Blue Marble - October 2011

Barbie Ends Troubled Relationship With Deforestation

| Wed Oct. 5, 2011 6:40 PM EDT

Barbie is moving her dream house out of the Indonesian rainforest. On Wednesday, Mattel announced that it will stop using paper products from companies "that are known to be involved in deforestation." This comes after a major Greenpeace campaign to convince the toy giant to ditch problematic packaging, specifically paper from the company Asia Pulp & Paper.

Mattel has issued new "sustainable sourcing principles" which include maximizing their use of post-consumer recycled content, avoiding fibers from "controversial sources," and increasing the use of third-party certified sustainable products.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace conducted testing on packaging for Barbie, one of Mattel's best-known products, and found that the fibers came from the environmentally fragile Indonesian rainforest. The group also dinged Mattel for using products from Asia Pulp & Paper, "a pulp and paper company notorious for destroying Indonesian rainforests, including the habitat of the endangered Sumatran tiger." Other major US companies, like Staples, Office Depot, and Target, had already stopped using paper products from the company. (Our own Kiera Butler has also blogged about APP's ties to tea party groups.)

As the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday, Mattel has now joined the ranks of companies shunning APP:

Mattel spokesperson Jules Andres said the company this summer directed its suppliers "to not source paper and pulp from Asia Pulp & Paper. She said Mattel's new policy "directs our printers not to contract with controversial sources," and that Mattel considers Asia Pulp & Paper "a controversial source."

It's a big win for Greenpeace, which ran a major campaign that featured Ken breaking up with Barbie because, he said, "I don't date girls that are into deforestation":

UPDATE: An APP spokesman sent along this response to Mattel's decision to drop the company, on behalf of sustainability and public outreach manager Ian Lifshitz. The response doesn't really rebut concerns about the company's practices:

Asia Pulp & Paper applauds Mattel's commitments to recycling, wood legality, protection of High Conservation Value Forest, respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and robust auditing and certification procedures. These principles very much mirror AP'’s philosophy and environmental commitments and we are delighted to see a major global toy manufacturer adopt the same.
APP supports all credible industry certification, however, we strongly urge companies to not limit their procurement policies to one standard, in this case FSC, which discriminates against products from Indonesia and other developing markets. APP supports policies that protect both the environment and the vital income which developing countries receive from the pulp & paper industries.

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Tuvalu Runs Dry

| Tue Oct. 4, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

Funafuti lagoon, Tuvalu.: Stefan Lins via Wikimedia Commons.Funafuti lagoon, Tuvalu. Credit: Stefan Lins via Wikimedia Commons.The tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu—already suffering from rising sea levels—has declared a state of emergency as water supplies on some islands ran dry today. 

The Telegraph reports that Tuvalu's state of emergency was declared after existing desalination plants broke, exacerbating an already dire drought:

The Tuvalu Red Cross said it had not rained properly in the country for more than six months. Meteorologists have forecast a lack of run until December. Typically it gets between 200mm to 400mm [~8 to 16 inches] of rainfall per month... [New Zealand] was working with the Red Cross to deliver aid workers and supplies as quickly as possible.  

 

Location of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu.: Credit: TUBS via Wikimedia Commons, modified by Julia Whitty.Location of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu.: Credit: TUBS via Wikimedia Commons, modified by Julia Whitty.I wrote about the troubles facing Tuvalu's nine tiny islands in my 2003 Mother Jones article All the Disappearing Islands. At that time Tuvalu was threatening to sue Earth's gassiest nations for emitting enough CO2 to sink Tuvalu for good:

Tuvalu is among the smallest and most remote countries on Earth, with a total land mass comprising only 10 square miles/26 square kilometers, less than half the size of Manhattan and scattered over 347,400 square miles/899,000 sq km of ocean—an area larger than California, Oregon, and Washington combined... At no point is the sandy island of Funafuti higher than 13 feet above sea level, as is the case throughout the nine coral atolls of this South Pacific nation of Tuvalu. Surrounded by the sea, the people here have been shaped by it as few others on earth. Every afternoon, rain or shine, Tuvaluan children romp in its unsupervised playground... Inescapably, this is a nation of waterfront property; even the plywood and corrugated-tin houses standing 'inland' a block or two enjoy the ambiance of the ocean. No one here has ever lived a moment without hearing the thunder of surf.

Credit: © Julia Whitty.Credit: © Julia Whitty.Now Tuvalu's freshwater aquifers may be contaminated, reports the BBC:

Secretary General Tataua Pefe advised people against drinking water from wells. "It's not safe for consumption," he told Radio Australia. "Some animals have died recently and we think it's because of subterranean water."

In The Fragile Edge I wrote how Tuvalu's problem with freshwater contamination could render its islands uninhabitable long before rising sea levels irrevocably sinks them:

Floods and rogue waves raise the saltwater table underlying the atolls, poisoning the Tuvaluans' staple crops. Already some farmers have been forced to grow their [crops] in tin containers, and already some of the smaller motus [islands] have lost their coconut palms to saltwater intrusion. Nor are storms a prerequisite for disaster. "Last August," Prime Minister Saufatu Sopoanga tells me, "on a clear, calm day, a sudden wave surge rolled in from the sea and washed across Funafuti into the lagoon, flooding houses." There was no apparent reason for it, and during my stay on the atoll, I find the sensation of threat to be ever present—the sea on both sides, the constant drumroll of surf, a thin strip of land between—like living on a liquid fault line.

