Category Archives: Environmentalism

Time is Short: Interview With A Saboteur, Part II

Editor’s Note:  An early version of this interview first appeared on the Deep Green Resistance News Service, June 20, 2013.

In 1993 Michael Carter was arrested and indicted for underground environmental activism. Since then he’s worked aboveground, fighting timber sales and oil and gas leasing, protecting endangered species, and more. Today, he’s a member of Deep Green Resistance Colorado Plateau, and author of the memoir Kingfishers’ Song: Memories Against Civilization.

Time is Short spoke with him about his actions, underground resistance, and the prospects and problems facing the environmental movement. The first part of this interview is available here; stay tuned to Deep Green Resistance News Service for Part III.

Time is Short: Your actions weren’t linked to other issues or framed in a greater perspective.  How important do you think having well-framed analysis is in regards to sabotage and other such actions?

Michael Carter:  It is the most important thing.  Issue framing is one of the ways that dissent gets defeated, as with abortion rights, where the issue is framed as murder versus convenience.  Hunger is framed as a technical difficulty—how to get food to poor people—not as an inevitable consequence of agriculture and capitalism.  Media consumers want tight little packages like that.

MC_tsquote_2

In the early ‘90s, wilderness and biodiversity preservation were framed as aesthetic issues, or as user-group and special interests conflict; between fishermen and loggers, say, or backpackers and ORVers. That’s how policy decisions and compromises were justified, especially legislatively.  My biggest aboveground campaign of that time was against a Montana wilderness bill, because of the “release language” that allowed industrial development of roadless federal lands.  Yet most of the public debate revolved around an oversimplified comparison of protected versus non-protected acreage numbers.  It appeared reasonable—moderate—because the issue was trivialized from the start.

That sort of situation persists to this day, where compromises between industry, government, and corporate environmentalists are based on political framing rather than biological or physical reality—a protected area that industry or motorized recreationists would agree to might have no capacity for sustaining a threatened species, however reasonable the acreage numbers might look.  Activists feel obliged to argue in a human-centered context—that the natural world is our possession, whether for amusement or industry—which is a weak psychological and political position to be in, especially for underground fighters.

Artwork by Stephanie McMillan
Artwork by Stephanie McMillan

When I was one of them, I never felt I had a clear stance to work from.  Was I risking a decade in prison for a backpacking trail?  No. Well then what was I risking it for?  I chose not to think that deeply, just to rampage onward.  That was my next worst mistake after bad security.  Without clear intentions and a solid understanding of the situation, actions can become uncoordinated, and potentially meaningless.  No conscientious aboveground movement will support them.  You can get entangled in your own uncertainty.

If I were now considering underground action—and of course I’m not, you must choose to be aboveground or underground and stick with it, another mistake I made—I would view it as part ofa struggle against a larger power structure, against civilization as a whole.  It’s important to understand that this is not the same thing as humanity.

TS: You called civilization a plan based on agriculture.  Could you expand on that?

MC: Nothing else that the dominant culture does, industrial forestry and fishing, generating electricity, extracting fossil fuels, is as destructive as agriculture.  None of it’s possible withoutagriculture.  There’s some forty years of topsoil left, and agriculture is burning through it as if it will last forever, and it can’t.  Topsoil is the sand in civilization’s hourglass, the same as fossil fuels and mineral ores; there is only so much of it.  When it comes to physical limits, civilization has no rationality, or even a sense of its own ultimate self-interest; only a hidden-in-plain-sight secret that it’s going to consume everything.  In a finite world it can never function for long, and all it’s doing now is grinding through the last frontiers.  If civilization is still continuing twenty years from now, it won’t matter how many wilderness areas are designated; civilization is going to consume those wilderness areas.

TS: How is that analysis helpful?  If civilization can never be sustained, doesn’t that remove any hope of success?

MC: If we’re serious about protecting life and promoting justice, we have to acknowledge that civilized humanity will never voluntarily take the steps needed for a sustainable way of life, because its history is entirely about war and occupation.  That’s what civilization does: wage war and occupy land.  It appears as though this is progress, that it’s humanity itself, but it’s not.  Civilization will always make power and dominance its priority, and will never allow its priority to be challenged.

Artwork by Stephanie McMillan
Artwork by Stephanie McMillan

For example, production of food could be fairly easily converted from annual grains to perennial grasses, producing milk, eggs, and meat.  Polyface Farms in Virginia has demonstrated how eminently possible this is; on a large scale that would do enormous good, sequestering carbon and lowering diabetes, obesity, and pesticide and fertilizer use.  But grass can’t be turned into a commodity; it can’t be stored and traded, so it can never serve capitalism’s needs.  So that debate will never come up on CNN, because it falls so far outside the issue framing.  Hardly anyone is discussing what’s really wrong, only which capitalist or nation state will get to the last remaining resources first and how technology might cope with the resulting crises.

Another example is the proposed copper mine at Oak Flat, near Superior, Arizona.  The Eisenhower administration made the land off-limits to mining in 1955, and in December 2014 the US Senate reversed that with a rider to a defense authorization bill, and Obama signed it.  Arizona Senator John McCain said, “To maintain the strength of the most technologically-advanced military in the world, America’s armed forces need stable supplies of copper for their equipment, ammunition, and electronics.”  See how he justifies mining copper with military need?  He’s closed the discussion with an unassailable warrant, since no one in power—and hardly anyone in the public at large—is going to question the military’s needs.

TS: Are you saying there’s no chance of voluntary reform?

MC: I’m saying that it’s going to be a fight.  Significant social change is usually involuntary, contrary to popular notions about “being the change you want to see in the world” and “majority rules.”  Most southern whites didn’t want the US Civil Rights Movement to exist, much less succeed.  In the United States democracy is mostly a fictional theory anyway, because a tiny financial and political elite run the show.

For example, in the somewhat progressive state of Oregon, the agriculture lobby successfully defeated a measure to label foods containing genetically modified organisms.  A majority of voters agreed they shouldn’t know what’s in their food, their most intimate need, because those in power had enough money to convince them.  There’s little hope in trying to reason with the people who run civilization, or who are otherwise trapped by it, politically or financially or however.  So long as the ruling class is able to extract wealth from the land and our labor, they will.  If they’ve got the machinery and fuel to run their economy, they will eventually find the political bypasses to make it happen.  It will consume lives and land until there’s nothing left to consume.  When the soil is gone, that’s essentially it for the human species.

Oak Flat, Arizona
Oak Flat, Arizona

What’s the point of compromising with a political system that’s patently insane?  A more sensible way of approaching the planet’s predicament would be to base tactical decisions on a strategy to strip power from those who are destroying the planet.  This is the root, what we have to mean when we call it a radical—root-focused—struggle.

Picture a world with no food, rising temperatures, disease epidemics, drought, war.  We see it unfolding now.  This is what we’re fighting against.  Or rather we’re fighting for a world that can live, a world of forests and prairies and free flowing rivers that build and stabilize soil and sustain biological diversity and abundance.  Our love of the world must be what guides us.

