Editor’s note: The Rojava conflict, also known as the Rojava Revolution, is a political upheaval and military conflict taking place in northern Syria and Iraq known among Kurds as Western Kurdistan or Rojava.
In this social revolution a prominent role is played by women both on the battlefield and within the newly formed political system, as well as the implementation of democratic confederalism, a form of libertarian socialism that emphasizes decentralization, gender equality and the need for local governance through direct democracy.
As an eco-feminist organization, DGR agrees with Women Defend Rojava that all women should aspire to the principles of self-defense. That this consciousness must be established in society as a culture of resistance. The power of the State will always attack those who resist and rise up against patriarchal violence and fight for a free life. As part of the women’s revolution, the Rojava takes an important role in building alternatives to the current patriarchal-capitalist world system and defending them.
“A society can not be free with out women’s liberation” (Abdullah Öcalan)
This is an open letter from Women Defend Rojava and other signatories requesting an investigation into Turkey’s alleged use of chemical weapons in Kurdish people based in Syria and Iraq.
Open letter from Women Defend Rojava
On the occasion of November 30, the Day of Remembrance of all Victims of Chemical Warfare, we write with deep concern about disturbing allegations of the use of prohibited weapons by the Turkish military in its ongoing military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Moreover, we are writing at a time in which the Turkish state is once again targeting civilians inside Syria and mobilizing for another possible ground invasion.
On October 18, local media released video footage showing the impacts of alleged chemical weapons exposure on two PKK guerrillas. Both were among 17 of the group’s fighters who lost their lives as a result of alleged chemical attacks in recent months.
The footage followed a report published by the NGO International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) last month that examined other allegations of Turkish chemical weapons use and called for an international investigation based on its findings.
In 2021, human rights monitors and local media reported at least once instance of civilian harm potentially caused by alleged Turkish chemical weapons use. The authors of the IPPNW report attempted to meet with the impacted civilians, but were blocked from doing so by the Kurdistan Regional Government.
We understand that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) can only investigate allegations of chemical weapons use when a request is made by a state party.
However, it is our view that these existing mechanisms do not reflect the realities of warfare today. Peoples without states and non-state political and military actors are deeply involved in modern conflicts. So are autocratic regimes that stifle the voices of those who wish to hold their governments to account for their behavior in war.
Both of these conditions are relevant here. The Kurdish people do not have a government that can speak up for them. They live under repressive regimes with powerful allies in the West—Turkey, for example, is supported by its NATO allies despite consistent evidence of serious human rights abuses.
This means that, while Kurds are disproportionately more likely to be subjected to war crimes and violations of international law as a result of their status as an oppressed minority, they are also disproportionately less likely to have access to justice mechanisms to hold perpetrators accountable.
In order to be effective, human rights law and the laws of war must be implemented as universally as possible, free from political considerations. There should be as many avenues as possible for credible allegations of human rights violations and violations of the laws of war to be investigated by impartial international bodies—particularly serious violations like the use of prohibited weapons.
Furthermore, these investigations should not simply be aimed at the historical record. They should build towards justice and accountability for all who violate international law, as well as durable political solutions to ongoing conflicts.
To that end, we the undersigned make the following recommendations:
To the OPCW:
- Amend investigation procedures to allow greater access to justice and accountability for alleged chemical weapons use.
- Investigate allegations that Turkey may have used chemical weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan.
To the government of Turkey:
- End all cross-border military activity in Iraq and Syria immediately.
- Cooperate fully with local and international investigations of alleged chemical weapons use and other alleged war crimes and human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable if violations are found.
- Return to peace negotiations with the PKK to resolve the Kurdish issue by political means.
To the Kurdistan Regional Government:
- Allow international investigators full access to impacted regions and communities to determine if Turkey has used chemical weapons in its military operations.
To concerned governments:
- Request an investigation of alleged Turkish chemical weapons use via existing OPCW mechanism.
- End arms sales and security assistance to Turkey.
- Pressure Turkey to end cross-border military operations in Iraq and Syria.
- Support and assist in return to peace negotiations between Turkey and the PKK to resolve the Kurdish issue by political means.
To international civil society:
- Support the demands listed here by signing this letter and engaging with relevant governments and international institutions.
November 30, 2022
- Souad Abdelrahman, Head of Palestine Women’s Association – Palestine
- Dr Goran Abdullah – Scotland
- Ismet Agirman, Kurdish activist – UK
- Prof Dr Tayseer A. Alousi, Secretary General of the Arab Assembly for Supporting Kurdish Issue and President Sumerian Observatory for Human Rights – Netherlands
- Dr Maha Al-Sakban, Centre for Women’s Human Rights board member – Iraq
- Mick Antoniw MS, Senedd Constituency Member, Welsh Labour Group, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution – Wales
- Chiara Aquino, PhD Candidate, University of Edinburgh – Scotland
- Benedetta Argentieri, Journalist and filmmaker – Italy
- Rezgar Bahary, Journalist – UK
- Naamat Bedrdine, Politician and writer – Lebanon
- Walden Bello, International Adjunct Professor of Sociology, SUNY Binghamton, and recipient ot the Right Livelihood Award (aka Alternative Nobel Prize) in 2003 – USA
- Janet Biehl, Independent scholar, author, artist – USA
- Jonathan Bloch, Writer – UK
- Baroness Christine Blower, House of Lords – UK
- Debbie Bookchin, Journalist and author – USA
- Prof Bill Bowring, School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London – UK
- Jane Byrne, Teacher – UK
- Robert Caldwell, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Studies, University at Buffalo – USA
- Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) – UK
- CND (Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament) – UK
- Margaret Cerullo, Hampshire College – USA
- Maggie Cook, UNISON NEC member – UK
- Mary Davis FRSA, Visiting Professor of Labour History at Royal Holloway University of London – UK
- Defend Kurdistan Initiative – UK
- Mary Dibis, Mousawat for Women – Lebanon
- Penelope Dimond, Writer and actor – UK
- Gorka Elejabarrieta Diaz, Basque Senator, Director EH Bildu International Relations Department – Basque Country
- Federal Executive Committee of Women’s Union Courage – Germany
- Silvia Federici, Author and Professor Emerita of Social Science, Hofstra University – USA
- Andrew Feinstein , Executive Director, Shadow World Investigations – UK
- Dr Phil Frampton, Author – UK
- Freedom Socialist Party – Australian Section
- Freedom Socialist Party – USA Section
- Andreas Gavrielidis, Greek-Kurdish Solidarity
- Lindsey German, Convenor Stop the War Coalition – UK
- Selay Ghaffar, Exiled women’s rights activist from Afghanistan
- Prof Barry Gills, Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science – UK
- Dr Sarah Glynn, Writer – France
- Mustafa Gorer, Kurdish activist – UK
- Kirmanj Gundi, KHRO (Kurdistan Human Rights Observer) – UK
