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  Sierra Magazine
  March/April 2004
Table of Contents
  FEATURES: Wild America
Our Great Estate
Land Lingo
The Assault on Wild America
Beneath Wyoming Stars
Stuck on the Desert
Deep in the Georgia Woods
In the Rockies' Wild Heart
Experts Agree!
Interview: Yvon Chouinard
Ways & Means
Let's Talk
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Good Going
The Sierra Club Bulletin
Grassroots Update
Mixed Media
Sierra Archives
About Sierra
Internships at Sierra
Advertising Information
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Sierra Magazine

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Lay of the Land

Miami Vise | WWatch | Butterfly Bodyguards | Bold Strokes | As the World Warms

Miami Vise

Police crush peaceful protest at trade summit

When confronted by tens of thousands of protestors on his November 2003 visit to London, President George W. Bush said essentially the same thing he always says in such situations: "It’s a fantastic thing to come to a country where people are free to express their views."

Americans seeking that fantastic experience might soon have to go to England, because opposing views are increasingly unwelcome here at home, as hundreds of Sierra Club activists discovered later that month in Miami. The venue was a summit meeting for the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), an agreement that could push environmental and labor standards into a "race to the bottom" across the hemisphere. Along with thousands of senior citizens, union members, farmers, and other environmentalists peacefully protesting the agreement, the Sierra Club contingent was teargassed, threatened with guns, and—in one case—arrested, pepper-sprayed, and strip-searched.

The alarming abuse prompted a letter of complaint to George Bush himself from Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope: "We were appalled that the local police, supported by $8.5 million in federal funds and the Department of Homeland Security, engaged in a systematic campaign of intimidation that violated the constitutional rights of thousands of law-abiding citizens."

The FTAA is essentially an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the environmental and social effects of which continue to be felt along the U.S.–Mexico border. Like NAFTA, the FTAA champions investor "rights" over existing environmental and labor standards. And like the agreement proposed at the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, it is strongly opposed by a powerful "blue-green" coalition of union members and environmentalists, who joined forces again in Miami to speak out against it.

Or tried to, at any rate. Vowing to avoid the smashed Starbucks windows and other property damage caused in Seattle by a handful of violent anarchists, Miami officials assembled 2,500 riot police from 50 jurisdictions, backed up by armored vehicles and even tanks. According to Sierra Club trade representative Dan Seligman, "The drumbeat of local TV coverage of the police preparations created a false presumption that demonstrators would be violent, which scared away many who wanted to protest." The police turned away many more, like the 17 buses full of senior citizens brought in by the AFL-CIO that were prevented from entering the downtown area. Police also prevented thousands more from assembling at the Bayfront Amphitheater, falsely claiming that it was full.

The Miami PD made its own predictions of violence come true on Thursday, November 20. That morning, Sierra Club members (including Club president Larry Fahn) assembled at a knoll overlooking Biscayne Boulevard, in full cooperation with the police. Then, says Fahn, "a phalanx of 200 or more riot cops, shoulder-to-shoulder, marched down on us, and forced us out of the park and onto the sidewalk, for no apparent reason. Some minutes later, they pushed us off the sidewalk. When Dan Seligman tried to discuss the matter with them, a cop raised his gun and pointed it at Dan’s head."

It got worse after that. The agreed-upon route of the protest march was changed by the police at the last minute, forcing it to pass far from the Intercontinental Hotel, where the trade talks were taking place. At a peaceful demonstration the following day, a young woman from the Sierra Student Coalition was arrested, handcuffed, pepper-sprayed in the eyes while obeying police orders, and later stripped of her clothes by four male police officers and denied medical treatment for her injuries.

In his letter to Bush, Carl Pope detailed these violations, and called for an independent, bipartisan commission to examine the affair. "The fundamental constitutional rights of all Americans are in jeopardy if the intimidating tactics used by the Miami police become the model for dealing with future public demonstrations."

As for the FTAA, resistance from Brazil and other developing countries led to a stalemate inside the hall, with all substantive issues postponed. Instead, the Bush administration is adopting a "divide and conquer" strategy by pursuing free-trade pacts with smaller blocs of the weakest countries in Latin America; Congress is expected to take up a proposed CAFTA—the Central American Free Trade Agreement—this fall. —Paul Rauber

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Butterfly Bodyguards

Each year millions of monarch butterflies migrate more than 3,000 miles from Canada and the eastern United States to wintering grounds in the oyamel fir trees of Mexico. But illegal logging has put the monarch’s survival at risk. To its rescue has come a Mexican butterfly patrol, including 500 police as well as environmental inspectors and helicopters. So far, the effort has netted 28 illegal loggers and nearly 5,000 cubic yards of ill-gotten wood. Prosecutors with Mexico’s environmental department have promised to enforce penalties, which include three- to five-year prison terms. —Marilyn Berlin Snell

The Aztecs believed that monarch butterflies were reincarnations of dead warriors, returned to their homelands with blazing orange and black wings.

