Articles, papers, comments, opinions and new ideas worth sharing

Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month

John Scales Avery, Medea Benjamin, Noam Chomsky, Farooque Chowdhury (2), Jesse Coleman, (6), Ecological Internet, Environment News Service, Andrew Bard Epstein, Brian Fagan, Faith Gemmill, Kristin Moe, Serge H. Moïse, Evelyn Nieves, Prahlad Shekhawat, Clayton Thomas-Muller,

John Scales Avery, Golden Age or Peak Civilization?  Golden Age or Peak Civilization?
Evelyn Nieves, Medea Benjamin, Meet the Woman Who Stood Up to Obama and Made World News: A Conversation with Peace Activist Medea Benjamin  Meet the Woman Who Stood Up to Obama and Made World News: A Conversation with Peace Activist Medea Benjamin
Noam Chomsky, Humanity Imperiled : The Path To Disaster  Humanity Imperiled : The Path To Disaster
Farooque Chowdhury, Today’s World Environment Reflects Crisis Of Capitalist Civilization  Today’s World Environment Reflects Crisis Of Capitalist Civilization
Farooque Chowdhury, Exceeding The Limit  Exceeding The Limit
Jesse Coleman, Documents Reveal Exxon Mobil Lied and Downplayed Contamination from Pipeline Rupture  Documents Reveal Exxon Mobil Lied and Downplayed Contamination from Pipeline Rupture, Climate Change Is Like Atom Bomb, Scientists  Climate Change Is Like Atom Bomb, Scientists, Permafrost: Is A Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring In The Arctic ?  Permafrost: Is A Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring In The Arctic ?, Warming Ocean Causing Most Antarctic Ice Shelf Mass Loss  Warming Ocean Causing Most Antarctic Ice Shelf Mass Loss, Scientists Narrow Global Warming Range  Scientists Narrow Global Warming Range, Fresh Water Shortages For Global Majority 'Within Two Generations', Scientists Warn  Fresh Water Shortages For Global Majority 'Within Two Generations', Scientists Warn, Mount Everest's Glaciers Are Retreating At Increasing Rate  Mount Everest's Glaciers Are Retreating At Increasing Rate
Ecological Internet, Victory As British Columbia Government Opposes Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline  Victory As British Columbia Government Opposes Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline
Environment News Service, U.S. Groundwater Consumption Accelerating  U.S. Groundwater Consumption Accelerating
Andrew Bard Epstein, Native American Communities From New York Launch Fight Against Fracking and For the Environment  Native American Communities From New York Launch Fight Against Fracking and For the Environment
Brian Fagan, Why Humanity Is More Vulnerable to the Power of the Ocean Than Ever Before  Why Humanity Is More Vulnerable to the Power of the Ocean Than Ever Before
Faith Gemmill, Why We Should Be Very Worried About the Arctic Oil Rush  Why We Should Be Very Worried About the Arctic Oil Rush
Kristin Moe, For A Future that Won’t Destroy Life On Earth, Look To The Global Indigenous Uprising   For A Future that Won’t Destroy Life On Earth, Look To The Global Indigenous Uprising
Serge H. Moïse, la paix, a paz, the peace, la paz  la paix, a paz, the peace, la paz
Evelyn Nieves, Medea Benjamin, Meet the Woman Who Stood Up to Obama and Made World News: A Conversation with Peace Activist Medea Benjamin  Meet the Woman Who Stood Up to Obama and Made World News: A Conversation with Peace Activist Medea Benjamin
Prahlad Shekhawat, Eco-Human Development Index  Eco-Human Development Index
Clayton Thomas-Muller, Beyond Protest: First Nations Community Seeks Alternatives to Tar Sands Destruction  Beyond Protest: First Nations Community Seeks Alternatives to Tar Sands Destruction

Articles and papers from authors

Day data received Theme or issue Read article or paper
  June 22, 2013  
Climate Change Is Like Atom Bomb, Scientists
by, Countercurrents

The planet has been building up temperatures at the rate of four Hiroshima bombs of heat every second, and it's all our fault, say climate scientists.

Hurricane Katrina and superstorm Sandy are just two examples of how extreme weather will intensify, it was reported in Australia's Climate Action Summit.

Humans are emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other time in history, says John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.

"All these heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere mean ... our planet has been building up heat at the rate of about four Hiroshima bombs every second - consider that going continuously for several decades."

In a speech on extreme weather in Sydney on June 22, 2013, Cook said about 90 per cent of global warming was going into the oceans, which act like a natural thermometer along with changes in land, ice, and animal species.

Distributions of trees are shifting towards cooler areas such as the poles or mountains, and animal species are responding to global warming by mating earlier in the year.

"This isn't because animals are getting randier, it's because the seasons themselves are shifting," said Cook.

120 climate records were broken in Australia this January, including the hottest month and the hottest day.

New colors had to be added to temperature maps to denote highs of over 50 and 54 degrees celsius.

Warmer air holds more water, so Australia will experience heavier rainfall in wetter areas, while dry regions are becoming drier.

There will be more category four and five tropical cyclones, and a "catastrophic" rating has already been added to fire gauges.

Cook said studies have tried to put a number on how much of global warming is caused by humans, "and the rough answer is, all of it".

He said for the past two decades, 97% of scientists have been in agreement human activity is causing warmer temperatures.

But he said this is not filtering down to the public, who think scientists are about 50/50 on the issue.

  Read Climate Change Is Like Atom Bomb, Scientists
  June 15, 2013  
Permafrost: Is A Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring In The Arctic ?
by , Countercurrents

Permafrost (perennially frozen) soils underlie much of the Arctic . Each summer, the top layers of these soils thaw. The thawed layer varies in depth from about 4 inches (10 centimeters) in the coldest tundra regions to several yards, or meters, in the southern boreal forests. This active soil layer at the surface provides the precarious foothold on which Arctic vegetation survives. The Arctic 's extremely cold, wet conditions prevent dead plants and animals from decomposing, so each year another layer gets added to the reservoirs of organic carbon sequestered just beneath the topsoil. *  

Over hundreds of millennia, Arctic permafrost soils have accumulated vast stores of organic carbon - an estimated 1,400 to 1,850 petagrams of it (a petagram is 2.2 trillion pounds, or 1 billion metric tons). That's about half of all the estimated organic carbon stored in Earth's soils. In comparison, about 350 petagrams of carbon have been emitted from all fossil-fuel combustion and human activities since 1850.

Most of this carbon is located in thaw-vulnerable topsoils within 10 feet (3 meters) of the surface.

But, as scientists are learning, permafrost - and its stored carbon - may not be as permanent as its name implies. And that has them concerned.

"Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures - as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years. As heat from Earth's surface penetrates into permafrost, it threatens to mobilize these organic carbon reservoirs and release them into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, upsetting the Arctic 's carbon balance and greatly exacerbating global warming." Says research scientist Charles Miller of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena , Calif.

Current climate models do not adequately account for the impact of climate change on permafrost and how its degradation may affect regional and global climate. Scientists want to know how much permafrost carbon may be vulnerable to release as Earth's climate warms, and how fast it may be released.

CARVing out a better understanding of Arctic carbon

Enter CARVE. Now in its third year, this NASA Earth Ventures program investigation is expanding our understanding of how the Arctic 's water and carbon cycles are linked to climate, as well as what effects fires and thawing permafrost are having on Arctic carbon emissions. CARVE is testing hypotheses that Arctic carbon reservoirs are vulnerable to climate warming, while delivering the first direct measurements and detailed regional maps of Arctic carbon dioxide and methane sources and demonstrating new remote sensing and modeling capabilities. About two dozen scientists from 12 institutions are participating.

"The Arctic is warming dramatically - two to three times faster than mid-latitude regions - yet we lack sustained observations and accurate climate models to know with confidence how the balance of carbon among living things will respond to climate change and related phenomena in the 21st century. Changes in climate may trigger transformations that are simply not reversible within our lifetimes, potentially causing rapid changes in the Earth system that will require adaptations by people and ecosystems."

Is a sleeping climate giant stirring in the Arctic?

Permafrost zones occupy nearly a quarter of the exposed land area of the Northern Hemisphere. NASA's Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment is probing deep into the frozen lands above the Arctic Circle in Alaska to measure emissions of carbon dioxide and methane from thawing permafrost - signals that may hold a key to Earth's climate future. Image credit: Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal

What lies beneath?

The CARVE scientists observed episodic, localized bursts of methane being emitted from the tundra as the spring thaw progressed northward over Alaska 's North Slope in May and June 2012. Reds and yellows represent the highest concentrations of methane, and blues the lowest. The methane is released from the topsoil as it thaws. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The CARVE team flew test flights in 2011 and science flights in 2012. This April and May, they completed the first two of seven planned monthly campaigns in 2013, and they are currently flying their June campaign.

Each two-week flight campaign across the Alaskan Arctic is designed to capture seasonal variations in the Arctic carbon cycle: spring thaw in April/May, the peak of the summer growing season in June/July, and the annual fall refreeze and first snow in September/October. From a base in Fairbanks, Alaska, the C-23 flies up to eight hours a day to sites on Alaska's North Slope, interior and Yukon River Valley over tundra, permafrost, boreal forests, peatlands and wetlands.

The C-23 makes up for in reliability and its ability to fly "down in the mud," so to speak. Most of the time, it flies about 500 feet (152 meters) above ground level, with periodic ascents to higher altitudes to collect background data. Most airborne missions measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane do not fly as low. "CARVE shows you need to fly very close to the surface in the Arctic to capture the interesting exchanges of carbon taking place between Earth's surface and atmosphere," Miller said.

Onboard the plane, sophisticated instruments "sniff" the atmosphere for greenhouse gases. They include a very sensitive spectrometer that analyzes sunlight reflected from Earth's surface to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. This instrument is an airborne simulator for NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission to be launched in 2014. Other instruments analyze air samples from outside the plane for the same chemicals. Aircraft navigation data and basic weather data are also collected. Initial data are delivered to scientists within 12 hours. Air samples are shipped to the University of Colorado 's Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research Stable Isotope Laboratory and Radiocarbon Laboratory in Boulder for analyses to determine the carbon's sources and whether it came from thawing permafrost.

Miller says. "We are showing the power of using dependable, low-cost prop planes to make frequent, repeat measurements over time to look for changes from month to month and year to year."

Ground observations complement the aircraft data and are used to calibrate and validate them. The ground sites serve as anchor points for CARVE's flight tracks. Ground data include air samples from tall towers and measurements of soil moisture and temperature to determine whether soil is frozen, thawed or flooded.

A tale of two greenhouse gases

It's important to accurately characterize the soils and state of the land surfaces. There's a strong correlation between soil characteristics and release of carbon dioxide and methane.

Historically, the cold, wet soils of Arctic ecosystems have stored more carbon than they have released. If climate change causes the Arctic to get warmer and drier, scientists expect most of the carbon to be released as carbon dioxide. If it gets warmer and wetter, most will be in the form of methane.

The distinction is critical. Molecule per molecule, methane is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale. If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon dioxide. Characterizing this methane to carbon dioxide ratio is a major CARVE objective.

There are other correlations between Arctic soil characteristics and the release of carbon dioxide and methane. Variations in the timing of spring thaw and the length of the growing season have a major impact on vegetation productivity and whether high northern latitude regions generate or store carbon.

CARVE is also studying wildfire impacts on the Arctic 's carbon cycle. Fires in boreal forests or tundra accelerate the thawing of permafrost and carbon release. Detailed fire observation records since 1942 show the average annual number of Alaska wildfires has increased, and fires with burn areas larger than 100,000 acres are occurring more frequently, trends scientists expect to accelerate in a warming Arctic .

CARVE's simultaneous measurements of GHG will help quantify how much carbon is released to the atmosphere from fires in Alaska - a crucial and uncertain element of its carbon budget.

Early results

What the CARVE science team is finding, Miller said, is both amazing and potentially troubling.

"Some of the methane and carbon dioxide concentrations we've measured have been large, and we're seeing very different patterns from what models suggest," Miller said. "We saw large, regional-scale episodic bursts of higher-than-normal carbon dioxide and methane in interior Alaska and across the North Slope during the spring thaw, and they lasted until after the fall refreeze. To cite another example, in July 2012 we saw methane levels over swamps in the Innoko Wilderness that were 650 parts per billion higher than normal background levels. That's similar to what you might find in a large city."

Ultimately, the scientists hope their observations will indicate whether an irreversible permafrost tipping point may be near at hand. While scientists don't yet believe the Arctic has reached that tipping point, no one knows for sure. "We hope CARVE may be able to find that 'smoking gun,' if one exists," Miller said.

* US Gov., NASA, Global Climate Change, Alan Buis, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, June 10, 2013,

  Read  Permafrost: Is A Sleeping Climate Giant Stirring In The Arctic ?
  June 14, 2013  
Warming Ocean Causing Most Antarctic Ice Shelf Mass Loss
by , Countercurrents

Rates of basal melt of Antarctic ice shelves (melting of the shelves from underneath) overlaid on a 2009 mosaic of Antarctica created from data from NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument aboard NASA's Terra and Aqua spacecraft. Red shades denote melt rates of less than 5 meters (16.4 feet) per year (freezing conditions), while blue shades represent melt rates of greater than 5 meters (16.4 feet) per year (melting conditions). The perimeters of the ice shelves in 2007-2008, excluding ice rises and ice islands, are shown by thin black lines. Each circular graph is proportional in area to the total ice mass loss measured from each ice shelf, in gigatons per year, with the proportion of ice lost due to the calving of icebergs denoted by hatched lines and the proportion due to basal melting denoted in black. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Irvine / Columbia University

Ocean waters melting the undersides of Antarctic ice shelves are responsible for most of the continent's ice shelf mass loss, a new study by NASA and university researchers has found.

Scientists have studied the rates of basal melt, or the melting of the ice shelves from underneath, of individual ice shelves, the floating extensions of glaciers that empty into the sea. But this is the first comprehensive survey of all Antarctic ice shelves. The study found basal melt accounted for 55 percent of all Antarctic ice shelf mass loss from 2003 to 2008, an amount much higher than previously thought.

Antarctica holds about 60 percent of the planet's fresh water locked into its massive ice sheet. Ice shelves buttress the glaciers behind them, modulating the speed at which these rivers of ice flow into the ocean. Determining how ice shelves melt will help scientists improve projections of how the Antarctic ice sheet will respond to a warming ocean and contribute to sea level rise. It also will improve global models of ocean circulation by providing a better estimate of the amount of fresh water ice shelf melting adds to Antarctic coastal waters.

"The traditional view on Antarctic mass loss is it is almost entirely controlled by iceberg calving," said Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena , Calif. , and the University of California , Irvine . Rignot is lead author of the study to be published in the June 14 issue of the journal Science. "Our study shows melting from below by the ocean waters is larger, and this should change our perspective on the evolution of the ice sheet in a warming climate."

Ice shelves grow through a combination of land ice flowing to the sea and snow accumulating on their surface.

In some places, basal melt exceeds iceberg calving. In other places, the opposite is true. But in total, Antarctic ice shelves lost 2,921 trillion pounds (1,325 trillion kilograms) of ice per year in 2003 to 2008 through basal melt, while iceberg formation accounted for 2,400 trillion pounds (1,089 trillion kilograms) of mass loss each year.

