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Pope’s Climate Change Appeal Boosts Hope for Bipartisan Action in Congress

Climate campaigners applaud pope’s bridging of environmental issues with moral obligation as way to force Republican party leaders to reconsider position

It just took one utterance from Pope Francis – “earth” – to rouse cheers from the climate campaigners who had gathered on the Mall to watch the pope’s historic speech to Congress.

The pope’s visit to what remains a fortress of climate denial among the Republican party leadership greatly boosted hopes among campaigners of elevating climate change from a narrow, partisan issue to a matter of broad public concern.

Pope Francis© Mazur/ Pope re-affirmed that human activity was driving climate change, and that political leaders needed to act.

As Francis appeared on the large screen, several thousand campaigners – some carrying quotes from his encyclical on the environment on large banners trimmed in Vatican yellow, a contingent of animal rights activists dressed as nuns – whooped and cheered.

“We’re excited about the pope being here, especially his saying that climate change is not a partisan issue, and that we have a moral obligation to act,” said Ashley Aguirre, 20, and a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, who had travelled from Richmond for the rally.

Although there was only a very brief mention of the environment in his speech to Congress – he avoided a direct clash with Republican party leaders by diving into climate change deeply in his visit to the White House on Wednesday – the pope still managed to emphasize two clear points. He re-affirmed that human activity was driving climate change, and that political leaders needed to act.

“I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play,” the pope said. “Now is the time for creative actions and strategies aimed at implementing “a culture of care”.

Francis’s intervention has produced some new alliances in the climate camp, with faith groups now coming together with civil rights campaigners and traditional environmental supporters.

His appearance in Congress came a day after his endorsement of Barack Obama’s clean power plant plan – arguably one of the biggest targets of Republicans in both houses as well as on the presidential campaign trail.

More than half of Republicans in Congress …more

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Follow the Money

The fossil fuels divestment movement is making big strides But individual investors have little way of knowing what they own.

Last year, on the eve of the historic People’s Climate March in Manhattan, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (heir to the Standard Oil fortune) made headlines when it announced would it no longer invest its $860 million endowment in fossil fuel companies. Since then, the global movement pushing for investors to pull their money out of fossil fuel stocks has scored a number of other big wins. The California Senate has called on the state’s two largest pension system, CalPERS and CalSTERS. to sell their investments in coal companies. The University of California system has dumped $200 million worth of stock from coal companies and companies involved in tar sands mining. And on Tuesday Leonard DiCaprio announced he was also pulling his money out of fossil fuels.

Graphic of a money treeHow can you be sure your savings are invested in companies that are 100 percent clean and not in ones that seem determined to set the planet on fire?

According to a report from Arabella Investors, so far governments and investors holding $2.6 trillion in assets have joined the divestment movement.

No doubt this is encouraging news, evidence of the growing cultural potency of the divestment movement. But what if you’re not a huge philanthropy with an expert staff of money managers or a hugely wealthy movie star? If you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans whose only connection to the stock market is through some kind of retirement account or mutual fund, how can you be sure your nest egg isn’t invested in companies that seem determined to set the planet on fire?

The short answer: You can’t be really be sure, at least not unless you’re willing to do some extra research. And even once you know what stocks you’re holding, convincing your mutual fund or money manager to take the divestment plunge is likely to be a tough sell.

The financial markets are notoriously opaque, especially when it comes to huge funds that include hundreds of different equities, bonds, and other investment vehicles (just think of the bundled investments that almost tanked the economy in 2008). Even big retirement funds that have professional staffs sometimes aren’t entirely sure what they’re holding. When DiCaprio was asked at a Tuesday press conference how much he holds in fossil stocks, …more

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World Biodiversity Hotspot Worth Much More than a Nickel

Trio of mining proposals threatens Klamath-Siskiyou region

If there were a place in the United States that possessed such biodiversity that it had been designated an “Area of Global Botanical Significance” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and also proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, surely it would be protected from any industrial development that would compromise its ecological integrity. There is, in fact, such a place. But its most recent designation is “endangered” as the area faces threats from three proposed nickel strip mines at its heart.