Meanwhile 3 News New Zealand reports the drought is affecting other Pacific islands too, notably Tokelau—a New Zealand territory of fewer than 1,500 people living on three coral atolls in the central Pacific—which has also declared a state of emergency.

At the same time The Taiwan News reports a possible cholera outbreak in Tuvalu.

Wedding on Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu.: Credit: © Julia Whitty.Wedding on Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu. Credit: © Julia Whitty.Inundated by ills from afar, more and more Tuvaluans are leaving their home islands—and not because they want to. From All the Disappearing Islands:

Within the coming decades, the atolls of Tuvalu and elsewhere will almost certainly revert to sandbars and then nothing. Although the people themselves will not go extinct, without their home islands to anchor them, their beliefs and identity probably will, scattered person by person across the rising waters... until, like Atlantis, the name of Tuvalu fades into myth.

Emails Reveal Close Ties Between TransCanada Lobbyist and State Dept.

| Mon Oct. 3, 2011 7:55 AM EDT
Construction on the existing Keystone pipeline.

Emails released by the State Department through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show a close relationship between the top lobbyist for energy company TransCanada and a US diplomat—a relationship that environmental groups say has compromised the agency's ability to make a fair decision on the company's proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The ties between Paul Elliott, TransCanada's director of government relations, and the State Department have come under considerable scrutiny as the company has sought the agency's approval to build a 1,661-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. Before going to work for TransCanada, Elliott served as the national deputy director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. The environmental group Friends of the Earth filed a FOIA request in December 2010 seeking emails and other documents concerning Elliot's contact with State Department employees. (The group released a first round of documents several weeks ago.) The more notable emails in this most recent round is correspondence between Elliott and Marja Verloop, the counselor for environment, science, technology, and health at the US embassy in Canada. Verloop appears to be a key point of contact between the embassy and TransCanada.

In a September 2010 email, Verloop celebrates after Elliott informs her that he's secured support for the pipeline project from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). "Go Paul!" she writes. "Baucus support holds clout." Other emails highlight a friendly relationship between the two, with Verloop asking Elliott when he planned to come up to Ottawa again. "When are you coming up to visit?" she wrote. "It's a snowy winter wonderland here this morning." (See all the emails here, here, here, here, and here.)

To pipeline critics, the most significant messages may be an exchange in which Verloop and her boss, US Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson, discuss an apparent understanding between the State Department and TransCanada that the company would later seek to raise the pressure used to pump oil through the pipeline—even though the company said publicly it would do the opposite. To alleviate concerns about pipeline safety, TransCanada had announced in August 2010 that it would lower the pressure that it planned to use in the pipeline, in response "to the concerns of the public and various political leaders," as Robert Jones, the vice president of TransCanada's Keystone pipelines division, said at the time. The lower pressure would conform to US standards and was meant to alleviate concerns about the pipeline rupturing.

But in a July 26, 2010 email Elliott told Verloop that the company still intended to apply for permission to increase pressure in the pipeline when "there is better information in the public domain on the engineering safety of such pipe design and operation." Verloop forwarded the email to Jacobson the following day, and described TransCanada as "comfortable and on board" with the decision-making process. The exchange indicates that the State Department was aware of TransCanada's intention to increase the pressure in the future, even as the company was telling the public a different story.

TransCanada's decision to decrease the pipeline pressure helped the company win high-profile support from lawmakers including Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who issued a press release touting the change as a "win for energy development" and a "win for higher safety standards in rural America."

Also telling is a December 2010 exchange between Verloop and Elliott, shortly after environmental groups started raising concerns about his ties to the State Department. Verloop forwarded a story to him from Energy and Environment Daily about the concerns. In his reply, Elliot noted that he had a "sick feeling" over the complaints. Verloop responds with encouragement: "[I]t's precisely because you have connections that you're sought after and hired."

The emails also make it clear that Elliott was actively lobbying congressional lawmakers and State Department officials for at least a year-and-a-half before he officially registered as a lobbyist. According to lobbying disclosure records, Elliott did not officially register until December 16, 2010—three days after Friends of the Earth filed its FOIA request concerning his contact with the State Department. FOE has asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether Elliott violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by failing to register earlier as a lobbyist for the Canadian company.

The messages, says Friends of the Earth climate and energy director Damon Moglen, should disqualify the State Department from rendering a determination both the environmental impact of the pipeline and whether the pipeline project is in the national interest.

"What you really see is an agency that was supposed to be conducting an independent, objective, searching, science-based environmental analysis was basically working in cahoots with this oil company," Moglen told Mother Jones. "We're not just talking about bias, we're talking about complicity."

A State Department spokesman disputed that interpretation, however. "We are committed to a fair, transparent and thorough process," the spokesman told Mother Jones. "Throughout the process we have been in communication with industry as well as environmental groups, both in the United States and in Canada. These conversations are similar to the public meetings we held last week. We listen to all opinions, but there is much more that goes into the national interest determination decision."