TS: You’re suggesting a struggle that completely changes how humans have arranged themselves, the end of the capitalist economy, the eventual collapse of the nation-state model of society.  That sounds impossibly difficult.  How might resisters approach that?

MC: We can begin by building a movement that functions as a cultural replacement for the culture we’re stuck in now.  Since civilized culture isn’t going to support anyone trying to take it apart, we need other systems of material, psychological, and emotional support.

MC_tsquote_1

This would be particularly important for an underground movement.  Ideally they would have a community that knows their secrets and works alongside them, just as militaries do.  Building that network will be difficult to do in secret, because if they’re observing tight security, how do they even find others who agree with them?  But because there’s little one or two people can do by themselves, they’ll have to find ways to do it.  That’s a problem of logistics, however, and it’s important to separate it from personal issues.

When I was doing illegal actions, I wanted people to notice me as a hardcore environmentalist, which under the circumstances was foolish and narcissistic to the point of madness.  If you have issues like that—and lots of people do, in our bizarre and hurtful culture—you need to resolve them with self-reflection and therapy, not activism.  The most elegant solution would be for your secret community to support and acknowledge you, to help you find the strength and solidarity you need to do hard and necessary work, but there are substitutes available all the same.

TS: You’ve been involved with aboveground environmental work in the years since your underground actions.  What have you worked on, and what are you doing now?

MC: I first got involved with forestry issues—writing timber sale appeals and that sort of thing.  Later I helped write petitions to protect species under the Endangered Species Act.  I burned out on that, though, and it took me a long time to get drawn back in.  Aboveground people need the support of a community, too—more than ever.  Derrick Jensen’s book A Language Older Than Words clarified the global situation for me, answered many questions I had about why things are so difficult right now.  It taught me to be aware that as civilized culture approaches its end, people are getting ever more self-absorbed, apathetic, and cruel.  Those who are still able to feel need to stand by each other as well as they can.

When Deep Green Resistance came into being, it was a perfect fit, and I’ve been focused on helping build that movement.  Susan Hyatt and I are doing an essay series on the psychology of civilization, and how to cultivate the mental health needed for resistance.  I’m also interested in positive underground propaganda.  Having stories to support what people are doing and thinking is important.  It helps cultivate the confidence and courage that activists need. That’s why governments publish propaganda in wartime; it works.

TS: So you think propaganda can be helpful?

MC: Yes, I do.  The word has a negative connotation for some good reasons, but I don’t think that attempting to influence thoughts and actions with media is necessarily bad, so long as it’s honest.  Nazi Germany used propaganda, but so did George Orwell and John Steinbeck.  If civilization is brought down—that is, if the systems responsible for social injustice and planetary destruction are permanently disabled—it will require a sustained effort for many years by people who choose to act against most everything they’ve been taught to believe, and a willingness to risk their freedom and lives to bring it about.  Entirely new resistance cultures will be needed.  They will require a lot of new stories to sustain a vision of who humans really are, and what our lives are for, how they relate to other living things.  So far as I know there’s little in the way of writing, movies, any sort of media that attempts to do that.

Edward Abbey wrote some fun books, and they were all we had; so we went along hoping we’d have some of that fun and that everything might come out all right in the end.  We no longer have that luxury for self-indulgence.  I’m not saying humor doesn’t have its place—quite the opposite—but the situation of the planet and social situation of civilization is now far more dire than it was during Abbey’s time.  Effective propaganda should reflect that—it should honestly appraise the circumstances and realistically compose a response, so would-be resisters can choose what their role is going to be.

This is important for everyone, but especially important for an underground.  In World War II, the Allies distributed Steinbeck’s propaganda novel The Moon is Down throughout occupied Europe.  It was a short, simple book about how a small town in Norway fought against the Nazis.  It was so mild in tone that Steinbeck was accused by some in the US government of sympathizing with the enemy for his realistic portrayal of German soldiers as mere people in an awful situation, and not superhuman monsters.  Yet the occupying forces would shoot anyone on the spot if they caught them with a copy of the book.  Compare that to Abbey’s books, and you see how far short The Monkey Wrench Gang falls of the necessary task.

TS: Can you suggest any contemporary propaganda?

Derrick Jensen’s Endgame books are the best I can think of, and the book Deep Green Resistance.  There’s some negative-example propaganda worth mentioning, too.  The book A Friend of the Earth, by T.C. Boyle.  The movies “The East” and “Night Moves” are both about underground activists, and they’re terrible movies, at least as propaganda for effective resistance.  “The East” is about a private security firm that infiltrates a cell whose only goals are theater and revenge, and “Night Moves” is even worse, about two swaggering men and one unprepared woman who blow up a hydroelectric dam.

The message is, “Don’t mess with this stuff, or you’ll end up dead.”  But these films do point out some common problems of groups with an anarchistic mindset: they tend to belittle women and they operate without a coherent strategy.  They’re in it for the identity, for the adrenaline, for the hook-up prospects—all terrible reasons to engage.  So I suppose they’re worth a look for how not to behave.  So is the documentary film “If a Tree Falls,” about the Earth Liberation Front.

“Operation Backfire” Arrests. Links between defendants illustrate lax security practices, making them far more vulnerable. From Deep Green Resistance – Organizational Structures for Resistance Part 4 of 4
“Operation Backfire” Arrests. Links between defendants illustrate lax security practices, making them far more vulnerable. From Deep Green Resistance – Organizational Structures for Resistance Part 4 of 4

Social change movements can suffer from problems of immaturity and self-infatuation just like individuals can.  Radical environmentalism, like so many leftist causes, is rife with it.  Most of the Earth First!ers I knew back in the ‘90s were so proud of their partying prowess, you couldn’t spend any time with them without their getting wasted and droning on about it all the next day.  One of the reasons I drifted away from that movement was it was so full of arrogant and judgmental people, who seemed to spend most of their time criticizing their colleagues for impure living because they use paper towels or drive an old pickup instead of a bicycle.

This can lead to ridiculous guilt-tripping pissing matches.  It’s no wonder environmentalists have such a bad reputation among the working class, when they’re indulging in self-righteous nitpicking that’s really just a reflection of their own circumstantial advantages and lack of focus on effectively defending the land.  Tell a working mother to mothball her dishwasher because you heard it’s inefficient, see how far you get.  It’s one of the worst things you can say to anyone, especially because it reinforces the collective-burden notion of responsibility for environmental destruction.  This is what those in power want us to think.  Developers build new golf courses in the desert, and we pretend we’re making a difference by dry-brushing our teeth.  Who cares who’s greener than thou?  The world is being gutted in front of our eyes.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at undergroundpromotion@deepgreenresistance.org

Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism

By Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen

Once, the environmental movement was about protecting the natural world from the insatiable demands of this extractive culture. Some of the movement still is: around the world grassroots activists and their organizations are fighting desperately to save this or that creature they love, this or that plant or fungi, this or that wild place.

