Think Forward blog

Drinking water and Democracy: Tale of Two Cities

Posted February 25, 2016 by Shiney Varghese   

Image used under creative commons license from YouTube user TruthSec Anons.

The tragic situation in Flint is in many ways a cautionary tale of democracy subverted, one that ties directly to the United States’ refusal to recognize basic human rights such as the right to water. These rights are enshrined in international law, including in the 2010 United Nations General Assembly declaration that all nations have a duty to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation.

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Climate, Livestock, Carbon & the Lobby #LivestockDebate

Posted February 23, 2016 by Shefali Sharma   

Photo by Brigitte Werner

While the debate continues about holistic management and what “true cost” actually means for livestock production models and climate change, technocrats and governments are busy establishing standards for carbon intensity reduction in industrial animal agriculture. These discussions are proceeding at a rapid pace and remain largely obscure—both in terms of the technical language used and in terms of visibility.

For instance, the Livestock Working Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, established at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, is forging ahead with defining standards for emissions inventories for livestock production. The goal is not to change or transform animal production to become more climate-friendly, but rather to find ways to reduce emissions within an ever-expanding, unsustainable, industrial model of production.

Read the livestock debate in full

Countries report these inventories to quantify their reductions of emissions (intensity) to meet international commitments on climate change that served as a basis for the Paris climate agreement. The most recent newsletter of the Working Group reports:

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Congress: Defending Wall Street in the Name of Defending Main Street, Again

Posted February 16, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

In a February 4 speech at the Georgetown University Law School, Commissioner Sharon Bowen, of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), responded concisely to one of two questions she was asked to discuss: “Is Wall Street reformed? The short answer is no.” The following blog illustrates just a few details entailed in that “no.”

CFTC Chairman Tim Massad was summoned to the House of Representatives on February 10.  Members of the Committee on Agriculture, which oversees CFTC’s legal obligations, asked him why the CFTC isn’t doing more with less to make it easier for Wall Street hedge funds to make a killing from the automated trading systems (ATS) that remain under-reported and thus “dark” to regulators. As the Wall Street Journal reported on January 26, “The market upheaval [in oil, stocks and currency prices] has provided near-ideal conditions for so-called commodity trade advisors or CTAs, hedge funds that use computer programs to guide how they trade.” ATS-exacerbated extreme price volatility is a very profitable playground for the still unregulated automated traders.

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Supreme Court decision on Clean Power Plan deals a blow to rural communities

Posted February 12, 2016 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from mizzmurray.

On Tuesday, a Supreme Court decision temporarily halted implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The decision was prompted by a lawsuit from 29 states and state agencies challenging the EPA’s authority to impose the Clean Power Plan under the Clean Air Act. Implementation of the Clean Power Plan will remain suspended until June 2, 2016 at least, when a federal appeals court will consider the states’ challenge.

The Clean Power Plan is the first regulation to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants in the U.S. and it does so ambitiously, aiming to reduce electricity sector emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Each state was assigned an emissions reduction target based on past emissions and capacity for future emissions reductions. Originally, states had until 2018 to create State Implementation Plans outlining how they would meet the targets, but this timeline could be altered depending on how the legal challenges play out.  

When the Clean Power Plan was announced six months ago, states and industry groups that depend economically on coal were quick to attack the law, characterizing it as federal overreach. Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling is a temporary win for the fossil fuel industry, but supporters believe the Clean Power Plan will ultimately be upheld by the federal appeals court. California, Colorado, Virginia and Washington have reported that they will continue implementing the Clean Power Plan despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, and 14 states have vocalized continuing support for the Clean Power Plan.

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Behind closed doors–the vulnerability of big meat production

Posted February 2, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from chesbayprogram.

This blog first appeared as a contribution to #Livestockdebate hosted by the European coalition ARC2020 (Agriculture and Rural Convention 2020). You can read contributions to the #Livestockdebate from other experts at the ARC2020 website.


Last month, workers entered ten massive, confined turkey and chicken operations in Indiana and sprayed foam designed to suffocate the birds. When the cold temperatures froze the hoses, local prisoners were brought in to help kill the birds manually. Other operations shut down the ventilation systems killing the birds as heat temperatures rose. More than 400,000 birds have been euthanized so far in an effort to contain a new strain of avian flu in the U.S. Last year, approximately 45 million birds were killed to contain the spread of a different avian flu strain in the U.S. These epidemics are not limited to poultry: two years ago, a massive piglet virus outbreak killed millions of pigs (an estimated 10 percent of the U.S. hog population).

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Building international alliances to bury the TPP

Posted February 2, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

One reason the TPP is in such trouble, especially in the United States, is that we’ve heard this story before. Passing NAFTA, CAFTA or other free trade agreements was supposed to mean more and better jobs, improved farm incomes and increasing prosperity all around. But that’s not what happened. In the wake of NAFTA, manufacturing jobs have evaporated, family farms have been decimated and income inequality has increased. Projections that this time around the TPP would generate increasing prosperity are met with a healthy dose of skepticism or outright disbelief.

