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'Cancer causing aircrafts'

Ecologist - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 23:00
'Cancer causing aircrafts' Channel News brendan 15th February 2024 Teaser Media
Categories: H. Green News

Climate connections: Four stories of relationships forged through climate action

Grist - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 08:31
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The spotlight

When Kristy Drutman attended the U.N. climate negotiations in Poland in 2018, she was struck by how impersonal everything felt. As a climate storyteller, educator, and social media influencer (who was featured on our 2022 Grist 50 list), Drutman’s work heavily emphasized people and connections. “It just felt like people were really disconnected from each other,” she said of the conference. She thought the climate movement as a whole could benefit from putting a greater emphasis on relationships.

Three years later, she returned to the U.N. conference and set up a table with a sign: “Looking for love? Come on a climate speed date.” People seemed to like it. “We actually had people that were in the negotiation rooms — policy people from different countries participated in it,” she said. Last fall, she turned the idea into a more intentional matchmaking setup; she started hosting filmed meetups in New York and posting episodes of the show — called Love and Climate — on Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube.

In the first few months of the project, Drutman says no bona fide couples have yet emerged — but several pairs have gone on second and third dates. “They told us we gave them a better match than Tinder or Bumble,” she said. “So I was like, ‘You know what? We’re better than dating apps, hell yeah.’” But even on the apps, young people are increasingly looking for matches who share their climate concerns. According to data from OKCupid, climate change was the top issue that daters cared about in 2022, with a 368 percent increase over the previous five years in climate and environmental terms on users’ profiles.

Out in the wild, Drutman has met several “climate couples” who got to know each other through their work or collaborations or even going to a climate march — “I’ve heard that story a few times,” Drutman said.

In this Valentine’s Day newsletter, we’re sharing stories of couples, friends, and collaborators who met through some form of climate work. Somewhat like the contestants on Drutman’s speed-dating show, many of these folks found each other because they were looking for companionship — in their work, in a new place, or in solidarity around a particular issue. They all found meaningful relationships that enriched their climate work, and their lives. Their stories serve as reminders of the joy that can be found in taking action and building community around a shared dedication to a clean, green, and just future.

Eileen Liu had been an environmental activist since middle school. When she moved to a new town for high school, “I didn’t know anyone or have any friends,” she said. “But I knew the current climate crisis was an issue many other youth my age were passionate about solving.” Last January, as a sophomore, she started the Menlo-Atherton Reusables Club — a student group focused on policy changes that target plastic waste in San Mateo County, California. “Through the reuse community I have met so many inspiring people, and formed the closest friendships,” Liu said. The club now has about 20 members, and Liu describes it as “one big friend group.”

But a few connections stand out — including her now best friend, Ella. “When I was planning the logistics of the club back in July of 2022, I was acquaintances with Ella,” Liu said. “After she joined the club, we found out that we actually share a lot of hobbies — aside from environmentalism — such as writing pen pal letters, being fangirls of BlackPink and Grey’s Anatomy, and photography!” Ella is now one of the leaders of the club, as are two of Liu’s other closest pals. When they aren’t busy advocating for reusables or listening to BlackPink, the two like to wake up early to hike the Stanford Dish (a nearby trail on Stanford University’s campus) — they love spotting turkeys and other wild animals in the hills.

Earyn McGee also met a close friend after a move — for her, it was moving back home to Los Angeles after finishing her Ph.D. in natural resources conservation. McGee (who was featured on the 2021 Grist 50 list) had been passionate about nature and wildlife (especially lizards) since she was a child — and she had also become an educator and advocate for BIPOC representation in the outdoors. She was one of the original organizers behind Black Birders Week, and when she moved to L.A. in 2022, she was invited to a local meetup as part of the third annual Black Birders Week. “It was just a lot of fun — everybody was looking at birds and chatting and having a good time,” McGee said. And it was there that she met T’Essence Minnitee.

“It was funny — we met and she told me that we were gonna be friends, and I was like, ‘Alright, I believe you!’” McGee recalled. “We had a lot of shared interests and values. You know, you just click with somebody — that’s kind of what it was like.”

They’ve enjoyed going to other green events together, like radical clothing swaps and climate-themed dinners, as well as non-climate-centric hangouts. “She’s one of those people where I can always just hit her up about anything. Having her friendship is just so meaningful for me.”

Among other roles, Minnitee is the director of strategic partnerships at Black Girl Environmentalist, and McGee now works as the coordinator of conservation engagement at the L.A. Zoo — and they also hope to collaborate professionally, McGee said. “Hopefully this summer, we’ll start putting together a couple of events around getting Black women and other women of color and gender non-conforming people into conservation, environment, and climate change careers, and creating resources in those ways.”

Jenni Vanos and David Hondula first met at the 2011 International Congress of Biometeorology in Auckland, New Zealand. They were both there to present research from their Ph.D. studies in atmospheric and environmental sciences, respectively. It was Vanos’ first time attending the conference, and she recalled that Hondula was very welcoming and friendly. “We both realized we were staying a few days longer in New Zealand so did some sightseeing together to a few of the islands, including climbing a volcano on Rangitoto Island,” she said. “We obviously got along really well from the start.”

At the time, she was studying at the University of Guelph in Canada, and he was at the University of Virginia. “We actually were good colleagues and friends for about three years before we started dating,” Vanos said. They kept in touch through their work, and saw each other at other conferences and workshops. When they did decide to take things to the next level, Vanos lived in Texas and Hondula was in Arizona. Their relationship was long-distance for about four years before Vanos was able to get a job at Arizona State University, where they are now both associate professors. (Hondula also leads Phoenix’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation.)

“We are both very passionate about the work we do, but we have a lot of other hobbies and interests we do together and with our family and friends,” Vanos shared, including traveling and all manner of outdoor sports — and, now, taking care of their growing family. Their son, Evan, is 2 years old, and their second little one is due in May.

And bringing things full circle, last year, the pair helped host the 23rd annual Congress of Biometeorology at ASU.

Thelma and Fenton on their wedding day, taking in the view of the Fijian mountains. Ropate Kama

“Our story is one of multiple cyclones,” said Thelma Young Lutunatabua. She first met her husband, Fenton Lutunatabua, in 2015 when they were both working for 350.org — she was based in New York, and he was based in Fiji. “The first time I ever heard his voice was when he called me in the middle of the night after a cyclone hit Vanuatu and asked if I could help with building a missing-persons tracking system.” After that, they collaborated on a number of storytelling projects focused on frontline solutions and resistance in the Pacific. But things shifted when Cyclone Winston, a Category 5 storm, hit Fenton’s homeland of Fiji.

“That’s when we started calling each other and checking in more, and having deeper conversations especially around the emotional side of disaster response work,” Thelma said. They also exchanged personal numbers, and began talking more about life outside of work.

This remote friendship progressed for a few months, with a flirtatious undertone. They finally had the opportunity to meet in person in May of 2016, at 350’s all-staff retreat in Spain. “There was definitely that energy of expectation and hopefulness,” Thelma said. “He met me at the airport in Barcelona and picked me up, and then we walked around the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona together.” It didn’t take long for them to know that there was something more there. “Our final night in Barcelona, we just, like, got pizza and we were talking and he was like, ‘You should come to Fiji.’” And later that year, she did.

Thelma and Fenton are now happily married — they eloped in the mountains of Fiji, during a surprise downpour — and are parents to a 14-month-old son, Anders. “We met through storytelling and we’re both still actively doing that, both with our jobs and our own creative practices,” Thelma said. “And we’re both still committed to telling the full truth about climate — that it’s not just about despair and destruction, but there’s so much hope in the process as well.”

— Claire Elise Thompson

More exposure A parting shot

For some, climate connections are more than one person, but a whole community. Leo Goldsmith (another Grist 50 honoree, whom we’ve interviewed in Looking Forward about his research into climate impacts on queer populations) told us about his experience on the board of OUT for Sustainability. “Before I joined, I met a couple of the members through a research paper we wrote together on climate-related disaster impacts on LGBTQIA+ communities,” Goldsmith said. “Being a part of OUT4S now has allowed for these relationships, and new ones, to grow. Through our mutual goal of working toward climate justice for LGBTQIA+ communities, we collaborate as a community to uplift each other and the communities we hope to serve through advocacy, resources, and education.” The board is shown here during a gathering in the summer of 2022.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Climate connections: Four stories of relationships forged through climate action on Feb 14, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Problems mount for Sahara gas pipeline, leaving Nigerian taxpayers at risk

Climate Change News - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 06:22

For over 20 years, Nigeria has been trying to build a pipeline that would bring gas through the Sahara desert to Algeria and on to customers in Europe.

The hope is that it would raise gas exports and bring money into state coffers. The plan got a boost in 2021 as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine left Europe scrambling for alternative sources of gas in the short-term.

But now, as more problems emerge, experts are questioning the wisdom of investing vast public sums in the project. 

Europe’s gas demand is declining and is likely to be increasingly fulfilled by booming exports of liquified natural gas (LNG) from the US and Qatar.

Meanwhile, theft of gas from pipelines remains an issue as northern Nigeria and Niger, where the pipeline will pass through, have grown more insecure.

The Nigerian government has spent over $1 billion on its section, with plans for a further $1 billion more to be invested. Experts told Climate Home they fear that much of this money could be wasted.

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Stranded asset

Ademola Henry is an independent adviser to the oil and gas industry. He warned that the pipeline could become economically unviable before the end of its expected lifespan.

He warned that if this happens, the government might have to increase borrowing or taxes or cut spending to offset the losses.

Chukwumerije Okereke is a professor of global climate governance and public policy at Bristol University. He said the pipeline “could result in profits and socioeconomic benefits for the people”.

But, he warned that gas thefts and insecurity in Niger “could pose significant challenges”. Niger suffered a military coup last year and the new government has withdrawn from the Economic Organisation of West African States (Ecowas), a regional political union. This “further complicates the situation”, Okereke said.

He said that the government must “deeply consider” any investments in the sector, especially given global commitments to triple renewable energy and Nigeria’s abundant resources like solar.

US trade agency backs oil and gas drilling in Bahrain despite Biden pledge

Gas glut

The Trans-Saharan pipeline is a joint project between Nigeria, Algeria and Niger. The plan is for a 4,000 km pipeline to ferry up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas a year from Nigeria, through Niger, to Algeria where it would connect up with existing pipelines across the Mediterranean to Europe.

With Nigeria and Algeria’s state oil and gas companies taking the lead, it was originally scheduled to open in 2015 but there was no progress on it between 2009 and 2019.

In 2019, the pipeline began to be mentioned in planning documents. The three governments signed an agreement to speed it up after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine left Europe looking for more non-Russian gas. 

At that time, Nigeria’s then oil minister Timpire Sylva told European Union diplomats that Nigeria would like to sell them more gas, which he said would “solve the energy problem in Europe”.

But he was not the only one making that offer. The US in particular has ramped up its investment in export terminals to ship its liquified natural gas to Europe and elsewhere. 

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The International Energy Agency predicts a glut of this gas when this infrastructure is up and running, meaning more competition for Nigerian gas sellers.

At the same time, the IEA predicts that Europe’s demand for gas will keep falling, as the invasion of Ukraine fast-tracked plans to get off fossil fuels.

At the time of publication, only the Nigerian section of the pipeline – known as AKK – is being built. 

Okereke warned: “If the Nigerian government proceeds with its part of the Trans-Saharan project and launches it in July this year, despite uncertainties in other participating countries, there’s a risk of assets being stranded – this could lead to substantial losses for the government, impacting taxpayers”.

The post Problems mount for Sahara gas pipeline, leaving Nigerian taxpayers at risk appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

In Icy Greenland, Area Covered by Vegetation Has More Than Doubled in Size

Yale Environment 360 - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 05:32

In Greenland, where temperatures are rising twice as fast as across the rest of the world, the icy, rocky landscape is turning increasingly green, a new study finds.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

Saving Africa’s Most Endangered Big Cat

The Revelator - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 05:00

Today we know a good bit about cheetahs: They’re the fastest land animal, going from 0 to 60 mph in three seconds. They’re expert hunters, although they often lose their prey to bigger predators. And they also face big threats, occupying just 9% of their historic range. But when Dr. Laurie Marker first began working with the animals in the early 1970s, many people didn’t even know if they were a dog or a cat.

“They’ve got dog-like claws,” she explains. “I think that confused all the farmers.”

Marker has dedicated her career to closing that knowledge gap. She began working with cheetahs in 1974 at the Wildlife Safari, a wildlife park in Oregon, which included trips to South West Africa (now Namibia) to research the rewilding of cheetahs born in captivity. During her time there she realized that farmers were killing hundreds of cheetahs a year to protect their herds, and some of the world’s last remaining cheetah populations could be lost.

So in 1990 she moved to Namibia and launched the Cheetah Conservation Fund, an organization that does research, education and conservation to help secure a future for wild cheetahs and support surrounding communities.

Laurie Marker. Photo: Jennifer Leigh Warner

Marker spoke to The Revelator about how dogs can help cheetahs, what risks climate change poses, and why addressing poverty would aid conservation.

Where did cheetahs historically range?

Around 1900 there were about 100,000 cheetahs, and they were found throughout Asia and Africa. They had a very large distribution. But by the 1950s they were gone in most of the areas of Asia — the last of the Asian cheetahs are in Iran, and there’s probably less than 20 there. By the 1950s they were gone in India. Today there’s only about 7,000 cheetahs left, and they’re found in about 23 countries in 31 populations, of which 20 of those populations are under 100 individuals.

We have put cheetahs back into India in the last year, and I just got word two of the cheetahs that we actually sent over had a litter of cubs. So today, I think there’s three or four new cubs in India.

Conflicts with people are a big threat to cheetahs. What solutions have you found?

The majority — more than 80% — of the cheetahs found today are outside of protected areas. Here in Namibia, about 90% are found outside of protected areas. When I moved here, it was to find out more about how they were living on the farmlands with livestock farmers and then what kinds of programs could be developed.

What we’ve done in the last 30 years is develop a variety of programs so that cheetahs and people could live in harmony together. Many of those are about good livestock management, good rangeland management and good wildlife management. I think farmers around the world think predators are all going to eat all their livestock. Where we as farmers can actually play a key role in protecting our livestock. It’s not that much work, but you have to think about it. Predators aren’t just out there wanting to eat your livestock. What they want is an easy meal.

Puppies being raised as livestock guarding dogs. Photos: Isabella Groc

So we use livestock guarding dogs, which we breed and place with farmers, that protect their livestock. Around here people mostly have goats, sheep and cattle. And the other area that I work in is up in Somaliland where there’s mostly goats, sheep and camels. Through an integrated program like good livestock management and having dogs, you can actually reduce your livestock loss 80 to 100% and not have to kill predators. We not only like cheetahs, we like all the other predators because predators play a really important role in the health of the ecosystems.

We have leopards, which are harder to live with, but if you get the right practices down, it is all the same. We also have hyenas, brown and spotted, as well as jackals and caracals. Those are the main predators around.

Cheetahs actually are one of the best hunters on the savannas. When they eat, they eat very rapidly and then move away. So there’s usually things left over that allows for more biodiversity. For instance, I always say to the farming community that if you have cheetahs on your land, the cheetah will make a kill and the jackals will be eating off of what the cheetah killed, and the jackal isn’t going to be in your goat yard. Not only is it feeding the jackal, but it’s feeding the birds of prey and all the other insects and small carnivorous mammals. That’s why you end up with greater biodiversity, and that’s the important part of a top predator within a healthy ecosystem.

Are more protected areas needed?

I think in Africa there might be 12 game reserves large enough for cheetahs. Cheetahs have one of the largest home ranges of any animal on Earth. So between the cheetahs and the African wild dogs, which we also work with here, you have huge ranges. And so that means you have to develop programs within those ranges so that the people and the wildlife can live together.

In Namibia about 20% of the land is protected by the government. And then another 20% are conservancies. Namibia is a leader in conservancy management where the communities actually manage their natural resources and they’re able to benefit from that management as well. We’ve been very active in trying to help develop these kinds of initiatives throughout other areas in Africa as well.

Our human-wildlife conflict laws are different from most countries. In many countries people get compensation if they lose their livestock [to wildlife]. And Namibia won’t do that because we believe that you’re developing farmers that are just losing their livestock to get paid. Namibia has tried to be very proactive by having conservancies, by having things like livestock guarding dogs, and good livestock and wildlife management training programs, so that the farmers actually benefit through having access to their own wildlife through ecotourism.

Is there a lot of overlap in the techniques you use and those used by others in the United States and Europe who are working on reducing conflict between livestock and other predators like wolves?

Yes. The livestock guarding dog program started in Oregon and that was back in the middle ’70s and early ’80s, where I learned about it. Now our programs [in Namibia] have been going on since the early 1990s and we have spread the word. We published all of our data. People monitor what we do very closely. We work with a Turkish breed called the Anatolian Shepherd and Kangal dogs and they’ve been used for about 5,000 years. I went to Turkey and spent a lot of time learning about how the dogs work from the Turkish herders and they usually have three dogs — a female and two males. The female wakes up and she barks, and the males are huge and go after whatever might be around, but also their bark is loud.

You have to have enough dogs to protect against wolves because wolves are also a pack animal. And so for us, cheetahs aren’t a pack animal, leopards aren’t a pack animal. So we can actually work with individual dogs with herds up to 200 to 300 animals and have great success.

But we also encourage the use of herders as well. I think a lot of people in America don’t utilize [herders] a lot. They throw the animals out in the field, in the open range, and then blame anything that might happen. And I’m opposed to that. I am a livestock farmer myself, we have a dairy goat farm, and my agriculture background is linked together with the wildlife background. For me, I like my livestock and I like the wildlife and I like the predators. I feel it’s my responsibility to take care of my livestock through good management.

What kind of a threat does climate change pose?

Cheetahs are found in the most arid and semi-arid landscapes in all of the world with the poorest people on Earth. The animals are being affected through the loss of habitat and what’s going to happen with climate change. We’ve got much hotter days, longer days that are hot, less days that have rain. All of these are affecting and will affect the movements of the animals, the diseases that potentially animals can get and can carry — the prey base will be very much affected, and the grazing lands. That’s going to shift the migration of these animals and put them possibly in even more conflict with the human population.

Cheetah running. Photo: Jennifer Leigh Warner

I think livelihood development is a really critical part of the solution. [Too much grazing has led to] desertification, you end up with either sand deserts taking over, or with invasive bushes taking over, or thickened bushes. We’ve developed a whole habitat restoration project because here in Namibia, an area about the size of California is so thickly thorn-bushed that it has reduced the economic value for agriculture as well as the grazing lands for the wildlife and livestock.

We see this in many of the areas where cheetahs are found because of the effect of this overgrazing by the livestock. With this form of desertification — where you’ve got thickened thorn bushes, no grasses, and then the underground water is being taken up by these invasive bushes — it causes even a greater effect for climate change.

What kind of action would you like to see?

I don’t think anybody in the western world really cares about the poor people that I work with in the middle of Africa, but I really care about them and they don’t want to be poor starving farmers. It’s getting worse and worse. We are helping develop alternative livelihoods and funding to assist greater wildlife and livestock management techniques to help the people get out of poverty.

