LANGELLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Using the power of photojournalism to expose social, economic and ecological injustice

Posts from the ‘Climate’ category

This video includes many of my photographs – Orin Langelle

This video was shot over the week of 25 November, during the trial of Mapuche Lonko Alberto Curamil over manufactured charges that he was involved in a robbery.

Lonko Alberto Curamíl during court hearings in Temuco, Chile               photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

In fact, his arrest and subsequent year and a half in jail awaiting trial are understood to have been retribution for his role in leading a campaign that stopped two hydroelectric projects on the Rio Cautín, a sacred river to the Mapuche, the headwaters of which start in the snowfields of the Lonquimay volcano.

Rio Cautin. The Lonko’s role in lead a campaign that stopped two hydroelectric projects on the Rio Cautín, a sacred river to the Mapuche, the headwaters of which start in the snowfields of the Lonquimay volcano. photo:Langelle/GJEP

In the video, his attorney Rodrigo Román speaks about the case and the greater issue of state repression against Mapuche people, whose land has long been the target of expropriation for industrial timber plantations.  As another Mapuche Lonko explained, “first they stole our land, now they want to steal our rivers.”

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Also please visit Mapuche Lonko Alberto Curamíl Acquitted of All Charges

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Photojournalist Orin Langelle takes a break by graffiti celebrating Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. Langelle has been photographing the frontlines of the peoples rebellion in Chile. The musician Jara, a Chilean hero, was murdered by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet. photo: Petermann/GJEP

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2019 Goldman Environmental Prize winner to walk out a free man

Lonko Alberto Curamíl during court hearings in Temuco, Chile               photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Temuco, Chile – On 13 December the Court of Temuco acquitted Lonko Alberto Curamíl and Werken Álvaro Millalén of all charges, allowing the Goldman Environmental Prize winner to walk out a free man.
His daughter Belén Curamil said, “I am very happy because we knew they were innocent, both the lonko Alberto Curamil and the werken Álvaro Millalén. If they were in prison for so long, it is because they raised their voices and fought for our territory, for the freedom of our Mapu, the freedom of our rivers and the freedom of the people and the Mapuche people.”  Belén Curamil accepted the Goldman Prize on behalf of her father, because he was imprisoned awaiting trial.
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22 November to 6 December 2019 

This young Mapuche is from the community of Quilape Lopez re-occupying ancestral lands that were stolen. Elders say the young are the future of the Mapuche as is the land. photo: Langelle/GJEP

I Can Still Spit

Field Notes – I landed in Santiago, Chile on 22 November from Buffalo, NY via Toronto with Anne Petermann. Anne is the Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and we are married life partners. We crashed for a couple of hours in Hotel Forestal. That afternoon we met up with Gary Hughes from Biofuelwatch and we hit the ground running to start covering, exploring and understanding the peoples’ rebellion in Chile.

We are the team for CHILE CLIMATE NEWS. My photos start here in Santiago and the diaries cover that day of arrival and the street protest we joined, and are followed by our subsequent journey to Temuco, Curacautin, and the Mapuche land occupations at Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez, and eventually back to Santiago. In Temuco we met the other partner of the team, Alejandra Parra from RADA, the Environmental Rights Action Network.  We met Alejandra back in 2004 when we first came to Chile to work with the Mapuche group KONAPEWMAN on the problem of genetically engineered trees and industrial tree plantations.

On this journey we covered marches against a toxic new waste-to-energy incinerator planned for Mapuche territory (being promoted as “green renewable energy,” a powerful women’s march in Temuco, land occupations in remote Mapuche territory where we spent good times with the kind and generous communities of Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez and the hard times when members of the Liempi Colipi occupation called to tell us the Carabineros de Chile (national police) had raided their community, using tear gas and shooting people with rubber coated metal pellets. We dropped everything and went to the community.

More copy after the video produced by Global Justice Ecology Project’s Steve Taylor.

I Can Still Spit continued…

Okay WTF does ‘I can still spit’ mean? Gary Hughes from our team told me early on in the trip that if you are afraid, as long as you can still spit, it’s ok. If you can’t spit, you better get out of whatever situation you’re in very quickly and maybe you shouldn’t even be where you are. I have questioned a few times if I should have been in particular situations. When the Carabineros came charging at us from the middle of nowhere, where people have been shot and then in other situations when I was choking from teargas, I did briefly question why I was there. But I could still spit. I had to be there because that is what I do. It is what I have done for 50 years now.

