Sápmi: Resisting Green Colonialism

Sápmi: Resisting Green Colonialism

This article originally appeared in Counterpunch. Featured image: Sámi Parliament of Norway. Photograph Source: Utilisateur:Bel Adone – Public Domain


On June 23, a coalition of Sámi and environmentalist activists erected a protest camp in Nussir, the projected site of a gigantic copper mine in Sápmi, the traditional homeland of the Sámi people, northern Europe’s indigenous inhabitants. Today, Sápmi is divided by the borders of four nation states: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. None of these countries have censuses for the Sámi population, and reliable numbers are hard to come by. The use of the Sámi language, the electoral roll of the Sámi parliaments (there is one in each country), and self-identification are important criteria. Roughly, we can speak of about 70,000 Sámi in Norway, 20,000 in Sweden, 10,000 in Finland, and about 2,000 in Russia. For historical reasons, the Russian community is the most isolated.

Nussir lies on the “Norwegian side” of Sápmi, as it is called, near the town of Hammerfest. Mining has been a controversial issue in Sápmi for years. In Sweden, a strong protest movement emerged in 2013, objecting to the plans of opening an iron ore mine in Gállok. While the project is not off the table yet, the protests have caused the Swedish government to put a halt on it and promise a new investigation. This was a partial victory. The same can be said about the Nussir protests. Due to the protest camp and activists chaining themselves to machinery, work on the site has so far been impossible. More importantly, the company that was supposed to purchase the mine’s output, Aurubis, the world’s second-largest copper producer, terminated the “memorandum of understanding” with Nussir ASA in August 2020 due to concerns about “social corporate responsibility”. Whether Nussir ASA can find new investors after this prominent withdrawal remains to be seen.

Mining is not the only issue that threatens the Sámi’s control over their traditional lands and their livelihoods, most importantly reindeer herding and fishing. Wind farms are placed in what many still perceive as “uninhabited territory”, with the turbines making reindeer herding impossible for a radius of many miles. Hydropower plants are already scattered around Sápmi. The allegedly “uninhabited territory” is also used for military exercises, automotive testing, and, increasingly, geoengineering trials. In Finland, a proposed “Arctic Railway” would cut through traditional reindeer pastures. Along the Deatnu River, which marks the border between Norway and Finland over a stretch of more than 250 kilometers, fishing legislation favors the interests of non-Sámi cabin owners over those of traditional Sámi salmon fishers. In Sweden, clear cuts by the state-owned lumber company Sveaskog threaten the existence of the Forest Sámi and their reindeer herds. All over Sápmi, the crucial question of land ownership remains unresolved, with the governments of Sweden and Finland still refusing to sign the International Labour Organization’ Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (commonly known as ILO 169), while the Norwegian government does not deliver on the promises of the 2005 Finnmark Act that, formally, transferred land ownership in the province of Finnmark to the majority Sámi population.

It is interesting to note that many of the named development projects are justified by citing “green energy” and “sustainability”. The planned mine in Nussir has been hailed as “the world’s first fully electrified mine with zero CO2 emissions”. Hydropower and wind power are praised as sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels. Railways as environmentally friendly means of transport. Even geoengineering shall, according to its proponents, help secure the future of our planet. The irony that, in Sápmi, a culture that has proven sustainable for thousands of years is threatened in the process seems to pass by these advocates of corporate environmentalism.

In Sápmi, people increasingly speak of a “green colonialism”. In a speech protesting mining projects, Marie Persson Njajta declared in April 2019: “We have to stop flirting with polluting industries and look at their consequences and their costs. We don’t want green colonialism. Sámi land shall not be exploited yet again, neither for wind power nor for metals to produce electric cars.”

It is ludicrous that, in 2021, there exists such an enormous gap between material justice for indigenous peoples and their symbolic integration into nation-states, which often implies cultural exploitation. At the same time, it is inspiring to see a generation of Sámi activists unwilling to accept this cynicism. Without recognizing the needs, knowledge, and guidance of indigenous peoples, social and climate justice movements will meet serious limitations.

Corporate Colonialism and Africa’s Date with Disaster

Corporate Colonialism and Africa’s Date with Disaster

In the following piece, Mark relates the population growth to patriarchy, exploitation, and capitalism.

Editor’s note: DGR does not agree with all opinions on this article.

by Mark Behrend

The population of Africa is soaring.

Since 1950, it has grown from 227 million to 1.343 billion — an increase of 590%. Over the same period, South America has grown by 425%, Asia by 330%, and North and Central America by 250%, while Europe has only grown by 35%.

There are many reasons for the disparity, though the basic factors are development, wealth, and education. With development, infant mortality generally goes down and life expectancy increases, driving population up. Development tends to increase prosperity, education, and opportunities, gradually bringing population growth to a halt. Under normal development patterns, this results in a huge population increase when an economy is fueled largely by primary industries. Population growth slows as the economy moves into secondary industries, and levels off in a tertiary economy, where wealth is amassed, service industries emerge, and domestic businesses expand into foreign markets. That’s the upside of industrialization.

The downside is that both sides of this growth curve devastate the natural world.

With an exponential increase in the consumption and depletion of natural resources, degradation of air, land, and water, an ultimately fatal attack on biodiversity, and the exploitation of cultures on the back end of the development curve. Rooted in colonialism, the immediate threat to Africa’s people is that most of the benefits of development are going to European, American, and Chinese corporations. This does not appear likely to change. According to U.N. estimates, populations in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia are expected to stabilize by 2100, while Africa’s is expected to triple.

Due to a variety of factors, including government inaction, corruption, and poor educational opportunities, birth rates remain high. To state it simply, unschooled girls and women have few options in life but to marry young and have four or more children.  Ignorance can lead to the persistence of superstitions and regressive cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation, and beliefs that contraception causes promiscuity, infertility, and various health problems.

A recent news story reported that 10% of girls in Senegal are still subjected to female genital mutilation.

