Expect Resistance

This was us yesterday protesting seismic blasting in a proposed sanctuary for the endangered blue whale and Maui dolphin. The Amazon Warrior, which is exploring for deep sea oil, lets out loud seismic explosions every eight seconds that disrupt their feeding, breeding and ability to communicate.

Climate Justice Taranaki is campaigning to fight climate change by leaving the fossil fuels that remain in the ground. Fossil fuel mining (mainly in the form of fracking) has been enormously destructive to our local environment and people’s health and lives.

The protest was reported in Taranaki Daily News and on  Maori TV

Anatomy of Modern Corruption: The Clinton Foundation and the Superdelegates

What Hillary Clinton Really Represents

Empire Files (2016)

Film Review

This early 2016 documentary is a virtual encyclopedia of Clinton family corruption. Based entirely on publicly verifiable information, it reveals how Hillary, especially, has based her political career on supporting legislation that specifically benefits her corporate and foreign donors. It also explores the identity of some of the 700 Democratic “superdelegates” who helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination – despite overwhelming support he received from voters.

The Clinton Foundation was founded in 1997 with the alleged purpose of providing humanitarian relief after international disasters. Its real purpose, however, was to engage in “crisis capitalism,” a term coined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Following a disasters, such as the 2001 earthquake in India, the Clinton Foundation would waltz in and create a variety of for-profit projects enabling further exploitation of third world resources and labor by Clinton Foundation donors.

Major donors to the Clinton foundation included Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, Dow, Monsanto, General Electric (GE), Fox News, the Soros Foundation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As senator, Clinton rewarded the latter two donors by supporting deregulation that would lead to their bankruptcy in 2008 and a massive taxpayer bailout.

As Secretary of State, Clinton would grant similar favors to Boeing and GE by facilitating overseas sales of their military hardware and to Exxon by heavily promoting the spread of fracking throughout the world.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Republic and Qatar were also big donors to the Clinton Foundation. In all 181 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied Clinton as Secretary of State and most were successful in getting the policies they advocated enacted.

Many of the 700 superdelegates appointed by the Democratic National Committee (to help ensure their hand picked candidates won the Democratic primary) were also corporate lobbyists hoping to benefit financially from a Clinton presidency: among others, the corporate lobbies represented included the Excel pipeline, the private prison industry, Big Pharma and the four main Wall Street banks (City Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase).

Oil and Gas Mining: The Devastating Effect on Communities

Sustainable Deception (Deception Durable)

Directed by Michelle Moore and William Ray (2017)

Film Review

Sustainable Deception is a bilingual documentary about the devastating effects of oil and gas mining at opposite ends of Canada. What I found most interesting about the film were the uncanny similarities with our experience with fracking here in Taranaki.

The French segments of the film cover the town of Sept Iles in Quebec and the English segments the massive tar sands project in Alberta. French and English segments are placed back to pack to highlight the parallels between the two regions:

  • Despite constant promises of jobs and prosperity, all the oil and gas revenue exits local communities, leaving them with a net decrease in income and struggling to pay for increased infrastructure costs.
  • Environmental destruction from oil and gas mining converts pristine forest landscapes into industrial brown sites, pollutes waterways and destroys organic farms, fishing and other local businesses. It also increases local cancer rates.
  • Fluctuating global commodity prices lead to boom and bust cycles, fueling higher rates of homelessness, hunger, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Oil and gas companies subsidize a succession of corrupt right wing governments who systematically deny local residents any input into planning decisions around oil and gas and other mining.
  • Despite treaty obligations, indigenous communities are never consulting regarding decisions to allow mining (likewise there is no consultation with local Maori here in Taranaki.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of the film was a commentary by an Alberta activist about the need to transition from “extractive economies” that only benefit a handful of people to “value added” economies that rely on a diversity of businesses. Here in New Zealand, the Green Party is calling for a transition from an extractive economy – based on dairy, oil and gas – to a value added economy based on a renewable energy and information technology.

The most concerning part of the film was at the end, where one of the anti-mining activists is elected mayor of Sept Iles and talks openly about the enormous pressure the oil and gas industry (and the banks that finance them) put on elected officials. When they don’t get their way, these economic powerhouses have the capacity to generate economic instability that can bankrupt a small community.

Four States Investigating Exxon for Fraud Over Climate Denial

The following is a presentation by climate activist Bill McKibben about the global Break Free from Fossil Fuels movement. This is a global civil disobedience campaign directed at fossil fuel companies rather than government policy. Its aim is to pressure these companies to leave untapped coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground.

It’s a bad news/good news presentation. First McKibben gives us the bad news: despite all the hype, the outcome of the Paris climate change conference in 2015 was pure rhetoric. The treaty signed at the conference won’t lower carbon emissions sufficiently to prevent catastrophic climate change. See Global Civil Disobedience

However there is good news on two fronts: the speed at which many countries are transitioning to renewable energy and the remarkable success of the global Break Free campaign.