- Prof Michael Gunter, General Secretary of EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) – USA
- Rahila Gupta, Chair of Southall Black Sisters – UK
- Kazhal Hamarashid, Board member of the Toronto Kurdish Community Centre – Canada
- Niaz Hamdi, KHRO (Kurdistan Human Rights Observer) – UK
- John Hendy QC, Barrister – UK
- Nick Hildyard, Policy analyst – UK
- Ava Homa, Writer, journalist and activist – Canada/USA
- Srecko Horvat, Co-founder of DiEM25 & Progressive International
- Dr Stephen Hunt, PiK Ecology Network – UK
- John Hunt, Journalist – UK
- Alia Hussein, Women’s Affairs Committee of the General Federation of Iraqi Trade Unions – Iraq
- Lord Hylton, House of Lords – UK
- Serif Isildag, Journalist – UK
- Ruken Isik, Adjunct Lecturer at American University – USA
- Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Crymru – Wales
- Jin Women’s Association – Lebanon
- Ramsey Kanaan, Publisher, PM Press – UK
- James Kelman, Author – Scotland
- Gulay Kilicaslan, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University – Kanada
- Nida Kirmani, Women Democratic Front, Haqooq-e-Khalq Party – Pakistan
- Nimat Koko Hamad, Associate researcher and gender specialist – Sudan
- Kongra Star Women’s Movement – Rojava & Syria
- Claudia Korol, Founder of Popular Education Collective Pañuelos en Rebeldía, Feministas de Abya Yala – Argentina
- Balazs Kovacs, Consultant – UK
- Kurdish Women’s Relations Office (REPAK) – Kurdistan Region of Iraq
- Şeyda Kurt, Journalist and Writer – Germany
- Coni Ledesma, International Women’s Alliance (IWA) Europe – Netherlands
- Dr Anjila Al-Maamari, Center for Strategic Studies to Support Women and Children – Yemen
- Aonghas MacNeacail, Scottish Gaelic poet – Scotland
- Fazela Mahomed, Kurdish Human Rights Action Group – South Africa
- Saleh Mamon, Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) – UK
- Dr Carol Mann, Director of Women in War – France
- Mike Mansfield QC, Barrister – UK
- Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Lecturer of Political Sociology, Fellow of Darwin College, University of Cambridge – UK
- Zahraa Mohamad, Journalist – Lebanon
- Francie Molloy, MP for Mid Ulster – Ireland
- David Morgan, Journalist – UK
- Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Green Party Member of the House of Lords – UK
- Maryam Namazie, Human rights activist, commentator, and broadcaster – UK
- Dr Marie Nassif-Debs, President of Association Equality-Wardah Boutros – Lebanon
- Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federation of Trade Unions – UK
- Margaret Owen, O.B.E., President Widows for Peace through Democracy – UK
- Prof Felix Padel, Research associate at Center for World Environmental History, University of Sussex – UK
- Sarah Parker, Anti-Capitalist Resistance – UK
- Patriotic Democratic Socialist Party (PPDS) – Tunisia
- Peace in Kurdistan Campaign – UK
- Maxine Peake, Actress – UK
- Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Political Science, Hunter College & the Graduate Center, City University of New York – USA
- Dr Thomas Phillips, lecturer in law at Liverpool John Moore University – UK
- Eleonora Gea Piccardi, University of Coimbra, PhD candidate – Italy
- Ulisse Pizzi, Geologist, UK engineering consultancy – UK
- Dr Anni Pues, International human rights lawyer – UK
- Radical Women – USA
- Radical Women – Australia
- Bill Ramsay, Ex-President Educational Institute of Scotland and Convenor of Scottish National Party – Scotland
- Ismat Raza Shahjahan, President of Women Democratic Front – Pakistan
- Trevor Rayne, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! – UK
- Gawriyah Riyah Cude, Women’s Trade Union Forum – Iraq
- Dimitri Roussopoulos, Writer, editor, publisher, political activist – Canada
- Nighat Said Khan, Women Democratic Front, Women Action Forum WAF – Pakistan
- Dr Michael Schiffmann, Linguist, English Department of the University of Heidelberg, Translator – Germany
- Paul Scholey, Morrish Solicitors – UK
- Bert Schouwenburg, International Trade Union Advisor – UK
- Chris Scurfield, Political activist – UK
- Stephen Smellie, Deputy Convenor UNISON Scotland and NEC member – Scotland
- Geoff Shears, Vice-Chair of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies(CLASS) – UK
- Tony Shephard, Musician and graphic designer – UK
- Tony Simpson, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation – UK
- Radha D’Souza, Professor of law at the University of Westminster – UK
- Oskar Spong, Operator – UK
- Chris Stephens MP, Glasgow South West – Scotland
- Steve Sweeney, International Editor, Morning Star – UK
- Tooba Syed, Women Democratic Front – Pakistan
- Greta Sykes, Writer and artist – UK
- Tim Symonds, Novelist – UK
- Joly Talukder, General Secretary of the Bangladesh Garment Workers Trade Union Centre – Bangladesh
- Latifa Taamalah Women’s Committee – Tunisia
- Shavanah Taj, General Secretary Wales TUC – Wales
- Lisa-Marie Taylor, CEO of FiLiA – UK
- Saadia Toor, Women Democratic Front – Pakistan
- Tom Unterrainer, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation – UK
- Prof Abbas Vali, Professor of Modern Social and Political Theory – UK
- Dr Federico Venturini, University of Udine – Italy
- Andy Walsh, Chair, Greater Manchester Law Centre – UK
- Julie Ward, Former MEP – UK
- Arthur West, Secretary, Kilmarnock and Loudon Trades Union Council – Scotland
- Prof Kariane Westrheim, Chair of EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) – Norway
- Alex Wilson, PhD student at York University in Toronto, Ontario – Canada
- Dr Fiona Woods, Lecturer, Technological University Shannon – Ireland
- Paula Yacoubian, Member of Parliament – Lebanon
- Rosy Zúñiga, Latin America and Caribbean Popular Education Council CEAAL – Mexico
This is a press release by Process of Liberation of Mother Earth, originally published in Liberacion de la Madre Tierra. The Nasa people of Cauca had been pushed to the mountains by the invaders in the 16th century. For the past 17 years, they have shifted to direct action to get back their land. Although their pursuit had been disrupted in the past, they have now stayed in their original land despite state attempts to remove them. Both right leaning and left leaning governments have attempted to remove them from their rights to their land. DGR extends our solidarity to the Nasa people of Cauca valley in their struggle for land reclamation.
Now that the 48 hours have passed, we send this letter to the world to tell about our struggle and the danger that awaits us, and what we are going to do in face of the danger. The great chief sent word, that we are invaders and gives us 48 hours to abandon our struggle and the land where we fight, or the full weight of the law of the Colombian state will fall on us.
First we tell you about our struggle. This last September 2nd, 17 years have passed since we returned to direct action to fight for the land, a struggle that has roots in 1538, when our people decided to declare war to the invaders. The invaders took over our land and pushed us into the mountains, the invaders made of dispossession a way of life, the how of their civilization, and today they have in their possession the most fertile lands and they have documents that prove they own and they are an organized power that moves the strings of politics and economy and justice and the media in Colombia to keep the documents up to date and to exploit Mother Earth more and more until skinning her and sucking her blood and digging into her entrails and this is called progress, development.
For us, families of the Nasa people of northern Cauca, the land is Uma Kiwe, our mother. Everything that is in it has life, all of it is life, all beings are our brothers and sisters and all beings are worth the same. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that we humans are outside our Mother and that we are superior to her, but deep in our hearts, nasa üus, we know that people are Uma Kiwe just like the condor and the butterfly and the corn and the stone are Uma Kiwe. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that the moor is a resource that produces money, that by cutting down the jungle we can increase bank accounts, that by digging into Uma Kiwe’s entrails with large tubes we can access a life of well-being. That is the word of the invader and he calls it the goal, the life plan.
