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“I Am Greta” isn’t About Climate Change. It’s About the Elusiveness of Sanity in an Insane World

BY JONATHAN COOK

Photograph Source: Nick from Bristol – CC BY 2.0

Erich Fromm, the renowned German-Jewish social psychologist who was forced to flee his homeland in the early 1930s as the Nazis came to power, offered a disturbing insight later in life on the relationship between society and the individual.

In the mid-1950s, his book The Sane Society suggested that insanity referred not simply to the failure by specific individuals to adapt to the society they lived in. Rather, society itself could become so pathological, so detached from a normative way of life, that it induced a deep-seated alienation and a form of collective insanity among its members. In modern western societies, where automation and mass consumption betray basic human needs, insanity might not be an aberration but the norm.

Fromm wrote:

“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

Challenging definition

This is still a very challenging idea to anyone raised on the view that sanity is defined by consensus, that it embraces whatever the mainstream prefers, and that insanity applies only to those living outside those norms. It is a definition that diagnoses the vast majority of us today as insane.

When Fromm wrote his book, Europe was emerging from the ruins of the Second World War. It was a time of reconstruction, not only physically and financially, but legally and emotionally. International institutions like the United Nations had recently been formed to uphold international law, curb national greed and aggression, and embody a new commitment to universal human rights.

It was a time of hope and expectation. Greater industrialisation spurred by the war effort and intensified extraction of fossil fuels meant economies were beginning to boom, a vision of the welfare state was being born, and a technocratic class promoting a more generous social democracy were replacing the old patrician class.

It was at this historic juncture that Fromm chose to write a book telling the western world that most of us were insane.

Degrees of insanity

If that was clear to Fromm in 1955, it ought to be much clearer to us today, as buffoon autocrats stride the world stage like characters from a Marx Brothers movie; as international law is being intentionally unravelled to restore the right of western nations to invade and plunder; and as the physical world demonstrates through extreme weather events that the long-ignored science of climate change – and much other human-inspired destruction of the natural world – can no longer be denied.

And yet our commitment to our insanity seems as strong as ever – possibly stronger. Sounding like the captain of the Titanic, the unreconstructed British liberal writer Sunny Hundal memorably gave voice to this madness a few years back when he wrote in defence of the catastrophic status quo:

If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?

As the clock ticks away, the urgent goal for each of us is to gain a deep, permanent insight into our own insanity. It doesn’t matter that our neighbours, family and friends think as we do. The ideological system we were born into, that fed us our values and beliefs as surely as our mothers fed us milk, is insane. And because we cannot step outside of that ideological bubble – because our lives depend on submitting to this infrastructure of insanity – our madness persists, even as we think of ourselves as sane.

Our world is not one of the sane versus the insane, but of the less insane versus the more insane.

Intimate portrait

Which is why I recommend the new documentary I Am Greta, a very intimate portrait of the Swedish child environmental activist Greta Thunberg.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=i74n4BUYgHI%3Ffeature%3Doembed

Before everyone gets started, let me point out that I Am Greta is not about the climate emergency. That is simply the background noise as the film charts the personal journey begun by this 15-year-old girl with Asperger’s syndrome in staging a weekly lone protest outside the Swedish parliament. Withdrawn and depressed by the implications of the compulsive research she has done on the environment, she rapidly finds herself thrust into the centre of global attention by her simple, heart-felt statements of the obvious.

The schoolgirl shunned as insane by classmates suddenly finds the world drawn to the very qualities that previously singled her out as weird: her stillness, her focus, her refusal to equivocate or to be impressed.

Footage of her father desperately trying to get her to take a break and eat something, if only a banana, as she joins yet another climate march, or of her curling up in a ball on her bed, needing to be silent, after an argument with her father over the time she has spent crafting another speech to world leaders may quieten those certain she is simply a dupe of the fossil fuel industries – or, more likely, it will not.

But the fruitless debates about whether Thunberg is being used are irrelevant to this film. That is not where its point or its power lies.

Through Thunberg’s eyes

For 90 minutes we live in Thunberg’s shoes, we see the world through her strange eyes. For 90 minutes we are allowed to live inside the head of someone so sane that we can briefly grasp – if we are open to her world – quite how insane each of us truly is. We see ourselves from the outside, through the vision of someone whose Asperger’s has allowed her to “see through the static”, as she too generously terms our delusions. She is the small, still centre of simple awareness buffeted in a sea of insanity.

Watching Thunberg wander alone – unimpressed, often appalled – through the castles and palaces of world leaders, through the economic forums of the global technocratic elite, through the streets where she is acclaimed, the varied nature of our collective insanity comes ever more sharply into focus.

Four forms of insanity the adult world adopts in response to Thunberg, the child soothsayer, are on show. In its varied guises, this insanity derives from unexamined fear.

The first – and most predictable – is exemplified by the right, who angrily revile her for putting in jeopardy the ideological system of capitalism they revere as their new religion in a godless world. She is an apostate, provoking their curses and insults.

The second group are liberal world leaders and the technocratic class who run our global institutions. Their job, for which they are so richly rewarded, is to pay lip service, entirely in bad faith, to the causes Thunberg espouses for real. They are supposed to be managing the planet for future generations, and therefore have the biggest investment in recruiting her to their side, not least to dissipate the energy she mobilises that they worry could rapidly turn against them.

One of the film’s early scenes is Thunberg’s meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron, shortly after she has started making headlines.

Beforehand, Macron’s adviser tries to pump Thunberg for information on other world leaders she has met. His unease at her reply that this her first such invitation is tangible. As Thunberg herself seems only too aware when they finally meet, Macron is there simply for the photoshoot. Trying to make inane small talk with someone incapable of such irrelevancies, Macron can’t help but raise an eyebrow in discomfort, and possibly mild reproof, as Thunberg concedes that the media reports of her travelling everywhere by train are right.

Cynically insane

The third group are the adults who line the streets for a selfie with Thunberg, or shout out their adulation, loading it on to her shoulders like a heavy burden – and one she signally refuses to accept. Every time someone at a march tells her she is special, brave or a hero, she immediately tells them they too are brave. It is not her responsibility to fix the climate for the rest of us, and to think otherwise is a form of infantilism.

The fourth group are entirely absent from the film, but not from the responses to it and to her. These are the “cynically insane”, those who want to load on to Thunberg a burden of a different kind. Aware of the way we have been manipulated by our politicians and media, and the corporations that now own both, they are committed to a different kind of religion – one that can see no good anywhere. Everything is polluted and dirty. Because they have lost their own innocence, all innocence must be murdered.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=NatCounterPunch&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1176513294686982145&lang=en&origin=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.counterpunch.org%2F2020%2F11%2F20%2Fi-am-greta-isnt-about-climate-change-its-about-the-elusiveness-of-sanity-in-an-insane-world%2F&siteScreenName=NatCounterPunch&theme=light&widgetsVersion=ed20a2b%3A1601588405575&width=500px

This is a form of insanity no different from the other groups. It denies that anything can be good. It refuses to listen to anything and anyone. It denies that sanity is possible at all. It is its own form of autism – locked away in a personal world from which there can be no escape – that, paradoxically, Thunberg herself has managed to overcome through her deep connection to the natural world.

As long as we can medicalise Thunberg as someone suffering from Asperger’s, we do not need to think about whether we are really the insane ones.

Bursting bubbles

Long ago economists made us aware of financial bubbles, the expression of insanity from investors as they pursue profit without regard to real world forces. Such investors are finally forced to confront reality – and the pain it brings – when the bubble bursts. As it always does.

We are in an ideological bubble – and one that will burst as surely as the financial kind. Thunberg is that still, small voice of sanity outside the bubble. We can listen to her, without fear, without reproach, without adulation, without cynicism. Or we can carry on with our insane games until the bubble explodes.

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

Posted in Environment, Health, UK0 Comments

UN climate report calls out global elite as cause of the crisis

Tina Landis

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The UN Emissions Gap Report released on Dec. 9, shows how far off the mark we are for averting complete climate catastrophe. Current global emissions reduction policies have us on track for 3.5 C warming by 2100, which would be catastrophic for life on Earth. An average increase of 1.5 C globally is the line that must not be crossed — with current temperatures at an average of nearly 1 C warming. 

The report takes a surprisingly class perspective by pointing out that the one percent richest people on the planet are responsible for emissions equal to that of the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population. This group would need to reduce its carbon footprint 30 fold just to meet the Paris Agreement commitments. 

