Category Archives: Mining

Palestine Between a Rising Tide and Apartheid

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Systems of colonialism and militarism are destroying both human rights and the environment. Palestinians live in a part of the world that is warming faster than the global average, under a system of Israeli settler colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid. Their experiences offer a clear example of how climate change multiplies existing injustices and inequalities.

Today, we introduce “Between a Rising Tide and Apartheid,” a new series of visuals that illustrates the intersection between the Palestinian rights movement and the environmental/climate justice movements. Learn from Palestinian experiences with climate vulnerability, green colonialism, environmental racism, and colonial extraction. Be sure to also register for our upcoming event to expand on the topics covered in these visuals.

JOIN US FOR AN ONLINE DISCUSSION BASED ON THESE VISUALS

Thursday, January 20, 2022

12:00–1:30 New York / 7:00-8:30 Jerusalem

Join the VP team in conversation with Zena Agha, Asmaa Abu Mezied, and Daleen Saah. Zena and Asmaa are researchers with expertise in climate change in Palestine, and Daleen partnered with VP in the conceptualization and design of these visuals.

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The post Palestine Between a Rising Tide and Apartheid first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Where there are Tailings, No Grass Grows: Serbians Protest against Rio Tinto

Another fault line has opened in the mining wars.  In Serbia, resistance is gathering steam against various deals made between Belgrade and companies that risk environmental degradation and lingering spoliation.

In this regard, the globe’s second largest metals and mining corporation, features prominently.  Rio Tinto, bruised in reputation but determined in business, finds itself in a hunting mood in the Balkans, hoping to establish a lithium mine and processing plant in the valley of Jadar.

As the infamous destroyer of the Juukan Gorge Caves outlines in a statement, the Jadar site is intended to “produce battery-grade lithium carbonate, a critical mineral used in large scale batteries for electric vehicles and storing renewable energy”.  This greening shift – because all canny mining entities are doing it –  promises to “position Rio Tinto as the largest source of lithium supply in Europe for at least the next 15 years.”  In an effort to make matters sound even more impressive, Jadar will also “produce borates, which are used in solar panels and wind turbines.”

The company has been extensively involved in cultivating relations with the government of Aleksandar Vučić.  As far back as 2018, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić was already convinced what the future lithium borate project might hold.  “As Jadar can significantly influence the development of the whole region, the government has established an inter-ministerial working group to cooperate with the investor on all aspects of the project.”  Capitulation, rather than cooperation, would be the more accurate description.

How the Anglo-Australian mining giant finds itself in this position has been troubling to local activists and the citizenry of Jadar for years.  The Ne damo Jadar (We won’t let anyone take Jadar) group is particularly concerned by the clandestine memoranda of understanding signed between the company and the Serbian government.  Zlatko Kokanović, vice president of the group, states the position with irrefutable clarity.  “Rio Tinto’s proposed jadarite mine will not only threaten one of Serbia’s oldest and most important archaeological sites, it will also endanger several protected bird species, pond terrapins, and fire salamander, which would otherwise be protected by EU directives.”

An online petition against the mine, which has garnered 283,364 signatures to date, also notes the risk posed to “thousands of sustainable multi-generational farms” through the poisoning of water sources.  This was bound to occur given generous use of sulphuric acid in separating the lithium from the jadarite ore.

Rio has countered this by vague promises that it will conduct sound environmental assessments and neutralise any risks arising from sulfuric acid, arsenic and the inevitable tailings that will follow.  In the words of the CEO Jakob Stausholm, “We are committed to upholding the highest environmental standards and building sustainable futures for the communities where we operate.”  Stausholm promised, “that in progressing this project, we must listen to and respect the views of all stakeholders.”

Ever since Rio Tinto began sniffing around in Serbia, evidence of such listening and respect has been in short supply.  Requests and concerns by locals go unaddressed.  Its use of private security goons has also been a point of some nastiness. Marijana Petković, a member of Ne damo Jadar, insists that they have been harassing and conducting surveillance of villages which are proximate to the mine.  One has to keep the local tribes in check.

In June, the company claimed that the security contractors were “engaged to carry out activities in full compliance with the Law on Private Security, which provides for both the way of securing private property and moving at a certain time between several mutually separated places/facilities”.

