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Chris Packham joins environmental activists in mock funeral procession

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Saturday, April 20, 2024

The BBC nature presenter Chris Packham has joined hundreds of environmental activists in a mock funeral procession for nature to spotlight biodiversity loss in the UK.The procession aimed to sound “code red for nature” and highlight the UK’s position as “one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, organisers said. It was planned to coincide closely with Earth Day on 22 April.Starting from the Percy Centre on New King Street, “mourners” at the Funeral for Nature procession made their way to Bath Abbey.Packham, who delivered a eulogy at the protest, said he and fellow “mourners” were there to “scare people a bit” about the state of the natural world, and the “anarchy” we may face if we continue on this path.Before the procession, he uploaded a photo to X of himself and wildlife TV presenter Megan McCubbin dressed in black. Packham said: “Biodiversity collapse is accelerating worldwide, but there is an alternative.“If the political will existed we could restore nature at landscape scale. We must restore nature now.”Members of the Red Rebel Brigade, wearing red outfits and white face paint, are part of an international troupe whose members protest through performance art pieces.Saturday’s procession of 400 Red Rebels was the largest gathering so far, five times more than ever before, organisers said. Hundreds of “mourners” also attended, dressed in black.The Red Rebels marching at the Funeral for Nature processions in Bath, England. Photograph: Joao Daniel Pereira/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/ShutterstockOn the Code Red for Nature website, which gave information about the event, people were told to come dressed in black, including shoes.Guidance on the page also urged people not to bring banners or placards because the “visual look” of the procession is “part of the strategy” of helping to raise awareness.It said: “Please come dressed completely in black, including footwear … No banners or placards please. This will not be a protest. The uniform visual look is very much part of the strategy.”In a speech, Packham said some of the UK’s wildlife and habitats were in a “last stand situation” and urged people to “act more forthrightly and boldly, bravely, now” in calling for the government to shut down fossil fuels and transition faster to renewable energy.“It’s time to fight for nature,” he said. “I guess we are here to say to people: do you really want to wait until you’re attending the real funeral for nature, because it’s coming fast.”Packham said that the UK needed to “address our biodiversity” and ensure “we have “sustainable ecosystems in the future” in order to avoid “anarchy”.He added: “It’s not like we don’t have a toolkit to restore, recover, repair and reintroduce nature. We do but we’ve just got to get on with it … I guess we are here to scare people a bit.”Organisers cited the 2023 State of Nature report on the UK’s biodiversity, which found that 43% of UK bird species were in decline and 97% of wildflower meadows have disappeared since the second world war. They warned we are “entering the sixth mass extinction event”.Orders of service were also handed out to onlookers and contained information about nature’s decline.Rob Delius, one of the organisers, said: “The intention is to send a powerful SOS message for nature by creating a visual spectacle that will in equal measures shock and inspire onlookers.“The UK has sleepwalked into this nature crisis and the fact that we are now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world simply isn’t being talked about enough.“We want the processions to create a talking point and for the public to be moved to demand that the government, local authorities, landowners and businesses urgently do more to restore biodiversity.”

BBC nature presenter delivers eulogy at protest aimed at ‘scaring people a bit’ about the loss of biodiversity in the UKThe BBC nature presenter Chris Packham has joined hundreds of environmental activists in a mock funeral procession for nature to spotlight biodiversity loss in the UK.The procession aimed to sound “code red for nature” and highlight the UK’s position as “one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, organisers said. It was planned to coincide closely with Earth Day on 22 April. Continue reading...

The BBC nature presenter Chris Packham has joined hundreds of environmental activists in a mock funeral procession for nature to spotlight biodiversity loss in the UK.

The procession aimed to sound “code red for nature” and highlight the UK’s position as “one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, organisers said. It was planned to coincide closely with Earth Day on 22 April.

Starting from the Percy Centre on New King Street, “mourners” at the Funeral for Nature procession made their way to Bath Abbey.

Packham, who delivered a eulogy at the protest, said he and fellow “mourners” were there to “scare people a bit” about the state of the natural world, and the “anarchy” we may face if we continue on this path.

Before the procession, he uploaded a photo to X of himself and wildlife TV presenter Megan McCubbin dressed in black. Packham said: “Biodiversity collapse is accelerating worldwide, but there is an alternative.

“If the political will existed we could restore nature at landscape scale. We must restore nature now.”

Members of the Red Rebel Brigade, wearing red outfits and white face paint, are part of an international troupe whose members protest through performance art pieces.

Saturday’s procession of 400 Red Rebels was the largest gathering so far, five times more than ever before, organisers said. Hundreds of “mourners” also attended, dressed in black.

The Red Rebels marching at the Funeral for Nature processions in Bath, England. Photograph: Joao Daniel Pereira/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

On the Code Red for Nature website, which gave information about the event, people were told to come dressed in black, including shoes.

Guidance on the page also urged people not to bring banners or placards because the “visual look” of the procession is “part of the strategy” of helping to raise awareness.

It said: “Please come dressed completely in black, including footwear … No banners or placards please. This will not be a protest. The uniform visual look is very much part of the strategy.”

In a speech, Packham said some of the UK’s wildlife and habitats were in a “last stand situation” and urged people to “act more forthrightly and boldly, bravely, now” in calling for the government to shut down fossil fuels and transition faster to renewable energy.

“It’s time to fight for nature,” he said. “I guess we are here to say to people: do you really want to wait until you’re attending the real funeral for nature, because it’s coming fast.”

Packham said that the UK needed to “address our biodiversity” and ensure “we have “sustainable ecosystems in the future” in order to avoid “anarchy”.

He added: “It’s not like we don’t have a toolkit to restore, recover, repair and reintroduce nature. We do but we’ve just got to get on with it … I guess we are here to scare people a bit.”

Organisers cited the 2023 State of Nature report on the UK’s biodiversity, which found that 43% of UK bird species were in decline and 97% of wildflower meadows have disappeared since the second world war. They warned we are “entering the sixth mass extinction event”.

Orders of service were also handed out to onlookers and contained information about nature’s decline.

Rob Delius, one of the organisers, said: “The intention is to send a powerful SOS message for nature by creating a visual spectacle that will in equal measures shock and inspire onlookers.

“The UK has sleepwalked into this nature crisis and the fact that we are now one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world simply isn’t being talked about enough.

“We want the processions to create a talking point and for the public to be moved to demand that the government, local authorities, landowners and businesses urgently do more to restore biodiversity.”