Hottest year on record

2020 will likely be the hottest year on record following the record breaking hot decade of the 2010s. With unprecedented monsoon rains, wildfires, hurricanes and tropical cyclones, we are witnessing the unraveling of life on Earth as we know it. And let’s not forget the pandemic, which is the result of the changing climate and human encroachment on wildlands, with official reports of nearly 70 million globally contracting the virus and more than a million dead. 

Arctic ice loss has accelerated so much that scientists are predicting that a new Arctic climate is emerging — moving from one of snow and ice to one of open water and rain. Similarly, scientists are alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the Antarctica ice sheet. Ice loss triggers a positive feedback loop as open water and land absorb more heat, unlike ice and snow that reflect the sun’s rays — meaning ice loss creates more warming, which accelerates more ice loss, and so on. 

A 2015 consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions study of the San Francisco Bay Area — home of Big Tech and the highest concentration of billionaires on the planet — confirms the UN assertion and shows that the areas where the super rich live have by far the highest share of emissions. The study looked at the life-cycle GHG emissions of all products used and consumed within the Bay Area — from production, shipping, use and disposal of those products. This is key in order to assign the appropriate responsibility for emissions, and in turn the crisis that humanity is facing. Instead of pointing the finger at the poorer countries where U.S. corporations have outsourced production to, or poor communities within wealthier nations, tying the emissions back to the source of the highest consumption rates shows a more accurate picture of who truly holds more responsibility for the problem.

Individual behavior change not the solution

The corporate media frames solutions as one of individual behavior change, which really takes the blame off the producers and puts it onto individual lifestyle choices — in essence a mass marketing campaign for “green” products and electric vehicles. This gives the illusion that if we all just fly less, recycle more, and go vegan, the crisis will be averted. While having more environmentally-conscious practices is good, the majority of the population that is just struggling to survive often doesn’t have access to “green” options. This scapegoating of the individual diverts attention away from the true culprit, the capitalist system itself — just 100 companies responsible for 71 percent of emissions since 1988.

What you personally do, doesn’t solve the unsustainability of the production model of capitalism. For instance, the UN report goes on to point out that the dip we have seen in global emissions during the pandemic will not have a positive effect in the long run. The solution goes way beyond driving less for a few months. We need an uprooting of the capitalist production model that is based on the whims of the market rather than sustainable planning. 

The very nature of capitalism that allows billionaires to exist by hoarding the wealth created by the exploited working class, is the source of the problem. A system that requires endless growth and ever increasing profits can never be sustainable. 

The “one percent” are the ruling class of the world — the ones who truly call the shots — controlling corporations and to a large degree, government policy. These capitalists are always looking for ways to profit off of any situation. Whether an investment is good for humanity and the environment is irrelevant. Making the highest profits possible is the only concern. For instance, Wall Street recently began trading water futures making a basic need for human survival into a cynical betting game. This is a perfect example of “disaster capitalism” and reveals the complete disregard for the survival of our species and a complete disinterest in truly addressing the climate crisis. 

We cannot solve this crisis within the trajectory of global imperialism

There are a few relatively simple actions that could be taken that if implemented on a comprehensive scale could lower global temperatures, increase the water table in drought-plagued areas, and increase biodiversity and ecosystem resilience to the changes underway. Restoring forests, wetlands, and grasslands, along with a shift to regenerative agriculture and an end to fossil fuel use, could stem the unraveling of our climate in just decades. Humanity has the tools to save ourselves, but the “one percent” and the system of capitalism that their police, military, courts and prisons protect, is literally driving us off the cliff. 

One glaring omission that the UN climate reports and summits never address is the issue of imperialism. How can we lower global emissions when the imperialists — who are the biggest per capita polluters — consistently block any binding commitments at the climate summits, despite pressure from the Global South? How can we globally work together for our survival when the U.S. and their European allies constantly undermine and reduce to rubble any nation that doesn’t bow to their demands?

For instance, Libya, prior to its destruction in 2011 by the US and NATO, had the highest standard of living on the African continent. Libya had nearly completed the “Great Man-Made River,” the world’s largest irrigation system that was greening the desert, and were creating a Pan-African banking system and currency to bring the continent out of indebtedness to the imperialist-controlled IMF and World Bank. That could have meant true independence for African nations and development based on sustainability. But, the imperialists wreaked total destruction upon Libya, cheered on the lynching of its leader, and bombed the irrigation system, creating a failed state that today has open slave markets trading Black Africans.

We cannot solve the global climate crisis within the current trajectory of world imperialism. We must uproot the system of capitalism and move to a socialist system built on cooperation and sharing of resources. The wealth of the “one percent” must be seized to fund an ecological and social revolution and put the power into the hands of the majority to determine what is needed for the benefit of both people and planet. 

We need to organize ourselves across borders, get educated on the issues, and build a mass militant people’s movement to realize this goal. The time to act is now, to seize control of the car — of the production system — before the capitalists drive us off the cliff. We have the power to stem the climate crisis and take an evolutionary leap forward to a socialist society that meets all of our needs for an equitable and abundant future. 

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Rare earths: renewables, rivalry and resource war

 by Toby Harbertson

Bayan Obo rare earth processing plant, Inner Mongolia

In 1992 China’s outgoing leader Deng Xiaoping stated: ‘The Middle East has oil; China has rare earths’. In this he recognised the key strategic role of rare earths, and China’s potential advantage in the resource wars of the future. Rare earths are a number of similar chemical elements essential for a wide variety of electronics and other commodities. ‘Green’ technologies depend on rare earths, and demand is skyrocketing as economies attempt to ‘transition’ away from fossil fuels. They are also essential for the production of advanced weaponry. US dominance in the rare earths industry in the 1970s and 1980s gave way to a virtual Chinese monopoly by 2000. As the China-US rivalry accelerates, the US is scrabbling to counter the threat this poses by reviving its own rare earths industry, irrespective of the waste and environmental destruction caused. 

‘Rare earths’ is a term which refers to seventeen metallic elements: scandium, yttrium and lanthanum, along with the 14 other ‘lanthanides’. Some of the most important are neodymium and praseodymium, which are essential for electronic magnets. Rare earth minerals, rare earth metals and rare earth ores are terms often used without precision to refer to these elements or compounds of them. These elements have become invisibly and inextricably woven into the fabric of modern life. 26% go into glass production, followed by 21% for magnets, 19% for catalysts and 11% for batteries (2017 figures – FT 14 September 2020). Rare earth magnets and rechargeable batteries are essential for most existing ‘green’ technologies. Over 90% of electric and hybrid vehicles use rare earth magnets in their motors, and many wind turbines rely on rare earths. Many consumer electronics use rare earths, including hard disk drives and mobile phones. Europium was essential in the development of colour television, and continues to be used in the production of computer and television screens. Every US F-35 fighter jet needs nearly 200kg of rare earth elements, and advanced missile systems, lasers and drones also require them.

Rare earths are not rare – even the rarest are 200 times more common than gold (The Economist 17 September 2010). They are found in small concentrations all over the world, with about one-third of proven reserves in China – mainly Inner Mongolia. The US, Australia, Brazil, Russia, India, Afghanistan and countries in south-east Asia (notably Vietnam) also have significant reserves. It is predicted that major reserves may be found in southern Africa, Kazakhstan, Canada and Greenland (China’s Global Times mocked Trump’s 2019 proposal to buy Greenland from Denmark as driven by the US’s desire for rare earths). The government of North Korea (DPRK) also claims it has reserves. California’s Mountain Pass mine used to provide most of the world’s supply, with the US also dominant in the whole processing chain from the 1960s to the early 1990s. However, Chinese governments from Deng Xiaoping’s onwards have invested in developing mining, refining and manufacturing. China produced 90% of the world’s rare earths by the late 1990s. The US stopped production in 2003.

