LANGELLE PHOTOGRAPHY

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

Posts from the ‘Issues’ category

Rodolphe Barrangou reveals the nightmare of his CRISPR world. photo: Langelle/GJEP

The CRISPR Craze?  Or CRISPR Crazed?

24 June 2019 by Anne Petermann posted online. For more updates on the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) tree biotech conference in Raleigh, NC please watch The Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees through 28 June 2019.

“Should we really be manipulating the heredity of future generations given our lack of knowledge about so many things.”

“Humans are very good at inventing things, but they are very, very bad at looking at what the implications are.”  (from the trailer for the movie Human Nature)

The IUFRO take on CRISPR:

The opening plenary presentation for IUFRO was by Rodolphe Barrangou, faculty of NCSU, which revealed a very interesting motivation for selecting NCSU for the IUFRO event: launching a new CRISPR startup focused on bringing CRISPR to forestry.

Barrangou’s assaulting high velocity hi-tech presentation on the wonders of the “6 year-old” CRISPR technology was at once mesmerizing and horrifying.  He referred to the time in human history as “BC” – Before CRISPR” vs “AD – after the death of the other recombinant technologies.”  He compared CRISPR to a 6-year old child. Which was a bit of an odd choice since he also insisted that, “the science, we know…the science is not in question.”  Not too many 6 year old children are so fully formed.

I found the speed of his delivery combined with his huge wide screen presentation and his fantastical ravings of the miracles of CRISPR to be an all-out assault on the senses.

At one point, he showed a slide containing a diverse array of species, from domesticated animals, to chimpanzees, to crop plants, announcing proudly that “we can edit the genome or epigenome of any species on Earth!” Pointing to a pig he said “We can make CRISPR bacon!”

He also delighted in explaining how they can even change the color in the very complicated wing pattern of a butterfly, which he demonstrated on the screen with horrifying before and after makeovers of two species of butterfly.

He did add a few words on the work still needed to be done.  CRISPR is not, he said, always reliable.  Getting back to the child metaphor, he explained it occasionally “has tantrums,” and “still does not work 100% of the time in 100% of the cells in 100% of patients.” Undeterred, he proudly explained that thousands of labs across the world are “mining biodiversity” to improve it.

Which revealed the real reason his entire presentation sounded like a high-pressure sales pitch.  It was.

Halfway through his presentation he announced, with great aplomb, the launch of his new CRISPR startup, which he was launching right then and there at IUFRO in partnership with four other faculty from NCSU and one from Duke University.  Its purpose—bring gene editing technology into the forestry sector. CRISPR would not, he admitted, solve the demand side problem.  Commercialization, he said, is the limiting factor, because “the science, we know… the bottleneck [is] acceptance by regulators and society.”

It is a public perception problem.  But they are on it!  He showed a trailer for the movie Human Nature scheduled to premiere this September at the same time as the upcoming IUFRO World Congress (a coincidence??) – a film designed explicitly to convince a wary public that CRISPR is the best thing since sliced bread (or, was that the OxO gene).

Another public relations strategy, he explained, was a CRISPR process that uses “DNA free RNPs, and that’s the path to a non-transgenic, transgene-free, non-GMO approval, and that’s what I think is going to change the game,” and be the perfect antidote to regulation and the anti-GMO movement.

He neglected to explain how a process designed to engineer genomes would not be genetic engineering.  In fact, he feared this would be the downfall of the CRISPR movement–if people perceived it as genetic engineering.  Which it is, so he should be concerned.

He wrapped up his talk explaining how the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning could be used to “predict what genomes, sequences and pathways should be targeted—and once you understand this you can knock them out, turn them on, turn them off, whatever you want to do and hopefully eventually get to the relevant trait that is of interest to the industry.”

Again: genetic engineering.

His fanatical worship of the CRISPR God was tempered slightly at the end of his talk when he admitted that CRISPR scientists are nowhere near understanding tree genomics as well as we understand human genomics due to the fact that tree genomes are so much bigger and more complex.

Not all Fertilizer and Roses

His stunningly depressing presentation, interestingly, was followed by James Holland, a USDA/NCSU corn researcher who provided comic relief with his explanations of everything that can and will go wrong in the pursuit of genetic knowledge. His honesty was like a breath of fresh air after the hard pitch CRISPR advertisement that proceeded him.