Then we can have more habitats where animals like the cheetah can live, and when you end up with a top predator, like a cheetah, you end up with a much greater amount of biodiversity.

Often these arid landscapes are called “dead lands,” but they’re only dead because they’re overgrazed and the biodiversity isn’t there. We really need to re-establish biodiversity and it can be done, but we first need to reduce the impact on the land by people. And that revolves around poverty reduction plans, education and the development of conservancies.

I think that the cheetah can be an icon — it can help people accept predators on a worldwide basis, but we just need to understand that we can live together.

Previously in The Revelator:

Is the Jaguarundi Extinct in the United States?

The post Saving Africa’s Most Endangered Big Cat appeared first on The Revelator.

Categories: H. Green News

Abortion in Poland: What Will Tusk’s New Day for Women Bring?  

Green European Journal - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 03:26

Poland’s new Prime Minister Donald Tusk has promised a liberalisation of the country’s abortion laws, which are some of the most restrictive on the European continent. His path is a sharp contrast to the previous government’s anti-abortion crackdown. Yet, even as he commits to the issue publicly, the campaign he took to get there reveals that reproductive freedom in Poland remains an issue many lawmakers use only instrumentally.

Hot water, running over a pregnant belly, under beige and purple shower tiles. An orange cat, crawling through the litter box. In 2023, only a couple months after abortion, doula Wiktoria Szymczak moved to Kraków from Warsaw. She was helping a stranger end a pregnancy in her apartment bathroom. Earlier in the day, Szymczak had got a call from a client who needed more help than anticipated, whom we will call Agata to protect her privacy. Previously, Szymczak had told her how to pursue one of the few legal methods left for obtaining an abortion within the country. It is still legal to go online and order abortion pills for yourself in the mail through a dealer based outside Poland (Szymczak recommends medical non-profits like “Women Help Women”). Agata went online and bought the pills to end her pregnancy. 

But “she miscalculated”, Szymczak recalls. The pregnancy was further along than they thought, and they were going to need more medication to end it. “As an abortion doula, I obviously have the pills at home,” she says. But Szymczak is also a newly-practicing lawyer, and she brings her fresh knowledge of Poland’s legal landscape into her activism. So as a doula who collaborates with other abortion activists, she had a strict rule for herself and others on her team: you never give out your own abortion pills to a client in Poland. “You hold their hand or support them while they order their own.” When you give the pills to someone else, you are putting unregistered drugs into Polish circulation – and that crosses a legal line. “I am always the one making sure nobody does stupid things that can get them arrested,” she says. 

At one’s own risk 

Agata had already taken mifepristone and some misoprostol, but she needed more of the second pill. Obtaining more would take at least two more days. On the phone, Agata was a mess, erratic, and “very shaky emotionally”. Szymczak did not want her to wait any longer. Agata’s abortion would have to happen at Szymczak’s apartment, in a quiet corner of Kraków at the end of a tramline. 

Szymczak called a friend from the network to confirm the correct dosage, telling her to keep their lawyer’s phone number on hand. Szymczak did not know Agata beyond a few chats they had online. And Agata’s boyfriend had become increasingly controlling, which meant Szymczak didn’t know how he would react after the abortion was done. Would he call the police? “Don’t worry,” Szymczak’s friend joked. “We’ll print t-shirts for your court date like we did for Justyna.” In March 2023, Warsaw abortion-rights activist Justyna Wydrzyńska was sentenced to eight months of community service for helping a pregnant woman get abortion pills. 

The next morning, Szymczak and her partner made Agata breakfast and drove her home. “The whole time I was thinking that I might go to jail or I might get arrested,” Szymczak says now. She still might, in theory. In Poland, the law that saw Wydrzyńska convicted less than a year ago remains in force. Poland has a near-total ban on abortion with exceptions if the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act (such as rape) or if the pregnant person’s life is at risk. 

Szymczak says she saw women denied hospital abortions, despite the fact that their situations met the legal requirements. A “conscientious objection to abortion” law means doctors do not need to perform or refer patients for an abortion if this contradicts their religious views. And other doctors often fear strict readings of the legal code that could penalise them if they decide too quickly to protect their patient from a dangerous pregnancy. 

Szymczak is sharing her story because she is tired of waiting for something to change. “[Agata] was lucky. And I was lucky,” she says. “Lucky that I had [the pills] at the time, and … lucky that I was willing to do this.” She does not want luck to decide the outcome anymore. “Women in Poland deserve to go to a doctor, say that they don’t want to continue the pregnancy, and be given all of the pills that they need. If we look at other European countries, somehow it’s okay for women there to be treated like humans.” 

Difficult history 

For more than 30 years, Poland has been home to a ban on abortion with very few exceptions, leaving people like Szymczak to fill the gap. Under the conservative Law and Justice party which ruled Poland from 2015 to 2023, those restrictions were even further tightened both on paper and in practice. A 2021 court decision forbade abortion due to significant foetal abnormality, and in one high-profile case, a woman who miscarried found prosecutors for the Constitutional Tribunal going through her sewage system to find the foetus. 

But over the past few months, a waterfall of changes suggests a new day in Poland may be coming for supporters of abortion rights. In his first address as prime minister in December 2023, Donald Tusk promised “a programme so that every Polish woman feels a change in the treatment of motherhood, protection of mothers and access to legal abortion.” And just a day before he spoke, the European Court of Human Rights declared that the law against abortions in the case of foetal abnormalities infringed on an individual’s right to privacy. Responding to the decision, Federa, the organisation that fights for reproductive rights in Poland, said that it was only a first step in their work to liberalise Polish law: “We will not rest until every woman in Poland is guaranteed the right to decide about her life.” 

But getting to this point has not been easy – and many feminists say they will view these political promises with suspicion until they see actual results. This is largely due to a long history in which abortion rights have been used as a political weapon at the expense of women and their bodies. Polish feminist, Sławomira Walczewska, traces this back to the last days of communist rule. 

Walczewska remembers a famous off-the-record human rights conference in the 1980s, where hundreds of people from around the world had gathered in Poland for workshops and panels talking about human rights. But when she went to a discussion on women’s rights and abortion – when abortion rights had already faced increasing restrictions and anti-choice mobilisation – the room was empty. Even the panellists decided to go elsewhere. Walczewska remembers her indignation. At the closing plenary – filled with hundreds of people – she called out the organisers, demanding that the next conference take women’s issues seriously. 

“I was a nobody in this space full of really great activists,” she says. Some of them had gone to prison for years over their views, a badge of honour in the pro-democracy circles; she could feel herself shaking. 

Walczewska remembers the applause from the audience. She also remembers the chairman’s glare. “He was a first-class activist for human rights and would never say that he is misogynist. It would be too primitive for him,” she says. But his face was boiling with rage. “If such beautiful people don’t want to hear anything about women’s rights, what about the barbarians – the people who are openly misogynist?” 

The compromise 

For Walczewska, this is the story of the Polish approach to women’s rights over and over again: useful until they are not. By 1989, only one of the many women who had organised anti-communist newspapers and political activity, Grażyna Staniszewska, was sitting at Poland’s Round Table to discuss the country’s democratic reforms. 

This is the story of the Polish approach to women’s rights over and over again: useful until they are not.

In 1989, under the last communist government, a draft bill making abortion completely illegal was presented to the legislature. However, the politicians agreed not to debate the abortion issue until after the new elections. Historian Sylwia Kuźma explains that the “Polish historiographical consensus” around the time frames this bill as a communist effort to “cause quarrel within the opposition,” just as democratic institutions took their first steps. Thus, the refusal to argue the issue became a symbol of careful democratic leaders refusing to take the communist bait. However, this decision can also be read another way – setting aside a discussion that would have been relevant to the democratic experience of half the population, all in the name of something perceived to be more important. 

The late Maria Janion, a leading Polish literary critic, feminist, and member of the Solidarity movement who had been instrumental in bringing the new government into power, was one of the people arguing the abortion debate must be shelved for later. In the respected Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, she remembered the resulting betrayal: “I claimed that Solidarity must first fight for the freedom and independence of the whole society and then together we can take care of women’s issues. A few years later, Solidarity did take care of women’s issues and we know exactly what happened, and in what manner it did so.” 

By 1992, under a new democratic government, women were in the streets protesting against the draft bill making abortions illegal. They collected over a million signatures which demanded the lower chamber of the Polish parliament (Sejm) put the idea to a referendum. Women knew that public opinion was on their side, and probably, leaders of the legislature did too, because the referendum never happened. Instead, legislators earned the favour of the Catholic Church with a less extreme ban, only allowing abortions in a few extreme exceptions. 

These tactics crossed party lines. Months after abortion was made illegal in 1993, the parties that introduced the law lost political power, and the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance party won control. For years, that party did nothing about abortion. Then in 1997, just before new elections were due, the leadership started talking about a return of abortion rights, Walczewska remembers. “‘Vote for us’ … It was very clear, just manipulative.” The ploy did not work. A liberal and conservative Polish Solidarity coalition government was voted in instead. 

Twenty-six years later, Walczewska sees similarities between that past and the current situation. The Polish Solidarity coalition was dissolved in 2001. Two main rival parties were soon built from its ashes: the conservative Law and Justice, famously opposed to abortion rights, and the centrist Civic Platform. From 2015 to 2023, Law and Justice governed Poland and became famous for its increasing rollbacks on social issues. In 2023, a diverse coalition of parties came together and cobbled enough votes together to boot Law and Justice out of power. This win was thanks in part to the promise by the new prime minister, Donald Tusk, to reverse tightened restrictions on reproductive rights and make abortions up to 12 weeks legal in Poland for the first time since the fall of communism. This was a pragmatic move on Tusk’s part. After Law and Justice had eliminated one of the few legal exceptions for abortion – severe foetal deformity – forcing women in their second trimester to head out of the country for healthcare, the 2020 and 2021 “Black March” women’s strikes had made it clear: abortion was an issue that many voters would mobilise around. 

Instrumentalising women’s rights 

During the 2023 campaign, Tusk had called on women to vote for his party, Civic Platform, with abortion specifically in mind. Yet in November last year, when Tusk signed a deal to govern alongside more centrist and leftist parties in a new democratic coalition, abortion rights were nowhere to be seen in their first shared mandate. Journalist Anna Kowalczyk was not surprised: “Women’s rights are treated very instrumentally and they are being sacrificed first when there is a need of sacrifice.” 

Politicos will insist that the coalition was a fragile one, and Tusk’s party did not get enough votes to demand a pro-abortion turn once he took office. He had to make friends with more right-leaning agrarian and economy-focused groups, in order to keep the nationalist Law and Justice Party from taking control once again. 

But a look at Tusk’s earlier campaign trail tells a longer story of disregard for women’s voices. At one prominent rally courting the women’s vote, only one female speaker was listed – the Civic Platform’s youngest candidate – and even here, Tusk got her name wrong. And while ostensibly, the slightly broader Civic Coalition (which includes smaller parties that run on a shared ticket with Civic Platform) allowed its members to have diverse views on abortion rights, including anti-abortion views, one feminist was booted from the coalition for saying that, in her belief, abortion should be allowed on demand. Instead, the campaign focused its energy on pushing social media videos of Donald Tusk winking and reclining on a couch, posing as a caring grandfather or a grey-haired sex symbol. Women were voters – objects for campaigns to pursue – but they were not political subjects worth engaging in a respectful way. 

Women were voters – objects for campaigns to pursue – but they were not political subjects worth engaging in a respectful way.

To understand Poland’s approach to abortion rights today, one has to understand the impact of communist history on even the country’s most liberal periods around the issue. In 1932, Poland became the second country after the Soviet Union to legalise abortion in extreme situations such as female health or surviving rape. After Joseph Stalin’s death allowed the socialist bloc countries to turn away from his more extreme pronatalist policies, the country expanded legal abortion access to include “difficult living conditions”, and deaths from abortion plummeted in Poland, from 255 cases a year to 12. 

Yet, in the official discourse, this access was never framed as an individual right, explains Agata Ignaciuk, history of medicine professor at University of Grenada. Instead, “it was a healthcare procedure to solve a problem” – a problem for the family or for the common good. Ignaciuk says that in other countries at the time, feminists were arguing for abortion rights to be codified. “In Poland, it was more like, ‘well, abortion should be legal, but it’s a necessary evil and it is dangerous, potentially harmful, it could lead to infertility.’ Even at its most accessible,” she explains. 

One 1988 survey found that even while 0.6 per cent of women approved of abortion morally, 37 per cent said they would have an abortion if they did not want a child. Looking at the numbers, Małgorzata Fuszara in the journal Signs noted that one must not assume “that women who have abortions approve of them or believe they are not sinning.” 

In Ignaciuk’s research, she found that magazines and medical literature rarely swayed from the “fixed framing” of abortion as best done under legal conditions, but still dangerous and ideally avoided – a last resort. The goal with legal abortion was to prevent death, not provide female autonomy. She says this longstanding perception made it difficult for abortion advocates to stand up for abortion rights during the fall of communism, when the draft bill making most abortions illegal came into play. “It has an impact on how there is this … difficulty to develop this idea that abortion is a woman’s right, a human right,” she says. “And make it resonate with the broader society.” 

The question remains: what to do about this now? Szymczak, the abortion doula, says that after decades of restrictions on abortion, Polish healthcare workers are sometimes stuck in the past. In her doula practice, she hears from women who go to hospital after a miscarriage or problems with a pharmacological abortion. Too often, she says, they’re subjected to hospital procedures that feel punitive and, when not medically indicated, can add needless risk. Legal changes will need to be followed by support for doctors, like new equipment and wider training on the latest practices. 

Before that point, another question is how to get there. In the major cities that are his strongholds, the prime minister is under immense social pressure to implement reforms. The Sejm’s YouTube channel now has 650,000 subscribers and many Poles watch the proceedings closely. In January, Tusk told the country’s top television stations he would put forward a bill legalising abortion for the first 12 weeks “with some conditions”. More conservative-leaning politicians in his coalition have argued instead for a return to the so-called 1993 compromise, or for the referendum that feminists fought for three decades ago. Szymczak does not want to see either of these alternatives. She says public opinion is not always reflected in a referendum because “people on the ‘winning’ side will often stay home.” 

Besides, she argues, the time is over for gathering public opinion on a pregnant person’s individual decisions. For many women, technological and social shifts have made abortion even more personal than it has always been. It is often not even a “decision between a woman and her doctor” anymore, as western feminists used to say in the 1990s. Now it is possible, with an internet connection and a mailing address, to do this completely on your own. Still, people like Szymczak do not want women to feel alone doing it. 

This article was first published in New Eastern Europe 1-2/2024: Elections Without Choice.

Categories: H. Green News

How the US government began its decade-long campaign against the anti-pipeline movement

Grist - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 01:45

This article was produced in partnership with Type Investigations, where Adam Federman is a reporting fellow. 

On the morning of March 5, 2012, Debra White Plume received an urgent phone call. A convoy of large trucks transporting pipeline servicing equipment was attempting to cross the Pine Ridge Reservation near the town of Wanblee, South Dakota. White Plume, a prominent Lakota activist, immediately dropped what she was doing and headed to the site, where, within a few hours, a group of about 75 people from the Pine Ridge Reservation gathered.

More than a dozen cars formed a blockade along one of the roads that runs through the reservation. Plume and other activists were outspoken critics of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, part of a larger network carrying oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Many Indigenous nations in South Dakota, whose land the convoy was attempting to pass through on its way to the Canadian tar sands, fiercely objected to the project.

“We have resolutions opposing the whole entity of the tar sands oil mine and the Keystone XL pipeline,” White Plume declared after arriving at the site where the trucks had been stopped. “They need to turn around and go back. … They are not coming through here.” But the trucks were so big and unwieldy that the drivers said it would be dangerous, if not impossible, to turn them around.

The standoff in Wanblee was a relatively small protest compared to subsequent actions against the Keystone XL pipeline, which drew tens of thousands into the streets of Washington, D.C., and garnered national attention. Police arrested five activists, including White Plume (who died in 2020) and her husband, Alex White Plume Sr., on charges of disorderly conduct, and released them later that day. Beyond a few stories in Indigenous news outlets and regional papers, the protest hardly registered. Though tribes and landowners in the region had begun organizing around Keystone XL in 2011 and 2012, the pipeline had not yet become the galvanizing force for one of the largest campaigns in the history of the modern environmental movement.

Debra White Plume is arrested by U.S. Park Police in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., during a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline in September 2011. Luis M. Avarez / AP Photo

But the events in Wanblee did capture the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which began tracking Native groups campaigning against the pipeline in early 2012. According to documents obtained by Grist and Type Investigations through a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI’s Minneapolis office opened a counterterrorism assessment in February 2012, focusing on actions in South Dakota, that continued for at least a year and may have led to the opening of additional investigations. These documents reveal that the FBI was monitoring activists involved in the Keystone XL campaign about a year earlier than previously known. 

Their contents suggest that, long before the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines became national flashpoints, the federal government was already developing a sweeping law enforcement strategy to counter any acts of civil disobedience aimed at preventing fossil fuel extraction. And young, Native activists were among its first targets.

“The threat emerging … is evolving into one based on opposition to energy exploration related to any extractions from the earth, rather than merely targeting one project and/or one company,” the FBI noted in its description of the Wanblee blockade.

The 15-page file, which is heavily redacted, also describes Native American groups as a potentially dangerous threat and likens them to “environmental extremists” whose actions, according to the FBI, could lead to violence. The FBI acknowledged that Native American groups were engaging in constitutionally protected activity, including attending public hearings, but emphasized that this sort of civic participation might spawn criminal activity. 

To back up its claims, the FBI cited a 2011 State Department hearing on the pipeline in Pierre, South Dakota, attended by a small group of Native activists. The FBI said the individuals were dressed in camouflage and had covered their faces with red bandanas, “train robber style.” According to the report, they were also carrying walking sticks and shaking sage, claiming to be “Wounded Knee Security of/for Mother Earth.”

“The Bureau is uncertain how the NA group(s) will act initially or subsequently if the project is approved,” the agency wrote. 

Members of the Oglala Lakota Tribe participate in a protest against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on October 13, 2014, in Pierre, South Dakota. Andrew Burton / Getty Images

The FBI also singled out the “Native Youth Movement,” which it described as a mix between a “radical militia and a survivalist group.” In doing so, it appeared to conflate a specific activist group originally founded in Canada in the 1990s with the broader array of young Native activists who opposed the pipeline decades later. Young activists would play an important role in the Keystone XL campaign and later on during protests against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock, but the movement had little in common with militias or survivalists, terms typically used to describe far-right groups or those seeking to disengage from society. 

The FBI declined to respond to questions for this story. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Minneapolis field office said the agency does not typically comment on FOIA releases and “lets the information contained in the files speak for itself.”

