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An Ode to Activism: The People Vs. the Pipeline

In Review: Above All Else

Former stuntman and circus high-wire artist David Daniel is the central character of writer/director John Fiege’s gripping film, Above All Else. This must-see documentary is literally a David versus Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den drama of Biblical proportions that pits the ex-gymnast, fellow landowners, and environmentalists against TransCanada’s ruthless drive to construct a 1,700-mile pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico. The film portrays how the foreign transportation firm relentlessly buzzsaws, bamboozles, and bulldozes its way across America, using the law of eminent domain to fell trees and dispossess US citizens like Daniel of their private property.

photo of people on high trees in a forest, holding a sign with words, you shall not passphoto courtesy of Immigrant Workers FilmThe film is at its most dynamic when depicting the protesters like latter-day Robin Hoods and the Merry Men (and women!) in Sherwood Forest, fighting the good fight against the evil oily sheriffs of Nottingham.

Fiege’s film, shot largely with HD cameras, presents an insider activist’s view of the struggle against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, from the hinterlands of East Texas to the White House to Alberta. As allies rally to the anti-pipeline campaign, Above All Else takes viewers deep inside the movement. Like the Civil Rights feature Selma – wherein Martin Luther King is depicted as a master strategist deploying nonviolent civil disobedience tactics to end American apartheid and pressure Pres. Johnson to support the Voting Rights Act – Above All Else is a visual “how to,” demonstrating direct action techniques. It follows eco-warriors who, eschewing reliance on social media and virtual resistance, take to the streets in Washington and to the trees in Texas in order to block TransCanada and its hirelings – from surveyors to construction workers to sheriffs, and even “Keystone Kops,” pipeline security personnel posing as law enforcement officers.

Two veteran tree-occupiers – Julia Butterfly Hill (briefly seen in clips) and actress Daryl Hannah – are executive producer of this documentary. The filmpremiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, with an international premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto. It won Best North American Documentary at the Global Visions Festival and a Special Jury Prize at the Dallas International Film Festival. 

Fiege shows us how, using a variety of tactics – from the courthouse to street demos to …more

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The Keystone XL Pipeline Debate is Right Where We Want It

The fight against the pipeline has energized the environmental movement

Back in August 2011, during the first few days of sit-ins at the White House against the Keystone XL pipeline, the press basically ignored us. I’d call around to all the national outlets and wires and mostly get the question “What’s Keystone XL?” or  “Isn’t that out in Nebraska somewhere?” While the pipeline had been simmering as a regional fight for a while, it was all but unknown inside the beltway.

Reject and Protect sign at Keystone XL protest in DCPhoto by Victoria PickeringMany of the students who participted in Keystone protests in Washington DC, are now leading fossil fuel divestment campaigns on their college campuses.

How times have changed. On Tuesday afternoon, my Twitter feed exploded with posts from news outlets and correspondents reporting that White House press secretary Josh Earnest had said that President Obama would veto any Senate legislation that attempted to automatically approve Keystone XL. Just six days into 2015, and the pipeline was already back in the headlines, right where we wanted it.

Over the last five years, thanks to the activism of millions across the country, Keystone XL has emerged as the highest profile environmental fight in a generation. From the very start, most pundits and DC commentators said it was a fight we were going to lose. Back in the fall of 2011, not long after our first sit-ins, the National Journal did a poll of its “Energy Insiders.” Ninety two percent of them said that President Obama would approve the project, 72 percent thought it would happen within the year. I can’t count the number of columns saying that Keystone was the wrong fight, a waste of time, or a distraction from more important issues.

They couldn’t have been more wrong. Five years later, the pipeline remains unbuilt and the campaign against Keystone XL has helped galvanize the climate movement. Keystone hasn’t distracted people from other issues, like the new EPA regulations or fracking, it’s energized them to get more deeply engaged. The students who sat-in against Keystone at XL Dissent in Washington DC last March are many of the same activists who are now leading fossil fuel divestment campaigns on campus. Local organizers who traveled to DC for major pipeline protests are now at work back at home stopping local dirty energy projects and promoting sustainable alternatives.

There couldn’t be …more

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US Companies Importing Dirty Gold from Illegal Mining Operations in Peru

Despite government crackdown, new mines are cropping up, devastating virgin forests in the Peruvian Amazon

Correction/clarification: This story has been modified since its original posting. Kaloti Metals is not “a branch” of the Dubai-based Kaloti Precious Metals, as we originally reported; it is an independent, US-registered corporation that has a close partnership with its parent company in Dubai. We regret the error. As originally reported, Kaloti Metals did not respond to an initial request for comment. Kaloti Metals insists it does not import gold from Madre de Dios, and the story now includes a statement from the company.