Contrast this to what some activists are calling the conservation-industrial complex–­big green organizations, huge “environmental” foundations, neo-environmentalists, some academics–­which has co-opted too much of the movement into “sustainability,” with that word being devalued to mean “keeping this culture going as long as possible.” Instead of fighting to protect our one and only home, they are trying to “sustain” the very culture that is killing the planet. And they are often quite explicit about their priorities.

For example, the recent “An Open Letter to Environmentalists on Nuclear Energy,” signed by a number of academics, some conservation biologists, and other members of the conservation-industrial complex, labels nuclear energy as “sustainable” and argues that because of global warming, nuclear energy plays a “key role” in “global biodiversity conservation.” Their entire argument is based on the presumption that industrial energy usage is, like Dick Cheney said, not negotiable–­it is taken as a given. And for what will this energy be used? To continue extraction and drawdown­–to convert the last living creatures and their communities into the final dead commodities.

Their letter said we should let “objective evidence” be our guide. One sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns: let’s lay out a pattern and see if we can recognize it in less than 10,000 years. When you think of Iraq, do you think of cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touches the ground? That’s how it was prior to the beginnings of this culture. The Near East was a forest. North Africa was a forest. Greece was a forest. All pulled down to support this culture. Forests precede us, while deserts dog our heels. There were so many whales in the Atlantic they were a hazard to ships. There were so many bison on the Great Plains you could watch for four days as a herd thundered by. There were so many salmon in the Pacific Northwest you could hear them coming for hours before they arrived. The evidence is not just “objective,” it’s overwhelming: this culture exsanguinates the world of water, of soil, of species, and of the process of life itself, until all that is left is dust.

Fossil fuels have accelerated this destruction, but they didn’t cause it, and switching from fossil fuels to nuclear energy (or windmills) won’t stop it. Maybe three generations of humans will experience this level of consumption, but a culture based on drawdown has no future. Of all people, conservation biologists should understand that drawdown cannot last, and should not be taken as a given when designing public policy–­let alone a way of life.

It is long past time for those of us whose loyalties lie with wild plants and animals and places to take back our movement from those who use its rhetoric to foster accelerating ecocide. It is long past time we all faced the fact that an extractive way of life has never had a future, and can only end in biotic collapse. Every day this extractive culture continues, two hundred species slip into that longest night of extinction. We have very little time left to stop the destruction and to start the repair. And the repair might yet be done: grasslands, for example, are so good at sequestering carbon that restoring 75 percent of the planet’s prairies could bring atmospheric CO2 to under 330 ppm in fifteen years or less. This would also restore habitat for a near infinite number of creatures. We can make similar arguments about reforestation. Or consider that out of the more than 450 dead zones in the oceans, precisely one has repaired itself. How? The collapse of the Soviet Empire made agriculture unfeasible in the region near the Black Sea: with the destructive activity taken away, the dead zone disappeared, and life returned. It really is that simple.

You’d think that those who claim to care about biodiversity would cherish “objective evidence” like this. But instead the conservation-industrial complex promotes nuclear energy (or windmills). Why? Because restoring prairies and forests and ending empires doesn’t fit with the extractive agenda of the global overlords.

This and other attempts to rationalize increasingly desperate means to fuel this destructive culture are frankly insane. The fundamental problem we face as environmentalists and as human beings isn’t to try to find a way to power the destruction just a little bit longer: it’s to stop the destruction. The scale of this emergency defies meaning. Mountains are falling. The oceans are dying. The climate itself is bleeding out and it’s our children who will find out if it’s beyond hope. The only certainty is that our one and only home, once lush with life and the promise of more, will soon be a bare rock if we do nothing.

We the undersigned are not part of the conservation-industrial complex. Many of us are long-term environmental activists. Some of us are Indigenous people whose cultures have been living truly sustainably and respectfully with all our relations from long before the dominant culture began exploiting the planet. But all of us are human beings who recognize we are animals who like all others need livable habitat on a living earth. And we love salmon and prairie dogs and black terns and wild nature more than we love this way of life.

Environmentalism is not about insulating this culture from the effects of its world-destroying activities. Nor is it about trying to perpetuate these world-destroying activities. We are reclaiming environmentalism to mean protecting the natural world from this culture.

And more importantly, we are reclaiming this earth that is our only home, reclaiming it from this extractive culture. We love this earth, and we will defend our beloved.

You can sign on to this letter at: Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism

Wildlife Conservation Efforts Are Violating Tribal Peoples’ Rights

By Stephen Corry / Survival International

Twenty years ago, fundraising publicity for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) posed a very odd question: whether to send in the army or an anthropologist to stop indigenous people destroying the Amazon rainforest. Equally bizarre, it claimed that the media was “inundated with appeals to save native peoples” and asked, “Do they really deserve our support?” The world’s leading conservation organization went on by saying that tribes had learned many things from outsiders, including “greed and corruption.” WWF’s answer to this apparent dilemma was thankfully not the army, but for concerned people to give it more money (its daily income is now $2 million) so it could “work with native peoples to develop conservation techniques.”

At Survival International, we were dismayed, and so were tribal organizations when we showed them the advertisement. For WWF to blame “duped” tribespeople for deforestation was serious enough (giving the impression they trumped conservationists in attracting more funding was laughable), but even mentioning soldiers in the same sentence as conservationists uncomfortably echoed the latter’s dubious roots in colonialist ideology.

However, WWF’s assertions are likely to have raised more eyebrows with its supporters than with many tribal people, for whom big conservation organizations have long been considered in the same bracket as development banks, road and dam builders, miners and loggers. All, they would say, are outsiders bent on stealing tribal lands.

Over the last 20 years, some conservation groups have at least cleaned up their language: Their policies now make claims about working in partnership with local tribal communities, about consulting them and about how much they apparently support UN standards on indigenous rights. There are undoubtedly many in the conservation industry who believe all this, and who realize that tribal peoples are – as a broad principle – just as good conservationists as anyone else, if not considerably better.

Even those who disagree do at least recognize that alienating local people – whether tribal or not – eventually leads to protected areas being opposed and attacked. It’s one reason why the conservation industry makes much, at least on paper, of bringing local communities on board. But apart from written policies, how much have things really changed in the last 20 years? Tragically for many, the answer is “not much”; in some places, they’re getting worse.

“Voluntary Relocation” From Tiger Reserves

For example, the WWF-inspired tiger reserves in India are increasingly used to expel tribes from their forests so they can be opened up to tourism. The people are bribed with a fistful of rupees to give up the land, which has sustained their families for countless generations. More often than not, promises are broken and they’re left with empty pockets and a few plastic sheets for shelter. Whether any financial incentives materialize or not, they are backed up with threats and intimidation: Tribes are repeatedly told that if they don’t get out, their homes and crops will be destroyed and they’ll get nothing. When they finally cave in to this pressure, the conservationists call it “voluntary relocation.” Needless to say, it’s illegal.

It might surprise people to know there’s evidence that tigers thrive in the zones where tribal villages remain – the people’s small open fields encourage more tiger prey than in the enclosed forest. When they’re kicked out, their old clearings give way to roads, hotels and truckfuls of gawping tourists. Studies show animal stress behavior increases with tourism. In other words, if you want happy tigers, then it’s much better to leave the tribal people where they’ve always been. They are surely the best eyes and ears to report any poaching activity anyway; Baiga villagers from the famous Kanha reserve respect the big cats as their “little brothers.”

