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Greed Has Poisoned Their Souls

By Demand Climate Justice - The World at 1°C, September 9, 2017

Unless you are an environmental geographer or a regular reader of The World at 1°C, chances are you apply the term “natural disaster” to events such as Hurricane Harvey, the landslides in Sierra Leone which claimed 1000 lives, or any of the other countless climatic shocks felt over the last month.

The fact is that nothing could be more unnatural:

In every phase and aspect of a disaster […] the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus.”

This is true enough of events which occur irrespective of human activity, such as volcanic eruptions, but when it comes to the droughts, storms, floods, and famines (and, actually, even some earthquakes) caused by climate change or extractive industries, the term natural disaster hides not only a truth about differentiated impacts — it also masks a truth about where responsibility lies.

ExxonMobil, for example, has known that its continued existence causes climate change for decades. And ExxonMobil lied about having this knowledge with such abandon that now even their ex-employees are suing them (in addition to Californian communities affected by climate change). A journal article published this month was the first to analyse all of Exxon’s communications about climate change. It concluded that the corporation knew the facts thanks to its own scientists, yet continued to peddle doubt and foster confusion (including through paid editorials in liberal papers like the New York Times).

The very same ExxonMobil, which now has a major ‘in’ at the White House via Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has been repeatedly let off the hook by authorities. One emblematic story recently published in The Intercept explains how the company has been poisoning a black community in Beaumont, Texas, for decades, by pumping millions of tonnes of toxic chemicals into the air while refining “sour crude.” The community, where people suffer from high rates of hair loss, birth defects, asthma, and cancer, tried to get the EPA to do something (the Exxon refinery regularly broke the law), but were ignored for 17 years. Those who could afford to moved away. Those who could not still live in the shadow of Exxon’s stacks, which stand as monuments to greed and indifference to human suffering.

The market-based “logic” of greenwashed capitalism is that if corporations must pay for doing things like ruining people’s lives or even ruining the planet, then they won’t do it, or at least not as much. But that is demonstrably untrue. Last year, Exxon’s Beaumont refinery illegally released 2,125 pounds of carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. They were fined $7001. Even when companies are fined much more — as Exxon was when one of its decrepit pipelines burst in 2013, flooding an Arkansas community with 200,000 gallons of Tar Sands oil — they are often able to appeal, as Exxon did.

If a conviction somehow sticks, corporations are sometimes able to ignore the ruling altogether, as these 3 companies appear to be doing in Indonesia. Following successful convictions with penalties in billions of dollars, the Indonesian government has been unable to collect. While the corporations make billions exploiting Indonesia’s vast mineral reserves and precious forests, the communities in the way are left destitute and savaged by both corporate mercenaries and state military forces.

Cognizant of (negative) publicity, corporations are careful to cover themselves with the fig leaf of “corporate social responsibility” and other such meaningless phrases which sound good but don’t mean much in practice. In a case that has echoes of ExxonMobil’s climate change cover-up, Monsanto was recently exposed in The Poison Papers as having made and sold a toxic industrial chemical known as PCB almost a decade after being told by their scientists that:

The evidence proving the persistence of these compounds and their universal presence in the environment is beyond questioning.”

In addition to covering up the horrendous health impacts of its PCB products, newly revealed documents show that Monsanto also conspired with a consultancy firm to “ghost write” a supposedly independent review of the health impacts of its flagship herbicide Roundup. Monsanto has since attempted to force the documents offline, out of sight.

What these examples make clear is that the ways in which people are made to suffer under the dominant social, political, and economic systems are not natural or innate. People suffer by design. And the designers have names like Exxon and Monsanto.

