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Summer of Solidarity Inspires Autumn of Unity in Fight Against Fossil Fuels
By Peter Rugh
A hard rain was falling on Monday night as Occupy the Pipeline activists spread out along New York’s Hudson River Park, in front of the site where workers in orange day-glow vests have been laboring around the clock on the New Jersey-New York Expansion Project. Known colloquially by the name of its builder, Spectra Energy, the Spectra Pipeline will pump fuel hydraulically-fracked from Pennsylvania’s gas fields into New York City.
The very real risk of explosion along the densely populated regions through which the pipeline passes have made local residents want nothing to do with the project, as evidenced by letters submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the pipeline’s approval process. Only 22 of the 5,000 letters were in favor of the project.
The Spectra Pipeline is just one of a new breed of high pressure pipelines being built around the country to expand the gas market to meet the increasing output of U.S. shale production. According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Oct. 18, 2011, Spectra Energy entered into a $1.5 billion revolving credit agreement with the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Through what’s known as a syndicated loan, Wall Street infused Spectra with capital and spread the financial risk around, while leaving the risk of possible explosion for local residents to bear.
On Oct. 15, Occupy the Pipeline activists wrapped themselves in yellow caution tape as they stood in front of the pipeline construction site. They had black-and-white skeleton makeup on their faces—representing, they said, the danger of fossil fuels turning humans into fossils—which was bleeding down their chins because of the rain. The tape woven around the bodies of those on the line served as a symbol of interconnectivity.
“We are all connected through a web of toxic pipelines,” Occupy the Pipeline organizer Monica Hunken cried out through the people’s microphone, “but we are also connected by a vision for safe and sustainable world.”
Seeing their local fight against Spectra as a microcosm of a broader battle, Occupy the Pipeline put out a call several weeks earlier for those opposing America’s fossil fuel beef-up to join them in a day of action. In Texas, activists who have been carrying out direct actions against the Keystone XL didn’t need much prodding. On #O15, as the date has been called, 50 people stood in the way of the pipeline that NASA climate scientist James Hansen has told the New York Times means “game over” in the fight against climate change.
The Keystone XL is designed to bring heavy crude oil from a deforested region in Alberta, Canada, to export markets along America’s Gulf Coast. After more than 1,000 people were arrested sitting-in at the White House against the pipeline in the summer of 2011, and thousands formed a ring around the White House last November, President Barack Obama announced in January he was nixing approval of the pipeline until after the 2012 election. Quietly, however, his administration gave the go-ahead for construction of the XL’s southern portion.
During a stump speech in Cushing, Oklahoma—a town known as the “Pipeline Capital of the World”—Obama disputed claims that he was a softhearted environmentalist. “We’ve built enough pipeline to encircle the earth and then some,” he told the Cushing crowd. Writing at Grist, shortly after Obama’s Department of the Interior issued four coal mining leases for the Powder River Basin in 2011, Glenn Hurowitz summed up the president’s “all of the above” energy policy as “effectively using modest wind and solar investments as cover for a broader embrace of dirty fuels.” It’s a trick straight out of BP or Chevron’s playbook, writes Hurowitz, to “tout modest environmental investments in multi-million dollar PR campaigns, while putting the real money into fossil fuel development.” But these days Obama does not appear to be playing down his enthusiasm for coal, gas and oil.
While the U.S. under Obama’s leadership is deepening its reliance on fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions have led the climate and the human race along with it into what Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), calls “uncharted territory.” Data collected by Serreze and fellow researchers in September shows that 1.32 million square miles of arctic ice cover withered away over the summer, more than in any year previously on record. The team had anticipated a record melt, but the scope of this year’s de-icing far exceeded its expectations. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up,” reported Serreze, “few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.”
Fortunately for those concerned about the impact of fossil fuels on the biosphere, opposition to the escalating rate of ecological devastation has entered “uncharted territory” as well. In what has been termed a “Summer of Solidarity,” actions against ecological devastation took place in numerous regions across the U.S.
As thousands marched in the first national rally against fracking in Washington, D.C., 50 people walked onto the country’s largest mountaintop removal site in West Virginia and shut it down. Union workers locked out of the Pilgrim nuclear plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts, picketed beside environmentalists. In New York, Occupy the Pipeline challenged Spectra through sit-ins and lockdowns, while Puerto Rican activists battled (and halted) a natural gas pipeline through a campaign in which both islanders and the mainland diaspora took part.
Actions in the U.S. were inspired by bold and brazen acts of ecological defiance globally including the occupation of the massive Bela Monte Dam in Brazil’s rainforest by indigenous tribes amidst the Rio+20 climate conference and a weeklong blockade of the Olympic Dam uranium mine in South Australia. All the while in Texas, lockdowns and tree-sits against Keystone XL took off one after another.
