Will the KXL fight be environmentalists’ Vietnam?
The Vietnam War might seem irrelevant to the environmental movement’s five-year effort to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that, if approved by President Obama, would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to the Texas coast for refining and shipment overseas. But the more I look at the situation, the more I see worrisome similarities. Both American war planners and environmental movement leaders made the same strategic mistake: conceptualizing transportation as a single fixed conduit that could be readily shut down with decisive consequences for the entire conflict.
photo by Nathan Nelson on Flickr
From 1965 to 1972 American civilian and military war managers launched a massive aerial bombardment campaign against North Vietnam’s transportation system. If the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” leading from North Vietnam into Laos and from there into South Vietnam could be severed, then Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army forces would run of supplies and replacement troops. For the American strategists, it was as if the Ho Chi Minh Trail was the Vietnamese equivalent of an interstate highway with complex entrances and exits, bridges, and other vulnerable choke points. Just as air strikes by jet fighter-bombers would surely cripple American highways and bring our economy to a halt, a few thousand bombing attacks against the Ho Chi Minh Trail would end the war. Or so the “thinking” went.
Although this image of the Ho Chi Minh trail resonated with American sensibilities, no single roadway by that name existed. Instead, a vast network of modest roads – some medium-sized, some small, some tiny – and many different river crossings, camouflaged fuel dumps, and truck parks comprised the Ho Chi Minh Trail. This network could not be bombed out of existence, not by a few thousand air strikes or even a few hundred thousand. By the end of 1967 the Central Intelligence Agency quit making recommendations on bombing targets, convinced that no level of attack against the transportation system could stop supplies moving south.
Like the Americans’ image of the Ho Chi Minh Trail as a single superhighway, the environmental movement has conceptualized Keystone XL as the single path for Alberta tar sands oil, a 1,179-mile conduit capable of shipping 830,000 barrels a day. If Keystone can be stopped, then …more
At the 2014 Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence, students renewed their pledge to dig deep, link up, and take action
Last Thursday, anti-apartheid icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu came out with an article calling for an “apartheid-style boycott to save the planet.” Tutu says we can halt climate change if we use the tactics that worked in South Africa against the worst carbon emitters: fossil fuel companies. This was followed by news on Saturday that Pitzer College in Southern California had come up with a breakthrough climate action plan that included divesting its holdings from fossil fuels by the end of the year.
Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood
It was colleges and universities that spearheaded divestment during the apartheid era. Today, in the face of catastrophic climate change, the tactic is once again being championed by colleges and universities. Over the past two years, students on hundreds of campuses have launched campaigns demanding that our endowments no longer be invested in the fossil fuel industry. The movement has garnered success at numerous institutions and has fostered collective planning and action between campuses.
Earlier this month, from April 4 to 6, more than 200 students from across the United States and Canada gathered at San Francisco State University (SFSU) for the 2014 Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence. It was a time for to us to dig deep, link up, and take action. These three threads were the core threads weaving through the fabric of our convergence. This gathering was second annual student-led Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence. The first took place at Swarthmore College early last year.
Coordinated by the Fossil Fuel Divestment Network — which was formed just over a year ago as a platform for building solidarity across campuses — and the California Student Sustainability Coalition (an Earth Island Institute project), the event was organized to cultivate youth organizing capacity and leadership on climate justice. The convergence featured diverse speakers and panels on social justice and environmental and new economy communities that helped guide us as climate organizers and showed us how to challenge prevailing assumptions about the fossil fuel divestment movement. Organized around “collective liberation” and economic transformation, the convergence was testament to a new kind of momentum in the climate movement, and to the radicalizing pull of the call to divest.
Day one began with cheerful …more
If Congress doesn’t like President Obama’s national monument designation, it should pass the dozens of pending wilderness bills
Late last month the House of Representatives passed a bill that would restrict the president’s ability to fulfill a key part of his stated agenda. No, this wasn’t the umpteenth vote to repeal Obamacare. Rather, the “Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act” would severely constrain the president’s power to conserve wildlands via the Antiquities Act. As the bill’s sponsor, Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop, explains it: “The president ought to formally be required to consider the input of local communities and states prior to declaring new national monuments.”
photo by Josh Kellogg, on Flickr
At first glance, the bill may appear like yet another predictable partisan fight over environmental protection, with Democrats demanding more conservation as Republicans fight for more resource extraction on public lands. But the story is more complicated – and more interesting – than that.
