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Hurricane Capitalism

By Eric Fretz - Marx 21, September 3, 2021

Again and Again under capitalism, we have seen poorer people disproportionately hit by the deadly effects of events like cyclones and earthquakes, as natural disasters highlight existing unnatural inequalities. It is now obvious that not just the effects, but the causes of extreme weather are stemming from capitalism.

The recent IPCC report proved that higher air and sea temperatures caused by global warming have already led to more hurricanes, and will continue to do so. “In the past seventy years,” Bill McKibben noted, “the United States has averaged three land-falling storms a year; Ida is the seventeenth in the past two years.” 

But warming also leads to a “rapid intensification” of storms. Ida turned into a hurricane in just six hours.

When Ida hit the Louisiana coast Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph, it was the second most powerful storm to hit the state in its recorded history.

Devastation 

Over 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi are without power, including the entire city of New Orleans, parts of which may remain without electricity for weeks. 

Sewage pumping stations in New Orleans, which have no backup power, stopped working, leaving 441,000 people in 17 parishes with no clean drinking water, and no water to flush toilets. Another 329,000 people were under boil water advisories. However, it may be hard for many to boil water without electricity.

Added to this misery was a heat advisory which combined with humidity to reach real feel temperatures of over a hundred degrees

Tens of thousands of residents were left to themselves in figuring out how to evacuate, and even those with cars were at a standstill on choked highways. 

In a chilling reminder of the horrors of Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department announced that “anti-looting patrols” would be set up. The mayor then used the resulting arrests to justify a curfew and calling in the National Guard—not to rescue people or rebuild, but to patrol the streets. 

As in Katrina, it is poor and black people who are most at risk of losing their homes—and their lives.

Ida came one year after Hurricane Laura, which brought widespread destruction to the mostly Black industrial area around Mossville, causing chemical fires and turning Lake Charles into a toxic soup. The displacement and continued housing shortage caused by Laura worsened the spread of Covid in the area. 

The displacement caused by Ida in New Orleans could be even worse. Hospitals in Louisiana are already filled with over 2,400 patients with coronavirus. There were not enough empty beds in the state to evacuate patients from New Orleans hospitals. Staff in one hospital reported having to manually pump air into the lungs of intubated Covid patients as they moved them to a floor with a working generator.

Our Existence is Our Resistance: Mining and Resistance on the Island of Ireland

By Lydia Sullivan - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

This analysis of geological and permitting data shows that a staggering 27% of the Republic of Ireland and 25% of Northern Ireland are now under concession for mining.

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

A Green Shift? Mining and Resistance in Fennoscandia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Sápmi

Mirko Nikolic, Editor, et. al. - Yes to Life, No to Mining, September 2021

This report from Yes to Life, No to Mining Network (YLNM) explores how and why many nations – and the mining industry – are re-framing mining as a solution to climate change in order to facilitate domestic extraction of so-called ‘strategic’, ‘critical’ and ‘transition’ minerals required for renewable energy, military and digital technologies. 

Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish authorities have granted concessions for tens of thousands of hectares of land, with mining pressure increasing particularly dramatically in Sápmi – the home territory of the Indigenous Sámi Peoples. 

YLNM’s new research examines state and corporate claims that mining in Europe represents a gold standard of regulation and corporate practice that justifies creating new mining sacrifice zones in the name of climate action.

Without exception, the authors – in all nations – report a vast gap between this rhetoric and the realities of mining at Europe’s new extractive frontiers, highlighting systemic rights violations and ecological harm.

Read the text (PDF).

Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon

By Dallas Goldtooth, Alberto Saldamando, and Kyle Gracey, et. al. - Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, September 1, 2021

This report shows that Indigenous communities resisting the more than 20 fossil fuel projects analyzed have stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least 25 percent of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions. Given the current climate crisis, Indigenous peoples are demonstrating that the assertion of Indigenous Rights not only upholds a higher moral standard, but provides a crucial path to confronting climate change head-on and reducing emissions. 

The recently released United Nations climate change report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that in order to properly mitigate the worst of the climate crisis, rapid and large-scale action must be taken, with a focus on immediate reduction of fossil fuel emissions. As the United Nations prepares for its upcoming COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, countries are being asked to update their pledges to cut emissions — but as the IPCC report states, current pledges fall short of the changes needed to mitigate the climate chaos already millions of people around the world. 

While United Nations member countries continue to ignore the IPCC’s scientists and push false solutions and dangerous distractions like the carbon markets in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, Indigenous peoples continue to put their bodies on the line for Mother Earth. False solutions do not address the climate emergency at its root, and instead have damaging impacts like continued land grabs from Indigenous Peoples in the Global South. Indigenous social movements across Turtle Island have been pivotal in the fight for climate justice.

