Category Archives: Mining

Hiking Along the Wrack Line

Capitalism’s Deadly Quartet — Food, Plastic, Air, Weathering!

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.

— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)

Definition: An ecological bridge between land and sea … the wrack line.

I’ve been looking at the unimagined biological and genetic effects on planet earth caused by “better living through chemistry” capitalist mentality. While Rachel Carson’s seminal work, Silent Spring, catalogued just one aspect of the plethora of physiological effects on animal life, in 2021 we can confidently state there is so much evidence of all the pollutants, toxins, spewing gasses, pesticides, hormone disruptors, radioactive isotopes, forever chemicals, nanoparticles, fungicides, heavy metals and waste pits conspiring to completely disrupt all manner of life.

In that process of contemplating this yesterday, while railing against local older folk who will for Year Two have a Zoom Earth Day (April 22) instead of celebrating this day utilizing our amazing atmosphere and beachside waysides to bring people together, I walked the wrack line.

This is that “line” of organic material that ends up on beaches when tides go back out. It is a biologically important micro-ecosystem of seaweeds, crustaceans, shells, decaying birds and fish and mammals. This wrack line is studied by marine biologists. It provides an amazing supply of food and building components for living crustaceans.

Homo Sapiens pick through the wrack line for treasures like polished agates, whole shells, burled drift wood, and seeds from afar. These wrack lines, unfortunately, are now clogged with that deadline by-product of “better living with chemistry,” plastics. There’s other rubbish, for sure, from the by-products and by-processes of  consumerism and industrialism.

There are hidden ones, like radioactive isotopes and impossible to pronounce elements added to the periodic table of elements since I was a high school student in 1973.

The wrack line is also symbolic, allegorical, since if we look deeply at all those industrial processes and all the other processes tied to a Military-Medical-Pharma-Fossil Fuel-Mining-Big Ag-AI-Surveillance-Retail-Media Complex, the fallout of negative chemical influences on humankinds and all flora and fauna are worth a billion lifetimes worth of investigations. This system is run on untold new polymers, additives, lubricants, surfactants, stabilizers, metals, organic compounds, forever chemicals, volatile organic compounds, PFAs, PCBs, resins, and other dandies as part of the sloughing off, combusting, off-gassing, leaching, reactive synergistic war on plant life, animal life, genetic life.

This is far from hyperbole, though in essay form the reader might pause and doubt some of my veracity, but the fact is that any process in this system of consumerism and capitalism ruling the land by the rich who are not held to account with highly regulated precautionary principles and do no harm ethos WILL spoil life in some form or fashion.

For an on-line newsletter like Hormones Matter (where I’ve written a few pieces a few years ago) there are synergies being studied tied to hormones, entwined to biological processes at the cellular and genetic levels within the humanscape. These trillions of cells, these highly complex and fragile human systems of biology are studied with a fair mind, kind heart and open dialogue to help people mitigate, survive or reverse many of the ailments covered, all somehow tied to epigenetics and physiological deregulation and autoimmune discombobulating, to put it brutally simplistic.

The wrack line for those readers/chronic illness sufferers tapping into sources like Hormones Matter is composed of all those people struggling with their ailments and diseases, under a system of Western Patriarch and Machismo Arrogant Medicine. The wrack line in a larger sense is that proverbial line in the sand for communities far and wide attempting to provide safe water, safe food, safe products, safe air, safe housing in order to congregate as a community of caring, supporting and holistic healing.

The concept of holism, community-engagement and community-directed support for health, safety and prosperity is truly built into Homo sapiens DNA, yet under capitalism and rampant consumerism and this highly dog-eat-dog wrecked Darwinism, it has been perverted, subverted, derailed and forcefully forgotten. Memory holed. Orwellian in it’s scope — Organic Food is Poison, Disease is Health, Community is Dangerous.

Food

Imagine the starvation in places like Yemen, and in dozens of other countries because of the strategic playbook moves of predatory, disruptive, and destabilizing capitalism. Starvation because of failed governments after wars and proxy wars. Failed crops because of soil degradation, negative weather patterns, and criminal ill distribution of wealth.

The number of countries that are forced to use the so-called green technologies Rachel Carson alluded to in her 1962 book is more than 150. GMOs, high fertilizer and pesticide inputs. Massive factory farming, concentrated feeding operations. Round-up Ready crops and sprays are just the tip of the iceberg. The economies of scale have created lakes of blood, waste, urine. The amount of pig waste that gets untreated is equal to four humans per pig.

And this stuff is collected near waterways, rivers, streams, and enters the water table and into croplands. These ponds are emptied with gizmos that spray the liquid poisons into the air, onto vast miles of cropland. Atomized death.

So even before the products get to the table, wrapped in plastic, sped along vast fossil fuel spewing supply lines, and before the hormone disrupting, and antibiotic-laced flesh gets cooked in millions of ovens, the seed of disease has already been planted throughout the land. These places of sacrifice, so-called sacrifice zones in a form of disaster capitalism, are also termed forms of environmental racism.

This system of genetically engineered transgenic foodstuffs, and this system of chemicals beyond chemicals sprays on crops, well, that is the modern food system.

The results are firmly planted in research paper, journal article, white paper, and on-the-ground ground truthing. I’ve seen in my 38 years teaching, each year, more and more nervous ticks, attention deficits, learning deficits, food allergies, mental acuity challenge, physical ailments, chronic illnesses in my students, pre-teen all the way up to adults.

Asthma, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, brain fog, emotional discombobulating regular bouts, and more. I’ve even had the “luck” to teach active military at an academy and on several military bases/posts. The amount of destroyed immune systems, as well as the toll on hearing, sight, thinking and the body, well, it’s no wonder so many utilize the socialized system of health called the Veterans Administration. I have had people show me reports of the negative effects of the forced vaccinations and medical treatments soldiers in or out of war time have been burdened with. Lots of reports of service connected disabilities, and we are not just talking tinnitus or a back injury. We are talking more than just Agent Orange. We have a suite of illnesses and diseases tied to service at or around Camp Lejuene. There is a documentary titled, Semper Fi, which I have reviewed and screened to homeless veterans at a 24 hour facility I worked in as a social worker run by that poverty pimping place of ill repute, Salvation (starvation) Army. That camp/base was a dumping ground for chemicals used to propel internal combustion machines, and to clean those machines – dumped into the water.

The result of that human forced wrack line – miscarriages, Parkinson’s, tumors, cancers, and any number of diseases. This list below for Camp Lejeune conditions is very similar to other workplace “injuries”:

  • Adult leukemia.
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes.
  • Bladder cancer.
  • Kidney cancer.
  • Liver cancer.
  • Multiple myeloma.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • Parkinson’s disease.

It’s a small and incomplete list, and of course, the tally doesn’t include all the learning disabilities, all the attention deficits, all the allergies, all the other cancers that offspring might develop over time.

I haven’t touched upon all the genetic mutations in animals, frogs with extra legs “growing” out of their heads, or butterflies dying by the billions, or bird eggs thinning and thinning.

This is the way of our system – wrack lines from the chemical companies are equally on my mind when I walk these beaches and contemplate the billions of gallons of contaminated water from Fukushima about to be released intentionally.

The food of capitalism is industrialized, ramped up to unimaginable scales that require energy inputs, fossil fuel inputs, and massive clear-cutting and bulldozing of natural ecosystems. From industrialize coffee plantations in Vietnam, to miles of monocrop organic (sic) strawberries in California, to confined animal feeding operation to oil slicked sea.

A society that warns pregnant women to not drink the well water in those eight states that produce most of the soy, corn, chicken, beef, pig, and eggs for this country, well, if the wrack line is not absolutely warped and demonstrably upside down, then I find it difficult to give a more simple, pure example of this sickness.

Don’t drink the water or you may have a miscarriage, or you might give birth to a diseased baby? If that isn’t truth in advertisement, then I don’t know what is.

Nitrate in water widespread, current rules no match for it | WisconsinWatch.org

Imagine the exponentially worse conditions in Mexico, in other countries, without as robust a phalanx of groups fighting against and exposing this crime against humanity.

But the irony is there are more water defenders, crop defenders, community defenders in many Latin American countries, than in this country, per capita. There is a reason we have organizations that expose the murders of environmentalists throughout the world for attempting to hold accountable and stop so many US and transnational/global corporations in the business of creating their own wrack lines – oil, mining, cattle, swine, commodity crops, corn, sugar, and a suite of other capitalistic systems of oppressive business models and pollution creators..

Just the short elevator speech on Atrazine, the most widely used pesticide in our crop systems in the USA. Imagine, this is acceptable risk, allowable negative effects of this poison: “Large numbers of chemicals that are included in pesticides cause toxicity and as a result loss of neurons occurs through necrosis or by apoptosis. Such neuronal loss is irretrievable, and may result in a global encephalopathy. This is known as neuropathies.” Just go to the research site, Beyond Pesticides.

Here, some facts about Monsanto’s Roundup:

Although glyphosate should be associated with a low toxicity recent studies related to the potential toxicity of this herbicide have pointed out more evidence of the health risks .In this sense, in 2015, the herbicide glyphosate was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans. A growing body of literature points to possible, adverse environmental, ecological, and human health consequences following exposure to glyphosate and/or AMPA (its primary metabolite aminomethyl-phosphonic acid), both alone and in combination with ingestion of genetically engineered proteins.

Environmental studies encompass possible glyphosate impacts on soil microbial communities and earthworms, monarch butterflies, crustaceans, and honeybees. Studies assessing possible risks to vertebrates and humans include evidence of rising residue levels in soybeans, cancer risk, and risk of a variety of other potential adverse impacts on development, the liver or kidney, or metabolic processes.

— Impact of Glyphosate on Human Health: Risks and “Needs” of its Use by Maria Drumond Chequer Farah and André Leiliane Coelho.

The fact is just Genetically Modified soybeans grown in the U.S.A., Canada, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay — accounting for 86.6% of the 11.6 billion bushels of soybeans produced globally in 2014, and nearly all global trade in soybeans and soybean-based animal feeds — have been a plague on ecosystems — terrestrial, avian, aquatic we call Mother Nature — as well as a plague on humans, children, adults and the unborn.

Indeed, more and more independent researchers are looking at Roundup as a source of dozens of ailments, from gut diseases to attention disorders. Imagine the “null” use of the precautionary principle just with this one weed killer! Multiple the number of other poisons and toxins entering the food-stream by hundreds.

Refer to the first part of this series related to the spraying of chemicals closely formulated from the precursor, Agent Orange (a mixture of equal parts of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D with some dioxins thrown in) — including Roundup and  2,4-dimethylheptane.

Plastic in Your Poop

The work of artist  Chris Jordan on plastics and just on the consumer waste in our capitalist consumer society is amazing. His documentary, Albatross, stays with me as I walk the wrack lines on the Central Oregon Coast. I’ve walked wrack lines all over the world, and been in places where plastic bags and single-use plastic containers and bottles have destroyed ecosystems, on beaches, in harbors and along river ways. Here, on the coast, we get all manner of bits and pieces and larger trash, mostly plastics, on those wrack lines. Microplastics, well, the schools here in this county where I substituted I had the opportunity to talk about plastic bag bans, the effects of plastics on marine life, and the inevitable class giggle topic of plastic in our poop. The reality is that every person on planet earth has microplastics in their feces. We talked about plastics in everything they eat, the packaging, the clothing, in bottled water, and the soil. I showed parts of Albatross. That bit of relevant education, from a well-traveled substitute, got me banned from the school system for showing these documentaries, “for upsetting the students (customers).” For me this is yet another symbolic wrack line in my life, one of the washed up and failed education system that I might allude to in part three of this series.

Chris Jordan Documents the Devastating Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on Wildlife

As a diver, as an environmentalist, as a deep green sustainability proponent, and as a journalist and teacher and someone with a load of urban and regional planning under my belts, the reality for me is we have been at war with nature, with ourselves. Plastic is yet another symbolic manufactured element that is emblematic of our capitalism gone wild. Plastics are the thing of fossil fuels, and heavy natural gas consumption. Those fancy polymers are more than just a physical eyesore in the form of Pepsi bottles and single serving ketchup packets. This stuff is entering the blood-brain barrier, and is causing untold havoc on the human biological ecosystem. Delayed or premature puberty. Diabetes. Gut ailments. The reality is we do not know all the possible negative health outcomes of microplastics alone, as opposed to microplastics mixing with all those nanoparticles and the other chemicals coming into play in the human physiology.

Last year, I viewed on line a Remote Operated Vehicle filming the deepest part of the globe, the Mariana Trench, with ghostly images of single use plastic shopping bags floating by. It wasn’t a surprise, since I have been a scuba diver for more than 45 years. That revelation  was, however, yet another cut in the 10,000 cuts of spiritual and intellectual death people like me have to steel himself from.

So, things may go better with Killer Coke, in the minds of marketers and consumers, but the reality is that if we take one thing out of the complicated web of processes and products, separate one intended or unintended consequence of the revolutions we label industrial and post industrial (Fourth Industrial Revolution is a digital one, so research that through writers like Cory Morningstar, Whitney Webb and Alison McDowell), we see that Minute Maid/Coca-Cola’s heavy use of sugar and HFCS, and their anti-labor union work in tropical countries where their oranges and other citrus crops are under armed guard, behind concertina wires and CCTV security system bring with them huge intended and unintended consequences: negative impacts to ecosystems – nature, culture, economy, communities, human health.

