Greenpeace activists shut down 74 Shell petrol stations in Edinburgh and London in a protest against the company’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic that saw 24 campaigners arrested on Monday.
The campaigners are attempting to shut off petrol to London’s 105 Shell stations and Edinburgh’s 14. Seventy-one have been closed in London and three in Edinburgh.
There have been 24 confirmed arrests, 18 in London and six in Edinburgh. The police in Edinburgh have reportedly parked cars outside all Shell stations across the capital.
Protesters have scaled the roof of the Shell station on Queenstown Road near Battersea Park in London and on Dalry Road in Edinburgh, with police and fire crews attending the scene in Edinburgh.
Activists arrived at the Battersea Park branch at 6.45am and used the station’s barriers to close down the forecourt. They have since covered the Shell sign with a Save the Arctic banner and positioned a life-sized polar bear model on the station’s roof.
The activists are shutting down the stations by using an emergency shut-off switch to stop petrol going to the pumps and then removing a fuse to delay it being switched on again. The organisation has since posted a picture of an activist posting one of the fuses to Shell’s head of Arctic drilling, with the message: “We’re being careful not to destroy property. Even the carefully removed components will go back to Shell.”
The protest is part of Greenpeace’s Save the Arctic campaign, which is aiming to prevent oil drilling and industrial fishing in the Arctic by having the region recognised as a world park. The organisation understands that Shell is going to begin drilling in the Alaskan Arctic in the coming weeks, with the Russian oil company Gazprom also due to work in the region.
The campaign group’s website is running a TV talkshow-style live broadcast covering the protest and showing interviews and videos about the Arctic campaign.
Sara Ayech, a campaigner at the Battersea Park station, said: “It’s time to draw a line in the ice and tell Shell to stop. That’s why today we’re going to shut down all of Shell’s petrol stations in the capital cities of London and Edinburgh. We’ve got dozens of people who will hit over 100 Shell garages throughout the day.”
Graham Thompson is another campaigner who helped shut down the station: “The staff were very pleasant and very reasonable. Obviously they’re not entirely happy about what’s going on but they’ve responded in a very civilised way.
“Obviously, we need to ratchet up the pressure, we need to let Shell know that this isn’t just a publicity campaign, we’re going to put pressure on them until they agree to stop what they’re doing,” said Thompson, commenting on future plans.
Protesters from Greenpeace demonstrated against “the destruction and pollution caused by coal” at a North Carolina power plant on Monday, according to a press release.
Activists entered the grounds of the Progress Asheville Power Station in the morning and secured themselves to a coal conveyor belt, according to Greenpeace. They also scaled a 400 foot smoke stack and draped a large protest banner.
WSPA reports that the protesters’ banner, which is visible for several miles, reads “Duke Energy: The Climate Needs Real Progress.”
According to The Charlotte Observer, 16 protestors were arrested at the Asheville plant.
The plant’s owner, Progress Energy, said its goal was to protect the safety of “the trespassers to first responders, as this is large and dangerous equipment,” reported Fox Carolina. Interactions between protesters and local police were reportedly “very cordial.”
Greenpeace activist Robert Gardner said in a press release, “This plant runs on destroyed mountains, it spews out air pollution, it causes climate change and it poisons the water and the earth. If Duke merges with Progress, the new owners have a responsibility to the people of North Carolina to move to clean energy.”
Progress is currently in the process of merging with Duke Energy, although the consolidation has been delayed by federal regulators, according to to The Charlotte Observer.
Reuters reported Monday that the Obama administration is expected to unveil new rules limiting carbon emissions from new coal-fired power plants. An energy policy analyst told Reuters, “The proposed rule is certainly expected to send the message that coal is dead.”
Editor’s note: The 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami, was one of the worst nuclear accidents of the twenty-first century to date. Nevertheless, worse ones might come in the future. In the quest for energy to fuel the machine, industrial civilization has built many vulnerable hazardous structures that can unleash highly toxic materials in the case of an “accidents.” Despite eleven years since the incident, TEPCO and the Japanese government haven’t been able to manage the waste water. Now, they are planning to dump it into the Pacific Ocean. Not only is the Pacific Ocean home to numerous marine creatures, it is also a source of livelihood for the humans who live near: the humans that the Japanese government claims to care for as their citizens. This decision by the Japanese government demonstrates, yet again, that decisions in this civilization are not made based on public welfare.
More nuclear power means more weapons, more mining on indigenous lands, more CO2 emissions, more radioactive waste and more accidents.
