Category Archives: Ecology

Mother & Daughter Camp In Trees For 34 days To Stop Pipeline

May 15th, 2018 by Kurt Lowder

Renewable energy is getting a boost as grassroot campaigns to stop pipelines and other fossil fuel developments are springing up organically all over the world. Terry and Minor Red, who are mother and daughter, were able to hold up a EQT Midstream Partners pipeline for at least 34 days. The mother-daughter combo only gave up after being found in contempt of court and were facing a DAILY $1000 dollar fine. They may have lost the battle, but this war is far from over.


Subsequent to the protest, they were later charged with trespassing on their own property, among other charges.

This is the type of brilliant story that the majority of corporate media routinely ignore as they tell us the 33rd new development of the Stormy Daniels case. Look, I get it that the Stormy Daniels could potentially lead to some type of Watergate moment, but with a 24-hour news cycle, maybe the media could spare an hour for this type of heroic story. 

Of course, telling this story would jeopardize losing their fat check from the American Petroleum Institute and other fossil fuel groups that advertise for seemingly no apparent reason other than an implicit bribe to not cover environmental stories that matter. According to Huffpost, in at least one week in March, CNN gave more ad time to these fossil fuel public relations groups than it spent covering climate change. 

“In the third week of March, after it was announced that February had been the hottest month on record, CNN aired four minutes of climate change stories. It broadcast 10 minutes of ads from API. During that same time, the study noted that CNN also aired dozens of ads from Koch Industries.”

Delaying a pipeline for 34 days is costly, and the fossil fuel industry cannot risk stories like this being told to the masses. These pipelines have to cross numerous properties. If only a small fraction of landowners put up a principled resistance against them, the pipelines may well be scrapped. For them to profit, they need an uninformed, apathetic public that believes eminent domain really applies to their business.

The fossil fuel industry uses eminent domain routinely in ways it was never intended. In this case, Roanoke Gas, which is the local utility in the Terry family’s community, only owns a 0.5% interest in this pipeline. Through this nonsensical technicality, EQT Midstream Partners was able to attain eminent domain under a law written in 1938.

My father worked for Caltrans, the California Highway Department, as a right-of-way agent. He appraised the land needed for highway construction and negotiated a fair price with land owners. Nearly all landowners understood the need and quickly agreed to a price slightly above market value. It was my father’s job to treat them with respect and offer them a more than fair compensation.

At the age of 5, I still remember eating an open-faced tuna sandwich made by the landowner with whom my Dad was negotiating. I was baffled by the fact it was missing the second piece of bread, but the old lady was so nice I would not dare ask for a second piece of bread.  It was one of the best days of my life. That morning, I got the word I did not have to go to school and would instead be heading up the coast of California towards Monterrey. I can still smell the coastal Californian pines.

Now those very trees are being threatened by the misuse of eminent domain that is allowing climate change to continue, and it makes me sick to my stomach. Fossil fuels are being given an unfair advantage in the marketplace as they cut corners and behave as the mafia does. Eminent domain is only supposed to be exercised for the public’s good, and clearly these gargantuan pipelines are not good for the public. They are choking us and planet. They are polluting our water and soil.

The childhood experience I explained above was the exact opposite of how Terry Red and daughter Minor Red were treated. Landowners are being harshly intimidated and surveilled by private security forces who frequently wear masks. They enter and exit landowners property at will and without permission.  These pipelines are being pushed through without due diligence as government officials of both parties are legally bribed with campaign contributions. Our police are being deputized by the pipeline builders and their associates in the industry.

The worst part is that the natural gas running through this pipeline is being exported far away from the communities through which the pipeline passes. This private company and police continually slithered around numerous laws to greenlight this project as quickly as possible. 

This pipeline is crossing numerous waterways and traversing steep, rocky, and mountainous terrain which greatly increasing environmental risks. According to Minor Terry, and contrary to the pipeline commercials, this pipeline is not state of the art. It is being thrown into the ground haphazardly. Major risks are being taken for major profits. This is not about the public good; it is about corporate profits.

The most shocking revelation within the interview is this 42-inch pipeline is the largest ever constructed, and should it explode, the blast radius is 2.5 miles. It could wipe out the entire Red Family who have been there seven generations.

In case you think natural gas pipelines are rare, here are few examples of natural gas pipeline explosions, all of which would pale in comparison to this pipeline exploding. 

Winnepeg, Canada

Texas pipeline explosion

Lafayette, Indiania


West Virginia

Pennsylvania (aftermath Chared Houses)

Edison New Jersey

Spearmen Texas



San Bruno California

Another important note is this pipeline requires approval from the executive branch of the US government, and the Democratic Governor also has significant power over the process. Since 1999, only two pipelines have been denied by Federal Regulatory Commission (FERC). The interview with Red and Terry Minor goes into greater detail on these points and more. 

Here is a more detailed analysis of natural gas and pipeline explosions than I could ever do. Journalist George Joseph of CityLab wrote, “Over the last thirty years, just under 9,000 significant pipeline-related incidents have taken place nationwide, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. (Not counted in this total are thousands of less “significant” pipeline-related malfunctions.)”