Read the full story here.
Photos courtesy of

Ecological Restoration Began with the Wild and Wonderful Gardens of Early Female Botanists

Historian and ecologist Laura J. Martin rediscovers the female scientists who established ecological restoration in her book Wild by Design

When historian and ecologist Laura J. Martin decided to write a history of ecological restoration, she didn’t think she would have to go back further than the 1980s to uncover its beginnings. Deep in the archives, she found evidence of a network of early female botanists from the turn of the 20th century. Martin’s book Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration brings their work back into the record. The nonfiction account tells the stories of Eloise Butler, Edith Roberts and the wild and wonderful gardens they planted and studied. LISTEN TO THE PODCASTOn supporting science journalismIf you're enjoying this article, consider supporting our award-winning journalism by subscribing. By purchasing a subscription you are helping to ensure the future of impactful stories about the discoveries and ideas shaping our world today.Lost Women of Science is produced for the ear. Where possible, we recommend listening to the audio for the most accurate representation of what was said.EPISODE TRANSCRIPTLaura Martin: I found all of these, you know, gems of untold stories of women scientists in the early twentieth century, who really were laying the scientific foundation for restoration.Sophie McNulty: I'm Sophie McNulty and I'm a producer for Lost Women of Science.I worked on the first two seasons of the show before I moved to the UK and ended up working on a gardening podcast for the Royal Horticultural Society. I recently returned to Lost Women of Science and apropos of horticulture, I'm particularly excited to be hosting today's episode on ecological restoration. This is quite the hot topic in the world of horticulture and environmental management at large. To give you a sense of just how hot it is, today billions are spent on ecological restoration projects each year, and the UN General Assembly declared 2021 to 2030 to be the UN decade on ecosystem restoration. But,the history of this field has been largely overlooked, and when it is told, women are often written out of the narrative.And so today, we're going to try to remedy that by zeroing in on important early restorationists who were themselves women. We’ll be focusing on botanists Eloise Butler and Edith Roberts. And to do this, I'm so pleased to welcome Laura Martin, a professor at Williams College and author of Wild By Design, The Rise of Ecological Restoration.Hi, Laura. Thanks for coming on the show.Laura Martin: Thank you. I'm very excited to speak with you today, Sophie.Sophie McNulty: So to start, before we go back in time to the stories of these early restorationists, I want to quickly define terms. So what exactly is ecological restoration and how is it different from say, conservation or preservation?Laura Martin: So there's, there's now an international organization of scientists, restoration ecologists, the Society for Ecological Restoration, that defines ecological restoration as an attempt to repair an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.And in Wild by Design, I define restoration a little bit differently. I define it as an attempt to collaborate with non-human species, in order to create an environment. So I chose the term collaborate over the term assist because I think what unifies all of these different attempts to do restoration is a desire to find, to strike some balance between controlling nature and letting nature do its own thing, letting nature be autonomous.Sophie McNulty: MmhmLaura Martin: So you can think about removing non native species as one type of restoration, but that's just only one of many different practices. There's also breeding species in domestic spaces or in laboratories and then re-releasing them to the environment.There's removing dams in order to restore hydrological connectivity between streams or rivers. There's burning in a controlled way, burning forests or prairies in order to simulate natural wildfire for species that are fire-adapted.Sophie McNulty: Yeah, there's a great example in the introduction of your book. You describe the way scientists were trying to save the whooping crane population in North America, and you know,  very much involved people, you know, dressing up in costumes, pretending to be mama cranes in order to raise these birds in captivity, you know, before working out how to release them into the wild, or even if this was a possibility. So all that to say, there's clearly this huge range of things that ecological restoration can be. But turning to the history of this field, what are the roots of ecological restoration, and what surprised you as you look back in time?Laura Martin: I went into the project kind of expecting that restoration would have a very recent history. The Society for Ecological Restoration, in their kind of internal histories, cites the founding of the society in the 1980s as the beginning of ecological restoration. And if they do go further back in time, they credit Aldo Leopold as the kind of soul inventor of ecological restoration.Leopold was the author of Sand County Almanac, a pretty famous environmental text, and he was involved in the University of Wisconsin Madison Prairie Restoration Project in the 1930s. And so when I started to do this project, I thought, you know, okay, I'm going to be looking at what management has looked like since the 1980s.And to my great surprise, I found a much deeper history and a longer, a much longer chronology and tradition of scientists thinking about how to restore degraded biotic communities.Sophie McNulty: Yeah, you know it seems from your book that when you go back and you look at this deeper history,this deeper tradition of ecological restoration that you just described, that many of the people involved in this early era were actually women, though maybe they were a bit more difficult to find.Laura Martin: Yeah, so I had, in doing this, preliminary research for the book, gone to the the archives of the Ecological Society of America. And this was the first professional society of ecologists in the United States. It was founded in 1915. And that society was comprised almost entirely of men and all of the leadership positions were held by men, but I knew from general history of science that there at the time and, before that had been a number of really important influential women botanists. And so I was curious about why weren't these women botanists in the Ecological Society of America when all of these, these men were and what were they doing, what were they working on at that time?And I found that quite a few of them were working on what we today would call ecological restoration very directly. They were doing things like founding Native plant societies, they were doing experiments on native plants to see how to propagate them and how to enable them to flourish, and they were really setting the groundwork for the work that Aldo Leopold and his team did in the 1930s.So this was, this was work being done by women scientists 10, 20, 30 years prior to the University of Wisconsin Restoration project.And I found that all of these, you know, gems of untold stories of women scientists in the early twentieth century who really were laying the scientific foundation for restoration.Sophie McNulty: I feel like with Lost Women of Science, this happens so often where you'll read a paper and you're like, oh, who's this person who's quoted in the footnotes of having done this fieldwork for this research? And you go and you find out that it's a woman who did all this, you know, groundbreaking work, but she isn't given proper credit and she's not part of these large societies like the Ecological Society of America you just mentioned, which, I meant to add, is different from the Ecological Restoration Society founded in the 1980s.  