The practice remains common on much of the continent. A Senegalese activist said it continues, mostly among the poor and uneducated, who are afraid to defy old customs. He noted that victims often experience a high rate of lasting pain, along with a much higher than normal incidence of menstrual problems. A woman in favor of FGM, however, disagreed and said.

“If women are having problems, it’s because of contraception.”

The more obvious problem with contraception in Africa is that it is rarely used. The population of Senegal jumped from 2.4 million in 1950 to 16.3 million in 2018 — an increase of 675% in 68 years. On average, that’s the equivalent of adding 10% of a country’s current population every year, in perpetuity. The country with the greatest population growth, however, is Ivory Coast, with an astounding 978% increase over a similar period (2.6 million to 25.7 million, between 1950 and 2018). This can be linked directly to corporate exploitation, as the numbers clearly show.

Since independence in 1960, foreign corporations have virtually transformed Ivory Coast into one giant cocoa plantation, to feed the developed world’s voracious demand for chocolate. In 2019, the world cocoa market was worth over $44 billion, and is projected to top $61 billion by 2027. Along the way, Ivory Coast has become the world’s largest producer, with an estimated 38% of global production. In the process, however, 90% of the country’s forests have been sacrificed, and the illusion of economic growth has driven an unprecedented explosion in the Ivorian census.

Several foreign corporations are responsible for this, the principal offenders being Olam International (Singapore); Barry Callebaut (Switzerland); and the American companies Cargill, Nestle, Mars, and Hershey. They have much to be responsible for.

Capitalism’s guiding principle of creating an ever-growing demand at the lowest possible cost has led to more than rampant deforestation.

According to The Guardian an astounding 59 million children, aged five to 17, are working against their will in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in agriculture. Due to the refusal of some agencies and governments to include family farms in forced labor statistics, however, estimates of the number of victims vary widely. Fortune Magazine, for instance , puts the number of child laborers in West Africa at “only” 2.1 million. Additional data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that over a million children under the age of 12 work in the cocoa industry in Ivory Coast and Ghana, which together produce more than two-thirds of the world’s supply.

Thousands are recruited from even poorer African countries, often with promises of good jobs and free education. Instead, they become victims of what is arguably the world’s largest human trafficking and slavery network. Even those working on family farms are often kept out of school to work in hazardous conditions, with 95% of them reportedly exposed to pesticides, and at risk of injury from using machetes and carrying heavy loads.

Pressured by organized boycotts by Europeans and Americans, the industry pledged in 2001 to reduce child labor 70% by 2020.

Instead, a new report says that since 2010, the number of West African children engaged in forced labor has increased from 31% to 45% of the total childhood population. The reason, again, is the basic mechanism of capitalism. Industry influences consumers to demand more, by producing more and advertising it at a lower price — thus enabling corporations to pay farmers even less. As a result, wholesale prices for cocoa have been cut in half since the 1970s. This has been achieved by paying West African farmers between $.50 and $.84 a day, while the World Bank’s poverty line is $1.90. Hence the 60% rise in cocoa production since 2010, the 45% jump in child labor, and the accelerated pace of deforestation. Farmers are compelled to produce more, just to make the same money they used to make for producing less.

The cocoa industry explains this by saying that it decentralized production (i.e., encouraged family farming rather than corporate plantations) to hold down costs. So, now it can’t meet its child labor goals, because family farms can’t be regulated like factory farms. Corporations call this good economics, while a neutral observer might call it legalized slavery.

A 2019 study, reported by The Guardian, says research indicates that the best way to end child labor is by educating girls and empowering women, in what remain highly patriarchal societies.

There are 18 steps in preparing cocoa for the wholesale market, and women and girls perform 15 of them. This is typical of labor patterns in much of the developing world. And it goes a long way toward explaining the poverty, overpopulation, and environmental destruction that plague the “Third World” — and, by extension, the planet as a whole. In Ivory Coast, the production demands and poverty forced on local communities has also forced roughly a million people to seek their livelihoods by illegally deforesting and farming in national forests and national parks. Recent surveys found that in 13 of 23 of these so-called “protected areas,” once thriving populations of chimpanzees and forest elephants have been totally eliminated.

At the current rate, Ivory Coast’s irreplaceable flora and fauna will soon be gone, along with a carbon sink half the size of Texas. Similar scenarios are playing out across Africa, as global agribusiness becomes more invested in African lands. Incredibly, the Ivorian government’s response has been to pass a law that would effectively put the nation’s forestry protection under corporate control for the next 24 years. The argument behind this fox-guarding-the-henhouse policy is that corporations see the “big picture,” while local farmers only see their own immediate needs. The policy would expel those one million illegal farmers from public lands, with no assistance or other apparent options, apart from migration, starvation, or lives of crime.

Such is the grim reality of corporate resource extraction in nations that were European colonies less than a century ago, and today have become virtual colonies of E.U., U.S., and Chinese business. China now has a huge and ever-growing footprint, both in East Africa and in Latin America. On the surface, Beijing paints this as a “win-win” relationship, with China building “free” infrastructure, and bringing big business to the boondocks.

The reality, however, is a far different story — with pipelines and powerplants crossing the Serengeti, a superhighway across fragile Amazon headwaters, and a rival to the Panama Canal on its way to completion, in Central America’s most environmentally sensitive wetlands. And if supposedly accountable corporations in Western democracies can’t stop child labor in West Africa, what are we to expect from a secretive dictatorship like China?

Who will feed Africa as its population doubles and triples, with much of the farmland now leased to Chinese agribusiness?

How long can Africa’s (or Indonesia’s, or Brazil’s) rich biodiversity survive, with their habitat reduced to a corporate commodity? Who would you pick to win a competition between gorillas, elephants, giraffes, and zebras, on the one hand, and global extraction industries, on the other?

