By Roshan Rajroop, Melita Steele and Hisayo Takada
Oil spills make visible the huge price being paid by the environment, wildlife and human communities for our reliance on fossil fuels. They are a harsh demonstration of the fragility of our oceans. They are a sad reminder of how urgent it is that we end our addiction to fossil fuels and make the transition to alternative renewable energy sources.
On the 25th of July the Japanese bulk carrier MV Wakashio — chartered by Mitsui OSK and owned by Nagashiki Shipping — struck a beautiful and irreplaceable coral reef on Mauritius' southeast coast. The ship was sailing dangerously close to the reef, and ran aground. Twelve days later, the ship began leaking heavy fuel oil, devastating one of the most beautiful places in the world and ruining the livelihoods of coastal communities.
Over the past five weeks in Mauritius, we have witnessed long stretches of ocean, unique mangroves and pristine lagoons become quickly coated with oil. We have watched the people of Mauritius rushing to the beach, risking themselves as they attempt to remove the oil from every rock and grain of sand, desperately trying to recapture their homeland's beauty submerged by toxic waves, being brought relentlessly by the tide to the shore. Our hearts went out to the families of seamen who lost their lives in a salvage operation. Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d'Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of suffocating or drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius' tourism, and people's food security and health.
Furthermore, some of the most toxic components of the oil spill can build up as hidden contaminants in marine organisms, through which they can enter into the food-chain. Oil residues accumulate in sediments, especially on shores. The impacts of this oil spill — like any other oil spill — will be felt years after the surface oil has been removed. The people of Mauritius are going to have to live with this devastating reality for decades.
There is no question that Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping are jointly the cause of the devastating pollution in Mauritian waters. After the first 12 days of their silence, Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping apologized for this disaster. For that apology to mean anything, it must be backed up with action. This would require fully applying the "polluter pays" principle, which means the companies pay for all current and future damages.
At the same time, emerging reports suggest that the Japanese and Mauritian governments have entered into talks for the Japanese government to provide a mere 3.6 billion yen (almost 34 million USD) to the Mauritian government to support the local fisherfolk who have been impacted by the spill.
While steps by the Japanese government to help the government of Mauritius cope with the toxic impacts of the oil spill are welcome, Japanese taxpayers should not be liable for the actions of the Japanese companies, which were reckless enough to allow one of its largest vessels to travel so close to coral reefs and run aground. Ultimately, those who are responsible for the pollution must pay for the damage that their pollution has caused. Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping seem to be avoiding their responsibilities.
The "polluter pays" principle would require funding, among other things, a fully public independent investigation into the causes and consequences of the oil spill, and a commitment to stop using this shipping route.
This needs to account for the livelihoods of those dependent on fishing and tourism, the coral reefs, mangroves, wetlands and the entire, vulnerable ecosystem. A recent announcement by Mitsui OSK shows a positive early sign as it resolves to address the damages the company caused with a long-term view toward recovery. This goes beyond the charterer's liability, and the social responsibility of the company involved is clearly required in a case like this.
It is impossible to completely hold a company accountable through the law alone. The legal framework for environmental issues is under development. For this reason, Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping must proactively commit to their social responsibility, rather than taking advantage of legal loopholes.
Most importantly, Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping should use this disaster as an opportunity to finally break away from fossil fuels and to shift toward sustainable renewable energy. The two companies should give up transporting coal, oil and gas. Specifically Mitsui OSK should end any involvement in oil and gas production, including around LNG.
If it weren't for fossil fuels, none of this would have happened. Companies producing, carrying and burning oil would like us to think that with enough goodwill it can be cleaned up, like milk spilled on the kitchen floor. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
In addition to threatening the biodiversity of the oceans and the livelihoods of coastal communities, our use of oil is a driver of the global climate crisis. The world's foremost climate scientists have warned that we must urgently and radically minimize the use of oil, gas and coal in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate emergency. The climate crisis is an existential threat and in response to it, there is a movement of millions of people across the world who are taking action. This oil spill is a tragic and devastating reminder that fossil fuels are toxic, and our reliance on them puts both people and the planet at risk. Now is the time to build a better future.
Roshan Rajroop is the President of human rights organization Dis Moi. Melita Steele and Hisayo Takada are the program directors for the environmental organization Greenpeace Africa and Greenpeace Japan.
Every day, sharks suffer from different threats. Up to 100 million sharks disappear every year, due to destructive fishing by humans and the impact of climate breakdown. One-third of the world's known shark species have been listed as "threatened" species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
We need to talk about them, because the ocean desperately needs sharks! After 400 million years of evolution, sharks are incredible creatures—master hunters with incredible precision. Sitting at the top of the food chain, they're central to maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems.
There are hundreds of species of sharks in the world, and they have been around since before the dinosaurs. Despite their fearsome Hollywood reputation, they are some of the most amazing animals on the planet.
1. Many sharks lay eggs, but some give birth to live young, just like we do. Shark pregnancies can last from a few months to well over a couple of years. That's longer than whales or elephants!
This whale shark smiles for the camera in the warm water off the coast of the Philippines. Greenpeace
2. Sharks come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny lantern sharks, which are about the size of your hand, to giant whale sharks, which are about the same size as a bus.
A former fisherman, now a whale shark guide, hand feeds a whale shark as a tourist takes an underwater photo, Tan-awan, Oslob Cebu. Greenpeace
3. Greenland sharks, which live in cold polar waters, hold the record as the oldest known vertebrate animals on the planet. Since they are estimated to live as long as 500 years, there could be some alive today that were born in the Middle Ages. For reference, Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa 500 years ago!
An oceanic whitetip shark in Egypt. Greenpeace
4. Mako sharks hold the record for being the most athletic sharks, reaching swimming speeds of over 40 miles per hour! They are also known to have jumped as much as 30 feet out of the water.
A whale shark photographed from above in Cenderawasih Bay National Park, Indonesia. Greenpeace
5. The world's biggest sharks also have the widest mouths and eat only tiny ocean plankton, just like the largest whales.
A whale shark in the Philippines. Greenpeace
6. Carpet sharks live on the ocean floor and have elaborate patterns to blend in with perfect camouflage. The Tasseled Wobbegong shark takes this to the extreme, with a fringe of feathery 'tassels' around its body.
