Category Archives: Oil, Gas, Coal, Pipelines

Indigenous Resistance as Re-occupation of Land at the Forefront of Climate Justice

Protest against Trans Mountain pipeline in BC.

I write as a settler on this land. I am not speaking on behalf of Aboriginal people but rather as an unconditional ally to their struggles. I will specifically address Indigenous resistance in the form of re-occupation of Turtle Island and in particular of so-called Canada. Re-occupation of the land is a kind of resistance and decolonization to dismantle settler relations to the land as commodity or as property. It is a form of what Nishnaabeg Leanne Betasamosake Simpson calls Indigenous resurgence that is based on restoring Indigenous relationships with the land and how to treat the land in a reciprocal and profoundly respectful way: “It refuses dispossession of both Indigenous bodies and land as the focal point of resurgent thinking and action…. It calls for… radical resurgent organizing as direct action… against the dispossessive forces of capitalism, heteropatriarchy and white supremacy. These are actions that engage in generative refusal of… state control… and they embody an Indigenous alternative.”1 As I understand it this alternative implies both the return of the land to Aboriginal people (and thus the dismantling of settler colonialism) coupled with the literal social, political and economic overthrow of the settler, capitalist state that has wreaked havoc on the planet. More on the tactic of re-occupation shortly. But first, some context on how settler colonialism and ecocide go hand in hand is in order.

Ecocide or the annihilation of the planet and our very life support system is also an industrial genocide of Indigenous peoples symptomatic of what many scholars have called the cancerous diseases of capitalism and settler colonialism. They are both predicated on infinite expansion and growth, the reduction of earth to a lifeless commodity, the mindset of land as frontiers of conquest and the obliteration of what Naomi Klein calls sacrificial zones and people standing on their way. Under capitalism “the expansion of commodity frontiers fosters conditions of social and environmental degradation and conflict.” The commodification process inherent in capitalism begun with the sugar complex in the fifteenth century, spurred early colonialism, and continues to operate in settler colonialism and land grabs through mining and fossil fuel industries and corporate interests: “[f]urther expansion is possible as long as there remains un-commodified land, products, and relations. Here land should be seen the equivalent to the space to grow food or to extract minerals, or the sea for oil or gas exploration.”2 Although today the process of commodification has been exported from the European colonial empires to its colonies and it is rampant globally under the new neo-liberal world order it was initiated within Europe with the uprooting of European peasants, their loss of traditional forms of subsistence, their disconnection from the soil and natural environment, the subsequent flow of products from the countryside to the big urban centers and the degradation and toxification of the places of extraction and consumption. The rise of wage labour accompanied the commodification of land and labour while the “dispossession of subsistence farmers and herders from common land resulted in the proletarianization of rural populations, who flooded to urban centers in search of work…Those still in possession of land generally became indebted, fostering instability and overexploitation by capitalists. This process led to declining productivity, driving the frontier further in search of fresh supplies of labour and land.”3

The story of commodity frontiers and capitalist expansion is more or less similar around the globe. Capitalism goes hand in hand with settler colonialism and both are based on the principles of expansion and commodity frontier as well as the “doctrine of discovery” or in the words of some commentators “the doctrine of Native genocide.” As land is being exhausted in one place, “new” land needs to be “discovered” and thus occupied. And as social and environmental effects of extraction of resources increases, the quantity, quality and availability of resources decrease. Consider for instance that the expansion and the commodity frontier have now moved to a new whole other level in which the oil industry is after increasingly difficult oil to extract that requires large amounts of water, produces more waste and pollution and particularly affects the well being of Indigenous communities as is the case of extraction of dirty oil in the tar sands of Alberta in Canada.

Settler states such as Canada are founded on colonial narratives about the land as sites of conquest, as hard-won property, as real estate, as conquered territory and thus as an agentless object of domination. In contrast, Indigenous people understand the land and the earth as a living entity with its own agency, its own “personality.” Emma Battell Lowman et al. write that this is precisely why “it is often difficult for many settlers to understand why Indigenous struggles about the land are not about holding private property title to land in Canada and fair payment for land appropriated by the state or having equal rights under the law.”4 For many Indigenous people the water, the air, the living things such as plants and animals, the rocks and earth have thoughts of their own and are relatives of the people that depend on them for their own survival. Kyle White explains this relationship as a sort of kinship of humans and non-human others. It entails: interdependence with the land, and between humans and non-humans in the ecosystem; responsibility to care for the environment and the land in which human communities act as caretakers and stewards of the land; reciprocity and mutuality between the human and the non-human (natural world). White maintains that: “Indigenous ecology is an ecological system of interacting humans and non-human beings (animals, plants) and entities (spiritual, inanimate), and landscapes (climate regions, boreal zones) for the continuity of life that is based on “consent.” Notice here the gendered language implicit in the issue of consent. In this Indigenous ecological worldview the earth has agency for its ecosystems are not to be dominated but respected and asked for their consent to continue to sustain human and non-human communities alike. In turn, we are to protect her by taking care of her the way we would take care of our own kin or our mothers.

Settlement is not only a colonial but also a patriarchal project that seeks the very violation of the earth, the land and of Indigenous peoples. This is a point that Blackfoot/Sami filmmaker, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers has made abundantly clear in her short film, Bloodland, in which the earth is depicted as an Indigenous woman violated and ravaged by the oil and fossil fuel industries. It is not coincidental that all extractivist projects in Indigenous territories are accompanied by gendered based violence against Indigenous women particularly through the construction of man camps that house the industry’s workers and are notorious for preying on the Aboriginal women and girls living in nearby communities and reserves. It is also important to see the violence on the land/earth within the context of the phenomenon of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada, an issue of epidemic proportions and (very much analogous to a similar problem in the U.S). As a recent inquiry termed this epidemic sexualized genocide aiming at removing Indigenous women from this land it is ironic that mainstream conservative, white male, settler politicians in Canada debated the merit of the term genocide to refer to this violence. This resembles the way the fossil fuel industry and Canadian economic elites continue to be tone deaf to Indigenous communities’s refusals to give consent to extractivist projects in their territories, who see these projects as forms of industrial genocide of land and people.

The cultural basis of settler relationships with the land and the earth is that they are anthropocentric and rooted in the idea that humans are an exceptional species, unique in creation and as such the land must render benefits to human communities and the earth must serve human interests rather than having inherent value of its own. Human and settler interests supersede those of Indigenous communities, their land or those of non-human others. Indigenous peoples are understood not as sovereign people with their own sacred relationship to the land, their own governance and sovereign policies but as an impediment to the mindset of the commodity frontier and the rampant exploitation of the land and its so called resources. This is why the Canadian government always fails to consult in a meaningful way with Indigenous peoples when it undertakes development or extractivist projects. Canada as a settler state practices the logic of commodity frontier (i.e as land is exhausted, “new” land must be found, occupied and exploited), and ultimately reserves and exercises the right to simply ignore any Indigenous claims to land if it is in its so-called national or economic interests. Canada uses its colonial law and its institutions to legitimize its settler and capitalist impulse of land grabs, and harm Indigenous communities by displacing them and giving way to the settler state. Often this process unfolds into the violent deployment of the military and police to accomplish the expulsion of Indigenous communities, which, in turn, are criminalized and framed as standing in the way of Canada’s national or economic interests. Both federal and provincial state bodies often pit so-called law-abiding citizens against Indigenous peoples in this land by constructing settlers as the proverbial hard-working white settler and family folk, who just want good paying jobs to feed their families. In contrast, Indigenous people are seen as irrationally obstructing economic growth and a hindrance to the prosperity of law-abiding Canadians.

Examples of this abound. In British Columbia, the federal government just purchased with tax payer money the defunct Trans Mountain pipeline despite the fact that at least a hundred BC First Nations have not consented to its approval and have mounted countless legal challenges in courts. Even BC premier, John Horgan, who during the election campaign had promised that he was not going to approve this pipeline is currently fighting in court the Squamish nation: “defending the Trans Mountain pipeline approval…[The BC government’s] conduct flies in the face of their commitment to use every tool in the toolbox to defend our coast, increasing the chance this risky project goes ahead. It also breaks their promise to take reconciliation with First Nations seriously.” And all this happens in a province that is unceded and unsurrendered to the colonial state.

The most glaring example of this form of ecological devastation coupled with settler colonialism is the recent militarized invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory. The Unist’ot’en Camp is a homestead maintained for ten years now by members of the Unist’ot’en house group, which is part of another Wet’suwet’en clan on adjacent territory. The Unist’ot’en have been using the tactic of re-occupation of their land and have already defeated multiple pipeline projects. On December 14 a court injunction ruled in favour of a gas company called Coastal GasLink to begin construction on the Wet’suwet’en unsurrendered territories despite the fact that neither the Crown, nor Canadian courts and its colonial institutions such as the RCMP have any jurisdiction on Wet’suwet’en land governed under the leadership of their hereditary chiefs. The violent invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory, the arrests of defenders and eviction from their land by the industry and by colonial forces dressed in army fatigues and carrying military rifles were acts reminiscent of numerous murderous, settler colonial removals of Indigenous peoples and genocidal expulsions of the past. As the colonial police assailed their territory the Wet’suwet’en resisted on ground refusing entry to colonial authorities that were bullying them on behalf of the gas industry. Freda Huson, spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en speaking on the occasion of this invasion clearly links it to unlawful trespassing with the intent to displace Indigenous people and plunder their home/land: “We’re in the right. We’re not doing anything wrong. This is my home. This is my land. They want to break down my door.”

These violent acts happened under the auspices of the provincial government that has approved the GasLink project and the federal government of Canada, which among meaningless and empty words about reconciling with Aboriginal people have utterly failed to implement Article 10 of the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples (UNDRIP), which states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands and territories.”

Let there be no mistake: as the latest attempt at dispossession of Indigenous people from their land clearly indicates settler colonialism, or what some might call resource colonialism, is on going as is fierce resistance to it. Although the Wet’suwet’en have decided to de-escalate the violent attempts of the provincial authorities to invade their land by allowing company workers to do pre-construction work in their territories they still remain firm in re-occupying their land and resisting against the pipeline. Re-occupation means that they do not give their consent to its construction. This is not over: “The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have by absolutely no means agreed to let the Coastal GasLink pipeline tear through our traditional territories.”

Re-occupation as it has been playing out in the Unist’ot’en case is much more than a blockade and resistance against the fossil fuel and gas industries. The Unist’ot’en have built a camp with a healing center” and become a space where Wet’suwet’en and others come to reconstruct and nurture land-based relationships” Their re-occupation of land is similar to other re-occupations by “Indigenous peoples at Standing Rock, at Oka, at Gustafsen Lake” or by the Secwepemc, whose fierce women-led Tiny House Warriors have been building tiny houses and placing them on the path of Trans Mountain pipeline to block it from crossing unceded Secwepemc territory. In this way, through re-occupation these communities also assert their law and jurisdiction over their land. Indeed, re-occupation also serves as a form of re-indigenizing Canada because ultimately it implies the resurgence of Indigenous sovereignty and law and the dismantling of colonial institutions and structures. It aims at consolidating Indigenous governance based on responsibilities to, and taking care of the land that sustains both human and non-human communities and as such it is a return to land-centric or ecocentric “economy” that in White’s terms strives for “the continuance of all life.”