Hunters or Poachers?

Guards in tiger reserves intimidate and beat tribespeople found on land that was once their ancestral forests. But at least they stop short of the torture to which the Baka “Pygmy” people in Cameroon are subjected by anti-poaching forces. To return to the advertisement: Conservation is sending in soldiers, just as it always has. Heavily armed, government paramilitary squads accompany “ecoguards,” which are equipped using WWF funds. They beat those thought to have entered the protected areas, which are in fact Baka ancestral homelands. Tribespeople are assaulted even if they’re merely suspected of knowing those who have gone in. Meanwhile, their land is logged and mined, including by WWF partners. A Baka man told us, “They beat us at the WWF base. I nearly died.” WWF seems incapable of stopping these abuses. It has known about them for years, but is scathing about those who denounce them: Survival’s “absurd” campaign to draw attention to them would, it claimed, help the “real” criminals.

Tribal victims are invariably accused of “poaching,” a term which now means any sort of hunting, including for food, with which conservationists disagree. That certainly doesn’t encompass all hunting. Many conservation organizations, including WWF, don’t oppose fee-paying big game hunting. On the contrary, they profit from it, even quietly whispering that it’s a vital ingredient in conservation.

Senior environmentalists are not averse to having a shot themselves. The former president of WWF-Spain – the previous king of Spain – was recently photographed in Botswana with his elephant kill. The resulting scandal forced him to step down, but only because the picture was leaked. Kings can hunt elephants, which we’re told are threatened, but Bushmen can’t hunt to eat, not a single one of the plentiful antelope they’ve lived off sustainably since time immemorial. If they’re even suspected of it, they’ll be beaten and tortured like the Baka. This has been going on for decades, as the president of Botswana, Ian Khama, has tried to force all Bushmen out of their Central Kalahari region. In 2014, he banned hunting throughout the country – except for paid safari hunting of course. It was another illegal act in the guise of conservation.

Conservation and Diamond Mining

An avid environmentalist himself, and board member of Conservation International (CI) no less, General Khama claims he wants to clear the zone so that the wildlife will be undisturbed. This is decidedly odd because the fauna has been much disturbed over the last 20 years, but not by the remaining tribespeople: Mining exploration continues apace and you will soon be able to buy a diamond mined from inside the so-called game reserve. Due to go on sale around Valentine’s Day, these expensive love tokens now play a part in the destruction of the last hunting Bushmen in Africa.

In March, Khama is due to host the second United for Wildlife meeting – a consortium of the world’s major conservation organizations, including WWF and CI. A British royal will doubtless turn up and join the cry against “illegal poaching.” The assembly of conservationists, who routinely violate the law in their treatment of tribal peoples, will be hosted by a president guilty of trying to eradicate Bushmen hunters. No doubt the hypocrisy will be lost in the sanctimoniousness with which the press will accord the photo ops. The first United for Wildlife meeting, in London, was also hosted by Princes William and Harry – both had returned the previous day from hunting in Spain.

A couple of years ago, to the southwest of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve diamond mine, another Bushmen community was going to be thrown off their land because they had the temerity to remain where CI had tried to establish a new “wildlife corridor.” CI apparently has good policies, including having to consult the locals, so Survival International asked how it went about consulting with the Bushmen of Ranyane during its long, expensive Botswana study. Although the village is an easy four-hour drive from the nearest big town, CI admitted there had been no attempt to consult at all.

Conservation as a Feel-Good Commodity

If this handful of examples surprises anyone, it’s because the industry has poured enormous resources into gaining a place among the world’s most trusted brands. This long PR exercise has involved blurring and hiding (rather than honestly confronting) conservation’s colonial, indeed racist, past. Conservation has become a commodity, raising enormous sums of money, and rewarding supporters with an equally large feel-good factor, one that is nowhere near as straightforwardly apolitical as we are led to believe. Those who suggest “conservation” might not really be as holy as some claim are routinely denigrated as blasphemers and apostates.

If the movement is to have any chance of achieving its stated objectives – which I, for one, pray it will – it’s vital that it’s scrutinized, questioned and exposed: For conservation casts an ideological opposition of nature versus people that is profoundly damaging to our real relationship with our environment. By doing so, it harms both people and ultimately the environment, too; conservation destroys those who’ve nurtured their surroundings for timeless generations – people who have actually fashioned what we now mistake as natural. It works too often in direct opposition to its own goals.

When experts and researchers point this out, and criticize the industry, its common reaction is to try and silence them. For example, when award-winning German filmmaker and journalist, Wilfried Huismann, conducted a two-year investigation into the WWF, the film he produced, The Silence of the Pandas, was initially blocked through legal injunctions. You can read his book, PandaLeaks, though you won’t find it in mainstream bookstores. WWF’s legal team is very quick off the mark.

But many critics are committed environmentalists themselves. They too want to prevent the world’s most beautiful and diverse regions from being overrun by the industrialization that has destroyed so much and reduced so many people to poverty and dependency. The problem is that the conservation industry is not only failing to achieve this; it can be working in the opposite direction. According to Huismann, WWF is turning a blind eye to the destruction of huge areas in Southeast Asia and South America for biofuel cultivation, requiring millions of gallons of toxic pesticides and herbicides.

Tribal Peoples Are the Best Conservationists

If the conservation conglomerates really are to start preventing the further industrialization of these vital ecosystems, they surely must first remove giant polluters like Monsanto and BP from their own boards. Conservation has to stop the illegal eviction of tribal peoples from their ancestral homelands. It has to stop claiming tribal lands are wildernesses when they’ve been managed and shaped by tribal communities for millennia. It has to stop accusing tribespeople of poaching when they hunt to feed their families. It has to stop the hypocrisy in which tribal people face arrest and beatings, torture and death, while fee-paying big game hunters are actively encouraged.

The WWF publicity concluded, “Enough is enough” – I agree; it’s time for change. It’s obviously too late for those peoples whom conservation has killed, but what’s still going on today is illegal, immoral and does not deserve public support. Conservation has to wake up to the fact that tribal peoples are better at looking after their environment than anyone else.

Despite the millions pouring into the conservation industry daily, the environment remains in deepening crisis. It’s time to realize that there is a better way. Firstly, tribal rights have to be acknowledged and respected – are they not people too? Secondly, they have to be treated as the best experts at defending their own land. Thirdly, conservationists must realize it’s they, themselves, who are the junior partners here, not the tribespeople.

The real creators of the world’s national parks are not the ideologues and evangelists of the environmental movement, but the tribal peoples who fashioned their landscapes with knowledge and understanding accumulated over countless generations.

From TruthOut: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28888-wildlife-conservation-efforts-are-violating-tribal-peoples-rights

Book Review: This Changes Everything

By Kim Hill / Deep Green Resistance Australia

Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything, is based on the premise that capitalism is the cause of the climate crisis, and to avert catastrophe, capitalism must go. The proposed solution is a mass movement that will win with arguments that undermine the capitalist system by making it morally unacceptable.