End day one…

For more updates on the IUFRO tree biotech conference in Raleigh, NC please watch The Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees through 28 June 2019.

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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.

________________________

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

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One month and thirty years ago, activist John Wallace and I walked together through a clearcut in southern Illinois’ Shawnee National Forest. I suppose it was destined to happen a few more times and the last time just happened on May 2, 2019. It was not a pretty sight. – Orin Langelle

Mud caked tires and the tracks that covered them on a forwarder used to haul out lumber at the industrial Lee Mine logging project in the Shawnee National Forest (SNF). (2019)   PhotoLangelle.org

Shawnee Mud and Ruts

by Shawnee Forest Defense!

Hardin County, Illinois – On an incredibly rainy May 2, heavily loaded log trucks passing by alerted activist John Wallace and photojournalist, Orin Langelle, to investigate a nearby Shawnee National Forest logging site, known as the Lee Mine Project in Hardin County. The clearcut logging site included a recently pushed-in road, a log landing, and punched-in roads or trails sprawling in different directions. A bulldozer, a feller-buncher and a mud-caked forwarder (for hauling out logs) were setting idle on site, after the end of the work day. Muddy ruts and stumps dominated the scarred landscape.

Shawnee Forest Defense! activist John Wallace (center) barely visible in the mud and ruts. (2019)                       PhotoLangelle.org

Tree cutting, bulldozing and road building were well underway on April 20, when a resident neighbor, Patti Walker first noticed the atrocity, in direct contradiction of the agency’s own standards detailed in a 2007 Environmental Assessment. As if the simple disregard for forest inhabitants weren’t enough, the project was in full swing on May 2, a day that locally received more than 2″ of rainfall.  Logging in mud destroys forest soils.

The clearcut logging site included a recently pushed-in road, a log landing (above), and recent new roads or trails sprawling in different directions. (2019)                                                       PhotoLangelle.org

The Lee Mine Project is an industrial logging scheme that USDA Forest Service (FS) staff has dishonestly characterized as “Hardwood Restoration.” The smaller, hardwood trees of the forest understory are being destroyed along with the larger, harvested pine trees. In the midst of the forest songbird nesting season, agency officials have turned a blind eye to their own previously stated mitigating measures of protecting nesting birds from damaging project activities in the locale.

Mud, ruts dominate the scarred landscape in the SNF. (2019)          PhotoLangelle.org

On a site located just across the road from the current Lee Mine Project area the FS took the following stated measures to protect nesting birds. “[T]o minimize effects on migratory birds and other reproducing animals, no prescribed fire, site-preparation or tree-cutting would be conducted during the most active part of the nesting season (April 15-July 15).” (Responses to Comments, Revised EA, Harris Branch Restoration of Hardwoods in a Pine Stand, #8, pg. 6)

Trees and earth pushed to the side for the logging road. (2019)                       PhotoLangelle.org

Big Creek, a candidate stream for wild and scenic riverway designation, brown from rain runoff and erosion from the Lee Mine Project is also designated as a Zoological Area in the SNF. (2019)   PhotoLangelle.org

Adding insult to injury, the hilly and recently muddied landscape drains directly into Big Creek, a candidate stream for Wild and Scenic Riverway designation. Because of its biological diversity, the stream is also designated as a Zoological Area on the Shawnee National Forest.

“Big Creek is a beautiful, clear, rocky, spring-fed stream that flows through limestone formations of Shawnee Hills…”, “the clear cool water provides a stream environment suitable for fauna that is intolerant of sluggish, silty, warm waters,” are typical descriptors of the stream as detailed in Biologically Significant Illinois Streams, An Evaluation of the Streams of Illinois, (INHS, L.Page, K.Cummings, C.Mayer, S.Post, 1991). It is known to contain two state endangered crayfish, Ordonectes kentuckiensis and Orconectes placidus. Big Creek is also believed to contain a state threatened fish, least brook lamprey, Lampetra aepyptera. (citation above). The Illinois Water Quality Report (Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, 1990) rated the stream as “Full Support,” and the Biological Stream Characterization (Hite and Bertrand, 1989), rated this stretch of Big Creek as an “A” Stream, a Unique Aquatic Resource. It was also rated as one of the “Outstanding” streams in the system (INHS, L.Page, K.Cummings, C.Mayer, S.Post, 1991).