Is that my plastic bag in the Mariana Trench? - Macleans.ca

Again, John Muir a hundred years ago, stated it clearly —

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
— My First Summer in the Sierra, 1911, page 110.

Now, let’s reverse this adage by stating it this way – When you put in anything by itself from industrialized processes, we find it hitches onto one thing or many things in the Universe of the biological universe.”

So, those deadly Bic lighters and all those bits and pieces of plastics washing up on shore into wrack lines, or clogging rivers and wetlands and deltas, well, we can see the effects on a meta and micro scale.

Akin to global biogeochemical cycles, plastics now spiral around the globe with distinct atmospheric, oceanic, cryospheric, and terrestrial residence times. Though advancements have been made in the manufacture of biodegradable polymers, our data suggest that extant nonbiodegradable polymers will continue to cycle through the earth’s systems. Due to limited observations and understanding of the source processes, there remain large uncertainties in the transport, deposition, and source attribution of microplastics. Thus, we prioritize future research directions for understanding the plastic cycle.

– Constraining the atmospheric limb of the plastic cycle

Plastic bottles

So, microplastics in poop just is the funny side of things for elementary and junior high school students. The reality is microplastics are found in the liver, lungs, spleens and other organs of humans. BPA, also known as bisphenol A, is a chemical in the production of plastics. It’s a reproductive, developmental and systemic toxicant in animal studies.

It would be naïve to believe there is plastic everywhere but just not in us, said Rolf Halden at Arizona State University. We are now providing a research platform that will allow us and others to look for what is invisible – these particles too small for the naked eye to see. The risk [to health] really resides in the small particles.

This bioaccumulation in tissues, that is, in the animals we eat, like tuna or salmon, is also part of the bioaccumulation of plastic particles in the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink. With the Covid-19 hysteria, plastic masks, plastic everything, is now in the waste stream. As one Wall Street guru stated, “Plastics, that’s what you should invest in . . . the goofy plastic shopping bag bans is making MORE money for the plastics industry . . . more heavy plastic bags are being purchased to make up the difference.”

Disaster capitalism, and shock doctrine, which writer Naomi Klein has written about extensively, is tied to that old saw that the GDP goes up when Walmart of Amazon delivers more things to places and communities under some sort of disaster.  When hurricanes and tornados hit, companies far and wide make money. Wars in the Middle East, well, the list of corporations that make money on the entire effort of war and warring, it’s huge. The disease maintenance of USA’s private for profit medical systems, whether it’s a for-profit United Health Care, or for-profit nonprofit religious hospital, makes people money. Lots of it. Poverty and disease and war are profitable circumstances for a large swath of American businesses.

The public pays for the diseases and illnesses and loss of time with family, lost wages, lost communities. We pay for the birth defects in our newborns, and we pay for the multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s in our older people.  The externalities of capitalism are the various issues Hormones Matter covers when looking at diseases. The convenience of plastic bottles and pipes in our homes is the cancers of the future. Those plastics in the belly of whales, birds and albacore are the bioaccumulated toxins in our daily meals. We don’t need to study the great Pacific plastic gyre to understand how plastics break down, unseen, or subsurface. We will at some point have more plastic particles in the oceans than all the organic biomass. These are not the fictions of Ursula La Guinn or Margaret Atwood.

Weathering and Weather Proofing

This is descriptive of how to keep that house from getting peeling paint, curling roof tiles, mossed over eaves, and worn down carpets and floors. It sounds benign, too, when we look at the studies around weathering for African-Americans. For youth, we utilize ACEs — Adverse Childhood Experiences for outcomes here in Oregon as social services practitioners.

10 ACEs, as identified by the CDC-Kaiser study: Abuse. Physical. Emotional. Sexual. Neglect. Physical. Emotional. Household Dysfunction. Mental Illness.

These are what a child’s circumstances could be no fault of their own. Poverty, parent(s) with substance abuse issues, with mental health issues, with spousal abuse in the home. Of course, the more direct of these 10 on the developing child will create probable outcomes, possible lifetime issues. Pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps is an inane concept for youth presented with one or many of these areas of ACEs. Yes, poverty hurts, but if the family has sets of resilient measures and safety nets, then the negative future effects on the child with that one ACE could be actually negligible or even self-empowering.

But now that other overarching set of circumstances tied to the idea of weathering:

Repeated exposure to socioeconomic adversity, political marginalization, racism, and perpetual discrimination can harm health.  This weathering has created a slew of medical issues for African Americans, especially, but other minorities like Latinx. However, the fabric of a racist society with all the heavy hand of Jim Crow and The New Jim Crow is q quilt of many death by a thousand cuts for Blacks. Quality of life diminished, but also life expectancy cut too.

In her later work, Dr. Arline Geronimus and other scientists who embraced the weathering hypothesis extended it to apply to Black adults in general, not just Black women.

For instance, a 2006 paper by Dr. Geronimus and colleagues set out to test the hypothesis that Black adults “experience early health deterioration as a consequence of the cumulative impact of repeated experience with social or economic adversity and political marginalization.”

In the NPR interview, Dr. Geronimus explained the notion of weathering using a metaphor that is in equal measure disheartening, troubling, and alarmingly true.

Referring to the activist Erica Garner, who died of complications from a heart attack at the age of 27, Dr. Geronimus said that the feelings of stress leading to such an early death are like playing a game of Jenga.

Paraphrasing the activist’s sister, she said: “They pull out one piece at a time, at a time, and another piece and another piece, until you sort of collapse. […] I thought that Jenga metaphor was very apt because you start losing pieces of your health and well-being, but you still try to go on as long as you can.” 
— Medical News Today

Another feature and term is the allostatic load — the repeated  exposure of societal and economic stress creates a physiological response, and weathering. These are biomarkers such as cortisol levels, sympathetic nerve activity, blood pressure reactivity, cytokine production, waist-to-hip ratio, and glycated hemoglobin levels.

I’ve seen this up close and personal first-hand when I started teaching in El Paso, at community colleges and universities. I saw this in the faces and body blows and prevalence of diabetes and heart disease and asthma in the parents of my students. Many of the parents were from poverty and from racist communities in Texas. These parents were categorized as non-white Hispanics. Many were farm laborers, migrant workers. Many were cooks and maids and construction laborers.

This relationship I had with my students and their families and my friends, as well, was parlayed into more observations in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Belize. The more pressures on people, on indigenous poor people, the more rapid the decline. In most cases. For Black Americans, this is a triple whammy since there are a few examples of Blacks overcoming the poverty and the heavy toll of hard work and constant Diaspora. But just because there is an Orpah or Vice President Kamala Harris, doesn’t mean anything to the Black or Latinx in constant struggle to work their bodies hard, sometimes three jobs a person, to get out of institutionalized and systemic poverty.

My friends in the Army and Air Force, African American friends, still paying the toll of a life before military service and even racism while in the armed services. This weathering is both descriptive of a general biological and mental toll on people always on the move, always going from paycheck to paycheck, always one step ahead of the repo man or forced eviction from the county sheriff.

So many of my Black colleagues in social services have told me that “this office, this job, this nonprofit, well, it’s like the old South — this is not my house.” The toll on my colleagues with the overt and covert racism was huge. Just going out into a rural area of Oregon to serve foster children clients for a Black woman was more than just nerve-racking. Seeing confederate flags in yards populated with snarling pit bulls with 2nd amendment stickers on pick-up trucks with bumper stickers stating, “This vehicle is protected by Smith and Wesson,”  caused great emotional harm. I was asked many times to accompany my fellow social workers on these calls.

This higher level of sickness and weathering and death at an earlier age is not just a matter of economic circumstances. No matter how hard people in the USA want to hem and haw,  “racial disparities in poverty suggested to the researchers that living in a ‘race-conscious society’ and the efforts required to cope is what causes weathering.

This leads to other factors tied to weathering in a more geographically determined way — environmental racism. The father of environmental justice is in fact Dr. Robert Bullard, an African American professor of urban planning at Texas Southern University.

His website states it succinctly what this environmental injustice/racism is:

America is segregated and so is pollution. Race and class still matter and map closely with pollution, unequal protection, and vulnerability.  Today, zip code is still the most potent predictor of an individual’s health and well-being.  Individuals who physically live on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ are subjected to elevated environmental health threats and more than their fair share of preventable diseases. Still, too many people and communities have the ‘wrong complexion for protection.’ Reducing environmental, health, economic and racial disparities is a major priority of the Environmental Justice Movement.

Weathering then takes on another component — polluting industries and agricultural practices end up on the wrong side of the tracks. Exposure to massive amounts of chemicals goes right into the lap of migrant farmers and field hands. Those plastics refineries are in the low rent district of a town or city. The burden of air contamination and dirty water (think lead and Flint, Michigan) is placed more heavily on people of color.

Yet as we now know, chemicals and carcinogens are an equal opportunity killer when it comes to our food system as it is sold in grocery stores. More than 80 percent of the wheat products — bread, pasta, crackers, cereal — have Roundup in them from field spraying close to wheat harvest. We all are in one giant rotating mass experiment. The weathering of the human psyche kills us earlier, but the weathering creates by poor nutrition, poor choices, polluted choices, that is now flowing out from the Black community into many more communities.

You Are What You Eat, Drink, Read, See, Say, Dream, Do, Hope for, Plan, Listen to, Care About

This is a thread to my teaching and my own life — you are what you do, or what you do not do. Replace the subheading above with the negative, and that also explains a person’s heart, hearth, health and hopes.

I used to have my college students go over the implications and deep multiplicity of concepts and research topics tied to photographer Peter Menzel’s and writer Faith D’Aluisio’s travels around the world and their documenting the foundational human behavior of  what we eat. Their project, “Hungry Planet,” depicts everything that an average family consumes in a given week—and what it costs.

Their book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats in 2005, showcases meals in 24 countries.

Germany: The Sturm Family of Hamburg. Food Expenditure for One Week: € 253.29 ($325.81 USD). Favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta.

Germany: The Sturm Family of Hamburg. Food Expenditure for One Week: € 253.29 ($325.81 USD). Favorite foods: salads, shrimp, buttered vegetables, sweet rice with cinnamon and sugar, pasta.1

They did follow up with a worldwide day’s worth of food.

What I Eat Around the World in 80 Diets

© Peter Menzel / What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets

Vietnam, The Rice Farmer
Name: Nguyen Van Theo
Age: 51; Height: 5′ 4″; Weight: 110 pounds
Caloric value of food this day: 2500 calories

  • BREAKFAST: Rice noodles, 2.7 oz. (dry weight), boiled and eaten with fish sauce, 1.5 tbsp.
  • LUNCH: Pork loin cooked with bean sprouts and green onion, 3.6 oz. Pork back cooked with pickled mustard greens, 3 oz. White rice, 1.4 lb.
  • DINNER: Pork back seasoned with fish sauce and caramel sugar, 1.6 oz. Eggs, from his chickens, fried with green onion, 2.6 oz. Spinach and spinach water broth, 5.2 oz. White rice, 1.4 lb. Homemade ruou thuoc (strong rice wine with herbs), 1.9 fl. oz.
  • THROUGHOUT THE DAY: Green tea, 7.8 fl. oz. Tobacco, 0.5 oz. Boiled rainwater, 1.6 qt.

“In this food portrait, a pile of last year’s rice straw lies in the background. It is used as fuel to boil water in the family’s small kitchen. Cisterns collect rainwater for drinking and cooking.”

*****

Those so-called food deserts, the neighborhoods where there are more 7-11’s, gun shops, liquor stores, PayDay loan outfits and fast-food joints than anything else, including a place to purchase green groceries and a place to learn how to cook them, that’s another project of weathering the body to fit the capitalist quick dirty buck schemes. Imagine food disparagement bills, so-called Cheeseburger bills, that prohibit media from attacking bad food and fast-food for negative health outcomes. Imagine that scenario, and it isn’t in a Brave New World, but it has been an un-brave old world of protecting polluters, whether it’s coal ash and smelters spewing in the air, or if it’s bad food, nutritional empty food, salty-greasy-sugary foods pushed down the throats of toddlers by school systems. Weathering also caused by subsidies for the big eight — soy, wheat, pork, dairy, corn, beef, poultry, canola — but nothing for the organic vegetable and fruit farmers.  A decent sized organic apple costs as much as a cheeseburger, Coke and fries.

Yes, I worked in Vietnam, and yes, the mother’s milk in 1996 had 15 times the EPA’s allowable PCBs in it, thanks to the gift that keeps on giving — soil laden with those carcinogens and dioxins from Agent Orange. The places I went to were just getting snarled in dirty motorcycle traffic and more and more cars. The lifestyle became more supercharged, more consumer focused, and alas, beautiful trees would be cut down to accommodate larger and larger lorries and semi-trucks.

In the hinterland, where I also spent time with scientists from Hanoi and from the UK and Canada, I did engage with robust and personal conversations with Vietnamese, sometimes ethnic Vietnamese, in their homes, as they shared meager but tasty meals, sharing bongs of tobacco, and yes, the rice wines. Not to idealize the rural and agrarian and sometimes subsistence lives, I still know for a fact from my other travels into Latin America, there is a multitude of negative prices to pay — Faustian bargains galore — for adopting Western consumerism, lifestyles and diets. Obviously, a refrigerator is life-saving, for sure, and a fan, another lifesaver. But the rolled cigarette smoke in the air and lungs, as well as the black soot and persistent aromatic particles are more carcinogen and COPD gifts that come in a delayed package.