The company also countered with its own claims that, as a law-abiding entity, it has been unjustly attacked by fractious thugs intent on disrupting the prospects for local improvement.  After a protest that same month, Rio Tinto stated that “employees working on the Jadar project were examined for injuries at the Loznica Emergency Centre, where they were provided with assistance.”

Serbian lawmakers have certainly been facing a mouthful from the Alliance of Environmental Organisations of Serbia (SEOS) and the Kreni-promeni organisation.  The latter has produced a video to counter Rio Tinto’s own glossy narrative of the lithium project which has saturated much of the media.  Hearty efforts by Kreni-promeni to convince the Serbian public broadcaster RTS to broadcast its rebuttals have so far failed.

The eternally calculating Vučić has decided to put the issue of Rio Tinto’s lithium mining effort to a referendum, enabling the mining giant to further step up its campaign to convince voters.   The protestors are in no doubt that the measure is designed to secure approval in order to outmanoeuvre the contrarians.

A large protest movement is taking shape in Serbia, centred on the importance of clean water, air, soil and observance of sound environmental regulations.  The month of November saw protesting efforts that involved blocking roads in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Kragujevac, Užice, Loznica and Kruševac, amongst others.

Rio Tinto, environmental vandal par excellence, has shown, along with other mining giants, a marked tendency to ignore local grievances and fears while flattering gullible authorities with promises of a glittering future.  The future for the Jadar valley, outlined by one sceptical ecologist, Mirjana Lukić Anđelković is suitably dark.  The company, she told the morning program TV Nova S “Wake Up” in March this year, promises to mine for six decades and “make a mountain of tailings.”  Where there are tailings, “there is no grass, nothing grows.”

The post Where there are Tailings, No Grass Grows: Serbians Protest against Rio Tinto first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Left problem” is not cozying up to bad guys but supporting imperialism

Left media should explore a wide range of critical ideas. But it should try to avoid ‘punching down’ too often.

Recently new left outlet The Breach published a long interview with Columbia University PhD student Barnaby Raine “on the resurgence of ‘tankie’ and ‘campist’ politics” titled “Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?”

It was an odd choice. Unlike The Breach’s other stories, there’s nothing about Canada in the interview and it’s a republication of a radio interview rather than unique content.

The article is largely an effort to psychoanalyze anti-imperialist politics that ‘go too far’. But it ignores maybe the most significant and charitable explanation. Serious leftists and internationalists are rightly cautious about contributing to the demonization of a government/country facing the wrath of the dominant empire. Amidst foreign intervention and demonization some seek to stake out a position that forces open the debate. While this can open space for discussion, it is generally a moral and tactical mistake to glorify a leader simply because they are in the crosshairs of the dominant imperialist power.

Enemy of my enemy is my friend thinking does creep into some left discourse. But its negative impact is inconsequential compared to left support for imperialism.

For example, during the recent federal election, the NDP formally supported Canadian participation in the nakedly imperialistic Haiti Core Group. They also called for Canada to join the newly formed AUKUS, which stokes nuclear proliferation and tension with China. The party also wants to spend $100 billion ($350 billion over lifecycle) on new fighter jets and naval vessels that are largely designed for US and NATO wars.

This is the tip of the iceberg, as I detail in Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada. In the two decades after World War II the NDP’s predecessor and Canadian unions supported the creation of NATO, the Korean War, Canada’s role in the assassination of Patricia Lumumba, etc.

During the 2017 NDP leadership race I asked Niki Ashton at a private gathering whether she voted in favour of bombing Libya. The NDP leadership candidate said she and a few other MPs sought to dissuade then-leader Jack Layton from supporting the NATO war. Failing to convince him, Ashton said she couldn’t remember if she voted yes on Libya or was absent.

A Canadian general led the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, which was vigorously opposed by the African Union. AU officials argued the war would destabilize that country and the Sahel region of Africa, which is what happened. Who knows how many tens of thousands died directly or indirectly from that conflict.

