Indigenous Women Fight to Protect Rights of Woven Guatemala Textile Design
The Kaqchikel women—one of 23 Mayan cultures in Guatemala—are fighting to protect their collective intellectual property rights to their traditional Mayan textile designs. Led by the Women's Association for the Development of Saquatepéquez (AFEDES), an organization with a membership of more than 1,000 indigenous women and supported by an association of Mayan lawyers, hundreds of Kaqchikel women artisans of all ages took their case to the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City this past June. They are asking the court to push the Guatemalan Congress to enact new laws that would protect their intellectual property rights over the intricate woven designs that have become ubiquitous in the tourist markets and are a direct reproduction of their heritage and cultural identity.
Reproduction of the Mayan textiles has become increasingly controlled by just a handful of companies that hire Mayan women and pay them very little (around 10 quetzales or just more than one U.S. dollar) for a design that might take days, even weeks, to weave. The products are sold at a much higher cost to tourists and textile buyers around the world. But this isn't just an economic issue to the indigenous women who flooded the courts this spring. Dressed in their traditional hand-woven blouses known as huipils—each design emblematic of the life in their particular community and worn every day by these women and their children as they work, play and go to school—they argued that the real value of these iconic textiles is the preservation of a way of life and the protection of a living culture.
AFEDES Director Milivan Aspuac.
In a recent field visit to accompany and support AFEDES and their efforts on behalf of indigenous women's social, cultural and economic rights, the AFEDES' Director Milivan Aspuac explained to me and my colleagues from WhyHunger that at its core their struggle is to protect the very heartbeat of Life. According to the Mayan Cosmovision, everything is connected and human beings are charged with engendering reciprocity, solidarity and harmony in all of the elements—physical and spiritual, matter and energy—that make up Life. The story of Life and the principles of their Cosmovision are revealed in the designs of the vibrantly-colored textiles that women have been creating for thousands of years—each one unique and representative of a particular time and value-system of a particular community. Protecting and preserving the way in which these designs are reproduced and the huipils worn (from adult to child, from generation to generation, from community to community) is to protect, repair and preserve Life.
There is much Life to repair in this mountainous region of Guatemala in the department of Saquatépequez, home to one of the tourist meccas in Central America, the carefully restored colonial city of Antigua which is a designated World Heritage Site. Since 1993, the AFEDES members have been organizing indigenous women throughout this state to join them in their efforts to envision a way of life that aligns with their Mayan Cosmovision while not wholly rejecting a modern world. Decolonization and reclamation is at the heart of their strategy to confront the gender, economic and racial oppression that has left them in extreme poverty and is slowing appropriating their culture. We saw evidence of the strategic ways in which AFEDES confronts oppression that reflect the holistic, complex and at times heartbreaking circumstances of women's lives. As Milvian explained: "AFEDES can't work only with food sovereignty or economic development or violence against women—we have to work on all these fronts because that's the reality of women's lives." The struggle is arduous, the losses are many, but with each win against the oppression that the women of AFEDES describe as patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism, one more strand of colorful cotton can be woven back in to their story.
Resisting Patriarchy: Self-Worth and Power in Numbers
The struggle to end violence against Mayan women in the village of San José Pacul is at the foundation of the organizing work that AFEDES does in this village and dozens of others just like it. Angelina Aspuac, one of AFEDES' organizers, tells us, "The main issue here is machismo." Sofia's story, who Angelina introduced us to, is representative, she said, of many of the Mayan women who have now come together to pool resources, share assets and work together to collectively improve the quality of their lives. "I never thought of becoming a wealthy woman," Sofia said. "The idea at the start was to start a community bank to make small loans." She explains that the men stepped in soon after and started to dictate what the loans should be used for and yet the women were still held responsible for paying the money back. Not alone in her predicament, Sofia's husband would confiscate the loan money she had intended to use for investing in a small cottage industry to make enough money to send her kids to school. She endured regular beatings and became isolated when he forbid her to attend any more of the women's meetings. Since she couldn't pay back her loans, she couldn't bring home any more funds for him to spend or invest in his own failed ventures. Eventually Sofia made the very difficult decision to separate from her husband despite the fear of retreating further into poverty. She left their home with their seven children and no money. She was emboldened to take her life in her own hands, she said, because she had the support of other women in AFEDES.
Dona Sofia and children: ""I never thought that we could become a community of strong women, with our heads full of ideas. I may not have any money but I am a wealthy woman because of my ties to AFEDES."