Weathering. Sort of the reverse weathering, far different than the weathering of Black men and women in the USA. But still, a good way to look at things broadly. That consumption of everything, from books to movies, from beer to beets, from burgers to briskets, all of it has a short-term and long-term effect on everything, inside the person’s body, all the way through the economic and environmental/cultural webs.

The Air We Breathe at Home

This sort of polemic can really never end, for in fact, there are literally entire human lifetimes of work which could easily be put into book form to the 10th or 100th power. The simplest things like soil and water are easily seen as what should be help sacrosanct, but inevitably, we see that the systems in place through industrial ag or industrial harvesting, anything on an industrial level, including such amazing practices as mountain top removal for coal, or fracked subsurface geology for bitumen, or cyanide slurry sprayed on rocks to get at gold.

Necessity, for capitalists, is the mother of invention. And the “necessary” thing (necessity to be gotten at is, of course, profits.

I remember my mother, who grew up in Canada, Powell River, the largest pulp mill in the world at the time placed there, producing megatons an hour of paper, newsprint, tissue. The town is on Indian territory, but I never knew it as a kid visiting there. What I remembered was the heavy weight of the air, that burn rotten egg smell, the sulfuric acid like sing at the back of the throat. Then the quaint town was hit with ash showers several times a day. I recall free car wash stations in several parts of town to keep the old Ford’s paint from really peeling.

Many townspeople were hit with lung diseases, eventually COPD and emphysema in their 30s or 40s. My mom was constantly having bronchitis in both lungs. Other youth also had the same problems.  The giant company of course rattled off plausible deniability, citing poor genes, poor lungs, poor diets, you name it.

I could see it, touch it, taste it, smell it, and hear it, all those blasts of pollutants coming from the cookers and bleachers and peroxide vats. The proof was in the back of the throat and in the hacking up of green stuff, but again, jobs, a union, a company town ethos.

I had to really reach middle age to understand that British Columbian town, and the pre-white man history: These were Coast Salish people of the Tla’amin Nation. The gold fever created a spot for gold prospectors coming from Vancouver Island to make their way on the Fraser River for that boom or bust quick fortune.

[Mill+001.jpg]

This is leading up to that air we breathe, the stuff my daughter and stepdaughter breathe in their respective schools they attend. We are talking about dust collected and analyzed from a university revealing again, more invisible-to-the-eye gifts that keep on giving: Study.

Cell-based assays are an emerging method to quantify the total activation or suppression of hormone receptors by complex environmental mixtures of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Compared with traditional targeted laboratory approaches that measure each chemical in a mixture individually, cell-based assays of dust are inexpensive, rapid, and statistically simple to model. Hormonal activities in assays of dust also reflect the combined effects from co-exposures of all hormone-disrupting chemicals in the sample, including unmeasurable chemicals and unknown regrettable substitutes. The assays account for any mixture effects, such as when a chemical’s effect is triggered, enhanced, or reduced in the presence of another chemical.

Background:
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), organophosphate esters (OPEs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are hormone-disrupting chemicals that migrate from building materials into air and dust.

Objectives:
We aimed to quantify the hormonal activities of 46 dust samples and identify chemicals driving the observed activities.

Methods:
We evaluated associations between hormonal activities of extracted dust in five cell-based luciferase reporter assays and dust concentrations of 42 measured PFAS, OPEs, and PBDEs, transformed as either raw or potency-weighted concentrations based on Tox21 high-throughput screening data.

Results:
All dust samples were hormonally active, showing antagonistic activity toward peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPARγ2) (100%; 46 of 46 samples), thyroid hormone receptor (TRβ) (89%; 41 samples), and androgen receptor (AR) (87%; 40 samples); agonist activity on estrogen receptor (ERα) (96%; 44 samples); and binding competition with thyroxine (T4) on serum transporter transthyretin (TTR) (98%; 45 samples). Effects were observed with as little as 4μg of extracted dust.

This is a scientific research study of 46 dust samples from 21 buildings on a US university campus. It’s the old flame retardant sloughing off issue. Imagine, there is no evidence that flame retardants applied to all manner of things prevents fires. But we know that more than 90 percent of Americans have the retardant in their/our blood, and we know the health effects include infertility, diabetes, obesity, abnormal fetal growth, and cancers.

This study helps explain how these PFAS and flame retardants  enter the body. For the initiated, PFAS first gained press as compounds in Teflon. They are utilized as part of a coating for carpets, furniture, and clothing. Even inside electronics you’ll find these PFAS.  And much-much more:

Understanding PFAS | riversideca.gov

Right off the bat, when baby comes out of mother’s womb, she is exposed to hundreds of chemicals, including PFAS and another species of flame retardants found in the dust — polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. These PBDEs may have been phased out in eight years ago — after they were implicated in health issues such as infertility and thyroid dysfunction. But they are still around, in all sorts of products. Recycled plastics contain them as well. Swaddled babies wrapped in PFAS and other materials coated and sprayed with organophosphate esters.

The price of capitalism and better living/dying with chemistry is a sick and sickening society: again, just these family of chemicals cause through some very sophisticated and synergistic processes  amazingly harmful things such as “impaired fetal development, obesity, decreased vaccine response, preeclampsia, testicular cancer, immune dysfunction, kidney cancer, and elevated cholesterol levels.”

Some price we pay for the air we breathe!

Image credit: State of Michigan
  1. Peter Menzel, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.
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Zambia Is the Tip of the Tail of the Global Dog

From left to right: Vijay Prashad, Fred M'membe, Diego Sequera, and Erika Farías. Photographer: Yeimi Salinas.

From left to right: Vijay Prashad, Fred M’membe, Diego Sequera, and Erika Farías in Caracas, 2019. Photograph taken by Yeimi Salinas.

On 12 August 2021, the people of Zambia will vote to elect a new president, who will be the seventh person elected to the office since Zambia won its independence from the United Kingdom in 1964 if the incumbent loses. The incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, is facing a strong challenge from Fred M’membe, the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party Zambia.

M’membe knows the importance of a challenge. As the editor of The Post since its creation in 1991, M’membe has long faced malicious harassment and political persecution. The voice of M’membe’s The Post sizzled with truth-telling; silenced in 2016, it was reborn as The Mast.

In 2009, an editorial in The Post described how, despite decades of independence, Zambia remained in the claws of an unjust world system. ‘Economically speaking, Zambia is the tip of the tail of the global dog,’ wrote The Post. ‘When the dog is happy, we find ourselves merrily flicking from side to side; when the dog is miserable, we find ourselves coiled up in a dark and smelly place’. No wonder that every government from Frederick Chiluba (1991-2002) to sitting President Edgar Lungu has tried to muzzle the paper and its editor, who cast a spotlight on the awful surrender of the Zambian political elite to multinational corporations and foreign bondholders. Now the editor of The Post is a presidential candidate.

Mapopa Manda (Zambia), Visionary, 2019.

Mapopa Manda (Zambia), Visionary, 2019.

Fred M’membe is a humble man who demurs about his presidential run through a warm smile. ‘Ours is a collective leadership’, he tells me of the Socialist Party, which was launched in March 2018. The manifesto of the Party pledges to reverse Zambia’s slide into privatisation and de-industrialisation, social processes that have damaged social life in the country and created a sense of despondency amongst the masses. A reading of that manifesto in these COVID-19 times is chilling: ‘Due to the poor state of water and sanitation, urban areas are prone to water-borne diseases that break out almost every year’, with water scarce and half the population without connection to sanitation systems.

The neoliberal policies pushed since the end of the government of Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda (1964-1991), have been catastrophic for Zambians. These policies, M’membe told me, ‘are creating an enormous time bomb in our country. We shouldn’t resign ourselves to hunger, unemployment, squalor, disease, ignorance, hopelessness, and despair. Struggling for a better Zambia means, in part, to build a better Zambia’.

Lutanda Mwamba (Zambia), Chuma Grocery, 1993.

Lutanda Mwamba (Zambia), Chuma Grocery, 1993.

Zambia is a rich country with a poor population. Zambia’s poverty rate is estimated between 40% and 60% (the country only has statistics up to 2015). A World Bank household survey conducted in early June 2020 found that half of the families who relied on agriculture saw a substantial loss of income and 82% of families that earned income from non-farm businesses saw their livelihoods shrink. The World Bank found that remittance flows into Zambia also precipitously declined.

Because of the drop in income, households reduced their consumption of goods, especially food. In 2019, before the pandemic, the Global Hunger Index found the hunger situation in Zambia to be ‘alarming’. But there is no reliable data on the growth of hunger caused by the pandemic, which prevented the Index from properly assessing the situation. Instead, it assessed the situation as ‘serious’. ‘Zambia’, M’membe told me, ‘stands at the brink of a major catastrophe’.

In November 2020, Zambia defaulted on a $42.5 million payment towards a Eurobond. President Lungu’s government has been talking to the IMF ever since, hoping to get a bailout without stringent austerity measures. Such austerity measures – including cuts in public services that the country can ill afford during the pandemic – would jeopardise Lungu’s chances in the August 2021 elections. In early March, the IMF’s staff visit concluded that ‘significant progress’ has been made toward an ‘appropriate policy package’, but no details or timetable have been released.

Mulenga Chafilwa (Zambia), Drip Drip Drip, 2014.

Mulenga Chafilwa (Zambia), Drip Drip Drip, 2014.

A month before the IMF team met with Zambian officials, the country’s minister of mines Richard Musukwa announced that the country’s copper production had reached 882,061 tonnes. This was an increase by 10.8% from 2019 figures, a ‘historical high’ according to Musukwa. Given the move to electric cars and to more high-tech appliances, copper wiring is certain to be in high demand, which is why Zambia hopes to produce more than 1 million tonnes a year in the next few years. Copper prices are inching upwards ($4 per pound) toward the highs of 2011 ($4.54 per pound). There is plenty of money to be made from copper, particularly for the Zambian people.

Four companies dominate Zambian copper: Barrick Lumwana of Canada’s Barrick Gold, FQM Kansanshi of Canada’s First Quantum, Mopani of Switzerland’s Glencore, and Konkola Copper Mines of the UK’s Vedanta. These are major mining companies that leech Zambia of its resources through creative means such as transfer mispricing and bribery. In 2019, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research spoke to Gyekye Tanoh, head of the Political Economy Unit at the Third World Network-Africa based in Accra (Ghana), about the situation of ‘resource sovereignty’. His comments on Zambia merit re-reading:

Because Zambia is now utterly reliant on copper exports, the international copper price movements have a preponderant and distorting effect on the exchange rate of the Kwacha [Zambia’s currency]. This distortion and the limited revenue from copper exports impacts the competitiveness and viability of other, non-copper exports as a result of the fluctuations of the Kwacha. The fluctuations also impact the social sector. A study done in 2018 showed that changes in the exchange rates oscillated between -11.1% to +13.4% in the period between 1997 and 2008. The loss of funds from donors to the Ministry of Health in Zambia amounted to US $13.4 million or $1.1 million per year. Because of the collapse of the Kwacha between 2015 and 2016, per capita health expenditure in Zambia fell from $44 (2015) to $23 (2016).

M’membe told me that poverty levels in the Copperbelt Province, the heart of Zambia’s wealth, are very high. It is striking that 60% of the children in this copper-rich area cannot read. ‘Foreign multinational corporations have been the major beneficiaries’, he explained. A cozy relationship with the Zambian elites enables these firms to pay low taxes and take their profits out of the country, as well as to use techniques such as outsourcing and subcontracting to skirt Zambia’s labour laws. This industry, M’membe said, ‘still operates along colonial lines’. Indeed, in Phyllis Deane’s Colonial Social Accounting (1953), she shows that in Northern Rhodesia – Zambia’s name during colonial rule – two-thirds of the profits were taken out of the territory to pay foreign shareholders, while two-thirds of the remainder went to the European workers and the minuscule leftovers went to the vast majority, the African miners.

‘Reliance on non-renewable resources like minerals for growth is, by definition, unsustainable’, M’membe reflected. Any government in Zambia will have to rely on copper – only a third of it mined to date – until the country’s economy and society are properly diversified. The Socialist Party has proposed a range of policies to harness the copper resources, from cutting better deals with the current owners to full-scale nationalisation (a policy that is currently being imposed on Zambia, as First Quantum and Glencore have cut back on their investments, forcing the government to step in). M’membe laid out seven points for a just mining policy for the immediate period:

  1. The socialist government will declare minerals as strategic metals and provide a protective legal environment for their extraction. The export of concentrates will be outlawed, and the marketing of minerals will be coordinated by the state.
  2. Zambian labour will have their power strengthened by laws and by political will.
  3. Mining firms will have to source at least 30% of their industrial inputs from Zambia, which would encourage manufacturing.
  4. Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines Limited-Investment Holdings (ZCCM-IH), a state-owned corporation, will take a controlling interest in all new mines.
  5. Resource rent or variable income tax will be introduced to secure additional mineral rents.
  6. All proceeds from mineral sales will first be credited in Bank of Zambia accounts – an essential aspect of currency and balance of payments management and stability.
  7. Mines will have to adhere to state-of-the-art environmental technologies, practices, and standards.

Beyond this, the socialist government will encourage the creation of miners’ cooperatives, particularly for manganese, which is cheaper to mine.

Mwamba Mulangala (Zambia), Political Strategies, 2009.

