Indigenous Activists Fight Climate Change

Immunto (Change)

Island Reach Foundation (2020)

Film Review

This is a documentary about indigenous activism against climate change and growing collaboration between Third and First World activists to minimize and mitigate catastrophic climate change.

The indigenous communities featured are from Vanuatu, Morocco, Uganda, and Vietnam.

Owing to rising sea levels and a loss of protective coral reefs, the islands of Vanuatu are facing flooding of coastal homes and loss of crops due to salinization* of their soils. They also face more frequent and devastating tropical storms. Their climate activists are working to regenerate their reefs via a process known as “coral gardening.” They are also replanting forests and trying to strengthen ties with first world activists.

Morocco and Uganda are experiencing increased desertification due to decreased rainfall. In Morocco, activists are trying a new technology called “fog harvesting.” They use finely woven nets to trap rainwater, which they collect and pipe to local villagers.

Vietnam is experiencing record heatwaves, droughts, and floods, in addition to salinization of their ground water.

Climate activists there have launched a campaign against international banks seeking to fund a new Vietnamese coal plant.

The film also looks at successful climate action campaigns undertaken by Scottish XR members (eg when they occupied the Scottish parliament to hold their own citizens assembly) and climate activists at Standing Rock and in Boston and various Dutch cities.

The filmmakers finish by highlighting an international campaign to pressure the UN to declare ecocide** an international crime subject to International Criminal Court jurisdiction.


*Soil salinization (salinisation) refers to increasing salt concentrations in soil. It’s most often caused seawater contamination (due to rising sea levels).

**Ecocide is criminalized human activity that violates the principles of environmental justice, such as causing extensive damage or destroying ecosystems or harming the health and well-being of a species.

Dirt: the Movie

Dirt: The Movie

Bill Benenson and Gene Rosow (2009)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the rapid destruction of the planet’s topsoil, with its dire implications for food production and human survival. Through a combination of industrial farming, deforestation, urbanization and extractive mining, humankind has destroyed one-third of the world’s topsoil in a hundred years.

The film begins with a basic introduction to on the abundant microbial life that characterizes healthy topsoil. Plowing, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and heavy pesticide and herbicide use render soil infertile by destroying these microorganisms. Deforestation hastens the process by destroying deep root systems that protect against nutrient runoff. The productive farmland that isn’t wrecked by industrial farming and deforestation is paved over as cities expand or destroyed by fracking, mountaintop removal and strip mining. This voracious greed for new fossil fuels benefits a few hundred people and carries immense costs for the rest of us.

The film depicts quite eloquently the western slash and burn mentality that approaches food production like running a factory. Extracting a quick profit is all that matters. There is no planning whatsoever for food security, much less the needs of future generations. You clear cut a forest, plant acres of a single crop (an open invitation to pests) and pour on industrial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. In three to four years you have depleted the soil, and you cut down another forest.

Dirt: the Movie also poignantly portrays the link between environmental destruction and human degradation. It’s always the poorest and most disempowered who have their land destroyed by multinational corporations. Rapid desertification in Africa and India is forcing thousands of subsistence farmers to migrate to city slums – and Haitian mothers to make dirt cookies to ward of their children’s hunger pains.

Meanwhile increasing desertification (from a combination of deforestation and industrial farming) in Africa and India and the thousands of farmers forced to migrate to city slums when their land becomes useless. The film also emphasizes the link between environmental destruction and human degradation. It’s always the poorest and most disempowered who have their land destroyed by multinational corporations. The most heart breaking scene depicts Haitian mothers making dirt cookies to ward off their children’s hunger pains.

Water mismanagement also plays a major role in desertification. Because they have paved over their rivers, Los Angeles spends billions of dollars from as far away as Wyoming – and millions more managing rainwater runoff. Liberating their rivers would solve both problems at a fraction of the cost.

Significantly the main voices featured in the film are those of women of color: the late Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Mathai, who won a Nobel Prize for founding the Green Belt tree-planting movement, Indian environmentalist and organic farming advocate Vandana Shiva and Greening the South Bronx founder Majora Carter (see Greening the South Bronx). In addition to championing urban agriculture and green roof projects in the South Bronx, Carter has helped establish a prison greenhouse and organic farm at Rikers Island prison and the Green Team. The latter is a project that allows ex-cons to use the skills they have learned in tree planting, urban agriculture plots and New York’s first green roof* business.