The FBI was not the only federal agency keeping tabs on Keystone XL pipeline protesters in the early years of the anti-pipeline movement. According to additional records obtained by Grist and Type Investigations, an obscure intelligence division within the U.S. State Department, which had jurisdiction over the pipeline because it crossed an international boundary, collected hundreds of pages of records on Keystone activists, landing one of them in jail on charges of trespassing (which were eventually dropped). Working in tandem with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the State Department created an email account to “track all Keystone XL protest incidents” and monitored events in cities across the country, including in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, and Honolulu. The task force even highlighted candlelight vigils held in several major cities in 2014, describing one group of protesters as “peaceful, holding candles and signs.” These records reveal for the first time that the State Department was also involved in monitoring activists from late 2013 through the Obama administration’s decision to reject the pipeline in November 2015, though the case file wasn’t officially closed until November 2016. 

A U.S. Park Police officer motions journalists away from a group of environmental activists gathered outside the White House in Washington, D.C., in August 2011. J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

The State Department was especially interested in the work of environmental groups D.C. Action Lab and 350.org, as well as the “pledge of resistance,” organized by groups including CREDO, a mobile phone company that supports progressive causes, which called for activists to engage in civil disobedience to stop President Barack Obama from approving the Keystone XL pipeline. By late 2015, tens of thousands of people had signed the pledge and environmental groups held direct action trainings in dozens of cities. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security and state and local law enforcement agencies along the proposed pipeline route, according to previous reporting in The Guardian and other news outlets, were also intimately involved in investigating these activities, creating an unprecedented domestic surveillance network that is only now fully coming into focus.

In a written response, a State Department official said the purpose of tracking Keystone XL protesters was to “provide law enforcement with situational awareness of activities that could impact the security of State Department personnel, facilities, or activities.”

The department said it takes any potential threats against its personnel in the United States seriously but declined to comment on whether Keystone XL pipeline protesters had engaged in such behavior. In addition, the department declined to comment on why it singled out specific groups such as D.C. Action Lab and 350.org, as well as the CREDO campaign. The department said it is committed to upholding freedom of speech and assembly, “while also maintaining our security responsibility of protecting our facilities and U.S. personnel from those who may violate applicable laws.”

Environmental activists and attorneys who reviewed the new documents told Grist and Type Investigations that law enforcement’s approach to the Keystone XL campaign looked like a template for the increasingly militarized response to subsequent environmental and social justice campaigns from efforts to block the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock to the ongoing protests against the police training center dubbed “Cop City” in Atlanta, Georgia, which would require razing at least 85 acres of urban forest. 

Private security guards hold back dogs near Dakota Access Pipeline protesters near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, on September 3, 2016. Robyn Beck / AFP via Getty Images Protesters gathered in front of the New York City Public Library for a rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline are seized by police officers in March 2017. Andy Katz / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The FBI’s working thesis, outlined in the new documents, that “most environmental extremist groups” have historically moved from peaceful protest to violence has served as the basis for subsequent investigations. “It’s astonishing to me how such a broad concept basically paints every activist and protester as a future terrorist,” said Mike German, a former FBI special agent who is now a fellow at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice.

Sabrina King, an organizer with the conservation group Dakota Rural Action from 2012 to 2016, who went on to work for the ACLU in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming, spent nearly a month at Standing Rock. She believes the FBI’s characterization of the activist community — and Native youth in particular — as potential extremists helped set the stage for the increasingly aggressive government actions, including the use of FBI informants and heavily armed state and local police departments, directed at environmental protesters around the country in later years, from Standing Rock to the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota.

“This is the direct line to Standing Rock,” said King, who reviewed the newly obtained FBI documents. “None of that just happened. These law enforcement agencies had literally been training for [years] for Keystone, but then they used it on Dakota Access.” 

In the years after the Wanblee blockade, the campaign opposing Keystone XL gained broad public appeal. It tapped into both local concerns over damage to land and water and also a rapidly growing national movement to end fossil fuel extraction altogether. It minted a multigenerational coalition of activists, many of whom had not been previously engaged in environmental politics.

The campaign also openly embraced nonviolent direct action, which marked a new chapter for some environmental organizations. In 2013, for example, the Sierra Club broke its long-standing prohibition on members engaging in civil disobedience — earning it a mention in the newly obtained FBI files. That year, activists, including the Sierra Club’s then-executive-director Michael Brune, used zip ties to attach themselves to the White House fence, resulting in mass arrests. The campaign included mainstream liberals who supported Obama and felt he could be persuaded to block the pipeline, as well as veterans of the environmental movement who had long been willing to engage in confrontational direct action. 

From left to right: Social justice activist Julian Bond, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, and activist Bill McKibben are arrested as they refused to leave the sidewalk in front of the White House on February 13, 2013. Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

This alliance posed an unexpected threat to companies involved in fossil fuel extraction, including TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, and set off alarms within the federal government. Hundreds of pages of FBI and State Department files released through the Freedom of Information Act over the last decade highlight an increasingly close relationship between law enforcement agencies and the fossil fuel industry. The newly obtained documents show that, as early as 2012, the FBI was describing TransCanada, a multinational corporation headquartered in Calgary, Canada, as a “domain stakeholder” with direct access to the White House.

“Resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline was really the first pipeline campaign that I recall that there was organization on both sides of the fight,” said Lauren Regan, executive director of the nonprofit Civil Liberties Defense Center, which provided legal support to dozens of activists arrested during the campaign. “As we were collecting public records documents, organizers were shocked at how much running time TransCanada had with state and federal governments before any of them sensed that something was happening.”

Previously reported documents show that, less than two months after the FBI opened its investigation into Native activists, the agency held a “strategy meeting” with TransCanada and industry partners in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, an hour away from Cushing, where many of the nation’s major pipelines converge. (In 2012, Obama delivered a campaign speech in Cushing announcing that he would fast-track the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.) Representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Guard, and state and local police departments were also present. Indeed, the author of the February 2012 FBI file from the bureau’s Minneapolis field office noted that they would be attending the “regional working group meeting” to “ensure coordination and resource management between bureau field offices affected and the domain stakeholder, TransCanada Corporation.” 

By the end of 2012, the FBI’s Houston field office also began collecting information for a domestic terrorism assessment that focused on Tar Sands Blockade, a scrappy coalition committed to nonviolent direct action, which had been at the center of the campaign to block construction of the pipeline in Texas. In one of their most prominent actions, Tar Sands Blockade had teamed up with a private landowner and set up tree-sits in the pathway of the pipeline. The FBI closely tracked protest activity among members of the group, one of whom later ended up being placed on a U.S. government watchlist for domestic flights, and cultivated at least one informant, according to files obtained in 2015 and previously reported in The Guardian. The investigation was initially opened without prior approval from the chief division counsel and the special agent in charge, in violation of FBI rules pertaining to “sensitive investigative matters” involving the activities of political organizations.

Protester Perry Graham climbs a flagpole to hang a sign to protest a pipeline by LyondellBasell, on March 27, 2013, in Houston. Nick de la Torre / Houston Chronicle via Getty Images

Meanwhile, starting in late 2012, TransCanada began delivering its own briefing to local law enforcement agencies along the proposed pipeline route. The PowerPoint presentations, which included profiles of organizers at 350.org, Rainforest Action Network, and Tar Sands Blockade, encouraged law enforcement to pursue federal anti-terrorism charges in conjunction with the FBI.

At the same time, tribes and landowners in South Dakota were busy raising awareness about the pipeline and the threats it posed to groundwater and Indigenous treaty rights. In September 2011, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, along with First Nation Chiefs of Canada, held an “emergency summit” in South Dakota, after which they issued the Mother Earth Accord, also referenced in the new FBI files. The agreement, signed by most tribes in the state, called for a moratorium on tar sands development and an end to the shipping of equipment for the pipeline through the United States and Canada. 

The blockade in Wanblee was one of several actions the FBI cited to support its conclusion that the movement could potentially turn to violence. The counterterrorism assessment documents other public meetings, including a protest held by the Oglala Lakota Nation in early February 2012, that the FBI acknowledged was “protected First Amendment activity.” The FBI warned that, after Wanblee, any commercial vehicles associated with the pipeline could now be held “hostage” by Native Americans “who oppose the exploration, extraction, refinement, and/or distribution of petroleum-based products.” The FBI file included the names of those arrested and noted that South Dakota’s U.S. attorney had considered prosecuting the activists under the Hobbs Act, a 1946 law designed to prevent racketeering in interstate commerce, typically through robbery or extortion. Violating the act can carry a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. 

Along with monitoring protest activity, the agency was particularly concerned with the activities of Native youth. Certainly, Native youth played an important role in the Keystone XL campaign, and later in organizing opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. But their actions hardly seemed like the work of a radical militia. In 2015, members of the Lakota Nation’s Cheyenne River Sioux tribe formed the One Mind Youth Movement, a kind of mutual aid society for teens struggling with suicide and depression. Eventually they turned their attention to the Keystone XL campaign and began networking with activists in other parts of the country and around the world. At Standing Rock, members of One Mind formed the International Indigenous Youth Council, which was known for its efforts to defuse tensions between law enforcement and protesters, even drawing criticism from some activists who felt they were too conciliatory. 

The FBI saw things differently. According to the newly obtained files, the Minneapolis office appears to have opened another inquiry into what it described as the “Native Youth Movement” to “marshal information about extremist groups in Indian Country targeting a myriad of issues, to include threats to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.” Those records may never be released, however. The FBI denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the material, and asserted that releasing the “investigative file” would reveal intelligence sources and methods or law enforcement techniques and procedures. In October, the Department of Justice rejected an appeal filed by Grist and Type Investigations, stating that “disclosure of the information withheld would harm the interests protected by these exemptions.”

Shortly after Obama and the State Department rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015, Paula Antoine, the director of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Sicangu Oyate Land Office, headed north to the Standing Rock reservation to meet with elders interested in establishing a prayer camp on the banks of the Missouri River. During the fight over Keystone XL, Antoine had helped to set up the first “spirit camp” near the community of Ideal, South Dakota, where she was raised. The idea caught on. Lewis Grassrope, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribal Council, set up a camp on land belonging to his mother a few miles from the Missouri River. A third camp was erected on the Cheyenne Sioux Reservation. Each served as a gathering place for organizers and activists involved in the Keystone XL campaign. Now, activists spearheading the campaign to block the Dakota Access pipeline wanted to do the same thing.

“To me it [KXL] was like the precursor to No DAPL,” Grassrope said, referring to the campaign to block the Dakota Access pipeline. “We knew that the fight was coming, we just didn’t know when.”

Lewis GrassRope speaks at a 2023 political event in Philadelphia. Gilbert Carrasquillo / GC Images

The spirit camp at Standing Rock started out small and was maintained by a group of local activists and their allies. But by the fall of 2016, it had become the focal point of the growing movement to block the pipeline. Thousands of people taking on the mantle of “water protectors” eventually descended on the region. Standing Rock would capture the world’s attention.

But as the newly obtained files show, after years of tracking Keystone XL protesters, the fossil fuel industry and law enforcement had prepared for this moment. Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, hired a private security firm that monitored activist groups and produced dozens of intelligence reports, which were later leaked and reported by The Intercept. This information was shared with law enforcement and the FBI, blurring the lines between public and private partnerships, with the fossil fuel industry at the center. The security firm, TigerSwan, collected intelligence on activists and used an ex-Marine to infiltrate anti-pipeline actions. At the same time, a Department of Homeland Security-funded fusion center in North Dakota developed a “links chart” to map out the leadership of the movement, focusing almost exclusively on Native American activists. 

“We all had people following us,” said Antoine. “They knew who we were.”

Read Next How an energy giant helped law enforcement quell the Standing Rock protests &

As the encampment grew, the National Guard was eventually enlisted in what became one of the largest police and military deployments in North Dakota’s history, according to historian Nick Estes’s Our History is the Future, his book about the pipeline fight. “Cops in riot gear conducted tipi-by-tipi raids … They dragged half-naked elders from ceremonial sweat lodges, tasered a man in the face, doused people with CS gas and tear gas, and blasted adults and youth with deafening LRAD sound cannons,” Estes writes. Law enforcement also appeared to undermine parts of the movement from the inside. Red Fawn Fallis, a Lakota activist, was sentenced to a nearly five-year prison term for possession of a handgun, following a skirmish with police at Standing Rock. According to reporting by Will Parish in The Intercept, she had been involved in a romantic relationship with an FBI informant. It was later revealed that the weapon belonged to him. 

Even after the camps at Standing Rock had been broken down and the last protesters had gone home, the surveillance continued. Grassrope, now 46, returned to the spirit camp he’d established on the Lower Brule reservation and, along with a handful of others, lived in tipis, yurts, and military tents. One day, the FBI called and said they wanted to inspect the camp. “They were pinpointing certain camps created after Standing Rock,” Grassrope said, which they believed were preparing to turn their attention, once again, to the Keystone XL pipeline, which then-President Donald Trump had revived. 

Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center said that the fossil fuel industry and law enforcement agencies have continued to strengthen their partnership. In particular, the oil and gas industry’s information-sharing networks have become more sophisticated. In some cases, corporations have made direct payments to state and local law enforcement. For example, Enbridge, a Canadian multinational that recently upgraded its Line 3 pipeline, which cuts through tribal land in Minnesota, reimbursed state and local law enforcement to the tune of more than $8.5 million for their work policing protests against the pipeline.

More broadly, using the playbook that TransCanada developed, the industry has continued to push lawmakers to pursue enhanced felony charges for pipeline protesters. Lawmakers in nearly 20 states have passed legislation criminalizing actions that target “critical infrastructure.” 

Read Next After infiltrating Standing Rock, TigerSwan pitched its ‘counterinsurgency’ playbook to other oil companies &

“It was definitely part of the state and law enforcement strategy to escalate repression to the point people wouldn’t want to continue taking action,” said Ethan Nuss, a senior campaigner at Rainforest Action Network who was involved in protests targeting the Keystone XL pipeline and Line 3. 

Since the Keystone and Dakota Access pipeline fights, the law enforcement response to the environmental movement, and mass protest in general, has remained severe. In January 2023, six Georgia state troopers shot and killed Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, a 26-year-old medic involved in protests around the building of the police training center in Atlanta known to activists as Cop City. An autopsy requested by the family revealed that Tortuguita, as Terán was known, was likely sitting on the ground with both arms raised when they were killed, and an autopsy by DeKalb County found that they had been shot at least 57 times — the first time an environmental activist has been shot and killed by police on U.S. soil. Meanwhile, the state has charged dozens of protesters in Atlanta with domestic terrorism. And according to reporting by Grist and Type Investigations, the FBI has been tracking disparate groups involved in the campaign, some as far away as Chicago. 

Despite this crackdown, however, actions targeting fossil fuel infrastructure continue to pop up across the country. In October, police in Virginia arrested three activists and charged them with trespassing and obstruction after they attached themselves to equipment used in building the last leg of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Fast-tracked as part of negotiations over the Inflation Reduction Act, the 303-mile pipeline stands to release up to 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere every year once it is completed, according to its environmental impact statement. The developer has since sued two of the protesters, citing congressional approval of the project and arguing that the action caused “substantial delays and expenses” for the company. 

“With the global warming crisis at its height, these fights are going to happen more regularly,” said Grassrope. “We have to move faster. That is what it comes down to.” 

For the activist community, the Keystone XL campaign still serves as a source of inspiration. When the project was officially terminated in June 2021, Paula Antoine took her granddaughter out to the spirit camp on the Rosebud Sioux reservation. She made an offering and prayed, as she had many times before, for the continued protection of the land.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline How the US government began its decade-long campaign against the anti-pipeline movement on Feb 14, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

A company said there was only sand in the path of its new pipeline. Scientists found a thriving ecosystem.

Grist - Wed, 02/14/2024 - 01:30

Javier Bello could scarcely believe what he was seeing in the waters off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico. Where the Canadian fossil fuel company TC Energy had claimed there was little more than mounds of sand, he saw a thriving ecosystem. Sunbeams sliced through the water, and fish danced between the delicate array of wire and black corals 328 feet below the surface. “It was incredible,” he said.

Peering from a submarine, the marine scientist was among the first to lay eyes on a marine habitat that he and others fear will be devastated by the construction of a natural gas pipeline. The whole point of the voyage, in which scientists, fishers, and activists converged aboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise for three weeks last June, was to show what could be lost by the project.

“We don’t often have access to these kinds of research opportunities in Mexico,” Bello said, “so it is a really good example of nongovernmental organizations working with universities to make things happen together.” 

TC Energy — the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline — has proposed an extension of a natural gas pipeline that would stretch roughly 497 miles from the coastal towns of Tuxpan to Coatzacoalcos in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The company has claimed that there is nothing of significance on the seafloor along its planned route, and that construction will not harm existing marine protected areas. But Bello says researchers have always had an inkling that the reefs extended beyond the protected areas. 

The exact coordinates of the pipeline remain classified, but information leaked to Greenpeace  by an anonymous government official pointed to a general area — about 400 feet (120 meters) from shore — which guided the Arctic Sunrise’s route. Previously, researchers had not had the resources needed to study those depths, but the glimpses by the Arctic Sunrise’s research team revealed a rich and vibrant ecosystem that extends beyond the protected areas — one that scientists like Bello would like to have the opportunity to continue to study. 

But unease about the project extends beyond protecting and studying corals and fish. Pipeline opponents believe that in addition to environmental destruction, the project will disrupt the livelihoods of local communities and keep Mexico reliant upon fossil fuel, further exacerbating the effects of climate change.

In July of 2022, TC Energy announced a partnership with Mexico’s CFE, the state-owned electric utility, to build an extension to its Sur de Texas-Tuxpan Gas Pipeline. With an estimated cost of $5 billion, TC Energy announced a public offering of common shares to help fund the project the next month

Following the investment announcements, 18 environmental organizations led by the Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental warned of the pipeline’s grave risk to the surrounding coral reef corridor. They alleged that TC Energy and CFE were trying to avoid scrutiny of the project’s impact by presenting an environmental impact assessment fragmented into two pieces, one for each stage of the pipeline — terrestrial and aquatic.

“In the ocean, our main concern is that the pipeline will be built right on top of the reefs, which is very possible,” said Pablo Ramirez, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Mexico. “But even if they only build near the reefs rather than on top, the sediments could affect the reef, which is very concerning.” 

Ramirez notes that Greenpeace acquired leaked documents that laid out TC Energy’s  environmental review process. Of particular concern is the assessment methodology it used in determining the suitability of the proposed “dumping polygon,” where sediment dug up to make way for the pipeline will be placed. The leaked information reveals that, per TC Energy’s assessment request, Mexicos’ Safety, Energy and Environment Agency (ASEA) dropped a 50-meter rope to see what was beneath the surface and, because the rope did not reach the seafloor, concluded that the site lacked evidence of an active ecosystem. 

In an email to Grist, a TC Energy spokesperson noted that “this project was specifically designed with sustainability in mind. We believe in evidence and science-based decision making. … This marine project route is one of the most studied routes ever undertaken.” 

But the proximity of the proposed dumping polygon to the reef alarmed environmentalists, and when Greenpeace sought clarification, Ramirez says, TC Energy responded by providing heavily redacted paperwork, further heightening the organization’s apprehensions.