Laura Martin: That is correct. and again, in Wild by Design, it hadn't been my, my initial, my initial project, and I hope that listeners will take up the call to do some further research into these women scientists, because there's, there's still a bunch of, there's still a unanswered questions about their, their lives and their research, but I found that it really was a network, a robust network of women that developed the idea of ecological gardening and wild gardening, which was this first incarnation of the idea of restoration, the idea that people would help species survive, but that they would limit how far they intervened so that the species still had some autonomy.They were kind of guided by natural processes. Uh, one ecologist who was one of the kind of founders of ecological gardening, Eloise Butler called this laissez faire, the idea of you know, planting a plant and then not you know, not trimming its leaves, not taking weeds out.It was both about having a more natural aesthetic, but I think also really it was about the experience of the plants themselves. The idea that the plant should be allowed to grow as they would grow without constant human intervention.Sophie McNulty: So you just mentioned Eloise Butler there, which is a great segway, because I want to get into the stories of both Eloise Butler and Edith Roberts, so to start, who was Eloise Butler and why is she a key figure in this history? Laura Martin: So Eloise Butler was the scientist who created the first native plant garden and research facility in North America. I think her life really illustrates what it was like to be a woman botanist at the turn of the 20th century. She was born in rural Maine in 1851 to parents who were teachers.And we have the benefit of the fact that in her 70s, before her death, Eloise Butler wrote a memoir. It wasn't published, but we still have it.And so we know her account of what it was like to be a scientist in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. And so she wrote in her own words, at that time and place, so in Maine in the 1860s, 1870s, there was no other career than teaching that was thought of for a studious girl. So she felt, very constrained in her, what her career would be.And she wrote in the margins of her, of her memoir, “In my next incarnation, I shall not be a teacher.” And she decided that she wanted to retire from teaching. She really didn't enjoy it, but she wanted to continue to do science. By this point she was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She led a petition of science teachers in Minneapolis to the, the city council to establish a native plant preserve, which she calls the Wild Botanic Garden, and her goal there was, again, we have her own words. It was to show plants as living things and their adaptations to their environment to display in miniature, the rich and varied flora of Minnesota and to teach the principles of forestry. Her initial goal was to establish a teaching site. She felt like, you know, with the expansion and development of cities like Minneapolis, teachers were losing the sites that they would take students to in order to teach them species, in order to teach them ecology.And so she wanted to make sure that there was a site that was close enough to schools preserved as an outdoor laboratory for students to teach them the fundamentals of botany and ecology. Um, and I think what's interesting is this petition convinces the board to establish this, this preserve, but then she doesn't just leave it as a preserve, she decides to use it as an active experimental site and to try and do a, a different type of botanical garden. So at the time, botanical gardens were typically organized by evolutionary relationship, or they were organized just aesthetically by color or by size, and Eloise Butler really wanted to organize the plants within this research site by their habitat requirements and by their environmental conditions and to display them in the sorts of situations and communities that they would be found in, in the wild.And so she, she convinces, through sheer tenacity, she convinces the, the city council to appoint her as curator of this botanical garden. And she works to bring hundreds of species to the site. So just between 1912 and 1916, she collects 262 seedlings and seeds and specimens and brings them to the botanic garden and kind of experiments with how to propagate them and how to get them to survive in the landscape.Sophie McNulty: What was the work of collecting these specimens like for her? Can you tell me about some of these specimen-collecting expeditions?Laura Martin: Yeah, it was very difficult, very physically demanding fieldwork. Eloise Butler was doing this fieldwork and she was doing it in long late Victorian era skirts and fancy hats. It's incredible—she called this “bog trotting” and so basically anytime she went anywhere to see friends or family, she would bring along collecting tools. She was on a train ride to Toronto once, and her train broke down, and while, instead of just waiting in the train car, she got out, hiked two miles, and collected epilobium,Sophie McNulty: Oh my gosh.Laura Martin: seeds to bring back to the, the garden.So, you know, she and her collaborators went to great lengths to acquire some of the species that they were trying to, to bring into the wild botanic garden.And once they had collected these species, they also did experiments on them. Butler kept meticulous notes about what methods worked to keep species alive and what did not. She has also detailed notes about the emergence and flowering times of species at the Botanical Garden in the 1910s and 1920s.And that could be a resource for people interested in understanding the effects of climate change on flowering time.Sophie McNulty: Yeah, quickly just commenting on her bog trotting specimen collecting adventures, there's a photo that you include in the book of Eloise Butler kind of out, in a bog, and she is wearing, you know, as you say, this long, looks incredibly heavy skirt, and this fabulous hat, and it looks like it has like little flowers in it and stuff, like a huge hat and she's, you know, standing on a log over this bog, kind of like picking up, different sticks and plants and things, and yeah, it's, it is an amazing photo.Laura Martin: Yeah and she was, she, you know, despite dressing that way, I think she was well that she was defying gender norms at the time, just by working, you know, by being a scientist, by working in those sorts of environments and not being afraid of getting muddy and getting wet and, and enjoying it and encouraging other people and other women to do it.Sophie McNulty: We'll get into the stories of these other women after the break.[BREAK]Sophie McNulty: So beyond Eloise Butler, who were the other women leading the way with ecological restoration in the early 1900s, and what do we know about them?Laura Martin: So the, the richness of what we know about Eloise Butler can be contrasted to another woman that I talk about in Wild By Design. Edith Roberts, who was a botany professor at Vassar College in the 1920s and 1930s, and she started the first ecological restoration experiment, and I'll tell you a little bit more about that, but this was more than a decade before Aldo Leopold's restoration experiment.This was a really important site in the history of restoration.But all we have is the, the scientific papers that Edith. Roberts published. We don't have anything written in her voice besides those, those peer-reviewed scientific papers. And so we just know much less about what her experience was as a woman ecologist. And what her thoughts were about where the field should go.Sophie McNulty: But what do we know about her work? Can you kind of paint me a picture of this ecological laboratory that she started at Vassar and how it was both similar and different from the work that Eloise Butler was doing?Laura Martin: Yes, so Roberts received a doctorate in botany from the University of Chicago in 1915. So again, very rare for, for that time. And after that she was hired as a professor of botany at Vassar College, and as soon as she arrived there, she began developing plans to establish an ecological laboratory and her goals were twofold.It was to train students