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Pipelines, Pandemics and Capital’s Death Cult: A Green Syndicalist View

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 29, 2021

We can see this within any industry, within any capitalist enterprise. It is perhaps most clearly apparent, in an unadorned fashion, in extractives industries like mining, logging, or oil, where the consumption of nature (as resources) for profit leaves ecosystems ruined, where workers are forced to labor in dangerous, often deadly, conditions, and where it is all is carried out through direct dispossession, invasion, and occupation of Indigenous lands and through processes of mass killing, even genocide. And when it is all done, little remains except the traces of profit that have been extracted and taken elsewhere.

These intersections have come to the forefront with particular clarity under conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The death cult of capital on full display in all its variety of ways.

Lithium, Batteries and Climate Change: The transition to green energy does not have to be powered by destructive and poisonous mineral extraction

By Jonathan Neale - Climate and Capitalism, February 11, 2021

I have spent the last year working on a book called Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs. Most of it is about both the politics and the engineering of any possible transition that can avert catastrophic climate breakdown. One thing I had to think about long and hard was lithium and car batteries.

I often hear people say that we can’t cover the world with electric vehicles, because there simply is not enough lithium for batteries. In any case, they add, lithium production is toxic, and the only supplies are in the Global South. Moreover, so the story goes, there are not enough rare earth metals for wind turbines and all the other hardware we will need for renewable energy.

People often smile after they say those things, which is hard for me to understand, because it means eight billion people will go to hell.

So I went and found out about lithium batteries and the uses of rare earth. What I found out is that the transition will be possible, but neither the politics nor the engineering is simple. This article explains why. I start by describing the situation simply, and then add in some of the complexity.

Lithium is a metal used in almost all electric vehicle batteries today. About half of global production of lithium currently goes to electric vehicles. And in future we will need to increase the production of electric vehicles from hundreds or thousands to hundreds of millions. That will require vast amounts of lithium.

There are three ways to mine lithium. It can be extracted from rock. It can be extracted from the brine that is left over when sea water passes through a desalination plant. Or it can be extracted from those brine deposits which are particularly rich in lithium. These brine deposits are the common way of mining lithium currently, because it is by far the cheapest. Most of the known deposits of lithium rich brine are in the arid highlands where Bolivia, Chile and Argentina come together.

Lithium mining is well established in Chile and Argentina. In both countries the local indigenous people have organized against the mining, but so far been unable to stop it. The mining is toxic, because large amounts of acid are used in the processing. But the mining also uses large amounts of water in places that already has little enough moisture. The result is that ancestral homelands become unlivable.

Bolivia may have even richer deposits of lithium than Argentina and Chile, but mining has not begun there. The Bolivian government had been led by the indigenous socialist Evo Morales from 2006 to 2019. Morales had been propelled to power by a mass movement committed to taking back control of Bolivia’s water, gas and oil resources from multinational corporations. Morales was unable to nationalize the corporations, but he did insist on the government getting a much larger share of the oil and gas revenue.[1]

His government planned to go even further with lithium. Morales wanted to mine the lithium in Bolivia, but he wanted to build factories alongside the mines to make batteries. In a world increasingly hungry for batteries, that could have turned Bolivia into an industrial nation, not just a place to exploit resources.

The Morales government, however, was unable to raise the necessary investment funds. Global capital, Tesla, the big banks and the World Bank had no intention of supporting such a project. And if they had, they would not have done so in conjunction with a socialist like Morales. Then, in 2019, a coup led by Bolivian capitalists, and supported by the United States, removed Morales. Widespread popular unrest forced a new election in October. Morales’ party, the Movement for Socialism won, though Morales himself was out of the running. It is unclear what will happen to the lithium.

That’s one level of complexity. The local indigenous people did not want the lithium mined. The socialist government did not want extractavism, but they did want industrial development.

Those are not the only choices.

For one thing, there are other, more expensive ways of mining lithium. It can be mined from hard rock in China or the United States. More important, batteries do not have to be made out of lithium. Cars had used batteries for almost a century before Sony developed a commercial lithium-ion battery in 1991. Engineers in many universities are experimenting with a range of other materials for building batteries. But even without looking to the future, it would be possible to build batteries in the ways they used to be built. Indeed, in January 2020, the US Geological Service listed the metals that could be substituted for lithium in battery anodes as calcium, magnesium, mercury and zinc.[2]

The reason all manufacturers currently use lithium is that it provides a lighter battery that lasts longer. That gives the car greater range without recharging, and it make possible a much lighter car. In other words, lithium batteries are cheaper.