The reason I could still spit was because of the people. With the Mapuche, who welcomed us, not only into their community that also fed us, but onto the front lines when no one knew what the outcome would be if the Carabineros attacked the occupation. I could still spit because I knew and deeply felt I was part of something bigger than myself.  I could spit because, although the adrenaline was pumping, although I fell and injured my leg climbing over a blockade, I was with strong, kind and generous people.

And then I knew I could continue spitting (at the elites and their police) back in Santiago the evening of 6 December when the Plaza de la Dignidad lit up with red flares, fires and lasers. The exuberance of the scene. The hope.

I’m putting these photos and diary together after International Human Rights Day on 10 December where I covered the activities in Santiago, and where the authorities did anything but honor human rights, including critically injuring a 15 year old girl with a teargas canister to her head. Visuals: How Chile Dealt with International Human Rights Day.

We originally planned to come to Chile when we heard the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP25 would be here. For Anne and I, after covering so many COPs, from our first COP in Buenos Aires in 2004, then to Montreal, Nairobi to Bali, Poznan, Copenhagen, Mexico, and our final COP in Durban in 2011, coming back to Chile was to stand up against the final nail being driven into life itself with the capitalist’s scheme for the total commodification of Earth and all its inhabitants. A scheme greenwashed with the name “natural climate solutions” – solutions for corporations to use nature to maintain business as usual while pretending to address climate change through biodiversity and carbon offsets. The same old same old, but with new shiny packaging. Plus, we knew Chileans protesters knew how to throw a party. This was before the uprising began. Little did we dream we would walk into a revolution-in-process.

I was accredited as media from the UN climate COP25 originally scheduled for Santiago, Chile. Due to the popular rebellion in Chile and the government’s desperate desire to hide its human rights crimes–like rape, torture and 350+ eyes lost to carabinero shotguns, COP25 was moved to Madrid, Spain. I also received UN accreditation there. I chose to come to Chile and photograph the people in resistance instead of going to Madrid.

Madrid is the uplifting of the neoliberal model to use false solutions to climate change – Chile is the fight against that neoliberal model.

I will still spit because I must.

Photojournalist Orin Langelle takes a break by graffiti celebrating Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. Langelle has been in Chile photographing the frontlines of the peoples rebellion, and has documented movements for struggle around the world since 1972. The musician Jara, a Chilean hero, was murdered by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet, under whose regime neoliberalism was ushered in. photo: Petermann/GJEP

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Man injured by the police close to Plaza de la Dignidad in Santiago, Chile during International Humans Rights Day. photo: Langelle/GJEP

Cruz Roja Chilena (Red Cross) about to be sprayed with water cannon. photo: Langelle/GJEP

Santiago, Chile – On the international day of human rights, protesters in Chile held a march commemorating the 350+ eyes lost to the violence of the Carabineros de Chile (national police) during the days of the Chile uprising. When the march arrived at the Plaza de la Dignidad, they were joined by many more protesters from across the city.

The Red Cross came and set up an aid station on the edge of the plaza. Not long after, the Carabineros arrived with their water cannons and gave the Red Cross extra special attention.

Please see Biofuelwatch’s Gary Hughes’ short video after the photos: Chilean National Police Attack Red Cross. Hughes, Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project and myself are the field team of CHILE CLIMATE NEWS.

All photos by Orin Langelle/GJEP

“Truth – Justice –  Reparations for the children raped by the state” translated banner at the National Museum, Belles Artes

Depicting blood and eyeballs in the hands of the government

The eyes go to Plaza de la Dignidad and the statue of Manuel Baquedano

Hundreds of women march together into Plaza de la Dignidad

Young protesters running down the avenue as the freshly painted art canvas of water cannon passes on the street

Water cannons chase crowd

Tear gas canister fired from the truck in air before it lands in the streets. A canister like this struck a 15 year young woman in the demonstration and sent her to the hospital for surgery. She now is in critical condition.

Tear gas in the streets

Carabineros with shields between the police vehicles

After returning to our apartment in another part of the city in Santiago, this fire blockade, seen on the corner of San Diego and Sta. Isabel, was accompanied by protesters banging in rhythm on the metal barricade – rebellion and outrage spreading through the city.  Passers by honked in time to show their support.

