By Jade Begay and Ayşe Gürsöz
Even as the Trump administration rolls back regulations meant to protect Americans from pollution, the EPA recently released a report that finds that people of color are much more likely to breathe toxic air than their white counterparts. The study's basic findings—that non-whites bear a higher burden in terms of pollution that leads to a range of poor health outcomes—is supported by other similar studies, and underpins the issue of environmental injustice that impacts many politically marginalized communities.
It's these communities that are hardest hit by the climate crisis––even though they are the least responsible for causing it. In addition, these communities, by design, are most imperiled by environmentally devastating extractive industries like coal mining, tar sands, fracked gas and more. Let's be clear: Climate change isn't just a scientific issue—it's an issue of racial inequity, economic inequity and cultural genocide.
Indigenous peoples around the world are quickly becoming the generation that can no longer swim in their own waters, fish in their rivers, hunt their traditional foods or pick their traditional medicines. The climate isn't just changing the landscape—it's hurting the culture, sovereignty, health, economies and lifeways of Indigenous peoples around the world. Yet despite the immense impacts climate change and fossil fuel industries have on Indigenous cultures and ways of life, Indigenous communities are tremendously resilient.
This was strikingly clear at the 17th Protecting Mother Earth conference, where tribal leadership and environmental activists called for a unified front to help find solutions. Hosted by the Indigenous Environmental Network, the Nisqually Indian Tribe and Indigenous Climate Action, the conference provided a space for hundreds to come together to share lessons, celebrate victories and build stronger alliances to defend and protect land, water, the climate and Indigenous rights.
"We Native people will always be here, standing up to protect the land and water," said Nisqually Tribal Councilman Hanford McCloud during the conference's opening ceremony. "We will always be the voice of those on the frontlines who continue to fight against the violation of Indigenous treaty rights, self-determination, environmental justice, and climate change."
It's essential to note that Indigenous vulnerability and resilience to climate change cannot be detached from the context of colonialism, which created both the economic conditions for climate change and the social conditions that continue to limit the capacity for Indigenous resistance and resilience. Both historically and in the present, climate change itself is thoroughly tied to colonial practices. Greenhouse gas production over the last two centuries hinged on the dispossession of Indigenous lands and resources.
Since the fracking industry began on Casey Camp-Horinek's reservation in Ponca, Oklahoma, tribal members have experienced a spike in cancer. She says that since fracking began there, her small community averages a death per week. The water wells on her reservation are now too toxic to drink. "They need to understand that what they call resources, we call life sources. We all know that water is life. The years of fish kills related to the fracking and injection wells amount to environmental genocide."
Eriel Deranger leads a panel, "Belly of the Beast," featuring Indigenous frontline land defenders fighting extractive industries. Casey Camp-Horinek consoles Cherri Foytlin as she expressed the corporate and governmental opposition she faces fighting the Bayou Bridge pipeline. Rudi Tcruz
Eriel Deranger, executive director of Indigenous Climate Action, expressed during a press conference that the U.S. and Canada, by further investing in dirty energy projects that infringe on Indigenous rights of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (like Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners' Bayou Bridge pipeline, Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline, and TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, to name a few) are making decisions and policies that move society further away from a climate-stable future. "They aren't adhering to international climate commitments," said Deranger, who is a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. "This is an indication that we the people, Indigenous peoples, must be prepared to take real action on climate change and be the leaders for the protection of Mother Earth."
The conference was held in an especially significant location: Frank's Landing, named after the late Billy Frank Jr., who led the historical stronghold where the Nisqually Tribe stood up in non-violent direct action during the 1960s and '70s to defend their way of life and their inherent treaty rights to hunt, fish and gather. The Fish Wars stand today as one of the most important civil rights moments for Indigenous rights in the Pacific Northwest. "We watched our elders get beat up right here. Hauled off," said Don McCloud Jr., father of Hanford, and the oldest son of Don McCloud Sr., a central leader of the Fish Wars. "We suffered many things. But we're not here to complain. The struggle still goes on. The battle is still here. We might have won one fight, but we're here continuing the fight for Mother Earth."
Don McCloud, who grew up during the Fish Wars, shares memories on a boat ride during the PME. Ayşe Gürsöz
The event, which ran from June 28 through July 1, included plenary sessions with key speakers and break-out sessions addressing themes ranging from Just Transition, Climate Justice, Environmental Health, Rights of Mother Earth and more. One particular session, which featured a delegation from Alaska, demonstrated just how dramatic an impact climate change is having on the landscape and traditional lifeways.
Adrienne Blatchford, a member of the Inupiaq Tribe living in Unalakleet, Alaska, said:
"The cost of development is the land. And that right there is so profound to me, because no amount of oil money can pay to relocate our villages or subsidize any kind of living in the way that we have done since time immemorial, it can't compensate for that. Indigenous people are connected to the food and to the land. Without it we get sick. It's genetic. It's something we have to have to provide for ourselves through the land. There is a spiritual connection that we have to these animals and what it provides."
Adrienne Blatchford of the Inupiaq Tribe from Unalakleet, Alaska. Ayşe Gürsöz
According to Blatchford and her team at Native Movement, climate change is drastically changing the landscape, which translates to major disruptions of deeply rooted cultural traditions. There are fewer moose, beavers and salmon, which are traditional sources of food. In the fall and winter, due to starvation, wolves began to attack dogs and people. The rapidly melting permafrost is causing trees to fall down, and fewer trees mean less shade, which causes more melting. Even flowers that are supposed to be pink and blue are now turning up white. Blatchford's colleague Misty Nickoli, a member of the Denaá and Tsimshian tribes, adds that "those details are important because it's everything. From our land to animals to our weather to our water. When all those things are upset, the people, our health, gets out of balance and we get sick too. And when we don't have our food to take in as our medicine, we stay sick and we get sicker."
Indigenous communities around the world have struggled to maintain their cultural identity and cultural practices through initial and ongoing periods of colonialism, genocide and forced assimilation. A USDA report, Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: A Synthesis of Current Impacts and Experiences, notes that "this history has provided many indigenous communities with valuable adaptation experience to inform climate-change adaptation, resilience and resistance."
Once such instance is the Black Mesa Water Coalition, which first formed in 2001 to address issues of water depletion, natural resource exploitation and public health within Navajo and Hopi communities. "Our emphasis is on healing and decolonization––as individuals, communities and as our culture," said Jihan Gearon, a member of the Diné nation and Executive Director of Black Mesa Water Coalition, during a plenary presentation. "How can we transition our economy to reflect those things? We have a term 'Just Transition.' We know the situation we're in right now is bad, and we know where we want to go. Culture revitalization. Healthy communities, lands and water. Just Transition means how do we get from A to B."
Jihan Gearon stands in front of solar panels powering the PME conference. Ayşe Gürsöz
Even the seemingly groundbreaking Paris agreement neither includes human rights in its text nor acknowledges Indigenous rights—even though lands and waters stewarded by Indigenous communities make up 80 percent of the world's biodiversity. What we need is for climate policy and the overall climate movement to address problems of inequality, because climate change is just as much a social issue as it is an environmental issue.
