Signs of Life :: Fall 2010

Small stories about big change
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Also ... The Army Experience Center in Philadelphia closes




Also ... Slower shipping reduces greenhouse gas emissions.


Canada Extends Conservation Area to Seafloor

Victory in the 25-year struggle to protect the "Galapagos of the North"–from mountain tops to the bottom of the sea.


As the world watched the oil disaster unfold in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, Canada made history by establishing the first national park to extend legal protection from mountaintop to ocean floor.

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A new conservation area extends Gwaii Haanas National Park in the Queen Charlotte Islands, recently named Haida Gwaii, "islands of the people."

Photo by Edna Winti

The Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve covers about 2,200 square miles of the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Shelf, and extends 6 miles offshore and 2,000 feet below sea level.

The marine conservation area enlarges the existing Gwaii Haanas National Park, a sizable portion of the archipelago off the coast of British Columbia formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands and recently renamed Haida Gwaii, “islands of the people.”

The battle to protect what is now Gwaii Haanas started 25 years ago, when 72 Haida First Nation elders were arrested for blockading logging trucks en route to old-growth forest. Their actions brought international media attention. Working with environmental groups, the Haida nation eventually struck an accord with the Canadian government to end logging and create a national park.

Since then, years of discussion among the Haida, Canadian government officials, scientists, environmentalists, fishermen, and a range of industries have yielded an unprecedented model for conservation—an equal partnership between a First Nation and national government to oversee the area.

In the Haida language, Gwaii Haanas means “islands of beauty and wonder.” It is indeed a jaw-dropping landscape—a mix of fjords, mountains, tundra, bogs, and windy beaches. Conservationists have dubbed it the “Galapagos of the North.” It hosts at least 39 species found nowhere else, including a genetically unique black bear larger than those in mainland North America. The marine area is home to sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and humpback, orca, and minke whales. Gray whales stop there during the summer on their migration south. Haida Gwaii’s coast is also a significant nesting site for Pacific Ocean seabirds.

The conservation area allows limited fishing, tourism, and alternative energy development but prohibits oil and gas exploration. There is concern over the environmental impact of a proposed oil pipeline on British Columbia’s mainland coast that would increase tanker traffic in Hecate Strait east of Haida Gwaii.

—Kristin Kolb is a freelance writer in Seattle, who directed communications for the campaign to save Haida Gwaii.


Canada-to-Texas Pipeline Plans Draw Criticism

Activists and residents along the 2,000-mile proposed route fear damage to farming, ecosystems, and water from the transport of what has been called the world's dirtiest source of transportation energy.


Thumb Down IconCitizen groups, members of Congress, and the Environmental Protection Agency are voicing concern over a proposal to build a three-foot-diameter crude oil pipeline that would stretch nearly 2,000 miles from Canada to Texas.

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Friends of the Earth activists end a march from the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to the White House to tell President Obama not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pipe dirty, dangerous, and energy-intensive tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas refineries.

Photo courtesy of Friends of the Earth

The Keystone XL Pipeline Project, proposed by TransCanada Corp, would pump up to 900,000 barrels of crude oil per day across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Montana Governor Brian ­Schweitzer, one of the project’s supporters, claims that the pipeline could establish an “on-ramp” for Montana oil producers, generate tax revenue, create jobs, and reduce dependency on other parts of the world for oil.
Because the pipeline crosses the Canadian border, the U.S. State Department is charged with the project’s approval.

The pipeline would carry oil extracted from Canada’s oil sands, using a process that emits high amounts of greenhouse gases, destroys boreal forests, consumes large quantities of water, and leaves behind toxic tailings lagoons, according to a University of Toronto report.

People living along the pipeline’s planned route are worried about its effects. Dakota Rural Action, a grassroots family agriculture and conservation group, sent a letter to the State Department expressing concern about “the disruption of farming and ranching operations, the damage to roads, the risk of water contamination, and the risk of leaks and spills to the environment.” Many also wonder how the pipeline will impact fragile ecosystems such as the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies 174,000 square miles and is an important regional source of potable water.

