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Green Syndicalism in the Arctic

By Jeff Shantz - LibCom, March 30, 2021

On February 4, 2021, a group of Inuit hunters set up a blockade of the Mary River iron ore mine on North Baffin Island. The mine is operated by Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation and has been extracting iron ore since 2015. Mine operations are carried out on lands owned by the Inuit.

Blockade organizers arrived from communities at Pond Inlet, Igloolik and Arctic Bay over concerns that Inuit harvesting rights are imperiled by the company's plans to expand the mine and associated operations. Solidarity demonstrations have been held in Pond Inlet, Iqaluit, Igloolik, Naujaat, and Taloyoak. In -30C degree temperatures.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation is seeking to double its annual mining output to 12 million metric tonnes. This would also see the corporation build a railway and increase shipping traffic through its port at Milne Inlet. These expansions would threaten land and marine wildlife along with food sources essential to Inuit people. The waters surrounding the port are an important habitat for narwhal and seals in the Canadian Arctic. The expansion also threatens caribou and ptarmigans.

A fly-in location, Inuit blockaders shut down the mine’s airstrip and trucking road, closing off access to and from the site for over a week. Notably this has meant that 700 workers have been stranded at the mine site and food, supply and worker change flights have been suspended. Workers have been on site for at least 21 days.

This could, obviously, have posed points of contention, even hostility, between workers and blockaders. Certainly, the company tried to stoke these tensions in its efforts to go ahead with mining operations. In a letter filed with the Nunavut Court of Justice on February 7, Baffinland told the protesters that their blockade is against federal and territorial law, and the Nunavut Agreement. In classic divide and conquer fashion, the company asserted: “You are causing significant harm by blocking a food supply and keeping people from returning to their families.” The company has also gotten the RCMP involved.

Yet an important development occurred a week into the blockade, and after the company’s court theatrics, as stranded workers issued a powerful statement of solidarity with Inuit people and communities and the blockaders specifically. The open letter is signed by a “sizeable minority” of Mary River mine workers currently stranded at the mine site (with 700 workers it represents a sizeable number). They have remained anonymous due to threats of firing leveled against them by the company. In their letter they assert that they recognize the Inuit, not the company, as “rightful custodians of the land.”

The letter represents a significant statement of green syndicalism. One that should be read, circulated, and discussed. It is reproduced in full here.

IBU blows whistle on big oil’s dangerous move in Alaska

By staff - ILWU Dispatcher, November 17, 2017

The Inlandboatmen’s Union (IBU), ILWU’s Marine Division, is blowing the whistle on a dangerous plan to replace experienced union mariners who have successfully protected Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound for almost three decades – with a cut-rate, nonunion company that has a poor safety record.

The shocking decision was made by oil company executives who own the Alyeska pipeline that carries oil from Alaska’s North Slope oilfield – which is the size of Indiana – across mountains and tundra to Prince William Sound, where it is pumped into giant tankers that carry the crude south to refineries in the lower 48. Low oil prices and falling production have left the Alyeska pipeline operating at only 25% of capacity, and may have been a factor in the oil companies’ decision to take a chance on a low-cost, cut-rate contractor with a dismal safety record.

It was 27 years ago that the Exxon Valdez, filled with North Slope crude, ran aground and dumped millions of gallons into the Prince William Sound, an event that shocked the nation and resulted in massive fines, staggering clean-up costs, and damage to the environment that required a lengthy recovery.

It also demonstrated the need for highly-trained and experienced cleanup crews and safety personnel, including tug operators. Instead of learning from that disaster and the importance of maintaining the highest quality emergency response teams, Exxon and other oil companies have decided to roll the dice by hiring a non-union outfit with a history of mistakes and near-disasters.

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska's Economy

By John Talberth, Ph.D. and Daphne Wysham - Center for Sustainable Economy, October 2017

Of the 50 United States, Alaska best exemplifies the types of problems the rest of the country may well face in a matter of decades, if not years, if we don’t wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The U.S. is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom, one that has caused oil and gas prices to plummet, with devastating consequences for Alaska, a state that has grown dependent on revenue from the oil and gas industry for its public funds.

However, if one only looked at the prominent outlines of the boom-and-bust, oil and gas economy in Alaska, one would miss a subtler shift happening on a much smaller scale: A more sustainable, self-reliant economy is beginning to take shape in remote villages and towns throughout the state.

