Empower Citizens to Take Polluting Chemical Companies to Court

Target: Phil Scott, Vermont Governor

Goal: Pass bill to protect Vermont citizens from toxic chemicals and hold corporations accountable for pollution.

Citizens of Vermont who have suffered horrific health consequences from pollution may soon have the state’s support behind them, but only if the state’s House of Representatives and governor have their back. Vermont’s Senate passed a bill that will help Vermont citizens with medical expenses and reduced property value due to toxic contamination from nearby companies. In 2016, citizens discovered they had been drinking contaminated drinking water (some had been drinking it for decades), prompting the Senate to pass a bill that would raise polluters’ liability. In addition, it would ensure that citizens have access to court if they fall victim to chemical poisoning. There has been intense opposition to the bill, with lobbyists citing extremely high insurance costs for both homeowners and business, as well unfair liability laws.

The cost of toxic pollution would pass from citizens and taxpayers to companies. This bill would serve justice for those affected by the contaminated drinking waters in Bennington. Although there are still legal wording and technical issues to adjust in the bill, this is the first step in ensuring that citizens are not held responsible for contamination. The companies should be responsible for any and all chemicals that they release.

While many fear that the insurance costs would be too high, those supporting the bill argue that companies should have no reason to worry if they are not actively releasing harmful chemicals. While the bill must still be picked up by the House of Representatives, there is hopeful momentum that the Governor will approve it. Sign the petition below to urge Governor Scott to pass the bill and help victims of toxic pollution find justice.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Scott,

Recently, a bill was passed that places liability on companies for releasing toxic chemicals and harming citizens. In 2016, citizens of Bennington discovered that they had been drinking contaminated water for decades. The company had been releasing pollutants in the air that found their way into the residents’ wells. This is an example of companies holding no responsibility for chemical pollution. The bill would make sure that these residents find justice and that companies comply to pollution rules.

Corporations should not freely pollute air and water while citizens suffer and pay the price. In many cases, residents are inflicted with medical bills and reduced property values, in addition to declining health. Often, they are exposed to chemicals without their knowledge due to lax chemical pollution rules. This bill would ensure that victims of toxic pollution have access to a court proceeding and that companies pay when they do wrong. I hope that you pass this bill to ensure that from now on, at least in Vermont, companies take responsibility for toxic pollution.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Justin Hawk

Repeal Law That Threatens Lives and Safety of Environmentalists

Target: António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Goal: Repeal law that violates human rights and puts the lives of environmentalists in danger.

Environmentalists will soon be targeted by the Polish government for their beliefs. The Polish government passed a bill that will prohibit spontaneous gatherings of environmentalists at the world climate summit in Poland this year. Experts, NGOs, businesses, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet to negotiate Paris Agreements and often, spontaneous assemblies are necessary during the process. If spontaneous assemblies are banned, citizens will not be able to participate in the process, a violation of the freedoms of assembly, association, and speech. In addition, the bill grants the government the power to place attendees under surveillance and gather personal information without the attendees’ consent.

Another concern will be endangering environmentalists who have faced scrutiny in their home country. With more than 197 environmentalists murdered in 2017 for championing environmental rights, attendees are afraid the personal information the Polish government collects will be shared and jeopardize their safety at home. Certain groups are hesitant to attend if the bill is not repealed. A Filipino indigenous human rights defender, for example, has received threats from the army several times in her home country, and fears this bill would endanger her life even further.

There has been a group of attending organizations calling on the UN, EU members, and  Poland to repeal the law to protect human rights. Several ongoing environmental disputes in Poland might have induced this law in order to avoid unwanted protests. The UN should be actively trying to repeal the law, as it violates fundamental human rights; environmentalists should not feel unsafe for voicing their concerns at an event where that is exactly the purpose. Sign the petition below to urge the UN to help repeal this law.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Guterres,

The international climate change Conference of the Parties is being held in Poland this year. With experts, environmentalists, NGOs, businesses, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change attending, there will be exchanges of ideas and opinions that will require spontaneous assemblies. However, Poland has passed a law–which has not been addressed by the UN–that prohibits spontaneous assemblies and subjects attendees to surveillance. Furthermore, the government has the power to collect personal information without the attendees’ consent, which is alarming for environmentalists who face scrutiny in their home countries.

