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War Games Set to Begin Today in the Pristine Gulf of Alaska

As the Navy unleashes 6,000 personnel for training exercises, local communities protest impacts on wildlife and fisheries

Today the US Navy plans to unleash 6,000 sailors, soldiers, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members along with three Navy Destroyers, 200 aircrafts, untold weaponry, and a submarine to converge in war games in the Gulf of Alaska. The training exercises are scheduled to continue through June 26.

Photo of Gulf of AlaskaPhoto by Sonia Luokkala The Navy is set to begin war games today in the pristine Gulf of Alaska.

The Navy’s choice of the Gulf of Alaska – one of the most pristine places left on Earth, and at the peak of migration and breeding periods of marine life – has left locals baffled and upset.

In the last month, protests have been held in Cordova, Kodiak, and Homer, Alaska. Emily Stolarcyk, a program manager with the Eyak Preservation Council, an environmental and social change organization based in Cordova, says local communities have never before united in such a way, pointing to the 100-plus fishing vessels that joined the protest against the Navy.

“It was incredible to see the commercial fleet turnout and unite like that with tons of support from people on shore as well,”
she says.

Regional tribal villages have also been vocal in their opposition, worried that the Navy’s trainings could affect their subsistence foods. Several tribes have passed resolutions opposing the trainings and others are requesting formal government-to-government consultations regarding the plans. Local people are also concerned about the possible impacts on marine life.

According to Stolarcyk, the Navy has not been receptive to these concerns. “The Navy is refusing to negotiate at all with local communities,” she says.

The Navy has conducted Northern Edge training exercises in Alaska every two years since 1994. In 2011, the Navy expanded the scope of their training exercises and the use of the highly controversial low-frequency active sonar was authorized for the first time. The 2013 training was cancelled due to the federal government’s budget crisis.

The Gulf of Alaska training area includes more than 42,000 nautical miles of surface and subsurface waters. The area of impact spans more than 8,429 nautical miles, including Alaskan Marine Protected Areas and NOAA designated Fisheries Protected Areas.

Photo of Homer, Alaska protest against NavyPhoto by Shelley Gill Residents of Homer, Alaska have been vocal in their opposition to the Navy’s war …more

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What Good is an Apology?

An apology from the US government for theft of land and other injustices would be an important first step toward healing

This story originally appeared in Common Dreams

I’m a white man who has worked with Native Americans as a journalist and documentary filmmaker since 1977. Mostly, I have worked on exposing problems — environmental injustice, destruction of sacred places, hidden history. Finding long-term solutions has seemed overwhelming and elusive. But four decades of experience have clarified my understanding of our nation’s biggest obstacle to moving beyond the historical injustices confronting the cultures that share this land. There is a shadow in the American closet that will forever prevent healing and reconciliation — unless and until that shadow is recognized and acknowledged. The theft of country, the massacres, the inhumanity of forced boarding school captivity, the denial of historic trauma, and the ongoing injustice, racism and inequality will hold us back as a society until we collectively accept our painful history and change course. Opening the door to let the shadow out will require an apology.

Photo of ShastaPhoto courtesy of Sacred Land Film Project Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk at a sunrise ceremony at Mt. Shasta, California in 2013.

Two instructive stories came to light while filming our new film series, Standing on Sacred Ground. These stories help describe elements of the shadow. 

In 1851, treaty negotiations with tribal leaders in northern California resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Cottonwood Creek, which promised a 25-mile by 25-mile reservation on the Sacramento River south of Redding. You can imagine how the Wintu and other native leaders who signed the treaty felt as the white negotiators returned to Washington — something like: “Well, at least now we have a treaty and all the land that has been taken will yield the security of a protected homeland.” But there would be no reservation. Within weeks of the treaty signing, California squatters and military personnel moved onto the promised land. Due to opposition by California politicians and the US Senate, the Cottonwood Treaty was sealed in a closet in the Senate and locked away, unratified and then forgotten by Washington. The now landless Wintu never forgot — not when they were hunted by newcomers, not when their children were taken away to Christian boarding schools, and not when the US drowned their sacred sites in the waters behind Shasta Dam.

In Alberta, Canada, across the street from the site …more

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Green Cheese

Making your own cheese can help reduce waste

The first time I saw yogurt being made was in Southern India, years ago. A woman with wrists covered in bangles stirred milk on a stovetop. She then cooled it slightly before adding a bit of a previous batch as an inoculant. She covered the pot with a plate and, by the next morning, the milk had thickened. We ate it over rice to cool our mouths from a spicy dinner.

Photo of Cheesemaking Photo courtesy of Kitchen Creamery For the modern eater, cheese is often less about survival and
more about flavor.

Watching this process inspired me. Up until then, yogurt had been a food that came from the store. It was scooped out of plastic tubs, often bright pink and overly sweet. This woman had used only a stove and a pot and, in doing so, had proved things could be different. I remember her yogurt as being the best I’d ever eaten.