Mwamba Mulangala (Zambia), Political Strategies, 2009.

There is seriousness of purpose in the Socialist Party’s agenda for Zambia. M’membe travels the length and breadth of his country speaking about this agenda. ‘We should win because of what we believe in’, he tells me. He believes that every child in Zambia should be able to read and should be able to go to sleep without hunger pangs. This is a belief that should be shared by every human being.

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History Shows Privatized Space Colonization Will Be Disastrous

Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have become a regular feature in news cycles. SpaceX succeeded in landing a team of astronauts on the International Space Station in November 2020, in partnership with NASA. The next month, the company lost a rocket in an explosion while attempting to land after a test flight. Another rocket exploded during landing in early February. In mid-February, SpaceX launched sixty satellites as part of the Starlink program to provide broadband internet access to the globe, and is now working to double the speed of this internet service and extend it to most of the planet by the end of 2021. Additional crewed missions to the International Space Station are planned for the coming months, as is a four-person civilian-only space voyage.

These accomplishments and setbacks from SpaceX and the world’s richest man are the most recent in a long series of launches by the first private company to engage in spaceflight. SpaceX is pushing many new boundaries to popular acclaim, but they are also simply the most recent continuation of a decades-long effort to privatize space travel, albeit an effort that is accelerating in recent years.

Yet, while SpaceX may be developing beneficial new technologies and finding ways to lower the costs of space travel, their free-market perspective on space exploration will not provide the benefits they claim. Such privatization will only reproduce the Earth’s current exploitative economy and environmental destruction in outer space.

Our climate and economic crises today are not inevitable outcomes of human existence, or of human population growth as other space-obsessed technocrats like Jeff Bezos have argued. They are instead the result of a particular set of social and economic forces, mostly arising during the last five centuries, which constitute capitalism. Capitalism requires the exploitation of both nature and people, leads to outward expansion and colonization, and is really the root cause of climate change.

Yet instead of working to develop new social and economic structures here on Earth, Elon Musk is planning the colonization of Mars explicitly as a backup plan for Earth. He is not alone, as Jeff Bezos’ own aerospace company, Blue Origin, operates with the long-term goal of outsourcing destructive manufacturing to space in order to save Earth by shifting the exploitation of nature and people into orbit. With plans such as these, SpaceX and related companies are advocating escapism instead of dealing with the reality of deteriorating conditions on our own planet. By failing to acknowledge that privatizing industry and taking advantage of workers and the environment are the true causes of these Earthly crises, SpaceX will inadvertently reproduce the same conditions that are destroying the Earth in space.

We need not engage in speculation informed by science-fiction to know this, either. History is full of examples of privatized, for-profit exploration and colonization that have caused more harm than good. For some of the clearest lessons, we can look to the colonization of what is now the United States, just a few hundred years ago.

*****

This past autumn marked the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing on the shores of what is now Massachusetts. Stories of this ship and its Pilgrim passengers are familiar to many people who were educated in the American school system. As the common narrative goes, these Puritan settlers sought freedom from religious persecution in England, and thus set sail to the “New World.” The Mayflower arrived in North America, and finding the land beautiful and productive, the Pilgrims “fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven” for delivering them to safety and freedom.

Yet key details of this story were not emphasized in our elementary school educations, such as the motivations behind the actual owners of the Mayflower. The Pilgrims did not own the ship they sailed upon, nor could they have afforded the voyage on their own. They needed investors, and the financial backers of this journey were not religious separatists seeking freedom, but some of the modern world’s first international venture capitalists. They funded the Pilgrims in the hope that they could reap the rewards of a profitable colony in North America capable of yielding cheap goods for European markets: largely fish, timber, and furs. The Pilgrims who established a colony at Plymouth may have been seeking liberty, but the financiers who backed them hardly cared. They were just in it for the money, and there was a lot to be made.

There was also a lot of damage to be done. Within fifteen years of the Mayflower making landfall, epidemic disease had decimated the Indigenous population of New England. Wars and genocide followed, with Indigenous peoples being killed and enslaved across the continent, before largely being forced onto reservations which still experience shockingly poor conditions today.

All the while, the land of New England was gradually being divided into privately owned parcels of land in a process known as enclosure. When European colonists arrived in New England, they entered into a variety of agreements with Native peoples pertaining to land rights. European settlers often paid Indigenous tribes or leaders for the right to limited use of tribal land, but the colonists often interpreted these transactions as wholesale, permanent purchase of land. These lands which were often communally owned by the tribe and managed as a “commons” – land or resources collectively owned by a community – were slowly carved up into privately owned parcels over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.

This privatization of land ownership and the incorporation of colonial New England into a globalized market economy led to profound environmental destruction nearly immediately. Settlers cleared forests for timber and farmland, nearly deforesting much of New England by the early 20th century. Beaver and deer were all but exterminated in the region by the 19th century, hunted for their pelts which were sold for profit in European markets. As early as 1646, Portsmouth, Rhode Island established the first prohibitions on hunting deer out of season, recognizing that the species’ population was dwindling. All of this local extirpation and deforestation occurred within a few decades of European arrival in New England, while the Indigenous peoples of the region had hunted deer and beaver and managed their forests sustainably for millennia prior.

Exploitation of labor arose alongside this exploitation of nature. European settlers in 17th century New England exploited Indigenous hunters to acquire beaver furs, obtaining these pelts at little cost to themselves through the exchange of cheap cloth, metal trinkets, and shell beads. Merchants then in turn exploited these European settlers, paying only a small fraction of what these furs would be worth, and manufacturers back in Europe exploited their workers, paying them less than their labor was worth to produce products like fashionable felt hats for sale to the high-society aristocrats of the time.

This exploitation of nature and labor is not a bug, but a feature of privatized, for-profit capitalist ventures. It is inherent in a capitalist economic model, as history has shown time and again. If profit maximization for the benefit of investors and owners is the goal, as it was for the owners of the Mayflower and as it is for SpaceX, the necessary materials and labor must be cheaply obtained. If they are not cheap, earnings will suffer.

Colonization is a short-sighted solution to this problem. Colonialist companies and nations incorporate peripheral locations into their global economic system, where resources and labor can be cheaply obtained. The mercantile capitalism of the 17th century Atlantic world reflected this economic structure, with abundant timber, furs, and fish being obtained at low costs in New England and returned to European markets where they had greater value. Whether in the form of colonialist extraction of raw materials or the contemporary outsourcing of jobs, this search for cheap labor and resources is necessary for the perpetuation of capitalism, and remains the structuring force behind the global economy to this day.

This same outward expansion in search of cheap raw materials and labor is exactly what will end up driving the colonization of space. The Moon, Mars, and even asteroids may all become the peripheral, privatized, and exploited locations that permit corporations on Earth to profit. Similar to Indigenous understandings of certain land rights in precolonial New England, space is currently viewed as a global commons. This means that all people have rights to it and none should be able to claim exclusive rights over it. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prevents any nation from claiming territory in space, although the treaty is known to be vague concerning the power of corporations in space and will certainly be challenged legally in the coming years. The enclosure and privatization of space may therefore lead not only to the direct and immediate exploitation of the environment and of people, but may also lay the groundwork for long-term systems of exploitation and dispossession.

*****

Elon Musk intends to colonize Mars as soon as possible. Thankfully, there is no potential for genocide of indigenous Martians as there was for Indigenous “Americans” and other Indigenous peoples around the world under European colonialism. Yet because the endeavor is privatized and operating under centuries-old colonialist mindsets, exploitation and destruction will assuredly manifest in other ways.

Mining and resource extraction is one avenue for profit, although Musk acknowledges that it is unclear if the natural resources on Mars could be extracted for the profit of companies on Earth. Even if the costs of transporting raw materials back to Earth are too great, natural resources extracted in space could be manufactured in space and shipped to Earth. Colonization of Mars may therefore differ slightly from cases of colonization on Earth, but the fundamental exploitative relationship remains.

Plus, there are other ways to profit besides the extraction of raw materials. Space tourism by wealthy thrill-seekers is poised to be a cash cow for companies, and a relatively autonomous SpaceX colony on Mars could also have a potentially great degree of freedom to profit from all sorts of business ventures, especially if they are legally independent of the United States government as has been hinted. Musk has also alluded to other “extraordinary entrepreneurial opportunity” on Mars, ranging from manufacturing to restaurants to tourism. However, it remains to be seen just how the financing, ownership, and taxation of these enterprises will be handled in what may be a semi-autonomous colony. In the case of English colonists arriving in North America, it was often the case that the company financing the colony claimed ownership over all property and all economic products of the settlers for a set number of years. Any colonists on a settled Mars will certainly be exploited as well, in one form or another, for the profit of shareholders and company executives. More than a colony of Earth, Mars may become a colony of SpaceX, and this is a troubling thought.

Resisting exploitation is exceedingly difficult in a privately funded, owned, and operated colony because such a colony is, by its very nature, undemocratic. Private companies like SpaceX are not democracies. CEOs are not elected representatives of the employees and business decisions are not voted upon by all workers. Thus, with a corporation calling the shots, settlers on Mars may have disturbingly little input in decision-making processes concerning their businesses and lives.

Fundamentally, the privatization of space exploration is not the beneficial solution that many think it is. It will simply result in a continuation of the colonial exploitation of nature and people as our capitalist global economy transcends our own atmosphere. Exploitation is an inherent part of such for-profit ventures in a capitalist system, and this will carry over into space. Privatized exploration of our solar system will be biased towards profitable ventures instead of those with public benefits and will certainly have numerous detrimental environmental impacts.

As private corporations begin to stake claims and enclose the commons of space, the rest of us lose our rights to it. We must avoid this outcome at all costs. Studying the repercussions of historical and contemporary colonialism on Earth permits us to engage with questions of space exploration from a decolonial and democratic perspective. Space cannot be privatized or exploited for profit, but must remain a commons for the benefit of all humanity.

  • Image credit: Memory-alpha
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    Madagascar: A Nation of Hunger

    Madagascar is in great pain. Theodore Mbainaissem, the head of the World Food Programme (WFP) sub-office in Ambovombe, southern Madagascar, says: “Seeing the physical condition of people extremely affected by hunger who can no longer stand…children who are completely emaciated, the elderly who are skin and bone…these images are unbearable… People are eating white clay with tamarind juice, cactus leaves, wild roots just to calm their hunger.”

    One third of people in southern Madagascar will struggle to feed themselves over the next few months. Until the next harvest in April 2021, 1.35 million people will be “food insecure” – almost double those in need last year – and 282,000 of them are considered “emergency” cases. Pervasive food insecurity in Madagascar is the result of a variety of factors.

    Poverty

    Food security is not only caused by a lack of food supply but also by the lack of political and economic power to access food. Thus, access to income is one potential means for alleviating food insecurity. In Madagascar, the majority of the people don’t have proper access to income.

    Madagascar is one of poorest countries in the world. In the 2007/2008 United Nation Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index, an indicator that measures achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, Madagascar was given the rank of 143rd out of 177 countries.

    Madagascar’s economy is tiny. The market capitalization of U.S. tech giant Facebook is more than 40 times Madagascar’s national income. The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, alone is five times richer than the island nation. A large chunk of Madagascar’s minuscule national income is appropriated by the rich, evidenced in the declining consumption capacity of the poor. Between 2005 and 2010, consumption for the poorest households declined by 3.1%.

    A COVID-19-triggered economic recession has debilitated an already impoverished people. The combined impact of global trade disruptions and pandemic restrictions is estimated to have resulted in a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contraction of 4.2% in 2020. The poverty rate (at $1.9/day) is estimated to have risen to 77.4% in 2020, up from 74.3% in 2019, corresponding to an increase of 1.38 million people in one year.

    Climate Change

    Between 1980 and 2010, Madagascar suffered 35 cyclones and floods, five periods of severe drought, five earthquakes and six epidemics. Madagascar’s extreme weather conditions have intensified due to climate change, increasing food vulnerability.

    Food insecurity affects all regions of the nation, and particularly those in the south, which have a semi-arid climate and are particularly exposed to severe and recurrent droughts. In 2019, a lack of rainfall and a powerful El Nino phenomenon led to the loss of 90% of the harvest and pushed more than 60% of the population into food insecurity.

    Interruptions in food supply due to crop failures have resulted in sharp increases in the prices of different items. Some areas have seen the price of rice shoot up from 50 U.S. cents per kilogram in 2019 to $1.05 in 2020.

    Extractivism

    The extractivist engine of Madagascar’s economy has usurped lands intended for food crops and displaced the people living there. Transnational mining companies in search of new resources have paid increased attention to the significant mineral potential of the country, which is rich in diverse deposits and minerals, including nickel, titanium, cobalt, ilmenite, bauxite, iron, copper, coal and uranium, as well as rare earths. Nickel-cobalt and ilmenite have attracted the majority of foreign direct investment thus far.

    Beginning from the early 2000s, multinational mining companies have made the largest foreign investments in Madagascar’s history. Those affected by the large-scale mining operations are subjected to the restrictions on land and forest-use associated with the establishment of the mining and offset projects. Such resource use restrictions affect important subsistence and health-related activities, with critical impacts on livelihoods and food security.

    To take an example, villagers living in Antsotso have been heavily impacted by biodiversity offsetting at Bemangidy in the Tsitongambarika Forest Complex (TGK III). They have reported that QIT-Madagascar Minerals (QMM) — a public-private partnership between Rio Tinto subsidiary QIT-Fer et Titaine and the Malagasy government — did not explain to them that they were involved in a offsetting program when they were asked to participate in tree planting and were excluded from accessing the forest.