As the monocrop cocoa farms of Ivory Coast become infertile and lose their productivity, the booming population will inevitably face growing poverty, and a very real threat of starvation. That isn’t the “corporate plan,” of course. The corporate plan, as one Ivorian farmer observed, is simply to make as much money as possible as fast as possible. And African farmers either play along, or the cocoa companies find those who will. The cycle thus compels Africans to make more babies to work the land, and then rape the land to feed the babies.

When it comes to Africa, ‘supply and demand’ is merely a sanitized term for ‘slash and burn’. Capitalism has no long-term plan for the continent, because the corporations are beholden to non-African investors back home. Their competitive edge is based on exceeding the year-end dividends of their rivals. From a business standpoint, the practical meaning of the profit motive is to use up the planet as fast as possible, and report it for tax purposes as normal depreciation.

Crazy as it sounds, the long-term plan of industrial civilization is simply to have a good short-term plan.

Corporations are all about the current fiscal year, just as democratic governments are all about the next election cycle. Sensible goals (relatively speaking) may be discussed and agreed to in forums like the Paris Climate Accords. But that all presumes a world working toward a common goal. When the negotiators get back home, however, they’re in a competitive race again. It’s nation against nation, corporation against corporation — the “real world” of year-end reports and election cycles, where those “sensible goals” they agreed to in principle are put off until next year. And “tomorrow,” as the song says, “never comes.”

Such are the economic realities that prompted the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to project that by 2050, the world will face between 50 million and 700 million food refugees — a polite term for starving people, coming soon to a country near you. IPBES says the most likely number is between 200 and 300 million. At any rate, it will make Europe’s current crisis of African and Asian refugees (along with Latin American migrants fleeing to the United States) look like a picnic in the park, and today’s regional crisis will become tomorrow’s global disaster. Such is the future of corporate capitalism, where the rich plunder the resources of the poor, create a baby boom for cheap labor, and then — when there is no longer any profit in it — abandon both the people and the land.

The destruction can no longer be confined to the developing world.

This time the migrants will follow us home. Indirectly, their barren land will follow us, too — in the form of climate change, sea level rise, and the other unintended consequences of globalization, in what promises to be capitalism’s last century. There is simply nowhere left to run. As Chris Hedges describes it,

“It’s all Easter Island now.”

Returning to the education factor, population experts have long recognized the link between female education and employment opportunities on the one hand, and population stability on the other. Indeed, wherever women and girls have access to higher education, equal job opportunities, and the right to say “no” to having babies, population either stabilizes or decreases slightly.

For proof, one need only look to South Korea, where this otherwise positive formula is creating an economic problem of its own. Women there have achieved relative parity, in both education and employment.  But with patriarchy persisting in the home, fewer than half of South Korean women now choose to marry, and the population is plunging.

In places like Senegal, on the other hand, “women’s liberation” is a largely meaningless phrase.

Only 63% of girls there so much as finish primary school, and less than half make it to high school. After all, what do corporate exploiters need with educated masses in the developing world? How could the plunder continue, if the plundered were taught why they’re being plundered, where their resources go, who reaps the profits, and what the developing world is getting in return?

Such are the hard truths behind industrial civilization. Insane as it sounds, increased population and planetary destruction are the inevitable consequences of “progress,” when sustainability and common sense argue for reducing population, minimizing technology and energy needs, replanting forests, and restoring the land. Corporate executives, of course, denounce such sustainable ethics as wild-eyed, radical nonsense. To their thinking, perpetual growth is the only way to avoid economic stagnation and collapse.

Super-techies like Elon Musk of SpaceX and Google’s Larry Page ignore the math, arguing that we can mine the asteroids, colonize Mars, feed a growing population with hydroponic agriculture, and produce endless clean energy and green jobs. (Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich went so far as to suggest human colonies on the moon. Gingrich apparently wasn’t aware that the moon has a monthly temperature swing of 540° Farenheit, due to its two-week-long days and nights, and total lack of an atmosphere. Mars, meanwhile, has a highly toxic atmosphere, and an average temperature of -67°. Minor details.)

Technological fantasies aside, these so-called leaders leave one question unanswered:

In what school of economics is it taught that when you knowingly and systematically destroy your home planet, you get another one to plunder for free? What part of “there is no Planet B” did they not understand?

Featured image: Al Jazeera

Environmental Racism, Green Colonialism, and The Renewable Energies Revolution

Environmental Racism, Green Colonialism, and The Renewable Energies Revolution

by Cara Judea Alhadeff, PhD

Paintings in this post are by Micaela Amateau Amato from Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era.

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House —Audre Lorde

As with our shift from our systemically racist culture to one rooted in mutual respect for multiplicity and difference, we must practice caution during our transition out of our global petroculture. This vigilance should not be based on the motivation, but on the underlying false assumptions and strategies that perceived sustainability and “alternative” agendas offer. The implicit assumptions embedded in the concept of sustainability maintains the status quo. At this juncture of geopolitical, ecological, social, and corporeal catastrophes, we must critically question clean/green solutions such as the erroneously-named Renewable Energies Revolution. I suggest we face both the roots and the implications of how perceived solutions to our climate crisis, like “renewable” energies, may unintentionally sustain ecological devastation and global wealth inequities, and actually divert us from establishing long-term, regenerative infrastructures.

On the surface, sustainability agendas appear to offer critical shifts toward an ecologically, economically, and ethically sound society, but there is much evidence to prove that #1: these structural changes must be accompanied by a psychological shift in individuals’ behavior to effectively shut down consumer-waste convenience culture; and, #2: the core of too many green/clean solutions is rooted in the very essence of our climate crisis: privatized, industrialized-corporate capitalism. For example, in his The Age of Disinformation1, Eric Cheyfitz alerts us: The Green New Deal is a “capitalist solution to a capitalist problem.” It claims to address the linked oppressions of wealth inequity and climate-crisis, yet its proposed solutions avoid the very roots of each crisis.