Fermented milk (in all its glorious forms including yogurt, kefir, and cheese) has since become my passion. I’m now a cheesemaker and cheesemaking instructor and though some may see the craft of turning milk into cheese as esoteric, I see it as a practical method of food preservation. Milk left at room temperature will naturally ferment due to bacteria (which get in the milk as it leaves the udder or, if the milk is pasteurized, from the surrounding environment in general). As milk ferments, it becomes more acidic, which means safer and less likely to be colonized by unwanted microbes. Use a piece of cheesecloth and that souring milk can go from a bulky, sloshing liquid to a portable protein bar.

Modern day cheesemaking is obviously less casual than this, but the point remains: cheese and fermented milk foods come from ancient, simple, time-tested processes. Our ancestors used cheese as a way to capture energy of the summer months, which enabled them, in part, to survive in harsher climates.

For the modern eater, cheese is often less about survival and more about flavor. We eat it because we love a grilled cheese sandwich, a yogurt smoothie, or a slice of cheesecake. Gourmet supermarkets, in response to our cravings for cheese (and lots of it), stock hundreds of cheese styles imported from all corners of the earth. Many of these cheeses are quite precious (and pricey); specialty …more

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How Bundling Super-Efficient Appliances with Solar Can Expand Off-Grid Energy Access

When super-efficient appliances are used, the total cost of off-grid solar home systems and appliances can be cut in half in the developing world

According to a report released last week by Africa Progress Panel, a group chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, two of every three people in Africa — 621 million in total — lack access to electricity. The UN’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative aims to achieve universal energy access by 2030, but, at current rates of electricity deployment, Africa will not reach that goal until 2080.

Photo of PV module installation By Harin Ullal, National Renewable Energy Laboratory Ramakrishna Mission staff trainees installing a PV module in Gosaba,
Sundarbans Region, West Bengal, India, as part of the training
program. More than 3,000 homes in the delta region of the Ganges
and Brahmaputra rivers have electricity due to solar home light
systems such as this one.

Some argue that governments and utilities should rely on fossil fuels to deliver power to the 1.3 billion people around the world who today lack access to electricity. But why turn to dirty coal-fired power when clean energy can do the job? Over the past four years, South Africa has added more than 4,000 megawatts of renewable electricity to the grid. Meanwhile, construction of two mega coal-fired power stations by the South African utility Eskom, Africa’s largest power producer, is four years behind schedule. The two plants are now expected to cost nearly 40 percent more than a 2007 estimate.

Even in cases where a family lives near an existing transmission line in the developing world, the cost to connect to the grid is likely to be prohibitively expensive. In Kenya, for instance, the price of a household connection is $410, in a country where gross national income per capita is $1,730, according to UC Berkeley’s Kenneth Lee.

The reality is many of those who today lack access to electricity in Africa, India, and elsewhere in the developing world will likely never be connected to the conventional power grid — at least not the centralized grid, anchored by massive, distant power stations, as took hold in developed countries. Instead, today’s energy poor will often first reap the life-changing benefits of dependable electricity, in less time and at less cost, by installing off-grid solar home systems. Such systems typically include a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel, small battery, flat-screen TV, LED lights, mobile phone charger, …more

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Aspen Poised to Move to 100 Percent Renewable Electricity

Cities around the country are turning to wind, solar, and hydropower to meet energy needs

When it comes to going green, the real action appears to be happening in cities. Georgetown, Texas, recently announced plans to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewable wind and solar power within two years.

Elsewhere, a handful of communities across the country are already running entirely on power generated by renewable energy sources. Greensburg, Kansas, was nearly wiped off the map by a powerful tornado in 2007. But this small community bounced back and embraced sustainability in a big way, setting a goal to reach 100 percent renewable electricity as part of a comprehensive sustainability plan. With the completion of the Greensburg Wind Farm in 2010, all of the town’s electricity now comes from wind power. In Scituate, Massachusetts, a 1.5-MW wind turbine and a 3-MW solar PV system provide enough energy to power all municipal facilities entirely on renewables. The small island community of Kodiak, Alaska, also gets nearly all of its power (99.7 percent) from renewable energy sources, mostly hydropower with some wind power in the mix. And last fall Burlington, Vermont, reached the 100-percent renewable mark with the purchase of a local hydroelectric facility.

aerial photo of a town in the mountainsRed Mountain ProductionsAspen, Colorado, aims to secure 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of 2015.

Now the swanky mountain community of Aspen, Colorado, is set to join the exclusively renewable electricity ranks. As of 2014, about 75 percent of the city’s power came from renewable energy, nearly half from hydropower. Power purchased from wind farms in Nebraska made up the rest of the renewable mix. New contracts for additional wind power capacity, as well as a small amount of landfill gas, are under negotiation and, if approved, Aspen will achieve its goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by the end of this year.

