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Tag: "environment"

Yosemite and the Legacy of White Colonialism Upon the Land

[ 37 ] August 16, 2014 |

theodore-roosevelt-yosemite

This is a fascinating essay on the terrible wrath white colonialism has created in the Yosemite Valley. There are a couple of facets. First, in the early 1850s, whites committed genocidal acts against the indigenous peoples living in Yosemite, clearing out the population. Then in the late 19th century, the Yosemite became the nation’s first “protected” space, based in no small part upon the landscape indigenous people had created in the Yosemite Valley through the applied use of fire to clear brush. In the early 20th century, under the guidance of the supposed father of Yosemite and of the modern environmental movement John Muir, fire was banned entirely, drastically changing the region and, ironically, creating the circumstances for much hotter and out of control fires because of denser and smaller vegetation. As the West dries out and heats up today, the costs of controlling these fires gets higher and higher in harder and harder conditions, thanks a century of white American land management practices.

In other words, the history of white colonialism in the Yosemite Valley is not just about a distant massacre of indigenous people 150 years ago. It’s about land management practices with a series of ideologies–aesthetic, economic, racial–behind them that still profoundly shape the area today, and not for the better.

Americans Don’t Care about Climate Change

[ 80 ] August 12, 2014 |

Environmentalism as an active political movement with the ability to create major change has declined to its weakest point in several decades, with the failure to pass the cap and trade bill a shock to the movement’s leading organizations and a sign that their multi-decade strategy of expertise, lobbying, and fundraising was not working. That said, surveys show people still care about the environment. But they don’t care about climate change (or more accurately, they care about it less than all other major environmental issues). So the chances of really doing anything to stop it seem increasingly remote.

Mining: A Reponsible Industry. Unless You are a Human or Other Creature

[ 10 ] August 7, 2014 |

Oh mining, will you ever even try to be a responsible citizen of the world?

Hundreds of people in British Columbia can’t use their water after more than a billion gallons of mining waste spilled into rivers and creeks in the province’s Cariboo region.

A breach in a tailings pond from the open-pit Mount Polley copper and gold mine sent five million cubic meters (1.3 billion gallons) of slurry gushing into Hazeltine Creek in B.C. That’s the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic swimming pools of waste, the CBC reports. Tailings ponds from mineral mines store a mix of water, chemicals and ground-up minerals left over from mining operations.

The flow of the mining waste, which can contain things like arsenic, mercury, and sulfur, uprooted trees on its way to the creek and forced a water ban for about 300 people who live in the region. That number could grow, as authorities determine just how far the waste has traveled. The cause of the breach is still unknown.

The answer is, of course, no.

The Wages of the Industrial Food System

[ 11 ] August 4, 2014 |

The obscene use of fertilizer and chemicals leads to algae blooms that make the water supply of Toledo undrinkable. The problem is exacerbated by the non-native zebra mussels that eliminate animals that eat the algae to create a perfect storm of 21st century environmental disaster.

Labor and Climate Change

[ 1 ] July 29, 2014 |

The stereotype is that unions oppose any action to fight climate change. Certainly that’s true for some unions, especially the Laborers and United Mine Workers. But it is not true for all unions. In fact, like most issues, organized labor is divided over climate change. That however means there are unions that see the absolute necessity for alliances with environmental organizations and to participate on the side of environmentalism. After all, climate change is very much a working class issue as the effects will be felt disproportionately by the poor.

Expropriation is a Good Answer to This Problem

[ 41 ] July 25, 2014 |

Coal billionaires are the best people:

Coal mines owned by billionaire James Justice II have been cited for more than 250 environmental violations in five states with unpaid penalties worth about $2 million, according to sources and records obtained by Greenwire.

Violation notices — including many cessation orders — from the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and state regulators have been issued for Justice mines in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, records show.

Justice, a coal baron whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $1.6 billion, also owns West Virginia’s storied Greenbrier Resort. He sold many of his mines in 2009 to Russian steel and mining giant Mechel OAO. “The coal business is terrible,” Justice told the Associated Press last year. “It’s just terrible, and we’re doing everything in our power to stay open.”

I’m sure that even if the government can get the $2 million out of Justice’s blood-stained hands, it will really stop him from committing more violations, given that the equivalent is for the government to fine me a penny for something. Justice lights more money than that on fire for the hell of it.

