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Signs of Life

Sweden Vows to Go Oil-free in 15 years

swedish bicyclist

Sweden has announced plans to be the first oil-free country in the world by 2020. Plans call for renewables—including biofuels, wind, and wave power—to replace fossil fuels. The country already committed itself to phasing out nuclear energy.

“A Sweden free of fossil fuels would give us enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices,” says development minister Monika Sahlin.

Scientists, industry leaders, farmers, and others will develop a detailed plan for presentation to Sweden's parliament in October. Sweden already gets 26 percent of its energy from renewable sources, while the European Union average is just 6 percent. “We want to be both mentally and technically prepared for a world without oil,”

The Guardian quoted a government official as saying. “The plan is a response to climate change, rising petroleum prices, and warnings by some experts that the world may soon be running out of oil.”

Many Swedish homes are heated by wood-fired boilers, geothermal energy, or waste heat.

Sweden is encouraging its citizens to drive non-gas-powered vehicles by offering exemptions from tolls and parking fees. Tax breaks now make ethanol-based fuel one-third as expensive as ordinary gasoline.

Rik Langendoen is a longtime YES! contributor and volunteeer


UN Panel Upholds "Terminator Plant" Moratorium.

A United Nations panel has upheld the global moratorium on “terminator” plants genetically engineered to produce infertile seeds. The panel made the decision at its March meeting in Curitiba, Brazil.

Terminator technology prevents farmers from saving seeds from their harvests for the next crop, forcing them to buy from seed companies. A moratorium on the technology, enacted under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, had been challenged by Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian delegates lobbied by U.S. advisors and seed corporations Monsanto and Syngenta.

But a broad coalition of farmers, indigenous people, environmental and social justice activists, and local and regional governments defended the moratorium. Worldwide, grassroots opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is mounting.

In Brazil, after protests by more than 1,000 farmers in the GMO-free state of Parana, the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency fined the Syngenta company 1 million Reals ($466,000) for its experimental GMO-crop cultivation near Iguaçu National Park.

In Mali, a group of farmers acting as Africa's first “citizen jury” voted in February against the introduction of GMO crops. After debate and consultation with international experts, the jury proposed focusing research and training on local varieties and organic farming methods instead of using GMOs. The jury's vote is not binding on the government.

 

Lilja Otto is a YES! intern.


Spring Break Students Clean Up New Orleans

More than 2,700 college students passed up popular spring break spots like Cancún and Florida this year in favor of an unlikely destination: New Orleans' devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Volunteers from 49 states and as far away as Australia came in response to a call by Common Ground Relief.

Common Ground, which has been working to assure that African- American and low-income residents have an opportunity to return to New Orleans, organized the “Second Freedom Rides Alternative Spring Break.” The students came from 275 colleges and contributed $2 million worth of volunteer labor, according to Common Ground estimates.

In response to residents' requests, the students gutted 200 houses and began cleaning out Martin Luther King Elementary School. Although the government does not plan to reopen the school until fall 2008, Common Ground hopes to open it for community use by May.

Students at historically black colleges and universities were particularly encouraged to volunteer. In the spirit of Common Ground's commitment to “solidarity, not charity” all volunteers were offered anti-racism training and lessons in the socio-political history of New Orleans.

Common Ground called the spring break program the “Second Freedom Rides” in reference to the 1961 bus rides to New Orleans that challenged segregation in interstate bus travel. Common Ground Relief is a community- based, nonprofit volunteer organization formed immediately after Hurricane Katrina. It operates three medical clinics, four distribution centers, gardening and bioremediation projects, a legal collective, a tool-lending library, and a communications center.

Ellie McPherson is a YES! intern. For more on Common Ground, go to www.commongroundrelief.org


Sioux Clinic to Defy South Dakota Abortion Ban

South Dakota women may soon be making their way to the Pine Ridge Reservation to get legal abortions. The state passed a law in February banning abortions except to save a woman&rsquos life. Because of tribal sovereignty, the law will not apply to a reproductive health clinic the Oglala Sioux Tribe has announced it will build on the reservation, says Cecelia Fire Thunder, president of the tribe. The new clinic will open within the next year.

South Dakota attorney general Larry Long questioned whether tribal sovereignty will apply in this case. In the meantime, he says, court challenges will likely keep the new law from taking effect in the immediate future.

Fire Thunder says this issue is bigger than abortion, since half of the roughly 38,000 people who live on the Pine Ridge Reservation are of childbearing age. The Indian Health Service, the tribe&rsquos healthcare provider, makes little provision for family planning, she says.

