Author Archive for burn magazine

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Tree

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Day 1: The Tree by the General StoreWe live pretty far out. The Satsop Valley in Washington State is sparsely populated. More than 90 percent of the land is in commercial timber production.The nearest store is a 15-minute drive up the valley to the “town” of Matlock. I go to the store to buy things that aren’t good for me, and sometimes to just get off our farm for a bit. Both, really. The store and attached post office, a grange hall, a school and two churches. That’s about it in Matlock.There’s not a lot to see but trees and yet, I still see stuff through the familiarity and the repetition. But only if I really look.Can you see in your own backyard? @itomhyde for @burndiary #bw #mybackyard #photodiary #tree #creature

Beans

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Day 1: Beans from the garden. It’s harvest time on the farm. @itomhyde for @burndiary #bw #mybackyard #photodiary #farm #garden

Keep it simple

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Day 1: A good reminder for all things on a post-it note taped by the front door of our cabin in the woods. @itomhyde for @burndiary #kiss #bw #mybackyard #photodiary #love

James Whitlow Delano – The Little People: Equatorial Rainforest Project

James Whitlow Delano

The Little People: Equatorial Rainforest Project

In the Eden-like rainforests that once clothed the equator, multinational corporations are quietly stealing the resources of powerless, largely voiceless indigenous peoples whose names still identify the mountains, the valleys, and the rivers from where oil, timber, gold and other valuable minerals are spirited away. Imagine one morning walking into the New York’s Central Park only to be denied entry at the gates as oil derricks can be seen rising up from the flowerbeds. You protest, that this is a public park and it belongs to everyone, but a stranger stands in your way waving an official document. Perhaps it has been written in a language you don’t speak, and in an alphabet you cannot read. This park is not yours, explains the stranger. In fact it never was, because it has always belonged to the government who has now leased your land to this corporation you’ve never heard of, from a country you have never been. Finally, he gleefully informs you, should you try to enter these grounds, he will have you arrested, or worse.

This is exactly what has happened in Borneo, where indigenous Dayak peoples have found themselves unable to enter forests their ancestors have hunted in for a millennium or more because a bureaucrat in an office in a city far away has given over the title to their ancestral homeland to a politically-connected corporation.

Most of the lands along the equator are sparsely populated, meaning that they are out of sight and out of mind to most of the industrial world, where the bulk of the end-consumers of commodities live. If you take away Singapore, Quito, maybe Manaus and Kinshasa, what you are left with are very sparsely populated environments where the impoverished tropical soils are unsuited to feeding large populations. Most of the bio-mass is above ground, unlike in our temperate zone where the thick, nutrient-rich topsoil stores much of the bio-mass. Cut down a rainforest and the bio-mass is gone. The forest cannot grow back. On the equator, you have a hyper-sensitive tropical environment more akin, in some ways, to the arctic. Independent industrial oversight becomes difficult because access is expensive. It is awfully easy to lose someone in the jungle and many activists have been “lost” doing such work.

In 2012, rainforest activists were being killed at the rate of one a week in Brazil.

 

 

Since 1994, I have chronicled indigenous human rights violations and destruction of the equatorial rainforest in Borneo, and Peninsular Malaysia, first in the form of logging and then by creating vast monoculture oil palm plantations (often by subsidiaries of the same corporation), reducing the vast majority of the local population to cheap unskilled labor in the cash economy. These are the “little people”. They are little in number, often little in stature and little in the eyes of government. I am aware of a potential pejorative interpretation but just as the term once referred to the “inconsequential, great unwashed” masses, the indigenous peoples of the equatorial rainforest are often regarded by resource extractors as little more than an inconvenient hindrance standing between the corporation and the wealth in raw materials they seek.

The challenge in documenting such issues is to intimately connect the consumer in the north with the economic affect their consumption has on people living on the far side of the supply chain. If the reportage is to be successful, it must demonstrate the direct connection of the actions of more-prosperous end-consumers on one side of our planet with billions of others who either labor in poverty or become impoverished so that the end-consumers can live better, more fulfilling lives. I like to pose uncomfortable questions about the capitalist system as it is practiced today.