Another part of the story is the strong opposition across borders. A big outcome of the NAFTA debate was the formation of strong ties among citizens’ groups in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada that refocused the discussion away from one country “stealing” jobs from another to a central emphasis on the role of transnational corporations in driving standards down to the lowest common denominator. An important element of the eventual defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas was the creation of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, allowing national and sectoral coalitions to coordinate analysis and actions across borders.

Last week Mexican civil society groups convened organizations from the NAFTA countries plus Peru and Chile to reenergize that collaboration in the context of TPP and build an action plan moving forward. It was great to see allies from Mexico and Canada, especially the coalitions that began during the NAFTA debate. It was inspiring to meet leaders from vibrant coalitions in Chile and Peru, as well as people working on digital rights and other issues that are relatively new in the trade debate.

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New strain of avian flu strikes in Indiana

Posted January 15, 2016 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from Michael Fraley.

It didn’t take long to test USDA Secretary Vilsack’s prediction that the poultry industry is prepared for a new outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). On January 8, Vilsack gave an interview to USDA Radio News in which he said, “I think we’re in a much better position to detect it more quickly, to respond more effectively within 24 hours to depopulate flocks if we see a reemergence of this.”

Earlier today, the USDA released a statement confirming an outbreak of H7N8 virus, a different strain of HPAI than the one that killed 48 million birds in the US this spring. This latest outbreak occurred in a commercial turkey flock in Dubois County, Indiana. Plans are under way to kill the flock and dispose of the carcasses. News of the outbreak sent stocks tumbling for all the major poultry processors.

It is too early to tell if this appearance of H7N8 virus will be as devastating as the last round of HPAI, which subsided in June of last year. While the Indiana outbreak was the first reported in the U.S. in almost seven months, avian flu has continued to wipe out millions of birds in other countries. France in particular has been hard hit, with over 30 flocks destroyed to prevent the spread of the disease.

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Canadian energy company attacks U.S. right to set national energy policy

Posted January 7, 2016 by Juliette Majot   

Used under Creative Commons license from prwatch.org.

The ability of the United States to make its own decisions regarding how, where and why to build transcontinental oil pipelines has been challenged by TransCanada Corporation, which sued the U.S. yesterday for the loss of potential future profits associated with the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. The move represents a threat to both U.S. national sovereignty and national security, given the role of energy policy in protecting the homeland. The suit could also establish a precedent for challenging sovereign rights to address climate change through energy policy, not just in the U.S., but in any country that is party to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  

The standing of TransCanada to sue the American government is provided not in any formal U.S. legal judiciary setting, but through rules laid down in a trade regime, NAFTA. The terms of this agreement, and other similar trade agreements, are designed to protect the rights of foreign investors over the rights of the states in which they are investing.

If successful, the suit will incur more losses to U.S. citizens than those associated with sovereign rights and national security. TransCanada is asking for $15 billion dollars in lost potential future profits. Furthermore, in an additional suit filed in Houston, Texas, TransCanada is seeking to limit the power of the President of the United States in setting U.S. energy policy by claiming that the Keystone decision was unconstitutional.

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WTO: Missing in Action

Posted December 23, 2015 by Sophia Murphy   

Used under creative commons license from world_trade_organization.

The World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya from 15-18 December came right on the heels of the final outcome of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The contrasts were striking, and not just because of the shift from Europe to Africa, from northern winter to equatorial rains, and from environment to trade. There was also the level of interest: everyone who could not be in Paris was watching what went on there from afar, while few came to sit in the make-shift tents put up by the Kenyan Government as an NGO centre. The protest marches, organized by farmers’ organizations, gathered dozens of people rather than the several thousands who had come to WTO Ministerials past. The multinational lobbyists were few, many having turned their attention instead to plurilateral agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Despite its long-standing support for the WTO and its agenda, The Financial Times newspaper did not even send its world trade editor. It seemed that the world could hardly have cared less.

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Looking back from Paris to Senegal: What the FAO Regional Agroecology Meeting had to say on Climate-Smart Agriculture

Posted December 22, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from wdm.

With the recent conclusion of climate talks in Paris (see Ben Lilliston’s coverage here, here, here, and here), which included strong pushes for “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA) by a variety of government, NGO and corporate actors, it’s worth returning to the recent conversations about agriculture at the FAO’s second Regional Agroecology Meeting. This meeting, which I attended in Dakar, Senegal from November 4-6 of this year, once again united scientists, civil society and members of government to discuss agroecology and its potential to improve small-scale food producers’ lives, support their extensive existing knowledge and improve environmental impacts from the agrifood system, from climate change to biodiversity.

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