Above the mud and ruts is an idle feller buncher, a type of harvester used in logging. It is a motorized vehicle run by a single person with an attachment that can cut and gather several trees before stacking them on the ground. A feller buncher can cut 200 trees per hour, eliminating logging jobs. (2019)           PhotoLangelle.org

Following a day of industrial logging operations near its banks, and in the midst of heavy and consistent rains, the typically clear flowing stream was compromised by turbid water, clouded with sediment from the nearby denuded hillsides, trails and bulldozed roadways of the logging site. Other nearby streams that had no drainage from the logging operations were flowing with amazing clarity.

The FS has once again allowed the timber industry to run roughshod over one of its project sites to the detriment of the Shawnee National Forest, the land, the water, the forest inhabitants and the citizens of this country, at the Lee Mine Project logging site. There is frankly nothing about this project that can be considered consistent with the Forest Service stated motto which is, “Caring for the land and serving the people.”

PhotoLangelle.org

 

Please join Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Justice Ecology Project and Shawnee Forest Defense! in October for The Resurgence: 2019 Forest & Climate Movement Convergence where we will join together diverse movements to build strategies with action to fundamentally transform the system that is destroying life on Earth.  The event will take place in the Shawnee National Forest.

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Spring 2019

April 17 – Mayday

University of Mount Union – Alliance, Ohio

Buffalo, NY, 26 January 2019 – Protester chanting, “Whose streets, our streets,” in front of vehicle. Extinction Rebellion Buffalo blocked intersection in one of Buffalo’s shopping districts because of the extreme weather around the planet. photo: Orin Langelle

Langelle will be a Featured Artist and Lecturer

Earth Month Exhibit:  Extreme Weather – Portraits of Struggle

April 17th to May 1st, 2019

Hoover-Price Campus Center

420 W Simpson St, Alliance, OH

Free and Open to the Campus Community and the Public

 

Artist Reception and Presentation

April 25th, 2019 – 4 p.m. to 6 pm. 

Hoover-Price Campus Center Alumni Room

420 W Simpson St, Alliance, OH

Free and Open to the Campus Community and the Public

 

Press Release:

For Immediate Release                                                                       April 9, 2019

Available for interviews: Orin Langelle  <[email protected]>

Photojournalist Known for Documenting Environmental

Justice Struggles Presents Images of Climate Change

University of Mount Union Showing

Buffalo, NY— Award-winning documentary photographer Orin Langelle shows his exhibit, Extreme Weather – Portraits of Struggle, this month at the University of Mount Union. The exhibit opens on April 17 and runs to May 1 in the Hoover-Price Campus Center, 420 W Simpson St, Alliance, OH.

Langelle’s body of work spanning over five decades specializes in social and environmental justice struggles. He was recently interviewed on WBDX in Southern Illinois about this exhibit at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.  The interview can be found here.

There will be an Artist Reception and Presentation on April 25, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Hoover-Price Campus Center’s Alumni Room. Langelle will speak on the many social and political reasons why the Earth is facing climate catastrophe.

Langelle stated, “My photographs are united by the intertwined threads of social, economic or ecological injustice and peoples’ resilience or resistance to them. Showing how these issues are intrinsically linked is crucial to understanding the whole–to seeing the big picture–instead of compartmentalizing each separately. I believe we must understand that everything is interconnected. The root causes of these problems are often one and the same.”

Langelle is the Director of Langelle Photography which is a component of the Global Justice Media Program of Global Justice Ecology Project with offices in New York State and Florida.

Jeff Conant, Director, Friends of the Earth’s international forests program said, “Orin Langelle is one of the great documentarians of the last several decades…You look at his photos and you cannot forget that power concedes nothing without a struggle…and that this struggle takes place somewhere, somehow, everyday and everywhere”

Both events are free and open to the campus community and the public.

 

 

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Don’t miss tonight’s event of poetry and spoken word at ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art – from #notwhitecollective – you’ll feel sorry if you miss it!

#notwhitecollective member Sara Tang in impromptu performance last during the collective’s opening of “In Between the Middle” yesterday evening. The exhibit runs through June 7, 2019 at Buffalo’s ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art. photo: Orin Langelle

Saturday, April 6, 2019, 7-9 p.m.

¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art (148 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo NY 14201).

Pittsburgh-based #notwhite collective and Buffalo poets celebrate National Poetry Month

The Pittsburgh-based #notwhite collective, a group of 12 women artists of bi/multi-racial/cultural, immigrant- or descendant-of-immigrants backgrounds, will present an evening of poetry and spoken word with Buffalo poets on Saturday, April 6, from 7-9 p.m.

The event kicks off the first weekend of National Poetry Month and is presented in conjuction with the Buffalo premiere of the collective’s art exhibit, In Between the Middle the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art.

Performers include Buffalo artists Danielle AJ, Bianca L. McGraw and N’gana, who will be joined by #notwhite collective members: Madame Dolores, HollyHood, Fran Flaherty, Carolina Loyola-Garcia, Liana Maneese, Maritza Mosquera and Sara Tang. The event is open to the public, and ASL interpretation will be provided. Visit www.notwhitecollective.com or ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art for more information.

 

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All photos taken by Orin Langelle in Nicaragua unless noted.

Posoltega, Nicaragua: This tree was uprooted and stuck upside down in the mud after the crater lake of the Las Casitas volcano collapsed during Hurricane Mitch causing a major mudslide that buried entire villages near Posoltega, Nicaragua. The tree marks the mass grave of thousands of people, and the land affected by the mudslide resembles a desert.

The following article was published twenty years ago in ACERCA NOTES when I was the coordinator of ACERCA (Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America). ACERCA’s findings cited climate change as one of the factors that exacerbated the tragedy caused by Hurricane Mitch. Climate change was not on the minds of many people twenty years ago. Little did I know then that climate change would be on so many people’s minds today and actually be recognized as a major threat to life on Earth if systemic changes do not happen economically and politically in the next twelve years.  – Orin Langelle

The Special Report was excerpted from the “Preliminary Report to the Nicaragua Network Environmental Task Force.”

SPECIAL REPORT: HURRICANE MITCH IN NICARAGUA

Environmental Degradation, Deforestation, [Climate Change] Exacerbated Tragedy

by Orin Langelle

From October 25 to November 2, 1998 Nicaragua suffered a full scale disaster with Hurricane Mitch. Action for Community and Ecology in the Rainforests of Central America (ACERCA) called for and organized an environmental justice fact-finding research delegation to the region co-sponsored by Witness For Peace). In the first part of February [1999], the ACERCA-WFP delegation traveled in Nicaragua to get an eye-witness account. The delegation was the first from the United States to look into environmental factors of the hurricane. The following information is from many sources.

Posoltega, Nicaragua: During Hurricane Mitch, Johana Medín and her baby boy were swept away in the torrent of the Las Casitas volcano mudslide. For over 2 kilometers she held on to her baby and saved his life. Other survivors were not so lucky. Some were stuck in the mud for up to six days and had to have their limbs amputated. Others swallowed stomachs full of the mudslide and became sick. There were over 5,000 refugees.

Although Hurricane Mitch was a Category Five Hurricane with winds that ranged from 250-300 kms per hour with intense rain, the Nicaraguan government took no measures to prepare. In actuality, Hurricane Mitch did not hit Nicaragua, but Nicaragua suffered horrendous indirect effects.

Hurricane Mitch exposed in Nicaragua what has been present for many years. Decades of land abuse and environmental neglect magnified the hurricane’s devastating toll in death and damage. A combination of many social, political and economic factors caused the environmental degradation that exacerbated the tragedy. Deforestation played a major role. United States policy toward to Nicaragua contributed to these factors. Other factors include Global Climatic Change. Additionally, the government of Nicaragua ignored many warnings that could have prevented the tremendous loss of human life.

Hurricane Mitch destroyed roads, communications, houses and wells. Raging rivers washed away farmland and many zones were flooded for long periods of time. The damage to agriculture, ranching and human life was unprecedented with thousands dead and tens of thousands homeless.

The hurricane hit the poorest of the poor and will have long-term effects on food production for the entire populace. Seventy-two percent of all that was planted was lost. Small farmers were hit the hardest losing 90% of their beans and 80% of their corn.