7. Epaulette sharks have developed a cunning ability to hold their breath and walk over rocks and land using their fins and tail. This lets them check out the seafood buffet in neighboring rock pools at low tide.
Lemon shark and other fish underwater at Tuamotus, French Polynesian. Greenpeace
8. Hammerhead sharks' elongated heads not only give them super-sense when it comes to electromagnetic detection, but they also have almost 360-degree surround vision.
A Blue Shark (Prionace glauca) near the Azores. Greenpeace
9. When sharks are turned upside down, they go into a natural suspended state called tonic immobility.
A shark is seen in the Republic of Palau. Greenpeace
10. It's dark in the deep sea, so tiny lantern sharks have developed their own way to glow in the dark. It's not yet known if this is to find food, find each other, or help avoid being eaten!
Grey Reef Sharks in Tahiti. Greenpeace
In June 2019, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza went to the North Atlantic to confront the overfishing of sharks. At the same time, Greenpeace International issued a report, Sharks Under Attack: Overfished and under-protected. It proposed a solution: secure a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the UN.
Reposted with permission from Greenpeace.
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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 Sarah Thomas and Nathan Heffernan
Fossil fuel companies have reaped millions of dollars in benefits from a stimulus package intended to help struggling Americans and the economy. Among these is Marathon Petroleum, the largest oil refiner in the country, which has a history of air pollution violations impacting low-income and Black and Brown communities.
Oil Companies Receiving Bailout Money
The CARES Act included several provisions to support businesses, one of which allowed companies to claim an immediate tax refund by deducting current operating losses from income taxes paid in the past five years. As a result of changes to allow the "carryback" of net operating losses, Marathon received $411 million in tax benefits, a sum even greater than their recent $334 million penalty for environmental violations. The Federal Reserve also included Marathon Petroleum in its recent purchase of energy bonds.
Oil and gas companies, like Marathon, are not violating any rules by claiming this tax benefit, but there are significant downsides to using public resources to prop up dirty companies with a history of air pollution violations in the midst of a pandemic that targets the respiratory system. As part of the paycheck protection program, a separate program under the CARES Act, at least $3 billion in taxpayer dollars intended for small businesses have gone to over 5,600 U.S. fossil fuel companies and are being used to save an antiquated industry, rather than investing in a sustainable future that will benefit all Americans.
Democratic lawmakers have warned that this oil bailout is not only taking the funds meant for smaller businesses, but is also forcing taxpayers to pay for the industry's past mistakes. Senators Brian Schatz and Sheldon Whitehouse wrote that the pandemic "was not the source of the oil and gas industry's dire financial condition," and that this bailout "poses both a credit risk and a more profound climate transition risk to taxpayers."
Marathon Petroleum is just one example of an oil company that was already struggling prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, partly due to their expensive 2018 acquisition of rival refiner Andeavor. Oil companies have been pursuing such mergers in an attempt to generate investor excitement and make up for the structural weaknesses of the oil sector. More specifically, upstream companies have spent billions more on drilling than they receive from selling the produced oil and gas, which creates a condition known as negative free cash flow. Investing in oil stock has had a similarly negative trajectory, as the average U.S. oil producer over the past three years has produced a total return of negative 17%.
A History of Environmental Racism
The acquisition of Andeavor and other refineries has made Marathon Petroleum the largest refiner in the U.S. with a long list of costly penalties. All told, Marathon and its acquired companies have been fined more than $1.4 billion in environmental, consumer protection and workplace violations since 2000. A significant recent example was its $334 million settlement with the EPA in 2016 to reduce air pollutants in five states: Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois. The EPA announced that the required investments in air pollution controls would "help reduce emissions that can cause respiratory and cardiovascular health impacts, which can disproportionately affect low-income and vulnerable populations."
Many of Marathon's refineries have notably high indicators for Environmental Justice Indexes, signifying high levels of air pollution among minority and at-risk groups. For the 1-mile radius surrounding the Detroit, Michigan refinery, the surrounding communities score above the state 90th percentile for diesel particulate matter, air toxics cancer risk, and respiratory hazard index. The Canton, Ohio refinery additionally scores around the 75th percentile in these indexes. The Garyville, Louisiana refinery — located in Louisiana's infamous "Cancer Alley" — scores in the 99th percentile country-wide for air toxics cancer risk. The Political Economy Research Institute lists Marathon as the 33rd worst air polluter in the nation, with an Environmental Justice Minority Share of 59%, meaning that its refineries disproportionately impact communities of color.
Despite the 2016 EPA settlement, communities living nearby to the refineries continue to face environmental injustices and deadly air pollution. In Southwest Detroit, the predominantly Black zip code 48217, the most polluted area in Michigan, is home to dozens of polluting facilities, including the Marathon Petroleum refinery. This residential area experiences higher rates of asthma and cancer than the rest of the country due to toxic pollution. Community organizers and environmental justice groups have protested the Marathon refinery over the past decade, calling for accountability from the oil giant and buy-outs for their now devalued property.
In September 2019, an alleged vapor leak sparked further protests as Marathon failed to inform residents of the dangers and health impacts of chemicals released. Prior to the September incident, an earlier vapor release in February of 2019 caused residents to complain of "a nauseating stench" and of "vomiting, troubled or labored breathing, and irritated eyes and throats" reported the Metro Times. The September incident prompted U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib and the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform in February 2020 to request that the EPA undertake a formal investigation of the chemical leak by Marathon. The facility is the only oil refinery in Michigan, and as Metro Times reports "emits 29 different types of toxins, which waft across neighborhoods and puts residents at an elevated risk of cancer, respiratory disease, asthma, and liver failure."
The impacts on nearby communities does not stop at environmental health. Marathon and its affiliates have also racked up nearly $40 million in penalties for workplace safety or health violations, according to the Violationtracker website.