in the new discipline of ecology. And her other goal was to do experiments to see whether native plants could be reestablished on degraded lands. So, in this experiment, Roberts and her students cleared around two acres of grass and poison ivy and shrubs and just kind of weedy non-native species from a streamside that was on campus.And they planted 600 species that they had collected from across the East Coast of the United States, arranging them into 30 different plant communities that they felt represented the diversity of ecological communities in eastern North America.So what Roberts was doing that was different than what Butler was doing is that Roberts was really asking, what can we do with degraded landscapes? Can we succeed in re-establishing Native ecological communities on them? Whereas, Eloise Butler was really working at an already botanically interesting site and she wasn't trying to get rid of species. She was kind of adding species to the landscape.Sophie McNulty: So, why are the stories of people like Eloise Butler and Edith Roberts so often left out from this history of ecological restoration?Why do we only kind of hear about the Aldo Leopolds of the world or kind of things that happened much more recently in the 1980s?Laura Martin: The archives and stories of women scientists are missing from institutional archives, and I think there's two reasons for that. One reason is that women were actively excluded from professional societies and from universities. So if you're interested in studying the history of ecology and you go to the Ecological Society of America archives, or you go to archives that say the University of Chicago, where there were a lot of ecologists employed in the early 20th century, you're not going to find the records of women scientists because women scientists were not allowed in those spaces. And so it can be hard as a storyteller to, to find people to be able to really paint a picture of what, what the work was like at the time and what it was like to be a woman in science.And I think separately from that, there also were direct conspiracies to keep women out of leadership positions in early environmental movements and early conservation organizations and efforts. In the book, I talked briefly about the experience of Elizabeth Britton, who, as I mentioned, was a co-founder of the New York Botanical Garden.And also she was a renowned expert on, on ferns and mosses. And she created the Wildflower Preservation Society in 1901, in order to try and raise awareness about native plant species and the need to protect and restore them. And this was a very successful society. It expanded during World War I and afterwards establishing chapters across the country. And women accounted for most of its membership,The society became attractive enough that in 1924, a U.S. Department of Agriculture botanist, Percy Ricker, who was a member of the Washington, D.C. chapter, you know, began conspiring to take over the society from Elizabeth Britton. And he argued that under the leadership of women, the society had become a radical organization, and in using this word specifically, he was echoing the language used to disparage women's suffrage activists, and so he, when Elizabeth Britton had to be out of town for another meeting, he organized a hostile takeover of the society and became president.Sophie McNulty: Horrible.Laura Martin: Right, so when people write about the Wildflower Preservation Society, they're often writing about later decades and they're saying, oh, it was run by Percy Ricker and there's just a total lost history of the many women scientists that founded that organization. And I think what's really interesting there, too, is that Ricker moves the Wildflower Preservation Society from a restoration model to a preservation model. Restoration is very hands on, it's about intervening in ecosystems, whereas preservation is very hands off. It's the idea that people should be apart from nature and that we should protect nature from people.He says restoration isn't the way and gardening is not the way to save native species. What we need to do is to set aside wild plant preserves. And I think it's, you know, it's telling that his efforts really didn't go anywhere. The, the native plant preserves that we have in the United States were established by garden societies and the efforts of people like Eloise Butler and Edith Roberts, and not through any of Percy Ricker's proposals or that kind of preservation model.Sophie McNulty: So, Eloise Butler and Edith Roberts with their wild botanic gardens slash outdoor laboratories, they were intervening with the land. So in some ways, could we say that they were ahead of their time?Laura Martin: I would say that they laid the groundwork for what's happening today, that they were maybe not so much ahead of their time, but they were the main actors in their time. There was a large network of botanists and many of them women who were doing this work in the early 20th century and we can turn to it. If we understand the history, we can use it as a resource to think about what options are available to us today.Sophie McNulty: That brings me perfectly to my final question. So to end, I want to turn to you for a moment. You know, you started your career as wetlands ecologist, working in the field before turning to the history of the work. And you write in the opening of the book, Wild by Design, that fieldwork offered insights into how to establish and care for a particular species, but it did not offer solutions to ongoing ecological degradation.So, in what ways do you think turning to the history of people like Eloise Butler, Edith Roberts, or Elizabeth Britton has given you hope? And would you say that their stories offer any sort of solutions to our future?Laura Martin: I do often miss fieldwork and working directly with species, but I think that history allows us at the end of the day, to imagine how things could be different. It teaches us that nothing is predetermined and that nothing is without alternative. And so, the perspective of, of doing archival research and of history really, really just emphasizes how things could have turned out differently.And I think it brings me to reflect upon the fact that none of the environmental degradation that we are facing today was inevitable. It all results from the choices of individuals, of powerful individuals, and of societies to operate in particular ways. And so we can go back to examples of people before us to understand how they imagined alternative relationships with the environment and how they imagined doing something to try and reverse the environmental harms that were happening at their moments in time.Sophie McNulty: What a great note to end on. Thank you so much, Laura, for coming on Lost Women of Science.Laura Martin: Thank you, Sophie.Sophie McNulty: This episode of Lost Women of Science Conversations was produced by me, Sophie McNulty. Many thanks to Laura Martin for taking the time to talk to us. Lexi Atiya was our fact checker, Lizzie Younan composes all of our music, and Karen Meverack designs our art. Thanks to Jeff DelVisio at our publishing partner, Scientific American.Thanks also to executive producers Amy Scharf and Katie Hafner, as well as the senior managing producer, Deborah Unger. Lost Women of Science is funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Anne Wojcicki Foundation. We're distributed by PRX. Thanks for listening and do subscribe to Lost Women of Science at lostwomenofscience.org so you never miss an episode.Further ReadingWild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration, by Laura J. Martin, Harvard University Press, 2022.The Women Who Saved Wildflowers, by Laura J. Martin, Sierra, June 2, 2022. "Women’s Work" in Science, 1880-1910, by Margaret W. Rossiter, Isis, Volume 71, Number 3, Sep., 1980.The Wild Gardener: The Life and Selected Writings of Eloise Butler, by Martha E. Hellander, North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1992.Fruits and Plains: The Horticultural Transformation of America, by Philip J. Pauly, Harvard University Press, 2008.

