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A Modest Proposal for the UN Climate Talks in Lima: Keep Fossil Fuels Underground

Measuring the impact of the climate talks isn’t complicated

On Monday morning, just after the latest round of UN climate negotiations kicked off in Lima, the Associated Press broke the story that Japan had used nearly a billion dollars allocated for climate finance to help build a coal-fired power plant in Indonesia. The Japanese government justified the maneuver by arguing that the new plant would be somewhat cleaner than an older generation plant.

a little girl and a woman stand under a tree holding candlesPhoto by Sean Hawkey/ LWFOn the eve of COP20 in Lima, activists held a "Vigil for the Climate" where the UN climatetalks are being held.

This is the sort of “have your climate action and your fossils, too” approach that threatens to undermine efforts to combat climate change. While an “all of the above” approach to addressing the climate crisis may be politically appealing, it won’t appease physics or chemistry, which aren’t impressed with political reality. Earth systems operate in “reality” reality. And in that reality, if you keep putting carbon into the atmosphere, the planet is going to keep warming.

The Japanese example is hopefully just a hiccup in a process still under construction; the rules guiding the Green Climate Fund and climate finance are still up for negotiation. But the announcement and its timing underline the importance of adopting a new, concrete test for judging any new international climate treaty. Any energy or greenhouse gas reduction policy needs to be measured by a single metric: Does it keep fossil fuels underground?

Forget all the fancy acronyms and promises of action at some distant point in the future. Ignore the whisperings and gossip from the negotiating room, the endless he-said/she-said of the talks. Most of it is just noise. At its most basic, the problem of climate change boils down to our willingness to leave coal, oil and gas where they are and reduce our carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible. As campaigners in the Global South have long said, you’ve got to “keep the coal in the hole, and the oil in the soil.”

If the overriding goal is to keep fossil fuels underground, the otherwise complicated United Nations negotiating process begins to clarify itself.

Want a clear way to judge the commitments each country is bringing to the table? Just ask: Will that commitment force the country to start implementing …more

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Thirty Years Later, Victims of Bhopal Gas Disaster Are Still Waiting for Justice

Meanwhile, millions of Americans too, remain at risk from toxic chemicals

Around midnight on the eve of December 3, 1984, a toxic gas called methyl isocyanate (MIC) that’s used in chemical manufacturing began leaking from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. There were no alarm systems in place. Devices that that might have curtailed or stopped the chemical leak were not running and more than 40 tons of the deadly gas quickly spread over the city, exposing half a million or more people. At least 8,000 people were killed immediately by the gas, which causes pulmonary edema and other acute respiratory effects. Some 20,000 have died since as a result of this chemical exposure, making Bhopal what’s considered the worst such industrial disaster ever. (Estimates of the number of deaths caused by the chemical leak vary by source, with some injury estimates as high as 600,000.) In addition to respiratory disease, methyl isocyanate also causes blindness and other severe vision problems and gas been linked to reproductive health problems, including infertility, miscarriages and stillbirths.

Old Indian women protest Bhopal DisasterPhoto by Bhopal Medical AppealA protest rally during the 28th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Disaster in 2012. In the past 30 years, only seven Union Carbide officials, all local Indian hires, have been held responsible for the leak that killed thousands of people. Not a single American manager of the company has been charged.

In the years since, residents of Bhopal have continued to be exposed to toxic chemicals through water and soil contamination linked to the plant and illnesses persist, both in survivors of the 1984 disaster and children born in Bhopal since then. In 1989, Union Carbide $470 million in compensation to the victims, but that translated to only about $500 each for more than 90 percent of the victims. Activists in India are now demanding that Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 1999, pay $8 billion more in compensation.

On the 30th anniversary of the deadly incident, organizations representing survivors, including the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, have released a list of demands aimed at repairing ongoing damages from the incident. Apart from additional compensation for the victims and their families, they are asking that Dow fully clean the contamination resulting from the Bhopal plant, and that principals responsible for the plant – either directly or through permitting, contracting and …more

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Yet Another Tar Sands Pipeline Project Faces Public Resistance in Canada

Citizen action against the Trans Mountain project underscores growing public mistrust of the federal government

Canadian environmentalists’ and activists’ attention over the past two weeks has been directed at the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project after more than 100 people were arrested at a protest that flared up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby as Kinder Morgan commenced survey work on the project.

Rally against Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby MountainPhoto by Mark KlotzA lot of Canadians have lost faith in federal government's pipeline approval process.

The expansion project is one of four massive pipeline projects currently being considered for approval, in addition to Keystone XL, Energy East, and Northern Gateway that would each move nearly a million barrels of bitumen per day from Alberta’s tar sands oil mines.

