Offshore Wind Wrong for the Right Whale

Offshore Wind Wrong for the Right Whale

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?

wind

“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

wind

“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

All Our Wins Are Temporary; All Their Wins Are Permanent

Featured image: Help North Atlantic Right Whales sign, Belfast, Maine by DrStew82 via Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Event Recording – Collapse: Climate, Ecology and Civilization

Event Recording – Collapse: Climate, Ecology and Civilization

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:


 

Live Streaming Event — Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization

Live Streaming Event — Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization

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.

Keynote speakers

Lierre Keith

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 Malik

liveSaba, 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

Robert JensenRobert 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

Derrick JensenDerrick 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”.

 

Other features

Activist Report Back

In this segment, DGR members share their experiences regarding what the different organizing work that they have been involved in.

Silent auction

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.

Schedule

  • 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

Dave Foreman and the First Green Scare Case

Dave Foreman and the First Green Scare Case

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: sitka@comcast.net and trolled on Twitter @JSCCounterPunch. Joshua Frank is managing editor of CounterPunch. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.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.

After Industrial Civilization with Michel Jacobi

After Industrial Civilization with Michel Jacobi

This is part 1 of an episode of the Green Flame. This episode tries to answer the challenging question: What comes after Industrial Civilization? In this part, Max Wilbert talks with Michel Jacobi. Michel Jacoboi is a German, but he’s living in the Western part of Ukraine trying to reverse breed some of the extinct large animals of the European countryside back into existence and work with these creatures as assistants and as allies, in the process of restoring the land. Part 2 of the episode is with Lierre Keith, author of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ and someone who has studied food systems, sustainability, agriculture and soils for many years, will be featured shortly.


Max: I’m here today with Michel Jacobi. Michel is somebody who’s becoming an expert in local food; in relocalisation; in rewilding of lanscapes using animals as allies, friends and community members in that process. Michel, could you tell us a little bit about you, who are you and what your work is and where you’re located?

Michel: Yes, I’m a German forestry engineer and I came 11 years ago from Germany and started to build up a farm for rare domestic breeds, and have been rescuing the water buffaloes that exist here in the mountains of Western Ukraine. It’s the Carpathian mountains, where we still have huge diversity. And some part of the landscape has once been all over Central Europe, because here we have the biggest virgin forest of Fagus Sylvatica, the European red beach.

So I was first interested to rescue these trees and the forest systems. I realized that the communities here – the locals are called Ruthianians – they are still quite powerful. The national parks that are located here they cannot save anything if they are not working with the locals together. So I started with the shepherds here, I learned the local dialect and collected some money in Switzerland with my NGO and could buy a few animals that had been in the slaughterhouse. They were male buffaloes, and after a while, I was the only one in the whole state that was breeding or keeping male water buffaloes.

So then I became quite famous among those people that still have water buffaloes and I helped them to keep them by exchanging the males from village to village so that the people can afford to keep females. The males are quite cost intensive and our NGO was managing this and through that I got quite famous. The circumstances here are quite hard and nearly no foreigners are living here. Most people from Zakarpattia go abroad to work and just live here in their free time. So, our NGO is still now, more or less, the only nature/environmental NGO that is working in the whole state and we are not only saving water buffaloes but we keep very rare Hucul horses, that is the local mountain pony with Zebra stripes. It is very close to the extinct Tarpan that once lived here in the mountains.

We also started to rescue a rare cow breed. I realised that the cow is a very central part of a self-sufficient community and people really loved what I’m doing. The local people felt they remembered former times because I learned from the shepherds how things used to be. They are quite old school. So even the richer locals started supporting me and I made cheese products from the buffaloes, from the buffalo milk, which is also quite unique because the water buffaloes are quite special in their behaviour. They are highly intelligent animals so it was weird for the locals that a German engineer is able to milk those buffaloes.

I learned from the buffaloes that you cannot force them, you have to act with them like a child. When you use force of violence they will refuse to give you anything. The local people here seem to be very traumatised by this collapsed regime that was here till the 90s So they forget how to keep those buffaloes and they told me like 60 or 70 years ago there had been thousands of them. When I arrived in 2008 I could just find 38 animals. Now we have more than 100 to 180 and they are in several projects such as rewilding Ukraine.