The pipeline company paid third parties to hastily conduct pathetic archaeological digs. Even though numerous Native American artifacts were found, the pipeline process was not hindered.  Often Native American representatives are not allowed to be present on these digs. In effect, they are rapidly walking through motions with these archeological digs. Remember, it is pipeline companies paying the third parties, and not the government.

I will spare you any further summaries of the interview, because I really encourage you to watch this interview with Red and Terry Minor. It is full of information and great humor. These powerful ladies really know their stuff. You will remember their story long after you forget the important pipeline explosions statistics. It is these type of stories that will create a critical mass of people required to lead the transition away from using natural gas to renewable energy to power and heat our homes.

The Terry family provides multiple reasons why renewable energy is far superior to natural gas, irrespective of the climate change consequences. They noted there were plenty of great Virginian jobs to be had in wind and solar. These important arguments are extremely useful to environmental advocates who have to opportunity to converse with individuals who are not motivated about climate change.

I encourage you to use a diversity of attacks as you have opportunities to converse with others. Listen more than you speak. Remember that while science is based on statistics, facts, etc., stories are important too. People remember stories and are motivated to act by them. Science, in fact, has proven the importance of stories (anecdotes) in affecting individual behavior and societal change.

A few more notes on Jordan Chariton, formerly of TYT politics. While with TYT politics, he provided excellent coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Protests. He has covered Flint Michigan (among hundreds of other cities with poisoned water across the country) and the Trans Pecos pipeline in greater detail than anyone in the mainstream media. He has begun his own media company and you can support him on Patreon to help him continue to do real investigative reporting.

These pipelines are not just pissing off environmentalists. They are enraging Libertarians who strongly believe in property rights. The two are joining forces in ways never imagined.


Bayer and Monsanto: a marriage made in hell

US agriculture giant Monsanto has agreed to a US$66 billion takeover by German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer. If the deal is approved by international regulators, Bayer-Monsanto will become the world’s biggest agribusiness, controlling 29 percent of the global seed market and 24 percent of pesticides.

The companies have dismissed widespread concern about the deal among farmers and environmentalists as fear mongering. Separately, they claim, their products have contributed to a significant boost in crop yields over the past few decades. Together, they’ll be able to increase investment in research and development, driving the agricultural innovation necessary to meet the demands of a growing world population.

We can only imagine what kind of new health and environmental threats may lurk in the “step change” a company like Bayer-Monsanto will make in an effort to restore profits.

In assessing the claims and counterclaims, we would do well to heed the words of radical US historian Howard Zinn: “If you don’t know history, it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can you tell you anything, and you have no way of checking up on it”.

Monsanto’s horrible history

Monsanto is one of the world’s worst corporate criminals.

Founded in 1901 in St Louis, Missouri, as a producer of artificial sweetener for Coca-Cola, Monsanto had its first big break in the 1930s, when it established itself as the sole US manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls, otherwise known as PCBs.

Monsanto’s profits soared. Evidence quickly mounted, however, that the chemicals were highly toxic and carcinogenic. As early as 1955, an internal document acknowledged, “We know Aroclors [PCBs] are toxic but the actual limit has not been precisely defined”. Nevertheless, the company continued producing PCBs until they were finally banned by the US government in 1979.

During World War II, Monsanto partnered with the US government on the Manhattan Project to produce the world’s first nuclear weapon, turning over one of their labs to the manufacture of polonium – a highly radioactive substance composing part of the ignition mechanism for the bomb.

In the 1960s, Monsanto was one of the main producers of Agent Orange – the chemical used by the US military to defoliate vast swathes of jungle during the Vietnam War. It contained a highly toxic dioxin by-product, exposure to which is associated with reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage, interference with hormones and cancer. Millions of Vietnamese people, and many US and allied country veterans, including Australians, continue to suffer the consequences to this day.

When it wasn’t busy with chemical warfare overseas, Monsanto was waging it at home. From the 1940s, it joined a number of other companies in producing vast quantities of the powerful insecticide DDT, the environmental and health effects of which – powerfully documented in Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring – led to it being banned in 1972.

In more recent times, Monsanto’s negative press has come mainly from its status as producer of the widely used herbicide Roundup. Roundup was first sold by Monsanto in 1974. However, until the mid-1990s its use was limited due to the fact that it killed many crops as well as weeds. This all changed after 1996, when Monsanto introduced its genetically modified “Roundup Ready” soybeans, followed by corn in 1998. Now farmers’ fields could be sprayed with herbicide without damaging the crop.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is now history’s most widely used agricultural chemical. In 1987, around 5 million kilograms of it were used on US farms. Today, that figure is 136 million. A 2015 study in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe calculated that, globally, 8.5 billion kilograms of it have been sprayed onto fields. Monsanto’s revenue from Roundup and associated products was nearly US$5 billion in 2015.

