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Crossposted from here...

 photo f41df576-7634-4ba3-88b2-ef27a6b24ee9_zps2ba26954.jpg
Guest lodge at Virunga National Park.

Virunga National Park is the jewel of the African rainforest. It is perhaps the most biologically and geographically diverse area on the planet. Its borders contain a vast array of species and lakes, as well as tropical forest, savannahs, and volcanoes. A UNESCO World Heritage Center, this park has come to represent the African forest that supports the planet.

And it's in trouble.

Aside from the continuing African World War that is being fought inside its borders, a corrupt charcoal trade that is toppling its trees, and rampant poaching that's endangered its unique species, Virunga National Park has another rival: SOCO International. This park -- that is intended to be some of the most protected land on the planet -- sits on top of a store of oil. And yes, SOCO set its sites on drilling there. They are exploring as we speak.

If you care about climate, you care about Congo.

 photo vnp1_zpsba9b0d39.jpg
BFFs.

It feels a little odd to redact a man's head, but I'm not sure if the photo will put him in danger. Danger is imminent all over the park, in fact, more than 130 rangers have been killed since the war started a decade and a half ago. Those rangers die increasingly because they are protecting people in the park -- not wildlife.

Last month, Emmanuel de Merode, Chief Warden of Virunga National Park, was ambushed and shot in his car as he was driving from Goma to Rumangabo. He was shot four times over his stomach and legs. There isn't enough information available to reach a conclusion about what happened, whether it was a random attack or a deliberate message from any of several parties who do not like the aggressive conservation strategies he's implemented to preserve the park.

De Merode survived, and issued this statement where he discourages speculation about the attack.

 photo Virungamap_zps35356dbf.png
Map created by European Space Agency.

The southern tip of Virunga National Park is located just north of Goma, DRC. Northward, it shares a border with Uganda. This is a region that is brutally affected by the DRC civil war, in fact, the war is playing out inside the park. De Merode tells this story in a TED talk circa 2011:

So, what about the oil?

In 2010, the DRC government opened 85% of Virunga National Park to oil exploration. Right now, SOCO International is the only concessionaire actively working in the park. Most of the oil is thought to be underneath Lake Edward, which is the Great Lake next to Uganda on the park map above. In an excellent article about the park, Fred Pearce tells us that SOCO claims they can extract this oil without harming the environment, and will increase living standards for the people living nearby:

More controversially, Soco claims that the oil, which is thought to be mostly under and around Lake Edward, can be extracted from Virunga without doing environmental harm. And the company suggests that its activities can “help raise living standards for local communities to levels sufficient to reduce their pressure and negative impacts on the protected area.” So far Soco says that it has improved a road, built a medical center, and installed a mobile phone mast at Nyakakoma, one of three legal fishing villages in the park.
We might cry "hooey" on SOCO's claims. Hooey or no, it's important to recognize two things:
  • The park can be used to generate sustainable economic sectors without drilling for oil, in fact, the park already has strategies toward green development in place. Tourism and renewable energy are two ways this park can genuinely improve standard of living for local communities in ways that support continuing, positive change there.
  • If Virunga National Park cannot be protected, neither can the rest of the rainforest in Democratic Republic of the Congo. The reason this danger is vitally important is clear from the map below:
 photo 11e57c5c-98a8-43f6-8d22-6838980fcf09_zps3ee5368a.png

The Congo Basin is one of Earth's lungs.

The map above was generated by Mongabay. Mongabay provides a lot of useful information -- including a larger, more readable version of the map -- about ground cover distribution and deforestation, so please have a look. And here are some fun facts about the Congo rainforest:

  • The Congo Rainforest is the second largest in the world. The largest is the Amazon Rainforest.
  • The Congo River (located entirely inside Democratic Republic of the Congo) is the second largest river by volume in the world. The largest is the Amazon River.
  • More than 60% of the Congo Rainforest lies inside of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What to do about a rainforest ravaged by war halfway across the world?