They keep the buffaloes in national parks and I started several farms just supporting people. We (me and my girlfriend) just have seven animals now but we’re managing five bull lines to keep up the diversity and live self-sufficiently. Having a garden, planting trees and exchanging products is called barter. I have a very nice family in Germany. Each time, when I had huge trouble I could go home and work there and make some money and bring it here to buy the hay because it was not always easy. When you rely on tourism or on external money, then there’s always something that can happen. I learned to just be on my own and to have very high diversification in my pro and my income.

Max: So you’re in what part of Ukraine exactly? It is the Western portion?

Michel: Yeah it’s the most Southwest part. Some geologists or geographers measured the center of Europe here. So we have a tourist station which says it’s the centre of Europe. It’s around 300 kilometers East of Budapest and close to Prague. In fact, there is no real industry or big cities around. It’s a very privileged micro-climate that we have here. It’s at the beginning of the large Pannonian basin which is like a steppe area and we are at the foothills of the Carpathian mountains which is the largest connected ecosystem of Europe.

Max: So I’m curious to hear you talk a little bit more about the aspect of this that I’ve been thinking about a lot. With the coronavirus crisis having swept around the world, it kind of remains to be seen exactly how intense it’s going to get and how many people are going to be killed. There were some estimates in the beginning that now are looking like they were a little too high, right? It’s looking like the virus is less lethal than a lot of the early estimates put it.

But one repercussion of what we have seen with coronavirus is this semi-collapse in globalisation. We’ve seen plane flights grounded we’ve seen the collapse of air travel, we have seen borders closed and because of that, we’ve seen food shortages in various areas. And I think a lot of people are maybe recognising in a way that they wouldn’t have recognised a month or two ago that globalisation and having this globalised supply chain for our food systems is maybe not such a good idea.

So I know here in my area – I live in the Western United States – and here in this area for example chickens, garden stores, seeds, nurseries, all of those type of businesses have been flourishing and exploding because thousands and thousands and thousands of people are recognising all of a sudden that local food and self-sufficiency is an incredibly important thing.

I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the relocalisation of food and it seems like you’re sort of trying to revive this pastoral way of life. So can you talk about why this is important and why you know how you contrast that to the dominant culture today?

Michel: This culture here, the Ruthenian people, have been into serious trouble over the last 150 years. Different empires were always coming here, like the Austro-Hungarian empire and then Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic and several Hungarians have been very cruel here. In the Soviet Union, mass people were killed because they were just farming.

When I talk to the people and say “we have a crisis,” they just start laughing because they say they are in a permanent state of crisis. In fact, they are not really touched by any world economic crisis because they have learned over the years to be self-sufficient. What that means is that everybody has two hectares of land for himself and his family and they share common land. So, common land is probably the key issue because for any self-sufficient gardening, you need the nutrition. The traditional way is that you keep a cow, or you keep a horse and a goat or whatever like this, like large herbivores that bring the nutrition from the field to your house to the garden. And with this manure you’re able to grow the vegetables and even feed the orchards. So those two hectares people have around is one important part. Potatoes, beans, onions, carrots and beetroots are the basic foundations of their survival.

At the beginning I did not have any garden. People were quite confused because growing potatoes is such an easy thing. I wasn’t used to it because in Germany it is not normal that you have any land where you can grow potatoes. In fact it’s really small land that you need for it and those highly productive plants like sweetcorn or beans you can grow on small areas.

These people have been teaching me how to do the gardening. The funny thing is that they are combining a very old calendar with their orthodox church. It’s a calendar that is oriented on the stars and moon and so on, it tells you when you can see which plants. Sometimes you have a freezing time that is heading in and when you plant something too early it will just die or when you plant it too late you will not have any results. So, it’s a little bit tricky and you should be connected to them, and to somebody that has some experience.

But with like a small greenhouse, anybody can start and have beautiful results and the interesting thing is when you have your own vegetable it’s like a synergy effect, it’s not only fun, it’s very healthy. You have something you can share in your community. It brings some type of pride when you produce something with your hands. You’re digging with the dirt and it’s like a healing ritual. So I recommend to anybody, even if it’s not necessary just do it as a hobby. If you are like really into it, you can start to grow your own seeds which can be a very high science, especially when we look at the different flowers that you can produce with corn.