Despite her position on Libya, I paid $5 to become a member of the NDP to vote for Ashton and even asked some friends to do the same. She was significantly better than the other candidates on international affairs and most other issues and I was willing to accept her failure on Libya in the belief that Ashton would move the party in a better direction.

Only one of 308 members of the House of Commons voted against bombing Libya. While the former Green leader should be applauded for doing so, Elizabeth May actively supported Canada’s campaign to oust Venezuela’s elected government, participated in efforts to ramp up hostility towards Tehran and forced her party to hold a special convention after members passed a resolution supporting Palestinian rights.

From NGOs to unions, well-known left commentators to progressive publications, the pattern is largely the same. Most are quiet on foreign policy or explicitly support harmful elements of it. The National Observer, for instance, is overtly imperialist while media watchdog Canadaland regurgitates the dominant perspective on a subject where media bias in favor of power is most stark (as I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation). The best columnist given a platform in the corporate media, Linda McQuaig (a Breach advocate) has repeatedly mythologized Liberal foreign policy hero Lester Pearson who helped establish NATO, dispossess Palestinians and aided the US war in Vietnam.

In The Trudeau Formula: Seduction and Betrayal in an Age of Discontent Breach managing editor Martin Lukacs ignores the Liberals’ role in creating the Lima Group and campaign to recognize Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela. He omits anything about Trudeau backing abusive Canadian mining companies abroad, anti-Palestinian positions or failure to restart diplomatic relations with Iran. There’s nothing about Trudeau sending 500 troops to Russia’s border in Latvia or leading a NATO mission in Iraq. The only foreign policy issue dealt with in detail in the book is Canada’s massive Light Armored Vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia, which has been discussed on the front page of the Globe and Mail at least a dozen times.

The reality is few publications and groups challenge Canadian imperialism. Even fewer are willing to mention left support for imperialism.

If The Breach doesn’t want to be seen as ‘punching down’ I’d suggest that for every attack on “tankies” they publish they run 10 articles criticizing the NDP’s foreign policy.

The post “Left problem” is not cozying up to bad guys but supporting imperialism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Alabama Coal Miners’ ongoing Six Month Strike against BlackRock’s Warrior Met

Striking miners (Source: UMWA)

Larry Spencer, UMWA District 20 Vice President, represents the 1,100 coal miners in three UMWA locals which on strike against Warrior Met in Alabama since April 1, 2021. He will give an update on the strike in a September 28 webinar. The strikers are fighting to reverse concessions that were foisted on them in 2016 when BlackRock and other billionaire creditors set up Warrior Met Coal and took over mine operations with the aid of a bankruptcy court.

To keep their jobs, Warrior Met made the miners work up to seven days a week and take a $6-an-hour pay cut, accept reduced health insurance, and give up most of their overtime pay and paid holidays.

BlackRock is one of the three majority shareholders in the new company. Black Rock is the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels, and the world’s largest asset manager complicit in Amazon destruction.

BlackRock’s net income was $1.55 billion in the second quarter of 2021, with a record $9.5 trillion in assets. Warrior Met makes up just a tiny fraction of its portfolio.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts pointed out, “The workers gave up more than $1.1 billion in wages, health care benefits, pensions, and more to allow Warrior Met to emerge from bankruptcy five years ago. The company has enjoyed revenue in excess of $3.4 billion in that time. But it does not want to recognize the sacrifices these workers made to allow it to exist in the first place. All those billions came up to New York to fatten the bank accounts of the already-rich.”

Invoking shared sacrifice, Warrior Met had promised lots of improvements once the company attained financial solvency. When contract negotiations began last spring, however, Warrior Met reneged on its promise, refusing to bargain in good faith.

“They’re making us work seven days a week, up to 16 hours,” says Brian Kelly, president of United Mine Workers of America Local 2245, who’s worked in the mine for 25 years. “Now we’re forced to work every holiday except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.”

Excessive overtime is a key issue in the strike. Miners have been forced into 12-hour shifts stretching into weekends—without the double pay on Saturday and triple pay on Sunday that they used to get.

Health insurance went from $12 for seeing any doctor in the world to $1,500 family deductible and co-pays up to $250. Given work conditions in a coal mine, health care is vital. Miners face silicosis, black lung, diesel, smoke.” Black lung is caused by breathing in coal dust, which silts up the lungs, scarring and destroying them.