In Massachusetts, where Spectra Energy is attempting to soup up the Algonquin Gas Transmission line, activists with 350.org and the Better Futures Project met the #O15 call with a tree-sit near Boston. They held banners reading, “TransCanada, You Shall Not Win” and “In Unity With @KXLBlockade & @occupy_pipeline.”
“We leave the 'Summer of Solidarity' with friends still sitting in tree tops, with the direct actions of thousands still reverberating, and we enter the 'Autumn of Unity,'” Monica Hunken told the soggy crowd back in New York. As the effects of climate change become more acute Hunken expressed hope that those resisting it will forge stronger ties with one another.
During Occupy Wall Street’s anniversary weekend in New York, I spoke to Sam Rubin, an anti-fracking activist from Ohio who was in town to storm the Stock Exchange. Then, last Sunday, Rubin and comrades blockaded a fracking site in eastern Ohio, ahead of the #O15 day of action. While in New York last month, Rubin told me that he hails from an area outside of Cleveland hit hard by the recession, where U.S. Steel recently reopened a plant for the first time in two years.
“For these guys to be coming back to work is a huge deal for them,” Rubin said. “They are making steal for pipelines to build-up the fracking infrastructure.” Rubin is part of an emerging breed of environmental activists who see their ecological activism as part of a broader movement for social change. As he and other activists draw on the solidarity fermented over the summer, Rubin said it is import to see their ecological struggles within the pervasive framework of global capitalism, “a system based on growth and extraction for profit fundamentally dependent on human exploitation.”
“Otherwise” added Rubin, “I’m just some guy in a bubble who only cares about my little issue.”
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By Joni Sweet
But with the risk of COVID-19, the answer isn't so clear anymore.
Are States Allowing Preventive Care Visits?<p>First things first: If you're experiencing a medical emergency, don't delay treatment.</p><p>While there's the potential that you could be <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/hai/data/portal/index.html" target="_blank">exposed to infections at the emergency room</a>, the health risks of avoiding urgent medical care could be far more severe.</p><p>Hospitals have also implemented precautionary measures, like distributing masks to patients, that help cut down the risk of viral exposure.</p><p>Now that that's out of the way, is it possible to start catching up on routine healthcare appointments, like physicals and dental cleanings?</p><p>"Different places are in different stages of opening up," said <a href="https://www.methodisthealth.org/doctors/arvind-ankireddypalli/" target="_blank">Dr. Arvind Ankireddypalli</a>, primary care physician and geriatrician at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. "Preventative services might not even be available in some communities, [and in others] medical appointments may be on a case-by-case basis."</p>
Is it Safe to Go to the Doctor?<p>If your state is open (or will end its lockdown soon), you may be able to start booking preventive care appointments, like Pap smears, cancer screenings, checkups, and dental cleanings.</p><p>But is it worth the risk of possible exposure to the new coronavirus?</p><p>Opinions vary among healthcare providers and the conditions of their patients, as well as the infection rate in their communities and availability of personal protective equipment.</p><p><a href="https://www.lenhorovitz.com/" target="_blank">Dr. Len Horovitz</a>, internist, pulmonary specialist, and director of Carnegie Medical, recommends that patients avoid delaying their annual physical or other types of preventive care.</p><p>"You will encounter problems that are best seen earlier rather than later," he said. "It is possible to provide a safe environment for a patient in the doctor's office. There's no reason for people to put off an annual exam; these are important appointments that help keep problems from getting out of control."</p><p>In an effort to curb the spread of infection, Horovitz has been following a strict set of procedures at his office, including allowing just one patient in at a time, requiring patients to wear masks and gloves, and disinfecting the examination room between every patient.</p><p>Other physicians, like Ankireddypalli, conduct a risk-benefit analysis for every patient before agreeing to see them in person.</p><p>"It is probably not appropriate to keep delaying visits for high-risk patients, like older adults or people with chronic conditions," he explained.</p>
Role of Telehealth Visits<p>Telemedicine visits, where doctors connect with patients via phone or video chat, can be an option if in-person appointments are risky or prohibited.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/downloads/medicaid-chip-telehealth-toolkit.pdf" target="_blank">Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services</a> and some private insurance companies have expanded coverage for telehealth services during the pandemic. As a result, some practices have seen the <a href="https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/during-pandemic-telehealth-visits-soar-10-week-300-group-practice" target="_blank">use of telemedicine services soar</a> over the last few months.</p><p>"Telemedicine is a way that patients can be seen, evaluated, counseled, and informed about their healthcare without being exposed to the dangers of going into lobbies and offices," said <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/biographies/ommen-steve-r-m-d/bio-20053861" target="_blank">Dr. Steve Ommen</a>, cardiologist and associate dean of the Mayo Clinic Center for Connected Care, which offers telemedicine services.</p><p>"It is particularly relevant for patients who already have a relationship with a provider, the appointment is for an ongoing care episode, and the patient doesn't need to be touched," he said.</p><p>A virtual doctor's visit can't be a substitute for all routine care, though. Cancer screenings, blood draws, evaluations of lumps, Pap smears, and other services still need to be done in person.</p><p>But even if you do have to go to the doctor's office, telehealth services can help cut down on the amount of time you spend there, thus potentially reducing your exposure to the new coronavirus and other germs.</p>