AFEDES has established "safe houses" for women when they report domestic abuse to the local police and their claims are dismissed. The police will often say the beatings are justified because the women did not prepare good food or did something else that provoked their husbands. AFEDES has become a space that abused women can retreat to for emotional and legal support. AFEDES is stretched thin in their attempt to attend to all the women who show up on the doorstep of the safe house. The organization does not yet have enough legal or counseling capacity to thoroughly support each woman's case. But they can listen to every woman's story with integrity and compassion and connect them to other women in their community for support. This is the first and often the most important intervention, one of the AFEDES organizers named Justiniana told us. Learning to value themselves and the other women in the community is a core aspect of the consciousness-raising work that AFEDES brings to the organized groups in each village. The issue of self-care is a part of that. "It's important that women learn to take care of themselves so they have the energy to do the work of preserving and protecting Life," she explained.
As colonialism ushered in western values, women began to be seen only as useful for work in the kitchen and the fields. Because of AFEDES the women have been able to organize, receive training in agroecology and homeopathy, learn a new trade and participate in leadership development. They recognize their own value and now their families and communities recognize their value. Sofia concluded her triumphant story with the following: "I never thought that we could become a community of strong women, with our heads full of ideas. I may not have any money but I am a wealthy woman because of my ties to AFEDES. I don't have a lot of income, but I have a community and my children are going to school. My children are behind me and supporting me. My children know that I have skills, knowledge and value. Because my children know that I have value, they come to recognize their own value and their own power."
Resisting the Capitalist Extraction of Natural Resources: Two Competing Ideologies
In the village of El Réjon—where steep and mostly denuded hillsides are lined with homes pieced together out of pallets, discarded tin and other found materials and the gullies are lined with the debris of packaged and processed food items—the Mayan people are facing pressure from the federal government to allow a mega mining operation. If the mountains surrounding their village are opened up for gold prospecting and extraction, families would have to abandon their land, their homes and their community. As in many other cases in Guatemala, these mining operations leave a path of destruction in their wake—contaminated water and soil, loss of forest, as well as illness and broken lives. For the moment, the local government is heeding the demands of the community and has declared they will not allow mining, that they will resist the corporations if they come. This is testament to efforts of the women of El Réjon who have organized themselves with the support of AFEDES. These women successfully impeached the previous mayor because he supported the mining and tried to do the bidding of the federal government and corporations who were in their back pocket.
AFEDES member in El Rejon saving seeds: "Women in this community are used to people giving them food; they don't realize that they have the capacity to provide food for themselves."
The struggle against mining is a battle over two competing ideologies, according to the Mayan women in the village. The prospectors and multinational companies who reap the profits represent one ideology. Their mentality is one of economic expansion—let's get the gold out of the mountains and sell it. Making profit in the short-term is their myopic aim. The women of AFEDES also fear that local families will not benefit from that profit as it will be extracted right alongside the gold. The Mayan ideology, as explained by the women of El Réjon, is in stark contrast. "The mountain is like a body. If you take the gold out of the mountain, you are exploiting the Life and spirit of the mountain. To us, the mountain is a living being, a part of our living culture, not just a big pile of dirt. The mountains have bones—the minerals contained there—and if you exploit that for money, then you're killing the Life of the mountain."
Resisting Colonialism: Reclaiming Health and Agriculture Through Mayan Foodways
For the Mayans, mining and other extractive industries are the continuous thread of colonialism. 524 years of colonialism to be exact. Five centuries of exploitation and hunger. According to the World Food Program, Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Those who suffer most from hunger and poverty are young, rural and indigenous. Chronic malnutrition among indigenous children is close to 70 percent. Paradoxically, 70 percent of people who are hungry in Guatemala used to be food producers. More than 50 percent of the population in Saquatépequez is malnourished, meaning that they do not have access to enough calories or nutritious food. Women and children are most affected. Traditionally, men are fed first, children second and then women. Often when the rest of the family is fed, the women are left only with tortillas.
In all of the villages throughout Saquatépequez where Mayan people live, diets have suffered as processed foods have become more available. Charity is the norm in dealing with hunger; and agriculture has become focused on mono-crops such as coffee, sugar, bananas and cotton for market and export. "During an election year, the politicians come and promise many things—even a bag of food. But now that we're organized," said a Mayan woman farmer in the village of Pachali, "they can't get away with these promises." Instead the women are calling for secure land access, a ban on GMO crops and support for seed saving to grow a diversity of indigenous foods. Diets used to be richer and more balanced in our ancestor's time, Milivian explains. AFEDES is working hard to recuperate that. "Some say the future has already passed and our ancestors lived better than we do now." AFEDES is not alone in this struggle. They are one organization among 32 women-led organizations that make up the national women's sector that are fighting to reclaim and re-energize Mayan food production and diets, as one part of their living culture.