Another main dispute is that management is demanding the power to fire strikers and to give strikebreakers and new hires seniority priority.

Strikers blocked scabs from entering the mines—until the company obtained an injunction to stop them. Strikers have been arrested and run into by vehicles driven by company employees.

On July 28, 1,000 miners and supporters rallied in New York City to protest outside the offices of BlackRock Fund Advisors. There, South Dakota Federation of Labor president Kooper Caraway told Wednesday’s demonstrators that “workers all over the world are going to stand with you and support you, and there’s nothing BlackRock or any other rich asshole can do about it.”

Hamilton Nolan wrote an excellent report on one of their biggest rallies a week later, August 4:

There were more than a dozen CWA members from Atlanta who worked for AT&T, decked out in red shirts. There was a gaggle of UAW members. There were Teamsters, and teachers, and government workers, all proudly in their union t‑shirts. There were union officials from Georgia and Kentucky and Tennessee and South Carolina. There were presidents of locals from other states, climbing the stage to present $500 checks to the strike fund. There was an entire tent full of longshoremen wearing custom-made white t‑shirts that said ​“Port workers in solidarity with mine workers.” They had come from Charleston, Jacksonville, and Mobile, Alabama, on a single bus that stopped in each city, collecting the comrades.

I spoke to many of these attendees and, to a person, the question of why they had gone to all the trouble to show up was answered as if it didn’t require any explanation at all. ​“Solidarity,” they said. ​“They supported us, so we’re supporting them.” ​“This is what the union’s about.” To take a 30-hour round trip on a bus was, for them, a no-brainer. This is what the union’s about. For one day, this was just common sense. But in the context of the United States of America in 2021, this was a rare sight to behold.

Corporate news has scantly covered the strike, although ABC News had a favorable report.

The UMWA declared: “The people who manage the Wall Street hedge funds that own Warrior Met don’t know us, they don’t know our families, they don’t know our communities. And they don’t care. All they care about is sucking as much money as they can, every day that they can, from central Alabama.”

The post Alabama Coal Miners’ ongoing Six Month Strike against BlackRock’s Warrior Met first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Alabama Coal Miners’ ongoing Six Month Strike against BlackRock’s Warrior Met

Larry Spencer, UMWA District 20 Vice President, represents the 1,100 coal miners in three UMWA locals which are on strike against Warrior Met in Alabama since April 1, 2021. He will give an update on the strike in a September 28 webinar. The strikers are fighting to reverse concessions that were foisted on them in 2016 when BlackRock and other billionaire creditors set up Warrior Met Coal and took over mine operations with the aid of a bankruptcy court. To keep their jobs, Warrior Met made the miners work up to seven days a week and take a $6-an-hour pay cut, accept reduced health insurance, and give up most of their overtime pay and paid holidays.

BlackRock is one of the three majority shareholders in the new company. Black Rock is the world’s largest investor in fossil fuels, and the world’s largest asset manager complicit in Amazon destruction.

BlackRock’s net income was $1.55 billion in the second quarter of 2021, with a record $9.5 trillion in assets. Warrior Met makes up just a tiny fraction of its portfolio.

** Register for the September 28 webinar with UMWA strike leader Larry Spencer **

UMWA President Cecil Roberts pointed out:

The workers gave up more than $1.1 billion in wages, health care benefits, pensions, and more to allow Warrior Met to emerge from bankruptcy five years ago. The company has enjoyed revenue in excess of $3.4 billion in that time. But it does not want to recognize the sacrifices these workers made to allow it to exist in the first place. All those billions came up to New York to fatten the bank accounts of the already-rich.

Invoking shared sacrifice, Warrior Met had promised lots of improvements once the company attained financial solvency. When contract negotiations began last spring, however, Warrior Met reneged on its promise, refusing to bargain in good faith.

“They’re making us work seven days a week, up to 16 hours,” says Brian Kelly, president of United Mine Workers of America Local 2245, who’s worked in the mine for 25 years. “Now we’re forced to work every holiday except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.”