“That’s when we decided to go into the ocean and check it out for ourselves,” said Ramirez.

What they found were thriving, previously unexplored reefs — a continuation of a highly biodiverse reef system with many endemic species. Bello notes that his primary worry is the absence of transparency between the fossil fuel industry and scientists in cementing the pipeline. “There is a lack of knowledge,” he said. “They aren’t giving access to enough of the information, and during the operation of the pipeline, there could be accidents that would come with great consequences for the corals and ecosystem.” 

A Greenpeace submersible studies the reef 100 meters below the surface. Ivan Castaneira / Greenpeace

While there is still time to stop the project, ASEA has already approved stages one and two, which account for construction on land. Through litigation and advocacy campaigns, Greenpeace and other environmental groups aim to delay the project as long as they can, hoping that Mexico’s next president will be more amenable to killing the project.

Ramirez notes that for locals, the pipeline is an infringement on their land and a threat to the livelihood of over 70,000 people whose sole income depends on fish. The threat is particularly acute for the communities of El Bosque and Las Barrancas, which could lose their fish stocks if the pipeline disrupts the marine ecosystems. At the same time, they are losing land to an advancing sea and coastal erosion, driven by reliance on fossil fuels like the natural gas the pipeline will carry. The coastlines of Mexico are heavily impacted by storms and rising sea levels — and reefs, which buffer shorelines, can help to protect coastal communities from increasingly violent storms

Ramirez also expresses concern that the communities along the pipeline’s route haven’t been  fully informed of the risks. “The companies talk to local communities about all of the so-called benefits, but when we went to the communities afterward and presented that the projects are to transport methane, which can be explosive, the locals were very shocked.” 

“We didn’t even know about the pipeline production,” Lupe Cobos, a resident of El Bosque, told Grist. “And in a community that is facing major effects of climate change — we are literally losing our homes — that is important information.” 

Since Greenpeace representatives have begun speaking with Veracruz locals about the potential risks, Ramirez says, the community has become keen on the organization’s efforts. But in this area, resistance to development can be dangerous. Although Greenpeace has not had reports of anything untoward regarding this pipeline, the risk is still foremost in the minds of locals. 

“There is a lot of violence and repression for this kind of resistance,” Ramirez continues, “so we’re still trying to figure out the best way to do it, and how Greenpeace can assume the risk.”

Veracruz is no stranger to the oil industry. Promises of development and benefits from oil have been pledged to locals for more than a century — and yet more than 60 percent of Mexican households live in energy poverty due to accessibility, affordability, or both. According to Ramirez, Greenpeace has heard anonymous reports from residents that TC Energy has already approached fishing communities in the state of Tabasco, offering them money in exchange for their assurance not to oppose the project. (TC Energy did not respond to Grist’s emailed question about the allegation.)

“We have to fight this narrative that they actually want to help the communities,” Ramirez said. “Because at the end of the day, this kind of energy model is leaving the communities behind.” He believes shifting to renewables would be a better strategy to promote energy security and independence for Mexico.

He notes the effects of the 2021 Texas winter freeze, when Mexico lost its gas supply due to frozen pipelines in the U.S. When the states were forced to prioritize national consumption, around 5 million people in Mexico lost power; although most of the affected customers had their power restored within the day, even more people were then affected by temporary planned outages as the National Energy Control Center struggled to maintain a reliable supply. 

Additionally, the new infrastructure would go against the international goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as set forth in the Paris agreement. At COP28, the annual U.N. climate conference at the end of last year, countries — including Mexico — participated in the first “global stocktake,” assessing progress toward the Paris Agreement goals. The resulting agreement named fossil fuels as the driver of climate change for the first time, and called on countries to begin “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems.” 

“The fossil fuel model does not fulfill Mexico’s needs,” said Ramirez. “Increasing our gas consumption means that we will remain dependent on U.S. and Canadian gas. We need to change the focus of the model where the betterment of the people is front and center of energy policy.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A company said there was only sand in the path of its new pipeline. Scientists found a thriving ecosystem. on Feb 14, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Climate camp Scotland confirmed

Ecologist - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 23:00
Climate camp Scotland confirmed Channel News brendan 14th February 2024 Teaser Media
Categories: H. Green News

Argentine resistance hinders Milei’s forest and glacier destruction

Climate Change News - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 09:13

Argentina’s new free-market president Javier Milei is pushing for a rollback in environmental regulation, endangering forests and glaciers.

Milei, who has called climate change a “socialist lie”, has tried to ease restrictions on mining near glaciers and remove protections for forests.

But the moves have sparked protests, petitions and open letters. Milei has been forced to withdraw the wider free market reform bill that they are contained in, as it became clear he lacked the votes in Argentina’s lower house to pass it in its entirety.

Although he was elected president in November with 56% of the vote, Milei’s party holds less than a fifth of the seats in the lower house and less than a tenth in the Senate, making passing legislation a big challenge and reliant on a large block of independents.

Milei has yet to outline the next step for the reform bill. The government could choose to resubmit the law for another vote in parliament, incorporate aspects of it into an executive degree or put it to a referendum of the people.

Red tape cuts

After decades of mainly left-wing rule, Milei was elected on a promise to drastically cut government spending, tackle rampant inflation and boost economic growth.

Indonesia turns traditional Indigenous land into nickel industrial zone

Lucas Ruiz, a glaciologist at Argentine government scientific agency Conicet told Climate Home that Milei’s environmental agenda was “about relaxing regulations or reducing the area under protection with the argument that they go against economic development”.

Enrique Viale, who heads the Argentine association of environmental lawyers said that Milei “is part of an international trend that views environmentalism as an enemy”. Milei has praised former far-right presidents Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the USA.

Although he committed Argentina to staying in the Paris climate agreement and keeping its net zero by 2050 target, Milei quickly abolished the environment ministry and proposed a huge and radical reform bill.

The bill contains hundreds of items pushing his agenda in a broad range of industries, from tourism and wine to mining and farming. But the two items which most angered environmentalists were easing restrictions on economic activities in glacial areas and forests.

While some items in the bill received support from legislators, these two were more controversial after scientists and environmental associations widely rejected them.

Forests and glaciers

One item would allow provincial governments to authorise deforestation in areas where it is currently banned. It would also cut the budget for tackling illegal deforestation and forest fires.

Greenpeace estimates that, with this change, about four-fifths of the country’s forests would have been left without any legal protection.

Greenpeace forest campaigner Hernán Giardini called it a “serious setback in terms of environmental regression”, which would lead to an “uncontrolled increase” in forest destruction.

Ecuador’s new president tries to wriggle out of oil drilling referendum

Milei also proposed to change the legal definition of glaciers so that smaller glaciers, and those not previously accounted for in an offical log, aren’t counted. This means they would not be legally protected from the gold, silver and copper miners that have been eyeing up deposits in the Andes.

Giardini said the idea that you could mine on the fringes of glaciers without damaging the glaciers themselves as like “removing the door from the refrigerator and expecting the freezer not to defrost”.

The Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares National Park (Photos: Amanderson2)

Argentina has almost 17,000 glaciers, spanning an area bigger than Palestine. They provide drinking water to cities and help Argentina adapt to climate change.

Glaciologist Ruiz said they help mitigate the effects of drought by providing water. “The greatest risk we now face [with mining] is contamination of the very areas where many rivers originate”.

The fate of these measures and the reform bill is uncertain. But Giardini warns that their passing would be “a shameful setback”.

The laws the reforms would water down “took many years of work”, he said, and wrecking them “would mean throwing away many years worth of effort”.

The post Argentine resistance hinders Milei’s forest and glacier destruction appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

El Agua: De la Escasez a la Equidad

Green European Journal - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 06:54

Las soluciones tradicionales que el mercado propone para combatir la escasez de agua en el Mediterráneo árabe, sobre todo las de proyectos a gran escala como las presas, refuerzan las agendas de los Estados y consolidan la desigualdad de acceso al agua. Los conflictos por el agua no son inevitables, sino fruto de una mala gestión.

En la actualidad se calcula que hay más de 3.500 millones de personas en el mundo que viven en regiones donde escasea el agua. Se prevé que esta cifra aumente a 5.000 millones de aquí al año 2050, dado que el cambio climático propicia la aparición de fenómenos extremos como las inundaciones y las sequías. De este modo, más de la mitad de la población del planeta experimentará en carne propia las repercusiones de la pugna por el agua.

Los informes más recientes del Grupo Intergubernamental de Expertos sobre el Cambio Climático  (IPCC) confirman estas tendencias alarmantes y subrayan el impacto del cambio climático en los ecosistemas terrestres, las infraestructuras hidraúlicas, la producción de alimentos y los núcleos urbanos. Algunas regiones y subregiones merecen una atención especial pues se estima, por ejemplo, que la cuenca del Mediterráneo sufrirá las consecuencias más devastadoras, junto a los pequeños Estados insulares y algunas zonas del continente africano. Estas áreas no solo son especialmente vulnerables a los efectos del cambio climático y a la escasez de agua, sino también a unos desafíos económicos sin precedentes en la historia de la humanidad.

Las comunidades que ya sufren escasez de agua deben prepararse para hacer frente a unas consecuencias a corto plazo cada vez más devastadoras.

La franja mediterránea es la zona de mayor escasez de agua del mundo y los países árabes son los más afectados. El cambio climático exacerba los estragos de las precipitaciones, exiguas ya de por sí, en estas zonas áridas o semiáridas. Además, el crecimiento demográfico, que incluye los flujos migratorios de las poblaciones rurales a las urbanas, aumenta aún más la demanda de recursos hídricos. Las comunidades que ya sufren escasez de agua deben prepararse para hacer frente a unas consecuencias a corto plazo cada vez más devastadoras.

Por otra parte, la escasez de agua también obedece a factores estructurales e institucionales como son la mala gestión y la falta de políticas sostenibles en este ámbito. Hace mucho tiempo que la gestión del agua ocupa un lugar destacado en el discurso y la praxis de las ONG y las organizaciones internacionales que contribuyen activamente a la cooperación al desarrollo. Este hecho refleja la importancia histórica del sector agrícola en la transformación política, económica, medioambiental y tecnológica, y el papel decisivo que los recursos hídricos desempeñan en este sector.

Desde la década de 1950, la gestión del agua se ha abordado desde planteamientos tecnocráticos como la construcción de embalses y la autosuficiencia alimentaria a nivel nacional. Estas estrategias se consideran soluciones concretas al problema de la escasez de agua, y esto no solo ha supuesto la expansión de unos modelos específicos de producción agrícola, sino que también ha consolidado las disparidades e injusticias en el acceso y el uso de estos recursos. Si prevalecen los actuales modelos de gestión de los recursos hídricos y aumentan la demanda y las políticas insostenibles, ya no habrá agua suficiente para todos en la cuenca mediterránea.

¿Guerras por el agua?

Llevamos desde la década de los noventa escuchando hablar de las inminentes “guerras por el agua” o de que el agua se convertirá en el “petróleo del siglo XXI”. Butros Butros-Ghali, el secretario general de la ONU durante el periodo 1992-1996, dijo en una ocasión que “la próxima guerra que se libre en Oriente Medio será por el agua, no por cuestiones políticas”. El rey Hussein de Jordania señaló precisamente que el agua era el único motivo que podía llevar a su país a una guerra con Israel.

A menudo, los medios de comunicación apuntan a la escasez de agua como la principal causa de conflictos bélicos en las regiones semiáridas como Oriente Medio y advierten que este tipo de enfrentamientos también podrían darse en la región mediterránea. De acuerdo con esta línea argumental, el agua es un asunto de seguridad nacional. Ante una demanda superior a la oferta, la competencia por los recursos hídricos transfronterizos se convierte en un posible desencadenante de conflictos armados.

Este tipo de narrativa plantea un vínculo determinista entre la escasez de agua y el crecimiento de la población. Hace más de dos siglos, Thomas Malthus sostenía que la producción de alimentos no sería suficiente para satisfacer las necesidades de una población cada vez mayor, lo cual desembocaría en hambruna y muertes. Hoy en día, los neomalthusianos auguran una inevitable guerra por el agua como consecuencia de la amenaza que supone el cambio climático.

Se olvidan de que todos los recursos naturales son finitos y, por ende, limitados por definición. En el año 1972, el Club de Roma puso de relieve la escasez absoluta y los límites medioambientales para el crecimiento. Según los autores del informe que publicaron, la Tierra dispone de unos recursos físicos finitos para satisfacer las necesidades de la humanidad. Si se sobrepasan esos límites, el sistema mundial se desmorona.

El informe Los límites del crecimiento destacaba la necesidad de reducir la demanda y el consumo, una necesidad más importante que nunca en esta sociedad regida por la abundancia y la incesante creación de nuevas necesidades. El Antropoceno y los límites planetarios, conceptos más recientes, también provienen de la creencia de que el crecimiento exponencial y la propia actividad humana están ejerciendo una presión cada vez mayor sobre el ecosistema de la Tierra y de que esto podría provocar unos efectos irreversibles sobre el clima y el medio ambiente que, a su vez, acarrearía unas consecuencias catastróficas.

Sin embargo, hay científicos que consideran que el discurso de las guerras por el agua es una hipérbole sin fundamento y señalan que las pruebas empíricas que relacionan la escasez de agua con los conflictos armados entre Estados no son claras. Recalcan que la teoría de las “guerras por el agua” ha derivado en conclusiones engañosas basadas más en especulaciones que en análisis fiables. Por ejemplo, Tony Allan ha desarrollado el concepto de “agua virtual” para cuantificar el agua necesaria para producir cualquier bien o servicio, empezando por los alimentos. Según este modelo, la importación de un kilogramo de cereales implica importar la cantidad correspondiente de agua que se ha utilizado en su producción. Allan recurre al concepto de comercio de agua virtual para explicar por qué no ha habido guerras por el agua en Oriente Medio. En otras palabras: la seguridad alimentaria no tiene por qué ser sinónimo de autosuficiencia alimentaria.

Existe una correlación más marcada entre conflicto y subdesarrollo que entre conflicto y escasez de agua.

Además, varios investigadores del Instituto Internacional para la Investigación de la Paz han demostrado que el discurso de las guerras por el agua carece de base empírica y no tiene en cuenta otras variables. Por ejemplo, en el caso del conflicto del río Senegal, la etnia y la clase social fueron factores más importantes que los recursos naturales. En varios países de Oriente Medio el principal motivo de conflicto es la pobreza generalizada y no la escasez de agua, lo que apunta a que existe una correlación más marcada entre conflicto y subdesarrollo que entre conflicto y escasez de agua (o de recursos naturales en un sentido más amplio).

Según algunas voces del mundo académico, es posible también que la escasez de agua presente una oportunidad para la paz. Aaron Wolf ha analizado las interacciones hídricas transfronterizas de los últimos cincuenta años y ha constatado muchos casos de cooperación, pero no ha registrado ninguna guerra por el agua. La literatura crítica más reciente sobre hidropolítica sostiene que la cooperación no siempre es positiva: los tratados pueden codificar un statu quo asimétrico y convertirse a su vez en un motivo de conflicto. Los matices del conflicto y la cooperación son variables y según las críticas al modelo de cooperación, existen diversos grados de ambos.

La literatura sobre la política de la escasez rebate el neomalthusianismo y sus premisas mediante el análisis de cómo se conceptualiza la escasez. Destaca que la escasez de agua se utiliza a menudo para respaldar las agendas políticas estatales y que los proyectos a gran escala como las presas acentúan las asimetrías de poder en la gestión del agua y silencian el debate sobre soluciones alternativas a su escasez. Sus detractores afirman que las soluciones de ingeniería basadas en el mercado omiten la cuestión de quién tiene acceso a un volumen determinado de agua y por qué. En Cisjordania, por ejemplo, la escasez de agua es una cuestión de discriminación estructural contra la población palestina y de acceso privilegiado para los asentamientos ilegales israelíes. Algo parecido sucede en la India, donde se niega el acceso a algunos pozos a las mujeres de castas inferiores. En la Sudáfrica de la época del apartheid, las desigualdades originadas por las políticas discriminatorias se extendieron al ámbito del agua.

Por consiguiente, las críticas al paradigma de la escasez de agua ponen especial atención en quién se beneficia en primera instancia de las soluciones convencionales y quién queda al margen. Argumentan que quienes más se benefician de estas soluciones son los intereses privados y la clase dominante, mientras que las clases pobres quedan aún más marginadas ante la ausencia de mecanismos redistributivos. Plantean que las soluciones deberían implicar el desmantelamiento de las barreras institucionales que provocan discriminación y desigualdad. De esta forma, Lyla Mehta defiende que la escasez es un indicador de una crisis de relaciones de poder desiguales y que las crisis hídricas “también han de entenderse como crisis de acceso y control sesgados sobre un recurso finito”. Es más, la escasez como marco hegemónico se nos presenta como un fenómeno singular. Esto se traduce en un planteamiento que no tiene en cuenta las diferencias regionales o las variaciones cíclicas a lo largo del tiempo. Esta crítica incide en la necesidad de investigar los problemas de acceso y equidad en lugar de limitarse a estudiar las cantidades y el equilibrio entre la oferta y la demanda.

La diplomacia del agua

La escasez de recursos naturales se debe tanto a las interacciones humanas y las decisiones políticas como a las limitaciones intrínsecas de los mismos recursos. La escasez no solo depende de la masa y la disponibilidad de los recursos naturales, sino también del acceso individual a los mismos, que viene determinado por la economía política, los acuerdos institucionales y la gestión a escala regional. Estos acuerdos condicionan la actuación de las instituciones oficiales y extraoficiales a la hora de paliar la escasez. Las soluciones suelen consistir en añadir más recursos hídricos al sistema mediante la construcción de nuevas infraestructuras de suministro, sin antes analizar la ecología o la socioeconomía de la región ni el suministro y las infraestructuras ya existentes.

El resultado de todo ello es que, si bien el suministro global hídrico del sistema puede aumentar, el acceso a este no hace sino replicar las condiciones existentes y no logra garantizar una distribución más adecuada y equitativa de este recurso entre la población. De ahí que las políticas de la cuenca mediterránea deban basarse en soluciones sostenibles, una mejor gestión y una distribución más justa de los recursos hídricos entre los países y sus poblaciones.

A nivel regional, la adopción de prácticas de “diplomacia hídrica” sería útil a fin de atenuar las posibles relaciones conflictivas entre los países que comparten recursos hídricos transfronterizos, como el río Nilo, el Tigris y el Éufrates, y el Jordán. La naturaleza compartida de los recursos hídricos transfronterizos puede originar tensiones sobre su uso y distribución, lo que a su vez puede repercutir de forma negativa en las relaciones y la cooperación entre Estados. La mayoría de los sistemas de agua dulce atraviesan fronteras jurisdiccionales y en el mundo hay 153 países que comparten ríos, lagos y acuíferos transfronterizos. Por lo tanto, es imprescindible disponer de una gestión coordinada y sostenible de estos recursos a través de la diplomacia del agua.