The women of AFEDES have rejected agrochemicals and the pressure from the government and multinational companies to grow mono-crops for export. The pressure has escalated, the women of AFEDES explain, over the past two decades. "We are 20 years into this situation and there is more hunger and malnutrition than ever before." Many farmers lost their land because they got into cash crops. The story is the same the world over: Farmers were promised economic prosperity if they grew a certain kind of crop using modern seeds and agrichemicals. They had to borrow money to purchase all of the inputs as dictated by the agricultural "experts." Inevitably, the crops failed after a couple of years when the soil became depleted and/or the market shifted, so they were forced to sell their land to get rid of the debt. For this reason, AFEDES is promoting their traditional milpa or maize field. As indigenous peoples throughout the Americas have done, the thriving milaps we visited included a triumvirate of plants—corn, beans and squash—that work together in mutual support to ensure that there is a variety of food throughout the growing season that also leaves the soil replenished and ready for planting anew.
While in Pachali we visited a farmer by the name of Dona Francisca. In a half-acre plot she was growing carrots, onions and spinach in addition to participating in a traditional milpa with other women in the community. Dona Francisca explained why she has participated in a community of AFEDES women recuperating Mayan foodways for the past thirteen years. "Women in this community are used to people giving them food; they don't realize that they have the capacity to provide food for themselves."
Down the road in El Réjon we met with a woman who is growing food and medicinal plants mainly for herself and her children. She recounts her recent past, describing herself as a woman who was often sick and always depressed. She couldn't afford to go to the doctor. Two women in the community who were concerned came to talk to her and they encouraged her to join their small AFEDES group that was just forming. Thanks to her AFEDES companeras, she said, she started learning to grow medicinal plants and produce food on small plots of land around her home and in containers right in front of her house. She now has chicks and will soon have eggs to eat. She has even begun teaching other women to use medicinal plants. She is not yet earning income, she said, but her health has returned, she is engaged in the community and is saving money by not having to purchase all of her food or medicine.
Natural medicine—or medicines derived from plants—according to the Mayan people, is a critical aspect of their living culture. The Mayans believe that every plant has a spirit and that contained in each plant is both matter and energy. So, harvesting the plant for medicine requires understanding and having faith in the energy contained in the living plants.
Striding Towards Sovereignty
Sovereignty is at the heart of what AFEDES is aiming to accomplish—the right to self-govern, the right to hold on to their stories and values as revealed in the designs on their huipils, the right to land to establish milpas and seed saving practices to ensure future harvests, the right to the dignity that comes in growing healthy food to feed their families and heal their bodies and minds, the right to reproduce the living culture of the Mayan people, the right to protect the symbiotic relationship between matter and energy.
Justiniana, long-time member and current leader in AFEDES, wearing her hand-woven belt.
The symbol that AFEDES has chosen to represent itself is a belt woven with a design in the tradition of the Mayan huipils. The belt is multi-colored—each vibrant strand of cotton beautiful on its own but complex and whole when woven together. The various strands crafted into a design represent the diversity of the Mayan people, their languages and practices, as well as the diversity and strength of the women of Saquatépequez. Each small ball formed by tying strands of the cotton at the end of the belt fringe represents a different community, a different skill and a different capacity. As Milvian said: "We grew up in this organization. Our mothers brought us here. It has been our school of life."
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced legislation on Tuesday to protect more than 30,000 acres of public land bordering Yellowstone National Park. These public lands in Montana's Park County are the targets of two industrial scale gold mine proposals, which would threaten the national park, the clean water of the Yellowstone River, wildlife and the local economy. The legislation does not affect any recreational use of the land, including hunting or fishing.
Sen. Tester's legislation followed actions made in the fall of 2016, when U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture began a two-year time-out on gold exploration and mining, on the public land near Yellowstone National Park.
"The people in Park County are standing together and saying industrial gold mining doesn't make sense on the doorsteps of Yellowstone. Our river, our wild lands and our wildlife are too valuable to gamble," said Michelle Uberuaga, executive director of the Park County Environmental Council.
"Our local elected officials and the county commission are standing with us and we're grateful to have Sen. Tester's leadership in Washington, DC. Now we need to see this to the finish line," she added.
More than 300 local businesses of the bipartisan Yellowstone Gateway Business Coalition asked for the action, citing risks to their livelihoods and to the strong regional economy. The local calls for action were echoed on a national level, for the potential impacts to the world's first national park and surrounding wildlife habitat, as well the Yellowstone River and its world-famous fishery.
