watershed, Sligo Creek. Now, friends, neighbors and community members gather to spend 90 minutes in the crisp winter air removing trash from the stream, playgrounds and roads in Sligo Creek Park. We celebrate our work with a cup of hot coco afterwards. Come join us on MLK Day this year.

How inspiring! If you haven’t visited the Anacostia River, you might not be familiar with its challenges.  In 2002, an effort to clean up the river was set in motion in hopes that people would return to the river for recreational purposes.

The challenge? The Anacostia runs through parts of Maryland and the District packed with people. Every day, people drop trash along the river. While Hiking Along LLC isn’t the only group involved in river cleanup, Jennifer Chambers’ effort is valuable, especially her attitude. She sees that when children are introduced to safe, positive outdoor experiences in nature in their neighborhoods, then they are inspired to protect these spots. Over time, this feeling expands to caring about the natural world wherever life may lead them.

Who would argue with that? We need more people preserving the greater natural world.

In 2010, a new trail was created near the high school where she taught, thanks to her efforts in cleaning up discarded appliances, bottles, cans, furniture, and car parts. The resulting trail, the Northwood Chesapeake Bay Trail, is a three quarter mile path, popular and well loved. Jennifer hoped from the start that those who worked on the trail will feel a sense of ownership, protectiveness and pride for the place to keep it clean.

“The land was in this nebulous state for a long time,” Chambers said.

Getting the trail ready took about a year, a $7,500 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and 60 volunteers with additional students, teachers, and communities. They cleared roughly 11,000 pounds of trash. Over the course of the year, more than 246 students put in some sweat equity. That’s the type of world they build. I’m impressed.

Sources: Washington Parent, Bay Journal, blog.hiking.along.com, Takoma Voice

Juan Flores

Water supplies in California make California a battleground state on the issue and have forced homes across the state to take unprecedented steps to conserve. Juan Flores is among many community members demonstrating what it takes to go after one of the largest consumers and polluters of California’s valuable water supply: frackers. He’d love to see California put in a ban similar to the one imposed in New York. He is the son of farmers near Shafter, California in Kern County. He’s been an organizer in that community for years.

About 75% of in-state oil production occurs in Kern County. Flores knows how often pesticides are used on the almond groves near his community garden, because he and other gardeners receive warnings when the spraying is about to begin to avoid getting sprayed in the process – just in case the wind blows the chemicals in their direction. The air is so polluted that the American Lung Association gave it an “F” for ozone pollution and poor grades for both short-term and annual particle pollution in 2014.

He is among a number of Latino farmers who are very concerned about poverty, air quality and drought. His focus is on hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking. The extraction poisons the water resources and kills crops. His concern led him and his coworkers at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, an environmental justice group based in Kern County, to lead in California’s growing anti-fracking movement. California’s governor has done nothing to urge concessions by frackers even as mandatory restrictions have been imposed on households to lower water use.

One fifth of California’s oil production over the last decade came from fracked wells.  Despite groups like the Concerned Health Professionals of New York publishing reports specifying all the reasons that drinking water is at risk from drilling and fracking activities and associated waste disposal practices, California, as an oil state (producing nearly 200 million barrels per year), treats big oil with kid gloves.

Juan Flores believes in people power and says he’ll travel the roads around the county knocking on doors and meeting with neighbors, until Kern County and California are no longer subject to Big Oil’s uncompromising grip. While the economy thrives on petroleum production and agriculture, farmers and organizers are concerned about the air pollution and drought. As a result, they publicly criticize political leaders for not doing more to protect their precious common interest in clean air and protecting limited water resources.

Farmers facing an historic drought are worried that fracking threatens their precious water supplies. They also worry that their health is under threat as well. Fracked oil wells are built very close to their food sources and gardens. Juan Flores and gardeners immediately noticed smells and felt headaches and nauseous as soon the wells were built near the community garden.

Common sense measures should include peace of mind for farmers and residents in the area but are lacking. Considering the response to emergency situations like Kern County officials evacuating families after a toxic gas leak from an underground pipeline, it appears that demanding proper measures be taken is like beating a dead horse. Flores feels like the American dream became a nightmare for many who worked with little money to be able to save and invest into buying their homes only to have to deal with this tragedy. Instead, residents found the county and companies pointing fingers at each other.