The State of Jefferson: a resource struggle centuries in the making

By Willie Stein - Legal Ruralism, March 3, 2017

Nestled among rich forests and steep mountains, the State of Jefferson is a quasi-mythic political dream for many of its residents in Northern California and Southern Oregon. In 1941, residents of the Siskyou mountains, disgruntled at the State of California's persistent neglect of critical road and other infrastructure and its exploitation of the resources of the area, made a theatrical show of 'seceding' from the state. They set up roadblocks to demand documentation of those entering and exiting, and hoisted a flag bearing a distinct "XX" legend to signify their double crossing by the governments of Sacramento and Salem. Today, that XX flag can be seen across vast swaths of Northern California and Southern Oregon to signify a contempt for the remote governments that residents perceive to control resources that rightfully belong to them. Residents are vigorously anti-regulation, and see themselves as the victims of the repression of the state. Jeffersonians rightly perceive that they wield little political clout in California, paying in more than they get back. Are the Jeffersonians the only victims in California's North Country?

The answer to that might start by examining their choice of name- presumably chosen as a nod to the small government, state's rights' oriented Thomas Jefferson. Having lived and travelled in the State of Jefferson, I can't help but think of another resonance, one not intended by the secessionists: That of Thomas Jefferson as one of the initial architects of Indian Removal. The State of Jefferson is laid over a complex patchwork of pre-existing tribal nations that occupied the land. Although the Jeffersonians often claim to be "native Californians", indigenous tribes such as the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk, Wintu, and many others long predate the arrival of Europeans. I can't help but see the State of Jefferson as a continuation of a long history of erasure of indigenous political formations by those of white colonists.

Who's Behind Fossil Fuel Extraction? It's Not Just Republicans

By Alison Rose Levy - Truthout, September 4, 2017

Like the sections of pipe they are assembled from, pipelines with names like Algonquin, Dominion and Kinder Morgan/TCG CT Expansion are interconnected, and affect a long string of communities crisscrossing the country. The 2.5 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines frequently leak and rupture, a 2012 ProPublica investigation found.

The pipeline aggregation enacted by the past and current administrations represents a clear shift in societal priorities: US communities and regions are no long the secure recipients of outside energy but instead are subjected to extractive exploitation on their own home ground -- with few avenues for citizen protection.

The interests of the oil, gas and pipeline industries are connected -- and so are the related problems that all of us face. No matter where fossil fuels are extracted, carried, refined, exported or used, the need to avoid contamination and deter climate change connects all people. It's no longer about just one community's backyard. And to stall climate change and contamination, people need to connect the dots.

How did fossil fuel development become so pervasive? Let's take a look at a few milestones that, in recent years, have deepened the pattern of relentless extraction.

Greece: Samothrace Against Construction of Wind Farms

Originally posted by Agência de Notícias Anarquistas (A.N.A.) translated by Earth First! Journal staff - July 30, 2017

In this post we touch on the imminent ecological destruction of the island of Samothrace, with the construction of two wind farms composed of thirty-nine giant aerogenerators. What follows is a related statement of initiative titled “Samothrace against the construction of the wind farm” by inhabitants of the island.

A few days ago we learned that in Samothrace, Anemómetra and Luludi (Flor), on the summit of the second highest mountain in the island after Saos, three and thirty-six wind turbines were installed respectively. That is, our island will become an industry of renewable energy sources.

The big investors Bóbolas and Kopeluzos, who act as mediators of the French and German energy colossi who have dozens of nuclear power stations in these countries, are trying to irreversibly destroy our mountain of archaic vegetation and unique beauty, taking advantage of laws approved in 2014 and 2015, tailored to their needs.

To make them understand the size of the catastrophe, we say that for the installation of the giant wind turbines of 90 meters, they will have to open paths of 30 or 40 meters wide up to the peaks. Once the paths are made, they will build the bases of the thirty-nine wind turbines. Each of them will weigh 1.3 tons of cement, that is, they will put 47 tons of cement on the mountain tops. This means the death of all the mountain forests, which are already suffering from excessive grazing for many years. The franked paths will pave the way for the illegal cutting of the trees from the mountain woods.