Brief Historical Sketch Leading to Mitch

Development and exploitation of resources and people began with the Conquistadors ad has continued to this day.

These children [were] working for 9 Cordobas a day [US$.76 in 1999] picking peanuts in a field in the district of Chinandega, one of the districts hardest hit by Hurricane Mitch. The parents of these children [were] in Costa Rica, trying to earn enough money to send back to Nicaragua so they [did] not lose their lands to the bank. These small producers lost almost all of their crops to the hurricane.

The United States, through financial and military support and intervention, has influenced Nicaragua for many years, from the 1800s to the present. In the 1950s, large cotton export operations flourished in the Pacific, clearing land, ruining soil with monoculture crops and pesticides, and forcing people to move to more marginal lands. Deforestation was rampant. This and other export commodity crops such as coffee, sugar, tobacco and cattle pushed the agricultural frontier toward the eastern rainforests. Behind this was the US sponsored Somoza dictatorship.

A revolutionary government came into power in 1979, inheriting poverty, environmental devastation and debt. The US, unhappy about a government it could not control, took measures to eradicate the new Nicaraguan government which had begun taking drastic measures to alleviate the social and ecological crisis it inherited. After the Sandinistas assumed power in 1979, the US used a “clean up” operation, to eliminate the perceived “socialist threat” throughout Central America. The real purpose of the ‘clean up” was to set up governments in Central America that would be conducive to the neoliberal free market economy. These economic policies force the exploitation of natural resources and people.

The ACERCA delegation worked with the community of Chimaltepe begin a tree nursery. The nursery is a step for sustainability for that community.

Neoliberal policies are directed in part by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank through Structural Adjustment Policies which divert spending from the social sector (health, education, environment) toward debt payment. SAP’s benefit big business and certain government officials involved in those business ventures. At present [1999] Nicaraguan owes over US $46 billion. The US is a major influence in World Bank policy of how much money is loaned and is the only country with the power of an adhoc veto. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere, behind Haiti.

Environment Prior to Mitch

Much of Nicaragua prior to Mitch was in an accelerated state of environmental decline.

One hundred thousand hectares per year are deforested. Before Mitch it was estimated that a record 300,000 hectares would be lost in 1998 alone; no one will now know due to Mitch.

Eighty percent of water sources are contaminated. Contamination in the Atlantic region is from mining, the Central region from petrochemicals related to agricultural practices.

Seventy-five percent of rivers in the Pacific region have dried up in the last 30 years due to deforestation and land abuse. There is a tremendous scarcity of water.

Tons of topsoil per hectare are lost each year in the Pacific region. In the dry season winds blow off the topsoil and in the rainy season it washes away.

These loggers were hired by a foreign multinational that was involved in an illegal timber operation.

Deforestation in the Pacific region has led to less rainfall in those areas. Some will become desert zones.

In 1998 there were 15,000 fires in agricultural and forested areas. For three months, Nicaragua appeared to be in flames. The forest fires destroyed vegetation under trees and when Mitch saturated the ground with water, many trees were swept away.

Nicaragua was an ecological disaster waiting to happen. When tree cover was eliminated and crops such as cotton were planted, there was an intense overuse of agricultural chemicals. The soil lost its capacity to hold plant life. Winds caused dust storms and further depleted the soil. Additional, the lack of trees next to rivers could not hold the banks together.

The majority of the land was in the hands of a few people and the poor were forced to move to the agricultural frontier or to survive by degrading the land, soil and forests. This further destabilized the soil. poverty and environmental degradation are intrinsically linked.

When Mitch rained, as much as 40 inches in a three day period, where there was no tree cover and little plant life to slow the rain runoff, sharp surges of water rushed off of mountains and fields into rivers causing flooding and mudslides of unprecedented portions.

Global Climatic Change 

The author and photojournalist, Orin Langelle, covered with dust while documenting the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. He is in a Russian truck and was photographed by Cliff McCarthy from the Nicaragua Network.

Two of the most important environmental concerns are deforestation and Global Climatic Change.

Global Climatic Change is making is making predictability impossible. Each year severe weather events will come more often. More hurricanes are inevitable. Global Climatic Change will affect Nicaragua (and other countries in Central America) because they do not have the appropriate technologies needed to cope with it like other developed countries.