The lands of the Cauca river valley, where we now live, from where we fight, is the house and home of hundreds of animals, plants, rocks, waters, spirits, in a way of life that in Spanish they called tropical dry forest. The invader destroyed everything, that house and home no longer exist, he has damaged the face of Mother Earth. In their eagerness to impose their civilization, those who have the documents of these lands, planted the entire valley of the Cauca River with sugarcane and there are 400 thousand hectares where the cane is planted up to the riverbank. In other regions of Colombia, the invader displaced communities with war and planted oil palm on thousands and thousands of hectares, and in other regions they have displaced communities to build dams or to extract gold or petroleum.
And once, in a region called Antioquia, the Cauca River rebelled and damaged the machines and equipment of the dam and it overflowed and the people who had already been displaced by the hydroelectric project had to move again because once again their lands were flooded. For these facts there are no guilty parties, the invaders of the Cauca River, the displacers of those communities and those who committed the massacres to impose development, have not yet received the full weight of the law of the Colombian state. And so, every corner of this country they call Colombia, the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, is made up of patches of development projects installed where the war displaced entire communities, where the forests, moors, savannahs, mountains, jungles and plains were or are being razed so that a few people can enjoy the honeys of development.
We, the indigenous families of the Nasa people who walk the struggle platform of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC -by its acronym in Spanish), our organization, we don’t believe in that development and we don’t believe in that civilization that imposes death through laws and legal actions to generate coins. They indoctrinated us to believe in their civilization and told us that humans are superior to other beings, but we see that among humans there are levels, some humans who are superior than others, the superiors take all the wealth and the inferiors have to live cornered in the corners that development leaves us available, but they tell us that if we try hard or sell ourselves we can rise to the level of the superiors. We don’t like that way of life, we don’t accept it.
That is why 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, we came down from the mountains to make a struggle that we continue today and that we have called the liberation of Mother Earth. Because we say that people will not be free while Uma Kiwe is enslaved, that all animals and beings in life are slaves until we get our mother to recover her freedom. At that time, September 2005, we had a tactical error, as one liberator said, and we negotiated an agreement with the Uribe government, an error that cost us a nine-year delay. But then we came back to enter the sugarcane agribusiness farms in December 2014, which means that we are almost eight years old, and in these eight years the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America has not managed to evict us from the farms despite more than 400 attempts, and we are not going to leave, and we have been advancing by entering in these lands, so much that we already have 24 farms in process of liberation, already eight thousand hectares.
When we enter the farms we cut the cane and instead of the cane the food we sow grows, the forest also grow because Uma Kiwe has to rest, chickens, ducks, cows and little pigs grow, wild animals return… We are returning the skin and the face to Mother Earth. That is our dream, or if you prefer, our life plan. And there is still a long way to go, sometimes the word of the invader arrives and confuses us, but as a community we are talking and clarifying things. And other times the media from agribusiness or power in Colombia arrive and brand us as terrorists, lazy, that we slow down development, and tell us that we are invaders, as the current government of Petro and Francia says, and now they have planted the lie that we are stealing the land from our neighbors of the Afro-descendant communities who live cornered on the banks of the cane fields: what we can tell you with complete certainty is that the documents of the 24 farms that are in process of liberation, they are listed in the name of Incauca, the largest owner, and other landowners, or their land is leased to Incauca or other mills that process cane for sugar or agrofuels.
And also the judicial apparatus of Colombian democracy says that because we are terrorists they are going to capture us at checkpoints or with arrest warrants and they are going to take us to jail. And the paramilitaries, organized by the sugar cane agribusiness say that since the Colombian state has not managed to kill us, they are going to do it and they have already arrived at the farms in process of liberation to shoot us with short and long range weapons, but our range is longer because we already know how they are organized and how they work. And the agro-industrialists -Incauca, Asocaña, Procaña- have been sending us negotiation or association proposals for seven years and we have answered NO because a struggle is not negotiated and NO because for them being partners means that we put the labor as cheap as possible and that they provide the capital, NO gentlemen, we are not here to change bosses, we fight so that there are no more bosses.
And now that a new government and a new congress have arrived to strengthen the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, the congress tells us that we can send proposals for the agrarian reform law “because the liberation of Mother Earth is a concrete agrarian reform”; we haven’t responded yet, but we know how to restore the balance of Uma Kiwe, our Mother Earth, and it goes far beyond an agrarian reform. And the latest thing that has happened is that the new government of President Petro and Vice President Francia tell us that we are invaders and that we have 48 hours to leave these lands where we fight, we sow, we graze, we watch the forest grow and the wild animals return, well, in this land where we live, and that’s how we started this letter.
At the end of 48 hours, this September 2, the state attacked with the army and esmad (Mobile Anti-riot Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios or ESMAD), there was no half hour of dialogue, as the new government had promised, the tank came in shooting gas. Later the army fired its long-range weapons against us, the communities that are liberating Mother Earth, there was no dialogue either. 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, it was Uribe who ordered the esmad and the army to fire their weapons at us. This new government is from the left, the Uribe government was from the right. After eight hours of trying to evict us from one of the farms in process of liberation, the esmad and the army of the oldest democracy… they failed to evict us, here we continue, from here we launch this letter to the world.
We, the process of liberation of Mother Earth in northern Cauca, send word to the great chief that we are NOT going to evict, that here in these lands we are staying because this is our home to live and fight II. We say II because before we have already written that this is our home to live and fight I. At that time, 2018, the paramilitaries gave us a deadline to leave this land, but the paramilitaries gave us a slightly longer, more rational deadline, because they gave us two months, and when the two months were up we told them NO, that we couldn’t leave because this is our house to live and fight. That’s why we say II, because despite everything we don’t lose our smile. And you have to know that neither Uribe, nor Santos, nor Duque ever told us “they have 48 hours.” And we also tell you that we are not leaving because here in these lands in process of liberation, 12 compañerxs have fallen since 2005, murdered by the private company of Incauca, Asocaña and Procaña, and by the Colombian state. Here we already take root. We continue here until the government completes the process of delivering the documents to our indigenous authorities, either through agrarian reform or by the fastest way, and if it doesn´t happen, for the years of the years, we will continue here.
We also sent word to the great chief that we are going to enter in other farms because our struggle doesn’t stop. Yesterday we were in a great action to accompany a community that is liberating a farm because the esmad has been bothering them with gas every day for several days, despite the fact that they promised us that the esmad was going to end, then to transform and then that it was going to change it’s clothes, and it’s true because they wear a sports uniform for a soccer game while here they continue to shoot gas at us. We will continue our actions to root ourselves more with this land , so that our word has sustenance, because otherwise it would be like a decree or a campaign promise, which is written and signed but not fulfilled.
To the communities that in other regions of Colombia are fighting directly for the land, we invite to not leave the farms. We invite more families, more communities in the northern Cauca and in Colombia and in the world to enter in more farms and take possession and build life and community as we are already doing in these lands, the same way as many struggles that have been branded as invaders by the great chiefs of the country, because no fight has been won with little kisses on the cheek.