Among the successful actions McKibben describes: the 2015 Keystone civil disobedience at the White House that persuaded Obama to cancel the pipeline; the Australian campaign that blocked construction of the largest coal mine in the world; the Washington State campaign blocking construction of coal terminals in Longview and Cherry Point; the Seattle blockade of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig; and the global anti-fracking movement, which has led to a ban on fracking in New York, Quebec, Wales, Scotland and France.

The best part of the presentation concerns the recent Columbia School of Journalism expose revealing Exxon knew about climate change in 1977 and funded a massive public relations scam to convince the public it was a hoax. According to McKibben, the attorney generals of New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands are investigating Exxon for fraud over their role in the climate denial movement.

Q&A’s start at 46:00.

How a Few Rich Bastards Hijacked the US Constitution

Local Community Self Government

Excellent talk by Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

Highlights for me included the hidden history of the US Constitution, including the secret meetings George Washington and others held at Mt Vernon and elsewhere prior to the formal Constitutional Convention.

The goal of the Constitutional Convention, according to Linzey, was to create a framework in which property and commerce rights would take precedence over the local self-government. Even at the time, observers maintained that constitutional government was totally inconsistent with democratic government.

He goes on to explain historical court rulings that give corporations more rights than local government, as well as outlining the great work of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in helping local communities battle corporations that threaten their health and safety with fracking, factory hog farms, toxic sludge, aquifer mining (by bottled water companies) and other environmental destructive enterprises.

I was particularly interested to hear about movements that are amending state constitutions to restore the right of local self government, as well as a national group fighting for a US Constitutional amendment that guarantees the right of local self-government.

Because I have a really slow connection, I had difficulty playing the embedded video.

People can also see the presentation at
https://marioncommunityrights.wordpress.com/tag/thomas-linzey/

Falling Oil Prices: a Saudi Viewpoint

Inside Story – What’s Behind the Falling Oil Prices

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

A most revealing documentary. Unlike western pundits who speculate about conspiracies to wipe out shale oil producers (ie fracking) and the oil  economies of Russia and Venezuela, these Middle East analysts stick to economic fundamentals.

The three analysts identify three main factors behind the present oil glut: shale gas production, a big increase in renewable energy production and dropping demand by emerging economies such as China.

They maintain Saudi Arabia’s primary motivation for current output levels is fear of losing “market share” if they unilaterally cut oil production.

There’s also an interesting discussion about the Saudi plan to introduce taxation to help reduce their $98 billion deficit.

One Sure Fire Way to Stop Fracking

Corridors of Resistance: Stopping Oil and Gas Pipelines

By Leah Temper

Film Review

Corridors of Resistance is about the inspiring Unisto’ot’en campaign in northwest British Columbia to block the intrusion of oil and gas companies on their territory. This has to be the most effective grassroots challenge I’ve seen to the supposedly unchallengeable oil and gas industry.

Although the Unisto’ot’en never ceded their territory by treaty, British Columbia and the former Harper government illegally granted seven oil and gas companies concessions for ten pipelines. The purpose of the pipelines is to carry tar sands condensate, fracked natural gas and liquefied natural gas to Pacific seaports.

The right of Unisto’ot’en to occupy their unceded traditional lands was recognized by the Canadian high court in 1997.

The Canadian indigenous group isn’t merely protecting their land rights. They also have major concerns about the health and environmental effects of fracking and tar sands mining. Studies show people living adjacent to these activities are dying of cancer and losing livestock owing to air and water contamination. Likewise a pipeline spill or leak could wipe out the salmon and animals they hunt, which would be catastrophic to their survival.

The Unisto’ot’en also worry about Canada’s excessive reliance on fossil fuels and the threat it poses to climate stability.

Many “colonized” (ie city dwelling) Unisto’ot’en, as well as European supporters, are moving back to their traditional land to help maintain the blockade.

My favorite part is the scenes in which Unist’ot’en women confront oil and gas workers who attempt to enter their territory and turn them away.

The Battle for Home Rule

While the federal government remains hopelessly mired in endless wars and draconian trade treaties like TPPA, TTIP and TISA, at the local level community rights activists are systematically reclaiming the right to govern themselves. Over the past 20 years, hundreds of communities have passed local ordinances banning factory farms, toxic sludge, GMOs, fracking, toxic contamination, depletion of local aquifers and other corporate abuses.

Some activists have chosen to battle corporate infringement on their communities by establishing their legal right to home rule. At present, 31 states have constitutional amendments that grant cities, municipalities and/or counties the ability to pass laws to govern themselves (so long as they obey the state and federal constitution). The number is constantly growing, with Nevada becoming a home rule state in July 2015.

Most non-home rule states use Dillon’s rule to determine the bounds of a local municipality’s legal authority. Dillon’s rule, written by a federal judge in 1968, states that municipalities only have powers expressly granted to them by state government.

Home Rule for Mendocino County

In California, Mendocino activists are presently circulating a petition to become a charter county. They must collect 4,000 signatures by January 15 to place a citizens initiative granting their county home rule on the November 2016 ballot.