My challenge is rooted in three interrelated inquiries:

  1. How are our daily choices reinforcing the very racist systems we are questioning or even trying to dismantle?
  2. How are the alternatives to fossil-fuel economies and environmental racism reinforcing the very systems we are questioning or even trying to dismantle?
  3. What can we learn from indigenous philosophies and socialist ecofeminist movements in order to establish viable, sustainable, regenerative infrastructures—an Ecozoic Era?

As we transition to supposedly carbon-free electricity, we must be attentive to the ways in which we unconsciously manifest the very racist hegemonies we seek to dislodge; we must be cautious of the greening-of-capitalism that manifests as “green colonialism” through a new dependency on what is falsely identified as “renewable” energies. Currently, human and natural-world habitat destruction are implicit in the mass production and disposal infrastructures of most “renewable energies:” solar, wind, biomass/biofuels, geothermal, ethanol, hydrogen, nuclear, and other ostensible renewables2.

This includes our technocratic petroleum-pharmaceutical addictions that use technologies to create “sustainability.” Even if policy appears to be in alignment with environmental ethics, we are consistently finding that policy change simply replaces one hegemony, one cultural of domination, with another—particularly within the framework of neoliberal globalization. Only when we acknowledge the roots of our Western imperialist crisis, can we begin to decolonize and revitalize all peoples’ livelihoods and their environments.

Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era3, my climate justice book that explores the perils of the Anthropocene, challenges cultural habits deeply embedded in our calamitous trajectory toward global ecological and cultural, ethnic collapse. The book’s main character reflects: “We have this crazy idea that anything ‘green’ is good—but we know that there is no clear-cut good and evil. What happens when the very solution causes more problems than the original problem it was supposed to fix?”

How we measure our ecological footprint4 and global biocapacity is often riddled with paradox—particularly in the face of green colonialism, or what I call humanitarian imperialism5. The litany of our collusion with corporate forms of domination is infinite within the Anthropocene Era (increasingly characterized as the Plasticene). Disinformation campaigns spread by fossil-fuel interests deeply root us in assimilationist consumerism. The Zazu Dreams’ characters witness social and environmental costs of subjugating others through both fossil-fuel-obsessed economies and their “green” replacements. Vaclav Smil warns us of this “Miasma of falsehood.” This implies replacing one destructive socializing norm—petro-pharma cultures sustained by fossil-fuel addicted economics—with another: purportedly “renewable” energies. These energies (I don’t call them renewable, because they are not “renewable” and not carbon-free)6, like fossil-fuels, are rooted in barbaric colonialist extractive industries. Once again, the “solution” is precisely the problem. Greenwashing is a prime example of the ways in which capitalism dictates our alleged freedom. Free market is a euphemism for economic terrorism. The “green economy has come to mean…the wholesale privatization of nature.”7 Consumerism becomes the default for making supposedly ethical choices.

In Deep Green Resistance, Lierre Keith urges us: “We can’t consume our way out of environmental collapse; consumption is the problem”. Even within the 99%, consumers are capitalism. Without convenience-culture/mass consumer-demand, the machine of the profit-driven free market would have to shift gears. We can’t blame oil companies without simultaneously implicating ourselves, holding our consumption-habits equally responsible. How can we insist government and transnational corporations be accountable, when we refuse to curb our buying, using, and disposal habits? We don’t have to go far back in our cross-cultural histories of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience to learn from world-changing examples of strikes, unions, boycotts, expropriation, infrastructural sabotage, embargoes, and divestment protests.

Yet, most contemporary transition movements are founded in the very system they are trying to dismantle. Our perceived resources, these alternative forms of energy proposed to power our public electrical grids, are misidentified under the misleading misnomers: labels such “renewable”/ “sustainable” / “clean”/ “green”. How is “clean” defined? For whom? There is not a clear division between clean energy and dirty energy/dirty power—clean isn’t always clean. Neoliberal denial of corporeal and global interrelationships instills conformist laws of conduct that continually replenish our toxic soup in which we all live. One perceived solution to help us transition is to create alternatives to fossil fuel-addicted economies, as proposed, for example, through The United States’ proposed Green New Deal and its focus on allegedly “renewable” energies. However well-intentioned, these supposed alternatives perpetuate the violence of wasteful behavior and destructive infrastructures. Even if temporarily abated, they ultimately conserve the original crisis.

Below I address specific technologies that are falsely identified as “renewable” energy; technologies that actually reinforce the very problem they are trying to solve.

1. Solar/Photovoltaic and Wind Technologies: Given the proposed solutions using industrial solar and wind harvesting, Western imperialism has and will continue to dominate global relations. “Clean energy” easily gets soiled when it is implemented on an industrial scale. Western imperialist practices are implicit in solar cell and storage production (mining and other extractive industries) and disposal infrastructures. Congruently, industrial wind farms—aka: “blenders in the sky,”(chopping up migrating birds & bats) use exorbitant resources to produce and implement (both the wind turbines and their infrastructure), and devastate migrating wildlife (bats and birds, critical to healthy ecosystems and some of whom are endangered species).

Both wind and solar energies require vast quantities of fossil fuels to implement them on a grand scale. As we have seen throughout both California and China (two examples among too many), massive solar-energy sites/solar industrial complexes strip land bare—displacing human populations and migration routes of both wildlife and people for acres of solar fields, substations, and access roads—all of which require incredibly carbon-intensive concrete. Consuming massive tracts of land, 100-1000 times more land area is required for wind and solar, as well as for biofuel energy production than does fossil-fuel production.

2. Hydro-Power Technology: Large-scale dams for hydro-power have also historically had cataclysmic effects on indigenous peoples and their lands. Although macro-hydro, like fracking, has
finally been recognized for its calamitous consequences, perversely, it is still proposed as a viable alternative to fossil-fuel economies.