“We must remind Japan that if the radioactive nuclear wastewater is safe, just dump it in Tokyo, test it in Paris and store it in Washington, but keep our Pacific nuclear-free.” (Vanuatu’s celebrated former ‘Turaga Chief’ Motarilavoa Hilda Lini)
In the face of considerable worldwide criticism, TEPCO is moving ahead with its well-advertised plans to dump contaminated water from storage tanks at the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster zone into the Pacific Ocean. They are running out of storage space and the Pacific Ocean is conveniently right next door.
TEPCO’s toxic dumping scheme is opposed by some scientists as well as some of the world’s most highly regarded marine laboratories, e.g., the U.S. National Association of Marine Laboratories, with over 100 member laboratories, has issued a position paper strongly opposing the toxic dumping because of a lack of adequate and accurate scientific data in support of Japan’s assertions of safety.
The position paper: “We urge the government of Japan to stop pursing their planned and precedent-setting release of the radioactively contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean and to work with the broader scientific community to pursue other approaches that protect ocean life; human health; and those communities who depend on ecologically, economically, and culturally valuable marine resources.”
Furthermore, Marine Laboratories agrees with the Pacific Island Forum’s suggestion that TEPCO look at options other than discharge. The toxic dumping plan has already put Japan at risk of losing its status as a Pacific Islands Forum Dialogue Partner. There are 21 partners, including the US, China, the UK, France, and the EU. According to Secretary General Henry Puna, the Forum has persistently requested Japan to share pivotal data, which has not been forthcoming: “In fact, we are very serious, and we will take all options to get Japan to at least cooperate with us by releasing the information that our technical experts are asking of them.”
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has endorsed the dumping plan. No surprise there. Also unsurprisingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the marketing arm for nuclear power, claims the dumping proposal is safe. Effective December 29, 2022, IAEA released an extensive report that details how the process will be monitored by independent entities, not to worry, uh-uh.
TEPCO generates 100 cubic metres of contaminated water per day, a mixture of groundwater, seawater, and water that cools the reactors. It is filtered for “the most radioactive isotopes” and stored in above-ground water tanks, but authorities admit that the level of tritium is above standards. It is almost impossible to remove tritium from water. TEPCO claims it is “only harmful to humans in large doses.” But who’s measuring?
According to TEPCO: “After treatment the levels of most radioactive particles meet the national standard.” However, the statement that most radioactive particles meet the national standard is not reassuring. And furthermore, why should anybody anywhere in the world be permitted to discharge large quantities of contaminated water that’s been filtered for ‘most radioactive particles’ directly from a broken-down nuclear power plant into the ocean under any circumstances?
But storage space is running out and the ocean is readily available as a very convenient garbage dump. Well, yes, but maybe find more storage space… on land… in Japan!
According to a Japanese anti-nuclear campaign group, the contaminated water dumping scheme violates the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution as well as the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Their opposition is endorsed by the National Fisheries Cooperative Federation of Japan. In September 2022, 42,000 people signed a joint petition delivered to TEPCO and Japan’s Ministry of Economy demanding other solutions to the toxic water dumping plans. According to national broadcasting firm NHK, 51% of Japanese respondents oppose the dumping plan. And a survey by Asahi Shimbun claims 55% of the public opposes the dumping.
A Greenpeace East Asia press release d/d April 28, 2021, says; “According to the latest report by the Japanese government, there are 62 radioactive isotopes found in the existing nuclear water tanks in Fukushima, among which concentration of a radionuclide called tritium reached about 860 TBq (terabecquerel) – an alarming level that far exceeds the acceptable norm.”
China’s Xinhua News Agency claims: “TEPCO believes that tritium normally remains in the wastewater at ordinary nuclear power stations, therefore it is safe to discharge tritium-contaminated water. Experts say TEPCO is trying to confuse the concept of the wastewater that meets international standards during normal operation of nuclear power plants with that of the complex nuclear-contaminated water produced after the core meltdowns at the wrecked Fukushima power plant. The actual results of ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) are not as ideal as TEPCO claims. Japanese media have found that in addition to tritium, there are a variety of radioactive substances in the Fukushima nuclear wastewater that exceed the standard. TEPCO has also admitted that about 70 percent of the water treated by ALPS contains radionuclides other than tritium at the concentration which exceeds legally required standards and requires filtration again.”
According to Hiroyuki Uchida, mayor of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, despite strengthened information about the toxic dumping by TEPCO and the government of Japan, the discharge plan has not gained “full understanding of citizens and fishery stakeholders.”
Rhea Moss-Christian, executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, aka: the Pacific Tuna Commission said: “It’s a real concern and I just wish they would take a bit of time to think more carefully about this… this is a massive release and a big, big potential disaster if it’s not handled properly… There are a number of outstanding questions that have yet to be fully answered. They have focused a lot on one radionuclide and not very much on others that are also present in the wastewater.”