The company plans to expand the capacity of the 60-year-old pipeline that runs from Edmonton, Alberta to marketing terminals and refineries in the central British Columbia region. The $5.4 billion project would add 620 miles of new pipeline, 120 miles of reactivated pipeline and an expanded marine terminal in Burnaby to handle up to 890,000 barrels of bitumen per day that would be shipped to overseas markets in supertankers. Part of the project includes drilling holes in Burnaby Mountain to run an extension through the mountain and over a conservation site, which include a popular hiking area for local residents.

Environmentalists and local residents are worried not only about environmental damage from possible pipelines leaks and spills (yet another pipeline spill was reported as recently as Sunday), but also about that risk posed by increased oil tanker traffic through pristine waters that many local residents and First Nation groups depend on.

Following two weeks of protests against the pipeline at the survey site, last Friday, Nov. 28, Kinder Morgan announced that it was halting its survey work immediately and withdrawing from the site. Although those protesting the project celebrated a small victory, they know the battle is far from over.
The pipeline is currently under federal review by the National Energy Board. There is much public distrust in this process and groups opposing Trans Mountain, including Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, and are calling for the province of British Columbia to conduct their own provincial review.

“I think there’s a lot of people who have lost faith in the National Energy Board, in its impartiality, its subjectivity in considering these (pipeline projects),” …more

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Oil Train Blockades in the Pacific Northwest and the Transformative Power of Direct Action

Direct action can deeply transform participants in ways critical to mobilization and innovation in the climate movement

“One, two, three, lift!”

With that command, a group of about eight people from Portland Rising Tide and South Sound Rising Tide shouldered three heavy, 30-foot steel poles. Balancing the poles, they slowly walked down the railroad tracks leading to the Global Partners oil terminal about a mile away on the Columbia River, and 60 miles northeast of Portland, OR. Within minutes the poles were converted into a tripod and Sunny Glover was climbing up and assembling a platform some 25 feet from the ground. Individuals were dispatched to inform the port authorities, and those on the ground awaited word from the teams up and down the tracks in the event of an approaching train. No trains carrying Bakken oil would come through that day. The blockade lasted some nine hours into the night until the police dangerously cut the tripod legs one by one, a couple feet at a time, while Glover’s neck was still locked to one of the poles.

Oil Train BlockadePhoto by Trip Jennings A protester sits atop the apex of a tripod blocking the train tracks at the Global Partners oil terminal in Oregon.

While the duration of the blockade was itself impressive, this action also contained something little acknowledged, but equally powerful: the ability of this kind of direct action to transform the participants themselves.

The massive nature of the climate crisis and the unwillingness of existing political leaders and institutions to act has created a cynicism and paralysis that often quiets us in the very moment when it is most critical that we act. It is not sufficient for direct action to target only those individuals and companies responsible for the crisis. These actions must also offer the possibility of a transformation that changes our sense of power, inspires others, and overcomes the cynicism at the heart of disengagement. We must also be the targets of our own actions.

The Global Partners blockade was part of a series of actions over the summer of 2014. It followed on the heels of a similar tripod blockade at the Everett rail yard several weeks earlier. In that instance, Seattle Rising Tide blocked an oil train in the rail yard for over eight hours. One person sat atop the apex of the tripod while four …more

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Spied On by BP

The aim of covert corporate strategy is not to win an argument, but to contain, intimidate and ultimately eliminate opposition

I discovered recently that I was being spied on by BP.

After a few years of increasingly intense activism targeting the company’s controversial entry into the tar sands, its abuse of Indigenous rights and its greenwash-soaked sponsorship of cultural institutions, I started to wonder if BP might be monitoring me.

demo against BP in LondonPhoto by fotdmike/Flickr The author's activism against BP’s interests in Canada's tar sands oil was one of the reasons the company began spying on her.

So I submitted a ‘Subject Access Request’, requiring the company to send me all its files that mentioned me by name. The thick dossier of heavily redacted internal emails and documents I received made for surprising, unsettling, and sometimes hilarious reading. It also provided a fascinating insight into some of the ways corporations are monitoring activists they see as threatening to their reputations.

The first time I appear to have blighted BP’s radar was when I wrote an article for New Internationalist in 2010 about the campaign to shut down the Canadian tar sands.

The world’s most destructive oil extraction project contains enough greenhouse gas to tip the world into irreversible climate change. The oil companies’ sinister plot to dig up every last ounce of planet-cooking bitumen, I argued, had to be foiled. I had co-founded a campaign group — the UK Tar Sands Network — and was working with frontline Indigenous communities in the Alberta tar sands ‘sacrifice zone’ to challenge the major British companies involved in the industry – namely BP and Shell.