Basal melt can have a greater impact on ocean circulation than glacier calving. Icebergs slowly release melt water as they drift away from the continent. But strong melting near deep grounding lines, where glaciers lose their grip on the seafloor and start floating as ice shelves, discharges large quantities of fresher, lighter water near the Antarctic coastline. This lower-density water does not mix and sink as readily as colder, saltier water, and may be changing the rate of bottom water renewal.

"Changes in basal melting are helping to change the properties of Antarctic bottom water, which is one component of the ocean's overturning circulation," said author Stan Jacobs, an oceanographer at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y. "In some areas it also impacts ecosystems by driving coastal upwelling, which brings up micronutrients like iron that fuel persistent plankton blooms in the summer."

The study found basal melting is distributed unevenly around the continent. The three giant ice shelves of Ross, Filchner and Ronne, which make up two-thirds of the total Antarctic ice shelf area, accounted for only 15 percent of basal melting.

Meanwhile, fewer than a dozen small ice shelves floating on "warm" waters (seawater only a few degrees above the freezing point) produced half of the total melt water during the same period. The scientists detected a similar high rate of basal melting under six small ice shelves along East Antarctica , a region not as well known because of a scarcity of measurements.

The researchers also compared the rates at which the ice shelves are shedding ice to the speed at which the continent itself is losing mass and found that, on average, ice shelves lost mass twice as fast as the Antarctic ice sheet did during the study period.

"Ice shelf melt doesn't necessarily mean an ice shelf is decaying; it can be compensated by the ice flow from the continent," Rignot said. "But in a number of places around Antarctica , ice shelves are melting too fast, and a consequence of that is glaciers and the entire continent are changing as well."


* US Gov., NASA, Global Climate Change, Whitney Clavin, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, J.D. Harrington, NASA Headquarters, Maria-Jose Vinas Garcia,
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, June 13, 2013,

  Read Warming Ocean Causing Most Antarctic Ice Shelf Mass Loss
 June 6, 2013  
Eco-Human Development Index
by Prahlad Shekhawat , Countercurrents

More than $150 billion are being spent annually on development worldwide, but almost no one is tracking whether the achieved progress can be sustained, or whether development and rapid economic growth is becoming progressively fragile without the essential access to nature’s resources

As an example India’s Ecological Footprint which measures the amount of productive land and sea area required to produce the resources it consumes and absorb its waste, has doubled since 1961, indicating growing scarcity of natural wealth. Today the country’s total demand on biocapacity is exceeded only by the United States and China.

J N. Godrej, Chairman of the CII had warned; “India is depleting its ecological assets in support of its current economic boom and the growth of its population. This suggests that business and government intervention are needed to reverse this risky trend, and ensure a sustainable future in which India remains economically competitive and its people can live satisfying lives”

The World Bank Wealth Estimates measure a country’s total wealth as composed of produced capital including infrastructure and urban land, natural capital like forests, cropland, fish stocks, minerals etc and human resources like human capital, quality of institutions. Adjusted Net Saving indicates the sustainability of the economy by calculating from year to year the increase in produced capital, depletion of natural resources, investments in human capital and damage to health caused by pollutionf measures

The recent United Nations Report on inclusive wealth published cost benefit balance-sheets for 20 countries in a report whose lead author is the Indian economist Partha Dasgupta. Assets included are: manufactured or physical capital machinery, buildings, infrastructure etc, human capital like the population’s education and skills and natural capital (including land, forests, fossil fuels and minerals.

Such inclusive calculation of wealth need to be combined with broader measures of human progress as well as to get the big picture of sustainable economic growth in terms of the national accounts of cost and benefit analysis and net gain. This gap has now been filled in a substantial way by the United Nations Development Programme’s latest Human Development Report 2013.

The report highlights a countries performance as suggested by the Global Footprint Network which measures both the amount of human well-being that countries generate as measured by the Human Development Index as well as the level of resource demand and consumption measured by the Ecological Footprint. It is a big step forward that a leading UN agency’s has now offered a strategy for alternative development. Earlier the report included Ecological Footprint outcomes in its background data. Now HDI-Footprint table using simple indicators, prominently reveals how much the world is removed from achieving the sustainable development challenge

The United Nations’ HDI is an indicator of human development that measures a country’s achievements in the areas of longevity, education, and income. The Ecological Footprint measures a people’s demand on nature and can be compared to the available biocapacity.

The value of integrating the two into one science-based evaluative framework is that sustainable human development depends on achieving better lives for all, within the resource budget available to the population. The latter means adequate access to ecological assets over the long-term. We need to realise and always keep in mind that human welfare is crucially dependent on healthy ecological assets.

The new Human Development Report summarises the need of the hour: “To sustain progress in human development, far more attention needs to be paid to the impact human beings are having on the environment. The goal is high human development and a low ecological footprint per capita. Only a few countries come close to creating such a globally reproducible high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources.”

In this context it is remarkable that The Happy Planet Index measures a society’s achievement in terms of satisfaction with life while doing least damage to the environment

All is not lost and there are many opportunities to manage and use biocapacity more effectively and to invest in those human development programs that move countries and their people closer to global long-term sustainability. There is no excuse anymore to say that we cannot value holistic human development because the intangible value of the environment cannot be measured and interrelated

Prahlad Shekhawat is Director, Alternative Development and Research Center,Jaipur.

  Read Eco-Human Development Index
  June 5, 2013  
Exceeding The Limit
by Farooque Chowdhury, AlterNet

Painting a gloomy picture of the state of the world environment the UNEP report released in the run-up to the Rio+20 conference, said: The earth’s environmental systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits. Several critical global, regional and local thresholds are close or have been exceeded. “Abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet are likely to occur.” The changes include rising oceans, increased frequency and severity of floods and droughts, and the collapse of fisheries.

It said: Little or no progress has been made over the past five years on nearly a third of the main environmental goals including global warming. Significant progress has been made on just four of the 90 most important goals.

The report said: 90 percent of water and fish samples are contaminated with pesticides; about 20 percent of vertebrate species are under threat of extinction; coral reefs have declined by 38 percent since 1980.

Green Economy in a Blue World, the 2012 UNEP, FAO, IMO, UNDP, IUCN, World Fish Center, GRID-Arendal report, added more to the facts cited in above mentioned report:

More than 90 percent of those species formerly important to humans have been lost in coastal seas and estuaries, 35 percent of mangroves and 20 percent of all coral reefs have been destroyed. More than 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. Over 400 oxygen-poor ‘dead zones’ are in the world that include the Black Sea, Gulf of Mexico, Baltic Sea. These have significant negative impact on fisheries, food security and livelihoods. The world’s fishing fleets are double the size these should be and the potential economic gain from reducing fishing capacity to a sustainable, economically optimal level and restoring over-exploited and depleted fish stocks is of the order of US$50 billion per annum. The undernourishment of about 20 million people could have been averted without over-fishing. Invasive species threaten biodiversity, marine industries and human health. The global economic impact of invasive aquatic species is US$100 billion per year. The rate of marine bio-invasions is one every nine weeks and over 80 percent of the world’s 232 marine ecoregions found invasive species.

The Green Economy … report added:

Now, the manufactured fertilizer industry annually produces about 100 million tones of nitrogen in fertilizer. Today, 40-60 percent of global crop yields are attributable to commercial fertilizer use. The link between industrial agriculture and reactive nitrogen pollution is well established with impacts on drinking water. The impact of excess nitrogen in the EU alone is €70-320 billion per year. The energy consumption and associated environmental costs for fertilizer production are significant: 1-2 percent of all consumed global energy.

Tourism, according to the report, is taking its toll: conversion of land for construction, declined biodiversity, destructed coastal wetlands, dune complexes and mangroves. Many coastal destinations have become heavily urbanized. For example, out of 8000 kilometers of Italian coastline, 43 percent is completely urbanized, 28 percent is partly urbanized. Only 29 percent of coastline could be considered ‘pristine’. Tourism accounts for about 5 percent of global emissions. Approximately 75 percent of this is caused by transports, and in particular aviation.

Some states, the report said, have shown interest in deep sea mining, a new industry with many unknowns, beyond national jurisdiction. There is a legitimate concern regarding deep-sea mining and its economic and social consequences.

The report reminds: “There are still large knowledge gaps in our understanding of the ecosystems associated with these deposits, and the resilience of the ecosystems. Destruction of ecosystems associated with deep-sea minerals might involve the loss of ‘existence values’ , or ‘bequest values’, or there may be future-use values of which we are currently unaware (‘option values’). Passive and option values (existence and bequest values) have the potential to affect local water and air quality, and will result in carbon emissions. The potential economic cost of these environmental damages has not been estimated. A reduction in local environmental quality may also pose a public health risk to local communities. Deep-sea mining may impinge on customary rights and connections to the ocean, including economic, cultural, social, political and religious rights.”

It should not be forgotten that too often mining appears to increase a country’s poverty (Sachs, J., & A. Warner, “Natural resource abundance and economic growth” in Meier G., & J. Rauch, Leading Issues in Economic Development, 1997). “The economic benefits of mining activity tend to be concentrated in the hands of a ‘lucky few’.”

The dangerous environment degrading journey has been mentioned many times. Four years ago, based on “Ecological Footprint” calculations, the Living Planet Report said: The world was using around 30 percent more biocapacity than the global ecosystems can provide in a sustainable manner. (WWF, Zoological Society of London, Global Footprint Network, 2008)

Unaltered course, unchanged character

Has the situation improved? The system that generates the crisis – crossing the earth’s capacity – has not changed its course and character, which is impossible for the world system, an ingrained incapacity of the system. Rather, the world finds a more deteriorated environmental reality as deepening crises – financial, economic and political – in the dominating world system, manifested in increment competition among capitals, and in invasions and aggressions, audaciously trample down peoples’ interests in countries. And, environment is one of the areas of peoples’ interests.

Failure in a number of international negotiations on environmental issues is one of the images of competition among capitals engaged with environment demolishing activity. A forceful imposition of the environment-defacing regime is the order of the day. New areas are falling victim to it. Almost everyday news/facts of environmental erosion egress from corners of the world. It’s a bellum internecinum, a war of extermination, against all forms of life being waged by interests connecting Economy – Society – Politics – Environment (Ec-S-P-En) grid.

Hunger, poverty and deprivation of millions of people in countries have been intensified by the financial/debt/banking/economic crises, and the so-called austerity measures, essentially measures to intensify appropriation of surplus labor and, even, necessary labor. Countries considered rich are now residences of millions of poor, unemployed, debt-ridden, homeless, hungry souls. Greece is not only a single example. Today’s capitalist world, the advanced capitalist countries reeling under the Great Financial Crisis, the countries in Asia-Africa-Latin America, is the example. Should the human crisis being authored by the financial, etc. crises be considered a non-environmental issue?

Poverty, inequality, inequity are few of the biggest environmental problems in the present world. Reports on poverty, hunger, food, water, health, labor, employment, living condition pronounce this fact unequivocally.

Agriculture is the livelihood of about 1.3 billion small farmers and landless workers, of which about half – close to 560 million – are women. (IPS, “Rural Women Are Leading the Way – Will the World Follow?”, part 1, Feb. 25, 2012) Farmers in the poor countries are thrown out of local market by artificially cheaper exports from the richer part of the world that dumps highly subsidized commodities in poor countries’ markets. A few years ago, India’s National Sample Survey Organization found more than 40 percent of farmers were keen to quit agriculture as a result of market pressures. Does the European Union’s Common Agriculture Policy, the regime mainly consisting of subsidies, stop the Union from threatening the poor farmers and food security in the poor countries? A new CAP is expected to come into effect in the beginning of 2014.

International Land Coalition stated that the demand for biofuels is driving more than 50 percent of large-scale land acquisitions world-wide. “Shell and BP invested heavily in Brazilian sugar cane last year. They want to remain leaders in the fuel sector. They are lobbying in Brussels.” (Daan Bauwens, “Biofuels and Hunger, Two Sides of the Same Coin”) A large percentage of Guatemala’s indigenous population is facing a new hunger crisis because of land grabbing, forced evictions and water diversion to create large-scale monoculture plantations for biofuel. ActionAid calculated that Europe’s target of producing biofuel would require converting up to 69,000 square kilometers of natural ecosystems into cropland, an area larger than Belgium and the Netherlands combined. The conversion would annually emit 56 million tonnes of extra CO2, the equivalent of an extra 12 to 26 million cars on Europe’s roads by 2020. Has this reality changed significantly?

Rather, an “amazing”, actually, a hostile policy-environment prevails. Rajiv Shah, USAID’s chief administrator, announced that large-scale private sector partnerships would lead the way to a hunger-free world. Identifying 17 global “champions”, Shah named transnational giants as leaders in the fight against food insecurity. These included Archer Daniels Midland, BASF, Bunge, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Metro, Monsanto, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, Wal-Mart Stores and Yara International. But these companies have notorious track records in the areas of human and environmental rights. (Kanya D’Almeida, “Reimagining Food Systems in the Midst of a Hunger Crisis”, IPS, June 3, 2011) Profit driven governance of environment, plunder dictated governance, mal-governance, at national and international levels, and disenfranchising and disempowering peoples in countries have worsened the global environment reality.

A handful of TNCs with unparallel economic power control almost 80% of the global economy. There is a structure of control at a global level forming “a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic ‘super-entity’.” (Stefania Vitali, James B Glattfelder and Stefano Battiston, The network of global corporate control, ETH Zurich) “The structure of the control network of transnational corporations”, wrote Stefania, James and Stefano, “affects global market competition and financial stability.”

The network generates power with implications for the world environment. The TNCs’ political-military-media arms facilitate devouring of the world environment. Leslie Sklair observed: Concentrated capital accelerates the exploitation of natural resources by private entrepreneurs. (The Transnational Capitalist Class, 2001) Moreover, international trading regime “contributing” to erosion of world environment has not changed today.

Section of economists from the South often penning pro-people words dream for an ideal society that will root out inequality, and they call for repurposing of market forces. The expression is blandae mendacia linguae, falsehood of a smooth tongue. They dare not admit that market forces are fundamentally and entirely anti-people, anti-environment, and are basically authoritarian and nihilist. Authoritarianism and nihilism does neither serve people nor environment, even in abstract sense, and, hypothetically, even if people are taken out from the environment and the environment is allowed to function only in physical term.

Has not the world listened to the brutal epic of market for decades and experienced its “glorified” failures? Can the world forget the Shock Therapy of neoliberalism inflicted by the “famous” Chicago boys in the continent of Latin America as Naomi Klein depicted in her book? The price, the cost the humanity and the world environment paid for the barbaric market concert, a concert of robbing the humanity and the nature, is extraordinarily high. Was it possible for the world environment to get rid of that curse during the long period? Has the scenario basically changed around the world other than alternative initiatives in smaller parts in the south? Doesn’t this signify the state of the world environment today?

There are efforts to perceive the global hunger catastrophe, an essential part of global environment, as an amalgamation of three distinct but inherently inter-related problems: poverty, environmental degradation, and an epidemic of malnutrition. (Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Agroecology and the Right to Food, report presented to the Human Rights Council, March 2011) But these perceptions fail or dislike recognizing the sources of poverty, environmental degradation (ED) and epidemic of malnutrition (EM). Isn’t it the scientific approach to ask the reason behind poverty, ED, EM? What’s the force that creates/functions behind poverty, ED, EM? Isn’t it the economy that creates the degradations, etc.? Should the food crisis be ignored while assessing the state of the world environment? Should it be logical to ignore the forces – the “invisible”, cruel hands of speculators, the financialization, the centralized and concentrated market forces – creating the current global food crisis while assessing the global environment? Compartmentalizing the relationship of economic-political-environmental forces isn’t possible if a scientific approach is followed while assessing the world environment.

