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It's Not the End of the World, But a Chance to Confront the Climate Crisis: The Politics of the California Drought

By Arun Gupta - CounterPunch, June 2, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

As if in compensation for a historic drought, California is being deluged by expressions of grim satisfaction that it is finally getting its comeuppance for environmental sins. Judgement was especially swift after California Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a 25 percent reduction in water usage for urban areas. The media asked if this is “The End of California?”, as well as declaring “So Long, California,” and “Dust Bowl 2.0.” One historian of California told the New York Times, “Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here.”

The conceit is nature is punishing humanity in the form of climate-change induced disaster. Except climate change does not appear to be the primary culprit of what is California’s most severe drought in the last 1,200 years. Scientists say the rainfall is “anomalously low—yet not unprecedented.” What’s making the drought exceptionally harsh is the added effect of a warming planet, which is drying out the soil. However, climate change is not a one-way cause and effect. For example, the entire Southwest will be afflicted with more frequent, intense and longer-lasting droughts, but California’s Northern Sierra Nevada watershed “may become wetter and … somewhat less drought-prone” over time.

Like the weather, climate change does not respect borders. The crisis may be most visible in California as reservoirs evaporate and lawns brown, but, as some point out, “this drought is America’s.” As such, the tendency to condemn California tells us more about U.S. society than the natural world. Believing the mega-drought signals the end of California is a form of secular end times.

The mainstream media, while sensationalistic, are more measured than the outlandish predictions found in the conspiratorial corners of the Internet: “California’s food supply to collapse,” “California economy at risk of collapse,” “housing collapse, municipal bankruptcies and a mass exodus of climate refugees.”

Much of the reaction is a mishmash of Christianity and pop culture that’s distinctly American. There is the puritanical disapproval of California’s hedonism. The idea of a cataclysmic rupture draws as much from Hollywood as it does from religious and political thought. Some also believe there will be tribulations, a staple of Sunday sermons and science fiction alike: Everyone who enjoyed the Edenic fruits of California will be thrown into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and our salvation lies in returning to our eco-communal roots.

The problem with this thinking is imagining the apocalypse to be a singular event rather than a process. The apocalypse is already upon us; we just don’t notice it from our privileged perches. The effect of extreme weather is relatively modest over a continent-sized nation of 319 million. Record floods, hurricanes, and wildfires are caused as much by habitat loss, sprawl, and environmental mismanagement as by a destabilized climate. Add in invasive species, pollution, and deforestation, and this explains why the sixth great mass extinction in Earth’s history is now underway. But because the natural world we depend on is evermore synthetic and managed, we don’t experience this loss in our daily lives. Plus even if we mustered the effort to dial back global warming, there are at least seven other ecological crises degrading the biosphere.

Food, Farming and Climate Change: It’s Bigger than Everything Else

By Ryan Zinn - Common Dreams, April 13, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Record-breaking heat waves, long-term drought, “100-year floods” in consecutive years, and increasingly extreme superstorms are becoming the new normal. The planet is now facing an unprecedented era of accelerating and intensifying global climate change, with negative impacts already being widely felt. While global climate change will impact nearly everyone and everything, the greatest impact is already being felt by farmers and anyone who eats food.

When we think of climate change and global warming, visions of coal-fired power plants and solar panels come to mind. Policy discussions and personal action usually revolve around hybrid cars, energy-efficient homes and debates about the latest technological solutions. However, the global agriculture system is at the heart of both the problem and the solution.

EcoUnionist News #45

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, April 1, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The following news items feature issues, discussions, campaigns, or information potentially relevant to green unionists:

Lead Stories:

Bread and Roses:

USW Refinery Strike:

Carbon Bubble:

Just Transition:

1267-Watch:

Health and Safety:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC

Activists 'Shut Down' Nestlé Water Bottling Plant in Sacramento

By Dan Bacher - Indybay, March 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Environmental and human rights activists, holding plastic “torches” and “pitchforks,” formed human barricades at both entrances to the Nestlé Waters bottling plant in Sacramento at 5:00 a.m. on Friday, March 20, effectively shutting down the company's operations for the day.

Members of the “Crunch Nestlé Alliance" shouted out a number of chants, including ”We got to fight for our right to water,” “Nestlé, Stop It, Water Not For Profit," and “¿Agua Para Quien? Para Nuestra Gente.”

The protesters stayed until about 1 pm, but there were no arrests.

Representatives of the alliance said the company is draining up to 80 million gallons of water a year from Sacramento aquifers during a record drought. They claim Sacramento City Hall has made it possible through a "corporate welfare giveaway."

“This corporate welfare giveaway is an outrage and warrants a major investigation,” Coalition spokesperson Andy Conn said. “For more than five months we have requested data on Nestlé water use. City Hall has not complied with our request, or given any indication that it will. Sacramentans deserve to know how their money is being spent and what they’re getting for it. In this case, they’re getting ripped off.”

Lola Ellis of 99 Rise Sacramento, who spoke on the bullhorn at the protest, said, “Nestlé’s bottling of water in Sacramento is unsustainable in the current state of drought. We really don’t’ know how much water they are taking from the aquifer and that is a scary thing.”