Chinese #metoo journalist, activist jailed in crackdown on civil society

Journalist Huang Xueqin, who encouraged women to report sexual harassment, and labor rights proponent Wang Jianbing were charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

A Chinese court on Friday found activists Sophia Huang Xueqin, an independent journalist known for her role in China’s #metoo movement, and Wang Jianbing, a labor activist, guilty on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” according to supporters.Huang was sentenced to five years in jail and Wang to three and a half years, in the latest blow against civil society in China, where budding social movements are crushed before they have a chance to flourish.The crime of “subversion of state power” is widely seen by human rights groups as a tool for suppressing dissent in China, a catchall term that can be used against perceived critics of the state. Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the Chinese Communist Party has become increasingly intolerant of organized groups that it deems question its authority, from those promoting LGBTQ+ awareness to proponents of greater rights for women and people with disabilities.Huang and Wang, who have already been held in custody for almost three years, were sentenced at the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court after a closed door trial. Security was tight ahead of the verdict, and reporters were not allowed in. Supporters said both denied wrongdoing, and that Huang plans to appeal against the verdict.GET CAUGHT UPStories to keep you informed“Everything I do is not to incite subversion of state power but to hope that social conditions can be improved, and the country can become better,” Huang said at the end of her trial last September.Who are Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing?Huang, 35, is an independent journalist who played a key role in launching China’s #metoo movement in 2018, when she wrote about her experience with sexual harassment and encouraged others to come forward. She conducted a survey of female journalists and found that more than 80 percent of the 255 who responded had also been sexually harassed. Huang later helped a graduate student go public against with accusations against her PhD supervisor. She had been arrested once before after participating in and writing about the huge anti-government protests in Hong Kong in 2019.Wang, 40, is a friend of Huang’s and was also a prominent supporter of the #MeToo movement in China. Supporters refer to them as “xuebing” — an amalgamation of their given names.Wang was primarily known for his labor activism and work defending people with disabilities. He has worked for years to empower people living with disabilities and advocates for the rights of workers with occupational diseases.Ahead of their arrests, the two had gathered friends and acquaintances together to talk about issues frowned upon by Chinese censors — like being LGBTQ, working in the nonprofit sector or looking after the mental health.What was the government’s case against them?Huang and Wang were detained in September 2021, and formally arrested and charged a month later. The two were held for 47 days without access to lawyers, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, and were then required to use attorneys appointed by the court.Chinese authorities accused Huang and Wang of public writing and private activism that incited the “overthrow of the socialist system by spreading rumors and slander.” Prosecutorscast Huang as a leading figure in unnamed “overseas organizations” and said she supported a “nonviolent movement” that challenged state authority.Wang was accused of joining online groups including the “June 4 Massacre Memorial Museum,” which seeks to commemorate the bloody military crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The pair’s private gatherings were alleged to have “incited participants’ dissatisfaction with China’s state power.”Friends say the charges against the pair have been a misrepresentation and fabrication of what the two were trying to achieve in their advocacy.One friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, said the indictment exaggerated certain actions. For example, Wang was accused of joining organizations he had simply “liked” on Facebook.“Anyone can like a public group, but they claimed his actions had the intent to incite subversion of state power,” the person said. “If you are involved in organizing and nurturing potential social networks that are critical of the government, then you become a target for suppression.”Supporters say that Huang’s health in particular has deteriorated while in custody. Human rights groups including Amnesty International said Huang’s sleep has often been disrupted by interrogations in the middle of the night, and that she has lost a significant amount of weight.What do the sentences say about civil society in China?Beijing has moved beyond quashing groups long deemed problematic, like human rights lawyers and pro-democracy activists, to those advocating for causes that on the surface would seem less threatening to state power.The case of Huang and Wang show how China’s powerful security apparatus is policing a broad range of socially active people, advocates for greater freedoms say, and interfering even in their private lives. It has been part of a growing crackdown against religious freedom, artists, journalists, environmental activists and other groups.The convictions show Chinese leader’s “unstinting hostility toward any kind of peaceful activism and community building,” said Yaqiu Wang, research director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Freedom House, a Washington think tank that monitors the health of democracies.“The ultimate goal of sham prosecutions as such is to decimate any remaining civil society space, so Chinese people only exist as isolated individuals that have no agency, no thinking of their own and no power to resist state control,” Wang said.The feminism embodied by Huang is also something Beijing has tried to quash in recent years, including by persecuting other feminist activists, censoring feminist content online and shutting down feminist groups.“Feminism itself will continue to be viewed as subversive because one of its core demands is that women be free to control their own bodies and lives,” said Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.”Given Huang was one of the most prominent activists in kick-starting China’s #MeToo campaign, “a harsh verdict seems likely to be designed as a warning to other activists,” she added.Christian Shepherd and Pei-Lin Wu contributed to this report.

Rare cancers, full-body rashes, death: did fracking make their kids sick?

Pennsylvania families worry about rising cases of rare cancer with well pads near homes and stalled House billsOne evening in 2019, Janice Blanock was scrolling through Facebook when she heard a stranger mention her son in a video on her feed. Luke, an outgoing high school athlete, had died three years earlier at age 19 from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.Blanock had come across a live stream of a community meeting to discuss rare cancers that were occurring with alarming frequency in south-western Pennsylvania, where she lives. Continue reading...