El concepto de diplomacia del agua surgió a principios de la década de 1990. No está tan orientado hacia el aspecto técnico de la gobernanza del agua, sino que se centra más en sus aspectos políticos y sus implicaciones para la seguridad, la paz y la estabilidad. La diplomacia del agua congrega a los gobiernos con el propósito principal de tratar los beneficios y servicios derivados del uso del agua, sin hacer tanto hincapié en la asignación real de los recursos. De este modo, aunque a un país se le asigne más agua, otro puede recibir a cambio más energía hidroeléctrica o una mayor producción de alimentos. Este tipo de diplomacia puede revestir una amplia gama de aplicaciones y conducir a la cooperación regional, la paz y la estabilidad. Su eficacia depende de cinco elementos clave: la existencia de datos consensuados, una estructura de gobernanza eficaz, planteamientos participativos e integradores, el apoyo de terceras partes y las preocupaciones ecológicas.

Un buen entendimiento mutuo de los datos garantiza que todos los acuerdos y tratados se fundamenten en pruebas precisas y sólidas. Unas estructuras de gobernanza eficaces establecen los canales de comunicación necesarios entre los Estados ribereños para la implementación y el mantenimiento colectivos de los acuerdos. Los enfoques participativos e integradores y la implicación de las partes interesadas propician la adopción de acuerdos que respondan a las necesidades locales y se beneficien de la participación local. El apoyo de terceras partes puede facilitar el diálogo, el desarrollo de capacidades y la labor de seguimiento, lo que permite a los Estados ribereños maximizar los beneficios comunes. Por último, atender los factores ecológicos vela por la sostenibilidad de la gestión del agua y puede redundar en resultados beneficiosos para todas las partes.

En lo que respecta a los recursos hídricos, es necesario aplicar políticas públicas que aborden las crecientes dificultades a la vez que tratan de garantizar una distribución equitativa. En lugar de recurrir a proyectos puramente técnicos, como la construcción de presas, es preciso adoptar un enfoque creativo que sea capaz de hacer frente al aumento de la demanda de agua por parte de diversos sectores y subregiones. Debemos entablar nuevos debates sobre la escasez de agua con el fin de avivar una reflexión sobre los métodos de gestión del agua en unas circunstancias que son cada vez más precarias.

Para poder adoptar nuevos enfoques sobre la escasez de agua en el Mediterráneo hay que sopesar los pros y los contras de cualquier método destinado a garantizar la seguridad alimentaria, ya que el sector agrícola es el que más agua consume en la mayoría de los países de la región. Y todo esto tendrá consecuencias sobre el desarrollo rural. Habrá que crear nuevos puestos de trabajo al mismo tiempo que se garantiza la importación de alimentos seguros y estables. La complejidad de este desafío exige un cambio completo de paradigma, no sólo para garantizar la seguridad del agua, sino también para prevenir conflictos en muchos otros terrenos.

Categories: H. Green News

Climate Vulnerability Index illuminates inequities

Grist - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 06:00

When Cleophus Sharp was four years old, his parents rushed him to the hospital in Houston because he couldn’t catch his breath, no matter how much he tried. Sharp, who grew up in the historically Black neighborhood of Pleasantville in Houston, Texas, says he almost died because the air in his community was toxic. Sharp spent two weeks in an oxygen tent before returning home. 

Through his organizing work, Sharp later learned air pollution in his neighborhood likely led to him developing asthma. Pleasantville is bisected by several large freeways, and near an international shipping nexus adjacent with frequent truck traffic. “Those industries that were polluting [were] only three miles from us,” Sharp said.

Cordoned off by two major highways, saddled with industrial chemical manufacturing plants and recycling centers, and situated next to two major trade terminals, Pleasantville ranks in the 99th percentile for national climate vulnerability, according to the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index, a tool developed by the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund in partnership with Texas A&M University and a range of community groups like Achieving Community Tasks Successfully, the nonprofit where Sharp serves as a board member. The Climate Vulnerability Index is a first-of-its kind mapping tool that allows users to explore social, environmental, economic, and health conditions of every census tract in the U.S. 

Sharp’s health concerns are shared by many. For decades, residents of Pleasantville have been forced to contend with polluted air and soil, disinvestment in public programs and services, and a lack of empirical data to demonstrate what residents know to be true: Pleasantville’s environmental conditions were making far too many of them sick. 

“Part of the issue is a nonprofit organization has never had access to these types of resources before to prove that point,” Sharp said. “We only can tell you, ‘so many people died from this, and so many people have this issue.’” He says the mapping index will make a “huge difference” for communities like Pleasantville across the country, helping them point to the source of pollutants and help demonstrate to zoning boards and permitting bodies why additional pollution should not be approved in already-overburdened places. 

Grace Tee Lewis, a senior health scientist at Environmental Defense Fund who championed the idea of the mapping tool, said that the index may help community advocates like Sharp illustrate for elected officials and public agencies the connections between innate threats, like weather, and vulnerabilities through social and economic policies over time. 

“I think that some of these intersections — where climate, environment, and existing inequities have been systematically disenfranchising communities — really have to be at the forefront of the policies that we prioritize to try to break the cycle of disadvantage,” Tee Lewis said. 

The inspiration for the index came from other tools that compile environmental and climate data by neighborhood, like the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool or CalEnviroScreen, California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool, Tee Lewis says. But few tools take as comprehensive an approach as the new index, which accounts for elements of public funding and policy that impact both how much a community might be impacted by a disaster — and how difficult it will be for them to recover. For instance, no other tool incorporates environmental data with data of the legacies of racist policies, like the intentional segregation of redlining. Without this kind of data, Tee Lewis worried that people were missing out on funding or interventions that actually matched their needs. Because one of the project’s central goals was to support the work of community organizations, Tee Lewis and her team thought it imperative that they partner with under-resourced places to learn which environmental or social factors should be included. 

Tee Lewis reached out to community leaders like Sharp, who sits on the board of a Pleasantville-based community empowerment organization called Achieving Community Tasks Successfully (ACTS). Feedback from ACTS and other grassroots organizations helped Tee Lewis and the other researchers understand that it was critical to include not only existing sources of pollution, but also what daily factors might be contributing to environmental vulnerability, Tee Lewis said. For instance, the index tracks the percentage of people living with chronic diseases, who can be particularly susceptible to climate and pollution impacts. 

These conversations broadened what the index would later define as ‘vulnerability’ to include metrics of public transit availability and access, the percentage of children taking medication to treat cognitive behavioral differences, rates of homelessness, or even the number of religious and civic organizations within a community. 

After including these factors into their scoring methodology, researchers found that communities with the highest scores are those with “long-standing environmental justice concerns and health disparities, [and] communities that have had a history of inequity,” Tee Lewis said. 

By toggling or layering different vulnerability factors on the map, like chronic disease and housing vulnerability, users may be able to tell a story through the data that can help illustrate how this historic harm has systemic present-day impacts. For instance, redlining, the practice of discriminatory mortgage lending policies enacted throughout the mid-20th century, is closely related to the climate impacts communities face today, Tee Lewis says.

Sharp’s childhood home in Pleasantville, for example, was one of the only neighborhoods where Black Houstonians were able to purchase homes in the 1940s with cement foundations. His family moved there in part because they could live safely. “They were able to live a comfortable life, and the people came together to build a close knit neighborhood [where] people looked out for each other,” Sharp said. 

A Pleasantville sign placed in front of a dredge spoil mound in the community. Annie Mulligan / EDF

But racist zoning and policy decisions threatened the burgeoning community. A “Welcome to Pleasantville” sign once stood atop the Ship Channel’s dredge refuse. In 1957, the area flooded, sending toxic sludge across 40 blocks and displacing the sign.  Two major highways constructed in 1958 and 1974 added significant air pollution. In 1995, a chemical warehouse owned by Houston Distribution Inc. caught fire three times. Legislators recently decided to widen and deepen the Houston Ship Channel. Some local residents are fighting the decision, as it would require the Army Corps of Engineers to excavate potentially toxic bayou sediment that would then be placed in containment zones almost exclusively located in environmental justice communities, like Pleasantville. If this project were approved, the existing dredge pile would double in size.

For too long, it’s been hard for decision-makers to see information about how environmental injustice, racial discrimination, and climate change are interconnected, says risk analysis expert Weihsueh Chiu, a professor at Texas A&M University, who worked with Tee Lewis to develop the index. 

The index can help draw attention to climate risks that might otherwise have gone under the radar, like English fluency, considering that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is notoriously underprepared to assist Spanish-speaking survivors of environmental disasters. “This tool allows you to kind of both zoom in and zoom out,” Chiu said. Some places, like Vermont, for instance, may initially seem to have fewer risks, but the tool may help draw attention to clusters of chronic disease amid an otherwise healthy — or at least perceived to be — state. 

Chiu hopes this is just the first step, and in future the team plans to continue to add to the conditions that users can explore, such as proximity to warehouses. There isn’t a national inventory of warehouse locations, and Chiu has been relying on Google Earth images to locate warehouses in individual communities, such as Will County, Illinois, where warehouses have been springing up like mushrooms due to its location at the intersection of two large interstate highways used for shipping. In some cases, volunteers have driven out to some of these sites to confirm that the warehouses indeed exist. 

Going forward, the team will continue to add to and edit the tool as needed. But already, the index has the opportunity to close the gap between the lived experiences of community members and environmental policy enacted in the legislature. “That was the legwork that we were trying to do as a service to communities, especially disadvantaged communities,” Chiu said. 

In a different way, Sharp hopes that the index will serve as a mirror for residents who are affected by pollution, so that they won’t get caught thinking that health issues are inevitable. “People have lupus, they have upper respiratory problems, and they just think people dying from cancer is normal. They don’t realize that the cancers are from some of the stuff in the air that they’ve been breathing for years.”

One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 3 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia, and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn solutions into action.

LEARN MORE

Grist’s editorial team has covered the Climate Vulnerability Index previously. This article is sponsored content from EDF and is not connected to Grist’s previous coverage. Sponsors play no role in Grist’s editorial coverage.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Climate Vulnerability Index illuminates inequities on Feb 13, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

How a Legal Loophole Allows Gas Leaks to Keep on Flowing

Yale Environment 360 - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 05:51

A new federal rule will cut major methane emissions from natural gas production. But residents of Pennsylvania’s fracking region contend that the cumulative impact of smaller leaks, which go unreported, will continue unabated, compromising their air, water, and health.

Read more on E360 →

Categories: H. Green News

Shell accused of trying to wash hands of Nigerian oil spill mess

Climate Change News - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 05:30

Nigerian environmental activists are trying to stop Shell selling off its Nigerian onshore oil business without making amends for hundreds of oil spills.

Last month, Shell announced it had agreed to sell its land-based oil business to a consortium of five mainly Nigerian oil companies while keeping its offshore oil and its gas businesses in the country.

But the $1.3bn deal is dependent on the Nigerian government’s approval and will face legal challenges. Nigeria’s oil regulator stopped a similar sale by ExxonMobil in 2022.

Nigerian environmentalists and local residents want Shell to clean up land and water ruined by oil spills and to pay compensation before it sells of its assets.

“It would be unconscionable for Shell to pack up its onshore operations in Nigeria without cleaning up its mess and paying compensation” said some of the oil spill victims’ lawyer Steve Bilko.

Oil in the water in the Niger Delta in 2015 (Photos: Lilieudefensie)

Toxic history

The UK-Dutch company Shell has been drilling oil in Nigeria since the 1950s. In the southern Niger Delta region, many local residents have complained that their land is polluted while they are left out of the economic benefits. 

This has led to sometimes violent conflict with Shell and the Nigerian government including the government’s hanging of local activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995.

The National Oil Spill Detection Agency (Nosda) reports that Shell is responsible for hundreds of oil spills, mostly from pipelines around the city of Port Harcourt. These spills ruin farmland and kill the fish which many rely on for food and their livelihoods.

A map of oil leaks from Shell’s oil pipelines around Port Harcourt (Photos: Nosda)

The Nosda says over 95% of these spills to sabotage or theft of the oil. This is a big illegal business in the region. But Shell is legally responsible for the leaks, a headache which is pushing them to want to sell up.

In March 2022 though, Nigeria’s second-highest court issued an order preventing the company from selling any assets in Nigeria until a decision was reached on whether the company should pay over $2 billion in compensation for oil spills.

But last month, this court was overuled by Nigeria’s Supreme Court, who told them to look at it again. Soon after, Shell announced again that it was selling these assets.

Don’t let them sell

Bilko said many of his clients are “worried that the sale could affect [the Shell Petroleum Development Company’s] ability or willingness to fulfill the terms of any judgment which may be made against it, including in relation to orders to clean up and remediate the polluted areas”.

“We consider that Shell, having made billions of pounds over decades from extracting oil resources from Nigeria, should fulfill its legal responsibilities and not leave behind an environmental catastrophe as it seeks to exit the Niger Delta”, he added.

Bilko said he was also concerned that Shell “is leaving behind a vast network of crumbling infrastructure after decades of neglect and failures to properly maintain their pipelines and other assets”.

Chima Williams is the head of Nigerian campaign group Environmental Rights Action. He told Climate Home that citizens could take legal action against Shell to stop the sale “until there is a restoration of the spoilt environment to its original state”.

“Shameful”: Shell uses carbon credits under investigation to meet climate targets

Local groups like the Alliance for the Defence of Eleme have also opposed the sale and the leader of the Ijaw Nation leader ethnic group said he would explore legal options to halt the sale.

The consortium Shell is trying to sell its assets to is called Renaissance. It is made up of four Nigerian companies and a firm called Petrolin, co-founded by Gabon’s former oil minister Samuel Dossou-Aworet. The group’s CEO is former Shell employee Tony Attah.

The compensation could amount to nearly $2 billion. While Shell brought in revenues of $381 billion last year, the potential buyers are much smaller. Petrolin is headquartered in Switzerland, where revenue figures are not made public and Aradel Energy’s annual revenues are well under $1 billion.

Shell declined to comment but pointed Climate Home to a webpage which says that the new owners of Shell’s onshore oil business “will continue to be accountable” for that businesses share of any commitments to cleaning up oil spills.

It says the new owners have “significant combined experience” including in the Niger Delta, where four of the companies currently operate oil fields and that Shell is selling to “focus future investment in Nigeria on our Deepwater and Integrated Gas positions”.

The post Shell accused of trying to wash hands of Nigerian oil spill mess appeared first on Climate Home News.

Categories: H. Green News

Washington’s key climate law is under attack. Big Oil wants it to survive.

Grist - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 01:45

It took Washington state more than a decade to put a price on carbon pollution. The effort to make corporations pay for the greenhouse gases they produce started in 2009 with a string of failed bills in the legislature. Frustrated, climate advocates in Washington took the idea directly to voters, putting initiatives on the ballot in 2016 and again in 2018, but both ballot measures flopped — the first defeated by infighting among environmentalists, the second by a $30 million publicity campaign paid for by oil money.

So it was a surprise when the state legislature finally managed to pass a cap-and-trade program in 2021, requiring that Washington slash its carbon emissions nearly in half by 2030, using 1990 levels as the baseline. Even more surprising, perhaps, was that the law was supported by BP, the same oil giant that had spent $13 million to kill one of the ballot initiatives three years earlier. Now the landmark law, the Climate Commitment Act, is under attack, threatened by a repeal effort bankrolled by a hedge-fund manager, and representatives for oil companies say they have nothing to do with it. In fact, oil giants want to keep it alive.   

“We have never been against the Climate Commitment Act,” said Kevin Slagle, vice president of communications for the Western States Petroleum Association, a lobbying group that represents oil companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Shell. 

In 2023, its first year in operation, the state’s program generated more than $2 billion for projects to clean up transportation, shift to clean energy, and help communities adapt to the effects of a changing climate. But this fall, voters will get a chance to shut it all down. A ballot initiative started by Brian Heywood, a hedge fund manager exasperated with Washington state’s taxes and liberal politics, would kill the law and block the state from ever instituting a cap-and-trade program again. 

The existing legislation requires companies to buy pollution “permits” at quarterly auctions, a way to encourage emissions reductions and generate money for climate solutions. Heywood argues that the program has helped give the state some of the highest gas prices in the country and says that Governor Jay Inslee and other officials weren’t upfront about its potential effects on consumers. Last month, the state certified that the measure had gathered enough signatures to head to the ballot this fall.

Heywood’s campaign, called “Let’s Go Washington,” raised $7 million last year to qualify a total of six initiatives for the ballot. The proposals would repeal the state’s capital gains tax and reverse policing restrictions, among other things. Some $6 million of that money came from Heywood, but other donors include the state Republican Party and the Washington Bankers Association. The closest it gets to oil money is a $25,000 contribution from Five Point Capital, a private investment firm in Houston with a focus on oil, natural gas, and water infrastructure. The newly formed “No on 2117” committee opposing Heywood’s initiative has raised $1 million so far this year from the co-founder of Tableau Software, Chris Stolte, plus a $1,500 contribution attributed to Trudi Inslee, the governor’s wife.

While the Western States Petroleum Association isn’t backing the repeal, that doesn’t mean oil companies are happy with the current program. Slagle describes it as broken because the auctions have yielded high prices for pollution permits. His lobbying group has been releasing advertisements that align with Heywood’s message, connecting the climate law to high gas prices. It’s hard to know exactly how much the program has driven up prices, but estimates range from about a quarter to 50 cents a gallon, depending on whom you ask.

Slagle doesn’t agree with Heywood’s approach, though: He wants to work with legislators to address these shortcomings, not throw the law out. “I think what’s missed is that this can be solved without an initiative, right?” Slagle said. “This is what we’re saying. We’re actually in the middle of this, saying, ‘Hey, let’s fix this program.’”

BP, which left the Western States Petroleum Association in 2020 over the trade group’s opposition to certain climate policies in Washington state, is also in favor of keeping the Climate Commitment Act alive. “We believe that the market-based, economy-wide carbon pricing program will work, and we oppose the initiative to overturn it,” a spokesperson said in an email to Grist. 

The stakes of the repeal are high: Eliminating the cap-and-invest program would rip a $5 billion hole in the state’s transportation budget, taking away free public transit rides for young people, funding for bus routes, and more. The legislature would have to rework the budget, making tough calls on what bridges they want to replace and what roads they’ll have to close because they can’t be repaired, said Lennon Bronsema, vice president of campaigns at the Washington Conservation Action, a nonprofit that’s part of the No on 2117 committee.

People walk at Alki Beach Park in September 2020 as smoke from wildfires fills the air in Seattle. Lindsey Wasson / Getty Images

Voting down the law would also take away funding for improving air quality in the state’s most polluted communities. “Those people who want to repeal the Climate Commitment Act are going to try to foist down our throats, and our kids’ lungs, more pollution,” said Governor Inslee in comments to the press last month. “They want to destroy our protection for our kids’ breathing.” And it would add more carbon to the atmosphere as the state struggles with the effects of climate change: freak heat waves, unusually large and destructive forest fires, and declining snowpack on mountains, a key water source for the region.