Greenpeace/Japan on TEPCO dumping: “The Japanese government has once again failed the people of Fukushima. The government has taken the wholly unjustified decision to deliberately contaminate the Pacific Ocean with radioactive wastes. It has discounted the radiation risks and turned its back on the clear evidence that sufficient storage capacity is available on the nuclear site as well as in surrounding districts. Rather than using the best available technology to minimize radiation hazards by storing and processing the water over the long term, they have opted for the cheapest option , dumping the water into the Pacific Ocean… Since 2012, Greenpeace has proactively campaigned against plans to discharge Fukushima contaminated water – submitting technical analysis to UN agencies, holding seminars with local residents of Fukushima with other NGOs, and petitioning against the discharges and submitted to relevant Japanese government bodies.” (Source: Greenpeace Press Release, April 13, 2021)
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on September 22nd, 2022, President David Panuelo of Micronesia stated: “We cannot close our eyes to the unimaginable threats of nuclear contamination, marine pollution, and eventual destruction of the Blue Pacific Continent. The impacts of this decision are both transboundary and intergenerational in nature.”
In April 2021 Japan’s Deputy Prime Minister (serving from 2012-to-2021) Tarō Asō publicly stated that the treated and diluted water “will be safe to drink.” In response to Deputy PM Asō, Chinese Foreign Minister Lijian Zhao replied: “The ocean is not Japan’s trashcan” and furthermore, since Japan claims it’s safe to drink, “then drink it!” (Source: China to Japan: If Treated Radioactive Water from Fukushima is Safe, ‘Please Drink It’ Washington Post, April 15, 2021)
Mr. Zhao may have stumbled upon the best solution to international concerns about TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) dumping contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, TEPCO should remove it from the storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and deliver it to Japan’s water reservoirs. After all, they publicly claimed it’s “safe to drink.” Japan has approximately 100,000 dams of which roughly 3,000 are reservoirs over 15 meters (50’) height. For example, one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in Japan is Ogouchi Reservoir, which holds 189 million tons of drinking water for Tokyo.
Editor’s Note: Deep sea mining is being pursued on the pretext of a transition towards a “cleaner” source of energy. This transition is being hailed as “the solution” to all environmental problems by the majority of the environmental movement. The irony of “the solution” to environmental problems being destruction of natural communities seems to be lost on a lot of people.
The International Seabed Authority has been criticized for a lack of transparency and corporate capture by the companies it is supposed to regulate. Given that the organization is expected to be funded from mining royalties, it may not come as a surprise that it has prioritized the interests of corporations above the preservation of the deep sea. Despite numerous concerns raised about Nauru Ocean Resources Inc. (NORI)’s environmental impact statement, the ISA gave permission to NORI to begin exploratory mining. NORI’s vessel, The Hidden Gem, is currently extracting polymetallic nodules from the seafloor in the Clarion Clipperton Zone. This exploratory mining will cause tremendous harm itself, but it is also a big step towards opening the gates to large-scale commercial exploitation of the deep sea. To help stop this, get organized, become a Deep Sea Defender.
The International Seabed Authority (ISA), the intergovernmental body responsible for overseeing deep sea mining operations and for protecting the ocean, recently granted approval for a mining trial to commence in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the Pacific Ocean.
The company undertaking this trial is Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a subsidiary of Canadian-owned The Metals Company (TMC), which is aiming to start annually extracting 1.3 million metric tons of polymetallic nodules from the CCZ as early as 2024.
The approval for this mining test, the first of its kind since the 1970s, was first announced by TMC earlier this week.
Mining opponents said the ruling took them by surprise and they feared it would pave the way for exploitation to begin in the near future, despite growing concerns about the safety and necessity of deep sea mining.
On Sept. 14, the Hidden Gem — an industrial drill ship operated by a subsidiary of The Metals Company (TMC), a Canadian deep sea mining corporation — left its port in Manzanillo, Mexico. From there, it headed toward the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a vast abyssal plain in international waters of the Pacific Ocean that stretches over 4.5 million square kilometers (1.7 million square miles) across the deep sea, roughly equivalent in size to half of Canada.
The goal of TMC’s expedition is to test its mining equipment that will vacuum up polymetallic nodules, potato-shaped rocks formed over millions of years. The nodules contain commercially coveted minerals like cobalt, nickel, copper and manganese. TMC, a publicly traded company listed on the Nasdaq exchange, announced that it aims to collect 3,600 metric tons of these nodules during this test period.
This operation came as a surprise to opponents of deep-sea mining, mainly because of the stealth with which they said the International Seabed Authority (ISA) — the UN-affiliated intergovernmental body dually responsible for overseeing mining in international waters and for protecting the deep sea — authorized TMC to commence the trial.