Lobbying Against Common-Sense Solutions
The CARES Act bailout to Marathon Petroleum, a significant air polluter, is further concerning given the lobbying ties the fossil fuel giant has with the Trump administration. In May 2020, the House Oversight Committee requested documents from Marathon Petroleum related to its extensive lobbying efforts related to Trump's rollback of fuel economy standards — a rule change that has already been mired in scandal. In 2018, Gary Heminger, Marathon's former CEO, told investors the new rule would help sell up to 400,000 more barrels of oil a day. The investigation seeks documents detailing meetings with top officials at the EPA and the Department of Transportation.
While the CARES Act is necessary for stimulating the economy during this crisis, large hand-outs to notorious air polluters must be scrutinized. Air pollution exposure has been linked to increasing incidence and severity of several respiratory infections that are similar to COVID-19. Residential areas surrounding oil refineries such as Marathon Petroleum are often predominantly Black communities, which are already affected disproportionately by the pandemic. The bailout money towards Marathon Petroleum maintains oil refineries that pollute surrounding communities, worsening the health and economic impacts of the Covid pandemic.
Our recovery from this crisis shouldn't worsen existing public health problems or lock us into higher greenhouse gas emissions. We need a green and just recovery that puts us on a path to the sustainable future we need.
Reposted with permission from Greenpeace.
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By Lamfu Fabrice Yengong and Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue
Biodiversity loss is a global crisis. In May last year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warned that over 1,000,000 species are threatened with extinction worldwide. On May 22, the International Day of Biodiversity, it is important to recall the silent victims of our country's obsession for industrial growth at the expense of our forests.
Tropical rainforests are estimated to harbor more than half of the world's plant and animal species. They are also essential for access to water, regulating temperature and preventing soil erosion. It's time to return the forests to indigenous and local communities.
In our country, Cameroon, the conservation of biodiversity, global climate goals and human rights of indigenous and local communities are all put at stake for industrial exploitation of the rainforest, driven by short-sighted thinking. Biodiversity hotspots are put at risk by industrial logging and agriculture, as trees are cut for the tropical timber market and entire forests cleared to make room for oil palm and rubber plantations. The government tries to assure conservationists that some space will be reserved for the wildlife in the forest it trashes, but even protected areas are not truly safe.
Companies, usually foreign-owned, are rapidly destroying rainforests that have existed for years. Local communities are left poorer after their traditional source of livelihood is desecrated. The only ones getting rich are a small group of beneficiaries that are close to the circles of power.
Some low-income countries that are rich in forests are resorting to quick solutions like logging and industrial agriculture. But industrial logging concessions and rubber and palm oil plantations are never the job-creating mechanism they promise to be. That has been demonstrated over and over again in forest countries around the world.
For example, the Dja Faunal Reserve, a UNESCO world heritage site in the South of Cameroon, is home to more than 100 species of mammals, including at least 14 primates, such as the endangered western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, and white-collared mangabey, as well as species such as the endangered forest elephant, and the African grey parrot, bongo antelope and leopard.
The Dja Faunal Reserve is adjacent to the Sudcam rubber plantation, mainly owned by rubber giant Halcyon Agri. Sudcam has cleared more than 10,000 hectares (approximately 25,000 acres) of dense tropical rainforest in the South region of Cameroon – an equivalent of 10 football pitches a day – to make way for a rubber plantation between 2011 and 2018. The rubber plantation has rattled the lives of several indigenous communities, namely the Baka, but it has also aggravated the lives of those numerous protected species in the Dja Reserve.
To indigenous and local forest dependent communities, the rainforest serves as a source of nutritious foods and traditional medicine, much of which science has yet to explore. The forest is also the foundation of their social life, from recreational to ritual practices. Furthermore, biodiversity loss itself is a direct and immediate threat to the livelihood of indigenous peoples like the Baka next to the Sudcam plantation.
Upon the arrival of rubber company Sudcam, the indigenous community has lost access to its forest and specifically to the animals and plants they rely on. As Sudcam gets richer, it leaves entire communities in impoverishment, abjectness and destitution.
That is the fate which the chiefs of the Banen people of the Littoral region in Cameroon are trying to avoid in their current struggle against the destruction of large parts of the Ebo forest.
The Ebo Forest is a biodiversity hotspot, one of the intact forest ecosystems in the Gulf of Guinea, stretching over 2000 square kilometers (approximately 772 square miles). Ebo Forest is home to an amazing range of wildlife, including forest elephants, gorillas, drills, chimpanzees, grey parrots and the goliath frog – the largest living frog on the planet. Accordingly, it was designated over a decade ago by the Cameroon Government as a National Park.
However, on February 4, the same government of Cameroon authorized two logging concessions (UFA07005 and UFA07006) inside the area of Ebo Forest. The planned concessions are enormous – about the size of London. Again, the government of Cameroon wants to convince us that conservation can be done with chainsaws.
Biodiversity loss doesn't only mean our children would get to see some of the world's most marvelous creatures only in documentary films. The consequences are far greater and more tangible.
The extinction of forest elephants, for example, small relatives of African Savanna elephants, might also reduce the number of large trees that they support, trees that excel at storing carbon. In the Congo Basin forest, the disappearance of forest elephants might mean a loss of about three billion tons of carbon – equivalent to France's CO2 emissions over more than 25 years, according to a New York Times article on recent research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Cameroon's government has made public commitments to preserve and protect biodiversity. Positive declarations and ambitious plans may win applause and some international funding, but all eyes should be on implementation. Field investigations by Greenpeace Africa and others clearly show how far we are from protecting biodiversity.
In Cameroon's government, as well as in the meeting rooms and corridors of development agencies, decision makers often hold outdated views. Too often we hear that only through rapid and massive removal of the rainforest in favor of large-scale logging and industrial agriculture plantations can the country emerge out of poverty.
Yet that model has repeatedly failed the people, as short-term high profits always remained accessible only to a small circle of beneficiaries. On the contrary, local communities who have lived in harmony with nature for many generations are likely to face poverty, abuse, hunger and alcoholism wherever forests are suddenly destroyed. It is becoming increasingly clear that the best solution for both human rights and the planet is for forests to be managed by local communities. They do so much better than the industrial loggers or plantation owners.
The Cameroonian government needs to realize that trashing forests is not the way to make the economy grow. Rapid and intensive exploitation of nature has more far-reaching consequences than short-term economic growth. To prevent the extinction of fauna and flora species, indigenous communities that live among them need the rights to manage their forest.