Responsibility lies with industrialized countries, especially the US. Excessive levels of carbon in the atmosphere and lack of green to absorb the carbon are causing the severe El Niño effects.

Wiwili – Deforestation and Flooding of the Rio Coco

Although only five centimeters of rain fell in the village of Wiwili on the Rio Coco, water in the Rio Coco rose 20 meters washing away 640 houses and affecting 1300 other houses. Deforestation upriver was to blame. The Nicaraguan government was warned about flooding on the upper reaches of Rio Coco but did not notify the people downriver of the upcoming flood.

Las Casitas Volcano

The circumstances surrounding the collapse of the Las Casitas volcano crater lake should indict the government of Nicaragua for gross negligence. At 11:40 am on Friday, October 30, the crater lake of the Las Casitas volcano collapsed causing a mudslide that swept down the side of the mountain careening over small villages in its path killing over 2500 men, women and children.

On Wednesday, October 28, INETER (Nicaraguan Institute for Territorial Studies) warned the government that conditions were becoming unstable throughout Nicaragua for potential mud and landslides. In the village of Posoltega on Thursday, October 29, Mayor Felicita Zeledón alerted the media of those conditions. President Alemán called her an alarmist. After the volcano collapsed on Friday, Zeledón told the media that she estimated 1000 people died. Alemán called her a liar. The government had enough time to begin evacuation of the surrounding communities but did not take action.

Some people were stuck in the mud for up to six days. Limbs had to be amputated due to complications for being submerged in the mud. Others were carried kilometers away. Some people are still sick [when the article was originally written] from swallowing and inhaling mud. Many survivors are traumatized. Many lost entire families.

The Assassination

Nicaraguan National Assemblyman Jose Cuadra (right) speaks to ACERCA environmental justice delegation on Hurricane Mitch after the delegation returned to Managua in February 1999. Witness For Peace’s Ellen Yerby (center) and Rita d’Escoto-Clark (left) of the Nicaraguan-US Friendship Office.

continued: In an interview with National Assembly congressman and member of the government’s Environmental Commission, José Cuadra, Cuadra blamed congressman Eduardo Callejas for the collapse of the volcano. Cuadra said that Callejas deforested the slopes of the volcano in the 1960s and 70s. Pedrofélix Obregón and Elvira Blass of Comunidad Ambientalistas told us in addition to the deforestation of Las Casitas, Callejas was building 11 telecommunication towers on top of Las Casitas and also was building a road to the top of the mountain, further damaging the integrity of its slopes. Centro Humboldt’s Magda Lanuza told us that Callejas was still cutting trees on the slopes for coffee production as late as last year [1998].

In January of this year [1999], Callejas was placed on the Environmental Commission.

José Cuadra Assassinated on 18 August 1999

“Keeper of Morals” Shot Under Suspicious Circumstances

José Cuadra was held in considerable esteem by most of his colleagues, and called the keeper of morals by one legislative reporter. He had a strong anti-corruption track record, protesting a pay rise, which his fellows voted for themselves in the beginning of 1999. He also fiercely contested the recent enormous rises in the cost of electricity.

His killers used high-powered AK assault weapons.

Some of Cuadra’s colleagues, most notably Conservative Party Chief, Noel Vidaurre, speculate openly that the motive for his death was political.

When the ACERCA delegation met Cuadra in Managua in February 1999, Cuadra, in addition to putting the blame on Eduardo Callejas for the volcano collapse, said that he had information that President Alemán planned to make one million dollars a month as Nicaragua’s President. Cuadra also told ACERCA that he was investigating Alemán’s ties to the multinational fishing industry.

 

Lawmaker, 2 Others Killed in Shooting August 19, 1999From the Los Times Times Wire Reports:

A leading Nicaraguan Conservative Party lawmaker, the son of the Conservative Party chief and their driver were shot to death, National Police said in Managua. Jose Alfonso Cuadra, 40, Julio Enrique Ruiz, 26, and driver Francisco Celino were traveling to a political function when they were attacked by three armed assailants in the northern province of Matagalpa, Capt. Isabel Largaespada said. The National Assembly suspended its legislative session to mourn the “irreparable loss of one of its outstanding members.” In 1997, Cuadra was second vice president of the Assembly. Ruiz was the son of Conservative Party chief Julio Luis Quezada.