Excessive overtime is a key issue in the strike. Miners have been forced into 12-hour shifts stretching into weekends—without the double pay on Saturday and triple pay on Sunday that they used to get.

Health insurance went from $12 for seeing any doctor in the world to $1,500 family deductible and co-pays up to $250. Given work conditions in a coal mine, health care is vital. Miners face silicosis, black lung, diesel, smoke.” Black lung is caused by breathing in coal dust, which silts up the lungs, scarring and destroying them.

Another main dispute is that management is demanding the power to fire strikers and to give strikebreakers and new hires seniority priority.

Strikers blocked scabs from entering the mines—until the company obtained an injunction to stop them. Strikers have been arrested and run into by vehicles driven by company employees.

On July 28, 1,000 miners and supporters rallied in New York City to protest outside the offices of BlackRock Fund Advisors. There, South Dakota Federation of Labor president Kooper Caraway told Wednesday’s demonstrators that “workers all over the world are going to stand with you and support you, and there’s nothing BlackRock or any other rich asshole can do about it.”

Hamilton Nolan wrote an excellent report on one of their biggest rallies a week later, August 4:

There were more than a dozen CWA members from Atlanta who worked for AT&T, decked out in red shirts. There was a gaggle of UAW members. There were Teamsters, and teachers, and government workers, all proudly in their union t‑shirts. There were union officials from Georgia and Kentucky and Tennessee and South Carolina. There were presidents of locals from other states, climbing the stage to present $500 checks to the strike fund. There was an entire tent full of longshoremen wearing custom-made white t‑shirts that said ​“Port workers in solidarity with mine workers.” They had come from Charleston, Jacksonville, and Mobile, Alabama, on a single bus that stopped in each city, collecting the comrades.

I spoke to many of these attendees and, to a person, the question of why they had gone to all the trouble to show up was answered as if it didn’t require any explanation at all. ​“Solidarity,” they said. ​“They supported us, so we’re supporting them.” ​“This is what the union’s about.” To take a 30-hour round trip on a bus was, for them, a no-brainer. This is what the union’s about. For one day, this was just common sense. But in the context of the United States of America in 2021, this was a rare sight to behold.

The crowd at the Brookwood rally was multiracial. Not multiracial like a fashion ad, or a painstakingly assembled corporate board, but a large group of Black and white people united for a common purpose. The UMWA miners who are on strike at Warrior Met now are an integrated group, and so their supporters in the community are integrated as well.

It is possible, down South, to get a racially integrated crowd where everyone agrees politically, but to get thousands of Black and white people whose politics range from strongly pro-Trump to strongly pro-Black Lives Matter together in a single place, in total unity of purpose, with virtually no conflict, and without being the explicit result of trying to assemble such a crowd to satisfy some sort of demographic diversity goals — well, that just doesn’t happen that much, ever.

This is the promise of unions. Not just better wages, or better working conditions, but a better society. Unions offer a frame for human interaction that does not otherwise exist. Our everyday experience in a society that is racially segregated, unequal, and politically polarized tells us that getting young and old and Black and white and left and right all together for something should be extraordinary or impossible; but at a union rally, where everyone’s common interest is plain to see, it becomes natural.

Little mainstream news has covered the strike, although ABC News had favorable report.

The UMWA declared:

The people who manage the Wall Street hedge funds that own Warrior Met don’t know us, they don’t know our families, they don’t know our communities. And they don’t care. All they care about is sucking as much money as they can, every day that they can, from central Alabama.

You may donate to support the strikers electronically or send a check to UMWA 2021 Strike Fund, P.O. Box 513, Dumfries, VA 22026. Messages of support can also be sent ten.htuosllebnull@02tcirtsidawmu.

Webinar co-sponsors: Alliance for Global Justice, Chicago ALBA Solidarity, Black Alliance for Peace, Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox, Black Workers for Justice.  Contact:  Stan Smith, moc.liamgnull@001htimsdleifsnats, 773-322-3168.

The post Alabama Coal Miners’ ongoing Six Month Strike against BlackRock’s Warrior Met first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Canadian imperialism in Africa

Canadian imperialism in Africa has had a rare social media moment.