Standing for biodiversity means communities should get the rights to manage their forests, instead of the corporations that destroy them.
Lamfu Fabrice Yengong is a Congo Basin researcher.
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue is a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Africa.
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By Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, Greenpeace Africa
When I think of the forest, I remember playing in it. We would build huts of sticks and moss, and vehicles from bamboo trees. Getting lost in the forest was a real adventure. We used to turn the forest into a navigation game. We could get a sense of orientation without a compass or a GPS.
My family lived in a forest area in the central region of Cameroon. I have known the forest ever since I was a child. My birthday is on the 21st of March — the international day of forests — so I feel uniquely connected to forests.
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, in the rainforest in the south region of Cameroon, 2017. Greenpeace Africa
I would go with my brothers, sisters and our friends into the nearby forest to collect seasonal fruits off the trees (bush mango, oranges, lemons). We would collect traditional medicinal herbs and scrape the tree barks with our grandma to treat our stomach aches, especially after eating too much of those fruits.
Playing and jumping in the bushes, looking for food and building materials, these were some of our favorite moments as children in Cameroon. The forest served me with free therapy sessions. When I was sad or needed to reflect, I used to go and rest under a tree. Alone, I could enjoy the shadow created by the branches. Listening to the squirrels' feet clambering in the trees or the birds singing, chirping, croaking and shrilling, it was a peaceful treatment for my mind.
Life seemed so simple then. We had a place where we found ourselves connected. The air was pure and fresh and we did not know many of the diseases we do now. The tranquil environment in the forest was reflected in the unity of our communities. There were hardly any conflicts over land and when they occurred they were solved peacefully around a fresh cup of palm wine.
But now I've witnessed the consequences of forest destruction for industrial agricultural plantations growing crops, rubber or palm oil or monoculture tree plantations. Seasons rapidly began changing from cold to very hot. Children were killed by speeding trucks carrying timber. Natural treasures were being plundered as resources for the selfish interests of a small group of people.
The humid rainforest has gone dry in many areas after intense logging, and the rich life that had been there has now turned into a story of displaced communities and fleeing wildlife.
When I walked in the forest today, as I try to do on every one of my birthdays, I recalled how it was during my childhood. I thought, why are they cutting down so much of the forest and what is the benefit of it for the people living here?
This is not unique to my country. Everywhere around the world the promise of "development" through logging has never served the people who live there. Only a handful of foreign companies and well-connected insiders are getting wealthier. Are they aware of the climate crisis? Did the loggers ever go through experiences in the forest that were similar to mine? What can we learn from Indigenous and local communities, who have been the natural guardians of the forest for so many years? What richness of knowledge is at risk of being lost, as I've seen them cast out of their homes? And what role do they ever get in the debate around the climate and biodiversity crises?
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, in the Baka house in the south region of Cameroon, 2019. Greenpeace Africa
Joining the fight through the forest campaign of Greenpeace Africa six years ago gave me an opportunity to defend my forest and stand for the rights of the people living here. Working with communities and learning to see the forest through their eyes, hearing their cry the forest is destroyed in the name of "development," makes me more eager to continue to stand with them and for their rights.
Here in Cameroon, many of the plantations that have replaced our natural forests are in fact tree monocultures. But not everyone understands the difference between a tree monoculture plantation and a natural forest. Even some governments. By replacing natural forests with monoculture tree plantations, not only are human communities and endangered species put at risk, but enormous stocks of carbon are released into the air.
Carbon is mostly stored in the thick stems and deep roots of trees that are hundreds of years old. Planting new trees to replace ancient forests is not a solution. It just serves to greenwash the conscience of executives in oil and gas companies, declaring one trillion trees will be planted and "offsetting" CO2 emissions from extractive industries with artificial forests is part of the problem. Planting trees with one hand, while the other one is pumping oil out of the ground is like putting a band-aid on an arm that has been dismembered.
Only a natural forest can be home to rich biodiversity, including rapidly disappearing medicinal plants. Only a natural forest can be a home to Indigenous and local forest communities. The solution requires acknowledging their unique role in good management of forests and recognizing their rights over their land. Give them back the forest. Ensure their participation and inclusion in all policies.
Seeing the scale of forest destruction in my land and understanding the risks for the entire planet, celebrating my birthday has become more difficult in recent years. I hope that this time around, my cry as someone who always loves to visit the forest — along with the cries of Indigenous and local communities who must live in the forest — will be heard by many more of you. That would be the perfect gift for my birthday. It would help bring a smile to my face and to so many more.
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue is a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Africa, based in Yaounde, Cameroon.
By Cole Taylor
Storytelling is the heart of activism and community building. Part of my story is standing on the Fred Hartman Bridge and blocking the Houston Ship Channel for 18 hours on Sept. 12. Why did I feel compelled to do something like this? It really comes down to the many stories that make up my life, community and passion.
The Houston Ship Channel is the largest fossil fuel thoroughfare in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. While standing on that bridge, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in my life. As the sun rose, the stark reality of the oil refineries and smokestacks of choking smoke came into view. Soon after, a rainbow arched over the bridge and dolphins swam underneath it. And still the air was thick with chemical fumes and toxic smells.
The Houston Ship Channel is the largest fossil fuel thoroughfare in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. While standing on that bridge, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in my life. As the sun rose, the stark reality of the oil refineries and smokestacks of choking smoke came into view. Soon after, a rainbow arched over the bridge and dolphins swam underneath it. And still the air was thick with chemical fumes and toxic smells.
HAPPENING NOW: We're in the heart of the fossil fuel industry (the largest oil export channel in the US) to confron… https://t.co/wWuaKmiyF8— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1568293111.0
Prior to standing on top of the Fred Hartman Bridge I hadn't been surrounded by the fossil fuel industry in that way. I didn't grow up next to oil refineries, or coal plants. I was lucky because of the privilege of my skin color and where I was born in Orange County, California. I grew up close to the poverty line but, I was able to afford to live a life where I did not have to worry about the systems of power and oppression, which for the most part, did not affect me all that much.