On International Human Rights Day Chilean National Police Attack Red Cross video by Gary Hughes.

 

Photojournalist Orin Langelle takes a break by graffiti celebrating Victor Jara in Santiago, Chile. Langelle has been photographing the frontlines of the peoples’ rebellion in Chile. The musician Jara, a Chilean hero, was murdered by the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet. photo: Petermann/GJEP

 

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View from the Mapuche occupation camp Quilape Lopez. “Our land is far as you can see…” photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

You can view this five minute video here:
And in Madrid 10 DEC: The video is playing at COP25 in Madrid at the Global Forest Coalition exhibit booth 3, COP25 Hall 4
10 DEC: The video is planned to show at the GFC event in Cumbre Social por el Clima “Driving Deforestation – drifting away from real climate solutions to address the climate crisis”. 16:00 to 17:30  –  SP/EN  –  Classroom 1107, Em Rosane Santiago
Description:
From 22-30 November, Global Justice Ecology Project and Biofuelwatch filmed this series of short statements opposing neoliberal market-based climate schemes and so-called “green energies” that enable business as usual at the expense of the peoples, rivers, forests and ecosystems of Chile.
Intro from the video:
Chile was to be the host of the COP25 Climate Summit. But in the face of a massive popular uprising against the free market neoliberal economic model, and hundreds of cases of human rights abuses, Chile canceled the COP. The COP moved to Spain, yet Chile retained Presidency of the COP.
Chile, meanwhile, remains a striking example of the impacts of “natural climate solutions” – the carbon market, carbon offsets and large-scale “green” energy. In Chile, these schemes have led to vast tree plantations, destroyed forests, led to forced displacements, loss of fresh water, toxic incinerators and huge devastating copper and lithium mines.

Through the following statements, Chile offers a warning to the world about the dangers of “natural climate solutions” being promoted at the COP.

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On the morning of Thursday 28 December the Mapuche communities of Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez mobilized to defend their land occupation after Carabineros de Chile (national police) fired metal-filled rubber pellets and injured several people at the blockade.

After the photo essay, a short video follows.

All photos by Orin Langelle and video by Anne Petermann.

With the momentum of the national uprising across Chile, two weeks ago, two Mapuche communities near Curacautin, Liempi Colipi and Quilape Lopez began an occupation of 1500 hectares of ancestral lands.

Carabineros illegally stop and prevent traffic from continuing on the road that passes the Mapuche land occupation outside of Curacautin.

The public road is also the main route to Conguillio National Park in Chile.

After an emergency call from the Mapuche occupation about the Carabineros attacking, we were stopped by them at a road block on our way back to help. Alejandra Parra from Red de Acción por los Derechos Ambientales (RADA) and Anne Petermann from Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) were allowed to proceed on foot several kilometers to the blockade while Biofuelwatch’s Gary Hughes and GJEP’s Orin Langelle were guided by Mapuche toward the blockade by way of a back road.

Mapuche men guarding another back entrance into the blockade

Mapuche put cut trees and debris on the road

These logs block the road coming from Curacautin

At one of the entrances to the occupation

Mapuches on guard

Mapuches going into the main entrance where the shootings occurred earlier that day

One of the men shot earlier that morning returns to camp and is videoed by Anne Petermann and Alejandra Parra

The man was shot in the head with metal-filled rubber pellets by the Carabineros earlier in the morning.

Mapuche Lonko Juan Huenuhueque of Liempi Colipi raises his fist as the imminent threat fades of the Carabineros coming to evict the Mapuche communities from their ancestral lands.

TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS VIDEO

We want to make a public statement to the Chilean territory, to Mapuche people, to the whole country, to inform about this situation where riot policemen have done things here in the Liempi Colipi community, in the district of Curacautín, La Araucanía region. They have entered the community today-the riot policemen-without any previous dialogue, any eviction order. When we reached them to have a conversation, they started shooting tear gas canisters. They started shooting at us, and one of them passed by no more than fifteen meters away from me. So, we make a public statement for you to be aware of this. There are more injured peñis, on their arms, on their stomach, in their tummy. So, we encourage you to pay attention to this, to be prepared because the riot police officers are coming after us again. Marichiweu! (We shall win a hundred times in Mapudungun!)”