Over the past two years, the Peruvian government has been cracking down on informal mining operations and illicit gold exports in an effort to end the environmental and social abuses related to illegal gold mining. Security forces have been raiding illegal mining camps, destroying equipment, and monitoring gold trading companies involved in buying and selling contraband gold. Yet recent reports show that these efforts have failed to curb the proliferation of new, unauthorized mines in the South American nation’s rural hinterlands. Not just that, a big chunk of this dirty gold is making its way into the United States.

river turned yellow from gold mining pollutionPhoto by Paula Dupraz-DobiasPollulted waters in Hueypetue in the Madre de Dios region, where at least 50,000 hectares of rainforest have been destroyed by illegal gold mining.

In the southeastern Madre de Dios region, known to be one of the most bio-diverse areas on Earth, illegal mining operations continue to move deeper and deeper into virgin forests, where acres upon acres of trees are being cut down and mercury is being dumped into subsoils and rivers, exposing humans and the environment to irreversible damage.

“There has been a flurry of small [scale] gold miners, who have been dispersed, and are working independently. On the map, they look like thousands of independent miners,” says Greg Asner, who has been working with Peru’s environment ministry to aerially map the rainforests from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, which has a lab in Lima. “The problem is still there. It’s now more diffused than ever before”.

Asner says that his research has shown that illegal gold mining was destroying the forest at twice the officially acknowledged rate. According to the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project, gold mining has destroyed some 50,000 hectares in the region and, has released some 30 tons of mercury into nature.

Supply chain deviations

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President Obama Will Veto Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, White House says

Keystone supporters do not have the 67 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto

President Barack Obama would veto a bill aimed at forcing construction of the contentious Keystone XL pipeline, the White House has said, setting up an immediate confrontation with the new Republican-controlled Congress.

The White House, ending weeks of speculation about its response to Republican moves on Keystone, said Obama would veto a bill introduced earlier on Tuesday that aims to take the decision over the pipeline out of his hands.

Pipeline protest in front of White HousePhoto by Steven TuttleIf this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today.

“If this bill passes this Congress, the president wouldn’t sign it,” the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said.

That position locks the White House on an immediate collision course with the new Congress, after Republicans made it a first order of business to introduce a bill forcing approval of the pipeline.

The bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday would give immediate approval to a Canadian pipeline project that has been waiting more than six years for a decision from the Obama administration.

The measure has the support of 63 senators – all 54 Republicans as well as some Democrats – enough to override a filibuster in the Senate.

But the Keystone supporters do not have the 67 votes needed to overcome a presidential veto.

Keystone supporters said the bill fast-tracking the Canadian pipeline was critical to keep crude oil moving.

“We need more pipelines to move crude at the lowest cost and in the safest, most environmentally friendly way,” John Hoeven, the North Dakota Republican introducing the bill, told a press conference. “That means pipelines like the Keystone XL are in the vital national interest of our country.”

TransCanada, the Canadian company building the pipeline, said it was encouraged by the moves in Congress. “We look forward to the debate and ultimately a decision by the US administration to build Keystone XL,” the company said in a statement.

Campaigners see the bill as a first shot in a Republican onslaught against the Democratic president’s environmental agenda – from cutting smog to fighting climate change.

“Rather than taking action to support clean energy investments that will spur innovation and create good paying jobs here at home, they have instead chosen to support the Keystone XL pipeline and the false promises …more

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Looking for Cleaner Transportation Answers

Proposed Florida ferry highlights tradeoffs between transportation upgrades and environmental protection

The roads in Tampa, Florida, have never been synonymous with safe and fast travel. They flood easily during summer rains, are constantly plagued by accidents, and pose numerous dangers for pedestrians.

City and county planners constantly try to find ways to get people and cargo to their destinations faster, and one recent effort got a good deal of positive attention. In February 2014, the Hillsborough County Commission approved a feasibility study for a high-speed passenger ferry that would operate out of south Tampa. In addition to lessening traffic in a county with an estimated population of 1.29 million, planners hoped the ferry would also bolster eco-friendly travel in the area.

 After the Harvest Photo courtesy of Southwest Florida Water Management District Planners are investigating the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve as a possible site for the ferry terminal, raising concerns about the environmental impact of the project.

“A ferry commuter system will have positive effects on the water quality of Tampa Bay,” according to the ferry project website. “Ferries take cars off the roads, which reduces the nitrogen oxides emitted by auto[s] into our air, thus reducing nitrogen loading in Tampa Bay. Taking cars off the roads also reduces the oils, grease, and other pollutants that motor vehicles discharge onto our roadways, thereby reducing the pollution in storm water runoff that goes into the bay.”

Planners spent months searching for a spot where a terminal could be built to receive the ferry. After reviewing 14 different possible locations, they began investigating The Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve, a nature preserve in nearby Apollo Beach, as a possible terminal site.