We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in. And who is going to lead us into that world? Sadly, we cannot count on the Trump administration. We also can't look to so-called climate heroes such as California's Gov. Jerry Brown, whose climate policy leans on the market-based carbon trading systems, which are widely criticized as false solutions that further exploit Indigenous lands and peoples.
From Standing Rock to the pipeline fights happening across the U.S. and Canada, Indigenous peoples are leading the resistance to extreme fossil fuels. We all need to stand with them and call for grassroots solutions that center Indigenous traditional knowledge. Our next opportunity to do this is in September during the Global Climate Action Summit, where grassroots groups from across the nation and world will host a week of action to counter the false solutions being celebrated there.
PME conference attendees. Ayşe Gürsöz
Jade Begay (Diné and Tesuque Pueblo) is a multimedia artist working with the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) as the Communications and Digital Director and the Senior Producer at Indigenous Rising Media, a media project of IEN. Prior to IEN, Jade worked with 350.org as the Multimedia Producer and with Resource Media, as the Justice and Sustainability Communications Fellow. Jade is a graduate of Naropa University (MA Environmental Leadership) and Columbia College Chicago (BA Film and Video). Currently, Jade is co-directing "Blood Memory Experience," a VR/AR project that explores the connections between identity, land and storytelling.
Ayşe Gürsöz is a multimedia producer working at the intersection of climate change, human rights and corporate accountability. Ayşe is the Communications Manager for Rainforest Action Network's Climate and Energy team and volunteers with Indigenous Rising Media, a media project of the Indigenous Environmental Network. In the past, Ayşe has worked with Al Jazeera's AJ+ as a News Producer and with Public Advocates as a Digital Strategist. Ayşe is a 2017 Media Consortium fellow of the New Economies Reporting Project and her photography has been featured in ColorLines, the Amplifier Foundation's "We The People" campaign, and the film "Awake: A Dream From Standing Rock."
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In an apparent effort to allay serious public and scientific concerns about contamination threats from genetically engineered (GE) trees, on Aug. 3 researchers at Oregon State University claimed they had genetically engineered sterility into poplar trees. The real story of the study, however, is that the risks of genetically engineering trees are too great and can never fully be known.
During the seven year field trial of GE poplars described in the study, small environmental variations resulted in significant differences between trees that had the same GE constructs and also found differences between GE trees over time. This all points to how trees cannot be reliably engineered to prevent contamination.
"This study confirms what we've known all along," said Anne Petermann, executive director of Global Justice Ecology Project and coordinator of the international Campaign to STOP GE Trees. "Trees are extremely complex, and fertility, which is one of the most important functions of any living organism, has been evolving in trees for millions of years. It is incredibly arrogant and dangerous to think that through genetic engineering we can override such a fundamental function as reproduction. Far from allaying fears, this research opens up serious new concerns."
The genus populus includes 25-35 different species of trees, many of which can breed with each other, and are found across North America and Europe. Poplars can also reproduce asexually and live for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. Therefore this seven year study on GE poplar trees is seriously inadequate.
"We still have no information about the potential long-term impacts of sterile or attempted sterile GE poplars on pollinators, birds and other wildlife that depend on fertile flowers and pollen to survive," added Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. "We know GE sterility traits are never going to be 100 percent reliable. What happens when sterility fails and allows GE trees to escape? Unreliable sterility technologies would enhance rather than remove the dangers of GE tree contamination."
BJ McManama of the Indigenous Environmental Network explained the implications of GE poplars for Indigenous Peoples:
"Aspen, cottonwood, and other poplar varieties are an integral part of our individual and collective history, physical well-being and spiritual ceremonies. For Native tribes in the U.S. Southwest, for example, the cottonwood is sacred and every part harvested is done so without killing or harming the tree. Freshly fallen branches provide bark used in teas, poultices, tinctures and salves and the leaf buds and flowers provide food in the early spring. Fundamentally changing these trees' genetic makeup violates Natural Law, our cultural traditions and subsistence rights."
Stars can be found in the branches of the cottonwood. Cottonwood Institute
Developing plantations of fast-growing trees like GE poplars for biofuel, biomass or other raw materials could lead to the accelerated destruction of forests for the development of these plantations, a trend identified in a study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Target areas for this expansion in the U.S. are the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, where many GE poplar test plots already exist.
Southeast Is Ground Zero for Genetically Engineered Trees https://t.co/jwMZoA8lMH @IENearth @StandingRockST @CenterForBioDiv @Greenpeace— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1498162997.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Katherine Wei
Private banks around the world are back to funneling more money into the global fossil fuel sectors in 2017, according to a report released today by Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Sierra Club and Honor The Earth.
Banking on Climate Change 2018 is the ninth annual report that ranks bank policies and practices in funding fossil fuel production and extraction, including drilling for oil in tar sands, the Arctic and in deep water. The report examines 36 private banks from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan and China, and breaks down how much funding is going to different fossil fuel subsectors and companies.
This year's numbers saw an 11 percent jump in funding, from $104 billion in 2016 to $115 billion in 2017, with the tar sands sector holding the biggest responsibility for the increase, along with continued financing in coal. In tar sands alone, bank lending and underwriting to tar sands oil extraction and pipeline projects grew by 111 percent from 2016 to 2017, reaching $98 billion. The three banks that contributed are the Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank and JPMorgan Chase.
The report points out how very few banks are aligning their business plans with the 2016 Paris climate agreement, whose temperature goals require banks to cease financing expansion of the fossil fuel sector. "Banks voice their support for climate action and the Paris Climate agreement, but funnel money into the fossil fuel industry at the same time," said Ben Cushing, the campaign representative of Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuel campaign.
According to the report's key data, large Chinese banks and some European banks have reduced their financing in tar sands, but the reduction fell short compared to the massive increases from Canadian and U.S. banks. Aside from the tar sands sector, bank support for Arctic and deep water oil has continued its decline from the years before, dropping 17 percent in 2017. Among European banks that are redesigning their financing policies, French bank BNP Paribas has shown the most effort, with restrictions for coal financing and some parts of oil and gas as well.
Although bank financing for fossil fuels had gone down from $126 billion in 2015 to $104 billion in 2016, the adoption of the Paris climate agreement did not have a lasting effect on the banks' decisions as many environmentalists had hoped. "People are realizing that they have the ability to hold these banks accountable for investing in extreme fossil fuels … Especially with backsliding from the administration and Congress on protecting the environment and combating climate change, people are pushing corporations to take action," said Cushing.
Sierra Club activists wrote 160,000 letters to Wells Fargo Bank last year, asking the bank to stop financing projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline, and more than 25,000 Club members have pledged to divest their money from U.S. banks analyzed in the report, including Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America and Citi Bank.
Indigenous activist leaders have also pledged to divest in U.S. banks that fund fossil fuel companies. "Since the dog attacks and water cannons used on unarmed citizens at Standing Rock, indigenous people have been heavily engaged in divestment efforts around the world," said Tara Houska, national campaigns director of Honor The Earth. "The financial industry is on notice the human rights policies banks claim are in place must be enforced."
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Steve Horn
At a Feb. 21 hearing, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the Trump administration must either fork over documents showing how the U.S. Department of State reversed an earlier decision and ultimately came to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, or else provide a substantial legal reason for continuing to withhold them. The federal government has an order to deliver the goods, one way or the other, by March 21.