This is why re-occupation as a form of resistance is profoundly unsettling (pun intended) to economic elites and to settler states. It moves beyond the demands of mainstream environmentalism that works within the terms provided by settler states and capital. Mainstream environmentalism often avoids colliding head on with the state by gearing itself toward reforms such economic or environmental policies (taxes, corporate regulation, timber or fishing quotas, optimal rates of resource extraction and so on). In contrast, Indigenous people who re-occupy their land have anti-reformist, anti-state and anti-corporate positions and do not call themselves environmentalists but rather use terms that refer to themselves as defenders of their home (which for the settler, capitalist state is nothing but a commodity frontier); or they recognize themselves as protectors of the water, the coast, the river, the forest (etc). Some Indigenous re-occupation movements are also radical in the sense that they are not after so-called sustainable development or green technologies (wind, solar power etc), or hydroelectric dams (see the Treaty 8 First Nations opposition to site C dam in BC) but favour scaling down and returning to land, what some may call deep ecology.

As Leanne Simpson puts it when Indigenous people re-occupy their land they do so with an anti-capitalist mindset because they do not re-occupy resources: “’Capital’ in our [Nishnaabeg] reality isn’t capital. We have no such thing as capital. We have relatives. We have clans. We have treaty partners. We do not have resources or capital. Resources and capital, in fact, are fundamental mistakes within Nishnaabeg thought… and… come with serious consequences… the collapse of local ecosystems, the loss of prairies and wild rice, the loss of salmon, caribou, the loss of our weather.”1 Re-occupation then is not an environmentalist tactic in the strict sense of environmentalism. Although many people mount a tremendous resistance to environmental injustices and even die defending the environment, Indigenous people and “[p]oor people do not always think and behave as environmentalists…. The environmentalism of the poor arises from the fact that the world economy is based on fossil fuels and other exhaustible resources, going to the ends of the earth to get them, disrupting and polluting both pristine nature and human livelihoods, encountering resistance by poor and Indigenous peoples who are often led by women [as is the case of the women-led Tiny House Warriors movement]. Poor and Indigenous peoples sometimes [may] appeal for economic compensation but more often they appeal to other languages such human rights, Indigenous territorial rights, human livelihoods, and the sacredness of endangered mountains and rivers.”5 They even appeal to their own oral stories that describe how human greed and the drive for accumulation can desecrate the land and undermine the balance between the human community and the environment that sustains it. (See, for instance, the Nishnaabeg story of Nanabush, who “engages in a host of exploitative and extractivist practices at the expense of plants, animals, or the Nishnaabeg, and this results in his demise.” Simpson 2017). These stories function as what Carolyn Merchant (2005) calls “ethical or normative constraints” that prohibit the community from exploiting its landbase or from treating the land as a commodity frontier.

Indeed, I believe that if there is any chance to avert the pending collapse of the planet driven by unfettered capitalism in consorting with settler colonialism, this chance lies in Indigenous re-occupation of their land. It lies in how we as settlers and by extension the state can relinquish claims to unceded land and work outside colonial state institutions and along Indigenous peoples in their efforts to take back their territories and reclaim their sovereignty. This process requires us that we learn from Indigenous knowledge and practices in their wisdom of land stewardship. Ultimately, these practices are based on an ethics of radical empathy and care for the earth. Radical empathy toward the earth means that we learn to relate to her as our kin (indeed as our sacred mother) rather than as a lifeless trove of so-called infinite resources. At the same time we need a widespread cultural transformation that remodels our society based on this kind of ethics: we need to start telling ourselves new cultural stories that take their cues from those of Indigenous peoples and culturally constrain us from pillaging the earth. These tales must not be about frontiers of conquest or the uniqueness of our species or man-made constructs such as the economy, the market, the state, (etc), which are irrelevant to the physics of material reality and inconsequential from the point of view of the biosphere. In effect, in a dead planet there can be neither economy, nor market nor state.

These tales must be imbued with profound humility ensuing from the incontrovertible fact that in the large scheme of things the earth does not need us: we need Her.

  1. Simpson, L.B. (2017). “Kwe as Resurgent Method.” “Nishnaabeg Anticapitalism.” As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. Conde, M. And Walter, M. (2015). “Commodity Frontiers.” In D’Alisa, G et al (eds). Degrowth: A Vocabulary For a New Era. New York and London: Routledge.
  3. Conde and Walter, 72.
  4. Battell Lowman, E. et al. (2015). Settler Identity and Colonialism in 21st Century Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba: Fernwood Publishing.
  5. Martinez-Alier, J. (2015). “Currents of Environmentalism.” In D’Alisa, G et al (eds). Degrowth: A Vocabulary For a New Era. New York and London: Routledge.

Matters of Water: Dubious Approvals and the Adani Carmichael Mine

When a company wields such power that it can cause a Minister to rush an approval process, cut corners and make significant errors, it is cause for serious concern.

— Kelly O’Shanassy, Australian Conservation Foundation, June 12, 2019

While the proposal is of a diminished monster, the travails over Adani’s efforts to open up the Galilee Basin in Queensland to mining have yielded fruit. Brute corporate strength, and the customary cowering of politicians, has seen an Indian mining giant gain approval for the construction of the Carmichael mine.  Many a stick and carrot were procured in the endeavour, and the outcome of the ballot box in May, returning a pro-coal Coalition government, was always going to have some propulsion.

The environmental aspects of the case have been gradually sidelined and placed in storage.  Prior to the federal election, Queensland’s Labor government was expressing reservations, suggesting stonewalling and vacillation.  A divide between the metropolitan centre and the rural areas was being teased at the federal level: areas where a mining development might create jobs was touted as a drawcard; the metropolitan centre was deemed indulgently green, coffee-sipping and distant.

The drawcard aspect was trumpeted by the Queensland Resources Council: “The Adani Carmichael mine is one of six in the Galilee Basin that could create tens of thousands of jobs in construction and operation and deliver billions of dollars in royalties over their working lifespan.”  At the same time, there were concerns about irreversible environmental damage, the sort that could only be dealt with by means of management plans.  The versions, and delays, proliferated.

This left the state Palaszczuk government, despite a fear of wobbling, still keen to let the Queensland environmental regulator decide, a vain attempt to keep politics out of the equation.  The season was not a good one for the thorough minded. The federal government had essentially muzzled the then Environment Minister Melissa Price prior to the election, weighing upon her to approve aspects of the project.  It was then left to the state government to consider the water management plans.

All sense of permitting the regulator to engage in its quest unmolested were banished by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.  The electoral outcome at the federal level had unhinged her.  She was “fed up” at delays at both federal and state level. The Environment Department was given the due hurry up.  Last Thursday, the approval for Adani came through.  Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch, rather unconvincingly, suggested that the process had been robust and cognisant of “some of the most rigorous environmental protections in the country”.  Former general manager for water allocation and planning in the Queensland government Tom Crothers saw it differently.  “Science has been thrown in the bin for political expediency.”

Federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who remains cocooned by environmental denial and coal rich nirvana, was visibly delighted at this next stage in the Adani saga.  “It has been more than 50 years since a new coal basin has opened in Queensland, so this development is of huge importance to the economic future of Queensland.”

Adani Australia’s chief executive Lucas Dow expressed his “excitement” as well he might but seems to have put the cart well ahead of the horse in terms of the number of jobs promised.  A number he previously subscribed to was 1,500 direct jobs, to be made in north and central Queensland.  Another 6,750 indirect jobs would spring forth during “the ramp-up and construction phase”. But numbers, as they can in any induced fantasy, vary.

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie has claimed that a hundred ongoing jobs could be assured while Federal Nationals MP Michelle Landry, despite championing the mine as a creator of votes in her seat of Capricornia, professes to having no idea about numbers.

Not all pro-coal voices have warmed to the decision.  Alan Jones, who rules the Sydney airwaves from the 2GB radio station made the obvious point that the Queensland Environment Department “would have been under massive political pressure to approve Adani’s groundwater management plan.”

There are, however, several knotting twists.  No actual digging of coal will take place till pipeline and railway matters are sorted out, though box cut mining may take place at the site itself.  Then comes the understanding that the mining company will do further work over the next two years to identify alternative sources of that most precious of resources: water.  Giving Adani approval to mine may be tantamount to sentencing the Permian aquifers (Colinlea) to extinction, a point that featured in the Queensland Environment Department’s order that the mining company install a new bore.  Further approvals will be needed regarding the impact on the Doongbulla Springs.

As Jones points out, “hydrogeochemical analysis of groundwater from different springs” will be undertaken, suggesting that approval, while it has been granted, has been done in circumstances of considerable ignorance: “no one seems to know what will happen to [the] groundwater.”  The new bores will also be subjected to isotopic analysis and air sampling.

The contingent nature of any such analysis has coloured the overall assessments, further suggesting the dangers in any continuation of the project. When the Queensland Environment Department consulted the scientific bodies of CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, it received little in the way of certitude.  Both “confirmed that some level of uncertainly in geological and groundwater conceptual models always exists.”

Another twist is a legal one. When Price had the federal portfolio, she decided, all too conveniently, to ignore the “water trigger” feature to the pipeline element of Adani’s proposal, one that would require 12.5 billion litres of water a year.  Deemed an essential feature in assessing the impacts of large coal and coal seam gas projects on water, Price avoided it altogether. This led to a challenge from the Australian Conservation Foundation in December 2018.

The case duly expanded to incorporate an additional dimension.  Wading through public submissions, especially in the order of 2,200, takes time, and expedient politics, by its nature, resists care and consideration.  One tends to rule out the other.

In an underreported feature of the approvals, last week’s legal victory of the ACF in the Federal Court against the assessment of Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme shifted focus back to the federal government.  As ACF’s Chief Executive Kelly O’Shanassy put it, “The government conceded it did not properly consider more than 2,000 public submissions from Australians with concerns about the mine and the water scheme.”  Submissions had also gone missing. The environmental laws had been applied with carefree shoddiness.  The result is that the proposal will return for consideration by the new Environment Minister, Sussan Ley.

The road is a potted one, but the opening of the Galilee Basin will be, not merely an environmental crime but one inflicted with irresponsible futility.  Sensing that point, the banks and insurers have already ruled themselves out in funding the venture.  Indian demand for coal will diminish, however much it is being heralded now as a moral entitlement to development, and the white, albeit dirty elephant that is Adani’s mining project will remain a travesty of optimistic human barbarism.

Science Won’t Save the Planet, New Values Will

I don’t write much directly about climate collapse, even though by any measure it is by far the most important issue any of us will face in our lifetimes. And I can gauge from my social media accounts that, when I do write about environmental issues, my followers – most of whom I assume share my progressive positions – are least likely to read those blog posts or promote them.

I have to consider why that is.

As I explained in my last piece, the environment has been a concern to me since my teenage years, back in the early 1980s. It should now be a concern to everyone. And while polls in the UK show that most people are worried to some degree about climate change and the state of the planet, the majority are either still not concerned at all or concerned only a little.

Part of the problem, I start to think, is that we are approaching climate change all wrong. And that addressing it correctly is just too difficult for most of us to contemplate because it demands something profound from us, something we fear we are incapable of giving.

When I share climate change material on social media, it is invariably graphs produced by climate scientists showing the alarming trends of a warming planet. Others, I see, do the same.

But really is that what all this is about? Most of us – at least the ones sharing this stuff – understand that the science is now conclusive. Even, I suspect, those who deny climate change do so not because they believe the data are wrong but because accepting the reality is too overwhelming, too terrifying.