One evening in 2019, Janice Blanock was scrolling through Facebook when she heard a stranger mention her son in a video on her feed. Luke, an outgoing high school athlete, had died three years earlier at age 19 from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.Blanock had come across a live stream of a community meeting to discuss rare cancers that were occurring with alarming frequency in south-western Pennsylvania, where she lives.Between 2009 and 2019, five other students in Blanock’s school district were also diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. (The region saw about 30 overall cases of the cancer during that time.) In the video, health experts and residents were talking about whether the uptick in illnesses was related to fracking. Blanock was riveted.“I learned that night a few things that I would have never put a connection to,” she said. The next day she called the group that had organized the live stream. “I said: ‘I want to know more, I want to understand more.’”Four years later, Blanock helped to launch Mad-Facts – Moms and Dads: Family Awareness of Cancer Threat Spike – as a volunteer group within Center for Coalfield Justice, a local organization. Blanock and her co-founder, Jodi Borello, knock on doors in neighborhoods where new wells are planned, attend public meetings in matching Mad-Facts T-shirts and host regular information sessions. It’s a support group for area parents who, like Blanock a few years ago, are just starting to learn about some of the more serious health risks of fracking.Blanock’s home in Cecil Township, just outside Pittsburgh, is filled with tributes to Luke: his jerseys and baseball gloves adorn his father’s office; a drawn portrait, along with a rosary, hangs in the living room; a stone bench engraved with his name sits under a rhododendron in the front yard.It’s also just a few miles from the site of Pennsylvania’s first unconventional well, which was constructed in 2004. Since then, fossil fuel companies have drilled more than 2,000 wells in Blanock’s Washington county alone.Fracking entails cracking layers of earth with pressurized, chemical-laden liquid to access stores of oil and gas thousands of feet underground. Many of the chemicals used in that liquid, like benzene and formaldehyde, are carcinogenic, and the extraction itself can stir up radium and other heavy metals in the shale’s subsurface, creating radioactive waste that can contaminate watersheds.The companies that drill in the region and officials who support the industry have long insisted that fracking is safe and well-regulated. But many residents, who have seen unfamiliar sicknesses invade their community over the past 20 years, now feel misled.“We’re seeing more rare childhood cancers and brain tumors in adults,” said Borello, a mother of three, who lives in South Franklin Township, about 20 miles south-west of Cecil. “If you knew even one person 10 years ago with a brain tumor, everybody would be rallying around that person and trying to figure it out: ‘Oh my God, this is awful. How would this person get a brain tumor?’ Well, I can tell you probably 12 people off the top of my head right now that I know with brain tumors.”Pictures and items of Luke Blanock sit decorated at his parents’ home in Cecil, Pennsylvania, on 1 September 2020. Photograph: Hannah YoonBorello lives just 1,500ft from a well pad and a pigging station (where pipelines are inspected and cleaned). When drilling on the well pad began in 2011, it vibrated knick-knacks down from their shelves, often waking her children. She installed an air-quality monitor in her baby son’s window that once recorded a particulate pollution reading in excess of 8,000 micrograms per cubic meter, nearly 900 times the level deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.Whenever workers vented methane from the pigging station, it emitted a jet-engine roar and a “thickness” in the air. She and her children developed full-body rashes, and she kept a journal to record daily symptoms of dizziness, nausea and headaches.As old wells dry up, oil and gas companies drill new ones, which means more residents are learning what it’s like to live close to a well – the noise, the smells, the sleepless nights.And though fracking has declined somewhat in the state in recent years, many activists and residents fear that new industries will lead to resurgent demand for gas. Those include the enormous Shell ethane cracker plant in Beaver, Pennsylvania, and the controversial proposed hydrogen hub, which will have nodes across Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.Some of the health risks associated with fracking, such as asthma, pre-term births and heart problems, have been established for years. However, cancer is both rare and slow to progress, which means that it can take many years to produce a meaningful study connecting it to relatively novel environmental hazards, like fracking, said Nicole Deziel, a researcher at the Yale School of Public Health. “In epidemiology, we need a certain number of cancer cases in order to statistically evaluate a link with confidence,” she said.But research linking proximity to unconventional wells and developing certain types of cancer is gradually emerging.In 2022, Deziel published a study that found Pennsylvania children between ages two and seven who lived within 1.2 miles of unconventional wells at birth were two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.Children who live within 1 mile of an active well are five to seven times more likely to develop lymphoma, a study from University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania department of health says. Photograph: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty ImagesThen in August 2023, the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania department of health released a study showing that children living within 1 mile of an active well were five to seven times more likely to develop lymphoma.The study, commissioned shortly after Blanock and her neighbors traveled to Harrisburg to demand an investigation into the health risks of fracking, also found that pregnant people living within a mile of an active well were more likely to have premature and underweight babies, and children were four to five times more likely to suffer extreme asthma attacks.The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, pointed to two studies that measured pollutants and emissions in air and water, as well as real-time data from a well-monitoring initiative by the gas company CNX Resources, that it says demonstrate “no impact to environmental, community and public health”. One of those studies, however, noted that “individual groundwater samples collected at one point in time may be unlikely to capture a contamination event”.Ned Ketyer, president of the advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility, served on the advisory board of the Pitt-DOH study. He said that each new study “… seem[s] to confirm the same thing: There’s something about fracking that threatens human health, and the risk is higher the closer you live to fracking operations. Full stop. At the end of the day, why would anybody be surprised about that?”The study did not find a link between fracking and Ewing’s sarcoma, which the authors noted is difficult to assess with such a small sample size. Experts including Ketyer noted that in an area with such a long history of industrial pollution, it can be difficult to isolate causes of cancer.skip past newsletter promotionThe planet's most important stories. Get all the week's environment news - the good, the bad and the essentialPrivacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.after newsletter promotionEven though Blanock was disappointed that the study did not offer answers regarding Luke’s illness, she said, the conclusions were horrific. “Should you want to live within a mile of a well pad when you have two small children, now that you know that your child has a higher chance of acquiring lymphoma?”Borello has found, months after the study’s publication, that many in her community are still largely unaware of it. “We want people to understand that that study happened, that it is from our own department of health and what the results were,” she said.Every month, Blanock and Borello drive east to Harrisburg to advocate for legislation that would increase the required setback distance between buildings and wells from 500ft to 1 mile.A House bill to push the required distance between buildings and wells from 500ft to 2,500ft has been stagnant. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty ImagesThe closest existing bill, which would establish a setback of 2,500ft, is languishing in the House. Supporters of the oil and gas industry have argued that that proposed regulation would effectively ban fracking in the state. (Borello acknowledged that the proposal would “almost completely” stop new wells from being built, but said: “If something is causing cancer in children, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it.”)In the last few years, state legislators have proposed a handful of related bills, including one requiring a more strenuous permitting process, one that would make it easier to file environmental complaints, and two that would classify oil and gas waste as hazardous.The bills face a steep road to the governor’s desk in a largely industry-friendly legislature, but Borello and Blanock are undeterred. “They’re starting to recognize us [in Harrisburg],” said Borello. “And I think that that’s the best way to do it. Because once you can put a face to these stories and see that there is a major concern, it becomes personal.”Blanock and Borello had hoped they would find an ally in Governor Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who as attorney general had pursued a grand jury investigation of the oil and gas industry. But in November, Shapiro announced an agreement with CNX Resources, one of the state’s largest drilling companies, in which it would voluntarily expand its setback distance to 600ft for homes, and 2,500ft for schools and hospitals.It’s a move that many environmental groups and community activists consider a betrayal on the part of the governor, who as attorney general had spoken out against the oil and gas industry’s obfuscation of its business’s impacts on human health and whose own grand jury investigation recommended a 2,500ft setback from homes.In an email to the Guardian, Shapiro’s spokesperson, Manuel Bonder, said the Pennsylvania governor decided to work with CNX because of “legislative inaction” to address problems related to fracking.He added that the governor supports legislation to expand setbacks from wells and other drilling infrastructure as outlined in the grand jury recommendations.Kurt and Janice Blanock, who lost their son Luke in 2016, at their home. ‘Should you want to live within a mile of a well pad when you have two small children, now that you know that your child has a higher chance of acquiring lymphoma?’ Janice asked. Photograph: Hannah YoonCNX Resources’ vice-president of external relations, Brian Aiello, said the company agreed to the setbacks “to ensure public policy decisions in the commonwealth are based on facts and data rather than speculation and ideology”.He added that the company’s monitoring and disclosure program “has been posting real-time data for months now, with more data added every hour, and we haven’t seen one substantive claim from ‘concerned citizens and public health professionals’ saying the data reflect conditions that would affect public health”.Fracking activity and well construction in Cecil Township continue to torment Blanock’s neighbors. At a township meeting in March, a number of residents petitioned local officials to increase setback distances from homes. They complained of increased traffic, vibrations that shook their houses through the night and air that smelled of Magic Markers.“[The well] has affected every aspect of our lives,” said Josh Stonemark, whose family lives 500ft from a well pad in the township. Blanock’s activism and awareness-raising efforts contributed to the Stonemarks’ decision to install air monitors in the backyard, which sometimes measure 10-20 times the safe level of particulate pollution, and to use a Geiger counter to measure radioactivity on the property.“A lot of residents don’t really care about it because they don’t think it impacts them,” Stonemark said. “I’m not sure that they’re aware of the more widespread impact it can have on a community.”

What can you do with a degree in degrowth?

Barcelona offers the world's first master's program in degrowth. Graduates share their experiences bringing those values into the job market.

