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Tag: "environment"

Coal and Poverty

[ 21 ] October 31, 2016 |

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I am as anti-coal as anyone else. It’s a terrible energy source if you care about the future of the planet. However, there’s no question that there’s a good reason why people burn coal, especially if you are poor–it is cheap and relatively abundant. The use of coal was central to the Industrial Revolution and continues to be for newly industrialized nations. That doesn’t mean it has to be that way–certainly we could be investing huge amounts into clean energy in newly industrializing companies to forestall this.

But that said, it’s really a cherry picked argument to say that coal actually doesn’t help the poor in the short term.

More coal doesn’t help people living close to the grid

The report notes that approximately 15% of people in energy poverty live close to existing electric grids, but there are a variety of barriers blocking their connection. For example, the poor consume relatively little electricity, so the costs of connecting them may exceed the resulting profits. The power lines used to connect them also result in high energy losses and power system instability. The poor also have little political influence in many developing countries. As the report concludes:

This means that for energy-poor families living close to the grid, building new power generation capacity – coalfired or otherwise – will not help them get connected. Instead, access will require financing the upfront costs of new connections, and rationalising tariffs to reflect the true costs of supplying power.

More coal also doesn’t help people in rural areas

Approximately 84% of energy-poor households live in rural areas further away from the grid. For this group, decentralized stand-alone and mini-grid solutions are much quicker than waiting to build a new centralized power plant and distribution lines. A single power plant can take a decade between planning and ultimate completion, while distributed wind turbines or solar panels can be deployed much more rapidly, as Elon Musk explained in ‘Before the Flood’:

So more coal only helps the capitalists? I mean, you might argue that coal is not the most efficient way to provide this electricity in terms of getting up the fastest. But that doesn’t mean that coal isn’t useful, especially on a smaller scale.

It then goes on to an unfortunate use of Bjorn Lomborg of all people to “show” that China’s poverty reduction in recent decades wasn’t really because of coal use. Um, OK. To be fair, China’s rise was due to a lot of factors. But very cheap energy built by a government that couldn’t care less about pollution was a big part of it.

At the end, the author notes that coal causes lots of pollution and the poor bear the burden of that. True enough but then that’s not really the argument here, right? In the short term, coal helps the poor. In the long term, it probably doesn’t. Finally, the real point:

Wind and solar are already becoming cheaper than coal

Not only are wind and solar better for the poor in terms of ease of deployment, clean air, and slowing climate change, they’ve also become cost-competitive.

South Africa, for example, is the cheapest place in Africa to generate coal-fired power, yet electricity from its new 4.7 gigawatt Medupi advanced coal plant will cost … 17% more than the electricity generated from South Africa’s 2 gigawatt of new onshore wind power. In India, the minister responsible for power development recently stated: ‘I think a new coal plant would give you costlier power than a solar plant’ (Climate Home, 2016). The statement is supported by the extremely low bid prices for recent solar procurements in India (Kenning, 2015). Renewable energy investment in the emerging world now outpaces that in developed countries (McGrath, 2016).

Renewable energy also has low operating cost and zero fuel cost, while fossil fuel costs are variable and susceptible to price spikes. And renewable energy creates more (and safer) jobs than coal.

Coal companies and their allies often argue that we need to burn their products to lift the poor out of poverty. For example, Matt Ridley has claimed:

those who advocate no support for coal are effectively saying that the adoption of renewable energy is more important than alleviating African poverty

In reality, there are better, faster, cleaner alternatives to help deliver electricity to the energy-poor. Those who argue to the contrary often do so to advance their own agendas.

That is starting to happen, but there’s no good reason to prevaricate about the role coal has played and continues to play in poverty reduction and rapid industrialization. Once again, these things would happen with far less damage to people and nature if wind and solar were built instead of coal. But the article as a whole is far from compelling in refuting the arguments for coal. The argument needs to be that “Yes, coal is an effective way to move people out of poverty but that the long-term damage makes it a terrible idea. Instead, let’s engage in the rapid buildup poor nations’ industrial capacity through renewable energy.” Fudging the facts about coal doesn’t help.