And this gets to the heart of what we need to talk about. Those persuaded by the graphs and the data no longer need those materials, and those unpersuaded aren’t going to heed the science anyway.

So maybe we need to talk less about the science, the graphs and climate change, and much more about ideology, about the inconvertible fact that the planet is dying before our very eyes and about how we have conspired in that act of ecocide. What got us into this mess wasn’t science, what got us here was ideology.

Consumerism our god

In my last blog I noted that scientists kept a low profile when they most needed to speak out, back in the 1990s and 2000s – in part because they were denied a platform, but chiefly because they failed to push themselves forward. That was when the evidence of climate collapse was irrefutable and there was time to start changing our societies to avoid it.

The reason the scientists held back is significant, I think. It wasn’t because they had doubts, it was because the dominant paradigm of our societies – the paradigm shared by almost all of us, the scientists included – was so deeply in conflict with what was needed to bring about change.

For decades – until the financial collapse of 2008 raised the first doubts – we were driven exclusively by a paradigm of endless economic growth, of ever-increasing resource exploitation, of a spiralling personal accumulation of goods. Consumerism was our individual god, and the Stock Market our collective one.

They still are. It’s just that the real, physical world – not the one we constructed out of narrative and ideology – keeps slapping us in the face to try to wake us up from our slumber.

The oceans didn’t fill with plastics last year. Some 1 million species didn’t start facing extinction this month. And the atmosphere wasn’t suddenly polluted with the greenhouse gas CO2 this week. These are trends that have been observable for decades.

The question we have to ask is why did David Attenborough and the BBC suddenly start noticing that everywhere they filmed – from the high seas to the deepest ocean beds – was polluted with plastic? This wasn’t new. It’s that they only recently decided to start telling us about it, that it was important.

Again, scientists haven’t just worked out that there has been a massive loss of biodiversity even in the remotest jungles, that insect populations needed to maintain the health of our planet have been disappearing. The mass die-off of species has been going for decades, even before temperatures started rising significantly. So why have we only just started seeing articles about it in liberal media like the Guardian?

And, fuelled by greenhouse gases, temperatures have been steadily increasing for decades too. But only over the past year have all the record highs, the wildfires and anomalous weather conditions been reported – sometimes – in the context of climate breakdown.

Identifying with the enemy

The cause of these failures is ideology. The reality, the facts simply didn’t stack up with the way we had organised our societies, the way we had come to believe the world, our world, operated. We didn’t see ourselves – still don’t see ourselves – as in nature.

Rather, we have viewed ourselves as outside it, we have seen nature as something to entertain us, as parkland in which we can play or as an exotic place to observe through a screen as a reassuring David Attenborough narrates. Instead of considering ourselves part of nature, we have seen ourselves variously conquering, taming, exploiting, eradicating it.

Derrick Jensen, sometimes described as an eco-philosopher, offers a simple, but telling life lesson. He observes that when you get your food from a convenience store and your water from a tap, your very survival comes to depend on the system that provides you with these essentials of life. You inevitably identify completely with the system that feeds and shelters you, however corrupt, however corrupting that system is. Even if it is destroying the planet.

If you hunt and forage for food, if you collect water from streams, then you identify with the land and its water sources. Their health means everything to you.

We saw those two identification systems playing out as a terrible, tragic theatre of confrontation at the Standing Rock protests through 2016-17, between those trying to stop an oil pipeline that would destroy vital natural resources, risking the pollution of major rivers, and heavily armed police enforcing the system – our system – that puts corporate oil profits above the planet and our survival.

Anyone watching footage of those protests should have understood that the police were not just there to carry out law enforcement. They were not just there on behalf of the state and federal authorities and the corporations. They were there for us. They were there to keep our way of life, our suicidal pattern of living, going to the bitter end. To the point of our extinction.

Like them, we are battle-ready, heavily armed enforcers of an ideology, an insane ideology needed to protect a self-harming, nihilistic system.

A virus killing its host

This is not a question of science. None of those charts and graphs and data are actually necessary to understand that the planet is dying, that we have become a virus gradually killing its host. That is obvious if we look inside ourselves, if we remember that we are not police officers, or civil servants, or arms makers, or oil executives, or tax collectors, or scientists. That the system is not us. That we do not have to identify with it. That we can cure ourselves by learning humility, by rediscovering our inner life, by being in nature, by reconnecting with others, with strangers, by protesting against the system and its values, by listening to those the system wants to denigrate and exclude.

In fact, most of the scientists are very much part of the problem. They, like the media, now tell us how bad things are only because the patient is on life support, because her condition is critical. But those scientists are not ecological doctors. They are not qualified to offer solutions for how to revive the patient, for how to get her back to health. Those scientists who worked their way up through the institutions that awarded their qualifications of expertise are as identified with this suicidal ideological system as the rest of us.

We need more ancient wisdoms, dying wisdoms, of the indigenous peoples who still try to live in nature, to live off the land and in harmony with it, even as we make the conditions to do so impossible for them. We urgently need to find ways to simplify our lives, to ween ourselves off our addictive consumption, to stop identifying with the system that is killing us, and to seek leaders who are ahead of us in that struggle for wisdom.

First buds of resistance

In my last blog post, I called for more populism – not the reactionary kind created by our current leaders to confuse us, to justify more repression, to strengthen their own hand – but a populism that seeks to take power away from those who rule over us in their own, narrow self-interest, to re-educate ourselves that the system is a menace, that we need new social, political and economic structures.

Some readers objected to my call for more Extinction Rebellions, more Greta Thunbergs, more school strikes, more Green New Deals, more climate emergencies. They believe these groups, these strategies are flawed, or even that they are colluding with our corporate rulers, coopted by the system itself.

Let us set aside for a moment the cynicism that assumes all protests to stop us killing the planet are pointless, not what they seem, or intended to derail real change.

Yes, of course, the corporations will seek to disrupt efforts to change the system they created. They will defend it – and their profits – with all their might and to the death. Yes, of course, they will seek to subvert, including from within, all protests of all kinds against that system. We cannot reach an accommodation with these structures of power. We must overthrow them. That is a given. There are no accolades for pointing out these obvious truths.

But protests are all we have. We learn from protest. From their response, their efforts to subvert, we identify more clearly who the real enemies of change are. We grow in wisdom. We find new allies. When we discover that the institutional and structural obstacles are even greater than we imagined, we learn to struggle harder, more wisely, both to change the reality outside ourselves and the reality inside. We find new values, new models, new paradigms through the struggle itself.

Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes aren’t the end of the process, our last shout. They are the very first buds of a rapid evolution in our thinking, in our understanding of where we stand in relation to the planet and the cosmos. These buds may be clipped off. But stronger, more vigorous shoots will surely replace them.

The Challenge of Cleaning up Toxic Sites Is More Complex Than We Might Hope

Note: I enjoy intersecting with scientists who are associated with universities that are now struggling to keep afloat, for many reasons to include the rise of the admin class, deanlets, non-academic departments, states lowering the matching rate to pay for faculty, presidents of universities making way too much money but throwing more at the athletic departments; and, alas, these vibrant and fully-packed schools — supposedly the smartest and brightest —  have continuously sold out by taking bribe money from major corporations to shunt true research away from the capitalists’ intended and unintended crimes of their engines of profit.

I think, though, it’s good to shift from my radicalized (root deep) perspective and narrative to a more down played newspaper style. I have sent this to the editor of the newspaper I have been working with to promote environmental concerns in the area I know call home — since December 2018.

So, here, a story that on the surface is a sciency piece to bring the small communities that read the newspaper a chance at seeing some of the super stars at the university — home of the beavers — that is 50 miles away as a main campus and with a marine sciences teaching and research facility in the town of Newport:

The Challenge of Cleaning up Toxic Sites Is More Complex Than We Might Hope

Analytical and organic chemistry were on display April 25 in Newport, and as a science buff and former science reporter, I find it fascinating to glean from a Ph.D.’s rarefied research pertinent information for the lay person. In this case, the average reader of the Times-News.

For one Oregon State University chemist — who was once a research scientist for Proctor and Gamble before her current 16 years at OSU — the big question she is preoccupied with ties into thousands of remediation sites in the country: Is the remediation making these sites more toxic?

For our Newport area, the public is lucky to have researchers, experts, artists and others speak about their research and projects at the Hatfield Marine Sciences Center. One such speaker, Staci Simonich, OSU VP for Research Operations & Integrity and chemistry professor, presented her deep study into a by-product of the incomplete combustion of organic matter.

Simonich’s research presentation, “Is Remediation Worth It?:  The Potential for Remediation to Make Soils and Waterways More Toxic,” has huge implications for every American since, first, what she’s studying —  Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — are ubiquitous and are known carcinogens and disruptors of DNA, as in producing birth defects. Second, we pay billions a year to clean up sites contaminated with PAH’s vis-à-vis industries associated with fossil fuel and coal extraction, processing and burning.

The OSU chemist, who supports a cadre of graduate students also researching PAHs, posits an age-old question: Is the cure worse than the disease?

Her team’s research is both compelling and, in some sense, earth shattering in a world of continued growth of industrialization, the burning of biomass (forests, jungle), and fossil fuel production processes such as hydraulic fracturing, AKA fracking.

“Our results to date indicate that previously unidentified PAH breakdown products form in the environment and during remediation of Superfund sites,” she states.  “As the research continues, we will be able to assess which remediation technologies minimize their formation and if they pose a hazard to human health.”

The chemistry is somewhat straightforward – in the lab. However, “we are hoping to try to understand the transformation process of PAHs in a highly complex media – soil.” Deploying the fields of toxicology and chemistry will help engineers to understand what is causing the toxicity to stay the same or go up even after bioremediation.

These aromatic compounds are also found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust and in the smoke (and food) of barbecuing foods. The leeching out of soils into waterways is one way they bioaccumulate in the food-web.

In the end, for the average person, the lifetime cancer risks and the best bang for the buck are two overriding concerns. Oil spills on land and in water are regular occurrences – thousands and thousands a year, not of the Exxon Valdez or Gulf Coast variety and size. Many compounds are formed from the chemical evolutionary process of remediating a fouled site.

Simonich stated that we just do not know the toxicity of these metabolites created in the process of bioremediation.

The cheapest and most effective is composting using all sorts of complex organic substances mixed into the contaminated soil. Included in the clean-up process is biostimulation, bioaugmentation, phytoremediation at the site.

“There is no magic bug to cleaning up a site. In most cases, there are decreases in toxicity but not to a safe level,” she told the audience.

One area she and her students have studied is the SEE method of dealing with contaminated sites – steam enhanced extraction. There is an injection well, where steam is pumped in, turning into hot water that then moves the oil through the transportation process underground where the oil/water mix can then be pumped out. “The steam enhanced extraction process could increase toxicity,” she warned.

We also have to dispose of the water/oil mixture once pumped out.

Luckily for chemists like Simonich, they can get DNA and birth defect results from some of these remediated soils’ toxicity levels not through human subjects but by using a zebra-fish specifically raised to test developmental toxicity.

Here, the hours past fertilization tell an interesting story about cell damage, or genes that have been knocked out because of, say, soil contaminated by coal tar which is a big issue for the southeast.

As common as electrical and cable poles are in Lincoln County, many readers might not realize there is an unintended cancer causing consequence of the chemical treatment of wooden poles to keep them from rotting and decaying. Creosote is a culprit in many sites across the country where the soil is polluted through production and application of the substance.