But this is just great:

He’s not without support in Appalachia.

“Sure, he’s had some help from the state with tax credits and partnerships. Sure, some have raised questions about some of Justice’s companies’ practices, late payments, regulatory fines and the like,” said an editorial in the Charleston Daily Mail.

“Yet, while many talk of diversifying the state’s economy in the face of market and regulatory setbacks for the coal industry, Jim Justice and company are doing something about it. They are bringing investments and tourism dollars that are rarely, if ever, seen at that level in southern West Virginia.”

So someone tell me–what precisely is this tourist money the coal industry is bringing to West Virginia. The state does bring in plenty of tourists–to play in the beautiful mountains. I don’t recall the mountaintop removal operations replacing those mountains as a real generator of outdoor activity or fun. I guess there could be a new game called “Who Can Drink the Most Cadmium Tainted Water” the kids are playing these days.

Sure, he’s shortening people’s lives. Sure, he’s polluting the land and serving as a geologic agent reshaping the region. Sure, he’s the son of Satan. But he has money so the Charleston Daily Mail is going to support him to the bitter end.

Obama Opens East Coast to Oil Drilling

[ 86 ] July 22, 2014 |

My dismay toward President Obama’s decisions to open the ocean off the east coast to oil drilling cannot be overstated. This is a terrible decision that is in line with his drilling policies throughout his entire administration. Combined with his restrictions upon coal-fired power plants, my evaluation of Obama’s overall energy policy is that it has been nothing less than incoherent, good in some areas and terrible in other, closely related, areas. Moreover, the technology that allows oil companies to find the deposits has potentially devastating impacts on already overstressed and declining marine wildlife:

The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months, and multiple mapping projects may operate simultaneously. To get permits, companies will need to have whale-spotting observers onboard and do undersea acoustic tests to avoid nearby species. Certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.

Still, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over distances of thousands of miles, and the constant banging — amplified in water by orders of magnitude — will be impossible for many species to avoid.

Whales and dolphins depend on being able to hear their own much less powerful echolocation to feed, communicate and keep in touch with their family groups across hundreds of miles. Even fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound, said Grant Gilmore, an expert on fish ecology in Vero Beach, Fla.

“We don’t know what the physiological effects are. It could be permanent hearing damage in many of these creatures just by one encounter with a high-energy signal,” Gilmore said.

More than 120,000 comments were sent to the government, which spent years developing these rules. The bureau’s environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the world’s remaining 500 north Atlantic right whales.

These whales give birth and breed off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.

“Once they can’t hear — and that’s the risk that comes with seismic testing — they are pretty much done for,” said Katie Zimmerman, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League based in Charleston, S.C.

“Even if there were oil out there, do we really want that? Do we really want to see these offshore rigs set up?” she asked.

The answer to that question for the Obama Administration is obviously yes.

Good Job University of Miami

[ 38 ] July 14, 2014 |

The University of Miami for the win, if by win you mean destroying the planet:

One of the world’s rarest forests, a section of Miami-Dade County’s last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, is getting a new resident: a Walmart.

About 88 acres of rockland, a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals and insects found no place else, was sold this month by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer. To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chik-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.

But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.

“You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.

The university said in a statement that it is committed to protecting the forests — only about 2,900 acres of rockland are left outside Everglades National Park — and helped execute plans for the preserve, but would not respond to questions.

I mean, sure we are committed to saving the rockland in the sense that we will sell for the 1,000,000th Wal-Mart in this country and turn it into cash we can then concentrate in improving the salaries of our most administrators. That is what America is all about, destroying rare ecosystems to buy ivory backscratchers (unfairly illegal!) to not only our president and provost, but our deans as well. Thus, no questions.

Habitat

[ 51 ] July 8, 2014 |

This is a useful graphic on habitat loss for charismatic mammals. And I know that big green groups rely on the shock and awe value of this kind of thing to fundraise. But it would also be interesting to show how other species have expanded their range in recent centuries, whether it be an invasive species like the starling or a species that has just wandered into new territory like the armadillo. None of that would diminish the power of 99%+ loss in habitat for key species, but would give a more complete picture of environmental change and its effect upon animals.