“The water needs to be used for the local community. If there is not enough water for the local community, the Nestlé corporation should not be making a profit,” she emphasized.

The coalition protested what they call Nestlé's “virtually unlimited use of water” while Sacramentans (like other Californians) who use a mere 7 to 10 percent of total water used in the State of California, have had severe restrictions and limitations forced upon them.

The coalition is calling on Nestlé to pay rates commensurate with its enormous profit, or voluntarily close down.

Whatcom-Skagit Wobblies Help Spread Berry Boycott

By X331980 - iww.org, February 22, 2015

The Sakuma Brothers Farms, Inc. berry boycott campaign spread to yet another grocery store in Bellingham, Wash. on Feb. 21. A large group of Wobs and friends picketed a Haggen Foods grocery store on behalf of the Familias Unidas por la Justicia farm workers union. This was the first of these boycott pickets organized by the Whatcom-Skagit IWW, and it drew a good crowd. A large, bright red “Boycott Berries” banner attracted attention from the busy street in front of the store. Other picketed on the busy street corner two blocks down. Some pickets held signs supporting the nationwide boycott of Driscoll’s berries and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, large purchasers of berries grown at Sakuma Farms in Burlington, Wash. Some signs urged drivers to “honk your support farm worker justice” and drivers did. Others leafleted customers entering the parking lot with information about the boycott. Similar pickets occur frequently in Bellingham, Mount Vernon, Burlington, and Seattle, organized by various groups supporting Familias Unidas. There is a need to spread these pickets to groceries everywhere Driscoll’s berries and Häagen-Dazs ice cream are sold. Contact the Whatcom-Skagit IWW for information: iwwbellingham@gmail.com.

The migrant farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers Farms organized themselves into an independent farm workers union in 2013, and have since held six strikes for better conditions and higher pay. Courts have so far upheld all lawsuits the workers have brought against the farm corporation, but management has yet to recognize the union or agree to negotiate.

Chevron and big ag are irrigating crops with oil wastewater: Oil company says the ‘recycled’ waste is perfectly safe. When have we heard that before?

By Marc Norton - 48 Hills Online, February 3, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

In this ad, Chevron brags about sending oil wastewater to farmersThe San Francisco Chronicle ran a major investigative story on Sunday outlining how nasty waste from the oil industry winds up in Central Valley aquifers.

The story by David R. Baker detailed how state regulators have allowed oil companies in California, particularly in Kern County, to pump wastewater containing “a blend of briny water, hydrocarbons and trace chemicals” into underground water supplies, potentially contaminating water that could be used for drinking and irrigation

But if people in the Bay Area think that this is an issue only for farmers and residents in the hinterlands where oil production takes place, they need to think again.

The toxic effects of the disposal of oil production wastewater may be as near to you as the supermarket or your corner grocery. Here’s why: It’s an open secret that the big corporate agriculture landlords in Kern County are irrigating their crops with wastewater from oil production supplied to them by Chevron.

Do you eat potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions or bell peppers?  Do you like almonds or pistachios?  How about oranges, grapes or pomegranates?  Put a little honey in your tea?

Eat any wheat products?

These are all crops that are grown in Kern County, in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley.

Do you eat beef?  Eggs?  Got milk?  These are also big Kern County agricultural products.

There is a lot of cotton grown in Kern County.  Do you wear any cotton clothes?

And they grow roses.  Makes a nice gift for your sweetie, don’t you think?

In total, Kern County produces over $3.5 billion worth of agricultural products every year, much of it irrigated by wastewater from Chevron’s oil well wells.

Chevron insists that that recycled water is safe, and in fact brags about how wastewater from oil development helps agriculture.

But farmers who live and work in the area aren’t so sure. And given the history of the oil and chemical industry’s environmental safety claims, there’s reason for at least concern.

The Land Grabbers of the Nacala Corridor: A new era of struggle against colonial plantations in Northern Mozambique

By staff - UNAC and GRAIN, February 2015

A report by Mozambique’s National Farmers’ Union (UNAC) and GRAIN shows there is a colonial-style scramble for Africa’s farm lands under way. Politically-connected companies based in offshore tax havens have grabbed hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland from peasants in Mozambique.

Read the report (PDF).

California Proposition 1 Passes: The Power of Big Money Overcomes the Power of the People

By Dan Bacher - Indybay, November 5, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Proposition 1, Governor Jerry Brown's $7.5 billion water bond, sailed to easy victory on November 4, as forecasted in a number of polls.

The election results show how the power of millions of dollars of corporate money in the corrupt oligarchy of California were able to defeat a how a grassroots movement of fishermen, environmentalists, Indian Tribes and family farmers opposed to Prop. 1.

The Hoopa Valley, Yurok, Winnemem Wintu and Concow Maidu Tribes, the defenders of California's rivers and oceans for thousands of years, strongly opposed Prop. 1. because of the threat the bond poses to water, salmon and their culture. (http://www.indybay.org/...)