Being a part of a marginalized community wasn't something I had experienced until I was older. When I turned 18 I came out as a lesbian, and then when I was 33 I came out as a transgendered male. Being a part of the queer community is what sparked my passion and need to stand up against the systems of power and oppression. My viewpoint broadened after years of working within activist spaces, where I realized the people who were getting out into the community getting their voices heard were mainly cis-gendered white people. It was apparent to me that if we were going to enact change, intersectionality needed to be at the forefront. I needed to act, and it needed to happen now.
Black, Brown, Indigenous and Queer folks are the most impacted by climate change. According to author Alexander Cheves on them.us, "trans and gender-nonconforming youth of color — are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than our straight, cisgender peers." Where do these people go when the extreme weather conditions hit, conditions becoming increasingly prevalent with climate change? As extreme storms like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy become more commonplace, low-income communities will be the most affected.
Now is the time to act! Twenty-one other activists and I have been charged with a federal misdemeanor for obstruction of navigable waters, and a state felony of blocking critical infrastructure. These"critical infrastructure" laws were created to criminalize protests against oil and gas. We are the first people to be charged with this law in Texas and in the country (similar laws exist in around half a dozen states, with many bills coming up in state legislatures across the country each cycle). Along with being criminalized for standing up against the tyranny of the fossil fuel industry, while in the Harris County jail we all went through dehumanizing and unethical treatment. We are out and safe for now, but thousands of people within this system are still being dehumanized.
This is just part of my story — our story. I ask everyone reading this to create their own narrative that will carry on for decades to come. The time for action has come, and the time for our collective stories to change the world for the better is just beginning.
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By Kaitlin Grable
I was born on the island of O'ahu, 98 years after the U.S. supported an illegal coup in my hometown of Honolulu to overthrow Queen Liliuokalani and steal Hawaiian land. I was born in a Hawai'i that is radically and tragically different from the Hawai'i of my ancestors.
The Hawaiian word for land is 'aina. This word literally translates to "that which feeds us," which is a beautiful way to describe the sacred kinship that not just Hawaiians, but we all have with the land. It nourishes, it feeds, it gives life and after life it is into the land we return.
But in Hawai’i the continued legacies of colonialism and imperialism are destroying our ‘aina.
Countless Hawaiian sacred sites have been bulldozed, dismantled, developed and even used for military target practice.
Many Kanaka (Indigenous Hawaiians) are passionately fighting to raise awareness about the injustices they face, such as racism and displacement, while seeking to gain back control of their land. And right now, the world is watching as Hawaiians, both Indigenous Kanaka and non-Indigenous Kama'aina, are taking a stand against scientific imperialism in the form of the Thirty Meter Telescope.
These protectors, the Ku Kia'i Mauna, have been steadfast in their presence, creating blockades with their own bodies to prevent road access for weeks now.
To the Kanaka Maoli, Mauna Kea is the most sacred place. It is the tallest mountain in Hawai'i, and the tallest mountain in the world when measured from its bottom on the seafloor of the Pacific all the way to its peak. It is the birthplace of Hawaiian cosmology and the center of the Hawaiian universe, the meeting place of Earth Mother Papahānaumoku and Sky Father Wākea. Historically, only Hawaiian chiefs and religious leaders were permitted to ascend to the Mauna peak.
But this is about so much more than the desecration of sacred lands. This is about dismantling the systems of colonialism and imperialism that have destroyed and exploited our precious natural resources, and continue to do so with no regard for people or planet.
Hulali Kau, a writer and advocate working in Native Hawaiian and environmental law, said it best:
"To anyone that continues to try to frame TMT as a science versus culture argument, I would say that this struggle over the future of Mauna Kea is actually about how we manage resources and align our laws and values of Hawaii to connect a past where the state has subjected its Indigenous people to continued mismanagement of it lands with its uncertain future."
There are many people who ask, "Why now? There are 13 telescopes up there. Why not one more?"
Beyond the fact that this is sacred Indigenous land, let's lay out the facts:
- The UN requires Indigenous communities to give their "Free, Prior, and Informed Consent" before construction can begin on their land. This was an agreement to which 144 nations signed on. Only four did not, one being the U.S., because this nation has no regard for Indigenous rights or lands.
- Mauna Kea is home to the largest aquifer in Hawai'i, which would be threatened by development of the TMT.
- Mauna Kea is a habitat for native and endangered plants and wildlife, which are being further threatened by increased development.
- The University of Hawai'i has poorly managed the land, resulting in damage and pollution on the Mauna. In 2017, a lawsuit against the state and university was filed, in its arguments the agency filing brought up the results of several audits of the mountain which suggested that there have been "adverse" cultural, archaeological, historical and natural resource impacts on Mauna Kea since the first telescopes began being built.
- There is a viable alternative spot for consideration, on the La Palma island in the Canary Islands, which is not stolen, sacred land.
I moved away from my Hawaiian homelands at a young age, but the spirit of Aloha has only grown stronger in me. And though I now live on the opposite end of the country, I am standing firmly with my friends and family on the Mauna. This isn't just their fight, this is all of ours. We must be united for this cause.
Mahalo nui loa for your solidarity.
Until the last aloha 'aina.
Kaitlin Grable is the Social Media Associate for Greenpeace USA. She is currently based out of Durham, North Carolina on Eno and Occaneechi territory. You can peep her on Instagram @AroundTheWorldInKatyDays.
By Willie Mackenzie
When it comes to being otherworldly, alien and bizarre, the ocean has plenty to fuel the imagination and make your jaw drop: giant scuttling bugs, jelly-like blobfish, slimy mucus-drenched hagfish, hairy armed lobsters and almost anything else you could imagine.
It's no big surprise that Hollywood science fiction films so often look to the deep for their monsters, landscapes and mystery. After all, the deep ocean is more alien to us than the surface of the moon.
But bizarrely, some scientists think the ocean floor might well be the very place where life on our planet first evolved.
The spiral tube worm, or Sabella Spallanzanii, lives in membranous tubes, often reinforced by the inclusion of mud particles and has a feathery, filter-feeding crown that can be quickly withdrawn into the tube when danger threatens.