On Twitter K. Diallo recently posted a map of the continent with the sum of Canadian mining investment in each African country under the words “75% of mining companies globally are now Canadian. Canada is a great source of corporate neocolonialism expansion.” The tweet received 25,000 likes and 8,500 retweets.

But the map is dated. It said there was $31.6 billion worth of Canadian mining investment in Africa yet Natural Resources Canada put the number at $37.8 billion in 2019. The scope of Canadian resource extraction on the continent is remarkable. Many companies based and traded here have taken African names (African Queen Mines, Asante Gold Corporation, Tanzanian Royalty Exploration, Lake Victoria Mining Company, Société d’Exploitation Minière d’Afrique de l’Ouest, East Africa Metals, International African Mining Gold (IAMGOLD), African Gold Group, etc.).

Canadian resource companies operating in Africa receive significant government support. Amongst a slew of pro-mining measures, Justin Trudeau’s government has put up more than $100 million in assistance for mining related projects in Africa, signed Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements and backed Barrick Gold during a high-profile conflict with the Tanzanian government.

A similar Facebook meme on Ghana has also circulated widely in recent days. Appearing to originate from a statement posted by Kgoshi Mmaphuti Uhuru Mokwele, it notes:

Ghana is the biggest gold producing country in Africa & 8th in the world, but 93.3% of Ghana’s gold is owned by foreign corporations, mainly America and Canada. Ghana owns less than 2% of all the Gold in their land. Ghana has to borrow money from the IMF & World Bank to buy their own Gold, which is on their land, mined by Ghanaian workers, using Ghana’s resources. The price of the Gold is set in New York & can only be purchased with American dollar.

Canada has certainly contributed to the Ghanaian (and African) impoverishment Mokwele alludes to. Alongside their counterparts from the US and Britain, Canadian officials participated in the 1944 Bretton Woods negotiations that established the IMF and World Bank and Ottawa continues to have outsized influence within those institutions. Tens of millions of dollars in Canadian aid money has supported IMF structural adjustment policies of privatization, liberalization and social spending cuts in Ghana, which benefited Canada’s rapacious mining industry.

After a high profile Canadian-financed structural adjustment program in the late 1980s NGO worker Ian Gary explained its impact:

Ghana’s traditional sources of income — gold, cocoa, and timber — have benefited from the program, but this has only exacerbated the colonial legacy of dependence. Nearly all of the $1.5 billion worth of private foreign investment has been in mining, with most of the profits being repatriated overseas. ‘User fees’ for health care services and education have been introduced. Disincentives to food producers, and the damage caused to local rice producers by cheap rice imports, led to increased malnutrition and lower food security. Rapid and indiscriminate liberalization of the trade regime hurt local industry, while cutbacks in the public sector shed 15 per cent of the waged work force.

But Canadian support for colonial exploitation goes back much further.

Ottawa began dispersing aid to African countries as a way to dissuade newly independent states from following wholly independent paths or falling under the influence of the Communist bloc. A big part of Canada’s early assistance went to train militaries, including the Ghanaian military that overthrew pan-Africanist independence leader Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. After Nkrumah’s removal Canadian High Commissioner C.E. McGaughey wrote External Affairs in Ottawa that “a wonderful thing has happened for the West in Ghana and Canada has played a worthy part.” McGaughey boasted about the effectiveness of Canada’s Junior Staff Officers training program noting that “all the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course.” (Canadian major Bob Edwards, who was a training advisor to the commander of a Ghanaian infantry brigade, discovered preparations for the coup the day before its execution, but said nothing.)

During the colonial period Ottawa offered various forms of support to European rule in Ghana and elsewhere on the continent. Beginning in the early 1900s Canadian officials worked to develop commercial relations with the British colony and in 1938 Canada’s assistant trade commissioner in London, H. Leslie Brown, spent three weeks in the Gold Coast. In 1947 Alcan commenced operations there through its purchase of West African Aluminum Limited.