DeSmog has reviewed the court evidence from the environmental groups bringing the case, records which help illuminate their argument that the government is, in fact, withholding such documents. The judge will decide if those documents, legally, should be made public.
The case, which began in March 2017, pits the Indigenous Environmental Network and the North Coast River Alliance against the State Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of interior and TransCanada, the owner of Keystone XL. During his first week in office, Donald Trump signed a memorandum calling for the State Department to perform an expedited 60-day permit review of the pipeline. Two months later, the State Department gave Keystone XL the permit it needed to cross the U.S.-Canada border.
Under the Obama administration, the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Alberta's tar sands, underwent a years-long environmental review process which culminated in President Barack Obama nixing it in November 2015. For the better part of the past decade, the pipeline has served as a central mobilizing force for the environmental movement.
Dispute Over Records
At the center of this case is a dispute over the administrative records of federal agencies, which in other lawsuits are routinely made public as part of the pre-trial process.
Generally, releasing such documents gives a snapshot of the full deliberative process behind federal agencies' decisions. DeSmog, in fact, published a story on such documents in 2015 related to a different tar sands pipeline project, which involved Enbridge's Alberta Clipper (also known as Line 67), part of a broader pipeline system DeSmog calls the "Keystone XLClone."
In the TransCanada case, the State Department has argued for keeping these pre-trial records sealed while the plaintiffs, the environmental groups, have argued they should be made public. These documents, which might include emails and memos, would offer the plaintiffs and the general public an idea of how the Trump administration decided to approve the Keystone XL.
The plaintiffs say that not all of those records have been turned over.
"Federal Defendants have wrongly omitted an unknown number of emails and other internal communications considered by the agencies during their review of the Keystone XL pipeline," the plaintiffs in the case argued in court documents on Jan. 8.
In an affidavit exhibited as part of that filing, Cecilia Segal, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, cited a Dec. 19 phone call she had with the federal defendants, in which they said that agency emails and other records do not need to be disclosed as part of the case.
Another letter exhibited as part of the Jan. 8 filing, written on Nov. 30 by attorneys for the Center for Biological Diversity, further complained that the documents already handed over were not adequately comprehensive or organized in a manner useful for the case. And many documents, they allege, seem to be missing entirely and without explanation.
"We are concerned that both the State Department and Service have withheld records as privileged without identifying and certifying them on a privilege log," wrote the attorneys.
"The State Department Administrative Record includes very few emails and inter-agency communications, even though such materials are typically included in administrative records that are compiled for litigation by federal agencies. Yet the State Department has provided no descriptions of these records, or even acknowledged the existence of these and other records that have been withheld in their entirety, let alone provided a log with basic details about what these records are, who generated them, and why the State Department is evidently hoping to shield them from judicial review."
A privilege log is a document, submitted to a judge and made part of the court record, which details both the nature of documents pertinent to a case and a legal rationale for keeping them out of the public court record.
"Because they have refused to provide a privilege log, it is impossible for Plaintiffs and the Court to determine how extensive the withholdings are and whether they are appropriate," wrote the plaintiffs in their Jan. 8 filing. "Accordingly, the Court should order Federal Defendants to produce a privilege log that adequately describes the withheld materials, identifies the basis for their withholding, and substantiates any claimed privileges."
The State Department and TransCanada, for their part, have come to a different legal conclusion, saying that the documents in question are "deliberative" in nature and not part of any official administrative process. They argue that the plaintiffs are attempting to turn the administrative records into a Freedom of Information Act request, positing that pre-decisional documents should not be included among those disclosed in the case.
"The bare fact that predecisional, deliberative materials were generated during the decisionmaking processes, does not transform those materials into documents that were before the decisionmaker in any relevant sense and therefore part of the administrative record, any more than documents reflecting a trial court's predecisional deliberations, such as bench memos, other communications between judges and their staff, and drafts of decisions, are part of the trial record," wrote Department of Justice attorneys in a Jan. 22 court filing.
They also argued in that filing that the plaintiffs are on a "fishing expedition" styled as a mission to "complete the record." Ultimately, it will be for Judge Brian Morris to decide which argument has more merit in the coming months.
'Smoke and Mirrors'
At least one group believes the entire premise of the dispute amounts to a cause for celebration. The climate advocacy organization 350.org—which has long led the movement opposing Keystone XL—says it believes this development is a sign the pipeline may never be built. Along those lines, it showed excitement over the judge's decision in a press release:
"The Trump administration's approval of the Keystone XL pipeline has been nothing but smoke and mirrors," said 350.org Executive Director May Boeve. "The truth is undeniable. Every shred of scientific evidence shows this pipeline is a threat to our climate, and to the lands, waters, and lives in its path."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Kelly Hayes
In October of 2016, I wrote a piece called How to Talk About #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective. I had visited the Standing Rock camps twice at that point, at the request of local youth who coordinated skill shares for Water Protectors, and I had written extensively about the movement. About a year later, I was asked to share my thoughts on the documentary, Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock.
But how does one critique a dream? A dream isn't bound by timelines or historical nuance. It's as much feeling as fact, and the lines between the two often blur.
As the name implies, Awake, A Dream of Standing Rock, is a series of images and reflections, unbound by the conventions of documentary storytelling. The film's dream-weaving approach at times works masterfully, capturing sounds and images that should be preserved in crisp, heartbreaking detail. In other moments, the film veers between the poetic and the historic with such ease that I was left wondering whether some viewers would know the difference.
The film's first chapter was directed by Josh Fox, who exposed the environmental toll of fracking in Gasland. The footage expands upon familiar scenes, invoking imagery that elicits every emotion it intends to. Co-writer Floris White Bull's poetic narration is penetrative and well-paced. But poetry does have its limitations. One can hardly complain because, as the title warned, Awake is a dream of Standing Rock, not a hard timeline, or an exploration of the complex lessons it taught.
But hybridizing poetry and history is risky. When a narrator veers between poetic flourish, such as White Bull's characterization of the camp as a place without hate or fear, and factual details, about police attacks and pipelines, edges can blur.
The film's second section is both breathtaking and essential. Without narration, the images and activities of the people being filmed tell their own story, and the footage provides a haunting sense of what it was like to be on the ground in Standing Rock, during that sprawling movement moment.
As someone who was deeply connected to these events but not a long term resident of the camps, I was grateful for the moments captured in Part II. During a sequence where Water Protectors knelt in prayer on Backwater Bridge, I could feel the holiness of the moment, and I could even remember how the cold air felt in my throat as I walked on that bridge.
And when Protectors were attacked on the bridge with water cannons, I relived every emotion I experienced that night, knowing my friends were on that bridge, soaking and battered, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.
At that point, I messaged some of my friends who were traumatized by police in Standing Rock to offer a trigger warning.
The film's third and final section was directed by Native filmmaker and activist Myron Dewey, of Digital Smoke Signals. The importance of Dewey's work as a documentarian is inarguable. But as a direct action educator and organizer, I must disagree with his initial commentary in Awake.
In Part III, we are presented with text summaries of some of the legal history at work. Next we hear Dewey's take on events. Dewey's first major assertion is that Morton County Police had initially been friendly to protesters, and only turned violent after the desecration of sacred ground by Energy Transfer Partners.