For generations there has existed a bi-partisan enthusiasm for protecting America’s unique wild places. Republicans, following in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, often celebrated the wilderness as a crucible of the nation’s pioneering character. Democrats, continuing on the path blazed by Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, praised the wild as a sacred place, a spiritual resource for personal renewal. In 1984, for example, Congress passed 20 wilderness bills protecting some 8 million acres; nearly every one had bi-partisan co-sponsors.
This history of collaboration might seem to be in shreds. The previous Congress, the 112th, was the first since 1964 not to designate any new wilderness areas. But when, last month, Congress finally got around to passing its first wilderness bill in five years – a measure to protect 32,500 acres of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan – the accomplishment received praise from both sides of the aisle. Republican Congressman Dan Benishek of Michigan called the bill, which the House approved unanimously, a “huge win … for the citizens of Northern Michigan.” And remember that during last year’s government shutdown, Congressman Bishop’s home state of Utah rushed to pick up the tab to keep its national parks open.
As Congressmen Benishek and Bishop know, many of their constituents see real value in wilderness conservation – both the ineffable worth of wild places and wildlife, as …more
Can a 60 Minutes-meets-Ocean’s Eleven show on climate change lure viewers away from Don Draper?
A Sunday night primetime television show, a documentary series at that, on climate change — that’s kind of ambitious, wouldn’t you say?
But add in a star cast of Hollywood heroes — Harrison Ford, Jessica Alba, Don Cheadle, and Matt Damon. Mix in some hotshot journalists — The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, CBS’ Lesley Stahl, and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. Have them travel around the country and different parts of the world to report on the causes of global warming, and talk with regular folks who are bearing the brunt of our rapidly changing biosphere— and well, you just might have the right recipe for a crowd-puller.
At least that’s what the producers of Years of Living Dangerously, a nine-part series on climate change that kicks off this Sunday at 10 p.m., are hoping. As are most environmentalists (yours truly, included), who constantly struggle to find ways to communicate the grim fallouts of spewing invisible gases to our atmosphere to a public that’s exposed to a daily dose of climate denialism.
Conceptualized by former 60 Minutes journalists, Joel Bach and David Gelber, the executive producers of the series include Hollywood director James Cameron (of Avatar, Titanic fame), former California Gubernator Arnold Schwarzenegger, producer Jerry Weintraub (Ocean’s Eleven), and clean tech guru Dan Abbasi. The reporting is informed by a crack team of climate scientists, including James Hansen, Michael Mann, Joe Romm, and Dr Heidi Cullen, who described the series as “60 Minutes-meets-Ocean’s Eleven.”
The series consist of multiple stories on climate change that play out over the course of nine episodes. Each individual “correspondent” explores a specific impact of our warming world — from Superstorm Sandy to political instability in the Middle East, to melting Arctic ice. The stories also focus on how climate change is affecting the life of everyday Americans and offers some ideas about how they can be part of the solution.
The first …more
A second take on Alan Weisman’s Countdown
If the Earth Island Institute community is a family, as we like to say we are, then there should be dinner-table arguments, and I’m going to start one now. Having muttered to myself for a couple of days about “Numbers Game,” a review in Earth Island Journal’s Spring issue of Alan Weisman’s book Countdown, I need to vent and thump the table.
photo by James Cridland, on Flickr
The reviewer, Tom Athanasiou of EcoEquity, an Earth Island project, does the craziest dance with the book, with its subject matter – population – and with himself for having agreed to review the damn thing in the first place. It’s some sort of tango. The second paragraph reads: “Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I’ve known Weisman for some time, and count him as a friend.” (Big step toward partner, with rose between teeth.) “But Countdown is a population book, and I hate Malthusianism.” (Giant step backward. Partner has bad breath?) “They’re not the same thing, of course …” (Tentative half-step toward partner again.) “ … but I still hesitated before reviewing it.” (Half-step backward.)
If a population book and Malthusianism are not the same thing, then why did Athanasiou, however briefly, conflate them? Athanasiou’s pattern of equivocation repeats throughout the review: criticism, then retraction – or sometimes just amelioration – and then criticism again. The result for the reader is a kind of seasickness. Athanasiou’s position on the population question is a moving target, very difficult to track. If there is a lesson, it is that Athanasiou was justified in his ambivalence about undertaking this assignment: Never review the book of a friend whose basic thesis you dispute.