    Constrained resource access due to the biodiversity offsetting measures has seriously impacted food security among Antsotso’s residents, forcing them to abandon rich fields near forest areas and instead grow manioc in inferior sandy soil next to the sea at great distance from their village. All this is the result of the concentrated clout possessed by mining magnates.

    Agro-export Firms

    Between 2005 and 2008, 3 million hectares were under negotiation by 52 foreign companies seeking to invest in agriculture. These companies form a landscape made up of irregularly placed and privately secured territorial enclaves that are linked to transnational networks but disarticulated from both local populations and national development projects. Since these companies are functionally integrated in a framework geared toward the enrichment of foreign investors, they have little regard for the food security of Madagascans.

    In March 2009, the South Korean company Daewoo Logistics signed a 99-year lease in Madagascar for about 1.3 million hectares, or about half of the island’s arable land. It was the largest lease of this type in history and would have supplied half of South Korea’s grain imports. The organization Collective for the Defense of Malagasy Lands (TANY) was established in response to the lease and petitioned the government to first consult with stakeholders before agreeing to foreign land deals. The petition was ignored.

    The deal subsequently fell through when political unrest broke out in Madagascar, which led to the fall of the former president, Marc Ravalomana. Daewoo may have been the largest and most-publicized of foreign investment in recent history, but it was not the first. The proposed land deal raised international attention to the land grabs taking place across the globe, particularly given the contemporaneous food crisis.

     Monopoly Capitalism

    Hunger in Madagascar is the outcome of a confluence of crises. All of them are fundamentally related to capitalism — the system that generates the chaotic drive for ever-greater profits. In the monopoly stage of capitalism, the oppressed people are standing up against a system of generalized monopolies — a structure of power where a tiny clique of plutocrats and their tightly integrated productive apparatuses control the world.

    Correspondingly, the Third World has seen its autonomy erode in the face of this neo-colonial onslaught, leading to the dominance of comprador bourgeoisie — a fraction of capitalists whose interests are entirely subordinated to those of foreign capital, and which functions as a direct intermediary for the implantation and reproduction of foreign capital. What we need today is an independent and unified initiative from the Third World, which brings oppressed countries like Madagascar into regional alliances aimed at de-linking from imperialist architectures and pursuing a socialist path.

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    Irresponsible Happenings: Juukan Gorge, Rio Tinto and the “Never Again” Report

    “Never Again.”  These words are used with boring, stage managed frequency by political and company figures who should know better.  They title the interim report from the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia investigating the destruction of rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia by Rio Tinto.  This act of spectacular cultural vandalism destroyed sites 46,000 years old.  The company initially thought it was worth the bill: AU$135 million worth of iron ore.

    The efforts of Rio Tinto were given that more punch as they took place on the eve of Reconciliation Week on May 24.  They were approved through existing mining laws long shaped by wily developers and land users.  The company had previously boasted of its rapport with the local indigenous peoples, including the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP).  But a bleak picture emerged.  PKKP concerns, according to the company’s statement, “did not arise through the engagements that have taken place over many years under the agreement that governs our operations in the country.”  (Rio was trimming the truth on that one.)  Flaws in the company’s decision-making structure were detected.  There was insufficient oversight.  The London-based head of corporate relations, Simone Niven, had little idea what the Juukan Gorge caves were before the blasting took place.

    In October, committee members were told that Rio Tinto had been all too keen to muzzle traditional owners in their efforts to save the rock shelters.  Amply lawyered, the company shot off letters warning that agitators could not speak publicly about their cause.  The PKKP were also told that an application for an emergency halt to the works to the federal government could only take place with Rio Tinto’s permission, and giving 30 days’ notice.  As Carol Meredith, chief executive of the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation recalls, “What we were reminded of by Rio’s lawyers was that we were not able to engage seeking out an emergency declaration that perhaps would have stopped proceedings, because of our claim-wide participation agreement.”

    Rio Tinto does not come out shining.  It was found to be strategic and calculating in approaching its mining, taking a “legalistic approach to heritage protection,” and adopting a self-interested approach in relying on “outdated laws and unfair agreements”.  “The evidence before the committee demonstrates severe deficiencies in the company’s heritage management practices, internal communication protocols and relationship practices with the PKKP.”  The company’s own board review had done little to address them.  The commercial incentive remained all-conquering.

    The report takes issue with the cobwebbed Aboriginal Heritage Act, a West Australian law from 1972.  The statute is meant to protect and preserve Aboriginal sites, a purpose it serves shabbily.  While section 17 of the current Act makes the destruction, damage or altering to an Aboriginal site a criminal offence, Section 18 provides a route of dispensation for the aspiring cultural vandal.  Breaches of the Act (in other words, damage to the site) will be excused provided the applicant seeks consent from the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC).  The ACMC, in turn, assesses the importance and cultural significance of the site, conveying the notice to the Minister with a written recommendation on how to proceed.  In making a decision, the Minister has full discretion.

    A draft bill, acknowledged by the committee, would remove Section 18 of the Act.  The report also recommends that new legislation involve traditional owners in the decision.  A commitment to stay all actions under Section 18 permissions obtained by Rio Tinto is sought till “they are properly reviewed to ensure that free, prior and informed consent has been obtained from Traditional Owners and is current”.  The new legislation should also prohibit agreements “which seek to restrict Traditional Owners from exercising their rights to seek protections under State and Commonwealth laws.”

    Gag clauses or restrictions in agreements as deployed by Rio Tinto to stifle protest are also recommended for removal.  Committee members also list a few other recommendations for the mining giant. These include negotiating a restitution package for the destruction of the rock shelters with the PKKP and full reconstruction and remediation of the site “at its own expense, with guidance and oversight from the PKKP, acknowledging Rio Tinto’s undertaken in this regard and the steps taken to date.”

    All mining companies currently operating in Western Australia, whether or not on Native Title land are also told to undertake independent reviews of existing agreements between them and the Traditional Owners, while also committing “to ongoing regular review to ensure consistency with best practice standards.”

    The predations of Rio Tinto opened up cataracts of condemnation.  Finding individual villainy would be tempting but inaccurate.  The company operates in an industry deaf, and increasingly deafened, to social policy.  A co-authored piece in The Conversation by academics specialising in social responsibility and mining (oxymoronic flair is rife in this field) claims that “community relations departments [in the industry] have seen sizeable reductions.”

    As with other entities driven by free market avarice, mining companies are also cool to the idea of greater protections for Aboriginal heritage sites, policed by federal regulations.  BHP, Rio Tinto, Roy Hill, Woodside and Fortescue Metals have told the inquiry that agreements with traditional owners have generally worked.  Juukan Gorge was merely an aberration.  Such giants remain taken with the fantasy that their arrangements arise from positions of equal bargaining power and adequate resources.  These agreements, according to Jamie Lowe of the National Native Title Council, “enable the pretence that when destruction is authorised, it is what traditional owners would have agreed had legislation given them the right to say no.”

    The Australian parliamentarians are inadvertently right.  This will never happen again, because the rock shelters have ceased to exist.  History and cultural traces, eradicated.  A spot in time, never to be repeated.  Harm caused by the mining industry to cultural heritage will simply continue in new forms, with consent manufactured.  Till the laws are changed and demand for natural resources slides, companies such as Rio Tinto will continue milking and reaping, whatever pull social responsibility has.

    The post Irresponsible Happenings: Juukan Gorge, Rio Tinto and the "Never Again" Report first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Lighting up the Elite’s Solutions will Still Smell of Sulphur

    I also know that one must do what one can do. No matter how little it is, it is nonetheless a human testimony and human testimonies, as long as they are not based on greed or personal ambition for power, can have unexpected positive effects.…I believe in local action and in small dimensions. It is only in such environments that human creativity and meaningful identities can truly surface and flourish.

    Manfred Max-Neef

    There are many-many gross things in the news every nanosecond of anti-social media’s and mass mainlining media’s dead from the navel up “stories.”

    Imagine, now, the Great White Hope, the Sir David and the Prince William doling out a few million bucks here and there for, drum roll, individuals, companies and agencies that come up with solutions to the world’s environmental problems.

    Imagine that, the deeply steeped in eugenics Attenborough, and the DNA-mutated mentally inbred royalty, having people jump through hoops to help move forward the powers that be in capitalism.

    Here’s a doozy from this insipidly wet milquetoast PR spin — “We can’t cut down rain-forests forever and anything that we can’t do forever is by definition unsustainable,” says Attenborough. Adding that “if we act now we can yet put it right,” how amazing would that be? We must all act now.

    Oh, cry for me, Military Industrial Complex. Nary a word about the Prince’s jets and missiles. Nothing about the deeply embedded complex that holds up the war lords. Again, to repeat – that’s Silicon Valley, that’s fast food, that’s paint, hardware, clothing, IT, telecom, med, media, pharma, oil, gas, nuclear, wires, plastics, satellites,  technical writers, office supplies, water, air, soil suppliers, engineering outfits, lumber, milling, smelting, big earth movers, drone makers, all of those grand pieces and bits that put together this zombie squid of war war war.

    You will not hear that in the Attenborough line – no more war machines, soldiers, flyovers, Kings Guards, air-naval-ground-moon bases. Imagine, he states how he was 11 years old with a world population of, drum roll, 2.3 billion (1937).

    And, now it’s 7.8 billion, and huge parts of the globe are dead of wild lands and are invaded by, well, you guessed it (but not coming from the Prince’s or Knight’s mouths) – capitalists and empires running their criminal operations for the banks, the investors, the elites. Oh, mining, ag, metals, fossil fuel, minerals, fish, water, data, human lives for the operation that gets old Attenborough flying around the world in his jet-setting ways.

    Let’s see, since 1937, hundreds of trillions spent on missiles, NASA/aerospace, satellites, war-war-war; and what else has occurred since wee David grew up to be 94? No mention of the amassing of chemicals, industrial farms, the huge consumer-capitalist bases of seizing power, products, resources and people from other countries, all for god, country, queen, and Goldman Sachs, BlackRock and, pick your bank poison here  ____________! He will not speak of the accumulation of wealth and land and power by his own Anglo-Saxon greedy men of war-debt-slavery.

    He wants birth-control, forced sterilization for the dark people, and LEED and zero waste third and fourth homes-castles-island enclaves for the beautiful people. No limits on the beautiful people’s families and 5.6 earths for their lifestyle Earth Footprint.

    This is more of the same bizarre stuff – five prizes, $1.2 million each, for 10 years. This is the infantilism of the globe and the great super hero rescuer narrative for the beautiful people who want nothing more than capitalism that pays, has returns on investments and smells-tastes-feels-looks-sounds like green porn.

    “We rely entirely on this finely tuned life-support machine” says Sir David Attenborough when describing our little blue planet, in his recently released book and documentary “A Life on Our Planet.” The legendary naturalist and broadcaster, now 94, has spent his entire life traveling the world documenting wildlife, for us to enjoy from the comfort of our living rooms. He is thought to be one of the most well-traveled people on the planet, for The Life of Birds documentary alone, it is estimated he traveled a whopping 256,000 miles. That is the same as traveling around the world ten times. And this was only for one of the eight series he has made for the BBC over the course of almost 30 years. He now joins forces with Prince William with whom he shares a passion for the environment, to help launch the Earthshot Prize. Aiming to be the most prestigious global environment prize, it will be awarded to those who come up with extraordinary ways to help tackle some of the biggest environmental challenges of our planet. [source]

    Prince William and Sir David Attenborough launch Earthshot Prize

    Quaint. Bad writing. It is like a Jack and Jill nursery tale. Not journalism.

    Here’s my email – contact me ASAP, Sir David and Prince Billy. No millions spent on techno fixes, on big giant scoops for ocean plastic, seed storage projects for the moon or mars. No 29 million studies and 29 white papers and a hundred million sad-sack pretzel logic to save the planet. I got the idea, man, and we can distribute that $60 million to sue the shit out of the main perpetrators of poisons. Outfits like British Petroleum? Uh?

    Simple stuff, so again, my contact email, Davey and Willie,  is below. Here

    Here, my idea — I can think of a massive one weekend event – how about a thousand or 10,000 thousand two-day charrettes. Globally. Giant brainstorming sessions. Giving young people the facilitation tools to come up with a 10-part or 100-part plan to save people, planets, plants, populations of animal species.

    Easy, man – with all the shit-show tools of Zoom and satellite feeds and computers and, well, you think that maybe 10,000 teach-ins and brainstorming sessions simultaneously might produce a few common threads, in the countries on the African Continent, North, Middle and South America, Middle East, Far East, Island nations, and more.

    Let’s see – I bet with the right engagement, those young students and their tag-along parents and uncles and aunts might be coming up with this:

    • immediate end to military spending
    • utilizing the equipment militaries have for restorative natural, agro-ecological, and community projects
    • no more billionaires
    • no more men and women ruling from the top down
    • no more corporations dictating the size, shape, limits, lifespans of individual humans, ecosystems, bio-regions, nations, and hemispheres
    • massive collective agro-ecological farming to feed the world
    • massive eminent domain for empty buildings, second, third, fourth homes
    • microhome villages served with intergenerational diverse people healing minds-bodies-earth-natural systems
    • a collective and massive global year of strikes
    • the new framework for producing food, producing goods, producing small-locally owned businesses
    • colleges for all, and all departments engaged in connected and holistic teaching . . .
    • no more economy over anything thinking
    • deep ethics taught in all those subjects
    • community schools led by students and people in the communities
    • native and indigenous led governance, land ethic, air ethic, and cultural engagement
    • arts, culture, intergenerational housing, and, alas, no more shit jobs (RIP David Graeber!)