This is bad news for human health and the environment. As with PCBs, DDT and Agent Orange before it, it seems glyphosate may be another Monsanto contribution to the “cancer industry”. In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and the company is currently defending itself against numerous lawsuits from farmers with cancer.

Given the widespread, and increasing, use of Roundup in Australia and around the world, this may be just the start.

Bayer: heroin and Nazis

Bayer may not boast quite the array of crimes of its US counterpart, but the sheer depravity of those it has committed is unmatched.

The company was founded in Barmen, Germany, in 1863. From its original line of business – making dyes from coal – it expanded into a chemical and pharmaceutical giant. In 1897, Bayer developed aspirin, which became the world’s first mass-market drug.

Two weeks later, it stumbled across a new “wonder drug” – a stronger version of opium which it named “heroin”. For the next 15 years, heroin was freely marketed and sold around the world as “a sedative for coughs”. Ironically, it was also often prescribed by doctors to patients struggling with morphine addiction.

During the severe economic crisis that followed World War I, Bayer merged with a number of other chemical and pharmaceutical companies to form the giant conglomerate IG Farben. In the early 1930s, IG Farben was among the biggest corporate donors to the Nazis – helping them consolidate power.

During World War II, the company was rewarded for its support with contracts for the supply of synthetic rubber, fuel and explosives to the Nazis and other Axis powers. One of its main centres of wartime production was Auschwitz. There and elsewhere, it made ample use of the slave labour of prisoners in the Nazi death camps.However, this wasn’t the darkest chapter in its alliance with Nazism. Not only was it profiting from the forced labour of Jewish and other prisoners in the camps. It was also profiting from their murder. IG Farben owned a 42 percent stake in another company, Degesch, which manufactured Zyklon B – one of the main chemicals used in the Nazi gas chambers.

After the war, the IG Farben conglomerate was broken up, and Bayer emerged again as an independent entity. Was it sorry for the direct role it played in the holocaust? Evidently not.

In 1956, Bayer appointed Fritz ter Meer as its new company chair, a role he continued in until his retirement in 1961. During the war, as a member of the IG Farben board, ter Meer played a leading role in the planning and construction of the forced labour camps at Auschwitz. On the stand at the Nuremburg IG Farben trial in 1948, he claimed that no specific harm was inflicted on workers in the camps as “without this they would have been killed anyway”.

In a particularly grotesque touch, following ter Meer’s death in 1967, Bayer established the Fritz ter Meer Foundation (later renamed as the Bayer Science & Education Foundation), to provide scholarships to German chemistry students.

Neither did Bayer hesitate at the prospect of getting involved again in the chemical warfare industry. In the early 1950s,it established the US-based Mobay Chemical Corporation, a joint venture with – you guessed it – Monsanto, that went on to supply one of the key, dioxin-contaminated, ingredients of Agent Orange.

Finally, in the 1980s, it was one of a number of companies selling plasma-based haemophilia treatments that infected thousands of people with HIV.

Should we trust Bayer-Monsanto with the future of global agricultural production? On balance, probably not.

Concentration of capital

The Bayer-Monsanto deal is just one among three proposed mergers among the “Big 6” global seed and pesticide giants, which also include BASF, DuPont, Dow Chemical and Syngenta. Dow Chemical and DuPont announced a US$130 billion merger in December, and earlier this year Syngenta agreed to a US$43 billion sale to China National Chemical Corporation.

In 1994, the four biggest global seed companies controlled 21 percent of the market. If all the proposed mergers currently on the table are approved, just three giant companies – Bayer-Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta and Dow DuPont – will control 59 percent of the global seed market and 64 percent of pesticides.

In Capital, Karl Marx wrote about this process of concentration and centralisation. In the short term, it can spur technological development and productivity gains. In the long term, however, it’s part of the capitalist system’s inherent tendency to crisis.

The agricultural industry shows the contradiction. The current rash of mergers isn’t a sign of health. Rather, like the heady rush to agglomeration in the banking and financial sector in the run-up to the 2008-09 global financial crisis, it’s a sign of an industry stumbling towards its destructive limits.

Past innovation has helped boost yields to the point where the world is now experiencing a glut of many products. Prices have declined, and farmers are struggling to stay afloat.

The total income of US farmers has dropped from US$123.8 billion in 2013 to just $71.5 billion in 2016. This, in turn, has put the squeeze on the profits of companies like Monsanto, as farmers simply can’t afford to pay the high prices demanded for their products.

At the same time, it’s clear that a new wave of innovation is necessary for yields to continue to grow in the decades ahead. The possibly devastating long term health and environmental impacts of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer aren’t its only problem. It also, increasingly, doesn’t work. Weeds are developing resistance, and new products will be necessary to address this.

There is a kernel of truth in the Bayer-Monsanto PR spin: to sustain its business model, it needs to innovate. Innovation, however, is expensive. According to Monsanto’s chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, “Fifteen years ago, we spent $300 million on R&D. Today we spend $1.5 billion … To realise a step-change, agricultural companies will need to invest more”.