Juan Flores supports a 2015 petition being circulated by 150 community organizations working together to press California’s Governor to take urgent action amid revelations of aquifer contamination and benzene in fracking wastewater. He thinks it’s time the Governor see how threatening the fracking is locally and that he needs to make the protection of the air, water and community a priority by halting fracking. Studies show the unacceptable risks to the environment and human health of fracking and Juan Flores is holding officials’ feet to the fire at a time when California’s water is being contaminated in the midst of one of the worst droughts on record. Clearly back-breaking and heavy and an impressive community effort to find some middle ground.

Sources: Valley Public Radio, The Indypendent, Latino USA, Center for Biological Diversity, State of the Air




Esperanza Garcia

Bundles of Joy and Letters of Hope, a grassroots organization started by three young female activists, provided on-the-ground aid each day when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines.

“These people have lost everything in their lives,” Esperanza Garcia, a Bundles of Joy team member and co-founder of the Philippine Youth Climate Movement and International Youth Council, told ELLE.com.

She started Bundles of Joy with Anna Oposa, co-founder of Save Philippine Seas, and Anya Lim, who worked for UNICEF Philippines and World Vision Australia and Cebu.

To get a bundle, you donate $10 and the recipient receives water, food, clothing, and flashlight and a letter of hope. Through the act of letter writing, people in the Philippines can feel more hope and feel cared for from afar while they tap into themselves to gain the strength to rebuild their lives.

Recipients feel emotional support from reading these letters. With her heart aching, and having been born and raised in one of the regions hit by the Typhoon, she couldn’t stop crying.When she heard that 10,000 people died in Tacloban, she broke down and cried.  She recognized that her Facebook newsfeed showed how many people were also crying for her country. She took action.

She’s been a single mother since the age of 18 and was the official Filipino delegate at the UN 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference.

“Our goal is to mobilize youth all over the Philippines to take action on climate change. We need to believe and prove that we are the great generation that will overcome this challenge.”

Did I mention that she was nominated for The Outstanding Filipino Americans in New York in 2013?

She is a dedicated passionate climate conservationists doing her part in advocating restoration efforts taking action!

Sources: Elle Magazine, Huffington Post, Financial Times, esperanzagarcia.net

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, Somnang Sim, Heng Meng, and Ven Lek

A proposed dam in Cambodia that would cause widespread financial and environmental damage initiated a movement of nature activists and Buddhist monks appropriately named “Mother Nature.” The dam plan has been in the works since 2007, with a few Chinese companies pulling in and out of the deal as a result of feasibility concerns. Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, Somnang Sim, Heng Meng, and Ven Lek coordinating the Save the Areng Valley campaign to empower local indigenous communities to raise awareness about the proposed dam.

 “These indigenous communities, with their simple, spiritually rich lives and virtually non existing carbon foot print, are potential flag-bearers of the kind of life we want to promote within Cambodia.” says Alex.

In 2013, Chinese engineers posted markers for a hydropower dam opposed by villagers in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley. Forty monks in November 2013 banded together in response and held a procession to save the valley. The opposition to the dam is motivated by the doubt that any profits will reach the hands of the people, based on a history of outcomes from previous development projects and that villagers are being left in the dark and are not part of the decision-making process.

The procession led the monks through a dark jungle for 6 hours. Police carrying AK-47s monitored the process and documented the monks action. After the procession, police approached Alex Gonzalez-Davidson three times asking questions.

The valley holds a lot of traditional value to the indigenous community that lives there. Specific fauna and flora have existed there in relative abundance. The local opposition is built on reasonable concerns that the biodiversity and livelihood of the people will be obliterated.  The planned hydroelectric dam threatens to inundate an area almost half the size of Singapore and submerge seven villages.

Cambodians have been furious about the proposed dam. Thousands have been rightfully afraid of being displaced and told they must accept the proposal or face jail time. In total, 420 families would be displaced, not to mention that the land is considered to be ancestral burial grounds. The community is being left in the dark, while the government has gone ahead and approved of the project and allocated appropriate funding for the dam. Many of the farmers, including Suth Vam, a 56-year-old farmer, believe that they have everything they need so dismiss the idea of leaving.

Villagers and their elected chief say that they have been threatened with arrest and assault for speaking out against the dam.

Yet experts who have studied the project for the government found that the positive impact from economic development is greater than “a little environmental impact,” said government spokesman Ek Tha. “We need to develop our country. We cannot just stand and watch our people complain about blackouts and the high cost of electricity.”