Depriving hundreds of thousands of people of economic benefits Liberia has granted up to 60% of its rainforests to logging companies. These people depend on these forests. There were corrupt deals. (Reuters & BBC, Sept. 4, 2012) Liberia is only an example. States, many, bear the same signature of the same connection: to plunder the environment, economic interests operate with ruthless political machine. The extent and level differ only. The environment is not safeguarded as these states lack “political determination and strong governance”, a requirement suggested by the GEO 5.

A list, prepared by mainstream or conservative think-tanks, of failed/near-to-failed states, and of countries experiencing aggression, intervention and civil war helps calculate the total number of population suffering from environmental catastrophe in those lands as failed state, “illiberal democracy”, war, etc. negatively impact environment. Should the fact be ignored while assessing the state of the world environment? Ignoring the fact – failed/near-failed states negatively affect the environment – will be an exercise in error. Considering the concept of happiness in national measurements of development, as Bhutan tries, will push anyone to an absolute void in any failed/near-failed state, and the issue of environment is part of development.

Mainstream discussions on environment skip the issue of class interests. But individual, person or enterprise, can’t master the power and force that can deface the nature to today’s extent. Even smaller economies don’t have that money-power that can explore their own resources or potentials. Degrading the nature is a dream-impossible to them. Interests innovate, dominate and manipulate instruments – laws, conventions, institutions, technology, fire power, etc. – that are eroding the nature, from the deep depths of the oceans to the space and sun light.

Despite Tûranor PlanetSolar’s successful expedition, the first solar powered vehicle’s circumnavigation of the globe, today’s world environmentscape, as the reality shows, reflects dominance by the predatory class interests and contradictions that are intensifying the world environment crisis, a human crisis.

This is the concluding part of an article, the 1st part of which appeared in Countercurrents on June 4, 2013.

Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based freelancer.

  Read  Exceeding The Limit
  June 4, 2013  
Today’s World Environment Reflects Crisis Of Capitalist Civilization
by Farooque Chowdhury, AlterNet

Today’s state of the world environment is the tribune of the crisis of capitalist civilization that carries all the contradictions the global economy creates; and the economy is owned by a handful of owners dispossessing the humanity, billions of the poor and the starved. The state of today’s global environment reflects the contradiction between the ownership of the world resources by a miniscule group and billions of resource-producing, but resource-starved humans, the contradiction created by an ever accumulating economy, the contradiction between ever greedy capital owners and humanity in chains.

“Harmful environmental changes are taking place in an increasingly globalized, industrialized and interconnected world […]”(UNEP, GEO 5, Global Environment Outlook, Environment for the future we want, 2012) The reality is manifested in the waters, food, forests, crop fields, life of squatters, cities and rural communities, species on the verge of extinction, degenerated atmosphere, in the global production and distribution systems, wages, education, health care, investment and finance, flow of capital, “aid”, credit, consumption, luxury, wastage, opportunities for amenities and recreation, inequality, inequity, etc.

A random look

A few facts cited from randomly picked out news/study reports from different regions tell at least a portion of the state of the environment, at micro and macro, at local and global levels, in aajkee dooneeaa, today’s world:

More than one-half of counties in the US experienced drought – the Great Drought of 2012. About 62 percent of the continental US suffered in drought conditions while about 24 percent of the country faced extreme or exceptional drought. (Ron Recinto, The Lookout, Aug. 20, 2012) Consequences of the Great Drought will be severe: decreased harvest of corn, soybeans and other food staples will boost food prices, causing increased misery and hardship for farmers and low-income Americans and poor people in countries that rely on imported US grains. (Michael T. Klare, “The Hunger Wars in Our Future”, The Nation, Aug. 7, 2012)

Europe, as media reports said, experienced late summer heat wave in 2012. On August 20, in much of Europe, from Vienna to Paris, the temperature was almost intolerable. Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UK National Weather Service conclude in a recent study: Climate change has made intense heat waves of the type Texas experienced in 2011 more likely than ever before. The incidence of Texas heat wave was 20 times more likely than it would have been in 1960 and abnormally warm temperatures like those experienced in Britain last November are 62 times more likely. (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society; also in The Guardian, July 10, 2012) The summer 2012 in England and Wales was “the biggest washout for a century. It had been the one of the dullest on record, one of the coolest, and the soggiest since 1912.” It was going to be the fourth wettest summer since records began in 1727. (The Guardian, “Heavy rain causes chaos as summer confirmed as wettest in 100 years”, Aug. 30, 2012)

Waters of the Ganga, India’s longest river irrigating 40 percent of the country’s land and providing fresh water to 500 million people is considered as the most polluted and unfit even for bathing in cities like Kanpur due to industrial effluents and human sewage. About 2,900 million liters of sewage flow into the Ganga every day while the existing infrastructure can treat only 1,100 million liters per day. (Sujoy Dhar, “Impure Flows the Ganga”, IPS, July 19, 2012) Several species of fish unique only to the waters of Kashmir are facing extinction. Pollution is causing the decline of the species in the lakes and the river Jhelum. More than 40 million liters of untreated liquid waste and 350 metric tons of solid waste get dumped into Kashmir’s water bodies including the Jhelum and Dal Lake. (Athar Parvaiz, “Pollution Threatens Kashmir’s Fish Species”, IPS, Feb. 13, 2011) The Hudiara Drain, a natural storm water channel crossing the Pakistan-India border near Wagah, flows with water full of toxic elements into the river Ravi. Factories along the Hudiara, hundreds in number, and towns dispose of untreated waste into it, and its water is irrigated into crop fields. (Irfan Ahmed, “Cultivating Toxic Crops”, IPS, July 25, 2012) There is high prevalence of chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka’s main agricultural north-central region with the presence of heavy metals in the water and poor water quality. About 400,000 people in the region may be suffering from kidney disease. In the past two decades, about 22,000 people may have died as a result. More than 10 percent of the island’s population lives in high-risk areas. (Amantha Perera, “Study Links Kidney Disease in Sri Lanka’s Farm Belt to Agrochemicals”, IPS, Aug. 21, 2012)

Almost a month before the annual Arctic sea-ice minima usually is observed the sea-ice turned broken. (Rasmus E. Benestad “Arctic Sea-Ice Melt Record Just Not Being Broken, It’s Being Smashed”, Countercurrents, Aug. 27, 2012) About 4 billion tons of methane gas could be locked beneath the Antarctic ice sheet that may be an “important component of the global methane budget, with the potential to act as a positive feedback on climate warming during ice-sheet wastage. (J. L. Wadham and others, “Potential methane reservoirs beneath Antarctica”, Nature, Vol. 488, Aug. 30, 2012)

Eating, drinking, housing, infrastructure and mobility are responsible for about three quarters of the environmental impacts from household consumption contributing 74 percent of GHG emissions, 74 percent of acidifying emissions, 72 percent of tropospheric ozone precursor emissions and 70 percent of the direct and indirect material input caused globally by private consumption in 2007 in the EU-27. A considerable share of the environmental pressures is actually felt outside of Europe as the majority of environmental impacts from consumption are created during the production of the goods. (European Environment Agency, SOER 2010, Consumption and the environment, 2012 Update)

“People in rich countries consume up to 10 times more natural resources than those in the poorest countries. On average, an inhabitant of North America consumes around 90 kilograms of resources each day. In Europe, consumption is around 45 kg per day, while in Africa people consume only around 10 kg per day.” (Friends of the Earth Europe, Global 2000, The Sustainable Europe Research Institute, Overconsumption? Our use of the world’s natural resources) Europeans eat twice as much meat as the world average. Citing the European Environmental Bureau Claudia Ciobanu analyzed: More than 170 kilograms of food per capita are wasted annually in the EU. (“Europe Thinks Again About Food”, IPS, Aug. 19, 2012)

Nearly a billion people still suffer from hunger and malnutrition although food production has been steadily increasing on a per capita basis for decades. (Stockholm International Water Institute, Feeding a Thirsty World: Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future, 2012) At least 11 percent of the world’s population, around 783 million people, is still without access to safe drinking water, and billions without sanitation facilities. (Thalif Deen, “Human Right to Water and Sanitation Remains a Political Mirage”, IPS, Aug. 1, 2012) There are millions of debt-burdened poor in today’s world. Entire villages were put up for sale in India. (Devinder Sharma, “Indian Villages for Sale”)

Now, there is new coinage: “land grabbing” or “global land rush”. (The Land Matrix Partnership, Transnational Land Deals for Agriculture in the Global South, April 2012) Investors are buying land in countries with weak laws, said the draft The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?’ a World Bank report. Speculation is a key motive behind these purchases. There were large transfers including 3.9m hectares in Sudan and 1.2m in Ethiopia between 2004 and 2009. (Javier Blas “World Bank warns on ‘farmland grab’”, The Financial Times, July 27, 2010) After analyzing land deals in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mozambique the Oakland Institute, a US think-tank, said: To consolidate hold over global food markets, hedge funds and foreign firms are acquiring farming land in Africa, which are displacing millions of small farmers. In 2009, these ventures grabbed about 60m hectares of land in Africa, an area the size of France. The land is used to produce export commodities including biofuels and cut flowers. “This is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism,” the report said. These are “[t]he same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial maneuvers are now doing the same with the world’s food supply.” (“Hedge funds ‘grabbing land’ in Africa”, BBC, June 8, 2011)

The human “body has become a political, economic, and cultural battleground. Big pharma, agribusiness, the health care industry, and the political right try to shape the choices we have about our health and our bodies.” (Yes, Fall issue, 2012) By 2027, the TRIPS-Plus provisions would raise the price of all medicines by 67 percent, national pharmaceutical expenditures would increase by more than US$23 billion, and pharmaceutical industry could lose US$9 billion in Thailand. By 2025, at current consumption levels, there would be increase of prices by 26 percent and increase of US$459 million in total pharmaceutical expenditure in Peru. (Nusaraporn Kessomboon and others, “Free-trade provisions will damage access to medicines”, SciDevNet, June 3, 2011) In Jordan, medicine price was 800 percent higher compared to price in Egypt since implementation of an FTA in 2001. More than 25 percent of the country’s health ministry budget was spent on medicines and the introduction of cheaper generics for 79 percent of medicines was delayed. (Oxfam, All Cost No Benefit: How TRIPS-plus intellectual property rules in the US-Jordan FTA affect access to medicines, briefing paper, March 2007)

Against the backdrop of recession in Europe and slower growth in several major developing countries the World Bank in a report issued in mid-January 2012 apprehended a slow growth – 2.5 percent in 2012 and 3.1 percent in 2013. Prediction made by the WB in June, 2011 was 3.6 percent growth for both the years. “The world economy has entered a very difficult phase characterized by significant downside risks and fragility”, said the report. Reduced capital flows have made the developing countries more vulnerable than they were in 2008. Since last August risk aversion to Europe has “changed the game” for developing countries experiencing sharply escalated borrowing costs. “No country and no region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn”, said the bank. (Global Economic Prospects 2012)

Another random pick or purposive selection of media reports emanating from or study findings on different parts and different strata of societies around the globe will find similar incidents/process of degradation/loss/threat: another river instead of the Ganga, another lake instead of Dal, another canal instead of Hudiara, another locality, and the cases are not a single one, two or three. Latest findings on the oceans, glaciers, rain forests, food, energy, mining, chemical insecticides, urban life, living condition of working people – the most significant part of the humanity, reveal a singular fact: all forms of life on our planet is facing extinction.

With the expansion of watch/observation period the number/magnitude increases. A gloom overpowers the perception of reality, a reality of an environmental catastrophe. The same pattern of consumption – a wasteful lot by a few and near-to-nothing by the overwhelming majority, the same super-run, essentially competition, for profit by interests, the same plunder, the same type of institutions and arrangements facilitating the ravenous run for plunder, and the same policies and power protecting the interests engaged with the plunder dominate the globe.

Are these incidents disjunct and disconnected? Or, is there any connection between regions, practices, arrangements, institutions, policies, thrusts, interests, etc., parts of the capitalist civilization, that antagonistically dominate today’s world environment?

Compartmentalization of the world environment isn’t possible. Water, soil, forest, air, biodiversity sustain life while, on the opposite, ever accumulation, driving force of the capitalist world economy, turns inconsiderate to the environment. Interests interact with all the aspects of environment.

Dr. Naoko Ishii, chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, in an interview with Busani Bafana said: “We no longer view the global environment as a series of environmental ‘silos’ – divided up between the issues of climate change, desertification, biodiversity, chemical pollution, international waters and so forth. Increasingly we understand that these categories are integrally connected […] The final communiqué of the [Rio+20] summit reaffirms the linkage between environmental and economic well-being. We view these two aspirations as inseparable.” (“Q&A: Transforming the Way the Global Environment is Managed”, IPS, July 18, 2012)

A careful observation will find a single connection that embarks its journey from economy (Ec), and ends up in today’s defaced-barren world environment (En) after crossing through society (S) and politics (P); in short, it’s EcEn, which is an Ec-S-P-En grid. Interests, connected through global class networks, generate the power that pushes the environment-defacing-journey – a process.

Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based freelancer.

This is the 1st part of two part article

Read Part II

Exceeding The Limit
By Farooque Chowdhury

  Read Today’s World Environment Reflects Crisis Of Capitalist Civilization
  June 4, 2013  

What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now -- assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious -- and you’re looking back at what’s happening today. You’d see something quite remarkable.

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves. That’s been true since 1945. It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.

And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction. So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.

How to Destroy a Planet Without Really Trying

The question is: What are people doing about it? None of this is a secret. It’s all perfectly open. In fact, you have to make an effort not to see it.

There have been a range of reactions. There are those who are trying hard to do something about these threats, and others who are acting to escalate them. If you look at who they are, this future historian or extraterrestrial observer would see something strange indeed. Trying to mitigate or overcome these threats are the least developed societies, the indigenous populations, or the remnants of them, tribal societies and first nations in Canada. They’re not talking about nuclear war but environmental disaster, and they’re really trying to do something about it.

In fact, all over the world -- Australia, India, South America -- there are battles going on, sometimes wars. In India, it’s a major war over direct environmental destruction, with tribal societies trying to resist resource extraction operations that are extremely harmful locally, but also in their general consequences. In societies where indigenous populations have an influence, many are taking a strong stand. The strongest of any country with regard to global warming is in Bolivia, which has an indigenous majority and constitutional requirements that protect the “rights of nature.”

Ecuador, which also has a large indigenous population, is the only oil exporter I know of where the government is seeking aid to help keep that oil in the ground, instead of producing and exporting it -- and the ground is where it ought to be.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died recently and was the object of mockery, insult, and hatred throughout the Western world, attended a session of the U.N. General Assembly a few years ago where he elicited all sorts of ridicule for calling George W. Bush a devil. He also gave a speech there that was quite interesting. Of course, Venezuela is a major oil producer. Oil is practically their whole gross domestic product. In that speech, he warned of the dangers of the overuse of fossil fuels and urged producer and consumer countries to get together and try to work out ways to reduce fossil fuel use. That was pretty amazing on the part of an oil producer. You know, he was part Indian, of indigenous background. Unlike the funny things he did, this aspect of his actions at the U.N. was never even reported.