We can only imagine what kind of new health and environmental threats may lurk in the “step change” a company like Bayer-Monsanto will make in an effort to restore profits. Given the history, we can, unfortunately, expect that it will come at a high cost to human society and the environment on which we depend.


Top ten climate polluters in Kentucky

James Bruggers, 7:14 p.m. EDT September 30, 2014



Power plants top Kentucky’s biggest sources of climate pollution, according to just-released data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

There’s no surprise there.

But a prominent chemical plant in Louisville’s Rubbertown area — Dupont Louisville Works — is in the top ten biggest climate polluters in Kentucky for its emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, which the EPA say are actually more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to heating up the atmosphere.

The EPA released its fourth year of Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program data, detailing greenhouse gas pollution trends and emissions broken down by industrial sector, geographic region and individual facilities. In 2013, reported emissions from large industrial facilities nationwide were 20 million metric tons higher than the prior year, or 0.6 percent, driven largely by an increase in coal use for power generation, the agency said.

That figure intrigued me because conventional wisdom is that we’ve been burning more natural gas (which has less impact on the climate) and less coal.

RELATED: Air pollution district, union agree on job cuts

There is a lot of data to look at, and this is just my first crack at it. I started by doing a quick search of top emitters in Kentucky and Indiana, then top emitters in Louisville Metro, or Jefferson County.

Kentucky Utility’s Ghent plant topped all of Kentucky’s largest industrial sources of a several greenhouse gases, with 12.8 million metric tons released in 2013, the most current year for which the data is available. That’s up 12 percent from the year before. LG&E’s Mill Creek plant in Louisville ranked third, with 7.9 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, a 20 percent decrease since 2010, according to the data.

But Dupont, the long-time Rubbertown chemical plant, ranked 7th, emitting 4,1 million tons, nearly all of that hydrofluorocarbons. That number was down from about 6 million pounds in 2011.

So what are hydrofluorocarbons and what impact do they have on the climate?

From the EPA:

Unlike many other greenhouse gases, fluorinated gases have no natural sources and only come from human-related activities. They are emitted through a variety of industrial processes such as aluminum and semiconductor manufacturing. Many fluorinated gases have very high global warming potentials (GWPs) relative to other greenhouse gases, so small atmospheric concentrations can have large effects on global temperatures.

HCFCs can have a global warming potential of between 140 to 11,700 times that of carbon dioxide, EPA says. The larger the global warming potential, the more warming the gas causes, according to EPA. The agency explains it this way: “For example, methane’s 100-year GWP is 21, which means that methane will cause 21 times as much warming as an equivalent mass of carbon dioxide over a 100-year time period.”

Statewide rankings for Kentucky:

1) Ghent power plant, 12.8 million metric tons.

2) Paradise power plant, 12.1.

3) Mill Creek power plant, 7.9.

4) H.L. Spurlock power plant, 7.8.

5) Trimble County power plant, 7.3.

6) Shawnee power plant, 7.2.

7) Dupont Louisville Works chemical plant, 4.1.

8) R.D. Green power plant, 3.6.

9) East Bend power plant, 3.5.

10) Coleman power plant, 3.3.

Two southern Indiana power plants ranked among the top ten greenhouse gas emitters in Indiana:

1) Gibson power plant, 16 million metric tons.

10) Clifty power plant, 5.8 million metric tons.



UN experts say world’s mangrove forests at risk

Updated 9:52 am, Monday, September 29, 2014

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — U.N. experts are warning that the world’s mangrove forests are being destroyed at a more rapid rate than other forest ecosystems because of land conversion, development and pollution.

A U.N. Environment Program report presented Monday said mangroves are disappearing three to five times faster than other forests. It said by 2050, southeast Asia could potentially lose 35 percent of the mangroves it had in 2000.

Described in the report as one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems, mangrove forests mitigate global warming by trapping vast quantities of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

UNEP officials and scientists are holding a three-day conference in Athens, seeking solutions to major marine environmental problems such as the accumulation of plastic debris in the seas, collapsing fish stocks and ocean acidification.


Global carbon dioxide emissions reached a new record of 36 billion tonnes in 2013

Published on Sep 29, 2014 – 6:06:26 AM


Sept. 22, 2014 – Global emissions of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels reached a new record of 36 billion tonnes last year.

At the same time, the pace of emissions from burning fossil fuels continues to grow at a high rate.
Executive-Director of the Global Carbon Project (GCP) and co-author of the 2014 report CSIRO’s Dr Pep Canadell said the carbon dioxide level was “unprecedented in human history”.
Dr Canadell said fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase 2.5 per cent this year, bringing the total carbon dioxide emissions from all sources above 40 billion tonnes.
“Fossil fuel emissions in the past 10 years on average grew at 2.5 per cent per year, lower than the growth rate in the 2000s (which was 3.3 per cent per year) but higher than the growth rate in the 1990s (1 per cent),” Dr Canadell said.
“The declining growth rate in recent years is associated with lower GDP growth compared to the 2000s, particularly in China.”
The report shows that Australian emissions continued to decline in 2013, adding to a downward trend that began in 2009, largely due to the decline in electricity generation from coal power plants.
The largest emitters in 2013 were China, USA, the European Union, and India, together accounting for 58 per cent of global emissions.
Fossil fuel emissions are tracking the high end of emissions scenarios used by climate scientists to project climate change using global circulation models.
The GCP provides an annual report of carbon dioxide emissions, land and ocean sinks and accumulation in the atmosphere, incorporating data from multiple research institutes from around the world.
The full data and methods are published today in the journal Earth System Science Data Discussions, with associated papers in the journals Nature Geoscience and Nature Climate Change.
Data and other graphic materials can be found at Global Carbon Budget.