    And, more, and can you imagine all those 10,000 community-based charrettes, where people – the young and the very old and the most vulnerable – are not just at the table, but are the facilitators. Sure, the concepts of global heating will be tantamount as well as restorative cultural-economic-spiritual-racial justice.

    I am convinced that these youth forums will produce manifestos so similar, so tied to the very idea of “an injury to one is an injury to all” that all the retrograde, violent, and colonized war lord and banking lovers would be pushed out of the realm. Join us, sure.

    But imagine now this Earth-Shot prize being something completely different than the old model of “who has the best ideas to fit into the capitalist paradigm to play around with some of the major issues earth and people are facing.”

    Solve microplastics? Well, first, now, stop the plastic’s industry and yank them all out of the hands of felons and profit gougers. The packaging industries? Done. The clear cutters, strip miners, mountaintop removers – gone, out of business.

    The commodities trading? Gone. The stockholders, the monopolies, the BlackRocks, gone. I believe those 10,000 or 100,000 charrettes and youth-led think tanks and solutions cabals would produce the tools, the language and the spirit of structural global change. Email me, Dave and Billy.

    Oh, I know it will be a lot of work, but the young and the very old and the vulnerable are up to the task. There is really nothing else on earth to do but working for the human/animal/plant family and natural world and working collectively so people in the next county don’t suffer while the other county doesn’t suffer.

    Precautionary principle, life cycle analysis, and much more-more for an ecosocialist world. Whoops, did I use the term, Socialist?

    The world is suffering from a fever due to climate change,
    and the disease is the capitalist development model.
    — Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, September 2007,

    The Belem Ecosocialist Declaration

    Youth who are not completely damaged by consumerism/anti-social media/drugs/epigenetics/Breaking Bad parents are naturally connected to other peoples, and given the space and chance, they are the solutions makers.

    No more TED Talk white bread talkers, no more mass mainlining media info-tainment, no more celebrity culture dominating everything, no more-no more.

    Again, utilize this shit-show Zoom Doom and media platforms to get these 10,000 or 100,000 teach-ins/charrettes up on all platforms. Imagine, even all those colonized millionaire media fakes, all those prune headed politicians, all those stem-cell sucking CEO’s like Bezos and Zuckerberg, well, they will have to watch, man.

    Old Knights and Princes are not the future. The rich and the white race rampaging throughout history in their empires of greed, religion, conquistadors of rape-pillage-theft-murder; those manipulators, those penury-creators, those bamboozlers, the smoke and mirror charlatans, the debt holders, the criminal injustice purveyors, all those blood diamond types, I know for a fact that two day teach-in and charrette, they will be tossed out as anything more than thieves and destroyers.

    Give peace a chance? Give the youth the platform, the facilitation, the attention, the manifestos to change this world.  Coming up with some bio-mimic paint that self cleans will not cut it. Global shit in who is at the table, who writes the rules, who brings forth the ideas. N O  M O R E  white guys setting the stage and making the rules.

    Oh, what a world it would be, and what would it take to get those 100,000 global charrettes working? Technology. Computers? Some WIFI connections? Email me now, sirs and princes!

    Let the youth, the young from lower economic communities, the people of the so-called developing or less developed world make their mark now. Forget about the compostable toilets and home-sited wind turbine.

    And this is what the Earthshot Prize aims to do. Just as the moonshot that John F. Kennedy proposed in the 1960s was a catalyst for new technology such as the MRI scanner and satellite dishes that helped us go to the moon, this prize aims through Earthshot challenges to create a new wave of ambition and innovation around finding ways to help save the planet. The committee has announced it will spend the next 10 years $60 million, awarding annually five, $1.2 million prizes to individuals, organizations and those around the world who are working to provide solutions to the world’s biggest environmental problems.

    It is no surprise that the dominant global system which is responsible for the ecological crisis also sets the terms of the debate about this crisis, for capital commands the means of production of knowledge, as much as that of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Accordingly, its politicians, bureaucrats, economists and professors send forth an endless stream of proposals, all variations on the theme that the world’s ecological damage can be repaired without disruption of market mechanisms and of the system of accumulation that commands the world economy.

    But a person cannot serve two masters – the integrity of the earth and the profitability of capitalism. One must be abandoned, and history leaves little question about the allegiances of the vast majority of policy-makers. There is every reason, therefore, to radically doubt the capacity of established measures to check the slide to ecological catastrophe.

    Belem Ecosocialist Declaration

    The post Lighting up the Elite’s Solutions will Still Smell of Sulphur first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    The Insanity of Sustainability

    Only the Dead Have Seen the End of War.
    — Plato.

    This wisdom is as valid today as it was 2,500 years ago. Wars go on and on. They are exactly the antidote of sustainability. Though they may be the only “sustainability” modern mankind knows – endless destruction, killing, shameless exploitation of Mother Earth and its sentient beings, including humans.

    Yes, we are hell-bent towards “sustainably”, destroying our planet and all its living beings, with wars and conflicts and shameless exploitation of Mother Earth and the people who have peacefully inhabited her lands for thousands of years.

    All for greed, and more greed. Greed and destruction are certainly “unsustainable” features of our western “civilization”. Not to worry.  In the grand scheme of things, Mother Earth will survive. She will cleanse herself by shaking and shedding off the destroyers, the annihilators – mankind. Only the brave will survive. Indigenous people, who have abstained from abject consumerism and instead worshipped Mother Earth and expressed their gratitude to her daily gifts. There are not many such societies left on our planet.

    In the meantime, we lie about the sustainability we live in. We lie to ourselves and to the public at large around us. We make believe sustainability is our cause, and we use the term freely and constantly. Most of us don’t even know what it is supposed to mean. “Sustainability” and “sustainable” anything and everything have become slogans; or household words.

    Such buzz-words, repeated over and over again, are made for promoting ideas, and for bending people’s minds to believe in something that isn’t.

    We pretend and say that we work sustainably, we develop just about anything we touch sustainably, and we project the future in a most sustainable way. That’s what we are made to believe by those who coined this most fabulously clever, but untrue term. It is the 101 of a psycho-factory.

    As Voltaire so pointedly said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities; can make you commit atrocities.”

    Sustainability. What does it mean? It has about as many interpretations as there are people who use the term – namely none specific. It sounds good. Because it has become – well, a household word, ever since the World Bank invented, or rather diverted the term for “sustainable development” in the 1990s, in connection, first, with Global Warming, then with Climate Change – and now back to both.

    Imagine! There was a time at the World Bank, and possibly other institutions, when every page of almost every report had to contain at least once the word “sustainable”, or “sustainability”. Yes, that’s the extent of insanity propagated then – and today it follows on a global scale, more sophisticated – the corporate world, the mega-polluters make it their buzz-word. Our business is sustainable, and we, with our products, promote sustainability worldwide.

    In fact, sustainable, sustainable growth, sustainable development, sustainable this and sustainable that was originally coined by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, the Rio Summit, the Rio Conference, and the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro from 3 to 14 June in 1992.

    The summit is intimately linked to the subsequent drive on Global Warming and Climate Change. It exuded projections of sea level risings, of disappearing cities and land strips, like Florida and New York City, as well as parts of California and many coastal areas and towns in Africa and Asia. It painted endless disasters, droughts, floods and famine as their consequence, if we – mankind – didn’t act. This first of a series of UN environment/climate summits is also closely connected with the UN Agendas 2021 and 2030. The UN Agenda 2030 incorporates or uses as main vehicle – the 17 “Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)”.

    In a special UN Conference in 2016, Bill Gates was able to introduce into the 16th SDG Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”, the 9th of the 12 sub-targets – “By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.” This is precisely what Bill Gates needs to introduce digital IDs – most likely injected via vaccines, beginning with children from developing countries; i.e., the poor and defenseless are time and again used as guinea pigs.

    They won’t know what happens to them. First trials are underway in one or several rural schools in Bangladesh – see this  and this.

    These 17 sustainable development goals are all driving towards a Green Agenda, or as some prominent “left” US Democrat-political figures call it, the New Green Deal. It is nothing else but capitalism painted Green, at a horrendous cost for mankind and for the resources of the world. But it is sold under the label of creating a more sustainable world.

    Never mind, the enormous amounts of hydrocarbons – the key polluter itself – that will be needed to convert our “black” economy into a Green economy. Simply because we have not developed effective and efficient alternative sources of energy. The main reasons for this are the strong and politically powerful hydrocarbon lobbies.

    The energy cost (hydrocarbon-energy from oil and coal) of producing solar panels and windmills is astounding. So, today’s electric cars – Tesla and Co. – are still driven by hydrocarbon produced electricity.  Plus their batteries made from lithium destroy pristine landscapes, like huge natural salt flats in Bolivia, Argentina, China and elsewhere. The use of these sources of energy is everything but “sustainable”.

    According to a study by the European Association for Battery Electric Vehicles commissioned by the European Commission (EC), The ‘Well-to-Tank’ energy efficiency (from the primary energy source to the electrical plug), taking into account the energy consumed by the production and distribution of the electricity, is estimated at around 37%.“  See also Michael Moore’s film Planet of the Humans.

    Hydrogen power is promoted as the panacea of future energy resources. But is it really? Hydrocarbons or fossil fuels today amount to 80% of all energy used worldwide. This is non-renewable and highly polluting energy. Today to produce hydrogen is still mostly dependent on fossil fuels, similar to electricity.

    As long as we have purely profit-fueled hydrocarbon lobbies that prevent governments collectively to invest in alternative energy research, like solar energy of the 2nd Generation; i.e., derived from photosynthesis (what plants do), hydrogen production uses more fossil fuels than using straight gas or petrol-derived fuels. Therefore hydrogen, say a hydrogen-driven car, may be as much as 40% – 50% less efficient than would be a straight electric car. The burden on the environment can be considerably higher. Thus, not sustainable with today’s technology.

    To enhance your belief in their slogans of “sustainability”, they put up some windmills or solar cells in the “backyard” of their land and landscape devastating coal mines. They will be filmed for propaganda purposes along with their “sustainable” buzz-words.

    The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the IMF are fully committed to the idea of the New Green Deal. For them it is not unfettered neoliberal capitalism and extreme consumerism emanating from it that is the cause for the world’s environmental and societal breakdown, but the use of polluting energies, like hydrocarbons. They seem to ignore the enormous fossil fuel use to convert to a green energy-driven economy. Or, are they really not aware? Capitalism is OK. We just have to paint it green (see this and this.)

    Let’s look at wh at else is “sustainable” — or not.

    Water use and privatization.  Coca Cola tells us their addictive and potentially diabetes-causing soft drinks are produced “sustainably”. They tout sustainability as their sales promotion all over the world. “Our business is sustainable from A to Z. Coco Cola follows a business culture of sustainability.”

    They use enormous amounts of pristine clean drinking water – and so does Nestlé to further promote its number One business branch, bottled water. Nestlé has overtaken Coca Cola as the world number One in bottled water. They both use primarily subterranean sources of drinking water – least costly and often rich in minerals. Both of them have made — or are about to sign — agreements with Brazil’s President to exploit the world’s largest freshwater aquifer, the Guarani, underlaying Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. They both proclaim sustainability.

    Both Coca Cola and Nestlé have horror stories in the Global South (i.e. India, Brazil, Mexico and others), as well as in the Global North. Nestlé is in a battle with the municipality of the tiny Osceola Township, in Michigan, where residents complain the Swiss company’s water extraction techniques are ruining the environment. Nestlé pays the State of Michigan US$ 200 to extract 130 million gallons of water per year (2018).

    Through over-exploitation both in the Global South and the Global North, especially in the summer, the water table sinks to unattainable levels for the local populations which are deprived of their water source. Protesting with their government or city officials is often in vain. Corruption is all overarching. Nothing sustainable here.

    These are just two examples of privatizing water for bottling purposes. Privatization of public water supply on a much larger scale is at the core of the issue, carried out mostly in developing countries (the Global South), mainly by French, British, Spanish and US water corporations.

    Privatization of water is a socially most unsustainable feat, as it deprives the public, especially the poor, from access to their legitimate water resources. Water is a public good and water is also a basic human right. On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.

    The public water use of Nestlé and Coca Cola, and many others, mind you, doesn’t even take account of the trillions of used plastic bottles ending up as uncollected and non-recycled waste, in the sea, fields, forests and on the road sides. Worldwide less than 8% of plastic bottles are recycled. Therefore, nothing of what Nestlé and Coca Cola practice and profess is sustainable. It’s an outright lie.

    Petrol industry. BP with its green business emblem, makes believe – visually, every time you pass a BP station – that they are green. BP proclaims that their oil exploration and exploitation is green and environmentally sustainable.

    Let’s look at reality. The so far considered largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It was a giant industrial disaster that started on April 20, 2010 and lasted to 19 September 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect, spilling about 780,000 cubic meter of raw petroleum over an area of up to 180,000 square kilometers. BP promised a full cleanup. By February 2015 they declared task completed. In reality, two thirds of the spilled oil still remains in the sea and as toxic tar junks along the sea shore and beaches; they have not been cleaned up and may never be removed. Where is the sustainability of their promise? Another outright lie.