The clinic, to be named the Sacred Choices Clinic, will be a stand-alone, nonprofit entity that will offer reproductive healthcare for all women in the state.

Daina Saib is an editorial intern at YES!


Impeachment Movement Grows

Grassroots calls for impeachment of the president are growing. In September, the Santa Cruz, California, City Council called on Congress to investigate whether Bush should be impeached for sending troops to Iraq under false pretenses. Since then, 10 towns from Vermont to California, five state Democratic parties, and 19 local Democratic committees have passed similar resolutions.

A January Zogby poll found that 52 percent of Americans want the president impeached if he wiretapped U.S. citizens without a judge's approval. The poll was commissioned by Afterdowningstreet.com, a website created to publicize British memos it says show the Bush administration was “fixing” pre-war intelligence to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Founders of Afterdowningstreet have created a political action committee to elect pro-impeachment Democratic members of Congress.

Carolyn McConnell is Consulting Editor at YES!


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States Pioneer Climate Action

In the face of federal inaction on climate change, both houses of the Vermont Legislature have passed a bill that will reduce the state's carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent by 2020.

Led by New York Governor George E. Pataki, seven states— Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont—signed an agreement in 2003 to create a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

Vermont's new law would make it the first to implement the plan and the first U.S. state to create a mandatory carbon emissions trading market.

The plan caps total emissions and makes power plants purchase allowances that give them the right to emit carbon. Revenue from the sale of the allowances, expected to be $3–$5 million, will be used to support energy efficiency measures, renewable energy, new energy technologies, and, potentially, consumer rebates.

Currently, RGGI applies to carbon dioxide emissions from fossilfuel- burning power plants, which create a quarter of the emissions in the Northeast. The initiative is designed so that it can eventually include other greenhouse gases and other sources of emissions.

Maryland, meanwhile, has passed the Healthy Air Act, which sets some of the nation's toughest state limits on nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and mercury—pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, and harmful ozone. The legislation also commits the state to joining RGGI by mid-2007. Because Maryland is more reliant on coal-fired power plants than the other states in the regional pact and its governor opposed strengthened pollution regulation, the new law is considered a major environmental victory.

California may enact a similar greenhouse gas emissions cap if it adopts the Global Warming Solutions Act currently being considered by the state Assembly. The bill requires companies to track and report all greenhouse gas emissions.

California is the 12th largest emitter of global warming pollution in the world. The legislation would reduce greenhouse gases in the state by 25 percent.

Daina Saib is an editorial intern at YES!


Peak Oil Caucus Forms

Members of the U.S. Congress have formed a Peak Oil Caucus in response to predictions that world oil production will peak and decline in coming years.

Representatives Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) created the caucus last October, and 18 other representatives have since signed on.

According to Bartlett, the problems created by peak oil will not be solved by concentrating on supply. Any solution, he says, must be grounded in conservation, renewable energy, and improvements in transportation.

“The United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency of the ‘Man on the Moon' project to develop a comprehensive plan to address the challenges presented by Peak Oil,” caucus members said in a House resolution introduced last year.

In 1956, Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert predicted U.S. oil production would peak about 1970, then sharply decline. He was correct, and a growing number of geologists, economists, and environmentalists believe that world oil production will likewise peak in the next two decades, bringing skyrocketing prices and disruption of world economies.

Carolyn McConnell is Consulting Editor at YES!


Third Ohio Elections Worker Indicted

In February, the former director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections became the third Cuyahoga elections worker to be indicted for mishandling ballots during the 2004 Ohio presidential election recount. The indictment is the latest fallout from the scandalplagued 2004 Ohio vote, which provided George Bush his national margin of victory.

Special prosecutor Kevin Baxter alleges that the three Cuyahoga elections workers subverted Ohio voting law in an effort to avoid a lengthy and costly hand recount.

Ohio recount procedure dictates that precincts representing 3 percent of the total vote in a county be randomly selected for both a hand and a machine recount. If the two counts do not match exactly, then elections workers must undertake a hand count for the entire county. If they do match, only a machine recount is conducted. Baxter's indictment alleges that, in Cuyahoga County, elections workers conducted secret pre-counts to identify precincts where the hand and machine recounts matched and then claimed to randomly select these precincts in public.

Michael Vu, executive director of the Cuyahoga Elections Board, maintains that precincts were selected in accordance with past practices and elections workers were prepared to carry out a full hand recount.

Green Party elections observers reported similar mishandling of recounted ballots in seven other counties in addition to Cuyahoga. Baxter indicated more indictments may be forthcoming.