Coca-Cola is partnering with governments, NGOs, and other companies to improve access to water, occupying a gray area where genuine charity meets corporate profit.

Coca-Cola’s river cleanup work in Tanzania shows mixed motives

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — For years the Mlalakua River overflowed with garbage during each heavy rain. Homes would flood with water contaminated by sewage and trash. Even in the dry season, the narrow river had a nasty grayish hue, the product of runoff from the factories situated alongside it, residents and local water experts say.

Some here call the Mlalakua River by a different name: the Coca-Cola River. The nickname comes from the red-brown hue of the water. But it may also reflect the fact that among those factories that line the river’s banks is a Coca-Cola bottling plant, one of three in Tanzania. As the world’s largest beverage retailer and one of its most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola goes to great lengths to protect its image. And a few years ago, someone at the company seems to have realized that being associated with a garbage-filled river was putting the company’s local reputation very much at risk.

So in 2012, Coca-Cola entered into a public-private partnership, or PPP, aimed at cleaning the river. The company — partnering with nearly a dozen government entities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other private companies — would dredge the sludge and garbage from the river, then engage the locals in a plan to keep it clean.

The effort was part of a rising trend toward public-private partnerships, a phenomenon strongly supported with $600 million in new funding by the Obama administration in recent years. Such partnerships, which have evolved over three decades, have dramatically transformed the landscape of environmental and global health projects around the world. PPPs now account for the majority of worldwide funding for a vast array of development projects.

By the accounts of Tanzanian officials, Coca-Cola’s efforts at corporate social responsibility have been genuine, and the Mlalakua River cleanup has succeeded in many practical ways. But there are also currents of criticism about the project — both from local residents and from a number of NGOs that focus on sustainable development.

“They’ll be wasting a lot of money if people continue to get sick because they are not mobilizing people to find a better way to throw out their garbage.”

~Esteria Kajuna

Critics wonder whether the cleanup was intended to achieve genuine and lasting change or to advance the short-term public relations goals of a multinational corporation.

Indeed, most water experts and residents interviewed by GlobalPost say the Mlalakua River cleanup was inherently flawed. They say that while the river is undeniably cleaner, the project did not address the root causes of the pollution: the absence of a sewer system and trash collection for the communities along the river’s banks.

A more sustainable approach, they say, would have been to engage local government and municipalities to create sewers and waste treatment plants. But that would have been far more expensive and taken more time, and there would have been no guarantee that that approach would have reaped the same public relations benefits for Coca-Cola.

So is the story of the Mlalakua River cleanup more than simply a story about a large corporation being socially responsible? A two-month investigation examines what happens when motives of good will and profit mix.

A team effort

Over the past several years, the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation has contributed $125,000, and its local Tanzanian bottler another $30,000, to clean up the Mlalakua River. Along with contributions from other companies and NGOs, the $740,000 partnership hired a Tanzanian contractor to dredge the garbage and muck using heavy machinery. Teams of community members used shovels to clear the residue that remained, leaving the river free of debris and unlikely to flood.

There is no doubt that the Mlalakua River is cleaner today than it has been in years. But there are few who believe the effort will last: Some of the factories continue to pump their dirty runoff water into the stream, ignoring laws requiring runoff permits and pollution controls.

“Not only the factories,” says Francis Mugisha, a municipal drainage engineer who supervises the project. “Even the people who live in this area are discharging their waste into the water.”

Tania Hamilton, founder of the community NGO Nipe Fagio (Give Me the Broom), which initiated the cleanup, says the government does not have the capacity to regulate.

“I’ve seen medical waste on the beach — vials of blood and syringes,” she says. “There’s no enforcement.”

If previous river cleanups in the area are any indication, the river is likely to be filled with garbage and waste within several years. What’s needed is a sewage system. There isn’t one. What’s also needed is regular trash collection. But many residents opt to throw their trash onto the river’s banks rather than pay for garbage collection.

“It’s one of many interventions that won’t be sustainable,” says Herbert Kashililah, a veteran consultant in Tanzania’s water sector. “You have to find the underlying facts of why the river is polluted.”

But Mugisha says the project is meant to be sustainable. And USAID spokesman Matthew Herrick says Coca-Cola is helping train 200 community members and 100 government officials to manage water, sanitation and hygiene in Tanzania’s Wami-Ruvu river basin.