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Blue-Green Alliances

[ 11 ] July 18, 2016 |

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There’s a lot of tension between parts of the labor movement and the environmental movement right now. This can often be painted too broadly. Basically, the building trades hate environmentalists for not supporting building every dirty power project and the UMWA hates environmentalists for supporting restrictions on coal. But there are lots of unions with perfectly fine relationships with environmentalists, even if the big public sector unions like SEIU, AFSCME, and AFT could do much, much more to represent the interests of their members in supporting a clean, sustainable environment with plenty of recreational opportunities. But even within those hostile unions, it’s not as if there isn’t room to work with environmentalists on issues where their interests coincide. And this is one of the lessons of so-called blue-green alliances. It’s not as if unions and environmentalists have to agree on everything. They may never be a force marching together for combined ecological and economic justice. Rather, this sort of alliance-building is going to be dependent on the given issue. And that’s OK so long as there is enough dialogue to allow that alliance to happen when it can. That’s what groups like the BlueGreen Alliance try to do. And we are seeing it pay off with both labor and greens outraged over Flint, which has shamefully fallen out of the headlines in the last 2 months.

When you think of an environmental hero, a plumber might not be the first person who comes to mind. But the BlueGreen Alliance gave its “champion” award this year to the union representing plumbers and pipe fitters. The big reason: people like Harold Harrington, of the United Association local 370 in Flint, Michigan. He says during the lead in water crisis there, his members volunteered to go door to door and replace faucets and water filters in people’s homes. “We replaced 650 faucets, just because the filters wouldn’t fit the old faucets. And they’re carbon filters, so they do remove lead,” he says.

Leaders in both the environmental and labor movements say the country could prevent more public health disasters like Flint, if old infrastructure is fixed or replaced — like leaky drinking water pipes, and natural gas pipelines. And at the same time, the repairs would create jobs. Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club. He gives the example of new regulations in California to fix old gas pipelines. They were passed in response to a four-month leak of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – in Aliso Canyon, in southern California. “And there will be lots of jobs and there will be a cut in the pollution from these pipelines,” says Brune.

We need a lot more of this. New infrastructure building is the kind of agenda that should create broad agreement on the left. First, this nation really, really needs it. Second, it would be a huge spur to the economy. Third, that new infrastructure could create a far-more sustainable network of power and transportation than we currently have. But even when that’s not available, working together over issues of the relationship between the environment and everyday people is the kind of thing that can bring unions and greens together.

I have long stated that environmentalism ultimately hurt itself by focusing more on wilderness and wildlife preservation over the broad-based anti-pollution measures that made it politically popular in the 1960s and 1970s. There were lots of good reasons for that–the fact that the Clean Air Acts and Clean Water Acts were so successful that the obvious need for stronger laws diminished, the growth of conservatism making it necessary to defend laws in the courts instead of push for new laws, and the wealthy people funding environmentalism who wanted campaigns around wilderness, rain forest protection, and wildlife protection. Add to this the deindustrialization, outsourcing, and automation transforming the American economy and making working people scared of supporting environmentalism because their employers were threatening to move their jobs overseas (which they were often planning on doing anyway) and the political calculus for environmentalism changed rapidly. Yet this is unfortunate and needs to change. Building alliances around environmental injustice and infrastructure is at least a starting point.

Ecological Personhood

[ 30 ] July 15, 2016 |

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Well, I guess if the United States can grant corporations the legal status of persons, New Zealand can do the same thing for the environment.

Can a stretch of land be a person in the eyes of the law? Can a body of water?

In New Zealand, they can. A former national park has been granted personhood, and a river system is expected to receive the same soon.

The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand’s government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country’s natural features.

Chris Finlayson, New Zealand’s attorney general, said the issue was resolved by taking the Maori mind-set into account. “In their worldview, ‘I am the river and the river is me,’” he said. “Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.”

From 1954 to 2014, Te Urewera was an 821-square-mile national park on the North Island, but when the Te Urewera Act took effect, the government gave up formal ownership, and the land became a legal entity with “all the rights, powers, duties and liabilities of a legal person,” as the statute puts it.

“The settlement is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” said Pita Sharples, who was the minister of Maori affairs when the law was passed.

