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Tag: "environment"

Vo Quy, RIP

[ 15 ] January 12, 2017 |

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Vo Quy, the pioneering Vietnamese environmentalist and communist who not only convinced Ho Chi Minh to create Vietnam’s first national park, but also played a critical role in bringing his nation and the United States to an agreement on dealing with the ecocide the Americans committed after the war, has died at the age of 87.

Here is more about him.

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Can the Koch Brothers Purchase Americans Changing Their Minds About Environmental Protections?

[ 24 ] January 6, 2017 |

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Don’t know, but we are about to find out.

The Kochs, whose use of their fortune to promote climate-change denial research has angered environmentalists, are quietly courting new allies in their quest for a fossil fuel resurgence: minorities.

Since its start in the spring of 2016, Fueling U.S. Forward has sent delegates to, or hosted, at least three events aimed at black voters, arguing that they benefit most from cheap and abundant fossil fuels and have the most to lose if energy costs rise.

Fueling U.S. Forward is “dedicated to educating the public about the value and potential of American energy, the vast majority of which comes from fossil fuels,” the group says on its website. “We’ll talk to people of diverse backgrounds — industry employees, small-business owners, community leaders and low-income families — and share their stories.”

The group has seen early results from its outreach.

“Policies that subsidize electric vehicles and solar panels for the wealthy raise energy prices and harm the black community,” read recommendations adopted by delegates at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., in August. The event brought together African-American political groups and counted Fueling U.S. Forward among its sponsors.

“We’re standing up for poor, underserved communities,” said Linda Haithcox, executive director of the National Policy Alliance, which organized the convention. She said her group’s funding from Fueling U.S. Forward and other energy groups had not affected its position on energy.

In a statement, Charles Drevna, president and chief executive of Fueling U.S. Forward and a former vice president at Sunoco, the company behind the Dakota Access oil pipeline, confirmed that the group was supported by Koch Industries, among other backers. “I am proud to help Fueling U.S. Forward promote the importance of domestic oil and natural gas to making people’s lives better,” he said.

You’d like to think these groups won’t take Koch money, but LOL at that.

Fueling U.S. Forward is a more emotional campaign. “How do we start winning hearts and minds?” Alex Fitzsimmons, the Fueling U.S. Forward spokesman, wondered in a Facebook Live broadcast he hosted with Mr. Drevna in August at the RedState Gathering in Denver.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit that works with low-income and minority neighborhoods on environmental issues, called the campaign “an exploitative, sad and borderline racist strategy.” He pointed to the falling costs associated with renewable energy, which he said made shifting away from reliance on fossil fuels a winning proposition for everyone.

In seeking to change hearts and minds, Fueling U.S. Forward addresses a greater conundrum for the Kochs, their private empire — which generates an estimated $100 billion in sales a year — and the wider fossil fuel industry.

I don’t know whether it will as successful as the hearts and minds campaign of the U.S. toward South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but the catastrophe of climate change will certainly be comparable or worse to the death toll of that war. But hey, there was so much corporate profit to be made in both!

More Critical Republican Policy Points

[ 73 ] January 2, 2017 |

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Other than making sure that black people can’t vote, that Democrats can never win, and that women have no control over their own bodies, the major thing binding Republicans together is to hate those hippie Democrats. And thus we have very important policies like this coming out of Michigan.

A new law in Michigan will prohibit local governments from banning, regulating or imposing fees on the use of plastic bags and other containers. You read that correctly: It’s not a ban on plastic bags — it’s a ban on banning plastic bags.

Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed the new public act into law on Wednesday, along with 11 other bills. Gov. Rick Snyder is currently on vacation out of state, local news sources reported, and Calley has the authority to sign bills into law in his absence.

The new public act prohibits local ordinances from “regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers,” including plastic bags, as well as cups, bottles and other forms of packaging. This means individual cities and municipalities are not allowed to ban plastic bags or charge customers a fee for using them.

Bans and restrictions on the use of plastic bags are widespread in other parts of the country and around the world. The rationale is simple: Plastic bags are infamous non-biodegradable sources of pollution — although they will eventually break down into tiny pieces, scientists believe this process can take hundreds of years, or even up to a millennium, in landfills.

And this of course, plus the tears it will cause environmentalists and conscious consumers, are all the reason Michigan Republicans need. I look forward to the bill for a national ban on banning plastic bags coming out of the GOP House.

Zinke

[ 20 ] December 16, 2016 |

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Adam Markham has an excellent rundown of Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, who I am sad to say is also a former offensive linemen for the University of Oregon. Other than getting the job because of swapping hunting stories and making manly bonds with Uday and Qusay, Ryan Zinke is likely to be a complete disaster for the department, including how it needs to act on climate change.

