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A Fracking Firm’s Return to Balcombe Could Be One of the Industry’s Last Mistakes

In 2013, the residents of this small British village rallied to head off this threat. Now they are getting ready to fight it off again.

In August 2013, a crowd of protestors snaked down a narrow country lane toward a drill site just outside of Balcombe, England. Anti-fracking chants were overlaid with the dull buzz of a police helicopter overhead — surely a first for this sleepy Sussex village. Legions of police officers dressed in helmets and stab-vests were also a novelty here, and posters opposing a 2004 ban on hound hunting, still stuck to the trees almost a decade later, reminded all who passed by that Balcombe was not the typical setting for an environmental march.

2013 fracking protest in BalcombePhoto courtesy of Push Europe/FlickrThe Balcombe protest in 2013 didn’t by any means start the British anti-fracking movement, but it helped to supercharge it.

A British fracking firm, Cuadrilla Resources, in its attempt to test-drill ahead of fracking in the rural heart of Sussex, had awoken an unexpected sleeping giant. It had also inadvertently sparked unlikely alliances in the region's movement against fracking, which continues to grow today.

During the march, a local wine critic named Charles Metcalfe gave a rousing speech to the crowd, dispelling newspaper myths that the villagers didn’t want protesters in Balcombe, a village and civil parish in England’s West Sussex County. On the contrary, two surveys had confirmed the community's overwhelming opposition to fracking, with one estimating local resistance at 90 percent. Metcalfe, who went on to become a major anti-fracking figure in the UK, said he'd learned about Cuadrillia's plans for Balcombe while reading The Telegraph on a train. His speech was followed by another — made by a representative from the environmental direct action group, Reclaim The Power. The contrast was striking — rarely do Telegraph readers and radical environmentalists share platforms.

Anti-fracking drama continued to intensify in the weeks that followed, as hundreds of people engaged in direct action to stop Cuadrilla. A group of protesters, later nicknamed "the Sticky Six," glued themselves to the doors at Cuadrilla’s PR firm, Bell Pottinger. (Bell Pottinger's other reputable clients included the dictator of Belarus and the controversial Gupta family of South Africa, the firm's racist campaigns for the latter leading to its own demise.)

The arrest of Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, for whom I served as campaign manager at the time, catapulted Balcombe onto the front pages of national newspapers. The trial of Lucas and four others, and their resulting acquittal, kept Balcombe in the headlines for months. Meanwhile, anti-fracking groups were springing up …more

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The Sea in Our Veins

“No matter how high and dry the mountaintop, no matter how secluded and modern the retreat, we sweat and cry what is basically seawater”

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”— Rachel Carson

My daughter Kaia Isolde was born just over three years ago. Her world still seems to be growing a little more spacious every day. Her tiny body is so delicately attuned to me and to her mother that it becomes difficult to say where one ends and the other begins. It has been over three years since I cut the umbilical cord between them. Scissors in hand, I watched it pulsate in small waves. Then, from one moment to the next, it stopped moving. The midwife placed her hand on my shoulder, and I understood. It was time. I cut the cord, and just like that, my daughter was separated, on her own. But somehow, it seems, our three bodies have remained inseparable, deeply entangled and connected. I suppose in some delicate ways, they always will.

newborn humanPhoto by Jlhopgood /Flickr My little one and I are both creatures of the sea. The essential act of animal creation still always takes place in water. Derived from sea, river, pond, or the body’s own tissue fluid, sperm and egg always meet in a wet environment.

My astonishment drifts back in time. The blood that flows through my girl’s veins, where are its headwaters? In the womb, drinking and eating and breathing were all one for her; it was what her mother gave her; it was what trickled through that small umbilical river from which everything the child was had flowed. Are these her headwaters? What came before?

If her blood flowed from mother’s blood, must I not also trace back the flow of her blood? This would take me upstream to her mother’s umbilical unity with her mother. And so I follow the watershed up through the generations, upstream and past the point where I know their stories, their faces, their names. The bodies begin to metamorphose before my eyes, until the upright walk of distant grandmothers cowers forward and downward, mother by mother by mother, into a four-by-four tread, past all of her mammal grandmothers and even past all of herreptile grandmothers, until limbs reform into the fins they once were, and body parts as separate as breasts, teeth, and hair all grow back into the early skin of ancient mothers from whence each emerged.

These mothers inhabit the brackish water of …more

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Are Environmentalists Prepared for a Post-Brexit UK?

Withdrawing from the EU has massive implications for Britain’s national environmental regulations

Regulation. Directive. Act. Convention. Environmental policy in the United Kingdom is entangled in a complex network of legislative papers of varying legislative power, administrative levels, and sectoral coverage. The marine environment in the UK alone is regulated by more than 100 pieces of legislation at the international, intranational, European, national and regional levels. This “horrendogramm” of policies makes it, on one hand, extremely difficult to avoid gaps in legislation when one level is removed — such as the European level through Brexit — but on the other hand, can function as a safety net when legislations are dismantled.

pigeon with backdrop of EU and British flagPhoto by Welsh photographs/FlickrEU policy has largely shaped the UK's approach to environmental issues, as well as funding resources to maintain and restore the environment, the loss of which will reduce the force with which British environmentalists can move forward.