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More and More Multilayer Packaging<p>How easy is it to recognize multilayer packaging? With drink cartons, it's usually obvious that they're made from a combination of different materials, but with other products, such as candy wrappers, it's a different story.</p><p>Such packaging can be made from a complex mix of up to 10 different films of plastic, which as Joachim Christiani, managing director of German recycling institute cyclos-HTP, explains, is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-produces-record-amount-of-packaging-waste/a-51293541" target="_blank">invisible to consumers</a>.</p><p>"In recent years there's been a trend toward so-called multilayer packaging, which is extremely light and thin. It saves material as well as CO2 emissions during transport, but can't be recycled," Christiani says.</p><p>Because it is not possible to melt the different plastics together, or — at least for now — to separate the individual films from one another at recycling plants.</p>
Lack of Recycled Plastic<p>A 2017 cyclos-HTP study into the recyclability of conventional packaging waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable, and only 40% of the remaining two-thirds was made into plastic recyclate. The rest was used as fuel <em>—</em> in other words it was incinerated.</p><p>"There was no economic or political pressure to recycle more than this amount," Christiani says. "The prescribed recycling quotas were met, and there were not nearly enough recycling plants."</p>
Room for Greenwashing<p>According to a 2018 survey by Germany's vzbv consumer protection association, most consumers would like to see more plastic recycling, especially when it comes to packaging.</p><p>Although some products come in packaging that is advertised as being "made from recycled material," Elke Salzmann, a resource protection officer with vzbv, says that can be misleading.</p><p>"It says nothing about how much recycled material the packaging actually contains," according to Salzmann. "And it also doesn't mean that the recycled plastic comes from collected plastic waste. It could just as well come from plastic leftovers created during the production of primary plastic."</p><p>The term "ocean plastic," which some textile and shoe manufacturers use to advertise the recycled plastic in their product lines, can also be misleading, Salzmann says.</p><p><span></span>"Plastic waste from the ocean is in much too bad a state to be recycled. Instead, they use plastic waste from beaches or riverbanks."</p>
Laws Against Plastic<p>Images of garbage choking our waters and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/eurythenes-plasticus-a-deep-sea-crustacean-full-of-plastic/a-52663559" target="_blank">killing marine wildlife</a> have played a key role in giving plastic a negative reputation among the public, and politicians have started to act.</p><p>Many countries worldwide have introduced bans on single-use items, and in Germany, a 2019 packaging law stipulates a plastics recycling quota of 90% from 2022, up from 36%. That said, the quota only refers to how much material has to be fed into the recycling system, not how much ultimately needs to be recycled.</p>
Rethinking the Whole System<p>Although plastic is a very useful material, at the end of its life it causes many problems, EASAC environmental program director Michael Norton tells DW, adding that we have to rethink the whole system and completely change the way we use plastic.</p><p>Joachim Christiani says the packaging industry is starting to catch on. Around 70% of recycled mass can currently be generated from packaging, but that figure is expected to rise in the future.</p><p>"95% is quite feasible," says the engineer, adding that sorting facilities are currently undergoing improvements, while packaging design is also changing.</p>
Clear Plastics Are Easiest to Recycle<p>As things stand, PET bottles are easiest to recycle because they're not mixed with other materials. New bottles can therefore easily be made from the old ones and the recycling rate is high. But the color of the bottle can pose a problem.</p><p>Because plastic is sorted by type rather than color, if different colors of plastic are mixed, the resulting recyclate cannot be used for light-colored packaging, which many manufacturers want. The upshot is the introduction of new plastic instead.</p><p>Consumer and environmental associations have long called for recyclability, greater sorting purity and better sorting facilities, but their most important demand remains waste avoidance through reusable systems.</p><p>"Why melt down disposable bottles to make new disposable bottles when you can refill them up to 20 times?" Buschmann asks.</p>