I was once renting a small house in the mountains and I had always about two or three volunteers at the same time because of WWOOFing and things like that. An old lady, who was more than 83 years at the time, was able to feed me and two volunteers every day with at least one nice completely self-made meal. It means that you can, with your own garden, achieve a very high production and it’s not so work intensive. Now in the spring, when you believe in the digging, then you have to do quite a lot. But there is a very high result from very little work. When you invest like two or three hours a day, you have a really really big garden that can feed your whole family.

I think this is the main thing for building up anything. Because out of this home ground, you can be relaxed and you can start thinking about any problem in the world in a completely new way and a new perspective. It’s your ground and the common fields are defended by your community. Nobody can go there, no investor can go and say “I will take away your common ground and plant some genetically modified crops there and spray glucosate” or whatever. The community is depending on it so they will just burn down their machines and that’s what those people here are about. That’s the reason why there is no foreign investor, no big companies.

People don’t want anybody to use their common land because they are depending on it. And this new food that you have in your cellar the whole winter gives you the opportunity to do anything. Even if you get fired from your additional job, you always know you can come home and your granny is living at home and taking care of the children or the neighbor’s children or whatever.

With this gardening, a family structure is like this. There is the inner circle: the house. In the house, there is the oven you heat with firewood. Outside the house there is the well and the garden. The children are playing around and the granny is taking care of the children. Mostly here it’s a traditional way such that the wife is closer to the house and doing some gardening. The man is in the forest. They even have a community forest here so you can go and chop your own wood. I have to be honest, it’s a really great feeling. For example, when you start to cut hay, it’s a big activity in the summer. It brings everybody together. When you are out there with around twenty men cutting the hay of the grass with very sharp sickles from very early in the morning, you are singing and drinking together and it has such a strong energy.

It fees like people here have their secret language. When you don’t have you own potatoes and you don’t have your cow at home and you don’t speak the local dialect–which is pretty weird and survived over the last few hundred years–then people say “yeah they are the strangers and the tourists or whatever or the occupants.” When you have those things, you’re one of them. It was such an incredible feeling when they started to call me one of them. It makes feel like I’m not afraid of anything anymore because I’m now part of a bigger thing, a community which you cannot easily dismantle. There were many situations where it was helping me and giving me such a deeper inner freedom. Out of this I can now go out and do my research anyway.

I’m still different because I am not drinking with the locals (no alcohol). But I read. So people come here and want to know information and so on. And so it’s like this synergy that comes up with the community. That is such a great feeling.  I just can’t recommend it enough to anybody to build up such a structure. This is how it was in old Europe. And I feel at home here because my family or my roots are in this central European culture like the Celtics. They have also been living here. The people are of Slavic culture here, but they realize that the Celts have been living here. Everybody has to find his own place where he can resonate with the location. I tried to live in Bolivia but it was not possible, although I liked the political system but I feel like this European oak forest is the one that resonates with me the most.

Today, all day long, I was pestering my animals in the oak forest and it’s just wow because even the oak forest is feeding you with a lot. With mushrooms, they call it the meat of the forest. You can harvest all those non-timber forest products beside the wood and this gives you an even deeper connection. You know why you should keep this forest alive. You start to love it. Nobody can just come and buy it from you. Not even the state government is able to do illegal logging. Everybody who is picking mushrooms in the forest knows how much is allowed to take out and how much healthier it is for the forest. There is a very healthy and very strong community that takes care for the nature here.

The only problem here is the plastic garbage. People are not able to deal with plastic garbage because it’s quite new to this community. They don’t even know what it means. They don’t know what dioxin or what can oil do to the water. That’s a problem but that’s the reason why they contact me so much because I read, I’m an ecologist, and try to tell them how to handle plastic garbage

Max: It’s interesting I was just in the Philippines about a month ago doing some organising work down there and spent time in a rural agrarian community that sounds like it has some similarities to the community that you’re working in. It’s mostly people living in a small village. The houses are clustered together in small areas with some communal fields and some individually owned fields around. And then there’s also a jungle nearby that the community protects from deforestation and development. Even though at times in the past they themselves, or their ancestors, have cut trees in that area.