3. Battery Technology: Let’s begin with a California-based scenario: According to the Union of Concerned Scientists and their Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) in California, fine particulate pollution harms African-American communities 43% more than predominantly white communities, Latino 39% more, and Asian-American communities 21% more. As if tailpipe emissions are the only humanitarian catastrophe, one “clean solution” is the electric vehicle for public transportation and for personal consumption. Completely ignoring the embodied energy involved, this perceived solution displaces the costs of environmental racism—once again exported out of the US into the global south—in this case to Boliva where lithium (essential for battery production) is primarily mined. Cobalt, also essential to battery production, is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like lithium, cobalt’s environmental and humanitarian costs are unconscionable—including habitat destruction, child slavery, and deaths. Eventually, production is followed by solar technology and battery e-waste dispersed throughout Asia, South America, and Africa. Additionally, rarely considered are the fossil-fuel sources used to supply the electricity for those private and public electric vehicles. And, of course most frequently, the poorest US populations work in and live near those coal mines/power plants/fracking stations.

The Renewable Energies Movement claims that our global addiction to oil (“black gold”) should be replaced by lithium (“white gold”). What we are not considering is that extracting lithium and converting it to a commercially viable form consumes copious quantities of water—drastically depleting availability for indigenous communities and wildlife, and produces toxic waste (that includes an already growing history of chemical leaks poisoning rivers, thus people and other animals). Paul Hawken‘s phrase “renewable materialism” counsels us that this hyper-idealized shift from a fossil-fuel paradigm to “renewable” energies is not a solution. Furthermore, these energies are LOW POWER DENSITY: they produce very little energy in proportion to the energy required to institutionalize them.

As the main character in Zazu Dreams prompts: “Even if we find great alternatives to fossil fuels, what if renewable energies become big business and just maintain our addiction to consumption? (…) Replacing tar sands or oil-drills or coal power plants with megalithic ‘green’ energy is not the solution—it just masks the original problem—confusing ‘freedom’ with free market and free enterprise”.  We must now act on our knowledge that the renewable “revolution” is dangerously carbon intensive. And, as the authors of Deep Green Resistance caution us: “The new world of renewables will look exactly like the old in terms of exploitation.”


  1. Eric Cheyfitz, Age of Disinformation: The Collapse of Liberal Democracy in the United States. New York: Routledge, 2017.
  2. Surrogate band-aids that are frequently equal to or worse than what is being replaced include: bioplastics, phthalates replacements, and HFC’s. 1.Compostable disposables, also known as bioplastics, are most frequently produced from GMO-corn monoculture and “composted” in highly restricted environments that are inaccessible to the general public. Due to corn-crop monoculture practices that are dependent on agribusiness’s heavy use of pesticides and herbicides (for example, Monsanto’s Round-Up/glyphosate), compostable plastics are not a clean solution. Depending on their production practices, avocado pits may be a more sustainable alternative. But, the infrastructure and politics of actually “composting” these products are extraordinarily problematic. These not-so eco-friendly products rarely make it into the high temperatures needed for them to actually decompose. Additionally, their chemical compounds cause extreme damage to water, soil, and wildlife. They cause heavy acidification when they get into the water and eutrophication (lack of oxygen) when they leach nitrogen into the soil. 2.The trend to replace Bisphenol A (BPA) led to even more debilitating phthalates in products. 3.Lastly, we now know that hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), “ozone-friendly” replacements, are equally environmentally destructive as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
  3. Cara Judea Alhadeff, Zazu Dreams: Between the Scarab and the Dung Beetle, A Cautionary Fable for the Anthropocene Era. Berlin: Eifrig Publishing, 2017.
  4. The term “carbon footprint” was actually normalized through shame-propaganda by BP’s advertising campaigns. “The carbon footprint sham: A ‘successful, deceptive’ PR campaign,” Mark Kaufman, https://mashable.com/feature/carbon-footprint-pr-campaign-sham/
  5. Under the guise of the common good and universal values, humanitarian imperialism has emerged as a neo-colonialist method of reproducing the unquestioned status quo of industrialized, “First World” nations. For a detailed deracination of these fantasies (for example, taken-for-granted concepts of equality, poverty, standard of living), see Wolfgang Sachs’ anthology, The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power. Although the term humanitarian imperialism is not explicitly used, all of the authors explore the hierarchical, ethnocentric assumptions rooted in development politics and unexamined paradigms of Progress. As public intellectuals committed to the archeology of prohibition and power distribution, we must extend this discussion beyond the context of international development politics and investigate how these normalized tyrannies thrive in our own backyard.
  6. The air and sun are renewable, but giant wind and solar installations are not.
  7. Jeff Conant, “The Dark Side of the ‘Green Economy,’” Yes! Magazine, August 2012, 63.
[The Ohio River Speaks] There Must Be Settler Colonialism in the Water

[The Ohio River Speaks] There Must Be Settler Colonialism in the Water

The Ohio River is the most polluted river in the United States. In this series of essays entitled ‘The Ohio River Speaks,‘ Will Falk travels the length of the river and tells her story. Read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth part of Will’s journey.

Red Oak Memories

On the banks of the Ohio River, in downtown Warren, PA, I stood under the long limbs of an ancient red oak wondering what this magnificent tree must have witnessed in her lifetime. Red oaks can live for 400 years or more and this one had a circumference of what looked like 25 or 30 feet. Even if she was only 300 years old, she would have witnessed the arrival of European settlers in the area.

I tried to imagine what the scene before me looked like when the red oak was young. The hulking asphalt bridge carrying traffic across the river vanished. When it did, the screeching brakes, honking car horns, and police sirens hushed. The multi-story buildings crowding the opposite shore, with their advertisements painted in loud colors, disappeared. The stone man dressed as a Union officer brashly observing the town’s movements from his perch on an obelisk dedicated to the area’s Civil War casualties disintegrated. From the brass crucifix on a steeple casting a shadow over the river, Jesus ascended to heaven. And, he took the church building with him.