Action List!!!

-- If you have the means, contribute to Virunga National Park. If you can't contribute, watch the videos here and tell all you can about the danger to the park. Donating money and raising consciousness are absolutely the most effective actions you can take to support efforts to mitigate.

-- Learn all you can. Start with the links here, and read on. Also, stay tuned for further updates. You will be able to find them -- and a lot of relevant eco writing about Africa by a number of people -- here at DK using the tag EcoJustice.

-- Understand that this is a critical time for the DRC government. The next two years will tell if they are a constitutional government or not. In 2006, the DRC passed a new constitution that includes women's rights, among other useful features. One of those is tenure of office for the president. In 2016, the current president must step down according to the current law. Our State Department is urging him to follow the constitutional law.

-- Write to the US Department of State, particularly Secretary Kerry and Special Envoy to Eastern Congo Russ Feingold. Tell them that you support sustainable development projects rather than oil drilling in Virunga National Park.

-- There is a new documentary about the park, Virunga, that is screening at limited locations now. If it is showing near you, see if you can get a group to the screening. If not, there is a tool you can use to request a screening in your city.

Originally posted to rb137 on Sun May 11, 2014 at 01:02 PM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Kitchen Table Kibitzing, Climate Change SOS, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The sooner we are weaned off fossil fuel, (23+ / 0-)

    the better. I see that some states are trying to keep Tesla cars out, and in the southwest, where there are about 350 days of sun a year, the powers that be want to impose oppressive taxes on people and companies who install solar panels.

    Can you spell h-i-d-d-e-n a-g-e-n-d-a?  Except it is not really hidden.

    Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

    by Otteray Scribe on Sun May 11, 2014 at 01:36:02 PM PDT

  •  it sounds like there are a lot of not good things (7+ / 0-)

    happening to that forest already.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Sun May 11, 2014 at 03:20:21 PM PDT

  •  Excellent Diary. Thanks (12+ / 0-)

    "If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading."- Lao-Tzu

    by Pakalolo on Sun May 11, 2014 at 04:26:10 PM PDT

  •  Thanks so much for sharing this (8+ / 0-)

    important story. Quite poignant both the similarities of the natural conditions and social struggles between the Congo and the Amazonian rainforest regions. It's such a tough battle against the encroaching forces of oil extraction, but I think having these viable sustainable alternatives is really a good way to fight it. I'll drop a line to Sec State Kerry. Btw, had no idea that Russ Feingold was the Special Envoy to Eastern Congo. Is that the Russ Feingold, former US Senator from WI?

    Ecology is the new Economy => Kosonomy

    by citisven on Sun May 11, 2014 at 07:42:03 PM PDT

    •  It's Russ Feingold from Wisconsin. (9+ / 0-)

      When he was senator, he became extremely interested in the events in Eastern Congo, and became one of the few people in Washington DC who actually understood it. He's doing very good work at an extremely tough job: he's trying to help the peace process along -- which involves all of the surrounding countries, as it's really a recovery from the African World War -- as he deals with all its complexity and mitigates without actually telling anyone what to do.

      Kerry needed an envoy, and picked Feingold immediately. The two of them are doing a lot of work with dignitaries in the region, as well as with Kabila. Check the link in the action items for just one of the hornets' nests he's got in his lap...

      "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

      by rb137 on Sun May 11, 2014 at 08:04:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When I read about forests like you describe I just (5+ / 0-)

    shake my head. There are few and they all seem to be going. Something as innocuous as charcoal can destroy so much so fast when millions of people use it as their only source of cooking fuel.