So, at one extreme you have indigenous, tribal societies trying to stem the race to disaster. At the other extreme, the richest, most powerful societies in world history, like the United States and Canada, are racing full-speed ahead to destroy the environment as quickly as possible. Unlike Ecuador, and indigenous societies throughout the world, they want to extract every drop of hydrocarbons from the ground with all possible speed.

Both political parties, President Obama, the media, and the international press seem to be looking forward with great enthusiasm to what they call “a century of energy independence” for the United States. Energy independence is an almost meaningless concept, but put that aside. What they mean is: we’ll have a century in which to maximize the use of fossil fuels and contribute to destroying the world.

And that’s pretty much the case everywhere. Admittedly, when it comes to alternative energy development, Europe is doing something. Meanwhile, the United States, the richest and most powerful country in world history, is the only nation among perhaps 100 relevant ones that doesn’t have a national policy for restricting the use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t even have renewable energy targets. It’s not because the population doesn’t want it. Americans are pretty close to the international norm in their concern about global warming. It’s institutional structures that block change. Business interests don’t want it and they’re overwhelmingly powerful in determining policy, so you get a big gap between opinion and policy on lots of issues, including this one.

So that’s what the future historian -- if there is one -- would see. He might also read today’s scientific journals. Just about every one you open has a more dire prediction than the last.

“The Most Dangerous Moment in History”

The other issue is nuclear war. It’s been known for a long time that if there were to be a first strike by a major power, even with no retaliation, it would probably destroy civilization just because of the nuclear-winter consequences that would follow. You can read about it in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It’s well understood. So the danger has always been a lot worse than we thought it was.

We’ve just passed the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was called “the most dangerous moment in history” by historian Arthur Schlesinger, President John F. Kennedy’s advisor. Which it was. It was a very close call, and not the only time either. In some ways, however, the worst aspect of these grim events is that the lessons haven’t been learned.

What happened in the missile crisis in October 1962 has been prettified to make it look as if acts of courage and thoughtfulness abounded. The truth is that the whole episode was almost insane. There was a point, as the missile crisis was reaching its peak, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote to Kennedy offering to settle it by a public announcement of a withdrawal of Russian missiles from Cuba and U.S. missiles from Turkey. Actually, Kennedy hadn’t even known that the U.S. had missiles in Turkey at the time. They were being withdrawn anyway, because they were being replaced by more lethal Polaris nuclear submarines, which were invulnerable.

So that was the offer. Kennedy and his advisors considered it -- and rejected it. At the time, Kennedy himself was estimating the likelihood of nuclear war at a third to a half. So Kennedy was willing to accept a very high risk of massive destruction in order to establish the principle that we -- and only we -- have the right to offensive missiles beyond our borders, in fact anywhere we like, no matter what the risk to others -- and to ourselves, if matters fall out of control. We have that right, but no one else does.

Kennedy did, however, accept a secret agreement to withdraw the missiles the U.S. was already withdrawing, as long as it was never made public. Khrushchev, in other words, had to openly withdraw the Russian missiles while the U.S. secretly withdrew its obsolete ones; that is, Khrushchev had to be humiliated and Kennedy had to maintain his macho image. He’s greatly praised for this: courage and coolness under threat, and so on. The horror of his decisions is not even mentioned -- try to find it on the record.

And to add a little more, a couple of months before the crisis blew up the United States had sent missiles with nuclear warheads to Okinawa. These were aimed at China during a period of great regional tension.

Well, who cares? We have the right to do anything we want anywhere in the world. That was one grim lesson from that era, but there were others to come.

Ten years after that, in 1973, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called a high-level nuclear alert. It was his way of warning the Russians not to interfere in the ongoing Israel-Arab war and, in particular, not to interfere after he had informed the Israelis that they could violate a ceasefire the U.S. and Russia had just agreed upon. Fortunately, nothing happened.

Ten years later, President Ronald Reagan was in office. Soon after he entered the White House, he and his advisors had the Air Force start penetrating Russian air space to try to elicit information about Russian warning systems, Operation Able Archer. Essentially, these were mock attacks. The Russians were uncertain, some high-level officials fearing that this was a step towards a real first strike. Fortunately, they didn’t react, though it was a close call. And it goes on like that.

What to Make of the Iranian and North Korean Nuclear Crises

At the moment, the nuclear issue is regularly on front pages in the cases of North Korea and Iran. There are ways to deal with these ongoing crises. Maybe they wouldn’t work, but at least you could try. They are, however, not even being considered, not even reported.

Take the case of Iran, which is considered in the West -- not in the Arab world, not in Asia -- the gravest threat to world peace. It’s a Western obsession, and it’s interesting to look into the reasons for it, but I’ll put that aside here. Is there a way to deal with the supposed gravest threat to world peace? Actually there are quite a few. One way, a pretty sensible one, was proposed a couple of months ago at a meeting of the non-aligned countries in Tehran. In fact, they were just reiterating a proposal that’s been around for decades, pressed particularly by Egypt, and has been approved by the U.N. General Assembly.

The proposal is to move toward establishing a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the region. That wouldn’t be the answer to everything, but it would be a pretty significant step forward. And there were ways to proceed. Under U.N. auspices, there was to be an international conference in Finland last December to try to implement plans to move toward this. What happened?

You won’t read about it in the newspapers because it wasn’t reported -- only in specialist journals. In early November, Iran agreed to attend the meeting. A couple of days later Obama cancelled the meeting, saying the time wasn’t right. The European Parliament issued a statement calling for it to continue, as did the Arab states. Nothing resulted. So we’ll move toward ever-harsher sanctions against the Iranian population -- it doesn’t hurt the regime -- and maybe war. Who knows what will happen?

In Northeast Asia, it’s the same sort of thing. North Korea may be the craziest country in the world. It’s certainly a good competitor for that title. But it does make sense to try to figure out what’s in the minds of people when they’re acting in crazy ways. Why would they behave the way they do? Just imagine ourselves in their situation. Imagine what it meant in the Korean War years of the early 1950s for your country to be totally leveled, everything destroyed by a huge superpower, which furthermore was gloating about what it was doing. Imagine the imprint that would leave behind.

Bear in mind that the North Korean leadership is likely to have read the public military journals of this superpower at that time explaining that, since everything else in North Korea had been destroyed, the air force was sent to destroy North Korea’s dams, huge dams that controlled the water supply -- a war crime, by the way, for which people were hanged in Nuremberg. And these official journals were talking excitedly about how wonderful it was to see the water pouring down, digging out the valleys, and the Asians scurrying around trying to survive. The journals were exulting in what this meant to those “Asians,” horrors beyond our imagination. It meant the destruction of their rice crop, which in turn meant starvation and death. How magnificent! It’s not in our memory, but it’s in their memory.

Let’s turn to the present. There’s an interesting recent history. In 1993, Israel and North Korea were moving towards an agreement in which North Korea would stop sending any missiles or military technology to the Middle East and Israel would recognize that country. President Clinton intervened and blocked it. Shortly after that, in retaliation, North Korea carried out a minor missile test. The U.S. and North Korea did then reach a framework agreement in 1994 that halted its nuclear work and was more or less honored by both sides. When George W. Bush came into office, North Korea had maybe one nuclear weapon and verifiably wasn’t producing any more.

Bush immediately launched his aggressive militarism, threatening North Korea -- “axis of evil” and all that -- so North Korea got back to work on its nuclear program. By the time Bush left office, they had eight to 10 nuclear weapons and a missile system, another great neocon achievement. In between, other things happened. In 2005, the U.S. and North Korea actually reached an agreement in which North Korea was to end all nuclear weapons and missile development. In return, the West, but mainly the United States, was to provide a light-water reactor for its medical needs and end aggressive statements. They would then form a nonaggression pact and move toward accommodation.

It was pretty promising, but almost immediately Bush undermined it. He withdrew the offer of the light-water reactor and initiated programs to compel banks to stop handling any North Korean transactions, even perfectly legal ones. The North Koreans reacted by reviving their nuclear weapons program. And that’s the way it’s been going.

It’s well known. You can read it in straight, mainstream American scholarship. What they say is: it’s a pretty crazy regime, but it’s also following a kind of tit-for-tat policy. You make a hostile gesture and we’ll respond with some crazy gesture of our own. You make an accommodating gesture and we’ll reciprocate in some way.

Lately, for instance, there have been South Korean-U.S. military exercises on the Korean peninsula which, from the North’s point of view, have got to look threatening. We’d think they were threatening if they were going on in Canada and aimed at us. In the course of these, the most advanced bombers in history, Stealth B-2s and B-52s, are carrying out simulated nuclear bombing attacks right on North Korea’s borders.

This surely sets off alarm bells from the past. They remember that past, so they’re reacting in a very aggressive, extreme way. Well, what comes to the West from all this is how crazy and how awful the North Korean leaders are. Yes, they are. But that’s hardly the whole story, and this is the way the world is going.

It’s not that there are no alternatives. The alternatives just aren’t being taken. That’s dangerous. So if you ask what the world is going to look like, it’s not a pretty picture. Unless people do something about it. We always can.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. He is the author of numerous best-selling political works, including Hopes and Prospects, Making the Future, and most recently (with interviewer David Barsamian), Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books).

[Note: This piece was adapted (with the help of Noam Chomsky) from an online video interview that Javier Naranjo, a Colombian poet and professor, did for the website What, which is dedicated to integrating knowledge from different fields with the aim of encouraging the balance between the individual, society, and the environment.]

Copyright 2013 Noam Chomsky

  Read Humanity Imperiled : The Path To Disaster
  June 2, 2013  
Victory As British Columbia Government Opposes Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline
by Ecological Internet, Countercurrents

(Madison, WI) - Ecological Internet (EI) is enormously pleased to note British Columbia (B.C.), Canada's thumbs down to the proposed Northern Gateway tar sand pipeline. Announced yesterday, the decision virtually guarantees that the flow of filthy tar sands oil from Canada's interior to China will not commence through a Western Pacific route any time soon. EI was the first to protest internationally on the issue, doing so since 2010, over a full year earlier than other global affinity efforts - successfully laying the groundwork for the victory.

EI's President, Dr. Glen Barry, states: "The B.C. pipeline victory against tar sands ecocide is the results of innumerable instances of valor by indigenous, local, and global tar sands protesters. Yet is also again clearly demonstrates Ecological Internet and online colleagues' ability to be at the vanguard of environmental protest, helping mobilize online large global coalitions that are ultimately successful. This is a stunning victory for indigenous, local, and global people power, and illustrates the importance of funding small ecological opposition groups, and taking strong biocentric positions against environmental risk."

In urging a Canadian federal review panel to reject the $6 billion plan, the province of British Columbia noted the lack of a cleanup plan for inevitable spills, and the many unknowns about how highly corrosive bitumen behaved after spills, particularly in water. The pipeline would have crossed remote and extremely difficult terrain; through pristine rivers, temperate rainforests, and marine environments, that would be devastated in the event of a spill. The province's opposition has probably doomed the pipeline, or at least will tie it up in endless litigation.

The Northern Gateway project - composed of two separate pipelines - would extend about 700 miles from the Alberta tar sands to a tanker port on the northern coast of British Columbia. It would have the capacity to ship more than 525,000 barrels of oil per day. The rejection of the pipelines - which were to have given Alberta an outlet to Pacific coast ports and markets in China - further raises the stakes on another controversial tar sands pipeline, the Keystone XL.

Dr. Barry notes: "The reasons given in rejecting the Pacific tar sands pipeline are just as valid for the Keystone XL, and provide President Obama a marvelous opportunity to reject a new generation of toxic fossil fuel addiction, that will gravely intensify abrupt climate change. Global ecological sustainability requires urgently cutting greenhouse gas emissions, through keeping tar sands and coal in the ground, and protecting and restoring old-growth forests. We need to work together for all such policy simultaneously, and not over-focus on one element of the battle, or we face global ecosystem collapse."

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project as proposed included a twin pipeline system between Edmonton, Alberta and a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia, which would carry tar sands oil by pipeline across B.C., to be loaded onto supertankers at an ocean terminal, and onward to Asia. Canadian tar sands production would have been able to expand by 30% - escalating the terrible ecological impacts upon the Canadian boreal forests and its water, carbon and ecosystems.

The pipelines would go through B.C.'s sensitive Pacific North Coast ecosystem, and threatens First Nations' land and salmon economy. One mishap - such as project developer Enbridge's broken pipelines fouling the Yellowstone and Kalamazoo rivers - would bring disastrous results and long-term loss of marine life, pristine waterways, and sensitive coastal ecosystems.

All along, First Nation opposition has been strong and united, making clear the pipeline would never be allowed over their land, and with suggestions of massive civil disobedience if approved. The pipelines could not be constructed without breaking First Nation unity through financial inducements, or simply seizing their land.

In mid-2010, Ecological Internet launched our signature Internet protest targeting the B.C. provincial government and the Enbridge Northern Gateway joint review panel considering the project's environmental approvals [1]. At one time the volume of protest emails sent was so large that efforts were made to block them, which after EI took counter-measures, instead were accepted and acknowledged. Nearly one half of a million protest emails were sent.

The pipeline had already been delayed for at least a year in December of 2011 by the review panel who noted "significant public interest in the Northern Gateway project." After spearheading that delay, Dr. Barry noted: "Ecological Internet is thrilled to have played a small yet important part amongst such massive anti-tar sands opposition. These delays make it possible for us together to continue highlighting how clearcut mining boreal forests, fouling water and land, to transport haphazardly through important ecosystems, to be burned causing abrupt climate change is simply not acceptable."

Media Contact: Dr. Glen Barry,, +1 (608) 332-5650

  Read  Victory As British Columbia Government Opposes Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline
 May 28, 2013  
Scientists Narrow Global Warming Range
by, Countercurrents

Australian scientists have narrowed the predicted range of global warming through groundbreaking new research [1].

The scientists have generated more reliable projections of global warming estimates at 2100. A study-findings, presented in a paper, said exceeding 6 degrees warming was now unlikely while exceeding 2 degrees is very likely for business-as-usual emissions.

The paper, led by Dr Roger Bodman, Postgraduate Research Fellow at Victoria University's Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, with Professors David Karoly and Peter Rayner from the University of Melbourne's School of Earth Sciences and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science has been published in Nature Climate Change on May 27, 2013.

The finding was achieved through a new method combining observations of carbon dioxide and global temperature variations with simple climate model simulations to project future global warming.

Dr Bodman said while continuing to narrow the range even further was possible, significant uncertainty in warming predictions would always remain due to the complexity of climate change drivers. "This study ultimately shows why waiting for certainty will fail as a strategy," he said. "Some uncertainty will always remain, meaning that we need to manage the risks of warming with the knowledge we have."

The study found 63% of uncertainty in projected warming was due to single sources – such as climate sensitivity, followed by future behavior of the carbon cycle and the cooling effect of aerosols – while 37% of uncertainty came from the combination of these sources.

"This means that if any single uncertainty is reduced – even the most important, climate sensitivity – significant uncertainty will remain," Dr Bodman said.

Professor Karoly said the study reinforced the importance of strong action on climate change.

"Our results reconfirm the need for urgent and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions if the world is to avoid exceeding the global warming target of 2 degrees needed to minimize dangerous climate change," he said.

[1], May 27, 2013, “Scientists narrow global warming range”,

  Read  Scientists Narrow Global Warming Range
 May 28, 2013  
Golden Age or Peak Civilization?
by John Scales Avery, Countercurrents

The 21st century will be a time of crisis for human civilization. We are facing an environmental megacatastrophe, financial meltdown, and the threat of nuclear war. Politicians seem unable or unwilling to address these problems, becuse they are influenced by powerful lobbies. It is up to individual citizens to force their governments to take action, and if they will not do so, to work for a change of governments.