In 2017 alone, 197 environmentalists were murdered for protecting lands, resources, and human rights. The United Nations was founded on the premise of protecting human rights and this has extended to environmental rights throughout the years. The climate change conference should be a safe space to discuss how we can be better stewards over the the planet and its resources, how we can protect environmental rights and preserve endangered communities. Mr. Guterres, I urge you to speak out against this law that bans the freedoms of assembly, speech, and association or move the conference to another location.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Evan Schneider

Justice for Dozens of Horses Found Dead and Malnourished

Target: Aaron Balsamo, Executive Director of the Humane Society of Wicomico County, Maryland

Goal: Ensure the owners of the farm where dozens of horses were found dead face justice.

In Wicomico County, Maryland, more than two dozen horses were reportedly found dead and many were found malnourished in the back of a farm. Desperate, the horses had eaten the aluminum siding and fiberglass insulation on the side of the house, in addition to breaking the glass doors at the back of the house in search of food. Shocked, the county sheriff and the director of the Humane Society of Wicomico County are planning to take the horses to an undisclosed location, after having fed them hay and grain donated by local stores.

One horrible scene the sheriff recounts is a mare giving birth to a stillborn calf after it had gotten stuck in the birth canal. While the owner, Barbara Pilchard, was reportedly cooperative in helping rescue the remaining horses, she allegedly claimed that it was acceptable to let the horses decay in the fields. Authorities disagreed, asserting that infectious diseases could seep into the groundwater, which is why they are disposing of the bodies in in a lined landfill to keep groundwater safe.

Although one neighbor stated that she never saw an emaciated horse on the property before, the horses reportedly remained in the back of the farm where they were difficult to see. In addition, Pilchard was charged with 100 counts of animal neglect in 1995, when 200 cats were removed from her property. There had also been a complaint about the property about animal neglect, but there was no sufficient evidence to move the case forward.

These animals were reportedly forced to live in terrible conditions for who knows how long. They were forced to eat inedible materials because they were so desperate for food, allegedly neglected by their owners. Sign the petition below to urge the executive director of the Humane Society of Wicomico County, Maryland, to help ensure that these property owners can never keep animals again, if found guilty of neglect.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Balsamo,

The atrocious scenes you witnessed at the Pilchard farm, where dozens of horses were found dead or malnourished, is unimaginable. There is no acceptable explanation for any person who cares for animals to subject them to conditions under which they are forced to eat aluminum siding and fiberglass insulation. Mares should not be neglected when they are giving birth, resulting in a tragic stillbirth. With the Humane Society, the local police department, and volunteers working together, these horses will be relocated somewhere they will be taken care of.

Clayton and Barbara Pilchard should not be able to keep animals again, if found guilty of neglect. In 1995, Barbara Pilchard was charged with 100 counts of animal neglect after 200 cats were removed from the same property. There had been a complaint against them before, but there was not enough evidence to move the case along. It is clear that the Pilchards are not fit to keep animals; they are allegedly not able to keep them safe and fed. I hope that you keep animal welfare the first priority and prevent these two criminals from inflicting harm on any other animals in the future, should they be found responsible.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Robert Jones

Praise Indonesia for Protecting Endangered Species

Target: Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Minister of Environment and Forestry, Indonesia

Goal: Praise efforts to stop wildlife crimes and help protect endangered species.

A council court in Indonesia sentenced two slow loris traders to three and a half years in prison and fined them $7,620, a historical ruling which will help deter wildlife crimes. In the past, illegal slow loris traders were sentenced to only 3-12 months even if they were caught with dozens of slow lorises, an endangered species, in their possession. This severe punishment will help send a message to the media and the public about the seriousness of wildlife crimes and will, ideally, help deter them in the future.