This premise has many flaws. It fails to acknowledge the roots of capitalism and climate change, seeing them as independent issues that can be transformed without taking action to address the underlying causes. Climate change cannot be avoided by building more infrastructure and reforming the economy, as is suggested in the book. The climate crisis is merely a symptom of a deeper crisis, and superficial solutions that act on the symptoms will only make the situation worse. Human-induced climate change started thousands of years ago with the advent of land clearing and agriculture, long before capitalism came into being. The root cause—a culture that values domination of people and land, and the social and physical structures created by this culture—needs to be addressed for any action on capitalism or climate to be effective.

I’ve long been baffled by the climate movement. When 200 species a day are being made extinct, oceans and rivers being drained of fish and all life, unpolluted drinking water being largely a thing of the past, and nutritious food being almost inaccessible, is climate really where we should focus our attention? It seems a distraction, a ‘look, what’s that in the sky?’ from those that seek to profit from taking away everything that sustains life on the only planet we have. By directing our thoughts, discussions and actions towards gases in the upper atmosphere and hotly debated theories, rather than immediate needs for basic survival of all living beings, those in power are leading us astray from forming a resistance movement that could ensure the continuation of life on Earth.

This book is a tangle of contradictions. An attempt to unravel the contradictions and understand the thinking behind these arguments is what drew me in to reading it, but in the end I was left confused, with a jumble of mismatched ideas, vague goals, and proposals to continue with the same disjointed tactics that have never worked in the past.

This Changes Everything advocates for socialism, then explores why socialism won’t stop fossil fuel extraction. It is against capitalism, yet insists ‘there is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy’. Renewable energy is promoted as an alternative, yet the objections of people whose land and livelihoods are destroyed by these developments is acknowledged and respected. The book promotes the rights of indigenous people to live on their land in traditional ways, and at the same time claims they need jobs and development. It sees the extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the main cause of the climate crisis, yet recommends solutions that require more of the same. It supports economic development while opposing economic growth. It says that ‘compromised, palatable-to-conservative solutions don’t work’ yet is selling exactly that.

One chapter is devoted to promoting divestment from fossil fuel companies, even though this is openly acknowledged to have no economic effect. Apparently it will ‘bankrupt their reputation’ rather than actually bankrupt them. This strategy is unlikely to work, as corporations spend millions on PR campaigns, and control the media, so anyone outside this system will struggle to have any real effect on their reputations. And corporations are powered by money, not morals, so moral campaigns on their own can’t shut down a company. And if they did, this targeting of specific companies, rather than the entire economic system, will only create space for others to take their place.

Another chapter explains why ‘green billionaires’ won’t save us, which seems unnecessary in a book arguing for dismantling capitalism—of course more capitalism won’t help. Strangely, Klein is disappointed that Virgin CEO Richard Branson, despite investing many millions of dollars to invent or discover a ‘miracle fuel’ to power his ever-expanding airline, did not achieve this impossible goal. What difference would it make if he had been successful? Whatever this fuel might be, it would still need to be extracted from somewhere, and burned. Unless money really can buy a genuine religious miracle, and even then, the airline industry requires massive amounts of land, mining and manufacturing, and a globalised economy. If fuel costs were not a limitation, these industrial processes would expand more quickly, destroying everyone and everything in their path. A miracle fuel still leaves us with a culture of travelling the world at jet speed, rather than a localised culture of dialogue and relationship with nature. This is the disconnected thinking that comes from engaging with climate as an isolated issue.

The book concludes with a call for a nonviolent mass movement, and ‘trillions [of dollars] to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.’ The requested transformations are a transition to renewable energy, and building more infrastructure. These won’t stop capitalism or climate change, and would make the situation worse. A mass movement would require a mass of people who both share these goals and believe that a mass movement is the way to reach them. Given the compromised and conflicted goals, and the corporate influence on the climate movement recently, this is unlikely to happen.

Mass movements using only moral arguments have never changed systems of power in the past. The global Occupy movement is a recent example. While a great deal was achieved, the capitalist system is still with us, and it will take more than peaceful demonstrations to take it down. The infrastructure of capitalism needs to be physically dismantled, using a diversity of tactics, and the culture of domination that legitimises extraction and exploitation must be confronted, and replaced with land-based cultures that value relationship with all living beings.

Image modified from original art by Mark Gould: http://theartofannihilation.com/this-changes-nothing-why-the-peoples-climate-march-guarantees-climate-catastrophe-2/

Survival Finds WWF Complicit in Campaign of Terror Against Baka People

By Survival International

Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, has uncovered serious abuses of Baka “Pygmies” in southeast Cameroon, at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported and funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The Baka are being illegally forced from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation” because much of their land has been turned into “protected areas” – including safari-hunting zones.

Rather than target the powerful individuals behind organized poaching, wildlife officers and soldiers pursue Baka who hunt only to feed their families.

Watch Baka recount the abuse they suffer at the hands of anti-poaching squads supported by WWF:

The Baka and their neighbors accused of “poaching” face arrest, beatings and torture. Many Baka claim that friends and relatives have died as a result of the beatings.

Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Fauna, which employs the wildlife officers, is funded by WWF. WWF also provides officers with technical, logistical and material assistance. Without this support the anti-poaching squads could not function.

UN standards require WWF to prevent or mitigate “adverse human rights impacts directly linked to its operations” even if it has not contributed to them, but the giant of the conservation industry appears reluctant to acknowledge this. Despite the evidence that the anti-poaching squads have grossly abused the rights of the Baka, WWF continues to provide its crucial support.

As a result of the loss of their land and its resources, many Baka have reported a serious decline in their health and a rise in diseases such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. And they fear going into the forest that has provided them with everything they need for countless generations.

A Baka man told Survival, “The forest used to be for the Baka but not anymore. We would walk in the forest according to the seasons but now we’re afraid. How can they forbid us from going into the forest? We don’t know how to live otherwise. They beat us, kill us and force us to flee to Congo.”

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, “Tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world. They know more about their lands and what happens on them than anyone else. If conservation is to work, organizations like WWF need to stick to international law, uphold tribal peoples’ land rights, ask them what help they need in protecting their land, listen to them, and then be prepared to back them up as much as they can. A major change in thinking about conservation is urgently required.”

Notes to editors:

– “Pygmy” is an umbrella term commonly used to refer to the hunter-gatherer peoples of the Congo Basin and elsewhere in Central Africa. The word is considered pejorative and avoided by some tribespeople, but used by others as a convenient and easily recognized way of describing themselves. Read more.

– Survival has submitted a request to the Cameroonian National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms asking it to investigate these abuses.

– Many Baka (such as the woman speaking in the video) refer to anti-poaching squads as “dobi-dobi” (WWF) since they do not distinguish between WWF and Cameroon’s Ministry of Forests and Fauna.

– Visit Survival’s Parks Need People page for other examples of tribal peoples evicted from their ancestral homelands in the name of “conservation”.