They’ve begun to develop stronger ecological ethics. There are a few similarities with the community that you’re talking about. First is living in this small community that’s rooted in a place where you know everyone in your village and they all know you. And the second similarity that I’m thinking about is the sense of the protection of the land and how powerful that can be when it’s shared in a community. And in the place that I was in, the Southwest part of the Northern island of Luzon, there is this village that when they would hear a chainsaw running in the forest everyone would just drop what they were doing and run to find the chainsaw. Because that often meant there was some illegal logging going on. I didn’t hear that happening while I was there. But they had developed a shared ethic that logging in this forest was unacceptable. And they’re doing restoration work and planting native trees and working to restore the forest starting with pioneer species and so to help restore their water cycle.

The third similarity actually would be the plastic garbage because similarly this community didn’t really have plastic coming into their community until relatively recently, perhaps maybe in the past, maybe a couple decades. So the idea of having a trash service or having a landfill or something like that is just a foreign concept.

We live in the United States and in Germany and the ubiquity of trash and garbage is so intense that there’s so much of it, it’s everywhere. People have figured that we got to make a giant pile of it somewhere and basically sacrifice this land to put all this poisonous substance in it. And then bulldoze over with soil and pretend that it will be fine there.

It’s pretty fascinating to be in a place where that reality just goes so unquestioned. In so many places around the world is new.

Michel: Yeah definitely. I think it’s a phenomenon that was for many thousands of years all over the world. When we look even in the amazon, we are talking now about jungle gardens there, which is something that modern people call an agroforestry system. But it’s not a virgin forest at all. For example, the Brazil knot is a plantation and underneath you can have chocolate trees. And here it’s more or less the same system with the oaks and then the orchards. You have pears and apples and plums and then around this the chickens and so on.

Additionally, this community is working on it. In fact, those orchards here and pastoral forests have the highest diversity in Europe. That means that the nature had the longest period to adapt to it. I think that’s a sign that it has been here for a very long time. All those insects and flowers had a long time to adapt to those systems. They are established here. This is also what they took away, like, in Germany. When they conquered Germany, or when the ruling class got more powerful in the 16th century, we had those uprisings of farmers that fought for the common land. Once the common land was given to the ruling class, the farmers became slaves because they had to pay to use the land and pay the tax and so on. It’s such a weird thing that you can just buy land with money.

Here in Ukraine now, they started to introduce this system too. Summer next year 2021 will be a large moratorium on the land going because of the credits the World Bank was giving them. Others like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) forced farmers to give away their land to be privatized so it means that now is the last time we have seen this common land in central Europe. This area is mostly primitive. But I would say that it’s not really advanced when you make people dependent on the money system which is not sustainable.

Max: Right. Yeah it’s fascinating and that’s sort of the pattern that we’ve seen again and again around the world with the IMF or the World Bank, or the US or China or whatever sort of foreign development oriented financial power. Now colonization has evolved from sort of the direct invasion and violence and direct occupation that we’ve seen in the past, although that of course still happens, but this sort of financial form of colonization is so powerful. The amount of damage that has been done by these capitalist ideal ideologues at places like the IMF and the World Bank is pretty stunning. And it’s continuing so I’m not surprised. It’s horrible that what you’re talking about and that’s coming to Ukraine.

And that’s what they always do right. They offer loans and they hold some sort of collateral over your head that you have to change these policies or basically move towards more of a “free market system” if you want access to these international “development loans” right.

Michel: Yeah and that’s the reason we should show the people how important the commons are. Here it’s still not too late and I’m using my popularity to talk with the people about commons. It was taken away step by step. Maybe it was by accident, but it looks like first Europe opening the border for the workers. They all went abroad and worked in the Czech republic. That means that in order to make some money they left the old lady, or the babushka as they call them, with the cow and the children. In most cases, it’s too much work just for one person to run the self-sufficient farm. So they sold the cow. That means they don’t need the common land anymore. Now, they come in and say, “You don’t need the common land, so let’s give it to privatization.” Nobody will really complain about it. So hopefully this corona virus or this coming crisis that’s intensifying the system will teach the people that it is important to use the commons to be independent of this economical fluctuation or convince them to not give up their traditions.

I have some hope that the communities are still strong enough to fight back this development that’s coming in the next years. But in other countries, we have seen how it worked and it’s good that we are talking about it now on an international level and using the English language to tell each other like how it has been like in the Philippines, or in Africa, in Ethiopia, in South America Then we can use that to teach the people here.