The Cambodian government has stayed silent on calls to have the projects reviewed independently. The coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, Meach Mean, states that although the logging has begun, no clear resettlement plan or compensation has been put forward. Villagers who attend meetings arranged by authorities say they receive equal measures of information and threats.

“We were told we have the right to demand compensation but cannot reject the dam. The man who planned the meeting said those who reject or oppose the dam will face court and go to prison,” Sa Va said after attending one of the meetings in 2009.

The government doesn’t seem to be listening to civil society, preoccupied with its deals at the expense of local cultural and basic needs.

So, representatives from the Cambodian communities that are going to get severely impacted by the dam went to the Chinese Embassy to voice their concerns by protesting. They presented a petition to the embassy detailing the plight of the 75,000 people they see will be directly affected by the proposed dams. What happened next? Yes, exactly, they got the run around.

Asking the companies and government to exercise responsibility seems to promote shifting responsibility and gamesmanship. A representative for villagers, Hoy Soth, sees the environmental destruction too great a risk for access to electricity. He knows the dam supporters want to evict the villagers and that they won’t care about declining fish stocks or a loss in cultural traditions. They hold a spiritual ceremony on the river banks regularly. These would be disrupted.

The villagers are consequently still being kept in the dark. Elderly farmers fear for their plantations, their seeds, and preserving their way of life, and question how they could reestablish themselves apart from their livelihoods. A school principal in Thmor Bang, Nhem Sokhun, said villagers have not been given much information about the dam and stated that if benefits were fairly distributed, he wouldn’t have a problem with it being built.

“If the people know that information only when the dam construction has begun, then we will lose trust,” he said. “We would like to be informed in advance of compensation, either by the government or the Chinese company.”

I suppose that the interest in trust isn’t as great for those who don’t have to do the heavy-lifting of changing their entire lives to fit a plan that doesn’t value community buy-in.

Sources: The Pollination Project, Open Development Cambodia, Al Jazeera, VOA Cambodia, Radio Free Asia

Vojtěch Kotecký

The long term management of 1.3 million hectares of forests in Czech Republic fell under scrutiny since 2007. Before 2007, the Czech authorities had started to privatize many of the forests. The Czech Republic’s Ministry of Agriculture wanted to privatize the management of the forests to a Czech private company, Lesy CR. Environmentalists have been reasonably concerned that the public will be left without a say on the company’s activities surrounding management. How would they be sure to act with the public’s trust and interest in mind?

“Basically, one company will be responsible for all the logging, tree planting, timber removal and timber trade over a huge area and for a long time,” said the Czech branch of Friends of the Earth’s (Hnutí Duha) head campaigner Vojtech Kotecký.

Big forestry companies harvest around 40 percent more timber than they should have when they are not held accountable to the public’s interest, according to environmentalists, who based this figure on a report from the state auditing authority.

Listen to what he had to say about the privatization of forest management in 2007.

“I think it would be bad for sustainable management of Czech forests because it would substantially limit the government’s ability to promote more non-productive functions of our forest, like recreation or promotion of biological diversity.”

Sounds like a valid concern when the goal is sustainable land management. The Czech branch of Friends of the Earth, Hnutí Duha, led the attack on the Ministry of Agriculture’s proposal to give the state forestry company, Lesy ČR, management over the forests.

Over the years apparently, Lesy ČR, which owns half of the forests in the Czech Republic, has seen a number of scandals.

In November, 2013, a court order was issued to Lesy ČR as a preliminary injunction binding the state forest company to stop logging in the area in the Tabor region. In that matter, the land that the state forest company was logging was to be returned as requested by the Catholic Church, which applied for the return of the land.

In addition to focusing on forestry matters, Vojtěch Kotecký was the Mining Campaign Regional Coordinator for Friends of the Earth. In 1998, a gold rush at a controversial mine site near the town of Kasperske Hory was imminent. At the time the Environmental Minister stepped in, as did Friends of the Earth mining campaigner Vojtěch Kotecký. In mid August 2000, the Czech Senate banned the use of cyanide heap leaching technology by the gold mining industry.

“The law marks the last step in several years long controversy over gold mining projects in the Czech Republic”, Friends of the Earth mining campaigner, Vojtech Kotecky, said.