"National Parks Conservation Association applauds Sen. Tester for taking the next step in opposing industrial gold mines next to Yellowstone," commented Stephanie Adams, Yellowstone program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
"Concerns over the threats to Yellowstone and its nearby communities and waterways have been echoed by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Steve Daines. It is time for our elected officials at all levels to stand together in forever protecting these priceless lands."
Sen. Tester's legislation protects private property rights while enacting a permanent withdrawal on the public lands.
"Legislation is needed to permanently prevent private corporations from industrializing public lands in the heart of the Yellowstone ecosystem," said Jenny Harbine, attorney for Earthjustice.
"The introduction of legislation is a crucial first step and now we must all fight for Congressional approval of this critical protection for some of our nation's most-prized wild lands."
Mayors from across the nation joined with the Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign Wednesday to announce a new effort to engage and recruit mayors to endorse a goal of transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy.
Ahead of the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Miami Beach in June, the launch of Mayors for 100% Clean Energy aims to demonstrate bold local leadership and showcase the depth and breadth of support from city leaders for a transition to 100 percent renewable energy.
The new initiative is co-chaired by Mayor Philip Levine of Miami Beach, Mayor Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City, Mayor Kevin Faulconer of San Diego and Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina. Benjamin is also a vice president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
"We have already taken steps to expand renewable energy and we will continue to improve our infrastructure and innovate clean energy solutions for a stronger Miami Beach," said Mayor Levine. "Climate change may be the challenge of our generation, but it is also the opportunity of a lifetime. The transition to clean and renewable energy will both help Miami Beach confront climate change and strengthen our local economy."
Mayor Biskupski noted that cities contribute about 75 percent of human greenhouse gas emissions, and said Salt Lake City is warming at a rate twice as fast as the global average.
"We can't ignore climate change because climate change is not ignoring us," she said. "Among many other risks, we face water shortages, decreased snowpack and threats to our $1 billion ski industry. Cities must adapt to cope with these threats, and that's also why we must take action to mitigate them."
Noting that San Diego has become a leading city for solar energy capacity, Mayor Faulconer said that business and environmental groups are cooperating to achieve a mutually beneficial goal of 100 percent renewable energy.
"Clean energy isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do," he emphasized. "We're going green not only because it supports clean air and water, but because it supports our 21st century economy."
Mayoral leadership has been a powerful driver of city-wide action on climate change and clean energy in municipalities across the country. The Mayors National Climate Action Agenda (Climate Mayors) founded by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, recently released an electric vehicle request for information to demonstrate demand to automakers for nearly 115,00 vehicles that could be electrified in 30 cities.
Now the co-chairs of Mayors for 100% Clean Energy, a number of whom are Climate Mayors, are further demonstrating their commitment to lead nationally on the shared challenge of reducing climate pollution and contributing to Climate Mayors' framework of local leadership and action.
"Mayors can lead our nation toward a healthier, stronger and more prosperous country by championing a vision of 100 percent clean, renewable energy in their communities," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. "Cities don't need to wait for Washington, DC to act in order to move the ball forward on clean energy."
Twenty-six cities across the U.S. have now committed to transition to 100 percent clean and renewable energy. This growing list of cities most recently includes South Lake Tahoe, California, which last week unanimously voted to transition entirely to renewable energy by 2032. Other big cities including Los Angeles and Denver are studying pathways to 100 percent clean energy. Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a commitment to transition Chicago municipal buildings and operations to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2025.
Despite the numerous controversies and vocal opposition swirling around President Donald Trump's pick to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Senators voted 52 to 46, largely along party lines, in February to confirm Oklahoma Republican Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator.
It now appears that Koch Industries—the oil and gas conglomerate owned by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch—directly lobbied Congress to confirm Pruitt and spent millions to influence anti-environmental initiatives, a disclosure report shows.
As The Intercept reported:
"The firm's latest disclosure form reports that its in-house corporate lobbying team spent $3.1 million to influence lawmakers over the first three months of the year on a variety of issues affecting its bottom line, including the EPA's Clean Power Rule on carbon emissions, carbon pricing, the Clean Air Act and 'nominations for various positions at the Department of Energy.'"
"This is exactly what we mean when we talk about oligarchy. Multi-billionaires and corporations should not have the power to pick and choose who is in charge of our federal agencies," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said in response to The Intercept's report. "But that is exactly what happened—Koch Industries spent millions on lobbying Congress to confirm Scott Pruitt, our head of the Environmental Protection Agency who doesn't believe in environmental protection."