    I've noticed too that in the tropics or semi tropics a forest holds much more diversity than the forests I'm used to. Where we might have two or three mid sized predators they'll have fifteen, where we have ten tree species they'll have a hundred or more. I'm not sure something like that can be restored once it's gone.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Sun May 11, 2014 at 07:46:48 PM PDT

    •  The charcoal trade is going to (5+ / 0-)

      be tough. People don't only use it because it's their only source of cooking fuel -- they use it because they like their food cooked that way. Solar ovens were a complete fail in Africa, I'm told. And the other issue, of course, is that folks don't have a whole lot to do for money. Without a thriving economy, people wind up cutting hardwoods and selling them for a bunch of reason. It isn't just the militias -- although they are doing a whole lot of the total damage.

      There have been tree farms in Congo. An investment that long term isn't probably at the top of anyone's list of things to do, though.

      Hydro is on the table. They can use hydro to bring electricity to the surrounding areas, and that will stimulate the economy in a lot of ways...

      But keep and eye out. It's both a tough and fascinating problem.

      "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

      by rb137 on Sun May 11, 2014 at 08:12:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  all my relatives cook on charcoal (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rb137, FarWestGirl, nzanne

        My mom in law is probably worth somewhere north of seven figures us, savings and properties, she likes charcoal in the pot out back of her kitchen just like she always used it her whole life. Gas stove inside is for boiling things quickly.

        I bought a gas stove for sister in law. Uses it only rarely. Too expensive, not hot.

        Places that cook on charcoal smell different that's for sure.

        “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

        by ban nock on Mon May 12, 2014 at 03:57:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I am learning to make (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ban nock, FarWestGirl, nzanne, Portlaw

          Congolese food from some women who are ex-pats from Goma, DRC, and live near me. A lot of the Eastern Congo cuisine has been re-interpreted because a whole generation grew up in refugee camps, and they didn't always have to cook with. They

          They've come up with techniques in their ovens (which people do not use in Congo) or grills or such, and it's pretty good, I must say. They cook on charcoal for special occasions, but use oven and range for a lot of things.

          They might deep fat fry a whole fish (head on) until it's crispy-chewy. Or, they might deep fry it until it's starting to crisp, and finish drying it for a while in the oven. It tastes better than it sounds!

          But their cooking revolves around spicing and recreating the texture they would get from a wood fire. No wonder solar ovens were a bust in Congo! (As I said earlier, I'm told solar ovens were not beloved in several African countries when NGO's introduced them. I'm also told that folks in Haiti liked them better, for what that's worth...)

          "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

          by rb137 on Mon May 12, 2014 at 08:08:41 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Pardon that editing blip. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ban nock, FarWestGirl, Portlaw

            They didn't always have wood to cook with...

            "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

            by rb137 on Mon May 12, 2014 at 08:09:46 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  That's really interesting about (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            rb137, Portlaw, ban nock

            cultural responses to solar ovens.

            This whole diary is great, and depressing too. Hell, if we have no influence on a pipeline in our OWN country, how much real pressure can we exert on SOCO? Who is SOCO, btw - anyone we could get mutual and investment funds to abandon?

            “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Thomas Edison, 1931

            by nzanne on Mon May 12, 2014 at 02:39:18 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  SOCO is a British oil company. (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              nzanne, Portlaw, ban nock

              They are related to a couple of fossil fuel companies we've heard of in the US, although my memory isn't telling me which ones. I think that info is in the link I left in he introduction, though.

              The world is multilaterally unhappy about this decision to open Virunga to oil exploration. SOCO is the only company that will go near it. I don't know about their plans or their business model. I don't even know how they plan to get the oil out of the DRC. Pipe it through Uganda? Haul it out by truck? I don't know. And I don't know who exactly the beneficiaries are.

              But international pressure does matter, especially when there is so much of it. Even Britain is wagging its finger at SOCO (at least when other people are watching.)

              Watch the TED talk that Emmanuel de Merode gives. He is talking about using tourism and renewable energy to build a sustainable economy -- one that isn't consistent with plundering the park for oil. Check what I say when you watch the TED talk, but I think I remember that Rwanda added over $400M to their GDP just because of gorilla tourism in 2010.