Also, due to the installation of these aerogenerators embedded in the body of the mountain, the aquifers will be affected, directly and irreversibly, since the precipitation water will not be able to penetrate the earth. This will disturb and change the microclimate of the island, and will have consequences for all its aquatic wealth. In addition, from the places where the wind turbines will be installed, a monstrous network of high-voltage electricity pillars will reach the coast, to the sea. These pillars are contaminants, radiating radioactivity, and will also constitute fires.

Lastly, the same story elsewhere in the territory of the Greek state, for example in Apopigad of Chania, Crete, has shown that the installation of wind turbines is the pretext for the creation of hybrid (complex) plants after conducting environmental studies At least suspect and of questionable reliability, in order to exploit the mountain’s aquatic resources, as these companies will aim to suck all the island’s energy resources.

And when we talk about hybrid plants, we mean wind plants, hydroelectric plants, motorized pump groups and drilling all over the mountain, in other words, a huge pool of water made to save the environment with another source of renewable energy. Green development, or the way to hell, is paved with good intentions.

It must be made absolutely clear that we are obviously in favor of wind and solar energy, and it does not leave us indifferent to the fact that Florina and Ptolemaida are being sacrificed for the sake of lignite-based energy production. The term, however, green development is by contradictory and deceptive antonomasia. Because development will be green. What they mean by this term, distorting reality and taking away its meaning, is the increasingly intensive exploitation of all the resources that have this place, disregarding the environmental consequences and local societies.

Neither will they offer jobs to the residents, since their teams are specialized and are generally from the country where the wind turbines were manufactured, namely France and Germany. Behind the beautiful words are hidden very profitable businesses, to the detriment of nature, whose purposes are the exploitation of raw materials and humans.

The Standing Rock Split

By Trish Kahle - Jacobin, October 19, 2016

The leadership of the AFL-CIO seems determined to meet the indigenous rebellion at Standing Rock with the most parochial view of trade unionism it can muster.

After Sean McGarvey, president of the building trades, sent a letter declaring those protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline “environmental extremists” and “professional agitators,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka quickly followed up with a statement defending the pipeline and lashing out at protesters for “hold[ing] union members’ livelihoods and their families’ financial security hostage to endless delay.” Trying to block each new pipeline, he concluded, was neither an “effective” way to set climate policy nor fair to the workers caught in the middle.

In doing so, Trumka and his ilk have advanced a jobs-versus-planet trope that, however common, is a manufactured falsehood. Accepting his and the building trades’ argument that pipeline construction “provides quality jobs to tens of thousands of skilled workers” prevents us from asking key questions not just about climate change, but about the wellbeing of those skilled workers: how long will these workers be employed? How safe will their workplaces be? What kinds of communities will they live in? And how will their work impact their long-term health?

Construction work is, by its very nature, temporary. On this basis, LiUNA president Terry O’Sullivan has stridently criticized people who have questioned the sustainability of pipeline construction as an employment source. “In our business we go from one temporary job to another temporary job,” O’Sullivan explained last year at an American Petroleum Institute event, “and we string enough temporary jobs together and build proud structures as we do it to create a career.”

But oil pipeline work is its own kind of temporary. Even if we wanted to dredge up every drop of oil from the earth, even if we wanted to build every pipeline possible — and we can’t do either one — an unsustainable industry can’t produce sustainable, lasting careers. And in the meantime, each new method of extraction and transportation introduces new forms of accidents and new fatal risks. Heeding O’Sullivan’s call for unabated pipeline construction would mean continuing to sacrifice workers’ lives on the altar of the fossil-fuel industry.

You wouldn’t know it from O’Sullivan’s histrionic statements, but the volatile compounds workers dig up and ship are far more dangerous than any anti-pipeline protest. Workers in the building trades are nearly three times more likely to die on the job than the average American worker — and that figure is on the rise. In 2014, 874 construction workers were killed on the job — a 5.6 percent increase over the previous year, and the highest number since 2008. Extractive industries are even more lethal: workers in that sector die nearly five times more often than other workers.