 

 

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The Mapuche community of Lautaro is threatened by a waste-to-energy incinerator that claims to produce “clean, renewable energy” in a town that already has a biomass burning plant. This march was held on the last day of a public comment period to deliver thousands of comments against the project. All photographs: Orin Langelle/GJEP

Alejandra Parra of RADA, the Environmental Rights Action Network speaks about the project at the march.

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Gary Graham Hughes, our friend and colleague from Biofuelwatch, writes below:

Indigenous Peoples march with an anti-REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestion and Forest Degradation) banner in Durban, South Africa to protest the UN Climate Conference. Indigenous Peoples are especially at risk in carbon off-set schemes like REDD. Photo: Langelle for GJEP (2011)

Watch out! Pollution traders are coming for the worlds forests, a land grab disguised as climate “action.” The California Air Resources Board is working with the fossil fuel and aviation industries to greenwash their climate damage with scientifically dubious, socially unjust and ungovernable tropical forest offsets. Be in Sacramento for the ARB hearing on Sept 19, another legacy moment for resisting the capture of the environmental movement by industry friendly market-based schemes. #OffsetsPollute #NoTFS #MarketsWillNotSaveUs #ProtectPeopleProtectForests

Listen to Gary Hughes from Biofuelwatch on Sojourner Truth with Margaret Precod as he reports on the California Tropical Forest Standards and Carbon Offsets.

We really want folks to be aware of the dangers of these market-based schemes because they are protecting polluters more than they are protecting people and the planet….We are saying no more offsets, that we need real emissions reductions at the source. – Gary Hughes.

Hughes will be in Santiago, Chile later this year for events surrounding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Sojourner Truth with Margaret Prescod is broadcast on Pacifica KPFK Los Angeles. Since the 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Global Justice Ecology Project has been doing a weekly fifteen minute Earth Watch on Sojourner Truth with Margaret Prescod. For many years GJEP has also been doing a weekly Earth Minute for Sojourner Truth.

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Rachel Smolker and Anne Petermann    13 June 2019    Editors’ Pick

Photolangelle.org

The American chestnut is being used as a PR tool for winning over public opinion on the use of biotechnology as a ‘tool of conservation’.

The American chestnut tree was attacked by the fungal pathogen (Cryphonectria parasitica) about a century ago, driving it to functional extinction.

Now, scientists at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) claim to have created, through biotechnology, a resistant American chestnut variety.

They aim to petition the required regulatory agencies (USDA, FDA, EPA) for deregulation of their genetically engineered chestnut in the near future, with the stated goal of “restoring” the species to nature.  

Forest ecosystems

If it is deregulated, the GE chestnut would be the first GE forest tree species to be planted out in forests with the deliberate intention of spreading freely. Monitoring or reversing their spread, once released, would likely be impossible.

Performing valid risk assessments of the potential impacts of GE American chestnut on forests, wildlife, water, soils, pollinators or people, is hampered by our lack of knowledge about both the ecology of the American chestnut and forest ecosystems.  

Furthermore, since American chestnuts can live for more than 200 years, risk factors may change over the tree’s lifetime in unpredictable ways. 

Critically, the choices we make about the GE American chestnut will set a precedent for the future use of biotechnology on other forest tree species and even more broadly, on the use of biotechnology, including new technologies such as gene editing, gene drives etc as “tools for conservation”. 

It is therefore critical that we carefully evaluate the case of the GE American chestnut. Towards that end, we recently published “Biotechnology for Forest Health? The Test Case of the Genetically Engineered American Chestnut”.

Biotechnology in conservation

Our paper was inspired by previous experience with a 2018 National Academy of Sciences study group on “The Potential of Biotechnology to Address Forest Health”. 

The case for using genetically engineered American chestnut for species restoration featured within the NAS study group.  Similarly, GE chestnut has also been featured in other contexts where the potential for using biotechnology in conservation has been evaluated.  

For example, it is presented as a “case study” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature 2019 report “Genetic Frontiers for Conservation: An assessment of synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation”.

We felt compelled to clearly articulate and share our reasons for opposing the GE American chestnut.

Perfect tree

The American chestnut is a much beloved and iconic“perfect tree”. It was once a dominant species along the eastern USA and into Canada.  Prolific nuts reliably provided nutritious and delicious food, and fodder for livestock.

The wood is rot resistant, easy to work with and pleasing to the eye was prized by the timber industry.  

Cryphonectria, “the blight”, was a catastrophe – for the forests and wildlife, and for the human economies, especially those of rural Appalachia, where the seasonal nut harvest was key source of income, and sustenance. 