In truth, police frequently approach protesters respectfully, at first, with tensions mounting as movements grow, threatening the status quo with their potential.
Further, attributing police violence to desecration de-contextualizes Native struggle from the realities of policing and resistance. People who brave the frontlines of liberation struggles are routinely battered in the U.S., whether they are challenging pipelines, police violence, or any other oppressive instrument or practice. Native people are killed by police at a higher rate than any other group, and our movements have always been met with violence and repression. It would be ahistorical to assume that police would have continued to treat Water Protectors gently as the movement grew, if not for the desecration.
The fear of what Water Protectors might accomplish caused law enforcement to show its true character in Standing Rock. From dogs and water cannons to COINTELPRO tactics that aimed to escalate tensions between Protectors, what police unleashed in Standing Rock was an unsurprising culmination of a history of violence toward Natives. No new violation of the sacred was needed to trigger this violence that has recreated itself since first contact.
Police who approached with a smile, and even joined round dances in the early days of the movement, were two-faced foes—always one order away from everything that followed. To deny this not only separates us from history, but from other justice movements in which people have been brutalized when they raised their hopes and voices too high.
To his credit, Dewey does capture the intractable nature of law enforcement in Standing Rock, highlighting the lack of accountability and, ultimately, the impunity with which police harassed and harmed Water Protectors, while criminalizing Protectors for minor or even wholly imagined legal offenses.
As someone who believes in the importance of frontline storytelling, I appreciate Awake for what it uplifts. Despite my narrative disagreements with the film, I think it's an important effort, that should be seen—especially for the film's second section.
It is the hope of any movement moment that it be remembered, and carried by many voices, which will mean the offering of many perspectives. If the viewer understands Awake as a puzzle piece in a much larger picture, in which many complexities go untouched, it will aid in their understanding.
But it is also crucial that the viewer understand the film as a dream, a vision, and a re-remembering, not a historical or social analysis of a movement and its many moving parts.
At their best, the Standing Rock camps were still rife with contradiction and difficulty. They had no uniformity of belief with regard to tactics or strategy. In truth, no such uniformity is possible in such an unprecedented convergence. Native peoples are not exempt from any of the difficulties that the tactic of occupation can bring. Factions form. Conflicts unfold. Participants butt heads over tactics and strategies—and some will invariably confuse the two.
The Standing Rock I knew was not a mystical place with a uniform perspective. It was a complex place—an experiment in love, hope, courage, and solidarity, unlike anything our peoples had experienced. It was full of beauty and catastrophe. It was bitingly human because we are human. And, as is often the case, the magic was in the mess.
At the film's end, the legacy of Standing Rock is addressed, with White Bull telling us that "what started in Standing Rock is now all over the world." A number of struggles and global movements are highlighted, in quick succession, in a narrative that seemingly attributes those movements to the momentum of Standing Rock. In some cases, the participants in those movements actually call themselves "Water Protectors," in the spirit of Standing Rock. But some of those struggles, like the fight against oil companies in the Amazon, substantially predate the Standing Rock encampments. It's important for us to acknowledge this, both out of respect for those movements, and as a challenge to those who viewed Standing Rock as something wholly new or unusual.
The story of Standing Rock—of state violence merging with corporate interests, of human potential and human destruction—is not an original concept. It has many iterations, across history and around the world. Standing Rock is no less special for this. If anything, I hope the unacquainted will take it as an invitation, to study the struggles they may have missed, and to join the fray when called.
Watch the trailer below:
Kelly Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Kelly is a queer Native writer, organizer, and movement photographer. She is also a direct action trainer and a co-founder of The Chicago Light Brigade and the direct action collective Lifted Voices. She is a contributing writer at Truthout and blogs at TransformativeSpaces.org, where this article originally appeared, about U.S. movements and her work as an organizer against state violence.
This article was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation. Reposted with permission from our media associate Yes! Magazine.
By Mark Schlosberg
Rep.Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act) last week. This visionary bill comes as the nation bears witness to the devastation being brought by the climate change-super charged storm Harvey to Texas and Louisiana and braces for Irma's impacts. Storms like this and other extreme weather events will become all the more frequent and intense unless bold action is taken.
Gabbard's bill—the strongest yet introduced in Congress—will put us on a path towards avoiding increased climate chaos: It will place a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects and move the country to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, with a focus on a rapid transition in the next ten years. The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Nanette Barragan (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).
This legislation could not be more needed. While the impacts of Harvey are readily apparent to all, it is not an isolated occurrence. Evidence continues to build of the severity and urgency of the climate crisis. And while Trump flew to Texas and talked about helping communities there, he and fossil fuel-funded members of Congress continue to put the planet on a collision course with climate chaos. They deny climate change and are suppressing our government's ability to address it; they are moving to increase drilling and fracking on public lands and off our coasts; they are promoting development of more pipelines; and they are exporting more oil and gas abroad while wrecking the environment here at home.
In this dysfunctional political environment, a broad movement has grown to resist Trump's foolish and dangerous agenda. Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in the streets in DC and across the country. Thousands more have called members of Congress, written letters, and gone to town halls and community meetings opposing this destructive agenda. This is heartening and powerful, but we must do more.
To win on climate—to really move off of fossil fuels and transition our economy to 100 percent renewable energy on a time frame that will actually prevent even greater climate catastrophe—we must continue to resist Trump's agenda, but we need to do more than that: We need to propel a bold agenda for addressing the crisis—one that will protect our communities while creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs in the renewables and energy efficiency sectors. This agenda must center racial and economic justice and cannot rely on false market solutions like carbon trading and taxing programs, which are simply corporate pay-to-pollute schemes. What we need is nothing short of a World War II-scale mobilization of our economy around a quick and just transition off fossil fuels and onto 100 percent renewable energy now.
Rep. Gabbard's OFF Act is a critical step towards that mobilization. It requires 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 (and 80 percent by 2027), places a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects, bans the export of oil and gas, and also moves our automobile and rail systems to 100 percent renewable energy. Additionally, it provides for a truly just transition for environmental justice communities and those working in the fossil fuel industry. The bill requires that people in impacted communities have a leading role in the development and implementation of clean energy plans and regulations, and establishes an equitable transition fund and workforce development center, paid for by closing an offshore tax loophole and repealing federal tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry.
Now we must mobilize to build support for this bill. Though the prospects of passing anything in Congress right now are grim, moving members of Congress to support the OFF Act and elevating its profile are important for three reasons:
1. Create Political Consensus for Rapid Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy
Six years ago, when Food & Water Watch followed the lead of our grassroots partners to become the first national organization to call for a ban on fracking, conventional wisdom dictated that fracked gas was an environmentally friendly "bridge fuel." There was lots of support for stronger regulations on fracking, but little serious talk about actually banning it. Yet hundreds of organizations and thousands of people all over the country organized around the issue and held their elected officials accountable.
New York and Maryland have since banned fracking. Rep. Mark Pocan introduced legislation to ban fracking on federal lands. Banning fracking became a top issue raised by Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, and a majority of Americans now support a ban. It took lots of hard work, but the political consensus has shifted. We must do the same thing with the urgent need to act on climate, by building support for the OFF Act.