USGS rare earth oxides production graph min

Global rare earth oxide production trends – graph and interpretation from US Geological Survey

China’s strategy of developing the higher end of the processing chain, to avoid the ‘resource curse’ of many areas rich in raw materials, has been so successful that in the last two years it imported more unrefined rare earth elements than it exported. Production and export is controlled by a state quota, and changes in this quota have been used to maintain dominance in the industry. Embargos and threatened embargos have been major political weapons. Rare earths shot into the news in July 2020 when China threatened to impose sanctions on US arms company Lockheed Martin (the manufacturer of the F-35) over a deal with Taiwan (which China does not recognise). The US has seen the need to restart extraction and manufacture domestically as rivalry has increased. The Pentagon, eager to secure the resources needed for its obscene supply of military hardware, has funded companies such as MP Minerals and Lynas which are restarting the US rare earths industry. Mountain Pass restarted extraction of unrefined rare earths in 2018. However, the US is yet to restart refining and has had to rely on China to process its unrefined resources. The Trump administration has budgeted $209m to support the sector this year. US processing plants are due to be operational by the end of 2020.

The mining of rare earths involves the extraction of tiny amounts of the sought-after elements from huge areas. This process is wasteful and environmentally damaging but ecological concerns are always trumped by profits. China’s rare earth mining has created lakes of toxic effluent, caused sulphuric acid poisoning (a byproduct of cerium processing) and concentrations of cancer diagnoses (LMD July 2020). The government has faced pressure from local communities and from within the Communist Party to reduce pollution. Environmental damage at Mountain Pass mine contributed to its closure. In a world of capitalist mass consumption rare earths are a throwaway resource like any other – electronics are produced to rapidly become obsolete, whether through design or fashion. Recycling of rare earth elements from waste electronics is possible but is not yet commercially viable. As resources are finite this may change. In a socialist global system of production, where people are put before profits, it may be possible to value and use such resources in ways which are socially and ecological sustainable. However, in an imperialist world there can be no production of rare earths which is sustainable for the Earth and the majority of its people.

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Imperialism a breeding ground for pandemics

 by Bjork Lind

Protester holds sign, 'Forests are not commodities!'

It has been established beyond dispute that capitalism’s assault on the environment is the driver behind the evolution of Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. Yet deforestation, pollution and land degradation continue at alarming rates as the ruling class uses the lockdown and economic crisis to advance its interests. BJORK LIND reports.

Fewer species means more diseases

The Global Virome Project estimates that there are 1.6 million unknown viruses circulating in wild animals, half of which have the potential of jumping to humans – a phenomenon known as zoonosis. The alarming increase in the number and frequency of zoonotic disease outbreaks correlates with the rapid transformation of forests, grasslands and deserts into urban and agricultural land. Discoveries published in Nature on 5 August reveal that not only does habitat destruction increase the frequency of contact between humans and wildlife, it makes it more likely for viruses to thrive. Based on an assessment of nearly 7,000 animal communities on six continents, it has been discovered that as human-dominated land use increases so does the total number of animals that harbour disease-causing agents, whereas species that do not carry such agents are found to decline or disappear. It is therefore likely that animals’ resilience to human disturbances is linked to their ability to host deadly viruses. Bats, for example, are the source of numerous diseases –  eg Ebola, Nipah, rabies and coronaviruses – and they have been found to thrive in human-dominated areas where other species are threatened with extinction. 

Pollutants have also been found to drive zoonotic diseases. On 1 July a study was published in Lancet Planetary Health revealing that widespread use of pesticides and other agrochemicals speeds the transmission of schistosomiasis. The disease, which affects over 200 million people every year, is caused by parasites that live in certain types of freshwater snails. The growing population of these snails – and thus the increasing rate of schistosomiasis – is attributed to agrochemicals that both wipe out aquatic predators that feed on the snails and which also stimulate the growth of algae, a major food source for snails. 

A growing amount of scientific studies confirm that environmental degradation is the catalyst for zoonotic diseases, so why is environmental destruction escalating worldwide? 

Agro-imperialism in a time of pandemics 

In their chase for profit, multinational corporations, with the support of international financial institutions and capitalist states, have intensified their destruction of nature and thereby increased the risk of future pandemic diseases. Agribusinesses are particularly to blame for the recent increase in deforestation and the displacement of smallholder farmers who are driven further into a shrinking wilderness. 

On 31 March, Ukraine passed a law lifting the country’s prohibition on land transactions. Ending the moratorium was part of a series of policy reforms imposed by the International Monetary Fund as the condition for a US$5bn loan package, enabling agribusinesses access to Ukraine’s 32 million hectares of fertile land. The law is the latest in a string of economic reforms that have been implemented in the aftermath of the country’s 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2013 protests which unseated the Yanukovich government for its reluctance to sign the Free Trade and Association Agreement with the EU. These two events were led by the Ukrainian elite and sponsored by imperialist nations desperate to transform Ukraine into a free market economy. Multinational agribusiness firms – such as Cargill, Bayer, and DuPont – are, as a result, already heavily involved in Ukraine. They will soon have even further access to what was once known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union.

Imperialist aggression, at the cost of the environment, is intensifying all over the world. In Brazil the Bolsonaro government approved 96 new pesticides in the first months of 2020, consolidating the country’s status as the world’s largest consumer of chemicals classed as seriously hazardous. Many of the pesticides that Brazil imports are produced by EU-based companies where usage of the chemicals is banned. Another grim record has been set in Brazil: according to the Brazilian national space research institute, deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon increased by more than 50% in the first three months of 2020 in comparison to the previous year’s first quarter. A study recently published by the journal Science reports that 2% of individual properties in Brazil’s Amazon and Cerrado savanna are responsible for 62% of all illegal deforestation, a large proportion of which is directly linked to agricultural production. The study reveals that roughly 20% of soy exports and at least 17% of beef exports to the EU are produced by companies complicit in illegal deforestation. In soy-bean producing Argentina, 10,000 hectares of natural habitat were cleared during the country’s lockdown, according to Greenpeace. In palm oil-producing Indonesia, Global Land Analysis & Discovery has recorded that the clearance of forest land increased by 50% in the first five months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. In addition to agribusinesses, commercial logging and mining companies have been advancing into protected areas with fewer inspection agents stopping them.

The brutal exploitation of the African continent by agribusinesses is also intensifying. On 20 May, Okomu Oil Palm Company owned by Socfin, a Luxembourg-based holding company, burnt down villagers’ homes in Okumu Kingdom, Nigeria, in its effort to expand plantations. Over 80 people ended up homeless. On 30 June, seven lawyers who were investigating the forceful eviction of over 35,000 people in Kiryandongo, Uganda, were detained on the charge of carrying out a ‘negligent act likely to spread infection of disease’. The eviction had been carried out by the multinational corporations Agilis Partners, Great Season and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited earlier this year in their pursuit of about 4,000 hectares of land. 

The ruling elite’s tightening grip on natural resources is reflected by the record-high dividend payouts made by the world’s largest agribusiness firms. In April, Nestlé’s shareholders and executives awarded themselves US$8bn. Other notable shareholder dividends announced this summer include a US$2.8bn payout by the world’s largest seed and agrochemical company Bayer AG and a US$600m payout by the world’s largest poultry producer Tyson. 

In their desperate search for profit, these companies are escalating the ecological conditions which generate pandemics. Halting this destruction requires transitioning from a capitalist economy, based on monopoly and profit, to socialism, which prioritises the welfare of the planet through a planned economy. However, no capitalist state would ever willingly undertake such a transition – no matter how deep the crisis. It is up to us to stop them before it is too late.

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Fracking Company Has Made It Rain Toxic Water Upon New Mexico Without Penalty

Rain over New Mexico state flag as oil pipes and methane flare
Is New Mexico’s state government aiding and abetting fracking companies’ damage to humans and the environment?

BYDahr Jamail

Truthout

Penny Aucoin, her husband Carl Dee George, their son Gideon and their daughter Skyler have had their lives devastated by the fracking industry.

There was no oil and gas infrastructure where they lived when they moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico. But six years ago, during a massive expansion of drilling across the Permian Basin that spans West Texas and southeastern New Mexico — one of the most prolific oil and gas basins in the United States — the drilling began.

It was so loud they had to provide hearing protection for Skyler. Then when the flaring commenced, dead birds began literally falling out of the sky right next to their home, and one of their chickens died.

Shortly after that, Penny began feeling the health impacts. Blisters appeared on her face as more drilling pads were installed, some of them literally across the street from their home. Their bedroom walls shook as the drilling pads were constructed nearby, installing both a physical and psychological invasion on the family home. Skyler started having nosebleeds, respiratory issues beset them all, and Penny had ongoing headaches. Carl discovered a nodule on his tongue.