Hey there, fam. Today’s spotlight story is a collaboration with The Green Fix, a Europe-focused climate newsletter managed by Cass Hebron. Cass and I have been following each other’s work for a while now, and we teamed up to bring you this story about the world’s first master’s program in degrowth. The spotlight In 2018, one of Spain’s top-ranked universities, which trains its graduates for careers in everything from neuroscience and biomedicine to government and economics, launched a first-of-its-kind master’s program in a more nascent and explicitly nontraditional field: a degree in degrowth. Degrowth is a movement that calls for intentionally scaling down overdeveloped economies, like those in the U.S. and Europe, focusing instead on citizens’ well-being, ecological sustainability, and providing for basic needs without extracting every last resource. The idea has been gaining momentum, particularly in Europe where it originated, and its proponents argue it offers the best path to a lifestyle that is compatible with addressing climate change — one that respects the planet’s limits and avoids unnecessary emissions by simply producing and consuming less. The master’s program and a separate online master’s in degrowth that was started in 2021 have now seen hundreds of graduates. But what does it mean to train people for a career in disrupting the whole idea of careers? And what happens when graduates of a program designed to reimagine the system have to find their place within that system? Big questions, but ever since we at Looking Forward and The Green Fix first learned about this unique degree program, we’ve been wanting to find out what it’s really like to study degrowth — and what happens afterward. A meetup of degrowth master’s students, from both the in-person and online programs, in June 2022 in Can Masdeu, an occupied social center in Barcelona. Jana Kenkel The university is called the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, or Autonomous University of Barcelona, which is a way of saying a university not controlled by the government. And the degree is technically in political ecology, degrowth, and environmental justice. In other words, studying sustainable alternatives to the modern economic system. One of the masterminds behind the program is Giorgos Kallis, a prominent researcher and advocate in the field of degrowth. Kallis, an academic with a warm and approachable air, describes his research as “un-disciplinary,” in the sense that it has spanned many topics, from droughts and water policies to ecological economics. It was his work on water management that led him to question the paradigm of continuous and necessary growth. He became a professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in 2010 and, along with colleagues at the Research & Degrowth association, launched a summer school program in degrowth. “There were many people who would come for the summer school and they would say, ‘We wish there was also a full master’s,’” Kallis said. At the same time, there were plenty of researchers in the field who were eager to teach. Students at the master’s program in Barcelona take theoretical classes in degrowth, environmental justice, and alternative economics and governance structures, and also receive practical training in skills like group facilitation, how to run a social justice campaign, and how to set up a cooperative. All backgrounds are welcomed, but the program tends to attract radically minded students — “at least in terms of the need for transformation in order to confront climate change,” Kallis said. Around two-thirds of the students who attend the in-person program are from Europe. The online program, which is solely focused on theory, tends to reach a more diverse mix. Kallis and his colleagues also designed the in-person program specifically to prepare students for the job market. It offers career development with three main paths in mind: policy and advocacy work; work in the social and cooperative economy; and research. “I mean, we don’t mind someone working in the private sector and bringing these ideas wherever they want,” he said. But it tends not to attract the kind of person who’s interested in climbing the corporate ladder, so to speak. A class on group facilitation techniques in October 2022, with students from the in-person master’s program. Jana Kenkel France-based graduate Adélaide Cadioux had been jumping between jobs for years before enrolling in the Barcelona program. “I was feeling very dissatisfied with the way that companies were working. My values were seemingly constantly misaligning with people’s needs for profit.” She found the program by pure chance while searching on the university website, and described it as a moment of revelation. “I was like, ‘I need to quit my job and do that master’s.’” There, she said, “I found people who understand what it feels like to constantly feel like you don’t fit in and your values are not represented in whatever job you’re going for.” Many of the students there shared her desire to find an alternative to traditional capitalist ways of working. “There’s also a form of radical acceptance,” she said. “It’s normal that you feel like this. Let’s work together on something else.” Valerie Costa, a recent graduate from the U.S., was feeling burned out after working in the nonprofit and social good sectors for around two decades. “I wasn’t even really actively wanting to be a grad student,” she said, “but I was like, ‘Oh, wow. I could take a year and really think about everything I’ve been working on, but in a deeper way.’” Recent Belgian graduate Emilie de Bassompierre had already encountered the concept of degrowth in their previous studies and was looking for a way to put it into practice. “I had teachers who were very keen on studying critiques of capitalism,” they said. “My studies helped me gain an understanding of not only how that system came to be from a historical perspective, but also, if we want alternatives, what are the elements of the system that we have to think of dismantling?” Post-graduation, de Bassompierre is facing down the reality of balancing their values with their need to pay the rent — and how to make use of having the privilege of being able to prioritize their values for at least a while; a privilege many other students share. “It’s already been a few years that I’m aware that whatever I want to do, it’s not going to be something that brings me a lot of money,” de Bassompierre said. Following graduation, they are pursuing an internship in climate justice at a European nongovernmental organization. After that, they are considering a future in either advocacy or academia. But the most important thing, they said, is that they can pursue a life that makes them happy — and they don’t anticipate working full time forever. “Before, I was always looking at what I ‘should’ do or what was the ethical, moral thing to do. But that can lead you to burning out. I think it’s possible to deconstruct the idea that we have to define ourselves through our work,” de Bassompierre said. “I want to have free time for activism and independent projects.” Cadioux and Costa are also weighing how degrowth fits into their future plans. Cadioux is still searching for a job. “If something comes along the lines of what I want … I [would] find ways to amp up my activism or give back to the community, where it just feels like a sort of equal relationship between what you take from capitalism and what you give back to your community,” she said. For Costa, incorporating degrowth principles and advocacy into her work has been challenging in other ways. After graduating, she returned to the U.S., where the concept is still fairly novel. “I’m not gonna walk down the street with a degrowth flag,” she said. She added that, from a policy perspective, the U.S. lacks the kind of social safety net that is a prerequisite to effective and equitable degrowth. “I’m not going to campaign for austerity,” she said. “What I do want is more livable communities for people. I want people to be more connected with each other. I want better services and supports in place, better housing.” After completing the program, her activism has remained focused on resistance, with an element of community-building as well. She co-founded a Seattle-based network called Troublemakers that weaves those two things together. “For me, the degrowth program really illuminated the absolute critical importance of community and connection,” she said. While he believes that this specialized training in degrowth and political ecology is valuable, and was previously missing from the academic landscape, Giorgos Kallis also recognizes that studying degrowth may be something of a hard sell when job hunting. “Would the ministry contract someone who has studied how to degrow the economy, when no one wants to degrow it?” he said. Still, at least two alumni of the master’s program have gone on to be assistants to members of the European Parliament, Kallis noted. Others have organized an annual festival that brings together LGBTQ+ rights with elements of degrowth. And others are working as activists, teachers, nonprofit leaders, and more. Kallis believes that there is value in studying the principles of degrowth whether or not students go on to find their lifelong path in bringing it to fruition. “I want to think that increasingly there will be demand for out-of-the-box thinking,” he said. “And I also want to think that, degrowth or not degrowth, our students are getting good training in fundamental theories, models, ecological economics, political ecology. So even if they don’t work on degrowth per se — but they work on some other framework or transition or climate mitigation — they have the skills to be critical and good thinkers.” For Angela Huston, who, like many other graduates of the online program, is mid-career and less willing than some of the in-person students to spend several years just pondering how to change the system, this was exactly the point. Huston had been working in public services and international development in Italy for 10 years before doing the virtual master’s. She said she valued how the program forced her to question the cultural expectations to make money and be financially comfortable. “I was super-radical hardcore in my university days,” she said. “And then, I think over time, I started to conform more with the world. And that’s part of the reason I’ve gone back to degrowth. We need more of this radical thinking that’s not trying to align with and appease current systems.” Given the urgency of the climate crisis and how challenging it is to change the current economic system in the timeframe needed, Huston said she is open to working with for-profit companies, where she can influence their climate-transition strategies from inside and mitigate their climate impacts. Applications for the seventh cohort of the Barcelona program are now open. The program was restructured this year, based on feedback from students and faculty, to include things like a stronger focus on activism skills and more intersectional frameworks, such as feminism and decolonization. The coordinators of both the online and in-person degrees are currently focused on making them more accessible to people from different backgrounds, especially those from outside Europe and the U.S. They are also working to more actively steward the network of alumni, and are looking toward an alumni conference next year. And as for the graduates who are still trying to figure out what their degrowth studies mean for their path out in the current working world? “I don’t think that it’s because we studied degrowth that now we’re lost,” de Bassompierre said. “It’s more the opposite: figuring out how to work toward the world we want to see.” — Cass Hebron and Claire Elise Thompson More exposure Read: about the types of changes Gen Z students are demanding of business schools — including a greater focus on how to address climate change (Financial Times) Listen: to a podcast interview with degrowth scholar and UAB professor Jason Hickel (Upstream) Read: a Q&A with Kohei Saito, a Marxist scholar whose book on degrowth became a bestseller in Japan (Grist) Subscribe: to The Green Fix, a European climate newsletter and our publishing partner on today’s story A parting shot While Valerie Costa noted that she wouldn’t necessarily march down a street in the U.S. with a degrowth sign, that sight is much more commonplace in Europe. Here’s a photo from a Fridays for Future protest just last month in Munich ahead of the European elections. IMAGE CREDITS Vision: Grist Spotlight: Jana Kenkel Parting shot: picture alliance / Getty Images This story was originally published by Grist with the headline What can you do with a degree in degrowth? on Jun 12, 2024.