For instance, the poison — a dark brown oil distilled from coal tar and used as a wood preservative containing a number of phenols, cresols, and other organic compounds – seeps into the soil initiating what Staci Simonich focuses on:  the measurement, fate, transport, and toxicity of PAH transformation products during remediation and atmospheric transport.

Another huge concern is the long-range transportation the North America relies on for goods coming from Asia. A typical trip for a container ship from say, Xiamen, China, to Oakland or Seattle, takes 19 days. The amount of smoke – containing many of the main 16 PAHs – is astronomical.

The implications are vast, as the wind currents move the particulates eastward where they end up precipitating out along the Pacific Coast range, and beyond, due to the cold condensation process. So Chinese diesel smoke from container ships ends up leaching out into our soils and waterways, again, affecting the health of both humans and non-humans alike.

I posed a question to her about just how safe are all the brownfields redeveloped throughout the USA – old railroad yards, mill and factory sites that have been in disuse and then re-purposed for prime real estate planned developments as more and more cities shift from manufacturing to services.

The chemist winced some, nodded her head, and basically indicated that we have no idea just what new compounds and off-shoots have been percolating through the soils and just how hazardous to human development and health they might be.

Staci Simonich Lab

End note: So, as many of my friends have stated, why is it us, the average person, who has to pay both the ecological/health costs of these capitalist systems as well as pay to mitigate the other parts of attempting to clean up the toxic mess?

We can’t blame China, when corporations have made a million Faustian Bargains with insane business leaders and greedy rich people who will capitalize on any means necessary to corner markets, kill competition, thwart ecosocialism, squeeze local economies, bring human suffering through unchecked mining, harvesting, burning and drives for more and more economies of scale business mispractices.

I will remind my readers that we have so many cascading issues at hand, beyond the existential crisis of global warming/world without ice.   We have microplastics in every human’s feces and have zero idea what that means to the human physiology. We have the kissing bug moving north in the USA, a seemingly benign insect story, right? Fueled by global warming in the USA

Benign? And, the conservative scientists are not yet going to hands down say the spread of the species into the USA starting in 1880 and now moving north to northern states is a result of climate change. Alas, this is why many in the world I align with are so skeptical of the sciences and the academics arena where science is touted but not politicized, which it should be!

Triatomine bugs, more commonly known as kissing bugs, are called as such because of their behavior of biting humans in the face, particularly near the mouth or eyes, and often when the human is sleeping.

Kissing bugs are common in places with warmer climates such as in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Australia, but they have since been spotted in many U.S. states. In particular, kissing bugs have been spotted in southern states since the 1800s, but recently they are also being observed in northern states as well.

Unfortunately, the insects are carriers of Chagas disease, which is a condition that can cause fever, mild swelling, or in some cases inflammation of the heart or brain muscles. If left untreated, it can enter a chronic phase and even last for a lifetime.

The infection, however, does not come from the bite itself, but from the fecal matter of the insect, which gets smeared at the wound when the bitten person scratches.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 300,000 people with Chagas Disease in the United States, but that the number may be rising. Most of the cases are of people who got the infection after living in or traveling to South or Central America. As such, the agency has since set up education courses about Chagas disease for physicians and nurses.

As I teach and write a short book on the hazards of bad education, and the good, bad and ugly of US public education, I understand there are massive shifts in the way people think, or can’t think. “The Road Beckons” in Counterpunch:

Although I often took my students’ anti-intellectualism personally, I knew that their attitudes had developed in an accommodating milieu. Beginning roughly with the Reagan years, the colleges and universities transformed themselves into business-like corporations: marketing experts, corporate titles for academic officers, patent shopping, shilling for business paraded as public interest research, distance “learning,” grotesquely high salaries for those who bring in the most money, million-dollar coaches, education as product, students as consumers, the de-funding of the humanities and social sciences, and the general cheapening of learning. As business values consumed the colleges, class sizes shot up and more part-timers were hired. To compensate for lower pay and harder work, teachers began to cut corners, dumbing-down their classes in the process. This meant that less competent teachers could be hired, and this fit in nicely with the work-averse attitudes of so many students. Students flocked to easy teachers and soft majors, like business and communications, and the schools got worse and worse.

Inherently true is the fact that we again, simple bright people that we are, have to pay the ferryman — business, war lords, toll-tax-fine collectors — to live, and that living is now on a razor’s edge, so much closer to everyone in the world now being born mutated, knocked off genes, continual chronic illness and chronic way of thinking. Here, farmer, older than I am, Joe, from Merced, California:

Paul

The thing that chaps my balls the most is how Fukashima along with an estimated 450 plants worldwide along with 60 under construction,* each one a potential environmental nightmare long after man has gone the way of the buffalo, has fallen completely off the environmental communities radar. This atomic nightmare from Hell brought to us by those that bring good things to life/GE, is rarely talked about even among the most devote environmentalists. Many in the environmental community look to nuclear as being part of a green solution. It’s fine tuned insanity. Fukashima will continue to pollute the ocean long after today’s children are dead and gone, spewing its radiation like a drunken sailor on shore leave spews his puke.

And the other thing that really twists my nuts in a knot is how these corporations that cause all these environmental nightmares are let completely off the hook for the cleanup of their messes. Everyone of the corporations are LLC’s, limited liability corporations, that in the event that they truly fuck the goose that laid the golden egg to death, are allowed to file bankruptcy and reform as a new entity, leaving the victims to deal with the results of their negligence. The CEO’s and the top brass of these corporations make out like bandits. Hell they don’t even cover their faces with bandanas anymore while they hold you at gun point. PG&E is doing that right now in California. Look back at every super screw-up by these corporations and you’ll see it’s the people effected by their misdeeds along with the taxpayers that pickup the tab.

My objection to the Green New Deal is that it shouldn’t be up to us to pay for the GND but rather the corporations that have taken us to the brink of collapse. Those are the ones that should have their assets confiscated to pay for the GND. They’ve screwed the public for their profit seeking for years. Now it’s time for the public to make love to them against their will. The public as you have said before Paul, didn’t get to vote to have our water destroyed, our air polluted, our oceans filled with plastic, the people that benefited from foisting this shit on us shouldn’t get to vote on us confiscating their assets to clean up what they created.

I’ve written about it before, being verbally attacked at the farmer’s market one day for questioning the idea of people running to raise money for breast cancer victims. My question to the attacker was why don’t you run to raise money to hold the corporations that create the conditions that cause cancer accountable and throw their sorry asses in jail? Prevention is worth a pound of cure right? Why won’t the public hold these profiteers accountable? It was as though I killed a government mule, having the audacity to criticize people trying to help the victims of cancer.

I don’t pretend to have any answers, but until as Geoff Beckman today quotes, H.L. Mencken who wrote, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats.”

I know of no greater group of people deserving of such a destiny than the corporate oligarchy and their minions in government.

Joe

So, the corporations need their Little Eichmanns to succeed and to formulate their schemes at indenturing most of us to their dirty, greedy, illegal and unethical practices. And now, the marketing of the environmental crisis, and it’s rarely now the crises of pollution, fence line communities sucking in all the vapors of plastics and polymers. Rarely do we care about the hundreds of thousands of carcinogens spit out through industrial capitalism. Rarely do we think what it means to have nanoparticles coursing through our bodies, messing with glands and nervous systems and crossing the blood-brain barrier.

The horrors a bigger and more tied to the technological enslavement we have allowed ourselves to live under than the bleaching coral reefs. All bad, but imagine, how many more percentage-wise people on planet earth born with more and more mutated genes and expressions of chronic mental, intellectual and physical disease.

For a bit of anti-NGD ending, John Steppling:

Our thought, so enslaved to instrumental logic, a logic that demands even superficial and meaningless *solutions*, cannot conceive a Nature that is not a colonial externality. That Nature, that which ostensibly everyone is trying to save (except for those who aren’t) seems just out of mental reach. The Garden of Eden story is very telling in a sense here. The cultic think is one that reflexively tolerates brutality and even fascist domination if it helps save the planet. That is certainly the way the marketing of new green projects sees it — lesser evil-ism in a sense, with apocalyptic overtones. And with every new threat or prediction the bourgeoisie double down on repressing their own terror, and double down projecting it outward onto those who will not fall in line. Nature, the planet Nature, is increasingly abstracted and these adumbrated narratives or story-lines are scanned and their linkage to the economic engine of society is repressed, pushed ever further back out of conscious reflection. The cultic neo New Age concerns for humanity have compartmentalized to such a degree that even ongoing Western genocides are barely mentioned. The economic logic of Capital has subsumed notions of a future, of value and concern and care and empathy. Saving the planet means tolerating the lesser evil. It is the derivatives market logic in a certain sense.

The possible is only found through de-organizing the instrumental. I fear the right image might trigger mass executions — not by the state (though that, too, I suppose) but by the bourgeoisie, the white concerned American.

Climate change’s ‘evil twin’ Ocean Acidification (and problem stepchild, Ocean Hypoxia)

People ask: Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of earth’s life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. Ninety-seven percent earth’s water is there. It’s the blue heart of the planet – we should take care of our heart. It’s what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won’t get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something.

—- Sylvia Earle

Note: I am helping beat the drum here on the Central Oregon Coast around climate change, pollution, development, plastics and the like, by writing small stories (that’s what I am limited to) for the local newspaper, Newport News Times.

This is an exercise in concision, as Noam Chomsky was once told by Jeff Greenfield of ABC. While the mainstream corporate media hold sway over the public’s lack of understanding of almost everything important to our communities’ and earth’s survival, small town news, this Newport paper I am writing for also holds sway over some of the Central Oregon Coast’s news: it’s owned by a conglomerate, News Media Corporation, which, according to the web site, has dozens of small-town newspapers in its stable — 43 Years in Business;  150+ Publications; 9 States; 600,000+ Subscribers.

Here, at the Columbia Review of Journalism (CRJ), another Poll: “How does the public think journalism happens?”

Is it any wonder why Americans do not trust the press? But, do they trust politicians? Or millionaires and billionaires? The US Military? Teachers? Doctors? Social workers? Presidents?

In reality, Americans are born delusional thinkers because of their lack of critical thinking and unwillingness to learn this country’s foundational history as a subjugator of other peoples, as possibly the biggest threat to world peace, and as the biggest purveyor of pollution, financial war and arms sales.

But, back to the topic — writing for free, cutting back on not only nuancing but depth, to make a small blurb in the local rag to try and bring attention to a topic very important to the fragile cultural and economic bedrock of Central Oregon coast — this place needs clean beaches, decent ways to control growth, a strong, healthy marine and near beach ecosystem, and some way to help old and young human residents to thrive economically, educationally and locationally.

Here, about concision:

As one of the most important scholars alive, Noam Chomsky has frequently been asked about his thoughts on his virtual blacklisting from the American media. He has long been regularly featured in international media outlets — yet, in his own country, he was often ignored. In a segment on the University of California program “Conversations in History” in the early 2000s, Chomsky explained that one of the ways media outlets justified this was with the requisite of “concision.”

Chomsky joked that he could never be on ABC’s “Nightline,” because “the structure of the news production system is you can’t produce evidence.” He recalled “Nightline’s” Jeff Greenfield, who, when asked why Chomsky was never featured on the show, said it was because the scholar “lacks concision.”