In the article, I explained how I had got into conversation with then-head of BP UK Peter Mather at a graduate recruitment event after a climate action group had disrupted it. Having perhaps glugged one too many glasses of complimentary Chardonnay, he boasted about what a fine and responsible company he worked for. I quoted him making the stunningly mendacious claim that ‘if local Indigenous communities tell us they don’t want the Sunrise Project [BP’s first foray into tar sands extraction], then of course we won’t do it.’

No matter how small we may feel in the face of such corporate might, we are still perceived as dangerous

Soon afterwards, of course, BP did the opposite. It swept aside the growing local opposition and greedily staked its claim to a thick slice of Alberta’s oil-drenched pie.

What I never expected to discover …more

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8 Tips to Reduce Your Waste This Thanksgiving

Fill bellies instead of landfills!

The holiday season is here, so let’s remember that while we’re filling our bellies this Thanksgiving, we shouldn’t be filling landfills with perfectly good food! Here are a few tips on how we can move towards a zero waste holiday.

Thanksgiving food tablePhoto by Satya MurthyHope you have a zero waste holiday!

1) Bring to-go containers. Ask your dinner guests to bring a tupperware and send them home with some leftovers. This way, you won’t be stuck with a month’s worth of food, and everyone gets to enjoy an extra slice of pumpkin pie.

2) Your freezer is your friend. Freeze leftovers and enjoy a nice treat next month when you want a delicious meal. Read more about how to store your leftovers and how long they will last here.

3) Plan out your meal. Sounds simple, but holiday stress is usually just the thing to prompt us to unnecessarily triple every recipe for fear of running out. Try to make only what you need, wasting food not only has an extreme environmental impact, but can cause you to blow your budget or over eat as well. Read some tips about how to shop smart, store food properly, and use up some food scraps on Food Shift’s reduce your waste page.

to-go food containers Bring to-go containers

4) Repurpose your leftovers. Check out some recipes that will help you use up those leftovers from Food Network and Martha Stewart.

5) Go zero waste. Aside from wasted food, try to keep other resources out of the waste stream too. The EPA has a great list of tips that includes opting for reusable dishes and napkins and washing and reusing jars and containers.

6) Compost your food scraps. Directing scraps away from landfills reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Read more about the environmental impacts of food waste here.

7) Reach out to your community! Consider giving your leftovers away to someone who may be in need of extra food. One in five people in the U.S. don’t have adequate access to food, so consider bringing your extra food to a friend, neighbor, or make a post about your surplus food on freecycle, an online sharing platform.

food donation …<a href='' title='continue reading 8 Tips to Reduce Your Waste This Thanksgiving'>more</a></li></ul></p>
<p class=by Emily Rehberger – November 27, 2014

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When A River Doesn’t Run Through It

Pete McBride talks about his work on the Colorado River and the Ganges

Photographer and filmmaker Pete McBride is a lover of rivers. His work has focused on rivers around the world, including the Ganges in India and the Navua River in the Fijian headlands. In the United States, McBride’s photos and films have centered on the Colorado River, reminding us that the entire Southwest depends upon the Colorado River watershed.

Santa Rita MountainsPhoto by Pete McBride Fifty miles south of the US–Mexico border, the Colorado River Delta and its once-rich estuary wetlands — reduced by 95 percent since the river was restricted by dams — are now as parched as the surrounding Sonoran Desert.

McBride started off his career as a writer-adventurer who wanted to be a photographer. Connecting with like-minded souls, he ended up as the photographer for an epic re-creation of the first flight from London to Cape Town in the Silver Queen, a replica of a Vimy plane from the 1930s. Although National Geographic initially declined to support the project, the magazine bought the story after seeing photographs of the adventure, and a McBride image ended up on the magazine’s cover. Looking at those canvas covered wings I asked McBride if it was scary. “Absolutely,” he answered without hesitation. But that was the story that kicked off his career.

McBride’s connection with rivers stems from his childhood. He grew up on a Colorado cattle ranch. “I just think the river story found me,” he says. This tie to the Colorado River lead to the publication of his 2010 photography book, The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict. The book has had an outsized impact on the environmental community, and has helped draw attention to the grave implications of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which divvied up water rights along the Colorado River.

Filmmaker and activist Jamie Redford credits McBride’s book with helping to drive his transition from outdoor enthusiast to thoughtful and analytical activist and environmental filmmaker. After reading the book, he went on to make Watershed, the 2013 documentary which looks at the Colorado River, and posits some solutions to the soul-crushing death of the Colorado River Delta, including trying to maintain a small, but steady supply of water to the delta by purchasing water rights from willing sellers in the Mexicali Valley via the Raise the River campaign.   

Colorado Rivermore

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