Do you want this to happen in your country? Look at Chile and look at those guys. Look where they are now.

Ukraine is just like five or ten years behind this development. We can show them by pointing out those examples where the IMF, like in Argentina, was privatizing everything. I know that those people don’t want to live like in Argentina. We just have to make it visible for them and show them what it means and they have the facilities. They have the strength to fight back.

One major thing here in Ukraine is that they completely exchanged the police 10 years ago or 5 years ago. We called it militia. Now it’s completely new cars, completely well equipped people. It’s not the local sheriff anymore that everybody knows.When the local sheriff does something weird, the next morning his window is broken or something. Now there are faceless weird guys from the other cities or from somewhere else. Nobody knows them. They’re called police and they are driving around on the worst road you can imagine with the highest advanced electric cars. Everybody is a little bit suspicious about this new development. Now I understand why: the IMF is asking back for not money because officially they are bankrupt here but for their resources.

And we are talking about the biggest country of Europe with incredible resources. A lot of people in Europe didn’t know that Ukraine is so rich. People have heard maybe of this black soil somewhere in central Ukraine but when you look here in the hills it’s completely covered in old growth forest. We are living directly at the Romanian border, which has been a part of European Union since 2007. There, it’s naked. They cut down everything. Just open google maps and look at the border region of Romania. Ukraine is completely covered in forest. Once Ukraine and Romania were the same region. It was called the Maramureș region here. So it’s the same culture, the same ecosystem, and so on, and in Romania. Everything was chopped down. And it started a little bit before 2007 but it’s European countries.

Max: Absolutely. And I think so many people take a sort of fatalistic attitude towards that. That everything is getting worse no matter what we do and we’re headed for doom. But it seems to me that the opposite is true in a lot of ways. I mean the seed of a future world, of a just world, of a sustainable world is contained in the present. And it seems like the destruction that goes on, the control, the colonization, the clear cutting; all of these issues–it shows how the dominant culture and ruling class has to work extremely hard to contain the natural world. To contain human beings who just want to live in good ways on their local land with their communities and their families.

And just to go back to a couple of the points you were making earlier we’re seeing some of the same trends play out here in the United States. Obviously this country has been controlled by a powerful ruling class and exploited for a long time. All the land here is stolen from indigenous people but we’re still seeing this ongoing privatization process. This ongoing process of economic colonization and exploitation, that now one of the frontiers of it is, there’s quite a lot of federally owned public land in this country and the far right and the ruling class are really pushing to privatize that land and to put it into private hands. So right now near where I live for example, there are national forests where you can go out and wander in the woods and harvest mushrooms and harvest wild edible plants and you can legally camp there for up to two weeks at a time in almost any location. And that’s not to say it’s a paradise because a lot of that land is logged periodically, there is a little bit of old growth forest remaining here and there but about 98% of the old growth forest in the US has been cut down.

But the point is that there is still this public land that is open to the people. That is held in common in some way and it’s not an as ideal of situation as sort of land that’s held in common at a village or a community or regional level but we do have that in this country. It’s under threat right now. And the other point that I just wanted to make real quick to go back, you were talking about how bio-diverse these oak forests are in your region and that’s something that we actually see in this area too.

I live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and this area has two species of oaks the Gary oak or white oak and the California black oak. Both of those species really benefit from fire and so historically the indigenous people of this area, the Calipuya and other nations, would burn, they would set intentional fires which would keep the landscape open and in more of a woodland or Savannah type regime where you had widely spaced trees.This created a hyper abundance of acorns from the oak trees, a hyper abundance of wildlife who would come to eat the acorns, and this lush grass that would grow up in the burned meadows. And then a big abundance of some of these root crops that would naturally grow in the open meadow areas. And so when the first European colonizers arrived in this particular valley here they said it would be full of smoke the entire summer because of all the fires that would be set by the indigenous people.

And it’s interesting to note that, so many people used to think that humans are inherently destructive and no matter where we go humans are like a cancer. But the reality is that the humans in this area did impact the land pretty heavily. They changed the natural ecology around them quite intensively but they actually did it in a way that increased biodiversity and increased the resilience of the natural system. And so it’s very interesting to me that some people seem to think humans are inherently destructive when there are so many examples of people living in ways where people are provided with an abundant life and abundant food from the land and their life actually enhances the biodiversity and health of the land around them.