We also send word to our compañerxs who are now in the power of the Colombian state not to get tangled up along the way. Because they have walked alongside our struggles but now we see that they are forgetting where they come from, something that can happen to anyone who reaches a peak, who doesn´t see that after the top comes the descent. That is why we also sent word that we will enter to another farm where we will carry out rituals and plant food to share with them and we will pray for them so that when they finish their time in the state they continue to be the same people who one day arrived there with the votes of millions of people who saw in them some kind of hope.
So far this letter ends, but our word goes on. We write our word on the farms where we are liberating, that is our first word. The documents, the letters, the videos, the radio…, the second word, that helps us to tell the world what we do, the danger that awaits us and how we will continue walking in the face of danger. Thanks to the struggles and peoples of the world who listen to us and stand in solidarity with us. As we have already said in “this is our house to live and fight I”, the best way to support us is to strengthen your fight: it will be very difficult for capitalism to evict or bring down with the full weight of the law thousands and thousands of battles throughout the world.
Process of liberation of Mother Earth
Nasa people, Northern Cauca,
Colombia September 3, 2022.
Featured image: Cauca valley by Alliance for Biodiversity International and CIAT via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
By Carl van Warmerdam
The North Atlantic Right Whale (NARW) are among the rarest of all marine mammal species in the Atlantic Ocean. They average approximately 15 m (50 ft) in length. They have stocky, black bodies with no dorsal fin, and bumpy, coarse patches of skin on their heads called callosities. The NARW is one of the world’s most endangered whales. Once common along the eastern U.S. seaboard, the whale was hunted to near-extinction by the 1750s. The species gets its names from early whalers, who considered them to be the “right” whales to hunt. By the early 1900s the population off Europe had been virtually extirpated while a small population of perhaps a hundred or fewer survived in the western North Atlantic off the United States and Canada. After 1935, when an international agreement went into effect banning the hunting of all right whales, their numbers began to increase slowly. In recent decades, this slow recovery has been impeded by mortality and serious injury from ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, underwater noise and separation from calving areas because of shipping traffic. NARW now occur almost exclusively along the east coasts of the United States and Canada, where they rely on a calanoid copepod, Calanus finmarchicus, as their primary food source. Beyond eating a lot, whales also produce lots of plumes (a gassy form of underwater poop). These plumes fertilize the ocean and help feed small organisms called phytoplankton. These organisms, in turn, produce 50% of the world’s oxygen – every other breath humans take. Over their lifetimes, NARW also accumulate tons of carbon in their bodies – helping to mitigate climate change. The importance of whales for the ecosystem cannot be overstated.
An 8-year analysis of NARW sightings within Southern New England (SNE) show that the NARW distribution has been shifting (Quintana- Rizzo et al. 2021). A study area of SNE (shores of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to and covering all the offshore wind lease sites of Massachusetts and Rhode Island) recorded sightings of NARW in almost all months of the year. A population trend analysis conducted on the abundance estimates from 1990 to 2011 suggest an increase at about 2.8% per year from an initial abundance estimate of 270 individuals in 1998 (Hayes et al. 2020). However, modeling conducted by Pace et al. (2017) showed a decline in annual abundance after 2011, which has likely continued as evidenced by the decrease in the abundance estimate from 451 in 2018 (Hayes et al. 2019) to 412 in 2020 (Hayes et al. 2020). This decrease correlates to when the Block Island wind turbines were constructed. The only offshore wind Turbines in the Americas.
With an estimated population of fewer than 350 individuals, scientists have been raising the alarm about the dwindling number of reproductive females needed to sustain the population. For a new paper published in the journal Frontiers, lead author Joshua Reed, a PhD candidate from the School of Natural Sciences at Macquarie University, used individual female whales’ reproductive history, rather than age, when modeling population trends to provide a better insight into their numbers. “Our research found that of the estimated 142 female right whales alive in the population at the beginning of 2018, only 72 were actually capable of reproducing. This has certainly influenced the species’ decline in recent years,” said Reed. The researchers also found that in recent years, young females are less likely to start calving when they reach 10 years of age. Ten was the age at which right whales used to have their first calf in the years up to the turn of the century. Right Whales can and should live for up to 75 years. But that number is quickly declining. Scientists identify individual right whales through photographs and compare these images throughout time to learn about their lifespan. And, according to recent estimates, female right whales are barely making it to middle age. But many right whales don’t even make it that far.
In its 2020 update of its “Red List of Threatened Species,” the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared NARW “critically endangered,” the most serious category of risk, with such a small, slow-growing population, any threatening factor may have a significant impact.
Offshore Wind or North Atlantic Right Whale?
“North Atlantic right whale” by FWC Research is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) plans, by 2025, to hold up to five additional, to the Revolution Wind, Offshore Wind (OSW) lease sales and complete the review of at least 16 plans to construct and operate commercial OSW facilities, which would represent more than 22 gigawatts of “clean” energy for the nation. That means thousands of wind turbines along the Eastern Seaboard.
BOEM and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries initiated development of a shared Draft North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind Strategy (hereinafter called “Strategy”) to focus and integrate past, present, and future efforts related to NARW and OSW development. In response to Executive Order 14008, both agencies share a common vision to protect and promote the recovery of NARW while responsibly developing offshore wind energy. The announcement initiated a 45-day public review and comment period on the draft strategy. Comments on the guidance can be submitted via regulations.gov from October 21 to December 4, 2022 under Docket Number BOEM-2022-0066. For more information about the draft strategy and how to submit comments, visit BOEM’s website.
The following is my comment. Please use this opportunity to express your concerns in this regard.
The NARW species provides important ecosystem services, and its potential extinction could be a leading indicator for other ecosystem disruptions (Pershing et al. 2021). The extinction of the Right Whale will be the precursor of the extinction of our own species. Both will be caused by the disturbances to functioning ecosystems by human expansion. And it does not need to be this way. OSW development will result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat. Only a “jeopardy” or “adverse modification” conclusion can be reached. Whales and turbines do not mix. Please do not allow this “development” to proceed while the NARW survival is in the balance. There is still time, but the time is now because there is so little left.
Climate change does in-fact pose a significant global threat that will cause planet-wide physical, chemical, and biological changes that substantially affect the world’s oceans, lands, and atmosphere. But climate change is a symptom of industrial civilization and driven by the disease of a consumer culture. A new study finds a 69% average drop in animal populations since 1970. Over those five decades most of the decline can be traced to habitat destruction. The human desire for ever more growth played out over the years, city by city, road by road, acre by acre, across the globe. “Biological diversity is the variety of life on Earth and the natural patterns it forms. The biodiversity seen today is the result of 4.5 billion years of evolution and, increasingly, of human influence as well. It forms the web of life, of which humans are integral and upon which people and the planet so fully depend. The planet is currently in biodiversity breakdown. Species are now disappearing hundreds, or even thousands, of times faster than the natural background rate of extinction. The scientific community has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Over half the world’s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature, which also provides medicine and social benefits.” We are in a biodiversity emergency. With scores of species dying each day, we are in a mass extinction event. Although many of those species may not be as impressive as the megafauna they are just as important to protect the complex balance of nature which all of life is dependent upon.
