Political Bullsh!t

Tribes object to green revolution mining plans; Chile remakes itself over climate

This week at The New York Times, Jack Healy and Mike Baker scrutinized the situation in some depth, starting off with plans by one company that hopes to dig an open-pit gold mine in the Salmon River Mountains of Idaho. Besides the gold, the company says it will produce 115 million pounds of antimony—an element that could be critical to manufacturing liquid-metal batteries that may be developed in the future. The company—Perpetua—asserts that the project will be environmentally sound, not least because they will clean up the toxic mess left behind at the mining site by other mining companies. 

For the area’s Nimiipuu people—more widely known as the Nez Percé—the threat is real, one recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency:

The clean-energy public relations campaign is the newest threat to the Nez Perce, who for generations have watched fish populations decline and pollution rise. Mining interests drove them out of their homelands and fouled their rivers and ancestral hunting grounds. For a community trying to preserve its culture and kinship with the territory, an effort that has involved millions of dollars invested in restoring fish stocks, the proposed mine represents another existential threat.

A review by the Environmental Protection Agency found that Perpetua’s initial plan for a 20-year operation would inflict “disproportionately high and adverse impacts” on tribes, according to a November 2020 letter from the agency, and environmental groups have warned that the mine could damage or destroy huge swaths of fish habitat.

The situation for the Ponca Tribe, whose ancestors were force-marched from Nebraska to Oklahoma in 1877, provides just one illustration for why the Nimiipuu and other tribes are wise to be worried. The Ponca reservation is surrounded by abandoned oil and gas wells, tank farms, and refineries. Hydraulic fracturing processes have caused thousands of human-made earthquakes. Fumes from ongoing operations afflict residents. While a major settlement was approved in 1990 with Phillips 66 because of groundwater contamination and remediation efforts were undertaken, the cleanup job is far from complete.

At Inside Climate News, Phil McKenna reports:

In White Eagle, the headquarters of the Ponca Tribe, several miles downstream, where the Arkansas River and Salt Fork of the Arkansas River meet, the pollution has been especially damaging. Children once swam in the waters while people fished from its banks. In recent years fish have washed up dead along the shoreline, killed by a still-unidentified pollutant. Water from private wells in the community are no longer fit for drinking, gardens are contaminated with pollution and inhalers are as common as cell phones.  

“We’re being killed as surely as when they brought us the smallpox blankets, and wrapped us in poison,” said Casey Camp-Horinek, a tribal elder and official environmental ambassador for the Ponca Tribe. “We’re being wrapped in a poison that kills the air, the water and the Earth, and that kills my people.”

Camp-Horinek, whose late brother Carter Camp was one of the leaders of AIM at the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, has a long history of Native activism. Now an elder of the Ponca, she has been a major force in the fight for the “rights of nature,” a novel legal paradigm that has yet to get a serious judicial review. The Ponca Nation approved a rights of nature resolution in 2018. It’s putting together another rule to provide extra protection for rivers that pass through the reservation. “We have to find a way forward,” Camp-Horinek said, noting that this approach follows Indigenous concepts of human beings being a part of nature, not separate from it. “We are nature protecting itself,” she said.

At its core, this approach provides that living beings have intrinsic value and an inherent right to exist, and therefore rivers, forests, and wildlife should have legal rights. The concept first saw light the same year AIM was on the Trail of Broken Treaties in Washington, D.C., when Christopher D. Stone wrote in a law review article, Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.

The green transformation is essential to our efforts to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions of the fossil fuel industry that produces killer pollution afflicting wide swaths of the country, including the Ponca Nation. Keeping new industries from following the path of the old ones will require a sharp eye on the doings of their operations and new policies that acknowledge Indigenous knowledge and treaty-defined governance. As in other marginalized communities, American Indians have taken disproportionate hits for decades because of energy and mining policies. A just transition away from fossil fuels demands that those lethal policies and the attitudes behind them be abandoned.

(Full disclosure: I was a member of the American Indian Movement from 1970 until 1986, and one of the 700 participants in the Trail of Broken Treaties and the occupants of Wounded Knee. In 2018, together with former Daily Kos Director of Community Neeta Lind (Diné/Navajo), I was part of a 10-member Native delegation from the U.S.—which included Casey Camp-Horinek and longtime (Diné/Navajo/Dakota) activist Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network—to meet with Māori and government officials about legal rights approved for the Whanganui River in New Zealand.)

Chile Confronts Climate Change Head On By Rewriting Its Constitution

Chile’s current constitution was written in 1980 when the nation was ruled by the bloodthirsty Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in a coup. Now as Chile embarks on a reinvention of itself, 155 Chileans have been elected to rewrite that constitution as the nation deals with a “climate and ecological emergency.” That has a special resonance in Chile, where extractive industries have long been a big source of government revenue and environmental devastation. Eight of the world’s 20 largest copper mines are in Chile, producing 5.7 million metric tons in 2020—28.5% of total world production, making it the planet’s largest single producer of the essential metal. 