Then, when a pipeline near their home burst this January, they, along with their home and their animals were showered with toxic chemicals. When they walked outside to investigate the bang they heard, which was followed by gushing fluids, they believed it was raining. But what they thought was rain was, in fact, “produced water,” the byproduct of fracking. According to the American Geosciences Institute, this toxic byproduct is full of corrosive salts, oil residues (oil is a hazardous material), fracking chemicals, bacteria and dissolved organic compounds. These proprietary chemical blends created by industry and protected under trade secret law are highly carcinogenic.

Since then, the family’s days are filled with doctor’s appointments, and Carl, a veteran, regularly visits the VA in Albuquerque, hoping the nodule on his tongue doesn’t turn into cancer. Any dream of their life returning to what it was before the oil and gas invasion is long gone, and now it is a matter of survival.What they thought was rain was, in fact, “produced water,” the byproduct of fracking, full of corrosive salts, oil residues, fracking chemicals, bacteria and dissolved organic compounds.

They are just one family who are paying the price for a virtually unregulated drilling and fracking industry that has created one of the largest environmental disasters of modern times.

report by Physicians for Social Responsibility released in 2019 outlines, in detail, the dire health impacts caused by fracking. The many public health effects it cites include these examples:

In Pennsylvania, hospitalizations for pneumonia among the elderly are elevated in areas of fracking activity, and one study found significantly elevated rates of bladder and thyroid cancers. In Colorado, children and young adults with leukemia were 4.3 times more likely to live in an area dense with oil and gas wells. Drilling and fracking operations in multiple states are variously correlated with increased rates of asthma; increased hospitalizations for pneumonia and kidney, bladder, and skin problems; high blood pressure and signs of cardiovascular disease; elevated motor vehicle fatalities; symptoms of depression; ambulance runs and emergency room visits.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently released a Permian Basin-wide study on the emissions of methane and other volatile organic compounds. The study found methane releases across the Permian at a rate three times that which was reported nationally by the Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, the EDF found a leak rate 15 times higher than the goal set by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a group of 10 oil and gas CEOs representing one quarter of the industry’s entire global production. The group committed to investing in projects that will accelerate commercial deployment of low-carbon energy technologies. The amount of wasted gas alone could meet the energy needs of every home in Dallas and Houston combined, and the EDF estimates these methane emissions cost New Mexican taxpayers as much as $43 million in revenue, annually.

It is against that backdrop that a Harvard nationwide study recently revealed a link between air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 deaths. “The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” the authors wrote.A Harvard nationwide study recently revealed a link between air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 deaths.

Direct assaults from air and environmental pollution, noise impacts, and chemical exposure for anyone living within 200 feet of oil and gas infrastructure are known to bring cancer, respiratory diseases, asthma, heart disease, and injury to small children, pregnant women and fetuses.

Now, in addition to these health threats, Penny Aucoin and her family are faced with the reality that they are more than twice as likely to contract COVID-19 compared to people not living among oil and gas drilling and fracking operations.

Adding insult to injury, Williams Production and Exploration Energy, Inc. (WPX), based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the company responsible for the burst pipeline, offered to buy them a new chicken coop and water bowl, and told them to keep the chickens off the ground for five days. That advice was contradicted by people from the Department of Health, the Eddy County Extension Office (Agriculture), and their vet who all deemed their yard too dangerous for the animals. Aucoin moved the family’s chickens and goat to the vet after the pipeline burst. Those officials, and the vet herself, all told Aucoin to have the chickens put down and not to eat the eggs. “They also told us not to grow food on the land because it is contaminated,” Aucoin told Truthout.

While WPX paid for the boarding at the vet, “they only offered us an insulting amount of money for compensation for everything,” Aucoin said. “But that doesn’t compensate us for the property damage, nor does it take into account our ongoing sickness, or having to move and start all over.”

“Now, because the land is contaminated, we can’t grow food or eat from the animals,” Aucoin said. “But we are still here, seven months later, and we are still in it. They didn’t evacuate us, or remediate the property.”

WPX does not have to release relevant health and toxicity information to the family about the contaminated water that rained down upon them because the makeup of this so-called “produced water” is considered proprietary.

Aucoin and her family have received no assistance from the State of New Mexico, and no actions have been brought against WPX by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her relevant governmental “regulatory” groups. The Oil Conservation Division (OCD) performed no independent investigation of the incident and closed the case against WPX without a warning, fine, civil or criminal penalty, or revocation of their permit to drill.

A History of Environmental Destruction

Since Governor Lujan Grisham took office in early 2019, there have been 87 incidents, some of them major, by WPX alone.

WPX has a history of egregious failures, which wouldn’t have been possible without complicity of several New Mexico authorities, including the governor.WPX does not have to release relevant health and toxicity information because the makeup of this so-called “produced water” is considered proprietary.

In July 2016, 36 of WPX’s oil and “produced water” tanks caught fire in San Juan County, setting off several explosions and causing the closure of a nearby highway. New Mexico’s OCD had approved the development of the site, despite warnings about the company.

“WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts,” advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote in 2015, “and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania.”

In November 2019, a pipeline failure at a WPX well caused a large amount of “produced water” to be released into a nearby pasture. Despite the fact that an initial estimate of thousands of gallons of potentially carcinogenic produced wastewater were released onto an adjacent farm, neither the governor, New Mexico Environmental Department (NMED), Energy Minerals Natural Resource Department (EMNRD), nor OCD required WPX to even notify the adjacent property owner of the potentially hazardous release. OCD later downgraded the total amount of “produced water” that was lost to 1,260 gallons, but the case remains open.

Of the aforementioned 87 self-reported spills in New Mexico that have occurred since Governor Lujan Grisham took office, most of these have been fracked waste water and crude oil, with a total volume of at least 169,470 gallons, with WPX stating the majority of the incidents resulted from “equipment failure.”

Evidence gathered in preparation of a potential lawsuit by the Aucoin family, provided to Truthout, shows that WPX has repeatedly failed to take actions to mitigate harm to both people and the environment, and that the aforementioned New Mexico state entities, which are tasked with protecting citizens and the environment and overseeing the oil and gas industry in the state, have “repeatedly failed to hold WPX and other Oil and Gas companies accountable for committing that harm,” according to research conducted for the family.

The findings of the evidence also show numerous and egregious environmental violations WPX has carried out both in and outside of New Mexico.Since Governor Lujan Grisham took office two years ago, at least 901 incidents have been reported by the 10 largest companies operating in New Mexico.

WPX has been involved in numerous lawsuits that have alleged egregious environmental violations, particularly regarding water contamination. In one instance on February 27, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined WPX Energy Appalachia $1.2 million for contaminating drinking water.

In just one source alone, “Hydraulic Fracturing Tort Litigation Summary” published on July 15, there were at least three other lawsuits against WPX. One example that is eerily similar to the issues WPX is involved with in New Mexico, on page 52 of the document, reads: “On July 2, 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered WPX Energy Appalachia LLC to restore or replace the water supply of Virginia and Glen Kalp after determining that WPX’s fracking activities were responsible for contamination of the water.”

WPX is not alone in their malfeasance; since Governor Lujan Grisham took office two years ago, at least 901 incidents have been reported by the 10 largest companies operating in New Mexico. Other major violators include XTO Energy, which has had, at the time of this writing, 280 incidents in the same time period; Devon Energy, which has had 165; and Oxy USA with 153.

The findings also reveal that Governor Lujan Grisham and all the relevant state agencies responsible took “little to no action … to supervise, monitor, control, or penalize the companies,” even for “major” incidents” which were most commonly spills of “produced water,” natural gas, or crude oil.

Failure to Regulate

The State of New Mexico does not even have legal standards for some of the top carcinogens found in the toxic wastewater produced by fracking.New Mexico does not even have legal standards for some of the top carcinogens found in the toxic wastewater produced by fracking.

The State of New Mexico holds all natural resources within its borders in public trust for the benefit of the people of New Mexico. The way Penny Aucoin sees it, the State of New Mexico has, according to their complaint, “failed in its fiduciary duty to recognize and prevent substantial impairment to the environment, control of pollution and control despoilment of the air, water, and other natural resources in violation of its Constitutional and statutory duties, thereby injuring these Plaintiffs.”

The very agencies that are charged with the protection of New Mexico’s air, land and water, and are “obligated to monitor, regulate, control, and enforce against oil and gas pollution” have failed in that responsibility causing injury to Aucoin and her family, as well as all New Mexicans.