Residents are doubtful. Esteria Kajuna, a college student who lives along the riverbank, says her roommate has been sick for two weeks with malaria, which they believe was probably caused by mosquitoes that breed in the river’s stagnant water.

“I think it will be dirty again soon, because around here there is no other place for people to throw their garbage,” she says. “They’ll be wasting a lot of money if people continue to get sick because they are not mobilizing people to find a better way to throw out their garbage.”

Just downstream, a mother of three points to a pile of fresh garbage strewn along the riverbank behind her home.

“You see here, already there is sewage being dumped right there,” says Khadija Ali, 33. “It won’t stay clean. The money for that project should be used to come collect the sewage and dump it somewhere else.”

While some critics question the effectiveness of the Mlalakua River cleanup, still others wonder why that particular river was selected for the project. After all, they say, the Mlalakua is only one of dozens of polluted rivers and streams in and around Dar es Salaam.

“The river has limited strategic value,” says one water consultant who participated in an audit of the Mlalakua River project but requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about its findings. “There are many polluted rivers with a much higher priority for attention. Limited public resources are being focused on this little saltwater creek.”

A ‘reputational risk’

Why did Coca-Cola choose the Mlalakua River rather than a larger river in the area, and why did it opt for a quick high-profile cleanup rather than engage in a broader systematic solution, such as working with the local government to build a sewage system or launch a trash-collection program?

An e-mail from GIZ, the German contractor overseeing the cleanup, contains one possible answer: Because one of Coca-Cola’s three Tanzania bottling facilities is located on the Mlalakua, pollution of the river “creates a reputational risk for local businesses, including Coca-Cola Kwanza, who are wrongly perceived to be polluting the ‘Coca-Cola River,’ as it is locally known.”

Sophie Mueller, who oversees the project for GIZ, says that, in fact, Coca-Cola Kwanza is one of only two companies along the river that have actually implemented water treatment systems and have discharge permits. And a top Coca-Cola Kwanza official says the Tanzanian government has publicly lauded the bottling company.

“The minister of environment actually visited our plant, and he even … mentioned on national television that there’s one plant that meets all the requirements, and that was the Coca-Cola plant,” says Basil Gadzios, Coca-Cola Kwanza’s managing director.

The bottling plant doesn’t even draw its water from the river, so it has no direct stake in how clean it is. What is at stake is Coca-Cola’s reputation.

“There is a lot of pollution with the river and a lot of contamination, and Coca-Cola is very often still being held responsible for that,” says Mueller — even though it isn’t. “They don’t want people to say, ‘Well, probably it’s Coca-Cola that’s polluting the river.’”

Asked if public relations is one of the principal motivations behind Coca-Cola philanthropy, Gadzios says: “It’s one of many. It’s not the driving thing. It’s not about advertising our brand; we’ve got budgets for that.”

In a statement, Coca-Cola said its community water projects, including the Mlalakua River cleanup, “are selected based on the needs of the community and are a collective decision that involves all stakeholders involved in the project.”

Adds Mueller: “The benefit for the community is at least as big as the one for Coca-Cola to promote that they did something. If they just wanted PR and quick wins without long-term results, they could have done that easier … putting up a big sign announcing that Coke collected garbage from around the plant. By engaging in this partnership … they are trying to ensure that it does have a sustainable outcome.”

Mueller says the Mlalakua River cleanup was a test project for Coca-Cola and the other partners that may lead to more robust cleanups in the future.

Whatever its intentions, whatever it represents, the Mlalakuka River cleanup is one small component of the big new trend in foreign aid that is public-private partnerships.

“There are trends on the continent that are changing, meaning that governments no longer want an aid recipient relationship — they want more partnerships, they want more investments,” said Raja Jandhyala, USAID deputy administrator for Africa, during a July 2012 panel.

Over nearly a decade Coca-Cola has invested at least $266 million in partnerships with aid agencies and companies to improve access to water in communities worldwide. One of the first is the Water and Development Alliance (WADA), which began in 2005 as an alliance with USAID to provide clean drinking water to nearly 200,000 people by 2015.

In 2009, Coca-Cola launched its Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN), with the goal of providing access to clean water to 2 million people by 2015 through projects in each African nation. Help is especially needed in Tanzania, where less than half the population has adequate access to clean water. The Mlalakua River cleanup is one such project.

“Our core expertise is not in cleaning up rivers or making it sustainable,” says Gadzios, Coca-Cola Kwanza’s managing director. “That’s where the [Coca-Cola Africa] Foundation comes in. They actually do the analysis, they see about the sustainability, they engage with local authorities and local municipalities. You as a corporate, you can’t do it yourself.”

In its many public-private partnerships, Coca-Cola collaborates with USAID and works through the framework of what the agency calls Global Development Alliances. The idea is to identify where goals of USAID overlap with goals of the private sector, then develop a program of mutual benefit. In general, Coca-Cola will help fund a given initiative coordinated by USAID and contracted out to private implementing partners.