One of the greatest problems in mobilising individuals to become active problem-solvers is that the problems are not so apparent today as they will become in the future. Our present era has the appearance of a golden age. All curves are moving upward: population, gross national products, fossil fuel use, the rate of scientific and technological discovery, industrialization of the developing countries, and so on. All are growing.

Never before in history have there been so many people; never before has there been so much collective and individual wealth; never before has there been so much knowledge; never before so many inventions. Ordinary people in China and India are experience levels of well-being that they never had before. Smart phones and Ipads are commonplace in Mongolia and Kenya. Automobile traffic fills all eight lanes of highways in Manilla. The Internet makes the knowledge and culture of the entire world instantly available to all of its citizens. Science and technology are triumphant. It is indeed a golden age.

But although we are experiencing a golden age, the fact that we have reached a peak implies that ahead of us lies a period of decline, a period of scarcity, a period of economic trauma, and a period of ecological catastrophe. The severity of the decline, and of the scarcity, trauma and ecological catastrophe depends on the actions of ordinary people living today. But how can we mobilize ordinary citizens to the action that will be needed to save civilization and the biosphere when they are lulled into inaction, both by the stupifying trivia of the mass media and by the pleasures of their daily lives?

According to the Hubbert Peak Model, the time-dependence of the production and use of any non-renewable resource follows a bell-shaped curve. When the resource is approximately half exhausted, production and consumption reach a maximum. Thereafter they gradually decline. As the decline continues, the resource does not disappear entirely, but its price increases, partly because of increased costs of extraction, and partly because the demand for the resource exceeds the supply.

This model of the time-dependence of use of a non-renewable resource was introduced in 1956 by the geophysicist and oil expert M. K. Hubbert, who predicted that the production and consumption of conventional oil in the 49 contiguous states of the US would follow such a curve, and that the peak would occur in the early 1970's. Although this prediction was met with skepticism, it proved to be surprisingly accurate. In many other cases since that time, the Hubbert Peak Model has been vindicated by accurate predictions.

When it is applied to the global production and consumption of conventional oil and natural gas, the Hubert Peak Model predicts that a peak for oil will occur within a few years, and that a peak for natural gas will follow by 2020 or 2030. Supplies of coal are much larger. Burned at the present rate, they would last roughly a thousand years. Burned at a rate that would be needed to compensate for the end of oil and natural gas, coal would last only until the end of the 21st century. But to avoid disastrous climate change, we need to leave the world's reserves of coal in the ground, rather than burning them. Thus the fossil fuel era is ending, and its end will have an enormous impact on human society.

Global population and fossil fuel use plotted on a time scale of several thousand years. The dots represent population estimates, while the spike-like curve is fossil fuel use. When plotted together, the explosive growth of population and the upward surge of fossil fuel consumption are seen to be simultaneous, and probably causally connected.

When plotted together on a time-scale of several thousand years, the global population of humans and the use of fossil fuels show a dramatic and worrying behavior: The world's human population remained at a very low level for millenia, at the level of only a few millions. But driven by the inventions of the industrial and scientific revolutions, population has shot upward, and is now increasing by roughly a billion every 11 years.

When plotted on the same graph, fossil fuel use shows a remarkable spikelike behavior. Starting almost at zero a few hundred years ago, it rises to a sharp peak today, and in the future it will fall to almost nothing again, all within the space of a few hundred years. When plotted together, the spikelike graph of fossil fuel use, and the dramatic upsurge in global population are seen to be simultaneous. This raises the worrying question of whether the explosion of global population has been caused by fossil fuel use, and whether there will be a population crash when these fuels are exhausted.

Petroleum and natural gas, upon which modern agriculture depends, will become prohibitively expensive in 2040 or so, just when the global population of humans reaches the unprecedented level of 9 billion. Modern agriculture, the basis of our enormous population, will be dealt a severe blow by the end of the fossil fuel era. At the same time, melting of glaciers in the Himalayas will deprive both China and India of their summer water supplies. Rising sea levels will drown many productive rice-growing regions in Southeast Asia. Aridity produced by global warming will reduce the output of grain in many areas that are now important producers of wheat, maize and soy beans. Thus, added to the threat of nuclear war, is the threat of global famine on a scale never before experienced, involving billions rather than millions of people.

We need to act today to save the future. We need to stabilize global population today; we need to achieve world peace today; we need to abolish nuclear weapons today; we need to drastically reduce the emmission of greenhouse gasses today; we need to make the transition to renewable energy today; we need to stop overefishing today; we need agricultural research today; we need to save the rainforests today; we need to conserve topsoil today. But today is so comfortable, today is the golden age of humankind. Yes it is, it certainly is, but we must act today. Tomorrow will be too late.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. He can be reached at

  Read  Golden Age or Peak Civilization?
  May 27, 2013  

Melina Laboucan-Massimo stands next to logs from clearcuts at a proposed tar sands site north of Fort McMurray, northern Alberta, Canada. Photo by Jiri Rezac.

There’s a remote part of northern Alberta where the Lubicon Cree have lived, it is said, since time immemorial. The Cree called the vast, pine-covered region niyanan askiy, “our land.” When white settlers first carved up this country, they made treaties with most of its original inhabitants—but for reasons unclear, the Lubicon Cree were left out. Two hundred years later, the Lubicon’s right to their traditional territory is still unrecognized. In the last four decades, industry has tapped the vast resource wealth that lies deep beneath the pines; today, 2,600 oil and gas wells stretch to the horizon. This is tar sands country.

In 2012 testimony before the U.S. Congress, Lubicon Cree organizer Melina Laboucan-Massimo, then 30, described witnessing the devastation of her family’s ancestral land caused by one of the largest oil spills in Alberta’s history. “What I saw was a landscape forever changed by oil that had consumed a vast stretch of the traditional territory where my family had hunted, trapped, and picked berries and medicines for generations.”

“When we’re at home, we feel really isolated,” says Laboucan-Massimo, who has spent her adult life defending her people’s land from an industry that has rendered it increasingly polluted and impoverished. The Lubicon are fighting a hard battle, but their story—of resource extraction, of poverty and isolation, and of enduring resistance—is one that echoes in indigenous communities around the world. Today, Laboucan-Massimo and others like her are vanguards of a network of indigenous movements that is increasingly global, relevant—and powerful.

This power manifests in movements like Idle No More, which swept Canada last December and ignited a wave of solidarity on nearly every continent. Laboucan-Massimo was amazed—and hopeful. Triggered initially by legislation that eroded treaty rights and removed protection for almost all of Canada’s rivers—clearing the way for unprecedented fossil fuel extraction—Idle No More drew thousands into the streets. In a curious blend of ancient and high-tech, images of indigenous protesters in traditional regalia popped up on news feeds all over the world.

A history of resistance

To outsiders, it might seem that Idle No More materialized spontaneously, that it sprang into being fully formed. It builds, however, on a long history of resistance to colonialism that began when Europeans first washed up on these shores. Now, armed with Twitter and Facebook, once-isolated movements from Canada to South America are exchanging knowledge, resources, and support like never before.

Idle No More is one of what Subcomandante Marcos, the masked prophet of the Mexican Zapatistas, called “pockets of resistance,” which are “as numerous as the forms of resistance themselves.” The Zapatistas are part of a wave of indigenous organizing that crested in South America in the 1990s, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of European conquest—most effectively in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Mexico. Certain threads connect what might otherwise be isolated uprisings: They’re largely nonviolent, structurally decentralized, they seek common cause with non-natives, and they are deeply, spiritually rooted in the land.

The connections among indigenous organizers have strengthened through both a shared colonial history and a shared threat—namely, the neoliberal economic policies of deregulation, privatization, and social spending cuts exemplified by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization. Indigenous organizers see these agreements as nothing more than the old colonial scramble for wealth at the expense of the natives. In a 1997 piece in Le Monde Diplomatique, Marcos called neoliberalism “the totalitarian extension of the logic of the finance markets to all aspects of life,” resulting in “the exclusion of all persons who are of no use to the new economy.” Many indigenous leaders charge that the policies implemented through organizations like the World Bank and the IMF prioritize corporations over communities and further concentrate power in the hands of a few.

Uprising in Ecuador

The mid-1990s saw a massive expansion of such policies—and with it, an expansion of resistance, particularly in countries with significant indigenous populations. In 1990, CONAIE, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, staged a massive, nonviolent levantamiento—an uprising—flooding the streets of Quito, blocking roads and effectively shutting down the country. Entire families walked for days to reach the capital to demand land rights, fair prices for agrarian goods, and recognition of Ecuador as a plurinational state, made up of multiple, equally legitimate nations. In the end it forced renegotiation of policy and created unprecedented indigenous representation in government; many hailed CONAIE’s success as a model for organizing everywhere.

CONAIE’s slogan, “Nothing just for Indians,” invited participation from non-indigenous allies around larger questions of inequality and political representation, creating a political space that was big and inclusive enough for everyone. Dr. Maria Elena Garcia, who studies these movements at the University of Washington, says that non-indigenous support has been “crucial” for success across the board. In the case of CONAIE, she says, there came a tipping point when “most Ecuadorians … said, ‘Enough. This organization is speaking for us.’”

Idle No More clearly exists in the Zapatista tradition, but it goes further in incorporating the language of climate justice. In December as many as 50,000 masked Mayan Zapatistas marched into cities across Chiapas. Differing from the 1994 armed indigenous uprising, this one was done in complete silence.

The Zapatista Army

Meanwhile, in Mexico, the Zapatista movement was busy building a different kind of revolution. On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista Army took its place on the international stage. It was day one of NAFTA, which Subcomandante Marcos called “a death sentence to the indigenous ethnicities of Mexico.” More than any other movement, they linked local issues of cultural marginalization, racism, and inequality to global economic systems and prophesied a new movement of resistance. The media-savvy revolutionaries used their most potent weapon—words—and the still-new Internet to advocate a new world built on diversity as the basis for ecological and political survival. Transnational from the beginning, the Zapatistas made common cause with “pockets of resistance” everywhere.

Then, a curious change occurred: for nearly 10 years following their initial insurgency, the Zapatistas maintained a self-imposed silence. The world heard little from Marcos, but the autonomous communities in Chiapas were very much alive. They had turned inward, building independent governments, schools, and clinics. As journalist and author Naomi Klein observed, “These free spaces, born of reclaimed land, communal agriculture, resistance to privatization, will eventually create counter-powers to the state simply by existing as alternatives.” Embodying, here and now, the society they seek to create is a powerful manifesto; for those who cared to listen, their silence spoke volumes.

Victory in Bolivia

Most of these movements have used nonviolent tactics, including blockades, occupations of public space, and mass marches—combined with traditional political work—to varying degrees of success. In Bolivia these tactics yielded an extraordinary outcome: the election of Evo Morales, in 2005, as Bolivia’s first indigenous head of state.

Five years later, Morales convened 30,000 international delegates for the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. A response to the repeated failure of international climate negotiations, the gathering was rooted in an indigenous worldview that recognized Mother Earth as a living being, entitled to her own inalienable rights.

The resulting declaration placed blame unequivocally on the capitalist system that has “imposed on us a logic of competition, progress, and limitless growth.” This unrestrained growth, the declaration says, transforms “everything into commodities: water, earth, the human genome, ancestral cultures, biodiversity, justice, ethics, the rights of peoples, and life itself.” Significantly, the declaration also extended the analysis of colonialism to include climate change—calling for “decolonization of the atmosphere”—but it rejected market-based solutions like carbon trading. It’s a holistic analysis that links colonialism, climate change, and capital, a manifesto for what has come to be called “climate justice.”

Idle No More

Fast forward to December 2012, and two things happened: The Zapatistas staged simultaneous marches in five cities, marking a resurgence of their public activism. Anywhere from 10,000–50,000 masked marchers filled the streets in complete silence. The march was timed to coincide with the end of the Mayan calendar—and the beginning of a new, more hopeful era—and demonstrated the Zapatistas’ commitment to the indigenous cosmology of their ancestors.

That same month, a continent away, Idle No More emerged on the scene. While it began as a reaction to two specific bills in Parliament, it has gained strength and momentum in opposition to the network of proposed pipelines that will crisscross North America, pumping tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries and ports in Canada and the U.S. These pipelines will cross national, tribal, state, and ethnic boundaries and raise a multitude of issues—including water quality, land rights, and climate change. The campaign to stop their construction is already unifying natives and non-natives in unprecedented ways.

Dr. Garcia, whose own ancestors are indigenous, believes that indigenous movements offer something vital: hope, and what she calls “the importance of the imaginary. Of imagining a different world—imagining a different way of being in the world.”

“We’re a land-based people, but it goes further than that. It’s a worldview. When you destroy the earth, you destroy yourself,” says Melina Laboucan-Massimo. This is “the common thread in indigenous people all over the world.”

It is this thread that goes to the heart of our global ecological crisis. While indigenous cultures differ widely from one another, what they collectively present is an alternative relationship—to the earth, to its resources, and to each other—a relationship based not on domination but on reciprocity. Any movement that seeks to create deep, lasting social change—to address not only climate change but endemic racism and social inequality—must confront our colonial identity and, by extension, this broken relationship.

Laboucan-Massimo has spent a great deal of time abroad, studying indigenous movements from Latin America to New Zealand and Australia, feeling the full weight of their shared history under colonialism. These days, though, she’s more likely to be on the road, educating, organizing, and building solidarity among natives and non-natives. It was understanding the connections between movements, she says, that gave her “all the more fervor to come back and continue to do the work here.”

Recently, she traveled from Alberta to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where she and her elders stood at the forefront of the largest climate change rally in history. And she’ll keep organizing, armed with a smartphone, supported by a growing network of allies from Idle No More and beyond, connected in every possible way to the rest of the world.

Kristin Moe wrote this article for Love and the Apocalypse, the Summer 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Kristin is a writer, farmer, and graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She writes about climate justice, grassroots movements, and social change.

  Read  For A Future that Won’t Destroy Life On Earth, Look To The Global Indigenous Uprising
  May 26, 2013  
Fresh Water Shortages For Global Majority 'Within Two Generations', Scientists Warn
by, Countercurrents

Citing more than 500 scientists Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, The Guardian reported*:

The majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will live with severe pressure on fresh water within the space of two generations as climate change, pollution and over-use of resources take their toll.

The world's water systems would soon reach a tipping point that "could trigger irreversible change with potentially catastrophic consequences", the water experts warned on May 25, 2013 as they called on governments to start conserving the vital resource. They said it was wrong to see fresh water as an endlessly renewable resource because, in many cases, people are pumping out water from underground sources at such a rate that it will not be restored within several lifetimes.

"These are self-inflicted wounds," said Charles Vörösmarty, a professor at the Cooperative Remote Sensing Science and Technology Centre. "We have discovered tipping points in the system. Already, there are 1 billion people relying on ground water supplies that are simply not there as renewable water supplies."

A majority of the population – about 4.5 billion people globally – already live within 50km of an "impaired" water resource – one that is running dry, or polluted. If these trends continue, millions more will see the water on which they depend running out or so filthy that it no longer supports life.