Grassroots groups aren’t alone in questioning the project. In June, 50 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton requesting more information and stating, “Building this pipeline has the potential to undermine America’s clean energy future and international leadership on climate change.”

Henry Waxman, chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, expressed his opposition to the project in a separate letter to Clinton: “This pipeline is a multibillion dollar investment to expand our reliance on the dirtiest source of transportation fuel currently available.”

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the draft environmental impact statement, published by the State Department in April, does not adequately address the pipeline’s potential greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions at refineries, safety and spill response, and impacts on communities, wetlands, and migratory birds.

The State Department is expected to respond to comments received on the draft environmental impact statement and release a final environmental impact statement before issuing or denying a permit for the project. No timeline has been given, but the decision is expected to come no earlier than the end of this year.

—Laura Kaliebe is a journalist living in Seattle.

Maryland Protects Student Info From Recruiters

Graduating high school students with increasingly grim job prospects are vulnerable to recruitment tactics.  A new law limits military access to student data.


Thumb Up IconEmployment prospects for high school students after graduation have become increasingly uncertain. Vocational counseling services in most schools are hard-pressed or nonexistent. Many rely on a military aptitude test as an aid to vocational counseling.

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Every year, 650,000 high school students in 11,900 schools across the country are required—or strongly encouraged—to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), a four-hour military test, during school hours. The students’ personal contact information, race, ethnicity, gender, Social Security numbers, and aptitude scores are then routinely sent to military recruiters without parental knowledge.

ASVAB test results are the only student records that leave schools without parental consent. Of the students nationwide who took the ASVAB in 2008–2009, 92 percent had their results directly forwarded to recruiters. A bonanza of private information from test data is used by recruiters to form relationships with students in person and over the phone.
In April 2010, Maryland became the first state to prohibit the automatic release to military recruiters of student information gathered as a result of the administration of the ASVAB in the state’s high schools.

Military regulations allow schools to determine how test results will be used by choosing one of eight options. Option 1 releases student test information to military recruiters. If the school fails to specify a release option, the military automatically selects Option 1. Maryland’s law mandates the universal selection of Option 8, prohibiting the use of test data for recruitment purposes.

—Pat Elder serves on the Steering Committee of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth.


“Many young disabled people are growing up with a marvelous sense of belonging, entitlement, and pride I never had.”

-Ben Mattlin, NPR commentator born with spinal muscular atrophy, celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (passed July 26, 1990).

ALSO ...


The Army Experience Center in Philadelphia has closed. Visitors to the center, located in a shopping mall, could play military video games and engage in mock battles aboard a Humvee and two helicopters outfitted with battle simulators. The $12 million equipment may be used at recruiting centers in other parts of the country.

6,000 U.S. veterans commit suicide every year, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Suicide rates are lower for veterans under 29 who receive VA health care services. The VA states that their toll-free suicide prevention hotline receives 10,000 calls per month, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

California Ballot on Global Warming Solutions

Citizens argue that generating jobs shouldn't mean derailing climate action.

Businesses, environmental groups, and local governments in California are confronting big oil companies in a November election battle over the state’s carbon cap-and-trade law.

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Quote from climate scientist Wallace Broecker at the Climate Change in California exhibit, Academy of Sciences, San Francisco.

Photo by Lisa Brewster

The Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB32, was heralded as a breakthrough when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed it into law in 2006. The law requires a reduction of the state’s ­greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. As a result, California has set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries and other industries and passed regulations to promote more fuel-efficient cars. Supporters say the law is steering the state’s energy markets toward renewable sources.

Proposition 23 would suspend AB32 until unemployment in the state drops to 5.5 percent for at least a year. California’s unemployment rate is currently over 12 percent.

The California Jobs Initiative Committee, largely backed by Texas-based oil companies Tesoro and Valero Energy, has raised $3.1 million to promote Proposition 23. Supporters of AB32 have mounted a fight-back campaign, raised more than $2 million, and gathered endorsements from sources as varied as Google, AARP, and the Environmental Defense Fund.