According to USAID administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah, “USAID’s partnership with Coca-Cola showcases the potential of the US government to partner with the private sector to make a long-term impact on pressing global challenges.”

More from GlobalPost: In Tanzania, Coke improves medical distributions

Coca-Cola’s mystery work

The Mlalakua River cleanup is one of at least 468 community partnerships in which Coca-Cola has participated in more than 100 countries around the globe. It is one of six current Coca-Cola partnerships in Tanzania involving USAID, which include providing drinking water in rural schools and protecting water sources from pollutants.

But Coca-Cola and its partners refused to reveal the exact locations of any of these projects during a reporting trip to Tanzania in June. And during 13 days of reporting through the country, no evidence was found of their existence. Rather, one of Coca-Cola’s principal implementing partners, the Global Environment and Technology Foundation (GETF), later invited the reporter to attend what appeared to be a staged event scheduled for the week after he was to leave the country.

Some residents of villages in north-central Tanzania, where Coca-Cola’s water-in-schools initiative is supposedly under way, said they would enthusiastically invite the corporation to come try its hand at improving water access there. But none were aware of any initiatives thus far.

“Yes, they should come,” said Nasol Nasoli Omari, chairman of the village of Masagali. “We are waiting.”

No one doubts that Coca-Cola and its partners are implementing these programs, somewhere. But the corporation’s unwillingness to reveal the locations without first organizing a carefully structured visit raises questions about the complications that can arise when many stakeholders become involved — each wanting recognition for, and ownership over, a project.

Are these partnerships truly a collaborative effort between public and private sector entities? Or is the work merely contracted off to a company, much in the way it has always been done? And how is the public able to judge these partnerships if they are kept out of the public eye, their whereabouts hidden from journalists?

Those in Tanzania’s Ministry of Water say Coca-Cola does have a lot to show for its investment in water here.

“Coca-Cola is one of the companies that has shown a very good interest in conservation of the environment [and] working with water user associations,” says Joseph Kakunda, the director of the ministry’s water program coordination unit.

But water experts familiar with Coca-Cola’s work in Tanzania say it takes a lot more than money to fix the country’s complicated, and extensive, water problems.

“They do spend a lot of money,” says Nick Hepworth of Water Witness International, an organization that works to improve the way that rivers, lakes, and aquifers are managed in developing countries. “We’re interested in whether it actually advances water here or not.”

Managing countries’ water

Coca-Cola is not new to Tanzania. The company opened its first bottling plant here in 1952, and it remains the country’s foremost beverage retailer. Globally, Coca-Cola uses 300 independent bottling companies at 850 plants in 200 countries. In 2006 it became the largest corporate consumer of water in the world, according to statistics compiled by JP Morgan. The company has a direct stake in ensuring that the principal ingredient in its products — water — remains available and accessible for decades to come, not only in Tanzania, but around the world.

To that end, since 2012 Coke has invested at least $2 million in the 2030 Water Resources Group, a collaboration by the International Finance Corporation (the private arm of the World Bank) and corporations with a stake in water. The group offers to advise countries on how to better manage their water. As early as 2007, Coca-Cola contributed $500,000 toward a similar partnership with USAID to improve management of water resources in Tanzania.

But watchdogs fear Coca-Cola’s involvement in the 2030 Water Resources Group is merely another way of looking out for its own interests.

“It’s hard to know what influence their interference and advising to the government is having,” says Shayda Naficy, director of the International Water Campaign at the Boston-based watchdog group Corporate Accountability International. “Our concern is that one of the world’s leading development institutions — the World Bank Group — is playing a role in opening doors and in fact driving water privatization,” she said. “Their stated goal is to transform the water sector.”

Already, many in Tanzania’s water sector are questioning whether such an initiative is even necessary. In 2004 Tanzania established a National Water Board that essentially serves this same purpose.

“They are duplicating what’s already been done on the ground,” says Kashililah, the water consultant. “In that case, there’s going to be more confusion than progress. I don’t think the forum is likely to achieve its mission, because it’s way outside the current context in Tanzania.”

Bashir Mrindoko, Tanzania’s permanent secretary for water, defends the involvement of Coca-Cola and the 2030 WRG — at least, insofar as it takes a limited, clearly defined role. “They have to participate — not to advise, not to put them in my board — but to contribute resources.”

Some fear the 2030 WRG intends to sway governments to make decisions about water emphasizing financial and economic metrics rather than operating under the principle that water access should be universal and even free. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to clean and accessible water,” and that “no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstance.”

But private water companies argue that water is a commodity and a service that, just like any other, comes with an explicit price tag to furnish, clean, and pump to where it’s needed. These companies tend to advocate for privatization of water on the basis that competition by private companies is the best way to ensure revenue can be collected to keep the water flowing.

An inauspicious start

Tanzania is well versed in the concept of water privatization. In 1997 the World Bank gave Tanzania’s government an incentive to quickly divest from parastatal companies, offering to increase its financing to the water sector by 50 percent if the country would quickly privatize. In 2000 the bank convinced Tanzania to privatize the public water company in Dar es Salaam.