Numerous Canadians played a role in the British colonial service in Ghana. In 1921 former Canadian Lieutenant E.F.L. Penno was appointed assistant commander of the Gold Coast police and was later made overall commander. At the start of the 1900s Galt, Ontario, born Frederick Gordon Guggisberg helped mark over 300 mining and timber concessions in Ashanti and the Gold Coast, which aided Britain’s Ashanti Gold Corporation extract six million ounces of gold from the colony. After two decades moving up in the colonial service Guggisberg was governor of Ghana from 1919 to 1927 (a Canadian governed Kenya and Northern Nigeria as well).

Canadian missionaries and soldiers also played a role in subjugating Ghana at the turn of the 19th century. According to Global Affairs, “In 1906, Québec missionaries established a church in Navrongo in northern Ghana, thus marking the arrival of a Canadian presence in the country.” Oscar Morin and Leonide Barsalou set up the first White Fathers post in the Gold Coast where Canadians would dominate the church for half a century.

Numerous Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) trained individuals fought the Ashanti in turn-of-the-19th-century wars. RMC graduate Captain Duncan Sayre MacInnes helped construct an important fort at the Ashanti capital of Kumasi and the son of a Canadian senator participated in a number of subsequent expeditions to occupy the hinterland of modern Ghana. For more than half a century a selected fourth year RMC cadet has been awarded the Duncan Sayre MacInnes Memorial Scholarship.

Scratch the surface of African history and you’ll find Canadian involvement in colonial rule. This country’s role in the impoverishment of Ghana and Africa in general deserves far greater attention.

The post Canadian imperialism in Africa first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Rio Tinto in Serbia: The Jadar Lithium Project

The company has been looking forward to this for some time.  For an outfit found wanting in dealing with inhabitants of a land whose culture it eviscerated in a matter of hours in May last year, Rio Tinto could think grandly about another future. The Anglo-Australian mining giant could add its name to a sounder, more environmentally sensitive programme, join the responsible future gazers and stroke the ecological conscience. Forget the destruction of the Juukan Gorge Caves in Western Australia.  It was time to control the narrative.

Eyes have shifted to the Balkans.  The company is promising $2.4 billion for the Jadar lithium-borates project in Serbia provided it gets the appropriate permits.  In the coming weeks, it will transport a pilot lithium processing plant in four 40-foot shipping containers, suggesting a sure degree of optimism.  From its science hub located on the outer parts of Melbourne, the company’s research team claim to have identified an economically viable method of extracting lithium from the mineral jadarite.

A statement from the company outlined the importance of the Jadar project.  “Jadar will produce battery-grade lithium carbonate, a critical mineral used in large scale batteries for electric vehicles and storing renewable energy, and position Rio Tinto as the largest source of lithium supply in Europe for at least the next 15 years.  In addition, Jadar will produce borates, which are used in solar panels and wind turbines.”

Those at the company are already anticipating a nice public relations coup.  The project “would scale up Rio Tinto’s exposure to battery materials, and demonstrate the company’s commitment to investing capital in a disciplined manner to further strengthen its portfolio for the global energy transition.”

In terms of schedule, Rio Tinto hopes to start construction of the underground mine in 2022, with saleable production commencing in 2026.  Full production is anticipated three years later.  The complement will comprise 58,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate, 160,000 tonnes of boric acid and 255,000 tonnes of sodium sulphate.

The company hopes to win over the Serbian authorities by promising rich additions to the local economy and stroking the ego of strategic significance.  “It’s not a huge mine,” Sinead Kaufman, Chief Executive of Rio’s Minerals division, told reporters, “but from a lithium perspective, it’s going to be the largest producer in Europe for at least ten years and bring lithium to the market at scale.”  Estimates are put at 1% of gross domestic product coming directly from Jadar itself, with 4% being the indirect contribution to the Serbian economy.  The mine will come with incidental additions: relevant infrastructure and equipment, electric haul trucks, a beneficiation chemical processing plant dealing with dry stacking of tailings.  In all, enough lithium will be available to power a million electric vehicles.

All this rosiness cannot detract from the issue of environmental sustainability.  Rio promises that a commissioned environmental assessment impact will be made available for comment “shortly”.  “We are committed to upholding the highest environmental standards and building sustainable futures for the communities where we operate,” states the company’s CEO Jakob Stausholm.  “We recognise that in progressing this project, we must listen to and respect the views of all stakeholders.”