The two defendants were arrested in September, 2017 by the West Sumatra Quick Reaction Forest Police Unit of the Law Enforcement Department of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry Sumatra Region. In their possession were nine caged Sumatran slow lorises, to be sold off on the streets or in illegal animal markets. Their teeth are usually clipped to make them easier to handle, making them susceptible to death from infection or blood loss before they reach the market. They are sold as pets, which is a craze fueled by YouTube videos portraying them as cute and cuddly.

Slow lorises are in danger of becoming extinct, and they belong in the wild, not in the hands of animal poachers or in homes. The collaboration between the Indonesian Department of Environment and the public courts to uphold severe punishments for wildlife crimes is helping deter future crimes. Sending a message that illegal trading is punishable up to the maximum penalty is the first step in protecting and conserving wildlife in Indonesia. Sign the petition below to thank the Ministry of Environment and Forestry for their efforts.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Minister Bakar,

An Indonesian council court and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry worked together to sentence two slow loris traders to the maximum penalty of three and half years in prison and a fine of $7,260. This harsh sentence sends out a message that wildlife crimes are punishable by maximum penalties. For the endangered slow loris, this is a momentous ruling, as these animals are caught and sold in illegal animal markets to be kept as pets. Prior to being sold, their teeth are clipped, making them vulnerable to infection and blood loss.

While the average sentence for illegal slow loris traders used to be 3-12 months, even with substantial evidence against them, this recent trial shows that the government is serious about wildlife crimes. If a trader is found guilty of intentionally saving, collecting, pet-keeping, and trading live protected wildlife, they are subject to maximum penalties. I want to thank you for leading the Ministry in helping ensure that protected animals in Indonesia are kept safe. I hope that you continue to enforce the rules and regulations to increase public awareness about protecting and conserving wildlife.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Michael Whitehead

Denounce Dog Cloning

Target: Kitty Block, Acting CEO of The Humane Society of the United States

Goal: Protect worker dogs and shelter dogs by helping to stop dog cloning.

Dog cloning is made possible by worker dogs who donate eggs and carry a litter. Those who have money and those who never want to say goodbye to their pet spend more than $50,000 to replicate their dog. The process includes a group of female dogs donating their eggs and acting as surrogate mothers. While surrogacy might be common among humans, dogs have no say when they are used for cloning purposes. They are subject to medical procedures for which they don’t sign waivers or consent forms. 

In addition to exploiting female dogs, cloning hurts countless other dogs that could be rehomed if only these canine lovers adopted instead of replicating their dogs. Instead of letting dogs move on, people who replicate their dogs choose to never say goodbye because they are privileged. In this way, they see dogs as tokens and things to be kept and collected, not as beings that should be valued for their individuality.

Instead of cloning dogs, pet owners can seek bereavement counseling and pet loss care. Cloning a dog will not replace the original pet; cloning a dog condemns animals to serve as a means to an end and condemns shelter dogs to be put to rest. Sign the petition below to urge The Humane Society of the United States to stop dog cloning and prove that it does indeed care for all animals’ welfare.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Ms. Block,

Pet owners condemn many animals to medical procedures when it comes to dog cloning. Involved female dogs are harvested for their eggs and serve as surrogates for pet owners who do not want to say goodbye to their dogs. Many spend more than $50,000 when they can just respect the pet’s passing or adopt a shelter dog and possibly save a life.

We should not treat dogs as things to be kept and collected, but as beings that should be valued and respected. This statement applies to working female dogs and to dogs that pass away. Instead of dog cloning, pet owners can seek pet loss counseling and look into adopting from a shelter. As CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, you have the clout to speak out against dog cloning and endorse adopting from shelters. We cannot claim to value dogs when we subject many of them to medical procedures and treat the ones that pass away as collectibles that should be preserved. I hope that you help stop this practice and ensure that all canines are protected.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: David, Flickr

Justice for 200 Birds Found in Cockfighting Raid

Target: Alan Blankenship, Associate Circuit Judge, Stone County Circuit Court, Missouri

Goal: Ensure that the criminal leading a cockfighting ring serves the maximum sentence and pays maximum fines.