Environmental policy is inherently vulnerable to dismantling in a society predominantly driven by economic growth, but can develop a high resilience to such attacks when well-defended and designed. President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, for instance, ignited a chain reaction, revealing a remarkable suite of tools available to the public, professional, and political spheres to counteract the dismantling of policy.

Withdrawing from the European Union has massive implications for the UK’s national environmental regulation. Because the country has signed many international environmental conventions and agreements as a member of the EU, negotiating their new relationship as single party will require extensive resources. The task of  ensuring compliance to environmental regulations, reporting, and accountability of the governmental machinery and its public institutions, all which was formerly covered by European bodies, will need to be redistributed. Barely any of this was discussed before the vote.

The three of us, along with 19 other students of the Technische Univeristät-Berlin decided to research the vulnerability of the UK’s environmental policies in the face of Brexit — not only due to our geographical proximity to the UK, but also because of the surprisingly low engagement of the British leadership with environmental concerns during the transition from the referendum to "Brexit-Day," currently scheduled for March 2019.

Through personal interviews, an online survey, and participation in workshops, we probed for impressions of environmental activists and policymakers on the opportunities and obstacles Brexit poses.

Some of the questions we sought to answer include: How will the UK's withdrawal from the EU affect environmental standards in the UK? …more

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A New Golden Age for Big Oil or A Golden Goodbye?

Oil firms’ best chance of commercial survival is to rapidly diversify from fossil fuels into alternative technologies

Goldman Sachs, the investment bank at the heart of the global economy still doesn’t get it.

The bank, once famously described as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” has a blinkered and fundamentally flawed vision when it comes to the future of the oil industry.

Sunset over the oil rig at Huntington BeachPhoto by Pete MarkhamGoldman Sachs' analysis claiming "a new golden age for Big Oil" is dangerously defective in that it seems to envisage a world where Big Oil can carry on drilling unimpeded for decades.

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that the hugely influential investment bank had issued a report on the “Seven Sisters”, the world’s largest oil companies and the bank argues that having “survived a life-changing crisis,” the companies are “now poised to reap the rewards”.

Having shed costs as prices plummeted, Big Oil is now “in a sweet spot with rising oil prices and low operating costs, leaving them with the biggest cash-flow growth in two decades and boosting earnings”, according to Goldman’s report.

Goldman’s Michele Della Vigna told Bloomberg: “We see this as the start of a new golden age for Big Oil’s reborn Seven Sisters,” with a “favorable environment for returns in the commodity.”

This analysis is dangerously defective in that it seems to envisage a world where Big Oil can carry on drilling unimpeded for decades. But the bank has forgotten about climate change, stranded assets, shareholder actions, and the growing number of lawsuits against Big Oil for their role in climate change, widely seen as the #Exxonknew scandal. Indeed, recently Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was planning on suing the companies for “murder”.

Furthermore, the website Business Green reported last week about another report, produced jointly by the environmental think tank E3G and the Oxford Sustainable Finance Programme. The top line says it all: “New research released today suggests the only commercially viable future for oil majors in a carbon constrained world is a gradual winding down of their operations or a quick sell off of assets.”

The report had simulated a scenario under which the Seven Sisters had to shift their business models in line with what was agreed in Paris — a 2 degree Centigrade warming — which could put a whopping $2.3 trillion of oil and gas industry projects at risk as they are ‘incompatible’ with a 2°C world.

As Business Green reported “It found that oil firms’ best chance of commercial …more

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How the Global Warming Information Mode Scrambles Ecological Understanding

Data dumps inhibit a more genuine way of handling ecological knowledge

Ecological information delivery mode in the media seems most often to consist of what we could call an information dump. At least one factoid — and often a whole plateful — seems to be falling on to our heads. And this falling has an authoritative quality: The delivery mode seems to be saying Dont question this, or even, You should feel very bad if you question this.

global Warming Brainstorm chartPhoto by Richard Scott Despite what factoids would have us believe, no fact just plops out of the sky. There is a whole environment in which the fact can appear — otherwise you can’t see it at all.

In particular, “global warming information mode” seems to be about dumping massive platefuls of facts on to us. Why? This is another way of saying What are the moves we can make in the possibility space of global warming information mode? Which is a rather complex way of saying What is the genre of global warming information mode? Which way is up? How are we supposed to feel? What kind of information delivery would destroy this mode? And so on.

Our not having a ready answer for this question, unless we are global warming deniers, should make us pause. Deniers are quite clear: this mode is trying to convince me of something I don’t want to believe. I am having a belief forced down my throat.

Why don’t we all feel like that? And if we feel ecologically righteous, we shun people who think they are being dumped on to make them feel something — crude guilt leading to crude belief, maybe. This is not a war of beliefs — this is the truth. Damn it, Mr Denier, why can’t you see that?