Read the text (PDF).

A Brief Recap of the Fight Against Line 3

By Les P - Washington Socialist, September 2021

On August 23, a DC protest against construction of the Line 3 pipeline rallied against Joe Biden and his Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, calling on the administration to cancel the pipeline. Two days later, on August 25, Indigenous leaders led more than 2,000 to the Minnesota state capitol to make the same demand of Governor Tim Walz. As construction on the pipeline nears completion, it feels necessary to recount the history of Line 3’s development in order to consider how socialists might commit to the fight against its completion.

In 2014, Enbridge Inc. — a multinational oil and gas pipeline company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta — proposed an expansion to its existing Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. The pipeline begins in Alberta and is set to end in Superior, Wisconsin — cutting across greater areas of Canada, North Dakota, Wisconsin and (pending construction completion) northern Minnesota; that includes three different Indigenous reservations in Minnesota and land that, according to the Treaty of 1855, Ojibwe people have the right to use for hunting, fishing and gathering wild rice.

Ever since Enbridge submitted its proposal, Indigenous organizers and activists like Winona LaDuke, along with tribal governments, climate justice activists and Minnesota DSA chapters, have fought furiously to stop the additional construction of a pipeline that, in 1991, was the culprit of the worst inland oil spill in American history. More than 600 people have been arrested or received citations related to protests against Line 3 according to a recent Guardian report, with Native water protectors leading the charge. Protesters have blocked key roads on Enbridge’s pipeline route, chained themselves to construction equipment and stood up to Minnesota law enforcement which received $750,000 in order to police Line 3 protesters back in April.

Throughout the last nine months, activists have persistently called on Governor Walz and President Biden to cancel the pipeline. Importantly, this is within their powers and not without precedent: Biden took similar action against the Keystone XL pipeline early in his term, and in May, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to revoke the easement granted to Enbridge for another pipeline, Line 5. But in a too-predictable concession to the fossil fuel industry, both Walz and Biden have allowed Enbridge’s permits to stand. The Biden White House has supported the Trump administration’s federal approval of the project, and despite once tweeting that “any line that goes through treaty lands is a nonstarter for me,” Walz, too, has approved the pipeline’s construction.

Proponents of Line 3, including Walz, argue that replacing an aging pipeline is an environmentally responsible move. To make that argument during the same month that the IPCC released its climate report — which states, not with any subtlety, that we needed to move away from fossil fuel energy yesterday — is laughable. If completed, Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce approximately 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to around 50 coal power plants. Pipeline development also indicates a broader state commitment to fossil fuel dependency: a devastating policy decision with ramifications for our planet and the generations to come. We don’t need a new pipeline; we need there to be no pipelines.

Don’t Expect Real Climate Solutions From COP26: It Functions for Corporations

By Simon Pirani - Truthout, August 29, 2021

In the run-up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in the U.K. in November — the 26th session of the talks that were launched in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 — the governments of the world’s richest countries are making ever-louder claims that they are effectively confronting global warming. Nothing could be more dangerous than for social, labor and environmental movements to take this rhetoric at face value and assume that political leaders have the situation under control.

There are three huge falsehoods running through these leaders’ narratives: that rich nations are supporting their poorer counterparts; that “net zero” targets will do what is needed; and that technology-focused “green growth” is the way to decarbonize.

First, wealthier countries claim to be supporting poorer nations — which are contributing least to global warming, and suffering most from its effects — to make the transition away from fossil fuels.

But at the G7 summit in June, the rich countries again failed to keep their own promise, made more than a decade ago, to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance for developing countries. Of the $60 billion per year they have actually come up with, more than half is bogus: analysis by Oxfam has shown that it is mostly loans and non-concessional finance, and that the amounts are often overstated.

Compare this degrading treatment of the Global South with the mobilization of many hundreds of billions for the post-pandemic recovery. Of $657 billion (public money alone) pledged by G20 nations to energy-producing or energy-consuming projects, $296 billion supports fossil fuels, nearly a third greater than the amount supporting clean energy ($228 billion).

Meanwhile, the impacts of climate change are magnified by poverty. This year’s floods, wildfires and record temperatures in Europe and North America have been frightful enough. The same phenomena cause far greater devastation outside the Global North.

In 2020, “very extensive” flooding caused deaths, significant displacement of populations and further impacts from disease in 16 African countries, the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO’s) annual climate report recorded. India, China and parts of Southeast Asia suffered from record-breaking rainfall and flooding, too.

On the IPCC’s latest climate report: What does it tell us?