              There is so much economic promise in the DRC. It's truly broken right now, though. And it can't get fixed by people in the west -- it has to be fixed by the people of Congo. Lasting, positive change can only come from sustainable development.

              "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

              by rb137 on Mon May 12, 2014 at 03:07:17 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I have to say, I've been doing sustainable tourism (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                rb137, Portlaw, ban nock

                projects in Lat Am and east and west Africa for ... geez, 20 years now. It's a model that works for some, not all.

                Sustainable tourism won't work exceptionally well in Congo till their internal conflicts slow down. Yes, each gorilla tourist brings in a lot of money, but the populations of those animals is plummeting so fast it's scary.

                I would love to see a public campaign of pressure on SOCO - I would certainly make sure my investments reflected it!

                “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Thomas Edison, 1931

                by nzanne on Mon May 12, 2014 at 03:12:09 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I don't think anyone expects (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Portlaw, ban nock

                  Virunga to be a tourism hotspot until the war goes away. People do still go to see the gorillas, in spite of the lack of security. though. The Virunga story is about solving a bunch of problems that exist simultaneously -- inside and outside the park.

                  I might follow up with a list of ways folks could pressure SOCO. But right now, the best way to help the park is to donate to it directly, and express your interest to our State Department, who deals with the DRC government regularly.

                  "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

                  by rb137 on Mon May 12, 2014 at 03:56:39 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Here's an Action Alert (5+ / 0-)

    thought I'd share it for others to sign on to:
    https://support.worldwildlife.org/...
    It's so important that we try to save whatever we can. The forces of exploitation are so strong, it will take many of us.

  •  DR Congo government notoriously corrupt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rb137

    They basically don't care who does what in their country so long as they get a piece of the action.  Probably the only reason the Congo Rainforest hasn't already been clear-cut and then strip-mined for the huge amounts of a wide variety of valuable minerals underneath is because the region is just that undeveloped: it's still cheaper to get resources from places with actual roads, electricity, and industrial infrastructure.

    Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

    by Visceral on Mon May 12, 2014 at 10:27:49 AM PDT

    •  Be careful. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nzanne, Portlaw

      It's true that corruption exists, no doubt. But the region isn't undeveloped. The infrastructure is broken because of the wars (and neglect during the Mobutu regime), but the country once had real industry and development. They are in a post-war rebuilding period now. Well, let's hope.

      I have sympathy for they way you feel, particular given how complicated the development there is and how little good information we have about it here -- but your characterization is just not correct.

      "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

      by rb137 on Mon May 12, 2014 at 11:07:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  be careful (0+ / 0-)
        The infrastructure is broken because of the wars (and neglect during the Mobutu regime), but the country once had real industry and development.
        This was during the colonial period.  Malignant narcissist and kleptocrat Mobutu was pretty much the first ruler of independent DR Congo; Lumumba didn't last long ... thanks to Mobutu ... and the wars commenced almost immediately upon his ouster, complicated by the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda and Burundi.

        Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

        by Visceral on Mon May 12, 2014 at 11:40:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You were arguing that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Portlaw

          the infrastructure necessary to plunder the rainsforest for natural resources never existed. At least I think that's what you're arguing.

          Mobutu started a long, slow decline of infrastructure built during Belgian Congo -- and the war in Congo got started before he was ousted by Kabila.

          "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into." --Jonathan Swift

          by rb137 on Mon May 12, 2014 at 01:14:01 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Heartbreaking problems, but I'm still grateful (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rb137, northsylvania, nzanne, Portlaw

    you published this diary. "The Congo Basin is one of Earth's lungs." Indeed.

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Mon May 12, 2014 at 10:51:45 AM PDT

  •  Insist (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nzanne, rb137, Portlaw

    that any fund where either you, or any organisation you support, has money divest from fossil fuels. It worked for apartheid though it took a while. The time to start is now.

    "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

    by northsylvania on Mon May 12, 2014 at 12:11:51 PM PDT

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