“The kind of things I would say on ‘Nightline’ you can’t say in one sentence, because they depart from standard religion. If you want to repeat the religion, you can get away with it between two commercials. If you want to say something that questions the religion, you’re expected to give evidence, and that you can’t do between two commercials,” Chomsky explained.”

“Therefore you lack concision; therefore you can’t talk,” he continued. “That’s a terrific technique of propaganda. To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again and that nothing else is heard.”

I’ve gone through J-school, in 1975, in Arizona, covering all sorts of emerging issues, and ending up in Tombstone on a lab paper, and then working for a small conglomerate of newspapers along the Southern Arizona Border. Cutting my teeth in El Paso for the two dailies, one of which went belly up (Herald-Post).  The same bellying up happened in Tucson, where I learned journalism — Arizona Daily Star won out and the afternoon paper, Tucson Daily Citizen died.

So, you have all these small newspapers being shut down or being bought up to promote advertising. Little towns can’t get the news from on-line forums or big papers in Portland or Eugene. No matter how much the public loves to hate the media, or the Press, or journalists, the fact is real journalists (come on, if you don’t know what a real journalist is, then, you haven’t been reading) are out there in the tens of thousands, and in other countries, they end up splayed on the streets, shot through the head, and disappeared. Check out Reporters without Borders! United States, ranked 45 for press freedoms!

Back to the little outing I made April 4, 2019, to listen to a PhD with the state of Oregon talk about Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) and harmful algal blooms (HAB) and the how, why, what, where, when and who around the connected issues of culture, livelihood, marine health, resiliency, mitigation, adaptation.

Moreover, I know for a fact learning how to report on climate change — and ocean acidification is tied to the amount of CO2 the ocean absorbs (CO2 being a greenhouse gas and acidifier once it reacts to the chemistry of ocean, wave, air, organisms) — is not only vital in this day and age of dumb downing everything, but also because of the proliferation of the corporate PR firms and burgeoning corporate water carriers that the mainstream corporate media is (pressitutes).

A one-day conference, put on by the Nation and CRJ, titled: “Covering Climate Change.”

A new playbook for a 1.5-degree world

How does the media cover—or not cover—the biggest story of our time? Last fall, UN climate scientists announced that the world has 12 years to transform energy, agriculture, and other key industries if civilization is to avoid a catastrophe. We believe the news business must also transform.

Why haven’t (most) news organizations been covering this story as if everyone’s lives depended on it? How can they craft stories that resonate with audiences? How do they cover this urgent, far-reaching story at a time when journalism’s business model is so precarious?

The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation are assembling some of the world’s top journalists, scientists, and climate experts to devise a new playbook for journalism that’s compatible with the 1.5-degree future that scientists say must be achieved. Join us for a town hall meeting on the coverage of climate change and the launch of an unprecedented, coordinated effort to change the media conversation.

Tuesday, April 30 from 9:00am–3:00pm
Columbia Journalism School
New York, NY

As always, everything is centered in-around-because of New York City, East Coast. So, we have the west coast, from California to Alaska, and Baja, Mexico, that produces much of the seafood those diners in New York City love, yet, how many reporters from the West Coast will be there, and, should we be injecting kerosene soot and water vapors and CO2 directly into the atmosphere with all this flying/jetting around for one-day conferences?

Oh, the conundrum of it all, and yet, 4o people met on a glorious Thursday night to listen to one scientist try to do some jujitsu around the colluding topics tied to ocean warming, acidification, eutrophication, hypoxia, red tides, plastics, sedimentation and  declining oyster cultivation, declining wild salmon stocks, threats to the Dungeness crab industry and other fisheries threats. We didn’t even get around to how many impacts will befall cetaceans — the iconic grey whales (and other dolphins and whales that migrate and hang around) which are part of a growing whale watching tourism industry.

Here is the story for the Newport News Times. It hits around 1,120 words, certainly not reaching the concision of small town twice-a-week newspapers. It might be cut so much (mangled is my term) that it will be a shell of its original self.

At the end of this read, I will insert a few elements I believe are more necessary to this story and the contexts than the pure reportage and narrative flow I create, which I have been told are worthy of a read.  PKH

****

Climate Change’s ‘Evil Twin’ 

Ocean Acidification (and problem stepchild, Ocean Hypoxia)

In today’s changing world of climate change, it might not seem unusual to see a room with forty Lincoln County residents at the Visual Arts Center overlooking Nye Beach on a windless, rainless evening to talk about biochemistry, the atmosphere and oceanographic sciences.

It was a perfect Central Oregon Coast Thursday for tourists and residents alike – low tide and a sunset unfolding inside a cloud-enhanced blue sky. One fellow from Vancouver, Washington, with his family of four asked me where Café Mundo was, and then said, “Man, you are living in paradise. Absolute paradise.”

A few quick introductions for those attending the MidCoast Watersheds Council monthly meeting, and we were about to be schooled in pteropods, pelagic snails, corrosive sea water, pitted and wonky oyster larvae shells, with large doses of talk about Newport’s and the entire Oregon coast’s economic threats caused by increased ocean acidification.

We are talking about $270 million annually the west coast oyster industry generates. “I love looking at critters,” said Caren Braby, manager for Oregon’s Marine Resources Program. “I love working on policy issues important to residents and the communities I love. I’ve lived here in Newport and the West Coast for over ten years.”

The biochemist/biologist with a self-professed passion for all invertebrates gave the listeners a caveat: “I’m going to relate some pretty gloomy things in this presentation, but I will end it with some bright spots, some hope, solutions.”

The attendees were introduced to the basic chemistry of ocean acidification and hypoxia with a 13-minute video: “Ocean Acidification – Changing Waters On The Oregon Coast” – sponsored by Oregon Fish and Wildlife, OSU College of Earth, Atmospheric and Ocean Sciences, OSU’s College of Science, Sea Grant Oregon and the Turner Trust.

“The ocean may look the same, but the water is changing, especially on the Oregon coast,” said Francis Chan, an associate professor and senior researcher in Oregon State University’s Department of Integrative Biology. It’s all tied to the amount of carbon the ocean is absorbing largely due to fossil fuel burning and deforestation. “Carbon is changing ocean chemistry faster than it has the last million years.”

Tying the negative impacts of human development, consumption and resource harvesting on the environment, to lower PH in our waters is depressing and challenging. For Braby, who’s big on “focusing on Oregon … describing the problem” Ocean Acidification threatens the Oregon Coast socially, culturally, economically and recreationally.

For instance, the Dungeness crab industry is Oregon’s single most valuable commercial fishery at $75 million last year. While the sea snails are the building blocks for salmon and other marine species food webs, acidification effects all shell-building species, including the iconic crab.

Those four threats Braby listed, plus the fact lawmakers are concerned with the state’s rural communities, are driving the legislature to follow the lead of marine scientists and stakeholders such as Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw Indians, the shellfish industry, commercial fishing groups, conservation organizations and others to create in 2017 the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (SB 1039).

Both holders of doctorates, Jack Barth, director of Marine Studies Initiative-OSU, and Brady are the OAH Council’s co-chairs.

Unintended consequences should be the lesson of the century when teaching young people how to tackle all these problems scientists like Brady, Barth and Chan are “describing.” For Caren Braby, acidification, hypoxia and harmful algal blooms are a triple whammy of not just alphabet soups – OA, OH, OAH, HAB —  but could be the tipping points in this coast’s livelihood, lifestyle and environmental, economic and cultural longevity.

“Even if we stop releasing carbon dioxide today, there will still be a thirty- to fifty-year increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean upwelling from deep within the ocean,” Braby told the audience. This lag time will affect the ocean’s PH level, causing more acidification. How much, we don’t know.

The deep-ocean conveyor belt brings to the Oregon coast cold water, called upwellings. That water comes from deep in the ocean and carries more nutrients that sustain ocean life. However, bad comes with the good – that water has less oxygen and tends to be acidified. Taking decades to travel to the West Coast, this water last touched the atmosphere decades earlier, when CO2 levels were lower than today. So future upwellings will carry the “memory” of today’s annual increases in CO2.

Ice core science is now giving us an atmospheric earth snapshot that goes back 800,000 years. Today,  atmospheric carbon dioxide is well over the maximum level during this long span. The rapid increase in fossil fuel burning and other man-made carbon dioxide emitters paints a gloomy picture for the past six decades – 1958 at 310 ppm versus 2018 at 410 ppm.

The hypoxia – dead zones – is basically less oxygen in large areas of the ocean. Much of the oxygen is displaced by harmful nutrient runoff or sedimentation, as well as algal blooms. However, OSU is looking at complex climate change elements, including wave and eddy action in the oceans.

Brady emphasized that biotoxins in several algae species – commonly known as a red tide — closed fisheries in 2015. Again, HAB’s are tied to acidified conditions in the ocean. The state’s scientific and commercial fisheries are looking at not only the predictive tools for HABs, but how to mitigate the impacts to clams, crabs, oysters and other commercial species along the food web.

“A massive hypoxic event caused the halibut to go away in both Washington and Oregon,” Braby stated. Add to that acidification’s effects on young salmon.

“Research shows ocean acidification could affect salmon’s ability to smell, which the fish rely on to avoid predators and navigate to their natal rivers.”

This is a global problem, but Braby and others caution Oregonians to not take the “we can’t do anything to solve this because India and China are causing it” approach.

Again, back to our sandbox: Oregon’s coast and watersheds. Braby admits there is not enough money allocated to both study and mitigate the ocean acidification and hypoxia issues we are facing. The Sept. 15, 2018 report she helped write posits five immediate next steps:

  1. continue the science and monitoring
  2. reduce causes of OAH
  3. promote OAH adaptation and resiliency
  4. raise awareness of OAH science, impacts and solutions
  5. commit resources to OAH science

For us overlooking Nye Beach, Brady emphasized the fourth step – socializing these issues through outreach, communication. She admits that scientists haven’t always been good at talking to the public, but Braby is armed to continue these sorts of public outreach events to get the message out about OAH and HAB.

 

Climate Change Mollifiers and Great Balls of Fire CO2 Deniers:

We Can Play the Game of Wack the Mole, But Think Hard Ocean Chemistry

The realities around acidification and hypoxia and biotoxicins and algal blooms will continue, continue, continue no matter how many reports are filed, agencies are created, scientists deployed, and public comment periods extended.

So, the great yawing world of pacifism and passive hope which is focused on our warped political system and endless pleas with lawyers to assist environmental groups and looking to technological fixes and active geo-engineering” things” to get the climate back on track, well, it’s what makes white civilization so-so flawed. There are real solutions tied to a deeper spiritual core than what white business Western Civilization can produce.

We are fiddling while the planet burns.

At the event written about above during that glorious waning night one big final ending struck me — people in the audience (mostly fifty years of age and upwards of 65 and older) wanted to discuss what the scientist and state bureaucrat, Caren Braby, had presented. They really want a forum, a community of purpose, to develop better tools to hash these “climate change issues” with neighbors, politicians, business owners, et al.

The gentleman with the MidCoast Watershed Council wanted the room cleared and questions quashed at a certain “acceptable” moment in the evening. However, people gathering and listening to a PowerPoint want civic engagement. The opportunity to engage 40 people and have some action plan drafted was lost in this American Mentality of Limited Scoping.