It is the first such trial the ISA has authorized after years of debate over whether it should permit deep-sea mining to commence in international waters, and if so, under what conditions. News of the authorization did not come initially from the ISA, but from TMC itself in a press release dated September 7. The ISA eventually posted its own statement on Sept. 15, more than a week after TMC’s announcement. It is not clear when the ISA granted the authorization.
“We’ve been caught off guard by this,” Arlo Hemphill, a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, an organization campaigning to prevent deep sea mining operations, told Mongabay in an interview. “There’s been little time for us to react.”
Mounting concerns, sudden actions
Several weeks ago, in July and August, delegates to the ISA met in Kingston, Jamaica, to discuss how, when and if deep sea mining could begin. In July 2021, discussions acquired a sense of urgency when the Pacific island state of Nauru triggered an arcane rule embedded in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that could obligate the ISA to kick-start exploitation in about two years with whatever rules are in place at the time. Nauru is the sponsor of Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), a subsidiary of TMC that is undertaking the tests. TMC told Mongabay that it expects to apply for its exploitation license in 2023, and if approved by the ISA, to begin mining towards the end of 2024.
The ISA subsequently scheduled a series of meetings to accelerate the development of mining regulations, but has yet to adopt a final set of rules.
The delay is due, in part, to the increasing number of states and observers from civil society raising concerns about the safety and necessity of deep sea mining. Some member states, including Palau, Fiji and Samoa, have even called for a moratorium on deep sea mining until more is understood about the marine environment that companies want to exploit. Other concerns hinge upon an environmental impact statement (EIS) that NORI had to submit in order for mining to begin.
NORI submitted an initial draft of its EIS in July 2021, as per ISA requirements, and an updated version in March 2022.
Matt Gianni, a political and policy adviser for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC), a group of environmental NGOs calling for NORI’s testing approval to be rescinded, said that the ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission (LTC) — the organ responsible for issuing mining licenses — previously cited “serious concerns” about NORI’s EIS, including the fact that it lacked baseline environmental data. The LTC had also raised concerns about the comprehensiveness of the group’s Environmental Management and Monitoring Plan (EMMP), he said.
But then, “all of a sudden,” the LTC granted approval for the mining test without first consulting ISA council members, said Gianni, who acts as an observer at ISA meetings.
The fact that TMC announced the decision before the ISA did “reinforces the impression that it’s the contractor and the LTC and the [ISA] secretariat that are driving the agenda, and states are following along,” Gianni said.
Harald Brekke, chair of the LTC, sent Mongabay a statement similarly worded to the recent announcement made by the ISA. He said that the LTC had reviewed NORI’s EIS and EMMP for “completeness, accuracy and statistical reliability,” and that an internal working group had worked closely with NORI to address concerns. In response, the mining group adequately dealt with the issues, which allowed the LTC to approve the proposed testing activities, he said.
“This is a normal contract procedure between the [ISA] Secretary-General and the Contractor, on the advice and recommendations by the [Legal and Technical] Commission,” Brekke said in the emailed statement. “It is not a decision to be made by the [ISA] Council. According to the normal procedure of ISA, the details of this process will be [communicated] by the Chair of the Commission to the Council at its session in November.”
“I also would like to point out that this procedure has followed the regulations and guidelines of ISA,” Brekke added, “which are implemented to take care of the possible environmental impacts of this kind of exploration activity.”
Yet Gianni said he did not believe the LTC had satisfactorily reviewed the EIS for its full potential of environmental impact, nor had it considered the “serious harmful effects on vulnerable marine ecosystems” as required under the ISA’s own exploration regulations for polymetallic nodules.
Questions about transparency
Sandor Mulsow, who worked as the director of environment and minerals at the ISA between 2013 and 2019, said that the ISA “is not fit to carry out an analysis of environmental impact assessment” and that the grounds on which the ISA authorized NORI to begin testing were questionable.
“Unfortunately, the [International] Seabed Authority is pro-mining,” Mulsow, who now works as a professor at Universidad Austral de Chile, said in an interview with Mongabay. “They’re not complying with the role of protecting the common heritage of humankind.”
A recent investigation by the New York Times revealed that the ISA gave TMC critical information over a 15-year period that allowed the company to access some of the most valuable seabed areas marked for mining, giving it an unfair advantage over other contractors.
The ISA has also frequently been criticized for its lack of transparency, including the fact that the LTC meets behind closed doors and provides few details about why it approves mining proposals. The ISA has previously granted dozens of exploratory mining licenses to contractors, although none have yet received an exploitation license. While NORI is not technically undertaking exploratory mining in this instance, their testing of mining equipment falls under exploration regulations.