In order to accommodate a ferry terminal, the site would require an access road and a parking lot. These site requirements got the attention of local birdwatchers, and Audubon of Florida raised concerns about the numerous bird sanctuaries near the Schultz Preserve that could be negatively affected by the changes a ferry would necessitate.

"We have concerns if this property is sold or transferred for a for-profit activity because that might set a very dangerous precedent for the environmental lands program for the county," Ann Paul, Tampa Bay regional coordinator at Audubon of Florida, told the press. “"We're hoping that we can continue to work with the developer to find an acceptable location where this excellent …more

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Is Cellulosic Ethanol the Next Big Thing in Renewable Fuels?

Ongoing efforts to commercialize this clean energy source may lead the US to a more independent energy future

For a long time it seemed like turning the inedible parts of plants into a commercially viable biofuel, known as cellulosic ethanol, was nothing more than a pipedream. The enzymes needed to release sugars from cellulose — the fiber that forms plant structure — to be fermented into ethanol were inefficient and expensive. And the cellulose found in virtually every plant, flower, tree, grass, and bush is by its very nature evolved to withstand decay.

 After the Harvest Photo by Dustin Oliver, on Flickr Corn stover, which includes a residue of stalk, leaf, husk, and cob left behind following a corn harvest, can be used as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol.

Ethanol can be derived from sugar-based, corn-based, and cellulose-based materials. In Brazil, sugarcane is the feedstock of choice, while in the United States that designation goes to corn. The starch in corn kernels easily converts into simple sugars, with the enzyme catalyzing this process costing a mere .03-cents per gallon; the sugars are then fermented into alcohol (additives make it undrinkable). Because of the relatively low cost, corn-based ethanol has been meeting America’s demand for an alternative fuel source, especially as people drive less and fuel economy improves.

Why even bother with cellulosic ethanol?

For one, there’s the questionable carbon footprint of corn ethanol, which, depending on how it is produced, can be significantly better or significantly worse than that of petroleum. Greenhouse-gas emissions from cellulosic ethanol, on the other hand, are estimated to be roughly 86 percent less than petroleum sources. And using cellulosic materials doesn’t create a food-versus-fuel scenario.

Ramping up production of the biofuel could reduce the nation’s reliance on imported oil. In 2012, the US imported about 40 percent of the petroleum it consumed, nearly three-quarters of which fueled transportation around the country. The US government also spends millions of dollars on military support to keep oil shipping lanes open; money that could go toward domestic needs instead.

Cellulosic ethanol is renewable, clean, derived from the most abundant organic compound on Earth, and could lead the US closer to energy independence. These attributes have kept researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado focused on developing this biofuel in spite of the challenges. “We stuck it out even when oil was $25 a …more

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A Journey Into the Great Bear Rainforest

Canada's rare temperate rainforest faces threats from logging and oil interests, but it can be saved yet

When we disembarked from our sailboat and onto smaller zodiacs, we were consumed by the surrounding landscape, floating on a still, glacier-formed channel with forested mountains flanking either side. Under the mist, we hummed forward into what appeared to be a closed estuary. Before us, the estuary opened up, exposing fields lush with tall grasses and wildflowers. The thick, heavy rainforest lay beyond. All around, Bonaparte gulls dipped into the shallow areas, scooping up freshly laid salmon eggs in their beaks as the salmon arrived by the thousands from the Pacific to spawn. We quietly floated around in the rain hoping to spot bear, while nearby waterfalls crashed down the mountainsides.

grizzly mom + 3 cubsPhoto by Sara SantiagoA grizzly mom fishes for salmon with her cubs. The Great Bear Rainforest stretches for more than 400 kilometers along the BC coast and is the largest coastal temperate rainforest remaining on Earth.

On this, my first trip to British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest along with philanthropists and conservation advocates, the estuary before us felt like one of the most remote and magnificent places I’d ever seen. High in the pines, several bald eagles looked on; the young freckled males chatted with one another from branches above. With so much openness and an abundance of resources, there was no conflict amongst them. After sitting and waiting quietly in the rain for a while, we disembarked from the small boats and headed for the field. As we congregated to walk inland, I looked back and spotted the movement of a grizzly through the mist shrouding the field opposite us. Deeper into the mist, our captain noticed she had three cubs alongside, watching their mother as she assessed the area for salmon.

War and Peace in the Woods:

According to Tides Canada, the Great Bear Rainforest stretches for more than 400 kilometers along the BC coast and is the “largest coastal temperate rainforest remaining on Earth” at 21 million acres. The same Tides report claims: “coastal temperate rainforests have always been rare and are considered more threatened than tropical rainforests.” Sixty percent of them are already gone.  

Amidst an era of global deforestation for everything from timber and paper to clearing land for mineral extraction and palm oil plantations, the Great Bear Rainforest remains an intact and functioning ecosystem, home to endemic wildlife and native …more

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