Reclaiming China’s Deserts: A Tale of Two Videos

These two videos are about China’s vast reforestation project aimed at reducing the size of the Gobi Desert. The project, which started in 1978, has planted 68 billions trees altogether and reduced the Gobi Desert by 4,800 acres. It has also forced roughly 350,000 rural farmers to relocate to urban areas. Most are unable to find work and receive no government assistance other than housing.

The first film is by France 24 – the second by China 24. Although the latter is clearly a government propaganda piece, most of the facts appear accurate. It claims China is reducing the size of its deserts by 2,000 square kilometers a year, as well as offering training to all Silk Road countries in reforestation technology.

The Chinese government is also quite proud of endangered species laws they have enacted, which make harming endangered plants, animals and marine life a crime (hopefully they have also quit locking up environmental activists). They also boast about new laws to penalize companies for polluting their waterways, as well as decreasing urban air pollution by reducing steel production by 65% and coal production by 290 million tons.

The end of the China 24 documentary boasts about lifting millions of Chinese residents out of poverty, though it fails to mention China’s skyrocketing inequality. Nor the millions of Chinese farmers who have lost their livelihood after being driven off their land – nor the millions of urban street vendors whose businesses are being bulldozed for urban renewal projects.


*The Silk Road was a centuries-old trade route connecting Asia with Europe. China has invested billions of dollars in building superhighways and high speed networks along the Silk Road route through Kazakhstan and Russia.

France 24 (2017)

China 24 (2017)

 

Offline is the New Luxury

Offline is the New Luxury

VPRO (2017)

Film Review

This documentary is about taking back control of our Internet connectivity. Ironically it starts by recommending a new app that allows you to identify increasingly rare “white spots” – areas of the earth that aren’t blanketed with WiFi signals. One MIT psychology professor, who bans cellphones, laptops and tablets in her classes, is part of a movement to create sacred spaces in these white spots – areas where people fully engage with each other instead of their electronic devices.

The filmmakers also talk about the late Steve Jobs and other prominent Silicon Valley moguls not allowing their kids to have cellphones and tablets and sending them to low tech Montessori and Waldorf schools. Increasingly the well-to-do are seeking out expensive retreats and detox facilities to cure their Internet addiction. While growing numbers of law firms and security agencies patronize a highly successful Dutch firm selling Faraday cages and microwave shields to protect clients from electronic snooping and damaging microwave radiation.

The Amish, of course, have a cheap low-tech solution to Internet addiction – namely a value system that rejects most advanced electronic technology.

The video concludes by explaining the concept of “surveillance capitalism,” in which our personal information is “monetized,” ie in which the data Google, Facebook and Amazon collect on us is sold to advertisers.

A key strategy of surveillance capitalism is to use drones, satellites and giant balloons to expand connectivity to remote areas of the developing world. At the time of filming, Facebook was pressuring the Indian government to allow the introduction of Free Basics (free Internet connectivity) to all Indian residents, with Facebook retaining control of their Internet access. Google, meanwhile, is pushing to extend 100% connectivity to Sri Lanka by launching giant WiFi balloons.

According to one analyst, the drive to acquire massive troves of Indian personal data is a ploy to placate shareholders. The latter are understandably concerned about a drop-off in Facebook users in the developing world – due to privacy concerns and the recognition that most Facebook content is meaningless drivel.

Melting Arctic Opens Northwest Passage

For people who still have lingering doubts about the reality of global warming, this brief documentary reminds us that the Arctic Ocean (for the first time in recorded history) is now open to navigation during the summer. Prior to 2007, it was frozen solid year round.

During summer months, China, the US, Canada and European countries routinely save travel time and money by shipping freight over the top of the world.

According to filmmakers, Canadian treaties allegedly guarantee indigenous Inuit “input” into the new Arctic waterways – to protect the pristine environment their livelihood (hunting seals) depends on.

Expect Resistance

This was us yesterday protesting seismic blasting in a proposed sanctuary for the endangered blue whale and Maui dolphin. The Amazon Warrior, which is exploring for deep sea oil, lets out loud seismic explosions every eight seconds that disrupt their feeding, breeding and ability to communicate.