*A green roof is a living roof partly or completely covered with vegetation, to optimize energy conservation and minimize water runoff.

Population and Sustainability: the Elephant in the Room

elephant

Population control is a taboo topic among in most sustainability circles. It shouldn’t be. According to a University of Oregon study, childbearing is the number one carbon intensive activity. Having just one has twenty times the impact of a lifetime of carbon frugality.

How Many People Can the Earth Support?

The human species lives on a finite planet with finite resources. Growing evidence suggests we have already exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity. WHO and World Hunger data reveal our current system of industrial agriculture only feeds 84% of the global population. At present nearly a billion people (out of 7 billion) die of starvation or malnutrition-related disease.

I used to believe that third world hunger stemmed purely from inequality and maldistribution of food resources. Now I’m not so sure. In the past five years, desertification, drought, extreme weather events, increasing fossil fuel prices*, water scarcity and topsoil depletion have caused global food production to level out and start to decline.

The Good News

The good news is that fertility rates are already dropping. According to the CIA (the official source of international fertility data), the current global fertility rate is 2.45 births per woman. This is down from 2.50 in 2011 and 2.90 in 2006.

Demographers attribute the drop in third world fertility rates to massive urbanization and the entry of women into the workforce. In the developed world, declining fertility rates seem more closely linked to worsening economic conditions. In Japan, which has in continuous recession for two decades, the fertility rate is 1.39 In Greece it’s 1.40, in Italy 1.41.

At a global fertility rate of 2.45, the world will reach  replacement rate (2.1 births per woman), between 2020 and 2030 and peak at 8.5 billion in 2030.

At present the planet only feeds 5.88 billion people. Could we feed 8.5 billion? Possibly. If they all give up meat and we dig up a few thousand parking lots and return them to food production.

Dropping Fertility Rates: A Capitalist’s Worst Nightmare

The bad news is the enormous pressure Wall Street exerts to keep birth rates high. Declining population growth threatens the robust economic growth our current economic system relies on.

Like a pyramid scheme, monopoly capitalism is based on the continual creation of new debt. Perpetual economic growth is essential to repay this ever increasing debt. Without it, the pyramid collapses.

The Pressure to Have Babies

At present the US and New Zealand are tied for the second highest fertility rate (at 2.06) in the industrialized word (France is highest at 2.08). The first two countries share two specific population drivers: a high rate of teen pregnancy and the bombardment of young women with constant pro-baby media messaging.

The US is number one in the developed world for teen pregnancy. New Zealand is number two. Although Kiwi teenagers have excellent access to reproductive services (including abortion) through our national health service, there’s no effort to provide effective sex education in our public schools.

Meanwhile, thanks to the capture of New Zealand popular culture by American mass media, Kiwi girls are bombarded with the same well-oiled messaging about the new feminine mystique: that without thin, perfect bodies, faces, hair, husbands and babies, they are utterly worthless as women.

In the US, teenage girls have abysmal access to both sex education and contraception. It’s tempting to blame this on the rise of the religious right. I think the issue deserves more scrutiny. A close look at the millionaires and billionaires who have facilitated the boom in right wing fundamentalism suggests they have cynical economic reasons for furthering policies that ensure robust US population growth.

We Need a Movement

Clearly activists who are genuine about curbing carbon emissions must give population control the same priority they give changing light bulbs, installing solar panels and reducing car trips. We’re not talking mandatory sterilization, abortion or eugenics – but voluntary steps people can take to curb their fertility.

So what does a population control movement look like? First it’s got lots of men in it. Access to affordable abortion and contraception is no longer a woman’s issue – it deeply affects all of us. Growthbusters guru Dave Gardner clearly does his part by handing out endangered species condoms in the street. 

Secondly it works to actively counteract Wall Street messaging that pressurizes women to have more babies. The sustainability movement is successfully counteracting messages to consume more and incur more debt. There’s no reason we can’t do the same with pro-baby messaging. There are numerous advantages to remaining childless. We need to promote them.  

Finally it actively campaigns to reduce teen pregnancy.There is absolutely no reason why the Christian right should have a monopoly on pregnancy counseling. Progressives and liberals need to start our own rape crisis and sex education clinics, comparable to the “birth right” counseling movement. If the schools won’t do it, we need to educate teenage girls about debt rape and where they can obtain free and low cost contraception and morning after pills.