 

Note on a photograph by Langelle

Posoltega: The tree marks a mass grave, and the land affected by the mudslide resembles a desert.

This photograph on the right is an image that is etched in my brain. It is the one that never goes away. This photo impacted me on a very real aspect of what it means to be a concerned photographer – documenting a reality of a tragedy – hoping that the image of that tragedy will be used to prevent another. I took the photo while standing on a mass grave.

And today that photograph can be viewed as a warning of the climate chaos that has begun – and may it help counter the societal amnesia from which we collectively suffer.

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I was honored last week to present some of my photography for a class, ‘Resilience: Through the Lens’ to community photographers in Buffalo, NY.

The largest Ayoreo concentration camp is Campo Lorro, Paraguay. photo: Langelle

‘Resilience: Through the Lens’ was organized by Rebecca Newberry, the Executive Director of The Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, and Lauren Tent, the Education Director for the CEPA Gallery | Contemporary Photography and Visual Arts Center. My presentation to the class was held on October 4, 2018 at the CEPA Gallery.

Woman and daughter walking—another way out of Amador Hernandez is to walk the fifteen kilometers. The community was slated for forced relocation but resisted. photo: Langelle

I’m a member of CEPA and a co-recipient of Gallery’s 2017 Member’s Exhibition Award (please see the bottom of this post for further information regarding that exhibition and my subsequent solo show at CEPA’s Flux Gallery).

Although part of my presentation concerned my national and international photography that I have used to expose social, economic and ecological injustice, my main focus was my work with people of different communities. I showed photographs of the first concentration camp of Ayoreo Indigenous Peoples in Paraguay (above left), resistance in Amador Hernandez, an Indigenous village in the jungle of Mexico’s state of Chiapas (second above left) and most recently a detailed look into my work with Union Hill, a historic Black community founded by Freedmen and slaves.

Two members of the Union Hill community in Buckingham County, Virginia read a list of who was buried in this basically unmarked slave and Freedmen cemetery. The cemetery was hidden for many years. The list also contained the amount slave traders sold people to slave owners. photo: Langelle

The community of Union Hill is fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and a 55,000 horsepower compressor station planned by Dominion Energy. There are Freedmen and slave unmarked burial sites on or near the site where Dominion wants to build the compressor station.

Local residents see Dominion Energy’s disregard for their community as part of an established pattern of environmental racism in Virginia. The African American community fighting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a strong and proud community.

While at the burial site in Union Hill (above right) I was allowed to capture the intense feelings of the people present. To all it was a sad moment but, also a sense of closure to know where their ancestors are buried.

I discussed the impact that my photos and strategic communications had – and are still having.

This was no doubt one of my best experiences in sharing my images that are meant to foster social change while documenting history. The attendees at CEPA asked very pertinent questions and we engaged in an inspiring dialogue about photography and social change.

More on Orin Langelle and CEPA

On January 27, 2017 the CEPA Gallery (Contemporary Photography & Visual Arts Center) opened its yearly CEPA Gallery Members’ Exhibition. CEPA Gallery’s 2017 Members’ Exhibition featured the photography and photo-related work of some of Western New York’s most talented artists.

Photographers Natalie Dilenno and Orin Langelle received the 2017 Exhibition Awards.

The Exhibition Awards provided both Langelle and Dilenno to have solo exhibits at the CEPA Gallery in 2018.

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

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Ray Luc Lavasseur who co-founded United Freedom Front, was convicted for organizing a series of bombings to protest South African apartheid, which he helped carry out from 1976 to 1984. He was transferred to the Colorado supermax prison ADX Florence in 1995 – the land alongside it was known to contain toxic nuclear waste.                photo: Orin Langelle

This photograph [see Note below] of Ray Luc Lavasseur that I took was part of an article written by Michael Waters and published in The Outline.

How Prisons are Poisoning Their Inmates

Hundreds of U.S. prisons and ICE detention centers are built on toxic sites, and people inside are getting sick.

A week after Richard Mosley arrived as an inmate at Pennsylvania’s maximum-security SCI Fayette prison in 2008, he started getting sick. The air outside was so contaminated that his nose kept closing up. Then came the weight loss, followed by the gastrointestinal problems. Pretty soon, Mosley was relying on asthma masks to breathe. “I was going back and forth to medical trying to get some kind of relief or diagnosis,” he told The Outline. “I think I went maybe 35, 40 times.”