These statements are at odds with reality, both current and historical.  Rio Tinto’s Serbian subsidiary firm Rio Sava Exploration is currently facing charges by two Serbian NGOs, the Coalition against Environmental Corruption and the Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team, PAKT, citing violations of environmental regulations since 2015.

In fact, Rio’s conduct has produced something of a green awakening in Serbia.  A disparate number of environmental groups, academics and politicians have found rare common ground.  In June, the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences sent a letter to Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zorana Mihajlović outlining the grave implications of permitting the project to go ahead.  “The mine would cause great and irreversible damage not only to the area where it would be located, but to the entire country.”  The location of the mining complex would threaten agricultural land, forests, meadows and the water supply areas in Mačva.  “Tailings with toxic residues from ore processing would span over 160 hectares.”

Last month, protesters gathered at Loznica to vent their concerns.  At the gathering, Marijana Petković of the Ne Damo Jadar initiative gave an insight into the way Rio dealt with locals.  “They came in 2004, they never answered us as people on three key things: what to do with the noise; with the water; what is the minimum amount of pollution.”

An online petition against the mine has also attracted 125,685 signatures.  It describes the Jadar Valley as having “Serbia’s fertile land” marked by “thousands of sustainable multi-generational farms.” It speaks to fears about the imminent poisoning of water sources.  “The process of separating chemically stable lithium from jadarite ore involves the use of concentrated sulphuric acid.”  The process would be undertaken some 20km from the Drina River using 300 cubic metres of water per hour, with the chemically treated water returned to the Jadar River.  Entire basins of water, and water sources beyond Serbia, risked being contaminated.

The petitioners also take issue with the lack of transparency on negotiations between Rio Tinto and the Serbian government, fearing “potential corruption on the government’s behalf.”  Some homework of the company’s sketchy record on the environment was also recounted, including “the destruction of a 45,000 year old sacred Australian Aboriginal cave.”

Rio Tinto is a company loose with figures, selective in its consultative process (some call it bribery) and its accounts. The London Mining Network documents a record replete with ruthless indifference, environmental crimes, and human rights abuses.  At the company’s 1937 annual general meeting, chairman Sir Auckland Geddes expressed his gratitude to the fascist forces of Spain’s General Francisco Franco, who had crushed a mining revolt that threatened the smooth operations of the company.  “Miners found guilty of troublemaking are court-martialed and shot,” he noted with approval.

The company is currently the subject of an investigation by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on suspected breaches of disclosure rules on the value of Mongolia’s Oyu Tolgoi mine, the company’s biggest copper growth project.  The expansion of the mine, coming in at $6.75 billion, is $1.4 billion higher than Rio’s own estimate in 2016.

Serbia’s president Aleksandar Vučić, sufficiently troubled by the indignation, is floating the idea of putting the project to a referendum.  This is unlikely to trouble Rio Tinto, whose promises of economic manna for Serbia through jobs and placing it at the forefront of the lithium-electric car revolution is bound to mask potential environmental depredations.  As with its record in other countries, this mining giant’s understanding of consultation and accountability is estranged from that of a local populace treated as nuisances rather than citizens.

The post Rio Tinto in Serbia: The Jadar Lithium Project first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Hiking Along the Wrack Line

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

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

— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here, some facts about Monsanto’s Roundup:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plastic in Your Poop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Constraining the atmospheric limb of the plastic cycle

Plastic bottles

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

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

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

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

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

Weathering and Weather Proofing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I Eat Around the World in 80 Diets

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

The Air We Breathe at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Mill+001.jpg]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding PFAS | riversideca.gov

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

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

Some price we pay for the air we breathe!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mapopa Manda (Zambia), Visionary, 2019.

Mapopa Manda (Zambia), Visionary, 2019.

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

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

Lutanda Mwamba (Zambia), Chuma Grocery, 1993.

Lutanda Mwamba (Zambia), Chuma Grocery, 1993.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mwamba Mulangala (Zambia), Political Strategies, 2009.

Mwamba Mulangala (Zambia), Political Strategies, 2009.

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

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History Shows Privatized Space Colonization Will Be Disastrous

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Image credit: Memory-alpha
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