Due to WPX’s contamination of Aucoin’s family and property with toxic, carcinogenic and other ultra-hazardous materials, they have suffered the usual things people suffer from when they live in the impact zone of the oil and gas industry: loss of the use and enjoyment of their property and their living space, loss of health, loss of quality of life, emotional distress, and other damages. They have no idea what the long-term impacts of their exposure will be, but the risks associated with long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes — including growth reduction, cancer and birth impacts like low birth weight — are well known.

What makes Aucoin’s potential lawsuit special is that it is challenging the entire fracking method of oil and gas extraction in New Mexico, as well as all of the state entities complicit with the oil and gas companies engaging in fracking.

In the company’s own words, WPX is “focused on profitably exploiting, developing and growing our oil positions in the Williston Basin in North Dakota and the Permian and San Juan Basins,” and includes ownership, operation, construction, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, production and maintenance of certain natural gas wells.

Aucoin’s and her family’s claims arise precisely out of these very activities.

The NMED, EMNRD and OCD are all obligated to monitor, supervise, regulate, control and enforce against oil and gas pollution. Yet they all have grossly failed their responsibility to do so. None of them ever issued compliance actions, required remediation plans, assessed penalties, suspended permits, or launched civil or criminal actions against WPX or any other bad actors in the oil and gas industry in New Mexico. This means that the government entities and their negligence of their official policy responsibilities have directly caused the harms to Aucoin and her family, as well as depriving them of their rights, which are protected by New Mexico’s laws and constitution.The harms aren’t just to human health. The toll on the state’s water resources is significant.

“Additionally, although not authorized by written law, such practices of extreme leniency,” reads the complaint, “including failure to investigate, failure to execute effective measures of enforcement or penalize violations, meaning that there are no proper proceedings for redress, by Defendant governmental entities, are so permanent and well settled as to constitute a ‘custom or usage’ with the force of law that encourage a ‘wild west’ or ‘anything goes’ environment that WPX and other oil and gas entities enjoy which caused the injuries to Plaintiffs.”

The harms aren’t just to human health. The toll on the state’s water resources is significant. New Mexico is already facing extreme water scarcity exacerbated alongside the climate crisis. Drilling one well required more than 11 million gallons of water per day in 2016, which is enough to fill 17 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to one study.

And for every barrel of oil produced, four barrels of toxic “produced water” come with it. “Produced water” presents a dangerous and costly waste issue. According to the NMED, in 2018, New Mexico wells generated 42 billion gallons of this toxic wastewater, which is enough to cover 8,000 football fields with a foot of water every day. High levels of carcinogenic and radioactive fracking waste have already contaminated New Mexico’s lands and waterways. According to the OCD, there were 1,523 reported spills in New Mexico in 2018, which is roughly one spill every six hours. Already in 2020, 1.6 million gallons of produced waste liquid have been released, according to industry self-reporting. These “spills” and “releases” are not considered a violation of any law, and operators face no punitive consequences.

What is the state’s answer to this ever-increasing waste problem? OCD released a proposed rule amendment in July with new mandates established in the state Produced Water Act, which was signed into law in 2019. The law was hailed by New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf as one of the greatest environmental achievements in the state’s history, but critics have raised concerns that the Produced Water Act and subsequent rule-making could open the door for carcinogenic and radioactive fracking waste fluids to be “re-purposed” in other sectors, such as road construction and management, and even irrigation. Whether that is the intention of the bill’s sponsors is unclear.

Speaker Egolf submitted written comments to the OCD, according to research for the Aucoin family, stating, “I urge you to take care in the crafting of these regulations to ensure that none of the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to House Bill 546 inadvertently allow or purport to permit any use, application, or discharge of produced water outside of oil and gas operations. The people of New Mexico will be best served by the adoption of stringent regulations of produced water that put public health and safety first and clearly state that any use of produced water outside of oil and gas operations is prohibited.”

However, a public records request revealed the OCD is working with industry on “pilot projects” for off-field application before the state’s Consortium on Produced Water has completed a public safety review. Experts at the two-day hearing also pointed out that restricting produced water’s reuse to the “oilfield” is a legal fiction: What constitutes the oil field? Penny, Carl, Gideon and Skyler’s home is technically outside of the well pad — but that didn’t protect them from the impacts of exposure. The Aucoin/George family, like tens of thousands of others, live inside a checkerboard of “oil and gas operations.”

Searching for Justice

Already in 2020, 1.6 million gallons of produced waste liquid have been released. These “spills” and “releases” are not considered a violation of any law, and operators face no punitive consequences.

When asked what WPX is doing to compensate or “make whole” the Aucoin/George family for their ongoing health issues, and the fact that the family no longer feels safe living where they do because of the proximity to the oil and gas operations, WPX spokesperson Kelly Swan told Truthout, “It’s difficult to ascertain the status of their health situation without undertaking an extensive discovery process, which would include an examination of historical medical records. However, a member of the Aucoin family publicly testified in October 2019 about blisters, headaches, asthma and nosebleeds. Those conditions obviously pre-date the rupture that occurred on our water line near their property in January 2020.”

Swan stated that since the accident, WPX has repaired the line and conducted safety and pressure tests, buried part of the line that was aboveground, and shut the oil well that fed the line. He also said soil testing and remediation was conducted, and the results were reported to OCD.

“Data from this work confirms that any misting from the tear in the line that may have impacted the family’s property has been remediated and cleaned up to NMOCD standards,” Swan said. “On Aug. 4, the NMOCD approved the completion of our remediation work.”

When asked what his company is doing to remedy what appears to be a history of accidents, spills and contaminating water sources, Swan said:

In 2019, WPX had 366 spills while managing more than 188 million barrels of produced water and oil on our drilling and production sites in Texas, New Mexico and North Dakota. That’s enough liquid to fill about 12,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Of that amount, we kept 99.988% of the water and oil where it was supposed to be — in pipes, tanks, equipment, trucks, etc. In addition to state reporting requirements, we make this information publicly available in an ESG report on our website.

He added that his company spends millions of dollars on prevention, maintenance, training and research into the causes of spills, and that in 2019, WPX reduced the volume of its spills by 29 percent compared to 2018.

As for what WPX is doing to compensate the Aucoin/George family, Swan said, “WPX had someone on-site to shut-in the well and stop the release within 24 minutes of learning about the incident. We have remained engaged with the family ever since and will continue to address their claims.”

Meanwhile, Penny, Carl and Skyler’s nosebleeds, headaches and rashes continue. Gideon, their son, will soon have his nose cauterized again in an attempt to stem the nosebleeds, and Carl’s skin rashes have spread across his back and shoulders.

Aucoin wants WPX to make things right, but also simply wants acknowledgement of the suffering that has been caused to her family.

“We want them to realize we are people, and that they’ve ruined our lives,” she said. “They need to get us out of there and move us to a safe place.”

Carl told Truthout that WPX needs to “replace all that we’ve lost,” including the loss of his family’s home, and strained relations within his family.

“This has ruined our lives in so many different ways,” Aucoin said. “Our health, family relations, financial problems, literally all aspects of our lives. It has become a living nightmare. It’s like the company does not realize how they have impacted and changed every aspect of our lives.”

New Mexico is faced with this fundamental issue: Does it fill its coffers with blood money, sacrificing the health of its people in order to reap funding from the oil and gas industry? Or does it hold accountable an entire industry that is poisoning its people and the Land of Enchantment?

New Mexico’s current administration has chosen the former.Sooooo close!

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Venezuela leads the way in hurricane relief efforts

Jamier Sale

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Barbuda: Damage caused by Irma

After Hurricane Harvey left thousands of homes underwater, Venezuela pledged $5 million to aid in relief through its oil company Citgo as well as providing free fuel for relief workers in the area.

First with Harvey and now with Irma, Venezuela has demonstrated the true meaning of solidarity with its response to the devastation left by the two historic tropical storms. The tiny island of Barbuda lay in ruins after enduring the Category 5 hurricane with winds over 175 mph. It is reported that St. Martin is 95 percent destroyed, and more damage is expected on other islands as Irma continues its path of destruction.

Within 24 hours of speaking with officials from Barbuda, Venezuela began delivering urgently needed medical supplies, beds, and water to the hard-hit Caribbean island. They also provided two military cargo planes to be used to get supplies from neighboring countries.