It was also “undoubtedly legally revolutionary” in New Zealand “and on a world scale,” Jacinta Ruru of the University of Otago wrote in the Maori Law Review.

Personhood means, among other things, that lawsuits to protect the land can be brought on behalf of the land itself, with no need to show harm to a particular human.

I’ll say this–it’s less antisocial than Citizens United.

Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act

[ 25 ] July 10, 2016 |

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I am very happy to see my senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, introduced the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, into the Senate. This would protect 23 million acres of roadless lands as wilderness through the region, providing the large-scale protections necessary to keep species viable in this region currently undergoing tremendous stress from climate change. It’s not like this is going to get passed in Congress as it is presently constituted. But there is no good reason to log these largely high-elevation lands or develop them in any other sort of way. The economic gain would be minimal and short-term, with long-term damage to water supplies, fish runs, and wildlife populations. Plus there is tremendous tourism-based economic possibilities around such a bill that will have a much longer and larger economic impact that a few logging operations here and there. At the very least, a bill like this sets the stage for a future public lands bill the next time Democrats control the presidency and both houses of Congress, which will indeed happen someday.

The Edges of Protected Places

[ 27 ] July 5, 2016 |

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This piece on the threat of a large copper mine to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is a sign a failure in the larger wilderness debates, which is not creating buffer zones of limited industrial activity that would allow some economic functions but also keep the core area ecologically secure. To be able to place a destructive and awful copper mine on the edge of a place like the boundary waters would have a huge impact on the water quality in the wilderness. Similarly, the plans of developers to build thousands of housing units on the edge of the Grand Canyon National Park would have been utterly disastrous. Luckily, the government stepped in to stop the latter project. I do believe that the Department of Interior won’t allow this mine to be developed, but it shouldn’t come to this. We need stronger buffer zones around wilderness areas.

Why We Need Legally Grown Marijuana, Probably by Corporate Farmers

[ 101 ] May 31, 2016 |

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There are many reasons to support the legalization of marijuana. For me, one of the most important reasons is to get growing operations out of the national forests and national parks and under a regulatory structure. That probably means corporate control over a lot of it and a lot of local operations that are operating in a horrible manner going under. This is a good reason why:

Northern California is home to numerous wildlife species which are dependent on the unique critical habitat attributes that public lands within this bioregion provide. Some species of conservation concern that inhabit this region include Northern spotted owls, fishers, and Coho salmon. It is also home to numerous terrestrial big game species including black-tailed deer, American black bear and elk.

Therefore, in addition to non-game wildlife benefits this area offers, game species are reliant on the large tracts of public lands in order to sustain viable populations for both natural resource and recreation use benefits. Specifically, all three Roosevelt Elk (Cervus canadensis roosevelti) hunt zones are located within this area. Unfortunately, northern California is also experiencing a sizeable amount of clandestine marijuana cultivation on public lands, much of it entrenched in prime elk habitat.

These illegal cultivation sites on public lands have a long list of deleterious impacts towards natural resources upon which many wildlife species are dependent. They divert large amounts of water, fragment landscapes in order to cultivate marijuana plants, and contaminate native plants, soil and water resources with either legal or illegal pesticides not intended for use in remote forested areas.

Finally, due to the clandestine nature of this activity, armed growers occupy many of these sites for several months who in turn poach and maliciously poison wildlife.

For example, in 2015, Integral Ecology Research Center (IERC) and Law Enforcement agencies discovered several black-tailed deer does and bucks that were illegally harvested or poisoned at grow sites. In addition to deer poaching, IERC research staff documented several black bears and non-game species like gray foxes maliciously poisoned. Occurrences of fawns bedded down in contaminated plots or deer illegally snared were also common and frequently documented. Finally, remote camera systems have detected numerous game species browsing within cultivation plots, raising the question of the potential contamination risks these sites may pose towards human-harvested game.

There are growing operations throughout the northern California forests operating in this manner. There is a horrible environmental price to these. Marijuana needs to be legalized, placed under a regulatory framework,* and those continuing to grow in the national forests need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

* Yes, I know that there are lots of problems with agribusiness and with the regulations of the agricultural industry. It’s still way better than this.