By Brian Tokar - Institute for Social Ecology, August 19, 2021

This analysis by ISE board and faculty member Brian Tokar has also appeared on Counterpunch, Climate and Capitalism, Monthly Review Online, ZNet and Green Social Thought:

The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its latest comprehensive report on the state of the earth’s climate. The much-anticipated report dominated the headlines for a few days in early August, then quickly disappeared amidst the latest news from Afghanistan, the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections in the US, and all the latest political rumblings. The report is vast and comprehensive in its scope, and is worthy of more focused attention outside of specialist scientific circles than it has received thus far.

The report affirms much of what we already knew about the state of the global climate, but does so with considerably more clarity and precision than earlier reports. It removes several elements of uncertainty from the climate picture, including some that have wrongly served to reassure powerful interests and the wider public that things may not be as bad as we thought. The IPCC’s latest conclusions reinforce and significantly strengthen all the most urgent warnings that have emerged from the past 30 to 40 years of climate science. It deserves to be understood much more fully than most media outlets have let on, both for what it says, and also what it doesn’t say about the future of the climate and its prospects for the integrity of all life on earth.

First some background. Since 1990, the IPCC has released a series of comprehensive assessments of the state of the earth’s climate, typically every 5 – 6 years. The reports have hundreds of authors, run for many hundreds of pages (this one has over 3000), and represent the international scientific consensus that has emerged from the period since the prior report. Instead of releasing a comprehensive report in 2019, as originally scheduled, the IPCC followed a mandate from the UN to issue three special reports: on the implications of warming above 1.5 degrees (all temperatures here are in Celsius except where otherwise noted), and on the particular implications of climate change for the earth’s lands and oceans. Thus the sixth comprehensive Assessment Report (dubbed AR6) is being released during 2021-22 instead of two years prior. Also the report released last week only presents the work of the first IPCC working group (WGI), focused on the physical science of climate change. The other two reports, on climate impacts (including implications for health, agriculture, forests, biodiversity, etc.) and on climate mitigation – including proposed policy measures – are scheduled for release next February and March, respectively. While the basic science report typically receives far more press coverage, the second report on climate impacts and vulnerabilities is often the most revealing, describing in detail how both ecosystems and human communities will experience the impacts of climate changes.

In the Coal Mines, Workers Are Dying to Make a Living: Mining companies increasingly rely on cheaper contractors who face longer hours and higher risk of accidents

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, August 18, 2021

Trebr Lenich always called his mother before his drive home from overnight shifts at Mine No. 1, operated by Hamilton County Coal in Hamilton County, Ill. The call she answered the morning of Aug. 14, 2017, worried her. 

“He said, ​‘Mom, I am just so exhausted, so wore out,’ ” Teresa Lenich says. 

Her son routinely worked long hours on consecutive days. That day, he never made it home.

Coworkers following Trebr said his driving was erratic and suspected he was falling asleep, Teresa says. Heading back to the West Frankfort home he shared with his parents, girlfriend and baby daughter, Trebr drove into a ditch and hit an embankment. According to the sheriff’s report, his engine then caught fire. 

Like many young miners, Trebr was employed through a contracting company that provides temporary workers for mines with no promise that they’ll be hired on permanently.

This staffing structure — and the disappearance of labor unions from Illinois mines — has made work less safe and more grueling for miners, according to advocates and multiple studies. Without job security, temporary workers are reluctant to complain about potentially unsafe conditions (including long work hours) and to report accidents. And because temporary workers may have inadequate experience in a particular mine, they might not understand that mine’s specific risks.

Where We Mine: Resource Politics in Latin America

Thea Riofrancos interviewed by Annabelle Dawson - Green European Journal, August 12, 2021

As the drive to expand renewable energy capacity speeds up, there is a rush for lithium and other materials around the world. What will the expansion of rare earth mining in Latin America mean for the indigenous communities and workers who have historically borne the harms of extractivism? Thea Riofrancos, author of Resource Radicals (Duke University Press, 2020), explains how the energy transition in the Global North risks being anything but just without structural changes to supply chains and the governance of extractive industries.

Annabelle Dawson: Your work explores the politics of resource extraction in Latin America, from oil in Ecuador to lithium in Chile. How do you define resource politics or extractivism?

Thea Riofrancos: Resource politics refers to any social or political activity – whether conflict, collaboration, political economy or social mobilisation – that’s attributed to the extraction of resources, and in some cases to stop resource extraction. Scholarship tends to see resource politics as primarily related to elites like state officials and corporate actors. This is pivotal, for example, to the concept of the resource curse, which holds that dependency on resource rents leads to authoritarianism. However, this focus overlooks a range of resource politics such as social movements that oppose extractive projects or demand better regulation and indigenous rights.