As this is being written, Venezuela stands as the first, and to-date only, nation to provide this vital support needed for those in the wake of the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic. Cuba, with its legendary medical aid to many countries during disasters, is itself hunkering down as the monstrous hurricane approaches the island.

This spirit of solidarity that has been shown by Venezuela is a reflection of the humanitarian values of the Bolivarian Revolution. At the same time as the reactionary opposition is engaged in an economic war against the Venezuelan government and masses, with the support of the U.S. government, humanitarian support with no strings attached for those in need remains a high priority.

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Gov’t silent as climate change unfolds

Tina Landis

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San Francisco skyline tainted orange from wildfire smoke, Sept. 9

As I write this article from San Francisco, Calif., the sky is dark orange and I need to have my desk lamp on to see, despite that it’s midday. There is so much smoke in the atmosphere above the summer fog layer that only the orange light gets through to the ground. 

From megafires, extreme heat waves, summer snow storms and hurricanes, millions across the United States are witnessing the effects of climate change first hand. California broke record temperatures again over Labor Day weekend while fires burned from Alaska to Mexico and around the globe. Colorado went from record high temperatures over Labor Day weekend to a snowstorm on Tuesday with a 60 to 70 F drop in temperatures within 24 hours.

Northern California is currently experiencing three of the four largest fires in the state’s history, burning over 2 million acres — an area more than twice the size of Los Angeles — since Aug. 18 with hundreds of smaller fires dotting the state. Over 100,000 have been evacuated and thousands have lost their homes, all during an unprecedented economic crisis and a pandemic with no end in sight.

The majority of fires were triggered by a rare weather anomaly. A tropical cyclone off the California coast clashed with a prolonged heatwave, causing an atmospheric disturbance and over 11,000 dry lightning strikes within 72 hours beginning on the night of Aug. 18. This came while the state is in a drought with vegetation prime to ignite. The frequency and severity of tropical cyclones and heat waves in the region is growing with climate change making a repeat of this weather anomaly likely. 

Currently, there are 89 large fires burning throughout the western United States. The 367 fires that were sparked by the lightning strikes overloaded already stretched CAL FIRE crews. Other states that generally send crews to support California were tied down with their own fires. The impossible task of containing so many massive fires at one time was even more dire due to a lack of inmate firefighters who annually supplement CAL FIRE crews. 

As part of an early-release program to reduce COVID-19 risk in prisons, formerly incarcerated fire crew members were unable to serve due to felony records, despite years of experience fighting wildfires. The state has since passed AB-2147, which will allow those formerly incarcerated firefighters to serve on CAL FIRE crews after release.

Longest streak of poor air quality

The densely populated San Francisco Bay Area is currently experiencing the longest streak of poor air quality in history — at 23 consecutive days as of this writing. The fires have forced people to stay indoors to avoid smoke exposure in the time of COVID-19 when protecting our respiratory health is even more crucial. But due to the extreme heat wave making it unsafe to keep windows closed without air conditioning, many have no choice but to suffer through the smoke. 

Immigrant farm workers throughout the state are being forced to work not only in extreme temperatures but also wildfire smoke. These super-exploited workers face eviction and starvation if they don’t go to work. 

Wildfire evacuees face the choice of risking exposure to COVID-19 in shelters or paying for hotel rooms. Although evacuation centers are limiting the number of people per center to maintain social distancing, reports state that enforcement of masks is spotty, forcing working-class people to choose between sheltering in their cars during high temperatures and smoky air or risk COVID-19. 

This is the class war on display, which will become heightened as climate change unfolds while the government does nothing significant to protect the most vulnerable. Every year, wildfires are becoming more frequent, larger, and more destructive, yet the state has done little to prepare and protect the population. 

Until the 1800s when colonizers banned the practice, the indigenous people of California annually held controlled burns to clear vegetation and reduce the spread of wildfires. In recent years, the state has increased efforts to clear vegetation in advance of fire season. But with climate change exacerbating fire risk, aging electrical infrastructure, and extreme weather events like the one that caused the current fires, those efforts fall short. 

At the same time as the fires raged, Hurricane Laura — one of the strongest hurricanes to reach landfall in Gulf Coast history — pounded southwestern Louisiana with 150 mph winds leaving 100,000 without power, cell service, or clean water for more than two weeks now. A dangerous heat wave that followed the storm caused more deaths than the hurricane itself. 

After the initial impact, the media has been largely silent on the devastation that the community of the Lake Charles region is facing. Liberation News sent a team of journalists to provide aid and give voice to those impacted. The team discovered that residents have seen no government relief workers and have no access to shelters despite widespread devastation.

Scientists have a hard time predicting exactly how fast climate change will unfold and the extent of the effects. We are currently only at 1 C warming and already experiencing extreme weather and devastation around the globe. The much-touted Paris Agreement’s voluntary commitments have us on target for 3 C warming, when scientists warn that staying below 1.5 C warming is what is needed to avert catastrophe. 

Despite being in charge of the wealthiest country in the world, the U.S. government — Democrat and Republican — is doing nothing to mitigate or prepare for the looming catastrophe. Even in to liberal bastion of California, state leadership is not taking the crisis seriously. California is the fifth largest economy in the world, yet there is no money for people’s needs while Big Tech gets tax breaks.

If humanity is to survive this crisis, we must immediately put all resources into preparing for what’s currently unfolding and what’s to come. We must immediately transition off fossil fuels and restore ecosystems that capture carbon from the atmosphere. We must protect the population from climate disasters and provide real relief for people in the aftermath. 

Capitalism has proven time and again that it is incapable and unwilling to meet the needs of the people. If we don’t uproot the system that has created the climate crisis, that continues to ignore it and go about business as usual, the majority of us face a truly dire not-too-distant future. The people have the power to change the path we are on — to share the challenges together and build a better world for all. 

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A Green New Deal for Workers

By Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker

The World Economic Forum and powerful financial interests are proposing a “Green New Deal” which is “not Green”.

What is proposed below is a Green New Deal for Workers  ( M.C. GR Editor)

***

Workers in 2020 have a unique opportunity to vote to put two fellow workers in the White House. Howie is a recently retired Teamster and Angela is a dump truck driver. We know the economic realities that working people face in the United States. This Labor Day we call for a better class of people in the White House than the corporate crooks and flunkies that have been occupying it.

The COVID pandemic and economic collapse have highlighted the race and class inequalities in our society. With more than 35 million jobs lost, millions have lost their employer-connected health insurance in the middle of a pandemic. COVID-19 deaths are disproportionately afflicting working-class people, particularly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people. The case for universal healthcare through a publicly-funded Medicare for All has never been stronger.

As income disappears, the rent — already too high — has become impossible for many to pay. The threat of eviction is with many of us every month. Even if eviction has been stopped by a temporary moratorium for some of us, we see our rent piling up each month so that we will be evicted anyway when the moratorium ends. We need a federal emergency housing relief program that helps people make their rent and mortgage payments during the emergency. To fix the fundamentals of the housing crisis requires a major investment in public housing, this time not just as segregated housing for the poor but as high-quality mixed-income developments that include middle-income workers and professionals.

Congress and the president are responding to the economic collapse so poorly that the nation is falling into a depression. A poll this week reported that 50% unemployed workers, 8.3 million people, were unable to cover their basic expenses in August.Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy

Trump and Biden rely on private enterprise alone to pull us out of this economic hole. Their public economic recovery spending proposals feature corporate welfare grants, loans, and tax breaks that will supposedly trickle-down to working people as new jobs. But with working-class consumer demand depressed, it is too risky for corporations to make job-creating productive investments. Instead, they will again invest their stimulus money in stocks, bonds, and derivatives, just rearranging and further concentrating who owns the productive assets we have rather than creating new ones.

Our alternative is large-scale public investment in new public enterprises and services to benefit the working-class majority. Our ecosocialist Green New Deal will create 30 million jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, energy, and agriculture to rebuild our production systems for zero-to-negative carbon emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030. It provides for a Just Transition of up to five years wage and benefits maintenance for workers displaced by this economic transition, but few will need it for very long with all the new jobs that will be created.

We create 8 million more jobs with an Economic Bill of Rights to a living-wage job, a guaranteed income above poverty, affordable housing, universal health care, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement for every senior by doubling Social Security benefits.