Without significant reductions in anthropocentric consumption of the natural world, greenhouse gas emissions, extinctions and transformative impacts on all ecosystems cannot be avoided. Our options in what reductions will then be impose by such limits will create harsher impacts on the economic, recreational, and subsistence activities they support.
OSW is abundant and renewable but extracting that energy with turbines will be neither efficient or clean or an alternative domestic energy resource. Wind turbines are not renewable. Heavy industries use a lot of energy to create the components for wind turbines. Coal and other fossil fuels are utilized to power the machinery and furnaces in these factories. According to estimates, the energy utilized by the present United States’ heavy industries is equivalent to the energy necessary to power the country’s entire electrical grid.
The need for energy in the heavy industries grows in tandem with the demand for wind turbines, producing a feedback mechanism in which the more wind power we use, the more reliant we are on the heavy industry, and thus the more fossil fuels we need. Production of wind turbines to extract wind energy will require the release of more emissions that can pollute the air or water without exceptions, and using turbines to extract wind energy has greater effects on the environment than many other energy sources. Wind turbines will not reduce the amount of electricity generation from fossil fuels, and will result in greater total air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Transitioning to their use will precipitate a far higher biodiversity loss in their manufacturing process. Already the wind power boom is driving deforestation in the Amazon with its demand for balsa wood.
The major coastal cities, where more than half of the U.S. population resides and energy needs are high, must reduce their energy consumption, as all cities must do. Compared to onshore wind, offshore wind challenges that also need to be considered are higher cost due to specialized installation, equipment, and more expensive support structures; (2) more difficult working conditions; (3) higher wind speeds; (4) decreased availability due to limited accessibility for maintenance; and (5) necessity for special corrosion prevention measures. Hence the lower life cycle of 15 years for offshore wind. Then at the end of their lifecycle they end up in a landfill because they are economically infeasible to recycle. Not to mention that these particular turbines will be built in the home of the NARW.
Without the Departments of the Interior, Energy, and Commerce announced national goal to deploy 30 gigawatts of OSW by 2032 and accompanying subsidies, there wouldn’t be increasing interest in developing OSW. This goal is stated to be achieved while protecting biodiversity and promoting ocean co-use. It can be appreciated that in an attempt to resolve these conflicting goals the BOEM and NOAA Fisheries North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind Strategy has been put forth.
The Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Lands Act directs BOEM to study and consider coastal, marine, and human environmental impacts, and BOEM must also comply with many other statutes, regulations, executive orders, and policies in making decisions—including the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The ESA requires BOEM to ensure that any action it takes to implement the OCS Renewable Energy Program is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat determined for any listed species, including the NARW (ESA section 7(a)(2)). Additionally, section 7(a)(1) of the ESA requires BOEM (and all other Federal agencies) to “utilize their authorities in furtherance of the purposes of this Act by carrying out programs for the conservation of endangered species.”
NOAA Fisheries strives to take an ecosystem-based approach to managing living marine resources, recognizing the interconnectedness of ecosystem components and the value of resilient and productive ecosystems to living marine resources. This connectedness should also be applicable to places where the metals and material are mined to make wind turbines, for example deep sea mining. A declaration of oceanic rights from the United Nations could recognize the ocean as a living entity that has its own inherent entitlements, such as those to life and health, along with the right to continue its vital natural cycle.
NOAA Fisheries and NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries share NOAA’s mission to 1) understand and predict changes in climate, weather, ocean and coasts; 2) share that knowledge and information with others; and 3) conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. So coastal and marine ecosystems then are not resources to conserve and manage for the continuation of extractive industries. They function best when left alone.
As noted above, section 7(a)(2) of the ESA requires BOEM, in consultation with NOAA Fisheries, to ensure that any action the agencies authorize, fund, or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat; this coordination is accomplished through ESA section 7 consultations. The Strategy does not state that when a Federal agency’s action “may affect” a protected species, that agency is required to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This requirement needs to go upstream to the threatened species caused by mining for the materials of the construction of the wind turbines.
In response to a request for consultation, NOAA Fisheries prepares a Biological Opinion detailing how an agency (i.e., BOEM) action affects a threatened or endangered species and/or its critical habitat and a conclusion as to whether the proposed action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species. It considers whether the action will result in reductions in reproduction, numbers, or distribution of the species and then considering whether these reductions would reduce appreciably the likelihood of both the survival and recovery of the species, as those terms are defined for purposes of the ESA. The Biological Opinion also includes a determination as to whether the proposed action is likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat. If a “jeopardy” or “adverse modification” conclusion is reached, the Biological Opinion would include one or more Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives to the proposed action that would avoid the likelihood of jeopardizing the continued existence of the listed species or the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat.
If a “no jeopardy” conclusion is reached, either based on the proposed action and its mitigation or after adopting a Reasonable and Prudent Alternative, NOAA Fisheries may issue an Incidental Take Statement that exempts a certain amount and type of take from the ESA section 9 prohibitions on take. The Strategy should include the following definition: The ESA broadly defines “take” to include “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect.” In the case of the NARW this should not be allowed.
According to the Petition for Incidental Take Regulations for the Construction and Operation of the Revolution Wind Offshore Wind Farm :
NARW feed mostly on zooplankton and copepods belonging to the Calanus and Pseudocalanus genera (Hayes et al. 2020). NARWs are slow-moving grazers that feed on dense concentrations of prey at or below the water’s surface, as well as at depth (NMFS 2021l). Research suggests that NARWs must locate and exploit extremely dense patches of zooplankton to feed efficiently (Mayo and Marx 1990).
2.3.2 • Likely changes in copepod distribution between pre- and post-OSW construction. This must be tested to verify. CRITICAL what effect do the present in-place turbines have on prey food?
Currently there are no quantitative data on how large whale species (i.e., mysticetes) may be impacted by offshore wind farms (Kraus et al. 2019). Navigation through or foraging within the Revolution Wind Farm by large whales could be impeded by the presence of the wind turbine generators and offshore substations foundations, which range in diameter from 12 to 15 m with approximately 1.15 mi (1.8 km) spacing between foundations (Section 1). Additionally, wakes in water currents created by the presence of the foundations could alter the distribution of zooplankton within the water column, which would impact prey availability for some marine mammal species (Kraus et al. 2019).
What is the effect the extraction of wind energy from the surface of the ocean in regards to water temperature and currents?
WIND ENERGY EXTRACTION
“Horns rev offshore wind farm” by Vattenfall is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
Climatic Impacts of Wind Power
• Wind turbines raise local temperatures by making the air flow more turbulent and so increasing the mixing of the boundary layers.
• However, because wind turbines have a low output density, the number of them required has a warming impact on a continental scale. During the day, the surface temperature rises by 0.24 degrees Celsius, while at night, it may reach 1.5 degrees Celsius. This impact happens immediately.
• Considering simply this, the consequences of switching to wind power now would be comparable to those of continuing to use fossil fuels till the end of the century.
In general, BOEM will consider recommendations from NOAA Fisheries and attempt to avoid issuing new leases in areas that may impact potential high-value habitat and/or high-density/use areas for important life history functions such as NARW foraging, migrating, mating, or calving. BOEM and NOAA Fisheries will include potential lessees in these conversations as early as possible to raise awareness of concerns over impacts to NARW.