Gavin Newman / Greenpeace
Discovery of Hydrothermal Vents
One of the hottest candidates for creating the right conditions are deep sea "hydrothermal" vents, where super-heated water and chemicals meet. These vents exist far below the reach of sunlight, in an area devoid of any oxygen. They're created at the places where giant tectonic plates meet, by the heat from the inner Earth pushing through the crust of the planet.
Hydrothermal vents were only discovered in 1977 – and astonished scientists with their towering chimneys and bizarre animals discovered around them. Giant tube worms, bacteria-eating crabs and other surreal creatures somehow thriving at great depths, clustered around columns billowing out "smoking" superheated, mineral-rich seawater.
This discovery challenged what people thought about life on Earth, and even more so when "alkaline" versions were discovered in 2000. Caustic conditions, similar to weak bleach, or bicarbonate of soda, seemed even more unlikely to support life. Yet they did.
The Lost City: The Real Primordial Soup?
The Lost City is the best known of these hydrothermal vents — a collection of turrets, towers and chimneys that could be as much as 120,000 years old.
Research shows that these vents are creating hydrocarbons — molecules that are essential for all life on Earth. Could it be that churning chemicals and minerals in superheated seawater in places like the Lost City were actually where life started? Is this the real primordial soup?
The honest answer is — we still don't know. In the last couple of decades, scientists have struggled to survey and understand the mysteries of the Lost City.
But as research continues to try and answer these questions, the seabed has attracted attention from industry keen to exploit the minerals and metals down there too.
Hydrothermal vents at Dom João De Castro.
Greenpeace / Gavin Newman
Monster Machines at the Ready
We don't know very much about the deep sea, and we know even less about remote, inhospitable deep sea vents. Though they exist in extreme chemical and physical conditions, they seem to be very fragile and precarious.
Yet even before scientists have started to scratch the surface of understanding these remarkable environments, they are at risk of being damaged or destroyed forever by industries keen to mine minerals from the deep sea.
Licenses have already been granted to explore for mining the seafloor with monster machines — which risk wrecking these places before they are even understood.
Underwater footage of seamounts in the Azores, Princess Alice Banks.
A Wake-Up Call
The rush to exploit the deep ocean, before we even understand it, has to be a wake-up call.
It's not as if the public is clamoring for the seafloor to be ripped up for us to get a new gadget (especially when companies can't even get their act together to reclaim and recycle the materials we already have!). Not only are we threatening unique marine life, but we might destroy these places forever.
That's why Greenpeace's Pole to Pole expedition is sailing to the Lost City this summer with the scientist who discovered this wonder of the deep ocean, to learn more about its mysteries and make the case for protection, rather than exploitation.
Did life on Earth begin in the cauldron of chemical soup around deep sea hydrothermal vents? I don't know. But I do know that we're already harming enough species and habitats, and we have no justifiable reason to trash the fragile deep sea and all the wonderfully weird marine life that makes its home there.
The Esperanza arriving to the Azores for the Lost City Leg of the Pole to Pole Ship Tour.
Barbara Sanchez Palomero / Greenpeace
Willie Mackenzie is an Oceans Campaigner with Greenpeace International.
By Paula Tejón Carbajal
Working in climate and environment, you hear this question a lot. On one hand, environmental groups — including Greenpeace — will tell you that every action you take can make a difference. Every action counts! On the other, editorials and experts will tell you that it doesn't matter what you do in your everyday life, because the problem can't be solved by individual action. They may claim that its a cop out and lets corporations off the hook, because the problem lies with the broken but deeply entrenched system we're caught in. After all, 70 percent of emissions are created by 100 companies, right?
As this Vox piece laid out so well, as a climate campaigner, my friends also used to proudly tell me how much they recycle, or about their efforts to eat less meat or buy green products whenever they could afford them. It always broke my heart to tell them: sure… but to have a real impact you need to refuse and reduce first, join a climate strike, or become a politically active citizen who demands the mayor in your city launches an ambitious mobility plan or the government in your country starts holding corporations accountable.
After one of my lectures, which were typically technical and lengthy, their facial expressions had usually changed dramatically. Their body language said it all; and then, silence. Or worse — the defensive response: I do what I can. You know? Or the powerless version: Even if I do that, others probably don't, so what difference does it make? Or the most defeated and most painful one to hear: Well, who cares? We are all screwed anyway, right?
I wanted my friends and family to keep speaking to me, so I started to explore new ways to have conversations with them about climate change and the environmental crisis while being mindful with their emotions (and mine!). Because, the truth is, we need both individual and collective action. And we need them now!
Yes, some have argued that small positive changes in our lifestyles can be a distraction, and even hold back the drive for and uptake of ambitious policies, as we de-prioritize a collective check on corporate and political power. But I believe it isn't a matter of either, or. It's both — AND. Individual and collective actions go hand-in-hand. They are intimately interlinked.
Recycle. Yes, and refuse, reduce and ask big brands to change their business and distribution models. Bike to work. Yes, and work with your neighbors to get your mayor to declare climate emergency and create a plan to increase bike lines and public transport in your city. Change your light bulbs. Yes, and advocate with your community for the uptake of renewable energy to transform the energy system in your region. Eat less meat. Yes, and work with your kids' school to include vegetarian meals in their menus or introduce how to grow their own food in their curriculums. Plant trees. Yes, and demand your government to protect our forests and adopt bold climate policies.
It's true that to tackle the ecological and climate crisis straight on, systemic change is a must; a matter of survival.
We do need to shift societal mindsets from "only the free market and extractive models can spark happiness by creating economic growth" and "having more stuff makes me happy," to "the economy must work within the environmental limits of the planet" and "self-worth is linked to our relationships and experiences, not buying more stuff."
We do need collective action to drive the system change we want to see.
But we can push those shifts forward by encouraging positive stories, co-creating solutions that shape the new normal, and working towards an environment with role models and reward systems that mirror these behaviors as socially desirable.
For this systemic change to happen, we need society to acknowledge the magnitude of these shifts and we need to start somewhere. And that somewhere can start with each of us.
No, individual actions won't have an immediate impact on world problems. Using a tote bag or buying fruit that isn't repacked in foam isn't going to stop the production of single-use plastic at the scale required. But it could make a difference to your local city or community as a first step, because personal positive actions have the potential to empower people, build agency, encourage role models that inspire others and make them feel they are part of the solution.