2. Make OFF a Top Issue Now
Even though Congress is controlled by pro-fossil fuel ideologues, it is still critical that we work to get members to sponsor this bill now. If we organize to get large numbers of co-sponsors on the OFF Act, it will become a top issue that representatives will need to respond to. Even as it has just been introduced, the OFF Act already enjoys support from more than 100 organizations including a wide range of major national groups like National Nurses United, Progressive Democrats of America, Climate Justice Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network and People's Action.
3. Make Space for State and Local Action
At the same time we are working to build support for the OFF Act, there are also campaigns across the country working to move cities, counties and states to 100 percent renewable energy now. Organizing around these local efforts can and should dovetail with efforts to pressure members of Congress to co-sponsor federal legislation. Passing local measures, or getting state and local elected officials to sign the OFF Pledge, will help build the political power needed to push Congress to support the federal legislation. Similarly, getting more co-sponsors on federal legislation to stop fossil fuel projects will open up more space for state and local action. These efforts work together.
Winning the fight to move off fossil fuels will not be easy, as the thousands of people who are working to stop pipelines, ban fracking and build renewable energy projects can tell you. But these are also fights that we can—and must—win if we are to protect people and the planet and avoid the very worst of climate chaos. The OFF Act is a critical first step in what must be a major national mobilization to restructure our energy system now.
Visit OFF Fossil Fuels to get involved in your community and join our grassroots team. Let's make this happen.
By Jessica Wang
The documentary Not Without Us follows seven grassroots activists from around the world as they mobilize around the 2015 UN Climate Talks in Paris and try to push world leaders to enact an agreement with meaningful and binding targets. According to director and San Francisco-based filmmaker Mark Decena, "Climate change is a monumental issue that impacts all of us. But too often, dialogue about the subject is led by politicians and scientists. With this film, we wanted to give voice to the people on the ground, who are trying to effect change from the bottom up."
Decena recently caught up with Cindy Wiesner, one of the activists featured in the film, on the latest in grassroots climate change action after the Trump administration's withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris agreement. Wiesner is executive director of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and has been active in the grassroots social justice movement for more than 20 years.
Mark Decena: So a lot has happened since December 2015, or maybe in your eyes nothing has changed. But going into the agreement, what was your top concern about Paris and what major change did you guys wanted to see instituted in that final agreement?
Cindy Wiesner: When the Paris agreement was signed in 2015, we at Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, along with our sister alliances the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Climate Justice Alliance really wanted to make sure that the agreements created mandatory emission cuts and that our big concern was that in the outcome that the agreement really relied on voluntary pledges. And part of that is that where the countries were aiming was not going to meet the targets that scientists have been saying for many years were necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.
MD: And those voluntary pledges that you first mentioned know they were striving for this 2.5-to-2 degrees window, and then they ended up all the pledges ended up with over 3 degrees, which is really frightening. And you called out that they're all voluntary, which means non-binding. And given those concerns, what are your thoughts now that President Trump announced the U.S. is pulling out of it?
CW: I think Trump's reckless decision underscores the key overarching issue with the Paris agreement in the first place, which is that voluntary pledges are not enough. And that it's also very clear that Trump and this administration, from Rex Tillerson being the secretary of state to Rick Perry being the energy cabinet position—you see that his accountability for accountability is to the fossil fuel industry but also to the military industrial complex.
Given his announcement in terms of ongoing war in Afghanistan, it clearly is in contradiction to his commitment to people in Pittsburgh or people in Detroit or people who have been impacted by NAFTA. It's counter to people who are living at the front lines of the climate crisis and I think Trump and his administration really have a clear conflict of interest placing their own dirty energy investments above and profit above the interest of humanity and the planet as a whole.
MD: And not to mention Scott Pruitt.
CW: Yes. And whose pure intention is to destroy and dismantle the EPA.
MD: And I know that that the world is on fire, literally and figuratively, with this new presidency and his administration, but all those things you mention I know you guys see as all connected. And that brings me to the next question which is are there specific actions and advocacies that you guys are focused on at the moment or are you trying to show people that all of these thoughts do connect?
CW: So in terms of the Paris agreement, I think it's just important to name how significant [it is] that at least the current count [that] is more than 370 mayors have pledged to do their part here around meeting the commitments laid out in the Paris agreement. And I think that that is giving us an opportunity a real important opening to push the long-term solutions that we had been talking about. And as Grassroots Global Justice, along with our sister alliances, [we] have formed this bigger formation called It Takes Roots to weather the storm, to grow the resistance. We also know that it's time to both escalate the level of resistance but also really align our movements.
I think that's part of what we're really clear about is that our organizational response has been to strengthen our movement—the grassroots organizing sector uniting with different folks like the movement for black lives, the migrant rights movement—[to] work with a broader cross-section of folks to really counter this right-wing growing backlash. And I think it's not only to defend and protect, but also to figure out where it is we can create openings in this new political moment.
MD: And I guess I want to I want you to clarify, because I think a lot of people are scratching their heads, saying, what does climate change have to do with immigration and war and racism and patriarchy and colonialism? How do you guys connect those dots and invigorate people think about this bigger picture of climate change as well?
CW: Yeah, I think a lot of our work with Grassroots Global Justice comes out of people who have been pioneers in the environmental justice movement, [and who] really have talked about the impact of environmental degradation and toxins and pollution and dumps that have been in a lot of frontline communities—particularly poor and people of color or white working-class communities. I think that for us, we've been seeing it as a holistic point of view. It's not only where you live, but it's where you work; it's where you play and pray.
MD: As a final question, what gives you hope? What keeps you fighting and moving forward?
CW: For me, I think that it's a lot of the young people that have been on the streets. It's all the people that came out spontaneously into the airports and swarmed the airports when the Muslim ban was put into effect. It's the 40,000 people in Boston that march against white supremacy and to counter white supremacy. It's the People's Climate March, where over 200,000 people came together to talk about needing jobs and climate and justice and moving the articulation of the climate movement. It's the Women's March, which had the single largest mobilization of women. I think that is what's giving me life and I think the intentional movement building work that we're doing with It Takes Roots, with Beyond the Moment, with the different organizers from the 100 days of mobilization. It's the people who, despite fear and repression, are still standing up. And I think that's what is giving me giving me courage.
Also I think we're right. And I think that's what we've been saying all along of like we can't see issues as one siloed way. We have to interconnect the issues. We have to pay attention to movement building. We've got to get boots and sandals on the ground and really get our bases mobilized, and I think the planet depends on us to do that.
Speakers featured in Not Without Us, in order of appearance:
- Nnimmo Bassey, director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation
- Payal Parekh, global managing director, 350.org
- Pablo Solón, executive director, Fundación Solón
- Cindy Wiesner, national coordinator, Global Grassroots Justice Alliance
- Alix Mazounie, international policies coordinator, Réseau Action Climat — France
- Max Rademacher, activist, Alternatiba
- Pat Mooney, executive director, ETC Group
This interview has been condensed for length. Reposted with permission from our media associate Moyers & Company.