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Bold Strokes

Cool Soil
When it comes to curbing global warming, scientists may have hit pay dirt. After field studies spanning 23 years, researchers at Cornell University, the Department of Agriculture, and the Rodale Institute have confirmed that the soils used in organic farming reduce emissions of carbon dioxide–the most common greenhouse gas. In conventional corn and soybean farming, strong chemical fertilizers rapidly break down organic matter, sending carbon dioxide into the atmosphere rather than retaining carbon in the soil as organic farming does. Abundant activity by mycorrhizal fungi in organic soils also slows decay. The effect is called "carbon sequestration" and it makes organic farming a winning combination: Less CO2 is released, and harmful pesticides and other chemicals are avoided.

O Canada!
In what may be one of the world’s largest forest-saving efforts, tree-huggers and loggers have banded together with three Native nations to try to protect 1.3 billion acres of Canada’s boreal forest. The initiative’s sponsors–which include Domtar, one of the country’s largest paper and lumber companies–want half of the acreage preserved, while allowing sustainable development on the rest. The group hopes its agreement will be adopted by the national and local governments of Canada, creating a "greenprint" that will protect one-tenth of the remaining forest on Earth. The Sierra Club of Canada supports the initiative, calling it a "very positive first step."

Year of the Leapfrog
While the U.S. Congress is mired in an energy bill fat with pork for industry and agribusiness, China is moving ahead. Beijing has announced plans to manufacture more fuel-efficient cars. By 2005, they’ll get two miles more per gallon than American models, and five miles more by 2008. Some China watchers say the motivating factor is worry over the security of oil supplies, but it also appears to be part of a master plan: Since the 1980s, China has looked to energy efficiency and conservation as a critical component of its economic growth strategy.

The Sounds of Stewardship
When Orville Gibson crafted his first guitars in 1894, he found that the best sound came from instruments made of solid, unbent wood–which meant the trees that went into them had to be at least 14 inches in diameter. Many old-growth hardwoods, from mahogany to maple, were sacrificed to make beautiful music. But beginning in 1996, Gibson Guitars began playing a different tune. The company’s instruments are still state of the art, but many of its lines, including the Les Paul Exotic, are instead made of wood harvested from well-managed, renewable forests. And now, Gibson has begun phasing out the use of endangered tree species in its other lines as well. As of 2004, between 80 and 90 percent of Gibson’s electric guitars will be made mostly of certified wood. —Marilyn Berlin Snell

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As the World Warms

Signs of a changing planet

The Matterhorn has always posed a dangerous challenge to mountaineers, but never more so than last summer, when avalanches temporarily stranded more than 70 climbers on its slopes. The permafrost that holds the Matterhorn together is disintegrating because of rising ground temperatures and increasing evaporation during warmer summers. Other Alpine mountains, including Mont Blanc, were closed to climbers last summer because of falling rocks the size of cars. European lakes and streams are feeling the effects of the hottest summer in 500 years. Lake Balaton, one of Hungary’s main tourist attractions, retreated from shore by as much as 300 feet last year, a phenomenon also attributed to low annual rainfall. Water levels also dropped dramatically in Croatia’s Sava River, the Rhine, and the Danube.

Since 1970, the state of Alaska has required a minimum of 6 inches of snow over the fragile tundra and 12 inches of hard ground before it would allow oil companies to fire up exploration vehicles on the North Slope. As winters grow shorter and warmer, the number of days that meet those criteria has dropped by half. The state is now studying whether to relax the requirements.

During the past two years, more than 10,000 Americans contracted West Nile virus—some 400 of them fatally. The mosquito-borne flu-like illness was once found only in Africa, the Middle East, and western Asia. West Nile outbreaks often occur when heat and drought are followed by downpours, a weather pattern that may be induced by global warming.

Soybean farmers in Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota were struck last summer by an infestation of Asian aphids—insects not found on this continent until three years ago. The changing climate allows such pests to thrive outside their usual geographic range, and to survive winters that once would have killed them. With the number of pests increasing, the use of insecticides on soybean fields has jumped nearly 7,000 percent since 2001. —Jennifer Hattam

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