From Survival International: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/10456

Deep Green Resistance Stands with Juchitan de Zaragoza against Wind Farm

Deep Green Resistance stands in sympathy and solidarity with Don Celestino Bartolo and the farmers and residents of the municipality of
Juchitan de Zaragoza as well as all those who live on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, as they suffer and resist Gas Natural Fenosa’s Biío Hioxo
Wind Energy project. Like most large infrastructure projects, the Biío Hioxo Energy project ignores how indigenous communities use the land for
food, sacred places, and community integrity. This project harms the land by destroying soils, forests, and natural spaces, as well as with noise and visual pollution.

Projects like this threaten the way of life of the residents of Juchitan de Zaragoza and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and destroy the land. It is
typical of the destructiveness of civilization and the unbridled greed of capitalism. Biío Hioxo Energy also serves as an object lesson in the folly of green technology, and deserves our condemnation and resistance.

Indigenous peoples have always been at the forefront of the struggle against the dominant culture’s ecocidal violence. We are heartened by
the strength of the people of Tehuantepec, who are resisting with strength and desperation. DGR offers its support and encouragement to
those on the front lines of the fight to save the planet, and despite our lack of experience and membership in the region we will support the struggle in whatever way we can.

For more information on the Biío Hioxo project, see http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/12042

Nearly 1000 environmental activists murdered since 2002

By Jeremy Hance / Mongabay

At least 908 people were murdered for taking a stand to defend the environment between 2002 and 2013, according to a new report today from Global Witness, which shows a dramatic uptick in the murder rate during the past four years. Notably, the report appears on the same day that another NGO, Survival International, released a video of a gunman terrorizing a Guarani indigenous community in Brazil, which has recently resettled on land taken from them by ranchers decades ago. According to the report, nearly half of the murders over the last decade occurred in Brazil—448 in all—and over two-thirds—661—involved land conflict.

“There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people defending rights to their land or environment,” said Oliver Courtney of Global Witness. “Yet this rapidly worsening problem is going largely unnoticed, and those responsible almost always get away with it. We hope our findings will act as the wake-up call that national governments and the international community clearly need.”

But as grisly as the report is, it’s likely a major underestimation of the issue. The report covers just 35 countries where violence against environmental activists remains an issue, but leaves out a number of major countries where environmental-related murders are likely occurring but with scant reporting.

“Because of the live, under-recognized nature of this problem, an exhaustive global analysis of the situation is not possible,” reads the report. “For example, African countries such as Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and Zimbabwe that are enduring resource-fueled unrest are highly likely to be affected, but information is almost impossible to gain without detailed field investigations.”

In fact, reports of hundreds of additional killings in countries like Ethiopia, Myanmar, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe were left out due to lack of rigorous information.

Even without these countries included, the number of environmental activists killed nearly approaches the number of journalists murdered during the same period—913—an issue that gets much more press. Environmental activists most at risk are people fighting specific industries.

“Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation,” reads the report. “Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. In many cases, their land rights are not recognized by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by powerful economic interests who brand them as ‘anti-development’.”

As if to highlight these points, Survival International released a video today that the groups says shows a gunman firing at the Pyelito Kuê community of Guarani indigenous people. The incident injured one woman, according to the group. The Guarani have been campaigning for decades to have land returned to them that has been taken by ranchers.

“This video gives a brief glimpse of what the Guarani endure month after month—harassment, intimidation, and sometimes murder, just for trying to live in peace on tiny fractions of the ancestral land that was once stolen from them,” the director of Survival International, Stephen Corry, said. “Is it too much to expect the Brazilian authorities, given the billions they’re spending on the World Cup, to sort this problem out once and for all, rather than let the Indians’ misery continue?”

According to the report, two major drivers of repeated violence against environmental activists are a lack of attention to the issue and widespread impunity for perpetrators. In fact, Global Witness found that only ten people have been convicted for the 908 murders documented in the report, meaning a conviction rate of just 1.1 percent to date.

“Environmental human rights defenders work to ensure that we live in an environment that enables us to enjoy our basic rights, including rights to life and health,” John Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment said. “The international community must do more to protect them from the violence and harassment they face as a result.”

From Mongabay: “Nearly a thousand environmental activists murdered since 2002

In name of “conservation”, Kenyan forces torch homes of indigenous Sengwer people

By New Internationalist

Kenyan security forces have been burning hundreds of homes – belonging to some of the country’s oldest hunter-gatherers – in the last fortnight, in the name of ‘conserving forest biodiversity’ and safeguarding the area’s water catchment area for urban access.

The Kenya Forest Service Guard, along with riot troops armed with AK-47 machine guns, began razing the thatched homes of the Sengwer community, estimated at 15,000, after a government deadline for eviction of the Embobut Forest community expired two weeks ago.

The Sengwer people, also known as the Cherangany people, are being forcefully evicted as ‘squatters’ by the government.

‘The Sengwer people, who have cared for the region for centuries, have been labelled squatters, and the Kenyan government seems willing to breach the country’s own constitution and court rulings. It pledged not to use force, but now it seems that as many 1,000 homes have been torched, together with blankets, cooking utensils and schoolbooks. For how much longer will old-fashioned ideas of “conservation” be used to justify the violation of tribal peoples’ rights?’ says Freddie Weyman, Africa campaigner at Survival International.

Hundreds of Sengwer families have fled into high-altitude montane forest after having their homes and possessions destroyed.

‘I was in the house with my four children. All their uniforms, our cooking pans, water containers, cups were burnt. There was no consultation. The children are very upset because we have lost everything. The children and elderly people will end up getting pneumonia because we don’t have anything to cover ourselves at night,’ said one 25-year-old Sengwer widow.

Brazen defiance

The World Bank is currently being investigated by its own inspection panel after the Sengwer community complained last year that a World Bank-funded project, the Natural Resource Management Project (NRMP), was responsible for redrawing the boundaries of the Cherangany forest reserves, thus displacing and marginalizing hundreds of members of the forest community. The project currently stands accused of legitimizing and funding the Kenyan government’s illegal evictions of the Sengwer people without consultation, consent or compensation, through arson and intimidation in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.

The Kenyan Constitution of 2010 decrees that the government must protect and preserve the practices of those indigenous communities that have sustained their ancestral forest habitat for centuries. However, the Kenyan government is acting in brazen defiance of its own constitution by forcefully relocating indigenous communities without their free, prior and informed consent. Article 63 (d) of the Kenyan Constitution recognizes the rights of communities, such as the Sengwer, to own ancestral lands traditionally occupied by hunter-gatherers.

No consultation was undertaken and no consent was given by the forest community for their homes to be burnt or for their ancestral land to be captured by the state. As well as undermining the Sengwers’ constitutional rights, the government is also rejecting international agreements such as international human rights laws and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, to which Kenya is a party.

Burning Sengwer homes is a perversion of the country’s constitutional commitment to ‘respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use’ of biodiversity, as stipulated under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Forced removal of the Sengwer group is also in contempt of an injunction secured at the High Court in Eldoret forbidding any such evictions until the matter of community rights to their land is resolved.