The threats are numerous. Climate change is likely to cause an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts, floods, heatwaves and storms. The run-off from agricultural fertilizers containing nitrogen has already created more than 200 large "dead zones" in seas, near to river mouths, where fish can no longer live. Cheap technology to pump water from underground and rivers, and few restrictions on its use, has led to the over-use of scarce resources for irrigation or industrial purposes, with much of the water wasted because of poor techniques. And a rapidly rising population has increased demand beyond the capability of some water resources.

In some areas, so much water has been pumped out from underground that salt water has rushed in to fill the gap, forcing farmers to move to other areas because the salination makes their former water sources unusable.

Most of the areas where water will be scarcest soonest are in poor countries, which have little resilience to cope. Many are also in areas where there is already political instability, tension or outright conflict, and the competition for water resources will heighten these problems.

But the scientists warned that the developed world would also suffer. For instance, there are now 210 million citizens of the US living within 10 miles of an "impaired" water source, and that number is likely to rise as the effects of global warming take hold. In Europe, some water sources are running dry because of over-extraction for irrigation, much of which is carried on in an unsustainable fashion.

Pollutants are also causing severe problems in the rich world – the scientists highlighted the role of endocrine disruptors, which can cause fish to change gender, and the long-term effects of which on human populations are as yet barely known.

"There is no citizen of the world who can be complacent about this," said Janos Bogardy, director of the UN University's Institute for Environment and Human Security.
On May 22, 2013, UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, added his voice to concerns about water security: "We live in an increasingly water insecure world where demand often outstrips supply and where water quality often fails to meet minimum standards. Under current trends, future demands for water will not be met," he said.

The scientists, meeting in Bonn this week, called on politicians to include tough new targets on improving water in the sustainable development goals that will be introduced when the current millennium development goals expire in 2015. They want governments to introduce water management systems that will address the problems of pollution, over-use, wastage and climate change.

* Global majority faces water shortages 'within two generations',, May 24, 2013,

  Read  Fresh Water Shortages For Global Majority Within Two Generations, Scientists Warn
  May 25, 2013  
Mount Everest's Glaciers Are Retreating At Increasing Rate
by, Countercurrents

Citing a study by a team led by a Nepali scientist at the University of Milan Jason Burke reported from Kathmandu*:

Glaciers on or around Mount Everest have shrunk by 13% in the last 50 years with the snow line 180 meters higher than it was 50 years ago. The glaciers are disappearing faster every year.

The impact of climate change on the Himalayas will have consequences across south Asia and beyond. Rivers such as the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra depend to some extent on seasonal glacier melt. Countries across the region are already suffering acute water shortages.

The 60th anniversary of the first ascent of the 8,848 metre (29,028ft) peak by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay will be celebrated next week.

The researchers suspect that the decline of snow and ice in the Everest region is a result of changes in global climate caused by human-generated GHG. However, they have not yet established a firm connection, Sudeep Thakuri, who led the team, said.

The landscape around Mount Everest has changed dramatically since the world's highest mountain was first climbed. Mountaineers now report more rock and less snow and ice on well known routes. The ends of glaciers around the peak have also retreated by an average of 400 meters since 1962, the new research found, and some smaller glaciers were now nearly half the size they were in the 1960s.

The researchers used satellite imagery of the peak and the 713-square-mile Sagarmatha national park around the mountain as well as long-term meteorological data.
Small glaciers of less than a square kilometer (about 247 acres), are vanishing fastest, registering a 43% decline in surface area since the 1960s, Thakuri said.

Specialists in Kathmandu said the rate of change through the Himalayas was variable. Though clear in places such as Nepal, at the eastern end of the chain, the situation was different in Pakistan and further west, said Arun Shrestha of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu.

"The glaciers are in retreat but rates are different," he said. "It is quite rapid in the east Himalaya but in the west some are advancing while others are in retreat."
Other research suggests the ice of the main Khumbu glacier which flows down from Everest is less thick than it was previously.

Though all say there is a change, scientists working in the field urge caution over any estimates, saying data is insufficient especially when looking at a small area.
"It is very difficult to scientifically say what are the trends on one particular mountain," Shrestha said.

"The Himalayan glaciers and ice caps are considered a water tower for Asia since they store and supply water downstream during the dry season," said Thakuri. "Downstream populations are dependent on the melt water for agriculture, drinking and power production."

* The Guardian, May 23, 2013, “Mount Everest's glaciers shrinking at increasing rate, say researchers”,

  Read  Mount Everest's Glaciers Are Retreating At Increasing Rate
 June 10, 2013  
The following is an excerpt from Brian Sagan's new book, "The Attacking Ocean." (Bloomsbury Press, 2013)

Chapter 1: Minus One Hundred Twenty-Two Meters and Climbing.

On October 28, 2012, Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, came ashore in New Jersey. Sandy’s assault and sea surge brought the ocean into neighborhoods and houses, inundated parking lots and tunnels, turned parks into lakes. When it was all over and the water receded, a huge swath of the Northeast American coast looked like a battered moonscape. Only Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, was more costly. Katrina, with its gigantic sea surge, had been a wakeup call for people living on low- lying coasts, but the disaster soon receded from the public consciousness. Sandy struck in the heart of the densely populated Northeastern Corridor of the United States seven years later and impacted the lives of millions of people. The storm was an epochal demonstration of the power of an attacking ocean to destroy and kill in a world where tens of millions of people live on coastlines close to sea level. This time, people really sat up and took notice in the face of an extreme weather event of a type likely to be more commonplace in a warmer future. As this book goes to press, a serious debate about rising sea levels and the hazards they pose for humanity may have ?nally begun—but perhaps not.

Sandy developed out of a tropical depression south of Kingston, Jamaica, on October 22. Two days later, it passed over Jamaica, then over Cuba and Haiti, killing seventy-one people, before traversing the Bahamas. Come October 28, Sandy strengthened again, eventually makinglandfall about 8 kilometers southwest of Atlantic City, New Jersey,  with winds of 150 kilometers an hour. By then, Sandy was not only an  unusually large hurricane but also a hybrid storm. A strong Arctic air  pattern to the north forced Sandy to take a sharp left into the heavy  populated Northeast when normally it would have veered into the open  Atlantic and dissipated there. The blend produced a super storm with a  wind diameter of 1,850 kilometers, said to be the largest since 1888, when far fewer people lived along the coast and in New York. Unfortunately, the tempest also arrived at a full moon with its astronomical high tides. Sandy was only a Category 1 hurricane, but it triggered a major natural disaster partly because it descended on a densely populated seaboard where thousands of houses and other property lie within a few meters of sea level. Imagine the destruction a Category 5 storm would have wrought— something that could happen in the future.

The scale of destruction was mind-boggling. Sandy brought torrential downpours, heavy snowfall, and exceptionally high winds to an area of the eastern United States larger than Europe. Over one hundred people died in the affected states, forty of them in New York City. The storm cut off electricity for days for over 4.8 million customers in 15 states and the District of Columbia, 1,514,147 of them in New York  alone. Most destructive of all, a powerful, record-breaking 4.26-meter sea surge swept into New York Harbor on the evening of October 29.  The rising waters inundated streets, tunnels, and subways in Lower Manhattan, Staten Island, and elsewhere. Fires caused by electrical explosions and downed power wires destroyed homes and businesses, over one hundred residences in the Breezy Point area of Queens alone. Even the Ground Zero construction site was ?ooded. Fortunately, the authorities had advance warning. In advance of the storm, all public transit systems  were shut down, ferry ser vices were suspended, and airports closed until it was safe to ?y. All major bridges and tunnels into the city were closed. The New York Stock Exchange shut down for two days.

Initial recovery was slow, with shortages of gasoline causing long lines. Rapid transit systems slowly restored service, but the damage caused by the storm surge in lower Manhattan delayed reopening of critical links for days. The New Jersey Shore, an iconic vacation area in the Northeast, suffered worst of all. For almost 150 years, people from hot, crowded cities have ?ocked to the Shore to lie on its beaches, families often going to the same place for generations. They eat ice cream and pizza, play in arcades once used by their grandparents, drink in bars, and go to church. The Shore could be a seedy place, fraught with racial tensions, and sometimes crime and violence, but there was always something for everybody, be they a wealthy resident of a mansion, a contestant in a Miss America pageant, a reality TV actor, a skinny-dipper, or a musician. Bruce Springsteen grew up along the Shore and his second album featured the song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy),” an ode to a girl of that name and the Shore. “Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us; the pier lights our carnival life forever,” he sang. The words have taken on new meaning since the hurricane came.

Fortunately, the residents were warned in advance of the storm. They were advised to evacuate their homes as early as October 26. Two days later, the order became mandatory. New Jersey governor Chris Christie also ordered the closure of Atlantic City’s casinos, a decision that proved wise when Sandy swept ashore with brutal force, pulverizing long-established businesses, boardwalks, and homes. Atlantic City started a trend when it built its ? rst boardwalk in 1870 to stop visitors from tracking sand into hotels. Boardwalk amusements are big business today, many of them faced by boardwalks that are as much as a 0.8-kilometer from the waves. Now many of the Shore’s iconic boardwalks are history. The waves and storm surge destroyed a roller coaster in Seaside Heights; it lay half submerged in the breakers. Seaside Heights itself was evacuated because of gas leaks and other dangers. Piers and carousels vanished; bars and restaurants were reduced to rubble. Bridges to barrier islands buckled, leaving residents unable to return home. The Shore may be rebuilt, but it will never be the same. A long-lived tradition has been interrupted, perhaps never to return. For all the fervent vows that the Shore will rise again, no one knows what will come back in its place along a coastline where the ocean, not humanity, is master.

As the waters of destruction receded, they left $50 billion of damage behind them, and a sobering reminder of the hazards millions of people face along the densely populated eastern coast of the United States. Like Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Irene in 2011, Sandy showed us in no uncertain terms that a higher incidence of extreme weather events with their attendant sea surges threaten low-lying communities along much of the East Coast— from Rhode Island and Delaware to the Chesapeake and parts of Washington, DC, and far south along the Carolina coasts and into Florida, which escaped the full brunt of Sandy’s fury. There, high windsand waves washed sand onto coastal roads and there was some coastal ?ooding, a warning of what would certainly occur should a major hurricane come ashore in Central or Southern Florida—and the question is not if such an event will occur, but when.

One hundred and twenty meters and climbing: that’s the amount of sea level rise since the end of the Ice Age some ?fteen thousand years ago. Slowly, inexorably, the ascent continues in a warming world. Today the ocean laps at millions of people’s doorsteps— crouched, ready to wreak catastrophic destruction with storm-generated sea surges and ?oods. We face a future that we are not prepared to handle, and it’s questionable just how much most of us think about it. This makes the lessons of Katrina, Irene, and Sandy, and other recent storms important to heed. Part of our understanding of the threat must come from an appreciation of the complex relationship between humanity and the rising ocean, which is why this book begins on a low land bridge between Siberia and Alaska ?fteen thousand years ago ...

Extreme weather events come in many forms— blanketing snowstorms, tornadoes, torrential rainfall, and long-enduring droughts, to mention only a few. However, the most dangerous are hurricanes and tropical cyclones, which generate not only powerful winds and sheets of rain, but also violent sea surges. The infamous Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, alerted us forcibly to the dangers of exceptional storms along low coasts besieged by subsidence and rising sea levels. As we describe in chapter 13, much of the damage and loss of life came not from the hurricane-force winds and rain, but from the sea surge and high tides that followed on the storm. Raging waters swept ashore and carried away entire parishes and massive arti?cial levees that protected low-lying parts of New Orleans.

Hurricanes like Katrina generate sea surges by the wind blowing directly toward shore and pushing water up onto the land. This is what devastated the Mississippi delta in 2005 and Galveston, Texas, in September 1900, when a hurricane-generated surge ?ooded the city streets to a depth of at least six meters, destroying thirty-?ve hundred buildings and killing over six thousand people. Since the Galveston disaster, improved early warning systems, seawalls, and stronger buildings have reduced casualties in better- developed parts of the world, but rising urban populations and the complex and expensive logistics of warning, evacuation, and recovery make it increasingly dif? cult to avoid truly catastrophic human and material destruction.

Tropical cyclones are a major hazard in many parts of the world, notably in the western Paci? c and the Bay of Bengal. Low-lying Bangladesh is basically a huge river delta at the head of the bay, where tropical cyclones breed, cover large areas, and move northward into the funnel created by the coasts on either side of the ocean. 

We are already reaping a whirlwind of vicious assaults by an ocean  that once lay 122 meters below today’s threatened shorelines. Billions of people are at risk from an attacking sea. Our future will be challenging, even before one factors in the ever-present threat of earthquakes and tsunamis. As history shows us, our vulnerability to an encroaching and often aggressive ocean has increased exponentially, especially since the rapid population growth of the Industrial Revolution. While as recently as eight thousand years ago, only a few tens of thousands of people lived at risk from rising waters—and they could adapt readily by upping stakes and moving—today millions of us live in imminent danger from the attacking ocean and from the savage weather events that await in a warmer future.

Published with permission from Bloomsbury Press. 
  Read  Why Humanity Is More Vulnerable to the Power of the Ocean Than Ever Before
  June 6, 2013  
p class="p1">A couple years ago I was asked by theKeepers of the Athabasca to be the Master of Ceremonies for a very different kind of event. It took place in the region of the most controversial energy project on earth, the Canadian tar sands. The idea was not to have a protest, but instead to engage in a meaningful ceremonial action to pray for the healing of Mother Earth, which has been so damaged by the tar sands industry. Community members of the five First Nations of the Athabasca region and the town of Fort McMurray, tired of the consistent negativity and never ending fight with big oil and government, had made a conscientious choice to find another source of power in the struggle to protect their way of life. This was done by turning to ceremony and asking through prayer and the physical act of walking on the earth so that the hearts of those harming her (Mother Earth) through extreme energy extraction could be healed.

My journey started in to Fort McMurray, Alberta, also known as tar sands boom town. Many have described this place as the land of milk and honey, a place were you can trade five years of your life (and soul) and be financially “set up.” I met with a motley crew of activists, sovereigntists, elders and youth from Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Anzac and the metro-areas of Calgary and Edmonton, as well as some allies who had traveled from as far as British Columbia, and beyond. 

The plan was to take vehicles to the beginning of the infamous Highway 63 ring through the tar sands. This 60km stretch of road has gained a notorious reputation of being the highway of death, due to the tremendous amount of people who have died in horrific auto accidents inrecent years. It is always busy with peak traffic rivalling that of downtown New York, the traffic gets especially heavy during two daily  shift changes. Then, our plan was to pray, make offerings to the four directions and walk through the heart of tar sands development as concerned Elders, parents, youth and grandchildren.

Healing Walk PSA: First Nations communities are being poisoned by the out of control growth of the tar sands. Please stand with these communities - ask Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver & Premier Alison Redford to accept the invitation to the tar sands Healing Walk. This video is made of scenes from the film "Occupy Love" directed by Velcrow Ripper. Music in these scenes by Christen Lien and Zoe Keating. Learn more at  

Highway 63 is the only road to Fort McKay Cree Nation, one of Canada's most polluted, yet richest First Nations, where water needs to be trucked in daily to meet the communities needs. The 63 loops past vast human made deserts in the form of tailings ponds wet and dry, and then past an archaic Suncor/Petro-Canada facility with black carbon stained cracking towers, belching hellfire into the morning sky. The highway finally meets the junction to get to Fort McKay and continues onward past the industrial metropolis that is Syncrude, Canada's largest tar sands operator, operated laregly by Exxon Oil .The Syncrude site is like something straight out of a science fiction movie. 