Meanwhile, Mosley started writing letters to local officials three days per week. “I was making a big stink,” he said. “If I was going to die there, I wasn’t going to die quietly.” He knew something was wrong. All around him, inmates were suffering. Skin rashes, gastrointestinal problems, and breathing issues were common across the prison. Everyone had a runny nose. The water quality was so abhorrent that guards brought bottled water for their onsite patrol dogs, according to Mosley. But the inmates still had to drink from the tap.

To continue this article, please go to How Prisons are Poisoning Their Inmates

 

[Note] This was the second of a series of candid portraits of radical movement figures I took in collaboration with Burning Books.  The point of this endeavor is to document some of the people who have participated in the making of history as part of the ongoing struggle for freedom and justice – a history of victories, losses, mistakes and successes, that we can and should learn from.

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Clearcut area of forest by Dominion Energy for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. This cut is near Wintergreen Resort, a four-season mountain resort on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, located in Nelson County, Virginia.                                                                                       photo: Orin Langelle

 Atlantic Coast Pipeline Already Destroying Forests

Ernie Reed, from the Nelson County District Board of Supervisors, gave Dr. Mary Finley-Brook and me a tour of some of the sites where the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would go through Nelson County. Dr. Mary Finley-Brook serves on the Virginia Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice and is a professor of geography and the environment at the University of Richmond.

This photo was taken close to where a drill would bore beneath the Appalachian Mountain National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway through the mountain gap between Three Ridges Wilderness (George Washington National Forest) and Devil’s Knob (at Wintergreen Resort). The mountain consists of greenstone and granite.  The bore would be over 4,200 feet long and 46 inches in diameter for a 42” pipeline that would contain fracked natural gas at a pressure of 1440 pounds per square inch.

Dr. Finley-Brook (left) and Ernie Reed (right) by a solar powered USGS Water Quality monitoring Station in Nelson County, VA. Photo: Orin Langelle

The drill is estimated to require almost 30 million gallons of potable water. The polluted water and residue from the drilling then must be contained, transferred to tanker trucks and trucked to a waste disposal site, yet to be determined. Nelson County has declined an offer from Dominion to purchase this water and a source for it is yet to be determined

Although the ACP has not yet received final approval, Dominion Energy is clearing some corridors of forest where they have purchased easements through the threat of eminent domain. This clearcutting is considered a “preconstruction activity” by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

If constructed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would be 604 miles long and cross West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. Approximately 300 miles of the pipeline would run through forested land.

Below:

This video footage is from JR Chopper and other credits are listed at the end of this short clip. While I did not take photos for this clip, I am working on a documentary photo essay of the ACP and I did help in production of this clip.

The struggle against the pipeline has called into question many different practices by Dominion Energy regarding environmental, racial and class injustices. – Orin Langelle

 

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Souparna Lahiriri [see NOTE below] (right) at the Global Forest Coalition World Cafe that discussed forests, trees and GFC’s climate change campaign (which includes the Life as Commerce, post-Paris plantations and bioenergy campaigns). photo Orin Langelle

Montreal, Quebec, Canada (4 July 2018) – The Global Forest Coalition started day two of their 2nd Members Assembly with regional meetings that included Indigenous Peoples, forest activists and researchers from around the world.

The morning’s proceedings discussed regional proposals for GFC’s work programs from 2018 to 2022 and suggestions for improvements in GFC’s functioning as a coalition.

GFC’s 2nd Members Assembly is occurring while the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity is holding a Subsidiary Meeting (SBSTTA) which has a major focus on synthetic biology and other dangerous new technologies such as gene drives, also taking place in Montreal.

Anne Petermann and Orin Langelle represented Global Justice Ecology Project in the day’s meeting. GJEP attended GFC’s Members Assembly to discuss GJEP’s work on the Campaign to STOP Genetically Engineered Trees. – Orin Langelle

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Breaking news

[NOTE] 6 May, OPINION/INDIGENOUS RIGHTS: Al Jazeera by Souparna Lahiriri,  Saving tigers, killing people – States are evicting and murdering Indigenous people in the guise of biodiversity conservation

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