Mongabay reported that transparency issues were even prominent during the ISA meetings that took place in July and August this year, including restrictions on participation and limited access to key information for civil society members.
The ISA did not respond to questions posed by Mongabay, instead deferring to the statement from Brekke, the LTC chair.
‘Full-blown mining in test form’
During the mining trial set to take place in the CCZ — which could begin as early as next week — NORI will be testing out its nodule collector vehicles and riser systems that will draw the nodules about 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) from the seabed to the surface. If NORI does begin exploitation in 2024, Gianni said the risers will be pumping about 10,000 metric tons of nodules up to a ship per day.
“That’s a hell of a lot,” Gianni said. “This is heavy duty machinery. This is piping that has to withstand considerable pressure.”
NORI intends to extract 1.3 million metric tons of wet nodules each year in the exploitation stage of its operation, TMC reported.
The Metals Company argues that this mining will provide minerals necessary to power a global shift toward clean energy. Indeed, demand for such minerals is growing as nations urge consumers to take up electric vehicles in an effort to combat climate change.
Mining opponents, however, have argued that renewable technologies like electric cars don’t actually need the minerals procured from mining.
Moreover, a growing cadre of scientists have been warning against the dangers of deep sea mining, arguing that we don’t know enough about deep sea environments to destroy them. What we do know about the deep sea suggests that mining could have far-reaching consequences, such as disturbing phytoplankton blooms at the sea’s surface, introducing toxic metals into marine food webs, and dispersing mining waste over long distances across the ocean — far enough to affect distant fisheries and delicate ecosystems like coral reefs and seamounts.
“Every time somebody goes and collects some sample in that area of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, there’s a new species coming up,” Mulsow said. “We don’t know how to name them, and we want to destroy them.”
TMC has stated that the testing activities will be monitored by “independent scientists from a dozen leading research institutions around the world.”
However, Hemphill of Greenpeace, who also has ISA observer status, questions whether the monitoring process will be unbiased.
“We’re thinking there’s a high chance that these risers might not work,” he said. “But if there’s not a third party observer out there, then we just have to rely on The Metals Company’s own recording.”
“It’s going to be basically a full-blown mining operation in test form, where they’re not only using the [collector] equipment, but they’re using the risers to bring the nodules to the surface,” Hemphill added.
Nodule collection trials like the one NORI is undertaking haven’t been conducted in the CCZ since the 1970s, TMC noted in its press release.
When Mongabay reached out to TMC for further information about its operation, a spokesperson for the company said that they “believe that polymetallic nodules are a compelling solution to the critical mineral supply challenges facing society in our transition away from fossil fuels.”
“While concern is justified as to the potential impacts of any source of metals — whether from land or sea — significant attention has been paid to mitigate these, including by setting aside more area for protection than is under license in the Clarion-Clipperton Zone of the Pacific Ocean,” the TMC spokesperson said.
‘No way back’
Mulsow said he was sure that this trial would pave the way for exploitation to start next year, not only giving TMC’s NORI access to the deep sea’s resources, but opening the gates for other contractors to begin similar operations.
“[In June] 2023, we will have … the application for the first mining license for the deep sea,” he said, “and then there will be no way back.”
Hemphill said he also feared the move would set a process into motion for mining to start next year — but added that Greenpeace would continue its fight to stop mining.
“We’re not giving up just because the two-year rule comes to pass,” he said. “And then if things get started, we’re in this for the long haul.”
Gianni said he was hopeful that the dynamic could also change at the next ISA meeting scheduled for November, in which delegates will get the chance to discuss whether they’re obligated to approve the start of mining the following year.
“The fact that the LTC has done this … may finally get council members to start saying, ‘Wait a minute, we need to bring this renegade fiefdom [at] the heart of the ISA structure under control,” Gianni said, “because they’re going off and deciding things in spite of all the reservations that are being expressed by the countries that are members of the ISA.”
Featured image and all other images, unless mentioned otherwise, were provided by Julia Barnes.
"Saving the planet" can't possibly be literal — the planet will be just fine long after we die out — so it can only be symbolic, a kind of affective or identity-based signaling that immediately selects for the small class of self-identified environmentalists.
Climate change is going to cause escalating disruption, dislocation, & migration. It's going to exacerbate income inequality at every level. It's going to produce health, social, & economic damage in every major country. These are all more relevant to more people than "earth."
This idea is not new to Mr. Roberts. It actually reflects a decades-long push to make environmentalism mainstream by sacrificing its foundational biocentric values in favor of anthropocentrism.