From the road, you can see glimmering stainless steel cracking towers,  which separate bitumen into synthetic oil, a massive tank farm, lego-like worker sleeping facilities stacked upon one another, and half-built pyramids of sulfur (a waste by-product of the bitumen upgrading process) being built toward the sky like two biblical towers of Babel. Then comes the last major and probably most absurd element of insanity on the Highway 63 loop: the buffalo demonstration project and reclamation site. 

Yeah, you heard right. Some executive from Syncrude got it into their head that having live buffalo, living under the stacks of their tar sands upgrader would be a good thing for the image of the tar sands industry.  A herd of the most symbolic animals of our native heritage is subject to a slow poisonous death, its members grazing in toxic fields with an apocalyptic backdrop of tailings ponds and smoke stacks billowing white clouds of toxic death overhead. 

But the absurdity doesn’t end there. The 15km loop end around this tarmageddon ends with the buffalo demonstration site, connected by a short access road to where our walk began. A few years back, some of these poor beasts were culled and distributed to elders in local First Nations. The communities were rightfully paranoid about the toxicity of the meat. Instead of eating it, they had it sent away and tested. The tests came back showing  that the meat was poisoned with heavy metals and other toxic compounds, which was present in concentrations hundreds of times above what is deemed acceptable for human consumption. 

During our preparations for the walk there were many fears discussed about the risks involved in exposing our community to the highly contaminated and dangerous environment.   Walkers were also scared that police would arrest our small group for conducting the walk and the associated ceremony. Another fear was of the tar sands workers whizzing past us at 100 km an houror more , driving dozens of semis & pick-up trucks, as well as the infamous tar sands dump trucks, which are so large they look like a Canadian three story suburban home on wheels. Before we departed, we asked ourselves “are we were putting ourselves in danger?” 

With these very real fears in our minds, we chose to listen instead to our hearts and to allow ourselves to be lead by local First Nations elders into the tar sands Highway 63 loop. What I saw on the walk generated a sick feeling in my heart that was so twisted I feel like I cannot articulate it. But I can try.

The landscape was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Taking the time to walk through what I have described was life changing. I walked past a tailings pond so big you that it covers the horizon for miles to see a 24 inch pipe coming from Syncrude spewing a meters high flow of liquid hydro-carbon waste so toxic thatwater fowl who land in it diewithin minutes. We saw from ground level and up close, the hellfires of the Suncor/Petro-Canada stacks with their 50 foot flames shooting up into the sky, day and night. Their proximity to the Athabasca river made me wonder what madness allowed Suncor to build them 500 meters away from the precious river that so many First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities depend on for water?

As we walked that first time, I pondered all of the battlefields that the emerging international movement to stop the tar sands its associated infrastructure of pipelines, refineries and shipping lanes is engaged with. I was overcome by the magnitude of our undertaking, picking a fight with the most inhumane and most richest richest corporations on the planet, big oil and their lobby. Over that day, as I put one foot in front of the other, I came to realize that if we did not focus our best efforts on stopping the emergence of the era of extreme energy that this wasteland represented here in Athabasca, we would be locked into a series of never ending pipelines shipping lane and refinery fights across the continent.

No, I thought, that cannot work. This beast must be smothered to death at the source.

At the beginning of the day, before the walk started, there was an argument about the right way to do the ceremony. What I know is that a bear showed itself to us at the start of our walk and that it carried with it the teachings of courage and protection. Later, an eagle flew over us and it represented the teaching of truth and unconditional love. While we walked, we made offerings of tobacco and water on four strategic points along Highway 63. 

Those offerings were to pray to each of the four directions and to call upon spirit, creator, mother earth and all of the sacred elements to both heal the land and to touch the hearts, minds and spirits of those responsible for her desecration. This was done so that the people destroying her could truly understand what they were doing... and wake up. 

After we finished that first walk, we did not get a huge global media sweep. As a matter of fact, many of us got sick with what would become known in subsequent healing walks as the tar sands healing walk flu. We also found that our biggest supporters during that first walk were the tar sands workers and Fort McKay community members honking their horns boosting our spirits with every honk. (It was a game of the children on the walk to get the drivers to honk.)

The tar sands healing walk was one of the most powerful ceremonies I have ever been to, comparable to our most sacred ceremony back home: the Sundance. Something happened when we all decided to take a break from the battle with big oil, national and provincial governments and the banks that finance them. When we decided to focus instead all of our intentions, all of our power and all of our love to heal our most sacred Mother and those that depend on her health through prayer, ceremony and the physical act of walking together, we lead with our hearts.

This year is the fourth Annual Healing Walk, which in many Native circles is a very significant number: four directions, four nations of the earth. This walk marks, the end of a cycle and perhaps the beginning of a new era in the battle against big oil. 

The Walk will take place in Fort McMurray, Alberta from the 4th to the 6th of July, 2013. The former Chief of Smith’s Landing Treaty 8 First Nation and respected Dene Elder, Francios Paulette and Athabasca Chipewyan Dene Nation Chief, Allan Adam will be speaking at a pre-conference on July 5th in the Metis settlement of Anzac. They will be joined by author, activist and founder of, Bill Mckibben, author and board member Naomi Klein, former US Vice Presidential Candidate, author, and Native American activist Winona LaDuke, and First Nations Hip Hop artist and activist, Wabanakwut (Wab) Kinew. 

The walk and ceremony for Mother Earth and her Peoples will take place on July 6th. We invite you to join us in this historic occasion by either traveling to Alberta's tar sands in person and walking side by side with us, or by holding an event or ceremony in your home territory in solidarity. 

This story also appeared on Yes! Magazine.

Clayton Thomas-Muller is a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation also known as Pukatawagan in Northern Manitoba, Canada. Based out of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Clayton is the National Campaigner with the Defenders of the Land-Idle No More campaign known as Sovereignty Summer and the co-director of the Indigenous Tar Sands (ITS) Campaign of the Polaris Institute.Twitter: @CreeClayton

  Read Beyond Protest: First Nations Community Seeks Alternatives to Tar Sands Destruction
  June 3, 2013  

On March 29 Exxon Mobil, the  most profitable company in the world, spilled at least  210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded  family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.

A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a  draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims “Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free.” However,  internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination  across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.

When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division  called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they  did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were  rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is “oil-free.” For the record,  Exxon maintains that the “cove,” a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas  Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally “The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water.” Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants  rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.

Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was  “oil-free,” the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the  dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the  American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that  the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines.  Local people have reported  fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of  contaminants present in the lake.

According to Exxon’s data,  126,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from the pipeline spill is still unaccounted for.

Exxon’s spill emanated from the Pegasus Pipeline, which like the proposed  Keystone XL pipeline, connects the Canadian Tar Sands with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

  Read Documents Reveal Exxon Mobil Lied and Downplayed Contamination from Pipeline Rupture
 May 29, 2013  

I don’t blog. I work all the time, weaving together components of strategy for the people on the frontlines of Alaska who are facing down Big Oil and Mining Companies, and addressing Climate Change. I am also a full time mother, so I rarely have that extra moment to blog. But today I made time, so here it is.

So Shell Oil and the Arctic, hmmm well let’s start with what Shell does and is: This company operates around the world and their Industry standard is one of pressuring governments to allow exploration of oil and gas resources in a way that maximizes profits for them at the expense of the environment and human rights, in particular those of Indigenous peoples. Here in Alaska, We’ve seen nearly every large multi-national company come into our homelands. The problem with their presence here is that these big oil companies like Shell have a proven record of negligence and a legacy of pollution in Alaska. Shell itself is encumbered with their own appalling record of Indigenous rights violations, human rights abuses and a trail of broken promises within Indigenous territories in Canada, Nigeria, and Russia. Despite their own destructive record, they expect that Americans and the Inupiat among other Alaska Indigenous coastal tribes will trust them when it comes to offshore development of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas? The future of these Oceans and People are in their hands. A scary thought in itself.

First of all, the profit-at-all-cost mentality of corporations is the primary threat to Inupiat and the ecosystem that sustains their way of life. Indigenous peoples subsistence rights are intrinsic to the environment due to the intimate connection we have in relation to our physical nourishment, health, cultural practices, spirituality, and social systems. The reality is, the ecosystem, when left intact, is the greatest assurance that subsistence rights will remain intact. Therefore when there is discussion of ensuring subsistence rights in the terms of development it is an absolute contradiction.

This week members of the Native Village of Point Hope, Alaska and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) attended the Royal Dutch Shell AGM to confront the Chairman and Board over Shell’s decision to pursue highly risky ‘extreme energy’ projects without adequate consultation and accommodation of Indigenous communities. Projects such as Arctic offshore drilling and tar sands will have little long-term benefit for the company, and expose it to reputational damage, political and financial risk, including litigation.

Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) sent Mae Hank, Inupiat from Point Hope Alaska to be our representative at the Shell AGM to address the Chairman, Board and Shareholders on behalf of her community. We wanted to show Shell that their risky Alaska offshore plans for the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas impact Indigenous Peoples, the Inupiat of Alaska directly and all Indigenous coastal communities down the western coastline of Alaska indirectly. Sending Mae was a tactic to put a human face to their drilling projects. We felt that they needed a reality check, to be confronted with the human element, not just a financial statistic of their endeavours. They also need to realize that there is a large majority of Inupiat that oppose Shell’s offshore plans and they should not buy the company line “Inupiat support offshore development” Shell lies.

Shell must understand the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas of the Arctic Ocean are critical to the Indigenous people of Alaska’s Arctic Slope, the Inupiat and their subsistence way of life, which is interdependent with the marine ecosystem of the Arctic Oceans. The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas provide critical habitat for the endangered bowhead whale, beluga whales, gray whales, walruses, seals and polar bears as well as staging and molting areas for migratory birds among them threatened spectacled and Steller’s eiders. The Inupiat call the ocean their garden. It provides for all their physical, spiritual, cultural and social needs. The relationship of the people to the ocean runs deep.

Since 2007, Royal Dutch Shell has been trying to rush through risky exploration drilling proposals for the Beaufort, and Chukchi seas of the Arctic Ocean in Alaska. Litigation, has helped slow this rush to drill there, along with several other events. This year on Feb. 27, 2013 Royal Dutch Shell announced that it has suspended plans for oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean for 2013 due to a year of mishaps. Crazy mishaps, almost like a running cartoon…Last summer a massive sheet of ice halted their drilling program, and their oil spill containment dome — to cap a blowout in an emergency in Arctic operations — failed miserably in tests. The dome “breached like a whale” after malfunctioning, and then sank 120 feet. When they recovered the 20-foot-tall containment dome, it had “crushed like a beer can” under pressure, this year the Kulluk drill rig ran aground on New Year’s Eve, and the Noble Discoverer drill ship is the subject of a criminal investigation over safety and pollution-related violations among other events. Umm yeah, they are “Arctic Ready” aha sure.

In spite of the inundation of substantial problems throughout and after the drilling season, Shell plans to continue it’s efforts for exploratory drilling in 2014 in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The massive drilling plans project an estimated 174 exploratory and extraction wells within critical habitats of culturally sensitive marine mammals. Shell Oil and associated agencies lack huge gaps of information of the harsh conditions, current and tidal systems, ever changing and unpredictable ice, and dangers of the Arctic Ocean; in turn, which could potentially lead to a very large oil spill. An oil spill in the remote Arctic ecosystem would be devastating – currently, there is no effective way to clean up an oil spill in Arctic conditions, and there is a lack of infrastructure in the region to support an adequately safe drilling or cleanup program.

The company has spent $4.5bn securing permits to drill in Arctic waters, however they have been proven incapable of operating here. Shell’s experiences should serve as a reality check as decisions are made about whether to authorize these activities in the future. This is why we sent Mae Hank to the Shell AGM, to assert that Shell should not move forward with Arctic Drilling! After the Shell AGM, Mae spoke eloquently about the experience:

“Shell has stated that despite their current ‘pause’ in their Arctic offshore Alaska activities, the company is committed to drill there again in the future,” she said. “As an Inupiat Mother and Grandmother, I strongly oppose this plan, as do a majority of Inupiat. There is still no viable spill plan in place not only for cleaning up spills but how the company will compensate our community for the loss of food and food security. I asked the Chairman and the Board to explain how they would compensate our community’s food security and needs when the next major oil spill disaster happens. The Chairman and the board simply danced around the question and did nothing to quell my concerns.”

In this author’s humble opinion, when it comes to offshore drilling in Alaska the risks outweigh the benefits in this case, and there is absolutely no way that shell can operate safely in the Arctic environment under the cover of darkness, severe cold weather, perilous storms and broken ice conditions. When we take a look at the ridiculous mishaps that occurred with their Arctic Activity last year, this is very clear. To date there is still no viable spill plan in place. If drilling offshore in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas resumes we could be left with another spill like the deepwater horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the destruction of one of our planet’s most vital ecosystems.

Faith Gemmill is the Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction of Indigenous Lands (REDOIL). REDOIL is a movement of Alaska Natives of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Eyak, Gwich’in and Denaiana Athabascan Tribes who came together in June 2002 in Cordova, Alaska to form a powerful entity to challenge the fossil fuel and mining industries and demand our rights to a safe and healthy environment conducive to subsistence.

  Read  Why We Should Be Very Worried About the Arctic Oil Rush
  May 27, 2013  

“I’m willing to cut the young lady who interrupted me some slack, because it’s worth being passionate about. Is this who we are? Is that something our founders foresaw?”—President Obama on Medea Benjamin

By now, the world knows Medea Benjamin as either the woman who challenged—or heckled—President Obama last Thursday during his speech on drones and Guantanamo Bay.

“People think you’re rude and crazy,” a CNN reporter told Benjamin, the co-founder of two global peace organizations, CodePink and Global Exchange. But Benjamin, already well-known among peace activists and political progressives (she was a major force during Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign) has also inspired legions of new fans astonished that someone had the nerve—or the passion—to stand up to one of the most powerful men on earth.

Now Benjamin has been trying to turn her moment in the mainstream media spotlight to the issues that brought her to the National Defense University at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. on Thursday in the first place. We talked to her about what happened and the issues that fuel her activism and her next steps.

Evelyn Nieves: Were you surprised that President Obama actually addressed you on Thursday rather than simply give the nod to the Secret Service to nab you as soon as you spoke out? Do you think it signals a president who is willing to listen? How does his response compare with other presidents and leaders whom you've publicly challenged in the same way?

Medea Benjamin: Many politicians try to ignore or belittle the folks who interrupt them. I think President Obama is just a really good politician who recognizes that it is better to address the person than have them dragged out. I was grateful that he said that my voice was worth listening to, though it was quite surreal because as the president and I were “dialoguing,” I was surrounded by army, FBI and Secret Service threatening to arrest me and drag me out.

But every time they touched me I said that the president was talking to me, and if they made a scene by pulling me out, they would really regret it. That bought me some valuable time.

Nieves: You spoke up when President Obama mentioned Guantanamo, which has yet to infiltrate the American consciousness despite the growing crisis there. What are you hoping your exchange with the president will do to foster outrage and pressure to finally close Gitmo and release innocent detainees? 

Benjamin:These detainees are in desperate straits. It’s both a humanitarian and a political crisis. Despite the force-feeding, some of these men could start to die, and this could unleash another huge wave of anti-American riots around the Muslim world. So something must be done right away. 