He campaigned against an energy policy in 2004 proposed by the Industry and Trade Ministry. The controversy over the policy, was due to the abolishment of coal mining restrictions. The policy will be in place until 2030. The government kept the restrictions, but they are subject to review. To what extent was the coal mining industry restricted? He explains that since 1991, there was a government decree that prohibited coal mining and protected Northern Bohemian villages because 80 villages were destroyed from this activity since WW II. Now, given the new review, these restrictions were inadvisably abolished.

In February 2014, coalition leaders failed to protect northern Bohemian towns and villages from coal mining expansion, according to experts from the Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace organizations. Activists say that the government’s policy ignores the care of nature and the landscape.

“It only insufficiently mentions the protection of arable land against construction,” said Vojtech Kotecky, from the Friends of the Earth.

Finally, here is an interesting presentation that he gave on the topic of “Smart Policies: How to Stimulate Green Growth.”

He shows strength in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and believes in a sustainable green economy.

Sources: vitat.it, Radio Prague, Prague Daily Monitor, MinesandCommunities.org, Prague Post

Todd Lehman

Early 2014, environmentalist Todd Lehman founded EnviroHub as an all-volunteer effort to create a central location for science writing and environmental literacy resources.  EnviroHub offers a comprehensive online collection of scientific research and content on critical issues such as climate change, population issues and resource management. Lehman sees EnviroHub as a key puzzle piece in the global puzzle of sustainability because it helps build a society that assesses the science behind important issues, like climate change and resource management.

Here’s one of the Ecotips videos he distributes on youtube: Recycle these Cans!

It’s worth exploring the pages of EnviroHub for yourselves. I find a lot of the sources educational and informative.

Sources: Huffington Post, Youtube, The Pollination Project, EnviroHub

Attila Andras Nagy

Romania’s Southern Carpathian mountains are being quickly modified–too quickly for Attila Andras Nagy. He is a freshwater marine biologist with the Romanian wildlife protection organization, Milvus.

The River Capra, where beech trees once rose, now houses a grey concrete hydropower plant. More than 500 micro hydroplants operate in the largely protected mountains and cumulatively produce less than 4% of the country’s energy. Investors flock to state-owned nature parks, protected under EU and domestic laws. These projects are considered to be performed under corrupt business practices and are a threat to the ecological systems found in the Carpathian mountains. The rivers are running dry.

The result has been increased public protests, as people tire of illegal activities and the negative ecological impact of the power plants. Without investors maintaining political connections, opponents think that these projects would not have received the amount of rural development funding that they have received. These plants also provide their own environmental impact assessments and are not independently reviewed. After reviewing initial video footage that documented alleged violations of environmental laws the Romanian government initially responded by urging action and declaring the projects illegal, but it only took a few days for the officials to go silent.

“We are talking about the loss of thousands of kilometres of river. Tens of thousands across the whole mountains range. The habitat fragmentation this creates severely affects the populations of countless fish species, many of them protected. Then consider the animals that feed from the water – the otters, European dipper birds and more. The impact is cumulative and ends far from the rivers,” according to Nagy.

Self-declared as one of the “two top businessmen” in Romania, Gheorghe Badea is an owner of ten of these power plants, who sees the projects as having all the necessary approvals. Since they are authorized, he considers critics of the projects as “sick people who don’t have anything to do, not people who want to make sure that the authorities equally protect the environment as they do business interests.

Romanian opposition has increased, even though the hydroplants are touted as green projects. The director of the World Wildlife Fund in Romania supports the green energy projects, but recommends that the streams have a real ecological value and shouldn’t be destroyed for the sake of fast profits.

No one is demanding that these investors and hydropower stations stop their energy efforts. Instead, they are demanding that tighter controls be introduced aimed at investors, who should be encouraged to comply with EU standards and oversight.

Back in 2011, when news about the lax permitting construction frenzy was first made public, the focus by environmental groups wasn’t so much on preventing the permits, but more on how the pipes were installed. Concerns were raised about how they affect the direction of the watercourse and disrupt aquatic life. Unfortunately, many pipes were installed in the bed of streams ripping up trout breeding grounds. Finally, the other concerns revolve around the amount of water being diverted for energy production. In the Fagaras mountains, diverted water has amounted to as much as 80 percent of the flow, according to hydro specialists.

Recent Romanian reporting suggests that the government is working on laws to protect against the environmental damages caused by hydroplant activities as a result of local efforts and international efforts.