If issuing new leases in these areas is not avoidable they still must avoid the likelihood of jeopardizing the continued existence of the listed species or the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat. Under what condition would they be unavoidable?
Developers should avoid proposing development in areas that may impact high-value habitat and/or high-density/use areas used for important life history functions such as NARW foraging, migrating, mating, or calving. If avoidance is not possible, include measures to avoid and minimize impacts to NARW and their habitat. In this situation the developer should have alternative proposals in different areas.
BOEM will work with NOAA Fisheries to ensure environmental review under applicable statutes evaluate measures to avoid (primary goal) or minimize (secondary goal) impacts to NARW and high-value habitat and/or high-density/use areas for important life history functions such as NARW foraging, migrating, mating, or calving. The results of these environmental reviews will ultimately inform Construction and Operation Plan (COP) conditions of approval.
THIS IS GOOD: If new information becomes available indicating that activities previously authorized by BOEM through a plan approval (e.g., COP, Site Assessment Plan, General Activities Plan) are now resulting in an imminent threat of serious or irreparable harm or damage to NARW, BOEM has the authority to suspend operations.
- Protected Species Observers (PSOs): Use trained, third-party PSOs with no duties other than to effectively implement mitigation and monitoring measures during construction and operations. Adopt standards for protected species monitoring (e.g., minimum visibility, PSO protocols, etc.). Use only independent, third-party PSOs (i.e., not construction personnel) that are approved by NOAA Fisheries. Locate PSOs safely at the best vantage point(s) to ensure coverage of the entire visual Clearance and Shutdown Zones, and as much of the behavioral harassment zones as possible. Ensure PSOs do not exceed 4 consecutive watch hours on duty at any time, have a two- hour (minimum) break between watches, and do not exceed a combined watch schedule of more than 12 hours in a 24-hour period. These PSO should not be contractors of the developer. They must be payed through a government agency which can be covered through developer fees.
For the success of “DRAFT BOEM and NOAA Fisheries North Atlantic Right Whale and Offshore Wind Strategy” what exactly is that? To promote the recovery of NARW while responsibly developing OSW. What happens if these two are mutually exclusive? Would it be a success if Right Whales continue to survive but wind turbines do not? Must NOAA Fisheries meet the shared vision to protect and promote the recovery of NARW while responsibly developing offshore wind energy? So long as the NARW numbers are declining there should be no disturbance of their habitat.
There are no time tables in this Strategy so is it understood then that no action shall be taken until such time as the appropriate data is collected? Although it is long on data collection there is no mention of inspection. All of these actions will require funding but these extra expenses can not be covered in the normal operating budgets of the agencies. Where will it come from and where will it go?
I commend BOEM and NOAA Fisheries for producing a strategy in regard to the NARW. I also acknowledge that in order to maintain functioning ecosystems, this type of Strategy should be implemented for all of the new mining operations, logistics, transportation and infrastructure that will be required to build all of the proposed turbines needed to transition to an energy capturing economy.
Carl van Warmerdam has lived his life on the West Coast of Turtle Island. He has always aligned with the counter culture ideals there. Now he currently lives on the coast of New England, the ancestral home of the Right Whale. If you would like to help save the whales email Lafongcarl@protonmail.com. We stopped offshore wind before, we can do it again.
Save the Right Whales Coalition (ACKRATS) Nantucket Residents Against Turbines
Stop These Things
Featured image: Help North Atlantic Right Whales sign, Belfast, Maine by DrStew82 via Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.
On November 19th, Deep Green Resistance hosted a special 3-hour live streaming event, “Collapse: Climate, Ecology, and Civilization” featuring Derrick Jensen, Saba Malik, Max Wilbert, Robert Jensen, Lierre Keith, and a variety of other grassroots activists from four continents. The recording of the event has been released. The fundraiser and auction still continues. Auction will end on Wednesday.
Our way of life doesn’t need to be saved. The planet needs to be saved from our way of life. Right now civilization is causing the extinction of 200 species a day. It is drawing down the Earth’s capacity to support life. Ultimately, we are talking about the future of all generations being sacrificed.
Deep Green Resistance is the movement that is dedicated to stopping this. We are some of the people that are willing to be honest about what’s going on here and dedicate our lives to stopping this culture of empire. DGR keeps the natural world at the center of all our strategies and tactics. We are working not just to stop one bad law, or one bad corporation, or one bad government. We are working to fundamentally transform this entire culture.
There is nothing more important in this entire world than the health of the world. The only thing that will save this planet is for industrial civilization to stop. Whatever you love, it is under assault. Love is a verb. We’ve got to let our love call us to action.
In this video:
- 02:00 Introduction by Max Wilbert
- 07:47 Keynote by Lierre Keith
- 24:14 Keynote by Saba Malik
- 49:55 Activist report-backs
- 1:28:43 Keynote by Robert Jensen
- 1:41:26 Keynote by Derrick Jensen
We would like to thank all our supporters for their constant support. Your help goes a long way in making possible all that we do.
A crease in apocalyptic time by Will Falk
The apocalypse doesn’t care about weekends. But, on some Sunday afternoons, especially when the November northern California clouds part and the redwoods are draped in their gold, emerald, and ebony robes, I need a break. I take my cup of tea and notebook to the front porch and wait for the light to change.
It doesn’t happen every time. It doesn’t even happen most of the time. But, every once in a while, ravens fly across my vision, brushing the sky clean, and pulling the world’s sharpest knife across the air to cut a fine crease in Time, herself.
My perception slows as the veil falls away and I slip into a long, amber moment. The sun kisses my brow. Shadows cup my head. And, natural warmth holds me closer than any human lover. I know if I could just find this embrace, even if only every once in a while, I’d be strong enough to fight the apocalypse.
But everyday eventually fades. Moments must pass to exist. Moments must exist for light to move. And, light must move to hold me like this.
The sun slips away on Earth’s autumnal slants and I am cold again. Time stitches close the crease the ravens cut. Long, amber moments become simple tick-tocking seconds again, marching tirelessly into the dark future.
A chainsaw keens in the distance. Planes vandalize the sunset. A muffler pops like gun shots. And, the redwoods – naked in the dusk now – know that soon it will be too hot to live here, to live anywhere, anymore.
I don’t know where the ravens will take their knife, then. I don’t know where the shadows will dance. And, I don’t know who will protect me from this apocalypse.
Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance.
The Green Flame is a Deep Green Resistance podcast that brings you revolutionary analysis, practical skills, and artistic expression from the grassroots movement to dismantle global industrial civilization. The show was launched in 2019.
Listen now on your preferred platform:
Today, November 19th, Deep Green Resistance is hosting a live online event on the topic of collapse. The event will start at 3 PM Pacific Time (11pm / 23:00 UTC) and will be hosted on Givebutter and Facebook.
This live event will explore issues of collapse (ecological, climatic, and civilizational) with a focus on organized, political resistance to slow and mitigate the worst aspects of collapse and accelerate the positive impacts. There will be opportunities to ask questions and participate in dialogue.
The event is also a fundraiser. The raised funds will go to fund a national speaking tour, community-led land defense in the Philippines, campaigns addressing mining and biodiversity, training programs for activists around the world, and other organizational work.
