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Tag: "environment"

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.

Rewilding

[ 133 ] June 14, 2014 |

This is an interesting article on rewilding declining agricultural spaces in rural Europe. As much of the farmland of Spain, Romania, Portugal, and other nations suffer severe population declines (as they have in part of the U.S.), some environmentalists are attempting to “rewild” them by bringing back rare species, usually large mammals. Some go so far as to want these spaces for wildlife not native to these areas, like elephants. Rewilding is a curious concept, although one I am basically fine with exploring. The first question is always “rewilding to what?” As these efforts are often led by rich landowners, it tends to be whatever animals they and their enormous egos like. In the U.S., Ted Turner has led the path here. Because Turner likes bison, there are now bison on his ranches in southwestern New Mexico, even though that is not native bison territory. These efforts tend to leave out the smaller creatures and plants that don’t excite rich people.

But whatever. The planet is so inexorably transformed by humans at this point that it’s hard for me to get too bent out of shape by the inconsistencies involved in these efforts. Respecting ecosystems is important, but those ecosystems are undergoing radical transformation because of climate change anyway. Maybe the more valuable principle is open space and preserving biodiversity, however we define it. I don’t think I can really get behind importing disappearing African megafauna to western Kansas, and the experience of the oryx on the White Sands Missile Range does suggest the kind of grassland degradation introduced big species can cause, but if there were a few elephants running around out there, I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’s probably a bad idea for the ecosystem, but so is everything else humans do.

Race to the Bottom, Small Scale

[ 104 ] June 2, 2014 |

I talked a bit about the emissions problems at the Sriracha factory last fall. In short, residents living near a chile sauce factory that is indifferent to emissions violations do not have a good life. The conflict has come to a conclusion and how that went down says so much about the problems with the economy and, really, a lot of modern American life.

As a condition of Irwindale dismissing the suit, Huy Fong Foods has promised to make improvements to its factory’s rooftop ventilation system—but, as Mark Berman points out in the Washington Post, there won’t be any way to tell whether the improvements make a difference until August, when the plant begins production again. The likelier cause of the dropped suit is the public flirtation between Huy Fong Foods and officials from other cities that would be happy to subject their citizens to acrid capsaicin-smog in exchange for sweet moolah—but, whatever!

Perfect. You have a voluntary system of corporate reform with no enforcement, which Irwindale agreed to because Sriracha was looking to move the factory to a city even more desperate for jobs. The scourge of capital mobility in a nutshell. Company after company, move after move, citizen concession after citizen concession, this aggregates into the destruction of the entire set of economic, social, and environmental victories American citizens enacted to tame corporate pathology in the 20th century. This is how the New Gilded Age is created.

A Drop in the Bucket

[ 22 ] May 25, 2014 |

Like the absurdly low OSHA violation fines that give employers no incentive to fix safety problems on the job, the low fines for corporate polluters are just a drop in the bucket for gigantic companies. That’s especially true in the oil industry:

Citgo was convicted of criminal charges under the Clean Air Act in 2007 for operating two large tanks at its Corpus Christi East Plant without emissions controls from 1994 to 2003. The lack of controls, prosecutors say, exposed nearby residents to the carcinogen benzene and other compounds.

But seven years after the conviction, the case is still a focus of attention in this industrial port city on the Gulf Coast of Texas, where refineries abut largely poor and minority neighborhoods. Victims are continuing to press their case for restitution payments from Citgo for hundreds of people.

Citgo was hit with a $2 million fine when sentencing for the 2007 conviction occurred in February, but more recently a federal judge ruled against providing what the Justice Department and victims say should be far more to address future medical costs and more.

Melissa Jarrell, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M University (Corpus Christi), said the $2 million fine imposed against Citgo early this year sends the wrong signal.

“There is no deterrent value, really, in our sentencing guidelines for corporations, because we know that $2 million is not a deterrent for a major, multibillion-dollar corporation,” Jarrell, who works with activists here, said in an interview in early May. “I’m certain other corporations saw that.”

The penalty that district court Judge John Rainey imposed is indeed relatively little money for the major refiner, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA.

$2 million is nothing for Citgo. $20 million would probably barely get its attention. There’s no incentive for oil companies to not keep right on violating pollution standards.

Stimulus

[ 34 ] May 6, 2014 |

The obvious reason we should build the Keystone XL Pipeline is that the inevitable spills will stimulate the economy since we have to clean them up.

Kinder Morgan wants to spend $5.4 billion tripling the capacity of an oil pipeline between the tar sands of Alberta and the Vancouver, B.C., area. Yes, the company acknowledges, there’s always the chance of a “large pipeline spill.” But it says the “probability” of such an accident is “low.” And anyway, if a spill does happen, it could be an economic boon.

“Spill response and cleanup” after oil pipeline ruptures, such as the emergency operations near Kalamazoo, Mich., in 2010 and in the Arkansas community of Mayflower last year, create “business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers,” the company argues.