This so-called choir needs more tools to discuss the conjoining issues of climate change, resource depletion, food insecurity, growth (human & development), true sustainability, what energy in and energy out is, and so-so much more.

In fact, one of the active members of the Council discussed how insincere the political will is, discussed how flawed any movement on ocean acidification and hypoxia is without strengthening watershed rules, and how a regional approach is the only real way to move ahead, not just a state to state baby step approach. His 15 seconds of fame went poof, and the conversation ended.

There are many natural climate solutions tied to land stewardship that are not in place to help mitigate this huge problem for coastal communities and the marine life around them. This is where the rubber meets the pavement for small communities like Newport or Lincoln City.

While I am not a big proponent of harvesting the seas for food as a way to provide 20 percent of the earth protein, right now, the earth is criss-crossed with four to five times the number of fishing fleets than the oceans can sustain if fisheries are to stay robust and healthy. Many fisheries are in deep decline or near collapsing.

For Oregon, 37 percent of all greenhou se gasses originate through bad land use. Planting timber is the real solution to carbon sequestration, clean watersheds, protecting terrestrial and avian species and for the so-called coastal economies. How simple is that, planting billions of trees? In a world where private land rights trump everything, well, that seems to be the discussion point a group of forty citizens need to start massaging.

Unfortunately, these green solutions are not high on the table of scientists looking at chemistry and the invertebrates tied to specific fisheries.

Then, you can get so mired in the blue carbon and green solutions that are not high on the scale of bringing down global carbon dioxide levels.

The solutions, unfortunately, are all tied to wrecking “lifestyles, growth rates, consumption patterns, me-myself-and-I ego-centrism, recreation desires, class inequalities” Business As Usual mentality, from the Western Civilization’s (sic) perspective.

It’s all about human-focused survival, that is, what’s only good for Homo Sapiens — nothing said of the rights of any of the millions of other species to live on earth, or honoring wild-lands or mountain tops and corals, even geological formations, just for their sake alone.

Take a look at this article by Dr Phillip Williamson. He’s an honorary reader at the University of East Anglia and science coordinator of the UK Greenhouse Gas Removal from the Atmosphere research program, which is coordinated by the government-funded National Environment Research Council (NERC).

All the options, therefore, need to be on the table – not just the land-based approaches, such as planting new forests and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – which have dominated conversations to date.

This week, myself and colleagues attempt to address this gap by publishing an analysis of 13 ocean-based actions to address climate change and its impacts. The study considers the effectiveness and feasibility of both global-scale and local ocean-based solutions using information from more than 450 other publications.

Each potential action was assessed for a range of environmental, technological, social and economic criteria, with additional consideration given to each action’s impacts on important marine habitats and ecosystem services.

The study assesses seven ocean-based actions that have the potential to be deployed on a global scale. For the analysis, it was assumed that each technique was implemented at its maximum physical capacity.

Each technique was rated for its “mitigation effectiveness” – which was defined as how well the technique could help move the world from a high emissions scenario (“RCP8.5”) to a low emissions scenario where warming is limited to 2C (“RCP2.6”) – for a range of problems associated with climate change, including temperature rise, “ocean acidification” and sea level rise.

Here, sanity one and two:

  1.  protecting coastal areas from floods and nurseries for inshore fisheries
  2. planting new forests and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)

Here, the insanity of where we are at in global outlooks and how to cut carbon emissions while still having everything hunky-dory:

  1.  “solar geoengineering” techniques such as, “ocean surface albedo” (the reflectiveness of the ocean) and “marine cloud brightening”, which would work by using ships to spray saltwater into the clouds above the sea to make them more reflective.
  2. assisted evolution” – defined as attempts to harness the power of evolution to make species more tolerant to the impacts of climate change:
  • One example of this could be to make coral species more tolerant to heat stress.
  • The last technique is reef relocation and restoration. This can involve transplanting healthy coral into a degraded reef following a mass bleaching event, in order to aid its recovery.

Source

For Caren, submitting public comments is one action. More research is her mainstay, and as she stated, she is euphoric looking into a microscope at invertebrates. She states: “If we don’t understand what’s happening, we can’t change things.”

Of course, we have shifting baselines, so what Caren and her team work on, well, the predictions of acidification of oceans have been around for decades, with the predicted breakdown in shelled species losing their ability to deliver calcium to make shells. We know what is happening, and we don’t need more collapses and disease and “proofs” before acting.

The partnerships tied to OAH and HAB are impressive, but we are not in a climate where passivity should be dictating our actions —  more science, more studies to delineate the problem and more monitoring, this is lunacy. Then, the proposed lunacy of iron shavings in the ocean and sulfur dioxide spewed into the atmosphere to dim the sky. If this isn’t proof the scientists and industrialists and technologists haven’t lost their minds, then nothing is proof positive of their insanity.

The average citizen wants to stick his or her head out the window and say: “So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” Howard Bale, from the movie, Network.

Here on the Oregon Coast, hypoxia events during summer months are growing in size and duration, and seeing more and more of these biotoxic algal blooms (phytoplankton) making it to the smaller fish like sardines and anchovies, and into oysters and clams, well, the bio-accumulation and bio-toxicity carries up the food chain.  Many warnings will be coming in the very near future —  “don’t eat the clams/oyster/fish” admonitions will be sent out as we move into the next decade.

Caren Braby also talked about pyrosomes, sea pickles (each is technically a colony of other multi-celled animals called zooids), that are not normally seen on the coast but are a result of hypoxia. Warming seas. What have you.

See the source image

We are in some really bizarre times — people like Caren Braby have their laurels and positions with the state and other agencies, but in reality, they are making their incomes off of collapse, the sixth mass extinction, and local communities (both human and not) demises. They have skin in the game, but the truly vulnerable who are precarious at work and in their rental situations, who depend on virile economies tied to clean seas, we have more skin in that game.

How’s this headline for yet another nighttime Stephen King flick: Box jellyfish will destroy future oceans by gobbling up the food

The reality is many thousands and thousands of out-of-balance changes are occurring at the flora and fauna level, let alone at the chemistry level. So, the most abundant animal on earth, zeroing out because of ocean acidification? Not a fairy tale you want to repeat to your five-year-old for bedtime story telling.

As the oceans become more acidic, box jellyfish may start eating a lot more. Their greedy appetites could have a huge impact on marine ecosystems.

Some of the carbon dioxide we release is dissolving in the oceans, where it becomes carbonic acid – making the oceans less alkaline and more acidic. Scientists are scrambling to identify which species will be most impacted.

They are particularly concerned about organisms that play pivotal roles in marine food webs, because if they disappear, entire ecosystems may collapse.

What happens to copepods affects all that depend on them, “which is pretty much everything,” says Edd Hammill of Utah State University in Logan.

Previous studies have found copepods may be fairly resistant to ocean acidification. However, these have largely focused on single species, so community-level effects may have been missed.

Image result for box jellyfish image

So these powerful swimmers, halibut, take off when they end up near a hypoxic zone. Entire coastlines (WA and OR) then have had halibut fisheries completely shut down with no halibut to be found.

Maybe the oceans are an allusion to what we have already done to the soil and air and freshwater on land. Not one place on the planet can you take a handful of freshwater from steam, creek, river, lake and be safe from bio-toxins and deadly amoeba. Every person on the planet has mircoplastic in their feces and many compounds like flame retardant in their blood.

And then we are back in the church of the scientist with her proclamation: “Pteropods are the canary in the mine shaft,” Care Braby stated.

How many canaries in the coal mine comparisons are there now on planet earth in terms of specific species crashing and ecosystems degrading?

Even one of the businessmen as part of the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery said the hatchery’s chemistry manipulations were just “scratching the surface” in terms of how big and far-reaching ocean acidification will be. The shellfish hatchery game, over in 20 or 30 years?

It was here, from 2006 to 2008, that oyster larvae began dying dramatically, with hatchery owners Mark Wiegardt and his wife, Sue Cudd, experiencing larvae losses of 70 to 80 percent.

“Historically we’ve had larvae mortalities,” says Wiegardt, but those deaths were usually related to bacteria. After spending thousands of dollars to disinfect and filter out pathogens, the hatchery’s oyster larvae were still dying.

Finally, the couple enlisted the help of Burke Hales, a biogeochemist and ocean ecologist at Oregon State University. He soon homed in on the carbon chemistry of the water. “My wife sent a few samples in and Hales said someone had screwed up the samples because the [dissolved CO2 gas] level was so ridiculously high,” says Wiegardt, a fourth-generation oyster farmer. But the measurements were accurate. What the Whiskey Creek hatchery was experiencing was acidic seawater, caused by the ocean absorbing excessive amounts of CO2 from the air.

Source: YaleEnvironment36o.

Now is the time (30 years ago, really) to get communities to talk, to come up with collective solutions, to challenge business as usual, and science as usual.

And a flat-lined media, or so-called liberal press will not be benefiting anyone in terms of getting community conversations going and action started. If a rag or TV network is around just to sell junk, then, we have no hope.

One restaurant and seafood market owner I talked with in Newport is aware that her five-star restaurant and local sourcing of seafood is small time in the scheme of things. Her story, again, will be in the Newport News Times.

“There are so many forces beyond our control. I am worried about long-term food security. I want us to be looking at food systems, and to teach that in academic settings,” said Laura Anderson of Local Ocean Dockside Grill and Fish Market.

Trump’s Stance on the Golan will allow Israel to Operate with Impunity Elsewhere

When President Donald Trump moved the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem last year, effectively sabotaging any hope of establishing a viable Palestinian state, he tore up the international rulebook.

Last week, he trampled all over its remaining tattered pages. He did so, of course, via Twitter.

Referring to a large piece of territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967, Mr Trump wrote: “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability.”

Israel expelled 130,000 Syrians from the Golan Heights in 1967, under cover of the Six Day War, and then annexed the territory 14 years later – in violation of international law. A small population of Syrian Druze are the only survivors of that ethnic cleansing operation.

Replicating its illegal acts in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel immediately moved Jewish settlers and businesses into the Golan.

Until now, no country had recognised Israel’s act of plunder. In 1981, UN member states, including the US, declared Israeli efforts to change the Golan’s status “null and void”.

But in recent months, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began stepping up efforts to smash that long-standing consensus and win over the world’s only superpower to his side.

He was spurred into action when Bashar Al Assad – aided by Russia – began to decisively reverse the territorial losses the Syrian government had suffered during the nation’s eight-year war.

The fighting dragged in a host of other actors. Israel itself used the Golan as a base from which to launch covert operations to help Mr Assad’s opponents in southern Syria, including Islamic State fighters. Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, meanwhile, tried to limit Israel’s room for manoeuvre on the Syrian leader’s behalf.

Iran’s presence close by was how Mr Netanyahu publicly justified the need for Israel to take permanent possession of the Golan, calling it a vital buffer against Iranian efforts to “use Syria as a platform to destroy Israel”.

Before that, when Mr Assad was losing ground to his enemies, the Israeli leader made a different case. Then, he argued that Syria was breaking apart and its president would never be in a position to reclaim the Golan.

Mr Netanyahu’s current rationalisation is no more persuasive than the earlier one. Russia and the United Nations are already well advanced on re-establishing a demilitarised zone on the Syrian side of the separation-of-forces line. That would ensure Iran could not deploy close to the Golan Heights.

Mr Netanyahu is set to meet Mr Trump in Washington on Monday, when the president’s tweet will reportedly be converted into an executive order.