Recently, I’ve expanded this project into the Guinean and Congo Basin rainforests of Africa; and into the Amazon Basin, where indigenous peoples are under unprecedented pressure confronting the corporate giants of raw material extraction or even rising global powers like China. A pattern begins to emerge: well-funded outside entities reduce the most complex ecosystems on the planet to surface and subterranean commodity storehouses waiting to be exploited with the promise of huge potential profit.

Sometimes, however, the “little people” successfully defend their forests, as was the case for the Saamaka Maroon people, Africans who threw off the chains of slavery and carved out entirely African societies, in the Amazonian forests of Suriname, when they slipped away from Dutch Colonial plantations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Suriname signed a Memoranda of Understanding in December 2010 for US$ 6 billion with two Chinese companies for mega-infrastructure projects including the construction of a deep water port in the capital, Paramaribo and a railroad which would open up its pristine, trackless interior to exploitation directly through Saamaka land, connecting the capital with Manaus, Brazil, in the heart of the Amazon. The Surinamese parliament voted down this project due in no small part to the political power of the Saamaka since the The Inter-American Court of Human Rights declared them to be indigenous people under international law. For the Saamaka, there are still a wide array of multinational timber and mining interests from China, Canada and the United States coveting the natural resources on their land.

 

 

In Cameroon, US-owned Herakles Farms and its subsidiary, SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC) proposed carving out a massive oil palm plantation in Southwest Cameroon in one of the last unbroken masses of Guinean rainforest in West Africa. The plan called for the creation of a vast oil palm plantation (69,975 hectares/148,000 acres) on a 73,086 hectare (180,599 acres) concession (ten times the size of Manhattan) leased for 99 years on land linking two national parks, two forest reserves and one wildlife sanctuary. After years of effort by local activists like Christopher Achobang, in concert with Greenpeace, the size of the proposed concession has been reduced to roughly 20,000 hectares (49,421 acres) leased for 3 years, that could be transformed into a 99-year lease at a later date. The concession still covers an area more than twice the size of Manhattan. Less tropical forest means fewer leaves. Fewer leaves, which absorb carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), means accelerated global warming and climate change. It all works in concert.

For all the uncertainty in Suriname and Cameroon, those two examples represent rare bright spots in a rather bleak roster of land and human rights violations along the equator. The Ecuadorian Amazonas region seemed to be shaping up as a 21st century role model for finding balance between commerce and conservation, while balancing the greater good versus respecting human rights and the environment when dealing with the consequences of drilling for oil.

In 2011, an Ecuadoran court fined Chevron US$ 19 billion in a lawsuit brought by residents who claimed greatly elevated rates of cancer from petroleum contamination by Texaco on their land. That victory was short-lived. In 2014, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan overturned the Ecuadoran court ruling by finding the Ecuadoran plaintiffs’ American attorney, Stephen Donziger, employed “corrupt means” to win his case against Chevron, who now owns of Texaco, for contaminating the environment and health-related issues to residents living in areas affected by Texaco’s operations there, starting in 1964. Kaplan’s decision means that Ecuadoran villagers cannot claim any of the money due them from the Ecuadoran court’s ruling. After two decades of court cases, it is back to square one for the Ecuadoran plaintiffs.

 

 

What is unusual, perhaps unique, about this region is that the pristine, untouched forests are actually downstream because the population centers of Ecuador sit high up in the Altiplano of the Andes. Texaco and others started at the foot of the Andes and made their way south and east building roads where squatters settled in behind them, pushing the indigenous people further into the forest, or drawing them out of the forest altogether into the lowest, most impoverished level of the cash-economy. Contaminants from all this activity are carried downstream into otherwise pristine habitats.

President Rafael Correa proposed the Yasuni-ITT Initiative in 2007, to forbid drilling for petroleum in this core area of Yasuni National Park, if and only if international donors raised US$3.6 billion, equal to half the value of the estimated oil reserves lying below. (Oil drilling is already taking place inside Yasuni National Park, which begs the question, what exactly is a national park for, if it does protect the environment under its jurisdiction from oil drilling?) The initiative failed spectacularly, raising only US$13 million in actual donations. The Yasuni-ITT Initiative, through which the Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini Rivers run, which would have forbidden oil exploration in this protected bio-hotspot, was officially terminated on 15 August 2013. Although 78% – 90% of Ecuadorans oppose oil exploration in this extremely sensitive ecosystem, the government will now allow oil companies to enter it.