Pipeline Fighters from Nebraska and across the region marched through the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska Sunday—on the eve of a weeklong public hearing on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline before the Nebraska Public Service Commission, where Nebraska farmers and ranchers, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, Yankton Sioux Tribe, Bold Alliance and other environmental and citizen advocates will present evidence on why TransCanada's tar sands export pipeline is unnecessary and not in the public interest.
Pipeline opponents have vastly outnumbered proponents who showed up to testify at public meetings on Keystone XL held by the Public Service Commission in Norfolk, York, O'Neill and Omaha. Landowners and citizens have voiced concerns about the state authorizing the use of eminent domain for a foreign corporation to take their land for a private gain pipeline that threatens the Ogallala aquifer and fragile Nebraska farmland.
"Keystone XL never has been and never will be in Nebraska's public interest," Jane Kleeb, president of Bold Alliance, said. "This is a foreign pipeline, headed to the foreign export market, wanting to use eminent domain for private gain on Nebraska landowners. We are confident the PSC will follow the rules they set forth and reject the proposed route that still crosses the Sandhills and risks the Ogallala Aquifer."
A coalition of organizations including Bold Nebraska, 350.org, Sierra Club, Indigenous Environmental Network, CREDO, Greenpeace, Oil Change International and MoveOn have collected hundreds of thousands of written public comments from citizens from Nebraska and across the country with their concerns about Keystone XL's threat to property rights, water and climate. The coalition will deliver these public comments to the Nebraska Public Service Commission's offices in Lincoln at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 10—on the eve of the PSC's Keystone XL public comment submission deadline of Aug. 11.
Nebraska officials eager not to hear from homeowners during #KXL hearings. Oil ind. is so devious, but on we fight https://t.co/zBbcod9dTR— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1501858229.0
"The PSC is tasked with determining whether Keystone XL is in our state's best interest, and the answer is simple: the only people who would benefit from this pipeline being built are oil executives in Canada, while Nebraskans would face the daily threat of a devastating tar sands spill," John Crabtree, a campaign representative from the Sierra Club, said. "Keystone XL is all risk and no benefit for Nebraska, and the PSC should reject it."
The public comments delivery will take place just blocks from the Cornhusker Marriott hotel in downtown Lincoln—where landowners, Tribal leaders and environmental advocates will be testifying during the critical week of intervenor hearings on Keystone XL at the Public Service Commission.
More than a quarter of a million people and 500 organizations submitted comments Wednesday rejecting the commercialization of ArborGen Inc.'s genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus trees, which, if approved, would be the first-ever GE forest tree approved in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed approval in April 2017, releasing a draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) for public comment. This comment period ended on July 5. The GE eucalyptus trees are engineered to tolerate freezing temperatures in order to greatly expand their growing range. The approval of these GE trees could set a precedent for future approval of GE forest trees such as poplar and pine.
In the dEIS, USDA downplayed or ignored the significant risks posed by these novel GE trees. The agency conservatively predicts commercial GE eucalyptus plantations would cover more than one million acres across seven southern states—from coastal South Carolina to eastern Texas. This would have devastating consequences across this region, which is home to a number of the poorest counties in the country, as well as some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. The region is already precariously threatened by climate change and sprawl.
"GE eucalyptus plantations spread across the South would be a disaster," stated Dr. Marti Crouch, consulting scientist for the Center for Food Safety. "Some non-GE eucalyptus species have already become invasive and are degrading natural areas. Plants and animals, including endangered species, will be unable to find suitable habitats within landscapes dominated by GE eucalyptus. Approving these trees is a terrible idea."
Just last month in Portugal, catastrophic wildfires that killed dozens were directly blamed on eucalyptus plantations that comprise more than one-quarter of Portugal's tree cover. In January, Chile experienced the worst wildfires in its history. In both cases, eucalyptus monocultures—well-known for being extremely flammable and depleting ground water—contributed to dry conditions that combined with heat waves to create the perfect setting for wildfire. Already the U.S. South is experiencing frequent droughts and heat waves, and climate change forecasts predict more of the same. The dEIS made no mention of climate change impacts in its proposed approval of these GE eucalyptus trees.
"GE eucalyptus is being pushed for commercialization to help feed the skyrocketing demand for trees for biomass electricity," said Ruddy Turnstone, GE Trees Campaigner for Global Justice Ecology Project, and a resident of Florida in the region targeted for GE eucalyptus plantations. "But biomass is a false solution to climate change. Not only is it a major polluter, climate-stabilizing Southeastern forests are being decimated for the booming European biomass industry. GE eucalyptus plantations will only escalate this deforestation."
USDA's assurances that GE eucalyptus will not escape into native forests are fatally undercut by the U.S.'s 30-year experiment with GE crops, which have escaped containment over and over again, despite industry and USDA claims they would not. GE trees are even more likely to escape and spread than GE crops, given their much longer lives, pollination distances and the unpredictable, changing conditions that can occur over the lifespan of the trees.
"Forests are interwoven with human evolution," stated Dr. Rachel Smolker, Co-Director of Biofuelwatch and Steering Committee member of the Campaign to STOP GE Trees. "They regulate and stabilize water flow and climate, enrich soils and prevent erosion. They provide food, medicine, shelter, fuel, livelihoods, recreation and sanctuary for peoples around the world. They literally make life on Earth possible. Trees have evolved over the eons in adaptation to their native environments. Tweaking their genetics and planting them in foreign environments demonstrates an alarming lack of understanding of ecology and genetics."
Beyond the ecological impacts are the effects on local communities that will result from these GE eucalyptus plantations. "GE eucalyptus trees exemplify the unjust and unsustainable forestry model," explained BJ McManama of the Indigenous Environmental Network. "There are already hundreds of documented human rights abuses resulting from the unchecked expansion of eucalyptus plantations in Central and South America. Indigenous and traditional communities are poisoned by exposure to deadly chemicals and in some cases violently evicted from their ancestral lands. These abuses demonstrate the forest industry's blatant disregard for both people and the environment. USDA must deny this petition."
Public opposition to GE eucalyptus has been consistent and strong. In February 2013, the government released ArborGen's GE eucalyptus petition for public comment, resulting in a response of 10,000 to one opposing the GE eucalyptus trees. This was followed by the then-largest ever protest against GE trees at the Tree Biotechnology Conference in Asheville, North Carolina. In April of this year the USDA finally made public their draft findings recommending approval of ArborGen's petition, eliciting yesterday's avalanche of comments rejecting GE eucalyptus trees in the U.S. Even the dEIS itself highlights public opposition as creating risks for investors:
"An additional source of risk that extends beyond the scope of this study is the risk of some public backlash against the planting of genetically modified trees. This societal risk could affect investment choices in the same fashion as biophysical risk—i.e., increased risk would reduce the rate of adoption."
Standing Against the Banks: DAPL Divestment and Water Protectors' Fight for Justice, Indigenous Rights, Water and Life
By Michelle Cook and Osprey Orielle Lake
Despite shifts in the terrain of struggle, the courageous and determined Water Protectors of the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) continue to stand strong, gain momentum and mobilize in diverse and effective ways in their work to protect Indigenous rights, water and life in North Dakota and beyond.