Sources: The Guardian, Balkaninsight.com, TerraDaily, WWF, Romanian ProTV

Akilah Sanders-Reed

Seventeen-year-old Akilah Sanders-Reed and the Santa Fe-based conservation group WildEarth Guardians sued the Governor of New Mexico and the state in 2011 marking the nation’s first Atmospheric Trust Litigation case to be heard on its merits. The case concerned whether the state had violated its public trust duty to protect the New Mexico’s atmosphere. On July 24, 2013, they took the case to the New Mexico Court of Appeals. The case was dismissed on July 4, 2013. The judge ruled that the Public Trust Doctrine did not apply based on the determination of New Mexico’s Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) that regulating New Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions would have no impact on global warming or climate change.

Akilah’s attorney, Samantha Ruscavage-Barz of WildEarth Guardians argued that the Court made a mistake in relying on the EIB’s finding that greenhouse gas regulation was unnecessary. She criticized the state for abdicating its responsibility in that way.

The allegations that the state was ignoring the atmosphere with respect to greenhouse gas emissions that came from Akilah are right in line with her character and moral authority, as she acknowledges that she wonders about the future not in terms of fortune and fame, but in terms of whether she’ll be one of the ones leaving or ones who stay back to help. She believes that like with any issue those who have less of a voice, less political and financial power are the ones who are most affected by the negative consequences of apathy.

“I think that the youngest generation has the moral authority to stand up and say we don’t want that and to build a different future.”

They appealed the case in August, 2013.

During the case, critics were vocal,

Albuquerque Journal, Aug. 7, 2012, “Teen Takes on Governor, State Over Climate”. This is the second time the Journal has printed an article about Akilah Sanders-Reed on the front page slanted as if she is some kind of teen super-hero. While I give kudos to teens being interested in science, the naivety of this girl is overwhelming. For starters, I would hope that she knows that she is being exploited by WildEarth Guardians and similar other radical environmental groups. … – Donna L. Crawford

It’s interesting to see how Donna Crawford, if you continue reading her op-ed disempowers Akilah by suggesting that she wasn’t using her own thinking skills, but is somehow a passive participant brainwashed and incapable of judging the facts from an environmental standpoint.

She was fifteen when she first started organizing environmental events. In 2009, she was one of the local leaders representing 1Sky New Mexico gathered at a media conference at the Civic Plaza in Albuquerque to urge President Obama to fight for a fair, ambitious and binding international treaty on climate change when he attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Since then, I’m glad to see that she keeps on persevering. In January 2014, she worked with the non-partisan group Citizens Climate Lobby at a conference in St. Paul, MN aimed at educating Minnesotans on the local impact of climate change.

“I think this is the biggest issue of my generation. This is my future, and this is about the planet that we’re all going to live on. It’s going to impact every single person for generations and generations to come,” said spokeswoman Akilah Sanders-Reed.

Sources: LA Times, Our Children’s Trust, 1sky.org, KUNM, Albuequerque Journal, Democracy for New Mexico, Minnesota Public Radio, Hero Hatchery 

Krista Schlyer

Krista Schlyer is a writer and photographer on wildlife and life in the wild. Her work has appeared in National Parks, Defenders, High Country News, Ranger Rick, National Geographic News, Audubon, and Outdoor Photographer. She is a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and the North American Nature Photographers Association. As a child, she was more interested in the animals in the Kansas prairies than science. Science wasn’t emphasized in her school when she was growing up.

After college and building experience in political and community journalism, she took a trip to visit national parks and forests and her passion for conservation photography emerged.

The premise of her book “Continental Divide: Wildlife, People and the Border Wall” is “Walls do not solve problems; they make them.”  It chronicles the unintended ecological and social consequences of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. She argues that the border wall has led to ecological damage and has essentially not worked for what it was intended in preventing illegal immigration. Her pictures provide a side of the border wall that is often overlooked. As Krista Schlyer explains, the remoteness of this region from most US citizens’ lives, along with media focus on illegal immigration and drug violence, has left the impression of an incomplete picture.

In promoting her love for the outdoors, Krista recommends spending time in wild places:

“I don’t think people do enough of this. Start spending time in those places and taking people to those places. And when you can’t take people to wild places, take the wild places to them! Photography takes people to places that they’ve never been before.”

Here’s an interview with Krista Schlyer that is very interesting. Here’s a slide show of some of her excellent photography.