In his first term as a Congressman he has voted to:

Weaken controls on air and water pollution in national parks
Lift the federal ban on crude oil exports
Undermine protections for endangered species
De-fund efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay
Weaken the Antiquities Act by limiting the president’s ability to designate new national monuments

Well, that’s promising…

Zinke will be administering our more treasured places through the National Park Service. There’s a lot of front line research on climate change in the NPS.

Some of the most convincing evidence of climate impacts of climate change and of the work of National Park Service scientists can be found right in Congressman Zinke’s backyard—Yellowstone National Park. Average annual temperatures have risen 0.17˚C per decade since 1948 and spring and summer temperatures are predicted to rise by 4.0-5.6˚C by the end of the century, making hot dry summers the norm and transforming the ecosystems this iconic landscape.

Across the American west, climate change is driving a trend toward larger, more damaging wildfires, and fire season has lengthened by an extraordinary 78 days since 1970.

Yellowstone winters are already shorter, with less snowfall and many more days when temperatures rise above freezing than there were in the 1980s. Earlier snow melt and warmer summer temperatures are dramatically changing stream flow, river temperatures, and the condition of seasonal wetlands in the park, putting populations of native cutthroat trout, chorus frogs, and trumpeter swans at risk for the future.

Damaging climate impacts to wildlife and ecosystems have been recorded in Saguaro, Rocky Mountain, Glacier Bay, Biscayne, and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks as well as Yosemite, the Everglades, and many others.

Cultural resources are no less at risk. As UCS’s 2016 joint report with UNESCO and UNEP, World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate documented, The Statue of Liberty was closed for nine months after Hurricane Sandy and $77 million has had to be spent to restore services and access on Liberty and Ellis Islands.

Extreme rainfall has damaged the Spanish mission church at Tumacácori in Arizona; sea level rise threatens black history at Fort Monroe in Virginia and the Harriett Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland; colonial heritage is at immediate risk from rising water levels at Jamestown, Virginia; American Indian heritage has been damaged by floods and fires at Mesa Verde and Bandelier; and Native Alaskan archaeology thousands of years old is being lost forever as a result of coastal erosion at Cape Krusenstern and elsewhere in Alaska.

Unlike natural ecosystems which have the capacity to change or move, cultural heritage such as buildings, artifacts or archaeology can be permanently damaged or instantly destroyed by a fire, flood, or storm.

In a 2014 policy memorandum to all NPS staff, Jon Jarvis noted that “Climate change poses an especially acute problem for managing cultural resources because they are unique and irreplaceable — once lost, they are lost forever. If moved or altered, they lose aspects of their significance and meaning.” Aside from thousands of historic structures and sites, there are approximately 2 million archaeological sites within the National Park System alone, many of which are vulnerable to climate change.

I await the Zinke/Tillerson/Perry/Trump solution of privatizing the national parks. I’m sure Yellowstone brought to you by Exxon/Mobil will really take this problem seriously! But, once again, this is just a bog standard Republican pick by Donald Trump, mainstream Republican.

The Wages of Mining

[ 9 ] December 8, 2016 |

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In 1985, I took the first trip of my life. We drove from Oregon to Minnesota for a family reunion. For me, at that age, this was exciting. As we drove east on I-90, we stopped in Butte, Montana. There, I saw the Berkeley Pit, the gigantic open pit copper mine now filling with incredibly toxic water. To say the least, it blew my mind. I have since visited the Pit one other time. This was in, I think, 2002. At this point, you could press a button and there was a very low-grade recording of a woman talking about how the water in the pit wasn’t that toxic anymore. She said something like “The geese landed in the water and they did not die. This was a big step.” Well, OK then! But this optimism may be just a little bit unwarranted.

Several thousand migrating snow geese perished in the toxic Berkeley Pit water where they landed last week in Butte, mine officials told the Montana Standard today.

Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield Company officials say they are not yet ready to release a hard number because federal and state agencies have to verify numbers collected. But MR manager of environmental affairs Mark Thompson said the mining company expects the final number to be several times greater than the 1995 snow goose die-off incident.

A $100,000 restitution proposal for the deaths of 342 snow geese in 1995 was challenged by Montana Resources, a mining company that accepted blame for the deaths and planned to pay a $10,000 fine.

The mine estimates that as many as 10,000 snow geese landed on the pit’s contaminated water last week on the night of Nov. 28. Thompson said previously that the pit’s 700-acre lake was “white with birds.”

There’s not any real great solution here either. It takes a lot of work just to keep this toxicity out of the general water supply that eventually flows into the Clark Fork River and eventually into the Columbia River. And how comfortable are you with the EPA in a Trump administration managing this at all responsibly?

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.

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.

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