    BP and other oil corporations also have horrendous human rights records just about everywhere they operate, mostly in Africa and the Middle East, but also in Asia. The abrogation of human rights is also an abrogation of sustainability.

    In this essay BP is used as an example for the petrol industry. None of the petrol giants operate sustainably anywhere in the world, and least where water table-destructive fracking is practiced.

    Sustainable mining is another flagrant lie. But it sells well to the blinded people. And most of the civilized world is blinded. Unfortunately. They want to continue in their comfort zone which includes the use of copper, gold and other precious metals and stones, rare earths for ever more sophisticated electronic gear, gadgets and especially military electronically guided precision weaponry as well as hydrocarbons in one way or another.

    Sustainable mining of anything unrenewable is a Big Oxymoron. Anything you take from the earth that is non-renewable is by its nature not sustainable. It’s simply gone. Forever. In addition to the raw material not being renewable, the environmental damage caused by mining – especially gold and copper – is horrendous. Once a mine is exploited in a short 30- or 40-years’ concession, the mining company leaves mountains of contaminated waste, soil and water behind – that takes a thousand years or more to regenerate.

    Yet, the industry’s palaver is “sustainability”, and the public buys it.

    In fact, our civilization’s sustainability is zero. Aside from the pollution, poisoning and intoxication that we leave around us, our mostly western civilization has used natural resources at the rate of 3 to 4 times in excess of what Mother Earth so generally provides us with. We, the west, had passed the threshold of One in the mid-sixties. In Africa and most of Asia, the rate of depletion is still way below the factor of One, on average somewhere between 0.4 and 0.6.

    “Sustainability” is a flash-word and has no meaning in our western civilization. It is pure deception – self-deception, so we may continue with our unsustainable ways of life. That’s what profit-bound capitalism does. It lives today with ever more consumerism, more luxury for the ever-fewer oligarchs on the resources of tomorrow.

    The sustainability of everything is not only a cheap slogan, it’s a ruinous self-deception. A Global Great Reset is indeed needed but not according to the methods of the IMF and WEF. They would just shovel more resources and assets from the bottom 99.99% to the top few, painting the “new” capitalism a shiny bright green – and fooling the masses. We, The People, must take The Reset in our own hands, with consciousness and responsibility.

    So, We the People, forget sustainable but act responsibly.

    The post The Insanity of Sustainability first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Rio Tinto turns Cultural Vandal: The Destruction of the Juukan Gorge Caves

    It was a calamity in cultural terms likened to the destruction of the Buddhist statues of Bamyan and the ancient city of Palmyra.  The explosive eradication of two Aboriginal sites in West Australia’s Juukan Gorge in May, said to be 46,000 years old, moved Peter Stone, the UNESCO chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace, to call it “a black day for us all”.  This was not the dirty handiwork of Taliban zealots or Islamic State fanatics: the blasting had been an act of callous corporate desecration, a molestation of country, a renting of the earth.

    These sites in the Pilbara were not parochial statements or nationalist kitsch.  They were evidence of continuous occupation by humans through the last Ice Age, sporting artefacts such as a belt made from human hair 4,000 years old.  Such artefacts could be claimed as linking the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) to immemorial ancestry.  As Stone remarked, “They are not only extremely important sites for Aboriginal communities, but also they were extremely important sites for archaeological understanding of the distant past in Australia.”

    PKKP representative John Ashburton’s statement was a sob of desperation.  “Our people are deeply troubled and saddened by the destruction of these rock shelters and are grieving the loss of connection to our ancestors as well as our land.”

    The initial approach by the company was one of justification, mixed with modest regret.  Rio Tinto had a long standing relationship with the PKKP people.  They had secured all the necessary approvals in 2013, done the necessary jigs in law.  In a statement, the mining behemoth claimed that, “We are sorry that the recently expressed concerns of the PKKP did not arise through the engagements that have taken place over many years under the agreement that governs our operations in the country.”

    Commentators in the field of mining are brimming with explanations as to why Rio Tinto turned cultural vandal.  Deanna Kemp, director of the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining at the University of Queensland, and Andrew Hopkins, sociologist at the Australian National University have a few.  There was “extreme production pressure” in the company’s iron ore division; the iron ore in the caves’ proximity was of such grade as to be irresistible, given demand for the company’s Pilbara blend.  West Australian law vested the company with authority to mine the area, one it exercised despite severe reservation and opposition.  The company’s structure is segmented: each product division – iron ore, aluminium, copper and diamonds, minerals and energy – reign separately.  When things shine, the system works, each division left to its own productive devices.  But lacking a central mechanism of oversight can be disastrous: the chance of reckless decisions with “disastrous human and environmental consequences”.

    Not that Rio was unaware of these deficiencies.  Modest efforts had been made within the company to put in place chains of command run by what is drearily termed in corporation-speak “functional executives”.  Product division chiefs were not entirely free of their gaze.  And one field of importance for the functional executives was the external function of dealing with indigenous relations, subsumed under the broader title of corporate relations.  The position had been historically weak, lacking a presence on the executive committee.

    Jean-Sébastien Jacques, on becoming chief executive in 2016, created a seat for the head of corporate relations at the big table.  But, note Kemp and Hopkins, the system did not work.  There was too much scatter, too many specialisations, too much scope.  News about the imminent destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves might have intruded upon the executive for corporate relations or the chief executive.  But the watch-dog failed to bark, largely because the focus of indigenous relations was, to put it mildly, minor.  Simone Niven, the distantly London-based head of corporate relations, was ignorant of the Juukan Gorge caves till days before the blasts, lacking knowledge of their significance.  The indigenous relations element was obscured in the shrubbery of corporate governance.

    The sense that heads on pikes were needed started to take hold at Rio Tinto.  A Parliamentary review was instigated.  Investors were concerned.  Superannuation funds such as UniSuper, HESTA and AustralianSuper were agitated.  The Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI) demanded changes to “ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again and what accountability there will be for the issues identified.”

    Interest centred on what might happen to Jacques, chief executive of iron ore Chris Salisbury, and Niven. The board, led by Simon Thompson, initially felt that withholding bonuses and releasing their own review of the incident by Michael L’Estrange were two ways of pacifying the critics.  ACSI chief Louise Davidson wondered whether the company felt that “4 million [British] pounds is the right price for the destruction of cultural heritage”.  Rio’s Australian directors L’Estrange, Megan Clark and Simon McKeon were accused by the Australian Financial Review of unconscionable weakness.  Dissent grew in the boardroom at what was a lamentably timorous response.  Stronger disciplinary measures were urged.  Eventually, the big three would face Rio’s own version of the gold gilded corporate guillotine.

    Before the parliamentary committee, Rio has been subpar and deceptive.  Former Rio chief executive Sam Walsh had claimed in the press that instructions were issued in 2013 to the company’s general manager of mine operations Greg Lilleyman to ensure that the Juukan Gorge not be mined.  In response to the question on notice put by the committee, the company found no mention of the sites in any email correspondence.  Lilleyman also claimed to have “no recollection of Mr Walsh issuing any such direction.”

    The company seemed to relish misleading members of parliament.  Jacques, for instance, had been reported as telling employees at a Brisbane staff meeting to “Fit in or fuck off.”  The committee was intrigued: would such an environment be conductive to questioning the proposed destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves?  The company response: “Mr Jacques was expressing the sentiment that we will not tolerate any breaches of safety in our operations around the world, by any of our employees.”  Not quite, Joe Aston points out in the Australian Financial Review.  The FIFO remark was in response to dealing with “dead wood” in the company, an effort to remove those “stuck in the past”.  Nothing about safety; nothing about good conscience.

    Aston also notes another example.  To a question put by MP George Christensen about who in Rio “knew or had an inkling about the significance of Juukan Gorge caves”, the answer was equally unsatisfactory, if not mendacious.  Unnamed managers are noted at stages in 2012 to 2014 as having such knowledge.  Senior executives are spared it.  References to rock shelters or sites did not specifically mention “Juukan”.  A falsehood, Aston claims, given that Rio received a final report of archaeologist Dr. Michael Slack on December 31, 2018 assigning the caves “the highest archaeological significance in Australia”.

    The Rio Tinto Board Review was also a master class in hand washing exoneration.  The media release of the report noted that legal authority to destroy the Juukan rock shelters had been obtained; it merely “fell short of the Standards and internal guidance that Rio Tinto sets for itself, over and above its legal obligations.” The findings of the review revealed “no single root cause or error that directly resulted in the destruction of the rock shelters.”  Blame the systems, data sharing, engagement with the PKKP, poor decisions over time.  But the vandal, in all of this, should be spared.

    Rio, in the fashion of the times, is making its own effort at cultural re-education.  On its website, the company informs us of an unreserved apology had been made to the PKKP people.  The destruction of the rock shelters should never have been happened; “we are absolutely committed to listening, learning and changing.”  Measures in cultural heritage governance, controls and approvals in iron had been strengthened.  Vague references are made to “increasing our focus on the importance of our relationships with Traditional Owners.”  More Indigenous leadership roles were needed.

    Which brings us back to the gold gilded guillotine.  Tone deaf and lacking a scintilla of empathy, the company board has given Jacques, Salisbury and Niven a fond farewell: some $40 million between them.  It affirms a rule common from the company board room to university bureaucrats: incompetence and insensitivity has its rich rewards.

    The post Rio Tinto turns Cultural Vandal: The Destruction of the Juukan Gorge Caves first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Environmental Disaster and Health Crisis in Cerrejon

    At Cerrejon (Colombia), the largest open-pit coal mine in Latin America owned equally by BHP (Australia), Anglo American PLC (United Kingdom) and Glencore (Switzerland), the situation of the indigenous people is progressively worsening. Cerrejon Limited has informed the workers that “all the existing shifts will be unified into a single 7-day work, for three days off.” With the enforcement of the new shifts, “workers would go from working 15 to 21 days and the mine would go from 4 to 3 shifts, leaving at least 25% of the current workforce unemployed.” The new shift pattern is likely to aggravate the health of workers as long working hours increase the number of work-related pathologies. Current work shift arrangements have already led to more than “700 pathologies associated with musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular and ear diseases, among others.” As the level of work becomes more stressful, these occupational diseases will start multiplying.

    The present-day actions at the Cerrejon mine are one among the myriad manifestations of transnational capital’s cruelty. Cerrejon mine is located in the dry department of La Guajira which is home to more than 900,000 people. 45% of the population is indigenous, with most of the people belonging to Wayuu and the remaining coming from smaller groups such as Arhuacos, Koguis and Wiwas. 8% of the population is Afro-Colombian, thus making La Guajira the department with the highest presence of indigenous people in Colombia. When mining companies arrived in 1983 in La Guajira, they encountered these indigenous people as an obstruction in the path of development. Consequently, the appropriate solution to this problem was the initiation of “development-induced displacement.”

    In 1981, the brutal behemoths of mining began shredding the social fabric of indigenous existence and left deep scars of development on the collective psyche of indigenous people. In order to make way for the Puerto Bolivar Port, mining multinationals chose to systematically exterminate the Wayuu village of Media Luna. Paradoxically, negotiations began after the displacement in which “Some 750 residents who lived in Media Luna entered into negotiations with the company for their collective relocation, but were targeted with anonymous threats of violence, which appeared to be linked to the negotiations and later led to the collapse of talks…. Subsequently, the company ordered the village to relocate for a second time and, when seven families refused, a metal fence was erected around their homes and armed guards stationed to watch over – a strategy interpreted to intimidate them into leaving.” This was a particularly counter-intuitive way of conducting negotiations wherein irregular violence, strategically organized arm-twisting and silent terrorization forced the Wayuu into accepting development.

    The largest displacement came later in August 2001 when the Afro-Colombian community of the Tabaco village was violently dragooned into fleeing from the region. Eviction happened through the carefully coordinated action of the military, police and armed forces, interspersed with the presence of marauding bulldozers. Ines Perez, one of the victims of the calibrated evisceration of Tabaco, said that “The community was evicted from the land by force, with anti-riot police, in cold blood. We were thrown off our land. They destroyed our homes with machines. They punched us. They hit me and my papa. We were left nearly in a coma, with the houses torn down, in ruins. We’ve been struggling for 13 years and we’re still fighting for our health, for our food, for everything. We are demanding to be relocated and to receive compensation. We just want our lives back.”

    Cerrejon mining companies have, till date, no qualms for plundering, gutting and decimating an entire village through an expeditious eruption of violence. Comprehensive reparations, relocation and apportionment of productive lands have not occurred. Even where such processes have commenced, the efforts are insubstantial and inadequate. Samuel Arregoces, a former inhabitant of Tabaco, expresses the plight of those who have been devastatingly relocated and impoverished by the dehumanizing operations of money-grubbing mines: “They destroyed the entire village. They took all our land away. We lost all our livestock, everything. They relocated us to other districts, where we now live in poverty since we cannot grow anything. Where we used to live, where the Tabaco river flows, we grew cassava, maize and bananas. For many years, our cattle grazed the land and we also had fruit trees, but today we have to buy everything. We have become destitute, since we no longer have a village.”