Restoring the American chestnut is a long-held dream for some people, even as our collective memory of chestnut-filled forests grows dim with the passage of time.  

The American Chestnut Foundation has worked to implement a breeding program that would hybridize American chestnut with the naturally blight resistant Asian chestnut, and then backcross to produce a blight resistance tree that nonetheless preserved the growth characteristics of the American chestnut. 

Hundreds of thousands of hours of painstaking work across many years has gone into this breeding program – a long process that has slowly progressed, albeit with some setbacks along the way. 

Engineering resistance 

The SUNY ESF scientists claim that genetic engineering will provide a faster solution.

After experimenting with various genes and combinations of genes, they have settled on using a gene sequence derived from wheat that causes the tree to produce an enzyme, oxalate oxidase, (aka OxO) (Nelson et al., 2014).  This enzyme inhibits the spread of the fungus once established, making it less lethal to the tree.  

OxO is not uncommon in nature, and has been experimented with in a variety of common crops. In their promotional materials, the scientists are careful to highlight that OxO is common, and that the gene comes from ordinary wheat – conjuring images of saving the chestnut with nothing more dangerous than a tasty slice of buttered toast. 

But will the OxO trait really enable restoration of the species?  This is highly unlikely.  

First of all, engineering resistance to fungal pathogens in general has proven extremely challenging.  Biotechnologists have long struggled to do so with familiar common crops with which, unlike forest tree species, we have plenty of prior experience. 

New defenses

In spite of many, many efforts, only a single fungal pathogen resistant crop is commercially available (the Simplot potato, resistant to late blight).  The problem is that fungi are very good at finding new ways to evade plant defenses.

There is a virtual arms race going on between plants, evolving new defenses, and fungal pathogens, evolving new ways around those defenses. Hence making durable effective resistance is extremely difficult.  

As well, when plants invest in defending against a pathogen, their growth is often stunted or otherwise compromised and they can become more susceptible to other pathogens or stresses they encounter (Collinge et al., 2010).

SUNY ESF’s OxO engineered chestnut trees appear to be resistant to the blight – but only young trees in controlled lab and field trial conditions have been tested. The oldest trees tested to date are only about 15 years old – other more recently developed lines are even younger. 

Yet chestnuts can live for over two hundred years during which time they may experience many diverse conditions – weather extremes, insects and pathogens etc. that could affect the expression of the OxO trait, or other characteristics of the trees.

Unlikely restoration 

We cannot reasonably assume long term durable blight resistance in natural forests based on extrapolation from results on very young trees under controlled and laboratory conditions.  

Even the SUNY scientist most involved with developing the OxO engineered chestnuts, William Powell, openly acknowledges that long term stable resistance to Cryphonectria, based on the OxO trait alone, is unlikely to succeed.  

Powell stated: “Eventually we hope to fortify American chestnuts with many different genes that confer resistance in distinct ways. Then, even if the fungus evolves new weapons against one of the engineered defenses, the trees will not be helpless.”

Another pathogen, Phytophthora cinnamomi, (aka root rot or ink disease) had been killing off American chestnuts in the southern part of their range even before Cryphonectria arrived.  

That pathogen is meanwhile spreading northwards under a warming climate. Scientists agree that restoration of the chestnut would require stacking of multiple traits including for resistance to Phytophthora. The OxO trait alone will not restore American chestnuts.   

Public relations 

So why claim otherwise?  Why rush the GE chestnut into regulatory review when even its own creators recognize it cannot fulfill the goal of species restoration?  

Because the OxO engineered chestnut – using “nothing but a wheat gene” to “restore a beloved iconic species” – is being used as a public relations tool for winning over public opinion toward GE trees more generally, and for the use of biotechnology as a “tool of conservation”.

This is a strategy that biotechnology industry proponents expect will soften public opposition and open up the potential for commercializing a wide array of GE trees.

The GE American chestnut is in fact very explicitly referred to in terms of its value for public relations, and as a “test case”.  

For example, Maud Hinchee, former chief technology officer at tree biotechnology company, ArborGen, and formerly from Monsanto, stated: “We like to support projects that we think might not have commercial value but have huge value to society, like rescuing the chestnut.  It allows the public to see the use of the technology and understand the benefits and risks in something they care about. Chestnuts are a noble cause.”