Lierre Keith, a founding member of Deep Green Resistance, is an American writer, radical feminist, food activist, and environmentalist. Lierre is the author of the novels Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel. Her non-fiction works include the highly acclaimed The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. She is coauthor, with Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet (Seven Stories Press, 2011) and she’s the editor of The Derrick Jensen Reader: Writings on Environmental Revolution (Seven Stories Press, 2012).
Saba, also a founding member of Deep Green Resistance, is a longtime radical feminist, environmentalist, and anti-racist organizer. She studies herbal medicine and loves to spend time in the forest with her children.
Robert Jensen is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin and a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He collaborates with New Perennials Publishing and the New Perennials Project at Middlebury College. Jensen is associate producer and host of Podcast from the Prairie, with Wes Jackson.
Derrick Jensen is an American ecophilosopher, writer, author, teacher and environmentalist. Utne Reader named Jensen among “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World” in 2008, and Democracy Now! says that he “has been called the poet-philosopher of the ecology movement”.
Activist Report Back
In this segment, DGR members share their experiences regarding what the different organizing work that they have been involved in.
The silent auction will features items (paintings, books, etc) donated by members of DGR. The auction will open with the event and will remain open till Wednesday. You can find the auction here.
- 3pm – Live Event begins
- 3:10pm – Lierre Keith
- 3:25pm – Saba Malik
- 3:35pm – Activist report-backs
- 3:50pm – Intermission
- 4pm – Robert Jensen
- 4:25pm – Derrick Jensen
- 5pm – Event ends
You can watch the event here: Givebutter
Editor’s note: Any movement, if effective in challenging the status quo, is bound to face persecution from the state. The persecution may come in many forms, from defamation, to legal action, to outright murder. The twenty year long COINTELPRO program was run by the FBI to destabilize many movements including African-American, Native Americans and communist movements across the United States. A variety of methods was used to achieve the goal.
The Green Scare is the set of tactics used by FBI in the early twenty-first century to discredit and persecute the radical environmental movement. The following article discusses the Green Scare, putting it in context of the recent demise of Dave Foreman, a found of Earth First! and an early target of Green Scare.
By Jeffrey St. Clair – Joshua Frank/CounterPunch
Dave Foreman, whose vision spawned a radical wave of the US environmental movement, passed away this week at the age of 74 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was controversial, he was stubborn, but he wasn’t one to compromise the fight to save wilderness and open space. The following piece on Foreman’s foray with federal law enforcement first appeared in our book, The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. – Jeffrey St. Clair & Joshua Frank
Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!, awoke at five in the morning on May 30, 1989, to the sound of three FBI agents shouting his name in his Tucson, Arizona home. Foreman’s wife Nancy answered the door frantically and was shoved aside by brawny FBI agents as they raced toward their master bedroom where her husband was sound asleep, naked under the sheets, with plugs jammed in his ears to drown out the noise of their neighbor’s barking Doberman pincher. By the time Foreman came to, the agents were surrounding his bed in bulletproof vests wielding .357 Magnums.
He immediately thought of the murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago, expecting to be shot in cold blood. But as Foreman put it, “Being a nice, middle-class honky male, they can’t get away with that stuff quite as easily as they could with Fred, or with all the Native people on the Pine Ridge Reservation back in the early 70s.”
So instead of firing off a few rounds, they jerked a dazed Foreman from his slumber, let him pull on a pair of shorts, and hauled him outside where they threw him in the back of an unmarked vehicle. It took over six hours before Foreman even knew why he had been accosted by Federal agents.
Foreman’s arrest was the culmination of three years and two million tax dollars spent in an attempt to frame a few Earth First! activists for conspiring to damage government and private property. The FBI infiltrated Earth First! groups in several states with informants and undercover agent-provocateurs. Over 500 hours of tape recordings of meetings, events, and casual conversations had been amassed. Phones had been tapped and homes were broken into. The FBI was doing its best to intimidate radical environmentalists across the country, marking them as a potential threat to national security.
It was the FBI’s first case of Green Scare.
The day before Foreman was yanked from bed and lugged into the warm Arizona morning, two so-called co-conspirators, biologist Marc Baker and antinuclear activist Mark Davis were arrested by some 50 agents on horseback and on foot, with a helicopter hovering above as they stood at the base of a power line tower in the middle of desert country in Wenden, Arizona, 200 miles northwest of Foreman’s home. The next day Peg Millet, a self-described “redneck woman for wilderness,” was arrested at a nearby Planned Parenthood where she worked. Millet earlier evaded the FBI’s dragnet.
Driven to the site by an undercover FBI agent, the entire episode, as Foreman put it, was the agent’s conception. Foreman, described by the bureau as the guru and financier of the operation, was also pegged for having thought up the whole elaborate scheme, despite the fact that their evidence was thin.
Back in the 1970s, the FBI issued a memo to their field offices stating that when attempting to break up dissident groups, the most effective route was to forget about hard intelligence or facts. Simply make a few arrests and hold a public press conference. Charges could later be dropped. It didn’t matter; by the time the news hit the airwaves and was printed up in the local newspapers, the damage had already been done.
It was the FBI’s assertion that the action stopped by the arrests under that Arizona power line in late May 1989, was to be a test run for a much grander plot involving Davis, Baker, Millet, and the group’s leader, Dave Foreman. The FBI charged the four with the intent to damage electrical transmission lines that lead to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado.
“The big lie that the FBI pushed at their press conference the day after the arrests were that we were a bunch of terrorists conspiring to cut the power lines into the Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon nuclear facilities in order to cause a nuclear meltdown and threaten public health and safety,” explained Foreman.
In the late 1980s, the FBI launched operation THERMCON in response to an act of sabotage of the Arizona Snowbowl ski lift near Flagstaff, Arizona that occurred in October 1987, allegedly by Davis, Millet, and Baker. Acting under the quirky name, Evan Mecham Eco-Terrorist International Conspiracy (EMETIC) — the eco-saboteurs wrecked several of the company’s ski lifts, claiming that structures were cutting into areas of significant biological importance.
This was not the first act the group claimed responsibility for. A year prior EMETIC sent a letter declaring they inflicted damage at the Fairfield Snow Bowl near Flagstaff. The group’s letter also included a jovial threat to “chain the Fairfield CEO to a tree at the 10,000-foot level and feed him shrubs and roots until he understands the suicidal folly of treating the planet primarily as a tool for making money.”
The group used an acetylene torch to cut bolts from several of the lift’s support towers, making them inoperable. Upon receiving the letter, the Arizona ski resort was forced to shut down the lift in order to do repairs, which rang up to over $50,000.
But the big allegations heaved at these eco-saboteurs weren’t for dislodging a few bolts at a quaint ski resort in the heart of the Arizona mountains, or for inconveniencing a few ski bums from their daily excursions. No, the big charges were levied at the group for allegedly plotting to disrupt the functions of the Rocky Flats nuclear facility hundreds of miles away. Ironically, at the moment of their arrests, the FBI was simultaneously looking into public health concerns due to an illegal radioactive waste leak at the nuclear power site, which led Earth First! activist Mike Roselle to quip, “ [the FBI] would have discharged its duty better by assisting in a conspiracy to cut power to Rocky Flats, instead of trying to stop one.”