Krista Camenzind is a former YES! intern


Instant Runoff Elects Vermont Mayor

Instant runoff voting (IRV) proved the biggest winner in Burlington's mayoral race this March. The election marked the first time voters in Vermont's largest city have used IRV since they adopted it under a successful ballot measure last year. Instant runoff voting (IRV) proved the biggest winner in Burlington's mayoral race this March. The election marked the first time voters in Vermont's largest city have used IRV since they adopted it under a successful ballot measure last year.

IRV asks voters to rank candidates by preference. When none of the candidates receives an initial majority, a computer quickly eliminates the candidates with the lowest number of votes. The second choices of those who voted for the eliminated candidates are then distributed to the two remaining candidates. In Burlington, Progressive Bob Kiss gained the majority in the instant runoff, despite being outspent three to one by his closest rival in the campaign.

Vermont media called the election “flawless.” According to the nonprofit organization FairVote, 99.9 percent of ballots were valid, and exit polls showed a majority of voters liked and understood the new system. The election was closely watched by the state, where legislation for statewide use of IRV has been introduced.

Supporters of IRV argue that it better accommodates voter choice by ensuring that the winner is elected by a majority of voters and eliminating the “spoiler effect” of third-party candidates. It also saves taxpayers the expense of runoff elections and discourages negative campaigning, because candidates aim to receive the second-choice votes of their opponents' supporters.

Berkeley, California, and Ferndale, Michigan, have also passed IRV ballot measures for mayoral elections, but have yet to use IRV. San Francisco elects its Board of Supervisors using IRV.

Elle McPherson is an intern at YES!


Chicago Trims Waste

Chicago made itself a leader in recycling among U.S. cities when a new ordinance went into effect this year requiring contractors to recycle at least 25 percent of their construction and demolition waste. By 2007, the city will require 50 percent of its construction and demolition waste to be recycled.

More than one-third of Chicago's overall waste comes from construction and demolition sites. Many of the millions of tons of steel, concrete, brick, and wood that usually end up in landfills can easily be recycled or reused.

Daina Saib os an editorial intern at YES!


Day of Action Against New Weapons Test

Local and national activists have called an International Day of Action on May 28 to stop a huge non-nuclear explosion at the Nevada Test Site. This event kicks off a week of peaceful protest leading up to the planned test, scheduled for June 2.

The detonation, code-named Divine Strake, would be 70 times larger than the U.S.' largest conventional bomb and similar to its smallest nuclear bomb, according to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

The Defense Department initially confirmed the test was a simulation of a low-yield nuclear weapon explosion aimed at destroying underground targets, according to Kristensen. Days later, a Defense Department statement to The Washington Post denied the test was linked to nuclear research.

Kristensen is concerned that the test could be used for research into new low-yield nuclear weapons and that the availability of smaller nuclear weapons would lower the threshold for their use. Congress banned development of small nuclear weapons in 1993, but amended the law in 2003 to allow early-stage research and development without explicit Congressional approval.

Nevada Citizen Alert has protested the planned test, demanding an independent environmental impact statement. The organization fears the huge mushroom cloud from the blast could carry dust from the heavily irradiated test site across Nevada and into neighboring states. The Nevada Division of Environmental Proection also renewed its year-old demand that the U.S. government demonstrate that the test would meet air quality standards. Members of the Western Shoshone Tribe and downwinders from Utah filed for a restraining order to halt the test. The test violates a recent decision of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urging the U.S. to stop weapons testing on tribal land where the test site is located.

Lilja Otto is an editorial intern at YES!


For more information, see www.citizenalert.org, www.wsdp.org, and www.fas.org.

Latin America Breaks Ties to Military Past

In signs of a changing Southern Hemisphere, several Latin American countries moved away from their military past and their ties to the United States this spring.

In Argentina, defense minister Nilda Garre announced that the government would make public all secret military archives to help uncover human rights violations during that country's "dirty war" of 1976 — in which 30,000 people allegedly were tortured and disappeared.

The decision came on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the military coup, which was marked by thousands who marched in all parts of Argentina, chanting, "Never again!"

Argentina and Uruguay also joined Venezuela in deciding to end the practice of sending troops to train at the U.S.-run School of the Americas, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), where many members of the military in the repressive dictatorships of the 1970s received training. Bolivia will reduce the number of troops it sends to WHINSEC.

In March, activists from the U.S., including School of the Americas Watch founder Father Ray Bourgeois and members of the Marin Interfaith Task Force and Nonviolence International, traveled to these countries to encourage them not to send their military to train at WHINSEC.

Lisa Garrigues is a YES! contributing editor.


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