Test case

Scott Wallinger of paper company MeadWestvaco (now Westrock) stated back in 2005: “This pathway [promoting the GE chestnut as forest restoration] can begin to provide the public with a much more personal sense of the value of forest biotechnology and receptivity to other aspects of genetic engineering.”

The Forest Health Initiative which funds the SUNY ESF GE chestnut project states their aim is to“Advance the country’s understanding and the role of biotechnology to address some of today’s most pressing forest health challenges. The initiative will initially focus on a “test species” and an icon of eastern US forests–the American chestnut.”

And even the American Chestnut Foundation stated“If SUNY ESF is successful in obtaining regulatory approval for its transgenic blight resistant American chestnut trees, then that would pave the way for broader use of transgenic trees in the landscape.”

What “broader use of transgenic trees” can we foresee?  A review of the literature on forest biotechnology reveals that most tree biotechnology research is focused not on addressing “forest health” for the public good, but on ways to engineer trees for commercial and industrial processes and profitability.  

Forest health

A review of forest biotechnology published in 2018 states: “Genetic engineering of trees to improve productivity, wood quality and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses has been the primary goal of the forest biotechnology community for decades.

“Examples include novel methods for lignin modification, solutions for long-standing problems related to pathogen resistance, modifications to flowering onset and fertility and drought and freeze tolerance.” (Chang et al., 2018)

Most efforts to address “forest health” are focused on species of commercial interest, which are often grown in industrial monoculture plantations, and therefore more vulnerable to a variety of pests, pathogens and health threats.

For example, there has been considerable research focussed on engineering resistance to insect pests in commercially important species such as pine, poplar and eucalyptus (Balestrazzi et al., 2006).

Meanwhile, with increasing awareness of the dangers inherent to using fossil fuels, burning wood is heavily subsidized (alongside solar panels and wind turbines) as renewable energy, and falsely accounted as “carbon neutral”.

Biofuels

Efforts to convert wood into liquid transportation fuels have so far largely failed to attain commercial scale in spite of massive investments.

Turning trees into biofuels, bioplastics etc. largely depends not only on genetically engineering specific characteristics into the trees, but also on engineering microbes that produce enzymes needed to break down, access and ferment the sugars in wood.  

A 2017 review, titled Biotechnology for bioenergy dedicated trees: meeting future energy needs points to eucalyptus, pine, poplar and willow as the species of most commercial interest, with biotechnology research focused on enhanced growth and yield, altered wood properties, side adaptability and stress tolerance, and the alteration of lignin, cellulose and hemicellulose for effective biorefinery conversion to cellulosic biofuels (Al-Ahmad, 2018).

In sum, there is much riding on winning over public opinion on GE trees.     

This is why such entities as Duke Energy, ArborGen and Monsanto, as well as various multinational timber corporations, are among those funding or promoting the GE chestnut.

Idealism and integrity

The Forest Health Initiative, which receives funding from some of the above, and in turn has provided large grants to the SUNY ESF research, stated: “Biotech trees will find their place in this world, providing fiber, fuel, and even sustainable comfort food (e.g. biotech chestnuts roasting on an open fire).

“This is an industry to watch as it evolves toward responsible use and takes its place in the pipeline of sustainable biotech products.” 

Enthusiasm for GE American chestnuts has so far been underwhelming. Recently, board members of the Massachusetts/Rhode Island chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, Lois Breault-Melican and her husband, Denis M. Melican resigned in protest against the organizations’ embrace of SUNY ESF’s GE American chestnut. 

The couple had worked for over 16 years on backcross breeding of resistant American chestnuts.  

Breault-Melican stated: “We are unwilling to lift a finger, donate a nickel or spend one minute of our time assisting the development of genetically engineered trees or using the American chestnut to promote biotechnology in forests as any kind of benefit to the environment.

“The GE American chestnut is draining the idealism and integrity from TACF.”

Global protests 

Indeed, public opinion has long been solidly opposed to GE trees in general, and remains a significant barrier to their release.

A number of protests have taken place around the world where GE trees have been tested.  Women from social movements in Brazil including the MST (landless worker’s movement), cause the destruction of GE tree seedlings belonging to Futuragene in Brazil in 2016. 

The Campaign to Stop GE Trees was founded in 2014 and has both national and international presence.

When ArborGen sought to field test their GE eucalyptus in the US, several organizations filed a legal suit challenging the planned field trials in 2010.