Climate Justice Taranaki is campaigning to fight climate change by leaving the fossil fuels that remain in the ground. Fossil fuel mining (mainly in the form of fracking) has been enormously destructive to our local environment and people’s health and lives.

The protest was reported in Taranaki Daily News and on  Maori TV

The Disposable People Who Process Our Toxic E-Waste

ToxiCity: A Graveyard for Electronics and People

RT (2017)

Film Review

Toxic e-waste is equally poisonous to the planet and the third world poor who are forced to process it for a living. The only truly humane and sustainable solution to toxic e-waste is to force big tech giants like Apple, Google and Dell (and the billionaires who run them) to assume responsibility for end-of-life disposal, instead of externalizing this cost to the rest of us.

This documentary is about Agbogbloshie in Acra Ghana, the largest toxic waste dump in the world, and the men, women and children who pick through electronic waste from Asia, the US, Australia and western Europe. Although it’s illegal to employ child labor or import e-waste in Ghana, these laws are never enforced.

The filmmakers interview various “waste managers” who run the site, as well as a 10 year old boy, a fifteen year old girl and the “waste site coordinator.”  The latter  adjudicates disputes and deals with the police when fights break out. The 10 year old (an orphan) earns about $8-10 a days from the scrap metal he collects. This is enough to buy two meals. The 15-year-old was forced to leave school because her parents had no money to pay for her school fees, uniform or textbooks. She prepares food to sell to other scavengers and hopes to return to school and become a nurse.

Scavenging e-waste among the burning rubber and plastics at Agbogbloshie is a highly dangerous occupation due to the high risk of cadmium and lead toxicity. Doctors at a nearly clinic also report an increased incidence of respiratory infection among children who live and work there.

 

The Forgotten Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Houston After Hurricane Harvey

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary examines the plight of Houston’s poor and minority communities a month after Hurricane Harvey. As with Hurricane Katrina, they have fared much worse than Houston’s well-to-do. Many have been left homeless after flood waters contaminated with raw sewage, lead, arsenic and benzene rendered public housing facilities uninhabitable. Despite the 20 billion dollars of federal assistance Houston has received post-Harvey, former public housing residents are getting no help in being rehoused.

Houston’s environmental justice movement has spent years fighting the oil, gas and chemical plants adjacent to their schools and neighborhoods. Routine aerial emissions of benzene and other toxic chemical are already responsible for high rates of asthma and cancer. Located in a flood plain, oil/gas and chemical storage tanks and public housing facilities are subject to annual flooding.

Environmental justice activists are demanding a significant proportion of the $20 billion in disaster aid go to better flood protection. At present Houston’s sea walls only protect against a 15 foot surge. In 2008, Hurricane Ike produced a 25 foot surge. A surge of that size will flood multiple oil, gas and chemical storage tanks, releasing their toxic contents and producing the biggest environmental catastrophe in history.

Seismic Cement: Economical Earthquake Retrofitting

According to Vancouver’s  straight.com, University of British Columbia researchers have developed a type of earthquake-resistant concrete that enables builders to quake proof really cheaply by sprayed them with a 10 millimeter thick (a little over 1/4 inch) coating of seismic concrete. Preliminary tests reveal that eco-friendly ductile cementitious composite (EDCC) is strong enough to protect vulnerable buildings against seismic shocks as strong as the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that hit Tohoku, Japan, in 2011.

EDCC is described as a mixture of “cement with polymer-based fibres, flyash and other industrial additives, making it highly sustainable”.

According to UBC researchers, by replacing nearly 70 per cent of the cement in the concrete, with flyash,* it’s possible to greatly reduce the amount of carbon emissions released. Typically the production of one ton of cement releases almost a ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

This new technology will be a great boon in earthquake prone New Zealand – where many communities are tearing down historic brick and stone buildings because conventional earthquake retrofitting is so expensive.

Read more at  straight.com


*Flyash is a byproduct from burning pulverized coal in electric power generating plant.