From powerful Indigenous and frontline leadership at the 200,000 strong People's Climate March in Washington DC, to ceaseless advocacy and actions in courtrooms, in the streets, in the halls of government, and in the offices of financial institutions that support exploitation and extraction—the DAPL resistance continues, while also joining together with other communities to face mounting pipeline struggles including Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain, Enbridge's Line 3, TransCanada's Energy East, Sonoco Logistic's Bayou Bridge, the resurrection of TransCanada's Keystone XL and efforts to stop fossil fuel extraction at the source.
Over the past months, Water Protectors from various Indigenous nations across the U.S. have made waves while traveling to seven European countries for The Stand Up for Standing Rock Tour; have opened the L'eau Est La Vie (Water is Life) Camp in South Louisiana to stop the Bayou Bridge pipeline (the southern end of DAPL); and have helped organize, through the International Indigenous Youth Council, an 80 mile run across Northern New Mexico in opposition to growing fracking in the Chaco Canyon region; amongst many other diverse and powerful actions.
Indigenous organizations including Honor the Earth and the Indigenous Environmental Network, who have successfully fought fossil fuel developments projects for years, continue to advocate, take action, and help open platforms for the voices of the NoDAPL and other pipeline resistance movements to be heard.
The Indigenous-led Mazaska Talks coalition has also been formed, joining the 121 First Nations and Tribes of the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion in demanding banks divest from the companies building Dakota Access and proposed tar sands pipelines.
Many other allied groups are organizing around fossil fuel divestment and actions are underway, with Defund DAPL reporting that, thus far, more than $82 million dollars by individuals and more than $4 trillion dollars by cities and tribes have been removed from the financial institutions connected to DAPL.
On June 14, there was a critical victory when, as part of the lengthy legal battle being led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, a U.S. federal court from the District of Columbia agreed that the Army Corp of Engineers failed to consider the National Environmental Protection Act and off reservation treaty rights in DAPL's permitting process.
Standing Rock, late November 2016Osprey Orielle Lake / Women's Earth & Climate Action Network
In May 2017, leaked information from The Intercept helped expose counter-terrorism tactics used by DAPL's private security firm Tiger Swan to aggressively suppress Indigenous peoples and their allies in Standing Rock, North Dakota as they exercised their human rights.
Significantly, all of this momentum has taken place in the face of a climate change denying Trump administration determined to drive forward pipelines such as DAPL through an expansion of a government that caters to fossil fuel corporations, and the banks and financial institutions that support them.
As part of the multifaceted pipeline resistance and divestment effort, earlier this year an Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation traveled to Norway and Switzerland to meet face to face with bank representatives from financial institutions invested in DAPL and parent company, Energy Transfer Partners. Facilitated by the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network, the delegation was initiated by grassroots Indigenous women who were harmed by and/or observed human rights and Indigenous rights abuses in North Dakota, and through the subsequent and continued persecution of Water Protectors.
In Norway, the advocacy of the Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation helped push DNB bank to sell their $331 million dollar credit line to DAPL, following strong advocacy efforts from many groups, and an independent investigation in which DNB affirmed the violation of Indigenous rights and failure to properly consult the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Members of the Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation outside of Credit Suisse Bank in Switzerland before their April 2017 meeting with the bank in Switzerland before their April 2017 meeting with the bank.
In collaboration with Norwegian Sami people, members of the Delegation are continuing advocacy efforts calling for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global—one of the few Norwegian financial institutions still heavily invested in companies like Energy Transfer Partner, Sunoco Logistics, Marathon Petroleum, Enbridge and Phillips 66—to immediately exclude Energy Transfer Family of Partnerships, DAPL, and other DAPL related companies from their investment universe.
As follow up to intensive meetings with Credit Suisse bank representatives in Switzerland, a detailed letter has recently been sent to the bank clarifying exactly why they must immediately divest from DAPL related companies; offering an in-depth analysis of the rights violations that occurred at Standing Rock; and demanding from Credit Suisse corporate responsibility and accountability to its human rights policy.
The letter also analyzes and provides examples of the U.S. legal system's failure to protect, secure and guarantee human rights such as self-determination and Free, Prior and Informed Consent to Indigenous peoples, ultimately providing a stark picture of how resource wars against Indian people in their traditional homelands and territories continue in the U.S. to this day.
As the letter to Credit Suisse points out, the financial institution's continued banking relationship with Energy Transfer Partners, and the stated "provision of loans, the issuing of securities (notes) and advisory mandates" violates the bank's current policies and guidelines in regard to human rights and indigenous rights relating to:
- Not financing or advising oil and gas companies against which credible evidence exists of involvement in such grave human rights abuses as forced labor, employment of children, or the use of violence against local communities and indigenous groups
- Public involvement, consultation, and disclosure
- Water contamination and use
- Prevention, preparedness, and response for oil spills, gas leaks, or both
- Worker and community health and safety
- Violations of local laws
The letter concludes as follows:
"Credit Suisse has stated that, 'Credit Suisse takes concerns about the DAPL seriously and will consider them in the further development of internal guidelines.' However, if Credit Suisse took human rights and indigenous rights abuses seriously they would have already complied with, and implemented their current human rights policy and publicly withdraw its credit facilities and end its banking relationship with the Energy Transfer Family of Partnerships. Credit Suisse needs to show that its commitment to sustainability and human rights is more than mere lip service, obscuring complicity and contribution to human rights, environmental rights, and indigenous rights abuses in the United States."
Divestment advocates worldwide are turning to financial institutions like Credit Suisse and calling for accountability such as the letter demands. In this vein, the Indigenous Women's Divestment Delegation to Norway and Switzerland helps expose the complex interplay and interdependency between states, corporations and banks in the harmful extraction and exploitation of natural resources of Indigenous peoples' territories and lands.
Indigenous women and their allies are illuminating the deleterious but key role banks play in maintaining the unjust design of a fossil fuel economy detrimental to their survival, and are working to stop the pipelines at the financial source. Their quest for justice and accountability from banks for human rights violations is imperative not only to Indigenous peoples and Nations, but to American citizens and global civil society.
The aim is not only divestment, but also economic paradigm shifts that include investments in renewable energy technology, sustainability, and just, transparent, and accountable banking institutions; economic systems that are not detrimental to Indigenous peoples rights or the environment.
Through the ongoing efforts of Water Protectors, the Standing Rock movement continues to shine a fierce light on the historic and contemporary indigenous rights and human rights violations occurring at the hands of state and corporate actors, and has made it clear once again that the transition to a just and dignified future must be one that upholds human rights, sustainable renewable energy, climate justice, and respect for indigenous peoples self-determination. The torch and spirit of the movement for water, life and rights will continue as people's movements around the world seek justice, truth, accountability and transformation.
Michelle Cook is a Dineh (Navajo) human rights lawyer and a current SJD candidate at the University of Arizona's Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program.
Osprey Orielle Lake is the Founder and Executive Director of the Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International.
Native communities and environmental justice advocates in Louisiana opened a new resistance camp Saturday to oppose the proposed Bayou Bridge Pipeline project. Called L'eau Est La Vie, or Water is Life, the camp will consist of floating indigenous art structures on rafts and constant prayer ceremonies during its first two weeks.
The Bayou Bridge project, owned in part by Dakota Access Pipeline owner Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), would transport crude oil over 163 miles of natural heritage swampland to a terminal in St. James Parish in Louisiana. St. James residents and environmental advocates recently filed suit to overturn the pipeline's permit, claiming that the state did not adequately address impacts of a potential spill on the community or surrounding wetlands.