The two corporate parties, who represent their Wall Street and big business donors, continue to undermine the rights of workers and let employers get away with breaking labor, health, and safety laws. It is time to repeal repressive labor laws, starting with the Taft-Hartley law that restricts labor’s ability to organize, act in solidarity, and engage in political activity. We need to enact new laws that enable union organization, including card check union recognition and the repeal of anti-union “right-to-work” laws.

We call for a Workers Bill of Rights, including workers rights to unions, to living wages, to portable defined-benefit pensions, to information about chemicals used at work, to refuse unsafe work, and to participate in enterprise governance. In order to increase economic security and strengthen workers’ power, we must replace employment-at-will laws, which let employers discharge workers for any reason or no reason, with just cause termination laws, where workers can only be fired for nonperformance or economic reasons. We must extend constitutional rights into the workplace, including free speech, association, and assembly, and freedom from warrantless employer surveillance, search, and seizure.

Even before the pandemic health and economic crisis hit, three super-rich Americans owned more wealth than the bottom 50% of the population, who earn a poverty-level median income of $18,000 a year.

Now, mounting COVID-19 deaths, economic depression, accelerating economic inequality, and climate collapse are all reasons to restructure our economy into a socialist economic democracy where the working-class majority is empowered to protect its interests and receive the full value of its labor. The first step is the ecosocialist Green New Deal for economic recovery as well as climate recovery.

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Mining the Deep Sea

by JULIA BARNES

They want to mine the deep sea.

We shouldn’t be surprised. This culture has stolen 90% of the large fish, created 450 deoxygenated areas, and murdered 50% of the coral reefs. It has wiped out 40% of the plankton. It has warmed and acidified the water to a level not seen since the Permian mass extinction. And indeed, there is another mass extinction underway. Given the ongoing assault on the ocean by this culture, there is serious question as to whether the upper ocean will be inhabitable by the end of this century.

For some people, a best-case scenario for the future is that some bacteria will survive around volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean. Deep sea mining is about to make that an unlikely possibility.

It’s being touted as history’s largest mining operation.

They have plans to extract metals from deposits concentrated around hydrothermal vents and nodules – potato sized rocks – which are scattered across the sea floor.

Sediment will be vacuumed up from the deep sea, processed onboard mining vessels, then the remaining slurry will be dumped back into the ocean. Estimates of the amount of slurry that will be processed by a single mining vessel range from 2 to 6 million cubic feet per day.

I’ve seen water go from clear to opaque when an inexperienced diver gives a few kicks to the sea floor.

Now imagine 6 million cubic feet of sediment being dumped into the ocean. To put that in perspective, that’s about 22,000 dump trucks full of sediment – and that’s just one mining vessel operating for one day. Imagine what happens when there are hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

Plumes at the mining site are expected to smother and bury organisms on the sea floor. Light pollution from the mining equipment would disrupt species that depend on bioluminescence. Sediment plumes released at the surface or in the water column would increase turbidity and reduce light, disrupting the photosynthesis of plankton.

A few environmental groups are calling for a moratorium on deep sea mining. Meanwhile, exploratory mining is already underway. An obscure organization known as the International Seabed Authority has been given the responsibility of drafting an underwater mining code, selecting locations for extraction, and issuing licenses to mining companies.

Some companies claim that the damage from deep sea mining could be mitigated with proper regulations. For example, instead of dumping slurry at the surface, they would pump it back down and release it somewhere deeper. Obviously, regulations will not stop the direct harm to the area being mined. But even if the most stringent regulations were put in place, there still exists the near-certainty of human error, pipe breakage, sediment spills, and outright disregard for the rules. As we’ve seen with fisheries, regulations are essentially meaningless when there is no enforcement. 40% of the total catch comes from illegal fishing. Quotas are routinely ignored and vastly exceeded. On land, we know that corporations will gladly pay a fine when it is cheaper to do so than it is to follow the rules.

But all this misses the point which is that some activities are so immoral, they should not be permitted under any circumstances. Permits and regulations only serve to legalize and legitimize the act of deep sea mining, when a moratorium is the only acceptable response.

Canadian legislation effectively prohibits deep sea mining in Canada’s territorial waters. Ironically, Canadian corporations are leading the effort to mine the oceans elsewhere.

A spokesperson from the Vancouver-based company Deep Green Metals attempted to defend deep sea mining from an environmental perspective, “Mining on land now takes place in some of the most biodiverse places on the planet. The ocean floor, on the other hand, is a food-poor environment with no plant life and an order of magnitude less biomass living in a larger area. We can’t avoid disturbing wildlife, to be clear, but we will be putting fewer organisms at risk than land-based operations mining the same metals.” (as cited in Mining Watch https://miningwatch.ca/news/2020/6/16/deep-sea-mining-environmental-solution-or-impending-catastrophe).

This argument centers on a false choice. It presumes that mining must occur, which is absurd. Then, it paints a picture that the only area affected will be the area that is mined. In reality, the toxic slurry from deep sea mining will poison the surrounding ocean for hundreds of miles, with heavy metals like mercury and lead expected to bio-accumulate in everyone from plankton, to tuna, to sharks, to cetaceans.

A study from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences stated that “A very large area will be blanketed by sediment to such an extent that many animals will not be able to cope with the impact and whole communities will be severely affected by the loss of individuals and species.”

The idea that fewer organisms are at risk from deep sea mining is an egregious lie. Scientists have known since 1977 that photosynthesis is not the basis of every natural community. There are entire food webs that begin with organic chemicals floating from hydrothermal vents. These communities include giant clams, octopuses, crabs, and 10-foot tube worms, to name a few. Conducting mining in these habitats is bad enough, but the effects go far beyond the mined area.

Deep sea mining literally threatens every level of the ocean from surface to seabed. In doing so, it puts all life on the planet at risk. From smothering the deep sea, to toxifying the food web, to disrupting plankton, the tiny organisms who produce two thirds of the earth’s oxygen, it’s just one environmental disaster after another.

The most common justification for deep sea mining is that it will be necessary to create a bright green future. A report by the World Bank found that production of minerals such as graphite, lithium, and cobalt would need to increase by nearly 500% by 2050 to meet the growing demand for so-called renewable energy.

There is an article from the BBC titled “Electric Car future May Depend on Deep Sea Mining”. What if we switched the variables, and instead said “the future of the ocean depends on stopping car culture” or “the future of the ocean depends on opposing so-called renewable energy”. If we take into account all of the industries that are eviscerating the ocean, it must also be said that “the future of the ocean depends on stopping industrial civilization”.

Evidently this culture does not care whether the ocean has a future. It’s more interested in justifying continued exploitation under the banner of green consumerism.

I do not detail the horrors of deep sea mining to make a moral appeal to those who are destroying the ocean. They will not stop voluntarily. Instead, I am appealing to you, the reader, to do whatever is necessary to make it so this industry cannot destroy the ocean.

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Ocean Heat: From the Tropics to the Poles

by MANUEL GARCÍA, JR.

Warming Pacific from Yaquina Head, Oregon. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The heat being captured by the increasing load of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is subsequently transferred into the oceans for storage. This process — global warming — has raised the temperature of the biosphere by 1°C (or more) since the late 19th century.

Heat introduced into any material body at a particular point will diffuse throughout its volume, seeking to smooth out the temperature gradient at the heating site. If heat loss from that body is slow or insignificant, then a new thermal equilibrium is eventually achieved at a higher average temperature.

Thermal equilibrium does not necessarily mean temperature homogeneity, because the body may have several points of contact with external environments at different temperatures that are held constant, or with other external thermal conditions that must be accommodated to. Equilibrium simply means stable over time.

The heat conveyed to the oceans by global warming is absorbed primarily in the Tropical and Subtropical latitudes, 57% of the Earth’s surface. The Sun’s rays are more nearly perpendicular to the Earth’s surface in those latitudes so they receive the highest fluxes of solar energy, and oceans cover a very large portion of them.

That tropical heat diffuses through the oceans and is also carried by ocean currents to spread warmth further north and south both in the Temperate zones (34% of the Earth’s surface) and the Polar Zones (8% of the Earth’s surface).

What follows is a description of a very idealized “toy model” of heat distribution in the oceans, to help visualize some of the basics of that complex physical phenomenon.