The timing is significant. This is another crude attempt by Mr Trump to meddle in Israel’s election, due on April 9. It will provide Mr Netanyahu with a massive fillip as he struggles against corruption indictments and a credible threat from a rival party, Blue and White, headed by former army generals.

Mr Netanyahu could barely contain his glee, reportedly calling Mr Trump to tell him: “You made history!”

But, in truth, this was no caprice. Israel and Washington have been heading in this direction for a while.

In Israel, there is cross-party support for keeping the Golan.

Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and a confidant of Mr Netanyahu’s, formally launched a plan last year to quadruple the size of the Golan’s settler population, to 100,000, within a decade.

The US State Department offered its apparent seal of approval last month when it included the Golan Heights for the first time in the “Israel” section of its annual human rights report.

This month, senior Republican senator Lindsey Graham made a very public tour of the Golan in an Israeli military helicopter, alongside Mr Netanyahu and David Friedman, Mr Trump’s ambassador to Israel. Mr Graham said he and fellow senator Ted Cruz would lobby the US president to change the territory’s status.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, has made no secret of his disdain for international law. This month, his officials barred entry to the US to staff from the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, who are investigating US war crimes in Afghanistan.

The ICC has made enemies of both Washington and Israel in its initial, and meagre, attempts to hold the two to account.

Whatever Mr Netanyahu’s spin about the need to avert an Iranian threat, Israel has other, more concrete reasons for holding on to the Golan.

The territory is rich in water sources and provides Israel with decisive control over the Sea of Galilee, a large freshwater lake that is crucially important in a region facing ever greater water shortages.

The 1,200 square kilometres of stolen land is being aggressively exploited, from burgeoning vineyards and apple orchards to a tourism industry that, in winter, includes the snow-covered slopes of Mount Hermon.

As noted by Who Profits, an Israeli human rights organisation, in a report this month, Israeli and US companies are also setting up commercial wind farms to sell electricity.

And Israel has been quietly co-operating with US energy giant Genie to explore potentially large oil reserves under the Golan. Mr Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has family investments in Genie. But extracting the oil will be difficult, unless Israel can plausibly argue that it has sovereignty over the territory.

For decades the US had regularly arm-twisted Israel to enter a mix of public and back-channel peace talks with Syria. Just three years ago, Barack Obama supported a UN Security Council rebuke to Mr Netanyahu for stating that Israel would never relinquish the Golan.

Now Mr Trump has given a green light for Israel to hold on to it permanently.

But, whatever he says, the decision will not bring security for Israel, or regional stability. In fact, it makes a nonsense of Mr Trump’s “deal of the century” – a regional peace plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, according to rumour, may be unveiled soon after the Israeli election.

Instead, US recognition will prove a boon for the Israeli right, which has been clamouring to annex vast areas of the West Bank and thereby drive a final nail into the coffin of the two-state solution.

Israel’s right can now plausibly argue: “If Mr Trump has consented to our illegal seizure of the Golan, why not also our theft of the West Bank?”

• First published in The National

Oil Industry promotes Automobility

Is it simply business as usual or a corporate conspiracy to destroy the planet? However one characterizes it our planet is being cooked so already wealthy people can make even more profit.

Last Friday the New York Times published a front-page story titled “The Oil Industry’s Covert Campaign to Rewrite American Car Emissions Rules.” The article pointed out that Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Marathon Oil, Koch Industries and other oil/refining interests won “rollbacks” to vehicle fuel mileage rules that “have gone further than the more modest changes automakers originally lobbied for.” The legislative changes are expected to “increase greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by more than the amount many midsize countries put out in a year.”

With internal combustion engines consuming nearly two-thirds of US petroleum, industry profits are threatened by measures that cut gasoline consumption (be it better fuel mileage, diverting funds from roadway, eliminating auto infrastructure, etc.). About 150,000 gas stations do hundreds of billions of dollars in sales every year. In The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World Paul Roberts explains that the oil industry’s business model is planned around the gasoline pump, “from the kind of crude oil it sought to the kind of refineries it built, to its intense focus on retail marketing.”

The oil industry’s recent opposition to regulating automakers is consistent with its history of promoting automobility, as I and Bianca Mugyenyi detail in Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay. As far back as 1925, oil representatives packed a committee organized by the US surgeon-general concerning the health effects of leaded gas. They successfully argued that lead was harmless despite the fact that companies such as Standard Oil of New Jersey knew leaded gasoline was a health threat. Over the next 60 years lead levels increased a hundred-fold until it was finally banned in 1986.

In the 1930s and 40s Standard Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum were part of the corporate conspiracy against trolleys that changed the face of urban landscapes across North America. With General Motors and other companies they set up a network of front organizations that ripped up, converted and resold a hundred electric transit systems in 45 cities.

Amidst increasing smog in California in the 1950s, oil interests engaged in a fight against anti-pollution legislation. They financed the Stanford Research Institute to contest the findings of Professor Arie J. Haagen-Smit who demonstrated that automobiles and oil refineries were the major sources of smog.

In 1970 oil companies helped defeat California’s Proposition 18, an initiative to divert a small portion of the state gas tax to public transit.

Oil companies were part of the National Highway Users Conference (NHUC) that was set up during the Depression to lobby for roadway funding. When the Chicago Transit Authority proposed using $30 million in state fuel tax to finance improvements to mass transit in the mid-1950s, the NHUC sent in two full-time workers to successfully coordinate opposition (with the Illinois Highway Users Conference) against the proposal.

In 1951, the NHUC launched Project Adequate Roads, which called for a national highway system. Project Adequate Roads helped win the massive Interstate Highway System.

Oil interests were part of another group that lobbied for the Interstate. Beginning in 1942 the “Road Gang”, a secret society of men representing, automobile, truck and tire makers as well as highway engineers, top highway bureaucrats, etc. met regularly in a private Washington, DC, restaurant to push for more roadway.

The private automobile has risen to dominance in large part because of its ability to draw together a wide array of powerful corporate interests from steel makers to real estate developers, rubber companies to big box retailers. During the automobile’s embryonic phase, the oil industry was already big business. At that time, oil was mainly used to fuel the kerosene lamp, a business destroyed by the emergence of gas and electrical illumination. The powerful oil interests of the day, led by the Rockefeller family, were bailed out of this crisis and set up for life with the advent of the automobile. And as barrel upon barrel was drained from the earth and pumped into gas tanks, big oil swam in its profits.

So, in many respects, oil interests lobbying against restrictions on automakers is simply business as usual, given their history of promoting automobility. But, given the dangers of climate disturbances ‘business as usual’ takes on the appearance of a criminal corporate conspiracy to destroy civilization.

Agreed Rules, COP24 and Climate Change Protest

If children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we can all do together if we really wanted to.

Greta Thunberg at COP24, December 2018

The world, if it goes off in a burn, will do so courtesy of the rules – or their elastic interpretation.  It was a fine show of contradiction at Katowice, and the Polish hospitality did not deter the 14,000 delegates drawn from 195 countries from bringing forth a beast of regulation to delight climate change bureaucrats for years.  Everyone clapped themselves in way emetic to any bystander suspicious about what had actually been achieved.  The question to ask, of course, is whether this fluffy, self-congratulatory exercise makes it past the canapés and becomes a genuine policy document.

Little progress was actually made on the issue of commitments to cut emissions, even if there was, in principle, an agreement on a set of rules to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement. As things stand, the planet is set to reach 3°C, while the Paris Agreement stresses the need to keep matters manageable to an increase of 1.5°C, which would lead to more modest environmental destruction. Considerable troubling silences persist on the issue of technicalities.  What, for instance, constitutes a suitable, measurable reduction in emissions or who monitors a country’s progress.

There were certain concessions.  Poorer states received more solid reassurances of assistance from wealthier states to deal with greenhouse-gas emissions and attendant environmental challenges.  China was pressed into accepting certain uniform guidelines to measure those emissions.  States who cannot follow the “rules” to reduce emissions must explain why and show a pathway to redress that failure, more a case of nudging than punishment.

Coal advocates would not, however, have left COP24 dispirited.  Poland’s own president, Andrzej Duda, gave a rumbustious display of refusal: his country, with 80 percent of its energy derived from coal, could not be asked to abandon 200 years’ worth of reserves before the idealistic abstinence of any green lobby.  Poland, not the planet, came first.

Michal Kurtyka, COP24’s chair and secretary of state in the Ministry of Environment, saw little by way of contradiction in a performance run by the Polish Coal Miners Band during the talks, nor coal displays in the foyer greeting guests.  It would have been silly, surmised Kurtyka, to dismiss the coal industry.  “There are also energy companies of course engaging in a path of sustainable development.”

But a certain smell lingered at COP24, the sense that the conference had been sponsored by the very same entities whose behaviour was to be controlled and, in the future, abolished altogether.  Kurtyka did little to dispel the aroma.  “I don’t sense that there is a problem with anybody’s participation, provided that we have the same goal.”

The climate change talks were also being held, as it were, in the den of fossil fuel symbolism.  Katowice was made by the legacy of coal rich reserves discovered in the mid-eighteenth century. Such delightful irony, as well, that the city could play host both to such a conference and the largest coal company in the European Union.

This did not deter Joanna Flisowska, a Katowice native and policy coordinator on coal for Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe.  “We can be such a bright example for the transition away from coal if only we could put effort into using these opportunities.”

On other fronts, the climate change lobby has taken something of a battering.  France’s Emmanuel Macron granted some concession to massive protests against fuel-tax rises supposedly designed to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.  Living standards have squared off against environmental policies.

The result of the foot dragging has been to illustrate a growing divide between citizen and government official.  “Hope,” claimed a despondent May Boeve, executive director of the climate change campaign group 350.org, “now rests on the shoulders of the many people who are rising to take action: the inspiring children who started an unprecedented wave of strikes in school to support a fossil-free [sic] future; the 1,000-plus institutions that committed to pull their money out of coal, oil, and gas, and the many communities worldwide who keep resisting fossil fuel development.”

Australia is particularly illustrative of this point, something emphasised by Greenpeace chief executive David Ritter.  “The divide between the Government and the young people of Australia is probably the greatest it’s been since those huge protests of the Vietnam War era, and I think it’s for a similar reason.”

Students of varying ages certainly add to Ritter’s suggestions, with thousands of Australian school children taking to the streets in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Coffs Harbour and Bendigo, to name but a spread of Australian cities, insisting that Prime Minister Scott Morrison heed their calls.  “The politicians aren’t listening to us when we try to ask nicely for what we want and for what we need,” suggested an irate Castlemaine student Harriet O’Shea Carre.  “So now we have to go to extreme lengths and miss out on school.”

It was, however, a 15-year-old Swede by the name of Greta Thunberg, whose single person vigil outside Sweden’s parliament building featured the sign “school strike for climate change”.  Three weeks were spent sitting in front of the Parliament during school hours, though she did return to classes for four days, using Friday as her weekly day of protest.

At Katowice, she made her own mark, a scolding aunt in the body of a disturbed teenager.  “You are not mature enough to tell it like is,” she told delegates in her capacity as a representative of Climate Justice Now. “Even that burden you leave us children.”

Thunberg is right about one fundamental point.  “You have ignored us in the past, and you will ignore us again.”  But to ignore the future in favour of the present, to cobble together an ineffectual regime that privileges current living standards in the hope that devastation can be postponed, is an inherent condition of the species.  Fiddling as the planet burns will continue.