    Another catastrophic byproduct of Cerrejon mining operations has been the unprecedented and utter ransacking of regional ecosystems. Open-pit mining is environmentally destabilizing because it “flattens mountains and devastates ecosystems. In this process, forests are clear-cut to expose the tops of mountains, which are then blown off with explosives. Coal is extracted using large machinery and the unused soil and rock are dumped into adjacent valleys, filling them up and creating a flat landscape.” After this, “New, gigantic, flat-topped walls of debris called overburden are dumped between tiny communities and along the periphery of open pit mines. They swallow farmers’ fields, impede the movement of grazing animals, disrupt rivers and streams, and leach poisons into the earth and water.”

    The cultural loss associated with this disruptive process is profound as territories are spiritually significant for indigenous collectivities such as the Wayuu. In Wayuu community, communication with ancestors is a part of the primordial ethics of indigeneity and this happens primarily through the interpretation of dreams. The dream world, therefore, is the main modality for dialoguing with spirits and ancestors. But Wayuu people can only dream when they live on their own sacred territories. Correspondingly, when sacred territories are destroyed by open-pit mining, Wayuu lose their ability to dream and get culturally stripped of their distinctive identity.

    Apart from cultural loss, Cerrejon mining extractivism has ecologically-materially impacted the department of La Guajira through two phenomena: water scarcity and high levels of pollution. In La Guajira, “people are dependent on tributary streams and their corresponding aquifers as a water source for agriculture, household use, and animal ranching”because the department “is a drought-prone region with two rainy seasons that are unpredictable and inconsistent.” Rivers are, therefore, extremely important for the existence of indigenous communities. Cerrejon Limited has apparently failed to comprehend the importance of rivers and has been trying consistently to completely colonize the rivers.

    In 2012, Cerrejon companies had tried to divert 26km of the Rancheria River (the primary source of water) to access the 500 million metric tons of coal contained underneath the river bed. But this planned diversion was met with organized resistance and Wayúu spokesperson Jazmin Romero Epiayu has appropriately described the social unity with which the diversion was met: “In 2012, the proposal of this multinational was to divert the Ranchería River, the principal river we have in our department, and the principal river that feeds the whole department of La Guajira… Since before colonialism this [river] has represented the veins of Mother Earth, Wounmainkat, which is to say, it’s the blood of the earth. And one of the proposals in 2012 was to divert this river we have because below it there were 500 million tons of coal. But what did we say? Us, Wayúu communities, Afro-descendant communities, campesino communities, the union, the magistrates… all these sectors united in protest to stop the diversion of this river.”

    Despite the united efforts of the La Guajira community, the Rancheria River has been contaminated by the mining companies. According to a study by Fulbright researchers, the Rancheria River contains high levels of mercury, making it potentially dangerous for consumption. Furthermore, the Cerrejon mine consumes more than 24 million litres of water per day (which is equivalent to the consumption of more than 70,000 people) while the Wayuu people don’t even “have access to the basic requirement of 2 l of water per person per day for cleaning and for preparing food.” Due to the aggravated effects of water scarcity, approximately 5000 children of the Wayuu tribe died in the 2007-17 period.

    Not contented with contaminating water, cumulatively increasing the hardships of the Wayuu tribe and killing children, Cerrejon mining companies have embarked on a neo-colonial voyage to divert the Arroyo Bruno stream to the La Puente pit. Bruno stream has 40 million tons of coal reserves under its river bed, a valuable treasure for avaricious mining corporations. On July 8, 2020, the affected communities of La Guajira visited the artificial channel and natural channel of the Arroyo Bruno stream and observed that “the company plugged the natural channel to divert the waters in 3.6 kilometers to the new artificial channel. The alarming thing is that there is no water in either of the two channels. This situation worries the experts…who warn that the Bruno stream is at high risk of disappearing.”

    In order to completely colonize the river, the company has tried three times to displace El Rocio, the community living on the bank of Arroyo Bruno. In spite of Cerrejon Limited’s aggressive efforts at strong-arming indigenous people, the general mood is militant in the department and the following statement from the Guajira Dignity Group reflects the anti-imperialist fervor of the masses: “The government cannot continue granting mining titles here, and Cerrejón cannot come every two years and say – we are planning the deviation of this stream – and tomorrow another, and so on. We have to limit this expansion because this is a deserted region and has a limited water supply. Cerrejón cannot continue diverting streams to increase profits.”

    Pollution levels in La Guajira are high due to the spontaneous ignition of mined coal, daily coal blasts and coal dispersal happening due to the movement of open-top coal wagons every day. This has led to a staggering number of people afflicted with respiratory diseases, indicated by the fact the 48% of the patients arriving at the local hospital Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Our Lady of Pilar) suffer from acute respiratory problems. Air pollution has made the indigenous communities of La Guajira more vulnerable to Coronavirus as it has been found that air pollution is directly correlated to an increased Covid-19 death risk.

    In La Guajira, children are more likely to get negatively affected by the presence of toxic materials and pollutants in air, soil and water. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, “Children are more vulnerable to the localized environmental impacts of mining activity than adults – particularly water, air and soil pollution – due to their progressive and incomplete physical development; the fact that they spend more time playing than adults and hand to-mouth behaviour that makes children more likely to ingest pollutants; and their varying stages of mental development, for example, inability to read hazard and warning signs.”

    As the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on La Guajira, it is becoming clear that transnational coal interests have existentially damaged the indigenous communities. Through years of imperialist pillage, multinational mining companies have converted La Guajira into one of the poorest departments of Colombia with 65% of the population living in poverty. Decades of coal mining by corporate giants to quench the coal thirst of Europe and USA has methodically undermined local agricultural arrangements and disallowed indigenous communities from achieving food sovereignty. Eder Arregoces Pinto, president of Chancleta’s community action council, pithily encapsulates the adverse effects of large-scale mono-industrialization: “It [Cerrejón Coal] may be one of the largest coal mines in Latin America but most families here can eat only one meal a day.”

    Pollution and water scarcity have drastically weakened the collective health of indigenous communities and now, these immiserated people are left unprotected from the virus. Luz Ángela Uriana, an indigenous woman from Province Reserve in the south of La Guajir, painfully expresses the historical injustice which has been done with them: “What we are demanding of Cerrejón is our children’s health. We are fighting for our rights to live in a healthy territory, in a reserve without pollution, just as it was before Cerrejón came in. Here, we are exposed to mining pollution 24 hours a day. I have children, and if I have to fight against the whole world for them, I will do it. I will go wherever I have to, for my family and to honour the memory of all of the children that have died or fallen sick because of the pollution. How is it possible that we, as Cerrejón’s neighbours, don’t have access to healthcare? We don’t have potable water. We don’t have decent housing. We live in absolute poverty.” The present-day imperative is to help these people fight against the predatory and remorselessly exploitative practices of Cerrejon mining companies.

    Bolivian Coup Government Calls for another Canada-backed Foreign Intervention in its Presidential Elections

    On July 15, Luis Fernando Camacho, leader of the violent coup against Bolivian president Evo Morales and current candidate for the Bolivian presidency, issued a desperate appeal to the Organization of American States.

    According to a poll done by Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica, which was released on July 7, Camacho is polling at nine per cent. Meanwhile MAS (Movement for Socialism) candidate Luis Arce, Bolivia’s finance minister from 2006 until the coup, is polling at 42 per cent. To surpass Arce’s lead in the polls, Carlos Mesa, the unelected coup president Jeanine Anez, and Camacho would have to consolidate their votes, while two would need to drop out of the race.

    In the appeal, Camacho, who has direct connections to the Christo-fascist paramilitary group Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, argued that “we [Bolivia] must not allow the elections to become an act of resurrection” for MAS. This is an open call for the OAS to launch a second coup if Arce wins the presidential election, and violate the sovereignty of Bolivia yet again.

    In response to this news, Evo Morales spoke out on Twitter:

    Asking the OAS to rule on the suspension of the elections in Bolivia is a new blow against democracy, it is a form of intervention against the sovereignty of the State and the dignity of the people; and furthermore it is being asked by those responsible for the tragic events of 2019

    The Bolivian people are not giving up on democracy without a fight. Today, the main Bolivian workers federation, Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) demanded “adhesion to the September 6th election date as adopted by the TSE [Election authority].”

    How Canada, the US, and OAS allied to overthrow Morales

    On Nov. 29, 2017, Indigenous socialist president Evo Morales won a legal challenge to modify the Bolivian constitution, to allow Morales to run for a fourth term as the Bolivian president.

    Two years later, on Oct. 25, 2019, the winner of Bolivia’s presidential election was announced. Evo Morales won 47 per cent of the vote, while the main US-backed candidate, Carlos Mesa, won 36 per cent of the vote. Morales narrowly cleared the 10-point margin of victory required to avoid a second-round runoff election, and it seemed as if Morales was set to serve his fourth term in office.

    However, the OAS would have a key role in ensuring this did not happen. The OAS, described as the “U.S Ministry of the Colonies” by former Cuban president Fidel Castro, is supposed to “represent the 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere in defence of peace, equality and national sovereignty.” However, the organization has a long history of openly backing the United States’ imperialist agenda.

    In particular, during the US-led 2019 coup attempt against Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro, false claims of election fraud were utilised to try to push the “US puppet” Juan Guaido into power. The (leader), Luis Almagro praised the protests repeatedly, and allowed Canada to set up the Lima Group, an alliance of countries wishing to overthrow the Venezuelan government, without any punishment.

    The OAS electoral mission to Bolivia soon claimed that they had found evidence of election fraud in Morales’ victory. Based on the claims of the electoral mission, Canada called for a run-off election to occur. On Oct. 31, the OAS began an audit of the Bolivian election.

    The Canadian and United States government ignored a Nov. 8 report from the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, a US-based think tank, who did a statistical analysis of Bolivia’s publicly available voting data which found no evidence of irregularities or fraud.

    Meanwhile, Canada refused to condemn the vicious attacks committed by opposition forces against Morales supporters and leftist politicians, led by Luis Camacho.

    On Nov. 10, the Bolivian election audit report was released by the OAS, in which they claimed that:

    “In the four factors reviewed (technology, chain of custody, integrity of the tally sheets, and statistical projections), irregularities were detected, ranging from very serious to indicative of something wrong.”

    The audit team “[could not] validate the results of this election and therefore recommends another electoral process.” They argued that “Any future process should be overseen by new electoral authorities to ensure the conduct of credible elections.”

    On the very day, Canada, declared its support for the electoral audit, stating that “It is clear that the will of the Bolivian people and the democratic process were not respected.” A day later, Morales resigned the presidency after pressure was mounted by military chief, Gen. Williams Kaliman, calling for him to immediately quit and permit the “restoration of peace and stability.”

    In a press release, Morales said:

    I decided to resign from my position so that Carlos Mesa and Luis Camacho stop abusing and harming thousands of brothers … I have the obligation to seek peace and it hurts a lot that we face Bolivians, for this reason, so I will send my letter of resignation to the Plurinational Assembly of Bolivia.

    Under severe pressure, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, the president of the Senate, Adriana Salvatierra of the MAS party, and the president of the Chamber of Deputies all resigned. As a result, the line of succession to the Bolivian presidency was broken.

    On Nov. 12, a Bolivian senator, Jeanine Áñez, declared herself the interim president of Bolivia in Congress, vowing to promptly hold new elections. Aljazeera reported that “this was done despite a lack of a quorum to appoint her in a legislative session that was boycotted by legislators from former President Evo Morales‘ left-wing party.”

    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo applauded the interim president in a statement on Nov. 13, saying that the U.S. looks forward to working with the OAS to stage “free and fair elections” by the end of 2019.

    Two days later, Canada announced its support for Áñez, and laughably called for a “democratic elections as soon as possible”.

    Bolivia in shambles without Morales, as elections are delayed until September 2020

    In January 2020, a now-deleted racist tweet from “interim president” Áñez was caught, in which she reportedly wrote: “I want a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rituals. The city is not for the indigenous. They should go to the mountains or plains.” Áñez also called Morales a “poor Indian” in another tweet.

    Canadian mining companies have swiftly exploited the coup government’s pro-business stance to resume lithium mining projects, after Morales nationalized South American Silver Corp. lithium mining operation in 2012.

    A first-of-its kind deal was struck that month between Bolivia’s state mining company Comibol and Vancouver-based explorer New Pacific Metals, which allowed the company to begin mining for lithium and showed that “Bolivia is open to foreign investment,” according to NPM’s President, Gordon Neal.

    Nadia Cruz, Bolivia’s ombudsman, said that charges of “sedition” and “terrorism” are being brought for simply disagreeing with or questioning the Áñez administration.

    Michael Shifter, the president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue said, “There is unwillingness on the level of the Trump administration to hold Áñez to account, so she has a lot of room to do what she wants, including what seems to be the carrying out of vendettas.” Journalists have been arrested and intimidated, while Indigenous activists have been severely repressed.

    The promise of quick elections proved to be a lie, two months after the coup, that the Bolivian Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which was filled with Anez allies, and purged of former officials, determined the presidential election would occur on May 3. However, the Bolivian electoral court used the COVID-19 pandemic as cover to delay the elections until September 6. Now that Luis Camacho is urging the OAS to interfere in Bolivia’s elections yet again, the stage may be set for a second coup against a Movement for Socialism party’s presidential candidate within the last year.

    Even the narrative of flawed elections has fallen apart, as the New York Times and others have reported that the there was no election fraud, in the 2019 election that delivered Morales his fourth term as Bolivia’s president.

    Just as in the US-backed coup against Evo Morales and the 2004 US-led coup against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Canada is almost certain to play a key role in the destruction of Bolivian democracy, staying true to its imperialist foreign policy.