Small signals can spark hope and search for others to build communities that take action. When the community takes action, it becomes more resilient, therefore more independent and sufficient.
Rosa Park or Greta Thunberg were and are both ordinary people who did and are still doing extraordinary things … and as a consequence, they changed (and still are changing) the world, creating a new normal that was unthinkable before they took that first brave step.
Not every single-handed action you take will result in a civil rights movement or stop an oil rig in its tracks. But it might change someone's mind around a dinner table, or at a board table, or wherever it is you choose to take your courageous step. Courage means different things to different people, because it happens at the edge of our own personal comfort zone. Each individual's courage is different — but equally valid and equally bold.
Personal actions are a courageous and valuable starting point, let's not shame people for doing what they can, or make people feel guilty for not doing enough.
But equally let's make sure we don't stop there. From student to CEO, let's make sure those entry points enable as many people as possible to join a meaningful collective journey where the scale of our acts is proportionate to the scale of our responsibilities and our possibilities.
Let's be optimistic, courageous and honest with ourselves. Let's acknowledge the urgent need to change our current socio economic system. And yes, that includes the way we think, behave and live, which means we need the small and the big actions, and anything and everything in-between.
Paula Tejón Carbajal is a Global Campaign Strategist for Greenpeace International.
By Jeremiah Lowery
The climate crisis is comprised of many issues, which require many solutions. Now is the time for presidential candidates to discuss all these issues facing U.S. citizens and our international community.
When I was growing up in the Washington, DC area, many members of my community struggled with not only unemployment, but also with our drinking water containing so much lead it caused Congress to open an investigation.
We had trouble with a myriad of other issues as well, from poor air quality (largely due to the industrial factories in the city) to finding adequate public transportation options to get to the grocery store.
To paraphrase the author and poet Audre Lorde, our collective struggles were not singularly focused, therefore we did not live single-issue lives.
A woman stands at the window of her home looking out at Shell refinery just a couple of yards away, in an area dubbed "Cancer Alley" in Louisiana.
This is the reason I am in the climate movement.
I believe that by building a broad and all-encompassing climate movement, we will be able to tackle many of the issues that members of my community faced.
Addressing our climate crisis means addressing our lack of good paying, sustainable jobs, it means children having clean water to drink, it means reliable public transportation run on renewable energy, and so many other solutions.
Which is why I was very disappointed to read that Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, declined to hold a climate debate for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates because he stated climate is a "single-issue" and debates should cover a broader range of issues besides just climate.
People ride in the back of military trucks as they are evacuated through the flooded streets of Houston after Hurricane Harvey caused record flooding in southeast Texas.
The issues faced by my community clearly show that our climate movement is not a single-issue movement. If you look at other parts of the country you will see communities are facing similar issues because their leaders have not fully grasped or embraced the solutions. Solutions which can be found within the climate movement.
Cities like Flint, Michigan are struggling with the issue of clean water. Yuma County, Arizona is struggling with the issue of high unemployment. Bakersfield, California is struggling with the issue of air pollution. And year after year, communities like those on the coast of Texas are destroyed by hurricanes and flooding.
A woman holds a jar of water from her well, which was contaminated after hydraulic fracturing drilling began near her Washington County farm.
Our climate movement also encompasses international issues as well. Our climate crisis will have a devastating effects on trade, cause massive famine in countries such as Sudan due to flooding of farmland, and overall causes global instability.
We need to know whether or not the next leader of the United States understands the potential that lies within our climate movement to solve many of the pressuring issues facing our world today.
Now is the time for Presidential candidates to discuss all these issues facing U.S. citizens and our international community.
And an effective platform through which citizens can learn about their candidates' foreign and domestic plans for all these issues is a climate debate.
Tom Perez needs to reconsider his position and the DNC needs to step up to the plate and host a climate debate, because the multiple issues within our climate crisis can no longer be pushed aside. These issues must be addressed if we care about the future stability of our nation.
The issues we are facing are great but our potential is greater. If you believe we need a climate debate now, for all the issues facing our communities, take action and demand it.
'This Is an Emergency. We Need the Democrats to Act Like It': Outrage as DNC Says It Won't Host a 2020 Debate on Climate Crisis https://t.co/oQ3MC3bH3h #2020election #Climatechange #Jayinslee pic.twitter.com/aPNXJ0jYur— Renewable Search (@RenewableSearch) June 6, 2019
- 4 Reasons Why We Need a Climate Debate - EcoWatch ›
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By Rachelle Adelante
Amid the growing plastic pollution crisis, we see people rising up and taking a stand in a lot of different ways. Plastic pollution protests can range from marching in the streets to more unorthodox methods, such as protest art. Protest art is an important way to create public awareness for issues such as the single-use plastics problem.
Creative consultant, activist and artist, Katie Williams uses art as a way to raise awareness of consumer habits regarding single-use plastics. Her "trash art" with Jen Fedrizzi is publicly staged on the busy streets of San Francisco and forces passersby to take a closer look.
San Francisco Trash Art
She met photographer Jen Fedrizzi while living together at the Convent Arts Collective in San Francisco. Williams gushed over, "Jen had seen some of my performance art and she asked if I'd be interested to collaborate on the topic of plastic pollution. She absolutely reignited my passion for the environment."
The duo first staged a performance art piece on the day after Thanksgiving in 2017 called, Our Sophisticated Denial, which took place in the street front window of the Artists' Television Access Gallery on busy Valencia Street in San Francisco's Mission district. For this performance, Williams and Fedrizzi "drowned" in waste over the course of 5 hours.
"We actually collected waste from our arts collective, and in that process of collecting waste, rather than throwing it in the bin, we saw firsthand just how much waste was being created. It was shocking to see how much trash you've accumulated. Once you see it, you cannot unsee it." Williams said.
Our Sophisticated Denial, November 2017.
A year later, Williams and Fedrizzi took the project to another level and launched, What Remains? in which they used their collected waste to create costumes made of trash. Williams also created original music for this performance piece, which included songs about plastic pollution. "I wanted to try to reach people on a different level," Williams said, "It's easy to share information about plastic pollution, like, X amount of plastic is created, but I wanted to get to the heart of the issue and touch people on a more emotional level."