Extractivism is a little thornier to define. My research has explored how in Latin America social movements, activists and even some bureaucrats in the case of Ecuador began to use this term to diagnose the problems that they associated with resource extraction. This happened in the context of the 2000 to 2014 commodity boom – a period of intense investment in resource sectors driven by the industrialisation of emerging economies like China – and the Left’s return to power across Latin America during the “Pink Tide”. Activists, left-wing intellectuals and some government officials began to see extractivism as an interlocking system of social and environmental harm, political repression, and corporate and foreign capital domination. So, the concept originates from political activity rather than scholarship [read more about extractivism in Latin America].

We tend to associate resource extraction with notoriously dirty commodities like coal, oil, and certain metals. How are green technologies implicated in all of this?

The transition to renewable energies is often thought of as switching one energy source for another: fossil fuels for renewables. That’s part of it, but this transition fits into a much bigger energy and socio-economic system. You can’t just swap energy sources without rebuilding the infrastructures and technologies required to harness, generate, and transmit that energy. All this has a large material footprint and requires materials such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and rare earth metals [read more about the central role and impact of these rare metals]. More traditional extractive sectors like copper are also very important for decarbonisation.

One very bad outcome would be if the harms related to fossil fuel capitalism were reproduced in new renewable energy systems, subjecting particular communities to the harms of resource extraction in the name of fighting climate change. We need a new energy system quickly – especially in the Global North given the historic emissions of the US and Europe. But in this rush, there’s a real risk of reproducing inequalities and environmental damage. This is especially so with some mining sectors where a boom in the raw materials for green technologies like wind turbines, electric vehicles and solar panels is predicted.

Utah Oil Slick: funding polluters instead of Rural Communities

By Deeda Seed and Adair Kovac - Center for Biological Diversity, et. al., August 2021

Every year Utah receives tens of millions of dollars in federal lease revenues and royalties from oil, gas and mineral extraction as a way to help mitigate the impacts of drilling and mining. Even before scientists linked fossil fuels to the climate crisis, Congress intended this money to be used to help rural communities experiencing rapid growth and infrastructure challenges. The influx of new workers and increased drilling and mining take a toll on communities.

This report from the Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition shows that, since 2009, the little-known board charged with distributing this public money has funneled more than $109 million to projects that promote or expand fossil fuel extraction in violation of the federal Mineral Leasing Act. That includes more than $2.2 million approved after a state audit found the board was using the public funds improperly.

We examined dozens of public records — including the 2020 audit of the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board by the Utah Legislative Auditor General, meeting minutes, audio tapes and project documents — and found that:

  • Since 2009 the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, or CIB, has issued $109 million in grants and low- or no-interest loans — all of it public money — to finance road construction, engineering studies, attorney fees and other costs to enable fossil fuel development on public and private land. Beneficiaries include well-connected private firms trying to get approval for the proposed $1.5 billion Uinta Basin Railway.
  • Over the past two years small towns, cities and special improvement districts in two counties have identified more than $60 million for community improvement projects that have not yet been funded. Unfunded projects include water and sewer services, recreation centers, road improvements and public safety equipment. Over this same period, the CIB gave more than $48 million in grants to fossil-fuel related projects.
  • The Utah Legislature failed to oversee the board’s activities. Even worse, in 2021 it changed state law to allow mineral lease revenues and royalties to finance fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, which is illegal under federal law. The new law followed the 2020 state audit criticizing the board’s spending and haphazard decision-making.
  • County governments and local agencies continue to seek public funding for projects that facilitate fossil fuel extraction and enrich private corporations over community needs. Since the audit, Uintah County commissioners approved seeking $39 million in public funds to help a private, Ogden-based oil company build a 640-acre oil refinery in eastern Utah.3 The proposed $1.4 billion Uintah Advantage refinery would have the capacity to refine 40,000 barrels of oil a day, and it may also include a rail yard for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway.

The CIB must stop funding fossil fuel development projects. The Utah Legislature should oversee the board’s grant and loan-making process to ensure it complies with the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires these public funds be used to mitigate harm inflicted on communities by oil, gas and mineral extraction and forbids using the money for economic development. Rural communities should call on legislators to ensure that infrastructure needs are met and public money is spent properly.

As Utah and the western United States experience the devastating consequences of climate change in the form of intense heat, drought and wildfires, it is even more critical that the CIB stop siphoning public funds away from much-needed community projects to finance dangerous fossil fuel extraction that worsens the climate crisis.

Read the text (PDF).

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