Ugandan oil pipeline protester allegedly beaten as part of ‘alarming crackdown’

Stephen Kwikiriza is one of 11 campaigners against EACOP targeted by authorities in past two weeks, rights group saysA man campaigning against the controversial $5bn (£4bn) east African crude oil pipeline (EACOP) is recovering in hospital after an alleged beating by the Ugandan armed forces in the latest incident in what has been called an “alarming crackdown” on the country’s environmentalists.Stephen Kwikiriza, who works for Uganda’s Environment Governance Institute (EGI), a non-profit organisation, was abducted in Kampala on 4 June, according to his employer. He was beaten, questioned and then abandoned hundreds of miles from the capital on Sunday evening. Continue reading...

A man campaigning against the controversial $5bn (£4bn) east African crude oil pipeline (EACOP) is recovering in hospital after an alleged beating by the Ugandan armed forces in the latest incident in what has been called an “alarming crackdown” on the country’s environmentalists.Stephen Kwikiriza, who works for Uganda’s Environment Governance Institute (EGI), a non-profit organisation, was abducted in Kampala on 4 June, according to his employer. He was beaten, questioned and then abandoned hundreds of miles from the capital on Sunday evening.In a post on X, the EGI said: “Stephen was found abandoned on the side of the road last night in Kyenjoyo. Thankfully, he is alive, safe.“Unfortunately, he is in poor condition after enduring severe beatings, mistreatment, and abuse throughout the week,” the environmental organisation said. “Doctors are conducting various examinations.”The Uganda People’s Defence Force denied it was responsible and accused Kwikiriza of faking his abduction. Col Deo Akiiki, the military’s deputy spokesperson, said: “It has been established that the said person is totally deceiving. All facts have been established. We are in touch with police and his organisation to know his intentions of telling such lies.”According to the International Federation for Human Rights, Kwikiriza is one of 11 campaigners against oil projects who have been targeted by Ugandan police, military or government officials in the past two weeks.In November a further group of 11 students were arrested and are still awaiting trial after staging a peaceful march against the pipeline in Kampala.Stephen Kwikiriza, who had been reporting on alleged rights abuses in oilfields, is in hospital after being allegedly beaten by soldiers. Photograph: Environmental Governance InstituteSacha Feierabend, the federation’s programme officer for human rights and the environment, said there had been an “uptick of repression” against activists in the country’s “western oil frontier” since the end of May.The EACOP plans, backed by the French oil company Total and the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, with the Ugandan and Tanzanian governments holding minority stakes, has attracted widespread criticism from environmentalists since it was first mooted in 2013. They claim the route endangers several national parks and will displace tens of thousands of people from their homes.At least 47 protesters have been detained or arrested by Ugandan security forces since September 2020, some more than once, according to an analysis conducted last year by Global Witness.Kwikiriza had been reporting on alleged human rights abuses around the Kingfisher oilfields on the shores of Lake Albert. Oil from there will be transported along the 870-mile EACOP, which will run between Uganda and the Tanzanian coast.Kwikiriza had previously received threats from the Ugandan army, according to the EGI’s chief executive, Samuel Okulony. He said there had been increasing violence because “the campaign against stopping oil activities in Uganda has been succeeding”.Analysis conducted in 2022 revealed that over the 25-year lifespan of the pipeline, the transport, refining and burning of the oil would produce 379m tonnes of global carbon emissions.Some western banks have declined to fund it and campaigners were now focusing their efforts on potential Chinese funders, Okulony said. Chinese funding is considered pivotal to the project. Uganda’s energy minister travelled to Beijing in April to discuss the pipeline, Reuters reported.In a previous statement on human rights defenders, TotalEnergies in Uganda said it did “not tolerate any threats, intimidation, harassment or violence against those who peacefully and lawfully promote human rights in relation to our activities”.

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