The repeal could have repercussions at the national level, too. New York recently unveiled plans for a cap-and-invest program, and officials are monitoring the backlash in Washington state. “If this repeal initiative succeeds, it would be a blow to that momentum,” said Caroline Jones, a senior analyst at the Environmental Defense Fund. Last year, an Environmental Defense Fund analysis found that the United States can’t meet its international commitments under the Paris Agreement without follow-through from states on their goals. Washington is one of the few states on track to meet its carbon-cutting targets, thanks largely to the Climate Commitment Act, Jones said.

So how did the state end up with a law that Jones considers a “gold standard” for state climate policy — and also something that oil companies support?

For the oil industry, part of the appeal lies in the law’s exemptions. Since BP and other crude refiners fall under the category of “emissions-intensive, trade-exposed” industries, they get some pollution permits free, making it cheaper to comply with the law. When the cap-and-invest program was rolled out, about 50 percent of the credits were handed out to major polluters to use, said Caitlin Krenn, a climate and clean energy campaign manager at Washington Conservation Action. 

Refineries get 100 percent of their allowances at no cost for the first four years of the program — after that, it’ll go down to 97 percent. That’s because of fears that these facilities would relocate elsewhere if Washington put strict regulations on them. But the fuel suppliers of gas and diesel, which might be owned by the same company that operates a refinery, don’t get any credits for free, Krenn said.

After the Climate Commitment Act passed in 2021, BP, which owns the state’s largest oil refinery near Bellingham, spent about $270 million on efficiency upgrades at its facility, estimated to reduce the refinery’s emissions by 7 percent. Cutting its emissions earlier than necessary gave BP the leeway to bank, trade, or sell its allowances. “The Climate Commitment Act rewards us for that. So, it’s not just a stick. It’s also a carrot,” Tom Wolf, a BP government relations manager for the West Coast, told the Seattle Times several months after Inslee signed the legislation into law. “We were doing this anyway … but there’s no doubt that it [the act] makes it even better.” 

If the Climate Commitment Act gets shot down in November, it would also make it hard for companies to plan for the future. “If the program disappeared, then we’re kind of back at square one,” said Slagle, of the Western States Petroleum Association. “And so then, what might happen down the road?”

Read Next Washington’s cap on carbon is raising billions for climate action. Can it survive the backlash?

Businesses have long advocated for a market-based approach to climate policy instead of what they see as heavy-handed regulatory measures. That’s part of the reason the Climate Commitment Act ended up structured as it is, with prices set at auctions and polluters able to buy and sell permits. 

“It is a solution that is market-based, right? That is what business needed to have some predictability around this,” Bronsema said. “The alternative is an incredibly heavy hammer from the government that might bring down emissions but isn’t going to help provide all the benefits that the Climate Commitment Act does.”

What the oil industry doesn’t like about the current program is the costs. At the first auction a year ago, the price of emitting a ton of carbon landed at $49, nearly double the average price in California’s cap-and-trade market at the time. Over the course of the year, the price rose to $63 a ton, triggering extra “emergency” auctions meant to ensure businesses can access enough allowances at reasonable prices. 

Washington is currently pursuing linking its carbon market with ones in California and Quebec, a move Slagle favors since it’s likely to bring down the cost of allowances. That whole process, though, may be getting slowed down by the repeal initiative.

Early polling shows that proponents of the repeal, Initiative 2117, have some convincing to do. In a poll released last October, 41 percent of Washingtonians would vote yes on the repeal versus 49 percent who would vote it down. That leaves almost 10 percent undecided, and historically, voters in the state have tended to reject initiatives, according to analysis by Washington Conservation Action. Washington politics has changed since the late 1990s and mid-2000s, when voters approved initiatives to get rid of vehicle taxes and limit property taxes, sponsored by anti-tax advocate Tim Eyman. 

“People really want to know, like, ‘This is a good idea to repeal this,’” Bronsema said. “And I think we have a strong case that it’s not a great idea.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Washington’s key climate law is under attack. Big Oil wants it to survive. on Feb 13, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Univerzální Základní Služby: Jak Snížit Ceny Základních Potřeb i Emise Zároveň

Green European Journal - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 01:42

Evropa nutně potřebuje zastavit klimatický rozvrat a zároveň pomoci domácnostem s narůstajícími náklady na život. Oba problémy může vyřešit stejný přístup: posílení veřejných služeb zajišťujících základní potřeby všech.

Evropská Zelená dohoda je společnou odpovědí států Evropské unie na otázku, jak ochránit klima před rozvratem emisemi skleníkových plynů. Přestože byla v roce 2019 ohlášena s opravdu velkou slávou, v mnoha ohledech trpí zásadními nedostatky. Nesnižuje emise dost rychle, nebere dostatečně v potaz energetické a materiálové náklady stále rostoucí spotřeby ani rozsah veřejných investic, které by byly ke splnění klimatických závazků potřeba. A co víc, chybí jí také silná sociální dimenze.

Současná klimatická politika spoléhá jen na regulace a na zatížení znečišťování vyššími cenami, ale nesnaží se své politiky doplnit o klíčové investice tak, aby byla úsporná a zelená řešení dostupná všem. Tím se ovšem stává sociálně regresivní. Tento efekt je pak dále prohlubován rostoucími náklady na život i zvyšujícími se úrokovými sazbami, kvůli nimž se prodražují také možná řešení těchto krizí — například skrze investice do obnovitelných zdrojů nebo navyšování kvality a dostupnosti veřejné dopravy.

Levice by v této situaci měla přehodnotit svou politiku. Je namístě, aby se zaměřila právě na rozvoj sociální dimenze a prosazovala řešení, která budou zlepšovat každodenní život voličů. Posílení veřejných služeb povede k tomu, že se základní životní potřeby stanou dostupnější.

Ekologické regulace jsou jistě důležité. Sociálně spravedlivá klimatická politika ale musí stát na chytrých veřejných investicích. Je proto nejvyšší čas, aby levice jasně odmítla překonanou ideologii „rozpočtové odpovědnosti“. Právě ta totiž vládám svazuje ruce a brání jim aktivně investovat, usměrňovat trhy a zajišťovat udržitelné veřejné služby — brání tedy právě těm opatřením, která jsou pro urychlení transformace směrem k udržitelnosti nezbytná.

Dostupnost základních služeb pro všechny má potenciál řešit jak nerovnost, tak klimatickou krizi. Jde o politický program zaměřený přímo na zajištění základních potřeb v mezích ekologických možností. Záchrany klimatu totiž nelze dosáhnout individuálně, ale jedině kolektivní akcí: robustnější nabídkou veřejných služeb, veřejnými investicemi a regulacemi ve veřejném zájmu.

Ostatně i vědci v Mezivládním panelu pro změny klimatu při OSN potvrzují, že existuje „vysoká míra shody“ na tom, že „sociální rozvoj zacílený přímo na základní potřeby všech s sebou automaticky přinese méně uhlíkových emisí, narozdíl od zaměření na pouhý růst HDP“. Volají proto po změnách, které by v ekonomikách posílily „důraz na dostatek základních potřeb pro všechny, na solidaritu, ekonomiku péče a kolektivní zaopatřování základních služeb“.

A na tom, co jsou takové základy, které jako lidé potřebujeme, abychom mohli smysluplně žít, existuje široká shoda: potřebujeme domov, výživnou stravu a kvalitní vzdělání, záruku péče pro případ, že se o sebe nemůžeme postarat sami, dostupné zdravotnictví, čistý vzduch a vodu, přístup k základnímu objemu energie pro domácnost a dopravu, přístup ke komunikaci — což dnes znamená především internet. A nakonec — protože bez toho není možné nic z předchozího — stabilní a udržitelné životní prostředí.

Tyto základní nezbytnosti platí v podstatě pro všechny, nyní i v budoucnu. To, jak si je zaopatřujeme, se může v různých zemích, kulturách i časových obdobích lišit a každá z oblastí základních potřeb se samozřejmě naplňuje jinak. Právě koncept univerzálních základních potřeb nám nicméně nabízí rámec pro přemýšlení o vhodných politických opatřeních a ekonomické praxi.

Potřeby jsou víc než preference

Ideu všeobecně dostupných základních služeb můžeme vnímat jako součást rozrůstajícího se portfolia nápadů, které usilují o překonání již přežitých předpisů ortodoxní ekonomie a nabízejí její udržitelnější alternativu.

Neoklasická ekonomie tvrdí, že základním zdrojem blahobytu je uspokojování individuálních preferencí. Jak ovšem upozorňuje expert na sociální politiku Ian Gough, takový přístup přestává dávat jakýkoli logický, etický i praktický smysl v situaci ekologického stavu nouze, kdy „nutnost respektovat limity ekosystémů honbu za neomezenými tužbami znemožňuje“. Je na čase přijmout „nový hodnotový rámec, který se zaměří na zajišťování dostatku“. Lze jej definovat jako „prostor nad hranicí nouze, ale pod hranicí nadbytku“.

Základní potřeby jsou — na rozdíl od individuálních preferencí — ze své podstaty uspokojitelné. Koncept univerzálních základních služeb je programem zaměřeným právě na potřeby v mezích dostatku — dost pro všechny, dnes i v budoucnu. Díky tomu má velký potenciál přispět k dosažení „bezpečného a spravedlivého prostoru pro lidstvo“, který leží v udržitelné míře spotřeby mezi sociální „podlahou“ a ekologickým „stropem“.

Praktickým výsledkem nemá být šedá spartánská existence, v níž mají všichni stejně, ale spíše ekonomika která dává všem — nejen těm dobře situovaným — stejnou příležitost žít kvalitní život. Cíl dostatku má tudíž blízko k vizi „luxusu pro všechny“, ke sdílené hojnosti. Budou-li opřené o kolektivní jednání, sdílené cíle a vzájemnou pomoc, mohou být univerzální základní služby právě tím, co umožní podílet se na bohatství společnosti všem — místo aby ho u sebe hromadila skupinka nejbohatších.

Veřejné služby jako základ spravedlivé ekologické transformace

Protože se dnešní klimatická politika prosazuje zejména ve formě tržních opatření, dopadá neúměrně na nízkopříjmové domácnosti. Analýzy uhlíkové nerovnosti z dílny Oxfamu ukazují, k čemu to vede. Emise nižších a středních příjmových skupin v Evropě mezi lety 1990 a 2015 klesly. Emise nejbohatších vrstev přitom ovšem stoupaly.

Protože se dnešní klimatická politika prosazuje zejména ve formě tržních opatření, dopadá neúměrně na nízkopříjmové domácnosti.

Hrozí, že tento trend bude pokračovat. Rozšíření systému obchodování s emisními povolenkami na dopravu a vytápění domácností, které se má v nejbližších letech zavádět, bude mít mnohem větší dopad na nižší a střední příjmové skupiny než na ty nejbohatší, kteří si nárůstu cen sotva všimnou, a budou tak ve výsledku spotřebovávat stejně, jako doposud. Navrhovaný Sociální klimatický fond, který má tyto dopady pomoci zmírnit, bude příliš nevýznamný na to, aby problém zásadně zmírnil.

Kolektivní opatření zacílená na naplňování lidských potřeb — a zejména univerzální základní služby — mohou tyto regresivní dopady kompenzovat. Narůstající ceny pohonných hmot budou mít na rozpočty domácností menší dopad, budou-li mít možnost využívat dostupnou veřejnou dopravu nebo sdílení aut. Podobně obecní a veřejné vlastnictví v bydlení může zajistit, že náklady na renovace nedopadnou na nízkopříjmové domácnosti, a dotace do zateplování skutečně pomohou domácnostem ohroženým energetickou chudobou.

Postoje a vzorce chování veřejnosti jsou pro dosahování ekologických cílů klíčové. Veřejné služby mohou posouvat hranice toho, co je v tomto směru možné, podporovat ve společnosti nové praktiky, odrazovat lidi od chování, které je ekologicky škodlivé, a pomáhat jim změnit neudržitelné modely provozu.

Dobré systémy veřejné dopravy tak mohou například pomoci snížit závislost na osobních automobilech. Nemocnice a školy mohou pomáhat změnit stravovací návyky i zemědělskou praxi tím, že budou využívat místní a udržitelně produkované potraviny a snižovat — nebo zcela odstraňovat — ze svých jídelníčků maso.

Předškolní péče i školní vzdělávání mají zásadní vliv na výchovu budoucích generací. Univerzální základní služby tak mohou ve společnosti posilovat zkušenost solidarity a podporovat politiku, v níž je kolektivní jednání ústředním — a nikoli okrajovým — způsobem řešení problémů. Mohou tak ve společnosti vytvářet vhodné podmínky, které jsou potřebné pro spolupráci v zájmu zachování lidského života na Zemi.

Obnovit rovnováhu v ekonomice může jen redistribuce

Převládající přístup k řešení inflace se dnes v Evropské unii točí kolem zvyšování úrokových měr centrálními bankami. Výsledkem je, že pro domácnosti, společnosti i vlády je stále nákladnější investovat, což vede ke ztrátám pracováních míst, a lidé tak mají čím dál tím méně peněz. Vzhledem k tomu, že inflace je poháněna vysokými cenami energií a turbulencemi v mezinárodním obchodu, zvyšování úrokových sazeb nedělá pro vyřešení základních příčin inflace nic.

Výsledkem je zvrácená logika, v níž zvyšování úrokových sazeb zdražuje opatření, která by byla pro zmírnění závislosti na předražených fosilních palivech — a s ní i inflace — potřeba. Jde o investice do obnovitelných zdrojů, elektrifikaci dopravy nebo zateplování obytných budov.

Tento přístup tedy v důsledku ohrožuje také budoucí stabilitu cen, protože zpomaluje klíčové investice do obnovitelné energetiky, které by energii ve střednědobém výhledu zlevnily a chránily nás před budoucími výkyvy nestabilních cen fosilních paliv. Mnozí se dnes kvůli tomu dokonce v nebývalé míře zbavují investic ve fondech zaměřených na obnovitelné zdroje, protože vysoké úrokové míry negativně dopadají na akcie obnovitelných firem.

Jak dokazuje ekonomka Isabella Weberová, dnešní inflace je poháněna nadměrnými zisky korporací, kterým se podařilo „přesunout na spotřebitele náklady narůstajících cen tak, aby ochránily, nebo dokonce navýšily svoje marže“. Zvýšené zisky korporací, které využily stoupající ceny importované energie k oškubání spotřebitelů, tak za poslední dva roky tvoří téměř polovinu celkové inflace v Evropě.

Dokonce i prominentní mainstreamový ekonom Paul Krugman tak dnes souhlasí s tím, že inflace je v podstatě přerozdělováním zdola nahoru, a Mezinárodní měnový fond varuje, že budoucí inflace bude záviset na tom, nakolik se korporacím podaří znovu odsát i stoupající mzdy.

Namísto dalšího ztěžování života lidem i zdražování potřebných investic do transformace zvyšováním úrokových sazeb bychom měli zdanit nadměrné zisky a investovat do kolektivně sdíleného bohatství. Dekomodifikací a demokratizací klíčových sektorů, jako doprava, předškolní péče nebo bydlení mohou vlády snížit náklady na život tím, že zkrátka umenší jejich ceny.

Rozšíření nabídky univerzálních základních služeb by tak v ekonomice mohlo obnovit rovnováhu tím, že podpoří nižší a střední příjmové skupiny, a naopak omezí nadměrnou spotřebu. Služby, které lidem zajišťují základní potřeby přímo, totiž fungují jako pomyslný nepřímý příjem — „sociální mzda“. Analýza britského Institutu pro fiskální studia ukazuje, jak celá řada takových služeb významně přerozděluje zdroje od vyšších k nižším příjmovým skupinám již dnes.

Je jedno, že dekarbonizace může nakonec nižším příjmovým skupinám pomoci — nepomůžeme-li jim hned, výsledkem bude sociální katastrofa.

Kolektivním naplňováním potřeb skrze veřejné služby tak koncept univerzálních základních služeb rozšiřuje oblast spotřeby, která je sdílená, a tím i ekologicky efektivnější. Tam, kde jsou zajišťovány přímo veřejnými institucemi či nestátními organizacemi s podporou vlád, pak takové služby přestávají být zbožím a stávají se veřejným statkem. To umožňuje nést za ně sdílenou zodpovědnost a podrobovat je demokratické kontrole. Mohou tak být také zpřístupněny skutečně všem — a pomáhat překonávat sociální problémy, které vznikají z nenaplněných potřeb.

Mezinárodní srovnání různých modelů naplňování lidských potřeb rozličnými společnostmi po celém světě tak v roce 2021 dospělo k jasnému závěru, že „veřejné služby vedou k vyšší míře naplňování potřeb s menší spotřebou energie“. Například zdravotnictví v USA, kde je celý systém privatizován a podřízen trhu, tak má třikrát vyšší uhlíkovou stopu na hlavu, než v řadě Evropských zemí, kde je částečně nebo zcela pod veřejnou kontrolou.

Klimatickému kolapsu mohou zabránit jen rychlá a účinná opatření. Necháme-li ale jejich náklady nést všechny příjmové skupiny bez rozdílu, ty nejchudší rychle přijdou o přijatelný životní standard. Je jedno, že dekarbonizace může nakonec nižším příjmovým skupinám pomoci — nepomůžeme-li jim hned, výsledkem bude sociální katastrofa. Záchrana klimatu tak vyžaduje víc než jen snižování emisí. Snížit je zároveň třeba nerovnosti v příjmech a bohatství, a zajistit všem lidem možnost naplňovat jejich základní potřeby.

Zodpovědné není šetřit, ale investovat do budoucnosti

Chtějí-li evropské vlády lidem univerzální základní služby zajistit, budou muset začít do veřejných statků a služeb více investovat. Výborným příkladem univerzální základní služby v praxi může být německá devítieurová měsíční jízdenka na veřejnou dopravu z roku 2022. Byla neuvěřitelně populární — jízdenek se prodalo dvaapadesát milionů.

Roky nedostatečných investic do německé železniční sítě ovšem vedly k tomu, že kvalita služeb v zemi v posledních letech klesala. Podobné zvýhodněné tarify — mezi něž patří také rakouský KlimaTicket — by měly být zavedeny v každé evropské zemi. Měly by je ale doprovázet také investice do kvality služeb. To bude samozřejmě stát hodně peněz. Nečinnost — nebo odkládání — se ale prodraží mnohem víc.

Výrazně vyšší než přechod od individuální dopravy k dopravě veřejné by byly náklady na přesun od spalovacích motorů k elektromobilům. Výpočty z dílny New Economics Foundation (NEF) zase ukazují, že „kvalitní a všeobecně dostupná předškolní péče poskytovaná bezplatně by pravděpodobně byla tou vůbec nejnávratnější investicí, jakou může jakákoli vláda udělat“. NEF argumentuje, že návratnost předškolní péče je tak vysoká a spolehlivá, že investice do ní se vyplatí i za cenu zadlužení.

Chtějí-li evropské vlády lidem univerzální základní služby zajistit, budou muset začít do veřejných statků a služeb více investovat.