Despite what factoids would have us believe, no fact just plops out of the sky. There is a whole environment in which the fact can appear — otherwise you can’t see it at all.

Consider something you might not regularly say if you grew up in the West: My ancestral spirits are unhappy that I’m writing this. In what world does this statement make sense? What do you need to know, what do you need to expect? What counts as right and wrong in this world? We need all kinds of assumptions about what reality is, about what counts as real, what counts as existing, what counts as correct and incorrect. Thinking about these kinds of assumptions can take …more

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Starbucks Cafe Opens in Yosemite, to Delight and Dismay

To many, the cafe represents a trend of commercialism and 25,000 people petitioned to stop it from opening

It looks and feels just like any of the other roughly 27,000 Starbucks locations that have opened around the world. The green apron-clad barista makes tall, grande and venti coffee concoctions that are handed over in familiar mermaid-endowed cups.

yosemite in winterPhoto by armboyted/Flickr A petition against the cafe states that with a Starbucks, Yosemite “will lose its essence, making it hardly distinguishable from a chaotic and bustling commercial city”.

But from the parking lot outside – where there is an intentional lack of Starbucks signage - the world-famous Yosemite falls can be heard through the patter of an early spring rainstorm.

The Starbucks is part of a major remodel inside the 128-year-old Yosemite national park. It was built to provide comfort, convenience and caffeine to the 4 to 5 million visitors who arrive each year. To many, however, the Starbucks represents a trend of encroaching commercialism inside one of the nation’s most beloved natural landmarks.

That’s why more than 25,000 people petitioned to stop it from opening last week.

“I understand that they are trying to improve the infrastructure and make it better than it used to be,” Freddy Brewster, a former Yosemite trail guide who started the petition, told the Guardian. “But it is representative of what our culture is becoming. The government is increasingly dependent on major corporations. Time and time again.”

His petition states that with a Starbucks, Yosemite “will lose its essence, making it hardly distinguishable from a chaotic and bustling commercial city”.

On a wet day in late March, visitors to the valley didn’t seem to mind. Tourists in plastic ponchos scurried off busses and inside the cluster of brown buildings housing the base camp eatery, with offerings including Starbucks.

The cafe lured large groups of seniors looking to warm up between tours and teenage tourists clad in snow gear.

“Wait, there’s a Starbucks here now?” a girl with sardonically raised eyebrows quipped to her father.

Tom Collin, a 23-year-old lounging at a table outside the Starbucks while on vacation from Adelaide, Australia, said it was his first time at Yosemite and he was wowed by the sights outside, including the gargantuan sentinel rock, which can be seen just a short walk from the Starbucks entrance. But he was also happy to dip into the eatery for a coffee while he checked his phone, and appreciated the familiarity of an international coffee chain.

“I think it’s good. …more

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The Pentagon’s Scary Plan to Militarize Ocean Life

The US military plans to use ocean critters, including transgenic ones, as underwater spies

The US military has plans to create genetically modified marine organisms that can be used as underwater spies for the military. Fantastic as this idea may seem, the Pentagon’s research arm, DARPA (or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), has actually launched a new program that aims to tap into the “natural sensing capabilities” of marine organisms, who are highly attuned to their surroundings, to track enemy traffic undersea.

navy official with dolpin and explosive devicePhoto courtesy of Lt. David Bennett/US NavyA US Navy marine mammal handler and a bottlenose dolphin who has been trained to detect explosives at a Naval base in California. Though DARPA has said it won't use intelligent mammals and endangered species for the project, the claim is suspect given the US Navy's use of dolphins and sea lions to detect underwater mines.

The project out of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, called the Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (PALS) program hopes to use everything from bacteria to large fish to find underwater vehicles by recording the creatures’ natural reactions to these vehicles and sending the data to an outside base.

A recent press release about the program said it would “study natural and modified organisms (emphasis added) to determine which ones could best support sensor systems that detect the movement of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles."

“Beyond sheer ubiquity, sensor systems built around living organisms would offer a number of advantages over hardware alone,” the release said, explaining the program’s reasoning. “Sea life adapts and responds to its environment, and it self-replicates and self-sustains. Evolution has given marine organisms the ability to sense stimuli across domains — tactile, electrical, acoustic, magnetic, chemical, and optical. Even extreme low light is not an obstacle to organisms that have evolved to hunt and evade in the dark.”

The program is currently seeking proposals that would help capture the responses of marine organisms — both natural and transgenic — to the presence of underwater vehicles, interpret those responses, and relay them to a network of hardware devices.

It is unclear right now as to how this will happen. DARPA has stated that “intelligent mammals” and endangered species will not be used in the experiments or in the program itself, but it has been vague as to how it defines “intelligent mammals.” Questions as to the involvement of dolphins and other marine mammals arise, particularly since the US Navy, is notorious for holding nearly 100 dolphins captive in San Diego, conductingmore

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