The organization 350, for example, has released a ‘style guide’ advising activists to “Focus on people. Whenever possible, use visuals to emphasize that climate is a real, tangible human problem—not an abstract [sic] ecological issue.” A later version of the same guide edited the statement to read: “People are the heart of the climate movement … avoid photos of polar bears, icebergs or other images that obscure the real people behind the climate crisis.”
Some see this sort of thing as pragmatic thinking to address a crisis. Others — including me, and despite my love of people — see it as at best a profoundly dangerous mistake, and at worst as enabling colonization of the environmental movement by profit-driven interests.
Last year, me and my co-authors Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith released our book “Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What to Do About It” (thanks to the wonderful folks at Monkfish Book Publishing Company) which we bookend with this topic. This is an excerpt from Chapter 2, which is titled “Solving for the Wrong Variable,” and from the conclusion of the book:
Once upon a time, environmentalism was about saving wild beings and wild places from destruction. “The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind,” Rachel Carson wrote to a friend as she finished the manuscript that would become Silent Spring. “That, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were being done.” She wrote with unapologetic reverence of “the oak and maple and birch” in autumn, the foxes in the morning mist, the cool streams and the shady ponds, and, of course, the birds: “In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes.” Her editor noted that Silent Spring required a “sense of almost religious dedication” as well as “extraordinary courage.” Carson knew the chemical industry would come after her, and come it did, in attacks as “bitter and unscrupulous as anything of the sort since the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a century before.” Seriously ill with the cancer that would kill her, Carson fought back in defense of the living world, testifying with calm fortitude before President John F. Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee and the U.S. Senate. She did these things because she had to. “There would be no peace for me,” she wrote to a friend, “if I kept silent.”
Carson’s work inspired the grassroots environmental movement; the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Silent Spring was more than a critique of pesticides—it was a clarion call against “the basic irresponsibility of an industrialized, technological society toward the natural world.”
Today’s environmental movement stands upon the shoulders of giants, but something has gone terribly wrong. Carson didn’t save the birds from DDT so that her legatees could blithely offer them up to wind turbines. We are writing this book because we want our environmental movement back.
Mainstream environmentalists now overwhelmingly prioritize saving industrial civilization over saving life on the planet. The how and the why of this institutional capture is the subject for another book, but the capture is near total. For example, Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and Earth Policy Institute—someone who has been labeled as “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” and “the guru of the environmental movement”—routinely makes comments like, “We talk about saving the planet…. But the planet’s going to be around for a while. The question is, can we save civilization? That’s what’s at stake now, and I don’t think we’ve yet realized it.” Brown wrote this in an article entitled “The Race to Save Civilization.”
The world is being killed because of civilization, yet what Brown says is at stake, and what he’s racing to save, is precisely the social structure causing the harm: civilization. Not saving salmon. Not monarch butterflies. Not oceans. Not the planet. Saving civilization.
Brown is not alone. Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, more or less constantly pushes the line that “Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people…. Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.”
Bill McKibben, who works tirelessly and selflessly to raise awareness about global warming, and who has been called “probably America’s most important environmentalist,” constantly stresses his work is about saving civilization, with articles like “Civilization’s Last Chance,”11 or with quotes like, “We’re losing the fight, badly and quickly—losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.”
We’ll bet you that polar bears, walruses, and glaciers would
have preferred that sentence ended a different way.
In 2014 the Environmental Laureates’ Declaration on Climate Change was signed by “160 leading environmentalists from 44 countries” who were “calling on the world’s foundations and philanthropies to take a stand against global warming.” Why did they take this stand? Because global warming “threatens to
cause the very fabric of civilization to crash.” The declaration concludes: “We, 160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes, call on foundations and philanthropists everywhere to deploy their endowments urgently in the effort to save civilization.” Coral reefs, emperor penguins, and Joshua trees probably wish that sentence would have ended differently. The entire declaration, signed by “160 winners of the world’s environmental prizes,” never once mentions harm to the natural world. In fact, it never mentions the natural world at all.
Are leatherback turtles, American pikas, and flying foxes “abstract ecological issues,” or are they our kin, each imbued with their own “wild and precious life”?
Wes Stephenson, yet another climate activist, has this to say: “I’m not an environmentalist. Most of the people in the climate movement that I know are not environmentalists. They are young people who didn’t necessarily come up through the environmental movement, so they don’t think of themselves as environmentalists. They think of themselves as climate activists and as human rights activists. The terms ‘environment’ and ‘environmentalism’ carry baggage historically and culturally. It has been more about protecting the natural world, protecting other species, and conservation of wild places than it has been about the welfare of human beings. I come at it from the opposite direction. It’s first and fore- most about human beings.”