Beyond my vision, the Kinzua Dam was inconceivable and the Allegheny Reservoir was unthinkable. The oil wells’ metal pumpjacks methodically sucking crude oil from the earth like mechanical vampires throughout the Allegheny National Forest were centuries away from invention. Warren’s United Refining Company was unnecessary because no one thought they needed the extravagant energy made possible by petroleum.

With all of the evidence of the town of Warren gone, I saw the red oak’s kin growing thick around me, showering the ground with acorns. I saw towering, straight white pines and thick-foliaged hemlocks. These trees had never heard the haunting sounds metal saws make as they slice their way through forests. I heard the songbird symphonies in their full glory. I watched the intense gaze of blue herons stalking crawdads. I delighted in the flamboyancy of the green herons displaying their plumage. Mergansers and mallards led their downy chicks in wobbly lines up and down the river. Black bear cubs wrestled and climbed trees while their mother eyed trout in the shallows.

I also saw humans. I saw the Senecas and their ancestors who had lived here for thousands of years. I saw adults working on a new canoe that would carry them and their trading goods as far as the MTississippi hundreds of miles away. I saw elders telling teenagers stories to live by. I saw parents let their children swim and splash in the river with no fear of untreated sewage spills, oil refinery pollution, toxic fertilizers, or radioactive fracking wastewater.

The red oak’s and my view of downtown Warren, PA.

The red oak’s and my view of downtown Warren, PA.

There Must Be Something in the Water

These visions slowly drifted away until a blaring train horn brought me fully back to the present. It hurt to be back. I wished I could permanently transport to a time before asphalt bridges, oil refineries, and church steeples occupied the Ohio River basin. I wished I lived here before the town of Warren was built. I yearned for the time when traditional cultures governed these lands. I wished Europeans never found this land.

I began to feel sick to my stomach. I tried to recall if I had eaten something, but all I had eaten all day was an apple and a handful of cashews and almonds. This meal had never given me trouble before.

An acorn fell from the branches and bounced near my feet. The red oak’s branches caught my attention. I saw her leaves turning in the late afternoon sunshine. She glowed with a verdant light – one of the forest’s original colors. She glimmered with memories of times past. Then, a statement echoed in my mind: “There must be something in the water.”

My nausea intensified. It was a hot day and I was guzzling water. I had filled my water bottle up at several public fountains in town. Was something in the water? What was making me sick?

Above me, four flags snapped in the wind. One flag was a blue field with three gold fleur de lis. This was the old, royal French flag carried by French explorers in the area. One flag was the British Union Jack carried by British explorers. The third flag was the one carried by American forces during the Revolution. It showed 13 white stars arranged in a circle on a blue square with alternating red and white stripes. The last flag was the Seneca Nation’s. It was red and displayed the Seneca’s respect for nonhuman life with eight animals in a circle. They were deer, heron, hawk, snipe, bear, wolf, beaver, and turtle.

Below the flags, a plaque explained that originally this monument flew only the three imperial flags of the Europeans who claimed this land. Later, the Seneca Nation flag was added. That irony provoked in me a desire to learn the history of how indigenous peoples were pushed off this land. I hoped this would reveal what was in the water.

Settler Occupation Heartbreak

The history of the settler occupation of the Ohio River basin is heartbreaking. White settlers, especially Americans, engaged in decades of ethnic cleansing and genocide to open the region to settlement. This process is called settler colonialism. Historian Patrick Wolfe sums up the goal of settler colonialism as elimination of indigenous populations in order to make land available to settlers. And, in her essential book An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz elaborates:

“Settler colonialism, as an institution or system, requires violence or the threat of violence to attain its goals. People do not hand over their land, resources, children and futures without a fight, and that fight is met with violence. In employing the force necessary to accomplish its expansionist goals, a colonizing regime institutionalizes violence. The notion that settler-indigenous conflict is an inevitable product of cultural differences and misunderstandings, or that violence was committed equally by the colonized and the colonizer, blurs the nature of the historical processes. Euro-American colonialism, an aspect of the capitalist economic globalization, had from its beginnings a genocidal tendency.”

Air Force officer and Associate Professor of History at the United States Air Force Academy Lieutenant Colonel John Grenier goes so far as to call the extravagant violence perpetrated by Americans against indigenous peoples as the US military’s “first way of war.” He explains in his book The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814:

“For the first 200 years of our military heritage, then, Americans depended on arts of war that contemporary professional soldiers supposedly abhorred: razing and destroying enemy villages and fields; killing enemy women and children; raiding settlements for captives; intimidating and brutalizing enemy noncombatants; and assassinating enemy leaders.”

The Ohio River basin is home to many indigenous nations including the Senecas, Shawnees, Miamis, and Delawares. Americans fought wars of extirpation against all of these nations. Grenier describes why:

“The one constant road block to the settlers’ expansion into the interior of the continent was always the Indians. Thus, if they could eliminate the Indians, the settlers could make North America their own. Limited wars…did little to drive the Indians from their lands. Americans thus chose the most effective means of subjugating the Indians they faced. They sent groups of men, sometimes a dozen, sometimes hundreds, to attack Indian villages and homes, kill Indian women and children, and raze Indian fields.”

When I read this history, the movements happening across the country to remove statues and memorials dedicated to genocidal men came to mind. How can anyone who has read the words of men like George Washington, words ordering Americans to ethnically cleanse the land of indigenous peoples, oppose efforts to remove memorials to these men?

There is Malice Enough in our Hearts

During the American Revolution, for example, Washington wrote instructions to Major General John Sullivan to take peremptory action against the Haudenosaunee (also known as the Iroquois confederacy which included the Ohio River basin’s Seneca) to “lay waste all the settlements around…that the country may not be merely overrun but destroyed…[Y]ou will not by any means, listen to any overture of peace before the total ruin of their settlements is effected…Our future security will be in their inability to injure us…and in the terror with which the severity of the chastisement they receive will inspire them.” Sullivan replied, “The Indians shall see that there is malice enough in our hearts to destroy everything that contributes to their support.”