Mendocino wants to join fourteen other California charter counties (Alameda, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Tehama). Acts passed by charter counties are the equivalent of laws passed by the Californian legislative. The California constitution even allows home rule counties to pre-empt state law where significant local interest is served. In contrast, ordinances passed by general or non-charter counties are subordinate to the will of the state legislature.

Other California charter counties are using home rule to ban fracking and to keep toxic pesticides out of their wells and surface water. As a charter county, Mendocino would also have the power to create a publicly owned bank like the Bank of North Dakota.

Preserving their Anti-fracking Ban

The charter initiative is a project of the Community Rights Network of Mendocino Network. In 2014, they successfully lobbied the board of supervisors to pass an ordinance that makes it illegal to engage in fracking in Mendocino County. By becoming a charter county, this ordinance assumes the force of state law. This makes it much harder for the oil and gas industry to overturn in court.

The four part video below features anti-globalization activist Vendana Shiva speaking about Gandhi’s campaign for Indian home rule (if you click on the first link, parts 2-4 will play automatically when the previous segment finishes).

For more information about the community rights movement see Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

 

 

 

Oil Economics Made Easy

Afterburn Society: Beyond Fossil Fuels

Richard Heinberg (2015)

Film Review

Afterburn Society is about the economics of energy, specifically the energy produced by fossil fuels. The subject of economics is like bad-tasting medicine for a lot of people. However Post Carbon Institute Fellow Richard Heinberg’s jargonless, down-to-earth delivery makes the experience quite painless and even pleasurable.

Heinberg begins by tracing the history of agriculture and manufacturing. Prior to the late 19th century, there were only two sources of energy. People either relied on their own muscle power or they employed traction animals or slaves (ironic, isn’t it, how fossil fuels replaced slavery?).

In contrast, our modern-day food industry relies heavily on fossil fuels to run farm machinery, for plastic packaging (derived from oil), to transport food to market, for nitrogen fertilizer (derived from natural gas) and as a source of herbicides and pesticides (derived from oil).

It takes 350 gallons of oil a year to feed one American and seven Calories* of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of food.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

Heinberg goes on to explain the law of diminishing returns as it pertains to oil production. Over the last eight years investment in oil production has soared, while output per dollar invested has steeply declined. From 1997-2005, oil companies spent $1.5 trillion to produce 86 million barrels of oil a day. Between 2005-2013, they spent $4 trillion to produce 3 million barrels a day.

Industry data reveals conventional oil production peaked in 2005 and has been declining ever since. Most of the new oil production has come from more costly and risky technologies, such as fracking and deep sea oil drilling. The use of these new technologies has increased the cost of oil extraction. This, in turn, has led the price of oil to skyrocket from $27 a barrel in 2000 to $100 a barrel in 2014.

The higher price of oil means a higher return for oil companies. This, in turn, enabled more costly and controversial technologies, such as fracking and deep sea oil drilling have come onboard. They only became economically viable when the price of oil passed $70-80 a barrel.

EROEI

Oil production costs aren’t only increasing in dollar terms, but in terms of the energy required to extract new oil. Heinberg predicts that by mid-century, it will require as much energy to extract a unit of oil and natural gas as that unit will produce when it’s burned. At that point, fossil fuels will cease to be a viable energy source, though they may continue to be useful in producing plastics, synthetic fabrics and other petroleum byproducts.

Overall surplus energy will steeply decline when this happens, as renewable energy technologies have a much lower EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) than fossil fuels. For example, solar energy has an EROEI of 2.5-5 to 1 (2.5-5 units returned for every unit invested), in contrast to oil’s EROEI of 30 to 1. Biofuels, with an EROEI of 1 to 1, are even worse. Their only purpose is to return a profit to government subsidized biofuel merchants like Archer Daniels Midland. They’re useless as an energy source.

The steep decline in surplus energy will translate into major social change, as nearly all of our energy use will be geared towards producing new energy (i.e. food production).

The Recent Drop in Oil Prices

In my view, the only shortcoming in this presentation was Heinberg’s failure to address the steep drop in oil prices that began in June 2014 (from $100 to $48 a barrel, recently leveling off around $60 a barrel). He does discuss it in a December 19, 2014 article The Oil Price Crash of 2014

In brief he attributes the temporary price drop to a decrease in demand (due to deepening recession in China, Japan and Europe), coupled with increasing supply (due to the frantic pace of fracking in the US). Normally when there’s a mismatch in supply and demand, it falls on Saudi Arabia (the world’s top oil exporter) to ramp down production. This time the Saudis have refused to cut back production.

Their motivation is a matter of speculation. According to Heinberg, the most likely reasons are a desire to destroy the US fracking industry (small fracking companies are going bankrupt in droves – they’re up to their eyeballs in debt and fracked oil is only profitable above $70-80 a barrel) – and to punish Russia and Iran (whose economies are totally dependent on oil and gas exports) for meddling in Syria and Iraq.


*A measure of energy, a Calorie is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree Centigrade.

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.