Koch Industries has contributed $38.5 million to federal candidates over the last 25 years and spent another $117 million since 1998 on lobbying. DeSmog reported in February that the company's deep pockets are contributing campaign funds to four GOP representatives who have introduced legislation to completely abolish the EPA.
"It's clear that Trump doesn't represent working families. His agenda benefits the Koch brothers and their billionaire [friends]. Our job is to stand together to defeat the drift toward oligarchy and create a vibrant democracy—not one controlled by corporate interests," Sanders said.
Pruitt has reported ties to the fossil fuel industry and he repeatedly sued the EPA when he was Oklahoma Attorney General. In 2014, he was caught sending letters on state government letterheads to President Obama and federal agency heads asserting that the EPA was overestimating the air pollution from drilling for natural gas in Oklahoma. As it turns out, the letter was written by lawyers for one of the state's largest oil and gas companies, Devon Energy.
Following Trump's executive order, Pruitt plans to kill the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation designed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Pruitt also challenged the plan when he was Oklahoma AG.
Pruitt said in March that he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to climate change.
The Intercept also detailed how Pruitt's nomination as EPA head was strongly backed by industry groups:
"The American Energy Alliance, an advocacy group founded by former Koch Industries lobbyist Tom Pyle, issued a letter in support of Pruitt along with other Koch-backed conservative nonprofits. America Rising Squared, a political research outfit that has harassed environmental activists, formed a special website—now deleted—to respond to criticism of Pruitt's record."
Enbridge Energy Partners' aging Line 5 pipeline, which runs through the heart of the Great Lakes, has spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil and natural gas liquids in at least 29 incidents since 1968, according to data from the federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration obtained by the National Wildlife Federation.
Built in 1953, the 645-mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline carries petroleum to eastern Canada via the Great Lakes states. As it travels under the Straits of Mackinac, a narrow waterway that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Line 5 splits into twin 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines.
Line 5 opponents fear that a spill in the Great Lakes, which contains 21 percent of the world's surface fresh water, would be an ecological disaster. Notably, the straits' strong currents reverse direction every few days and a spill would quickly contaminate shoreline communities miles away.
Enbridge is behind a number of major spills, most notoriously in 2010 when an Enbridge line spilled more than 800,000 gallons into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan—creating the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
"We have a pipeline system with a history of problems running through our country's largest source of surface freshwater, and it happens to be operated by the company responsible for one of the largest inland oil spills in North America," said Mike Shriberg, executive director for the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Regional Center.
"This pipeline system places the Great Lakes and many local communities at an unacceptable risk. The state of Michigan needs to find an alternative to this risky pipeline to protect our drinking water, health, jobs and way of life."
The National Wildlife Federation has released a new interactive map showing what has spilled from Enbridge's pipeline system, the repair methods that have been used, and how leaks and defects are being discovered.
The conservation organization noticed from the records that only one of the 29 recorded incidents was detected by a remote pipeline detection system. By contrast, 15 releases were detected by local personnel or the public.
"This new information causes us grave concern about the integrity of the inland pipe system, inconsistencies with spill reporting, and the effectiveness of leak detection systems, repair methods, and long-term planning for the integrity of the decades-old pipeline system," said Beth Wallace, the National Wildlife Federation pipeline safety specialist who discovered the newly released data.
Wallace added, "a significant number of these releases note manufacturing and construction defects, as well as weld failure, which calls into question the overall integrity of the Line 5 system."
Last September, Enbridge filed a work plan with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 18 "holidays" on Line 5—an oil and gas industry term that refers to areas on a pipeline where anti-corrosive coating is missing. However, Enbridge's director of integrity programs Kurt Baraniecki said at a Pipeline Safety Advisory Board meeting last month that the report used imprecise language.
Enbridge has dismissed the National Wildlife Federation's findings.
"This is not new information and we have addressed this issue many times in the past," company spokesperson Ryan Duffy said via email to MLive. "Over the past fifteen years, there have been three incidents on Line 5 that have resulted in a total of approximately 21 barrels of product being released off the mainline. All of the product released during these three incidents was recovered. There has never been an incident on Line 5 at the Straits."
Still, as InsideClimate News reported, Line 5 is facing mounting political pressure. In January, the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians in northern Wisconsin voted not to renew easements that allowed the pipeline to pass through tribal lands. Also in January, U.S. Reps. Dave Trott (R-Mich) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich) introduced legislation calling for a shutdown of the pipeline if a federal study determines it poses significant threat to the Great Lakes.
Enbridge is not the only pipeline company facing opposition over fears of contamination. On Tuesday, a coalition of more than two dozen organizations launched a new campaign to challenge Energy Transfer Partners' (ETP) operations.
Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners is the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline and the under-construction Rover Pipeline, which just spilled 2 million of gallons of drilling fluids into two of Ohio's wetlands on April 22.
ETP is expected to vote to merge with Sunoco Logistics on Wednesday.
"Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics have a damning history of pipeline fires, leaks, and spills, causing millions of dollars in property damage and leaving thousands of gallons of hazardous products in the environment," said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, one of the participating organizations. "These incidents demonstrate a blatant disregard for the communities and waterways impacted by these pipelines."
Lena Moffitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, said momentum has been building across the nation.
"From Standing Rock, to Texas, to Ohio, to towns across the country, people are mobilizing against Energy Transfer Partners and its reckless agenda that has threatened our communities, our clean air and water, and our climate," Moffitt said. "We the people are organized, we are determined, and together, we will stop Energy Transfer Partners' dirty and dangerous plans."
Trump Signs Executive Order Targeting National Monuments, Could Open Up Lands for Oil and Gas Development
The review enables the Department of Interior to examine whether any of the monument designations have led to a "loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access."
"The Antiquities Act does not give the federal government unlimited power to lock up millions of acres of land and water," President Donald Trump said during a brief ceremony today flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke. He added that it was "time to end this abusive practice."
The 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument in Utah is one of the first targets for review. The monument was created by President Obama last year and has sparked major controversy between Republican lawmakers and conservationists. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah's congressional delegation led by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee have launched a campaign to abolish national monument. More than 270 million acres of American land and waters are potentially at risk—an area two and a half times the size of California.
GOP lawmakers have accused President Obama, who designated more monuments than any other president, of abusing the Antiquities Act to protect land from fossil fuel development.
"By potentially rolling back safeguards for lands and waters that are currently protected from destructive development for generations to come, Trump is carving up this beautiful country into as many corporate giveaways for the oil and gas industry as possible," said Diana Best of Greenpeace USA. "People in this country who cannot afford the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago want safe water they can drink and public lands for their communities to enjoy."
National monument designations have protected some of the most iconic places in the country. Dozens of the nation's most treasured national parks were first protected as monuments, including Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Acadia and Olympic national parks, explained the Center for Biological Diversity.
Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emphasized that the NRDC will fight the review, and said the president is not authorized to reverse monument designations.
"These public lands belong to all of us," she said. "The U.S. holds them in trust for the benefit of this and future generations. These monuments have been deemed worthy of permanent conservation because of their unique resources and wildlife, ecological importance, and vulnerability to encroachment and destruction. President Trump and Secretary Zinke should not strip away their protection and subject them to industrial exploitation by polluters or other corporate interests."
The Center for Biological Diversity noted that more than 50 national monuments are at risk, including vast marine areas in the Pacific and Caribbean. Congress gave the president the authority to designate national monuments on federally owned land under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which was signed into law by President Teddy Roosevelt, for the express purpose of protecting important objects of historic and scientific importance.
"This is a frightening step toward dismantling the protection of some of America's most important and iconic places: our national parks and monuments," said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Trump's tapping into the right-wing, anti-public-lands zealotry that will take us down a very dangerous path—a place where Americans no longer have control over public lands and corporations are left to mine, frack, clear-cut and bulldoze them into oblivion. It starts with Bears Ears and Grand Staircase and only gets worse from there."
National monuments are cherished by Americans for their natural beauty and cultural significance.
"There is no need for a review to demonstrate what families across the country already know first-hand—national monuments provide tangible health, natural, and economic benefits," said Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director. "Protected outdoor spaces drive the outdoor recreation economy which supports 7.6 million jobs and generates $887 billion in consumer spending each year. National monuments and public lands are vital both for the history they preserve and the future they offer.
"Contrary to the Trump administration's thinly veiled hopes," he added, "this review will reveal what studies, surveys and polls have consistently found across the country—a deep, widespread appreciation for our parks, monuments and other public lands, and a popular belief that they should continue to exist."
As thousands of people across the country and in Washington, DC are expected to join the People's Climate March on Saturday, indigenous leaders and climate activists will, as 350.org Executive Director May Boeve points out, "now have to defend our parks and monuments from Big Oil as well."
Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, put it this way. "This is another Trump action that is another act of aggression against the inherent sovereign rights of our Native Nations to protect the traditional cultural areas and sacred places of American Indian and Alaska Native people," he said.