Post-Growth and Post-Extractivism: Two Sides of the Same Cultural Transformation

By Alberto Acosta; Translated by Dana Brablec - Alternautas, June 4, 2016

Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race travelling in the train applies the emergency brake.

Walter Benjamin (1892-1940)

Chilcot inquiry: don’t mention the oil

By Greg Muttitt and David Whyte - Red Pepper, August 2016

The anti-war demonstration in London on 15 February 2003 was the biggest protest in British history. And probably the most popular slogan on the placards and banners that day was ‘No blood for oil’. It was a connection that seemed obvious to many on the march but was repeatedly ridiculed by supporters of the invasion of Iraq. Tony Blair said that ‘the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it.’

Why is it so easy to dismiss the idea that access to oil and the interests of those who profit from it may be part of the motive for war? Why, given our experience of wars though the ages, is this not the first question we ask? After all, as the celebrated General Smedley Butler famously observed after completing numerous military campaigns on behalf of the nascent US empire: ‘War is a racket. It always has been.’

By the standards of an official inquiry, Chilcot’s was utterly damning of a government that took the country to war without justification. But compared to the evidence Chilcot had, his conclusions were mild, because the questions he asked were limited. In particular, while noting that there was no convincing case for WMD, even at the time, Chilcot failed to ask how other political and economic motivations affected decisions.

Was it a war for oil?

A year after the February 2003 demonstration, an international opinion poll conducted by US think tank, the Pew Research Centre, asked sample populations from nine countries (the US, Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco and Jordan) about the ‘war on terrorism’. The majority in all but two countries (the US and Britain) thought it was ‘to control Mideast oil’. It is worth underlining that the question was not just asking about the invasion of Iraq, but about the motive for a war on terrorism full stop.

When it comes to the Iraq war, they were right. Evidence released with the report shows unequivocally that using Iraqi oil to boost British energy supplies was a central pre-war aim. A February 2002 Cabinet Office paper described the UK’s objectives as ‘preserving peace and stability in the Gulf and ensuring energy security‘. Right up to the withdrawal of British troops in 2009, successive British strategy documents, also released by Chilcot, maintain two consistent objectives: transfer the oil sector from public ownership to multinationals, and ensure that BP and Shell get a large share. Sometimes a third oil objective appears: to make Iraq an advocate of low oil prices within OPEC.

Tunisia: on the frontlines of the struggle against climate change

By Hamza Hamouchene - ROARmag, July 28, 2016

Kerkennah is a group of islands lying off the east coast of Tunisia in the Gulf of Gabès, around 20km away from the mainland city of Sfax. The two main islands are Chergui and Gharbi. When approaching the islands by ferry, one is struck by a curious sight: the coastal waters are divided into countless parcels, separated from one another by thousands of palm tree leaves. This is what Kerkennis call charfia, a centuries-old fishing method ingeniously designed to lure fish into a capture chamber from where they can be easily recovered.

As the land is arid, agricultural activity is limited to subsistence farming. For the islanders fishing is one of the key economic activities, but for big multinational corporations it is the exploitation of oil and gas.

Despite a new article in the Tunisian constitution stipulating state sovereignty over natural resources and transparency in the related contracts, oil and gas companies continue to garner obscene profits and enjoy impunity. At the same time, local communities continue to shoulder the externalized social and environmental costs of this industry.

The Kerkennah archipelago is being doubly dispossessed and doubly threatened: first by the effects of disruptive global warming and second by the extractive operations of oil and gas companies, bent on making super-profits at the expense of the archipelago’s development. Caught in the intricate web of capitalist globalization, the collision between neoliberalism and climate change is potentially disastrous for the people of Kerkennah.

Venezuelan Social Movements Converge on Supreme Court, Demand Injunction Against Mining Arc

By Lucas Koerner - Venezuela Analysis, June 5, 2016

Caracas, June 5, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Activists from grassroots organizations protested outside the Venezuelan Supreme Court Tuesday to demand that the body put a halt to a controversial mega-mining project spearheaded by the Maduro government.

