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Tree-Sitters Launch 9th Aerial Blockade of Mountain Valley Pipeline

Energy
Fern MacDougal's stand on Pocahontas Road. Appalachians Against Pipelines

Resistance is growing against the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) designed to carry fracked gas 300 miles from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia.

On Monday morning, a woman named Fern MacDougal strung up a platform 30 feet in the air that is suspended by ropes tied to surrounding trees in Virginia's Jefferson National Forest.


MacDougal is now the ninth person in the last 85 days to stage tree-sits across the pipeline route in order to block its construction, according to Appalachians Against Pipelines. Her "aerial blockade," as the resistance group calls it, is located on Pocahontas Road, which Mountain Valley plans to use to reach a construction site.

Opponents of the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, whose route cuts through one of the country's most iconic hiking trails, worry about its threat to the area's water supply and to wildlife habitat, as well as its potential harm to recreational lands and the health of surrounding Appalachian communities. Environmental groups also warn that the project sets a terrible precedent of building energy infrastructure through national forests.

"Cutting through delicate karst topography and 300 miles of contiguous forest and family farms seized by eminent domain, MVP threatens to damage the health and wellbeing of poor and oppressed communities along the pipeline route by threatening the air, soil and water," said MacDougal in a statement.

She added, "This pipeline will catalyze the growth and expansion of gas extraction across Appalachia, an industry which has already caused permanent harm to many communities. We are dedicated to resisting this reckless endangerment of the land and people as long as MVP continues to operate."

MacDougal was inspired to follow the activism of a fellow tree-sitter named "Nutty," who has protested from her monopod a few miles up Pocahontas road since March 28, and by David Buckel, a civil rights lawyer who died last month after setting himself on fire to protest environmental destruction.

Posters at MacDougal's site declare, "WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?" and "STILL HERE."

Appalachians Against Pipelines

In a Facebook update after her first day, MacDougal said the Forest Service was "really angry when they saw that I was here."

Tree-sits have popped up in at least five locations along the pipeline route. The oldest site is still occupied by a man named "Deckhard," who has been stationed at his platform on the West Virginia side of Peters Mountain since Feb. 26.

Mountain Valley has sued several hundred landowners in West Virginia and Virginia to invoke eminent domain to allow it to cut trees and run the pipeline through their properties. One such landowner, Red Terry, a 61 year woman, and her daughter "Minor," camped for more than a month in a treehouse on their own land before court-ordered fines and the threat of forced removal brought them down, Rolling Stone reported.

According to the Independent, Mountain Valley has urged judges to remove some of the tree sitters but has been unsuccessful. The Forest Service also issued a "closure order" within 200 feet of the proposed pipeline route, which they say is to protect the public from any construction hazards.

However, pipeline opponents say the order has prevented re-supplies of food and water to the tree-sitters. Attempts to bring supplies to the sitters has already led at least three arrests, Outside Online reported.

Rolling Stone reported that two Charlottesville physicians who sought to perform a wellness check on Nutty were denied access near her platform.

Mountain Valley has said that the pipeline will be in operation by the end of this year. However, Appalachians Against Pipelines, which is raising funds to stop the project, said the presence of tree-sitters has already caused a significant delay in construction for more than 50 days.

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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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