"There are many areas in this country, outside of our reserved lands that are of vital importance to our Indigenous peoples' identity and rich cultural and spiritual history. The 1906 Antiquities Act cannot be stripped on its important historical mandates to designate national monuments to protect areas that have cultural, historical and environmental significance. The act is paramount to all the tribes in this country; for our cultural preservation now and into the future. The frontline Indigenous communities in our network see Trump's actions as a way to open up fossil fuel and extractive mineral development within these national monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Trump's action must be stopped."
Companies are also outraged at Trump's latest executive order. "Less than 24 hours after joining with our industry to celebrate the economic power of outdoor recreation, in a hypocritical move, the Trump administration took unprecedented steps that could result in the removal of protections for treasured public lands," Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said.
"We take this as a sign that Trump and his team prefer to cater to fossil fuel interests and state land grabs for unsustainable development, rather than preserve a vital part of our nation's heritage for future generations by protecting federal lands owned by every citizen."
A study released Wednesday found that, if built, the controversial PennEast Pipeline for fracked gas could contribute as much greenhouse gas pollution as 14 coal-fired power plants or 10 million passenger vehicles—some 49 million metric tons per year.
The analysis, conducted by Oil Change International, showed that federal regulators are poised to rubber-stamp the PennEast Pipeline based on a woefully inadequate climate review that ignores the significant impact of methane leaks and wrongly assumes that gas supplied by the project will replace coal.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is facing a growing backlash across the country over its routine approval of gas pipeline projects that endanger communities and the climate. Today's study comes on the heels of a federal court hearing in which a judge slammed FERC's shallow and dismissive review of the climate impact of the Sabal Trail gas pipeline in the Southeast.
The new analysis counters FERC's final environmental impact statement for the PennEast project released in early April. It applies a methodology recently developed by Oil Change International to calculate the climate impact of gas pipelines from the Appalachian Basin. In contrast to FERC, the Oil Change methodology reflects the evolving analysis of methane leakage and the full lifecycle of pollution that pipelines cause from fracking well to smokestack.
"Our analysis shows that the PennEast Pipeline would cause a massive increase in climate pollution," said Lorne Stockman, lead author of the study and Oil Change International senior research analyst. "The only way FERC can conclude otherwise is by ignoring both science and economics. The PennEast pipeline is not needed, communities don't want it and it will deepen reliance on fossil fuels that we can't afford to burn."
The PennEast Pipeline, backed by a consortium of gas companies, would run roughly 120 miles from northeastern Pennsylvania to Mercer County, New Jersey, carrying up to 1.1 billion cubic feet of gas per day. The New Jersey Rate Counsel has concluded that New Jersey consumers do not need the gas. The project is facing stiff opposition from landowners and community and environmental groups along its route.
The Oil Change analysis found that the pipeline would be responsible for over 49 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by adding up the pollution from gas extraction and processing, pipeline operation, gas combustion at power plants and methane leaked across the gas supply chain.
The study found three major faults in FERC's review:
• FERC fails to acknowledge that methane leakage makes gas as dirty or dirtier than coal, wiping out any potential benefits of switching from coal to gas;
• FERC ignores the market reality that new gas production is likely to compete directly with clean energy and energy efficiency, especially in New Jersey, which has already phased out coal-fired generation;
• FERC fails to count upstream emissions from fracking operations.
Advocates from the region reacted to the study with concern and reiterated their commitment to stopping the pipeline, which has yet to receive key permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Delaware River Basin Commission:
"It is unseemly that the public and nonprofit organizations are having to invest time and money in doing the work FERC should be undertaking," said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. "This report demonstrates, yet again, that the PennEast pipeline will help push our nation and world over the climate change cliff. FERC is not only legally required to do the kind of analysis included in this report, but is morally responsible."
Tom Gilbert, campaign director for Rethink Energy NJ and NJ Conservation Foundation, agreed. "It cannot be ignored that New Jersey's greenhouse gas emissions are going up, not down, driven by increased emissions from gas-fired electric plants," he said.
"This report shows that the PennEast pipeline would only further move the state in the wrong direction by increasing carbon emissions and methane leaks, putting public health and safety at risk."
By Graham Readfearn
The New York Times has been defending the paper's hiring of a climate science denier, fighting off its critics with what it claims is a standard fashioned from hardened "intellectual honesty."
While at the Wall Street Journal, Stephens consistently undermined and disparaged climate change, one time describing it as an "imaginary enemy" and another comparing it to religion with a "doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen."
Stephens' new boss, editorial page editor James Bennett, told the paper's public editor Liz Spayd: "The crux of the question is whether his work belongs inside our boundaries for intelligent debate and I have no doubt that it does. I have no doubt he crosses our bar for intellectual honesty and fairness."