Jinak řečeno, o veřejných financích potřebujeme začít uvažovat novým způsobem. Evropská unie by se měla zříct zastaralých pravidel pro takzvanou „rozpočtovou odpovědnost“ a uvědomit si, že odpovědné je především investovat do budoucnosti tak, abychom v ní nepodlehli následkům neřešených problémů. Jiná nedávná analýza NEF ukazuje, že jen čtyři členské země Evropské unie jsou při dnes platných omezeních veřejných výdajů schopné financovat investice, jež jsou nezbytné pro transformaci jejich ekonomik tak, aby splnily cíle ochrany klimatu dané v Pařížské dohodě.

Podle analýzy Evropské konfederace odborových svazů bude muset čtrnáct relativně více zadlužených členských států EU letos naopak udělat rozpočtové škrty v celkové výši minimálně 45 miliard EUR, pokud vstoupí v platnost navrhovaná nařízení Evropské komise. Jakákoli omezení ekologických a sociálních veřejných investic budou přitom v dnešní situaci extrémně kontraproduktivní — budou znamenat zmeškané příležitosti vydělat na včasné transformaci a naopak jistotu astronomických budoucích nákladů pro veřejné rozpočty vlivem klimatických katastrof, kterým dnes jde ještě zabránit. Namísto arbitrárních mezí pro veřejné výdaje bychom měli podpořit chytré investice do transformace průmyslu a lepší a ekologičtější veřejné infrastruktury.

Veřejné investice do univerzálních základních služeb přitom může vhodně doplnit opatření cílené na snížení majetkových nerovností. Luxusní spotřeba — druhé bydlení, časté létání, exotické dovolené — má disproporční podíl na škodlivých emisích i vyčerpání zdrojů. Součástí řešení tak mohou být majetkové daně. Nedávná studie skupiny Zelených a Evropské svobodné aliance v Evropském parlamentu ukazuje, že majetková daň by mohla členských státům EU ročně vynést 213 miliard eur. Emise z dopravy by podobně mohla snížit daň z častého létání, která by progresivně stoupala od každé letenky nad první zpáteční.

Bez spravedlnosti lidé transformaci nepodpoří

Tím, že pomáhají pokrýt základní potřeby všem, mohou univerzální základní služby přispět k odstranění nejen chudoby, ale i utrpení způsobovaného nejistotou. Zkušenost chudoby a nejistoty dnes zanechává lidi napospas beznaději, což paradoxně vede také k odporu vůči ekologickým politikám, které jsou často nazírány jen jako další forma nespravedlivých škrtů a daní.

Investice do rozšířených a zkvalitněných veřejných služeb zajišťujících základní životní potřeby by měly jít přímo k jádru této úzkosti. Umožnily by lidem cítit větší uspokojení v jejich každodenním životě, a v návaznosti na to také větší důvěru v lokální i státní vlády. Univerzální služby by tak mohly pomoct otočit spirálu chudoby, nedůvěry a odporu v cyklus spokojenosti, důvěry a podpory.

Bez této podpory je nepravděpodobné, že se demokratickým vládám bude dařit prosazovat opatření nutná k odvrácení ekologického kolapsu. Jak poznamenává britský vládní výbor pro změny klimatu, „více než kdykoli dříve bude muset budoucí snižování emisí počítat s přímou participací občanů na rozhodování o tom, jak se jej bude dosahovat. Spravedlnost je základním předpokladem veřejné podpory a musí být zakotvená v samotných základech veřejných politik. Jen transformace která bude vnímána jako spravedlivá, a v níž se lidem, místům a komunitám dostane podpory, kterou potřebují, může být úspěšná“.

Evropa dnes čelí zásadní výzvě proměnit svou politickou ekonomii tak, aby odpovídala výzvám budoucích desetiletí. Univerzální základní služby nejsou samospásným řešením, jejich role ale může být bez nadsázky nezanedbatelná. Všeobecně dostupné služby totiž nabízejí cestu k jistotě a prosperitě, která může zlepšit kvalitu života všech — nejen námezdně pracujících. Pro dobrý život v planetárních mezích jsou tak opatřením nepostradatelným.

Categories: H. Green News

Taylor Swift’s Super Bowl flight shows what’s wrong with carbon removal

Grist - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 01:30

To get to the Super Bowl on time, Taylor Swift took a private jet from Tokyo to Los Angeles and then hustled to Las Vegas. The carbon removal company Spiritus estimated that her journey of roughly 5,500 miles produced about 40 tons of carbon dioxide — about what is generated by charging nearly 5 million cell phones. But don’t worry, the company assured her critics: It would take those emissions right back out of the sky.

“Spiritus wants to help Taylor and her Swifties ‘Breathe’ without any CO2 ‘Bad Blood,’” it said in a pun-laden pitch to reporters. “It’s a touchdown for everyone.”

The startup is among dozens, if not hundreds, of businesses trying to permanently remove climate-warming gases from the atmosphere. Its approach involves drawing carbon directly from the air and burying it, but others sink it in the ocean. Last week, Graphyte, a venture backed by Bill Gates, began compacting sawdust and other woody waste that are rich in carbon into bricks that it will bury deep underground. 

Spiritus says “sponsoring carbon offsets is a step toward environmental responsibility, not an endorsement of luxury flights” and added that “celebrities are going to take private jets regardless of what Spiritus does.” Even before the company stepped in, Swift reportedly planned to purchase offsets that more than covered her travel. But some climate experts say moves like Spiritus’ illustrate the dangerous direction the rapidly growing carbon dioxide removal, or CDR, industry is headed.

“The worry is that carbon removal will be something we do so that business-as-usual can continue,” said Sara Nawaz, director of research at American University’s Institute for Carbon Removal Law and Policy. “We need a really big conversation reframe.”

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says carbon removal will be “required” to meet climate targets, and the United States Department of Energy has a goal of bringing the cost down to $100 per ton (a price point Spiritus claims it wants to deliver as well). What concerns Nawaz is the outsize role that private companies are currently playing. 

“It’s very market-oriented: doing carbon removals for profit,” Nawaz said. That reliance on the market, she elaborated, won’t necessarily lead to the just, equitable, and scalable outcomes that she hopes CDR can achieve. “We need to take a step back.”

Nawaz co-wrote a report released today titled “Agenda for a Progressive Political Economy of Carbon Removal.” In it, she and her co-authors lay out a vision for carbon removal that shifts away from market-centric approaches to ones that are government-, community-, and worker-led.

“What they suggest is quite radical,” said Lauren Gifford, associate director of the Soil Carbon Solutions Center at Colorado State University who was not involved in the research. She supports the direction the authors advocate, adding, “They actually give us a roadmap on how to get there, and that in itself is progressive.”

Nawaz compared carbon removal’s current trajectory to the bumpy path that carbon offsets has followed. That industry, in which organizations sell credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions, has been plagued by misleading claims and perverse incentives. It has also raised environmental justice concerns where offsets are disproportionately impacting frontline communities and developing nations. For example, Blue Carbon, a company backed by the United Arab Emirates, has been buying enormous swaths of land in Africa to fuel its offsets program. 

“We don’t want to do that again with carbon removal,” she said.

Philanthropy is one possible alternative to corporate carbon removal. The report cites a nonprofit organization called Terraset that puts tax-deductible donations toward CDR projects (including Spiritus’). But, Nawaz says, that approach won’t grow quickly or sustainably enough to remove the many gigatons of emissions needed to meaningfully address climate change. 

“That’s not a scalable approach,” she said. “We’re going to need so much more money.”

The report argues that communities and governments must play a central role in the industry. Nawaz cites community-driven carbon removal efforts out West, such as the 4 Corners Carbon Coalition, as examples of what might be possible on the local level. Nationally, she points to Germany’s transition away from coal as a way that governments can not only fund but fundamentally drive clean energy policy that puts workers at the fore.

Read Next A new alliance for ‘high quality’ carbon removal highlights tensions within the industry

To be sure, the United States is investing in carbon removal. The bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act included billions of dollars for technology such as regional direct air capture hubs. But the legislation mostly positions the government as a funder or purchaser of carbon removal initiatives rather than a practitioner. 

“It’s, frankly, a pretty disappointing way it’s evolving,” said Nawaz, noting, for instance, that Occidental Petroleum is among those receiving federal funding for carbon removal. She would like to see the government take a more hands-on role. “Not just government procurement of carbon removal. But actually government-led research and early-stage implementation of carbon removal.”

Gifford agrees that there are dangers in the industry relying too much on the private sector. “There’s something really scary about putting the climate crisis in the hands of wealthy tech founders,” she said. But companies have also been at the forefront of advancing the field as well. “The climate crisis is one of these things that’s all-hands-on-deck.”

Those in the private sector say their efforts are critical to ensuring that carbon removal technology is developed and deployed as quickly as possible. “Our coalition represents innovators,” said Ben Rubin, the executive director of the Carbon Business Council, a nonprofit trade association representing more than 100 carbon management companies. ”There won’t necessarily be one silver bullet.”

“There’s a long history of public-private partnerships ushering in some of the world’s latest and greatest innovations,” added Dana Jacobs, the chief of staff for the Carbon Removal Alliance, which similarly represents startups in this space. “We think carbon removal won’t be any different.”

Nawaz and her colleagues want to shake that paradigm before it’s too deeply entrenched. The alternative could be continued unjust outcomes for marginalized people and limited progress on luxury emissions, such as Swift’s flight to the Super Bowl. 

“The idea is that carbon removal is a public good,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to rely on just the private sector to provide it.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Taylor Swift’s Super Bowl flight shows what’s wrong with carbon removal on Feb 13, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

1 in 5 UN-tracked migratory species at risk of extinction

Grist - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 01:15

One in 5 species of migratory birds, fish, reptiles, mammals, and insects tracked by the United Nations is threatened with extinction due to escalating environmental pressures and overexploitation by humans, according to a landmark report published Monday.

The U.N. report, “State of the World’s Migratory Species,” represents the first-ever comprehensive assessment of the conservation status and population trends of species whose members “cyclically and predictably cross one or more national jurisdictional boundaries.” Some familiar examples include green turtles, snowy owls, and Monarch butterflies.

The U.N. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, or CMS, tracks more than 1,180 species that are already endangered or that would “significantly benefit” from being protected under an international agreement. The report finds that 44 percent of these species are experiencing population declines and 22 percent are threatened with extinction. Its release coincides with the beginning of a high-profile U.N. wildlife conservation conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where experts are calling for greater international collaboration to combat climate change, habitat loss, pollution,  and excessive animal exploitation, such as hunting and fishing.

“Conservation of migratory species is extremely difficult because they cross nations, continents, even hemispheres,” Amanda Rodwald, director of the Center for Avian Population Studies at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, told Grist. “That requires a lot of coordination among different countries … and thinking across geopolitical boundaries.”

The report reinforces previous research on the deteriorating health of wild animal species worldwide, almost entirely due to human activities like agriculture, hunting, and fishing, as well as the pressures of climate change. In 2019, a separate U.N. panel reported that an “unprecedented” 1 million species globally were threatened with extinction. A subsequent study from late last year doubled that number to 2 million by taking into account a greater number of insects, which make up the majority of species worldwide.

Migratory species are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic pressures. Their migratory journeys require large, intact tracts of land, water, or airspace — and these tracts are getting harder to come by, whether because of dams, boat traffic, roads, skyscrapers, or other development. According to the CMS report, 75 percent of listed migratory species are affected by lost, degraded, or fragmented habitats, which can prevent them from finding mating partners or food.

A previous report of the CMS, published during the U.N.’s annual climate conference in Dubai last December, highlighted how climate change is affecting the timing of some species’ migrations and making it harder for them to reproduce and survive. As climate change progresses, other studies suggest that fragmented landscapes will preclude species from moving to cooler areas where they are more likely to survive.

Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary of the CMS, addresses an audience in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo by IISD / ENB / Anvar Zokirov

The most pervasive threat to migratory species, however, is overexploitation, which the new report says is affecting three-quarters of the species it tracks. It says humans are intentionally — and often illegally — hunting too many wild birds and terrestrial mammals for their populations to be able to recover. They’re also unintentionally killing too many marine species as bycatch — fish, dolphins, and other non-targeted animals that get caught in the industrial fishing process. Since the 1970s, populations of migratory fish species have declined by 90 percent, and nearly every fish species the CMS tracks now faces a “high risk of extinction.”

The decline of migratory species also has severe implications for humans. As noted in the new report, migratory species provide critical “ecosystem services” that benefit humans by dispersing seeds and pollinating food crops that people eat, as well as supporting livelihoods for fishers and farmers and maintaining healthy ecosystems. “If environments aren’t healthy for other species, then they’re unlikely to be healthy for people,” Rodewald said. 

Migratory species can also directly mitigate climate change. Large migratory animals — like humpback whales, for example — sequester carbon in their bodies and then transfer it into long-term storage in the soil or seabed after they die. Other migratory animals preserve carbon storage in grasslands by walking on and compacting the snow or soil, or producing nutrient-rich feces that keep plants healthy and prevent erosion.

To reverse migratory species’ decline, the CMS lists more than two dozen priority actions for policymakers. These include cracking down on illegal and unsustainable hunting, fishing, and bycatch; creating and protecting more natural habitats; and phasing out toxic pollution from sources like plastics, pesticides, and lead weights used in fishing. The report also recommends global coordination to limit light and noise pollution, which kill millions of birds and marine animals every year.

Crucially, many of the interventions recommended by the CMS would have co-benefits for the climate. Restoring mangrove ecosystems, for instance, could support migratory green turtles and dugongs while also pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it into biomass. And stopping destructive overfishing practices can protect fish while helping to preserve the ocean’s crucial role as a carbon sink.

The U.N.’s conservation conference in Uzbekistan began on Monday and is scheduled to end on Saturday. Delegates are expected to review more specific action plans for a number of particularly vulnerable migratory species, and to consider new species for inclusion under the CMS — the report says there are nearly 400 “threatened and near-threatened” species that could benefit from being listed. Nonbinding global guidelines for light pollution, under development since last year, are also expected to be presented for adoption. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline 1 in 5 UN-tracked migratory species at risk of extinction on Feb 13, 2024.

Categories: H. Green News

Člověk, Nebo Planeta: Falešné Dilema

Green European Journal - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 01:11

Jedinou cestou, jak odvrátit klimatický kolaps, je přijmout fakt, že řešení krize musí být hluboce sociální. Právě ohled na nejslabší se má stát podstatou nového levicového populismu. Jeho východiskem může být důraz na komunitní energetiku.

Zhoubným rysem globální klimatické politiky je její rozpolcenost. Ačkoli OSN každý rok vydává stále ostřejší varování, že lidstvo v důsledku pokračujících investic do fosilních paliv vstoupilo do období „klimatického chaosu“, vlády od Řecka po Guyanu a od USA po Spojené arabské emiráty nepřestávají opakovat ohrané fráze o „energetické bezpečnosti“ či „tržní dynamice“ a dál rozšiřují fosilní infrastrukturu jako nikdy v dějinách.

První krok: uznat skutečný rozsah klimatické katastrofy

Pravice se čím dál tím víc uchyluje k ultralibertariánským, protivědeckým a konspiračním teoriím, jimiž ospravedlňuje svůj odpor ke klimatické politice. Progresivisté včetně sociálních demokratů a zelených se však nezmohou na přesvědčivou reakci. Dosavadní klimatická opatření — která rozhodně nejsou redistributivní, nezabývají se (uhlíkovými) nerovnostmi a neuplatňují mezioborový přístup — se prosazují stále obtížněji.

S postupujícím prohlubováním socioekonomických rozdílů dochází trpělivost voličům i ve vyspělých demokraciích, jako je Německo nebo Švédsko. Vzestup německé Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) je částečně spojen s odporem vůči zákonu o vytápění budov, stěžejnímu návrhu Zelených, o nějž se vedly ostré spory i v rámci vládnoucí koalice.

Krajní pravice ale nemluví o extrémní uhlíkové nerovnosti, která je jednou z příčin probíhajícího klimatického kolapsu. A není to žádná náhoda: navzdory explicitnímu protisystémovému vystupování nejsou totiž fašisté a jejich ideologie produktem ničeho jiného než (pozdní fáze) kapitalismu — od hitlerovského Německa až k Trumpovi či Bolsonarovi.

Čím blíže jsme sociálním a klimatickým bodům zlomu, tím méně zabírají centristická a reformistická řešení ve stylu osmdesátých let. Občané, po nichž se žádá, aby zásadně změnili způsob vytápění svých domovů, dojíždění do práce či stravování, budou těžko akceptovat jen mírné uhlíkové zdanění soukromých letadel, která by měla být zcela zakázána, nebo jednorázové solidární daně na ropné společnosti s miliardovými obraty, které by měly být znárodněny a zrušeny.

Vlády musí začít čelit rozsahu klimatické katastrofy v celého jeho šíři. Musí otevřeně přiznat, že klimatické modely s body zlomu nepočítají a že „bezpečný“ uhlíkový rozpočet je v kontextu nejnovějších vědeckých poznatků o klimatu ve skutečnosti mnohem omezenější, než se dosud předpokládalo. Vyspělé země musí radikálně zintenzivnit snižování emisí a dosáhnout uhlíkové neutrality do poloviny třicátých let a záporné uhlíkové bilance do čtyřicátých let, chtějí-li zachovat alespoň trochu fungující společnost.

Globální oteplování zrychluje takovou měrou, že se vědecké klimatické modely, které byly ještě před časem pokládané za přemrštěné a katastrofické, ukazují jako slabý odvar toho, co nás ve skutečnosti čeká. Opatření, jež byla ještě před dvěma lety považována za radikální — například apel na ukončení veškerého využívání fosilních paliv v přelomové zprávě IEA z roku 2021 —, se mezitím stala naprosto nedostatečnými.

Ve skutečnosti musí většina — tj. šedesát procent — zásob fosilních paliv zůstat pod zemí. Jen tak máme aspoň padesátiprocentní šanci, že se globální oteplení omezí na 1,5 °C. Ve zprávě IEA ze září 2023 se už správně zdůrazňuje, že stávající naleziště a doly musí být uzavřeny mnohem dříve, než se ještě nedávno plánovalo.

Sociálně spravedlivou klimatickou politiku

Řešení této krize si žádá odvážný a pevný postoj. Před vládami tak stojí nesmírně náročný úkol: musí začít všem, kdo nesou vinu za současnou situaci, měřit stejným metrem. Nevyhnou se proto konfrontaci s vojensko-průmyslovým komplexem, s fosilními korporacemi ani s průmyslovou a zemědělskou lobby.

Stejně tak nevyhnutelné je odmítnout nihilismus umírněných politiků, kteří posledních třicet let dokázali jen slibovat a potřebné kroky soustavně odkládali. Možná se tím ocitneme mimo hřiště seriózní politiky, ale populistická a zároveň radikálně realistická rétorika, která nadchne a inspiruje, je cestou k široké lidové podpoře.

Řekněme to naplno: na výběr nemáme jen nihilistickou politiku mírného pokroku v mezích zákona a vzmáhající se krajní pravici. Existuje i třetí cesta. Teorie „post-růstu“ přináší ucelený soubor představ, jak místo zisku a hospodářského růstu upřednostnit péči o lidský blahobyt a udržitelné životní prostředí.