President Biden’s Executive Orders and Keystone XL cancellation: what impact on Canada?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 1, 2021

Incoming U.S. President Biden exceeded expectations with the climate change initiatives announced in week 1 of his term, and many have important repercussions for Canada. The most obvious came on Day 1, January 20, with an Executive Order cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline and taking the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement. Also of potential impact for the Canadian clean tech and auto industries – the Buy American policies outlined in Executive Order on Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers (Jan. 25). On January 27 ( “Climate Day ”), the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at home and abroad (explained in this Fact Sheet ) announced a further series of initiatives, including a pause on oil and gas leases on federal lands, a goal to convert the federal government’s vehicle fleet to electric vehicles, and initiatives towards environmental justice and science-based policies. Essential to the “whole of government” approach, the Executive Order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy to coordinate policies, and a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments. It also establishes the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, “to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.”

The New York Times summarized the Jan. 27 Orders as “a sweeping series of executive actions …. while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.” A sampling of resulting summaries and reactions: ‘We Need to Be Bold,’ Biden Says, Taking the First Steps in a Major Shift in Climate Policy” in Inside Climate News (Jan. 28); “Fossils ‘stunned’, ‘aghast’ after Biden pauses new oil and gas leases” in The Energy Mix (Feb. 1); “Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained” in Vox (updated Jan. 27) ; “Biden’s Pause of New Federal Oil and Gas Leases May Not Reduce Production, but It Signals a Reckoning With Fossil Fuels” (Jan. 27) ; “Biden is canceling fossil fuel subsidies. But he can’t end them all” (Grist, Jan. 28); “Activists See Biden’s Day One Focus on Environmental Justice as a Critical Campaign Promise Kept” and “Climate Groups Begin Vying for Power in the Biden Era as Pressure for Unity Fades” (Jan 21) in The Intercept , which outlines the key policy differences between the BlueGreen Alliance (which includes the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers in the U.S.) and the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of environmental justice groups.

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 8, 2020

The climate plan released by Joe Biden in August presents a wide-ranging program for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The previous commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: What it Proposes–Part 1” summarizes that plan. This commentary identifies the points of conflict on climate policy and related social policies that are likely to emerge within a Biden administration. It concludes by assessing how advocates of a Green New Deal can take advantage of the Biden program to fight for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just outcome. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

The Biden Climate Plan: Part 1: What It Proposes

By Jeremey Brecher - Labor Network for Sustinability, December 1, 2020

This commentary by Jeremy Brecher analyzes Joe Biden’s “Plan for Climate Change and Environmental Justice” released in August. The following commentary, “The Biden Climate Plan: Part 2: An Arena of Struggle,” will consider the struggles that are likely to emerge over what parts of the plan can and should be implemented. To read this commentary, please visit: this page.

Glasgow Agreement, A Plan of Our Own

By the Glasgow Agreement - Common Dreams, November 16, 2020

Rather than plans dictated from the top—which have proven not only to be unfair and destructive, but not even reach the necessary emissions cuts—we will build a plan of our own, from below.

We are once again at a crossroads. The COP-26 in Glasgow has been postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the climate collapse may already be upon us, with warning signs coming simultaneously from all around the world: the forest fires in California, in the Amazon and Pantanal, the floods in Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the collapse in Greenland’s ice shelves. These are now weekly events. They are the most visible symptoms of an ill-fated system.

Institutions, ministries, sections, departments, treaties, protocols and agreements have been created and signed, but greenhouse gas emissions' records kept on being shattered, as a consequence of the systematic failure to address the root causes of the problem from a systemic perspective. The demand from the climate justice movement to join the dots between overlapping crises (environmental degradation, social injustice, racial oppression, gender injustice, inequalities) which have been going for decades now, keeps being ignored.

Achieving a just and egalitarian world, which respects planetary limits, and therefore guarantees a safe climate system, implies addressing intrinsic elements such as colonialism, labour, imbalance of power, participation, or the search for benefits for a few at the cost of the majority, just to mention a few aspects. Patches and empty speeches will still not work; there will always be an economic or financial justification to legitimize the polluters who have caused the problem.

To say that institutions have not delivered on the struggle against climate change may be the biggest understatement in human history. Emissions have not only not decreased in the necessary level to stop us reaching the point of no return, they have not decreased at all. Since the beginning of climate negotiations, emissions from fossil fuels have only dropped in the years of 2008 and in 2020. Neither happened because of climate action or institutional agreements, but due to capitalist and health crises.