Sources: National Geographics, Texas A&M University Press, St. Mary’s Press, High Country News, Art for Conservation

Nelson Talbott

Greater Cleveland Ohio lost the conservation, environmental and financial powerhouse in February 2014 sadly. Nelson Talbott worked for decades preserving the environment while also running several Cleveland companies.

Liz Fowler, executive director of the Cleveland Zoological Society, said Talbott was just as passionate about climate change in his work with the Zoo, where he became a trustee in 1977 and was elected as a life trustee in 1999. She conveys that he believed that we could reduce our collective impacts on the environment and was not impressed with excuses when we can effect lasting changes for the future. Still, he was optimistic. 

She added,

“He understood the connections between every day actions, legislative policy, consumer behaviors, urban sprawl and the long-term impact on all life forms,” Fowler said. “He also understood the opportunity the Zoo has, to engage visitors of all ages in life-long learning and in stewardship of the world we share.”

In December 2009, he was presented with OEC’s Lifetime Achievement Award given all of his work as a philanthropist for natural resource conservation since he personally funded the acquisition and permanent protection of literally thousands of acres of wetlands, prairies and forest in Ohio. He also addressed Ohio’s congressional representatives to urge climate change legislation on countless occasions.

The Nature Conservancy had a chance to interview him in Voices of Change: Nelson Bud Talbott. Here he describes why working to combat greenhouse gas emissions is critical to their mission.

He was also on the board of the Environmental Law Institute from 1979 to 1984 and accomplished many restorative efforts aimed at reducing harm to the environment.

According to Strobe Talbott, president of The Brookings Institution and a former trustee of Hotchkiss, Bud’s great love in life was the outdoors where he was happiest and although he was active in other civic endeavors, the ones he care most for were saving endangered species, conserving wetlands and mitigating climate change.

He understood the positive experiences that can be had in the great outdoors and wanted to accentuate this for future generations.

It’s a valiant life indeed!

Sources: cleveland.com, Ecowatch, The Hotchkiss School, Environmental Law Institute

Vera Taylor

“There are 100-year-old magnolia trees, azaleas, and Japanese plum trees,” Vera said. “But just a few miles from our apartment, I noticed pollution coming from a large petrochemical refinery run by Exxon and a chemical manufacturing plant run by Dow.”

She decided to write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. In their reply, they said that after checking with Exxon they were assured that I was just seeing water vapors.

Vera Taylor moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 2000. The Baton Rouge refinery is the largest oil-refinery in the nation. She monitored and took a bunch of photos and emailed them to the EPA. This led to the emissions being monitored eventually by the media and the EPA. Specialized airplanes took samples. The result was that Exxon has to exhibit a visible flare any time that they are burning off a chemical release and provide verbal warnings over the phone to nearby communities.

I personally think that if more people decided to monitor environmental situations that concern them, the world would be a healthier place environmentally for all of us. It doesn’t take waiting for scientific debates or big business to decide to do something, it takes concerned citizens like Vera Taylor. This is a model for acting responsibly on our concerns!

Sources: Wild Earth Guardians

Yevgeny Vitishko

One of the most prominent critics of the Sochi Olympics, Yevgeny Vitishko was jailed in early February 2014. He is an outspoken critic of the environmental impact of the Sochi Winter Olympics. Vitishko, is a geologist and a member of the Environmental Watch on North Caucasus activist group. Yevgeny Vitishko was an author of a report criticizing the impact of the 2014 Games.

A judge in Krasnodar ruled to convert an earlier suspended sentence for him into a full prison term after Vitishko lost an appeal against his three-year jail sentence. Vitishko was found guilty along with activist Suren Gazaryan for breaking into a construction site in late 2011 in Krasnodar. Vitishko and Gazaryan claimed that they found evidence that protected tree species were being logged. In 2012, they were found guilty of spraying slogans, including ‘The forest is for everybody’ on a corrugated metal fence. Vitishko was taken to a penal colony.

Human Rights Watch condemned the ruling, saying that “the case against Vitishko has been politically motivated from the start.”  After the verdict, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) asked the Russian organizers of the Sochi Winter Games for more details about the jailing of an environmental campaigner, which many supporters consider to be politically motivated and disproportionate.

“We have had confirmation from Sochi (Games organisers), who got the information for us from the relevant authorities, that this is not Games related,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters.