Her song, Where is Away, from this performance uses lyrics to awaken people into thinking more about their waste habits:
Williams once gave a statement in her art pieces that speaks volumes:
"I believe that sharing vulnerability can be powerful. For me, it was a vulnerable process to collect my own trash and then wear it for people to see. I'm not zero waste, I'm not perfect. Most people aren't. I want the system to change so that we all have better choices that are more sustainable than single-use plastics."
Global Beach Cleanup
Beyond creating art pieces out of trash, Williams and Fedrizzi also organized a global beach cleanup and brand audit in collaboration with The Surfrider Foundation, All One Ocean and Zero Waste Youth USA in March of 2019.
"A brand audit is a little different from a regular beach cleanup," Williams explained, "For a brand audit, you sort the trash and pile it up by the company that created it. At the end, you take photos and post them online tagging the companies. This lets them know that we are holding them accountable and makes their branding synonymous with trash. We want to force corporations to change to alternatives to single-use plastics."
The brand audit toolkit is available from Break Free From Plastic and can be used for any type of cleanup.
Stop Plastic! Act Now Facebook Group
Williams also manages a group on Facebook that posts daily actions for group members to take, such as emailing companies or signing petitions.
She created the group as a response to the many Zero Waste groups on Facebook, which place an emphasis on individual actions. "I wanted to focus on corporate accountability. I believe that if enough consumers write in and voice their demands, we can make companies listen."
You can join the Stop Plastic! Act Now group on Facebook.
Love Transcends All Borders
From her years of experience traveling and working around the world, Williams came to realize that people, at their very core, are all the same.
"We share the same desires, wishes, and sorrows," she recognized, "And of course we also have rich diversity and complexity, but at the heart of it, I feel we all share the same human goodness." That is a good thing as it gives us more chance to unite and collaborate towards the same goals.
"We see people all over the world right now standing up for plastic pollution and climate change," Williams said, "It represents the goodness of people. We do care."
So many possibilities are out in the horizon and Williams is simply enjoying her free time working as a communications consultant, plotting her next protest art projects. For now, her latest project emphasizes love and how it transcends beyond borders, languages and anything that divides us.
Rachelle Adelante is a volunteer and contributing writer with Greenpeace USA.
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By Maggie Ellinger-Locke
We only have about a decade to reverse course on the climate crisis. Activism opposing fossil fuel pipelines is needed more than ever. But activists are facing threats to their right to protest in state legislatures across the country. Lawmakers are introducing legislation to restrict the right to protest. These bills are often modeled on resolutions drafted by companies and passed through groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people, and are usually supported by law enforcement groups. Advocates are fighting back, urging elected officials to vote against these bills. But even the mere introduction of these bills has the power to chill speech and curtail activism.
The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law has been tracking these bills where you can see nearly 100 have been introduced, so far.
The bills are not seeking to target protest generally, they are much more sneaky than that. Let me break it down.
There are several categories of bills that have been introduced and in some cases, enacted: anti-boycott legislation, bills that limit collective bargaining, bills that increase criminal penalties for protests against fossil fuel pipelines, bills that enhance criminal penalties for highway shut down protests, bills restricting the rights of students to oppose hate speech college campuses, and more.
Each category of bills attempts to criminalize a particular movement tactic, often to increase criminal penalties for already illegal conduct.
The trend emerged in 2015 and was first used against the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement in support of the Palestinian rights. Anti-boycott legislation has been introduced, and in some cases enacted, on the federal level and in all but nine states. Another example is following large wildcat strikes in several states, bills have been introduced to limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector teachers unions. Bills targeting campus speech have been filed in response to student protests against white supremacists. And anti-mask wearing laws — which historically were designed to target the Klan — are now used to target anti-fascists.
But this was just the beginning.
By far the largest category of bills is designed to impact the Movement for Black Lives, which has used highway protests as one of its most successful tactics. Lawmakers introduced legislation that would increase penalties for these protests, and even bills that would remove liability for drivers who hit such protesters with their car. Thus far no anti-liability bills have actually been enacted, but this is hardly a victory, as introducing these bills discourages people from getting involved in the fight for racial justice.
And climate and anti-pipeline activists are also at risk. Fossil fuel pipeline protests, like we saw at Standing Rock and elsewhere, have been another target of those interested in passing these bills. The bills claim to protect "critical infrastructure" but are actually used to criminalize Water Protectors and environmental activism. The first of these bills was introduced and enacted in Oklahoma in 2017, a state with significant oil and gas interests, and the second largest Indigenous population in the country. When voting on these laws, Oklahoma legislators made clear that these bills were a direct response to pipeline protests.
Since that time, these bills have been introduced in nearly two dozen states, and enacted in five, though several more states are currently considering these bills.
Generally, critical infrastructure bills share several common elements. (1) They create new criminal penalties for already illegal conduct — for example, turning misdemeanor trespass (a common charge for civil disobedience) into a felony. (2) They broadly redefine the term "critical infrastructure" to include everything from cell phone towers to trucking terminals; far greater than the fossil fuel pipelines the bills purport to protect. (3) The bills also seek to create liability for organizations that support protesters by treating such support as a criminal conspiracy.
We've seen this latter element play out in another form: strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), like the one Energy Transfer, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, brought against Greenpeace offices and others. The original lawsuit filed against Greenpeace sought 900 million dollars in treble (triple) damages under RICO, but a federal court recently dismissed the RICO claims with prejudice.
Under these new laws, the punitive fine organizations face can be as much as ten times the amount an individual might face. Energy Transfer is one of several companies that has been lobbying for these bills. The American Petroleum Institute — the lobbying arm of the industry — is also behind much of this.
We've got just over a decade to curb the worst effects of climate change. At a time where climate action is needed more than ever, our lawmakers must say no to fossil fuels and work to keep them in the ground. This session critical infrastructure bills have been introduced in 13 states, primarily in the Midwest. If you live in one of these states, contact your lawmakers and ask them to vote no. And let your friends and family know they can make a difference by speaking out. Time is running out. Take action and resist these attempts to silence dissent.
Maggie Ellinger-Locke is a staff attorney at Greenpeace USA.