The demonstration was organized by the Platform for the Nullity of the Mining Arc, an alliance of diverse movements and leading public intellectuals that emerged in response to a law authorizing open-pit mining in 12 percent of the nation’s territory. 

In February, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro used emergency economic decree powers granted by the Supreme Court to declare nearly 112 square kilometers of the mineral-rich eastern Amazonian state of Bolivar a “strategic development zone”, which will be opened to as many as 150 national and transnational firms for the extraction of gold, iron, diamonds, and coltan.

The government has defended the initiative as a necessary step towards a post-oil productive economy amid a severe economic crisis triggered by the collapse of global crude prices, the principal source of Venezuela’s foreign currency earnings. 

Nonetheless, the project has sparked vocal opposition from prominent leftist academics and former high officials under late President Hugo Chávez, including ex-Environment Minister Ana Elisa Osorio, internationally-renowned sociologist Edgardo Lander, Major General Cliver Alcala, former Minister of Education and Electricity Hector Navarro, Indigenous University of Tauca Rector Esteban Emilio Mosonyi, ex-Commerce Minister Gustavo Marquez, and former 1999 constitutional assembly member Freddy Gutierrez.

Also raising their voices in outrage over the decree are a plethora of indigenous, environmental, eco-feminist, and socialist collectives, who rallied together with the ex-officials outside the Supreme Court in Caracas in order to deliver a formal nullity plea to the body requesting an injunction against the mining project on constitutional grounds.

Who Wins From “Climate Apartheid”?: African Climate Justice Narratives About the Paris COP21

By Patrick Bond - New Politics, Winter 2006

The billion residents of Africa are amongst the most vulnerable to climate change in coming decades, and of special concern are high-density sites of geopolitical and resource-related conflicts: the copper belt of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and mineral-rich African Great Lakes stretching into northern Uganda, western Ethiopia (bordering the Sudanese war zone), Madagascar and smaller Indian Ocean islands, and the northern-most strip of Africa and West Africa including Liberia and Sierra Leone (recent sites of diamond-related civil war and then Ebola epidemics). In other words, the African terrains hardest hit by war and economic looting are going to be sites of climate stress and socio-political unrest, according to the University of Texas project researching vulnerability for the U.S. Pentagon (Busby et al 2013).

The lost opportunity to change this map at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summit in Paris, December 2015, is tragic. In the 2015 Pew Research world public opinion survey, a near majority of those surveyed—46 percent—identified climate as a threat about which they were “very concerned,” the highest score of any issue in the poll (economic crisis was second). But where it counts most, in the top two polluting countries, the percentage of people who name climate as a major threat is just 42 in the United States and 19 in China (Carle 2015). And even if consciousness rises faster from below, global elites apparently remain too paralyzed to take necessary actions to keep temperature increases below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the point at which runaway, catastrophic climate change is likely to take off (Bond 2012, Klein 2014). Going into the Paris UNFCC Conference of the Parties (the 21st, COP21), the French hosts estimated that the combined declarations of voluntary commitments would warm the planet by 3 degrees Celsius this century, but this is a vast understatement given the likelihood of runaway climate change once a 2-degree tipping point is reached.

The annual UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) has been held in Africa thrice: in 2001 in Marrakech, 2006 in Nairobi, and 2011 in Durban. But the critical moment that defined Africa’s future climate crisis was in December 2009 in Copenhagen. The negotiations at COP15 were diverted one night into a room where five leaders—from the United States and the group of Brazil, South Africa, India, and China (BASIC)—agreed on a side deal, the Copenhagen Accord. That was the source of Africa’s major problems in climate negotiations for years thereafter, including at the Paris COP21.