Michel: Yeah exactly, this is my experience too. It’s such a great example. It completely shifts my point of view on humans too. This major question: is a man a wolf or a sheep? Are they good to each other, or bad? Here in this case, every spring, we have been so angry about this burning of the grassland and of these blackberries and so on. But now when you go out where people are putting their time and their power into the land, digging with, not with heavy machines but working with their hands and with their animals, you have an absolute increase of diversity.

And when I go here with tourists, I go with them to show them the beach forest which is like a car zone of the bios ferry reservation and it’s completely boring. You just have like those 300 year old trees which are covering the sunlight from the ground and you have some dead wood and some bugs and beetles of course. But it is really, really, boring in comparison with the oak forest where you have like heavy grazing and the acorn you’re mentioning is like feeding the sheep and the shepherds are going through there and singing. You have different types of flowers all over the year because the sunlight goes to the ground It’s absolutely true that the humans are such a great thing for nature.

It comes back to this idea: when I was in University, I was told about this overkill theory. It says that after the last ice age, humans advanced in building weapons to kill those mega-heavy wars. But the latest theory by Graham Hancock is that there was an asteroid or something twelve thousand or eleven thousand six hundred years ago and this changed the civilization and the amount of mega heavy force existing. And with this major change, there came other tree species and other ways of living together.

But what it shows me, is that humans are not really so bad that they kill everything up to the last one. It seems to be that it’s not such a bad history for the last 20,000 years. It’s just the last probably 200 or 300 years where we decided to use fire weapons and the chainsaw and this oil based petroleum industry which is really seriously changing the environment. Here people say a man should be able to do everything so you need to be able to make your own clothes. You need to be able to chop your own boat in the forest, you need to be. You need to know how to milk a cow, how to make cheese, how to do gardening, and how to repair a car. And when we start to get specialized like sitting on in the office and at a computer, they lose these abilities to really do something satisfying.

For example, I can work a few hours on the computer. But then I go out and pester my animals or cut some hay, do some gardening and then meet with friends. It’s so much more fulfilling and I have no need for any distraction like when I was living in the city. I was drinking beer and I was trying to distract myself and now it is like I’m waking up with a smile and going to sleep and having good dreams. So all of this civilization, like the diseases of civilization, starts to disappear when you start to manage your own piece of land with all the community that is involved in this way.

I have met so many people in Germany that have depression. But when people from the city come here and help me for a while they start smiling. They come out and those animals have a very, very, positive effect on your soul. Because as soon as you realize this is not a stupid hybrid cow, this is a very, very, ancient animal that is voluntarily working with you together.

Even when you look at the shit, it’s not a piece of shit. You turn it around and it’s full with life. You cannot even count two seconds when the shit is falling out of the animal, flies are on it in seconds using all those nutrition. And then the birds are coming sitting on the animals and singing in the morning and waking you up like this. The whole rhythm in yourself becomes more natural and it feels good and it gives you power. i don’t have to go to the gym or need any special nutrition because from those old breeds, the milk and the cheese is so healthy.

My girlfriend and I were both vegetarians when we came here. But it’s so like of course, in the city you’re a vegetarian because you cannot eat this mass-produced stuff. But here, it’s just, it’s just you cannot be vegetarian because of course we have to kill from time to time a male animal. You have to because they are fighting heavily. You have to take it out, if not, then they kill each other. What do you do with the meat and the fur? We’re just using everything and making a soup with the vegetables that we have in the garden. And all this bouillon we call it, is the foundation for most of the food we are preparing here, like even pasta. So it means the nutrition and this lifestyle that the animals give you, feels really, really, powerful.

Max: So Michel, we like to finish off every interview with a similar question and the question is around skills. So you know we’re living in these pretty dire times right. Things seem to be getting worse around the world and we have to figure out how to turn that around. So there are a lot of people who want to contribute to movements for justice, for sustainability, but don’t know where to start or what exactly to do.

So the final question for you is given this, what skill, or what skills, do you think are most important for people who are listening to this interview, to cultivate?

Michel: Yeah there’s an interesting movement, like the tiny house movement. So when you start with your tiny house that is out dark, you can move it somewhere. You have the chance to occupy a piece of land and when nobody is working on the land it means they don’t take responsibility, you have the right to use it.