These local crises, taken together, constitute a full-blown global crisis. There is a clear pattern where, even if the indigenous inhabitants ultimately win a legal battle or two, they are losing large swathes of their ancestral homelands. Sometimes they lose all of it. I have yet to encounter a project in the equatorial rainforest that has met company proclamations of inflicting minimal harm on the environment.

 

 

Witnessing and documenting “sustainable selective” logging in Borneo immediately reveals the practice is neither selective nor sustainable. Petroleum exploration in the Amazon leaves behind crude oil to contaminate the water table entering the human food chain through drinking, cooking and washing. The Bakun Hydroelectric Dam in Malaysian Borneo, which displaced about 10,000 indigenous Dayak residents, and inundated an area the size of Singapore, was designed to deliver electricity to distant cities. Electricity is even exported to Indonesia and Brunei while completely bypassing local rural residents, carried by high tension wires passing directly over Iban Dayak longhouse communities who receive no electric power from them at all. River courses in Suriname’s interior are hydraulically blasted all the way down to the bedrock, spoilt with mercury, in the pursuit of small amounts of gold. In two decades of documenting on three continents, scars and poison have been the norm. This leaves almost nothing but hardship for future generations. Something’s got to give. Far from pushing aside the “little peoples” of the equatorial rain-forests, who have lived for centuries in balance with these fragile ecosystems, the industrial north should be seeking them out to learn from them. In part, our long-term survival may depend on their wisdom.

Bio

James Whitlow Delano has lived in Asia for over 20 years. His work has been awarded internationally: the Alfred Eisenstadt Award (from Columbia University and Life Magazine), Leica’s Oskar Barnack, Picture of the Year International, NPPA Best of Photojournalism, PDN and others for work from China, Japan, Afghanistan and Burma, etc. His first monograph book, Empire: Impressions from China was the first ever one-person show of photography at La Triennale di Milano Museum of Art. The Mercy Project / Inochi his charity photo book for hospice received the PX3 Gold Award and the Award of Excellence from Communication Arts. His work has appeared in magazines and photo festivals on five continents. His latest award-winning monograph book, Black Tsunami: Japan 2011 (FotoEvidence) explored the aftermath of Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear disaster. He’s a grantee for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, for work documenting the destruction of equatorial rainforests and human rights violations of indigenous inhabitants there. In 2015, Delano founded EverydayClimateChange Instagram feed, where photographers from 6 continents document global climate change on 7 continents.

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James Whitlow Delano

The last image

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@amber_hockeborne signing off here. It’s been a gift to share a slice of my life – what a wild ride! You all have been incredibly generous and supportive, I cannot thank you enough. Biggest thanks to @diegorlando & @davidalanharvey for the chance to join the @burndiary community. I’m off on another great adventure and would love for you to follow along. Although I will be far away from my beloved San Francisco and the ocean here, my heart always finds a way back home. #OBdiary

The next wave

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Day 10: It’s here where the ocean guided me away from my sorrow. Imagining life as a wild discovery and it has become just that. Words are unnecessary, they have become to enormous to deliver, just as the waves that fall overhead. The beauty of the next wave is edging ever closer. This is @amber_hockeborne in San Francisco.

Day 10

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Day 10: The beauty of San Francisco is being steps from your door easily seeing the same people, almost everyday. By taking a moment to stop and connect with your neighbors, you can open the door to a beautiful story of love and life. I will continue to lead with open heart – here in San Francisco and anywhere else I will go. And remember, I always go…I’m @amber_hockeborne in San Francisco

I can feel the Ocean

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Day 9: Closing my eyes, I can feel the ocean – heavy rolling waves seem to crash in all directions. I take today with me, as I drift away into sleep. This is @amber_hockeborne and my love affair with San Francisco and Ocean Beach is ever growing.

Drifting

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Day 9: This morning I went drifting along with the sublime heartbeat of the sea. A feeling that reminds me of you. I always hope to be near here – an ocean of pure love. This is @amber_hockeborne posting for #burndiary this morning from #oceanbeach in San Francisco.

New friends

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Day 8: While traveling, whether it’s far from home or just a short drive away, I welcome meeting new friends by taking a chance and saying yes. I’m @amber_hockeborne sharing a piece of my world in San Francisco & all things good surrounding.