Chinese Pollution, Chinese Philosophy

[ 52 ] May 26, 2016 |

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You owe it to yourself to read this interesting essay the intersection of Chinese philosophy and contemporary Chinese air pollution. Just a quick excerpt:

According to professor Liu, the Chinese word for pollution, 污染 [wu ran], has a very specific meaning. The first character of the word, 污 (wu), consists of 氵, the three dots of the ‘water’ radical that signified a meaning related to water, and the word 亏 (kui), which on its own means loss, or deficiency. The second character of pollution, 染 (ran), which also has the ‘three dots of water’ in it, means to infect, or to dye. In this sense, pollution in Chinese implies an action in which something foreign intrudes into something else, and by that, disturbs its purity. Taken literally, pollution is what happens when a foreign substance is mixed in with water, causing it to become impure.

Even though it might seem that the pollution is a recent problem, its seeds were sown much earlier, before China overtook the United States in 2015 to become the world’s largest economy, before China’s booming years in the 1990s when it became the world’s largest factory, and even before former leader Deng Xiaoping opened up China’s economy in the late 1970s to private enterprises and the rest of the world. According to the Professor, it was Mao who essentially changed China’s relationship to nature.

“In the past, Taoists believed that everything in the world, including humans, had to follow the rules of nature,” he explained. “But since Mao, we came to believe that we can manipulate the world to our own will.”

After the People’s Republic of China was officiated in 1949, Mao set out to transform the new nation from an agricultural society to an industrial powerhouse. Using newly developed scientific ideas and technologies, with much of its early stages based on the Soviet model, natural resources were all subjected to rapidly expand heavy industry, a maniacal increase in steel and coal production, and an amped-up agricultural yield by collectivizing traditional farms into agricultural co-operatives. Human lives were seen as natural resources too, and between 1958 and 1961, tens of millions of lives were lost in a famine caused by The Great Leap Forward, a Mao-led movement that urged farmers to prioritize steel production over farming, forcing many to melt their pots and pans in make-shift backyard furnaces to reach the steel quotas. The Professor traced the lineage of contemporary large-scale production and the technological conquering of nature back to Mao’s legacy.

“In the Mao era, [mankind] didn’t just think that [it] could manipulate nature, but believed that [it] should.”

These questions were very urgent to contemporary Chinese philosophers.

“What we care most about is: Is this the necessary road for humans, going from an agricultural to an industrial and then to a developed society? And in that, do we have to pollute?”

Of course, this was all just another way to get at the connections between personal wealth, national glory, and modernization, all of which has prioritized pollution over sustainability.

Read the whole, etc.

Global Environmental Roundup

[ 9 ] May 5, 2016 |

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For whatever reason, I have a lot of small stories about global environmental issues in my blog list so let’s do them at all at once.

Between poor governance and drought, Zimbabwe’s wildlife refuge are evidently overpopulated with large mammals the nation can’t provide for and so the nation is going to sell off a bunch of elephants to other nations. Given that they sold a bunch to China last year, a nation that routinely violated CITES in order to turn rare animals into consumer products, this probably will not go well.

In Nicaragua, drought and climate change are adding to discomfort over the Chinese building a shipping canal across the nation and have led to large-scale protests against the project. This is one way where we see climate change interact with other social and political problems to create higher tensions. That the center of these protests is in the heavily indigenous Atlantic side of the country is also important here, given the Sandinistas war with the Misquitos in the 1980s and the long-standing tensions between the Pacific and Atlantic sides of the nation.

Myanmar is banning logging. The military government used the nation’s vast forests to fund itself, mostly selling the wood to China. Deforestation is rapidly becoming a major issue in the nation. The new government banning logging is a real challenge to the military’s still significant power. We’ll see if the government can enforce this.

Today is African World Heritage Day. This is an interesting piece on how climate change could impact Africa’s cultural heritage:

The threat posed to Africa’s world heritage sites by climate change was the subject of a recent story by the Voice of America’s Africa Service. A full audio clip of the story can be found by clicking the link below. In the story, reporter Adam Phillips looked at the threat and what’s being done to address it — including interviews with several US-based professionals who are working with African colleagues to safeguard the continent’s heritage.