So far, California voters aren’t buying the oil companies’ offensive. A July Field Poll showed that 48 percent of voters oppose Proposition 23, versus 36 percent who support it.

—Lynsi Burton is a newspaper reporter in Bremerton, Wash.

ALSO ...

Thumb Up IconSlower shipping is saving fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent, according to Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company. Shipping firms have been lowering speeds for large container vessels since the recession hit two years ago. Some companies have lowered speeds for long ocean voyages by half.

U.N. Vote on Water, Sanitation Rights

The resolution to act on the world's "most violated human right."


Thumb Up IconOn July 28, after years of grassroots pressure, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. The vote was 122 in favor, none opposed, and 41 abstentions.

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Children gather water from a pond sand filter in Bangladesh.

Photo courtesy of The Uncultured Project

Nearly one billion people have no access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion live without proper sanitation. Every 8 seconds a child dies from a preventable water-borne disease. Maude Barlow, former senior advisor on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly, describes access to clean water as the “most violated human right.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, did not explicitly recognize the human right to water. As climate change aggravates water scarcity and contamination, advocates say that a specific resolution on water is essential.

The 41 abstaining countries included the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Anil Naidoo of the Blue Planet Project said “We are heartened by grassroots support for the resolution.” Naidoo observed that the wealthier countries who withheld support tend to consume more water per capita than poorer ones, that they fear being forced to share their water resources, and assume providing sanitation is simply too difficult. He said that wealthier countries are also home to transnational, for-profit water companies that oppose regulation.

—Daniel Moss is coordinator of .


Students Score Victory for Honduran Workers

How the "Just Pay It!" campaign on college campuses leveraged $1.5 million for Nike garment workers.


Thumb Up IconAnti-sweatshop campaigners on college campuses have scored a significant victory for workers’ rights against the world’s largest sportswear company.

55 SOL just pay itActivists have been pressuring Nike for over a decade to disclose factory locations, allow independent monitoring of labor conditions, and recognize garment worker unions.  The recent "Just Pay It!" campaign by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), focused on $2 million compensation for 1,800 garment workers for Nike subcontractors Hugger and Vision Tex in Honduras. When the factories closed in January 2009, workers were left without legally mandated severance pay and pay due for hours worked.

Nike’s initial response was that they were not responsible for the actions of Hugger and Vision Tex, although many universities’ codes of conduct hold licensees like Nike responsible for the actions of their subcontractors.

The student campaign included mass comment on Nike’s Twitter and Facebook pages, leafleting at Niketowns, national speaking tours, and demonstrations on U.S. college campuses. The first universities to respond were the University of Wisconsin, which canceled its Nike contract, and Cornell, which threatened to do so. Focus shifted to the University of Washington in Seattle (UW) as Nike’s $1 million contract to sell UW logo products came due for renewal.

The UW’s Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) put steady pressure on the university’s administration to hold Nike accountable, and was joined in its lobbying efforts by a coalition including USAS, local labor groups and supportive elected officials.

Nike’s change of heart followed the recommendation from the UW trademarks and licensing advisory committee that the university end its Nike contract if the dispute was not resolved.
The total compensation Nike has negotiated with the CGT union in Honduras includes $1.5 million, priority hiring by Nike’s other Honduran suppliers, priority hiring for the 1,800 affected workers, nine months of medical care through the country’s social security system, and the provision of a paid job training program.

-Valerie Schloredt is associate editor at YES! Magazine.


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Protesters in Phoenix, Ariz., scaled a downtown crane to display their message, “Stop hate, no 287g, no 1070,” linking the local racial profiling law with the federal policy of criminalization.  

Photo by Anita Sarkeesian

“It's a combined voice saying we will not tolerate bigotry.  Justice sometimes has to be served in putting aside profits.”


Serj Tankian, singer, explaining why he’s joining Sound Strike, the musician’s boycott of Arizona. Tankian joined Conor Oberst, Rage Against The Machine, Kanye West, Ben Harper, and a growing list of artists refusing to perform in the state until the state’s anti-immigration law is repealed.





Signs of Life :: Fall 2010 is part of , the Fall 2010 issue of YES! Magazine.