I don’t know where you are in the world but here when I don’t use my land then other people can come and use it. That’s an unwritten law. So I’m trying this, I’m doing it here and I just go where I see nobody have been cutting grass and I put there my tiny house. I put electric fences around, and keep the animals that feed me. And this is attracting other people because they are interested in what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. And with them I can communicate and it resonates with them so for this I’m a good example for those people.

And you can build up a community structure which is essential for any further action. Because in this direct democracy, in this decision making process where you include those people that are interested in working with the land, you can discuss the problems that you’re facing and how to solve them in your little community. In our case, and in cases I have seen all around the world from Portugal or here in Romania, you can teach the people with good examples because everyone needs those examples.

So you have to be the shining example, first for yourself. My teachers are those large primitive herbivores. You can learn a lot from them. Just take a horse like the Mustang in North America and try to work with him and he will teach you. And out of this knowledge, you are shining example for those people surrounding you and trying to get away from fossil fuels. Bring yourself into a situation where you have to think “how can I do this?” And it’s not that you handicap yourself. You will see you have to think much more and become creative and out of this energy you get new energy. It’s like this synergistic effect that comes. You will realize that with this creativity you can move more than most people think. You just have to start very small with your minimalist tiny house and start occupying land and living with animals.

Max: Well thank you so much for joining us today. That was a great conversation Michel.

Michel: Yeah very nice to hear from you Max.

Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash

Want to know more about collapse?

This November 19th, join the philosopher poet of the deep ecology movement Derrick Jensen, radical eco-feminist author and strategist Lierre Kieth, and special guests Saba Malik, Robert Jensen and Dahr Jamail for a special 3-hour live streaming event, Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization starting at 3pm Pacific Time and hosted by Deep Green Resistance.

You can view the event live on Givebutter or on Facebook

 

Woman, Life, Freedom: DOIW Condemns the Killing of Mahsa Amini

Woman, Life, Freedom: DOIW Condemns the Killing of Mahsa Amini

Editor’s note: On September 16, a 22 year-old woman (Mahsa Amini) was brutally tortured and killed by the Iranian state for improper wearing of hijab. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has made a public statement that the protests happening in the country are being backed by the Western countries, and that Mahsa Amini was not tortured in their prison. Given the history of US-backed regime changes across the world from Central and South Americas to the Middle East, including Iran itself, concerns among anti-imperialists about the recent protests are not an indication of paranoia.

Whether or not the protests are backed by imperialist tendencies of the West, the plight of the women of Iran should not be discarded either. For the past forty decades of theocratic rule in Iran, women’s human rights have been violated in more than one occasion. They have faced many injustices, the death of Mahsa Amini and of the hundreds of people (especially young women) who protested her death is just the latest of which. Regardless of the West’s imperialist tendencies, these injustices should be addressed first and foremost.

The following statement was released by Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women (DOIW) on September 23. Since then, many protestors have been killed, arrested and persecuted.


Victory to the united struggle of the brave women and men of Iran; For liberty, and freedom from theocratic tyranny and the repeal of all laws that undermine women’s human rights!

Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women(DOIW) emphatically condemns the killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini, by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We convey our condolences to Mahsa’s grieving family and to all freedom-loving women and men of Iran. The regime’s Guidance Patrol arrested this young woman of 22 as she travelled on Tehran’s Metro with her brother under the pretext of having “bad hijab”. As a result of the brutality of the regime’s guidance patrol and beatings while in custody, Mahsa Amini died in hospital on 16th September. This new crime of the Islamic Republic has provoked the anger of the long-suffering people of Iran. The name and memory of Mahsa Amini has turned into a rallying cry for the people who have come out to the streets to rise up against oppression, dictatorship and social injustice. On Mahsa’s temporary gravestone, is written: “Darling Gina, you won’t die, your name will become a code”. Today, Mahsa Amini’s name has indeed become the rallying cry for the people rising for freedom.