The president is saying that Congress is to blame, and yes, Congress has placed ridiculous roadblocks to closing Guantanamo. But Congress also put in place a waiver system that the president could use immediately to release the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release. He did announce a lifting of the self-imposed ban on repatriating prisoners to Yemen, and that is positive. But he needs to go beyond nice words and bureaucratic measures: He needs to immediately start authorizing some releases, so that the prisoners will see progress and stop the hunger strike. Then we can tackle the larger issue of giving fair trials to the remaining prisoners. 

In the meantime, my colleagues and I at CodePink will be doing more to keep up the pressure, working with the Guantanamo lawyers and groups like Witness Against Torture, Amnesty, The World Can’t Wait and National Religious Campaign Against Torture. We’re planning more protests and civil disobedience at the White House, a vigil at the gates of the Guantanamo prison itself, a delegation to Yemen to meet with family members and government officials. We’ve got many plans. 

Nieves: You've written a book on drones, another subject that has not permeated the public consciousness to the extent that it might given its profound repercussions. In brief, what do you want the public to know about drones? What do you want the president to do about drones?

Benjamin: The president said he uses drones when capture is not possible, but that’s just not true. The drones have been an alternative to capture. I think we should stop using these killer drones. They have led to the death of so many innocent people. They have become a recruiting tool for extremists and only guarantee what the president said he is against: a state of perpetual war. We should address terrorism through better policing, better defense mechanisms here at home and more robust and creative diplomacy.

Nieves: What's your next step? Do you really think you'll get into speeches now that the whole world will be looking for the woman in pink?

Benjamin: Probably, but I won’t be in pink. And if not me, it will be one of my colleagues. Until the policies change, we’ll still be like fleas, biting at the heels of the powerful. Or perhaps more like gadflies.

Nieves: How do you do what you do? People are in awe of your boundless energy and willingness to put yourself out there. How many times have you been arrested, for instance? How long do you think you can do this (i.e. public protest)?

Benjamin: It’s so funny that the president called me a "young lady," since I turned 60 this year. But thankfully, I still have lots of energy and a passion for justice. I really don’t like getting arrested, and yes, I’ve been arrested many, many times. Unfortunately, it seems to come with the territory. But I think of the great company I’m in with my heroes throughout the ages. I love the Annie Feeney song called "Have You Been To Jail For Justice?" She says:

“Was it Cesar Chavez? Maybe it was Dorothy Day.

 Some will say Dr. King or Gandhi set them on their way.

No matter who your mentors are it's pretty plain to see.

That, if you've been to jail for justice, you're in good company.”

And I love to sing in jail—great acoustics.  

Nieves: Not everyone can be a public citizen to your extent. What are your recommendations for the faint of heart? What do you suggest a newbie activist do in the cause of, say, Gitmo closure? Or any cause for peace? 

Benjamin:Start out within your comfort zone and then keep pushing yourself to the next step. Sign petitions. Call the White House (202-456-1414) and your congressperson/senators. Make donations to peace groups you admire. Those are great individual acts. But you’ll be more powerful as part of a group. Join a local peace group and or start your won.

Re: Gitmo, go to the thrift store to buy an orange T-shirt, make a CLOSE GITMO sign, download some of our flyers and stand in front of a federal building. Invite the press to come talk to you. From there it can snowball, if you keep pushing, reaching out to new allies, using the collective wisdom and ideas.

And while we’re dealing with deadly serious issues, make sure to inject some joy and creativity into your actions—for that’s what keeps people engaged.

Nieves: You're now loved and hated more than ever. In China, you'd be under house arrest or followed everywhere you go. What do you intend to do differently now that, decades later, you're a household voice/face/name?

Benjamin:We activists have our 15 minutes of fame every now and then, and then we go right back to the more tedious work of organizing. I’m still on a book tour for my book Drone Warfare, and I really enjoy speaking to community groups and students. I’ll be leaving for Yemen soon, and then probably to the gates of Guantanamo. We’re organizing an international conference on drones in London in November. We’re constantly meeting with those in Congress—and asking for meetings with folks at the White House.

Someone started a petition asking President Obama to invite me to the White House for a beer. But I’d prefer a few mojitos with real Cuban rum—and a toast to changing another failed policy: the 50-year-old embargo on Cuba.

Evelyn Nieves is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. She has been a reporter for both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

  Read Meet the Woman Who Stood Up to Obama and Made World News: A Conversation with Peace Activist Medea Benjamin
 May 30, 2013  

RESTON, Virginia, May 23, 2013 (ENS) – Aquifers across the United States are being drawn down at an increasing pace, finds a new study released today by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The report, “Groundwater Depletion in the United States (1900-2008),” evaluates long-term cumulative depletion volumes in 40 separate aquifers in the United States, bringing together information from previous studies and from new analyses of these distinct underground water storage areas.

Since 1950, the use of U.S. groundwater resources for agricultural, industrial, and municipal purposes has expanded. When groundwater is withdrawn from subsurface storage faster than it is recharged by precipitation or other water sources, the result is groundwater depletion.“Although groundwater depletion is rarely assessed and poorly documented, it is becoming recognized as an increasingly serious global problem that threatens sustainability of water supplies,” writes report author USGS hydrologist Leonard Konikow.

The depletion of aquifers has many negative consequences, including land subsidence, reduced well yields, and diminished spring and stream flows.

“Large cumulative long-term groundwater depletion also contributes directly to sea-level rise,” Konikow writes, “and may contribute indirectly to regional relative sea-level rise as a result of land subsidence.”

Groundwater depletion in the United States in the years 2000-2008 can explain more than two percent of the observed global sea-level rise during that period, Konikow found.

To demonstrate the scale of depletion across the country, data from the report show that from 1900 to 2008, the nation’s aquifers were drawn down by more than twice the volume of water found in Lake Erie.

“Groundwater is one of the nation’s most important natural resources. It provides drinking water in both rural and urban communities. It supports irrigation and industry, sustains the flow of streams and rivers, and maintains ecosystems,” said Suzette Kimball, acting USGS Director.

The maximum rates of depletion have occurred during the most recent period of the study from 2000 to 2008, when the depletion rate averaged almost 25 cubic kilometers per year.“Because groundwater systems typically respond slowly to human actions, a long-term perspective is vital to manage this valuable resource in sustainable ways,” Kimball said.

By comparison, 9.2 cubic kilometers per year is the historical average calculated over the entire 1900–2008 timespan of the study.

One of the best known and most investigated aquifers in the country is the High Plains aquifer, also called the Ogallala aquifer. It underlies more than 170,000 square miles of the Midwest and represents the principal source of water for irrigation and drinking in this agricultural area.

Substantial pumping of the High Plains aquifer for irrigation since the 1940s has resulted in large water table declines that exceed 160 feet in places.

The USGS study shows that, since 2000, depletion of the High Plains aquifer is continuing at a high rate.

The depletion from 2001 through 2008 is about 32 percent of the cumulative depletion in this aquifer during the entire 20th century.

The annual rate of depletion during this recent period averaged about 10.2 cubic kilometers, roughly two percent of the volume of water in Lake Erie.

The cumulative volume of groundwater depletion in the United States during the 20th century is large – totaling about 800 cubic kilometers and increasing by an additional 25 percent during 2001–2008 to a total volume of approximately 1,000 km3.

Cumulative total groundwater depletion in the United States accelerated in the late 1940s and continued at an almost steady linear rate through the end of the century.

In addition to the environmental consequences, depletion also adversely affects the long-term sustainability of groundwater supplies to help meet the nation’s water needs.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

  Read  U.S. Groundwater Consumption Accelerating
 May 28, 2013  

Five years ago, Hickory Edwards was called to the water. A citizen of the Onondaga Nation, whose territory just south of Syracuse is the heart of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy (also known as the Six Nations or Iroquois), Edwards had never explored the rivers and streams that traverse the league's traditional homeland in upstate New York.

And then, one day, everything changed.

"I went to my cousin's house and they had just gotten a two-person kayak, so I borrowed one and went with them down the Onondaga Creek," Edwards remembered. "I knew it was an old trading route from our peoples. I got out on the water and brought my cousin along and we just headed east into the rising sun."

Nine days later, he was in Mohawk Country, 150 miles away. Sometimes alone, often with friends or family, Edwards has been making the trip ever since. "It's something I think I was put here for," he said.

In July, Edwards' annual journey will change course -- and get a lot bigger.

A Broken Promise 

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first treaty between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and European settlers. Consecrated with the Two Row Wampum -- a belt of purple and white beads still held by the Onondagas -- the agreement committed the parties to friendship, peace and sovereignty, each row representing the parallel paths of Indians and settlers. It was to hold force "as long as the grass is green, as long as the rivers flow downhill and as long as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west."

Successive settler governments -- first the Netherlands, followed by England, and eventually the United States -- renewed these basic principles, knowing their survival was linked to the good relations and guidance of their native neighbors. The U.S. Constitution's sixth article even enshrined such treaties as "supreme Law of the Land." In the 1790s, Congress explicitly prohibited the seizure of land without federal approval and Indian consent.

But laws made were not necessarily laws obeyed. As New York became the "Empire State," Six Nations territory was reduced by coercion, subterfuge and outright violence, their former lands ransacked by ecological exploitation. Onondaga, one of a half dozen Haudenosaunee sovereignties in upstate New York (there are more in Canada), now amounts to only 9.3 square miles.

Haudenosaunee leaders have long pushed to reverse these trends. This summer, their efforts will receive an historic boost. A yearlong educational effort to mark the four-century anniversary of the original treaty, the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign seeks to enact a three-part vision of "peace, friendship, and a sustainable future in parallel forever." The culmination in late July is a massive canoe trip down the Hudson River from Albany to New York Harbor. Coordinating the some 300 paddlers is Edwards, who's building a dugout canoe using the age-old methods of his ancestors.

Building a Movement

"We have the possibility to build a movement that shifts New York State's thinking," said Andy Mager, an organizer with Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, one of the key coalition partners in the campaign.

Founded in 1999 by the Syracuse Peace Council, NOON has worked to build solidarity and understanding among the area's non-native residents, a task that became particularly vital in 2005. That year, the Onondagas filed a land rights action petitioning the federal court to declare that New York violated the law when it seized Onondaga land. They also challenged five corporations -- Honeywell International among others -- which turned Onondaga Lake, the birthplace of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, into one of the most polluted bodies of water in North America.

"It is the duty of the Nation's leaders to work for a healing of this land, to protect it, and to pass it on to future generations," Sid Hill, Tadadaho (spiritual leader) of the Onondaga Nation, said at the time. He hoped it would "hasten the process of reconciliation and bring lasting justice, peace, and respect among all who inhabit this area."

Though the Onondagas explicitly stated that a victory in court would yield no evictions, NOON recognized a need to educate the community. "We saw how much controversy had erupted in other neighboring communities when the Cayugas or the Oneidas had filed their land claims, just based out of sheer ignorance and misunderstanding," said Lindsay Speer, another NOON organizer. "I think we were actually really successful."

The courts were less open-minded. Repeatedly rejecting the Onondagas' claim, they refused even to hear the evidence. Meanwhile, in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled against the Oneidas (another member of the confederacy), relying in part on the "Doctrine of Discovery," a 15th-century papal bull granting Christian explorers the right to seize "pagan" land and incorporated into U.S. jurisprudence by John Marshall in 1823.

Many in the community began realizing the need for a broader educational effort that reached beyond central New York.

When several hundred canoes arrive at Pier 96 at 57th street on Manhattan's west side on August 9, they'll at least be difficult to ignore. "Hopefully, we'll reach enough people that when it comes down to even the basic arguments inside of someone's house, we'll have more people defending us," said Lena Duby, who's helping to coordinate on-the-ground support for the paddlers.

Protecting the Land

The campaign reaches beyond issues that affect only indigenous people. With New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expected to announce whether he'll lift the state's moratorium on natural gas drilling in the next months, organizers have made opposition to fracking a key tenet of Two Row Renewal. The Marcellus Shale runs directly under both the Haudenosaunee's traditional homeland and the Onondaga's territory.

For many, the equation is simple. "You can't live without water. Water is life," Edwards said. The highly invasive fracturing process mixes millions of gallons of freshwater with numerous (and largely undisclosed) toxic chemicals, injecting the admixture deep underground to push natural gas above. Just over the Pennsylvania border, about 80 miles to the south of Onondaga, fracking has already scarred the land.

Pointing at a soft rise at the Onondaga Nation's southern border, Edwards explained, "Our water comes right from that hill over there. That's where we drink from." Some of their neighbors have already sold rights to natural gas companies. "Everything around here will get contaminated," he added.

Jake Edwards, chief of the Onondaga Nation and Edwards' uncle, believes the Two Row Wampum offers a different path. "In order to heal the environment, as the modern world calls it, then our people need a healing also," he said at the New York City launch of the campaign in March. "Treaties should've been honored 400 years ago and carried on. Our environment wouldn't be in the bad shape it is if we paid attention to the original agreements."

With threat of catastrophic climate change looming, it's a lesson the campaign's leaders believes people are ready to hear. "Nature's going to help our message," said Oren Lyons, faithkeeper of the Onondaga's Turtle Clan and a veteran of the Red Power movement, referring to the rise in extreme weather linked with global warming. "Nobody's exempt from this." 

Andrew Bard Epstein is a graduate student in American history at Yale. He hosts the podcast series, New Books in Native American Studies. Follow him on Twitter @andeps

  Read Native American Communities From New York Launch Fight Against Fracking and For the Environment
 June 1, 2013
Cercle Universel des Ambassadeurs de la Paix
Universal Ambassador Peace Circle
la paix, a paz, the peace, la paz

by Serge H. Moïse

La Paix

Même si ce n’était qu’un rêve
Il faudrait le cultiver sans trêve
Celle de l’esprit et du cœur
La clef du bonheur
L’humanité tout entière
Serait plus prospère
N’étaient ces foutues guerres
Entre sœurs et frères
L’orgueil et la mesquinerie
La méfiance et l’hypocrisie
L’envie et la jalousie
Sont toutes sources de tyrannie
Mais il viendra bien ce jour
Où l’humanité vivra d’amour
De franchise et de fraternité
Dans la paix et la solidarité

A Paz

Ainda que era apenas um sonho
Seria necessário cultivá-lo sem trêve
A do espírito e o coração
A chave da felicidade
A humanidade muito inteira
Seria mais próspero
Não eram estes foutues guerras
Entre irmãs e irmãos
O orgulho e o traiçoreira
A desconfiança e a hipocrisia
O desejo e a inveja
São toda fontes tiranica
Mas virá bem este dia
Onde a humanidade viverá de amor
De franquia e fraternidade
Na paz e a solidariedade


Even if it were only one dream
It would have to be cultivated without truce
That of the spirit and heart
The key of happiness
Humanity very whole
Would be more prosperous
Were not these foutues wars
Between sisters and brothers
Pride and meanness
Mistrust and hypocrisy
The desire and jealousy
Sources of tyranny
are all But it will come well this day
Where humanity will live of love
Of frankness and fraternity
In peace and solidarity

La Paz

Aunque sólo un sueño
Sería necesario cultivarlo sin tregua
La del espíritu y el corazón
La clave de la felicidad
La humanidad muy entera
Sería más próspero
No eran estos foutues guerras
Entre hermanas y hermanos
El orgullo y el mezquina
La desconfianza y la hipocresía
El deseo y los celos
Son todas fuentes de tiranía
Pero vendrá bien este día
Dónde la humanidad vivirá de amor
Franquicia y fraternidad
En la paz y la solidaridad
  Read  la paix,              a paz,             the peace,                 la paz


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