And when the USDA issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement recommending approving deregulation of ArborGen’s GE eucalyptus in 2017, over 284,000 people signed onto or submitted their own comments opposing deregulation of the GE eucalyptus. To date, no final EIS has been issued by USDA and the petition for deregulation appears to be languishing.

Slippery slope

Forest certification bodies including Forest Stewardship Council, the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative have banned the use of GE trees and their products. The 2008 decision IX/5 (1) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties from 2008 recommended a precautionary approach to GE trees.

GE tree proponents claim that regulatory processes can ensure safety, and complain that they are overly burdensome.  But experience with common GE crops demonstrates that standard regulatory reviews, as exemplified by the escape and invasion of GE creeping bentgrass, do not preclude serious harms.

In the case of the GE American chestnut, uncontained spread is in fact intentional.  

Hence there will be no way to prevent contamination of remaining pure American chestnuts, or hybrid chestnut orchards. Nor will it be possible to prevent the spread of GE chestnuts across territorial boundaries.    

The GE American chestnut is meant to launch us down the slippery slope of tree biotechnology.  

Underlying drivers

In the wings, and waiting to follow in that newly forged path are a host of other GE forest tree species, engineered for commercial industrial purposes.

Meanwhile, natural forests are rapidly declining, even as climate science dictates that protecting and restoring forests is a crucial part of regaining carbon balance.  

Yet logging, even of the precious remaining old growth forests, continues largely unabated, often subsidized with public funding. Replacing real forests with tree plantations, and then referring to them as “planted forests”, conceals the fact that tree plantations are more akin to corn fields than forests.  

They often displace natural forests and rural communities, are monocultures lacking biodiversity, doused with herbicides and agrichemicals, rapidly drain fresh water sources, and are designated for fast growth and short rotation mechanical harvesting. 

Debates about forest health, and the potential for biotechnology to provide solutions are irrelevant when underlying drivers of forest demise are not addressed. 

If we are seriously concerned about protecting forest health, then reigning in those underlying drivers of forest destruction is the real solution – not genetically engineering trees or replacing diverse natural forests with industrial plantations.      

These Authors 

Rachel Smolker is codirector of Biofuelwatch where she works to raise awareness of the impacts of large scale bioenergy, the bioeconomy and biotechnology.  Her work has spanned from local grassroots organizing to participation in the United Nations conventions on climate and biodiversity. She is on the steering committee of the Campaign to Stop GE Trees, and is a board member of the Global Forest Coalition.

Anne Petermann is the co-Founder and Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project and the co-founder and Coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees. She has presented concerns about GE trees at UN climate, biodiversity and forest conferences, and to community and grassroots groups on six continents.

This article from today’s the ECOLOGIST – The Journal for the Post-Industrial Age – appeared yesterday in Earth Island Journal with the headline, GE American Chestnut – Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology? and cross-posted in Independent Science News.

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Langelle Photography is a component of Global Justice Ecology Project’s Global Justice Media Program

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Cecelia Rodriguez, then-US Representative for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation of Mexico speaks against neoliberalism and the Global Elite at a World Bank protest in Washington, DC in 1995. PhotoLangelle.org

“Human beings are not responsible for global warming,” said Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur, but elite capitalists and industry powerbrokers are.

Mexico’s Environment Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur speaking on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. “Human beings are not responsible for global warming, as a superficial environmentalism and uncritical science would like to tell us,” said Toledo. “The responsible are a parasitic and predatory minority, and that minority has a name: neoliberalism.”

In a scathing rebuke to the elite capitalists and politicians who largely control the global economic and energy systems, Mexico’s newly-appointed environment secretary on Wednesday pointed a stern finger at the “parasitic and predatory neoliberals” for being the key culprits behind the planetary climate crisis.

“We can defend life, or we can continue destroying it in the name of the market, technology, progress, development, [and] economic growth.”
—Mexico Environment Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur

As the Mexico News Daily reports, the public comments by Secretary Víctor Manuel Toledo Manzur were his first since his appointment by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador earlier this week and seen as a direct challenge to previous Mexican governments which sacrificed the nation’s environment to the interests of industry.

“Human beings are not responsible for global warming, as a superficial environmentalism and uncritical science would like to tell us,” said Toledo. “The responsible are a parasitic and predatory minority, and that minority has a name: neoliberalism.”

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