‘Crucially, the constitution also states that ancestral land and the land occupied by traditionally hunter-gatherer groups such as the Sengwer is “community land”, owned by that community. None of these legal provisions is being respected by the government of Kenya in the recent evictions of the Sengwer from Embobut Forest,’ says Tom Lomax, legal expert at the Forest People’s Programme.

A misinformation campaign has been launched by the government. In order to justify its human rights violations against the Sengwer people and its broken international agreements, it has labelled the indigenous group ‘squatters’, despite the forest community having lived for hundreds of years in the Embobut Forest in Western Kenya, where they practise traditional modes of sustainable living.

Where else is home?

By conflating a large population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), including landslide victims and victims of electoral violence who have settled in the Embobut Forest area, with the Sengwer community, the government is conveniently able to refer to all forest inhabitants as ‘squatters’ or ‘evictees’.

By doing so, the government is highlighting its own wilful refusal to recognize the rights of Kenya’s indigenous communities, or their conservation of ancestral land and resources. The Kenyan government has also insisted that the Embobut Forest inhabitants were ‘voluntarily evicted’ and that they have been adequately compensated for loss of livelihood and habitat.

In November 2013, the government indeed promised 400,000 Kenyan shillings ($4,600) per evicted family, enough to buy an acre of land or four cows. On 12 December, the local government announced that ‘the evictees were given the cash and have no reason to continue staying in the forest’ and that ‘by 3 January 2014, we expect all squatters out of that forest’.

However, the only people who had signed up for compensation were the IDPs, not the 15,000 Sengwer community members who claim the Embobut Forest as their ancestral territory.

‘Those who did not sign were Sengwer, who hold the forest as the last vestige of their greater territories, and also can’t for the life of themselves think where they would move to. Where else is home?’ says Liz Alden Wily, research fellow at the Rights and Resources Institute.

Wily says it is spurious for the government to declare ‘conservation’ as a reason for the Sengwer people to be evicted when they have protected and preserved the forest biodiversity of their ancestral habitat for hundreds of years.

‘The government is being congratulated on being hard line on the necessity to keep forests free of people, given their essential water-tower role. But this is not necessarily the way to protect forests, when you have to [evict] a committed indigenous forest dweller population which depends upon the trees remaining and who, given the chance, would protect these with their life,’ says Wily.

Livelihood desolation and eviction has loomed heavy over the Sengwer community since they were first dispossessed of land by the British colonial administration in the early 20th century. During the post-colonial administration in 1964, their remaining ancestral territory was gazetted and designated as a protected area, making their traditional hunter- gatherer lifestyle untenable. Since the 1980s, the Sengwer community have faced 20 evictions. This month’s eviction has been the most violent and systematic.

However, international rights organizations remain incredulous about the Kenyan government’s declarations that these evictions are in the pure interests of ‘conservation’.

‘Forests are profoundly fertile areas, and perfect for intensive tea cultivation and other commercial agricultural use. We need to look ahead, to keep an eye as to who in fact ends up using these areas. We have seen this repeatedly ever since the administration of President Moi [1978-2002]; a flurry of evictions, followed not by lasting conservation measures but by piecemeal excisions, turning these public properties into private enterprise areas,’ says Wily.

From New Internationalist: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2014/01/23/sengwer-forest-evictions/

Corporation raiding Algonquin territory for minerals, selling to Toyota for Prius battery production

By Claire Stewart-Kanigan / The Dominion

“Eco-consciousness” and “green living” are centrepieces of product branding for the Toyota Prius. But that feel-good packaging has rapidly worn thin for members of the Algonquin Nation and residents of Kipawa, Quebec, who are now fighting to protect traditional Algonquin territory from devastation in the name of hybrid car battery production.

In 2011, after nearly two years of negotiations, Matamec Explorations, a Quebec-based junior mining exploration company, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Toyotsu Rare Earth Canada (TRECan), a Canadian subsidiary of Japan-based Toyota Tsusho Corporation. The memorandum confirmed Matamec’s intention to become “one of the first heavy rare earths producers outside of China.” In pursuit of this role, the company plans to build an open-pit Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE) mine directly next to Kipawa Lake, the geographical, ecological, and cultural centre of Kipawa.

Rare earths are a group of 17 elements found in the earth’s crust. They are used to produce electronics for cell phones, wind turbines, and car batteries. Rare earths are notorious for their environmentally costly extraction process, with over 90 per cent of the mined raw materials classified as waste.

Toyota has guaranteed purchase of 100 per cent of rare earths extracted from the proposed Kipawa mine, for use in their hybrid car batteries, replacing a portion of Toyota’s supply currently sourced out of China.

Over the last seven years, China has reduced the scale of its rare earths exports via a series of annual tonnage export caps and taxes, allegedly out of concern for high cancer rates, contaminated water supply, and significant environmental degradation. Despite China’s stated intention to encourage manufacturers to reduce their rare earths consumption, the US, the EU and Japan have challenged China’s export caps through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and are seeking new deposits elsewhere for exploitation. Toyota and Matamec are seeking to make Kipawa part of this shift.

Kipawa is a municipality located on traditional Algonquin territory approximately 80 kilometres northeast of North Bay, Ontario, in what is now known as western Quebec. The primarily Indigenous municipality is home to approximately 500 people, including members of Eagle Village First Nation and Wolf Lake First Nation, of the Anishinaabeg Algonquin Nation. The town of Kipawa lies within the large Ottawa River Watershed, a wide-branching network of lakes, rivers and wetlands. Lake Kipawa is at the heart of the Kipawa region.

Lifelong Kipawa resident and Eagle Village First Nation member Jamie Lee McKenzie told The Dominion that the lake is of “huge” importance to the people of Kipawa. “We drink it, for one….Everyone has camps on the lake [and] we use it on basically a daily basis.” This water network nourishes the richly forested surroundings that make up the traditional hunting and trapping grounds of the local Algonquin peoples.

“Where the proposed mine site is, it’s my husband’s [ancestral] trapping grounds,” said Eagle Village organizer Mary McKenzie, in a phone interview with The Dominion. “This is where we hunt, we fish, I pick berries….We just want to keep our water.” Jamie Lee and Mary McKenzie also emphasized the role of lake-based tourism in Kipawa’s economy.

The Kipawa HREE project would blast out an open-pit mine 1.5 kilometres wide and 110 meters deep, from the summit of a large lakeside hill. It would also establish a nearby waste dump with a 13.3 megatonne capacity. Rock containing the heavy rare earth elements dysprosium and terbium would be extracted from the pit via drilling and explosives, processed at an on-site grinding and magnetic separation plant, and then transported by truck to a hydrometallurgical facility 50 kilometers away for refining.

Matamec confirmed in its Preliminary Economic Assessment Study that some effluence caused by evaporation and precipitation is inevitable, especially during the snowmelt period. A community-led presentation argued that this could create acid mine drainage, acidifying the lake and poisoning the fish.

