Salmon vs. Gold at Alaska's Pebble Mine
The board and shareholders of UK-based giant Anglo American are facing a growing barrage of opposition to its plans for a massive gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The mine would jeopardise the world’s largest and most valuable wild salmon fishery and a delegation of Alaska native Yupik leaders and the director of Bristol Bay’s largest commercial fishing fleet, are travelling 4,500 miles to attend the company’s AGM on April 19 to meet Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll and inform shareholders the mine is not worth the risk.
Investor confidence in the mine appears to be declining within Canada-based Northern Dynasty Minerals, Anglo’s partner in the Pebble Partnership, with its share price halving in the past year. And near the end of this month the Obama administration’s influential U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will deliver a much-anticipated scientific report on the risks of large-scale mining to the Bristol Bay fishery. The EPA has the authority to block the mine if, as expected, the science shows the mine would have a significant adverse impact on the fishery.1 Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of nine native village corporations representing over half of the region’s native population, says:
"We've come to London to let Anglo American's leadership and shareholders know that we will fight this threat to our salmon—and our way of life—to the very end.”
People power is also at work in Lake and Pen Borough, where the mine would be sited, with amendments to its ‘permitting code’ last autumn prohibiting development of large mines with a “significant adverse impact” on any salmon stream.
Commercial fishing groups across the U.S. have also united in opposition. In late March, 77 groups representing 16,000 commercial fishermen across the U.S. wrote to the Obama Administration urging protection for Bristol Bay, its epic salmon runs and the commercial fishing jobs that rely on them.
"This is the first time I can remember commercial fishermen from the entire country speaking so clearly in support of a regional fishery," said Sig Hansen, a Bering Sea crab fisherman in association with the letter. "It's clear that fishermen and consumers across the country value Bristol Bay salmon and will not let a mega-mine jeopardize it."
Bob Waldrop, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association representing Bristol Bay’s 5,000 commercial fishermen, added: "Commercial fishermen from across America stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the most valuable wild salmon fishery on earth, and the thousands of commercial fishing jobs threatened by development of the Pebble Mine.”
In 2009, CEO of Anglo American, Carroll, told the Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin: “If I’m not satisfied we can proceed without harm to the local people and the environment, then we simply won’t do it. We will not go where communities are against us.”
Yet, despite 81 percent of Bristol Bay Natives voicing opposition to the mine, Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals continue to push the project. The companies have filed a legal challenge against the Borough ordinance, and a recent article reports that the Pebble Partnership (Anglo American and Northern Dynasty) spent more than any other sector—even oil—on lobbying the Alaska Legislature. They have increased their mineral claim holdings to more than 500 square miles and to date the partnership has spent £258 ($450) million on exploration of the deposit. With gold prices over £1,000 ($1,600) an ounce, the company has announced that it will seek permits this fiscal year.
The threat to important national and international seafood supplies has also prompted America’s Food Marketing Institute (FMI), representing 26,000 food retail stores and $680 billion in annual U.S. revenue, to publicly support protecting the Bristol Bay fishery. In a letter supporting the EPA study, FMI cited the importance of the fishery to its member’s seafood supply chain. And nearly 30 investor organizations representing $160 billion in assets and 13 million Anglo American shares, and including the UK Local Authority Pension Fund, also sent a letter of support to the EPA.
In addition, the increasingly vocal opposition also includes more than 50 U.S. and U.K. jewellers, representing £3.5 billion in annual sales, who have signed a ‘No Pebble’ pledge not to buy gold sourced from the mine, including Tiffany & Co., Mappin & Webb, Fraser Hart, and Boucheron—uppliers of jewels to the Royal Family.
Other interest groups who have taken a stand against the mine include 200 chefs concerned about damage to sockeye salmon supplies, and more than 300 sport fishing and hunting businesses, including UK’s Hardy & Greys, Farlow’s of Pall Mall and Albury Game Angling.
Bob Waldrop, who will be at the AGM, added, “The Pebble project would jeopardize the fishery that supplies 50 percent of the world’s commercial supply of sockeye salmon.” “We are confident the EPA study will confirm that the disposal of mine waste into this top salmon habitat is environmentally unacceptable,” he said.
The proposed mine would be the largest in North America and generate up to ten billion tons of toxic mine waste, which will be disposed of behind massive earthen dams that will rival the world’s tallest concrete dam—the Three Gorges dam in China. If it goes ahead, the mine would destroy important salmon spawning habitat, and put the salmon fishery at high risk, according to a 2010 ecological risk assessment.
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1America’s EPA was requested by local Alaskans and fishermen to study the suitability of large-scale mining and development in Bristol Bay, including the Pebble Mine. Under section 404c of the Clean Water Act, the EPA can proactively prohibit the disposal of mine waste into Bristol Bay streams, lakes or wetlands.
2Anglo American Shareholder Meeting: The Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AG, Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 2:30 p.m.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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