In the past forty years, the reactionary Islamic regime of Iran has used systematic violence to secure its self-interest, and to trample shamelessly on the social and human rights of the people of Iran, particularly the women of Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has presided over deepening poverty, economic and social insecurity, promoted the practice of embezzlement and hypocrisy in the state, has plundered the national wealth for the personal interest of the ruling elite and their associates, and has been directly responsible for violence and crimes against countless women and men. These have ranged from the forced hejab and medieval laws against women, to the torture, rape and execution of hundreds of girls and women supporters of left-wing organisations or mojaheds during the 1980s, or the mass killings of political prisoners in the summer of 1988, the execution of Fatemeh Modaresi, the consultant member of the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party of Iran in 1989, the brutal murder of other dissidents such as Parvaneh Forouhar in the 1990s, and Zahra Kazemi, Zahra Bani Yaqub, among others, in the torture chambers of the regime, and the murder of Neda Agha Soltan in street demonstrations. These atrocities continue to this day and the people have had enough.

The regime’s denial of responsibility over the death of Mahsa Amini has fuelled people’s anger. At first the regime claimed that Mahsa had died due to ill health, something that her family have denied vehemently. The regime’s contradictory position on this tragedy, mimics their denials and lies immediately after the Revolutionary Guards’ downing of the Ukrainian plane over Iran in December 2019.

The people of Iran have been living with the fallout of the regime’s neoliberal policies, with its resultant poverty, deepening class divide and prevalent corruption, with the poor, women and the young bearing the brunt, and they have little to lose in this unequal fight.

Street clashes continue to rage in more than 80 cities and towns in Iran, despite access to the internet having been curtailed to stop communications. The women and men of our country have shown indescribable courage to stand against the brutal security forces of the regime and despite the heavy cost in this unequal struggle – fists against bullets – they are holding fast. The echo of people’s slogans conveys their demands: “Death to Dictatorship”, “Down with Theocracy”, and latterly “Woman, Life, Freedom” – a slogan that has emerged in these protests to reflect women’s particular aspirations – is a reminder of Marx’s position that a society is only free when its women are free. Today, the women of Iran are fighting courageously for their freedom and for the freedom of the society from theocracy.

Mahsa

Woman, life, freedom” by TheGfarce is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Since Thursday 22nd September, different organisations, including Iran Human Rights have announced that at least 31 have been killed in the protests. Some reports put this figure at 50. There are reports of the arrest of a large number of protesters, including reporters, civic and political activists, women, students and former political prisoners. At present the prisons of Iran are full of workers’ rights activists, teachers, national minorities, religious minorities such as the Baha’is, dissenters, artists, and students.

At present, the Islamic Republican regime continues its brutal suppression, cutting off the internet and access to social networks. In 2019 during the people’s uprising, more than 600 innocent people were killed among them 23 children and youngsters under the age of 18. The regime cut off the internet then too (killing with the lights out), and shamelessly lowered the official number killed to 224 people instead. Then the regime accepted no responsibility for its atrocities, and in September 2022, the regime is repeating its brutal suppression of the people as before.

Today, too, the regime’s guns are aiming at the hearts of the women and youth of Iran. Ra’isi, the President of the regime, was one of the main perpetrators of the murder of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Just as he spoke of human rights at the UN General Assembly, on the 21st of September, the 15 year old Abdollah Mohammadpur, and the 16 year old Amin Ma’refat were shot dead by the regime’s armed police. The mass arrests continue all over Iran.

DOIW condemns the brutal suppression of the people and believes that victory in the fierce struggle that is ahead of us, for democratic rights and freedoms, social justice, and an end to discrimination, in other words, the realisation of the protesters’ demand “Woman, Life, Liberty”, can be secured only through the united struggle of all progressive social and political forces and the dismantling of the religious dictatorship that rules Iran. Our victory depends on the separation of religion from the state, and the establishment of a national and democratic republic in Iran.

Finally, the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women, appeals to all progressive forces the world over, especially progressive women’s organisations, to condemn this latest atrocity perpetrated by the Islamicists in Iran- the arrest and killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini under the pretext of carrying out “religious laws and decrees”- and condemning the killings in Iran especially of our young people, and to condemn the detention of freedom fighters in our country. With your solidarity you can extend the reach of these protests and let our brave people’s call for justice be heard worldwide.

Solidarity with Iranian Protests (52383249139)” by Matt Hrkac from Geelong / Melbourne, Australia is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Statement by the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women

23rd September 2022

 

Banner Photo by Artin Bakhan on Unsplash