Heat Conduction in a Static Ocean

The model is of a stationary spherical globe entirely covered by a static ocean of uniform depth. The seafloor of that ocean is at a constant temperature of 4°C (39°F), the surface waters at the equator are at 30°C (86°F), and the surface waters at the poles are at -2°C (28°F). These temperature conditions are similar to those of Earth’s oceans. These temperature boundary conditions are held fixed, so an equilibrium temperature distribution is established throughout the volume in the model world-ocean. There is no variation across longitude in this model, only across latitude (pole-to-pole). (See the “Notes on the Technical Details”)

Figure 1, Isotherms Pole-to-Pole.

Figure 1 shows contours of constant temperature (isotherms) throughout the depth of the model ocean, from pole to pole. The temperature distribution is shown as a 3D surface plotted against depth, which is in a radial direction in a spherical geometry, and polar angle (from North Pole to South Pole).

Figure 2, Isotherms in Three Zones.

Figure 2 is a different view of the temperature distribution. Three regions are noted: The Tropical Zone (from 0° to 23° of latitude, north or south) combined with the Subtropical Zone (from 23° to 35° of latitude, north or south); the Temperate Zone (from 35° to 66° of latitude, north or south); and the Polar Zone (from 66° to 90° of latitude, north or south).

The model temperature distribution is perfectly stratified — isotherms uniform with depth — in the Tropical-Subtropical Zones, from 30°C at the surface at the equator, to 4°C at the seafloor. On entering the Temperate Zones, the isotherms arc up into a nearly radial (vertical) orientation. In the small portions of the planetary surface covered by the Polar Zones the isotherms are now more horizontally stratified because the surface waters are chillier that the those at the seafloor.

Figure 3, Heat Conduction Streamlines.

Figure 3 shows the streamlines of heat flow (the temperature gradient) for this temperature distribution. At the equator the heat is conducted down from the 30°C surface to the 4°C seafloor. As one moves further away from the equator the streamlines become increasingly lateral, until they are entirely so at 35° of latitude (north or south) where the model surface waters are at 19°C. The heat flow is entirely horizontal at this latitude, which separates the Subtropical and Temperate Zones; tropical heat is being conducted laterally toward the poles. In the Polar Zones the heat flow is up from the lower depths because the surface waters are chiller than those at depth, and because there is too little temperature variation with distance along the surface to drive a lateral heat flow.

Thermally Driven Surface Currents

Much oceanic heat is distributed by currents, and many of these occur along the surface.

The average speed of the Gulf Stream is 6.4km/hr (4mph), being maximally 9kph (5.6mph) at the surface but slowing to 1.6kph (1mph) in the North Atlantic, where it widens (information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA).

Heat-driven equator-to-poles surface currents on the model ocean were estimated from the combination of the pole-to-pole surface temperature distribution, and thermodynamic data on liquid water. (See the Notes on the Technical Details)

The pressure built up by tropical heat in the model ocean’s equatorial waters pushes surface flows northward (in the Northern Hemisphere) and southward (in the Southern Hemisphere): from a standstill at the 30°C equator; with increasing speed as they recede from the equator, being 2kph (1.3mph) where the surface waters are at 25°C (77°F); a continuing acceleration up to a speed of 2.8kph (1.7mph) at the 35° latitude (the boundary between the Subtropical and the Temperate Zones); and an ultimate speed of 3.6kph (2.2mph) at the poles.

The currents are converging geometrically as they approach the poles, so a speed-up is reasonable. Logically, these surface currents are legs of current loops that chill as they recede from the equator, plunge at the poles, run along the cold seafloor toward the equator, and then warm as they rise to the surface to repeat their cycles.

An equator-to-pole average speed for these model surface currents is 2.8kph (1.7mph). Their estimated travel times along the 10,008km surface arc (for a model world radius of 6,371km, like that of a sphericalized Earth) is 3,574 hours, which is equivalent to 149 days (0.41 year).

Greater Realities

The model world just described is very simple in comparison to our lovely Earth. Since it does not rotate, it does not skew the north-south flow of currents that — with the help of day-night, seasonal, and continental thermodynamic inhomogeneities — creates all of the cross-longitudinal air and ocean currents of our Earth.

The irregularity of seafloor depth on Earth also redirects cross-latitudinal (pole-to-pole) and cross-longitudinal bottom currents, as do the coastlines of the continents; and the very slight and subtle changes in seawater density with temperature and salinity — neither of which is distributed uniformly throughout the body of Earth’s oceans — also affect both the oceans’s volumetric temperature distributions, and the course of ocean currents.

Recall that the model ocean is bounded by constant imposed temperature conditions at its seafloor (4°C) and surface waters (a particular temperature distribution from 30°C at the equator, to -2°C at the poles). Since this model world is otherwise suspended in a void, if these boundary conditions were removed the oceanic heat concentrated at the equator would diffuse further into the watery volume, seeking to raise the temperatures of the poles and seafloor while simultaneously cooling the equatorial region. The ultimate equilibrium state would be an ocean with a constant temperature throughout its volume.

Additionally, if it is also assumed that the now “liberated” model ocean-world can radiate its body heat away — as infrared radiation into the void of space — then the entire planet with its oceanic outer shell slowly cools uniformly toward -273.16°C (-459.69°F), which is the “no heat at all” endpoint of objects in our physical Universe.

When our Earth was in its Post-Ice Age dynamic thermal equilibrium, the “heat gun” of maximal insolation to the Tropics and Subtropics warmed the oceans there; a portion of that heat was conducted and convected into the Temperate Zones and toward the Poles; where the “ice bags” of masses of ice absorbed seasonal oceanic heat by partially melting — which occurs at a constant temperature — and then refreezing. Also, the atmosphere did not trap the excess heat radiated into space. In this way cycles of warming and cooling in all of Earth’s environments were maintained in a dynamic balance that lasted for millennia.

What has been built up in the atmosphere since about 1750 is an increasing load of carbon dioxide gas and other greenhouse gases, which have the effect of throwing an increasingly heated “thermal blanket” over our planet. Now, both the heat conduction pathways and the heat convection currents, described with the use of the model, convey increasing amounts of heat energy over the course of time. As a result the masses of ice at the poles are steadily being eroded by melting despite their continuing of cycles of partial re-freezing during winter, and additional melting during summer.

Simple mathematical models can help focus the mind on the fundamental processes driving complex multi-entangled physical realities. From there, one can begin assembling more detailed well-organized quantitative descriptions of those realities, and then using those higher-order models to inform decisions regarding actions to be taken in response to those realities, if responses are necessary. This point of departure from physics plunges you into the world of psychology, sociology, economics, politics, and too often sheer madness. I leave it to another occasion to comment outside my field of expertise about all that.

Notes on the Technical Details

The cylindrically symmetric equilibrium temperature distribution for a static ocean of uniform depth, which entirely covers a spherical planet, was solved from Laplace’s equation. The temperature of the seafloor everywhere is 4°C, the surface waters at the Equator are at 30°C, and the surface waters at the poles are at -2°C. The variation of surface water temperature with respect to polar angle (latitude) is in a cosine squared distribution. Displays of the 3D surface T(r,ɵ) show isotherms down through the ocean depths at all polar angles (ɵ). The contour lines on the stream function associated with T(r,ɵ) are heat flow streamlines, the paths of the heat gradient (which are always perpendicular to the isotherms).

Bernoulli’s Theorem was applied to surface flow from the equator to the poles (no radial, nor cross-longitudinal motion) for incompressible liquid water with thermal pressure given by:

P(T°C)=[62.25kg/m-sec^2]*exp{0.0683*[T(R,ɵ)-Tp]}

for R equal to the planetary radius to the ocean surface; Tp=-2°C; and using thermodynamic data for water between 32°F (0°C) and 100°F (37.8°C) that indicates a thermal pressure equal to 62.25kg/m-sec^2 in liquid water at 0°C; and that the density of water is essentially constant at 1000kg/m^3 (for the purposes of this model) within the temperature range of the data surveyed.

Inserting P(T°C) into the Bernoulli Theorem definition of equator-to-pole lateral (cross-latitudinal) velocity gives a formula for that velocity as a function of polar angle:

v(ɵ)=±sqrt{(2*[62.25kg/m-sec^2]/[1000kg/m^3])*exp[0.0683*(Te-Tp)]*[1-exp(-0.0683*[Te-T(R,ɵ)])]}

v(ɵ)=±(1.0523m/s)*sqrt{1-exp(-0.0683*[Te-T(R,ɵ)])}

for Te=30°C, and ± for northward (in the Northern Hemisphere) or southward (in the Southern Hemisphere) surface flows.

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