"Once again Indigenous communities are being put in harm's way and over 700 bodies of water will be threatened by one of the worst environmental offenders known to date," said the Indigenous Environmental Network in a statement. "We stand with the Water Protectors here in southern Louisiana to protect these critical wetlands that serve as protection for the people of this region from floods and storms."
The Indigenous Environmental Network announced the opening of the camp with the video above explaining why completion of the Bayou Bridge pipeline must be stopped.
"The corporation Energy Transfer Partners has proven themselves to be untrustworthy in regards to their moral responsibility to preserve both human and ecological rights," said Cherri Foytlin of BOLD Louisiana. "Whereby they have obfuscated the truth, sabotaged democracy, destroyed our lands and water, and even hired mercenaries to injure our people, we have but one recourse, and that is to say, 'You shall not pass.' No Bayou Bridge! We will stop ETP. They are not welcome here—not in our bayous, not in our wetlands, not in our basin, not under our lands or through our waters. Period."
For a deeper dive:
By BJ McManama
ArborGen Corporation, a multinational conglomerate and leading supplier of seedlings for commercial forestry applications, has submitted an approval request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to deregulate and widely distribute a eucalyptus tree genetically engineered (GE) to be freeze tolerant. This modification will allow this GE variety to be grown in the U.S. Southeast. The reason this non-native and highly invasive tree has been artificially created to grow outside of its tropical environment is to greatly expand production capacity for the highly controversial woody biomass industry.
For almost two decades, and under the radar from widespread awareness and public scrutiny, government, academia, biotech and the commercial forestry industries have invested millions of dollars into research and development (R&D) of GE trees. The few reports published about the R&D cite a major goal of many of these projects as providing a sustainable alternative for fossil fuels in the manufacture of consumer products and energy production.
Eucalyptus Trees are Not Native to North America
Eucalyptus trees grow faster, are highly combustible, and require more water than other species. Although some assurances have been given that this GE variety won't spread unintentionally, there are no guarantees this won't happen. Introduction of non-native, invasive organisms has been proven over the years to cause irreversible harm to the ecosystem they've overtaken. This is true when done either intentionally or accidentally. Some of the non-GE eucalyptus trees, planted in California years ago have proven a huge problem for native species. Efforts to eradicate them have been largely ineffective and are recently the leading cause of wildfires burning hotter and causing more damage in areas where they have grown unchecked.
If the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) is accepted and this GE tree is deregulated, it will make it possible for these trees to be grown in industrial-sized "tree farms" from South Carolina to Texas.
More than 1 million acres of pine plantations, grasslands, pastures and once forested land could be forever altered by row after row of GE eucalyptus trees. Few other living things can survive on these plantations because all vegetation has been stripped from the land, soaked with herbicides and chemical fertilizers, and planted with row after row with thousands of unnaturally altered seedlings. Every five to seven years the trees are cut like hay and loaded on to giant tractor trailers headed to energy or feedstock processing facilities and the process from start to finish is repeated.
Other Trees in the GE Pipeline
GE eucalyptus trees won't be the only trees modified and mass produced for human demands if we don't stop this emerging biotech takeover of our natural world.
Biotech's R&D divisions and academic researchers have developed poplars and pines to grow faster, produce their own pesticides and be herbicide/pesticide resistant. Other varieties are being designed to have a weaker structure that requires less processing, and conversely some are being modified to have more density/strength for construction applications. For agro-fuel production, tree genes are being manipulated to make them easier to digest into liquid fuels, or for burning as biomass.
Creating trees for commercial applications will, in of itself, create new markets and uses for forest products. Assertions that these synthetic forests will save our precious natural forests is not realistic based on current trends and an ever-growing industry. We only need to look at the expansion of the international wood pellet market to see how demand is increasing.
U.S. southern hardwood forests are disappearing at an alarming rate due to the demand for wood pellets in the UK. Pellet production and export from the U.S. southeast has rapidly increased to keep up with demand. And will these natural forests with 100-year old hardwoods be regenerated? Doubtful, as they will most likely be replaced by mile after mile and row after row of fast growing GE trees.
Precautionary Principle Must Be Implemented
There are far too many unanswered questions regarding the risks associated with releasing millions of GE eucalyptus trees across the U.S. Southeast. Questions regarding invasion of surrounding ecosystems, chemical contamination, water depletion and human rights have to be addressed with certainty. These few questions alone precipitate a complete moratorium on approval of all genetically engineered trees and suspending all field trials until answers can be provided. Native American Tribes and front line communities must be consulted before GE tree plantations are established within their regions. Laws and regulations require agreement by all stakeholders and enforced to ensure protection from aggressive expansion tactics that have and are currently the cause of major human rights violations in developing countries.
As concerned citizens, we must voice our opposition to bio-engineering and commodification of Mother Earth's natural resources. Please tell the USDA that approval for unrestricted planting of this GE eucalyptus must be rejected while considerations are given to all of the threats known and unknown, here.
Indigenous Rights, Forests and Biodiversity
We cannot continue to support an unsustainable natural resource extraction economy that has reduced intact forested areas by an alarming 9.7 percent in the last 15 years. According to data collected, approximately 919 thousand, nearly 1 million acres of forest disappeared between 2000 and 2015. Now, add these latest statistics to millions more acres lost to centuries of clearcutting, that even today, takes place out of public purview.
Non-GE eucalyptus and oil palm tree plantations in the global south have been replacing rainforests at an unbelievably rapid pace. Eucalyptus trees have been the cause of rivers drying up and Indigenous communities losing access to clean water resources along with vital subsistence needs of traditional foods and medicines. Front line and Indigenous communities have been removed from their ancestral homelands to make way for these mega-operations, sometimes violently, and forced into work-camps or relegated to city slums.
The mega-tree farms planned for the southeast U.S. won't be located next to million-dollar homes and corporate high-rises. These most certainly will be placed on or near southeastern Native American treaty and traditional lands, and in close proximity to small communities in rural farming areas. If this happens, the people will be subjected to high concentrations of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides used for each growing cycle.
Forests are directly responsible for collecting, filtering and directing rainfall to streams, rivers and aquifers. Climate changes have reduced rainfall, and combined with warmer than normal temperatures, groundwater reserves are severely depleted. Recent droughts in the U.S. southeast have caused widespread crop failures and many areas have not yet recovered normal levels. In some areas, what reserves do remain, have shown to contain abnormally high levels of one or more toxic chemicals from industrial agriculture and other polluting industries. If monoculture tree plantation acreage is expanded as planned, human and animal health, and biodiversity will be sacrificed solely to increase corporate profits.
We can't allow the lands and resources of Indigenous and front line communities to be destroyed by large and powerful corporations, as has, and is currently happening in other countries. Click here to sign the petition to request the USDA reject this permit and reevaluate future priorities based on sound science, common sense and preserve these irreplaceable gifts of nature for the next Seven Generations to come.
BJ McManama is an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network for their Save Our Roots campaign to stop GE trees and a steering committee member of the International Campaign to Stop GE Trees. She can be reached by email at: [email protected].