The fortnight-long COP talk-shops are typically sabotaged by U.S. State Department negotiators, recently joined by brethren governments in Australia and Japan, with Canada a loyal co-polluter prior to the October 2015 election (and probably long after, given the national elites’ commitment to exploiting the Alberta tar sands). Initial hopes that the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) bloc might make a difference in world climate policy as well as address undemocratic global financial governance have since been dashed, not only because of BASIC’s 2009 alliance with Barack Obama (Bond and Garcia 2015). Individually, they are each failing to grapple with new responsibilities to decarbonize their economies.

The world’s largest single emitter is China, even if in per capita terms it is far lower than the Northern countries. Beijing claims to have recently reduced coal consumption are dubious given notorious undercounting (probably by 15 percent). The Communist Party leadership decided upon an upward trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions at least through the 2020s. The Chinese standpoint that they need more emissions to “develop” is contradicted by a stark reality: Recent U.S. and European claims to be slowing their emissions rely upon their corporations and consumers outsourcing large amounts of emissions to new production sites, mostly in East Asia. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle-income countries to high-income countries” (Hawkins 2014). In the case of China, the amounts of such outsourcing are vast, having risen from 404 million tons of CO2 in 2000 to 1.561 billion tons in 2012.

Moreover, BRICS leaders have all endorsed carbon markets, the capitalist strategy for offsetting local emissions by buying someone else’s carbon allowances. Initially, from 2005-2012, these took the form of United Nations “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM) opportunities to sell often-corrupt and gimmick-ridden “emissions credits” as contributing to emissions mitigation (Bond, Dada and Erion 2009). 

In recent years, after the BRICS no longer qualified for CDMs, seven Chinese cities started their own carbon markets, with Brazil and South Africa likely to follow in a few years. Moreover, China’s attempts to control emissions in future appear certain to foster faith in dangerous techniques such as nuclear energy, hydropower, and untested carbon-capture-and-storage technology.

The strongest efforts to address climate change from the North are in Europe, where in October 2014 a new goal of 40 percent greenhouse gas reduction from 1990 levels by 2030 (not including the carbon outsourcing of hundreds of millions of tons per year) was sought—far too low according to most scientists, but far ahead of goals set by other historic pollution sites. In a late-2014 deal between China and the United States, the latter’s goal was only 15 percent reduction by 2025 (from 1990 levels).

In short, very little reason for hope on climate or other aspects of environmental stewardship can be found in any of the major countries’ governments. There is, of course, the exception of Cuba, which by compulsion began a strong decarbonization strategy once Russian-subsidized oil became unavailable after 1990. But the good examples that were anticipated in 2008-2011 from left-leaning Latin American countries—Bolivia, Ecuador, and even oil-rich Venezuela—subsequently soured, as each turned to more intense hydrocarbon “extractivism,” albeit with nationalist redistributive ends instead of multinational corporate profiteering. 

When the September 2014 United Nations special leadership summit on climate was preceded by a march of 400,000 people with strong messages of anger about elite procrastination, nothing more than vague promises were offered. The array of global and national power appears as difficult to affect as ever, what with unprecedented corporate influence—including of fossil fuel companies—over policymakers, and with further awareness that major restructuring of vast industries will be needed. 

Going back to 2009, the US+BASIC meeting in Copenhagen not only “blew up the UN,” as Bill McKibben (2009) of 350.org put it, in terms of evading the more democratic process. The Copenhagen Accord also promised only inadequate and voluntary emissions cuts. Japan, Russia, Canada, and Australia subsequently announced they would withdraw earlier commitments made under the Kyoto Protocol. 

By November 2015, the (voluntary) Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) statement of the G20 countries confirmed huge barriers to reaching the required emissions cuts. According to Climate Action Tracker (2015), “None of the G20 INDCs are in line with holding warming below 2°C, or 1.5°C.” The agency rated the following contributions as “inadequate”: Argentina, Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey, with the INDCs of another set—Brazil, China, India, the EU, Mexico, and the United States—also “not consistent with limiting warming to below 2°C either, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort.” 

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