Environmental Watch on North Caucasus (EWNC) said that many of the facts are incorrect as stated by the IOC and that there was no proof Vitishko was actually the one who painted slogans on a fence illegally. They also said that slogans would have cost about $40 dollars to wash off, but instead someone was hired who calculated the damages at $4,000. EWNC sees the suspended sentence as persecution over his vocal opposition to the Olympic and influenced the decision of the judge, given that the actual violations were minor and that his parole was much stricter than others received with suspended sentences. They see it as a chance to put away a critic of the Olympic Games. They have asked for a more legitimate investigation into what proof police had of Vitishko swearing in public and how his intention to travel to Sochi influenced their decision to arrest him.

Additionally, Vitishko was planning to go to Sochi to present an environmental report, but was arrested in his hometown of Tuapse after formally filing for permission to travel to the Olympic city. (The terms of his original arrest, included as a condition for his suspended sentence, that Vitishko had to check in regularly with penitentiary officials and inform them of his travel plans.)

Instead, on his way, he was found guilty of swearing at a bus stop, charged with “petty hooliganism.” Vitishko was jailed for 15 days, with no witnesses to support the allegations. He was arrested on February 3, 2014 in Tuapse, a part of the Sochi area where the Olympics were hosted. The 15-day sentence meant that Vitishko wouldn’t get to the Sochi area for most of the Olympics.

In 2013, human rights group said local officials from Krasnodar and Sochi were directly responsible for harassing and intimidating local activists and journalists. The Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus has been central in shedding light on environmental damage in the Sochi area.

Amnesty International had already declared Vitishko a prisoner of conscience, after he was jailed for public swearing.

Environmental Watch on North Caucasus posted an update on Vitishko in prison:


Sources: Mail Online, Amnesty International, CBC News, Huffington Post, New York Times, The Australian, Washington Post, Facebook, The Ecologist, Agence France-Presse, Reuters, Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, Human Rights Watch

Georgina Woods

Collateral damage of the coal industry? Profit over people? No! As a community activist and as the Leard Forest Alliance spokesperson, Georgina Woods represents the Maules Creek community in New South Wales, Australia and asserts their need to defend their interest in the controversial Maules Creek coal mine project.

The Maules Creek is located at the Leard State Forest – a public forest that is highly endangered. It is home to thirty-four endangered species. Many of these species are listed as critically endangered under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).

Local farmers and environmentalists have campaigned against the project for over three years. The Maules Creek Project was fully approved in July 2013. The Northern Inland Council for the Environment filed a challenge to appeal the proposed mine in July. In September 2013, an injuction application to stop the Whitehaven Coal development was dismissed in Federal Court. Whitehaven Coal got approval to clear endangered Box Gum woodland in Leard State Forest.

The loudest complaints emerge from traditional owners who claim that Whitehaven hadn’t done enough to preserve cultural artifacts. Some traditional owners have accused the company of not carrying out proper consultations, stating that more respect is needed to be shown toward the local indigenous culture.

Protesters launched a blockade in January 2014 uniting four groups of protesters totaling over 100 people that blocked four entrances to Leard forest to stop mine expansion. Georgina Woods explains that the blockade has formed and people are willing to be arrested because they see a great value in the environment that they are protecting. The mine should never have been approved, according to Woods and protesters. By pressuring Environment Minister Greg Hunt to revoke the approval of the mining which will clear the forest, they are demonstrating that they are not willing to give up on their community, forest and those who love the forest.

Among those who joined Georgina Woods was 91-year old legally-blind Kokoda Track veteran Bill Ryan. (The Kokoda Track was a campaign in Papua New Guinea during World War II. It is the site of many significant engagements between the Japanese and Australian forces.)

A Whitehaven Coal spokesman said that despite protesters’ claims, the protests did not stop plant work at the mine. Instead, they called the protesters blocking the access roads a “nuisance.” The protesters are protecting something of value and are unwilling to just be seen as impediments to plans that dismiss the importance of the forest to the community.

Still, committed to her community support, Georgina continues to tweet about protesters who consider that the effects of the continued mining operations deserve to be acknowledged and profit over the destruction of land challenged. I find her to be a great asset to bringing attention to dirty energy efforts that argue that they should be undeterred, unregulated and shield themselves with laissez-faire, even when there are so many environmental consequences to consider.

Sources: Lock the Gate Alliance, Wikipedia, Mining News, Sydney Morning Herald, The Global Mail, Mining Australia, The Habitat Advocate



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