Agroecology to Combat the Climate Crisis

Transition Time?: Energy Attitudes in Southern Saskatchewan

By Andrea Olive, Emily Eaton, Randy Besco, Nathan Olmstead, and Catherine Moez - Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Fall 2020

If you woke up in southern Saskatchewan today, chances are it is windy, and the sun is shining. Regina and Saskatoon are among the sunniest cities in all of Canada, and southern Saskatchewan has some of the highest solar photovoltaic potential in North America (Government of Canada nd). It also has some of the highest wind energy potential on the continent (Saskwind nd). Yet there is little solar or wind energy production occurring in the province — indeed, at present, wind contributes 5% and solar contributes less than 3% of energy consumed. Instead, Saskatchewan is known as an oil and gas economy with a dependence on coal for electricity and a deep opposition to carbon pricing. While high oil prices and a shale oil revolution initially led to a “Saskaboom,” the tides have quickly turned. With the collapse in oil prices in 2014 and the COVID-19 crisis of 2019-2020, boom has turned to bust, and oil and gas communities are hurting.

The problems with a steady reliance on fossil fuels are twofold: economic and environmental. For starters, an oil and gas economy is a volatile economy. As COVID disruptions revealed, any shock to the system can devastate the industry. When demand fell — as airlines cancelled flights and people lived under lock-down — oil prices tumbled to $3.50 USD a barrel in April. Pumps across Saskatchewan went idle. Similar slumps were felt during the 2008 global recession and the 2014 global drop in oil prices. When government revenues are closely tied to oil and gas production the fear of the next bust is always — and rightfully — around the corner.

The environmental externalities of fossil fuels are also ever present. Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal are the leading cause of climate change, including unpredictable weather patterns, such as extreme heat, droughts, and flooding. In 2017, Saskatchewan’s emissions were 75% higher than they were in 1990. Today, the province’s emissions per capita are the highest in Canada and among the highest in the world (UCS 2018).

Read the text (PDF).

Decommissioning California Refineries and Beyond Workshop

“These Are Climate Fires”: Oregon Firefighter Ecologist Says Devastating Blazes Are a Wake-Up Call

Timothy Ingalsbee interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now!, September 14, 2020

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As California, Oregon and Washington face unprecedented fires, President Trump is refusing to link the devastation to the climate crisis. After ignoring the fires for a week, Trump is traveling to California today. Over the weekend, he blamed the fires on poor forest management.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But, you know, it is about forest management. Please remember the words, very simple: forest management. Please remember. It’s about forest management.

AMY GOODMAN: California Governor Newsom rejected Trump’s focus on forest management practices.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM: I’m a little bit exhausted that we have to continue to debate this issue. This is a climate damn emergency. … And I’m not going to suggest for a second that the forest management practices in the state of California over a century-plus have been ideal, but that’s one point, but it’s not the point.

AMY GOODMAN: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also pushed back on Trump’s characterization of the wildfires as a forest management issue. Speaking on CNN, Garcetti said the president was reluctant to help California, Oregon and Washington because they have Democratic governors.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI: This is climate change. And this is an administration that’s put its head in the sand. While we have Democratic and Republican mayors across the country stepping up to do their part, this is an administration, a president, who wants to withdraw from the Paris climate accords later this year — the only country in the world to do so. Talk to a firefighter if you think that climate change isn’t real. And it seems like this administration are the last vestiges of the Flat Earth Society of this generation. We need real action.

AMY GOODMAN: In Washington state, where firefighters are tackling 15 large fires, Governor Jay Inslee also emphasized the climate crisis is most responsible for the wildfires.

GOV. JAY INSLEE: These are not just wildfires. They are climate fires. And we cannot and we will not surrender our state and expose people to have their homes burned down and their lives lost because of climate fires.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Oregon, six of the military helicopters operated by the state’s National Guard, that could have been used to help fight the wildfires, are not available because they were sent to Afghanistan earlier this year. This is Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaking Friday.

GOV. KATE BROWN: Well over a million acres of land has burned, which is over 1,500 square miles. Right now our air quality ranks the worst in the world due to these fires. … There is no question that the changing climate is exacerbating what we see on the ground. We had, as we mentioned earlier, unprecedented, a weather event with winds and temperatures. In addition, we added a ground that has had a 30-year drought. So, it made for extremely challenging circumstances and has certainly exacerbated the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Eugene, Oregon, where we’re joined by Timothy Ingalsbee. He is a wildland fire ecologist, former wildland firefighter, n ow director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology, known as FUSEE.

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