Připomíná post-růstová koncepce způsob, jímž se na svět dívají původní národy? Nebo jde o aktivistický konstrukt či vznikající akademický obor? Post-růst je tím i oním. Je superhrdinou z kresleného filmu, který nás přichází zachránit ze spárů zloduchů — fosilních kapitalistů.

Ale žerty stranou, síla post-růstové myšlenky spočívá v pojmenování ekonomických praxí a technologických postupů, jichž se musíme zbavit, jako je průmyslově produkované maso, záměrné snižování životnosti výrobků, zbrojní průmysl, fosilní paliva, a v otevření diskuse o tom, k čemu bychom měli směřovat — komunitní energetika a zemědělství, plošné zavedení veřejně financovaného školství a zdravotnictví.

Koncept post-růstu tak nabízí východisko pro levicově zelené a progresivní koalice — politiku, která se sebevědomě staví proti tomu, co je špatné, ale zároveň zůstává pluralitní, vstřícná a vizionářská.

„Militantní“ zeleno-rudá aliance musí být ovšem schopna oslovovat také širší a umírněnější část veřejnosti a utvářet velké koalice, bez nichž se radikální politické změny neuskuteční. Prvním krokem je osvojení představy, že „lidé a planeta mají přednost před ziskem“. Pokud se podaří takové ideje promítnout do konkrétních činů, dostanou se i do středu politické agendy.

Zelená politika musí akcentovat význam přerozdělování a ukázat, že je s to přinést okamžitou hospodářskou úlevu a citelné zlepšení každodenního žití. Z toho důvodu je nevyhnutelné vytvořit dlouho přehlížené spojenectví s pracujícími a odbory. Jen klimatické škody dnes působí evropské ekonomice — o té světové ani nemluvě — náklady v řádu miliard eur. Ekologičtí ekonomové by proto měli hlasitě hájit klimatickou politiku jako jedinou fiskálně odpovědnou cestu vpřed — a přesvědčit o tom také liberály a centristy.

Německá zkušenost s AfD a zákonem o vytápění budov ukazuje, že vymáhání zákazů a regulací bez dalších sociálních opatření jen s odvoláním na dlouhodobé cíle, jako je boj proti klimatickým změnám, zásadně nahrává krajně pravicovým populistům. Potřebujeme silnou a sociálně spravedlivou alternativu. Dobrou zprávou je, že řešení sociálních nerovností současně s klimatickou krizí je široce populární — pro jejich společné řešení se vyslovilo ohromujících 68 procent Evropanů.

Vymáhání zákazů a regulací bez dalších sociálních opatření jen s odvoláním na dlouhodobé cíle, jako je boj proti klimatickým změnám, zásadně nahrává krajně pravicovým populistům.

Ve světle sílící populistické a často defétistické rétoriky zaměřené proti opatřením na ochranu klimatu musí občanská společnost se vší vehemencí vyvracet falešné dilema stavějící „klima“ proti „lidem“. Musí naléhat na politické představitele, aby uplatňovali mezioborovou a intersekcionální klimatickou politiku. Před nadcházejícími volbami do Evropského parlamentu v roce 2024 musí občanská společnost předložit návrhy konkrétních opatření, jež mohou státy podniknout k souběžnému prosazování sociální a klimatické spravedlnosti.

A takových opatření se nabízí celá řada. Tvorba energetických komunit může například zajistit rychlejší zavedení čisté energetiky a zároveň snížit účty zejména zranitelným domácnostem včetně zvýšení energetické bezpečnosti. Navzdory ostrým výpadům některých politiků vůči „uvědomělé“ klimatické politice ukazuje nová analýza REScoop.eu a CEE Bankwatch, že některé země už za účelem urychlení využívání čisté energie provádějí reformy a navyšují investice.

Analýza aktualizovaných Plánů obnovy a odolnosti, včetně příslušných částí REPowerEU, provedená v patnácti členských státech, ukazuje širokou podporu pro urychlené povolování, vyšší energetickou účinnost a využívání obnovitelných zdrojů energie. Reformy a rostoucí investice týkající se energetických společenství naznačují, že jednotlivé státy berou potřebu prosazovat takovou klimatickou politiku, jež je ve své podstatě sociálně spravedlivá, vážně.

Demokratická energie

Jakkoli není rozumné považovat za dobré pouze jedno řešení, komunitní energetice bychom měli věnovat mimořádnou pozornost. Na základě evropských směrnic jsou energetická společenství neziskovými subjekty, které vyjadřují post-růstovou vizi tím, že upřednostňují sociální a environmentální přínosy před ekonomickým ziskem. Energetická společenství nejsou inspirativní jen politicky, ale přinášejí i užitečná řešení pro každodenní život.

Energetická společenství představují právní formu, jejímž prostřednictvím mohou občané, malé a střední podniky, obce a další skupiny spoluvlastnit lokální projekty v oblasti obnovitelných zdrojů a mít z nich společný prospěch. Místní výroba zajišťuje levnější a bezpečnější přístup k energiím a poskytuje ochranu před kolísavým, ziskovým trhem s energiemi z fosilních paliv.

Energetické družstvo Tipperary v Irsku například nabízí komplexní služby občanům, kteří rekonstruují svá obydlí, a pomáhají místním dosáhnout velkých energetických úspor a tepelného komfortu. V Řecku nabízí Energetické společenství Minoan bezplatně elektřinu desítkám domácností prostřednictvím středně velkých lokálních solárních projektů. Francouzský Enercoop vybírá od svých zákazníků nevelký poplatek, jejž pak reinvestuje do renovací a dalších energeticky úsporných opatření pro energeticky chudé domácnosti.

Touto demokratizací produkce energetické komunity pomáhají zaplnit slepou skvrnu moderních „demokratických“ společností — skutečná demokracie totiž není možná bez demokracie ekonomické, včetně přímé kontroly občanů nad výrobou potravin a energií.

V čase klimatické krize jsou energetická společenství příkladem sociálně spravedlivých a redistributivních řešení. Uvažujme ale i o dalších opatřeních: co kdyby byly ambiciózní cíle vytyčené směrnicí o energetické náročnosti budov (EPBD) podpořeny půjčkami nebo granty s nulovým úrokem, financovanými ze zdrojů, jako je daň z častého létání?

Ilustrujme si to na příkladu Irska: představme si, že by se na největšího znečišťovatele v zemi (9,3 milionu tun CO2 v roce 2022) uvalil poplatek a tyto peníze se vložily do systému hloubkových renovací určeného pro zranitelné domácnosti. Tyto renovace by pak byly zprostředkovány důvěryhodnými komunitními organizacemi, jako jsou právě místní energetická společenství.

Rozhodujícím kritériem účinné klimatické politiky je tedy to, nakolik ji lze ve vztahu k různým aktérům vnímat jako spravedlivou. Proč by měl irský občan přistoupit na rekonstrukci obydlí podle směrnice o energetické náročnosti nebo třeba na daň z masa — protože průmyslové zemědělství je dalším velkým problémem — , jestliže bude letecká společnost Ryanair, která se ve svých kampaních holedbá, jak se podílí na kompenzaci uhlíkových emisí, i nadále osvobozena od uhlíkové daně?

Ignorovat rostoucí sociální napětí je hrou s ohněm na sudu se střelným prachem. Odborníci a občanská společnost opakovaně varují, že chystané rozšíření obchodu s emisními povolenkami, které se bude týkat i dopravy a budov, nejspíš vyvolá silnou odezvu a nejvíce zasáhne právě ty nejzranitelnější.

Odborníci a občanská společnost proto vyzývají vlády, aby se namísto provizorního látání problémů dotováním nákladů na energie — což se mimochodem rovná nepřímým dotacím na fosilní paliva —, zaměřily na investice do strukturálních změn, jako jsou důkladné renovace, čisté vytápění a chlazení a (veřejná) elektromobilita. Tato opatření, zahrnutá v nedávných doporučeních Evropské komise o energetické chudobě, jsou politicky prozíravá — evropští spotřebitelé se bez nich totiž z energetické krize dostanou jen těžko.

Klimatická úzkost a naděje

V Řecku letos trvaly vlny veder až do poloviny listopadu. Klimatická úzkost pronikla do naší každodennosti a připravuje nás o radost, nadšení i plány do budoucna. Jaký má smysl o něco usilovat, když stejně všechno shoří? Zadostiučinění ve stylu „my jsme vám to říkali“ bohužel nikomu nepomůže, ztracený čas nevrátí a desetiletí nečinnosti establishmentu nevynahradí.

Vzhledem k tomu, že trh narůstající klimatickou úzkost zejména mezi mladými lidmi nevyřeší, musíme k němu bezodkladně vytvářet alternativy. Nadějné je, že takové postupy již nějakou dobu existují a většina z nich už je efektivní i z hlediska nákladů. Evropská environmentální kancelář upozorňuje, že pokud by se polovina dotací na fosilní paliva pro vytápění přesměrovala na tepelná čerpadla, mohla by Evropa do roku 2040 dosáhnout plně dekarbonizovaného systému vytápění.

Nikdy v minulosti jsme nebyli současně tak blízko katastrofě i utopii.

Ač jsou počáteční náklady obvykle velmi vysoké (jako v případě komunitních projektů dálkového vytápění), veřejné národní a evropské fondy by mohly rizika výrazně snížit. Příkladem může být Nizozemsko, kde právě vzniká mnohamilionový veřejný investiční fond, který bude spravovat komunitní energetická organizace Energie Samen a jenž má zajistit vznik lokálně vlastněných projektů dálkového vytápění z obnovitelných zdrojů.

Příliš o tom nemluvíme, ale klimatická propast se rozevírá, vzájemná zpětná vazba odchylek zemského systému narůstá a schyluje se k hlubokým společenským otřesům. Potřebujeme proto vytvářet široké politické koalice, které dokážou naléhavost situace přetavit v přesvědčivý populistický příběh, který naštve, povzbudí a především propojí.

Ačkoli prakticky nulový pokrok mezinárodní politiky při řešení klimatické a socioekonomické krize nedává na první pohled mnoho naděje, přece jen po celém světě nenápadně klíčí ekosocialistické ideje, nerůstové koncepce a horizontální způsoby správy, jako jsou právě energetická družstva.

Snad právě to drží moji klimatická úzkost v únosných mezích a poskytuje mi tolik potřebnou naději a touhu vytrvat. Ale možná jde jen o nezpracovaný hněv na kanibalský systém, který trhá na kusy předivo vzájemně propojující životní systémy na Zemi.

Nikdy v minulosti jsme nebyli současně tak blízko katastrofě i utopii. To, na čem v těchto těžkých časech skutečně záleží, je, aby naše vize a přesvědčení zůstaly neoblomné: evropští progresivisté se musí sjednotit v prosazování globální Zelené dohody založené na praktických, komunitních řešeních, která nenechají nikoho na holičkách.

Categories: H. Green News

No Food Without Farmers, No Farmers Without Nature

Green European Journal - Tue, 02/13/2024 - 00:47

With farmers taking to the streets and making headlines all over Europe, national governments and EU institutions are rushing to make concessions to appease them. But are the solutions offered what farmers and agricultural workers really need? We asked Enrico Somaglia, deputy general secretary of the European Federation of Food, Agriculture, and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT).

Green European Journal: Is there a common thread among the farmers’ protests happening across Europe?

Enrico Somaglia: The protests are linked to different national circumstances, such as overregulation, subsidy cuts, or imports of Ukrainian grain to the EU. But there is definitely a frustration towards a common enemy, the European Union, the Green Deal and its Farm To Fork strategy. Of course, not every farmer sees them as enemies: the agriculture sector is very heterogeneous. Small and big farmers are organised in different ways, they have different representatives. A minority within the sector opposes any kind of green policies because it is resistant to change. As trade unions, we firmly reject this stance.

On the other hand, a significant part of the farmers are against the Green Deal because they perceive it as something that has been unilaterally imposed on them. Fortunately, there is still room to improve green policies to make sure they are more socially acceptable. Trade unions see this as the way forward to build a different agriculture sector which is not only more sustainable from an environmental point of view, but is also a better place to work. To achieve that, we need measures for a truly just transition. We should not forget that if the condition of farmers is challenging, that of agricultural workers is simply unbearable. A vast proportion of seasonal workers, migrant workers, and daily labourers still face unrecorded working hours, appalling housing situations, and exploitative working relationships. The green transition can be an opportunity to create better jobs, but it needs to be stronger on the social side.

The green transition can be an opportunity to create better jobs, but it needs to be stronger on the social side.

If the agricultural sector is not a united bloc, then who are those protesting? Do they really share the same interests?

Farmers are united against issues such as unilateral decision-making, the EU’s deal with the Mercosur trade bloc that is currently under negotiation, and the unfair distribution of wealth.

In many countries, small farmers represent the vast majority and are an essential part of the rural economy. They need responses, and trade unions are by their side on this. Of course, there is also a risk that farmers’ protests are instrumentalised by a minority within the sector that is resistant to change because it profits from the current environmentally and socially unsustainable model. This minority works against nature, and therefore also against agriculture. So farmers should be careful that their demands are not instrumentalised against their interests.

And yet large landowners are often the only ones who get a seat at the table in Brussels. How can we address this problem of representation?

As trade unions, we expect all farmers; whether large or small, to respect workers’ rights and the environment. But yes, representation is definitely an issue. A relevant portion of the farmers’ community is not heard enough. The same goes for trade unions: we represent the most vulnerable workers across the food chain, and yet we don’t get enough attention from policy-makers, despite the working and living conditions in the sector are still dramatic for many.  Farm workers are the most affected by existing imbalances across the food system. Small farmers are also among the main victims. For example, they are in a position of weakness when it comes to negotiating with supermarket chains that want to impose prices unilaterally.

There have been many attempts – some of them successful – to support the organising of small farmers in various countries. This is one of the main issues the EU should focus on in the next term. Setting ambitious environmental goals is important, but if we don’t tackle the root causes that make the agrifood chain so unequal, the frustration of farmers and farm workers will continue. And these root causes have to do with concentration, unfair competition, and unequal distribution of wealth.

Setting ambitious environmental goals is important, but if we don’t tackle the root causes that make the agrifood chain so unequal, the frustration of farmers and farm workers will continue.

Helping small farmers to organise themselves, implementing the Unfair trading practices directive, and making sure that a fair wage is paid to agricultural workers would all be steps in the right direction. Another important step is acting on the competition law and making sure that mega-mergers and concentration of power in the agri-food sector are stopped, or that they get thoroughly scrutinised from an environmental and social perspective. Finally, there is the issue of unfair competition and trade agreements such as the one with Mercosur, where Europe’s agricultural sector is on the losing side.

Instrumentalisation also has a political side. What would happen if angry farmers gave in to the courtship of right-wing parties?

It would be a mistake and an extremely dangerous one. Some parties are happy when they see social discontent – be it a cost of living crisis, a migration crisis, or farmers protesting. Yet the solutions they offer are exactly the opposite of what’s needed. They are not friends of workers – they pit workers against each other. And they are not in favour of farmers because they are the ones defending the model of distribution that favours only big landowners at the expense of small farmers. They are offering the wrong answer to a real problem, and this is what farmers should be wary of.

However, it is also the responsibility of democratic and progressive parties to offer the right answers, to not be perceived as too far away to speak to farmers and farm workers’ unions, to listen to them, to assess their needs and aspirations, and to come up with a clear political agenda that resonates with them.

Greens are trying to pitch themselves to farmers as their best ally. Are they credible?

Progressive forces, including the Greens, are definitely the allies of farmers. The far right has absolutely bad solutions for the issues farmers are facing. The neoliberal agenda is not what we need. We need to defend nature and promote decent jobs in agriculture with strong collective bargaining rights. Farmers say, “Without us, there is no food”. Well, without nature there are no jobs and no farmers. So progressives and democratic parties can offer the best solution for farmers and agricultural workers, on the condition that they manage to build the right narrative, dispel deceiving promises, and make more efforts to build social acceptance.

The far right has absolutely bad solutions for the issues farmers are facing. The neoliberal agenda is not what we need.

The bad news is that the time is limited, and the world has changed over the last few years; 2019 was different. Increased geopolitical tension and the cost of living crisis are not helping the green agenda.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) still represents about one third of the EU budget and has traditionally helped ensure the support of the agriculture sector for the European project. Is this support faltering?

The CAP is indeed one of the most important policies at the EU level. Its budget has been cut over the last few years, but the main issue is how this budget is distributed. At the moment, most resources go to those who need them least, because their business is already extremely profitable.

The new Common Agricultural Policy will be launched in 2027. What are the main principles it should be based on?

We need to rethink the way CAP funds are distributed, also by revising the eligibility criteria. At the moment, they are primarily based on the extension of the land, and not enough on the kind of production that is carried out, or on the number of employees. Tying the disbursement of funds to the number of regularly employed workers, for example, would help combat undeclared work and ensure decent wages.

The second element, linked to the first, is to strengthen social conditionality and to make it an ex-ante mechanism. Currently, an employer is sanctioned if found guilty of not offering regular contracts. Strengthening social conditionality means that farmers need to comply with minimum social and labour standards in order to receive CAP subsidies.

Finally, we must strengthen the environmental aspects of the CAP: listen to environmentalists and accompany farmers to make the system as unbureaucratic as possible.

All these changes have to do with decision-makers and regulators. Is there also a cultural shift that needs to happen among consumers?

It’s not easy to ask consumers to change their shopping habits in the middle of a cost of living crisis. After all, consumers are workers. Of course, we need to raise awareness about the negative consequences of cheap food on health, workers’ rights, and the environment.

But the main change needs to happen at the food system level. We need to make sure that the most affordable food is also the most sustainable. To do this, we must support agriculture in a different way, tackling the unfair distribution of wealth across the food chain. Politics has to drive this change, and this is a big problem; the fact that the Commission abandoned the Sustainable Food System Initiative is worrying, because it was exactly about achieving those goals.

Member state governments and EU institutions are trying to put out the fire by appeasing farmers. Will they succeed or should we expect agriculture to remain front and centre until the European elections in June?

Farmers need responses, they need solutions. Unfortunately, the answers the EU has given so far go in the wrong direction, as they offered derogations on fallow land rules and killed off pesticide reduction plans. A positive signal would be to stop the Mercosur trade agreement, at least the part dealing with agriculture.

As for the protests in the streets, I don’t know what will happen in the next weeks. Farmers need long-term solutions, otherwise, sooner or later, the uprisings will start again.

If agriculture is really a strategic sector for the economy, policymakers need to work with trade unions and farmers’ organisations, including small farmers. We need to strengthen collective bargaining in the sector, raise wages, and improve working conditions to make it attractive. Currently, thousands of farmers are abandoning the profession every year. In some countries in particular, agriculture massively relies on a model that doesn’t respect workers’ rights. This cannot be the way forward.

With the world population growing and the impact of climate change intensifying, the agricultural sector will face enormous challenges in the future. We need to take a holistic approach and have a vision.

Categories: H. Green News

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