Note that Stephenson calls “protecting the natural world, protecting other species, and conservation of wild places” baggage.
Naomi Klein states explicitly in the film This Changes Everything: “I’ve been to more climate rallies than I can count, but the polar bears? They still don’t do it for me. I wish them well, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that stopping climate change isn’t really about them, it’s about us.”
And finally, Kumi Naidoo, former head of Greenpeace International, says: “The struggle has never been about saving the planet. The planet does not need saving.”
When Naidoo said that, in December 2015, it was 50 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal at the North Pole, above freezing in the winter.
I (Derrick) wrote this for a friend’s wedding.
> Each night the frogs sing outside my window. “Come to me,” they sing. “Come.” This morning the rains came, each drop meeting this particular leaf on this particular tree, then pooling together to join the ground. Love. The bright green of this year’s growth of redwood trees against the dark of shadows, other trees, tree trunks, foliage, all these plants, reaching out, reaching up. I am in love. With you. With you. With the world. With this place. With each other. Redwoods cannot stand alone. Roots burrow through the soil, reaching out to each other, to intertwine, to hold up these tallest of trees, so they may stand together, each root, each tree, saying to each other, “Come to me. Come.” What I want to know is this: What do those roots feel at first touch, first embrace? Do they find this same homecoming I find each time in you, in your eyes, the pale skin of your cheek, your neck, your belly, the backs of your hands? And the water. It is evening now, and the rain has stopped. Yet the water still falls, drop by drop from the outstretched arms of trees. I want to know, as each drop let’s go its hold, does it say, and does the ground say to it, as I say to you now, “Come to me. Come.”
In the 15 years since that wedding, the frogs in my pond have suffered reproductive failure, which is science-speak for their off- spring dying, baby after baby, year after year. Their songs began to lessen. At first their songs were so loud you could not hold a (human) conversation outside at night, and then you could. The first spring this happened I thought it might just be a bad year. The second spring I sensed a pattern. The third spring I knew something was wrong. I’d also noticed the eggs in their sacs were no longer small black dots, as before, but were covered in what looked like white fur. A little internet research and a few phone calls to herpetologists revealed the problem to me. The egg sacs were being killed by a mold called saprolegnia. It wasn’t the mold’s fault. Saprolegnia is ubiquitous, and eats weak egg sacs, acting as part of a clean-up crew in ponds. The problem is that this culture has depleted the ozone layer, which has allowed more UV-B to come through: UV-B weakens egg sacs in some species.
What do you do when someone you love is being killed? And what do you do when the whole world you love is being killed? I’m known for saying we should use any means necessary to stop the murder of the planet. People often think this is code language for using violence. It’s not. It means just what it says: any means necessary.
UV-B doesn’t go through glass, so about once a week between December and June, I get into the pond to collect egg sacs to put in big jars of water on my kitchen table. When the egg sacs hatch, I put the babies back in the pond. If I bring in about five egg sacs per week for 20 weeks, and if each sac has 15 eggs in it, and if there’s a 10 percent mortality on the eggs instead of a 90 percent mortality, that’s 2,400 more tadpoles per year. If one percent of these survive their first year, that’s 24 more tadpoles per year who survive. I fully recognize that this doesn’t do anything for frogs in other ponds. It doesn’t help the newts who are also disappearing from this same pond, or the mergansers, dragonflies, or caddisflies. It doesn’t do anything for the 200 species this culture causes to go extinct each and every day. But it does help these.
I don’t mean to make too big a deal of this.
One of my earliest memories is from when I was five years old, crying in the locker room of a YMCA where I was taking swimming lessons, because the water was so cold. I really don’t like cold water. So, I have to admit I don’t get all the way into the water when I go into my pond to help the frogs. I only get in as far as my thighs. But this isn’t, surprisingly enough, entirely because of my cold-water phobia. It’s because of a creature I’ve seen in the pond a few times, a giant water bug, which is nicknamed Toe-Biter. My bug book says they’re about an inch and a half long, but every time I get in the pond, I’m sure they are five or six inches. And I can’t stop thinking about the deflated frog-skin sacks I’ve seen (the giant water bug injects a substance that liquefies the frog’s insides, so they can be sucked out as through a straw). I’ve read that the bugs sometimes catch small birds. So, you’ll note I only go into the pond as deep as my thighs—and no deeper. Second, I have to admit that sometimes I’m not very smart. It took me several years of this weekly cold-water therapy to think of what I now perceive as one of the most important phrases in the English language—“waterproof chest waders”—and to get some.
What do you do when someone you love is being killed? It’s pretty straightforward. You defend your beloved. Using any means necessary.