I want to select one Athanasiou paragraph for attention, his third, in which he takes aim at Thomas Malthus. He begins:
“First up, what’s this ‘Mathusianism,’ and why is it hateful? Well, Malthusianism is a specifically biological kind of reductionism, one that buttresses right-wing pessimism and policy conclusions, and one that not at all incidentally pushes social justice off the political agenda.”
Yes, Malthus was a demographer, and his theories are quasi-biological. But why is “biological” a term of opprobrium? It is untrue that Malthus was a reductionist. Yes, Malthus predicted reduction in human numbers, either by what is now called “Malthusian catastrophe” …more
From climate change to Crimea, the natural gas industry is supreme at exploiting crisis for private gain – what I call the shock doctrine, writes Naomi Klein
The way to beat Vladimir Putin is to flood the European market with fracked-in-the-USA natural gas, or so the industry would have us believe. As part of escalating anti-Russian hysteria, two bills have been introduced into the US Congress – one in the House of Representatives (H.R. 6), one in the Senate (S. 2083) – that attempt to fast-track liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, all in the name of helping Europe to wean itself from Putin's fossil fuels, and enhancing US national security.
Photo by Peter Aengst/The Wilderness Society
According to Cory Gardner, the Republican congressman who introduced the House bill, "opposing this legislation is like hanging up on a 911 call from our friends and allies". And that might be true – as long as your friends and allies work at Chevron and Shell, and the emergency is the need to keep profits up amid dwindling supplies of conventional oil and gas.
For this ploy to work, it's important not to look too closely at details. Like the fact that much of the gas probably won't make it to Europe – because what the bills allow is for gas to be sold on the world market to any country belonging to the World Trade Organization.
Or the fact that for years the industry has been selling the message that Americans must accept the risks to their land, water and air that come with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in order to help their country achieve "energy independence". And now, suddenly and slyly, the goal has been switched to "energy security", which apparently means selling a temporary glut of fracked gas on the world market, thereby creating energy dependencies abroad.
And most of all, it's important not to notice that building the infrastructure necessary to export gas on this scale would take many years in permitting and construction – a single LNG terminal can carry a $7bn price tag, must be fed by a massive, interlocking web of pipelines and compressor stations, and requires its own power plant just to generate energy sufficient to liquefy the …more
Home gardens in crime-ravaged community prove the power of resourcefulness in the face of adversity
The Cape Flats is a windswept, crime-ravaged area in Cape Town, South Africa, that’s beset by apathy, unemployment, and substance abuse. Underprivileged communities live here in grim housing blocks pockmarked by gunfire, or in shacks packed tightly together in the unmistakeable press of poverty. Empty lots are choked with refuse and municipal buildings are surrounded by fencing topped with razor wire. Children returning home at the end of the school day often have to run a gauntlet of gangsters and drug pushers. Yet, in this unpromising environment people are growing food, and in the process, changing their lives.
photo by Carole Ann Knight, on Flickr
Suelyla Dya, a slim, self-effacing mother of five, lives with her family in a small shack at the end of a dusty street on the Cape Flats. From the outside Dya’s shack is unremarkable, much like the rest of the haphazardly-assembled shacks alongside it. However, if you peek behind her garden gate, you’ll spot a lot of green. The tiny garden, no more than a metre wide, flanks her home on two sides. In this small space Dya grows vegetables to feed herself and her family. The vegetables, along with eggs from the family’s chickens and “an occasional piece of fish,” keep her family well fed, she says.
Dya, who grows her crop of eggplant, spinach, broccoli, beetroot, carrots and other vegetables in the most imaginative of containers, is an example of the power of resourcefulness in the face of adversity. With an eagle eye for what others consider to be junk, she has assembled an astounding assortment of containers to grow her plants in – from an old computer case, to the drum of a washing machine, to sections of piping, and an old bathtub. Nothing goes to waste in Dya’s garden and not a centimetre of space is overlooked. With paint tins planted with lettuce and herbs suspended from the outer walls of the house and ground containers overflowing with healthy plants, her garden hardly has enough room to stand in. Dya’s little patch of green bagged the second place in a Soil for Life “gardener of the year” competition last year, winning her a washing machine for her efforts …more