Bear Mountain and tarn below Devils Punchbowl in Siskiyou Wildernessphoto by Miguel Vieira, on FlickrBear Mountain and tarn below Devil’s Punchbowl in Siskiyou Wilderness

Spanning the northern California-southwestern Oregon border and encompassing nearly 20,000 square miles, the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion includes a complex suite of geology, climate, terrain, and such a remarkable example of temperate climate biodiversity that in 1992 the IUCN recognized the region as an area of global botanical significance. The region is home to 3,500 plant species – 280 of which are rare or endemic. The streams that originate in the Klamath and Siskiyou mountains are among the most productive on the continent, the spawning grounds for wild Pacific salmon and steelhead. And while the region has the most designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in the US, nearly a dozen wilderness areas, and the 62,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, it also contains the largest area of unprotected forest on the West Coast outside of Alaska. Despite protection in some areas, the region also has been heavily impacted by logging, livestock grazing, road building, and in particular, gold mining.

Now, a raft of proposed surface nickel mines pose a new threat to the region’s environmental health. The threat is serious enough that two of the region’s rivers – the Rogue and Smith – were placed on American Rivers’ list of 10 Most Endangered Rivers of 2015.

There are three proposals for nickel laterite mines on the Oregon side of the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion. Two involve plans for exploratory drilling by the Red Flat Nickel Corporation, a subsidiary of the British investment company St Peter Port Capital Ltd., to determine the nickel content of the rocks and whether it is …more

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Sacred Lands vs. King Coal

Indigenous struggles against resource extraction are gathering strength in the Pacific Northwest

Under the breaking waves of Lummi Bay in northwest Washington, salmon, clams, geoducks and oysters are washed in rhythmic cascades from the Pacific Ocean. Just north of here is Cherry Point, home for three intimately related threatened and endangered species: herring, Chinook salmon, and orcas. It is also the home of the Lummi Nation, who call themselves the Lhaq’temish (LOCK-tuh-mish), or the People of the Sea. The Lummi have gone to incredible lengths to protect the health of this marine life, and to uphold the fishing traditions that make their livelihood inseparable from the life of the sea — continuing a bond that has connected them to the salmon for more than 175 generations.

cheery point beachPhoto by Nicholas Quinlan/Photographers for Social ChangeThe Lummi Nation is currently fighting a proposal to build the largest coal export terminal on the continent at Cherry Point.

The Lummi Nation is currently fighting the largest proposed coal export terminal on the continent (read “Feeding the Tiger,” EIJ Winter 2013). If completed, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would move up to 54 million tons of coal from Cherry Point to Asian markets every year. The transport company BNSF Railway plans to enable the terminal by adding adjacent rail infrastructure, installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur to make room for coal trains.

The project is one of many coal export facilities proposed across the US by the coal extraction and transportation industry. In the face of falling domestic demand for the highly polluting fossil fuel, the industry is pinning its survival on exporting coal to power hungry Asia, especially China.

The Gateway proposal has sparked massive opposition from the Lummi, who say it will interfere with their fishing fleet, harm marine life, and trample on an ancient village site that has been occupied by the Lummi for 3,500 years. The village, Xwe'chieXen (pronounced Coo-chee-ah-chin) is the resting place of Lummi ancestors, and contains numerous sacred sites that the Lummi assert a sacred obligation to protect. The Lummi’s connection to their first foods, and to the village site that holds their ancestors’ remains, goes the very heart of who they are as a people, and the Nation has pledged to protect both “by any means necessary”.

The Lummi are no strangers to stopping harmful development. In the …more

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Government and Gas Industry Team Up Against Local Fracking Ban Initiatives in Ohio

State officials hire industry-affiliated law firms to defend their efforts to block ballot measures

Last week the Supreme Court of Ohio upheld the Ohio Secretary of State’s decision to remove from this November’s ballot, measures by Medina, Fulton, and Athens  counties that would have banned hydraulic fracturing and related infrastructure projects. However, in a separate ruling, the court allowed the city of Youngstown to proceed with an anti-fracking charter amendment and ordered it be placed on the November 3 ballot.

anti-fracking protestPhoto by ProgressOhioSince a December 2011 injection of wastewater into a disposal well near Youngstown triggered a 3.9 magnitude earthquake, several Ohio cities and counties have initiated efforts to keep fracking and affiliated activities off their land.

Ohio is home to the Utica shale, which has attracted billions of dollars in investment by oil and gas fracking operations. Opposition to fracking in the state began in earnest in December 2011 after the injection of wastewater into a disposal well near Youngstown triggered a 3.9 magnitude earthquake. Since then several Ohio cities and counties have initiated efforts to keep fracking and affiliated activities off their land.

Secretary of State Jon Husted had removed the county ballot measures in August, claiming “unfettered authority” even though all three initiatives had gathered sufficient signatures. The court did not agree with Husted’s argument that there was “nothing to materially limit the scope of [his] legal review of the petitions.” It’s ruling against the initiatives was based on a technicality.