We get it. We, too, like hot showers and freezing cold ice cream, and we like them 24/7. We like music at the touch of a button or, now, a verbal command. We like the conveniences this way of life brings us. And it’s more than conveniences. We know that. We three co-authors would be dead without modern medicine. But we all recognize that there is a terrible trade-off for all this: life on the planet. And no individual’s conveniences—or, indeed, life—is worth that price.
The price, though, is now invisible. This is the willful blindness of modern environmentalism. Like Naomi Klein and the polar bears, the real world just “doesn’t do it” for too many of us. To many people, including even some of those who consider themselves environmentalists, the real world doesn’t need our help. It’s about us. It’s always “about us.”
Decades ago, I (Derrick) was one of a group of grassroots environmental activists planning a campaign. As the meeting started, we went around the table saying why we were doing this work. The answers were consistent, and exemplified by one person who said, simply, “For the critters,” and by another person who got up from the table, walked to her desk, and brought back a picture. At first, the picture looked like a high-up part of the trunk of an old-growth Douglas fir tree, but when I looked more closely, I saw a small spotted owl sticking her camouflaged head out of a hole in the center of the tree’s trunk. The activist said, “I’m doing it for her.”
The goal has been shifted, slowly and silently, and no one seems to have noticed. Environmentalists tell the world and their organi- zations that “it’s about us.” But some of us refuse to forget the last spotted owls in the last scrap of forest, the wild beings and wild places. Like Rachel Carson before us, there will be no peace for us if we keep silent while the critters, one by one, are disappeared. Our once and future movement was for them, not us. We refuse to solve for the wrong variable. We are not saving civilization; we are trying to save the world.
[And this part comes from the conclusion of the book:]
… throughout this book, we’ve repeated Naomi Klein’s comments about polar bears not doing it for her. Not to be snarky, but instead because that’s the single most important passage in this book.
Although we’ve spent hundreds of pages laying out facts, ultimately this book is about values. We value something different than do bright greens. And our loyalty is to something different. We are fighting for the living planet. The bright greens are fighting to continue this culture—the culture that is killing the planet. Seems like the planet doesn’t do it for them.
Early in this book we quoted some of the bright greens, including Lester Brown: “The question is, can we save civilization? That’s what’s at stake now, and I don’t think we’ve yet realized it.” And Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy: “Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people.” And climate scientist Wen Stephenson: “The terms ‘environment’ and ‘environmental- ism’ carry baggage historically and culturally. It has been more about protecting the natural world, protecting other species, and conservation of wild places than it has been about the welfare of human beings. I come at it from the opposite direction. It’s first and foremost about human beings.” And Bill McKibben: “We’re losing the fight, badly and quickly—losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.”
Do we yet see the pattern?
And no, we’re not losing that fight because “we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.” We’re losing that fight because we’re trying to save industrial civilization, which is inherently unsustainable.
We, the authors of this book, also like the conveniences this culture brings to us. But we don’t like them more than we like life on the planet.
We should be trying to save the planet—this beautiful, creative, unique planet—the planet that is the source of all life, the planet without whom we all die.
We are in the midst of a battle for the soul of the environmental movement, and I, for one, will not forget the forests, the birds, the fish, the antelope, the bears, the spiders, the plankton — all those beings who hold the world together in their weaving, who share common ancestry with us. Nor will I forget the mountains whose minerals make up our bones, the rivers whose waters flow in our veins, the Earth itself who is our mother. These beings are family, and I will not turn away from them.
David happens to live in my hometown, Seattle. David – if you read this, I’d like to invite you to get a cup of coffee next time I’m in town. I’ll give you a copy of #BrightGreenLies and we can talk.
Postscript: The type of thinking being promoted by David Roberts has profound consequences for the living world. For the past two years, I’ve been fighting to “Protect Thacker Pass” — a beautiful, biodiverse sagebrush-steppe in the northern Great Basin of Nevada — from destruction for a lithium mine.
The Bright Green worldview sees lithium as a necessary resource to transition away from fossil fuels and save civilization from global warming, and so Bright Greens promote lithium mining, vast solar arrays in desert tortoise habitat, and offshore wind energy development in the last breeding ground of the Atlantic Right Whale. And if some endangered wildlife has to be killed, some water poisoned, and some Native American sacred sites destroyed, well, that’s just an acceptable cost to save civilization. And so vast subsidies (see the inflation Reduction Act, for example) are being mobilized to convert yet more wild land into industrial energy and mining sacrifice zones.
Around the world, nature retreats and civilization grows.
Featured image by Max Wilbert: a spring gushing from the rock high in the western mountains.
Banner: A spring gushes from stone cliffs in the high western mountains, fed by melting glaciers which recede higher with each passing year. Photo by Max Wilbert.