While this sustainable economy is beginning to take root, it needs special care. In a report, commissioned by Greenpeace USA, entitled “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska’s Economy,” CSE’s John Talberth and Daphne Wysham write that this nascent economy in Alaska shows great promise but will require investments in the following key sectors if it is to thrive:

  • human capital—particularly in computer literacy in rural areas;
  • sustainable energy, including wind, wave, tidal and solar energy;
  • greater local self-reliance in food including produce, which currently is imported at great cost, and fisheries, which is often exported for processing, and manufacturing;
  • the clean-up of fossil fuel infrastructure, including abandoned infrastructure sites;
  • the protection of ecosystems;
  • tourism led and controlled by Alaska Native communities;
  • and sustainable fisheries.

But investment in these key building blocks is only the first step. Also needed are policy changes at the state and federal level that would remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, begin to internalize the price of pollution, and make federal funds available that are currently out of reach for many Alaska Natives.

Read the report (PDF).

Going to Extremes: The Anti-Government Extremism Behind the Growing Movement to Seize America’s Public Lands

By staff - Center for Western Priorities, July 7, 2016

The 2016 armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon provided the American public with a ringside seat to a disturbing trend on U.S. public lands: extremist and militia groups using America’s national forests, parks, monuments, and wildlife refuges to advance their anti-government beliefs.

But these far right-wing organizations are not operating in a vacuum. To the contrary, the armed insurrection in Oregon and Nevada before—led by Ammon Bundy and the Bundy family—share the same foundations as land transfer schemes promoted by some elected leaders in states throughout the West. Both rely upon a philosophy based in vehement anti-government ideologies, both have connections to organizations that espouse armed resistance, both employ pseudo-legal theories to justify their actions, and both use scholarly support from conspiracy theorists and discredited academics.

Our nation’s parks and network of public lands are one of our finest democratic achievements. Americans see management of public lands as one of the things our government does best. But over the last four years, politicians and special interest groups in 11 Western states and in Congress have tried to seize many of these places and turn them over to state and private control.

The elected officials supporting state seizure of U.S. public lands couch their arguments carefully, but our research shows their close associations to extreme individuals, groups, and ideology characterized by antigovernment paranoia and a pseudo-legal approach to the Constitution.

Since the beginning of 2015, 54 land seizure bills have been introduced into Western states, including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. At least 22 state legislators with direct connections to anti-government ideologies or extremist groups were the primary sponsors on 29 of those bills.

Sitting at the hub of the movement and functioning as the bridge between extremism and the mainstream political debate are Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, Montana Sen. Jennifer Fielder, and their non-profit, the American Lands Council. A close analysis of Rep. Ivory and Sen. Fielder’s activities, and those of other active land seizure proponents at the state level, shows how these efforts are a functional part of an aggressive anti-government movement that will grow more potent if reasonable Americans don’t take action.

Read the report (PDF).

Fairbanks Rally Demands Climate Justice and Clean Energy

By Tristan Glowa and Enei Begaye Peter - Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, March 15, 2016

Fairbanks, Alaska—On Tuesday, March 15, the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition (FCAC) hosted a testimonial rally calling for a transition to a clean energy economy. Around 100 people convened in Constitution Park on the UAF Campus to hear a diverse array of speakers from Fairbanks and other parts of Alaska, who stood in front a banner proclaiming, “ALASKANS DEMAND CLIMATE JUSTICE AND CLEAN ENERGY.” The rally was held during the 2016 Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW), an international gathering of Arctic scientists and policymakers, held at UAF, to coordinate and collaborate in all areas of Arctic science and policy. The rally, which was held at the center of the ASSW conference area, communicated the diversity of Alaskan voices appealing to citizens, political leaders, and researchers for action on climate change. Speakers specifically called on Alaska’selected leaders, both statewide and nationally, to transition Alaska to a clean energy economy.

According to organizers, the rally was catalyzed by the growing urgency of climate change impacts to Alaskan communities as the state warms at nearly twice the rate of the lower 48 states. “In Alaska and throughout the Arctic, we know that our communities are disproportionately on the front lines of climate change with worsening fires and permafrost melt,” said Tristan Glowa, an event organizer, UAF student and Fairbanks resident. “We have a stake in solving the climate crisis and we know that we can do our part by investing in a transition towards renewable energy and a sustainable economy.”

Esau Sinnok, a young man from Shishmaref, told the crowd about the impacts of climate­ driven coastal erosion threatening his home. “Our community’s voice needs to be heard so that we can move as a community instead of relocating individually,” he said, “because once we lose our land, we will lose our culture and we will lose our identity as Iñupiaq Eskimo people.”