More than 200 birds were rescued from a property associated with cockfighting in Missouri recently. Investigators found birds in ramshackle wire cages, with no access to food or water. Several birds were found with injuries that were in line with cockfighting; cockfighting paraphernalia such as gaffs, spurs, and drugs (to maximize injury and enhance performance, respectively) were also found on the property. The cockfighting operation was discovered during an investigation that initially involved a search warrant for narcotics. The ASPCA was contacted, and both authorities carried out the warrant.

Cockfighting causes extreme injuries to the animals. Common injuries include broken bones, punctured lungs, and pierced eyes. The gaffs and spurs found cause these injuries, and the steroids cause enhanced aggression in the birds. There is a maximum fine of $10,000 and separate sentences of up to four years in prison for possession of paraphernalia and possession of birds.

There is no excuse for condoning such a distasteful activity. Demand the criminal who forced these animals to fight and suffer terrible conditions receive the maximum penalty for each offense.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Judge Blankenship,

According to several sources including the ASPCA, more than 200 birds were rescued recently from a property associated with cockfighting in Stone County, Missouri. Police were initially at the site with a search warrant for narcotics, but soon discovered paraphernalia for cockfighting. Authorities found  steroids to enhance aggression in the birds and fighting paraphernalia such as knives and daggers that would be attached to the birds at the property. In addition, birds were found in makeshift wire cages with no access to food or water. As you know, possession of birds and paraphernalia for fighting, and conducting a cockfight, have a maximum sentence of up to four years in prison each. An offender can also be fined up to $10,000.

I ask that you fine whoever led this cockfighting ring the maximum fine and sentence them to the appropriate number of years in prison. This illegal act condemns birds to inhumane conditions and makes them suffer from terrible injuries such as punctured lungs, pierced eyes, and broken bones. Whether it be dog or rooster, no animal should be forced to fight another for human entertainment. I hope that you think of the two hundred birds found at this residence; many of them have already been forced to endure atrocious conditions and serious injuries.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: JohnstonDJ

Make Access to Healthy Environment a Human Right

Target: Erik Solheim, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program

Goal: Support framework that would help defend environmentalists, not criminalize them.

John Knox, a rapporteur on human rights and the environment for the UN, is pushing to make the right to a healthy environment a human right. Environmentalists are targeted for defending the environment and vulnerable communities. Even more so in recent years, conservationists have been kidnapped, arrested, prosecuted, and outcasted for their work. Big business and those who have big stakes in natural resources such as land often target environmentalists who oppose their agenda. Last year, 197 environmentalists were murdered, according to Global Witness, a monitoring group.

However, the UN and other nations are showing support for the environment and its allies. The UN is currently scaling up training for judges, prosecutors, and police in environmental law. They also encourage them to work with companies who invest in human rights. Although environmental rights are still yet to be recognized in many nations, Knox is pushing for a UN resolution, which includes a policy framework to help support environmentalists and not criminalize them. His first policy is that states should ensure a safe, clean, and healthy environment that respects, protects, and fulfills human rights. His understanding of human and environmental rights allows him to see the connection between the two spheres.

Furthermore, he is pushing for support for vulnerable groups and acknowledgement of the role of business and governments in environmental and human rights.

Environmental rights are deeply intertwined with human rights. Often, those who cannot defend their own land and resources (water, food, air) suffer from exploitation. Knox’s ideas to implement a policy framework to support environmentalists and for the UN to recognize a healthy environment as a human right will help protect vulnerable communities and environmentalists. Sign the petition below to urge the UN to implement this framework.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Solheim,

The UN Environment Program is committed to improving the quality of life and environment for people without compromising that of future generations. In order to ensure quality of life for future generations, we must recognize that a healthy environment is a human right. Many groups and communities are vulnerable to environmental exploitation, for example through land grabs, illegal development, and development that promotes pollution. John Knox, the rapporteur on human rights and the environment, is proposing that a policy framework be put into place to help protect environmentalists and to also recognize a healthy environment as a human right.