Coastal Africa is obviously affected by rising sea levels said WMF’s Ackerman, impacting places like Cape Coast in Ghana, another fortification on the water. Ackerman adds that many of Africa’s cultural and historic sites are threatened by lack of water due to human-caused climate change, not too much water. The result is drought or creeping desertification that threatens sites like Mauritania’s Chinguetto Mosque, where the World Monuments Fund is at work. The site was a great medieval center of Islamic learning that sits on a landscape that has become so dry it can no longer grow food.

US/ICOMOS member Adam Markham, deputy director of the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a co-author of UCS’s Landmarks at Risk report, was also interviewed for the story. According to Markham, rising sea level causes increased flooding for cities on or near the coasts where most people live. And the storm surges that result from increasingly frequent “super-storms” and other extreme weather events make severe floods extremely likely.

Climate change impacts know no national boundaries, with otherwise-unconnected communities facing common climate change risk profiles. Desertification threatens places as divergent as Africa and the United States while coastal communities across the globe face a common threat from sea level rise. This dynamic places an enormous premium on cultural heritage professionals who can share learned experiences internationally.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi is urging India’s prime minister Narendra Modi to crack down on the human trafficking in children, which has increased because of India’s worst drought in decades.

“Owing to this drought and the on-going water crisis, children are becoming increasingly vulnerable. In the coming months, there is an increased risk of lakhs (hundreds of thousands) of children becoming victims of these circumstances.”

The government estimates more than 330 million people – almost a quarter of India’s population – have been hit by the scarcity of water in states such as Maharashtra in the west and Karnataka in the south.

As crops wither and livestock perish, ten of thousands of people are migrating in search of food, water and jobs, leaving behind women, children and older family members who are vulnerable to exploitation by traffickers.

Figures given by Satyarthi’s office showed the number of children dropping out of school in the ten drought-affected states had risen by 22 percent, while child trafficking cases had increased by 24 percent.

Soil Conservation: A Southern History

[ 44 ] April 28, 2016 |

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When we think of soil conservation (a topic I know is near and dear to all LGM readers!) we think of the Dust Bowl as the central event. And in many ways that’s true, but it has deeper roots, which is fantastic erosion created in the Southern cotton regions. Above is Providence Canyon, Georgia. This is one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. It is also completely created by erosion from cotton growing. The historian Paul Sutter expands upon this and previews his new book on Providence Canyon by looking at Soil Conservation Service head Hugh Bennett.

Only a couple of years later, in 1913, Bennett traveled to Stewart County, Georgia, just south of Columbus, where a soil survey team was struggling to map a landscape wracked by the most extreme gullying he had ever seen. Again, Bennett and his colleagues mapped tens of thousands of acres of “Rough gullied land.” Some of the county’s gullies were more than 150 feet deep and hundreds of feet wide. The published “Soil Survey of Stewart County” highlighted a gully that locals called “Providence Cave,” a place that would later come to be known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.”

Witnessing such erosion convinced Bennett that something needed to be done to save the region’s, and the nation’s, soils. But several factors limited the effectiveness of his proselytizing for a federal soil conservation bureau. Federal conservation programs on public lands had developed during the Progressive Era, but instituting a program to regulate resource use on private lands had proven more difficult. The interruption of the First World War and the more conservative political climate of the postwar years also thwarted his ambitions. Bennett had to contend with another problem, too: the head of the U.S. Bureau of Soils, Milton Whitney, refused to take soil conservation seriously. Instead, Whitney repeatedly insisted that “the soil is the one indestructible, immutable asset that the Nation possesses.” Everything Bennett had seen in his travels around the South had convinced him otherwise. “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation,” Bennett lamented, “could be put into a single brief sentence.”

Whitney’s death in 1927 brought on a flurry of soil conservation activity, including a formative government report, Soil Erosion: A National Menace, co-authored by Bennett in 1928. Bennett also began, as he put it, to “howl about the evils of soil erosion.” His campaign built strength over the next five years, especially after 1932 because of the Roosevelt administration’s willingness to wed federal work relief and soil conservation. Bennett continued to use the massive soil erosion he had witnessed in the American South as rationale for a soil conservation agency, citing the cases of Fairfield and Stewart County repeatedly.