Prop. 1 proponents, including a rogue's gallery of oil companies, corporate agribusiness tycoons, Big Tobacco, health insurance companies and greedy billionaires, dumped over $16.4 million into the campaign, while Prop. 1 opponents raised around $100,000 for the effort. In other words, the Yes on Prop. 1 campaign outmatched the No on Prop. 1 campaign by a factor of 164 to 1.

In a state and country where corporations have the same rights as people, the political game is rigged so that Goliath is usually able to defeat David. The state's voters, responding to the avalanche of pro-Prop. 1 ads funded by corporate interests, approved the measure by a vote of 66.77 percent to 33.23 percent.

Feeding the 1%: An IT billionaire’s foray into agribusiness paints a disturbing picture of today’s farmland financiers

By staff - GRAIN, October 7, 2014

Since the global food crisis of 2008, there has been a massive wave of private sector investment in agriculture. More money flowing into agriculture means more innovation, more jobs and more food for a hungry planet, say the G8, the World Bank and corporate investors themselves.

But does it?

Looking at the investments made by Indian billionaire Chinnakannan Sivasankaran – one of the most active private sector players in the global rush to acquire farmland – a worrying picture emerges of what happens when speculative finance starts flowing into food production.

Since 2008, the Siva Group and its myriad subsidiaries have acquired stakes in around a million hectares of land in the Americas, Africa and Asia, primarily for oil palm plantations. On paper, this makes Sivasankaran one of the world’s largest farmland holders.

But Sivasankaran's also a land grabber and tax avoider. Like the majority of transnational investors in agriculture, his investments are channeled through a web of shell companies based in offshore tax havens. The companies he holds shares in are engaged in dubious land deals and kick back schemes, and seem more concerned with funnelling generous payments into the pockets of their directors than with producing food.

The alarming side effect of this type of investment is the commodification of land and the marginalisation of communities that rely on it. Wherever the Siva Group and its like go, they secure title to vast parcels of land by any means necessary – often without the meaningful consent of the affected communities. They then leverage these landholdings for cash and credit to turn still more deals.

Governments have so far done little, if anything to protect their people from this new wave of predatory investment. Their efforts have focussed more on providing investors with safeguards and incentives, while proposing only voluntary guidelines to keep corporate responsibility in check. The door is thus wide open for financial players like Sivasankaran to grab lands and make quick profits, undermining food systems and the livelihoods of farmers in the process.

Read the report (PDF).

La Via Campesina rejects UN Plan for Climate Smart Agriculture

By Sara Sullivan - Climate Connections, September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

International Peasant Movement/Movimiento Campesino Internacional

History presents itself first as tragedy, and the second time as a farce.

As women, men, peasants, smallholder family farmers, migrant, rural workers, indigenous, and youth of La Via Campesina, we denounce climate smart agriculture which is presented to us as a solution to climate change and as a mechanism for sustainable development. For us, it is clear that underneath its pretense of addressing the persistent poverty in the countryside and climate change, there is nothing new. Rather, this is a continuation of a project first begun with the Green Revolution in the early 1940’s and continued through the 70’s and 80’s by the World Bank’s Poverty Reduction projects and the corporate interests involved. These projects, such as the so-called Green Revolution, decimated numerous peasant economies, particularly in the South, to the extent that many countries, like México for example, that were self-sufficient in food production, became dependent on the North to feed their population within a short couple of decades.

The result of these projects, dictated by industrial capital’s need for expansion, was the coopting of traditional agricultural producers and production and their insertion into the present industrial agriculture and food regime. A regime that is based on increased use of toxic chemicals, dependent on fossil fuel inputs and technology, increasing exploitation of agricultural and rural workers, with its resulting loss of biodiversity; a food system that is now under the control of corporations and large industrial farmers, the main beneficiaries of these projects. The result has been the loss of food security and sovereignty, transforming entire countries that were once net food exporters into net food importers. This is not so much that they cannot produce food, but because now, instead, they produce commodity crops used to produce industrialized foods, fuels, manufactured products for sale, and for speculation in the world financial markets.

Today, some of the same actors of these previous projects, such as the World Bank, are the forces behind the imposition of climate smart agriculture as a solution to climate change and to increase income of the rural poor using the same failed thesis that to increase incomes one must increase productivity. It is clear that the intention is to create a market for the Green Revolution as a solution to climate change, poverty and as a proposal for sustainable development in rural areas. We identify this as part of a larger process of “green” structural adjustment projects required by an economic system and the political elites in distress, because they have exhausted other places for enormous speculative financial investments and now see agriculture and agricultural land as the new frontier.

Climate smart agriculture begins with deception by not making a differentiation between the negative effects of industrialized agriculture and the real solutions offered by traditional sustainable peasant agriculture which has contributed to alleviating poverty, hunger and remediation of climate change. To the contrary, climate smart agriculture equates and equally blames all forms of agricultural production for the negative effects that in fact only industrialized agricultural and food production has caused, and fails to recognize and accept the differences between “agri-cultures” and agricultural production methods. The agricultural activity that has most contributed to greenhouse gas emissions has been industrial agriculture, not smallholder sustainable agriculture.

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