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Building Food Communities<p>Family farms in California and across the country have been hit hard by the impact of the coronavirus on their markets. But in the health-conscious Bay Area, where celery was already one of the first groceries to disappear from the produce rack, demand for fresh local produce has shot up. The challenge is in redirecting food from farms to new customers.</p><p>Sonoma County has historically been an agricultural region. When the organic food movement sprang up in the 1970s, this area was one of its early proponents. The first farmers markets and CSAs appeared in the 1980s and flourished, but the burgeoning network was later eclipsed by an inflated wine industry, much of it owned by distant corporations.</p><p>According to a 2018 crop report, 60,000 acres have gone to grapes, with only 500 acres in food crops. Land prices have skyrocketed, the cost of labor has gone up, and increased regulations have all made it harder to run a viable business here. Many farmers had turned to "boutique" specialty crops for restaurants.</p><p>"Farmers are always in an uphill battle, especially ecological farmers," says Wiig of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers. "I often hear them say, 'I'm working my butt off and hoping for the best.'" That's even more true now, as the pandemic strangles economies the world over.</p>
Scaling Up Support<p>F.E.E.D. Sonoma, a food hub that aggregates produce from dozens of local farms, was another quick responder. When the pandemic hit, it went from serving Bay Area restaurants to building a cooperative of farmers, filling food boxes for distribution at F.E.E.D.'s Petaluma warehouse and other drop spots in the county.</p><p>"Our local food system is extremely diverse," says co-founder Tim Page, who has the energy of a visionary combined with the skills of a businessman. "We have a ton of small farms but we don't have the infrastructure to support them. That is what F.E.E.D. is trying to establish." Since converting the restaurant supply business to a CSA, it has gone from 90 boxes to 450. Ultimately, the goal is 1,800 or more.</p><p>"I grew up in L.A.," Page says. "Every single farm is gone. The same thing will happen here if the general public does not understand the importance of it.</p><p>"That understanding was on display at the Sonoma Farmers Market, which now operates with strict restrictions and safety precautions because of the virus. "We think F.E.E.D. is going to save us," said Candy Wirtz, co-director of Paul's Produce, a well-established farm in Sonoma, as she weighed out my purchases. The CSA model could be transformative for Paul's and other farms across the country.</p><p>Subscribing to a CSA is a lifestyle change for consumers, to be sure. It means eating what's in season and learning to cook unfamiliar vegetables. But it's a change that many people are making now because of the stay-at-home orders. "People just have to learn to cook again instead of eating out," says Judith Redmond, part-owner of Full Belly Farm near Sacramento.</p><p>In light of this newfound commitment to CSAs, Perrotti, of Coyote Family Farm, says: "My hope is that this solidifies instead of going back to the way things were. I hope the importance of local farming stays at the forefront."</p>
Farms With Futures<p>To help small farmers stay in business during the crisis, Community Alliance is also advocating for stimulus dollars. "Most often subsidies go to a small number of the largest farms, or to buy food that goes to food banks from far away, while local farmers can't sell their food," Wiig says. "We want food banks to buy from local farms."</p><p>This seems like a win-win. Millions of tons of food is being plowed under as 60 million people are now going hungry, 17 million of them since the pandemic began, according to Feeding America, the national network of food banks.</p><p>But it's complicated. David Goodman of the Redwood Empire Food Bank puts it plainly: Local food is too expensive. "We distribute nine and a half million pounds of produce annually," he says. "It costs about 9 cents a pound, 3 cents to transport. With 82,000 people to feed, it would be a luxury to think of tending to local needs by buying locally."</p><p>That reticence is partly because the food bank system is tangled in bureaucracy. The USDA decides what to purchase and from where. Because of the distances between sites, the federal agency has tended to favor foods with long shelf lives, such as canned and processed foods, and long-lasting produce like apples and potatoes. "If local food is what we need, there has to be a plan," Goodman says.</p><p>Such a plan might be where short-term disaster relief meets long-term resilience. Michael Dimock is president of Roots of Change, a nonprofit organization that advocates for transforming California's food system. To get serious about preparing the food system for future disasters, Dimock says, the government needs to be involved. Roots of Change is now advocating for a tax on sugary beverages to help foot the bill.</p><p>Dimock says the state needs a paradigm shift for farms to remain viable in the face of multiplying disasters to come—not only pandemics, but fires, floods, and other symptoms of climate change. "How bold will people get in the months ahead to demand real change? My hope is they will get more radical."</p><p>Food is fundamental. While farmers have yet to face the full economic impact of this pandemic, their collaborative efforts, along with local grassroots networks, could mark the beginning of a new economy laboring to be born.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Alberta Energy Minister Calls Pandemic ‘a Great Time’ to Build Pipelines Due to Protest Restrictions
Anti-pipeline protests work.