“There’s going to be five [truckloads of sulfuric acid transported from pit to refinery] a day….[I]n a 15-year span, that’s 27,300 truckloads of sulfuric acid,” said Mary McKenzie. “We’re worried about spills and the environment….They’re talking about neutralizing [the acid], when a spill does occur, with lime. I have [sources that say] lime is also a danger to the environment.”

In a 2013 presentation in Kipawa, Matamec stated that while “some radioactivity [due to the presence of uranium and thorium in waste rock] will be present in the rare earth processing chain,” its effects will be negligible. Yet these reassurances ring hollow for some, who point to cancer spikes observed in communities near rare earths projects in China. In the project’s economic assessment, Matamec itself indicated that waste rock is too dangerous for use in concrete and dikes.

“Whatever goes up in the air [from blasting and evaporation] comes down….A lot of those particles are radioactive,” said Mary McKenzie. “Our animals eat this [plant matter potentially affected by the mine]….We depend on our moose, we depend on our fish, so that’s a scary situation.” The refining process also uses strong acids and bases.

While Matamec stated in the Assessment that “most” of the water used in processing will be recycled, a portion of the post-processing solution will be directed into the lake or tailings ponds. The mine is intended to be operational for 13 years, but tailings ponds would require maintenance for generations, and leaching is always possible. Adding to this risk, Matamec has “assumed that [certain] tailings will not be acid generating or leachable” and will therefore only use watertight geomembrane for a portion of the tailings ponds.

With the approval process being accelerated by both public and private factors, production could begin as early as 2015. Quebec’s regulations  call for provincial environmental impact assessments only when projects have a daily metal ore production capacity that is considerably higher than the national standard—7,000 metric tons per day versus 3,000 in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. What’s more, by categorizing HREE in the same regulatory group as other metals, these tonnage minimums fail to reflect the higher toxicity and environmental costs of heavy rare earths extraction.

Because of this, the Kipawa project does not trigger a provincial-level assessment. It only requires clearance from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and a certificate of authorization granted by the provincial Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks.

On the private side, the assessment process has been fast-tracked by a series of multimillion-dollar payments from TRECan to Matamec ($16M as of April 2013). According to Matamec president André Gauthier in a July 2012 press release, this makes Matamec “the only rare earth exploration company to have received funds to accelerate and complete a feasibility study and an environmental and social impact assessment study of a HREE deposit.”

The chiefs of Eagle Village and Wolf Lake First Nations have been demanding a consent-based consultation and review process since the project was quietly made public in 2011—one that exceeds “stakeholder” consultation standards and acknowledges the traditional relationship of the Algonquin people to the land. Residents only became widely aware of Matamec’s plans following the company’s community consultation session in April 2013.

Jamie Lee McKenzie has not been impressed by Matamec’s consultations. “They come in and they have a meeting…and they tell us all the good things about the mine,” McKenzie told The Dominion. “[They say,] ‘It will give you jobs. We need this to make batteries for green living,’ but that’s it.”

Local organizers told The Dominion that a Matamec-chaired community focus group had been cancelled during the early summer after one local participant asked that her critical questions be included in the group’s minutes. Following what many residents see as the failure of Matamec and provincial assessment agencies to meaningfully engage with Kipawa residents, the community has taken matters into their own hands.

In the summer of 2013, Kipawa residents began to organize, with the leadership of Eagle Village and Wolf Lake members. Petitions containing over 2,500 signatures were sent to provincial ministers, demanding a provincial environmental assessment as well as “public hearings to review the Mining Act…to strengthen rare earth environmental monitoring.” As of late November, there had been no official responses to the petitions, and no positive response to letter-writing campaigns directed at the office of the federal Minister of Environment. (Quebec adopted a new Mining Act in early December, as this article went to print.)

But demands have grown beyond calls for review. “We’re not okay with the BAPE [provincial assessment]; we’re not okay with the mine,” said Mary McKenzie. “We’re against the [project] 100 per cent.” In September, McKenzie helped organize a 100-person anti-mine protest on the shores of Kipawa Lake. In November, the resistance network formalized their association as the Lake Kipawa Protection Society, committed to stopping the mine through regional education, local solidarity, and creative resistance strategies like a “Tarnish Toyota” day of action.

The Kipawa HREE project, if approved, would open doors for the numerous other companies exploring the watershed—such as Globex, Fieldex, Aurizon, and Hinterland Metals—as well as for heavy rare earths mining in the rest of Canada.

“We have mining companies all over in our area here,” said Mary McKenzie. “Matamec is the most advanced, but it’s not just Matamec: we want all the mining out of our region.”

The mine is not the only project on the fast-track: Algonquin and local resistance efforts are picking up momentum, and backing down on protecting the water and land is not on the agenda.

“This is ancestral ground,” McKenzie stressed. “We can fight this.”

Claire Stewart-Kanigan is a student, Settler, and visitor on Haudenosaunee territory.

From The Dominion: http://dominion.mediacoop.ca/story/toyota-prius-not-so-green-after-all/20373

Converting trees to wood pellets latest “green energy” gold rush

By Jamie Doward / The Observer

Britain’s new generation of biomass power stations will have to source millions of tonnes of wood from thousands of miles away if they are to operate near to their full capacity, raising questions about the claims made for the sustainability of the new technology.

Ministers believe biomass technology could provide as much as 11% of the UK’s energy by 2020, something that would help it meet its carbon commitments. The Environment Agency estimates that biomass-fired electricity generation, most of which involves burning wood pellets, can cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% compared with coal-fired power stations. Eight biomass power stations, including one in a unit in the giant Drax power station, are operating in the UK and a further seven are in the pipeline. None operates near capacity.

But now environmental groups are questioning where the new plants will source their wood if the technology takes off. A campaign group, Biofuelwatch, calculates in a new report that the UK could end up burning as much as 82m tonnes of biomass each year – more than eight times the UK’s annual wood production. If Drax were to operate at full capacity, it alone would get through 16m tonnes of wood a year, according to the report, which claims a Europe-wide demand for biomass is triggering a “gold rush” for wood pellets that could have implications for global land use.

The report highlights the example of Portugal, where 10% of the country is now covered by eucalyptus plantations much of which is used for biomass energy production. Two campaign groups, the Dogwood Alliance and the US Natural Resources Defence Council, have issued critical reports about the way that forests in the southern states of the US are being used for biomass production. There are also concerns that tracts of Brazil are being used to supply the wood pellets.

But the concerns have been fiercely rejected by the biomass industry. Enviva, which supplies Drax with wood pellets, said its biomass came mainly from offcuts from poor-quality trees that are left over from those grown for the construction and paper industries. It said it would be uneconomic to cut down forests purely for biomass and that the cost of shipping a tonne of wood pellets from the east coast of the US to the UK was similar to transporting the same amount some 225 miles within the UK. It said that even the most optimistic forecasts for global wood pellet demand suggested it would not exceed 40m tonnes – equivalent to 80m tonnes of wood – a year by 2020.

“Biomass is the only renewable energy source that can replace coal quickly and cost-effectively, providing the same operational benefits while dramatically improving the environmental profile of energy generation,” a company spokesman said.

Read more from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/09/biomass-power-stations-wood-forests-report