In this spirit, in 1779, the Continental Congress mustered three armies against the Senecas. Dunbar-Ortiz describes how the three armies scorched “earth across New York and converged at Tioga, the principal Seneca town, in what is now northern Pennsylvania. Their orders were to wipe out the Senecas and any other Indigenous nation that opposed their separatist project, burning and looting all the villages, destroying the food supply, and turning the inhabitants into homeless refugees.” To encourage enlistment in these armies, Dunbar-Ortiz notes that the Pennsylvania Assembly authorized a bounty on Seneca scalps, without regard to sex or age and concludes, “This combination of Continental Army regulars, settler-rangers, and commercial scalp hunters ravaged most of Seneca territory.”

The end of the Revolutionary War did not ease the violence Americans employed against the indigenous peoples of the Ohio River basin. Grenier writes that, in March 1791, Secretary of War Henry Knox (the namesake of Knoxville, TN), directed Brigadier General Charles Scott to recruit 500 Kentucky mounted rangers to destroy Miami towns along the Wabash River, a major tributary of the Ohio. Scott sacked two of the Miami’s largest towns, captured 41 women and children, and then issued the following threat to the Miami:

“Your warriors will be slaughtered, your towns and villages ransacked and destroyed, your wives and children carried into captivity, and you may be assured that those who escape the fury of our mighty chiefs shall find no resting place on this side of the great lakes.”

The Shawnees received the same treatment. Dunbar-Ortiz recounts how George Washington charged alcoholic Major General “Mad” Anthony Wayne (the name sake of Fort Wayne, IN) with destroying the Shawnees. Wayne marched into what is now northwestern Ohio and established Fort Defiance. He then made this ultimatum to the Shawnees: “In pity to your innocent women and children, come and prevent the further effusion of blood.” When the Shawnee leader Blue Jacket refused submission, Wayne’s forces began destroying Shawnee villages and fields and murdering women, children, and old men. At Fallen Timbers, on August 20, 1794, the main Shawnee fighting force was overpowered and Wayne’s men created a 50-mile swath of destruction while laying waste to Shawnee houses and cornfields. Wayne and his men carried on for three days after the battle.

Photo of a painting depicting the Battle of Fallen Timbers taken by the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office , I doubt the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office endorses my work. My use of this image should not imply that the Office does endorse my work.

Photo of a painting depicting the Battle of Fallen Timbers taken by the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office, I doubt the Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office endorses my work. My use of this image should not imply that the Office does endorse my work.

The history of the American invasion of North America is filled with stories like the ones described here. It would take pages upon pages to represent this history in its entirety. Anyone attempting to understand the reality of American history needs to contemplate what Dunbar-Ortiz points out: “The objective of US colonialist authorities was to terminate [native nations’] existence as peoples – not as random individuals. This is the very definition of modern genocide.”

Macutté Mong and the Wabash River

The following stories finally showed me what was in the water that made me feel so sick.

George Rogers Clark is considered a hero of the American Revolution. He was likely a psychopath. Outside of Vincennes, IN, in February 1779, Clark demanded the unconditional surrender of the British inside Fort Sackville. When Henry Hamilton, Fort Sackville’s commander, refused to accept Clark’s demands, Clark showed what Grenier characterizes as “the Americans’ darker side.”

Hamilton described the events in his journal. Clark had four Indian captives. He ordered these four men taken into the street in front of the fort’s main gate where the fort’s occupants could watch. Hamilton reported:

“One of [the Indians] was tomahawked either by Clark or one of his officers, the other three foreseeing their fate, began to sing their death songs, and were butchered in succession. A young chief of the Ottawa nation called Macutté Mong one of these last, having received the fatal stroke of a tomahawk in the head, took it out and gave it again into the hands of his executioner who repeated the stroke a second and a third time, after which the miserable being, not entirely deprived of life, was dragged to the river and thrown in with the rope about his neck where he ended his life and tortures.”

When Hamilton continued to argue for lenient terms, Clark began to wash his hands and face “still reeking” in Macutté Mong’s blood and threatened to put the entire British garrison to death if it did not surrender immediately. Hamilton opened the fort’s gates the next morning.

When I read that Macutté Mong was thrown into the Wabash River, I realized that what was left of his brutalized body was carried south towards the Ohio River. I did not know how long it takes rivers to break down human bodies. I did not know how far a body’s materials might be carried by a river, either. But, I did know that matter can neither be created nor destroyed.

Macutté Mong’s body was no doubt recycled by the Wabash and Ohio rivers over the centuries. Some of his body was likely eaten by fish and insects who in turn were eaten by other fish, insects, birds, and animals. His bones likely sank into the riverbed, reunited with the bones of countless primordial marine organisms that form the white limestone southern Indiana is famous for. His blood stained the water until the river could wash enough of it away. And, in this way, Macutté Mong was spread throughout the watershed where he was murdered. I was born in southern Indiana, not far from where Macutté Mong was dumped into the Wabash River. Ever since I encountered Macutté Mong’s story, I have been haunted by the possibility that a part of his body – no matter how minuscule – became part of my body.

In March 1782, three years after Clark used four Indian men to intimidate the British in Indiana,  Delawares living along the Tuscarawas River at a Moravian mission in Gnadenhutten, Ohio were rounded up by a Pennsylvania settler militia under the command of David Williamson. These Delawares, who had converted to Christianity, were told they were being evacuated for their own safety. Then, the militiamen searched their belongings to confiscate anything that could have been used as a weapon. The militiamen accused these Delawares of giving refuge to Delawares who had killed white people and condemned them all to death.