Crimes against the Earth

Dear Caesar
Keep Burning, raping, killing
But please, please
Spare us your obscene poetry
And ugly music

— From Seneca’s last letter to Nero

The excavation of more than 600 billion tons of toxic carbon and hydrocarbon geological remains of previous biospheres and their transfer to the atmosphere as carbon gases constitutes nothing less than insanity leading to global suicide. With estimated profitable carbon reserves in excess of 20,000 GtC (Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change, including oil shale, tar sand, coal seam gas, further emissions would take the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere back to early Eocene (~55-40 million years ago) and Mesozoic-like (pre-65 million years ago) greenhouse atmosphere and acid oceans conditions, during which large parts of the continents were inundated by the oceans. Most likely to survive the extreme transition over a few centuries would be grasses, some insects and perhaps some birds, descendants of the fated dinosaurs. A new evolutionary cycle would commence. Survivors of Homo sapiens may endure in the Arctic.

Figure 1. Global warming by January 2018 relative to 1951-1980

Since about 542 million years ago, acting as the lungs of the biosphere, the Earth’s atmosphere developed an oxygen-rich composition over hundreds of millions of years, allowing emergence of breathing animals.

A critical parameter in Drake’s Equation, which seeks to estimate the number of planets that host civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy, is L – the longevity of technological civilizations. Estimates of L range between a minimum of 70 years and 10,000 years, but even for the more optimistic scenarios, only a tiny fraction of such planets would exist in the galaxy at the present time. It is another question whether an intelligent species exists in this, or any other galaxy, which has brought about a mass extinction of species on the scale initiated by Homo sapiens since the mid-18th century and in particular since 1945..

The history of Earth includes six major mass extinctions defining the end of several periods, including the End-Ediacaran, Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Each of these events has been triggered either by extra-terrestrial impacts (End-Ediacaran and K-T), massive volcanic eruptions, or methane release and related greenhouse events. Yet, with the exception of the proposed role of methanogenic bacteria for methane eruptions, the current Seventh mass extinction of species constitutes a novelty. For the first time in its history, the biosphere is in crisis through biological forcing by an advanced form of life; i.e., of a technological carbon-emitting species.

The distinct glacial-interglacial cycles of the Pleistocene (2.6 million years ago to 10,000 years ago), with rapid mean global temperature changes of up to 5 degrees Celsius rises over a few thousand years, and, in some instances shorter periods, forced an extreme adaptability of the Genus Homo. Of all the life forms on Earth, only this genus mastered fire, proceeding to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum, split the atom and travel to other planets, a cultural change overtaking biological change.

Possessed by a conscious fear of death, craving a god-like immortality and omniscience, Homo developed the absurd faculty to simultaneously create and destroy, culminating with the demise of the atmospheric conditions that allowed its flourishing in the first place. The biological root factors which underlie the transformation of tribal warriors into button-pushing automatons capable of triggering global warming or a nuclear winter remain inexplicable.

Inherent in the enigma are little-understood top-to-base mechanisms, explored among others by George Ellis, who states:

Although the laws of physics explain much of the world around us, we still do not have a realistic description of causality in truly complex hierarchical structures.1

66 million years ago, huge asteroids hit the Earth, extinguishing the dinosaurs and vacating habitats, succeeded by the flourishing of mammals. At 56 million years ago, in the wake of a rise of atmospheric CO2 to levels near-800 parts per million, the monkeys made appearance. About 34 million years ago, weathering of the rising Himalayan and Alps sequestered CO2.  Earth was cooling, the Antarctic ice sheet formed and conditions on land became suitable for large, warm blooded mammals.

About 5.2 to 2.6 million years ago, in the Pliocene, with temperatures 2 – 3oC and sea levels 25+/-12 meters higher than during the 15th to 18th centuries, the accentuation of climate oscillations saw the appearance of the genus Paranthropus and the genus Homo. At least about one million years ago the mastering of fire by Homo Erectus, about a quarter of a millennium ago the appearance of Homo sapiens, and about 8,000 years ago the stabilization of the interglacial Holocene, saw the Neolithic and urban civilization.

Since the industrial age about 1750 and in particular from 1950, a period denoted as the Anthropocoene2, deforestation and climate change led to the demise of an estimated 10,000 species per year due to destruction of habitats, ever increasing carbon pollution, acidification of the hydrosphere.

Planetcide stems back to deep recesses of the human mind, primeval fear of death leading to yearning for god-like immortality. Once excess food was produced, fear and its counterpart, violence, grew out of control, generating murderous orgies called “war“, designed to conquer death to appease the Gods.

From the Romans to the Third Reich, the barbarism of empires surpasses that of small marauding tribes. In the name of freedom they never cease to bomb peasant populations in their small fields. Only among the wretched of the Earth is true charity common, where empathy is learnt through suffering.

War is a synonym for ritual sacrifice of the young. From infanticide by rival warlord baboons, to the butchering of young children on Aztec altars, to the generational sacrifice such as in WWI, youths follow leaders blindly to the death. Hijacking the image of Christ, a messenger of justice and peace, fundamentalists promote a self-fulfilling Armageddon, while others see their future on space ships and barren planets. Nowadays a cabal of multi-billionaires, executives and their political and media mouthpieces are leading the human race and much of nature to ultimate demise, with little resistance from the majority of people, either unaware or too afraid to resist the slide over the cliff.

Humans live in a realm of perceptions, dreams, myths and legends, in denial of critical existential factors3 in a world as cruel as it is beautiful. Existentialist philosophy allows a perspective into, and a way of coping with, all that defies rational contemplation. Ethical and cultural assumptions of free will rarely govern the behavior of societies or nations, let alone an entire species.

And although the planet may not shed a tear for the demise of technological civilization, hope on the individual scale for the moment is possible. Going through the black night of the soul, members of the species may be rewarded by the emergence of a conscious dignity devoid of illusions, grateful for the glimpse at the universe for which humans are privileged for the fleeting moment:

Having pushed a boulder up the mountain all day, turning toward the setting sun, we must consider Sisyphus happy.

— Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942

• Revised from “Planet Eaters

  1. “Physics, complexity and causality”, Nature, 435: 743, June 2005.
  2. cf. Steffen, Crutzen and McNeill, Ambio, 36, 614-621, 2007.
  3. Janus: A summing up, Arthur Koestler, 1978.

Journey into Obsolescence: The Adani Carmichael Project

The Carmichael mine being pursued in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland is a dinosaur before its creation.  On paper, it is hefty – to be some five times the size of Sydney harbour, the largest in Australia and one of the largest on the planet.  Six open cut and five underground mines covering some 30 kilometres are proposed, a gargantuan epic.  The coal itself would be transported through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area, and would feature a rail line subsidised by the money of Australian taxpayers.

Even before the initial steps are taken, its realisation is doomed to obsolescent indulgence and environmental wearing.  It has been endorsed by a bribed political class best represented by Liberal senator Matt Canavan, who sees Adani through tinted glasses as a “little Aussie batter”; it is run by an unelected plutocratic one.  This venture has seen Australian politicians, protoplasmic and spineless, do deals with a company run by a billionaire in a way that sneers at democracy and mocks the common citizenry.

The Adani group, run by its persistent Chairman Gautam Adani, has worked out what political figures want to hear and how far it can go, even in the face of mounting opposition.  His closeness to the halls of power has been noted: influential be he who has the ear of the Indian Prime Minister, Nahendra Modi.

How divisive the Carmichael project is between Australia’s morally flexible politicians and a growing body of disaffected citizenry can be gathered from the open letter to the Adani Group from some 90 notable Australians that was submitted in the first part of last year.  The list was impressively eclectic: authors such as Richard Flanagan and Tim Winton; investment banker Mark Burrows; and former Australian test cricket captains Ian and Greg Chappell.  (“The thought,” Ian Chappell ruefully, “that this could affect the relationship, hopefully that’ll get through.”)

The text of the note was simple enough.  “We are writing to respectfully ask you to abandon the Adani Group’s proposal in Queensland’s Galilee Basin… Pollution from burning coal was the single biggest driver of global warming, threatening life in Australia, India and all over the world.”

That same year, the British medical journal The Lancet deemed the Adani mine project a “public health disaster” though Australian authorities remain indifferent to recommendations that independent health assessments be conducted on the impact of the mine.

In very tangible ways, air pollution arising from the burning of coal is a global killer.  Australia’s menacing own contribution to this casualty list comes in at around three thousand a year; in India, the list, according to a 2013 study by the Mumbai-based Conservation Action Trust, is an eye-popping 115,000. “I didn’t expect the mortality figures per year,” remarked Debi Goenka, executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust, “to be so high.”

The trends in energy generation and resources are against fossil fuels, and even the banks have heeded this, refusing to supply a credit line to the company.  But Adani knows a gullible audience when he sees one.  Like a sadhu aware of a westerner’s amenability to mysticism, the chairman and his worthies say the right things, and encourage the appropriate response from the ruling classes they are wooing.  The company feeds them the fodder and rose water they wish to hear, and massages them into appreciative stances. The campaign by the Indian company has been so comprehensive as to include decision makers from every level of government that might be connected with the mine.

Adani, not to be deterred by delays of some six years, has suggested that it will pursue a different model, though this remains vague.  Extravagance is being reined in, supposedly trimmed and slimmed: targets will be cut by three-quarters, and the company has now promised to finance the project itself.  “We will now,” claimed Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow this week, “be developing a smaller open-cut mine comparable to many other Queensland coal mines and will ramp up production over time.”

Nothing this company says should ever be taken at face value.  Exaggeration and myth making is central to its platform.  Slyly, the company’s Australian operation is also given a deceptive wrapping; a visit to the company’s website will see information on Adani’s efforts to “become the leading supplier of renewable energy in Australia.”

Dow has become a missionary of sorts, repeatedly telling Queenslanders that the project can only mean jobs, and more jobs.  Astrological projections more in league with tarot card reading are used.  Last November, Dow, in a media statement, was brimming with optimism over those “indirect jobs” that would be created in Rockhampton, Townsville, Mackay and the Isaac region.  “Economic modelling, such as that used by the Queensland Resources Council in its annual resources industry economic impact report, show that each direct job in the industry in Queensland supports another four and a half jobs in related industries and businesses, therefore we can expect to see more than 7,000 jobs created by the initial ramp up of the Carmichael project.”

Not merely does the Carmichael mine smack of a crude obsolescence before the first lumps of coal are mined; it is bound to take a wrecking ball to any emissions reduction strategy Australia might intend pursuing.  (Matters are already half-hearted as they are in Canberra, poisoned by a fractious energy lobby and ill-gotten gains stakeholders.)  Professor Andrew Stock of the Climate Council has explained that once coal begins being burned, Australia’s “total emissions” are set to double, nothing less than an act of “environmental vandalism”.  Work on the mine will also contribute to such despoliation: the clearing of 20,200 hectares of land will add to the climate chance quotient; the Great Artesian Basin’s groundwater system will also be affected.

Another graphic projection is also being suggested.  For the duration of its projected 60 year lifespan, as epidemiologist Fiona Stanley reminds us, Adani’s venture will produce as much carbon as all of Australia’s current coal fired power stations combined.  All this, even as the Indian state promises to phase out thermal coal imports, rendering the Adani coal project a white, if vandalising, elephant.  The only difference now is that the elephant proposed is somewhat smaller in scale and size.