Suffice to say, there are plenty who disagree. One climate scientist has already canceled his subscription in protest, with others watching closely.
No doubt that Stephens can write—he won a Pulitzer in 2012 for lots of opinions on stuff other than climate.
But like other conservative columnists admired for their poetic prose and strident opinions while attacking climate change, the methods used by Stephens might be compared to those of a fake chef producing a lumpy and unsatisfying word soup.
There's no real care with the preparation and no quality control over the freshness or blending of the ingredients, but these indiscretions are suitably masked with enough flavor-enhancers to give some short-term satisfaction to unsuspecting diners/readers.
But the New York Times should probably be serving up something far more substantial than crap soup and three-day-old bread to its massive audience.
Stephens wrote that a trend in rising global temperatures was "imperceptible" and that the "hysteria" around climate change ignored how this trend could be "a product of natural variation."
There is a mountain of evidence that global warming is not caused by "natural fluctuations" and this evidence has been in existence for decades. To suggest that it isn't, would be to fall below any bar of intellectual honesty erected in the newsroom of the New York Times or in any science academy around the globe.
In the same column, Stephens chose to highlight "the hyping of flimsy studies—melting Himalayan glaciers; vanishing polar ice" that he said were being used to push a political viewpoint.
Stephens was referring to an error on Himalayan glaciers buried away in a UN report, while choosing to ignore the decades-long trend of melting that has been recorded at glaciers all over the planet.
Stephens himself has told Huffington Post that he's an "agnostic" on climate change and said while it "seems" the weight of scientific evidence points to human causes for global warming, that evidence might be wrong because "the history of science is replete with consensus positions that have evolved."
Now, the New York Times' own defense of its hiring of Stephens is almost as redundant as the arguments that Stephens borrows from climate science deniers.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, the New York Time's Bennett said there was "more than one kind of denial."
"And to pretend like the views of a thinker like Bret and the millions of people who agree with him on a range of issues, should simply be ignored, that they're outside the bounds of reasonable debate, is a really dangerous form of delusion," he said.
Let's think about what the New York Times opinion page might look like if we based it on the beliefs of millions of Americans.
According to Gallup polling data, some 20 percent of Americans believe in witches, which is roughly half the number of people who think extrasensory perception is actually a thing.
A poll conducted by Harris in 2016 found that two out of five Americans think ghosts are real. Belief in evolution? That's at 49 percent. Creationism? Some 37 percent are down with that.
Lizard people controlling societies? One in 25 Americans fear their presence, but where's their representation in the New York Times editorials?
Arguing that someone should be hired to the editorial desk of one of the world's most influential newspapers because "millions of people" hold a particular belief is a clear path to supporting the sort of delusional thinking that has more Americans believing in the paranormal than accepting that climate change is mostly human-caused.
That 1970s Cooling Myth
Opinions are worth printing when they're based on the preponderance of credible evidence, not the self-interests of fossil fuel–funded "fellows" at so-called think tanks or the whimsy of attention-seeking contrarians.
In an August 2011 interview on Fox News Business, Stephens told viewers "in the 1970s we were supposed to believe in global cooling."
Were we? Well, if you want to base your intellectually robust opinion on a moldy-old myth based on a couple of 1970s news items, then fine.
Alternatively, read a 2008 review of science papers published between 1965 and 1979 finding that only seven papers were predicting cooling against 44 saying temperatures would rise.
Also in that interview, Stephens lauded an essay by the late author Michael Crichton that attacked the consensus on global warming.
In that essay, based on a lecture, Crichton said: "Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had."
So let's just stop a second and think about what Crichton was advocating here.
The consensus of medical science says smoking will massively increase your risk of getting cancer and heart disease, even if you can't say exactly which cigarette killed your wheezy relative. You're being had, folks.
Crichton was putting up a straw man argument—that science is done by consensus—in order to then attack it.
When people talk about a consensus on the causes of climate change, they're describing the collective findings of thousands of peer-reviewed articles published in leading scientific journals over decades using multiple methods from a diverse set of observations.
The consensus that climate change is caused by humans comes from the long-studied physical properties of greenhouse gases to the measurements of warming oceans, the atmosphere and the places on the planet where there is or was, ice.
Don't get me wrong here, folks. You're free to choose a glib sound bite from a science fiction writer based on a misrepresentation of the concept of scientific consensus.
But take care not to be had by charlatans promising to chat to your very dead Aunty Betty or save your soul from the claws of the lizard people.
I think it might be time someone broke into the editorial office of the New York Times and raised that bar of intellectual honesty.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.