The cause of soil conservation, then, was ascendant well before the first dust storms rolled off the Great Plains and into the nation’s consciousness. The devastated soils of the American South had a particularly formative influence. The Dust Bowl certainly played a major part in the final passage of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935, but it was a latecomer to the stage – the latest disaster in a long history of destructive human-induced soil erosion.

“Austerity and sustainability are antithetical concepts”

[ 12 ] April 16, 2016 |

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Trish Kahle has a really great essay in Dissent on how the roots of our unwillingness to do anything meaningful to fight climate change are also the roots of our current income inequality–corporate dominance over both the environment and workers. Moreover, the austerity program undermines workers’ economic stability at the same time that we need to fight against climate change, convincing unions to support anti-environmental positions, even though it will do nothing for them in the end as mining and auto companies will cut their jobs anyway. That said, there is still hope that labor and environmentalists will work together to create a path forward for ecologically responsible jobs that don’t poison people and actually put people to work to allow them a middle-class life.

Clinging to the fossil fuel industry can only lead to a dead end for workers. It is time for a different approach. Already in recent years, several unions have hinted at such a method, echoing the all too short-lived efforts of Miners for Democracy. In February 2015 more than 6,500 oil workers joined in a strike at fourteen refineries and a chemical plant spanning from Ohio to California. The strike, led by the United Steelworkers, was primarily a conflict over workplace safety: USW Vice President Gary Beevers pointed out that workers were being put at risk by “onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrence of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions.” But it went far beyond that, with the workers positioning themselves as the first line of defense against spills and pollution in surrounding communities. Steve Garey, president of a USW local in Washington, explained that by outsourcing maintenance work to less experienced, non-union contractors who lacked the training and work protections provided by the USW, the industry was also putting communities and the environment at risk.

The workers who took part in the strike would know. Some of them had witnessed a 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery, which killed fifteen workers and injured 180 others after management bypassed safety procedures during hasty repairs. Others had witnessed the 2014 oil spill at BP’s Whiting refinery, which dumped as much as 1,600 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan, Chicago residents’ source of drinking water.

In a critical step forward for U.S. environmentalism, several key green groups expressed support for the strike, including the Sierra Club, 350.org, and Oil Change International, as well as smaller grassroots organizations like Rising Tide. In Martinez, California, members of Communities for a Better Environment as well as of the local nurses’ union joined refinery workers on the picket line. At the end of the six-week strike, the USW claimed victory, citing “vast improvements in safety and staffing.” There were signs that the strike could also lead to a more enduring militancy within the union. The USW’s threat of a nationwide strike, if unrealized, was itself notable at a time when this tactic has all but disappeared from unions’ arsenal. During the strike, Beevers said, “Our members are speaking loud and clear . . . If it takes a global fight to win safe workplaces, so be it.”

In the wake of the strike’s success, an article posted on the USW website called for unions to help steer the economy away from profits and toward a system “based not on selfishness, greed, and contempt, but on ethics, on giving people the justice they deserve.” This, at its core, is what a just transition is all about: reframing the economy entirely, placing workers at the center instead of profits. “The successful strike by the oil refinery workers,” the article continued, “is on behalf of that justice and shows that unions still have power.”

Indeed, behind workers’ apparent vulnerability lurks enormous potential. As they extract fossil fuels, load them onto railway cars and into tankers, transport them thousands of miles, refine and process them, package and sell them, workers have a unique ability to bring the industry to a halt. And, thanks to the deep integration of fossil fuel products into the modern economy, if the fossil fuels stop moving, so does the rest of the world.

From teachers to nurses to rig operators, the array of workers confronting the nexus of social and ecological destruction is rapidly growing. But much remains to be done. Environmental politics must become generalized in the labor movement, and vice versa. The language of climate justice has already begun to infuse a sense of class politics into environmentalism, and green groups’ support for recent labor struggles is a promising step forward. Initiatives like the Labor Network for Sustainability, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and the BlueGreen Alliance are helping to connect the dots. But environmentalists must go further, acknowledging that there can be no real solution to the energy crisis without the input and leadership of the people who already do the work. Understanding the climate crisis as part of neoliberalism’s larger attack on public welfare and democracy (with the impacts, like all social failings in the United States, experienced more acutely by people of color and particularly by African Americans) can help expand the terrain on which both unions and climate activists struggle.