The condemned Delawares spent the night praying and singing hymns. In the morning, the militiamen marched over ninety people – forty-two men, twenty women, and thirty-four children – in pairs into two houses and slaughtered them methodically. Daniel K. Richter, in his book Facing East from Indian Country: A Native History of Early America, found that one killer boasted he had personally clubbed fourteen Delawares to death with a cooper’s mallet. After killing these fourteen people, he handed the mallet to an accomplice and announced, “My arm fails me. Go on with the work.”

The Tuscarawas River flows into the Muskingum which flows into the Ohio. I never learned how these Delawares were laid to rest. But, considering the wanton cruelty the Pennsylvania militiamen demonstrated while slaughtering the Delawares, it is easy to conclude the militiamen used the Tuscarawas River to dispose of their dirty work.

I couldn’t drive the images of Macutté Mong pulling the tomahawk from his head or the cooper’s mallet falling on Delaware heads from my mind. The death songs sung by the men George Rogers Clark murdered drifted across time and space to give me nightmares. I heard the Delawares singing hymns in the distance. I saw skulls shattering. Clark’s man hesitated when Macutté Mong handed him the tomahawk back. The man swinging the cooper’s mallet grunted as he tired. Mangled bodies piled up. Blood spilled across floors, washed from door frames, and swirled with river currents. Crimson pools slowly expanded in formerly clean river water.

Shattered souls spill like blood

These visions taught me what the ancient red oak I stood under in Warren, PA was trying to tell me when she suggested there must be something in the water.

Some violence is so heinous that it shatters souls when it destroys bodies. Shattered souls spill like blood. Some of the shattered souls seep into the soil and make their way into groundwater. Some of the shattered souls flow with surface water to mingle with streams and rivers. These shattered souls contaminate water with the metaphysical equivalent of chemical carcinogens. They poison water with grief and dread.

Shattered souls litter the North American continent. When you confront this history, it is difficult to envision any water untainted by the horrors of settler colonialism. And, when you drink water polluted with shattered souls, you may get sick. Symptoms include a nagging angst, inexplicable grief, spiritual discomfort, the urge to flee, and sometimes physical nausea. There is no cure for this sickness. But, you will find relief facing the violence that shattered these souls, searching for the truth, and working to ensure that settler colonialism never shatters souls again.

Buildings crowding the river in Warren, PA.

Buildings crowding the river in Warren, PA.

This painting depicts Henry Hamilton’s surrender to George Rogers Clark at Fort Sackville near Vincennes, IN. Hamilton’s surrender came after George Rogers Clark tomahawked four native men to death at the fort’s gate to intimidate the British.

This painting depicts Henry Hamilton’s surrender to George Rogers Clark at Fort Sackville near Vincennes, IN. Hamilton’s surrender came after George Rogers Clark tomahawked four native men to death at the fort’s gate to intimidate the British.

Will Falk is the author of How Dams Fall: On Representing the Colorado River in the First-Ever American Lawsuit Seeking Rights for a Major Ecosystem and a practicing rights of Nature attorney. Rights of Nature advocates work to transform the legal system so that it recognizes the “personhood” of natural beings. For the rest of 2020, Falk will travel through the Ohio River Basin asking the Ohio River the two questions he asks any client who steps into his office: “Who are you?” And, “What do you need?”

Colonialism — The Green Flame Podcast

Colonialism — The Green Flame Podcast

This episode of The Green Flame focuses on colonization and has three interviews: the first with Anne Keala Kelly, a native Hawaiian organizer, journalist, and award-winning filmmaker; the second with Mari Boine, a world-reknowned Sami indigenous musician; and the third with a river.

We discuss colonization, history, tourism, the TMT telescope project on Mauna Kea, indigenous peoples of Europe, music, and how to connect with the land. Three of Mari Boine’s songs are used in this episode, with permission: Gula Gula, Goaskinvielija (Eagle Brother), and Vilges Suola.

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About The Green Flame

The Green Flame is a Deep Green Resistance podcast offering revolutionary analysis, skill sharing, and inspiration for the movement to save the planet by any means necessary. Our hosts are Max Wilbert and Jennifer Murnan.


Anne Keala Kelly is a journalist and filmmaker. Keala’s published articles and Op-Eds have appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, The Nation, Indian Country Today, Honolulu Weekly, Honolulu Civil Beat, Hana Hou! Magazine, Big Island Journal, and other publications. Her broadcast journalism has aired on Free Speech Radio News, Independent Native News, Al Jazeera English, The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, Democracy Now!, The Environment Report, and more. She is a frequent guest commentator on First Voices Indigenous Radio, and has been interviewed on numerous nationally syndicated radio programs, from KPFK Los Angeles’ Rise-Up to Native America Calling in Anchorage to the Australia Broadcast Corporation’s Pacific Beat. Her reporting on Hawaiian poverty and homelessness garnered her Native American Journalism Awards. And her documentary, Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai’i, has received international film festival awards, and is widely taught in university courses focusing on Indigenous Peoples, colonization, Hawaiian sovereignty, and militarism. Keala is an outspoken Native advocate for Indigenous representation in media, and has been a guest speaker at universities in Hawai’i, the U.S., and Aotearoa-New Zealand. She has delivered conference keynotes and participated in conference and community panels and roundtables. She has an MFA in production from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. To learn more about her film, go to www.nohohewa.com.

Mari Boine: Imagine the ice and snow of the Arctic landscape, the bitter cold of the Northern wind, the hint of compelling blue under a crystallized lake. Close your eyes. Then listen. Really listen. You’ll feel a voice before you even hear it. It’s like none other. It’s a voice that brings the landscape alive with a mesmerizing purity; a voice that represents a thousand years of ancestral connection to an unyielding frozen space. This is Mari Boine. Musician. Songwriter. Singer. A genre-bending trailblazer with a taste for jazz, folk, rock, and world. An artist whose music is inspired by and infused with her Sámi roots. A woman who knows who she is, where she’s come from and what she stands for. A music icon who has inspired indigenous artists the world over.