During the sixties, activists concerned about oppression in the schools, medical system, and other pro-corporate entities started their own alternative schools, clinics, abortion centers and child care programs. It’s time we followed their example.

*Fossil fuels are essential for industrial agriculture. In addition to fueling farm machinery, the fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used in factory farming also derive from fossil fuels.

 Originally published in Dissident Voice

 photo credit: David Blackwell

Animal Domestication and Capitalism

factory farm

In the past I have tended to dismiss the animal welfare movement as another “feel good” liberal cause that does little to redress human oppression and exploitation. I was wrong. A recent lecture by sociologist David Nibert from Wittenberg University has opened my eyes to the historical role of animal domestication in imperialistic wars, colonialism, genocide, and wealth inequality. Even more scary is the rapid spread of the meat-laden “western” diet, an invention of the public relations industry, to the developing world. There it continues to fuel untold violence and cruelty against the poor and disadvantaged, resource wars, and systematic degradation of the complex ecosystems that support human existence.

The title of Nibert’s talk, carried on Alternative Radio, is “The Animal Industrial Complex.” He isn’t being cute. This powerful institution has even more control over our daily lives than either the military or prison industrial complex.

Replacing Our Ancestors with Sheep

After reminding us of the plant-based, “original affluent” society that characterized most of human existence, Nibert traces the rise of the “western” meat-based diet across 10,000 years of human history. After causing thousands of years of European warfare, exploitation, and slavery in the 15th century animal domestication was foisted on the other continents. In South America it destroyed some of the world’ most advanced societies. Back in Europe, the need to provide sheep pasture was the chief rationale for the 18th century Enclosure Acts that drove most of our ancestors off their communal lands (see my review of Fred Harrison’s The Traumatised Society). According to Nibert, this massive expansion of “animal domesecration” was just as important as fossil fuels in the rise of the capitalist economic system.

The drive to clear new pasture to produce meat for global elites led to genocidal wars against native peoples in North and South America, Australia, and New Zealand.

The Socially Engineered Demand for Meat

In the 20th century Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, assisted the food industry in artificially inflating public demand for meat. After World War II, it culminated in what Nibert refers to as the “hamburger culture.”

In the sixties and seventies, corporate demand for new pasture led to US collaboration with right wing Central and South American dictatorships that systematically drove peasant farmers from their lands. Those who resisted were violently suppressed by US-trained troops and death squads, with US supplied bombers, gunships, and guns.

Animal Domestication and Influenza

Aside from the obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, animal domesecration poses an enormous public health threat, even for vegans and vegetarians who don’t eat meat. This stems from viral “zoonotic” illnesses that have spread to humans from chickens and pigs. Nibert reminds us that the 2009 H1N1 outbreak that killed nearly 285,000 people originated in factory farms in North Carolina. During the 20th century influenza pandemics (originating mainly from chickens and pigs) killed more than 50 million people.

Meanwhile, despite the major health and environmental problems caused by the western meat-based diet, demand for new pasture continues to force thousands of peasants from their land in Africa and South America. While desertification and water scarcity (caused by overgrazing) make food commodities and and shares in water companies the primo investment for banks and hedge fund managers.

Nibert finishes the interview with a critique of leftists who think they’re being political correct by only consuming local, free-range animal products:

“I applaud my friends for eating local plant-based foods but have to argue to them that the continued consumption of animal products is more harmful than they know. The reduction in ‘food miles’ from consuming local animal products is overshadowed by the energy and resources necessary for their production and refrigeration. And while the more affluent among us can afford the more expensive grass-fed products and thus avoid eating domesecrated animals plied with pesticides, antibiotics and hormones, the vast majority of people will continue to eat the cheapest fare that the Animal Industrial Complex can produce. And even if the world were more equitable, moral and environmental issues aside there simply is not enough land or water to “free range” the tens of billions of domesecrated animals necessary to meet the growing, socially engineered demand.”

The full presentation can be downloaded from Alternative Radio. A transcript is $3, an MP3 file $5.

Until Oct 25, you can listen to the interview free on line at KEXP 90.3 FM. Go to http://www.kexp.org/archive#/2013/10/12/6AM/00 and click on “LAUNCH  PLAYER”

photo credit: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project via photopin cc