Thames Mud Butter

[ 15 ] July 1, 2014 |

Rebecca Onion’s latest Slate Vault piece is typically good, about pollution in the 19th century Thames River. She suggests reading this link at your own risk if you really like pollution stories. I recommend it highly. But probably not while eating.

Bullard

[ 36 ] June 29, 2014 |

If you aren’t familiar with Robert Bullard, the founder of the study of environmental justice as a line of academic inquiry, you should be. For over 30 years, Bullard has straddled the line between academic and activist, working with local communities to fight for environmental justice and forcing rich white environmental organizations to come to terms with the structural inequalities in society and in their own movements that marginalize the concern of the poor. At the end, most environmentalism should protect the poor because it is the poor that are most effected by pollution due to their inability to move away from it and their lack of political power to prevent it from occurring near their homes. Unfortunately, this has not always been recognized by the environmental community as important. That has slowly changed, but it’s largely been more superficial than real, as the big green organizations remain mostly dominated by whites. An excerpt of this interview Guernica did with Bullard:

Guernica: As a corollary to marginalized communities shouldering a disproportionate toxic load, do you see the equity issue playing out in access to green energy? Because to date that appears largely clustered in communities of privilege.

Robert Bullard: Oh yes. We have a term for that: energy apartheid. At the same time that all this emphasis is being placed on going green and clean and renewable, if you look at the equity impact, there is a class bias, and a racial bias embedded in class. People with resources can have better access to clean energy and renewables, and better access to green transportation, while at the same time a lot of the dirty energy industry facilities are still getting placed in working-class, lower-income communities of color. We’re talking clean and acting dirty.

Look at the fact that the nuclear power industry is trying to redefine itself. There had not been a nuclear power plant built in decades, and it is not by accident that the first two plants to get permitted are being placed in Waynesboro, Georgia, which is overwhelmingly African-American and that already has two nuclear power plants. So you’re talking about a community of lower-income African-Americans that is going to be used as a guinea pig for restarting nuclear power, a very risky operation. We have to point out the inconsistency of these things—who is going to benefit from this green economy, who’s getting the jobs and the contracts and the benefits? There is a disconnect. If we are going to have a green economy and move toward a green future, we have to make sure that future is equitable and not an opportunity for some communities to just get more dirty industry.

Union Environmentalism

[ 10 ] June 18, 2014 |

Let me recommend Trish Kahle’s Jacobin piece on the Miners for Democracy (1970s reformist United Mine Workers members) and the potential of energy workers embracing environmentalism. Brief excerpt:

Ultimately, the group of miners arguing for an energy workers union federation — or even a new union to represent all energy workers — were unsuccessful in transforming their union in that vision. This failure helped lead to the decline of the MFD, and along with it, the radical environmentalist vision they put forward.

The political space that had been opened up by the incredible levels of self-organization among rank and file miners allowed broad debate and agitation on issues like the environment. But as it became harder for workers to go on the offensive and the energy conglomerates continued to consolidate their power, miners found themselves fighting an increasingly uphill battle that left less and less room to fight for anything except survival.

Although they were some of the last workers to do so, the United Mine Workers did eventually face decline accompanied by the growth of conservatism. Today, rather than being seen as the vanguard of a movement to protect the land, miners are portrayed by many environmentalists as backwards, reactionary, and part of the problem.

I think this is pretty much correct for the UMWA, but in other industries, it wasn’t so much consolidation as it was capital mobility that undermined union environmentalism. The labor-green alliance she describes was not unique to the UMWA at the time. The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers were the pioneers here, but the International Woodworkers of America, International Association of Machinists, and United Steel Workers of America had pretty strong environmental records as well. She concludes by talking about union democracy as central to a labor environmentalism, but my own research on the IWA really doesn’t suggest this is necessary. For the IWA, it was the union leadership pushing the green message and the locals embraced it or didn’t depending on the issue. When there was rank and file resistance, it was against environmentalism, not for it. So in the case of the UMWA, the connection between union democracy and environmentalism was profound because it was so connected to the leadership’s indifference to workers dying of black lung and in accidents. But that’s very much not a universal thing.

Despite this quibble, this is an excellent article on the potential of energy workers embracing a green future, even if, understandably enough, how to get from Point A to Point B remains pretty hazy.

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