Although the UN is committed to making sure that judges, police, and prosecutors are receiving more training in environmental law, we must extend this consideration to environmentalists and conservationists. Often, they are criminalized, but they are the ones who champion human and environmental rights when authorities and other groups do not.

Environmental health is closely linked to human health. People living in terrible conditions, ingesting polluted waters, inhaling polluted air, and having no access to natural resources, have their human rights revoked. They can no longer live in with dignity when they have no access to a healthy, clean environment. I urge you to push the UN to consider environmental rights as human rights and promote the policy framework to support environmentalists.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Osakabe Yasuo

Protect the Amazon from Deforestation

Target: Juwang Zhu, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development (DESA)

Goal: Amend Brazil’s new Forest Code to protect the Amazon.

The Amazon is in danger thanks to Brazil’s new Forest Code. The code, which was approved in the country’s Supreme Court recently, will have negative effects on the environment, as it places lax regulations around deforestation and does not protect the environment. In short, the new code, which replaces the 2012 code, puts economic interests above environmental protection. This new code is critical to Brazil’s future, as the Amazon nears a tipping point at which the forest will permanently become a savannah. This has implications for biodiversity, water supply, and climate change.

The new code was supported by an agribusiness lobby that ran propaganda in the news promoting ruralist interests and presenting them as scientific information. As a result, many parts of the code allow deforestation and development. An example is that deforesters who illegally cleared forest before 2008 will not be forced to pay the fines enforced on them. A member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences claims that this new code regularizes deforestation and and holds nobody accountable.

Conservations are concerned that illegally deforested lands will not be reforested without strict enforcement. Others are doubting the country’s judicial system and its ability to deliberate on complex technical questions regarding deforestation, socio-environmental issues, and climate change. Although the new code recognized the consequences of deforestation and set a basis for future socio-environmental cases, the Supreme Court did not uphold the constitution when it came to protecting the environment. They are allowing development and deforestation to continue. Sign the petition below to urge the Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, which holds the Committee for Forestry, to urge Brazil to amend the new code and implement more pro-environment policies.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Zhu,

In Brazil, a new code that replaced the 2012 Forest Code was approved recently. In it, it is obvious that the agribusiness and economic interests are favored over environmental protection. Farming on floodplains, urbanization projects, and no obligation to reforest illegally deforested areas are only a few of the policies deemed constitutional under the new code. Illegally deforested land may never be reforested again, as offenders are not being held accountable for their actions.

This new code is critical in Brazil’s history as the Amazon might reach its tipping point soon—the point at which the forest will turn into a savannah—causing extremely negative consequences. These consequences are tied to climate change, loss of biodiversity, and social and environmental issues. Without a voice to defend the environment, Brazil’s forests will continue to be cut down, with little hope of recovery.

As the Director of Sustainable Development and overseer of the Committee for Forestry, you are in a unique position to urge Brazil to amend the code. Although the code may now be the law of the land, perhaps they can set a precedent and amend a Supreme Court ruling if it means protecting the environment. I hope that you speak out against the new code and all the future consequences that will stem from it.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Josh Estey

Stop Cruel Plan to Slaughter Pigs Faster

Target: Sonny Ramaswamy, Director of USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture

Goal: Stop proposal that would lead to more painful deaths for slaughtered pigs.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed New Swine Slaughter Inspection System would remove speed limits at pig slaughterhouses. This means slaughterhouses can increase production even more, totaling up to 1,300 pigs or more per hour, an increase from the average 1,100 every hour today. This is problematic for animal and workers’ welfare.

Workers might resort to excess force using electric prods when moving animals down the line. Furthermore, pigs might not be stunned efficiently, meaning they could become conscious during the killing process. Workers might handle the animals more roughly because they are being pressured to work more in order to kill more pigs in a day. This proposal mirrors the National Chicken Council’s petition to speed up poultry slaughter, which was rejected by the USDA.