Gerry Spence climbed into his private jet in Jackson, Wyoming estate almost immediately upon hearing about the FBI arrest of Dave Foreman in Arizona. Spence had made a name for himself among environmental activists in the late-1970s for his case against energy company Kerr-McGee, when he provided legal services to the family of former employee Karen Silkwood, who died suspiciously after she charged the company with environmental abuses at one of their most productive nuclear facilities. Silkwood, who made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactors, had been assigned by her union to investigate health and safety concerns at a Kerr-McGee plant near Crescent, Oklahoma. In her monitoring of the facility, Silkwood found dozens of evident regulatory violations, including faulty respiratory equipment as well as many cases of workers being exposed to radioactive material.
Silkwood went public after her employer ignored her and her union’s concerns, even going as far as to testify to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) about the issues, claiming that regulations were sidestepped in an attempt to up the speed of production. She also claimed that workers had been mishandling nuclear fuel rods, but the company has covered up the incidences by falsifying inspection reports.
On the night of November 13, 1974, Silkwood left a union meeting in Crescent with documents in hand to drive to Oklahoma City where she was to meet and discuss Kerr-McGee’s alleged violations with a union official and two New York Times reporters. She never made it. Silkwood’s body was found the next day in the driver’s seat of her car on the side of the road, stuck in a culvert. She was pronounced dead on the scene and no documents were found in her vehicle.
An independent private investigation revealed that Silkwood was in full control of her car when it was struck from behind and forced off to the side of the road. According to the private investigators, the steering wheel of her car was bent in a manner that showed conclusively that Silkwood was prepared for the blow of the accident as it occurred. She had not been asleep at the wheel as investigators initially thought. The coroner concluded she had not died as a result of the accident, but possibly from suffocation.
No arrests or charges were ever made. Silkwood’s children and father filed a lawsuit against Kerr-McGee on behalf of her estate. Gerry Spence was their lead attorney. An autopsy of Silkwood’s body showed extremely high levels of plutonium contamination. Lawyers for Kerr-McGee argued first that the levels found were in the normal range. but after evidence was presented to the contrary, they were forced to argue that Silkwood had likely poisoned herself.
Spence had been victorious. Kerr-McGee’s defense was caught in a series of unavoidable contradictions. Silkwood’s body was laden with poison as a result of her work at the nuclear facility. In her death, Spence vindicated her well-documented claims. The initial jury verdict was for the company to pay $505,000 in damages and $10,000,000 in punitive damages. Kerr-McGee appealed and drastically reduced the jury’s verdict, but the initial ruling was later upheld by the Supreme Court. On the way to a retrial, the company agreed to pay $1.38 million to the Silkwood estate.
Gerry Spence was not cowed by the antics of the Kerr-McGee Corporation, and when he agreed to take on Dave Foreman’s case pro-bono, justice seemed to be on the horizon for Earth First! activists as well.
“Picture a little guy out there hacking at a dead steel pole, an inanimate object, with a blowtorch. He’s considered a criminal,” said Spence, explaining how he planned to steer the narrative of Foreman’s pending trial. “Now see the image of a beautiful, living, 400-year-old-tree, with an inanimate object hacking away at it. This non-living thing is corporate America, but the corporate executives are not considered criminals at all.”
Like so many of the FBI charges brought against radical activists throughout the years, the case against Dave Foreman was less exciting than the investigation that led up to his arrest. The bureau had done its best to make Foreman and Earth First! out to be the most threatening activists in America.
Spence was not impressed and in fact argued as much, stating the scope of the FBI’s operation THERMCON was “very similar to the procedures the FBI used during the 1960s against dissident groups.” Spence was right. Similar to the movement disruption exemplified by COINTELPRO against Martin Luther King Jr., the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement, the FBI’s crackdown on Earth First! in the late 1980s had many alarming parallels to the agency of old.
“Essentially what we need to understand is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was formed during the Palmer Raids in 1921, was set up from the very beginning to inhibit internal political dissent. They rarely go after criminals. They’re thought police,” said Foreman of the FBI’s motives for targeting environmentalists. “Let’s face it, that’s what the whole government is. Foreman’s first law of government reads that the purpose of the state, and all its constituent elements, is the defense of an entrenched economic elite and philosophical orthodoxy. Thankfully, there’s a corollary to that law—they aren’t always very smart and competent in carrying out their plans.”
The man who was paid to infiltrate Earth First! under the guise of THERMCON was anything but competent. Special agent Michael A. Fain, stationed in the FBI’s Phoenix office, befriended Peg Millet and began attending Earth First! meetings in the area. Fain, who went by the alias, Mike Tait, posed as a Vietnam vet who dabbled in construction and gave up booze after his military service. On more than one occasion, while wearing a wire, Fain had tried to entice members of Earth First! in different acts of vandalism. They repeatedly refused.
During pre-trial evidence discovery, the defense was allowed to listen to hours of Fain’s wire-tapings, when they found that the not-so-careful agent inadvertently forgot to turn off his recorder. Fain, while having a conversation with two other agents at a Burger King after a brief meeting with Foreman, spoke about the status of his investigation, exclaiming, “I don’t really look for them to be doing a lot of hurting people… [Dave Foreman] isn’t really the guy we need to pop — I mean in terms of an actual perpetrator. This is the guy we need to pop to send a message. And that’s all we’re really doing… Uh-oh! We don’t need that on tape! Hoo boy!”
Here the FBI was publicly vilifying these Earth First!ers, while privately admitting that they posed no real threat. “[The agency is acting] as if [its] dealing with the most dangerous, violent terrorists that the country’s ever known,” explained Spence at the time. “And what we are really dealing with is ordinary, decent human beings who are trying to call the attention of America to the fact that the Earth is dying.”
The FBI’s rationale for targeting Foreman was purely political as he was one of the most prominent and well-spoken radical environmentalists of the time. Despite their claims that they were not directly targeting Earth First! or Foreman, and were instead investigating threats of sabotage of power lines that led to a nuclear power plant — their public indictment painted quite a different story.
“Mr. Foreman is the worst of the group,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Dokken announced to the court. “He sneaks around in the background … I don’t like to use the analogy of a Mafia boss, but they never do anything either. They just sent their munchkins out to do it.”
But agent Michael Fain’s on-tape gaffes were simply too much for the prosecution to manage, and the case against Foreman, having been deferred almost seven years, was finally reduced in 1996 to a single misdemeanor and a meager $250 in fines. The $2 million the FBI wasted tracking Earth First! over the latter part of the 1980s had only been nominally successful. Yet the alleged ringleader was still free. Unfortunately, the FBI may have gotten exactly what they wanted all along. Dave Foreman later stepped down as spokesman to Earth First! and inherited quite a different role in the environmental movement — one of invisibility and near silence.
Peg Millet, Mark Davis, and Marc Baker were all sentenced separately in 1991 for their involvement in their group EMETIC’s acts of ecotage against the expansion of Arizona Snowbowl. Davis got 6 years and $19,821 in restitution. Millet only 3 years, with the same fine, while Baker only received 6 months and a $5,000 fine.
Little did these activists know that their capture and subsequent arraignments were only the beginning. THERMCON’s crackdown of Earth First! would prove to be a dry-run for the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. He can be reached at: email@example.com and trolled on Twitter @JSCCounterPunch. Joshua Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank.
Featured Image: by Robert J. Pleasants Papers, WWII 73, WWII Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.