Collahuasi copper mine is situated in northern Chile at 14,300 feet altitude.
The Collahuasi open pit copper mine in northern Chile lies at 14,300 feet altitude and produces about 500,000 metric tons of copper plus small amounts of other minerals, including molybdenum.

There’s another plentiful mineral in Chile: lithium, essential for the compact batteries that will be part of making the green transformation possible. But not everyone thinks throwing the doors open to lithium mining is a good idea given the nation’s water crisis and inequality, which some critics blame on mining interests and politicians who cater to them. Carolina Pérez Dattari, director of the Institute of Local Governments of the University of Recoleta and an expert in citizen participation, writes“The explosion of social unrest was a crisis that forced us as a society to fundamentally question the model under which we have lived for the past thirty years and which has caused widespread discontent in Chilean society.”

And so, it falls to the Constitutional Convention to decide what kind of country Chile wants to be. Convention members will decide many things, including: How should mining be regulated, and what voice should local communities have over mining? Should Chile retain a presidential system? Should nature have rights? How about future generations?

Mining companies in Chile, the world’s second-largest lithium producer after Australia, are keen to increase production, as are politicians who see mining as crucial to national prosperity. They face mounting opposition, though, from Chileans who argue that the country’s very economic model, based on extraction of natural resources, has exacted too high an environmental cost and failed to spread the benefits to all citizens, including its Indigenous people.

Here in a single chart is the impact of passing or not passing the Build Back Better Act

Earlier this month, Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich at The New York Times compared what would happen to President Joe Biden’s goal of halving U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 if the bill now stalled in the Senate were to pass in something akin to its existing version, with $555 billion for clean energy, or be deep-sixed entirely. Passage could bring that emissions goal within striking distance. Failing to do so could make it ”extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the United States to meet those aggressive climate targets.”

The analysis is based on a version of the Build Back Better bill that passed the House in November. The modeled trajectories do not capture potential changes in vehicle travel as a result of new highway and transit spending in the infrastructure bill, and they do not include the effects of the new E.P.A. light duty vehicle emissions rules released this week. The data excludes changes in land carbon sinks.
The analysis is based on a version of the Build Back Better bill that passed the House in November. The modeled trajectories do not capture potential changes in vehicle travel as a result of new highway and transit spending in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and they do not include the effects of the new EPA light duty vehicle emissions rules released in mid-December. The data excludes changes in land carbon sinks.

Counting the 2021 Costs of Climate Breakdown

For the past 30 years, scientists have warned with increasing urgency that human-caused climate change will bring about extreme weather events. Lately, they’ve become more adept at attributing various events to the impacts of the changes. What they are collecting data on, the rest of us are seeing unfold in real time. 

One key objection to the Build Back Better Act’s climate provisions is that they are too costly even in the bill’s greatly diluted version. This ignores how expensive climate change impacts are and how much worse they are likely to become without the kind of action the act would fund. According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, disasters that caused at least $1 billion in damages have soared. From 1980 through 2000, the average was 3.7 billion-dollar disasters annually. However, from 2000 through 2019, the average rose to 8.5 events. And, as of October, there have been 18 billion-dollar disasters in the United States this year. All told, there have been 308 weather and climate disasters since 1980 with damages and other costs for each one hitting at least $1 billion. Adjusted for inflation, the total cost of these events was $2.085 trillion. 

A new analysis published by Christian Aid—Counting the Cost 2021: A Year of Climate Breakdown—discovered mostly from insurance claims that the 10 worst global weather and climate events in 2021 came to around $170 billion. Nos. 1, 2, and 3 in the Earth’s worst damage category were, respectively, the $65 billion in damages from Hurricane Ida, $43 billion in losses caused by last summer’s floods in Europe, and $23 billion in destruction caused by the Texas Winter Storm.

ECO-TWEET

GREEN QUOTE

“People would rather believe than know.”  Edward O. Wilson

RESOURCES

The approach of [this 2018] paper is to analyse recent studies on climate change and its implications for our ecosystems, economies and societies, as provided by academic journals and publications direct from research institutes.That synthesis leads to a conclusion there will be a near term collapse in society with serious ramifications for the lives of readers. The paper reviews some of the reasons why collapse denial may exist, in particular, in the professions of sustainability research and practice,therefore leading to these arguments having been absent from these fields until now.The paper offers a new meta-framing of the implications for research, organisational practice,personal development and public policy, called the Deep Adaptation Agenda. Its key aspects of resilience, relinquishment and restorations are explained. This agenda does not seek to build on existing scholarship on “climate adaptation” as it is premised on the view that social collapse is now inevitable.

  • In 2019, the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) published its Solar with Justice: Strategies for Powering Up Under-Resourced Communities and Growing an Inclusive Solar Market. With grants from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Department of Energy, CESA worked with the Jackson State University Department of Urban and Regional Planning, the Partnership for Southern Equity, Paulos Analysis, the University of Michigan School for Environment & Sustainability, and The Solutions Project to research solar’s role in underresourced communities and identify the most equitable and impactful strategies for advancing solar technologies in a way that benefits underresourced communities. The report includes detailed recommendations for state governments, community organizations, philanthropic foundations, the solar industry, and municipalities.