No one is ever going to claim that meaningful alliances between organized labor and greens are going to be easy. But they share a common enemy: predatory capitalism. Recognizing that is an enemy, which both sides often struggle with, is the first step to coming together for a sustainable and dignified future.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 36 ] April 12, 2016 |

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If you like diving, do it now because the coral reefs are going, going, gone.

The damage off Kiritimati is part of a mass bleaching of coral reefs around the world, only the third on record and possibly the worst ever. Scientists believe that heat stress from multiple weather events including the latest, severe El Niño, compounded by climate change, has threatened more than a third of Earth’s coral reefs. Many may not recover.

Coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem, providing food and shelter to a quarter of all marine species, and they support fish stocks that feed more than one billion people. They are made up of millions of tiny animals, called polyps, that form symbiotic relationships with algae, which in turn capture sunlight and carbon dioxide to make sugars that feed the polyps.

An estimated 30 million small-scale fishermen and women depend on reefs for their livelihoods, more than one million in the Philippines alone. In Indonesia, fish supported by the reefs provide the primary source of protein.

“This is a huge, looming planetary crisis, and we are sticking our heads in the sand about it,” said Justin Marshall, the director of CoralWatch at Australia’s University of Queensland.

Bleaching occurs when high heat and bright sunshine cause the metabolism of the algae — which give coral reefs their brilliant colors and energy — to speed out of control, and they start creating toxins. The polyps recoil. If temperatures drop, the corals can recover, but denuded ones remain vulnerable to disease. When heat stress continues, they starve to death.

Damaged or dying reefs have been found from Réunion, off the coast of Madagascar, to East Flores, Indonesia, and from Guam and Hawaii in the Pacific to the Florida Keys in the Atlantic.

The largest bleaching, at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, was confirmed last month. In a survey of 520 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef’s northern section, scientists from Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force found only four with no signs of bleaching. Some 620 miles of reef, much of it previously in pristine condition, had suffered significant bleaching.

In follow-up surveys, scientists diving on the reef said half the coral they had seen had died. Terry Hughes, the director of the Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland, who took part in the survey, warned that even more would succumb if the water did not cool soon.

Meanwhile, it is slightly chilly in the North American east, meaning that climate change is a hoax. Brilliant climate scientist and Oklahoma senator James Inhofe will tell you so.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 26

[ 1 ] April 3, 2016 |

This is the grave of Howard Zahniser:

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Howard Zahniser was the long-time head of the Wilderness Society and the architect of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which he dedicated his professional life to getting passed. Zahniser grew up in small-town western Pennsylvania, which he always loved and considered home. He began exploring the forests of his home state as a child. In the 1930s, he worked for USDA Bureau of Biological Survey (the precursor to the modern Fish and Wildlife Service) and during World War II worked for the Bureau of Plant Industry, Soils, and Agricultural Engineering. During this period, he started writing for nascent environmental journals and magazines. He then became Executive Secretary of the Wilderness Society in 1945, turning it into an overtly political organization with the agenda of making federally-designated wilderness a real thing.

Zahniser led the fight against the Echo Park Dam, beginning in 1949, that would have flooded a major portion of Dinosaur National Monument as part of the larger Colorado River Project. Along with people such as the Sierra Club’s David Brower, Zahniser managed to squash that project, a huge early victory for environmentalists. This also gave momentum to a wilderness campaign that would preserve swaths of land from any development such as dams, logging, and mining. The bill slowly gained momentum through Zahniser indefatigable work lobbying for it, building relationships with Congress, working with recalcitrant developmentalist legislators, and dedicating his life to this single goal.

Unfortunately, Zahniser also had a bad heart. Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act of 1964 into law on September 3, 1964, designating 9.1 million acres of public land as wilderness. But Zahniser had died on May 5, 1964.

Howard Zahniser is buried in the Pennsylvania woods and hills he loved. His grave is at Riverside Cemetery, Tionesta, Pennsylvania.

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