Slaughtering pigs is already an inhumane act, and this new proposal to remove speed slaughter limits would impose even harsher conditions for animals. Sign the petition below to urge the USDA to stop the proposal and consider animal welfare.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Ramaswamy,

As the Director of the National Institude of Food and Agriculture, you have a responsibility to help solve challenges regarding food and agriculture. Recently, the USDA announced a New Swine Slaughter Inspection System, which would remove the speed limit of killing pigs in slaughterhouses. This would mean an increase from 1,100 pigs to 1,300 pigs per hour. This might also mean pigs are not stunned properly, resulting in pigs gaining consciousness during slaughter. Workers might feel the need to use excessive force through electric prods and rough handling to speed up slaughter and meet daily goals.

There is no need for a greater production from slaughterhouses. Already, they produce over 120 million pigs per year to feed the meat industry. We should be taking measures to reduce our carbon footprint through less meat consumption and looking into plant-based alternatives. Faster slaughter speeds will not only overwork slaughterhouse employees, they will jeopardize animal welfare. USDA has already rejected the National Chicken Council’s proposal to speed up poultry slaughter, and I hope USDA does the same for pigs. It would be hypocritical and unjust for you to pass a proposal similar to one that was rejected. I hope that you speak out against this new proposal and help protect animal welfare.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: PxHere

Investigate Suspicious Death of Imprisoned Wildlife Advocate

Target: Seyyed Alireza Avaei, Iran Minister of Justice

Goal: Urge Iranian authorities to conduct a fair investigation into alleged suicide by imprisoned conservationist.

Iranian-Canadian conservationist Seyed Emami was found dead in a high-security prison, where he allegedly committed suicide. However, his family and the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights suspect foul play and are urging Iranian authorities to conduct a non-biased investigation to uncover the truth. The tension between conservatives and other more progressive groups have led to many disputes, including other environmentalists’ arrests around the same time as Emami.

A sociology professor and director of the private environmental organization Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Emami pursued social and environmental changes in Iran. He was accused of being a spy for the United States and Israel. Authorities claimed that the cameras installed by his foundation to track rare animals like the Persian leopard were actually being used to monitor Iranian missile activities and report to foreigners. Emami’s sons claim that these charges are ridiculous, especially since the cameras are cheap, can be bought anywhere, and could only capture up to 25 meters or 82 feet.

After his funeral, a deputy prosecutor revealed footage from the prison to Emami’s sons. In it, he is seen making the bed, putting a shirt around his neck, and going into the bathroom. Seven hours later they bring him out dead. His sons suspect foul play because the prison is high security and they feel that the whole incident was staged. Furthermore, Emami’s character was positive and unrelenting, and suicide would not have be an option, according to his sons.

Environmentalists should not be imprisoned on weak charges and be put in danger. Urge the Iranian authorities to conduct a fair investigation into his death. This might prevent further deaths for the six other environmentalists being detained with no access to legal council should it be revealed that authorities were involved in his death. Protect rights of people who are only trying to protect the environment; people who serve the public and the environment.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Avaei,

An Iranian conservationist in prison was recently pronounced dead, allegedly having committed suicide in a high-security prison. Seyed Emami was a professor of sociology and director of the environmental organization Persian Wildlife Foundation. He was charged on suspicion of being a spy for the United States and Israel because of the cameras his foundation installed to monitor rare animals such as the Persian leopard. Authorities claimed that these cameras were actually being used to record Iranian missile activities and that these records were being reported to foreigners.

These weak charges are hardly cause for arrest, and furthermore, his family and even the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights suspects foul play. Surveillance revealed that he made his bed, put on a shirt around his neck, and then brought out dead seven hours later. The incident seemed staged, according to his family. The UN is urging Iranian authorities to conduct a fair investigation into Emami’s death, something he deserves. He believed in protecting the environment and the public, and creating positive changes in Iran.

Mr. Avaei, show the rest of the world that Iran has a judiciary system that respects its citizens and allows them a fair trial. Help uncover the truth behind Emami’s death if there was foul play, and conduct a fair investigation.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Seyed Emami family