That goal is part of a broader initiative to address the threat of climate change through community-wide greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Aspen’s Canary Initiative aims to reduce emissions 30 percent below 2004 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 2004 levels by 2050. The greening of the municipal utility Aspen Electric’s portfolio to an entirely renewable standard emerged as a goal of that initiative.

Aspen had a …more

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Republicans Want to Limit the President’s Use of the Antiquities Act to Protect Public Land

Bills recently introduced by Republican members of Congress would constrain the president's ability to establish or expand national monuments

On his return trip from the Pacific, in the summer of 1806, US Army Lieutenant William Clark passed a 150-foot tower of sandstone on the south bank of the Yellowstone River, 25 miles northeast of what is today Billings, Montana. He was eager to arrive home but took time to climb the solitary bluff, describing the “emence herds of Buffalows, Elk and wolves” in his journal. 

Photo of Pompay’s PillarPhoto courtesy of Office of Senator Jon Tester In 2001, President Clinton used his authority under the Antiquities Act to declare Pompey’s Pillar and 51 acres of surrounding meadowland and cottonwoods a national monument.

He also followed the example of many who’d come before him: he left his mark. On July 25 of that year, Clark carved his first initial, last name, and the date just below the summit of the rock, leaving behind the only remaining physical evidence of Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lt. Clark’s 8,000-mile journey. He then named the rock after Pomp, the son of their Shoshone guide, Sacagawea.

There were only two cars in the parking lot when I visited Pompey’s Pillar on a warm, sunny day in April, three weeks before the visitors’ center opened for the summer season. One of them belonged to Jonathan Peart, Executive Director of the Friends of Pompey’s Pillar. It’s his job to protect the rock and 51 acres of meadowland and towering cottonwoods that surround it. Together, these lands were declared a national monument by President Clinton in 2001, using the authority vested in him under the Antiquities Act.

More recently, President Obama’s use of the act to establish or expand 16 national monuments has sparked a bonfire of debate over this sometimes controversial use of executive authority, and I was curious to hear Peart’s opinion on the matter. A plainspoken attorney from Cody, Wyoming, Peart was happy to oblige.

We had just begun our walk up a winding sidewalk that led to the pale yellow, sandstone feature when he raised his hands, palms forward, in the universal signal to stop. “Right now, the Antiquities Act is under attack,” he said, withdrawing a round tin from his back pocket. 

“Eight Republican [presidents] and eight Democrats have used the Antiquities Act to name national monuments,” he continued, thumbing a pinch of tobacco into his bottom lip, “and it …more

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Keystone Protesters Tracked at Border After FBI Spied on ‘Extremists’

More than 18 months after federal investigation violated internal rules, activists say they were still watchlisted at the airport, visited at home by a terrorism task force and detained for hours because they ‘seemed like protesters’

This story was produced in partnership with the Guardian.

An activist was placed on a US government watchlist for domestic flights after being swept up in an FBI investigation into protests of the Keystone XL pipeline, linking a breach of intelligence protocol with accounts of continued tracking that environmentalists fear could follow them for life.

Photo of Bradley StrootPhoto courtesy of Bradley Stroot Bradley Stroot found himself on a watchlist after a failed FBI investigation into him and other activists. He says he was questioned about ‘bomb-making materials’ while it was ongoing.

Twenty-five-year-old Bradley Stroot is one of several campaigners to go public, after the Guardian and Earth Island Journal revealed an FBI investigation that labeled them “environmental extremists,” with new allegations of a continued crackdown. From an hours-long detention at the US border to a home visit by a terrorism task force and an encounter with police searching for bombs, the activists say law enforcement has tracked them from a peaceful Texas protest of the highly contentious oil project in 2012 and 2013 to the tony suburbs of Indianapolis as recently as the end of last year.

Stroot told the Guardian that when he flew back to Texas to visit a friend last December, he learned that he was on a watchlist — known as a “Secondary Security Screening Selection” — and was subjected to more invasive airport security measures.

The FBI’s investigation into anti-Keystone activists was closed in June 2014 due to a lack of credible intelligence regarding threats to the pipeline and extremist activity.

According to internal agency documents obtained by the Guardian and Earth Island Journal, it was discovered in August 2013 that the FBI’s investigation had been opened without proper approval from the chief legal counsel of the agency’s Houston division and a senior agent, resulting in a report of “substantial non-compliance” with rules set out by the US Justice Department.

But before the internal violations were discovered, information on Stroot and several other activists was included in FBI files. Now, interviews with Stroot, who was held up at Chicago’s O’Hare airport six months after the investigation was closed, and other protesters indicate that they are still being monitored by law enforcement.

Stroot and two other people involved in the protests were described in the files as having separate, larger “Subject” …more

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