Along with banning fracking, the county-level initiatives would have also established Home Rule powers for the counties. Because of this, according to Ohio law, the initiatives needed to specify what form of government they were planning on establishing. Last Wednesday, the court ruled that because “one must look to sources outside the [initiatives] to determine the form of government they purport to establish,” they don't satisfy this test, and thus voters should not be allowed to vote on them. Terry Lodge, a lawyer for the petitioners, told Earth Island Journal “we don't agree that the [initiatives] are in any way deficient.”

In Husted’s August decision, he wrote, “the courts in Ohio have spoken: a municipality may not ‘discriminate against, unfairly impede, or obstruct’ the operation of oil and gas wells in Ohio.” Though this is true, his logic clearly skipped a beat.

According to Lodge, the argument …more

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Leap Manifesto Calls for Radical Changes to Canada’s Extractive Economy

Campaign envisions building a sustainable energy economy over next 20 years

The Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another is signed by over 50 organizations including Oxfam, Idle No More, CUPE, CLC, PSAC, Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, and over 100 individual signatories of scientists, economists, artists, and activists.

ariel view of the Tar Sands minePhoto by thekirbster/FlickrThe manifesto, launched at a news conference in Toronto on Tuesday, lays out an ambitious plan to move away from extereme energy projects like Alberta's tar sands, end fossil fuel subsidies, increase income taxes on corporations and the wealthy, cut military spending and implement a progressive carbon tax.

The manifesto warns that: "climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go."

"So we need to leap!"

One of the manifesto's central demands is 100 per cent renewable energy by 2035 and a 100 per cent clean economy by 2050.

"If any politicians don't support that demand then they have to explain why," said Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything. "If the scientists are telling us that we have to do it, and the engineers are telling us that we can do it, then why are our politicians setting targets that are way off in the future?"

The manifesto, which was hashed out over two days of meetings with 60 activists in May, is wide-ranging, with a series of radical demands such as:

  • Fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • A "100 per cent clean economy by 2050."
  • A halt to new infrastructure projects such as oil and gas pipelines, fracking projects in New Brunswick, British Columbia and Quebec, increased tanker traffic off the coasts and Canadian mining companies operations around the world.
  • The creation of "innovative ownership structures [that are] democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities."
  • A universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing.
  • Retraining for workers in "carbon-intensive jobs."
  • Investment in public infrastructure that can better withstand extreme weather.
  • An end to all trade deals "that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive …more

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A Tale of Pollen and Empowerment

In Chicago, Sweet Beginnings helps people returning from prison learn how to make a living with bees

The ground crew at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport are used to dealing with nature, de-icing planes in the wintertime and rolling over steaming hot runways in the summer. They are ready for anything nature might send their way. That is, until a swarm of honeybees decided to perch near a flight gate one sunny afternoon.

men standing with beehivesAll photos copyright of Sweet Beginnings, LLC, used with permissionThe Sweet Beginnings team unveils hives on the grounds of O'Hare Airport.

The crew mulled over a few ideas for dealing with the buzzing mass of bees, including spraying them with a hose or dousing them with pesticides. However, before any of the ideas could be put to action, the Sweet Beginnings team arrived and scooped up the swarm and its queen bee, whisking it away to be installed in a new hive. The team maintains 75 hives in a remote field on O’Hare property—the largest airport-based apiary in the United States. Though it was later found that the swarm did not originate from any of the Sweet Beginnings hives, the team did not mind the trip. “We were doing outreach right there on the spot,” recalls Brenda Palms Barber, founder and CEO of Sweet Beginnings. “While we were collecting the swarm, we were also chatting to the ground crew about honeybees, their behaviors and the ecological importance of pollinators.” While Sweet Beginnings has done much to promote bees as a resource rather than a pest, this is not their primary mission. It is, however, a fitting product of their work—just as honey is a fitting product of the invaluable work of pollination.

An Unusual Job Training Initiative

Sweet Beginnings is a job training program for individuals returning from incarceration or with other barriers to employment. The social enterprise is a subsidiary of the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN), a social services organization on Chicago’s west side. NLEN “assists North Lawndale residents through innovative employment initiatives that lead to economic advancement and an improved quality of life.”

In 2004, NLEN launched Sweet Beginnings, LLC as a job training and revenue-generating project. Aided by a local beekeeper and several environmental and social organizations, NLEN’s clientele began learning how to care for honeybees, to extract and package honey, and to infuse the honey into soaps and lotions.

By 2014 …more

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