WEEKLY VIDEO

ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION

Feeling Hopeless About the Climate? Try This 30-Day Action Plan

1. Submit a public comment on proposed federal rules or regulations. You can find opportunities to voice your support or concerns at regulations.gov. You might be surprised how few comments have already been submitted, or how much your voice might matter. …

16. Ask how you can help an environmental justice cause in your area. We can practically guarantee some neighborhoods in your community suffer higher environmental burdens than others (if you don’t know of any, one place to start your search is the Environmental Justice Atlas). Find out how you can support existing efforts or create awareness. Oh, and if you’re in an area affected by these burdens, it’s OK to ask for help. …

18. Follow a climate scientist on social media to amplify their voices. Check out Katharine Hayhoe’s “Scientists who do climate” list on Twitter for ideas (or just bookmark the whole list).

8 Eco-Friendly Lifestyle Resolutions for the New Year

3. Shop Less

Fast fashion results in cheap, throw-away clothes which litter our landscape and don’t break down. Making these garments creates a carbon footprint, through pollution produced during manufacturing. The fast fashion industry also fuels a human rights crisis —the cheap garments come at a heavy cost.

Before you buy something new, ask yourself if you actually need it, and if you do, does it need to be new, or can you buy a gently used version?

ECO-OPINION

Abolish the Department of Agriculture. The USDA has become an inefficient monster that often promotes products that are bad for consumers and the environment. Let’s replace it with a Department of Food. By Gabriel N. Rosenberg and Jan Dutkiewicz at The New Republic

Telling people to ‘follow the science’ won’t save the planet. But they will fight for justice. The climate emergency has clear themes with heroes and villains. Describing it this way is how to build a movement. By Amy Westervelt at The Guardian

Climate Justice Is Reproductive Justice. From high temps to asthma from air pollution, climate change affects everyone’s health. These risks are even worse for pregnant people — making climate change a public health crisis for generations. By Yonit Friedman at Food and Water Watch

What We Lose If We Don’t Build Back Better. What I do know is that there will be huge human and, yes, economic costs if Biden’s moderate but crucial spending plans fall by the wayside. By Paul Krugman at The New York Times

The Problem With Joe Manchin Is the Problem of American Democracy. Joe Manchin’s blocking of the Build Back Better Act is maddening. But it was only possible because we live under a deeply undemocratic political system and are stuck with a Democratic Party still dominated by corporate interests. By Curt Ries at Jacobin

Don
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence

A Brief History of How Big Oil Outplayed Us All. For a century, the fossil fuel industry has outmaneuvered regulators and the public to lock in its power and profits, at the world’s expense. By Naomi Oreskes and Jeff Nesbit at In These Times

Broken promises cannot deter the path to Build Back Better. “We can’t be naive about the difficulty of once again negotiating with someone who has not kept his commitments. But legislation remains the best path for delivering enduring relief. Nor can we underestimate the urgency to act, especially as covid is surging and so many constituencies — seniors, people of color, working and young people — are disillusioned. Democrats must prove that their voices and their votes matter, and that we can produce tangible economic assistance.” By Rep. Pramila Jayapal at The Washington Post

Don’t Look Up Is As Funny and Terrifying About Global Warming As Dr. Strangelove” was About Nuclear War. Adam McKay’s new movie may be the first film in 57 years to equal the comedy and horror of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. By Jon Schwarz at The Intercept

‘Don’t Look Up’ Review: A Cosmic Disaster. Even such marquee names as DiCaprio, Streep, Blanchett and Lawrence can’t save this feeble joke of a movie. By Joe Morgenstern at The Wall Street Journal

I Told You So. Adam McKay’s Aesop-style fable is not about the climate crisis. By Jake Bittle at The Baffler

I’m a climate scientist. Don’t Look Up captures the madness I see every day. “The movie Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen.” By Peter Kalmus at The Guardian

HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ

Two Small Towns in West Virginia Join Forces. With their economies built on mineral extraction, the sister cities envision a future together without coal. A partnership to share resources is underway, but a merger is off the table, at least for now. By David Kidd

United States Geological Survey map representing the area under which the Ogallala Aquifer lies. Yellows and reds indicate areas where depletion is being seen.

The Next Disaster Coming to the Great Plains. Acute scarcity drives the search for water underground. But the West’s major aquifers are in trouble, too. By Lucas Bessire

Big Tech’s Next Monopoly Game: Building the Car of the Future. From self-driving technology to entertainment and search, Google, Apple and Amazon are trying to gain exclusive access to your vehicle. By Leah Nylen

Biden’s New Fuel Economy Standards Still Allow Cars to Pollute More If They’re Not Called Cars. The “light truck” loophole for pickups and SUVs that allow them to pollute more than other cars. By Aaron Gordon

Mining the Bottom of the Sea. The future of the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world is at risk. By Elizabeth Kolbert

Wind power critics: What’s the truth about their claims? Wind power forms a crucial part of the transition to renewable energy. But it faces fierce criticism from some parts of society. Is it justified? By Gero Rueter



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