Bessie Odom, Vice President of the NAACP Youth Council in Anchorage, emphasized the connection of all Alaskans with people and communities who are on the front lines of climate change: “What happens to one individual, one family, one community, happens to us all. Where one is suffering, it is only natural to be sympathetic but we must take this response much further and put action with it.”

Speakers Jan Bronson and Ritchie Musick cast climate change as a moral issue in addition to its social and ecological dimensions. “Faith communities in Alaska are coming together to protect the climate,” said Bronson. “We recognize the moral and spiritual imperative to stand with vulnerable communities and protect the great Earth systems which sustain us all. “Climate change is illuminating the injustices and the disparities that we face as indigenous people,” noted Princess Johnson, Netsaii Gwich’in and resident of Fairbanks. “We need to restore balance, and climate change is the catalyst that can bring us together.”

Throughout the rally, speakers and organizers pointed to the need for a transition to a clean energy economy as a solution to climate change. “A ‘Just Transition’ means shifting our state towards a clean energy economy through a fair and equitable plan for everyone, especially our workforce,” Johnson said. “As scientists, tribal members, as mothers and fathers, as citizens of the North, we have a responsibility to act on climate change now. We have an opportunity to lead the world in making a Just Transition.” Johnson underscored the importance of popular pressure in demanding that leaders rise to this occasion: “We need to challenge our elected leaders to push for the shift to clean energy. This is how we will move to diversify our economy and protect critical ecosystems.”

Jessica Girard, FCAC Organizer and Program Director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, stressed the need to speak up against offshore drilling in Alaska’s Arctic in order to keep climate change in line with what science says is required for a habitable planet: “We need to leave fossil fuel energy in the past and invest in the future with renewable energies like wind and solar,” she said. Echoing Girard’s call, event emcees Enei Begaye and Cathy Walling led the crowd in chants of “Circumpolar Wind and Solar!”

The rally sounded these local calls for a Just Transition to the officials gathered for the conference. UA Regent and Borough Assembly member John Davies spoke at the rally and gave his support to the movement, describing a variety of tools Alaska can use to address the climate crisis. More than 10 UAF researchers and scientists signed an open letter urging ASSW leaders and policymakers enact policies reflecting what climate science says is necessary. “Scientists understand better than anyone that we must adjust our policies to the Earth­­atmospheric physics aren’t going to adjust to us humans,” said FCAC organizer Odin Miller, who coordinated and helped draft the letter. FCAC and its allies renewed their commitment to work for climate justice and a fair and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

The Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition represents a broad constituency of local grassroots groups and concerned citizens. The group currently includes members from trade unions, Alaska Natives, conservationists, students, scientists, farmers, and multiple faith groups. The coalition formed out of the need to amplify voices throughout Fairbanks who demand a fair and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.

BP Well Sprays Crude Oil Mist Over 27 Acres Of Alaskan Tundra

By Emily Atkin - Think Progress, April 30, 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.

A large pipe attached to a BP-owned well pad on Alaska’s North Slope has sprayed an oily mist of natural gas, crude oil, and water over an area of tundra larger than 20 football fields, state officials confirmed Wednesday.

The discovery at BP’s Prudhoe Bay oil field operation comes one week after federal scientists released a report warning that the United States is woefully unprepared to handle oil spills in the Arctic.

A statement provided by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said BP discovered the release on Monday during routine inspections, and that the spray was active for about two hours before it was contained. The pipe spewing the gas mixture was facing upwards while strong 30 mph winds blew, which ultimately caused the spray to spread over 27 acres.

It is unclear at this point how much of the mixture was released, the DEC statement said.

A spokesperson for BP did not immediately return ThinkProgress’ request for comment Wednesday about its cleanup effort, but spokesperson Dawn Patience told the Associated Press that it is “still assessing repairs.” Patience reportedly said it was too soon to determine long-term impacts from the release, but that no wildlife were impacted.

Federal scientists from the National Research Council recently confirmed the difficulty of cleaning up spills in the Arctic. According to their 198-page report, the Arctic’s environment is uniquely challenging due to pockets of oil that get trapped under freezing ice, sealing it beyond the reach of traditional cleanup equipment. The Arctic also lacks a variety of infrastructure, including paved roads, which could make response time exponentially longer than typical spills.

The Prudhoe Bay has experienced oil spills at the hands of BP before. In 2006, approximately 267,000 gallons of oil spilled from a quarter-inch hole corroded in a BP-owned pipeline, the largest spill in the region’s history at the time.

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