Those aren’t the outrageous comments of a company executive shooting off his mouth while a reporter happened to be neaby. Those are quotes taken from an official document provided to the Canadian government in support of the company’s efforts to expand its pipeline.

I don’t want those hosers to get all the good economic opportunity. Now I want all the pipelines to come through the U.S. Make ‘em nice and leaky!

Chinese Water

[ 26 ] April 24, 2014 |

Hard to see the problem:

Beijing’s water authorities have defended their plan to ease the capital’s water shortage by processing seawater from the highly polluted Bohai Gulf, a mainland newspaper reported.

The capital’s municipal government has announced a project to build a desalination plan in Tangshan in Hebei province to process one million tonnes of water a day by 2019 to ease Beijing’s water crisis.

Wang Xiaoshui, the general manager of the project, told The Beijing News the plan was feasible and dismissed concerns the water would be undrinkable. The water will be treated to strip it of salt, heavy metals and bacteria and will be drinkable straight from the tap.

The plan has prompted public concerns because Bohai, the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea, has some of China’s most polluted waters.

I have said before that the greatest challenge both China and India face in continuing their rise as world powers is the ability to manage their environmental issues. I tend to believe China has a better chance of this than India, but sending polluted water to your capital for consumption does make me think twice. I suppose the Chinese could develop systems that truly make this drinkable, but somehow I’m skeptical.

Climate Change and Today’s Weather

[ 37 ] April 16, 2014 |

The evidence connecting climate change to specific weather events continues to grow, as this NASA run-down of research on the California drought demonstrates (PDF).

LIUNA

[ 29 ] April 13, 2014 |

The Laborers’ Union continues to burn every bridge with other progressive communities with a napalm air strike:

A letter distributed Friday by the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) to the districts of 27 House Democrats calls for union members to make sure their representative “feels the power and the fury of LIUNA this November.”

Their crime: signing a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last month urging him to reject Keystone, which would carry oil sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

“Your member of Congress is trying to destroy job opportunities for our LIUNA brothers and sisters,” said the letter signed by Terry O’Sullivan, the general president of LIUNA.

“For every action, there is a reaction, and our reaction to this frontal assault on our way of life needs to be loud and clear. If you do not stand with us, we sure as hell will not stand with you,” O’Sullivan wrote, noting the jobs Keystone would create for union members.

While I’m sure LIUNA does not have the power to make anyone suffer, especially since most of these targeted representatives have the support of far larger unions like SEIU and AFSCME, unions it should be said who see value in not making other Democrats hate them for supporting climate change creating projects, it’s still unfortunate to say the least. As I’ve said before, I completely understand LIUNA supporting the project for their own members. What I don’t get is the aggression that represents something far more than the relatively few jobs it will get from the pipeline. This is the kind of cultural warfare the Carpenters used in the Northwest during the ancient forest campaigns in the Northwest in the 80s and 90s. The hippie enviros are an existential threat far beyond Keystone. This is about what it means to be an American, which for LIUNA is supporting any construction project regardless of social cost.

I have trouble seeing how this works out for the Laborers in the long run.

The Northwest Forest Plan

[ 5 ] April 13, 2014 |

Twenty years ago, President Clinton shepherded the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan, designed to put an end to the conflict in Pacific Northwest forests between timber companies and environmentalists over the fate of the region’s ancient forests and endangered species. I agree that it has been pretty successful all in all. I also think that the fate of timber workers and small Northwestern mill towns continues to be ignored, as it is in the linked article. It’s also worth nothing that the nation’s consumption of wood products has not fallen in the last two decades, which should lead us to wonder about how timber is produced around the world to feed the American market.

Tumbling Tumbleweeds

[ 28 ] March 29, 2014 |

I know Bob Nolan and the boys long ago taught you that tumbleweeds were a charming part of the West:

But in fact, tumbleweeds, actually Russian thistle, is a nasty invasive species that when combined with the kind of drought presently afflicting the West, become a major fire hazard. Also, When Tumbleweeds Attack does not sound like a pleasant nightmare to experience personally.

The weed can grow up to 3 feet (0.9 meter) high in summer, and when the plants dry out in winter, winds detach them from their roots and send them rolling across the landscape, spreading seeds as they go.

Rolling clusters of the tumbleweed have created havoc in the drought-stricken areas of the West.

In late January, an invasion of tumbleweeds rolled into Clovis, New Mexico, trapping Wilford Ransom, 80, and his wife, Mary, in their home.

“I looked out the window to see why it got so dark all of a sudden, and they were over 12-feet high, blocking my front and back doors,” the retiree said. “We couldn’t get out.”

A neighbor eventually tunneled through the tangled mess to the Ransoms’ garage, allowing the couple to escape.

Just one of the many under-reported stories out of the American West.

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