The move was a disaster for Tanzania’s most water-needy citizens: A report by Action Aid found that 95 percent of the funds were slated to be spent servicing the wealthiest 20 percent of the population. A private company needs to generate revenue, after all, so it follows that the first people to be serviced would be the ones most able to pay.

The result: “Households that refuse to pay simply face higher water bills and are threatened with disconnection,” the report says. “Even households who do pay are sometimes disconnected, because City Water disconnects whole areas in an attempt to get those with illegal connections to pay up.”

Two years after it began, the program abruptly ended.

“Tanzania was one of the big failures that caused the World Bank to pull back on privatization,” Naficy says. “Now, through direct funding of the private sector and advisory initiatives like the 2030 WRG, it’s the IFC, the private arm, that’s taking that up.”

Among the Group’s stated goals is “catalyzing specific public-private transformations in the water sector.”

Whatever their intentions, private companies like Coca-Cola are realizing they have an enormous stake in water here and in making sure water is sustained for their own use. Coca-Cola and the 2030 WRG are merely the newest voices in a debate over who, ultimately, should wield the most influence over decisions about water in Tanzania: the government or the collective of individuals and private businesses that use it.

“With the WRG 2030 establishing a mutistakeholder advisory body on water resources, you’re talking about a private sector-led entity taking over the role of a publicly mandated entity to do a similar job,” says Hepworth, of Water Witness International. Although when done correctly such partnerships can spur progress, he says, it remains to be seen whether the IFC’s 2030 WRG will advocate for its partner companies, including Coca-Cola, at the expense of the greatest common good for the Tanzanian population.

The 2030 WRG raises fundamental questions about the viability of public-private partnerships and the potential problems that could occur as they continue to replace traditional single-stakeholder initiatives. By their nature, public-private partnerships are forums for mutual gain. But not every cause worth supporting is a cause in which major private companies like Coca-Cola hold a stake.

“It comes back to the values of the organization,” says Gadzios, of Coca-Cola Kwanza. “You might have some organizations that only do things that benefit themselves.” But Coca-Cola, Gadzios says, isn’t one of those.

“If you have the values of a company where they say, ‘It’s not purely about focusing on the brand and what we get, it’s about contributing back to the countries and the communities that we operate in,’ I think that’s ultimately going to motivate our priorities.”

More from GlobalPost: Across Africa, Coke is empowering women — to sell Coke products

Will Monsanto Steal Vermont’s Victory?

Subject: Will Monsanto Steal Vermont’s Victory?

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spacer.jpg Monsanto’s "Dream Bill" Would Stop GMO Labeling in Vermont, and Everywhere!
Tell your Members of Congress to stop the bill that kills GMO labeling!

The Monsanto "Dream Bill" would stop genetically engineered food labeling from ever happening

Right to Know Kids

Email Congress: Stop the Monsanto Dream Bill to Kill GMO Labels!

Dear Sheree,

First the good news: Vermont passed legislation last week requiring genetically engineered foods to be labeled, and the Governor is poised to sign it into law!

This is a huge victory, and could make Vermont the first state to require labels, and would put Connecticut and Maine that much closer to meeting their requirements for labeling. Meanwhile, ballot initiatives to label GMOs are heating up for the fall in Oregon and Colorado, and the movement to label genetically engineered foods at the state level has never been stronger!

Now the bad news: U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced a bill in Congress that would kill labels for genetically engineered foods — even at the state and local level! Tell your Members of Congress to reject Monsanto’s "Dream Bill"!

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), with about 300 member companies like Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Smithfield, represents the largest food, beverage and biotech companies — and now, on behalf of all these companies, they’ve gotten Rep. Pompeo to introduce a bill that will prohibit states from creating their own laws around labeling genetically engineered foods, while also making it illegal to create "mandatory" labeling at the federal level. You may have heard this bill referenced as the DARK act, or the Denying Americans the Right to Know Act.

The GMA spent $54.7 million (on behalf of its Big Ag members) to defeat ballot initiatives on labeling genetically engineered foods in California and Washington. Instead of taking this fight state by state, the GMA would like to pass its bill through Congress that will stop all genetically engineered food labels nationally.

We want mandatory labels on genetically engineered foods in every state, so not only are we going to work to kill this bill, but we’re going to ask the Food and Drug Administration to make GMO labels mandatory on their new nutrition labels. We know that more than 90% of people want labeling on foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients, and recently more than 20 states have considered their own labeling laws, it’s time that the FDA stand up and make GMO labels mandatory on the nutrition label!

The time for labeling genetically engineered foods is now. Let’s stop this bill, and get the FDA to do the right thing. We’ve made it easy, so all you have to do is take one action, and we’ll deliver your message to your members of Congress and the FDA. Take action now to let your representatives and the FDA know that you want labels on all genetically engineered foods..

Thanks for taking action,

Sarah Alexander
Deputy Organizing Director
Food & Water Watch


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